NBA Christmas Schedule Takeaways: League Believes In Trae Young

Trae Young / NBA

Christmas Day calls for presents, eggnog, and basketball. As much as the NFL has tried to hijack Christmas Day in recent years, Santa Claus belongs to the NBA. December 25 is the most important day of the regular season.

Yesterday, the NBA revealed its Christmas Day slate. It will feature 5 games that include the faces of the league.

  • Hawks vs. Knicks
  • Celtics vs. Bucks
  • Warrios vs. Suns
  • Nets vs. Lakers
  • Mavs vs. Jazz

Some of these games feature blockbuster matchups and budding rivalries. Others leave me with more questions than answers. Here are my biggest takeaways.

The NBA Believes In Trae Young

Trae Young is a budding superstar. Yes, I said superstar. Before this season, Young was considered a “good stats, bad teams” player who elected to shoot 35-foot contested jumpers instead of getting his teammates more involved. An in-season fight with John Collins, the firing of Lloyd Pierce, and the addition of Bogdan Bogdanović made Young a completely different player in the second half of the season, catapulting the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals. Young averaged 28 ppg and 9 apg in his first three playoff series. Pretty good for a “chucker.”

Putting Young against the New York Knicks in MSG to kick off the Christmas Day slate is a strong statement from the NBA. The league (and I) believe Young can take his game to further heights and become one of the fifteen best players in the NBA. Young is now eleventh in jersey sales as of July, which is his highest ranking since he’s been in the league. Young became a true heel in the first round against the Knicks. I went to Games 1 and 2 against the Hawks, and Young was the most hated man in the Garden. The Mecca hasn’t generated heat like that since the days of Reggie Miller in the 90s. Don’t expect Knicks’ fans to show Young some Christmas compassion.

Nets vs. Lakers Is The Biggest Matchup Since 2016

As Stephen A. Smith likes to say, “This game is box office.” The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to be on a collision course to meet in the Finals last season. Injuries and Giannis got in the way from those two juggernauts facing off. The Nets and Lakers are the heavy favorites to win the championship so their showdown is the most anticipated matchup of the season. For Christmas, I’m wishing for good health so KD, Harden, Kyrie, LeBron, AD, and Russ can play in the game.

The Mavericks Vs. Jazz Is A Head-Scratcher

Luka Doncic playing on Christmas makes sense. He’s a future MVP and arguably one of the five best players in the game today. So why is Luka playing the Jazz? This doesn’t make sense. Christmas should be reserved for star power and rivalries. The Mavs bring the star power, and the Jazz bring the… what do they bring? I really like Donovan Mitchell. I respect Rudy Gobert more than most fans. However, the Jazz do not move the needle. The Mavs should be playing the Clippers because of their recent playoff history or the Nuggets because of Nikola Jokić. There’s still time to change the schedule, Mr. Silver!

Fantasy Booking Christmas Day

It’s time for me to be Vince McMahon and become a matchmaker. If I’m being honest, most of these games are solid matchups. I would make a few minor tweaks.

  • 12:00 PM – Hawks at Knicks – Keep this game. It’s a rilvary with a villain. That’s great television.
  • 2:30 PM – Mavs at Celtics – Luka has to play on Christmas. Luka vs. Tatum is a battle for the future face of the league.
  • 5:00 PM – Suns at Bucks -The two teams who meet in the Finals should run it back on Christmas.
  • 8:00 PM – Nets at Lakers – Box Office. Enough Said.
  • 10:30 PM – Clippers at Nuggets – This has some history with the Nuggets coming back from a 3-1 defecit to defeat the Clippers in the Bubble. Kawhi and PG vs. Joker is a fun, enjoyable matchup.

See you all on Christmas.

Do you like the Christmas Day matchups? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Team USA: Second Straight Loss Highlights Poor Roster Construction

Kevin Durant of Team USA vs. Australia

On paper, Team USA is the most talented basketball team in the world. After two exhibition games, their superior talent hasn’t translated to victories.

Team USA lost their second exhibition game on Monday night, falling to Australia, 92-83, in Las Vegas, NV. This comes off the heels of their historic 90-87 loss to Nigeria this past Saturday night, where Team USA was a 29.5 point favorite going into the game. For context, the United States defeated Nigeria, 156-73, at the 2012 Olympics.

Team USA has been the most dominant international basketball team for the past 30 years. Since 1992, Team USA is 53-3 in the Olympics with all three losses coming in 2004. Furthermore, the United States had been 54-2 in major exhibitions since the 1992 Dream Team before dropping two straight games over the last three days.

Exhibitions are unofficial games but don’t tell that to the rest of the world. Playing against the USA is the equivalent of playing for a championship. Because almost every top International team has NBA players, the days of fearing Team USA may be of the past. Just ask Joe Ingles, who said that his Australian team expected to beat Team USA.

Losing two exhibition games is not the end of the world for Team USA, but it’s a cause for concern. The offensive chemistry will most likely improve considering the team has some of the most talented scorers in the world like Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and Jayson Tatum.

The problem with Team USA is rooted in its roster construction. On paper, 11 of the 12 players on the roster have made an all-star team. The team is constructed of combo guards and versatile wings that can guard multiple positions on defense.

This roster would thrive in the NBA, but the International game is much different. Teams are more traditionally structured, where multiple big men play at once, defenses pack the paint (no defensive three seconds), and teams consistently run offensive sets. It’s not the “3 and D” style that the NBA has morphed into over the past few seasons.

Plus, there is more physicality, and the US team lacks a dominant big man. Small ball will work against the inferior teams, but the United States could run into problems with bigger opponents due to their lack of size. It’s important to note that Australia outrebounded Team USA, 23-20.

The international game is officiated much differently. The refs are not as inclined to call touch fouls like they do in today’s NBA. To be honest, it’s refreshing, but so far, the Americans have failed to adjust to the officiating.

Team USA’s late-game execution has been horrendous. Australia ended the game on an 11-1 run to seal the victory. The Americans are looking to players like Lillard and Durant to bail them out on offense by playing iso-ball. That hasn’t worked in two exhibition games. Although Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday will join the squad after the NBA Finals, this team desperately needs a traditional, playmaking point guard like Chris Paul to get into their sets and generate easy buckets.

Why did Team USA select Kevin Love? In two exhibition games, Love has 0 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist. In other words, Love has been nonexistent. Instead of selecting an aging veteran who could be bought out of his contract, the United States would have been better off filling this spot with a young point guard like De’aaron Fox, LaMelo Ball, Ja Morant, or Trae Young. If they elected to go with a rim protector instead, then Jarrett Allen or even Evan Mobley come to mind.

Team USA may still go undefeated at the Tokyo Olympics and frankly, they shouldn’t lose a game with their talent. If they do lose, then roster construction will be the reason for their downfall.

Do you think the United States men’s basketball team will win the gold medal? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Casting My NBA Awards Ballot: Who Will Win In Each Category

Stephen Curry / NBA

It’s time to cast my (nonexistent) ballot for the NBA Awards. The NBA Awards include a mix of obvious winners and heated discussions. Categories like MVP and Most Improved Player are all but over. On the other hand, the All-NBA discussion is heating up rapidly as ballots are due next week.

Below is my ballot.

MVP

  1. Nikola Jokic
  2. Joel Embiid
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  4. Steph Curry
  5. Julius Randle

When the dust has settled, Nikola Jokic will win the MVP. He’s almost at the top of every offensive statistical category including in the top five for assists. The 7-footer is averaging 8.4 assists per game, which is ludicrous for a center. Plus, he’s doing this all without Jamal Murray. The Joker deserves this MVP, make no mistake about it.

Update on 5/18/21: The original top 5 was Jokic, Embiid, Giannis, Randle, and Paul. After the weekend, I slid Curry into 4, moved Randle to 5, and removed Paul from the top 5.

Defensive Player of the Year

  1. Rudy Gobert
  2. Ben Simmons
  3. Bam Adebayo

What Rudy Gobert does for the Jazz is irreplaceable. FiveThirtyEight ran a piece about how Gobert’s season is one of the best ever. The Jazz are 11.9 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert is on the floor, which is the best in the NBA. Take Gobert off the Jazz and their entire makeup changes.

Most Improved Player

  1. Julius Randle
  2. Jerami Grant
  3. Christian Wood

I’ve written and tweeted about Randle’s improvement ad nauseam. His leap from a good talent to an All-NBA player is remarkable. Randle is the heartbeat of the Knicks and one of the key reasons for their turnaround. With career highs in almost every offensive category, Randle is a runaway winner.

Rookie of the Year

  1. LaMelo Ball
  2. Anthony Edwards
  3. Tyrese Haliburton

If LaMelo Ball doesn’t fracture his wrist on March 20 and miss time, he wins this award in a landslide. Ball’s averaging 15.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 6.2 apg and one of the main reasons why the Hornets will make the play-in tournament. However, it’s hard to ignore Anthony Edwards’s offensive explosion throughout the second half of the season. He’s a walking bucket, highlighted by his 40 point game in early May. Do you reward the better all-around player who missed more than 30% of the year due to injury or the electric scorer who played in every game and came on strong in the second half? Because he came back from injury and he’s on a playoff team, Ball gets my vote.

Coach of the Year

  1. Tom Thibodeau
  2. Monty Williams
  3. Quin Snyder

I’m sure some of you are going to accuse me of being a homer with this pick. You’re not wrong because I’m a diehard Knicks fan. However, ask yourself this question: Before the season started, did you have the Suns or Knicks making the playoffs? If you follow the NBA, then you would have selected the Suns, not the Knicks, to make the playoffs. Monty Williams has done a masterful job, taking the Suns from a fringe playoff team to a potential one-seed.

The Suns were trending in the right direction thanks to an 8-0 record in the bubble. The Knicks didn’t even make the bubble. No one predicted Thibs would turn this team around so quickly. I love the Knicks with all my heart and I had them as the 10-seed going into the year. Tom Thibodeau changed the culture of this organization in one season. He took a bunch of forgotten players, convinced them to play defense, and molded them into one of the six best teams in the East. That is the Coach of the Year.

Sixth Man of the Year

  1. Jordan Clarkson
  2. Derrick Rose
  3. Joe Ingles

With all due respect (even though I’m about to be disrespectful), the Sixth Man category isn’t as strong as it’s been in years past. There’s no Montrez Harrell, Dennis Schröder, Lou Williams, or Jamal Crawford on the ballot. This award will either go to Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, who both had good seasons. Clarkson is second on the Jazz in points with 18.2 in just under 27 minutes per game. Ingles aka Jingles is the glue of the Jazz. He’s a sniper from deep (45.6 3P%), a solid pick-and-roll creator, and guards the opposing team’s top wing every night. I’ll go with Clarkson, but my heart truly thinks it should be Derrick Rose, who is in the midst of a career renaissance.

All-NBA

First Team

  • G: Stephen Curry
  • G: Damian Lillard
  • F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • F: Luka Dončić
  • C: Nikola Jokic

Second Team

  • G: Jimmy Butler
  • G: Chris Paul
  • F: Julius Randle
  • F: Kawhi Leonard
  • C: Joel Embiid

Third Team

  • G: Kyrie Irving
  • G: Bradley Beal
  • F: LeBron James
  • F: Zion Williamson
  • C: Rudy Gobert

Determining the 15 players to make All-NBA is like picking your favorite Taylor Swift album. You change your mind every two seconds. There are over 20 guys who can make a legitimate claim for one of the 15 spots. In a typical year, 13 of the 15 available spots are solidified and only one to two selections require a debate. This year, the entire third team is up for grabs. That’s how competitive it’s been in a year where many stars missed significant time due to injury.

Position eligibility is the biggest factor in determining each team. Embiid is a true center but can be voted in as a forward. Doncic is the point guard but can be voted in as forward. It’s category fraud that mirrors the best acting races at the Oscars.

My biggest conundrum involves Embiid and Doncic. If I move Embiid to forward, Doncic takes the second guard spot, and Damian Lillard moves to the second team. If I vote for Doncic as a forward, Dame moves up to the first team, and Emiid goes to the second team. Should Embiid be demoted to the second team when he’s going to finish second in MVP voting? All-NBA is a flawed system. If I could change the ballot, I would make it two guards, two forwards, and one position that could be a guard, forward, or center. With the current rules in place, I’m putting Luka at forward, bumping Embiid to the second team, and move Dame to the first team.

Quick Hitters

  • I couldn’t leave a Nets player off the team. If Harden doesn’t get hurt, he’s on the team. Since he missed too much time, Kyrie makes it. (Kyrie has been spectacular, by the way.)
  • Zion finished top 10 in both scoring and field goal percentage.
  • LeBron missed too many games to be on the first or second team.
  • It’s hard to deny Chris Paul’s greatness, which doesn’t reflect in the stat sheet.

What does your ballot look like? Leave your selections in the comments or tweet me, @danny_giro.

All-NBA Teams: Biggest Questions Remaining Before Season’s End

Nikola Jokic NBA

In a chaotic and unpredictable season, determining the All-NBA selections for the 2020-2021 season will be anything but simple.

In a normal year, the three All-NBA teams usually reflect the ten-best players in the game along with five players who had extraordinary seasons but sit outside of the top-20 in terms of player rankings. Superstars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and James Harden combine for over 30 All-NBA selections. However, injuries may bump some of those players off the ballot.

With less than two weeks left in the season, there are arguably more than five spots still up for grabs, which is pretty high at this point in the year. As someone who doesn’t have a ballot, I’m anxious to see how voters weigh certain factors in their decisions.

Does Durability Matter And If So, How Much?

This is my biggest question when it comes to All-NBA this season. Does durability matter and if so, how much? The first question is an easy answer. Yes, durability matters. “Survival of the healthiest” is an accurate way to describe the All-NBA first and second teams. If a player puts up All-Star numbers and missed less than 10 games, then it should strengthen their case for All-NBA. Nikola Jokic is putting up historic offensive numbers, but he’s also played every single game, which ensures the Nuggets’ center will make All-NBA first team.

Durability has to matter, but where will the line be drawn for the number of games played to make an All-NBA team? In a 72-game season, can you play 60 games and still make All-NBA? Steph Curry is a shoo-in to make the first-team despite being a few games over the 60-game threshold so yes, players who played at least 60 games can make the team.

What about 50 games? Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George, three players with great numbers across the board, will cross the 50-game threshold before the end of the season. Despite missing 15-22 games, 50-plus games played will be enough to qualify.

What if it’s below 50 games? This is where it gets interesting because the best player in basketball won’t play 50 games this season. Who is it? Scroll below.

Where Will LeBron James End Up?

A week ago, if you told me LeBron James would miss an All-NBA team, I would’ve said you’re nuts. After news broke that LeBron would need to sit out at least two games this week to rest his ankle, LeBron being excluded from the All-NBA team is more of a possibility.

Do I think LeBron will make an All-NBA team? Yes, but it should not be on the first team. LeBron could potentially miss one-third of the regular season when it’s all said and done. Note that LeBron missed 27 games in 2019 and still made All-NBA Third Team. With averages of 25/7.9/7.8, LeBron will make an All-NBA team this season. It will most likely be the second team, but there is a possibility it’s the third team.

Will One Nets Player Make It?

The Brooklyn Nets are the favorite to win the championship according to OddsShark. However, it’s possible that their three stars, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, will be left off the All-NBA teams. Can this happen? More importantly, should this happen?

Durant, Harden, and Irving are three of the fifteen best players in the league. However, each star has detrimental reasons to keep them off All-NBA. For Durant, it comes down to the number of games played and KD may not even eclipse 35 games. Leaving KD off the teams won’t be a problem.

Harden has played 42 games this season with averages of 25.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 10.9 APG. When he’s played, Harden has looked unstoppable. But, Harden will probably sit for the remainder of the regular season because of injury. More importantly, eight of those 42 games were played as a member of the Houston Rockets. I doubt the media will reward Harden with an All-NBA selection after a tumultuous exit in Houston.

Then there’s Kyrie, who has the best case out of three. Kyrie is averaging 27.0 PPG, 4.9 RPB, and 6.3 APG with shooting splits of .500/.385/.922. Kyrie will end up playing over 50 games on a team that’s in contention for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. However, Kyrie’s off-the-court decisions have dominated the headlines including two leave of absences from the team. During one of those personal breaks, Kyrie attended an indoor birthday party maskless, which resulted in a fine. I’m not here to play moral police, but Kyrie’s off-the-court actions will certainly be held against him.

If the Nets win the championship without an All-NBA selection, it would mark the first time since the 1988-1989 Pistons where a team won a title without having a player who made All-NBA in that particular season.

As teams fight for playoff positions, keep an eye on players vying to improve their All-NBA candidacy.

What are your biggest questions regarding All-NBA? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

The NBA Play-In Tournament Is A Slam Dunk For The League

Luka Doncic Mavs NBA

It’s tough to side with billion-dollar corporations especially when that corporation is the NBA. Nine times out of ten, I’m going to support the teams and players over the league. However, this is the one time where I’m defending the league. I support the NBA Play-In Tournament.

Last year, the NBA installed the Play-In Tournament to determine the final seeds in each conference. The play-in game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers was a slam dunk for the league. The excitement around a game to enter the playoffs with a “winner-take-all” mentality was the perfect appetizer before the NBA Playoffs.

Before the 2020-2021 season, the NBA Board of Governors voted unanimously to install the Play-In Tournament on a one-year basis. This year seeds 7-10 in each conference will take part in the tournament from May 18-21.

The rules:

  • 7 v. 8 – Winner advances as the 7-seed to play the 2-seed
  • 9 v. 10 – Winner advances to play the loser of the 7 v. 8, loser goes home
  • The loser of 7 v. 8 v. the winner of 9 v. 10 – Winner advances to play the 8-seed to play the 1-seed
NBA.com

For fans, this is a win-win scenario. Who doesn’t want to watch competitive basketball where the stakes are high? These games matter, which should translate to hard-nose, playoff-style basketball on the court.

For the league, the Play-Tournament is obviously a huge win. The tournament will dominate the topic of conversation in the sports world that week. More importantly, the tournament gives more teams a shot and curtails fewer teams from tanking. However, let’s call it like it is. To quote Shane McMahon, “Here comes the money.” The league created the tournament to make money, plain and simple.

The only negative voices seem to come from the teams themselves. They’re singing a different tune. Injury concerns, motivation, and fairness are the most prominent reasons for dissension.

It all started when Draymond Green said the Play-In games were “not the real playoffs” and they don’t “motivate” him. Fred VanVleet played both sides of the fence, saying the Play-In games made “more sense for the Bubble.”

The Mavericks were aligned in their opposition to the Play-In tournament. Luka Doncic doesn’t like how two games shouldn’t decide your fate after 72 games. Marc Cuban understands why the Play-In Tournament exists but believes it’s an “enormous mistake” because of the compressed schedule.

Notice how the only voices discussing the pitfalls of play-in games are those teams in contention for seeds 7-10. Is this just a case of sour grapes?

If Cuban wants to complain about the compressed schedule, I’m all ears. Most of the players thought once the Bubble ended, the league would start in January. Because of money, the league pushed for a December start.

Is there a correlation between a compressed schedule and injuries? Perhaps. Many general managers and team health officials blame the compressed schedule for an abundance of player injuries. That being said, there are fewer injuries to starters this year than there were last year according to NBA data.

Cuban makes some fair points against the Play-In Tournament, but it’s important to remember that he voted for it to happen. Cuban was a part of the unanimous vote for the extended postseason. Hindsight is 20/20, and Cuban admits he made a mistake. But, as Stan Van Gundy pointed out, “He (Cuban) pushed for it.”

Would the Mavs be speaking out against the Play-In Tournament if they were a Top-6 seed with a chance of winning the title? Probably not.

The Play-In Tournament gives more teams hope for making the playoffs. Is it false hope considering the Play-In winners will almost certainly lose to the top two seeds? Yes, but championships (and rebellions) were built on hope.

With more teams vying for playoff spots, fewer teams will try to tank. I am not anti-tanking. I’m a Knicks fan. The Knicks tanked for three straight years. The bottom three teams in each conference should (and will) tank. But if you’re the 11-seeded Wizards or 11-seeded Pelicans, you should want to make the Play-In Game. The backend of the lottery won’t solve your problems.

The stakes have been raised in the regular season thanks to the Play-In Tournament. In most years, seeding battles typically involve teams looking to improve their seeds or the 9-seed trying to move up and jump the 8-seed. Now, there could be 24 out of 32 teams fighting for playoff spots. Competition is a good thing for the league and for the fans.

If you still don’t believe in the Play-In Tournament, imagine this scenario.

Steph Curry vs. Luka Doncic for the right to advance in the Play-In Tournament.

That’s a mic drop right comment. That’s a real scenario that might happen as the Mavs and Warriors occupy the seven and nine seeds respectfully.

More is not always better, but more competive basketball with the best players in the world is something I will always support.

Do you support or oppose the NBA Play-In Tournament? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @danny_giro.

2021 NCAA Tournament: The Bracket Manifesto

Gonzaga Basketball NCAA Tournament

After a two-year wait, the NCAA Tournament is finally upon us. As Upper East Side resident and CBS analyst, Jon Rothstein, likes to say…

The NCAA Tournament is one of my favorite events of the year. For three weeks, college basketball will dominate the sports world. In particular, the first day of the tournament is one of my best days of the year. 12 hours of basketball, food, gambling, and anarchy. Sign me up.

With the tournament comes the bracket. According to American Gaming Association, 36.7 million Americans say they will fill out a bracket. I’d venture to say that more than half of those people don’t watch college basketball, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that a lot of people are going to fill out brackets and enter gambling pools.

Let’s just call a spade a spade. It takes a lot of luck to win your pool. However, there are some tips and trends to follow that could set you up for success. As someone who won a national tournament challenge and spoke on CBS Sports Radio about my victory, I may know a thing or two about the bracket…

This is my bracket manifesto.

I’m not going to tell you which teams to pick. However, I’m going to give you the keys on how to fill out your bracket. This manifesto is your tour guide. You still have to arrive at the destination, but I’m giving you the map to follow.

*Disclaimers are hot in the streets right now thanks to the “I am not a financial advisor, but I’m going to buy this stock” tweets. I want to state that I am not an expert. I’m just a guy who has found some success filling out brackets. This is MY strategy.

When In Doubt, Pick The Favorite

This is my number one rule. When in doubt, pick the favorite. It sounds simple, but so many of us fall into the trap of picking the perfect upset instead of focusing on who wins titles, which are the top seeds. There have been four champions since 1983 that have been seeded worse than five. The last team to do it was UCONN in 2014. If you picked UCONN in 2014 to win it all, you probably won your pool. Congrats, but that was an anomaly. Stick to a team in the top 5 as your champion.

Focus On Keeping Your Sweet Sixteen Intact

In most pools, brackets will be rewarded for advancement. If your pool rewards an upset win with more points, then pick more upsets. However, there are more points up for grabs in the later rounds. Don’t freak out if you don’t pick the correct #12 over #5 or #11 or #6 in the first round. If you had that team losing the next round, then it’s not a huge loss. Focus on having as many Sweet 16 teams as possible. If your bracket has 12 of 16 teams heading into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, then you’re in great shape.

First Time Final Four Participants Rarely Win It All

There’s a first for everything. Teams like Alabama and Tennessee may be trending in the right direction. Both squads are looking to reach their first Final Four in school history. However, only one team in the last 35 years has won a title during their first trip to the Final Four and that was UCONN in 1999. As someone who loves this Alabama team and will pick them to go far, it would be unwise to pick them as my champion.

The #11 over #6 Is The New #12 Over #5

One of the most popular pieces of advice shared during tournament week is the #12 over #5 upset. “You need to pick at least one 12-seed to win,” said one of your coworkers who thinks he’s an expert. Although your coworker is probably a snob, they’re right. In the past 40 years, at least one 12-seed beat a 5-seed in all but five tournaments. You should pick at least one 12-seed to win in the first round, but the 11-seeds are becoming the new must-have upset. 11-seeds are 21-19 against 6-seeds in the last 40 tournament games. So which Syracuse 11-seed wins a game in the first round?

Blue – The Color Of Champions

With apologies to red, orange, yellow, green, purple, white, and black, blue is the official color of champions. Since Syracuse won in 2003, only one other champion did not have a shade of blue on their uniform and that was Louisville in 2013. Technically, that championship never took place! This year, Gonzaga, Michigan, and Illinois are all 1-seeds not because of their resume, but because of the blue on their jerseys. Sorry, Baylor.

Cherish this NCAA Tournament. We were all robbed of March Madness last year. COVID-19 can’t ruin this one, right?

Right?

Please don’t ruin it, COVID.

What are your tips for filling out brackets? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Predictions For Second Half Of 2020-2021 NBA Season

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz

The first half of the NBA season is like the scene in Avengers: Infinity War where Thanos explains that it cost him everything in order to execute the snap. Did the NBA complete the first half of the season? Yes. Am I ecstatic that it happened? Absolutely? Did the NBA also postpone over 30 games due to COVID protocols? Unfortunately, yes.

On the court, it’s been fun to watch the Lakers reestablish their dominance and the Nets piece together a new super team. Off the court, it’s concerning to see Adam Silver and the front office implement confusing COVID protocols. Plus, the league hosted an All-Star game that many deemed unnecessary. If the NBA can make it to the finish line in July without too many bumps in the road, then all is forgiven

The past is behind us, and the second half of the season is ready to begin. Will the Jazz secure the 1-seed? Who will win the MVP? Can the Knicks make the playoffs? Here are my second half predictions.

Milwaukee Bucks And Utah Jazz Will Be The Top Seeds In Each Conference

Before the second half of the season kicks off, here are the standings as of 3/9.

The battle for conference supremacy is beginning to take shape. In the East, the 76ers currently hold the top spot with the Nets less than a half-game behind them. In third place are the Bucks, who are winners in six of their last seven games. If Giannis didn’t win a second-straight MVP, he would be at the top of the MVP race this season with averages of 29.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. The Sixers and Nets are better teams, but health concerns with their star players could derail their hopes for the top seed. Both of their mindsets will be to be as healthy as possible when it comes to the playoffs, even if that means sacrificing regular-season games to rest players. I think it’s quite the opposite for the Bucks. They want that 1-seed to avoid Philly and Brooklyn and will go all out to make sure they receive homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

In the first half, the Utah Jazz were the both best team in the Western Conference and the NBA. The Jazz boast a top-five offense, a top-five defense, and the best record in the NBA. This team is built that’s built to win a lot of games in the regular season thanks to their defense and depth. For my gamblers out there, the Jazz were the best team ATS in the first half with a record of 25-11. However, ask 100 people who will represent the West in the NBA Finals. You’d be hard-pressed to find 10 people who pick Utah. The disrespect is real, but they’ll have a chance to silence their critics if the road to the NBA Finals goes through Utah.

Team To Ascend – Miami Heat; Team To Descend – San Antonio Spurs

The Miami Heat were plagued with bad luck and injuries throughout most of the first half, which included their star, Jimmy Butler, who missed 10 games due to COVID-19. Despite a 7-14 start, the Heat battled back to 18-18 heading into the all-star break, which is sixth in the Eastern Conference. Things are about to get easier for the Heat with one of the four easiest second-half schedules. Butler, Bam Adebayo, and the rest of the Heat should climb to a top-4 seed before the season ends in May.

On the flip side, the San Antonio Spurs are like a cockroach; they never die. Somehow, the Spurs are in sole possession of the 7-seed with a record of 18-14. DeMar DeRozan consistently puts up 20-points per night, but his seven assists per night are paying huge dividends. Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson are a fun, young duo that continues to progress each game. However, the West is a gauntlet and with teams like the Mavericks, Warriors, Grizzlies, and Pelicans lurking in the standings, it will be hard for the Spurs to stay in the top-8. Plus, the Spurs face the second-toughest schedule from here on out, according to FiveThirtyEight.

The Knicks Will Make The Play-In Tournament 

I couldn’t go an entire article without mentioning the biggest surprise in the NBA, the New York Knicks. I can’t express how much I love this team. All-Star Julius Randle drank “Michael’s Secret Stuff” in the offseason with career highs in nearly every statistical category. Tom Thibodeau has instilled a toughness and tenacity that’s been missing for nearly a decade. Do the Knicks still frustrate the hell out of me? Absolutely. When Thibs is playing the starters in the last two minutes of a 20 point blowout against the Pistons, I want the suffering to end. However, it’s so refreshing to root for a competent basketball team again.

As great of a start it’s been, the Knicks will need to play even better in the second half to make the playoffs. The schedule makers did the Knicks no favors as New York faces the third toughest schedule in the second half. The Knicks are in dire need of shooting as they rank towards the bottom in team field goal percentage. At the beginning of the season, I said if the Knicks competed for the 10th seed all year, I’d be very happy. Expectations have changed. I expect the Knicks to make the Play-In tournament at the very least. Make it happen, boys.

Midseason Awards

  • MVP – Joel Embiid
  • ROY – LaMelo Ball
  • DPOY – Rudy Gobert
  • 6th Man – Jordan Clarkson
  • MIP – Jerami Grant
  • COY – Quin Snyder

Will these predictions stay the same at the end of the season? My predictions for how the races will turn out.

  • MVP – LeBron James
  • ROY – LaMelo Ball
  • DPOY – Ben Simmons
  • 6th Man – Jordan Clarkson
  • MIP – Julius Randle
  • COY – Quin Snyder

Playoff Predictions

East

  1. Bucks
  2. Sixers
  3. Nets
  4. Heat
  5. Celtics
  6. Raptors
  7. Hornets
  8. Knicks
  9. Pacers
  10. Hawks

West

  1. Jazz
  2. Lakers
  3. Clippers
  4. Suns
  5. Nuggets
  6. Blazers
  7. Mavericks
  8. Warriors
  9. Spurs
  10. Pelicans

NBA Finals – Lakers over Nets*

*If and only if Anthony Davis is healthy

What are your predictions for the second half of the NBA season? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

Julius Randle Deserves To Be An NBA All-Star

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks

I love the NBA, but I hate the All-Star Game. That might come off as dramatic so I’ll adjust. I don’t hate the All-Star Game, but it doesn’t excite me anymore. As a kid, I adored All-Star weekend especially Saturday night’s festivities. The idea of the game’s best players teaming mirroed an NBA Live game so I tuned in.

As I got older, the All-Star Game lost its luster. I don’t expect guys to guard each other for 48 minutes, but the lack of anything resembling defense made it unwatchable. I’m not a Grinch. I like alley-oops and deep threes, but I wouldn’t mind the occasional blocked shot or steal.

I may dislike the exhibition game, but being an All-Star matters. It’s fun to joke about the level of competiion during the game, but it’s still an honor to be named one of the 24 players chosen to represent the NBA.

This leads me to Julius Randle, one of the biggest surprises of the season. Randle’s all-star status is not up for debate. Randle deserves to be an all-star this season.

So far, Randle’s numbers are all career highs with averages of 23.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. It’s Randle’s playmaking that’s significantly improved. Randle’s never sniffed four assists per game in his career. Now, he could realistically surpass six per game. That’s unfathomable for a guy that usually turned the ball over after a spin move.

Randle’s numbers are not being put to waste for a revitalized New York Knicks team. The Knicks currently sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 14-16. Sure, it’s below .500, but last season, the Knicks needed 50 games to record their 14th win.

Coming into the season, the majority of Knicks fans would struggle to say anything positive about Randle. Most, including myself, were counting down the days to trade or buy out the 26-year-old. I was completely wrong. Randle is making us all eat crow. After Monday’s win over the Hawks, Randle said, “Hard work is undefeated.” Could not have said it better myself, Julius.

Due to increased competition, Randle’s spot on the team is far from a guarantee. The five starters were announced tonight, which means seven spots are up for grabs.

Randle finished seventh in fan voting, which isn’t ideal, but not a huge blow. Randle tying for fifth in the frontcourt media vote strengthens his case to become a reserve.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the East takes five guards, five forwards, and two wild cards (guard or forward). Here are the players that are leading the pack and will make the team.

Starters: G Kyrie Irving, G Bradley Beal, F Giannis Antetokounmpo, F Kevin Durant, F Joel Embiid

Next Set of Locks: G James Harden, G Jaylen Brown, F Jayson Tatum

With four spots remaining, there’s room for one guard, one forward, and two wild cards. I’d expect the reserves to come from this pool of players.

  • F Julius Randle
  • F Khris Middleton
  • F Domantas Sabonis
  • G Trae Young
  • G Zach LaVine
  • F Bam Adebayo
  • F Jerami Grant
  • F Jimmy Butler
  • F Gordon Hayward
  • F Tobias Harris
  • F Ben Simmons

Right off the bat, I’m giving one spot to Sabonis, who’s averaging 21.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 5.7 assists. Sabonis is the best player on a Pacers team that’s fourth in the Eastern Conference. He’s making the team.

At least one more guard is making the team so pick either LaVine or Young. With two spots remaining, there are few ways this could go. Simmons, Harris, and Middleton could be rewarded for being second-level stars on top teams. (In the Eastern Conference, Sixers are first and the Bucks are third.) Will they reward Bam, Grant, or Hayward for making sizable jumps in their numbers from a season ago?

Full disclosure, I’m a Knicks fan so I’m biased. However, besides numbers and the team’s success, the All-Star game is about narratives. With Randle at the helm, the Knicks went from a projected lottery team to sixth in the East. Randle is the reason why the Knicks are one of the best turnaround stories in the NBA.

The Knicks are back right now, all thanks to their future All-Star, Julius Randle.

Do you like Tom Brady? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

New York Knicks: Is This The Start Of Something Special?

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks

The New York Knicks are a competent basketball team.

Say it again with pride.

The New York Knicks are competent and entertaining basketball team.

After a 112-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, the Knicks hold a record of 5-3 despite an 0-2 start. For any other team in the NBA, a 5-3 record would be nothing to celebrate. Because it’s the Knicks, it calls for cartwheels.

The Knicks are over .500 for the first time since 2012-2013. As a fan of the team who’s watched every game this season, wins do not tell the whole story. There is an attitude and swagger to this team that hasn’t been present at Madison Square Garden since the 2013 Playoffs.

It all starts with Tom Thibodeau. Not hiring Tom Thibodeau earlier when the team had multiple chances this past decade now looks silly. Thibs has the Knicks buying into his system of team defense and playing hard every possession.

The Knicks are seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency with 104.0. Last season, they ranked 23rd with 110.6. It’s early, but the improvement on the defensive end is eye-opening.

Then, there’s Julius Randle, who is on an absolute tear to start the season, averaging career highs of 23.1 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. Thibs calls Randle the “Engine of the Knicks.” If you were to ask any Knick fan as to what would happen first, Randle becomes an efficient stud or Randle gets traded, every single fan would pick the latter. Does Randle still take questionable shots? Yes. Does he still commit dumb fouls? Yes. But, the good finally outweighs the bad.

Speaking of improvement, RJ Barrett looks like a completely different player from a year ago. In my season preview, I said Barrett needed to showcase the all-star potential in his sophomore season. After back-to-back 25+ point games against Indiana and Atlanta, the “Maple Mamba” is gaining confidence quickly.

Did someway say quickly? I’m referring to Immanuel Quickley, the first-round pick out of Kentucky. Quickley might be the most fearless rookie to lace it up for the Knicks in the 21st century. He was an integral part of the come-from-behind win over Atlanta, tallying 16 points. Plus, he went to the “James Harden School of How to Draw Fouls.”

Every night, a different player seems to step up. Against the Jazz, Austin scored 14 straight points in the fourth quarter. Against the Hawks, Randle, Barrett, and Quickley combined for 70 points. When the Knicks played the Bucks, Elfrid Payton dropped 27 points and 7 assists. Obi Toppin and Alec Burks have barely played this season so once they come back, the Knicks will have a solid bench.

Maybe I’m drinking the Kool Aid too much. It’s only been eight games. If there’s one thing about the Knicks, they let you down in the worst way. For a team that hasn’t finished with a .500 record in eight years, do I even have a right to be an optimist?

After listening to an inspiring quote from Rivers, how can I not have believe this year might be different?

This emotional high won’t last forever. There will be a rough patch at some point. With that being said, something about this year gives me the confidence to believe the Knicks will persevere.

It’s early, but this could be the start of something special.

Do you believe the New York Knicks can sustain this success? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

New York Knicks: Realistic Expectations For 2020-2021 NBA Season

rj barrett New York Knicks

The 2020-2021 NBA Season starting on Dec. 22 is nothing short of surreal. It feels like the Lakers won the championship inside the bubble last week. Not every team played in Orlando so their nine-month drought will end. One of those teams is the New York Knicks. Cue the music!

With every New York Knicks season comes hope and despair. Hope revolves around the young talent becoming assets and the new coach asserting himself as “the guy” for the job. After about two or so months, despair hits in the dog days of late February and March, where the product at Madison Square Garden becomes unwatchable.

However, this season may be different… finally. For the first time in a decade, the Knicks made no stupid moves in the offseason. The team hired Leon Rose, Worldwide Wes, and Tom Thibodeau as President, Executive Vice President, and Head Coach, respectively. They weren’t throwing money around and taking on any bad contracts during the offseason, keeping their cap flexibility for next year.

Smart moves can only get a team so far. Now, it’s time to perform. I will be the first to say that the Knicks are not a playoff team with their current roster. For now, that’s ok. The Knicks need to focus on three objectives. If all three are completed, the future will be bright.

1. Tom Thibodeau Needs To Build A Winning Culture

One of the most overused words when describing a team is culture. When teams win or lose, many will attribute the culture as to the reason behind the team’s success or failure. I think that’s half true. You can still win games with a poor culture if you have superstar players. (Ex. LeBron and the Cavs when he was at odds with Dan Gilbert, James Harden and the Rockets, etc.) Culture doesn’t equal wins, but a positive culture lays the blueprint for winning and helps attract free agents. The best example is the Brooklyn Nets, who acquired Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and will be one of the favorites to win it all.

Tom Thibodeau is an “in your face” coach. For the Bulls, it worked. For the Timberwolves, it did not. There is nothing wrong with asking your players to play both ends of the floor. But, there is a problem with relying on your stars to play big minutes for an entire season. Thibs will have to find a happy medium. The Knicks’ poor record the last eight seasons actually works in Thibs favor because a disciplinarian may be what this team needs to breathe life into the city. It worked with the New York Giants under Tom Coughlin.

If Thibs fosters a culture that plays hard on both ends without killing his stars and adds modern principles to his offensive strategy, the Knicks have a shot to create a winning culture and attract players in the future.

2. RJ Barrett Has To Show All-Star Potential

RJ Barrett had a decent rookie campaign, averaging 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. If most rookies accumulated those numbers, it would be viewed as a success. However, Barrett’s in an impossible situation because he will always be compared to the two players selected before him, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Both Zion and Ja flashed superstar potential in their rookie seasons. Unfortunately, RJ did not have any games that showcased a superstar in the making.

In year two, RJ doesn’t need to prove he’s a superstar, but he has to show that he can be an all-star down the road. His shooting numbers must improve. A 40% field goal percentage, 32% three-point percentage, and 61.4% free-throw percentage is unacceptable for the third pick in the draft. If you’re not going to be a knockdown three-point shooter, then you have to consistently hit the mid-range jumper and finish in the paint. If the preseason is any indication of what’s to come, then RJ is due for a breakout season.

3. Wins Must Be Sacrificed If It Means Playing Obi Toppin And Immanuel Quickley

Thibs is not used to losing. In eight seasons as a head coach, Thibs registered two losing seasons and made the playoffs in six out of seven full seasons. Thibs wants to win games so I expect a lot of veterans to dominate the early season minutes. I’m ok if that’s a temporary strategy.

However, if the Knicks are losing games and giving big minutes to veterans, then we’re going to have problems. Both Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley showed promise during the preseason. They must be rotation players. For the betterment of the organization, those two need to play meaningful even if it means sacrificing wins. Developing young talent should be priority number one.

Final Prediction

In terms of record, all I want the Knicks to do is compete for the 10th seed. If the Knicks can stay in the race for the 10th seed, I’ll be happy. If they fail to register 20 wins, then it’s back to square one for the eighth straight year.

What are your predictions for the New York Knicks? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.