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Elephant Sport’s NBA Quarterly Report – Pt. 3

As we home in on the final months of the season, it’s clear that this NBA campaign has been one of sheer unpredictability. Perhaps not at the top of either the Western or Eastern conferences, but certainly elsewhere.

The trade deadline saw one of the biggest moves in recent memory, while other teams reinforced smartly ahead of the play-offs.

Without further ado…

Best Team: Boston Celtics

It’s bewildering how far the Celtics have come in such a short period of time.

At the start of the season, they were struggling to find consistency with Isaiah Thomas’ brilliance being tossed away by under-performing team-mates.

At this point, the Celtics are the best team in the NBA, not just a surprise package.

They are the only team that can step to the Cleveland Cavaliers in both the regular season, and the play-offs. They have offered the Eastern Conference, as well as neutrals, the hope of an upset in the road to the Finals.

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Little Isaiah floats a shot against 7ft Marcin Gortat

Thomas’ electrifying form is infectious, and has clearly spread to those around him.

Jae Crowder looks a man possessed, while Jaylen Brown is making a case for being one of the standout performers in his age-bracket.

Coach Brad Stevens has yet to manage a play-off game, so it will be interesting to see how his youthfulness and hunger translates to the biggest stage.

As of right now, his progression has been impeccable. Not only has he got the Celtics in 2nd place, two wins behind the Cavs, but he already has an All-Star game under his belt.

GM Danny Ainge’s reluctance to make a trade at the deadline could hurt this team in the play-offs, especially since their interior defence is non-existent.

But the percentages they are currently shooting at could see them blow out any team on any given day.

Worst Team: Brooklyn Nets

One has to wonder if copy and pasting part two of this quarterly report would suffice in this section. But, somehow, the Nets have worsened.

Not only did they make no significant push at the trade deadline, they allowed 3-point shooting maverick Bojan Bogdanovic to move to Washington for next-to-nothing.

Without a shooting presence, and an underperforming Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez, the Nets look nailed on for one of the worst NBA season records of all-time.

They were 8-33 when the previous report was written. 21 games later, they have only won two more. And only three of their wins have come in their own conference.

The Nets look a dishevelled franchise. Broken, unfixable and unwatchable. New York has become devoid of any team worth shouting over.

Most Improved Team: Washington Wizards

Not only are the Wizards the most improved team, they’re undoubtedly the most entertaining.

A backcourt comprised of John Wall and Bradley Beal has become one of the most talked about partnerships this season. Electrifying and productive in the clutch, these two have a genuine chance at making the conference finals this year.

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John Wall prepares to shoot a free-throw

They’re third in the conference, boasting 17 wins in their last 23 games. In the first quarterly report, we had them down as one of the most disappointing teams.

Right now, they look unstoppable. Whether that be going toe-to-toe with the Warriors and beating them, or taking the Cavs to overtime, the Wizards look like the real deal.

Wall is posting up career highs in points, assists and 3pt percentages. Likewise, Beal. Around them is a team made up of hot shooters and workhorses.

Otto Porter Jr. has the best 3pt shooting percentages in the entire league – yes, higher than Steph Curry and James Harden.

Kelly Oubre Jr. looks to be developing into a future star of this league, meanwhile Markief Morris is doing all the dirty work at both ends.

With the smart acquisition of Bogdanovic at the deadline, the Wizards have become even more of a sharpshooting team. This could be the key to any play-off upset.

Most Improved Player: Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic has gone from the typical brutish European centre to a player of immense, unplayable quality. He’s posted up multiple triple-doubles in the last 20 games, driving the Denver Nuggets from mediocrity to a near-lock for that 8th place play-off position.

He’s one of the league leaders in assists, and one of the most proficient passers around. A playmaking maverick, a rebounding machine and a point-hoarder, Jokic is utterly phenomenal.

Despite his bulk and height, he moves elegantly and to a level that we have never seen in the NBA. If there’s one player who deserves this award at the end of the season, it’s Jokic. From complete unknown to one of the hottest names around.

Best Trade: DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans Pelicans

I wanted to avoid the blockbuster move as much as I could, since I feel as though Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker to the Toronto Raptors is the move that most improves a team and equips them best for a play-off push.

But it’s DeMarcus Cousins. Moving away from the team where he’s spent his entire career and joining former college team-mate Anthony Davis.

This move was mind-blowing for the NBA. Not only do the Pelicans now have the two best big-men in the league, they undoubtedly have all the potential in the world to bring a ring to New Orleans.

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DeMarcus and Davis, reunited

Rebounding has long been an issue for Championship winners in the past; with the Warriors for example it’s been their Achilles heel this year.

The Rockets have the same problem; the Cavs sometimes struggle… the list goes on.

The Pelicans not only succeed in that area, they thrive and feed off it. Second-chance points are their best friend. If they can sneak into the play-offs this year, expect this blockbuster trade to upset the biggest of teams.

If not, they’re set to be the most anticipated team to watch for next season.

If they can acquire the right pieces to place around this titanic, unplayable frontcourt, they’re legitimate contenders next season.

Surprise Package: Miami Heat

The Miami Heat traded off Dwayne Wade in the summer, effectively leaving their team devoid of star quality. But the players who were nothing more than good, have now become great.

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Hassan Whiteside contests a call

After a shoddy start to the season, where they were rooted to the bottom of the conference for 30 straight games, the Heat are now one win from a play-off spot.

How they achieved such a feat is tough to explain. They registered a 13-game win streak – the longest we’ve seen this season from any team – including victories over the Warriors, Rockets and Cavaliers.

 

With the hustle, rebounding and blocking of Hassan Whiteside, the Heat are always a scrappy team to play against.

They’re physical and rough, with emphasis placed on bullying opposition teams off the court.

But, beyond that physicality, is a gorgeous style of play within their ball movement.

Players like Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters are facilitators of the highest order, creating space on the court, knocking down 3’s from improbable range and finding Whiteside in the paint for easy points.

This trio have brutalised opposition and dragged the Heat from misery to magnificence. It will be interesting to see how this young, untested team can cope in the play-offs, if they make it.

Offensive Play of the 3rd quarter:

Watch as LeBron James forces an entertaining game vs the Wizards into overtime with one of the craziest shots we’ve seen all season:

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Defensive Play of the 3rd quarter: 

LeBron’s so good, he becomes the first player in our reports to be awarded offensive and defensive play in the same quarter. This chasedown block on Courtney Lee is stunning:

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Elephant Sport’s NBA Quarterly Report – Pt 1

With every team in the NBA having reached a minimum 20 games, we have arrived at the second quarter of the regular season.

The first was enthralling, unpredictable and offered up many exciting moments. Elephant Sport breaks it down into some fun categories.

Best Team: Golden State Warriors

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Curry lets fly from three-point range

It’s hard to look past the Golden State Warriors for this one. Despite losing their opening game to the San Antonio Spurs, and then suffering defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers a few days later, many were quick to attribute issues of chemistry to this Warriors side.

After all, this was the team to beat prior to the season. But how do elite teams bounce back? By winning. Golden State went one step further, though.

They swatted each and every single opponent out of their sight, notching a streak of 12 wins before falling to the Houston Rockets on their 20th match. They are currently nurturing a 17-3 record.

Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, contrary to popular belief prior to the season, have grown a strong on-court bond together.

The former is posting up career-highs in every single department – not least of which, points. Meanwhile Curry has embodied the role of facilitator, aptly putting his ego to the side.

Worst Team: Dallas Mavericks

It’s tough to argue against a side who has only won four of their 21 encounters this season. Unfortunately, there have been two teams that have recorded an identical record.

The difference between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Mavericks? The former have at least looked entertaining and have some young stars that are lighting up the league, eg, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor.

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Dirk’s injury has crippled Dallas

The 76ers have also taken the biggest of teams to overtime and tend to lose by small margins. The Mavs, on the other hand, are completely devoid of any quality.

Dirk Nowitzki – their only star – has been injured for the majority of the season, which has exposed how frail and disappointing the Dallas side is without the 38-year-old.

The most disappointing thing about the Mavericks is that players like Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut – two former NBA champions – have turned in good performances sporadically at best.

Bogut has been inconsistent when protecting the rim and has fouled out twice already this season. Whereas Barnes is failing to dish out assists, averaging only one per game. By having the highest ball-usage on the team, he should be producing more often.

Most Improved Team: Houston Rockets

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Harden is producing his best numbers to date

The Rockets were lambasted in the off-season when they appointed Mike D’Antoni as head coach. This was seen as a signing that would continue to allow the Rockets to play shoddy defence.

But what most seemed to forget was that defence matters very little in the regular season, especially if you can create All-Star numbers on the other end of the court.

But, even then, many punters had the Rockets failing to reach the play-offs once the season ends. As of right now, the Rockets are sitting in fourth place behind only the Spurs, Warriors and Clippers – inarguably the three best teams in the Western Conference.

D’Antoni has assembled a team of cut-throat three-point shooters, including new boys Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.

With this maximised potential on offence, the Rockets have broken two records already this season: most three-point shots attempted in NBA history (51) and longest streak of three-points made in NBA history (17).

James Harden is posting MVP numbers and very close to averaging a triple-double for the season. D’Antoni’s influence has allowed ‘The Beard’ to both orchestrate play and run it too.

The Rockets are currently 13-7 and are the only side in the league to have beaten both the Spurs and Warriors already; both on the road.

Who Needs to Trade Immediately: Boston Celtics

The Celtics are struggling more than most expected. Despite being third in their conference, a 12-8 record has been seen as a disappointment from inside the franchise.

Boston are in dire need of a strong rebounder – something they thought Al Horford could be. While Horford has been fairly good this season, his role seems to be more focused on getting points in the paint rather than winning possession off the board.

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The Celtics could prosper from a move for Cousins

With a consistent rebounder, the Celtics would lose a lot less. In fact, they currently lead the NBA in most second chance points conceded. This is, without a doubt, due to their lack of proficiency in the air when leaping for a rebound.

Who could they trade for? The Celtics aren’t devoid of pieces that they could put up. And they are also not a franchise unrecognisable to most.

With superstar Isaiah Thomas leading the floor, and a consistent army of good players surrounding him, now is the chance to join up with the Celtics.

In an ideal world, the Celtics move for Sacramento’s Demarcus Cousins. The often-aggressive centre is becoming disillusioned with what is shaping up to be another season of disappointment for his team.

He’s averaging over 10 rebounds per game, which should ring shouts of excitement in the ears of Boston. After all, how hard could it be to tempt a disillusioned player away from his suffering franchise while he’s in his peak years?

Sacramento needs picks in the draft to start building for the future. Boston could offer a pick or two, along with outcasts such as Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk. It makes sense.

Surprise Package: Los Angeles Lakers

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Julius Randle, at just 22, is having a fine season

The Lakers post-Kobe Bryant were supposed to be an incoherent mess on the court. Plays on offence were going to diminish, meanwhile defensive presence was to continue being non-existent at best.

Having finished bottom of the West in the previous season with Kobe, one would be forgiven for thinking this season would be worse. Except they are already seven wins away from bettering last season’s measly 17 victories.

They are also one win away from a play-off spot already.

This is the first quarter they have had to play without Kobe’s influence in over 20 years. And they couldn’t look freer from his shackles.

Offensive play has been smooth, with sophomore D’Angelo Russell facilitating play from the point-guard position. His rotation partner, Jordan Clarkson, has also been posting up monster numbers from the bench.

Nick Young, often ridiculed for being a veteran with a kid’s mentality, has won two games for the Lakers with buzzer-beater shots and is leading the team effortlessly.

And then you have Julius Randle – by far the Lakers’ finest player this quarter. The 22-year-old has already registered a triple-double this season and is averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game.

A supporting cast of Lou Williams and Timofey Mozgov has enabled the Lakers to flourish and, with a 10-12 record, they look like a dark horse for a play-off spot in a season where everyone expected the franchise to hit rock bottom.

MVP at the Quarter: Russell Westbrook

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Russ is clinching historic numbers

Many predicted this, but nobody quite predicted the enormity of Russell Westbrook’s play.

Following the departure of Oklahoma team-mate and long-term friend Kevin Durant, it was expected that Westbrook would play out of his skin in every game to compensate for the fact that he is the only remaining superstar on the Thunder.

Fast-forward 20 games and the point-guard is averaging a triple-double per game, including six in a row, which has equalled and bettered greats such as Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.

With his outstanding play, Westbrook is now averaging a monster 31 points per game, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He has single-handedly dragged a quality-depleted Thunder side to fifth in the conference with an admirable 13-8 record.

James Harden seems like the closest contender but, if Westbrook does not slow down, elite names such as LeBron James, Curry, Durant and Chris Paul won’t even stand a chance next to the 28-year-old.

Rookie of the Year at the Quarter: Joel Embiid

Can anyone genuinely look past the eccentric 7’0″ Cameroonian centre?

After two long years of injury, nobody expected Embiid’s first NBA season to be one of such pure dominance on both ends.

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Joel Embiid warms up with a dunk

Despite being restricted to just 23 minutes per game, Embiid is averaging 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

Consider the fact that he is only appearing in half of every match, this is a fascinating return for the 22-year-old.

While honourable mentions such as Pascal Siakam and Jaylen Brown look impressive, they are nothing in comparison to the 76ers behemoth.

He moves as though he is several inches shorter on offence, and operates as a man possessed when protecting the rim on the other end. His entertainment factor is sky-high, often lighting up what is a very poor Philly side.

He already looks like an All-Star in the making.

Offensive Play of the Quarter:

A game-winner? Some fancy handles? A three-point shot?

How about all three combined into one smooth play by the Rockets’ James Harden against the Utah Jazz:

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Defensive Play of the Quarter:

Two plays rolled into one, watch as Kristaps Porzingis cements two monster blocks deep in the fourth quarter and OT to deliver the New York Knicks a victory against the Charlotte Hornets:

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Elephant Sport will be continuing this four-part series throughout the NBA season at every quarter. 

Review – Book of Isaiah

Picture being 5’9” in a sport where the average man towers over you with a seven-inch advantage. Now picture being one of the best players in your position, despite that height differential. That’s Isaiah Thomas. 

‘Book of Isaiah’ is a documentary that gives a voice to the Boston Celtics’ elite point guard who this season has averaged NBA career-highs in points, assists, rebounds and steals.

For a player of his size, Thomas’ average of three rebounds per game is staggering. Even a glance at his 26 points per game, in a sport where the man guarding him is always a stronger and more imposing physical specimen, is bewildering.

But this is a testament to the man nicknamed the Conductor’s hard work and growing appreciation for the game – something this documentary explores effortlessly.

The start

One of the most regularly searched things on Google regarding the 27-year-old is: ‘Are Isaiah Thomas and Isaiah Thomas related?’ For the uninitiated, this documentary – right from the get-go – answers this question once and for all.

While the Celtics’ point-guard isn’t related to the hall-of-fame Detroit Pistons guard, it is revealed that Thomas’ father named him after the legend due to losing a bet with a friend.

Perhaps, as the film suggests, Thomas was always destined for success in the NBA – regardless of his height.

In school, Isaiah was often the smallest kid on the court. In college, the smallest on the team. Now in the entirety of the NBA? He’s the smallest in the league.

Humble beginnings

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Thomas (right) and his childhood hero Allen Iverson

Some stock footage of Thomas’ college years is inserted into the second act of the documentary, which helps to establish the chip on the shoulder of this outrageously gifted guard.

It’s easy to see him dominate in the NBA and just accept it; but true appreciation grows when one sees his humble beginnings and how he has always been at a disadvantage in any tier of basketball.

“I just want to be the modern-day Allen Iverson,” Thomas states. Hall of Famer Iverson is someone that Thomas admired when growing up, particularly in his formative years as a college superstar.

This is due to the fact that Iverson, in his day, was also the smallest guy in the league. But he was also one of the most mercurial point guards, inventing various dribbling moves to size-up his towering opponents.

In that regard, Thomas is the same. When you spend all game struggling to see the basket over the man guarding you, you have to develop special moves to give you some sort of an advantage.

Development

“This kid spends so much time in the gym just inventing the sort of handles that I have never seen before,” says Celtics coach Brad Stevens in ‘The Book of Isaiah’.

The images support that quote, too. The documentary is shot and promoted as a quasi-motivational video. Scored by a collection of Thomas’ favourite hip-hop tracks, most of the runtime is dedicated to 27-year-old just straight-up training.

In said training, his handles are revealed. Some of the moves that Thomas pulls off are mindblowing, purely because they are born from the need to succeed in a sport where his height should see him rejected immediately.

“This kid spends so much time in the gym just inventing the sort of handles that I have never seen before.”

At one point, assistant coach Jay Larranaga says: “First in the gym? Isaiah. Last in the gym? Isaiah! Last year he called me on Christmas day to come and watch him practice his core.”

Technical 

By allowing Thomas and those around him to almost dictate the story on camera, ‘Book of Isaiah’ becomes a documentary that is held back by a lack of insight. It feels more as though a piece of work that announces Thomas’ hard-working nature, rather than one that relentlessly focuses on why he’s had to work hard.

There are sporadic mentions of his struggles, but these are more visual aids than anything spoken to camera.

This is frustrating since anyone familiar with the point guard’s life knows that he struggled to find a college team due to his size, or even the fact that he was the 60th pick in round 2 of the 2011 NBA Draft – again, a downside to his height.

As a side note, that was the final pick of the draft. Essentially, the league had told Thomas he was the worst player out of a possible 90 candidates.

Thomas is now one of the top five point guards in the league. Those above him have a solid five inches extra of height to work with. The fact that this is sporadically explored makes ‘Book of Isaiah’ a disappointing watch for those looking to learn about his struggles.

Verdict

What grows throughout the runtime of Book of Isaiah is a genuine admiration for the Celtics’ point-guard.isaiah

Regardless of the fact that it is a self-loving and clearly biased documentary that focuses not on negatives, it is still incredibly inspirational.

A true testament to the fact that physical difference shouldn’t matter if one works hard enough and develops ways around their size.

If one is looking for an insight into the psyche of a hardworking man with a clear chip on his shoulder, then ‘Book of Isaiah’ is a must-watch.

Otherwise, you have to be pretty crazy about basketball – or the man himself – to wholeheartedly enjoy it.

Encouragement

Iverson called up Thomas after the documentary ended and, allegedly, spoke just one sentence to the guy who has idolised him his entire life: “Keep doing your thing. I’m watching.”

Except now the entire NBA is watching. Thomas could very well, if he keeps these numbers up, enter the all-star team for the first time in his career. He would be the second smallest player of all-time to do so behind Muggsy Bogues.

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A brief showing of Thomas’ aforementioned handles and how exactly he manages to dominate in a sport where he is always at a disadvantage