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Rowan’s Rankings | NBA Week 20

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While there’s been little change at the top of this week’s rankings, there’s plenty of change lower in the rankings. At this time of year, the league’s best separate themselves from the herd, which is exactly what has taken place to this point.

1. Golden State Warriors

last week 1
Kevin Durant and the Warriors took care of business in Oklahoma City and have managed to keep their impressive play going. The Warriors have done a tremendous job of navigating distractions and bouncing back from occasional hiccups. Their composure has been incredibly impressive.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

last week 2
The rough patch for the Cavs might be over. The team has won five of their last six games and Derrick Williams has looked good in his first two appearances. The team still needs another playmaker, but it seems unlikely that they will receive one until after the trade deadline.

3. San Antonio Spurs

last week 3
While the Spurs have been impressive, they still have been prone to the occasional bad loss, like their road loss at Madison Square Garden. They’re still the clear third best team in the league and with the league’s best defense, they remain one of the league’s most potent threat.

4. Washington Wizards

last week 4
The Wizards were on the wrong end of the game of the year with their overtime loss to the Cavs, but Washington gained some validity. With a 9-1 record over their last ten, Washington has managed to continue it’s ascent up the standings.

5. Boston Celtics

last week 5
Like the Wizards, Boston is also 9-1 in their last ten games. They’re three and a half games up of Toronto and currently look like the clear second best team in the East. With a loaded war chest for the impending trade deadline, Boston is poised to make some noise.

6. Houston Rockets

last week 9
The Rockets have won four straight games and have managed to capitalize on a soft schedule. Their defense has looked better lately and they’ve won most of their games in convincing fashion.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

last week 11
The Grizzlies lost their last game to the Warriors, but have been playing dominant basketball lately. They got a quality blowout win over the Spurs and have been one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference.

8. Utah Jazz

last week 6
The Jazz have lost their last two games, which is yet another case of inconsistency for this Jazz roster. The loss to the Celtics is understandable, but their loss to the inexplicably hot Mavericks was still surprising.

9. L.A. Clippers

last week 10
Blake Griffin has been finding his groove lately as the Clippers have found a way to win close road games. If Griffin can resume the level of play he’s known for, it can help take pressure off of a short-handed roster.

10. Indiana Pacers

last week 7
Speaking of maddening inconsistency, the Pacers lost understandable games to the Cavs and Wizards, but they failed to bounce back and were blown out by a Jabari Parker-less Bucks. With upcoming games against the Spurs, Cavs, and Wizards, things aren’t going to get any easier.

11. Atlanta Hawks

last week 8
The Hawks have also experienced some slippage lately, but are still stumbling into position to overtake a slumping Toronto Raptors. They haven’t been impressive, but they’re still winning enough to make up ground.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder

last week 12
The Thunder won against a shorthanded and tired Cavs team, but were unable to give Russell Westbrook the revenge he craves against the Warriors. They’ll have to wait until March 20th to get another shot at beating Durant in OKC.

13. Miami Heat

last week 13
I didn’t expect that Miami would still be in this spot when I placed them here last week. The team stretched its win streak to 13 games before losing to an Embiid-less Sixers squad. How Miami reacts now that it’s streak is over will be fascinating, as they try to prove their run was more than just lightning in a bottle.

14. Toronto Raptors

last week 15
Things haven’t got much better for the Raptors. They’ve suffered two bad losses in a row to the Wolves and Pistons. The team has fallen apart with injuries lately. While DeRozan is back, the team still is missing Patrick Patterson.

15. Denver Nuggets

last week 16
Nikola Jokic has been absolutely fantastic lately and has kept Denver in position to make the playoffs. With the trade for Mason Plumlee, the Nuggets can keep continuity with two excellent passing big men.

16. Detroit Pistons

last week 18
Detroit is simply too talented to struggle as much as they have this season. They’ve won four of their last six games and are back in playoff position. They have the ninth best defense in the league, but their woes on the other end have limited their success to this point.

17. Chicago Bulls

last week 17
The Bulls have lost three straight games, as the law of averages catches up to them. The Bulls are tenth in the East in point differential, so I don’t expect things to get better for Chicago any time soon.

18. Portland Trail Blazers

last week 19
How Jusuf Nurkic will fit with this Blazers squad remains to be seen. He’ll likely be a downgrade from Plumlee. But with three first round picks in the upcoming draft, the Blazers have the potential to be buyers at the trade deadline and turn their season around.

19. Dallas Mavericks

last week 14
Seth Curry has been one of the best stories in the league this season. Since entering the starting lineup, the Mavericks have had the most surprising runs of success outside of Miami.

20. Sacramento Kings

last week not ranked
Wins over both Boston and Atlanta have helped Sacramento get back on the right track. It’s proof that as long as Sacramento has DeMarcus Cousins, they’ll be capable of beating anybody.

From the heart of continent, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Justin is a life-long hoops head with a love of the team from Northeast Ohio. He’s written for Fear the Sword as well as Hoops Habit. And he’s never blown a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. "It's kind of boring when you take open shots." - J.R. Smith. Checkout Justin’s weekly NBA Power Play called Rowan’s Rankings.

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers

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Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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MELO-dy Cool

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Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

You probably knew this before you laid eyes on these words.

It honestly doesn’t matter much who the Thunder traded away for “Melo” and who the Knicks received, because they weren’t anywhere near Melo’s overall value. But, it matters that Melo himself is gone and away from New York City, and for all his accolades, he honestly had a major part to play in his exodus.

Melo altogether is a player that both outplayed and underplayed his own potential. No one that saw him at Oak Hill Academy as a high schooler could for-sure say that he’d be a superstar, and everyone that saw him at Syracuse University might say he was a can’t-miss by then.

And he didn’t miss on most of what he’s teased, he’s delivered in a lot of ways; but, the reason why he didn’t work out in New York was because he was selfish to a fault in the key places that required compromise.

Do you remember how he got to Kings County in the first place? He forced a trade to the Knicks from his then-Denver Nuggets, a team that was teasing with talent abundant, but not unlike today, stuck in the mighty Western Conference. With title contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at that time of the NBA, the 2010–2011 season, the Nuggets just weren’t going to make the noise they wanted to make. Melo was a free agent-to-be at the completion of that season, and it was likely that he’d leave. His time with the Nuggets, a very successful time, had run its course. The change was coming, and he was catalyst to the change he wanted to see in his world. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem was that Melo didn’t want to wait for New York. He wanted New York then and there, and it didn’t matter how it was going to happen.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks weren’t in a position to compete for a title during that season, something he long wanted to bring to New York upon his eventual arrival.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to gut their team’s best assets in a trade for the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised native. It didn’t matter that if he waited until the season was over, he could be playing with a young and promising Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov (a revelation upon his arrival to the States from Russia), amongst others.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to sacrifice draft picks for him, instead of keeping them upon signing later.

It didn’t matter to Melo.

And so, when he arrived in New York, in early 2011, he received the adulation and praise of a prodigal son. Sure, the team lost some valuable talent and depth, but surely Melo would will the Knicks into wild success — just like he did in Denver, right?

And sure enough, after he rebuked the Linsanity of 2012 when Jeremy Lin became an overnight NBA superstar and balked at the prospect of Lin’s resigning, he gained some success.

The 2012–2013 season saw Melo as the closest thing to being an MVP candidate that anyone had ever seen from him as a professional in an 82-game season, but not before being totally indifferent to former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s wishes for him to play more at power forward to stretch the offensive side of the ball for the Knicks and the defenses of the opposing league teams. D’Antoni quit before the end of the 2011–2012 season, because of Melo’s loathsome resistance to D’Antoni and the coach’s embrace of Lin.

A big aspect of Melo’s failure to bring glory to Manhattan was his resistance to doing what has made him a legend in USA Basketball. Having won multiple gold medals as a stretch-four shooter, that he refused to embrace that positioning as an NBA pro limited the ability of his teams to win.

As a four, Melo, who had gained grown-man weight from natural maturity and strength and conditioning, didn’t have to be the cavity in his team’s defense as he struggled as a man-to-man defender. Moving from his formerly-natural small forward slot could allow him to defend more ably and allow someone more fleet of foot to stop the dominant wings that Melo often matched up against. Becoming something different and better in a new place would’ve allowed him the opportunity to be greater than anyone had known him to be in an NBA uniform.

But, he refused and rebuked such a change.

And one last thing: Injuries and front office politics aside, Melo was loyal to the Knicks organization through and through. But, he had a choice to go.

So, to recap, Melo forced a trade to New York that gutted the talent of the roster, and then he refused to change to a position that would behoove him and the team in the journey to championship gain.

Well, he also had a chance to leave for greener pastures and become a Chicago Bull, where he could experience more success with a front office committed to his development and surrounding talent. He didn’t want to do that, and that’s fair. New York was home, but if he was going to win in New York, seeing as to how being the way that he’d always been wasn’t helping — that is shoot-first, ask questions and defend later — why return to The Big Apple if you aren’t going to change?

He saw what being a score-only wing was giving his teams — it gave his teams very little success for the vast majority of 14 years. Sure, his Nuggets and Knicks made the playoffs (not so much New York) much of the time, but he said he wasn’t playing for that.

In the end, Melo and the Knicks not working out could be seen before he even became a Knick, when Melo stomped his way out of Denver to play immediately for New York when it would’ve behooved him to stay put for two more months.

Championship or bust, they say.

He couldn’t really compromise too well for the chip, it appears.

In the end, Carmelo Anthony — despite years of league-leading jersey sales, runway appearances, and bright lights on the New York City streets with LaLa — was a big, fat, shining, New York bust.

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