1. LeBron James– Cleveland Cavaliers: Many will agree that James is the top small forward in the league but just incase you think different here’s why he is No. 1. Last season, King James or as others call him, LBJ shocked tons of people around the world by bringing the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy to his hometown in Cleveland, OH. It wasn’t an easy task, as they had to defeat the favored Golden State Warriors. The Cavs started the series on the wrong foot when they went 1-3 in the first four games. Somehow James and his teammates found a way to beat the Warriors in three consecutive games including a couple at the Oracle Arena. This is an impressive task since the Warriors were dominate with a 39-2 home record in the regular season. During the Finals, LeBron averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assist, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks and led all players in points, rebounds, assist, steals, and blocks. No other player in NBA history has put up those kind of numbers in any playoff series. If that is not enough to show that he is the number one small forward in the NBA, here are some more reasons. He is the fifth player to win at least three Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Awards. James is the first player in the last 50 years and the only non-Celtic in NBA history to play in six consecutive Finals. James has seven career Finals triple-doubles, which is one shy of Magic Johnson’s record of eight. During the Finals, James became the only player to rank in the top 10 on the career postseason list in points, rebounds, and assist. James scored 18 consecutive points for the Cavs during their Game 6 victory. This was the second-longest playoff streak of his career. James scored 41 points in Game 5 and 6, becoming the first player with back-to-back 40-point games since Shaquille O’Neal. James made an NBA record with 68 Finals three-pointers. LBJ has 131 playoff victories, tied for the seventh most in NBA history. He has 176 career 20-point playoff games, another NBA record. Finally, James ranks third all time in playoff assist with 1,348, fourth in points 5,572, and ninth in rebounds. James is the third player to record triple-doubles in a Finals Game 7. The reasons why James is the top small forward in the NBA can go on and on, this only shows what he did last season. James has accomplished a lot during his career and it doesn’t look like he is slowing down anytime soon.
2. Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors: Kevin Durant has a new home and on Tuesday night fans around the world had a preview of the upgraded version of the Warriors. Golden State was already a dominate team with several All-Stars and Durant just adds to their overall potential success. The former Longhorn had impressive numbers last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder as he averaged 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and five assist per game. The upside of making the move to Golden State is the Championship doesn’t seem out of reach, but the downside is that his stats will probably go down. Having so many All-Stars on a team is a blessing and a curse for the coaching staff. There were already three All-Stars (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) on the Warriors and some are worried that adding a fourth All-Star may mess with the team’s chemistry. They have so many offensive options but they must figure out the right balance and the right chemistry to have a successful season. This sounds easy but it can be nearly impossible to achieve for some teams. It remains to be seen if what looks good on paper can consistently transfer to the floor.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo also know as the Greek Freak had his best performance of his young career last season. He averaged a career high with 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.4 blocks per game. The Greece native has impressed many around the league with his quickness and athleticism but he still has areas where he can improve. The Bucks have experimented with Antetokounmpo by using him in different positions, particularly the point guard position. His 6 foot-11 frame does not slow him down or affect his guarding skills. This could be a deadly combination for opponents to overcome. As he enters his fourth year as a professional basketball player, he will be looking to improve in all areas and keep making a name for himself.
4. Paul George – Indiana Pacers: After suffering a gruesome injury, Paul George bounced back with his best scoring performance of his career by averaging 23.1 points per game during the 2015-16 campaign. George has made it clear this coming season he is looking for the Pacers to reach the playoffs and do some damage. George is impressed how dedicated his teammates were this offseason and believes the team is prepared to make a run for the Championship. George has proven time and time again that he is tough and his goal is to win it all. He has come close but has not achieved it yet.
5. Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio Spurs: The two time NBA defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard is coming off a career high in points, blocks, and games played for Gregg Popovich. It seems like Kawhi has no intentions of slowing down with the Spurs. With Tim Duncan’s retirement, Leonard seems to be the best person to take over the team. Over the past couple of seasons, we have seen Popovich praise Leonard and is clear that he is molding him into becoming the leader of the team. He is an overall dominate player and is one of the best small forwards in the league.
Honorable mentions: Carmelo Anthony, Nicolas Batum, Andrew Wiggins, Tobias Harris, Justise Winslow, Rudy Gay, Gordon Hayward
Steph Curry Talks LeBron James Trash Talking During Game 1 of NBA Finals
Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry is gearing up, along with his team, to defend their 2018 NBA Championship, their 2nd in a row and 3rd in 4 years, when the 2018-2019 regular season kicks off this fall, but he is still discussing the 2018 NBA Finals.
Curry and James’ relationship is seemingly in an odd place. James was “like a mentor” to Curry when curry was in college playing at Davidson, but things seem a bit icy now as Curry’s Warriors and James’ Cavaliers (James is now on the Los Angeles Lakers) met in some heated battles in the NBA Finals over the past couple of years.
Despite the shift in their relationship, Curry was still caught of guard by James’ approach, particularly in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals.
“It was never going to spill over to that” Curry said, during an appearance on The Bill Simmons Podcast (h/t NBC Sports Bay Area’s Drew Shiller).
“But it was an interesting moment …I was hot because I was trying to finish out a possession, I think it was less than a minute left, I didn’t see him coming over from the weak side so I tried to do a little soft scoop layup and he pinned it. Then he stared me down and he said something to me.
“And I was like, ‘That’s what we’re really on right now? We’re about to win and you’re worried about mean-blocking my shot and talking trash?’ And then the whole Tristan and Draymond thing happened and I went back up to him and I was like, ‘Yo, what’s up? Is this really what we’re about right now?’
“And he was like, ‘I gotta do that to make sure my teammates know I’m a mentor’ and it’s a part of his leadership and that type of deal. And I was like, ‘I don’t want to be the sacrificial lamb for your leadership.’ (laughter). Come on man, that’s messed up.”
The rift goes a bit deeper than that, and a book from The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson, entitled ‘Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry’, it is elaborated, highlighting a 2016 Halloween Party thrown by James that featured a dummy of Steph Curry that was on the floor, forcing guests to step over it.
Now that the two are in the same division, thanks to James’ signing with the Lakers, betting websites will have a field day this season when the two teams take the court, and James continues his mission to topple the juggernaut Warriors.
Cavs’ Tristan Thompson Allegedly Punched Warriors’ Draymond Green at Night Club
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson and Golden State Warriors’ forward Draymond Green apparently took their on-court beef off the court as the two allegedly had an altercation at a Los Angeles night club.
When Green persisted, Thompson punched Green.
Green and Thompson got into it numerous times throughout the Finals, with Green even insulting Thompson as Thompson attempted to shake his hand following the infamous Game 4.
Here is more from The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre:
Draymond Green was not the aggressor, he was trying to make peace. Tristan felt embarrassed by the end of the Finals diss moment and just unloaded. Couple players i spoke here in LA/on social media went with, “about time”
— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) July 31, 2018
Kevin Love Signs Extension With the Cavs
Kevin Love surprised the Twitter GMs and signed a 4 year, $120 million extension to stay in Cleveland. The full value of the deal will wash out to 5 years and about $145 million, around $10 million below his max for an extension. This clearly signals that Dan Gilbert and the Cavaliers want to remain competitive in the wake of LeBron James’ exodus.
The initial reaction across the NBA landscape was that Cleveland would look to tear the roster down to the studs and start over. The Cavs owe their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta if it falls outside of the top 10, so trading Kevin Love would’ve not only helped clear their books, but also almost guaranteed that they keep their pick. Bringing him back into the fold makes that much more precarious. The roster now contains a mixed bag of inconsistent youth and holdovers from the most recent LeBron era that won’t take kindly to a middling team not in the championship conversation. The Cavs seem to be split between two paths.
But that’s not forever. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, “Cleveland is still projecting to have close to $70M in cap space during the summer of 2020 to reshape the roster.” The Cavs can get off of George Hill, JR Smith and Kyle Korver for less than $10 million after this season. That leaves only Tristan Thompson and Jordan Clarkson as expiring contracts in the following season to free the Cavs of all their (current) bad money. Cleveland is never going to be a free agent destination without LeBron, but keeping Kevin Love makes them a much more attractive option for free agents, and they’ll have plenty of money to play with.
If that doesn’t pan out, Cleveland can still trade Love in the future. This extension makes him a cost-controlled asset, giving other teams more certainty. Yes, it’s more years and more money but Kevin Love is still an All-Star. Making him the focal point of the offense should allow him to put up big numbers and recoup some of the market value he’s lost while playing a diminished role alongside LeBron. In the coming years, all the ghastly cap-spike deals will be coming off teams’ books, opening lots of cap space around the league. There are only so many stars available and some teams will inevitably strike out. Combine that with some pressure from ownership to win now and Kevin Love can be a very desirable option.
Even with the extension the Cavs are far from a playoff lock. Their second best player may very well be a rookie. So perhaps an injury or a few strategically placed DNPs could allow them to keep their pick. Either way, Love wanted to stay in Cleveland. That’s a nice change for a city that doesn’t have a lot of experience with that. The goalposts for success have changed, but after years of watching this team trudge through the doldrums of the regular season, this young, talented team could be a lot of fun for fans to watch night in and night out.
Follow David on Twitter @dmcgowan24
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