I am loving the Toronto Raptors right now. I know this is probably an unheard of statement coming from a Boston Celtics fan. But as someone who loves good basketball and good stories, it’s difficult for me to not love what’s happening in The Six.
The Raptors have won 15 straight games. They have the second best defensive rating in the league. They play with grace on the offensive end and swarming intensity on the defensive end. They are on pace to win 61 games, three more than last year. And they’re doing it all after losing Kawhi Leonard, their Finals MVP from the 2019 season.
The Raptors are well-run. They play smart and respectable basketball. And even after losing a top-five player in the league, they are still a contender to reach the NBA Finals. It’s so difficult to not like them.
Another feel good story is happening on the opposite side of the league, as Damian Lillard is currently scorching the earth with his play on the court.
The Portland Trail Blazers are currently jockeying for the eight seed in the Western Conference with the Memphis Grizzlies and a few other middling squads. And thanks to Lillard’s recent domination, they are closing in on that final playoff spot.
Over their last ten games, the Blazers are 7-3 and Lillard has averaged 41.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 9.4 assists per game during that span on an absurd 51.5 field goal and 3-point percentage.
If Lillard can keep this up and help lead the Blazers to the playoffs in the Western Conference, he might be able to nudge his way into the MVP conversation.
Just a bit down the NBA coastline, a redemption story is underway.
On the day of the NBA trade deadline, a blockbuster trade sent D’Angelo Russell from the Golden State Warriors to the Minnesota Timberwolves and brought Andrew Wiggins to the Bay Area.
Ignoring all the other bits and pieces of this exchange, this trade is going to be judged on the performance of Wiggins. Sure, Russell is going to be a fun partner for Karl-Anthony Towns, and the Wolves’ pick might even land the Warriors a solid rookie.
But if Wiggins can’t fit into the Warriors’ culture, this trade might look like a mess for general manager Bob Myers in just a few years.
Wiggins is unquestionably talented. He can give the Warriors 20 points a night with no problem.
But the issues with Wiggins are aplenty. He’s a career 33 percent shooter from deep. His defensive effort is uninspired. He barely moves the rock. And all those problems make his fit alongside star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson problematic.
Still, this is the first time Wiggins has had a positive winning culture around him since his University of Kansas days, and if he can find a way to actually improve his game, this trade could be a success for the Warriors.
Buddy Hield is a great shooter, a truly great shooter. Over his entire career, he has shot 41 percent from beyond the arc on close to seven attempts per game. This year, he’s upped those attempts per game to a whopping 9.9 and he’s still hitting them at a near 39 percent clip. He’s also third in the league with over 200 threes made on the season.
Hield is just a ridiculously talented sniper and since being relegated to the bench on Jan. 24, he’s gone 47-for-92 from three in just nine games. Those are unbelievably great numbers, and it’s about time Hield gets his share of praise as one of the game’s great shooters.
Somehow even more unheralded at this point in the NBA season are the Milwaukeee Bucks. Seriously, we need to be talking about the Bucks way more.
The national sports media is constantly focused on the two NBA teams out in Los Angeles, but the Bucks are currently on pace to win 71 games. They have the second best offensive rating in the league. They lead the league in defensive rating, points per game and rebounds per game.
Even beyond the numbers, they’re simply electric to watch. Their teamwork and length outpace every other squad in the league. And they’re led by a speedy version of Shaquille O’Neal with better playmaking skills in superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
This is a team that should be getting the same type of attention as the 2015-16 Warriors and unanimous MVP Steph Curry. Antetokounmpo is that good and the Bucks are that good. So please, pay more attention to their basketball greatness.