2016 NBA Playoff Predictions: Second Round

The first round is over and as the dust settles, we kick up our Spurs, and  prepare for the Thunder, as Trailblazers and Warriors, we walk the road of the Conference Semi-Finals.
As the days drag on, we tread strong and Cavalier, walking on valleys where once Raptors roamed. The Heat of the sun drains our stamina as Hawks circle the sky above.
Alas, here we are, the second round.

Okay, I was trying to be creative but yes, here we are, Round 2.
We’re already a few games in but I’m definitely bummed the Hornets didn’t get out of the first round and their amazing season has now come to an end. Regardless, Steve Clifford and crew can keep their heads up high because they took a 3rd seeded Heat squad to 7 games when everyone thought they’d be a fringe playoff team at best.
Props to you Charlotte.

Anyways, off to predictions.

WESTERN SEMIFINALS:
GSW vs. POR : GSW 4-2

Golden State is still without Steph Curry. The chef is out of the kitchen but the service must go on. Shaun Livingston has been great thus far, and has held the fort down for Curry at the point. The coolest thing about this Golden State team is that, without Curry, you get to really see the depth of the squad instead of just being mesmerized by Curry and his once-in-generation type talent. Draymond got a triple-double, Klay went off for 37,  and Bogut/Barnes both posted 10-12 statlines. An analogy I can compare this to is like if you lose one of your senses, the rest of them become heightened or enhanced due to your mental capacity being reallocated to the other senses.

So, without Curry, the offense is even more spread out and other players can step up and fill in the absence in production. The team can no longer just fall back on Curry to bail them out with his insane three’s and slick passing. They have to play more focused, more strict, and with more of an edge without their superstar.  Warriors fans should hope that this continues when Curry returns as well.

With that in mind, Portland will have its hands full. Granted, if there was a backcourt in the West that had a similar scoring punch to Golden State’s, it’d be the Blazers. C.J. and Dame are both scorchers to the defense but can Portland handle this new formed beast? If Curry comes back in time then I don’t see them having a great shot at taking it, otherwise I’d give them a few games. The first game was already played and GSW won by 12.

The main category Golden State won in was rebounds grabbing 15 more than the Blazers. They also had  a block party, doubling the Blazers, 12 to 6. Dame had 30 but that was on 8-26 shooting, C.J. went 5-17. If you stop the scoring threat, you just put out the blaze. It’s an uphill battle for the Blazers but it won’t be a blow out, expect Dame and company to come back swinging.

OKC vs. SAS: SAS 4-3

Okay see here’s the problem with this matchup. Aldridge dropped 38 and all Pop had to say was he made buckets. Parker dropped 12 assists, Kawhi dropped a “Kobe statline” with
25-5-5, and Danny Green found his shot just in time for playoffs. This San Antonio team is scary. Outside of Golden State, the Spurs are the 2nd best team in the league. The Cavs may have something to say about that but the Spurs are terrifying.

They had the best defense in the league during the regular season and their 43 point first quarter broke a franchise record. However, where there’s lightning, there’s thunder. Durant and Westbrook aren’t going to stand pat and just roll over, expect OKC to come back out roaring and take this series down to the wire.  We could just see OKC double Aldridge and live with Kawhi scoring and hope Danny Green’s shooting streak doesn’t continue. The 26.1% three point shooting as a team should not happen again and Billy Donovan should have the right adjustments to make the Spurs shake a little in their boots.

EASTERN SEMI FINALS:
CLE vs. ATL: CLE 4-2

People are sleeping on the Hawks. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong threads and forums but I don’t see anyone really giving the Hawks a shot being as they struggled vs. the starting super bench of Boston but this Hawks team was a force last year and they may have dropped off a little bit but they still play the right kind of basketball for this league, that being team ball. Teague, Horford, Bazemore, and Millsap are all legit threats and will give Cleveland some trouble.

For Cleveland, they still need someone else to distribute besides just Lebron. Kyrie is a shoot guard in a point guard’s body. For whatever reason, he just doesn’t want to dish the rock as much as he probably should be. If he starts to pass more, the Cavs will definitely cruise by the Hawks. If the Hawks run that pick and roll against Kyrie and Love, we can see how they have an avenue to really crack Cleveland’s armor and take a few games. All that being said, the Cavs are the best team in the East. They amp it up in the playoffs and are a better  squad than they were last year and that squad beat this same Hawks team to get to the finals.

MIA vs. TOR: MIA 4-3

#WETHENORTH. Just kidding, I’m happy for Toronto! They haven’t won a 7 game series in 15 years! FIFTEEN. This playoff win is more than just a win for the Raptors, it’s a win for Canada. Go Canada. Go Raptors. All that being said, man I’m so sad the Heat blew out the Hornets. I really liked that squad and they exceeded everyone’s expectations but I think the backcourt battle is going to determine a lot in this series.

Lowry is fighting against an elbow injury so he’s taken a lot of layups and passed up a lot of open shots. This injury forces him to drive the lane and Hassan’s gonna have a block party with Lowry. DeRozen will be the main scorer for Toronto and needs to bring it in order to keep pace with Dwayne Wade and Goran Dragic. Jonas Valanciunas is going to have his work cut out for him. Also shoutout to Norman Powell, go get it rook. Dude’s been playing great this playoffs and was huge vs. Pacers.

Expect to see big stats from Whiteside, Wade, and Deng. I don’t foresee Toronto taking 15 years to get back here just to lose, they’ll come out with rejuvenated fire. Also, I want Chris Bosh back on the court. I love him as a player and he’s such a force, I hope he gets some playing time in because he takes this Heat team to another level with his versatility. I see Miami taking close regardless.

Thanks for reading about my conference semifinals predictions! Feel free to read any of my other posts as well. Now that school is over for me I’ll probably be blogging a few more posts and putting out some more content so follow if you like or leave a comment if you agree/disagree.

Unpopular Opinion #1: Kawhi Leonard

Unpopular Basketball Opinion #1

Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs is not a Top 10 player in the league.

But Jeff, that’s absurd and the Spurs are one of the best teams in the league and he’s touted as one of the best defenders in the league?! Why all the hate?

I’m not trying to hate on Kawhi, in fact, he embodies much of what I love to see in a player from the eye test.  Plus, he has all the advanced analytics to back up his game.

Through four and half seasons, Kawhi’s growth from an offensive standpoint is admirable.

From the beginning, he always had good length and was a great one-on-one and help defender. His on-court +/- is 15.2 for this season. His shooting numbers have gotten better and his PPG this season is 20.0 up from 16.5 last season. His rebounding is only slightly down from last season and his assist numbers are about even. His eFG% is the 2nd highest of his career and that’s with a higher usage rate and more shot attempts.

Defensively, his steals are down this year and his defensive rating is lowest of his career while his ORtg is the highest it’s been. That’s normal, he’s a focal point in the offense and that takes a lot out of you. At least, it’s not a “James Harden defensive juggernaut” act. Overall, he’s more efficient and playing some of the best ball of his career. So this all begs the question, why is he not a top 10 player currently?

I firmly believe it has to do with peoples’ perception of his offense, defense, and San Antonio’s great system.

SYSTEM:


Kawhi operates within his role and expands that role every season. The Spurs are no longer Parker and Duncan’s team. It’s Kawhi’s team.

You take him and shove him on the Rockets last season, and he would not carry them to that 2nd seed and the Western Conference Finals like Harden did. Most of this obviously is influenced by the offensive schemes, team chemistry, and skill set fit, but I don’t see Kawhi being a top 10 player without the Spurs system. It’s effective, efficient, and caters well to whoever fits their role. Put any of these 10 players and they’d put up similar if not better results.


In no particular order:

1.Paul

2.Durant

3.Griffin

4.Harden

5.Curry

6.Butler

7.Davis

8.Westbrook

9.George

10.James

This doesn’t mean Kawhi can’t become a top 10 player, rather having a core which includes 3 Hall of Fame players in Parker, Duncan, and Ginobli, and a multi-time All-Star in Aldridge, makes it pretty easy. However, he loses in this category simply due to the fact that he’s inconsistent on offense.

OFFENSIVELY:

He’s the first option on one of the best offenses in the league and he only puts up 20 points per game? There’s twenty other players who put up more PPG in their teams and some of them are second options. Kawhi’s offense leaves much to be desired at the moment if he’s their first option.

His game isn’t that varied and that limits his offense and keeps it inconsistent. Almost all his three’s are assisted, and his isolation game doesn’t live up to his fellow peers who are top 10 players. His post game is pretty pedestrian, and he doesn’t create too well for his teammates. So overall, his offense seems just above average to me.

Playoffs wise, that offensive inconsistency rears its ugly head. Sure, he played well in their championship run and got Finals MVP, but he was all over the place versus last year’s Clippers. People know he’s the first option and now there’s way more focus on him defensively. Sure, this might be a little nit-picky and opinionated on what I think a top 10 player should have but I think it’s totally worth noting.

DEFENSIVELY:


Defensively, he is definitely up there in the top echelon but his defensive capabilities are accentuated by the fact that Tim Duncan, this season’s leader in DRtg, is his help side defender. Like I mentioned before, Leonard is spectacular on defense and I think he does rank in the top 10 as a wing defender and definitely locks down on everyone not named Steph Curry but that’s not without having a teammate in the paint who is an all-time great.

COUNTER ARGUMENTS:

Spurs play team ball, last year no pleyer averaged over 17 points per game.

Gregg Popovich has all his players play within themselves and limits having a player carry too much of an offensive burden.

The addition of LaMarcus Aldridge as their star-studded free agent power forward limits Kawhi’s shot attempts and spreads the offensive load. This explains how Kawhi’s points per game has dropped steadily each month of this season.

The Spurs are a completely different team and their record suffers when he’s injured. They would not have the record they do without him on the court.

CLOSING:

To me, a top 10 player in the league is considered more than just a star, but a super star (and this is where things get opinionated) and Kawhi Leonard is not a super star. He’s shown flashes of being great but only flashes. If you asked me, he’s in the top 15-20 tier of players in the league, not top 10.

His limited offensive game is the biggest factor for this argument, and the system that has bred him makes it even harder to put him in that top category.  He has a good case as a top defender in league but in the end, just ends up as a star player clawing at the super star doors. (His “Claw” nickname really works well here)

Thanks for reading my unpopular opinion! Comment below on what you think!