The biggest advantage in basketball

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A quarter of the way through the season, which team do you think possesses the greatest positional advantage in basketball? Is it the Heat with LeBron overwhelming every 3 in the league? The Thunder with Durant at the 3 and the 4? Carmelo thriving at power forward with the Knicks? Kobe beating up on the secretly shallow shooting guard position with the Lakers?

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The biggest positional advantage in the league this year, incredibly, belongs to the point guards of the Los Angeles Clippers. And it’s not even all that close.

There are about a million reasons why this shouldn’t be the case. The existence of the aforementioned players and their unstoppable offensive games is one of those reasons.

The depth of the point guard position around the league is another. Think about it — there are about 20 different point guards in the league right now who could very realistically become All-Stars within the next three seasons. Every team seems to have a great one, or at the least, a pretty good one.

Then, of course, there’s the whole handcheck thing. Stopping lightning bug point guards is practically impossible with the way the rules are enforced, and with offenses in general shifting more towards spacing and speed, playing defense as a point guard is sort of like trying to catch a hummingbird in an open field.

That’s the logic, but two 6-foot guys in Los Angeles are defying it on a nightly basis. Here’s how.

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The data

Thanks to 82games.com, Hoopstats.com, and John Hollinger’s brain (congrats to him, by the way), you can see just how dominant the Clippers point guards have been this year.

Offense: The Clippers point guards are shooting 48.5 percent from the field, which is the third best mark in the league. They also rank third in the league with 11.7 assists and 25.3 points a game. They’re first in rebounds with 6.1 a game and have a league best efficiency number of 33.4 — a whole 7 points ahead of San Antonio in second place.

Defense: The Clippers are holding opposing point guards to 36.6 percent shooting and are causing them to turn the ball over 5.2 times a contest, which are both leagues bests. They’re also 5th in points allowed and are allowing the league’s lowest opponent efficiency rate at 15.9.

Player Efficiency Rating: Both Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe are top 10 players in the league in PER (Paul at 5, Bledsoe at 8). The Clippers point guards this season have posted a PER of 24.9, while their opponents post a number of 8.8. That PER differential of 16.1 is the highest of every position by a longshot. The next closest are San Antonio’s centers (Duncan and Splitter) with a differential of 10.4.

The only player who could have a beef with these rankings is Kevin Durant, who plays both the 3 and the 4 for Oklahoma City. Impressively enough, the Thunder rank 1st in both SF and PF in PER differential, but the difference at those spots still isn’t nearly as big as the Clippers point guards. LeBron James plays both forward spots as well, but the Heat’s shoddy defense this far doesn’t have James in the discussion.

Introducing Eric Bledsoe

Believe it or not, Chris Paul’s shooting percentages and scoring numbers are actually down this year based on his career averages. While he’s certainly still been great, by no means is Paul doing something unsustainable — which might be the conclusion you’d draw from such a small sample size.

While Paul has been very pesky defensively with those lightning quick, strong hands (Zach Harper of CBS Sports coined him the Lobster — which is perfect on multiple levels), don’t overlook the defensive performances of breakout star Eric Bledsoe. The third-year, 6-foot-1 point guard is built like a tank, but his wingspan is incredible. The pressure Bledsoe places on ballhandlers and his nose for the ball in passing lanes gives him Per36 numbers of 3steals and 1.4 blocks a game, something only one player (some guy named Michael Jordan?) has accomplished over a full season.

Bledsoe isn’t a one trick pony though. He possesses otherworldly speed and leaping ability, allowing him to fly up the floor and finish way above where any other point guard not named Russell Westbrook dreams of going vertically. The nickname “Mini LeBron” sounds insane on the surface, but then you watch him block a shot with his face, put in tip dunks on Josh Smith and send away Dwyane Wade at the rim and you begin to wonder just how good this guy can be. Bledsoe has talent you can dream on, and he’s learning behind one of the smartest players in the game. It’s scary to think of how good the Clippers could be if they played Paul and Bledsoe (instead of Willie Green) together, because the plus/minus numbers of that backcourt in limited time are off the charts.

But let’s focus on reality, which is plenty impressive as is. Going from Chris Paul to Eric Bledsoe is like 8 innings of a knuckleballer and then a 9th against a guy who throws 100 MPH, and opposing point guards are befuddled by it. 48 minutes of hell against those two seems a little unfair, but for the Clippers? So far this season, it’s the biggest advantage in basketball.

Raptors troll Bucks after closing in Game 6 with RapsIn6.com website (VIDEO)

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Despite a disastrous fourth quarter performance, the Toronto Raptors closed the series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. The Raptors came away from Game 6 with a 92-89 victory and a chance to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.

Meanwhile, the rivalry between the Raptors and the Bucks appears to be alive and well, as the Raptors pushed a video on social media after the game ended that was pointed toward the Bucks.

In it, the Raptors mascot registers a domain name for the team at RapsIn6.com, then proceeds to sip tea in the style of the famous Kermit meme.

In case you are out of the loop, this is a reference to Brandon Jennings saying Milwaukee would beat the Miami Heat in six games back in 2013.

Meanwhile, game ops at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee played the theme song from the children’s TV show “Barney” during Raptors player introductions.

Nothing really happens if you go to RapsIn6.com. There’s nothing on the website save for the video the Raptors posted to social media, which you can watch above.

Toronto has their core together and presumably will for a little while. The Bucks are a growing young team. I’m cool with them duking it out in the postseason for years to come.

Bucks storm back at home, Raptors hang on for 92-89 win, advance to second round

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Nothing can be easy for the Raptors.

They were cruising, up 25 in the third quarter, whipping the ball around on offense, hitting threes, making sharp rotations on defense, and generally overwhelming a Bucks team that did not look ready for the moment.

Then everything changed. The Raptors offense went ice cold, and the ball movement stopped, and the Bucks were getting big plays from Giannis Antetokounmpo and — out of nowhere — Jason Terry. Across the third-and-fourth quarters the Bucks went on a 34-7 run, hitting 5-of-7 from three, one of those a Terry three to put the Bucks up 80-78.

The Raptors then responded like a veteran team, going on a 9-0 run led by DeMar DeRozan, who was the best Toronto player in the series. The Bucks had their chances, but shot 6-of-14 on free throws in the fourth, and Milwaukee started to look tired like the comeback had taken too much out of them. They made the mental mistakes of a young team learning hard lessons.

Toronto hung on for a 92-89 win, and they take the series 4-2.

The Raptors will open their conference semifinal series against the Cavaliers on Monday night in Cleveland.

The star of the night for Toronto was clearly DeRozan, who finished with 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting. Beyond that, he was quick with the recognition of double-teams and was moving the ball, plus had a key defensive play late. However, his biggest moment was this dunk.

The Bucks came out with some desperation early. Antetokounmpo had 14 in the first quarter and got his team off to a good start, but the Raptors settled down, got the ball inside, kicked out for threes, and led by 28-24 at the half.

Milwaukee fell into playing a lot of isolation basketball, while the Raptors were moving the ball and finding the mismatches. The result was a 13-point second quarter from the Bucks (who shot just 3-of-17 from outside the paint in the first half and 1-of-9 from three), and a 51-38 Raptors lead at the half. DeRozan had 16 at the break.

The second half saw the Raptors seem to pull away, going up 25 at one point and being in total control.

Then the Bucks made it interesting. It started with a 15-3 run at the end of the third, which carried over to the fourth quarter and soon the lead was in single digits. The key was some ball movement for the Bucks, some made threes, great play from Antetokounmpo.

However, the larger issue was the Raptors just came apart on offense. From the 6 minute mark of the third quarter through the middle of the fourth, the Raptors were 4-of-16 shooting total, 2-of-8 from three, and that was led by DeRozan suddenly going 1-of-6. The Raptors let them back in the game.

What veteran teams know how to do — and what the Bucks are still learning — is how to bounce back from those stretches. Kyle Lowry made some solid plays, DeRozan dunked, the Raptors got some stops, and they found a way to hang on for the win.

DeRozan and Lowry — 13 points — were the only Raptors to finish in double figures.

Antetokounmpo had 34 for the Bucks and carried his team for long stretches. Khris Middleton added 19, and Matthew Dellavedova had a dozen off the bench.

 

Serge Ibaka, Giannis Antetokounmpo trade massive blocks during Raptors-Bucks (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a long dude. So is Toronto Raptors big man Serge Ibaka. The two faced off in Game 6 at the Bradley Center on Thursday night, so it makes sense the two wound up using one of their most impressive physical assets against each other.

Let the battle of length begin!

Via Twitter:

That’s Ibaka blocking the Milwaukee Bucks star on an attempt at the rim, on a dunk no less. That was impressive, no doubt, but just a minute later, it was Antetokounpmo coming through with a big time block on DeMar DeRozan:

But DeRozan got his revenge later in the fourth quarter, throwing down a dunk over the Bucks defense that was perhaps the finger in the wall needed to stop the leak that was Toronto’s disastrous final period.

DeRozan and the Raptors got the last laugh, winning the closeout game on the road, 92-89. Toronto will go on to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semi finals.

Should the Trail Blazers go after Pacers star Paul George? CJ McCollum says yes

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The Portland Trail Blazers need to do something drastic this offseason. Fans in Oregon should be expecting something big with a roster of players prime for the trade market and three first round picks in GM Neil Olshey’s pocket for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Who should Portland go after? That is a tough question to answer.

The Blazers are not exactly a huge free agent destination, although the city is changing its reputation toward NBA players in recent years with the help of star players Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who have fully embraced Oregon’s largest city.

McCollum, in fact, has his own opinion on who the Blazers should go after this summer: Indiana Pacers star Paul George.

Via Twitter:

George, who is under contract for 2017-18 but has a player option for 2018-19, has been rumored to desire playing in Los Angeles. In any case, fans around the league are looking at George as a potential trade candidate.

He would certainly do well on the Blazers, who had a disappointing 41-41 season in 2016-17. After a surprising effort last year, the Trail Blazers were slotted to expand upon their finish in 2016. But a sluggish start from Damian Lillard mixed with one of the worst defensive rosters in the NBA found them battling for the No. 8 seed come the end of the season. Even still, a miraculous stretch of good play after the All-Star Game was what it took for the Blazers to beat out the likes of Denver, Dallas, and Sacramento for the final playoff spot.

We know now that the Blazers were swept by the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, and up here in the Northwest it only solidified the fact Portland needs to get better on the wing.

Last season, Al-Farouq Aminu showed he could shoot a league average percentage from 3-point range, which helped relieve some pressure off Lillard and CJ McCollum. But Aminu regressed to shooting 33 percent from deep in 2017, and although Maurice Harkless did an excellent job as a young starter he’s not yet the kind of dynamic offensive player the Blazers need to be a Top 4 team in the West.

Aminu projects for Portland better as a 4, and with Jusuf Nurkic now anchoring the center position, the goal for Portland will be to strengthen the wing and flesh out the bench.

George would be an excellent get, but the Blazers would need to have the salaries match in any trade with Indiana. Allen Crabbe seems the most likely option, given his RFA match for Portland was a clear move to retain an asset. Evan Turner occupied a lot of guard minutes for Portland, and it seems the Blazers aim to keep him.

Meanwhile, you have other players like Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis who still have some value and could help Portland’s cap situation or work as part of a trade with Indiana.

Having watched Portland closely the past six seasons or so, and seeing how parts of this roster has developed, it would make the most sense to add a third star to this team. Turner hamstrings the bench unit with his gargantuan $17 million salary next season, so building out the bench unit under him still won’t put the Blazers in a position to compete with the top teams in the West without another star.

I think the clearest way to capitalize on the prime part of the careers for Lillard and McCollum is to grab another star right now. George might be out of reach — and he reportedly wants to play in LA anyway — but I think the Blazers should think big this offseason. Whether that means trading for George or doing something else bold remains to be seen.