Welcome to a brand new (hopefully) weekly post at DCIAB called The Stretch Four. Longtime friend of the blog Nik Valdiserri has joined me to offer our NBA expertise in a variety of fun fashions every Friday. There are four regular segments to the post, along with other optional segments we’ll integrate as they become relevant.

Regular features of the post will include a short column on a league trend or event, some of our power rankings, the best NBA video we watched this week, and the Friday Spotlight, a picks competition for Friday night games with a similar structure to DCIAPC. Enjoy!

STEPH

When most people watch sports, their descriptions of just about any event frequently devolve directly into superlative discussions about the best, worst, or even most mediocre in any given area. Most sports fans also feel the need to constantly discuss the order of things, from College Football Playoff rankings to weekly power rankings of an entire sport’s teams (what kind of idiots would do that?).

Often, superlafilia and obsessive ranking disorder intermingle, leading to elongated discussions about the best player in any given sport on the planet.

For years, LeBron James has been the uncontested best player in basketball. Kevin Durant had a superior regular season a couple years ago, but it was by the slimmest of subjective margins and LeBron ultimately won the title that season to continue his tenure atop the mountain.

At this point, it’s difficult to imagine a world in which LeBron is not considered the best basketball player alive. I’ve been watching basketball since roughly 2004, which is when LeBron began his ascension to the top, insofar as an athlete hyped up, since high school, more than any other in history can begin an ascension once he finally reaches his league.

But from then on, it was only a matter of time before the NBA was precisely that– his league. Since I started following basketball more closely in 2011, LeBron has dominated the league, reaching the NBA finals every single season spanning two different teams with key role players cycling in and out around him.

And then last year happened. LeBron struggled early in the year with Cleveland, eventually resorting to the famous two-week “LeBattical” to recharge his batteries for another stretch run. The Cavs and LeBron would get to the championship round without much difficulty, but LeBron shot poorly in the postseason and relied on as much of an old man game as we’d ever seen from him.

Steph Curry won the MVP, James Harden was a close runner-up, and even Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis had cases for the award that rivaled, if not dwarfed, LeBron’s. Davis became the trendy pick for this year’s MVP award, as he was most likely to carry a team to a high playoff seed essentially all by his lonesome. Durant was another popular choice, hoping for a resurgence after over a year of injury issues.

And somehow, with all the offseason fawning over the Golden State Warriors, it seems almost impossible that nobody considered the most obvious successor for LeBron in the league– Steph Curry.

Steph is the best player alive now, and it couldn’t feel weirder. His control over the game is mesmerizing. He set the NBA record for three-point makes in a single season last year with 286. 10 games into this season, he’s on pace for over 420 (nice), nearly 1.5 times his previous record. And he scores at will on just about any opponent, failing to score fewer than 20 points in any game thus far.

His team, the Warriors, are by far the best in the league, scorching opponents by 17.1 points per game during their 10-0 start. Again, their average margin of victory is 17 points PER GAME. And that’s without a stellar performance from Klay Thompson all season. It’s all because of Curry and his sidekick Draymond Green.

Curry has already been, by far, the best player on a title team. He’s improved his defense from terrible to slightly above average. Though his diminutive size disadvantages him against the league’s most physical guards, he can hang with any point guard in the league.

LeBron is still an amazing player, but age and miles are starting to break his body down. His defense, particularly in the regular season, has slipped well below the previous near-DPOY level. His jump shot appears bent, if not broken. He’s still a top-three passer in the league, fantastic finisher around the rim, and capable of winning any game by himself. But he’s no longer the LeBron of just two years ago.

Steph Curry is the new best basketball player on the planet, whether you like it or not. And given the early letdowns in New Orleans for Anthony Davis, it doesn’t look like he’ll give up that mantle anytime soon.

– Matt

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

This is the long version of the highlight reel (LOOK AT CLEVELAND’S STARTING 5).

Unfortunately, the league ended up taking this triple double away from LeBron after the game had been played because of a wrongly noted rebound (STUPID BEN WALLACE). With that said, this still ranks #2 in my all-time favorite LBJ games behind his Game 6 performance at the TD Garden in 2012. I thought you all may like this considering the King is headed back to Madison Square garden tonight. Funny stat: Kobe scored 61 at MSG two nights before this game. Classic Knicks.

– Nik

POWER RANKINGS

A weekly update on the teams we believe are at the top of the ranks in the NBA. Two things: First off, instead of giving you all 30 teams at once, we list a weekly top 10 and conclude each month with the full 30. Secondly, instead of a list from each of us, we average our rankings to compile one list.

Week 3

1. Golden State Warriors (10-0) | LW: 1

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-1) | LW: T-2

T-3. Atlanta Hawks (8-2) | LW: 5

T-3. San Antonio Sours (6-2) | LW: T-6

5. Toronto Raptors (6-3) | LW: T-2

6. Miami Heat (6-3) | LW: NR

7. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-3) | LW: NR

T-8. Detroit Pistons (5-3) | LW: T-8

T-8. Chicago Bulls (5-3) | LW: T-10

T-10. Utah Jazz (4-4) | LW: T-10

T-10. Los Angeles Clippers (5-4) | LW: T-2

Teams Trending Up:

It was a wild week in the NBA, and many teams bounced back after rough starts to the season, including the Charlotte Hornets. After starting 0-3, the Hornets have won 4 out of their last 5 and find themselves back on this list for the second week in a row. The Denver Nuggets have also played well recently and look to sweep their three-game home stand tonight against the Rockets. The continued excellent play from Emmanuel Mudiay has us all excited.

The Indiana Pacers have won three out of their last four since Matt and I last posted our weekly column, and it is all thanks to Paul George, who is scorching hot at the moment. The Miami Heat have won three straight and Hassan Whiteside is living up to the hype thus far. Him and Chris Bosh are a nightmare duo to guard.

I know many would disagree, but I’m going to add the Brooklyn Nets to this list because they finally won their first game of the season on the road at Houston. The Nets had lost by single digits the two previous games and beating Rockets was a big one. By the end of the game, Lionel Hollins looked like a kid during Christmas morning.

The Dallas Mavericks also make this list solely because of their impressive win over the Clippers on Wednesday. Seeing Wes Matthews healthy and Dirk play the way he did makes me giddy. Eventually add Chandler Parsons back into the mix and this team can be better than they were last year. Lastly, I would feel remorse if I did not mention the Golden State Warriors. Yes, they have been #1 in our power rankings from the very beginning, but what they are doing is spectacular. I don’t want to get into a debate about whether or not they will break the 72-win record, but instead, I’m going to enjoy the show they are putting on.

Teams Trending Down: 

What is going on in the West? The Houston Rockets were the first team to lose to Brooklyn and look lost defensively. James Harden has a player of the week award already, but his shaky start has been surprising. The Los Angeles Clippers have managed to lose four out of their last five and drop to #10 in our latest power rankings. A combination of Mark Cuban, Chris Paul having nagging injuries and Blake Griffin getting ejected did not bode well for Doc’s squad this past week.

Also in the West, can someone please wake the Memphis Grizzlies up? Poor shooting and too many turnovers right now. The defense is improving, but the team has only scored an average of 87.1 points in their last six games.

George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins should be added to this list as well. Looks like Sacramento is a mess again. Shocker.

Lastly, I’m going to add the Washington Wizards to this list, sorry Matt. The Wiz have lost three straight, and really struggled to play Wittman-ball without Bradley Beal on Tuesday against OKC. However, it is the defense that needs improvement. 118, 114 and 125 have been the opponents’ scoring totals in those last three losses. Matt, you can play defense right?

– Nik

FRIDAY SPOTLIGHT

Here were last week’s games:

  • The Lakers (+3.5) beat Brooklyn outright for their first win in what should be a miserable season that hopefully results in an excruciating fourth spot in the draft lottery that requires the Lakers to cede their pick to the Sixers.
  • Paul George and the Pacers (+1) had a strong fourth quarter on their way to a nice conference win over the Heat.
  • Detroit (+5.5) not only covered, but beat the Suns outright on the road to continue their impressive start to the season.

And here’s where Nik and I fall in the standings after two weeks (not gouda):

Season Last Week
Nik 2-3 1-2
Matt 1-4 0-3

And here’s the peanut gallery, where there were few storylines last week from incumbent members. However, Andrew Kelley joined the fray with an extremely strong 3-0 start to his TS4 picks campaign.

Winning Percentage Season Record Last Week
Andrew Kelley 1.000 3-0 3-0
Osgood .500 3-3 2-1
Creed Tucker .500 3-3 2-1
Sheen aka Sean .333 1-2
Harry Kroll .333 1-2

If you pick on a relatively consistent basis, we will keep track of your scores week to week and include your record in a separate compilation from our own. Frequent contributors will be lauded or ripped to pieces pending performance, so enter at your own risk (please do though, it’s fun).

LEAVE YOUR PICKS FOR THESE THREE GAMES EITHER IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW OR ON FACEBOOK. As it shall always be, game times are eastern and all occur Friday night.

8-2 Atlanta Hawks @ 3-4 Boston Celtics (PK), 7:30

Atlanta has overcome a couple of questionable early performances to have one of the best starts in the entire league, let alone the Eastern conference. Kent Bazemore looks to be producing about 60 percent of what the Hawks got last year from DeMarre Carroll, which is about all you can ask of a career bench guy elevating into his first starting role. The Celtics have looked better as the young season has gone on as well, increasing their pace and relying on the play of Isaiah Thomas to bolster their standing in the East playoff race.

Matt: It’s hard to know who’s going to show up in a game like this. On any given night, both of these teams have guys who can catch fire (on either end of the court). I think the Celtics match up well enough with the Hawks, given that they have solid defenders for Kyle Korver (Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder) as well as the size inside to compete with and likely out-rebound Atlanta’s front-court. Boston

Nik: Matt hit the nail on its head. There’s a reason this game is a pick ’em. However, I trust Atlanta more than I do Boston right now. Al Horford is hitting from all over the floor and I expect him and Paul Millsap to win this game down the stretch, even if the two of them get out-rebounded. Atlanta

7-1 Cleveland Cavaliers (-6) @ 4-5 New York Knicks, 7:30

The Cavs have continued their early season roll and now head to Madison Square Garden to face a young Knicks team that gets a minimum of three Jerian Grant foul line trips, two absurd Kristaps Porzingis highlights, and a partridge in a pear tree every night. Cleveland beat New York 96-86 at home last time these two team met.

Matt: As fun as the Knicks are, the Cavs are playing as well or better than any team not named Golden State right now. LeBron scores 35-plus on two-days rest in MSG and the Cavs win going away. Cleveland -6

Nik: The Knicks are one of the most fun teams to watch this year, and I’m not just saying that because they have Jerian Grant. This team is compiled of the most random selection of players, and I absolutely love it. Unfortunately however, the Knicks will not have fun tonight. LeBron James is coming to town and that is a recipe for disaster considering how much he loves to play at Madison Square Garden. Expect him to match his average of nearly 30 points at the Garden and then some. Cleveland -6

4-5 Portland Trailblazers @ 3-6 Memphis Grizzlies (-7), 8:00

Grit and grind meets youth and shooting in a rematch of last year’s 4-5 playoff series in the Western conference. Portland beat Memphis at home earlier this season, 115-96.

Matt: I was pretty shocked to see this line tilted so far in Memphis’s favor. The Grizzlies are probably going to be a playoff team in the long run, but right now they’re playing like garbage and their offense is as bad as it gets, non-Philadelphia division. Portland can really light it up when they get going. Gimme the young Blazers on the road. Portland +7

Nik: This is a REALLY weird line. The Grizzlies just cannot get anything done offensively. A mixture between poor shooting (34.3%) and bad turnovers (21) against Golden State on Wednesday resulted in another blowout loss. BUT, I’m going to put my trust in them one more time (sigh). The Grindhouse will be hostile (believe me, I’ve been the opposing fan there before) and the Griz will get revenge on the Trail Blazers for the previous blowout. Memphis -7

 

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