Ike Wilson! April basketball! It’s the NBA Playoffs on SlackPost!
The NBA playoffs are in full swing, and as such, I figured it was a good time for me to offer some lingering thoughts on the regular season that was, as well as on a postseason that has regretfully gotten off to a slow start. It’s obviously still early, but to date only one road team (Chicago) has won a game and with the exception of the Warriors-Nuggets game and last night’s Grizzlies-Clippers game, every game has been decided with more than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. But I have faith! Things will get more exciting. They have to. Anyway, on to some random, stream-of-consciousness analysis, including my choices for the Association’s regular season awards.
For some reason, I wasn’t as swept up in Miami’s streak as I should have been. I think I’m becoming increasingly numb to NBA goings-on as I get older, which probably means that I’ve subconsciously subscribed to the belief that history repeats itself and that nothing is as brilliant as we tend to make it out to be in the moment. After all, I am admittedly an NBA snob, one who steadfastly believes in the greatness of 90s basketball and in the eternal supremacy of a certain Michael Jordan. I’m the type who bristles at the notion that Kobe or LeBron are better than MJ, and I likely always will, even as evidence of LBJ’s merits steadily mounts. And don’t get me wrong — I love watching LeBron — but come on, you have to admit that we have a bad habit of forgetting the past.
This season, James recorded six consecutive games with at least 30 points on 60% shooting, which is astonishing, but so are these things: Jordan had 10 triple-doubles in 11 games in 1989 (averaging 34-11-11); Oscar averaged a triple-double for the first five years of his career (not a typo); Wilt averaged 50 a game for a season; Kareem won Finals MVPs 14 years apart; Bird’s and Magic’s numbers were generally astounding, even when they were old as hell and broken down; and Hakeem totaled over 6,500 blocks and steals in his career (including playoffs), by far more than anyone else ever. You get the point. And that makes me a basketball curmudgeon, and things are obviously not as black and white as I’m making them seem (context — including era-specific advantages and disadvantages — always matters), but still, if the best player of his generation is at his apex and he is flanked on your team by a legion of elite shooters and two All-Stars, one of whom has at various times been the best player on the planet, shouldn’t you be outrageously good?
If Dennis Rodman had been MONEY from 18 feet (a la Chris Bosh) and the league was dominated back then by pussy officiating and the constant tolerance of moving screens, would the 1996 Bulls have won 27 straight games? Who knows, but I think I might have bet on them. Again, context matters — the league in 1996 was pretty diluted and there are more superstars playing today, plus Rodman was two times the defender Bosh is — but all I’m saying is that I wasn’t surprised by or in awe of Miami’s streak as much as I was kind of expecting it. This was the type of dominance we all thought we might see from them when The Decision happened in 2010. This was their ceiling. At the very least, however, you have to commend them for reaching it.
On Thursday April 11th, Steve Kerr did play-by-play (instead of color) on TNT’s broadcast of the OKC-Golden State game. Flanked by Chris Webber and Reggie Miller, Kerr did an admirable job balancing basic playcalling and (hilariously dramatic) promo-reading with his typically smart in-game analysis, and it was one of the more enjoyable broadcasts that I can remember from this season. When Sefolosha hit a three to end the first half, Kerr even channeled Marv Albert with a, “YES! At the buzzer!” Things didn’t go quite as smoothly as they maybe could have, as you could sense Kerr was struggling constantly with the choice of providing more analysis or simply letting C-Webb and Reggie do their thing. Sometimes all three of them would slip into simply watching the action, and entire plays unfolded without any commentating whatsoever. But Kerr has been open about how freaking hard it is to call (play-by-play) NBA action, which he detailed to Bill Simmons on a recent podcast, so you have to give him some love for doing his best.
The Mavs not being in the playoffs is super weird. I’d now like to insist that you go back and watch Dirk highlights from 2011. Never before have we seen a superstar play and dominate with a game like his. And we might never see it again, so if you love basketball, do yourself a favor and remind yourself just how great the big German once was.
I don’t think people realize how good Chris Paul is. And I say that even in the wake of his game-winner last night, which, by the way, followed three other clutch CP3 shots. More on him later.
I absolutely love watching Marc Gasol play basketball. What an unbelievable turn of events. And yeah, history will always show that the Grizzlies basically gifted the Lakers two rings, but still, given the Lakers’ recent woes and Pau’s decline and inevitable departure (although he will likely kick ass wherever he goes next), that trade sure seems to be working out long-term in the Grizzlies’ favor. Anyway, as for their series with the Clippers, Memphis is really good, but they’re looking spent after that heartbreaking Game 2 loss. The starters played a ton of minutes (ultimately in vain) and Z-Bo has slipped considerably since his days dominating the 2011 playoffs. I also don’t get why they don’t throw Gasol the ball more, nor do I get why Tony Allen isn’t guarding CP3 more often.
Andre Miller is a boss. Straight-up balling at age 37. That said, I wish the Nuggets were completely healthy for the playoffs; they’d be legitimate contenders in the west. And speaking of Denver and of injuries, David Lee’s injury in Game 1 was a devastating blow. I feel really bad for D-Lee, and am gradually coming to terms with the fact that Golden State is screwed.
This has nothing to do with the NBA, and I know it’s a little dated now, but Jack Hoffman’s touchdown run in the Nebraska spring game was incredible.
The Celtics are done. And the Knicks are overrated. Yeah I said it. The Pacers are better, even though they play really, really ugly. But to be honest, I don’t have much to say about the Eastern Conference playoffs because Miami is going to destroy everyone.
So apparently there are some idiots who are criticizing Derrick Rose for not having come back yet. These are Bulls fans from Chicago. They need to shut up and deal with their lost season. How do they not get that this will be better for their beloved Bulls in the long run? And how do they not get how Rose is having a hard time with his recovery? The guy plays like a radical cross between Young Allen Iverson and Young Dwyane Wade. He puts an enormous amount of pressure on his body by playing as violently as he does. And yeah, someone like Russell Westbrook plays pretty recklessly too, but keep in mind that Westbrook has never had injury issues. Before he tore his ACL last year, Rose had already spent most of the 2012 season dealing with injuries. If you play like that, you need to be 100% ready both physically and mentally before coming back. He should sit out the whole season.
Russell Westbrook just needs to stop it.
As I said at the beginning of the season, I’m rooting for the Spurs. But they’re banged up and I’m worried that Manu’s performance in Game 1 was fool’s gold. Plus he did that against the Lakers. They suck on the perimeter. Anyway, if the Spurs advance, they’ll have to play the Nuggets, who present a pretty awful matchup for them, especially if they’re still dealing with injuries. Maybe T-MAC will destroy some fools and become the comeback story of the year! I’m allowed to dream, right? In any case, if the Spurs somehow beat the Nuggets, I actually think they can get past the Clippers or Thunder in the conference finals, but it’ll be extremely difficult. The Spurs are more likely to beat the Heat in a playoff series than they are to beat the Thunder, which is bizarre, because the Thunder are less likely to beat the Heat than the Spurs.
How sad is it that Steve Nash has become just another guy on the Lakers? I feel like that was preordained to happen. Once you go to the Lakers, you become a secondary player/afterthought thanks to Kobe’s massive cult of personality. It’s so weird. Nash — an All-Star last year — gets to LA then immediately gets injured, comes back and is ineffective, then gets injured again and is basically absent for the team’s entire playoff push. Even when he was playing, he was relegated to standing around watching Kobe do his thing, and was basically just a rich man’s Steve Blake. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard shows up and just gets shit on all season. Pau Gasol has been getting shit on ever since he got there. If you’re a free agent after this season and the Lakers approach you this summer, you should probably run away, unless you actively want to become irrelevant. And by the way, the reverse can be said of former Lakers. Think about how Caron Butler was essentially a glorified nobody when he was in LA, then went on to be an All-Star once he got out of dodge and joined Washington. Matt Barnes was considered a joke while on the Lakers, but is now an invaluable bench player who plays crunch-time minutes for the Clippers.
Anyway, I don’t like Kobe or the Lakers, but I feel bad for Bryant. I’ve partially torn my Achilles before and it’s the absolute worst. As a basketball fan, I’m saddened that we may have seen the last of Kobe performing at an all-world level.
OK, time for regular season awards! Note that these are my own personal picks more than they are predictions for what will actually happen. And yes, I know that two of these awards have already been handed out. Sue me.
Most Valuable Player:
Candidates: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Tony Parker, Kobe Bryant
The Pick: James
No explanation needed.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Candidates: Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, Larry Sanders, Serge Ibaka, LeBron James
The Pick: Gasol
I had James winning the award earlier in the year, but over the course of the season he hasn’t exerted himself on the defensive end enough. During the second half of the season he’s been saving energy while on D in order to do his thing on offense. He’s been playing tons of minutes and simply can’t go 100% all the time on defense, let alone for entire games. That said, he deserves to win this award someday; he can guard all five positions for Christ’s sake. But this year, I’ve got Gasol winning because he’s the heart and soul of an elite Memphis defense that allowed less than 90 points a game. He moves about brilliantly on the backline of their D, rotating just enough to neutralize or bother offensive sets and players but never getting totally out of position. He also does a good job of talking and of not fouling.
Coach of the Year:
Candidates: George Karl, Erik Spoelstra, Mark Jackson, Mike Woodson, Gregg Popovich
The Pick: Spoelstra
I’m not sure Spoelstra’s going to win the award in real life, because the media tends to have a bias toward New York (Mike Woodson, baby!) and because Karl has become the cool pick of late thanks to Denver’s late-season surge and lack of a superstar. Jackson is worthy simply because the Warriors made the playoffs, which is an exceedingly rare occurrence. Popovich is, in my opinion, the best coach in the league by far, but that doesn’t always win you awards, as stupid as that is (just like how MJ should have won seven or eight MVPs but only won five). Anyway, Spoelstra should be given credit for revamping the way Miami plays, a semi-radical redesign that catered entirely to LeBron’s skillset and that allowed the Heat to finally reach their ceiling.
Executive of the Year:
Candidates: Daryl Morey, Masai Ujiri, Pat Riley, Gary Sacks
The Pick: Morey
Morey and Ujiri are basically the only two real candidates. Riley gets a nomination because of what he’s done over the past few years, bringing in Bosh and James and surrounding them over time with smart acquisitions like Battier, Allen, and Andersen. The Clips have a great bench this year, thanks in large part to Gary Sacks, but last offseason when they were signing Odom, Hill, Crawford, and the like, he was not technically the GM yet. Ujiri has assembled a scarily athletic and relentless squad in Denver, but Morey gets the nod simply because his is the only team that was not in the playoffs last year. That guy basically always gets the award. But he’s deserving anyway; the Rockets sucked last year and during the summer/fall he picked up Lin, Asik, and Harden, resulting in an exciting offensive squad that in some people’s eyes overachieved.
Rookie of the Year:
Candidates: Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters
The Pick: Lillard
Davis will likely be a better player in the long run, but Lillard has been very, very impressive this year. This one’s pretty obvious.
Most Improved Player of the Year:
Candidates: Nikola Vucevic, Greivis Vasquez, Paul George, Larry Sanders, J.J. Hickson, Eric Bledsoe, J.J. Redick, O.J. Mayo, Jrue Holiday
The Pick: George
I swear, I already had this written before George won the award this morning. Honestly. So yeah, congrats to me for knowing what I’m talking about. But as much sense as the George pick makes, there were some other serious, deserving contenders this year, so congrats to him for coming out on top. I actually thought that Vasquez or Vucevic might come up with the upset, but I guess most voters went with a more objective way of making the decision: last year, George was not an All-Star; this year, George was an All-Star. None of those other guys did that. He wins! He IMPROVED!
Sixth Man of the Year:
Candidates: Jamal Crawford, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, J.R. Smith, Kevin Martin
The Pick: Crawford
See?! I told you I wrote (most of) this stuff before the awards were actually handed out! As you may have heard, Smith has already been crowned the league’s best 6th man, but I thought it was a total toss-up between him and Crawford. I went with the latter because I just like him more, but can’t really argue against Smith winning. What a guy, that J.R. Smith. He’s just living the dream this year!
All-NBA First Team:
Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan
There is no legitimate argument against James and Durant belonging here, so let’s just move on. Among all of the NBA’s great guards, Paul is the easiest choice here in my opinion. He’s the best point guard on the planet and IS the Clippers’ offense. They really don’t have much in the way of a “system” or “plays.” And while that may be a knock on Vinny Del Negro, it’s also attributable to the fact that they have a floor general who simply makes plays. Just give Paul the ball and let him do his thing, because good things will happen. As for the second guard spot, Parker, Bryant, Westbrook, Harden, and Wade are all worthy, but I ultimately went with Kobe because he put up remarkable numbers given his age and usage. Plus his team stank and he single-handedly willed them to the playoffs. He dominated the headlines more than those other guys did too, and that counts for something.
Finally, Duncan is my pick at center for the simple reason that I love Tim Duncan. I don’t care that his minutes were low and that Parker is really the one that makes things go for the Spurs on offense. Great perimeter players abound in the NBA, but elite, all-around big men like TD are a total rarity. Duncan is the heart of their defense, somehow still one of the best five or ten individual defensive players in the league, and, when he is on the court, one of the most efficient and effective players in basketball — at both ends. That description also applies to guys like Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah, but with them, their offensive contributions come primarily off of offensive rebounds or strong rolls to the basket off ball screens. What sets Duncan apart is that he does all of that but he can also score with relative ease on the block and shoot from 17 feet (and by the way, he’s shooting more confidently than I can ever remember seeing, including a career mark from the free throw line). While Parker was out with a sprained ankle, Duncan put up gaudy numbers and kept the team afloat atop the Western Conference. All year he’s looked like a younger version of himself that we all thought we’d never see again. Recent issues, including the release of Stephen Jackson and the team’s fall to the 2nd spot in the conference, should not take away from what Duncan did this year. He hadn’t been this good in four or five years.
All-NBA Second Team:
Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, Marc Gasol
All of these guys could make a somewhat reasonable case for belonging on the First Team. Melo was an MVP candidate for the first time in his career, while Gasol will likely make the First Team instead of Duncan in real life. Parker was also in the MVP discussion before James started coldly destroying everyone and TP got injured. Westbrook puts up ridiculous numbers and is the engine of the Thunder’s offense. His decision-making has improved, and even though I still totally dislike the way he and the Thunder play basketball, there is absolutely no way he should be anything less than a Second-Teamer. Finally, James Harden emerged as a straight-up gamer this year now that he was finally free to do his own thing for the entirety of games. And I know he’s actually a guard but whatever.
All-NBA Third Team:
Stephen Curry, Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin, David Lee, Dwight Howard
I am snubbing Brook Lopez from the All-NBA teams simply because he is frighteningly uncomfortable to watch. Plus his rebounding numbers are anemic and he’s a bad defender who generally strikes me as an oaf who somehow constantly stumbles into making positive basketball plays. I don’t care how high his PER is, so yeah, sorry John Hollinger. (And I’m a Stanford fan!) Wade was cooly efficient this year and remains one of the top three 2-guards in the league; by that logic alone he makes an All-NBA team. Blake Griffin’s numbers were down from last year so he slips to the Third Team.
Howard falls from First to Third because he just wasn’t himself this year, plus he succumbed to the aforementioned cult of Kobe and started getting shit on for doing things he’s always been doing. I don’t know what all these casual critics (Laker fans) were watching the last few years, but he’s never been a dominant offensive force. Before his injuries, he spent his time in Orlando being crazy athletic and setting screens and rolling hard for lobs. He was surrounded by shooters so he had more room to operate. None of what I just described applies to the 2013 Lakers. So not only was he worse this year (due in large part to his injuries), but he was in a crappy system, both for him and generally (all hail D’Antoni!). Finally, my boys Curry and Lee make the Third Team because they led a resurgence in the Bay Area that resulted in the Warriors’ second playoff appearance in 19 years. Lee was an all-around offensive asset and had the most double-doubles in the NBA this season. Meanwhile, Curry morphed into the most dangerous shooter in the league and fully figured out how he should play point guard. Well done.
Brook Lopez, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Tyson Chandler, Paul Pierce, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Al Horford, David West, Chris Bosh, Damian Lillard, Serge Ibaka
Glaring Omissions/Dying to Come Back Strong Next Year:
Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Andrew Bynum, Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol
All-NBA Defensive First Team:
Avery Bradley, Tony Allen, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol
All-NBA Defensive Second Team:
Mike Conley, Andre Iguodala, Larry Sanders, Kevin Garnett, Joakim Noah
As you saw from my DPOY candidates above, the best and most valuable defenders in today’s NBA are often bigs, so as a result I’m shamelessly throwing a bunch of big men into my All-Defensive teams because their impact was greater than those of the perimeter guys. James was more of a 4 this year, and TD is now more of a center than he is a power forward, but I wanted desperately to put both Duncan and Gasol on the First Team so whatever. And the Second Team is enormous, with each of its frontcourt players being a center on his own team. But in the NBA of yesteryear, KG was a 4, and Sanders would have been too. But aside from Allen, few perimeter players jumped out at me this year as truly elite, DPOY-level defenders, so I’ll go with the above two teams and accept that the actual teams will look nothing like them. In any case, there you have it! Here’s to some heightened playoff excitement in the weeks to come!