October 16, 2021

Five players to watch this week

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With the NBA hurtling ever closer towards the play-offs, here are five players set to either dazzle or disappoint live on Sky Sports this week.

Zion on a tear

Dallas Mavericks head coach described Zion Williamson as a “Shaquille O’Neal-type force of nature with a point guard skill set.” Given his recent performances, it isn’t hard to see why.

Williamson backed up 39 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists against the Nuggets on Saturday with 38, 5 and 6 against the Mavericks the following night. This means he has joined an extremely select group as one of the only players in NBA history to record 75 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists whilst shooting 70 per cent from the field in two games.

The others? Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Giannis Antetokounmpo and of course, Shaq.

NBA: Zion Williamson 2:04
New Orleans’ Zion Williamson picked up 38 points with six assists and five rebounds versus Dallas.

Against Dallas, ‘Point Zion’ was unleashed down the stretch and he scored or assisted on every basket of their final 14 points to close out the win. Sometimes grand offensive schemes are not required. When you’ve got a player this dominant it can be as simply as give him the ball, get the hell out of the way.

As it stands, Zion is on course to absolutely shatter the single-season record for field goal percentage on at least 15 attempts per game. He’s also closing in on Shaq’s record of the longest streak of 20+ points on 50 per cent shooting.

Do it against the Celtics tonight and that would be the 24th game in a row, one behind O’Neal. It is no exaggeration to say that history is unfolding before our eyes.

Live NBA: New Orleans @ Boston 29.03

Tuesday 30th March 12:30am

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The new look Nuggets will bring the best out of Michael Porter Jr.

Whatever your thoughts on Aaron Gordon and how much of a decisive impact he will have on this Denver Nuggets team after his trade deadline move, the one unanimous cause for optimism is sophomore Michael Porter Jr.

In fact, you could make the case that Gordon was acquired less for his own abilities than to bring the best out of Porter, who will now have less of a defensive burden against the stronger power forwards in the league.

Highlights of the Atlanta Hawks against the Denver Nuggets in Week 14 of the NBA. 2:08
Highlights of the Atlanta Hawks against the Denver Nuggets in Week 14 of the NBA.

Gordon has never really put it together as a multipositional stopper on the defensive end, but he showed promising signs in his debut against the Hawks after switching between the quicksilver guard Trae Young and forward John Collins in one possession.

More of that, and it means the Nuggets can hide Porter on weaker assignments as he continues to get up to speed with the full complexities of defense in the NBA – when to rotate, switch, drop, double-team and so forth. Despite his polished offensive game, it’s easy to forget that Porter has less than 100 appearances in the league and is still very much developing as a player.

Gordon’s arrival can only help speed up that process, particularly if it means a deeper run come the post-season.

Live NBA: Philadelphia @ Denver 30.03

Wednesday 31st March 2:00am

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The return of Dre

Andre Drummond hasn’t played since February 12 but expect him to be as hungry for boards as ever the second he steps onto the court in the famous purple and gold.

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis out, the Lakers have had problems with both size and rebounding. Drummond’s arrival instantly solves both.

Without their superstars present, it’s been up to the undersized Montrezl Harrel and gangly Kyle Kuzma to grab rebounds, with both averaging 7 for the season. Drummond has averaged 14 – double that – through his entire career.

Live NBA: Milwaukee @ LA Lakers 31.03

Thursday 1st April 3:00am

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He is also the first player to lead the league in rebounding for three consecutive years with at least 15 per game since Dennis Rodman in the 1990s.

Expect Drummond to throw up a few statement 20 point, 20 rebound performances early into his Lakers career just to show the league what it’s been missing since Cleveland decided to sit him.

Live NBA LA Lakers @ Sacramento 02.04

Saturday 3rd April 3:00am

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LaMarcus Aldridge to slow down Nets

On the other hand, I’m not sure what LaMarcus Aldridge really adds to the Brooklyn Nets other than another big name to the already star-studded collection. The leaden-footed power forward’s pick and pop game is unmatched but it’s not as though Brooklyn are finding it difficult to score these days.

Live NBA: Charlotte @ Brooklyn 01.04

Friday 2nd April 12:30am

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Veterans help you win championships, but the Nets were hardly lacking in that department with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green and Blake Griffin on the roster. With Aldridge in tow it now means less minutes for the impressive 21 year old rim-runner Nic Claxton and revelatory Bruce Brown, two players who added dynamism and switchability on defense.

You know, the things Brooklyn needs more than anything alongside their stars. More scoring just seems like overkill at this point.

Still, given Harden’s recent string of MVP-calibre performances, and the fact that Kevin Durant is yet to return, it might not matter in the end. Aldridge could well get his ring and move on, job done.

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) plays against the against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) 0:18
Brooklyn Nets star James Harden says he is in no doubt who is leading the race to be this season’s MVP.

Nikola Vucevic getting into the groove

Orlando was Nikola Vucevic’s home for eight and a half seasons. Now, in the Windy City, he has found a new one.

Whilst his debut ended in a resounding defeat at the hands of the Spurs, Vucevic should take solace in the fact that he played well, putting up 21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists.

NBA: Spurs v Bulls 2:18
Highlights of the San Antonio Spurs against the Chicago Bulls in Week 14 of the NBA.

Given that the Chicago’s best player Zach LaVine was battling through an ankle sprain and therefore sat out the forth quarter, while Vucevic’s likely frontcourt partner Daniel Theis was not yet available after being traded from the Celtics, there are reasons to be optimistic.

“Offensively, it’s different because I was used to playing one way. They were used to playing a different way. We’ve got to figure that part out and build the chemistry,” Vucevic said afterwards, as well as admitting he grew up a Bulls fan due to Michael Jordan.

As both he and LaVine get used to one another, and Vooch becomes accustomed to his new surroundings, expect the two to combine for some ungodly stat lines and drive the Bulls towards the post-season.

Live NBA: Brooklyn @ Chicago 04.04

Sunday 4th April 7:00pm

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