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.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.