Simmons returns to 76ers training, will play ‘when he’s ready’

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The NBA and its big stars are hoping the next regular season will be exactly that: regular.

The last two have not been. In 2019-20, the season was interrupted for the coronavirus pandemic and resumed in Orlando, in a bubble and without a crowd.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was at least able to assert his claims for a second consecutive MVP honor before this point.

In 2020-21, a quick playoff turnaround appeared to catch up with some top men, before the brutal 72-game schedule from December to May saw a number of top-performing players face sidelined spells. .

As a result, Nikola Jokic was clearly the outstanding MVP candidate for the Denver Nuggets, but also one of 11 league players to play in all 72 games. His 2,488 minutes trailed only New York Knicks pair Julius Randle (2,667) and RJ Barrett (2,511).

With an appropriate preseason to plan – and the Nuggets hurt by Jamal Murray’s injury – it seems unlikely that Jokic will defend his title.

But which players are most likely to follow his lead and step away from the rest in the coming months? Stats Perform breaks down the odds of MVP favorites.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

After winning back-to-back MVP Awards, Antetokounmpo entered the preseason again last year as a favorite and threatened for a while to struggle, averaging 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1 , 2 against and 1.2 steals per game. A six-game layoff in April, immediately after scoring 47 points in Portland, ended those hopes.

However, it would have been difficult for voters to justify the choice of Antetokounmpo again despite everything. At this point, he had only won three playoffs in his entire career. In contrast, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird – the three men previously honored three years in a row – each celebrated at least one championship in the first two seasons of their respective races.

It’s very different now, however. Although Antetokounmpo becomes only the ninth player to win the Maurice Podoloff Trophy three times, there is a less intimidating historical precedent with the year of the lean between the two. Crucially, the “Greek Freak” is now a champion himself.

Antetokounmpo was the Milwaukee Bucks Finals MVP as they won their first title in 50 years. Rather than regress in the playoffs – his points average had fallen from the regular season in four of his previous five playoff campaigns – the 26-year-old forward has reached new heights, taking on more responsibility with a peak in career of 20.9 field goal attempts per game. and be rewarded with 30.2 points.

Now capitalizing on his strengths, taking just 3.3 three-pointers in the playoffs and shooting 73.6% off the rim, Antetokounmpo should have the confidence to relaunch.

Luka Doncic

It was Doncic, and not Antetokounmpo, who was installed as the first favorite this year. The Slovenian is only entering his fourth season, but it’s about time he really established himself as a future big.

Doncic was one of those who admitted he was “not in my best shape” as the 2020-21 season began quickly, and the Dallas Mavericks were a disappointing 8-12 at the end of January, although the point forward was still averaging 27.4 points during that initial slow period. He then weighed in with 30.3 points in 12 games in February.

Only four players improved Doncic’s 1,830 points by year-end, but he could still be a bit more consistent in chasing a regular-season prize. The 22-year-old has set an astonishing standard on the bigger stage. While waiting for a first series victory, his 33.5 playoff points are the most players to appear in at least 13 career games. Doncic’s 143 points at the Tokyo Olympics led the tournament.

If Dallas can be competitive from the start, Doncic’s game is certainly a good choice for individual recognition, its 2020-21 use rate highest of 36.0% among players with 500 or more possessions. Similarly dominant for Slovenia, their 57 assists and 196 minutes also topped the charts at the Olympics.

New coach Jason Kidd will ask “young Picasso” Doncic to share the ball a bit more this year, however, saying: “As a coach, I’m not sure if anyone told Picasso he had to. use all the paints. But I just want to remind Luka that he can count on his teammates and that his teammates will be there to help him. “

He added: “We know it’s easy to give the ball to Luka, but the only thing we want to accomplish is other guys as playmakers, so come in the fourth quarter, Luka is fresh. and ready to deliver. ” Other big moments – Luka’s 93 clutch points ranked 21st last year – would certainly help Doncic’s cause.

Stephen curry

The Los Angeles Lakers’ new “big three” – we’ll get to the Brooklyn Nets soon – should help title hopes but hamper MVP offerings. Russell Westbrook’s relentless efforts in the regular season, averaging 34.4% use over the past seven seasons, could take some of the shine out of LeBron James. Curry doesn’t have this problem.

Like last year, when he got the second-highest number of votes after Jokic (albeit only five to 91), the Golden State Warriors should be hugely dependent on Curry – at least until his compatriot Splash Brother Klay Thompson is back from injury. .

In his first full season since Kevin Durant left and Thompson fell, Curry started early with 62 points against the Portland Trail Blazers, but saved his best for the end of the year, averaging 36. , 9 points after a tailbone injury in March to take a second scoring title. The double MVP couldn’t do enough to lead the Warriors through the game turn.

However, a young supporting cast is now a year older, which means Golden State should be competitive enough to keep Curry in the limelight without having enough talent to distract its displays.

Only Thompson’s return is likely to change the pattern of play after Curry hits career highs in points (32.0), rebounds (5.5), field goal attempts (21.7), three-point attempts (12.7), foul line hits (6.3) and rate usage (34.7). He scored 24.6% of the Warriors’ points, a league record.

Kevin Durant

Durant, like James, was simply supposed to be the biggest star in a star team until complications around Kyrie Irving’s status arose. As it stands, Irving will not appear for the Nets due to his refusal to be vaccinated against the coronavirus which would allow him to play home games.

Of course, Brooklyn also has James Harden, who briefly flirted with the MVP photo last year before a hamstring injury, but Durant will be the benchmark for the team as long as he stays on the pitch.

Although Durant made just 32 starts in 35 games in 2020-21, he led the Nets in points per game (26.9) and utilization rate (31.1). Irving placed second in both categories (also 26.9 points per game, 30.5% utilization).

The former Warrior is now a year after his terrible Achilles injury and has given a hint in the playoffs of the player he can still be. Playing in all 12 games, unlike Harden and Irving, Durant scored a total of 34.3 points – a better league among those who played 10 or more games. Only a limit appeal on a Durant shot in Game 7 against the Bucks ended Brooklyn’s campaign.

With or without Irving, the Nets are set to fight for the title this time around. Durant was MVP of the Finals in his two league wins in 2017 and 2018, but only has one regular season award, in 2013-14. If he returns to his best level, as it appears to be, the 33-year-old could dominate the coming season from start to finish.

Joel Embiid

If, as this list suggests, voters are looking for players who can put their teams on the back burner, Embiid’s case has only gotten stronger.

The big man was already the key performer for the Philadelphia 76ers, as evidenced by their 39-12 record with him on the team last year from 10-11 when he was out. Indeed, if Embiid had not been absent for such a number of matches, he could very well have propelled Jokic to the first individual prize.

Jokic clearly had the advantage as a creator, his 8.3 assists per game allowing him to total 16 triple-doubles, Embiid actually averages more points (28.5-26.4) and his prowess in defense (including 1.4 blocks per game) contributed much higher numbers in terms of over / under (7.9 to 5.3) and defensive scoring (103.1 to 109.2).

Sixers second-man Ben Simmons was already disappointing last year, and Embiid’s responsibilities at both ends of the pitch are expected to increase due to the uncertainty surrounding his teammate.

Even if Simmons stays, as is now a possibility, it is clearly the Embiid team. He felt it hadn’t been before, responding to reports that Simmons was not happy with the dynamics saying, “I feel like our teams have always been built around his needs.” These claims were “disappointing” and “bordering on disrespect,” Embiid added.

He sure won’t lack the motivation now to put his injuries behind him, enjoy another stellar season and claim the MVP award that eluded him last year.


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