Schofield declares for NBA Draft, not hiring agent

Junior Tennessee basketball forward Admiral Schofield plans to put his name up for consideration in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft on June 21. However, the Illinois native did not hire an agent, meaning if he withdraws his name from the draft before May 30, he can return to the Volunteers for his senior season.

“Coach (Rick) Barnes has encouraged me to go through that process, work out for teams, and learn as much as I can about the transition from college to basketball,” Schofield said in a tweet Thursday. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to receive feedback from the NBA personnel and where I stand.”

Earlier in the season, Schofield was named second-team All-SEC and played a large part in Tennessee’s first regular season conference championship in a decade.

After the Vols 63-62 upset loss to No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago, SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and Schofield both indicated they would be returning for the 2019 season.

“I love my teammates, I love my family. These guys are my brothers,” Schofield said. “I really feel certain I want to come back.”

Regardless, the situation proves a win-win for the 6-foot-5, 238-pound Volunteer. Schofield led Tennessee in rebounds during the 2017-18 season and finished with an average of nearly 14 points per game, the second most behind Williams.

If Schofield does choose to return to the Vols next season, Tennessee will return every player on their roster from last season except senior grad-transfer James Daniel III.

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Who can overthrow Cleveland in the East?

Photo by Keith Allison, courtesy of Creative Commons

Let me start this out by saying this: I don’t believe any team in the East has enough depth to beat LeBron James and company in a best of seven series. That being said, I think there are several teams who potentially could keep LeBron from a fourth ring.

Cleveland enters the postseason lacking confidence. The Cavs finished up the regular season by losing nine of its final 15 games, including their final four games of the season. Since the All-Star break this summer, the Cavaliers have the second-worst defensive numbers in the NBA. This is normally not a big deal for one of the league’s highest scoring offenses, but the team looks to be struggling both on and off the court with team chemistry.

While the Cavs closed out the regular season in an epic downward spiral, the Celtics finished strong, clinching the No. 1 seed for the first time since 2008 with a 53-29 record.

However, many analysts have coined this years Celtics team the “worst top seed in the history of the NBA.” I think that’s a little bit of a reach, but the Celtics definitely are one of the weaker top seeds I’ve seen in my lifetime. They have the players and coach to make a deep run but I just don’t see them having that “bite” to knock of LeBron James in a playoff series.

Here is a bold statement for you guys. The Washington Wizards are the best team right now in the East, and have the best chance to beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series.

Okay, I know it sounds crazy, but the Wizards entered this season with a new mentality by bringing in Oklahoma City’s former head coach Scott Brooks, who has several years of playoff experience, and re-signing standout guard Bradley Beal to a long-term deal. It was clear from the start of the season that this was going to be a make-or-break year for the Wizards organization.

This isn’t the same Wizards team we’ve seen struggle in postseason play in years past, either. After a poor first quarter of the season, the Wizards bounced back strong, securing their first division title in 38 years. The turning point in the season could be pinpointed to their Feb. 6 matchup at home, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For those who don’t recall the game, Cleveland was down one with 15 seconds remaining. LeBron has a wide-open layup to win the game. What does he do? Chokes, walks and misses the go ahead layup, only to immediately turn around after a couple Washington free throws, catch a full-court inbounds pass, fade away and hit a ridiculous banked 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. The Cavs then pulled away in OT, stealing a game from the hands of the John Wall and the Wizards, ending Washington’s 17-game home winning streak.

John Wall called the matchup back in February one of the biggest of his career, along with stating that a loss like that “leaves a lasting sting on a player.”

Now the Wizards aren’t one of the most talented teams, nor do they have multiple All-Stars, but they have enough talent to compete in a weak (but growing) Eastern conference. Since February’s heartbreaker against the Cavs, the Wizards have woken up going 24-14 to finish the season, including shooting 47.5 percent from the floor and a shocking 37.2 percent from beyond the arc.

Wall, Beal and the rest of the Wizards are going to have to continue to  carry that sting into the postseason and use it as motivation if they plan on making an extended playoff run.

The 2017 NBA Playoffs start Saturday April 15, and the Wizards start their postseason campaign against Atlanta on Sunday at 1 p.m. on TNT.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of Creative Commons

Which NBA teams are best at tanking?

On the last night of the NBA season, all eyes were focused on the race for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat were all in contention for the seventh and eight spots in the East, and each of those teams registered a win to cap their season, leaving the Heat as the odd team out of the playoff hunt.

As exciting as the race to lose to the Celtics and Cavaliers in the first round is, it’s not what people should have been paying attention to. In reality, the most exciting battle was the race to the bottom.

Tanking is nothing new – it’s existed as long as the draft has. But thanks to the Philadelphia 76ers and their multi-year “process,” it’s become a major issue. And honestly, it’s a lot more meaningful in the long-term than floundering in the no-man’s land that is the last few playoff spots.

Some teams are good at tanking, and some are very, very bad. The Los Angeles Lakers, for example, did the exact opposite of what they’re supposed to do by winning five straight games before dropping the season finale to the Warriors. The stakes are high for the Lakers, too – if their pick doesn’t end up in the top three, they’ll lose it to the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s already worrisome, but it gets worse. If Los Angeles sends out their first-rounder this year, they also owe their 2019 first to Orlando. One of those final five wins could be the difference between a core full of talented youngsters and a roster more barren than my cupboard after a month without shopping.

Similarly, the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic each won their final games of the regular season. Philadelphia, on the other hand, did its job by losing eight straight games to finish the 2016-17 campaign. It’s unsurprising that the kings of NBA tanking were the most impressive down the stretch in the fight for a top pick. There aren’t any elite big men for the 76ers to pick in order to continue their stranglehold on the league’s talented young centers, but a top-flight guard or wing player will be a great add.

Phoenix was also thick in the race for the top pick, but winning two of the last three games hurt the Suns. Still, Devin Booker and company lost 13 straight games before the final stretch, putting them in a great position to add another talented player to their already-intriguing roster. Booker has the chance to be one of the best scorers in the entire league, and adding one of the top prospects from this year’s great draft class could turn Arizona’s capital into one of the league’s hotspots.

Again, some teams are worse at tanking than others. But one NBA franchise is the undisputed worst when it comes to losing on purpose in an attempt to get a better draft pick. The Brooklyn Nets put together the worst record in the entire league and will have nothing to show for it thanks to their decision to trade three first-rounders and offer a pick swap to the Boston Celtics for short rentals of aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Even if your team isn’t among the best in the league at tanking, you can always be thankful that they’re not as short-sighted as the Nets.

Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of CreativeCommons.org

Tim Hardaway Jr. could be this postseason’s breakout performer

It seems that every year, a largely unheralded player will erupt in the NBA playoffs and earn himself a large pay raise the very next season. Last season’s was Bismack Biyombo, who had a great postseason run with the Toronto Raptors that he turned into a four-year, $72 million contract with the Orlando Magic. Players make their legacies in the postseason, but it’s also a way for a player to make himself more money.

It’s hard to predict which player will follow that trend this year – by definition, the player has to be largely under-the-radar. There are several candidates that would make sense, but one in particular stands out. Tim Hardaway Jr. has a famous name that makes him stand out, but there’s plenty about his game that should appeal to modern NBA teams.

Hardaway spent his first two seasons with the New York Knicks before getting traded to the Atlanta Hawks before the 2015-16 season. After Atlanta shipped Kyle Korver to the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this year, Hardaway took over as the starting shooting guard, where he’s exceeded expectations. And at just 25 years old, the former Michigan Wolverine still has his best years ahead of him.

Modern NBA teams are obsessed with athleticism and 3-point shooting, and Hardaway provides both of those things. He attempted over five 3-pointers per game this season, hitting 35.7 percent. That’s not exactly setting the world on fire from distance, but it’s more than enough for opposing teams to respect him. A hot streak from behind the arc in the playoffs would be enough to woo teams around the league that are desperate for more shooting. He’s not just a one-trick pony, either: he has the athleticism to take a player off the dribble and finish off with a slam over a big rim protector. Watch him dunk on the Rockets’ Clint Capela from the team’s matchup in early February, where Hardaway scored 23 fourth-quarter points to finish with a career-high 33 and lead his Hawks to a comeback victory:

via GIPHY

Teams drool over exactly that type of play, especially when it’s combined with a dangerous perimeter jumper.

At 6 feet 5 inches, Hardaway also has the size and length to be disruptive on defense. He hasn’t been great on that end, but he hasn’t been terrible. The Hawks are virtually the same in defensive rating whether he’s on the court or off, according to NBA.com. His height and athleticism would also imply a better rebounding ability, but Hardaway’s career-high in that category is just 2.4 per game. He’s also not the greatest at creating offense for others, averaging just 2.3 assists per game on the season. Still, the mixture of size, athleticism and shooting should be enough to earn him some attention.

It won’t be easy to get Hardaway from Atlanta, though. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Hawks will be able to match any offer he’s given. With a nice run in the postseason, though, a team might be able to outbid Atlanta, especially since the Hawks just gave Kent Bazemore $70 last summer.

Hardaway has all the tools to make himself a pretty penny. All he needs to do is put them all together at the right time.

Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of CreativeCommons.org

The Wild Western Conference

Photo by Keith Allison, courtesy of Creative Commons

Every team is .500 or better. The top three teams have the three best records in the league. The past three MVPs have all come from here, and this year’s MVP is nearly a lock to come from here. Welcome to the Wild West.

The Players

Why is the NBA the best professional sports league right now? It’s player-centric. Which conference has the best players?

SPOILER: The West.

  • Kevin Durant (one-time MVP)
  • Stephen Curry (two-time and reigning MVP)
  • Russell Westbrook (likely to be an MVP)
  • James Harden (in contention for MVP)
  • Kawhi Leonard (two-time and reigning Defensive Player of the Year)
  • Draymond Green (finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2015 and 2016)
  • Damian Lillard (also a rapper)

I could have kept typing, but I thought it would be better if that list ended with the fact that one of the league’s best point guards also raps.

Anyway, the fact remains that the Western Conference has the best players (with the exception of the best player and G.O.A.T., LeBron James). Great players against for great players makes for the best matchups.

The Matchups

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

Out of the four series in the West, this is probably the least intriguing, but the series still has value. It’s a chance for Golden State to prove why it’s the league’s golden team, but also a chance to see what kind of find the Blazers have. The Splash Bros. vs. Dame and CJ McCollum. Portland may have a shortage in talent outside of its guards, but this series will see no shortage of offense.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies

Despite featuring the best coach in the NBA (more on that later), this is probably going to be the least entertaining series from the West, at least if you like offense. Both teams, especially Memphis, are heavily defensive-minded. The problem for the Grizzlies is that Tony Allen, their defensive anchor, is going to miss most, if not all, of the series with a strained right calf. Nonetheless, we’ll get to see Kawhi be Kawhi, and that’s usually exciting enough on its own.

(3) Houston Rockets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder

Close your eyes. Imagine a dimension where two basketball players were drafted by the same team and went to the Finals together, but then one of the players was unexpectedly traded away. Then, both players exploded on their own teams to be MVP candidates, averaging nearly 30 points per game and more than 10 assists per game (and one of them is actually averaging a triple-double).

Open your eyes. The dimension you entered is not an alternate reality. That dimension is very real, and we get to see James Harden and Russell Westbrook face off in the first round of the playoffs.

Oh boy. I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it. In case you thought you misread the above paragraph, WE GET TO SEE JAMES HARDEN AND RUSSELL WESTBROOK FACE OFF.

I hope the NBA rewrites the rules for this series and no other series that requires these teams to play one 90-minute, winner-take-all game. I can’t even fathom the points, rebounds and assists totals that the Beard and the Brodie would each have.

Unfortunately, all we get is a potential seven-game series between this season’s two best players. Darn. That is just so unlucky.

(4) LA Clippers vs. (5) Utah Jazz

Wait, there’s more?

Have we not been #blessed enough?

Apparently not.

This is actually an incredible matchup by two teams that have flown under the radar. The Clippers have been banged up, but actually have a healthy roster entering the playoffs for once.

The Jazz have 2017 All-Star Gordon Hayward and one of the best shot blockers in the NBA in Rudy Gobert squaring up against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

It’s not the flashiest series, but this is a great matchup nonetheless.

The Coaches

The Western Conference features four coaches who have won NBA Coach of the Year, including the reigning winner, Steve Kerr. Other winners of the award are Gregg Popovich, who has won Coach of the Year three times, Mike D’Antoni and Doc Rivers.

Steve Kerr just led the Warriors to the greatest three-year regular-season stretch in NBA history, including an NBA-record 73 wins last season. By the way, that 207-39 record in the past three seasons were Kerr’s first three seasons as an NBA coach.

Gregg Popovich is a five-time NBA champion head coach, and has won a title in three different decades.

Mike D’Antoni has the potential to be the NBA Coach of the Year yet again with the offensive revolution he’s led in his first season in Houston.

The NBA has some mastermind coaches, and a lot of them just so happen to be in the Western Conference.


The beauty of the playoffs is that anything and everything can happen. There can be upsets, sweeps, injuries, close wins and heartbreaking losses. The only certainty from this year’s Western Conference Playoffs is that it’s going to be wild.

Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of Creative Commons

Making the Case: Isaiah Thomas for MVP

Photo by Keith Allison,, courtesy of creativecommons.org

It’s arguable that the National Basketball Association has never seen this much offense in its 70-year history, and that’s due in large part to players scoring at an all-time high. The two highest scorers in the league, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, are the two favorites to win the MVP. The third-highest scorer in the league, however, has been (literally) vastly overlooked for consideration.

Here’s why Isaiah Thomas should win the MVP:

Shooting

The highest field-goal percentage among the top three scorers goes as follows:

  1. Thomas, 46.4 percent
  2. Harden, 43.9 percent
  3. Westbrook, 42.6 percent

These are good, if not great, shooting percentages. Nonetheless, Thomas shoots 2.5 percent better than Harden and 3.8 percent higher than Westbrook.

What about 3-pointers? Thomas has got the Beard and the Brodie beat in those categories, too.

Westbrook and Harden are shooting 34.4 percent and 34.6 percent from beyond the arc, respectively. Thomas is shooting 38.3 percent from deep.

Finally, Thomas is shooting more than 5 percent better than either Harden or Westbrook from the free-throw line. Westbrook is shooting 84.5 percent on free throws, Harden is shooting 85.1 percent and Thomas is making 90.9 percent of his shots from the charity stripe.

Efficiency

Now it’s time for a little game. The game is simple: question and answer. Ready? Good.

Question: In the NBA, which two players turn the ball over more than anyone else?

Answer: James Harden (5.8 turnovers per game) and Russell Westbrook (5.4 turnovers per game).

Interesting. The two leading candidates for MVP are also turnover machines. But, I digress.

Isaiah Thomas, coincidentally enough, averages less than half the turnovers of Harden, with only 2.8 turnovers per game.

Clutchness

Is clutchness a word? The red squiggly line that appears as I write this would indicate that it’s not, but it’s time to invent it.

There’s a reason Isaiah Thomas has been dubbed the “King in the Fourth.” His performances in the fourth quarter have been other-worldly, and he usually shines brightest under higher pressure.

For example, his career-high 52-point performance was impressive. What’s more impressive are the 29 points he scored in the fourth quarter of that game that gave his team the 117-114 win over the Heat earlier this season.

In the fourth quarter, only two players average more than nine points: Russell Westbrook and Isaiah Thomas. The more efficient of the two, of course, is Thomas.

Yes, Russ is averaging 10 points per game in the fourth quarter, but Thomas is just behind him with 9.8 points per game in the final frame, and it takes Thomas just 5.9 field goals to hit that mark, compared to Westbrook’s 7.3 field goals attempted in the last quarter of the game.

Either way, both will break Kobe Bryant’s fourth-quarter scoring record of 9.5 points in 2006.

If triple-doubles are all that matters and turnovers are irrelevant, then sure, either Harden or Westbrook should win the MVP. But if a player can score nearly as much at a much more efficient rate, especially with the game on the line, then it’s time for the NBA’s shortest-ever MVP.

Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of Creative Commons