4 NBA Breakout Stars in 2022-2023

Tyrese Haliburton, G, Indiana Pacers

Haliburton has all the ability to be an All-Star in 2023.  He is a talented and versatile third year guard on a team that has no clear star, they are looking to create one and Haliburton is the leading candidate.  Despite showing the ability to play alongside De’aron Fox, it seemed like the Kings had no real interest in turning to Haliburton to run the offense, they moved him to Indiana where he patiently waited for Malcolm Brogdon to disappear to take control of the team. Haliburton stepped right into the leadership role in Indiana, he increased his stats across the board, 17.5 points and 9.6 assists while raising his field goal percentage from 45.7 to 50.2 In his final ten games of 2021-2022 he collected five double-doubles.

The Pacers are not likely to contend but they are building a strong core around Haliburton with Chris Duarte, Jalen Smith, Isaiah Jackson and rookie Ben Mathurin.  Indiana will likely move on from veterans Buddy Hield and Myles Turner in season to add expiring contracts and draft picks.  Haliburton’s increased passing stats show the great potential to help the young Pacers thrive.

Keldon Johnson, G/F, San Antonio Spurs

Everyone knows the Spurs have no interest in winning.  They still have to put a team on the court, when they do, they will be playing around Keldon Johnson.  Johnson has seen an increase in his usage rate over the last three seasons, leading to his highest rate of 21% last season.  With Dejounte Murray now playing in Atlanta, Johnson will now have the chance to handle the ball more.  His ability to create a shot has improved every season in the NBA, he also got some great experience playing with Team USA over the summer.  

Even though the Spurs won’t be competitive, Coach Popevich will find a way to use this season to help teach Johnson how to be a professional.  The Spurs are hoping to land one of the two top prospects in the 2023 draft, this will be the season to develop Johnson as their #2 option.  

Alperen Sengun, C, Houston Rockets

The 20 year old Turkish center was the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft. He struggled with efficiency in 2022, but was still a stat stuffer for the Rocket’s when given the chance to play.  Sengun struggled to play alongside Christian Wood. With Wood being shipped off to Dallas the center spot is wide open for Sengun.  The Rocket’s will play first round draft pick Jabar Smith at power forward, his game is 3-point oriented which is perfect for Sengun to control the middle and kick out to shooters when doubled. 

Sengun spent the offseason playing Eurobasket where he was able to show improved efficiency, shooting 61.8%.  Sengun has also been seen working with Hakeem Olajuwon on his interior footwork.  The Rockets are a young team that will allow Sengun to continue to develop with the young core.  

Jalen Suggs, G, Orlando Magic

Suggs’ rookie season was not very noteworthy. He was hampered with injuries throughout, dealing with a fractured right thumb in the first half followed by an ankle injury that ended his season in the second half.  

Redemption is coming for Suggs, he will be healthy heading into the season and will now share the court with a prolific scorer in Paolo Banchero, as well as another year of development from Wendell Carter and Cole Anthony.  Suggs could be the 3rd option on the offensive end which should open it up for him to get a rhythm against lesser defenders all season. 

The former #5 overall pick will have a great chance to be featured in an upbeat offense full of young talent that will be allowed to run free. Look for Suggs to step it up on both ends of the court.

NBA- Three new teams to take the next step.

The NBA season is here. Every year teams make huge strides in one direction or the other.  Major transformations can happen in an instant.  Teams that are one player away from contending for a championship can immediately find themselves in the gutter if they upset the wrong player.  Look at the Houston Rockets, one minute they are a frontrunner, the next they are competing for the #1 pick.  Last year, I predicted the Hawks, Pelicans and Suns to make big strides, the Suns and Hawks not only made the playoffs, but actually made big runs.  The Pelicans are back to the drawing board.  This season there again were major changes made in the NBA landscape.  Here are a few teams that I think make a big step in 2022.

Chicago Bulls

Additions- Demar Derozan, Derrick Jones Jr., Alex Caruso, Tony Bradley, Ayo Dosunmou, Lonzo Ball

I once wrote about the potential of a Bulls rebuild beginning with the emergence of Lauri Markkanen paired along with Kris Dunn.  I look back on that blog and realize its stupidity of a cold hard take.

The Bulls rebuild that has seemed like it’s been going on for ten years was finally finding its footing in 2021.  The addition of Nikola Vucevic immediately gave the Bulls a weapon to play alongside Zach lavine.  Vuc was good with Chicago, averaging 23 ppg and 11 rpg in 26 games.  The addition of a bonafide star made the Chicago offense efficient despite being a bottom ten ppg team last season, they were top ten in offensive efficiency with the big man in the middle.  

Chicago has the guys on the offensive end but their biggest issues in 2021 were turnovers and interior defense.  The Bulls went out to address those issues by adding PG Lonzo Ball and veteran guard Demar Derozan.  Both are high level defenders that are efficient with the ball. Zach Lavine will now be able to play off of the ball, his athletic ability will be on full display with less ball control needed.  

The Bulls addition of Tony Bradley will help protect the basket when defense is needed. 2nd year player Patrick Williams will have to begin the season on the injured list.  The Bulls will lilley go with Derrick Jones Jr or Alex Caruso in the starting lineup, but the smart choice would be inserting Troy Brown Jr. into the lineup to try and make up for the defensive loss of Williams for the first few weeks.

Chicago’s offense will be elite, they will lean on Ball and Williams on the defensive end. The Bulls offense will be fun to watch, it will be enough to find themselves in contention for the playoffs and potentially making their way into the middle of the conference.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Additions- Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkenan, Ricky Rubio

The Cavaliers made a lot of offseason moves. Drafting the uber talented Evan Mobley, along with adding Lauri Markkenan and Ricky Rubio gives the Cavs the depth they have not had in a long time. 

The Cav’s will feature one of the best young frontcourts in the league with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.  Garland in particular made a huge jump in his second year, averaging 17 ppg and shooting 39% from behind the arc.  Cleveland will now have a proven veteran behind the two young guards in Ricky Rubio.  The addition of Rubio will allow the Cavaliers offense to not lose it’s flow on offense.  With Rubio they have a slashing guard that can help set things up while playing alongside Evan Mobley.  Mobley’s athletic ability will be perfect for a pick a roll game with Rubio. 

The addition of Markkenan will give the Cavaliers a boost from the 3-point line, a place that was seriously a problem during the 2020-2021 season.  His ability to hit shots will help Sexton and Rubio break down defenses and set up one on one matchups in the paint for Mobley and returning center Jarett Allen.

The biggest question mark of the team will be what is going to happen with Kevin Love. The Cavaliers seemed to build a team that would be prepared to not have him be a big part of the future plans.  If Love is able to perform to his abilities, a combination of him, Markkenen and Allen could be a nightmare for smaller lineups.  The Cavaliers will likely need more depth in the front court but this team competeded last year and have made vast improvements to the roster. 

Sacramento Kings

Additions- Alex Len, Tristan Thompson, Davion Mitchell

This is laughable, the Kings have had 15 straight seasons without making the playoffs.  That is ten more seasons than the nearst team.  They have been the appendamy of futility over the last decade in the NBA.  The rebuild is close to being able to legally drive a car. Instead of a driver’s license the Kings will be rewarded with a spot in the playoffs.  

The 2020-2021 Kings were a horrid defensive team.  The defense gave up a 55% effective field goal percentage, good for 30th in the league.  Their on ball defense was laughable at times.  It is an indication of a lack of a team concept to rotate onto shooters. To address that problem they added Baylor stud Davion Mitchell in the draft, as well as signing rim protector Tristan Thompson.  They will also have a full season of Maurice Harkless.  The addition of those three along with the offensive acumen that D’eAron Fox will make this team a serious threat for one of the final playoff spots for the upcoming season. 

Davion Mitchells addition gives the Kings a spark of energy likely off the bench.  Mitchell at 23 years old brings a maturity that you won’t usually see from a first year player.  He also brings with him a winning culture, fresh off leading the Baylor Bears to the national title a year ago. A similar addition is Tristan Thompson, a veteran that has won a championship before and can be a great bench asset for Luke Walton’s squad. 

The King’s offense will still need to be on the move.  They will play a lot of 3 guard lineups during the season, which means the defense will not be completely transformed, their style will not allow that. The key for Sacramento will be to improve the half court defense to get to the middle of the pack in opponent effective field goal percentage. If they do that, their offense should carry them to a lot of wins.  

Three NBA teams that shock everyone next season.

Atlanta Hawks

Added: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo, Danillo Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu (Draft)

2020 was a disappointment for everyone one.  The Atlanta Hawks were a disappointment for me.  I had them as a sleeper team to make the playoffs out of the east.  They never found their groove last season.  The Hawks finished the season with a 20-47 record.

The Hawks went wild in the offseason adding serious depth around their two young stars Trae Young and John Collins.  Atlanta added proven champ Rajan Rondo, forward Danillo Galliinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic.  They also drafted uber-talented USC Trojan Onyeka Okongwu, a player that some had as a top 5 pick.   

Despite playing one of the fastest paces in the league (7th fastest) the Hawks offense was not efficient last season.  They ranked 25th in the league in offensive efficiency.  While Atlanta moved quickly they had some serious shooting issues ranking dead last in 3-pt percentage (33%).  The addition of Bogdanovic and Gallinari immediately addresses the issue, they shoot 37% and 38% respectively.  Early reports are saying that Gallinari will be coming off of the bench along with Rondo.  The Hawks bench was one of the worst in the league last year. That won’t be the case in 2021. 

Atlanta had defensive issues last season.  A full year of Clint Capela meaning the middle will help with the rim protection.  Having the stopper in the middle will allow the lengthy wings DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish to be more aggressive to create steals.  This team improved on every aspect that they lacked last season.  Hawks will make the playoffs and create problems for a lot of teams in the East. 

New Orleans Pelicans

Added: Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams, Kira Lewis Jr (Draft)

The west is stacked and the Pelicans traded away Jrue Holiday.  There is no way this team gets better…wrong.  The Pelicans made headlines when they traded their All-Star guard to Milwaukee.  The thought from many is that the Pelicans are going to have another developmental year.  Most have ignored what the Pelicans added in the offseason.  

Eric Bledsoe is a veteran that should fill in the role as the #2 guard.  Bledsoe has a very similar skill set as Holiday.  Both players finished the season with a PER of 17,  both shoot the three around 35% and both are box score stuffers.  Holiday averaged 2 more assists per game, but it is likely that Bledsoe will see more time at the shooting guard position while Lonzo Ball will be at the point, where most of the distribution will occur. Bledsoe’s biggest attribute is coming from a winning organization that played great team defense.  A 2-time all NBA defensive player will help set the tone for a Pelicans team that was putrid on that end. 

Along with Bledsoe the Pelicans added a big man known for toughness and defense in Steven Adams. Adams will be a protector of Zion Williamson and does not need the ball on the offensive end. He will set screens for Lonzo Ball and allow him to work towards the rim utilizing the pick and roll.   Adams is the perfect fit for a team that needs toughness.

Adding two veterans to a team with the league’s most improved player Brandon Ingram and of course the “franchise” Zion Williamson makes this team an immediate threat for a playoff spot. Stan Van Gundy has the pedigree to lead a still very young team.  The mix of veterans and young rising stars ready to make an impact put them in position to make an impact. 

Phoenix Suns

Added: Chris Paul, Jae Crowder, Jalen Smith (Draft)

The Phoenix Suns made an impact in the 2020 Bubble.  The Suns came in with low expectations but left with the fanbase and the NBA excited for what next season will bring.  Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges are all 24 or younger and now have the leadership of future Hall of Famer Chris Paul.  

The Suns also picked up a solid swingman, Jae Crowder in free agency.  Crowder has played major minutes for playoff teams in his career.  Spending time with the Celtics, Jazz and recently the Heat.  Crowder is a locker room leader and defender that will bring toughness and playoff experience to a team that needed it to make a real run for the playoffs.  

The Suns had to give up Kelly Oubre and Ricky Rubio in order to acquire their new pieces.  The offense will have a different identity but the defense will be the biggest change in culture.  The offense will come through Booker and Ayton, the addition of veterans with experience will help them stay in control down the stretch of a tight game.  Teams can no longer key on just Booker.  Paul is reaching the later stages of his career but he showed what he can do for a team that doesn’t have near the talent that Phoenix has.  

5 Breakout NBA Players in 2021

Marvin Bagley, Sacramento Kings

Marvin Bagley will always live in the shadow of Luka Doncic and Trae Young. The former Duke Blue Devil has had issues staying healthy in his young career.  He only played in 13 games last season and 62 in his rookie year.  Bagley has only started a total of 10 games in his entire NBA career.  

Entering into 2021 Bagley will be revitalized and ready to make an impact.  When able to play Bagley has consistently made an impact on the court.  Projecting over 40 minutes Bagley would average 22 points and 11 rebounds per game.  Bagley fits in perfectly with the DeAron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton in a run and gun style of offense.  The Kings will be able to utilize him in the pick and roll and have an advantage over anyone on the court.  His length and athleticism are elite, if healthy he will be a difference maker on the offensive end. 

Bagley still has issues on defense but if healthy he is extremely productive. If healthy he will be a fringe all star. 

Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers stink.  Without LeBron James this franchise is an absolute abomination.  They will enter 2021 with a legit star to build around with center Andre Drummond opting to stay in Cleveland.  Drummond will join a core led by veteran Kevin Love and young rising talents Darius Garland and Kevin Porter.  The cream of the young core will be third year player Collin Sexton.  

The former Alabama standout took a small step forward in 2020.  Sexton saw his PER rise from 12 to 16, TS% from 52% to 56%  and usage rate increase from 25% to 27%.  The Cavaliers have assembled some of the best young talent in the NBA and they want Sexton to lead the way. 

Christian Wood, Houston Rockets

A DFS darling, Christian Wood thankfully found his way out of Detroit.  He is now a part of the Houston Rockets and despite the turmoil surrounding James Harden, this is a good thing.  Wood was stuck behind Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond over the last two seasons.  His time on the court was limited, but he found a way to make an impression when he was on the court.  Per 36 minutes, Wood averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds per game.  

Wood will have a chance to run the pick and roll with James Harden or John Wall.  He is a competent player from the outside, shooting 38% from three last season.  If Wood gets 30 minutes per game he will produce for the Rockets.  Quietly he rated #15 in PER last season at 23.22.  With or without Harden, Wood should be a major contributor to the new look Rockets in 2021.  

PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets

PJ Washington had moments of brilliance in his rookie season.  Washington will have a chance to develop under the new look Hornets along with new point guard LaMelo Ball. It looks like Charlotte will be utilizing a lot of small ball lineups this season as they have openly come out and said that Washington could see some time at center this season.  Washington will be undersized for the positions but these comments show the commitment the team has to getting him solid minutes.  With a fast style of play in the small ball lineups Washington should thrive.  

PJ Washington had an efficient year shooting 50% from 2 and 37% from 3.  The ability to play multiple positions and shoot at a high rate should make Washington a breakout stat stuffer for the Hornets. 

Seko Doumbouya, Detroit Pistons 

The Pistons had one of the best drafts of any team this season.  Adding legitimate NBA ready talent with all four of their picks.  The Pistons commitment to the youth movement may be headlined by last year’s first round pick Seko Doumbouya.  The 19 year-old former #15 pick from Guinea played limited minutes last year, but should see an increase in minutes.  Doumbouya has looked great in his first preseason appearances.  His most recent game Doumbouya showed some of his potential with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks in just 19 minutes.  

Doumbouya will have to compete with newly acquired Jerami Grant and star Blake Griffin for the power forward position, but Head Coach Dewayne Casey has already stated that his young star will have a chance to play small ball center.  His ability to shoot the three may also allow him to get minutes at the small forward position.  Doumboya’s ability to play multiple positions and a likely movement of Griffin in-season will lead  to more opportunities for the second year phenom.  

Ranking the top 5 NBA Draft Teams 2020

5. Miami Heat-

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis 

The Heat made the most of their single pick in the draft by grabbing Memphis big man Precious Achiuwa.  This is a classic Pat Riley making the most of what he has pick at #20.  A player that is comparable to Bam Adebayo in size and energy level, will fit right into the scheme that the Miami Heat want to play.  Achiuwa is still young, if he continues to grow and fill out he can develop into a nice transition center for a team that doesn’t want to sit in the paing.  

Achiuwa’s size could be a problem at times in the middle but in today’s NBA and his inconsistencies from mid-range and behind the arc.  He can still develop a shot over time but his energy will make up for his shooting trouble.  This was a great pickup from late in the first round, he will enter the rotation immediately. 

4. Boston Celtics-

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt

Payton Prichard, Oregon

Yam Madar, Israel

The Celtics have long had a lot of draft night assets that they can never move.  They have had to find a way to make the most of each draft pick.  This year they found a way to address a serious need by grabbing Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith with the #14 pick.  Many consider Nesmith the best shooter in the entire draft.  If he had not gotten injured while at Vandy he could have found himself breaking into the top ten.  He will give Boston an immediate threat off the bench for a team that needed the long range help. 

Boston was looking for a backup point guard and landed four year Oregon Duck Payton Prichard.  Prichard will fit right into the Celtics system.  He will compete with fellow youngster Carsen Ewards, giving the Celtics some stability behind Kemba Walker.  He isn’t flashy but should be a solid ball handler and can play well in a great existing team defensive strategy.  

3. Dallas Mavericks-

Josh Green, Arizona

Tyrell Terry, Stanford

Tyler Bey, Colorado

Dallas made a lot of headlines by adding Josh Richardson from Philadelphia.  They had to give up the shooting of Seth Curry to obtain the talented guard.  They added two players that will likely compete for that role.  Arizona guard Josh Green and Stanford Guard Tyrell Terry.  Terry is a great off the dribble 3-point shooter that many saw as a potential first round sleeper.  Green is a great potential 3 and D player that will fit in nicely on the outside while Luka Doncic drives the middle. Finally they grabbed Colorado forward Tyler Bey who is a serious defensive worker that can handle some of the mistakes that others make on the court.  Three solid additions to a playoff ready team.  

Charlotte Hornets- 

LaMelo Ball, USA

Vernon Carey Jr, Duke

Nick Richards, Kentucky

Grant Riller, Charleston

Micheal Jordan may never get over his past draft blunders.  His career will always be linked to the Trailblazers selected Sam Bowie ahead of him.  Much like Bowie bad draft decisions have followed him.  Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison standout as just a few swings and misses from the former professional baseball player.  Grabbing LaMelo Ball with the #3 overall pick was taking the best player available no matter what their need was.  The Hornets got arguably the best player in the draft without being forced to move up.  Ball has great size at 6ft 7inches, instead of going to college he took his talents to Australia where he averaged 17 points, 7 boards and 6 assists per game in his first twelve professional games before the season got cut short by Covid-19.  Ball will have a chance to run the offense in Charlotte and they will build around him. 

Charlotte continued to grab great value by adding Duke’s Vernon Carey.  A preseason top ten pick in most mock drafts has shown the ability to do a little bit of everything on the offensive end.  After Vernon came interesting prospects Nick Richards, a big with some versatility and four year Charleston guard Grant Riller that projects to be a valuable piece in a rotation next season. 

Detroit Pistons-

Killian Hayes, France

Isaiah Stewart, Washington

Saddiq Bey, Villanova

Saben Lee, Vanderbilt

Send Westbrook to the Knicks

Despite my clear hatred of Russell Westbrool, I find myself writing about him a lot.  That is because he is constantly doing things that continue my feeling that he is the most overrated player currently in the NBA.  I don’t say that because he is not talented or he doesn’t work hard.  Former teammates Steven Adams and Enes Kanter have come out publicly stating that he is their favorite teammate they have ever had.  Former high school, college and NBA teammates have raved about his work ethic.  I’m sure he has his moments, but honestly the fact of the matter is, he doesn’t make his team around him better and he doesn’t have an attitude to be a champion.  For those reasons he is perfect for the New York Knicks.  He is a big name that is a loser.  Sound familiar…Carmelo Anthony.   Here are three reasons why Russell Westbrook and New York needs to happen.  

He doesn’t have to actually win anything.

The Knicks have the third longest playoff drought in the NBA (7 years).  Even with adding Westbrook the Knicks won’t have an expectation of a championship.  The goal will be just making the playoffs.  Westbrook is really good at making the playoffs.  He just isn’t good at actually winning anything.  The East is still very weak at the bottom so Westbrook and some role players should be enough to get them to the 7th or 8th seed. If New York is able to get to the playoffs after this long drought it will seem a lot bigger than it really is.  Even if they get swept, no one will blame Westbrook.  

New York needs a star.

The Knicks continually have missed out on the key free agents.  They organizationa and the fan base have a ridiculous idea that they are really a great destination despite having one of the worst owners in the league, one of the worst reputations over the last decade and literally no pieces that will help a star get to the next level (No offense RJ Barrett).  

Grabbing Westbrook would still be a big deal around the league. He is a star, but he is a star that doesn’t seem to play well with others.  Paul George, Kevin Durant and now James Harden are three running mates that were just fine with moving on from playing with him.  The Knicks will legit have a player to build around but they will have to find the perfect player to put alongside him.  But who that is..no idea.  The Knicks will have to most likely draft the running mate so that Westbrook can teach him the way he wants him to play. 

Getting Westbrook will get RJ Barrett out of New York (Hopefully)

RJ Barrett was second on the team with a usage percentage of 24%.  He did not have a great year in 2019-2020.  Barrett’s PER (player efficiency rating) was 10.7, the league average was 15.  He also had trouble with his shot, shooting just 32% from three (still better than Westbrook). Despite the fact that he did not have a great year, Barrett is still just 19 years old.  He has great size and has shown flashes of what he can be.  While the Knicks may want to keep Barrett to play along with Westbrook, the partnership really wouldn’t make a lot of sense.  Westbrook needs players that will stand on the outside and be ready to shoot. Barrett wants to drive the ball adn utilize his length and mid-range jumper.  If the Knicks truly wanted to develop Barrett they would not add Russell Westbrook.

Including Barrett in a trade with Houston would be good for both teams.  If the Rockets have no interest in Barrett, the Knicks could use him as a trade chip to pick up a solid #2 to work with Westbrook.   These two would never work well together.  

What should the Warriors do with the #2 pick?

The Golden State Warriors phoned in the 2020 season.  The injuries and transitioning of multiple superstars made them a team that was ready for a rebuild.  Unlike other teams though they have a built in core of stars that will be returning from injuries.  Klay Thompson, Steph Curry and Draymond Green are still in the prime of their career and ready to make another run.  They have amassed a bunch of assets that can either help continue to build the future or make a deal that brings another superstar to play with the splash brothers in 2021.  

What should they do with the #2 pick?  Here are a few ideas. 

Go get Bradley Beal.  

The Washington Wizards have to move forward with a rebuild.  Their star Bradley Beal is locked up for a long time but his value at this point could not be any higher.  Washington will get John Wall back in 2021 and in the East they may be ready to make a run to the playoffs next year.  They can do that and continue to be a minimal franchise in the middle or bottom of the pack in the east or they could make a bold move and go out and start from  the beginning. Dealing away Bradley Beal for the #2 overall pick and Andrew Wiggins would not only be bold but it would allow them to move in a new direction with a core that could be very promising.  With the #2 pick the Wizards could add Deni Avdija or Lamelo Ball to a roster that includes the emerging Rui Hachimura.  They would also have the #9 pick they could grab Vanderbilt product Aaron Nesmith who would fit in perfectly with Hachimura.  

This is not a game changing draft but it does have a lot of depth and potential.  Andrew Wiggins could be a stop gap that could help net them another pick or litany of young players towards the trade deadline of 2021.  

For the Warriors, adding Bradley Beal, an underrated two-player that would create a new three headed monster from long range. 

Go get Kevin Love.

I will assume that Andre Drummond will accept the player option for next year.  The Cavaliers have great young guards Darius Garland and Collin Sexton but they need some true wings to make it work.  They will have little to no interest in Andrew Wiggins so that may be a problem but the #2 pick to go along with their #5 picks puts them in a position to stock up on some of the best talent in the draft.  

Love has an ability to change his game to what is needed around him.  In Minnesota Love was a dominant force in the paint.  He was a big time rebounder and was able to play with the back to the basket and work in the middle.  When he moved on to Cleveland he was able to develop his outside shot in order to play along with LeBron James. Love is a great fit along with the fast paced Warriors could be a the asset they need to complete the team and put them right back in the running as a championship contender. 

Draft James Wiseman.

James Wiseman was considered one of the top NBA prospects entering college.  Standing at 7ft tall and moving like a guard he can be a force in the middle of the lineup.  Wiseman will have the ability to not have to be the cornerstone of an organization, he can grow in a lineup featuring so many different experienced stars.  He can learn to play team defense along with Thompson and Draymond Green and he can be a force in the middle to clean up the glass for the shooters that Golden State features.  His mobility will allow him to fit the style that the Warriors want to play.  

He is not a traditional fit for Golden State but his talent and potential are unique and could be a future star for the Warriors. 

Two things I learned from the NBA Bubble

Devin Booker is a future MVP

The Sun were a team I saw making a surprise run to the playoffs in my preseason write up.  I loved the addition of veterans with a young core that looked like they were going to take the next step. After a hot start to the season Phoenix struggled down the stretch and then the pandemic hit.  

Phoenix entered the bubble more as common courtesy rather than an actual contender for the final playoff spot. No one told Devin Booker that.  The former Kentucky Wildcat showed up to make a statement in front of the world and he did that. Averaging 27 ppg on 43% shooting, adding 6 apg and 5 rpg while leading the Suns to a 7-0 record.  Booker was already establishing himself as a great player during his time in Phoenix, but he was not yet known as a guy that can be a winner.  He has found his niche that has made him a leader of a team that most people had written off.  

The Suns are not going to make the playoffs despite his great run, but the expectations leading into next season will be extremely high for Booker.  The team will not be expected to win the west but if they don’t make the playoffs the world will look at him. He has welcomed the pressure of the franchise and is beginning to develop into the player that will be a serious problem for the league in the coming years.  Players like Karl Anthony Towns and John Wall are both guys that out of Kentucky were supposed to be game changers for the league but it is the lesser glorified Booker that has surpassed them not only in skill but in leadership.  He may not stay in Phoenix forever but he has already begun to make his mark on that city and that team.   This guy is forreal and will show it.

The Heat can take the East

The Bucks are the clear favorites in the East.  The loss of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in back to back years has been like removing a roadblock for the Greek Freak and company to get to their destination. The Raptors and the Celtics are the two teams that seemed like they would be the best candidates to pull off the upset over the new beasts of the east but I think the Miami Heat have shown the ability to take down the Bucks and they will do it by attacking their biggest weaknesses.

The Miami Heat are the best three point shooting team in the NBA, sitting at 38% as a team makes them a very dangerous matchup for a Bucks team that has huge issues protecting the exterior. The Heat have not been dominant in the bubble,  they actually lost to the Bucks without Jimmy Butler.  That game took a 32 point second half comeback and serious foul trouble from Heat #2 player Bam Adebayo.  Milwaukee will not have all the factors working for them again in a seven game series.  

The Heat took two out of three from the Bucks during the regular season and are led by the least intimidated player in the entire NBA and coach that has been there before.  This roster is thick with gritty talent and shooters.  They are the perfect foil for Milwaukee, you get by Milwaukee you have a shot to go to the finals.

Barkley > Draymond- Why is this even a conversation?

The Last Dance documentary has shined the light on a lot of under celebrated players from the 90’s.  Most notably in episode six they talked about the Phoenix Suns and Charles Barkley.  Today’s generation see Barkley as the outspoken analyst on TNT and other media outlets but it is very noticeably forgotten that the Round Mound of Rebound was actually one of the best NBA players not only of the 90’s but in the history of the game. 

Recently Barkley has been in a war of words with fellow outspoken power forward Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors.  Green has cited that Barkley’s inability to win a championship puts him below the level of the Warriors star.  I am a believer in championships cementing the legacy of great players. It  is downright laughable for Green to believe that his legacy in the league will ever match Charles Barkley.  Green is a key cog in the machine the Golden State Warriors have built but by no means is he in the league of the Hall of Famer.  Barkley was a cornerstone of two different franchises.  The Sixers of the late 80’s and the Suns of the 90’s success was primarily built on the back of Barkley.    

Who had even heard of the Phoenix Suns before Barkley was traded there and led them to a losing effort against the prime Michael Jordan Bulls of the 90’s. The Suns had made it to one other finals in the 1975-1976 season and to this day haven’t made it since the time of Barkley and company.  It wasn’t until the Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire Suns of the mid 2000’s that Phoenix was able to make any impact in the league.  Barkley is unquestionably the face of the entire organization and unless Devin Booker gets some help he will be the face for years to come.  

I am not here to knock Draymond Green.  He is the perfect example of the progression of the point-forward position in today’s NBA.  Barkley however was carrying teams with lesser talent for years.  No matter who was on the court Barkley found success.  His career PER was 24.6 and destroyed Green who hasn’t had a season PER above 19.  We have seen what happens when Green becomes the focal point of a team.  He is not the scorer, rebounder or leader that Barkley was.  Draymond Green is an overachiever in the NBA.  He has done great things in the league, his defense is better than Barkleys.  That is the lone aspect about his game that you can argue is better.  That is it.  Someone tell me something that he does better.    It is actually very funny that Drayond believes that he is on the level of an NBA hall of famer.  Imagine if Green didn’t play along with some of the best players in the entire league. Would he even be talked about?  

Barkley played with some talent in his prime.  Kevin Johnson was very good for a small amount of time.  Dan Majerle was a three time all star, but he was never a premium level player.  Who did he play with on the level of  Steph Curry, Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant? Green could never take a team as far as Barkley did.  He could never be the #1 option. 

Three teams that could have beat the late 90’s Bulls.

“The Last Dance” documentary about the Chicago Bulls highlighted the final run of the great Bulls dynasty of the 90’s.  Winning six championships in eight seasons cemented the legacy of both the players, coaches and the city.  While watching I thought to myself who could really stop this team loaded with the best player and coach in NBA history. I felt like the second half of the three-peat the Bulls were the most dominant.  I wanted to look at which teams could have been able to stop their great run.  

I did not include the Orlando Magic team that eliminated the Bulls during Jordan initial return. 

Indiana Pacers 1995-1996

The 95-96 Indiana Pacers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks.  An injury to superstar Reggie Miller forced him to miss most of the first round. The injury doomed the Pacers.  During the season the Pacers were a thorn in the side of the historic 72-10 Chicago Bulls.  Indiana actually beat the Bulls twice during the season.  They were responsible for 20% of the losses for arguably the greatest team in the history of the league. Unlike most of the rest of the league they seemed to have an idea of how to handle the juggernaut. 

The Pacer’s were able to utilize their size and toughness in the post.  Rik Smits and Dale Davis were able to control the paint against Chicago. They could handle the inside and they had skilled shotmakers to punish.  Indiana had tons of talent as well as a great leader in Larry Brown.  Indiana had everything it took to pull off the upset in the playoffs, but the injury to Miller ended any chance of being successful.  It would have been really fun to see the playoff trash talk between Miller and Jordan both in their prime. 

Miami Heat 1997-1998

Led by Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning and Coach Pat Riley the Miami Heat were serious contenders during the time of the Bulls second three-peat.   Injuries plagued Miami throughout the season.  The first 22 games of the season they played without Alonzo Mourning due to offseason knee surgery.  Despite the loss of Mourning the Heat still began the season 15-7. They were in the driver’s seat for the division even without their superstar. 

Miami was not just built around their superstars.  The secondary pieces the organization assembled were able to fit perfectly.  Guards Voshon Leonard and Dan Majerle provided sharpshooting.  PJ Brown provided defense and rebounding.  Jamal Mashburn was the athletic mutli-purpose up and coming star. They had plenty of talent to surround their stars along with a coach that knew exactly how to utilize the talent around him.  

Miami was ranked in the top ten in both offensive and defensive rating.  The Heat’s game plan was to slow down the pace and take advantage of their elite talent.  They ranked 26 of 29 in pace of play, which was exactly what Pat Riley wanted.  He was an old school coach that wanted to grind out the game.  

The Heat dominated their division finishing 12 games above the New York Knicks.  They were matched up with the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.  This Heated rivalry got out of hand in game four when Alonzo Mourning got into an altercation with the Knicks Larry Johnson.  The fight led to the suspension of Mourning in the deciding game.  Without Mourning the Heat were not able to overcome the Knicks.

The Heat had the experience and talent to match the Bulls.  Physically they could handle any team. Mentally they had problems that would have been tough to overcome the Jordan led Bulls. If you base it on talent alone the Heat would have been a great matchup with Chicago.  

Seattle Supersonics 1995–1996

The Supersonics were the only team on this list that actually had a chance to take down the infamous 90’s Bulls.The Supersonics were led by guard Gary Payton and forward Shawn Kemp.  Two players that were legendary figures in the game.  Payton was known for his great defense and leadership. Kemp was known for his ferocious dunks and rebounding skills.  They were the perfect compliment to each other and it showed on the court as they dominated the Western Conference with a 64-18 record.  

The rest of the Sonics lineup were not push-overs but actually seriously talented secondary players.  Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf, Hersey Hawkins, Vincent Askew and Nat McMillan rounded out a solid lineup of players that all filled in their roles perfectly. Each one of them fit in perfectly with the two stars. 

The Bulls and Sonics split the season series with both winning their respective home games. These teams’ statistics were nearly identical with the only real difference being the Bulls 40% 3-pt shooting compared to the Sonics 36%.  That was literally the only large statistical difference between the two teams.  

The series began with the Bulls jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the series before the Sonics were able to get themselves in gear.  The Sonics dominated game 4 and 5 before being finished off in game six in Chicago.  Injuries plagued Seattle from the start as defensive stud Gary Payton was dealing with a bad calf injury that forced him off of Michael Jordan.  Sonics second best defensive guard Nate McMillan was injured nearly the entire series.  The loss of their two best defensive guards had Jordan salivating at the idea of being guarded but the third choice. Jordan dominated a gimpy Seattle team averaging 30.7 ppg.  If Gary Payton was fully healthy the Sonics could have been the team that stopped the dynasty.