From Bill Russell to Russell Westbrook NBA stars have always shined bright on Christmas Day. Since the NBA‘s inaugural season the league has delighted round ball fans on all but one December 25th. The game has seen tremendous growth since those 1950s contests featuring the likes of Bob Pettit and Bob Cousy, yet while the performers have changed the performances have remained spectacular.
Whether you are a casual onlooker partaking in the mastery of Tracy McGrady’s 46 point game, or a diehard New York Knicks’ fanatic basking in the gift of a 60 point explosion by Knicks’ legend Bernard King. The slate of Christmas' games never disappoints. Each game seems to offer something different yet fascinating for every fan. King was a native New Yorker when he set the Garden ablaze with his scoring onslaught. Equally as impressive, he and McGrady managed to post such gaudy numbers without hitting one three-pointer. The only reason the N.Y. forward’s feat does not make the list is his incomparable efforts were for not as the Knicks lost 120 – 114.
Oscar Robertson was another gift that kept giving every time his Cincinnati Royals touched the hardwood on Christmas Day. The guard notched one of his patented triple-doubles in a 141 – 127 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The 40 point, 17 assist and 12 rebound present to fans proved to be underwhelming as the Lakers won each quarter on their way to the victory. Then there was the incomparable Wilt Chamberlain, who snatched a record 36 rebounds, to go along with 59 points in a 136 – 135 loss to the New York Knicks. Chamberlain’s rebounding record, King’s scoring record and Robertson’s triple-double did not translate into a win, and as we all know you play to win the game.
Victories are what differentiate effort from accomplishment, and allow the performance to stand the test of time. There have been countless remarkable scoring and rebounding feats throughout the years, but individual numbers unattached to victories are as depressing as empty boxes under the Christmas tree. A great performance accompanied by an even greater victory is the story within the headlines of this countdown.
11) Russell Westbrook (2016): 31 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds, a steal & a block
As a unit OKC placed four players in double figures (including Russ), due largely to the lead guards creativity. The point controlled the contest with a game high in points (31) and assists (15) leaving no doubt he was up for the challenge of leading the Thunder.
10) Jerry West (1963): 47 points
No NBA scoring list is complete without “the Logo” making an appearance at some point. In this instance Jerry West makes an appearance at number 10. The Los Angeles Laker legend arrived in New York City to take on Bob Boozer and the New York Knicks. The eastern conference opponent took the floor with a 9 – 27 record but were equipped to stop West. At least through three quarters.
Los Angeles trailed throughout the game before a 41 point fourth quarter to take the lead, and win the game. West was the catalyst of the comeback finishing up with 47 points. This was not the last time the guard scorched a club on December 25th, just two seasons later the NBA icon scored 44 points in a win at home.
9) Tracy McGrady (2003): 41 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds, three steals & one block
The future met the present in Orlando on this Christmas Day, as LeBron James and Tracy McGrady squared off. Outside of James v. McGrady there was little else worth watching as the two squads combined for a 16 – 41 record. James had just 28 games of NBA experience, but played like a grizzled veteran scoring 34 points, as he led Ira Newble, Kedrick Brown and the rest of his band of underwhelming men to overtime.
A 19 point first quarter by McGrady was capped off by six points and three assists in the extra period. The Magic star finished the event with 41 points and Orlando grabbed the win 113 – 101. The slender forward later admitted James coming to town and the game being on Christmas Day gave him added motivation.
8) Brandon Roy (2009): 41 points, six rebounds, four assists, & a steal
Injuries and frankly playing in the city of Portland have allowed the NBA world to forget just how majestic of a basketball player Brandon Roy was. The former Washington Huskie was an explosive scorer who mastered the mid-range jump shot. On this evening Roy curved up Carmelo Anthony ,Chauncey Billups and the rest of the Denver Nuggets for 41 points after an exhilarating 16 point second quarter.
The Blazers entered the fourth quarter trailing 76 – 74, despite Roy’s marksmanship. The guard scored 10 of the team’s next 19 points as Portland served its division foe a 107 – 96 loss. The 6’6 former Huskie never played on Christmas Day again, leaving many fans wondering what could have been if injuries did not derail his career.
7) Oscar Robertson (1960): 32 points, 16 assists, 15 rebounds & (1963): 37 points, 16 assists & 15 rebounds
It is only fitting that the game’s first multi-dimensional star have more than one entry on this list. As basketball fans we will never truly appreciate just how much of a basketball virtuoso Oscar Robertson was. History can be kind, and in some cases too kind, to some of the game’s previous warriors. However, in the case of Robertson his-story has not done justice to his foray into the game. It is almost befitting on a day designated for giving “the Big O” gave us two wonderful gifts. On two separate days and three years apart Robertson did simply what Robertson does.
Christmas landed on a Sunday in 1960 and the point guard started the week off with a 126 – 119 victory. The Royals led at halftime 60 – 52 and continued to roll, as Robertson led all scorers with 32 points. Jack Twyman and four other Royals registered double-doubles in the victory. The 1963 contest pitted Cliff Hagan, Bob Pettit and the St. Louis Hawks (currently the Atlanta Hawks) against Oscar, Wayne Embry and crew. The NBA legend scored a game high 37 in leading the Royals to a 113 – 107 victory.
6) Moses Malone (1986): 28 points, 21 rebounds, five blocks, & three steals
After leading the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1983 title the 76ers decided to trade all world center Moses Malone for what amounted to nonsense in Cliff Robinson and cap space relief in Jeff Ruland. Team owner Harold Katz felt trading one of the league’s highest paid players in Malone for a cat with chronic knee and shoulder issues made the Sixers “a younger faster team”. In actuality it made Philly a much less expensive team and that was the number one goal for Katz, allegedly.
Nevertheless, the three time league MVP got a chance to exact revenge on this Christmas Day. The contest was Malone’s first game against the division foe and the center destroyed his former club. The one-time 76er single-handily outrebounded Philly’s starting frontcourt 21-to-19 and tied with the Sixers’ Robinson for a game high 28. As if Moses’ board work was not emphatic enough the big man added five blocked shots and three steals for good measure. Ruland did not play in the Christmas Day game, and only managed five games in the 1986 season.
5) Kevin Durant (2010): 44 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals & two blocks
What started as another Christmas Day contest against two division foes turned into a Kevin Durant shooting exposé. The forward shot 6-for-8 in the third quarter, including 3-for-3 from the arc, en-route to a 21 point quarter. Durant almost outscored the entire Denver Nuggets team (26 – 21), and finished up with 44 points.
Former Thunder teammate James Harden and Durant were the only OKC players to shoot well, going a combined 20-for-31 from the field, KD provided additional punch from three shooting 4-for-7. Oklahoma City won the game 114 – 106, yet the story was Durant’s explosive third quarter. Harden later summed up the shooting by saying “When Durant is in such a shooting zone,……….We don't need anything else," Harden said. "Give him the ball and get out of the way."
4) Dominique Wilkins (1987): 45 points, nine rebounds & three assists
Being dubbed “the Human Highlight Film” can be both the gift and the curse. There are times where a highlight can mislead people into believing your game is voided of the necessary facets to win. However, Dominique Wilkins left little doubt this was not the case Christmas night in Philadelphia. “The Human Highlight Film” lived up to his namesake and solidified his dope-ness by notching 45 points against Charles Barkley’s Philadelphia 76ers. Thus showing the world he was more than a mere dunker.
The forward made 17 field goals, outscored and outrebounded Philadelphia’s star 45 – 22 & nine boards to seven in the 106 – 100 win. The next night Nique gave the New York Knicks 37 just to confirm he was nice and for the season crossed the 40 point plateau 13 times.
3) Rick Barry (1966): 50 points & six rebounds
“Love Conquers All, Even Rick Sometimes” was the headline three days prior to the San Francisco Warriors arriving into town on Christmas night, and three days prior to Rick Barry choosing hate over love in the form of hanging 50 on the Cincinnati Royals in a 124 – 112 win. Most are aware that Barry dropped 50 that faithful evening, which still stands today as the most points scored in a Christmas Day win. Yet, few ever discuss the story below that headline.
Just 57 days earlier Barry came into the Queen City and gave Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas work. To the tune of 57 points, his season’s high. A few weeks later the Royals traveled to San Fran to play the Warriors in back-to-back games, with a Los Angeles Lakers game sandwiched in between. Cincinnati split those two contests, but managed to “hold” the Warriors forward to 36 and 33 respectfully. The man credited for Barry’s struggles that night was a forward named Bob “Bean” Love, hence the headline that began this passage.
A funny tidbit to that record breaking night was Barry was not slated to play. A severely sprained ankle ligament was expected to sideline him, but once the fierce competitor caught wind of Bob Love’s carnation to defensive stopper he undoubtedly decided it was go time. A second tidbit of note is Love credited the Warriors legend with getting him cut from the Royals in 1965. The future Chicago Bulls all-star was cut after an exhibition encounter with Barry. Love was quoted as saying “after he scored 22 points in a quarter on me they let me go, this was before anyone knew what he could do.”
2) Bill Russell (1958): 32 points & 33 rebounds
There is no rebounding record where Bill Russell is not ranked first or second. Yet when it comes to scoring, now that is a completely different animal. Getting buckets was not the 11-time champion’s strong suit, but winning was. High scoring individual conquests when it came to Russell were replaced by gaudy rebounding numbers and ring acquisitions. 1958 became the foundation for both accomplishments.
Regarded as the greatest rebounder in NBA history, the icon showed why pulling down 33 rebounds in a 129 – 120 win. The player many believed to be offensively challenged added 32 points for good measure, proving there was nothing the he was incapable of doing.
1) Wilt Chamberlain (1959): 45 points, 34 rebounds & zero fouls
Despite popular perception Wilt Chamberlain did play against multiple seven footers, and did so in an era where jailhouse rules were accepted and encouraged. AS A ROOKIE Chamberlain recorded 34 rebounds, a record at the time, in a 140 – 136 win against the Syracuse Nationals. AS A ROOKIE………..MEANING LIKE FIRST TIME EVER…………Wilt went on to shatter that record by grabbing 55 boards just 11 months later. The Warrior’s center was a force many in the mostly flat-footed league had never encountered.
The feat in itself was remarkable, but when one adds context it becomes ungodly. “The Big Musty” dominated the paint while playing against an all-star in Red Kerr and two Hall of Famers in George Yardley and Dolph Schayes. As a rookie by the way. Not to be outdone the Philly native poured in 45 points and showed the Nationals a scoring touch usually reserved for guards. The center redefined the game and exhibited a flare that has yet to be duplicated.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Former Golden State Warriors head coach and current NBA analyst Mark Jackson’s return to the NBA ranks is long overdue. Whatever transgressions that took place in Golden State and whatever egos that may have been bruised enough time has elapsed and a pardon is now required…………..IMMEDIATELY!
The NBA world has ignored or “misremembered” just how effective the analyst was in his three year stint in the Bay Area. The New York native comprised a 121 – 109 regular season record, guided the Warriors to back-to-back playoff berths (after a five year postseason absence) and more importantly developed a roster of players who were selected outside of the top five. A resume with such production screams, not suggests, the coach has paid his dues and needs to be welcomed back to the NBA coaching fraternity.
Without full knowledge of what exactly transpired in Oakland, no one should use those issues as a case to aid an argument for keeping the analyst from leading a roster. Furthermore, a story is always tilted in the favor of those who are sharing it, ultimately leaving their truth to be aided by the imposed consequence. Therefore, an explanation or justification for Jackson’s dismissal from Warriors’ management is not necessary because the front office handled the situation the way they saw fit.
Rather than debate if the coach warranted being fired, the question now is why has that dismissal become a lifetime ban? From David Blatt to David Fizdale and every other coach that is hired only to be fired, it has become apparent that production is not the reason the former St. John’s point guard is not designing plays.
A simple gaze down memory lane and one will recall just how far Golden State fell from the ranks of relevancy. The once proud franchise made the playoffs twice in the last 20 seasons prior to Action Jackson’s arrival. In that window as many as 11 different coaches bore the burden of attempting to lead the franchise. Such household names as P.J. Carlesimo, Eric Musselman, Mike Montgomery, and Dave Cowens tried and failed to deliver.
“The Dubs” were a train wreck to put it mildly, and the wreckage was in spite of the talent on the roster not because of a lack thereof. Latrell Sprewell, Chris Webber, Antawn Jamison, Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis, and Gilbert Arenas were high quality selections. Yet, the revolving door of Felton Spencer, Adonal Foyal, Vonteego Cummings, and Chris Porter proved to be too much to overcome.
Then a first year coach arrived and things changed. The 16 year NBA veteran immediately saw a familiar talent in a rookie named Klay Thompson and a struggling third year guard named Stephen Curry. Jackson harnessed that talent by investing his years of experience playing alongside shooters Kiki Vandeweghe, Rik Smits, Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin and Travis Best. The former point guard then bestowed the basketball knowledge accumulated while playing under Larry Brown, Rick Pitino, Larry Bird, and Lou Carnesecca.
In just one season Curry’s scoring average went up eight points from the previous year. Meanwhile, Thompson emerged as one of the game’s best two-way players and the shooters’ scoring also went up four points. The franchise made back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 23 seasons. “The Splash Brothers” became something special and with each M.V.P awarded and each NBA title won the ousted coach’s foundation became legitimized.
What has made the former coach’s absence so peculiar is the teams that have decided to pass on him. In 2015 the Oklahoma City Thunder fired then head coach Scott Brooks and were looking to take the next step from contender to champion. The organization completely bypassed Jackson (despite pleas by Kevin Durant) and hired the guard’s former teammate Billy Donovan. The Thunder have since lost Durant, to of all teams the Warriors, and have not returned to the NBA Finals.
The Washington Wizards were armed with a young backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal desperate for leadership. The organization decided that former Oklahoma City Thunder shot-caller Scott Brooks was the better hire. While the jury is still out on Brooks, a 49 – 33 record at least raises questions about what the current ESPN analyst could have accomplished with Wall and Beal. Especially, in a much weaker Eastern Conference.
Other organizations passed on the former Rookie of the Year and may be regretting that decision. The Sacramento Kings being one of them, and now the franchise rests in the bottom of a woeful Pacific Division. A division that currently has only one team over .500, you get one guess at who that squad is.
The Chicago Bulls are rebuilding and appear to have some solid blocks in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn. How much would those young players flourish under Jackson’s direction and confidence? The Phoenix Suns should also seriously consider the former Pacific Division foe. Guiding the career of a young Devin Booker, T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson would be like déjà vu. Finally, the possibility of taking the reins in Oklahoma City should be extremely tantalizing to current Thunder G.M. Sam Presti, even after ignoring Jackson once.
A resume that boast 1,296 NBA games played, the development of a two-time MVP and the 1988 Rookie of the Year should not be an afterthought when deciding the next leader of your franchise. Whatever egregious offense that was committed, enough time has elapsed for the man to be forgiven. The issues with former assistant coach Brian Scalabrine do not warrant being excommunicated from a game that Jackson has given so much too.
The NBA season is barely a full quarter old and two coaches (Phoenix Suns’ Earl Watson and Memphis Grizzlies’ David Fizdale) have already been asked to call Tyrone, which is an indictment on the organization more than the coaches they fired.
At some point winning and cultivating the team’s draft picks has to take precedence. There is no doubt the 16 year veteran at times will be difficult to work with, as most former athletes can be, but difficult does not mean impossible. It is also worth noting that a common destination does not always have a common journey. Jackson’s service and previous tour of duty count for more than lines in a Google search and provide proof that condemning the process does not leave the doer unjustified in the end.
Apparently not winning the NBA title and the league MVP award in the first month of the season has convinced many people with microphones Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Lonzo Ball is somehow a bust. Furthermore, the rookie’s inability to enter the Hall-of-Fame after the first month of the season solidifies just how disappointing the second overall pick has been.
Hopefully, sarcasm and hyperbole are not lost on you making it is easy to capture just how ridiculous those statements are. Yet, such remarks pale in comparison to the ridiculousness being bounced Ball’s way. The season’s worth of scrutiny the rookie guard has been forced to digest in just a 30 day span has been baffling.
The roller coaster analysis has come from all angles and most recently Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Jason Kidd. In a phone interview with ESPN reporter Ohm Youngmisuk the Bucks coach called the young guard “talented”. But only after Kidd stated the Laker rookie had to “understand what it means to play hard and what it means to win, and how to win at the highest level”.
Hmmm, is that not the objective for ALL rookies? Every first year player, especially ones selected in the top five, are faced with that very challenge. The former UCLA Bruin is no different in spite of what many have written and stated publicly. A rush for veteran poise and All-Star consistency has created an aura of hate that feasts any time the young gun struggles. No player is without flaw, but those flaws should not define their career 14 games into the season.
Which brings us to the comparisons that prompted the Milwaukee Bucks head coach to speak about Ball.
It should be obvious the comparisons to the 10-time All-Star revolve around both players, to be kind, struggles to score. Individuals compare players in an effort to gauge what their level of success may be. The comparisons to Kidd are a stretch because Lonzo’s ceiling is much higher. It is ironic that Zo’s to date averages of 11.7 points per, 7.2 assists, 6.7 boards, and 1.4 steals in wins is almost a mirror image of Kidd’s enter rookie output of 11.7-ppg/7.7-apg/5.4-rpg/1.9-spg. The guard's monstrous year gained the Maverick Rookie of the Year honors, which he shared with fellow Detroit Piston rookie Grant Hill.
Pushing pace and individual production aside, if after TWO seasons in college Ball led the Lakers to an 8 – 6 record (as Kidd did) in his first 14 games and finished the season with 36 wins (35 with Kidd starting) L.A. would not be rejoicing over the selection. How would Los Angeles fans feel about the current Laker if he plays on four NBA teams and was traded three times? It is highly unlikely such a career would be celebrated in Laker Land.
After just one season of college basketball the newest Los Angeles resident is on schedule to duplicate the very same win total as the Kidd led Dallas Mavericks. The difference is the former Cal Berkley two year starter did not have the same level of expectations bestowed upon him as the UCLA product. So any comparison used to justify hurled criticism should cease.
What also needs to be taken into consideration is point guard and quarterback are two of the most difficult positions to play in professional sports. The Lonzo Ball experiment is not spared of this fact. To this point the Southern California native has played sporadic basketball, after shining in his one season while attending UCLA. The guard has relied on natural talent rather than experience to stifle the difficulty at times. Lastly, the competition has also created additional obstacles to overcome. Seven of Los Angeles’ eight losses have come against playoff teams and those teams have made sure to expose Ball’s lack of experience.
Those struggles have led to this premise that the point guard is in some way not delivering on his promise. The expectations have created a belief that Zo has underperformed completely, as opposed to just struggling mightily at times. Consider this, former Laker floor general D'Angelo Russell (who was also selected second overall) played with Kobe Bryant, and still managed to go an entire season without crossing the nine assist plateau. Meanwhile, the new Lakers’ floor general has crossed the nine assist plateau five times already. Consistent public scrutiny did not seem to come for Russell the way it seems to come for Ball. Lonzo has played awful in instances and there needs to be a commitment this offseason to improving his 31 percent field goal percentage. But bust declarations and demands for gaudy numbers are premature.
Monthly and nightly improvements is not a stretch from the norm for every rookie or first year player in the league. For those standouts adjectives likes “bust” and “overrated” are usually not heard, especially this early in their careers. Prior to Mr. Ball’s arrival rookies were most often celebrated for merely dunking a lot. When crowning the top rookie just a season ago, a yearly average of 10 points a game or 2.3 win shares were saluted, because after all they were rookies.
Now that the newest Laker is added to the show, veteran accomplishments are brushed aside. Raise your hand if you knew that of the last five Rookie of the Year winners only Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks managed to notch a triple-double? Albeit in 32 games as opposed to the whopping two contests it took for Ball to accomplish said feat. To put that in context what Zo accomplished in his first 14 games has only been duplicated by the Rookie of the Year winners once in a combined 344 games. But they don’t have any words for that.
No one is suggesting there is not room for growth, but to be abundantly clear just because you believe a penguin can fly does not mean they will. Just as expecting Lonzo Ball to be Magic Johnson does not mean he will. When the guard retires than evaluate all expectations, until that point he should be judged on the here and now.
Simplicity says Minnesota Timberwolves’ small forward Andrew Wiggins is a bust. However, complexity offers the viewpoint of youth being the reason for the former first overall pick’s failure to ascend to dominance. Somewhere between the defense for and criticism of the Wolves’ forward lies the most gargantuan of conundrums.
After three seasons in the NBA no one knows who or what Wiggins is.
What we have witnessed thus far is a player who drops 20-points a night, who has started 80 plus games for three straight seasons and who has managed to improve offensively in each of his professional years. Such production makes it hard to utter the word “bust” when discussing Wiggins.
But then there is the next page, a page that reads zero playoff and All-Star games appearances. If one were to scroll down further they would see defensive struggles and a pedestrian 45 percent shooting. Nevertheless, through all the uncertainty surrounding what the 2014 first overall pick is, one thing remains certain the 2017 – 2018 season will be career defining for the young wolf.
At season’s end there will be no ambiguity as to what or who the talented Mr. Wiggins is.
To be blunt another season of sporadic defensive play, coinciding with another missed All-Star game, ending with another missed post-season appearance and the jig is up. The voices requesting patience and lowered expectations will fall on deaf ears. The man who many thought would rest atop the league with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry would be regarded as just another player. In the professional sports world top picks can go from “young hopefuls” to “never was” extremely quick, and Wiggins would be no exception.
The basketball world can be inexplicably kind at times, especially to ballers voided of lofty expectations. It can be a place where the likes of Rafer Alston, Darrell Armstrong and Reggie Evans can squeeze out 10 plus seasons and become multimillionaires, all while living like Kings. This is NOT the case for players like Andrew Wiggins. When a talent enters the league with expectations of championship grandeur the Association offers a much different type of experience.
Those players who can only be defended with numerical justification, tend to bounce from team-to-team with much less anonymity. Those players become adjectives for future players with equally as much promise entering the league. Phrases such as “do not become the next Anthony Bennett or Shawn Bradley” become commonplace.
To date the athletic forward has alluded massive scorn and scrutiny, due to his penchant for the spectacular play and bucket getting consistency. It seems that as long as the Timberwolves forward scores in droves he will be absolved of the disdain that follows habitual non-playoff participators. Therefore scoring 20 or more points in 140 out of 256 games has afforded the former Kansas JayHawk time, until now.
When an organization trades for a veteran All-Star in the prime of their career it is normally because that team and owner are ready to compete. Yet, when that veteran plays the very same position and the very same style as the anointed franchise player the message becomes murky.
The arrival of Chicago Bulls small forward and three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler in conjunction with a shiny new contract have put the franchise forward on notice. The off-season indirectly informed the slender scorer that the “in time they will be great” line of thinking no longer applies. Furthermore, 12 straight losing season have removed hope, excuses and pardons. Minnesota’s moves have provided precise clarity for their expectations and that achievement at this point must include team playoff evaluation.
The current Timberwolves record of 5 – 3 whispers playoff bound, but does not scream much else. But if Minny should miss the postseason yet again there is little argument that can be made regarding Andrew’s impact on the Wolves. Four seasons, a roster featuring Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler should yield postseason appearances.
Fans and pundits allow expectations to cloud reality when discussing players. If you believe a player will be special or impactful than you are more than willing to wait for that to transpire. Yet, if you believed the former JayHawk would be a scorer and nothing more chances are you feel vindicated. The truth is after four years the confirmation as to which opinion is fact and which opinion is fiction has yet to be confirmed, and more than the on the court results that is the issue.
By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
There was a promise of greatness when Kyrie Irving was selected first overall in the 2011 NBA draft, and perhaps a proclamation of such after Irving’s 2016 NBA Finals performance. Yet, recent struggles have forced a true reflection of one of the game’s most rigidly undefined players.
After six seasons and three NBA Finals appearances it is still the most daunting of tasks to fully grasp what type of basketball player Kyrie truly is. The Cleveland Cavaliers only needed to witness 11 collegiate games and were willing to hitch their championship aspirations to Irving. The guard was drafted ahead of the likes of Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, and Isaiah Thomas in what proved to be a deep 2011 draft. The organization hoped the former Duke Blue Devil would resurrect a franchise bludgeoned by the departure of LeBron James. However, that was not the case and the Cavaliers continued to lose at a rapid pace and in the process amass multiple top five draft picks.
The Cavs suffered through three straight losing seasons (64 – 117 to be exact) with the young man playing the role as the franchise's supposed savior. As the losses mounted King James returned, and all the pressure to lead was removed. It looked as if the guard flourished offensively with his new found freedom. In that span Cleveland transformed from perennial bottom dweller to championship contender, and Irving’s rise to “star player” followed suit.
It is trite to belabor what Irving is blatantly not, but it is necessary to question what he has been billed to be. In the Cleveland guard’s last 200 regular season games (a span of three seasons) he has passed the 10 assist mark only 14 times. Going one step further, in 51 playoff games the former Blue Devil reached 10 or more dimes twice. Safe to say pass first point guard he is not. And with 35 percent of his field goals coming when Irving dribbles the rock seven or more times it is apparent the guard is the Cavs designated scorer. At least on the surface that appears to be the role played by Kyrie, until one considers in those same 200 regular season games the Cavalier scorer has dropped 30 or more points 30 times. Those numbers do not jive with the “Mamba Mentality” we heard so much about during the offseason. Especially when compared to the likes of say Toronto Raptors’ hired gun DeMar DeRozan who notched 30 or more 32 times last season alone. Or Boston Celtics’ mercurial guard Isaiah Thomas who netted 30 or more 31 times last season. Both are considered the lead scorers for their prospective clubs.
A 6’3 lead guard who is not particularly effective distributing the ball or at creating shots for his teammates is normally a recipe for disaster. However, the Cavs have enabled the All-Star to flourish in this very role and the “Ankletaker” has relished being an effective scorer, who at times can score at a high rate. But is that all the former Blue Devil is capable of? There has to be more meat on the bone if you will. This cannot be the ceiling for a player who signed an endorsement deal with Nike before even making an All-Star appearance. Only to see that deal manifest into a signature shoe before registering one minute in a playoff game. There seems to be a trend of promise before production for the 2011/2012 Rookie of the Year and the defending NBA champions need that promise of production to be kept now more than ever. Those electrifying moments need to become electrifying games.
In full disclosure the All-Star guard went from 64 total wins in three years and an extended offseason to 53 wins and playing in the NBA Finals, literally in one season. So development along with the trials and tribulations of playoff misery have been nonexistent. The Cavalier’s rites of passage included four coaches in four years, significant injuries and the dreaded “overrated” label running parallel with every missed shot. There is the chance Kyrie is just an isolation player riding the coattails of one of the greatest players of all-time. What if Lebron never came back or what if the Los Angeles Clippers never made the trade that allowed him to be drafted by Cleveland? To that point what if Irving does not make the most horrific of shots in the closing minutes of game seven, would we even be having this discussion? But he did make that ill-faded shot and with it came an ascension into the upper echelon of players in the league.
These Finals should have been a coming out party for the 2016 NBA champion, instead the focus can shift to him being outrebounded by Stephen Curry 2-to-1. This serves as a microcosm of the young man’s career. When will the Cleveland star be good enough to overlook what he is not good enough at? Meaning when will we as fans be so enthralled by Irving’s nightly performances, that we are willing to overlook his counterpart’s dominance on the other end. Game four gave us all belief yet again that there is something worth waiting for, but how much longer will we wait. It is ironic that the player drafted 10 spots after Kyrie is the very same player that may be exposing Irving’s greatest flaw. If the Cleveland All-Star is not scoring he has virtually no impact on the game. The irony does not cease in these Finals, oddly enough it is Thompson who leads that draft class in total minutes played and total points scored. The Cavs’ guard has had better moments, but it is Klay who has had the better career.
There is no wiggle room when you are taken first overall, you are a difference maker or you are not. Number one picks cannot live in the question, they must nightly provide the answer. For six seasons the embattled scorer has been treated like a superstar and in turn we as basketball fans believed him to be one. Kyrie's embraced destiny may just be the uncertainty we have seen so frequently. The game and this series can no longer be a playground for “Uncle Drew”, it must now be Irving's battlefield. Because through every obstacle, through every missed shot the guard has continued to battle. That is why so many have continued to believe in his promise while awaiting for his production.
By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
“Suddenly playing the charming bad guy was my thing.” – Ray Liotta
Every hero needs a villain, every conquest needs an adversary and every day needs a night with that ladies and gentlemen allow me to reintroduce Mr. Draymond Green. The basketball savant has mastered his role of villain and in the process proved that a Warrior’s valor can never be measured.
The Golden State Warriors are playing in their third straight NBA Finals because Green has been everything the jump shooting team needs, while being everything NBA fans want. A bad guy who oddly enough plays the game in its purest form. The forward has provided a villainous component with an authentic toughness that basketball lovers can’t help but to acknowledge, if not admire. A yeoman heart (along with an occasional kick to the man region) have led the Warriors to a 207 – 42 record with the volatile forward in the line-up. Golden State has experienced five straight winning seasons since the former Michigan State Spartan stepped in the Bay Area. This is in complete contrast to the three winning campaigns in the 20 seasons prior to his arrival.
On a team with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, it is Draymond’s leadership, grind and reconnaissance that have allowed this group to compete in a high powered Western Conference. Before anyone considers loathing the impact Green has on this franchise consider the circumstances in the four immediate years prior to his arrival. The 2008/2009 year saw the Bay Area team finish 29 – 53. The cornerstones of the franchise were deemed to be “prized” rookie Anthony Rudolph, along with Andris Biedrins and Anthony Morrow. The club was led by Stephen Jackson, Jamal Crawford, Monta Ellis, and Corey Maggette. Despite a plethora of ball handlers on the roster Golden State grabbed Davidson product Steph Curry in the 2009 NBA draft. The sharpshooter paid no dividends as the squad finished the 2009/2010 year 26 – 56.
The next two seasons Curry would play for two coaches and the team compiled a record of 59 – 89. Then along came Jerry West. The logo officially joined the group on May 20, 2011 and quickly played a major role in drafting Klay Thompson in the first round. After another losing year West then nabbed Green. The Big Ten Player of the Year and Michigan State all-time leading rebounder was an afterthought behind first round picks Harrison Barnes (7th overall) and Festus Ezeli (30th overall). The club’s final pick that year finished eighth in total minutes played, but the team finished with their first winning record (47 – 35) in four years. Some might say this was a mere coincidence and scoff at the premise of the Golden State forward being the straw that stirs the Warriors championship nectar. Those individuals only need to consider the words uttered by General Manager Bob Myers. When asked to describe what attracted him to the forward, Myers said “all he did (at Michigan State) was produce and win”. Five years, two All-Star game appearances and one NBA title later the Spartan and Warriors haven’t stopped winning.
Green’s skillset of winning comes at a price he is all too willing to pay with a reality check. It’s a work ethic that at times can be abrasive and can come in the form of technical fouls over highlight reel dunks. It is the grit work like leading the league in steals per game (2.0) or being second in total steals (154) total deflections (295) and deflections per game (3.9) that illustrate the forward’s effort. But gaudy defensive numbers, setting solid screens, denying ball, and boxing out can sometimes fail to resonate if not accompanied with dyed hair and wedding dresses.
While those numbers are what makes the second round pick great, what makes him special is virtually impossible to quantify. It is why Kevin Durant ran to get Green for the fist fight known as the NBA Finals. It is a fire that is only consistent in champions, a grind absent of praise and only appreciated with wins and titles. There is a line that many or not willing to cross in their pursuit of greatness. The Saginaw native willingly crossed that line and basketball fans are indebted to him for it. How entertaining would this NBA championship series be without the man who uttered, “I want to destroy Cleveland. No ifs and buts about it”?
The Golden State All-Star not only is embracing the challenge of LeBron, he is looking forward to making the game’s greatest player suffer. That is what we all came for, to watch the world’s greatest players compete at the highest level. If James and some of the other celebrated players throughout the league are what is right in world, than yes to that extent Green is what is wrong. Because the former All-American is willing to do whatever is necessary to win the battle at hand, and isn’t that why we are all entertained. The logo called Green a top 10 player, not because of a 40 inch vert or the sweetest of strokes, but because he plays the game the right way. Team owner Joe Lacob wore the star forward’s jersey during last year’s Finals and often refers to himself as the “Draymond Green of the business side” because he recognizes the value in the champion’s worth.
There is complexity in contradiction and Green contradicts everything that makes the NBA fun to watch with his lack of athleticism. Nevertheless, it is the complexity of the range of his emotions and the fury in which he attacks his opponent that have sports fans captivated. Pundits have wasted moments expressing what the forward does wrong, simply because it is easier than spending days expressing what he does right. Toronto Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan offered $100 to anyone who could stop LeBron James, who doubts Draymond would accept that challenge and tell DeRozan to keep the dough.
That mentality and commitment to winning is why we should all be thankful that these NBA Finals will feature the greatest player in the game pitted against the greatest competitor in the game.
For the Houston Rockets to defeat the San Antonio Spurs, Rockets’ All-Star James Harden must go from elite scorer to elite player. As the series nears closer the question is not “can” the offensive minded guard make this metamorphosis, but rather “will” he?
Prior to the 2009 NBA draft most pundits ranked the 6’5 guard as a top five prospect, and when Oklahoma City selected Harden the consensus was the All-American would translate well into the NBA. It is safe to say the five time All-Star has done more than just translate well, he has exceeded all expectations. With that being said it is time to up the ante. If we as fans are to believe the scorer can be anything other than a numbers harlot now is the time for the Houston star to do so. The Spurs and specifically forward Kawhi Leonard are on the horizon, and the game done changed for young Mr. Harden.
This is a career defining series for the Southern California native, and how the Rockets perform will be the key defining factor. Scoring 30 plus points and distributing 10 or more dimes won’t cut it this round. Houston must win this series for James to be considered more than just another George Gervin, Dominque Wilkins, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony. All were or are phenomenal scorers who never were capable of getting their squad over the hump.
Yes the challenge is daunting, as most with extreme consequences are. Nevertheless, the time has come to see if the former Sun Devil is ready to eat at the big boy table. The NBA has always provided a divisive line between superior and inferior, clearly defining who resided where. We remember and salute the leaders from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal and Larry Bird to LeBron James, only to recall Steve Nash, Bernard King, Rolando Blackman, and Charles Barkley to name a few. This is where Harden is teetering.
In his seventh season “the Beard” has been nothing short of spectacular, posting a career high in points per (29.1), rebounds per (8.1), and assists per (11.1). The individual numbers do not tail off when going against the likes of Boston (33.5 ppg/7.0 rpg/9.5 apg), Cleveland (39.5 ppg/8.5 rpg/13.0 apg), Golden State (21.8 ppg/11.0 rpg/11.3 apg), or San Antonio (29.8 ppg/9.0 rpg/11.8 apg). However, a record of 4 – 8 is where things get questionable and the gumbo really gets thick when you focus solely on the Spurs and Warriors results. The Houston Rocket is 2 – 6 versus the one and two seeds in the western conference, shooting a gut wrenching 40 percent.
This is why it is imperative the former Arizona State All-American win this series, at this time and versus this team. If he ever desires to reside in the upper echelon of top players in the league nothing short of victory is acceptable. Harden is not hampered by an inferior team like say a Russell Westbrook. No, the Rocket guard is armed with a top shooter in guard Eric Gordon, a playoff tested Nene who has been a fixture of multiple 50 win clubs, guard Lou Williams a top reserve in the league, and a champion in Trevor Arizia. So there can be no excuses disguised as reasons if the playoff journey ends here for the MVP candidate.
In fact, the guard’s biggest impediment may come from his very own coach. Mike D’Antoni is 0 – 4 versus the Spurs in the playoffs and before defeating the Thunder had a combined playoff record of 26 – 33. To say the coach does not have the same zest for defense would be stating the obvious. But it is D’Antoni’s inability to make in-game adjustments that also play a role in his playoff demise. It will be incumbent upon the scorer to captain the offense AND the defense for Houston to win. Those impeccable basketball instincts will be necessary to sustain the head coach’s habitual shortcomings.
Then there is the whole Kawhi Leonard playing the best ball of his career problem. More specifically, how Harden handles being matched up against the forward will ultimately be the deciding factor in the series. There is zero doubt the All-Star starter will get his numbers. The question is can he avoid the very same fate he dealt to Westbrook, another numbers maverick. This Spurs group, while still potent, is not the team that had been so formidable in previous years. Forward LaMarcus Aldridge has seen his scoring dip in the playoffs (17.3 to 14.8) while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are entering senior citizen status. So Houston’s most proficient rocket has the opportunity to seize the moment.
This is the series that will show every NBA fan if Mr. Harden is merely another overly celebrated scorer or legitimate championship leader. Scorers have always captivated the league and led us all to believe they would one day be champions. Yet, the one thing Durant’s bolt to Golden State has taught us, is there is a gargantuan difference between leading your team in scoring and leading your team to a title. Or at the very least leading your team to consistently compete for a title.
It will take more than points and passes to win this series, it will take a herculean effort. An effort that is common among the game’s elite. Thus far James has been more scoring enigma than elite player, but now is the time for him to announce where he resides on that pendulum. Harden’s game has evolved (or revolved depending who you ask) around his scoring ability. To date that has been good enough for the Rockets, but it is time for the team and its fans to demand more. Or else everything that has transpired, from the triple-doubles to the magnificent scoring outputs, will only be referenced for what never came from those performances.
By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
The NBA season has ended, which means it is now time for the praising of those who individually experienced success, even if their teams did not. Production, or lack thereof, always carries a certain unforeseen consequence of the extreme. This result is what leads to a Mike Conley Jr. earning $26 million per and Chandler Parsons making $22 million per respectfully. Whereas, a player’s impact is far left tangible therefore it is ignored or even disregarded at times. Look no further than Kawhi Leonard’s salary of $17 million per or Klay Thompson’s check of $16 million a year.
It is easy to question the value of a player based on several factors, but what can never be debated is a historical feat. When history is broached and or overcome all that can be said is “Salute”. With that we are here to give daps to the overachieving and celebrate the greatness of the players around the league. Production and impact will run hand and hand in these selections, even if the production (i.e. win total) is not as high as many would like. These are individual awards for players who no matter what they do will always lose out to the habitual ineptitude of their team and teammates.
Most Improved Player: Isaiah Thomas – Boston Celtics
Isaiah Thomas will more than likely not win this award, despite being the balling epitome of what it stands for. The generously listed 5’9 guard has taken an already All-Star worthy offensive game to new heights, and the Boston Celtics won the No. 1 seed in the conference because of that growth. The addition of four time All-Star forward Al Horford has opened up space for the guard to penetrate, which Thomas has taken full advantage of. The Celtic All-Star finished the season ranked second in fourth quarter points (9.8 per), second most points in the “clutch”, third in points per game with 28.9, third in free throws made (7.8 per), seventh in made field goals (9.0 per), and seventh in free throw attempts (8.5 per) just to name a few numbers.
However, it is Thomas’ performance against Cleveland, Toronto and Washington that has propelled him ahead of his counterparts. As a unit Boston is 4 – 7 against the aforementioned three, with Isaiah on the court, but the losses have been in spite of Thomas’ performance not because of it. At an average of 29.2 points per the former Washington Husky has shown he is up to the challenge of keeping the Celtics above the competition.
Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder – Utah Jazz
As much as Miami Heat general Erik Spolestra is the desired choice, there is no way to justify a head coach from a non-playoff team winning any type of award for achievement. Therefore, Utah Jazz Head Coach Quin Snyder gets the nod. Snyder led the Jazz to a 51 – 31 record and the Northwest Division crown.
Utah was a sub .500 team last season (40 – 42), their third losing season in a row. When the year began many believed the Salt Lake City group were on the rise and a possible 50 win club. The Jazz lived up to those expectations bestowed upon them, which is sometimes harder than when a team has unexpected success.
First there is the 11 game improvement, then the coach’s ability to be successful playing fundamental basketball and finally the development of center Rudy Gobert all give credence to this selection. Coach Snyder had the unmitigated gall to teach the game minus gimmicks and without previous any previous M.V.P candidates. Gobert’s defensive resume is on par with some of the game’s juggernauts. The center ended the year with 42 games of three or more blocks, 5th in defensive rebounds, 1st in total blocks, 1st in blocks per game and 1st in Defensive Win Shares all pretty impressive numbers. But putting the big in position to accumulate those numbers should not be overlooked.
The Utah front man created a defense for the center to thrive in and an offense that allowed Gordon Hayward to make his first ever All-Star appearance. That is coaching. The Jazz completed the year ranked third in defensive efficiency and 12th in offensive efficiency, without a roster full of top five picks. Joe Johnson may be the squad’s most recognizable name. Snyder took a novel idea of teaching both ends of the court, along with developing players and turned it into a 51 win season. A head nod also goes to Houston Rockets offensive mastermind Mike D’Antoni, who has revitalized guard James Harden.
Rookie of the Year: Dario Saric – Philadelphia 76ers
Dario Saric is NOT the winner by default for this award, in fact the former EuroLeague star earned the trophy through strife and hard work. The 76ers were about as fun as a prostate exam, but Saric made it bearable. His effort and production were visible from start to finish. It was a tale of two seasons for the forward, one as a patient reserve and the second as an assertive starter. In 45 games as a reserve the 76er averaged a modest, but still impressive 11 points, six rebounds and two assists. In his 36 games as a starter 15 points per, seven boards and three dimes. March has been known to be where rookies hit the wall and tend to fall off, this was not the case with Dario. The ides of March proved to be the Croatian’s most prolific month.
In 17 games, all starts, the rookie posted 18.4 ppg/7.0 rpg/ 3.4 apg, including a career high 34 points in Chicago. Saric would also grab 10 rebounds in a rare road win. For the record 53 games of 10 or more points all while playing a role that went from starter-to-reserve-to-starter again is why this rookie went from afterthought to conversation starter. Joel Embiid’s monitored minutes still failed him and should not be considered, just as Milwaukee Bucks’ guard Malcolm Brogdon and Sacramento Kings’ guard Buddy Hield are only mentioned because someone else has to be.
Executive of the Year: Bob Myers – Golden State Warriors
Adding Kevin Durant was spectacular, adding ZaZa Pachulia was more judicious, but the coup was keeping the team’s cap flexibility going forward. Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Durant are the only players of consequence under contract next season for the Warriors. Durant can opt out, which is likely, but both Thompson and Green have modest contracts by today’s standards.
This opens the door for Golden State to re-sign Stephen Curry, which is not a given, but also keep the club competitive for years to follow. Myers has kept the Warriors competitive (which has kept the arena full) while remaining financially sensible (which has kept the check writers happy). Houston Rockets czar Daryl Morey and San Antonio Spurs shot caller R. C. Buford are worthy of mention here also. Both have chosen to reload rather than rebuild and have been successful thus far in doing such.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond “Hands” Green – Golden State Warriors
At times it feels like people take turns hating on the Golden State Warrior forward, for reasons that never seem to be basketball related. Draymond Green came from nowhere to become the unquestioned leader of the NBA’s most potent team. Yet, for some how he leads his crew overshadows where he has led them to.
Watch a Golden State Warriors game and it is impossible to not be mesmerized by Draymond’s hustle and activity. The second round pick always has his hands in the passing lanes, he is always denying ball, his hands are always up, he constantly moves his feet, and there is not a possession that goes by where he is quiet.
The former Michigan State Spartan finished the regular season second in total steals (154) and steals per game (2.0) which is fantastic for the numbers never lie crowd. Yet, it is the forward’s on-the-ball defense that separates him from the pack. Green ranks second in deflections per (3.9), second in defensive rating (99.1), second in defensive win shares (5.4), and fifth in contested shots per (13.7). Such a resume is a testament to his determination and defensive wherewithal.
Most Valuable Player: Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder
At some point people are going to have to stop constructing hateful cases against “the Brodie”! Before the exodus of ______ a triple-double was considered a feat of strength, now some pundits treat it like Mondays. When a player overtakes Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James in a single season the M.V.P trophy should be a given. Unless it comes at the expense of the powerful new media, then there are questions about just how potent those numbers are.
Consider this Stephen Curry was the unanimous award winner last year and averaged less points (30.1 vs 31.6), grabbed 434 less rebounds (430 vs. 864), tallied 317 less assists (523 vs. 840), and had the benefit of playing with two other All-Stars. Essentially Curry claim the trophy in such fashion because the Warriors won 73 games and the guard made a whole lot of threes. Now Steph is an amazing offensive player, and the goal is not to diss rather it is to point out the hypocrisy that exist.
When LeBron James left Cleveland their NBA franchise died. This was not the case in Oklahoma City, or even in Chicago, homes to two of the most recent questionable M.V.P winners. Derrick Rose and Durant both were “given” the most valuable title despite its rightful owner that season being James. Nevertheless, the Bulls are in the playoffs in Rose’s first year gone and Westbrook actually has gotten better since Durant’s departure.
This cannot be the case! OKC and specifically Russell are suppose to crumble. The former UCLA Bruin was certain to be an undisciplined reincarnation of Allen Iverson. Instead the game’s most fierce competitor led the Thunder to a win total, eight games shy of the previous years. No doubt there have been “Iverson-ish” moments, but this is to be expected when Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter are your next best scoring options.
Those player’s previous team’s record with them in tow and who they were traded for should solidify just how implausible a season Russell has had. The Utah Jazz selected Kanter third overall in the 2011 draft and traded him four years later for Tibor Pleiss, Grant Jerrett and Kendrick Perkins. To be clear none of those players are even in the league.
Much has been made, and rightfully so, about Westbrook’s production both good and bad. The internet has been infiltrated with videos and diagrams displaying how the Thunder have helped the mercurial guard amass record setting performances. However, until one person can illustrate how the opposing team stopped competing, such attempts should be futile.
To date only one other person in league history has accomplished what we all witnessed this season. To not pay homage with an award dedicated to rewarding feats alike, would be a bigger travesty than voting unanimously for a player because they made a lot of jumpers.
By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
As the NBA playoffs commence its most frequent participator faces his most difficult journey to date. Each season the obstacles appear to be more insurmountable than the previous years’ for LeBron James. The 2016/2017 season has remained true to that form, however it feels as if this season’s series of events could stifle James’ seventh consecutive NBA Finals appearance and destroy his dreams of a fourth NBA ring.
Or is it possible we will witness an unforeseen conquest of the most recent dream team assemblage? In order for that conquest to come to fruition a series of Eastern Conference mid-season acquisitions and a vicious rash of injuries must also be vanquished by the Cavalier of Cleveland.
Nevertheless the table has been set. Last year’s championship was impressive, leading the Cavs back from a 3-to-1 hole will never be taken away from James. But that was last year, and a new moment is upon us.
After stating Cleveland was “top heavy” and informing management of the team’s need for a playmaker, the All-Star forward placed down his shield and picked up his sword. Playing a league leading 37.8 minutes per, James’ highest in five seasons, all appearances are the King is ready to carry the load. And after a 32 point, 13 assist game one performance there is no reason to believe the 13 time All-Star will fall off.
But endings are not immediate, and while the King’s fighting spirit is admirable, the implementation of that spirit could have catastrophic results. James has managed to avoid the injury bug, yet fatigue is bound to rear its ugly head. This is when the front office’s reluctance, or inability, to make a gauntlet dropping move could be costly.
Cleveland played a significant part of the season without forward Kevin Love (missed 20 games) and guard J.R. Smith (missed 41 games), which directly affected the team finding itself holding the second seed in the playoffs. This could possibly have created a difficult, but not insuperable, road to what feels like LeBron’s 78th trip to the NBA Finals.
After declaring help was needed the three time Finals MVP realized early what us fans realized late, that the likes of Lou Williams and Carmelo Anthony were not going to grace the Q hardwood in a title defense. It was also unlikely that anyone of consequence was going to walk through those arena doors.
While the Eastern Conference failed at gaining ground on the defending champions, the more egregious offense was the defending champion’s failure to slam the door to hope shut. Such actions may have created a season’s load that may prove too heavy to bear. There is little doubt Cleveland will make it to the NBA Finals, but will an exhausted and overexerted James be the price. At this point in the three-time champion’s career it should be about conserving his dominance on a nightly basis instead of forcing him to confirm it. By adding a player, like say a DeMarcus Cousins, one of the game’s more impressive championship runs may have continued. However, now it feels more and more as if once the Cavalier star reaches the Finals, he won’t have anything left to win in the Finals.
The four time league MVP has chased the ghosts of legends passed since his rookie season, and this year’s challenges have set the table for him to unceremoniously pass the likes of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson to name a few. Making seven straight NBA Finals will be the headline, but the conquest would be told in the details. The 2016 – 2017 Cavaliers were ravaged by injuries, yet their wounded and exhausted Gladiator led his troops to victory and in the process seized the throne as the game’s greatest champion.
Sounds like a fairytale, or something straight out of the movies. Better yet, it sounds like the end to one of the greatest NBA careers we have ever witnessed. Win or lose after 14 seasons of hunting this prize feels bigger than them all. This season’s crown would squash any forthcoming stale debates about where James’ lies in the hierarchy of icons, basketball greats and champions. Simply because this title would be his greatest acquisition.
Each year since reaching the championship round way back in the 2006 – 2007 season, it has been the talented forward’s title to lose. The current campaign was the first where expectations for a title were replaced by the hope for one. Now a player whose heart, not talent, have consistently been questioned is playing on nothing else. His team is not the most talented, and considering number one seeds have won 7 of the last 10 NBA titles, the lack of championship predictions seem appropriate for this group. But this is the King and he has relished in the unexpected before.
Somewhere the NBA world has forgotten or chose to misremember just what the Akron native has done up to this point. Yes, the front office should have added another piece but that is just another obstacle to overtake. Yes, the Warriors added more firepower but the Chosen One still has the best arsenal and yes San Antonio is led by a basketball genius.
But Cleveland is still home to the game’s only mastermind.
The Indiana Pacers will not beat the Central Division champions, but they will beat them up. The Washington Wizards, who are poised to make a title run, will not beat the number two seed in the east, but they too will lay some vicious blows. All of which would create a legless champion resting on the ropes only to respond with a flurry of pride and grit. All on their way to the most impressive of championships.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers win the title LeBron James’ reign as King will end and his accession to basketball God will be unquestioned.
By: Abacus Reveals
Suspense and unpredictability, it seems, have been reserved for the regular season. Will the scorned Russell Westbrook post triple double averages for the first time in over half a century? Can such a casual defender as James Harden truly be considered an MVP candidate? Has Commissioner Adam Silver’s honeymoon with the whole wide hoops world come to an end as he tries to appease media partners dissatisfied with the “bang” they’re getting for their “buck”?
And then there’s the league’s Southeast Division, which can make up its collective mind about only one thing – the Magic are genuinely lousy. Every other squad has posted the division’s best record for a significant chunk of the season. During the first six weeks, Charlotte (12-9) ruled the roost; for Quarter II it was Atlanta (14-5); and Weeks 13-18 were topped by Miami (17-3). Washington is likely the division’s most playoff-tested team – and they posted the Southeast’s best record (21-6) during Weeks 9-16 (i.e. the middle “third” of the season).
During the NBA’s 1,230-game regular-season march to Cavs-Dubs III, league-wide scoring has been showing a steady and significant increase. Let’s compare some data from the season’s first eight-week segment (Oct. 25 – Dec. 19) and its second (Dec. 20 – Feb. 13). All but six teams increased their per-game scoring in Session II; 22 surrendered more points. The average team performance saw a boost in: FG% (.451 - .462), 3FG% (.354 - .364), FT% (.765 - .780), Points-per-shot (1.219 – 1.253), Points-per-possession (1.073 – 1.101) and Points-per-game (104.2 – 107.0).
Even more eye-popping has been the league’s use of the Three-Ball. It has been nearly 20 years since there has been so great an alteration to the NBA’s usage of the three-point field goal attempt – a full three percent. Through 21 weeks and 70 games, the San Antonio Spurs have taken 1,632 “threes” among their 5,843 total FG attempts – a 3-Point-Attempt rate, or 3Par, of .279 (No. 25 in the league), slightly below the league average (.285) just last season.
Back in ’96-97, the NBA posted a league-wide 3Par of .212, only the second time NBA players had attempted one in five shots from Three Point Land. The following season, that rate would back off to .159 as the league abandoned its three-year experiment with a 22’ arc. It would be eight more years before the 3Par returned to the 20 percent level.
And here we go this season surpassing 30 percent and sure to post the second highest boost ever – the rate rose to .188 from .117 when the distance was shortened in 1994. (Average usage had hit 10 percent -- .104, to be precise – for the very first time during 1992-93 season.)
In terms of the accuracy of this steadily-increasing distance shooting, we’ve seen two decades of pretty phenomenal shooting. Predictably, marksmanship improved from 33 percent to 36 percent using the closer line. But it dropped only half as much (to .346) post-experiment … and the league as a whole has shot treys in the .350’s and .360’s in every season since Y2K. At the 21-week mark of this season, there are two teams whose 3Par is at the 40 percent level. The Houston Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Conductor Harden, is performing the Morey-D’Antoni Overture to the tune of .464 – 2,864 three-point tries in 6,176 FG attempts. The Rockets stand No. 15 in accuracy at .362 and own the NBA’s third best record.
The other member of the “Forty Club”?
The injury-plagued defending champions, with 2,370 treys in their 5,932 shots (.400) and the league’s second best rate of accuracy (.388).
Speaking of wellness, the apoplexy that has befallen the teams of the Southeast would seem to have spread to North Texas. During Weeks 16-18, Coach Rick Carlisle’s Dallas Mavericks outscored the opposition by over two points per game, yet lost five of nine. The following three weeks, the Mavs were outscored by four a game, yet won six of ten.
And I wonder why I keep getting error messages on my Abacus??