Tag Archives: Spurs

2015 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference, Round 1

Listen. Listen. Listen. That’s how I’ve been taught to get people’s attention—just repeating the word listen. Are you listening?

It’s been a while since I’ve written basketball things, but, like, it’s NBA basketball season 2.0, the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that ends the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that is the NBA season in a burning blaze of glory. And I should have plenty in the tank so to speak, since I haven’t exactly availed of the aforementioned idiomatic tank in a veritable long ass time.

Atlanta Hawks (1) v. Brooklyn Nets (8)

Alright, so Kyle Korver narrowly missed being the only dude ever to make the 90-50-50 club (with a paltry 89.8 FT%, 49.2 3PT%, 48.7 FG%), but let’s be honest and admit that back in November, this was what we, the basketball elite, and Hawks fans from Macedonia to Decatur were positive was going to be the most memorable thing the Hawks did this year.

Yet somehow Coach Mike Budenholzer has orchestrated a magical season, turning a watery (pretty muddy water at that) lineup into a fine, 60-win vintage with notes of juniper berry that finish with savory, peppery undertones (read: Coach Bud is Jesus, which makes Greg Popovich God). Four of the starters made the All-Star game, only the seventh time in the history of the NBA. Collectively, they balance the 10th best offense that assists the second highest total in the NBA with the 5th best defense—all without anyone averaging more than 17 points or 33 minutes per game (both: Paul Millsap).

The Hawks have given us shades of the Spurs-East, and at times have been the most entertaining team to watch in the NBA (sorry I’m not sorry, Steve Kerr). This has been in large part due to the revelation Al Horford has been, putting up numbers not unlike The Big Fundamental Tim Duncan, himself.

               Player A: 18.0p, 8.4r, 3.8a, 1.5b, 53.8fg%, 21.4 PER, 8.7 WS

               Player B: 17.3p, 11.4r, 3.7a, 2.4b, 51.2fg%, 22.6 PER, 9.6 WS

Hold the suspense. Horford is Player A. Let’s keep in mind, Horford played only 29 games last season and 11 games two seasons before that.

Lastly, in your NBA playoff bacchanalia that I’ve been assured other people do as well and is a perfectly normal ass thing to do in celebration of the greatest sports event ever, don’t’ forget to pour one out for Thabo.

PREDICTION: Give me the broom. Give me the broom. *sung to Biggie’s “Give Me the Loot.” Hawks sweep.

Toronto Raptors (4) v. Washington Wizards (5)

This will be the second most intriguing matchup in the East. 2 things to watch out for besides the backcourt battle:

  1. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri launching another f-bomb in a pre-playoff game hype train spinning off a geopolitical beef with Paul Pierce that may or may not include POTUS, launch codes, and chants of Buck the FlueJays till infinite.
  2. What banal and innocuous hygiene tool will DRAKE! turn into one of the most brilliant marketing schemes of the year? What could possibly be better than lint rollers? Floss? Toenail clippers (wait, Steve Ballmer, did we just stumble into something together?!)? Hair curlers? Those tiny paper cups that fancy people keep in a dispenser for rinsing mouthwash? Indentured servants? Lest we forget, since DRAKE! officially partnered with the Raptors organization as “Trill Ass Global Skrilla Ambassador” or T.A.G.S.A., they have gone from a 34-win team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 5 years to one of the best teams in the shitty Eastern Conference to get bounced in the first round.

PREDICTION: Toronto will make it to the second round for the first time since 2001 and for only their second time in franchise history. It will take all 7 games, a whole goddamn country’s sheer force of will, and a Jimmy Brooks type effort.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v. Boston Celtics (7)

Kyrie Irving has never played in a playoff game before. Neither has Kevin Love. The Celtics are surging. Brad Stevens is a wiz. All true statements. There’s also this:

Oof, harumph, and bazinga. Lebron James in the playoffs has averaged 28.0p, 6.4a, 8.4r on a crazy 48.2 fg% in an inhuman 42.7 playoff minutes per game. 2013 Finals, Game 6:

2008 First Round, Game 1 (LBJ first career playoff game):

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7:

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1:

2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2:

2014 Finals:

He may just eat your babies:

PREDICTION: Cavs in 5.

 

Chicago Bulls (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

This matchup is super duper fun times for basketball wonks. The Bulls find themselves in a rare position where they’re facing a statistically superior defense come playoff time (although marginally so)—97.4 pts Bucks allowed per game v. 97.8 Bulls allow. Oddly, the Bucks score precisely the amount of points the Bulls allow—97.8. Jason Kidd has turned this band of long-armed avatars into the 8th best defense in the league with the most steals per game (9.6), all while sharing the ball at the 7th best clip with 23.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, the hustle J Kidd has inculcated into his young shapeshifters come at the cost of rebounds. They rank 24th in the rebounds while the Bulls tally the 3rd best rebounding rate in the NBA. Have I mentioned the Bucks height yet though? The starters come in averaging 6’9”, of which they’ll need every inch to corral Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, while staving off a deep and talented Bulls front court. The major storyline for the Bulls: emergence and resurgence.

Pau Gasol playing like it’s 2005, bumping Lil Wayne on his 512 GB iPod Shuffle on the way to a cool 18.5p on an alarming 49.5 fg% and even more alarming 46.2 3pt%—oh yeah, and there’s the career high in rebounding (11.8).

Nikola Mirotic making the case for Rookie of the Year and James (Harden) Beard Award honors averaging 20.8p, 7.6r on 44.1 fg% in just 30.8 mpg in March.

Jimmy Butler emerging as a go to offensive player in addition to the nightly guard-the-best-perimiter-player role he’s so dutifully filled the last few years; in addition to resurging this past month, following a few weeks of a bona fide injury scare.

Taj Gibson also coming back from injury in the last month to put up solid double-double-esque numbers.

Joakim Noah finally moving the floor like the 20something he is, running the floor, getting those assist numbers up from 3.5 in January to 7.2 in March.

Derrick Rose suiting up at all.

PREDICTION: Jason Kidd will find a way to get fined sans spilling drinks (though he’ll undoubtedly think about it), and it’ll be the most entertaining defensive slugfest you’ve ever seen. Bulls in 6

 

Doodads and Knickknacks

 

MVP for Lebron

Lebron James is a phenomenal basketball player and deserves the MVP award.

From a statistical standpoint, he scores more than Steph Curry but less than Harden. He assists more than Harden, but less than Curry. He outrebounds them all. He has the highest field goal percentage on the highest attempts. He is without a doubt the best defender of the group.

Then there’s the how-valuable-is-he-to-the-team wrinkle that gives blowhards like Colin Cowherd the leeway to say stupid shit on airwaves like Russell Westbrook is the second coming of Shaft and White Jesus.

But ultimately, I think it comes down to this: the Cavs we’re looking at now didn’t exist 12 months ago. The coach is new. Two of the three best players are new, and only four players remain from last season’s roster. Whereas the Golden State Warriors are effectively the same team. Even the Houston Rockets’ continued core brain trust of Kevin McHale, James Harden, Dwight Howard and those three other dudes that were also on the roster last season positively impacted this season’s record. If continuity establishes trust, which is the bedrock of the game within the game, the turnover and new environments must be considered. That James could perform comparably to Curry and Harden in brand new (old) conditions, points to his deservingness.

I tried to start this section with something like “Stephen Curry and James Harden have had prodigious years…” I really did try, and they totally have. But fuck that. I get it. Nobody likes to see the same person win everything for forever. But the shear amount of articles I get bombarded with about the closeness of this MVP race that don’t actually go into the argument for Lebron James is an insult. We only get Lebron for like another 5 years. Maybe. He deserves all of it. Everything.

Pitchforks for Michael Jordan

I had the good fortune of stumbling onto the below beauty of a quote from the G.O.A.T., His Royal Airness Michael Jordan. In a 2010 interview with CNBC, Jordan prophesized, “Ultimately, if you can say that I’m a bad owner and we’re winning championships, I can live with that. But if we’re not making the playoffs and we’re spending and losing money, then I have to look in the mirror and say maybe I’m not taking the necessary steps to doing what it takes to run an organization.” If by some miracle, MJ ever happened upon this paragraph (he won’t), I want to maintain a semblance of respect and dignity (a first), so I won’t say the thing I really want to say (also a first). I wouldn’t venture to say eat crow, but maybe the lackluster performance as owner is having disastrous effects on the legacy of MJ? Pish posh and thimbles and stuff. We love you anyway, you gambling, self-aggrandizing, conceited, arrogant, bald, beautiful old-ladykiller, you.

Bitterness and Glee Reign, Man

Last night, Shawn Kemp hosted a party in celebration of the Thunder missing the playoffs. It was amazing. Or at least, I think it was. I have kids and was building a bunk bed from IKEA while everyone was getting turnt at Neumos. Thank god for Twitter:

Why We Play: NBA Finals Coverage Pt. 2

“There is another world, but it is inside this one.” –W.B. Yeats

“It makes last year okay.” –Tim Duncan

»«

The pinnacle of basketball achievement. The crown of buckets. The chef-d’œuvre of the hardwood. The Pink Panther diamond for the Inspector Clouseaus of the NBA world. The highest holiness of hoops.

Last night capped a thrilling—if somewhat surprising—2014 NBA Finals.

For the casual observer, Tim Duncan hoisting his fifth Larry O’Brien trophy and the youngest player ever to win the Bill Russell Finals MVP was just another cool thing that happened in the landscape of the ever-cool NBA. And it was. Cool. Really, really, really cool.

But it was also more than that.

From the moment the NBA Finals ended last year, the San Antonio Spurs have diligently, unwaveringly been working to craft all of what this past season would be about for them (if this sounds familiar, read: crush a narrative, little narrative, roll a narrative, take a narrative). Like a mantra or a basketball bouncing in an empty gym, you could hear it reverberating with every pass, every swish, every bank: Run it back.

Since June 20th, 2013: run it back. After watching the Heat celebrate on their court: run it back. For 361 consecutive days: run it back. From the start of training camp: run it back. For every practice: run it back. To every reporter’s question: run it back. The 20 regular season games they lost: wait till we run it back.

Last night the Spurs finally paid off that promise uttered countless times on pick up courts the world over.

As the simple three word phrase flatly implies, “run it back” is a statement of ego. A dare, a provocation, a challenge to the opposing player, the opposing team to score on me, win it all—again.

Anyone with half a brain, who has seen any Spurs games over any period of time in the last 12 months could see in the way they played, they were “Run it back” mode.  And until Tim Duncan’s post-game sideline interview with Doris Burke, I never gave much thought to the Spurs’ reaction—other than the almost obligatory, “This team is ridonkulous. They’ll probably get what exactly what they want and make the Finals again.”

But in Tim Duncan’s disarming quietness, in his unflinching and somehow original expression of trite sports clichés in the face of an aspirationally awkward first question, he unearthed something deeper than ego, truer to the condition of humanity, necessary to the human psyche.

          Burke: How does your team climb the mountain back to NBA Champion?

          Duncan: Great coaching. Persistence. Drive. Love for the game. We remembered what happened last year and how it felt in that locker room. And we used it and built on it and got back here, and it’s amazing. It makes last year okay.

Did you hear that? It makes last year okay. He hesitates, then lets it spill. It makes last year okay.

Up until that moment, I had never thought forgiveness (true forgiveness, not the good-sportsmanship-I’ll-help-you-out-after-that-flagrant-foul-slash-flop-city forgiveness) had a place in the world of sports—professional or amateur.

In the testosterone driven, ultra-competitive sporting arena, it’s no surprise we use the metaphors of war: our athletes are warriors and we expect them to battle. Yet Duncan—demonstrating true bravery and more than any other professional athlete today—stands as a vanguard for the kind, the loving, the sensitive—the warrior with feelings. He has always been a great teammate. The way he holds Tony after a victory, or goes forehead-to-forehead with Manu speaks volumes on Duncan’s passion and reliability.

What makes this particular confession from Duncan so startlingly profound though is the subject of his forgiveness: himself and his team (but mostly himself).

If forgiveness is “the release of all hope for a better past,” then that moment, that hesitation was the release. And without the past driving his actions, Duncan was finally able to  (perhaps for the first time all season) be present, live and experience that moment of joy.

Even in that definitive moment of triumph, wherein he had all the right to say some shit about We The Champs or Being King of the World (read: Kevin Garnett), Duncan—as he has consistently, and more so as of late—acquiesces into an apparently honest expression, letting slip the profound humanity of basketball.

Basketball is the most team of sports (I’m pretty sure I’ve written that a dozen times now), and within these lines, positions and roles, there is and always has been another game happening (the most important one). That game within the game relies, fundamentally and absolutely, on the relationships and understanding built from the players involved.

It should come as no surprise that feelings, aspirations, being sensitive to others needs and desires play a critical role in the formulation of a basketball team. After all, they mean a lot to our day-to-day lives and the narrative we impose on them. They—along with ego, forgiveness, joy, heartbreak and the like—are a necessary part of navigating the world, and being, you know, human.

Yet yesterday, thanks to Tim Duncan, I discovered—maybe re-remembered—yet another layer of this sport that I have loved for so long. Every facet of humanity has a place and, more importantly, belongs out there on the court—even forgiveness, self-forgiveness.

And so it was with an ambivalent heart that I celebrated a San Antonio victory last night.

Despite my fanatical impulses, I still feel like I managed to take this NBA season for granted—as if I hadn’t milked every possible triumph and tragedy, small or large, out of it. I had expected the Finals series to last at least six, probably seven games—I would milk another couple blog posts and few more thousand words out it.

But that wasn’t the case, and as giddy as the season began, it ended.

Here are the five things from the five games worth remembering in five years:

The Spurs Were Better Than the Heat

It seems so obvious. But all too often in our headline-driven sports world, the biggest characters dominate the narrative—even if they don’t deserve it (see: Johnny Manziel, Jimmer Fredette). Maybe this time will be different (it won’t) but I hold out for the 2014 Finals being remembered as one of the greatest demonstrations of excellence exhibited by any team ever, not the Finals were Lebron cramped, Wade showed his age, or the last run of Miami’s big three.

In the last three games, the Spurs played the kind of basketball that makes coaches wet themselves. Ball movement, team defense, ball movement, excellent shot selection, ball movement, off-ball screens, ball movement, fantastic shooting, ball movement.

They passed so much, it made heads spin. In last night’s stupor, I did manage one coherent thought: I will not spend the off-season disparaging the Miami Heat for their generally crappy play.

They lost their losses badly—by the margins of 15, 19, 21 and 17. Their only victory came by one possession.

In a twist of fate architected by the forces responsible for Benjamin Button, the Heat looked older, slower, and unfocused down the stretch.

Pretty much the exact opposite of Brad Pitt:

Lebron seemed to the only player who was trying—until Michael Beasley came in. Thank God for Michael Beasley, I remembered thinking.

(WHAT THE HELL! AT ONE POINT, I ACTUALLY FOUND MYSELF WONDERING IF MICHAEL BEASLEY IS THE ANSWER TO ALL THE HEAT’S PROBLEMS. THAT’S HOW BAD IT GOT, THAT WE’RE WRITING SENTENCES LIKE THAT!!)

No. The Spurs played a brand of basketball barely conceivable by a single human mind. They made honest yet another trite sports cliché: that a true team of solid players can beat one truly great player. This off-season shall remain a celebration of San Antonio.

The Duncan Shot

I’ve already waxed poetic on Tim Duncan. I could almost certainly continue for another thousand words, but instead:

(How many words are gif worth?)

Duncan was among the first to criticize his missed “bunny” shot in last year’s Finals that would have sealed the deal. Given the weight of the last eleven months, this prevails as the only Duncan shot in the Finals that matters.

The Karowning of Kawhi

At the start of the month, Greg Popovich told everyone, Kawhi Leonard was the “future of the Spurs.” Pop failed mention, however, that “the future” meant two weeks from now.

Heralded now and for the rest of his life as the youngest NBA Finals MVP ever, Kawhi took over games four, five and six. No doubt, Kawhi led the Spurs team, and he did it entirely in deed, averaging 23.6 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals on a ridiculous 69% shooting over the least three games. In that stretch he also lead the team in both minutes played (112) and +/1 (+59)—an incredibly difficult feat.

More impressive than Leonard’s obvious statistical effort was his abrupt lack of deference. It was as if he suddenly flipped the switch for a well-spring of confidence. On two-on-ones (which he earned fairly often post-steals), instead of passing the rock up, or worse, hesitating, Kawhi would determinedly put his head down around the free throw line and take it to whoever happened to be in his way—if there was anyone there at all:

His hand checking defense is almost as fun to watch:

Then there was this…

I was holding my six month old son when Sugar K Leonard happened all over that put-back. It may have been the metric ton of baby food he just ate, but he literally shit his pants.

Another angle (including Duncan’s reaction—only adding to the list of reasons he’d be fun to play with):

Ultimately, the question with Kawhi going forward will be what kind of leader will he become?

In his first two NBA seasons, even in his last three games, he didn’t have to be the vocal leader. With the triumvirate of mentors and Pop at the helm, he only had to bring the passion, meet their words with play (which is, alone, an incredible feat for anyone, much less a 22 year old).

Sugar K clearly has the skill set, but the person he chooses to be on the basketball court will most likely be the biggest self-determinant to his hoops success. Will he continue the tradition of the quiet and sensitive Duncan? Will something snap in the depths of his psyche that turns him into Gary Payton? What happens if, somehow beyond reason, Kawhi changes teams, changes coaches?

Fortunately with Pop on the side line, K’s got quiet the safety net to experiment with.

Old man got game, not old man game

I’ve written a lot about old man game. I have a special affinity for old man game. That’s because I have never played near the rim, much less above it, so I only know how to play with old man game.

My fault in talking about NBA practitioners of Old Man Game is that I often cheer on their methods, forgetting entirely that those players didn’t come into the NBA ancient. Fortunately, a couple almost-40-somethings wore their Marty McFlies and reminded the world that the 90s were not that long ago. I swear.

First there was Ray #Jesussaves Allen:

Then Manu turning back the clock—clearly inspired by fellow Argentine Lionel Messi’s goal earlier that day:

Then again there’s Duncan. He’s 38. And I’ve already written a novella about him in the last month.

Zero to hero: A Spurs Rite of Passage

In the 2013 Finals before the Heat went nuts, I thought the Spurs had found the future big three in Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, and Danny Green. Silly me.

Neal parlayed a pretty okay playoff run into a $3.25 million check signed the Milwaukee Bucks. Green returned to Earth and saw his production and minutes decrease (which is sort of a non-sequitur for the Spurs).

Entering the off-season as a free agent, Mills is poised to follow in Neal’s footsteps.

  2013 Finals Neal: 9.4 p, 0.9 a, 2.4 r, 47% 3pt, 41% fg

          2014 Finals Mills: 10.2 p, 1.6 a, 1.4 r, 57% 3pt, 54% fg

Make it rain, Patty. Make it rain.

Since Tony Parker was sidelined for 14 games and Mills stepped into the starting lineup, all he did was play out of his mind.

In a blind player comparison for these Finals:*

Player A: 24.2 p, 3.8 a, 3.3 r, 57% 3pt, 54% fg

Player B: 15.9 p, 2.7 a, 4 r, 34% 3pt, 44% fg

Player C: 18.4 p, 4.7 a, 0.4 r, 42% 3pt, 48% fg

Player D: 18.1 p, 5.5 a, 3.8 r, 42% 3pt, 50% fg

*per 36 minutes

Can you guess which one is Patty Mills? In order: Patty, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

By all accounts, Mills seems to be a pretty funny Aussie, too, so he’ll probably end up sticking with the Spurs. Let’s hope so.

 

#BREAKING: ADAM SILVER FIXES GAME ONE OF NBA FINALS, INDUCES CRAMPGATE

Sources working in the Samsung Galaxy S5 maintenance department of the AT&T Center recently revealed that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was single-handedly responsible for the suspiciously high temperature on court for game one of the NBA Finals.

The conditions resulted in Lebron James’ inability to finish the game due to cramps, and the subsequent stupid people party on Twitter (as per the norm). #crampgate

Widely lauded for his recent swift and decisive action against raging racist team owners, an apparently half-naked Silver was found in one of the facility’s air vents in possession of a monkey wrench and “an unnatural look in his eye.”

Reportedly, Silver was only discovered after he had banged away the entire bass line to Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse.”

Upon being discovered, Silver screamed “Gotcha motherfuckers!” and sprinted off muttering something about cocktails with Bill Belichick and the Chinese Minister of Sports…

West Points

CP3: 18.4 p, 9.8 a, 4.3 r, 2.4 stl, 47 fg%, 25.6 PER, 46.5 A%, 23.7 U%, 122 ORtg, 104 DRtg, .270 WS/48

RW0: 21.3 p, 7.3 a, 5.3 r, 1.7 stl, 43 fg%, 21.1 PER, 36.1 A%, 30.1 U%, 105 ORtg, 102 DRtg, .178 WS/48

TP9: 18.8 p, 6.6 a, 3.3 r, 1 stl, 49.5 fg%, 19.9 PER, 33 A%, 25.8 U%, 110 ORtg, 107 DRtg, .141 WS/48

DL0: 19.2 p, 5.8 a, 3.2 r, 0.8 stl, 42.7 fg%, 17.5 PER, 27 A%, 24.6 U%, 112 ORtg, 111 DRtg, .121 WS/48

–Career averages per 36 minutes (via basketball-references.com)

The four teams remaining in the Western Conference Playoffs feature the four of the top seven regular season offenses. Three of those teams were also among the top seven defenses (San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Supersonics and the Los Angeles Clippers). Each of those teams feature a Hall of Fame, or potential Hall of Fame forward. But for each team their success begins and ends at the hands of their point guards.

Their career splits are surprising similar, yet they are dramatically different players. In this sense, metrics are dangerous. It hides how each plays their position, as well as where they are in their careers. Both Paul and Parker are nine and 13 years into their careers, and have statistically, stylistically and, at least in Parker’s case, historically cemented their place in the NBA. For both Lillard and Westbrook their numbers will certainly change, skewing more efficient.

Pay attention. No four players shape the outcome of the West more so than Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard.

The Floor General

From the moment Chris Paul took an NBA court, fans and basketball wonks alike fell in love with Paul’s game. He is the truest of true point guards not named Steve Nash, and is unparalleled in managing his team’s offensive tempo. As this newest class of score-first point guards—led by Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and Westbrook—continues to prosper, Paul remains a beacon for old school point guard play that thrived on setting your man up for the easy basket.

The extent to which Paul impacts the flow, the speed and the positioning of the players around him is almost unfathomable.

Paul scores high marks on the Thibodeau test. He is among a handful of players (Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and maybe Stephen Curry and Goran Dragic for the sheer relentlessness of their respective games) that a coach, in this case Tom Thibodeau, wouldn’t have to practice or draw an offensive play at all, ever for a whole season and still get an above average offense.

Only with the emergence of analytics have we begun to quantitatively grasp all that Paul does. As a floor general, Paul lives for his teammates and his fingerprints can be seen all over the assist world, consistently ranking in the top of every assist-related metric throughout his career. This playoffs has been an exemplar.

In this postseason, Paul’s offensive rating scores a stellar 115.2 with an unsurpassed 34.1 assist ratio (assists per 100 possessions). But more impressive, his play has elevated teammates J.J. Redick and Blake Griffin into the top five of that category (for players averaging more than 25 minutes/game).

Paul has led the playoffs in percentage of field goals assisted while on the floor with a 48.9 Assist % (via basketball-reference.com). Mike Conley is the only player with a higher assist to turnover ratio in the post-season—and only by a hair (3.67 to 3.55). Not coincidentally, Conley is perhaps the only other playoff point guard whose team absolutely relied on his offensive management.

Paul separates himself from Conley, however, with his scoring ability—by-products of his superior strength and shooting touch. Conley’s individual offense does not come so easily. If Paul took 20-23 shots a game (instead of his current 15), no one would bat an eye. In fact, it’s encouraged. But Paul’s game isn’t interested in that. Paul’s game does what his team needs, and if that means jacking up nine threes, hitting eight

If it means going H.A.M. on pick and rolls

If it means being selfless, putting on a show and energizing his team and the crowd—home or away

If it means showing the pick and rolls, being selfless, putting on a show and energizing his team and the crowd—home or away

So be it. Count him in.

There’s that weird 18 point differential between Paul’s offensive and defensive ratings, but that’s mostly due to his out of this world offensive impact. He’s always been a tenacious defender, may be the answer to the MVP and is the best defensive point guard his coach has “maybe ever” seen.

The Freak                                                                                    

Pound for pound, Russell Westbrook is perhaps the most athletic basketball player in the NBA. The combination of speed, strength, quickness and leaping ability packaged in a 6’3”, 190 lb. point guard frame is a once in a generation phenomenon.

And we get to witness two of the top 10 NBA players develop together and explode all over the NBA in all their youthful glory

Now KD to RW

They’re also occasionally adorable

Westbrook scores more, rebounds more and has a better defensive rating, than the other point guards on this list. Still, more than CP3, Parker and Lillard, he suffers from a purely analytic view of his game.

Anyone who has seen RW0 play basketball cannot ignore the ferocity with which he goes about his business. His sheer relentlessness and undying predatory pathology elevates his strain of “give me that” to the highest of art forms.

Even after the whistle has blown

His tenacity and relentlessness has almost made him a caricature of himself

You hate guys like this. You love guys like this. If you’re playing him, you can’t stand the bravado. If he’s on your team, he’s the lifeblood.

I’m going to ignore the criticisms that he takes too many shots, that he should defer to Durant more.

Let Russell be Russell.

Whatever your view of him, his spirit is infectious. And despite his many physical talents, that is perhaps his greatest asset. He leaves no room for doubt as to what he’ll do to score this basket, to snag this loose ball, to win this game.

Anybody who has seen Kevin Durant play since his time at the University of Texas knows that he’s gotten nastier. It’s the only way he scores 32 points a game this year, snags the Bill Russell trophy and has a shot at a ring. He knows it too. And anybody who has seen his evolution alongside Westbrook’s knows in their heart of hearts that #0 is the reason KD is MVP.

As Kendrick Perkins has receded more and more into the background, Westbrook has become the emotional engine for this team. Unlike CP3, he doesn’t read his team’s needs and act according. Rather, like a benevolent ruler, he dictates the terms of this game, and this victory.

For Westbrook, moderation is a four-letter word to ignore—like quit.

Par Excellence!

Tony Parker has achieved nearly everything the other guys on this list hope to in their careers. In many ways, his career arc illustrates how a player—not born with God-given size and skill—develops into a probable Hall of Famer.

Parker has won three championships with the San Antonio Spurs, earning NBA Finals MVP honors in 2007. He has been voted to the All-Star game six times, made the All-NBA Second Team twice, the All-NBA Third Team once and is already the Spurs all-time leader in assists. And we haven’t even broached his storied international career.

Certainly Parker has benefitted from an ideal situation. He came into the league with uncanny quickness and exceptional ball handling skills. And together, with one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, probably the greatest power forward in NBA History and the greatest Argentinian basketball player in NBA history, learned to master the pick-and-roll-or-kick.

Statistically, Parker would seem to not excel at anything in particular–with the exception of a high field-goal percentage, but with as high a percentage, you’d expect a higher Player Efficiency Rating (PER)–this speaks to the system he’s had the had the good fortune of playing in and crafting.

Over the years, with the help of Chip Engelland he has developed a more-than-serviceable jump shot. His three-point shooting percentage has increased from a career worst 26% in 2008 to 37% this past season on the same number of shot attempts.

What has truly come to define TP9’s career is his extraordinary finishing ability. He has seemed to master every layup conceivable and in any given game, he’s prone to bust out more versions of a layup than you even knew existed.

Pretty much anywhere within 10-15 feet from the basket Parker seems to apparate at will, making magical plays

Also Parker has a Van Halen Lamborghini and a hyperbaric chamber. Probably because he’s made shots like this

TheDeadeye

The youngest of this group, Lillard’s ascension to the top tier of point guards has been surprisingly rapid, if not unlikely.

Lillard’s last two years reads something like a typical millenial’s resume—except, you know, talent.

A Technical Sales graduate from Weber State University in Utah, Lillard has gone from three consecutive first-team all-conference to NBA Rookie of the Year, to playoff hero in a city that hadn’t won a postseason series in like 300 years.

Let us supplicate for the sacrificial lamb that is and was Chandler Parson’s hair

Lest we forget, that’s not the only time he’s done it this year. Let us mourn for Alonzo Gee as well

At 6’3” with 6’8” wingspan, Lillard has a uncannily quick first step that splits the defense as good as anybody in the NBA—devastatingly so on a pick and roll. He makes oafs of slow footed bigs; when they (J.J. Hixon, below) come up to hedge on the screen, Lillards shoots the ball between his screener and away from the hedger the moment the big plops down flat-footed

At such an early point in his career, it’s incredible that Lillard has been able to put it together so quickly. Most likely, he’ll be exiting the playoffs tonight with a righteous Spurs sweep, but this is his first appearance in the NBA Playoffs. Ever. There’s no doubt he will return for years to come.

He has finishing ability

 

He has range

He has endeared himself to the hearts and minds of Rip City

He has found a groove

7-7-7-7-7: How Did We Get So Lucky?

After a weekend of five game-7s and a first round of eight overtimes, the past 48 hours of NBA basketball has been pretty boring.

Washington beat Indiana by six—though it was never really that close. The Clippers trounced Oklahoma City by 17—though it wasn’t really that close either. Miami soundly beat Brooklyn by 21. And San Antonio thoroughly outclassed Portland by 24.

Fear not, basketball fans. As the Prince of the Peanut Gallery, the High Priest of the Punditry, the Baron of Bloviators and Admiral of NBA Analysts Charles “That’s Turrible” Barkley would wisely warn us, “Let’s not overreact to Game 1.”

Well Sir Barkley, give me a subpar screen play, stick me in a middling production and call me Nic Cage:

BLOWOUTS! BLOWOUTS!! MORE BLOWOUTS!!! THE WINNERS OF GAME ONES WILL ALL BE IN THEIR RESPECTIVE CONFERENCE FINALS!!!!!!!!! ASDFKLASMDLBMAOWASDA;’SADFA/]ASVASCAXLKJUHNV!!!! REALLY THOUGH I’M NOT EVEN THAT CRAZY—CAPS LOCKS JUST MAKES ME SEEM LIKE I AM—LIKE BAD MOVIES MAKE CAGE LOOK GENIUS!!!

San Antonio v. Portland

This has barn burner written all-over it. They split the season series, and there is a possibility these teams offenses will literally set one or both of their arenas on fire. Portland had the most efficient offense in the first round, scoring 111.8 points per 100 possessions. While San Antonio had the highest effective field goal percentage (54.3) of any team in the first round. Together, they combined to take 282 3-pointers, sinking  over 37% of them.

While Portlandia was riding high on Damian Lillard’s sacrificing of Chandler Parsons on the altar of the scorer’s table:

the Spurs kept them kitsch by putting a 24-point bird on it.

Rip City seemed to try the switch-on-everything defense that the Dallas Mavericks used pretty effectively. Unfortunately, their bigs can’t contain Tony Parker (neither could the Mavs really), who torched the Blazers for 33 points and 9 assists.

LaMarcus Aldridge will continue to have a killer playoffs. He (along with the rest of the team) started off slow, but last night’s 32 and 14 was no aberration. He’s owned San Antonio’s power forwards all season, shooting 23 of 38 (61%) against Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw.

(Then again, if Pop can continue to get double digit contributions from the likes of Aron Baynes, then LMA’s contribution is effectively neutralized.)

Every facet of the San Antonio Spurs franchise has, at one time or another, had a place in every basketball wonk’s spank bank. From their ageless giant wonder to their too-good-for-your-shenanigans head coach, the Spurs are the Raquel Welch of the NBA. They have almost even managed to hold up (perhaps get better?) over time.

They’re still the one seed. They still won 60+ games this season. Their offensive schemes are still beautiful to watch. And their team defense is still unflappable.

That said, Rip City has been forged in the crucible of the Western Conference, Damian Lillard and LMA are the real deal and the Spurs were pushed to 7 by the significantly less talented Mavericks. The Blazers’ fit the underdog ethos, and will keep San Antonio honest.

The Spurs in 7.

Miami v. Brooklyn

Miami’s vice no more.

Prior to last night’s beat down, some held out hope that Brooklyn could really beat Miami. They did after all sweep the regular season series!

Except three of those games were last second, one-point victories, and the fourth, a double overtime slugfest. Which is not to say they were flukes. Entirely.

Mikhail Prokhorov and Billy King put together this team for this playoff moment against the Heat. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have a history with Lebron James, and the Heat have a history of wavering in the face of wisdom (see 2011 Mavs, 2013 Spurs). Prokhorov’s purchase of the Nets must have come shortly after he emerged from his Serbian underground cryogenics chamber because he seems to have forgotten the symptoms of age—mainly that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko were getting slower and could no longer jump as high as in their hayday.

Whereas, Miami has the best combination of talent and athleticism on this Earth in James.  They also have that unseemly extra gear that they turn on in the playoffs when they’re in trouble. It’ll prove problematic in the Finals, but while they are in the East, they should be just fine.

The Heat in 5.

Los Angeles v. Oklahoma City

First of all, if you have not watched Kevin Durant’s MVP acceptance speech yet, stop reading this and invest the seven minutes. It’s worth it. It’s a bit heartbreaking to write the following after such a thoughtful and unselfish outpouring from one of the Supersonic greats, but….

The LA Clippers has been Doc Rivers’ opportunity to resurrect the ‘08 Celtics. Boston won 9 more games than LA this season, but just take this ride with me for a moment. Here are the anonymous player splits (per 36 minutes via basketball-reference.com):

clippers celtics

The numbers don’t matchup perfectly. You could probably guess whom most of the players are, but it takes a thoughtful minute.

Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick (only played 35 games and averaged 28.2 min/game) and Chris Paul are the better had better stat lines than their counterparts—Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Deandre Jordan’s defensive acumen is not quite on par with Garnett’s, but despite scoring half the points KG did, he still produced over a third more blocks and rebounds.

Doc Rivers has always been a great motivator. In Boston, he united an entirely new roster around the philosophy of Ubuntu—as critical a component of their championship run as any of those individual players.

In this first year with the Clips, Rivers never seemed fully content with the unity and heart of his team. They clearly have got the talent to win it all. But in a glitzy Los Angeles market, with his best players fronting for corporate America in series of national commercials and a squad too young to really be hungry (with the exception of Paul), Rivers never seemed to have his players performing at the selfless and courageous level that he knows is at the core of a true champion.

Enter Donald Sterling.

In their three victories since the Donald-Sterling-Is-Fascist-Bigot-Gate, LA has averaged over 120 points in each of their contests. And more importantly, they look like had champion’s heart and fight. They played with a fire that makes even the casual observer step back, and say, “Damn. Those guys mean it!”

Their beating of the Oklahoma City Supersonics put the world on notice. And yes, they mean it.

The Clippers in 6.

Indiana v. Washington

Washington is only technically an underdog here. The Pacers are still debacling, despite their first round victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

At this point, the Pacers are only a slightly better version of the Chicago Bulls (though I’m not entirely convinced of that—giving a slight edge here in deference to seeding), whom the Wiz pretty easily dismantled. And if Jeff Teague gave Indiana fits last round, I’d like to introduce you to John Wall:

and Bradley Beal:

These young men are 23 and 20 (that’s right BB can’t even drink alcohol—legally), respectively, dynamic ballers that enjoy long walks on the beach and candle lit dinners. They’ll be accompanying your nightmares, or dreams, for the next couple weeks.

The X-factors (or Z-factors, if you prefer) are Trevor Ariza and Nene. Both bring deep playoff experience and have played balls to the wall this post-season. Ariza is shooting a ridonkulous 55.9% from behind the arc on just under six attempts per game. While Nene has increased nearly every statistical category from the regular season and generally looked spry and dominating against a hapless Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.

On the other end of the court, Ariza and Nene will be charged with guarding Paul George and David West, respectively—the most consistent and necessary cogs in the Pacers offensive contraption. In the regular season, Ariza held George to 8 of 26 shooting. Conversely, West is much better than the Boozer/Gibson duo that Nene had had his way with previously, and the big Brazilian isn’t exactly renowned for his defense. Hopefully, West will find his rhythm and his stroke—he certainly deserves it.

Randy Wittman (who I’m pretty sure is another D.C. leader and baller Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s night gig) has got his guys playing really good ball. And in the end, this fast, shooting, magical fellowship of “pretty good” guys will stop the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm Pacers in their tracks:

The Wizards in 6.