Race To MVP

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By Jazmine August

Is it safe to say Lebron James for MVP? Call me a prisoner of the moment but the Cavaliers Thursday night win against the league’s best Golden State Warriors was beyond impressive; mostly because of the King. Lebron scored 42 points and 5 assists on 15 of 25 shots, not to mention 11 rebounds. He has made his stake in this MVP race very clear.

While some may have written James off as just a runner up in the race; Lebron seemed to have been on cruise control from the start of the season to the All Star break. Has the King returned to reclaim his crown?

Despite Thursday’s loss to Cleveland, Stephen Curry has been playing pretty much lights out since the beginning of the season. Leading his team to the leagues best record 44-11 with his unguardable jumper, crafty moves and ball handling skills, Stephen Curry has been nothing short of sensational. For these reasons he is still the front runner in the MVP race; “Chef Curry” is averaging 23 points, 4 assist and 6 rebounds.

Let’s not forget about the bearded one. James Harden. Averaging 27 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists; he has gone from 6th man of the year to one of the NBA’s premiere players. Sitting comfortably at third place in the Western conference; James Harden is having a MVP caliber season.

In the same breath as you say James Harden you have to say the name of his former teammate Russell Westbrook. In the month of February, Russell Westbrook is averaging nearly a triple double. Westbrook’s season statistics are mirroring the likes of Oscar Robertson, Lebron James and Michael Jordan. Russ is averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

Last but certainly not least, Anthony Davis may be the most underrated MVP candidate ever. Although most Pelican games are not nationally televised, Davis has been quietly averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds and has the league best player efficiency rating of 31.2. This year’s MVP race is clearly a tossup. A valid case can be made for each player.

Let the race begin.

Who’s Your MVP ?

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By Stefan Anderson

Past the halfway mark of the NBA season and the argument continues who will take home the league’s MVP. The topic of the discussion has been on Stephen Curry and James Harden due their consistency to perform on a high level.  But as of recent, Russell Westbrook has put together some performances to add himself to MVP race as well.

With all three stars going for the prize, the question remains who will be the 2014-2015 NBA MVP?

Let’s take a brief look at the candidate’s stats for this season:

Player               G GS   MP  FG  FGA  FG%  3P 3PA  3P%  2P  2PA  2P%  FT FTA  FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS
Stephen Curry       53 53 33.2 8.2 17.1 .483 3.2 7.9 .404 5.0  9.1 .553 4.1 4.5 .904 0.7 3.9 4.6 7.9 2.2 0.2 3.0 2.0 23.8
James Harden        57 57 36.5 8.1 18.1 .450 2.7 7.0 .385 5.4 11.1 .491 8.2 9.5 .866 0.9 4.9 5.8 6.9 1.9 0.8 4.0 2.6 27.2
Russell Westbrook   43 43 32.6 8.8 20.2 .437 1.0 3.4 .291 7.8 16.8 .467 7.3 8.7 .839 1.8 4.7 6.5 8.0 2.0 0.1 3.8 2.6 25.9

There is no doubt in my mind that Stephen Curry will walk away with the trophy this summer, as the award is only his to lose. Leading Golden State to the league’s best record at 44-10, while averaging career highs in each category makes his resume look better than the other candidates.

However if I were to place my vote, I would give my vote to James Harden.

Harden who leads the NBA in scoring with 27.3 ppg, is a force to reckon with and has carried the Rockets all season as they remain the 3rd seed in the competitive Western Conference.

The self-proclaimed best all-around player provided for a less talented team than both the Thunder and Warriors.

Curry has the advantage of having arguably the NBA’s deadliest shooter in Klay Thompson, Most Improved Player candidate Draymond Green, Andre Iguodola, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and plethora of talent on that Golden State bench.

As for Westbrook, he would be placed in the same category as LeBron James, where your play remains superior but the amount of games missed due to injury removes your name out of the discussion. While having the reigning MVP, Kevin Durant as your running mate, along with an assortment of talent acquired through trades, OKC has a better roster than the Rockets.

The Rockets have no other play that can consistently score 20 points night in and night out, while still managing to average nearly six boards and six assists. In my opinion, that is what makes a player the Most Valuable Player of the NBA, someone who their team cannot play without and is the reason why your team remains successful.

The Future of Derrick Rose & The Chicago Bulls

By: Jazmine August

You have a torn right meniscus. Possibly the worst words Rose or the Bulls could have heard; two months before the NBA playoffs are to commence. This is the third injury in the last three seasons for 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose. Rose missed the entire 2012-2013 season, played only 10 games in the 2013-2014 season and now this season the timeline for his return is yet to be determined. So what does this mean for Rose’s career and the rest of the Bulls season?

The Chicago Bulls are clinging on to the third spot in the Eastern Conference; one game behind Toronto and just half of a game ahead of the emerging Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s safe to say the Bulls are still a solid team without Rose on the floor. Pau Gasol is having an All Star caliber season averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds and the young stud Jimmy Butler has nearly doubled his average points per game from last year with 20 points a game this season and a solid 6 rebounds per game. The Bulls can still make noise in the Eastern conference, maybe even reach the ECF but with the health of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson uncertain it’s safe to say the hopes of bringing a title back to the windy city are pretty slim to none.

As far as Derrick Rose’s career, these series of events are eerily similar to the careers of the likes of Tracy McGrady, Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill. Derrick Rose is undeniably one of the most dynamic, electrifying players when healthy but we may have seen the last of that. Not only does Rose have to regain physical ability after this surgery but I can only imagine what it would take for him to mentally trust his knees again.There is always a flipside; Rose returns just in time for 2015 playoffs and gives an exhilarating 7 game Eastern Conference Finals vs The Cavs. I know it’s unlikely but I’m hopeful.

Premier League Pick ‘Em

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We’re two-thirds of the way through the 2014/15 Barclay’s Premier League season and things are heating up at the top of the table – and the bottom – as the fight for Premier League glory – and survival – hits the home stretch.

At the top, Chelsea (60 points) hold a five-point lead over defending champions Manchester City (55). The real fight lies between positions three through seven, where Arsenal (48 points), Manchester United (47), Southampton (46), Liverpool (45), and Tottenham Hotspur (44) are separated by a total of four points.

Meanwhile, at the bottom, Leicester City are four points from safety with 18, while Burnley, Aston Villa, and Queen’s Park Rangers are knotted at 22 points apiece.

Starting Point’s Greg Hudson takes a look at who he thinks will earn a place among the elite, who will fall short of glory, and who will find a way to survive the most challenging league in world football.

Top-Four Contenders

Arsenal

The Gunners have been a consistent side this season, scoring goals with their mobile, free-flowing offense. They haven’t always been in the top four, but they haven’t always been fit either, as injuries to Aaron Ramsey and star forward Alexis Sanchez have hurt their form at times, but Arsenal have looked strong throughout the campaign. Defensively they’ve been strong and have played well against teams that like to play a physical game, and while their zonal-marking scheme at set pieces is an achilles heel, they aren’t easy to beat, and I’ll pick them to finish in the top four.

Liverpool

The Reds came oh-so-close to winning their first league title in a quarter century last season, and the departure of Luis Suarez and the addition of several new players meant they were never likely to challenge for the title this season. A slow start and injuries to Daniel Sturridge and departing captain Steven Gerrard have left them without a star player at times, but the team as a whole is progressing well. They’ve lost just one of their last 18 games in all competitions, and that was an extra-time defeat to Chelsea in the League Cup, and new boys Adam Lallana, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic have been weighing in with needed goals as the Reds offense has found its feet. Meanwhile, the shaky defense that cost them the title last year has come into its own with a new formation, and the Reds defense has kept a clean sheet in five of their last six games in the league. I think they’ll overcome the slow start and book themselves a place among Europe’s elite with a top-four finish.

Top-Four Failures

Southampton

Make no mistake, Southampton are the surprise of the season. They’re a team that many picked to be relegated this year after so many of their key players left for higher places, but the “replacements” brought in by Ronald Koeman have not only filled their shoes – they’ve improved the side. Saints always looked like a team that could beat anybody on the day, but this season their fearless style of play and high-pressure defense has seen them sit as high as third. They’re on the outside looking in at the moment, in fifth, but wins over Arsenal and Manchester United should give them confidence as they head into the final push for the top four. That being said, they players at Koeman’s disposal aren’t used to the kind of pressure they’ll face in the fight to the finish this season. They simply haven’t been in this position before. A 2-0 loss at home to Liverpool offers evidence that perhaps they just aren’t quite there yet. I think they’ll fight hard, but I think they’ll come up just short.

 

Manchester United

United have responded well to new manager Louis van Gaal, but they’re a very unbalanced team. They’ve put on some great performances this season, including a 3-0 home win over top rivals Liverpool, but they’ve also suffered a 5-3 defeat to Leicester City, who currently sit bottom of the league, and have been beaten for a double by Swansea, losing both games by a 2-1 margin. The simple fact about the Red Devils is that they’re a team of very talented attackers – Rooney, Di Maria, Mata, van Persie and Falcao are household names across Europe and South America – but a team who’s standout defender is Chris Smalling is doomed to failure. I’m not knocking the man, but a team that has aspirations of greatness in domestic and international competitions needs world-class defenders as well as attackers. They don’t have that at this point, and a failure to bring in any new men at the back during the January transfer window indicates that van Gaal or the United board simply don’t understand the severity of the situation. I don’t think they’ll finish in the top four, since good sides like Liverpool and Arsenal will take a lesson from Swansea and exploit the huge achilles heel United seem to ignore, and the Red Devils will have a lot to answer for when that happens.

Premier League Survivors

Hull City

The Tigers struggled immensely over the Christmas period and fell as low as 19th in early February. But new signing Dame N’Doye has given the Tigers a spark, and it’s taken a lot of pressure off their other big man, Nikica Jelavic. N’Doye has weighed in with goals in both his starts, and Jelavic has found the target as well, helping the Tigers to back-to-back wins for the first time this season, and seeing them go four points safe. The form isn’t permanent but their fighting spirit and an improved performance at home suggests that Hull City will not fall victim to the sophomore drop the way they did in their first Premier League visit. I’ll pick them to beat the drop, not necessarily in easy style, but I think they’ll stay up at least another term.

Burnley

They’re right where they’ve spent most of the season: in the drop zone. But they’re a side that fights, and their 1-1 draw at Chelsea at the weekend is an example of it. They were on the road against the league leaders, but when given a man advantage after Nemanja Matic was sent off, the Clarets pulled level, and they’ve got the players to get the goals they need to survive. Youngster Danny Ings is one of the highest-scoring Englishmen in the league this term, and fullbacks Ben Mee and Kieren Trippier have been effective at supplying him. Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes have been valuable attacking assets as well, and Tom Heaton has done his part in net, as the Clarets look for survival. I think they’ve got the fight they need, but unlike Leicester City who embody that same spirit, the points suggest Burnley might just live to fight another day in the league.

Premier League Dropouts

Queen’s Park Rangers

The Hoops are an weird bunch. They have name – good names – filling their team sheets each week, but the results they’ve earned hardly reflect the talent. The simple fact about Rangers is that they’re a team without a purpose. Watching them play, they lack spirit, they seem to believe that they’re going to lose before the opening kickoff, and once they fall behind there’s not much getting back into the game. Charlie Austin is the league’s highest-scoring Englishmen, and he’s just been given no support. Bobby Zamora and Eduardo Vargas have provided sparks of intensity from time to time, but the Hoops just don’t connect. They’re all on different pages, and a book that isn’t in the right order ends up at the bottom of the stack, which is where QPR will finish: in the drop zone.

Aston Villa

The Villans have the players and they have the money. But they don’t have the quality. They’re a collection whose whole has yet to equal the sum of its parts. They’ve lost their last six in the league, and they’ve fired manager Paul Lambert two thirds of the way through the season. Norwich City tried it last year, hoping it would give them a spark that would ignite a resurgence. It didn’t work, and the move is typical of desperation that’s setting in at Villa Park. They sit 19th and boast the league’s worst defensive record. It wouldn’t be so bad if the offensive weapons at interim manager Tim Sherwood’s disposal could find the net, but since the new year they often appear as if they don’t know what the goal looks like, let alone how to put a ball in it. They’ve failed to score in four of their last six, including matches against Hull City and Leicester. Their inability to beat the teams around them in the table bodes very ill indeed for a team that’s one of just seven never to be relegated from the Premier League, and I expect we’ll be watching a league without the Villans in 2015/16.

What A Day? : 2015 NBA Trade Deadline

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By Stefan Anderson

The 2015 NBA Trade Deadline was an eventful day as many teams made the necessary changes for a late push, some positioned themselves for the NBA Draft, while others did not panic and not trade at all. Let’s discuss the Winners and Losers of the 2015 Trade Deadline.

Winners:

Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder trade disgruntled guard Reggie Jackson and replaced him with Kevin Durant’s University of Texas teammate D.J. Augustin. Along with Augustin, the Thunder were able to address two of their biggest fears outside shooting and post scoring by adding Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler, and Steve Novak. OKC has put together a second unit that can help them produce points when Westbrook and Durant are not in the game and look to make that late playoff push with the roster additions.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks have overachieved this season with their team play under the leadership of Coach of the Year candidate Jason Kidd. While holding on to a 6th in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks made some changes to help their roster, replacing center Larry Sanders with Miles Plumlee, who brings a needed rim protector since Sanders departure.  Also trading their rising star in Brandon Knight for two Jason Kidd-esque point guards in Tyler Ennis and Michael Carter Williams, the Bucks look to shock the world if they can uphold their success.

Philadelphia 76ers: Despite trading for Javal McGee, a known headache to say the least, acquiring picks has been the best thing for the 76ers to secure the future. The 76ers add 2015 first-round pick (lottery protected) from Thunder and a 2015 first-round pick from Lakers to add to their roster of picks they already own, will be interested to see what happens in the draft.

The Losers:

Denver Nuggets: With an apparent rebuild to come in the near future, the Nuggets did not make any necessary moves to help their future. They were able to dump the hefty contract of McGee but gave away a 1st round to do so. With many expiring contracts, the Nuggets could watch their roster fall apart this off season.

Boston Celtics: Although they added Isiah Thomas, they add another guard to their overstocked position. With so many draft picks it gives the Celtics more to discuss with all the draft picks and expiring contracts they already possess. Boston has yet to add a player or players with draft picks and are stuck trying to find pieces through a bunch of draft picks and their makeshift roster.

Brooklyn Nets: The Nets traded away a great mentor in Kevin Garnett and added some length and defense with Thaddeus Young but failed to help shape their future. The Nets look to stick with roster despite the play of their aging and fragile stars, holding on to the large contracts of Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.

Kudos to the Pistons and T-Wolves, bringing back pivotal pieces of their franchise, to help tutor and lead their respective teams with adding Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince.

The Rulers Back

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By Stefan Anderson

Down 10, going into the final quarter, it appeared that the New England Patriots were going to suffer their third consecutive loss in the Super Bowl, but it was the genius of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick that helped to propel New England to their fourth championship in six appearances.

I was originally going to herald the Legion of Boom and Seahawks defense, the greatest defense of all time, but the execution of the Patriots cancelled that statement instantly. Coach Belichick gave the keys to his favorite person, Tom Brady, who drove the field on two 60-plus yard drives that set New England up to seal the deal.

As I originally stated in my The Art of a Winning Franchise post, it’s the coach’s job to get the maximum potential out of all his players to be rewarded with achievement in any sport. After seeing Jeremy Lane go down to injury after early first quarter interception, it was apparent that Seahawks would have a liability in the secondary.

Not attacking with deep passes and playing into Seattle hands, Belichick drew up plays that would find the weak spots in the defense, attacking second year pro Tharold Simon, by utilizing his slot receivers. Julian Edelman, the former 7th round pick out of Kent State, has seen his progression through the Patriots system after once being kick return specialist to now catching nine passes including the game winning touchdown.

With 20 seconds left, Pete Carroll made the most irrational call in NFL History, going for an inside pass that costs Seattle its chances on repeating.

On the winning end was an undrafted rookie out of West Alabama, Malcolm Butler, who catches his first career interception. Right place, right time maybe, but to have a player ready to make a huge play like that attests to Belichick’s coaching ability to have guys to be prepared for any occasion.

Tom Brady goes on to win his 4th championship, tying Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana with most wins in the Super Bowl, while eclipsing Montana’s record for most Super Bowl touchdowns. Brady now finds himself in the greatest QB ever conversation and now has cemented his legacy, while remaining the last quarter back to ever repeat in a Super Bowl record intact.

After Deflategate, and the worries coming into the Super Bowl, New England once again silenced the critics and remains supreme.

Super Bowl XLIX Predictions

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Super Bowl 48 has the potential to be one of the greatest matches with the Patriots and Seahawks facing off and here at The Starting Point, we make our predictions.

Aaron Hampton

2008, was the last time the New England Patriots played a Super Bowl in Arizona, losing to the Giants 17-14 in one of the greatest upset victories in the history of football’s biggest game.  While the lasting image of that February night while always be David Tyree’s miraculous catch, the biggest factor in the Giants success that night was their ability pressure Tom Brady and disrupt the rhythm of one of the greatest offenses the game has ever seen.

Without a doubt, the top-ranked Seahawks defense will be the fastest of any team New England has faced this year.  They have the physicality to throw of the timing between Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, but more importantly, like the Giants six years ago Seattle has the ability to generate pressure on the quarterback without having blitz.  In the end, that combination will prove to be too much for New England much in the same vein as it was for the Denver Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl, and Sunday will see the crowning of football’s newest dynasty as the Seahawks will become the first team since New England to win back-to-back championships.

Final: Seattle 21, New England 17.

Greg Hudson

The Seahawks and their Legion of Boom come into this game looking to defend their Super Bowl title, but the Patriots will look to take the air out their game and leave Hawks fans feeling a little, well, deflated…. Puns aside, this looks like a fantastic matchup, similar in many ways to last year’s matchup: elite quarterback and high-scoring offense against a top defense. While injuries to Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman have left a few question marks as to how much Boom the Legion will bring, I have to pick the Seahawks in this one. If they can stop the Pats’ decent running game, they will control it from start to finish and Russell Wilson, the most underrated QB in the NFL, will get his second ring.

Final: Seahawks 27, Patriots 17

Kelsey  Miller

Get ready to see a turnaround defense versus an offense built for domination. Seattle has been unstoppable and healthy on both sides since last year’s Super Bowl victory over the Broncos. Cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Kam Chancellor and their intimidating defensive line company do not have anything to lose. The Patriots are approaching dynasty status. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick continue to develop one of the best offensive teams I have seen in football years.

My guess is the Seahawks and their defense wins the trophy a second time. Y’all saw what happened last year to Peyton and his outstanding company.

Final: Seahawks 28 Patriots 21, Super Bowl MVP, Mr. Killa Kam Chancellor.

Stefan Anderson

This might be the most evenly matched Super Bowl game I have seen over the years. Both teams mirror each other in many ways, gritty run styles and disruptive defenses. Both secondary’s make the opposing quarterbacks put passes in the tightest windows possible. No real WR to look out for, there is no real edge in the passing either, even though I will give Tom Brady over Russell Wilson. I am looking forward to the trick plays and disguise packages presented by both Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll.

But with momentum and a championship to defend I am going to pick the Seahawks for the win. The Patriots will come to make a statement during the game but to sustain a consistent offensive effort against the Seahawks is something I have not seen many teams do.

Final: Seahawks 24 Patriots 21