Josh Smith’s Having Another Strong Season

Josh Smith’s numbers may be slightly down this season, but his Atlanta Hawks are playing some great basketball, and Smith has been a significant part of the success. 

The Hawks are keeping pace with the Miami Heat in the Southeast Division. They’re 14-7 on the season, putting them just one game behind LeBron James and company. 

A large part of Atlanta’s success has come from the defensive end, and that’s where Smith has been terrific this season. As a team, the Hawks are allowing just 94.1 points per game, the seventh-best number in the NBA. 

Smith has always been a terrific defensive player, and he’s been very active on that front again this year. He’s averaging 2.1 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, and it’s not like he’s been a slouch on the offensive side of things either. 

The power forward is averaging 16.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists on the season, and there’s every reason to expect those numbers could continue to rise as the year progresses. Smith is shooting 44.1 percent from the floor, which is his lowest mark since the 2006-2007 season. If he can get more efficient in that respect, that scoring average will skyrocket. 

All in all, there’s no doubting Smith’s overall talent level, which would explain why his name is constantly being brought up in trade rumors around the league. The Los Angeles Lakers have been mentioned as a possible destination, as he would likely fit with Dwight Howard in the post much better than Pau Gasol does at the moment.

However, Smith will remain with the Hawks for the foreseeable future, and with him and Al Horford still patrolling the frontcourt, they’re going to keep making money with your NBA picks.

Atlanta is sure to reach the playoffs again this season, but maybe this time they can actually make some noise once they get there.

Prigioni Proves That Age Doesn’t Matter

Not very often do you see a 35-year old rookie in the NBA, but Pablo Prigioni has bucked the trend and has become somewhat of a contributor for the New York Knicks this season. 

Prigioni had been plying his trade in Europe before getting scooped up by the Knicks over the summer. He was on display during the Summer Olympics and apparently management liked what they saw.

Having another experienced guy in the fold has been helpful for New York, who also went and made deals with the likes of Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace. Quickly the Knicks have transformed into one of the oldest NBA teams in the league.

That hasn’t hindered results whatsoever though, as the Knicks are rocking it with a 16-5 overall record, putting them in first place, ahead of the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, in the Atlantic Division.

Prigioni, while not playing too many minutes, has hit some big shots and been a part of some crucial plays already this season. He’s averaging 3.1 points and 2.7 assists in only 13.8 minutes per contest, but is shooting a solid 46.0 percent from the floor and 85.7 percent from the free throw line.

One of his standout games came in late November when the Knicks beat Milwaukee 102-88 on the road. Prigioni had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, hitting two threes, and also chipped in with seven assists, three rebounds and a steal in 28 minutes of work.

With veteran presences like Prigioni accepting their roles on the team, New York has transformed into an elit NBA team. The Knicks can’t seem to stop winning and have won seven of their last eight heading into Thursday night’s crunch encounter with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. 

What kind of role will Prigioni will have against L.A? We’ll find out shortly.

Top NBA MVP Candidates

There’s a lot of familiar faces who are leading the race for MVP right now, even though we’re still early on in the season. Let’s run over some of the top candidates.

Though Kevin Durant isn’t leading the league in scoring, he’s not far behind and is doing a lot of other things extremely well too. More importantly, his team is winning at an alarming rate, with the Oklahoma City Thunder at 17-4 and in first place in the Southwest Division.

Durant is averaging 27.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, good for a PER of 27.69. The rebound and assist numbers are career highs and he’s shooting 50.6 percent from the floor and 44.0 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been scarily efficient so far this season and that’s a big reason why the Thunder have been one of the better teams in the NBA so far.

Next on our list has to be LeBron James, who won the award last year. The Miami Heat haven’t been dominating teams like many thought they would, but no one can blame James for that. He’s averaging 25.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists a contest, and his PER leads the league at 29.15.

Our third candidate is Carmelo Anthony. He has looked super focused on both ends of the court this season and is putting up 27.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He’s connecting on a ridiculous 44.9 percent from three and just dropped 45 on the Brooklyn Nets the other night. One of the best pure scorers the game has ever seen, Anthony has been a huge part of New York’s early success.

Those are the three main contenders in our eyes, though there could be honorable mentions for the likes of Kobe Bryant and James Harden. Kobe leads the league in scoring at 29.2 points per game, but his Lakers are struggling and the MVP never gets awarded to a player on a losing team.

As for Harden, he’s quickly transformed into one of the elite players in the league with the Houston Rockets, but like Bryant, his team needs to start winning more games in order for him to any real consideration.

NBA’s Top 3-Point Shooters

You may be surprised at some of the names listed in the top of the 3-point percentage category, though there are some familiar names there too. Let’s run over the list.

Up top is O.J. Mayo, who has seemingly been re-born in a Dallas Mavericks jersey. He’s shooting a ridiculous 53.0 percent from three and leads the league by a large margin there. Averaging a team-best 20.8 points per game, the Mavericks have to love what they’re getting out of Mayo, especially with Dirk Nowitzki still sidelined.

It’s a scary thought what Dallas will be able to do offensively once their big man returns to the floor.

Also in the top five, we’ve got the likes of Jason Kidd, Matt Bonner, Chris Duhon and Francisco Garcia. Now, we should mention that the latter three aren’t getting that many minutes and attempts, and therefore their positions on the leaderboard are a little bit skewed.

So we next focus on Kevin Martin, who’s number six at 47.9 percent from three on the year. Martin was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for James Harden, and while Harden is doing some great things for the Houston Rockets, Martin has been every bit the efficient offensive player that the Thunder were hoping to get.

Coming off the bench, Martin has been extremely lethal and is helping take some pressure off of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Funnily enough, three Miami Heat players are also in the top ten, with Shane Battier (47.8), Ray Allen (47.4) and Rashard Lewis (47.2) also hitting at a great rate this season. If these kind of percentages keep up for the Heat, they’re going to be mighty hard to keep up with offensively.

Rounding out the top ten is Ben Gordon, who’s hitting at a 47.1 percent clip. He’s helped the Charlotte Bobcats become a legitimate team again with his offensive play.

Trade Rumors Continue To Swirl Around Gasol

 

How can we talk about the Los Angeles Lakers without continuing to question Pau Gasol and whether or not he’s going to stick around or be shipped off?

Gasol has had plenty of success in his time with the Lakers, no one can question that, but perhaps he’s starting to wear out his welcome. A nagging tendinitis issue in his knee and his overall down play across the board have Lakers fans wondering what’s next.

The addition of Dwight Howard hasn’t really helped, as Gasol prefers to play in the post and use his superior skills to get baskets. Instead, he’s being forced out further than he’d like and has had to settle for a lot of jumpers, which is not his ideal skillset.

Gasol’s poor overall play has meant more minutes for the likes of Antawn Jamison, who’s a more traditional forward, one that can spread the floor and hit shots from the perimeter, while at the same time opening up room for Howard to go to work down low.

So, there’s no shortage of problems when it comes to Gasol and the Lakers. Kobe Bryant’s already called him out on numerous occasions and Gasol had already complained publicly about his diminishing role in the offense.

That’s where the trade rumors come in. Some think trading Gasol away for a big man that’s also a shooter, such as Andrea Bargnani for example, paired with another productive guard would be a good return.

The trouble is, Steve Nash was promised that Gasol would be around, and in the end it’s still far too early to throw away this awesome nucleus before we can really see what it’s capable of. Once Nash comes back, maybe everything changes for the better.

Until then though, you’re better off staying away from the Lakers with your NBA picks. They’re still getting far too much love from oddsmakers.

More Injury Issues For Billups

Injuries have prevented Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups from playing together in the backcourt. When will Billups return, and what kind of impact will that have on the Clippers going forward?

Billups had just come back from an Achilles injury and only managed to appear in three games before suffering tendinitis in his left foot. He’s expected to be out for at least two weeks, a blow for a L.A. team that could really use the extra body out on the perimeter.

One of the most experienced and savvy veterans out there, the Clippers were counting on Billups to be a solid contributor this season. Hopefully his injury isn’t too serious and we’ll be seeing him back on the court in no time.

While he’s sidelined, Chris Paul will again assume a lot more responsibility. CP3 is averaging 16.1 points and 9.5 assists per game, while rocking a 25.3 PER rating, clearly the highest number on the team.

He’s going to have lean on guys like Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe even more now that Billups will be out. Crwaford is averaging a team-high 17.8 points on 45.3 percent shooting, while Bledsoe has a 22.5 PER, the second-highest on the team. The Clippers would really do well to give the young playmaker more minutes whenever possible.

However, Vinny Del Negro would love a healthy backcourt of Paul and Billups as soon as feasible. Billups has averaged 15.5 points, 5.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds over his career and age hasn’t really caught him with him yet, injuries aside. He can still play at the highest level, no doubt about it.

Once Billups returns and the Clippers figure out their best possible rotation, they’re going to continue win games. They’re already doing well at 12-6 on the season, so this could have the makings of a special season for Paul and company.

Lakers Need Better Production From Gasol

It’s been quite the disappointing season for Pau Gasol so far, and now an injury has sidelined him for the foreseeable future.

There were grave concerns about whether or not Gasol would fit in with Dwight Howard on this new-look Los Angeles Lakers team, and from the early signs, those concerns were justified. Gasol doesn’t look like the same player and has seemed to lose confidence this season.

As a player with career averages of 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds, Gasol’s numbers this season leave a lot to be desired. He’s putting up 12.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, with his PER at an even 15.00.

With Howard taking over the center spot and clogging up the lane, Gasol has been pushed out further than he’d like, and has had to settle for a lot of jumpers, which is not the best part of his game by any stretch of the imagination.

Gasol likes using his silky smooth moves in the post, and he’s not been able to replicate that for the Lakers this season. A coaching change certainly hasn’t helped, while this injury setback is also a growing problem.

The Spaniard has been dealing with knee tendinitis for over a month and it was finally decided that the the Lakers will rest him as long as it’s deemed necessary. Gasol had been struggling mightily anyway, so maybe this short break will light a fire under him for once he returns to the floor.

One thing’s for sure: if the Lakers want to turn it around and start winning, they need better production out of Gasol. He has proven he can be a beast for the Lakers in the past and has been instrumental in their championship runs, so hopefully he snaps out of this funk.

Dirk Nowitzki Injury Update

Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has still yet to play one minute for the team this season, but his return from injury is nearing ever the closer.

The German sharpshooter had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and has been in recovery mode ever since. Apparently, he’s close to full health, which clearly would be a huge boost to a Dallas team that is struggling to stay afloat.

Rick Carlisle has done his very best to keep the Mavs competitive without their best player on the floor, but it’s proven to be a herculean task. As of now they’re 8-9 on the year, putting them fourth in the Southwest Division.

With Nowitzki out, O.J. Mayo has had to take on an even bigger scoring role, and he’s done an excellent job at doing so. He’s averaging a team-best 20.2 points per game  and is shooting 47.6 percent overall and 52.7 percent from three.

Chris Kaman, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and others are playing well too, but there’s no one like Dirk. He’s going to step in and make an immediate impact.

Consider that Nowitzki has averaged 22.9 points and 8.3 rebounds over his career and you can see why the Mavs may be a little more than happy to get him back. He’s been in the league for over 14 years and has transformed his game dramatically for the better. Dirk’s numbers were slightly down last season (21.6 PPG and 6.7 RPG), but he wasn’t fully healthy and the shortened schedule didn’t help matters either.

So, once Nowitzki is back and fully integrated once more, expect the Mavericks to win far more often going forward. We can’t overstate his importance to the team, as Dallas’ offense, which ranks a solid #11 overall with 98.8 points per game, should only get more efficient with him on the court.

Thunder Starting To Make Some Noise

The Thunder have stormed out to an excellent 14-4 mark to start off the season and are showing no signs of slowing down. Are they really a top contender, or will Oklahoma City cool down at any point?

Don’t hold your breath.

Oklahoma City, even without James Harden, is playing as well as any team in the NBA right now. The Thunder rank number one overall in scoring at 105.1 points per game , and can also be found in the top ten in points allowed at 95.3. Being in the top ten in both categories is always a good recipe for success.

This hot start already has the Thunder five games up on the Denver nuggets in the Northwest Division standings. They’ve won five straight games ahead of their trip to play Brooklyn on Tuesday night in the Barclays Center.

Long story short, if you’ve been siding with the Thunder with your NBA picks this season you’ve been doing well for yourself.

Durant has been out of this world, averaging 26.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks per game so far. He’s shooting 51.2 percent overall, 43.8 percent from beyond the arc and 90.0 percent from the charity stripe.

He’s getting a lot of help form Russell Westbrook, though. Westbrook is putting up 20.7 points, 8.7 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals a contest, despite shooting only 41.5 percent from the field and 34.7 percent from three. Westbrook continues to make quite a lot of mistakes and forces some questionable shots, but his production far outweighs those errors in judgment. He’s an athletic freak of nature.

With Kevin Martin (16.1 PPG, 47.7 percent from three) shooting lights out off the bench and Serge Ibaka (14.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.3 BPG) elevating his play on the offensive end, the Thunder continue to chug along.

Enjoy the ride, Oklahoma City fans.

Fisher’s New Role In Dallas

The Dallas Mavericks swooped in and signed free agent Derek Fisher recently. Will the move pay off down the line, and what kind of impact will the veteran have?

Fisher had been wanting to sign on with a championship contender, one where he could also log significant minutes despite being 38-years-old. The point guard has championship pedigree and is a great locker room presence, so naturally there were a lot of interested parties.

It turns out that Mark Cuban and the Mavericks were the preferred destination. Perhaps the offer of a starting job was icing on the cake?

With Darren Collison not living up to his full potential as the starting point guard, Rick Carlisle has decided to bring him off the bench, leaving the door open for Fisher to start.

In his first game for his new team, Fisher shot just 1-of-8 from the floor, but he logged 24 minutes in a 92-77 win over the Detroit Pistons. A win’s a win, and despite the poor shooting percentage, Fisher showed he can still compete at this level.

Cuban and Carlisle will be happy to have had a player who’s been in the league for over 16 years. With numerous titles under his belt and experience beyond belief, he will right in with a veteran-laded team that already has the likes of Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Chris Kaman and of course the injured Dirk Nowitzki.

The Mavericks easily won against the Pistons, but we’re eager to see how they perform against slightly better competition. They will travel this week to play the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets, so we should get a much better idea of what kind of impact Fisher will have when that three-game road trip finishes up.

Early MVP Candidates

Which five players are bringing it the most so far this season? There’s plenty of superstar power in the NBA right now, so here’s our list of early MVP candidates.

We have to start with last year’s MVP, LeBron James. He has picked up right where he left off, averaging 25.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists for the Heat, a team that have rocketed out to a 11-3 start and first place position in the Southeast Division.

With the pressure finally off, you can see LeBron has taken his game to the next level. He’s making much better decisions on the basketball court and has become even more efficient, a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Chomping on his heels is pal Kevin Durant, who LeBron bested in the NBA Finals. Durant is putting up 26.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.4 dimes a contest, and has the Thunder playing better basketball on both ends of the floor than essentially every other team in the association. Oklahoma City is winning on a consistent basis and should continue to do so going forward.

Third on our MVP list is Carmelo Anthony, who’s averaging 26.5 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Knicks this season. Since becoming the permanent starter at power forward, his game has improved even more and he’s still shooting a ridiculous 45.1 percent from three. Melo’s been so good at the four that it’s become apparent that Amare Stoudemire will have to come off the bench when he’s healthy.

Our final two candidates, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, are having excellent seasons. Kobe is leading the league in scoring and continues to defy his age, while Paul may not be scoring at a great clip but still is running the Clippers beautifully.

Breaking Down The Top Scorers In NBA

 Who are the top offensive players in the association? Inside you will find a small list of the top players in the game right now.

 We’ve got five stars that we will be talking about in this piece.

Firstly, we’ll start with Kobe Bryant, who currently leads the league with 27.7 points per game. He’s also chipping in with 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game, while shooting 50.2 percent overall and 42.1 percent from three. Despite getting up there in age, the Black Mamba remains one of the elite and will go down as one of the best players to have ever played the game. He can still score at will against any team.

Next on the scoring list is Kevin Durant, who’s putting up 26.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists a game. He’s shooting 50.5 percent overall, 44.1 percent from three and 89.9 percent from the line. Those rebounding numbers are a career-high for Durant, and he continues to just get better and better. Durant’s only 24-years-old, so it’s scary to think how good he may become.

Third place belongs to Carmelo Anthony, who has re-invented himself as a dominant scoring power forward for the Knicks. Averaging 26.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, Anthony has guided New York to one of the best starts of any team so far this season.

How can you talk about great offensive players without mentioning LeBron James? LeBron is averaging 25.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game and has been good for a PER of 28.58. Ridiculous stuff. There’s been no signs of slowing down for the superstar.

Finally, there’s a new scoring stud around town and that’s James Harden. The bearded one, who recently was traded to the Houston Rockets, has quickly emerged as one of the best players in the league. He’s averaging 24.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds a contest.

Trade Rumors Surround Tyreke Evans

 

Tyreke Evans’ name is consistently getting tossed into trade rumors, and it doesn’t help that his Sacramento Kings are just 4-10 this season. Will the young guard be traded at some point in the near future?

Evans, after getting selected fourth overall in the 2009 draft, burst on to the scene as a rookie, averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds in 37.2 minutes per game. It was one of the best rookie seasons we’ve ever seen in the NBA.

However, the 23-year old guard has regressed since that season. He averaged 17.8 points, 5.6 assists and 4.8 assists in his sophomore season, then went down to 16.5/4.5/4.6 in 2011/12.

Evans started out this current season even worse, but has picked up his play over the last week or so. He’s scored at least 18 points in five straight games and has is averaging 21.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists in that span.

If he manages to keep this kind of production level up, there’s no chance the Kings will want to deal Evans.

Evans has been helped out tremendously by the promotion of Aaron Brooks into the starting lineup for Sacramento. He’s moved ahead of Isaiah Thomas on the depth chart and seems to have much better chemistry with Evans in the backcourt.

This will be an intriguing situation to track. If Evans regresses even a little bit, and Sacramento continues to lose, then they may have no choice but to let Evans go in order to try and get some other pieces.

The frustrating thing is the Kings do have a lot of nice young talent on their roster. DeMarcus Cousins is one of the better big men in the league, and guys like Marcus Thornton and rookie Thomas Robinson have skills, too. They just didn’t seem to all click on the court together, but it seems like Evans has been the primary scapegoat unfortunately.

Michael Finley Eyes A Return To The NBA

A veteran of 15 years, Michael Finley is apparently eying a return to the NBA. Does he have a realistic chance of playing again, and if so, what are some likely destinations for the accomplished two guard?

Finley retired back after the 2009/10 season after a storied career which saw him play with the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics.

The 6’7” Finley played his college ball at Wisconsin before getting selected in the first round by the Suns in 1995. He averaged 15.0 points per game in his rookie year but was then shipped off to Dallas, where he went on to have a very productive time.

Finley was a mainstay in the lineup for eight seasons with the Mavericks. He averaged 22.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the 1999/2000 season and also averaged over 20 points per game in 1997/1998, 1998/1999, 2000/2001 and 2001/2002.

Then Finley’s role began to change as he got older. He moved on to the Spurs and became more of a role player, albeit a successful one under Gregg Popovich. His averages plummeted, but he ended up finally wining that coveted NBA title in 2007 with San Antonio, as the Spurs dominated.

After a brief stint with the Celtics in 2009/2010, Finley finally decided to call it quits, and then moved into a front office job with the Mavericks after convincing Mark Cuban that he could be an asset for the organization.

Like many retired pro players though, Finley is getting the itch to play again and has been working out vigorously in hopes that he can make a return and be a reliable veteran presence off the bench for a contender.

Only time will tell if that actually become a reality though.

Mayo Picks Up The Scoring Slack For Dallas

With Dirk Nowitzki out, something has had to pick up the slack on the offensive end for the Dallas Mavericks. That person has been O.J. Mayo, and he’s been doing a terrific job.

Mayo was originally drafted number three overall in the 2008 draft after playing college ball at USC, but he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies and played his first four seasons there.

The smooth shooting guard proved he could score the rock, averaging 18.5 points in his rookie year, while shooting 43.8 percent overall, 38.4 percent from three and 87.9 percent from the line.

Things went a little downhill over the next few seasons though, as the Grizzlies brought in new blood, leaving Mayo fighting for his life for more playing time. In the 2010/11 season he averaged 26.3 minutes per game – he averaged 38.0 minutes per contest in his first two years in the league – and put up just 11.3 points a game. Last year, it was more of the same, as Mayo didn’t start one game and averaged 26.8 minutes and 12.6 points.

The Grizzlies let Mayo walk and he opted to sign with Mark Cuban and the Mavericks. There’s no question they’re loving that decision to bring him on board.

In 34.6 minutes per game, Mayo is leading the team with 21.5 points per game. He’s shooting lights out across the board – 49.0 percent overall, 53.2 percent from three and 86.9 percent from the line.

His play has helped the Mavericks hold on in the competitive Southwest Division. They’re currently 7-7 on the season, and you know things are only going to get better once Nowitzki returns to the floor.

Until then, Mayo is going to be counted on to carry the scoring load, and if he can keep doing so, Dallas should be a legitimate team to make the playoffs this season.