How we can improve our all-star weekend?

6a31fb2f-f08b-4f68-81a9-8c752c4610ae         With all-star weekend behind us, the eyes of every NBA fan now officially shift to the playoffs.  The NBA doesn’t have any more big events until the post-season (unless you count the contract extension deadline and I don’t) so for the next few months we’re not really going to have a lot to look forward to.  This lack of immediate drama could be even more pronounced because of just how great this all-star weekend was.  Since the legendary dunk contest in 2016, All-star weekends have been floating somewhere between B+ and C grades for the past few years.  But between the new format of the big game, Zion in the Rising stars challenge, and Aaron Gordon-gets-snubbed 2.0 in the dunk contest, and we’ve definitely had one of the better All-star weekends in a while.

Part of what made this weekend so successful was the changes the NBA made to the formatting of the contests and games.  This was highlighted by this years’ all-star game, in which we saw more defense down the stretch than we had in decades.  But it was also a standout year in smaller ways, with the addition of the Mountain Dew shot in the 3-point contest and the selection process for the rising stars.  The NBA prides itself on being a league that is constantly working to improve its product, and All-star weekend is a great testing ground to see how the fans will react to new additions.  Expect to see Commissioner Adam Silver trot out something new every All-star weekend for as long as he holds his job.  Because I know he reads my blog, I’m gonna do some quick pitches for what I’d like to see added to all-star weekend going forward.

 

The Celebrity game

Every year, the weekend kicks off with the highly anticipated celebrity game.  Listen, I know this is the least popular event of the weekend and I know that the TV ratings for the celebrity game are less than 1% of the dunk contest, but if I had to be honest, I love this event.  It’s just so stupid and fun, and it doesn’t try to be anything else.  I wouldn’t change anything about the format or the game or anything, just the players.  The celebrity game will always be a second-class event, but if we continue to get second-class celebrities then it will most definitely stay that way.  And if we start to leak into the realm of third-class celebrities then it’ll only dip accordingly.  I understand that for this event the NBA tries to find people with at least a bit of basketball experience, and while it’s great to see that Lil Rel Howery kinda has a jump shot, that’s not why people watch this event.  I love that they include retired NBA stars (although can we please do better than Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson?) I love that they include WNBA stars, but rather than get a C+ rapper who can actually play basketball, let’s get A list celebrities who can barely dribble.  This will give more scoring opportunity to the NBA and WNBA stars, and we’ll get to laugh at famous people, which really is what this game is all about.  My all-time celebrity all-star game wish list is to have Barak Obama play.  He’s A+ level famous, he loves basketball, and apparently is pretty good at it.  If he plays one day, you’ll never hear me complain about this event again.  I mean it.  Never.

 

The Rising stars challenge

The rising stars challenge is fun for two reasons.  One, it’s fun to see young guys who aren’t stars yet get some recognition and time to shine.  Two, this game is 120% of the all-star game athletically and maybe 60% of the skill.  Everyone is a giant, uber-athletic child, and for an hour and a half we get to watch them fly around and do cool dunks and shoot from half court .  Fans never care as much about this event so we don’t get as much backlash about the players not trying on defense.  The only controversy we hear about is with the selection process.  Every year there’s a player who gets snubbed and we have to hear their fans mope about it for a month.  With social media and the passion of players and fans we will always have people who feel they got the short end of the stick for these things.  Bradley Beal was a prime example this year.  But while the all-star game selection is pretty fair, the rising stars challenge has some weird rules that end up keeping more deserving players out.

To fix it, we first have to get rid of the USA vs. World system.  It punishes American players and creates a weird power imbalance during the game.  I would return to the Rookie vs. Sophomore system we had a few years ago.  This will allow more rookies to participate, and rookies are really focus of this event anyway.  By their second year in the league we have a much shrewder idea of who a player is, and at the bottom of the selection list I’d rather see some spunky not-ready-yet rookie than a solid contributing second year player.  Seeing Moritz Wagner bump out a Matisse Thybulle and Terence Davis is just disappointing.  With this selection system we’ll be able to showcase more talented rookies, while still keeping the top-tier sophomore talent around.  We still want as much Luka as possible.

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The Skills challenge

Hold on to your hats people, I’m coming in swinging with this one.

We need to get rid of the skills challenge all together.  Why?  Because while it’s fun to see the big guys defeat guards in a contest the guards should be better at, nobody really cares about this event.  It’s not a real measurement of a player’s skills the way the dunk contest and the 3-point contest are.  It’s not exiting or flashy, it never sparks any narratives, and it’s an hour a of national television that could be better spent on something else.  We see all-star skills challenges in other sports like Hockey, and those make a lot more sense.  But for an NBA event, it doesn’t check any of the important boxes.

So what do we replace it with?  The only good part about the skills challenge is the mono-a-mono style of the competition.  It creates more suspense and pushes the players to give more of a shit.  These guys are competitors by nature, so the best way to keep them interested is through real competition.  We need to embody the 1 v 1 format of the skills challenge while changing the actual challenge.  We need a 1-on-1 tournament.  It would operate with the same matchup format as the skills contest, with an eight-man bracket that splits up bigs and smalls until the finals.  Games to 11 with 2s and 3s.

This event is totally fool proof.  NBA players play 1-on-1 with each other all the time.  It’s a matter of pride and is always competitive.  If we could create an event like this that pushes players to really try, focuses on real important basketball skills, and will definitely produce some highlights and twitter drama, why wouldn’t we?  The one wrinkle would be what level of player would be interested in this contest.  I understand that superstar players don’t want to risk losing in front of everyone and making themselves look silly, but at the same time the best players in the league all truly believe they can take anyone 1-on-1.  It could be the most competitive event of the weekend because there’s real pride involved.  Maybe we won’t see a LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant matchup in this tournament, but I could see players like Louis Williams, or Joel Embiid play.  How fun would it be to see them in the finals going at it?  Or what if we saw Kyrie Irving and James Harden breaking each other’s ankles for ten minutes straight?  If Adam Silver takes any of my words to heart today, please let it be these: “Change the Skills challenge to a 1-on-1 tournament, it’s better for the planet.  We’ve had almost 20 years of people not watching the skills challenge, and now it’s time to give the people what they want.”

 

The 3-point contest

This event is actually fine, it’s just a little long.  Maybe cut it from 8 contestants to 6?  Or make it just two rounds?

 

 

The Dunk contest

Similar to the 3-point contest, the dunk contest is pretty close to perfect.  It’s the most anticipated event of all-star weekend, and despite having a little hiccup in the early 2010s, this decade has shown us some of the best dunks ever.  Everyone loves the dunk contest, but in the wake of the Aaron Gordon controversy, and the back to back to back to back to back perfect scores this year, there is one problem with the dunk contest that can be very easily fixed.

Let’s just score the dunks on a scale of 100 instead of 10.  It all but erases the possibility of a tie, it’s much harder to get a perfect score when the judges are able to express subtleties in their ratings, and it would just be a more accurate way of judging the contest in general.  I think if the judges were scoring everything out of 100, Aaron Gordon would have two dunk contest trophies instead of none.  But mostly this is just a way of keeping the contest as fair and accurate as possible.

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The All-star game

With the new format of the game being such a huge success, I don’t think we need to change anything more about the rules of the contest.  But with players like Paul George out and Kris Middleton in I think it’s time we change the selection process.  The player/fan/media voting is great, but I think that in the same way we got rid of the East and West split for the game, we need to get rid of it for the voting as well.  The all-star game is about the best players in the world, and having the voting go by conference punishes players in the more star-studded half of the league (West).  Again, it’s about making the selection as fair as possible and as entertaining as possible.  I like Kris Middleton as much as the next guy, but there are a lot of guys I’d rather see in the game

—–.

2020 has shown us one of the best all-star weekends ever, and it’s important to remember that as we talk about ways it can improve.  The NBA always puts on a great show, a better show than any other league’s all-star festivities.  The success of the weekend is fully based around the love people have for the game and for the league.  It’s all about showcasing the talent and fellowship of the NBA and its players, and in the wake of a truly trying year in the basketball world it’s good to have a time to celebrate all that we still have.

The final stretch of the regular season is ahead of us and there’s no looking back now.  The break is over and it’s time to get back to business.  This year’s all-star weekend was great, and I think we can all expect similar greatness for the rest of the NBA season and the playoffs.  I for one am ready for it.  You know what?  I take back what I said before, it only gets better from here!

Kobe Bryant

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I’ve honestly been surprised by how much Kobe’s death has affected me.  In life I would always cheer against him.  My family being from the Boston area I’d always pull for the Celtics during those playoff duels in the late 2000s.  I opposed and argued against Kobe’s shoot-first playstyle, I stuck up my nose at the cult that was his fanbase.  He was always the villain in the league, on and off the court.  So, when I heard about his tragic passing I was of course shocked by the news, but also by how deeply grieved I was by it.  I couldn’t understand why I was so distraught by the death of an athlete I had hated in life.  And especially on the heels of the death of John Havlicek, a player that I had loved.  Of course, Hondo’s death was not the tragedy Kobe’s was, but it still made we wonder.  I feel like I need to write about him, if not for my readers than for myself.  There have been thousands of Kobe tributes this past week crafted by better writers than me with a larger audience, but I need to have a Kobe piece on this blog.  I couldn’t stand it if I went on writing about trade rumours and rookie performances and didn’t address the darkest day in my sports lifetime.

I’m not going to write about his life.  There are a kjillion bio-pieces out there right now and mine won’t be the most accurate or the most interesting.  Instead I’m going to write about what I can, what I know, Kobe as a basketball player and where he ranks within the basketball pantheon.  If nothing else it will be a lighter way to remember him.

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Like many basketball legends Kobe Bryant has three primes.   Some legends have more, some have less, Kobe has three.

 

Prime 1:  A new hope (1999-2003)

Kobe Bryant is a young hotshot NBA star who competes in dunk contests, scores buckets, and is the “two” of the best one-two punch basketball has had this millennium.  Kobe spends most of his time in Shaq’s enormous shadow, and until really the last year of this chapter he’s ok with that.  Kobe’s competitiveness and need to win allowed him to take a step back here and recognize that a prime Shaq was the most effective way to win basketball games, and no matter how big Kobe’s ego got he always was able to recognize Shaq’s dominance while it lasted.  This version of Kobe didn’t have the killer midrange game that became a staple of his offence later on.  Instead he was more of a slasher, showing off a smoothness and athleticism that rivaled Vince Carter’s at the time, and mirrored a young Jordan.  The threepeat is what we remember from this era, and rightly so, only five teams have ever been able to do it.  The reason I call this chapter of Kobe’s career a “prime” is because it proved how devastating he could be as a wingman to Shaq.  It pokes a massive hole in the stigma of Kobe’s selfishness and ball hogging on the court.  He was a willing passer when he thought his teammate might actually hit the shot.  So when you watch him take contested midrange faders in the late 2000s, before you judge him, know that that guy wide open in the corner is Smush Parker.

 

Prime 2:  The Mamba strikes back (2004-2007)

This is Kobe at his deadliest and most evil.  This is post-Shaq Kobe, a player with no help, no coach, and no shame.  Only this version of Kobe would have the gall to score 81 points in a game, and this is maybe the only version that could.  I like to compare this chapter of Kobe’s career to Anakin Skywalker at the end of The Revenge of the Sith movie.  Kobe has gone fully to the dark side, is untethered from his friends and his master, and goes on a murderous rampage that destroys any and everyone in his way, friend or foe.  This is Kobe at his most polarizing, most deadly, and is by far my least favourite version.  I don’t blame him for the lack of team success, but this is definitely Kobe at his least likeable.  This is when he had his no-shooting-game, this is where his reputation as a ball hog sparked.  In retrospect this chapter of Kobe’s career actually helps his legend.  Because he was able to learn and move past all the faults of this era it serves as a picture of his dominance, Kobe at his least abashed, Kobe at his purest.  But only because he was able to learn.  If this picture of Kobe was all he was ever able to be then he would go down in history with the Bob McAdoo’s, Elvin Hayes’s, and Wilt Chamberlains, as a talented, dominant, selfish player.  With his career in the rear-view mirror, this chapter of Kobe’s basketball life looks a lot better now that it’s over.  I’m glad we got to see it, I’m glad it ended when it did.

 

Prime 3:  Return of the Jedi (2008-2013)

Sticking with the Star Wars metaphors, this brand of Kobe was a bit like Luke as we see him in his opening scene in Return of the Jedi.  Not so much with his newfound power, we always knew Kobe could use the force, I’m talking about how he acted on and off the floor.  When we see Luke walk into Jabba’s palace in his dark robe and watch as he negotiates with the gangster with a newfound maturity, that is what is was like watching Kobe during this time.  Granted it’s much easier to trust your teammates when you’re passing to Pau Gasol and not Kwame Brown, but still.  This is by far my favourite version of Kobe.  A version with a fully developed set of skills and a fully developed basketball mind.  I often find that you’re able to learn how great a star athlete really is if they are able to maintain their dominance once they begin to decline athletically.  We see this in the case of players like Clyde Drexler, who learned to shoot threes, or Tony Parker, who in later years moulded his offensive game to avoid contact and work the in between areas on the floor.  This final product of Kobe Bryant has adopted the black mamba moniker and has begun to show us a convincing “old Jordan” impersonation to match his “young Jordan” impersonation early in his career.  More jump shots, perfected post play, and switching from a ball handling scorer to a true combo guard.  This shift changed Kobe from a losing superstar to a winning star.  Three consecutive finals appearances and two titles may be Kobe’s greatest career achievement.  It saved him from the Shaq’s shadow and showed us that all his pathologic competitiveness was a good thing all along.  You can change a lot of opinions with a championship.
So where does he rank all-time?  Depending on who you ask he could rank anywhere from 15th to 2nd.  Here’s my list, maybe you’ll see some blog posts about some other guys on it at some point.

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Magic Johnson
  5. Larry Bird
  6. Bill Russell
  7. Shaquille O’Neal
  8. Hakeem Olajuwon
  9. Tim Duncan
  10. Kobe Bryant
  11. Wilt Chamberlain
  12. Oscar Robertson
  13. Jerry West
  14. Kevin Durant
  15. Stephen Curry

I’m willing to hear arguments that Kobe ranks as high as 7.  If you want to argue that he’s better than Bill Russell because of the era shift then fine, I disagree, but fine.  The most devoted Kobe fans will argue that he’s better than everyone not named Michael Jordan.  These people are wrong.  I know it’s an opinion, I know the free world provides a right to free speech.  I don’t care, these people are false, and they should know that.

It’s hard for us as fans to filter out our personal feelings when trying to rank these kinds of players.  They are all deserving, and more often than not our lists come down to our individual sports values.  Kobe is one of the greatest scorers ever, but not the greatest.  He’s one of the best perimeter defenders ever, but not the best.  He’s one of the most effective winners ever, but not the most.  I think that part of why he’s so loved is also the reason he isn’t better than say a Tim Duncan.  Kobe is a flawed player and an equally flawed man; this is why he resonates so much with fans and peers alike.  Kobe Bryant represents the strive to be great, no matter the pain, no matter the cost, no matter what other people may think.  He represents a drive to be great.  Now, all of the players on this list live by that same drive or they wouldn’t be the legends they are, but it’s because Kobe is flawed and that he was able to push through it, that people point to him as a representative of hard work.  He has a mystique that nobody but Jordan can boast, and in the case of a career narrative, overcoming long odds is sexier than quiet, constant, success.  Even if he helped put those odds in front of him in the first place, he overcame them, and that’s what the average fan remembers.

I am willing to agree with anyone who presents a good argument that Kobe is the 7th best player ever, or the 10th, or 13th or whatever.  He is one of the most beloved athletes ever, even though he’d probably say otherwise.  He was the face of the league, the most popular player on the planet, and that matters.  It’s not purely basketball, but it does matter, if nothing else it sways people’s opinions and changes narratives. I guess the opinions of thousands of people who don’t know what they’re talking about is more important than those of basketball historians and educated members of the media.  He is the defining player of his era.  He was the face of the game for the better half of a decade.  History will remember his bright spots more than dark ones, his fans will sing his praises for as long as they can sing, and his memory will be as a champion and as a basketball legend.

I will sincerely miss Kobe Bryant.  I will miss hating him, I’ll miss admiring him, I’ll miss him on and off the court, and I’ll miss watching him be a caring father to his kids.  I was too young to remember Michael Jordan, so the players who defined basketball in my life have been LeBron and Kobe.  I never loved Kobe the way I loved LeBron, but anyone who has been that big a part of your life leaves a hole when they’re gone.  Kobe represented the human struggle to be great, to strive for excellence at all costs.  Basketball was better with Kobe Bryant in it, but don’t worry that we’ll lose the mamba mentality now that he’s gone.  What he stood for will only become more legendary in the wake of his passing, and whatever your opinions on Kobe Bryant the man, the Black Mamba philosophy will last forever, and make the sports world better.  For me, an 18-year-old trying to find his way in the world, Kobe’s message of victory through hard work, focus, skill, tenacity, confidence, and drive, means more than any buzzer beater or 81-point game.  He was an inspiration, everything else aside.

Rest in peace Kobe Bryant,

Of all the basketball players I’ve hated, I never loved one more than you.

My 2020 NBA all-stars

hi-res-305b55a5a85ae756a569ad3e0a0e1de6_crop_northWith most teams passing the midway point in their NBA schedules, and Zion officially logging NBA minutes, all-star weekend is the next big thing on everyone’s mind.  And in this new NBA filled with injuries, load management and record setting PER, we have more freedom than ever to stamp our own personal opinions on the all-star rosters.  Do wins matter?  Do games played matter?  Does refusing to play in last year’s all-star game matter?  Let’s find out.

For those who are not familiar with the new all-star selection system, we first pick five starters from each conference, the starters must include two guards and three frontcourt players, we don’t need specific positions.  After that the bench is selected where we can have as many guards or bigs as we want.  Each conference will have a total of 12 players on their team for a complete player pool of 24 players.  Get it?  Got it?  Good.  Let’s start with the East.

Eastern conference All-star starters

Guard:  Kemba Walker

Guard: Ben Simmons

Forward: Jimmy Butler

Forward: Pascal Siakam

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo

The guards for the East are pretty easy to figure out.  Kemba Walker is the most consistent star on the Boston Celtics, a team that despite being only the 4 seed is probably the biggest threat to the Bucks come playoff time (I can hear the angry mob pf Sixers fans outside).  He’s averaging a respectable 22 point and 5 assists to go with 4 rebounds a game.  The rebounds I think are telling of Kemba’s effect on the Celtics.  The man is barely 6 feet tall and he’s averaging more rebounds than Kyle Kuzma.  This expression of grit and fight from the Celtics guard has not only helped them to team success, but also contrasts the dumpster fire that is Kyrie beautifully. By all accounts he is a great leader who is beloved by his teammates.  Kemba has the numbers, the wins, and the intangibles to back up his all-star claim.

Ben Simmons is also a pretty clear choice, if nothing else than for the lack of star guards in the East.  There aren’t that many Eastern guards with winning records, and even though the 76ers haven’t been the elite team we might have wanted them to be they’re still one of the most dangerous playoff teams in the league.  Ever since the Embiid injury we’ve seen Ben Simmons unleashed; with him winning player of the week honours and averaging a career best 21 points, 8 assists, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and shooting 63% from the floor.  He’s been playing so well that it’s actually flipped the “should the Sixers trade Simmons” rumours to “should the Sixers trade Embiid” rumours.  Whether or not you subscribe to the Simmons > Embiid wave going on, the fact that it exists is a testament to the outstanding play of the Simmons led Sixers.

OZBYKZWL2NHNPFSF6P4DTAQL4AThe East forwards are not as clear cut.  With the exception of Giannis, there are no no-brainers for this frontcourt.  There are four or five players in consideration for the non-Giannis slots; Jimmy Butler, Pascal Siakam, Joel Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, and Bam Adebayo.  Let’s start with the latter two.  Sabonis and Bam both have the advantage of being new to the all-star game.  Sabonis has been averaging a stout 18 and 13, while maybe being the stronger half of a successful one-two punch in Indiana along with Malcolm Brogdon.   Bam meanwhile has been doing the best Draymond impersonation we’ve ever seen, playing a point-centre and lob finisher role on offence while doubling as the best defensive player on a Heat team featuring Jimmy Butler.  Both Bam and Sabonis are unique players in today’s league, but while they should both be rewarded with all-star selections, I don’t think they have the gravity or numbers to push out any of these next three players.

Butler, Siakam, Embiid.  Any of those players have the ability to play a starting role in the all-star game.  And while in this frontcourt they can only ever really be a footnote to Giannis, they all have played an incredible season thus far, though all in very different ways.

Let’s start with Butler.  The best player on the second-best team in the East, coming to a new franchise and immediately establishing a winning culture there, and while the raw scoring numbers aren’t quite what they were, Butler is averaging a career high in both assists and rebounds.  This team is fun, it is mean and gritty, and most importantly it’s winning games.  And say what you will about the supporting cast, Bam is great, Nunn and Herro and Dragic are all great, it all starts and ends with Butler.  These are all the qualities that define an all-star and a winner, that’s why Jimmy Butler takes the second frontcourt spot.

The Siakam vs. Embiid debate is really a tough call.  I’m working really hard to filter out my intense bias on the topic, so I’m gonna use a lot of facts and stats to back up my claim.  First some raw numbers:

Siakam:  23.5 PPG,   3.5 APG,    7.5 RPG,    1 BPG,    1 SPG,    2.5 TPG,    45% FGP,    38% 3PTP

Emiid:     23.5 PPG,   3.0 APG,    12 RPG,     1.5 BPG, 1 SPG,    3 TPG,       47% FGP,    32% 3PTP

The raw numbers are nearly identical, if not slightly favouring Embiid.  The rebounds are the only clear outlier which is to be expected from a centre.  This similarity is also showed in the amount of games each of them has played, with both stars missing time but more or less canceling each other out that way, with Siakam standing at 33 games played and Embiid with 31.  So all I’ve done so far is argue both sides to a standstill, right?  I just want everyone to understand that there is no real advantage as far as raw numbers go.  I’m getting there don’t worry.  Here’s where I start to form my opinion.  During the Raptor’s stretch without Siakam they had 6-5 record, their team scoring average dipped by over 10 PPG, and most importantly they looked like a car without an engine.  Kyle Lowry was awesome during that time and they still had a winning record, but you could tell that there was a huge piece missing from their team identity.  Since his return the Raptors are 5-1 and are playing with the swagger expected of a title defender.  This is in stark contrast to the Sixers’ time without Embiid.  Since they lost him they’ve improved their team win percentage to 63%, they’ve had their second star player play the best basketball of his life, and have looked like a more sensible team across the board.  Using Simmons in a Giannis-like drive-and-kick role offensively without Embiid clogging the lane has opened up the halfcourt offense and has reminded the league why the 76ers were title contenders entering this season.  The team looks happier without Embiid.  Despite being the best centre in the league, despite being the most dominant inside presence we have, despite being a true superstar, his team has been winning, feeling better, and looking better without him.  That is the vital difference between Embiid and Siakam, Siakam is needed and loved by his team, Embiid, while maybe the better overall player, plays for a team that could be better off without him.

 

Eastern conference All-star reserves

Joel Embiid:  Still the best centre in the league when he wants to be

Bam Adebayo:  New Draymond

Domantas Sabonis:  Maybe the best player on a winning team, 18 PPG 13 RPG

Malcolm Brogdon: Maybe the best player on a winning team, 17 PPG, 4 RPG, 7 APG

Kris Middleton:  Second best player on a team that could win 70 games

Bradley Beal:  His team sucks, but he’s one of the 15 best guys in the league.  27, 4, 6

Jayson Tatum:  Face of a finals contender, awesome two-way player, young and fun.

 

Not all-stars:

 Jaylen Brown:  It breaks my heart, but he just didn’t make the cut

Trae Young:  Most egregious stat padder in the league, his teammates don’t like him, his team stinks like open drains, and he may be the worst defensive player I’ve ever seen.  Can I get an A-Men???

Devonte Graham:  Not enough wins, not enough kickass

Zach Lavine:  Same as Graham

Kyrie Irving:  This man is sweet as poison pie.  POISON PIE!

 

Western conference All-star starters

Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks

Guard:  James Harden

Guard: Luka Doncic

Forward:  LeBron James

Forward: Kawhi Leonard

Forward:  Anthony Davis

Picking these five were the easiest part about this whole experience.  Nobody in the West comes close to challenging them for any of the starting roles, and there isn’t really a major drawback for any of them.  Even Kawhi’s load management is just a minor annoyance now. 

 

Western conference All-star reserves

Nikola Jokic:  Best centre in the West, sole all-star on a 4 seed team

Paul George:  Best non-starter, he’s missed some time but he’s still PG13

Damian Lillard:  Despite his team losing a lot Lillard has not slowed down at all, highlighted by his 61-point explosion last week against the Warriors.

Brandon Ingram:  Maybe the most improved player in the league, Ingram has become a first option on a playoff contender.  He deserves to be in the all-star game.

Donovan Mitchell:  Face of the two seed’s offence

Rudy Gobert: Face of the two seed’s defence

Devin Booker: Hasn’t missed any time, is the sole star on a team contending for the playoffs, career best efficacy and win percentage.

 

The West reserves are trickier to narrow down.  We have 4 or 5 players who are a lock (Jokic, Mitchell, Gobert, PG, Lillard) but the race for the other two slots is really tight.  It’s mostly a case of either good players on bad teams (Ingram, Towns, Booker, Morant) or second options on good teams (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Westbrook, DeRozan, Chris Paul).

Westbrook has the best team record of any of these guys, but his numbers are down and the Rockets are so inconsistent, it feels like Westbrook could be at the top or the bottom of this list depending on who you ask.  The Thunder duo of CP3 and SGA are great, but neither stand out enough individually to beat out the other players on this list.  SGA was a very tempting pick, but his time will come. Morant is a rookie and I don’t believe in rookie all-stars, DeRozan is good but not great, so I guess it really comes down to Ingram vs. Booker vs. Towns.

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The reason I excluded the Kat Man from my list is simple.  I love Karl-Anthony Towns, I think he’s one of the most talented players in the league, but his ability just doesn’t outweigh his lack of team success.  He’s missed time, he’s lost games, and it’s not like his team is so terrible.  Wiggins is having his best season yet, Culver has been a solid pickup, and the supporting cast of Covington, Teague (before the trade), and Okogie is more than a lot of other teams with a losing record can say.  Statistically he’s the greatest shooting big-man ever, but he hasn’t been able to keep his team above 500 and at some point the excuses run out.  Towns is in his prime now, or at least near it, and if he plans to be an all-NBA level player soon, he’s gonna have to win more than this.  Now I know Ingram and Booker’s team records aren’t much better, but they’re doing the best they can with what they have.  They’re playing the best basketball of their lives and it’s translating to more wins.  More being the operative word, the Pelicans and Suns are still losing teams, but you’d have to think their records would suffer more without Ingram or Booker than the Wolves’ would without Kat.  It’s really tough to leave a player of Towns’s caliber off the all-star team, but maybe it’ll be the wakeup call he needs to place higher value on team success.

This year is looking like a record setting all-star game in terms or first timers.  Ingram, Siakam, Booker, Doncic, Mitchell, Brogdon, Tatum, Sabonis, and Adebayo.  This season marks the start of a new generation of all-stars, and I’m excited to see what these newcomers have to offer in terms of highlights and energy.  It’s often a young guy, who cares a little more than everyone else grabs the ASMVP trophy, so prepare to see some new electricity infused into this year’s festivities.  It’s gonna be a good one!

NBA trade winds

Kevin-Love-Andre-Drummond-tweet

Now that New Years, Christmas, Chanukah, and whatever other holiday you may or may not observe is over, we now begin to enter the time of year where everyone get just a little unhappy.  There’s no more holiday spirit, we’ve already failed our New Year’s resolutions, winter isn’t magical anymore, and the NBA has reached its lowest point of midseason monotony.  So what do we do to pass the time?  We start rumours, speculate endlessly, and try to balance player contracts to see if we can predict any and every midseason trade we can.  It’s mostly a stress test for semi-contending franchises, but if it means I get to “I told you so” I’ll take the headache that comes with it.

If there’s one player fully embodying the void of unhappiness we’re experiencing this time of year it’s Kevin Love.  The 5x all-star has not been subtle in expressing his frustrations with both the Cavaliers roster and team direction. And while throwing tantrums in the middle of a game is never a good look for anyone, you can’t really blame Love for wanting out of Cleveland.  Love is 31 years old and still can be a great player in this league.  While he may not bring the firepower he once boasted during his Minnesota days, in the right situation he can still be the perfect complimentary stretch big, with his killer stroke from deep (38% 3pt on 6 attempts a game), and elite two-way rebounding (10.2 RPG).  Love can still be a valuable piece on a contending team, but the turd in the punch bowl is the nearly 22 million dollars he makes annually.  Finding a trade partner is going to be a struggle for both the Cavs and Love, with the former trying to build around their youth movement meaning most of the players they’re interested in trading for are making less than a quarter of Kevin Love’s salary.  Looking at it from the other side, Love’s effectiveness on the court is in some ways a ticking clock.  At 31 he’s not getting any younger, and while his shooting and savvy are sure to extend his career, I don’t see him being an all-star again.  This means that the teams interested in his services need to be in “win now” mode.  Teams that believe they are a piece away from being serious title contenders and are fine moving some of their young assets for the upside of a name like Kevin Love in the frontcourt.  This makes balancing the salaries even more difficult because the teams that are serious title contenders are often already paying multiple stars big money.  Teams like the Clippers and Rockets could never afford to move for Love without having to fill the rest of their roster with minimum contracts and two-way deals.

Are there any teams that walk the line?  A few.  The first that comes to mind is Portland.  This was the team everyone immediately thought of once we knew Love wanted out.  Kevin Love has a connection to the city through his high school career and has hinted heavily how much he’d like to play for the Blazers.  The circumstances are ideal; Portland being a team still boasting one of the best offensive backcourts in the league and coming off a the deepest playoff run the franchise had seen in nearly 20 years, you’d have to think they’d want to try and cash in on their window of success here.  It doesn’t hurt that this year’s NBA is a league without a title favourite, leaving the door open for every Boston, Philadelphia, and Dallas fanbase get there hopes up.  Financially Portland has the salaries to make it work.  With their two stars making 50 million a year, Lillard and McCullom are actually one of the more affordable star duos in the league.  The Blazers also have a couple big contracts they wouldn’t mind moving, namely Kent Bazemore, who, while always being a solid wing scorer has never deserved the 19 million dollars he makes every year.  If Portland adds in a Zach Collins or an Anfernee Simons along with Bazemore and we’re starting to see the makings for a trade.  Though the Trail Blazers front office has declared both Collins and Simons untouchable, I wouldn’t be surprised if they rethought their stance closer to the deadline.  Let’s say Portland makes this deal, and with Love we could see them having one of the best offences in the league, and at the same time maybe the worst defensive starting five in Blazers history.  Boasting such two-way studs as Damian Lillard, C.J. McCullum, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, and Jusef Nurkic.  Could the upside of a Kevin Love offence lure the Blazers into this trade?  Maybe, maybe not.  But Portland is one of the few teams in the league that has both the means and the motive to go after him, and I hope for his sake they stay interested.

While Kevin Love has the reputation of being a complimentary star, the two players on the trade block in Detroit have many more questions surrounding them.  With Blake Griffin’s usefulness at an all-time low, and yet another C- season in Detroit, it looks as if the Pistons are ready to move on from this underwhelming chapter in their history.  They’ve let everyone know that both Andre Drummond and Derrick Rose are available, and while these two are both star level players, the market (for Drummond especially) might not be there.

hi-res-bffa6c3c2792a8c63d690736e7fe517f_crop_north  Let’s start with Rose.  This may be the 2011 MVP’s best season since his glory days with the Bulls.  While he will always be on injury watch, there have been entire games this year where he has looked like the Derrick Rose of old.  Where in previous years there had only been flashes, this year the star is undoubtably shining, though still dimmer than before (someone pinch me).  I think that shopping Rose is a great example of selling high on this asset.  Despite his new resurgence, Rose is a 31-year-old slashing point guard, with a historically famous injury history.  This may be the best basketball he will ever play again, and the sooner Detroit can cash in on the Rose renaissance the better.  That said, there won’t be nearly as much trouble arranging a deal for him.  Rose is on an affordable two-year 7 million annual contract.  The timeline is ideal for a guard in his thirties and if you look around the league at the John Walls and Chris Pauls of the world and this contract looks like highway robbery.  On top of that, the league has somehow found itself in a point guard drought.  With the decline of CP3, Westbrook, and Conley, the injuries of Curry, Kyrie, and Wall, and we suddenly find the former swath of all-star point guards in the league dropping like flies.  This leaves the demand for a player like Rose higher than it has been in years.  Can we maybe see him on the 76rs?  Al Horford sure hopes so.  But really any team would be happy to have Rose, I just hope Detroit gets some good returns for him.  The East is more fun when Detroit is good.

The Andre Drummond situation is a little more complicated.  A max contract big man who can’t shoot or switch on defence is a tough pill to swallow no matter how many rebounds he gets.  It’s not so much Drummond’s lack of ability that makes him so hard to trade, there’s just no team with which he’d really work.  Most teams have a centre near Drummond’s level without the financial drawbacks.  Most teams would rather pay 30% or Drummond’s salary for 60% of his ability.  Most teams find it hard to pay that much for a big man not at the top of his positional ladder.  There are really only four, maybe five big guys in the league today worth max money.  Embiid, Jokic, Towns, Davis, and maybe Gobert.  THAT’S IT.  Drummond is making 27 million a year and I’d much rather have a guy like Sabonis or Harrell than Drummond.  Is he better than 90% or the other centres in the league?  Absolutely.  Is he worth it?  Probably not.  One team I could see making a move for Drummond is maybe the Boston Celtics, who both need a rim protector and have the young assets to lure Detroit into talking shop with them.  The only problem with the Boston destination is that they have too much money wrapped up in Kemba, Brown, and Hayward, which means they’d probably have to include Hayward in the deal to make the money work.  It’s really tough to find a home for Drummond.  And it’s telling of the way basketball is played now that the guy leading the league in rebounds can’t find a job.

USP NBA: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS AT CHARLOTTE HORNETS S BKN CHA PHI USA NCIt seems like every time we think the process is complete the universe throws the 76rs another curve ball.  This one coming in the form of the team’s lack of shooting, shot creation, alpha dog leadership, and winning basketball games.  That combined with another A but not A+ season from Embiid, two nearly untradeable contracts in Horford and Harris, a 6’10” point guard who can’t run the pick and roll or shoot, and Philadelphia’s title hopes seem to be diminishing.  Despite all their shortcomings the Sixers really are so close to greatness.  They seem to be a move away from making their conference title hopes into title hopes, but the road there would be a bumpy one.  The Sixers really only have one untouchable asset in Joel Embiid.  He’s their future, he’s their franchise, he’s the process.  Ok.  But besides him?  Everyone on this team is expendable.  Now, Harris, Horford, and Richardson are all elite level players and any team would love to have them, but any of those three could never get the 76rs more than equal return on the trade block.

The biggest wild card here is Ben Simmons, and in some ways, it has been for years.  Of course, everybody is quick to hop on his back about the shooting, and while it will always be a problem for him, I don’t think that’s the real issue here.  There are plenty of NBA rosters with bad shooters, and Simmons more than makes up for his scoring deficiencies with everything else he does on the floor.  The problem is more his fit with Philadelphia.  Simmons would best thrive in a Giannis-like offence.  One where he can be the primary ball handler and drive and kick using his speed, size, and incredible passing vision.  Instead he’s stuck running a plodding, clogged, offence on a defense focused team that has too much talent to properly appreciate him.  The Sixers have long been searching for that alpha perimeter scorer to pair with Embiid, and it seemed to be Jimmy Butler before Kawhi killed that horse.  Now the 76rs are looking at their team and are starting to realize that maybe the only way to improve it is to trade their young star.  Rumours have been circling about a Simmons trade to Golden State.  A move that would send D’Angelo Russell and some cap filler to Philadelphia.  This move would be ideal for the Warriors who are using this season as a gap year for when the splash brothers return.  Acquiring Simmons would give the Warriors a chance to really evaluate his potential when given free reign, and the floor spacing created by a Curry/ Thompson backcourt will surely benefit Simmons going forward.  On the other hand, this would be a bold move for the 76rs.  While D’Angelo does seem to be a better fit on the team, you have to take into account what you could be losing by shopping Ben.  Despite all his short comings he still has the upside of an MVP candidacy down the road, and while Russell has been a star, he hasn’t showed the kind of raw talent Simmons has.  All in all, I think the Sixers should make this move.  They’ve already backed themselves into a corner by signing expensive, older, stars and can’t afford to start over now.  This is their window, they’ve gone all in, and if they get squeamish now then we may never see the full potential of Ben Simmons realized.  And it doesn’t matter how you feel about the Sixers, that would be a shame.  I may be biased.  This move would benefit the players involved so much, Russell can finally stop playing for a team that’s trying to move him and Simmons can finally play for a organization with a winning culture and stars that compliment his game.  Whether this move goes down is hard to say, it would be a big risk for Philly and it could really mean the end of Brett Brown if it doesn’t work.  But I for one would love to see this trade, if nothing else I can say “I told you so”.

Top 10 plays of the 2010s

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Top 10 plays of the 2010s

With the most successful decade of basketball now coming to a close, I’ve been talking a lot with people about the highlights of this era.  My brothers and I have enjoyed looking back and talking about the best the 2010s had to offer us as NBA fans, players, plays, memes, you name it.  One of our favourite ways to do this is to make “top ten” lists or “top five” lists, it’s a great way to kill time and often ends with Eli (the middle child) upset because Jesse (the youngest) and I know more about the NBA than he does, and bully him when he doesn’t remember a certain fact or stat.  So naturally we get Eli involved as often as possible.  One of these top 10 lists we were working on was the ten best plays of the past ten years.  Ranked on a combination of context, difficulty, and historical significance.  There were a number of consensus picks, but for the most part it was really difficult to decide which highlights were better than any other.  Why?  Mainly because saying one highlight is “better” than another is totally arbitrary, there’s rarely any math involved and more often than not it comes down to personal preference.  But that’s also what makes talking about these things so fun.  There’s no point in debating if everyone agrees, but with this nobody agrees and nobody can prove themselves or wrong anyway.  It’s just arguing for the sake of arguing, and I for one enjoy that.  The other reason this was fun to talk about is that it’s a real walk down memory lane.  Rather than discuss the success of one player over another, discussing singular players takes you back to a specific moment.  You remember where you were, how you first saw it, your first reaction.  So with that lets break down the ten best plays of the last decade, why they were great, why they were better than each other, and why saying so is totally a matter of opinion.  (Side note: I find myself discrediting my topic a lot at the beginning of each blog post.  Is this something I should have checked out?  Am I at fault or is the world at fault?  Or are you at fault?  Are you at fault?  You’re probably at fault).

 

  1. Harden breaks Johnson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PBYNK9gslA

Right off the bat I’m cheating.  Yes, this is number 11, sue me, I couldn’t leave it out.  First for a quick play by play.  This is a regular season game in 2018, the Rockets are playing the Clippers, Harden is scoring his usual boatload of points.  Doc Rivers sets Wesley Johnson to guard James Harden, hoping that Johnson’s length will bother Harden on his patented step-back 3.  Harden, recognizing that despite his defender’s length his name is Wesley Johnson decides to isolate at the top of the left side arch.  He does his usual two dribble rhythm combo, then as Johnson contests the right-side Harden pushes left.  Johnson goes full tilt to follow Harden but as soon as he commits to defending the drive Harden snatches the ball back.  Johnson falls over twice, first on his side, then on his butt.  Harden does his signature sorta-travel sorta-not double step back to put himself in 3-pt range.  Now, up until this point the play has been great.  It was one of the better ankle breakers of the season, it was one of the better highlights of Harden’s career.  But what happened next is what propels it into hall of fame status.  Harden sees Johnson in a crumpled heap on the floor, stares at him for way too long to be polite, licks his lips, then nails the three.  The ankle breaker was great, the prolonged stare makes it awesome, the lip thing makes it spectacular.  Harden just shattered a man’s ankles, added insult to injury by staring him down for a good two seconds, then LICKS HIS FREAKING LIPS, and nails it.  This is a testament to the unstoppable scoring of James Harden.  It checks all the boxes for his best career highlight.  It’s his offensive style, personality, and dominance all compressed into a ten second clip.  It broke the internet for a full 72 hours (which is important for any modern highlight).  And it happened in a meaningless regular season game so it captures that part of Harden’s career too.

 

  1. Giannis jumps over Tim Hardaway Jr.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8FYUdPPUy4

Every time I watch Vince Carter jumping over Fredrick Weiss, I have two thoughts.

  1. Holy shit Vince Carter just jumped over that guy!
  2. Shame it was only Fredrick Weiss

What Giannis gave us in 2018 was the Carter/Weiss dunk but set in Madison Square Garden.  It might not be quite as impressive because Tim Hardaway Jr. is 6’5” and Weiss is 7 ft, but Giannis is 7 ft himself so for a guy that big to have the explosiveness to get up that high is just as amazing.  If Giannis could hold the ball in his teeth, he could’ve dunked with like that with how high he was.  One thing that irks me though whenever I watch this highlight, Kris Middleton 100% travels before throwing the lob pass.  It’s one annoying part of one of the best dunks of the decade.

 

  1. Steph Curry’s 38 ft game winner

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEMVGHoenXM

I love this play more than maybe I should.  The year is 2016 and Steph Curry and the Warriors are the peak of their powers.  This is Curry’s second MVP year, the year the he grabbed the belt as the greatest shooter ever, the year that people look back at when remembering the Curry era.  The Warriors were playing the Thunder in a late regular season game.  And while I think playoff highlights do take precedent over regular season highlights, this contest was almost like a semi-playoff game.  The Warriors and Thunder were the two best teams in the West.  Durant was still a fan favourite because he hadn’t gone to Golden state yet, Russell Westbrook was at the peak of his freak athletic powers, and Curry and Klay were fighting to repeat as champions while at the same time racking up the greatest regular season ever.  No, this wasn’t a playoff game, but it carried a lot of weight and was a preview for that year’s Western Conference Finals and the offseason that followed.  For some context Curry was on fire the whole game.  He tied the NBA’s single game 3-point record at the time and scored 48 points.  Curry’s great in this game but so are Durant and Russ who exploiting Golden State’s limited interior defense and attack the rim to force OT.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  Durant fouls out with a few minutes to go, which means he’s watching Curry and Russ duel for the game (foreshadowing much?). With 30 seconds to go OKC is up two, Klay hits a jumper to tie, Westbrook dribbles up the floor and milks the clock as time ticks down.  Everyone in the building knows that Westbrook is gonna take this shot, with eight seconds left Westbrook drives and puts up a wild floater/ layup/ jumper that almost banks in but hits hard off the backboard and bounces off the front of the rim.  Golden state gets the rebound and they pass it to Curry.  Now, there’s still six seconds on the clock, Steve Kerr could have called a timeout and drawn up an out of bounds play but instead decides to just let Curry do his thing.  This is a great example of Kerr’s trust in his star.  A great move by him to hold out on the timeout, which also freezes the defense for half a second cause they think the timeout is coming.  Curry dribbles up past half court with four seconds to go, then from 38 feet he pulls the trigger and almost casually hits the three to win the game.  This shot is amazing for a couple reasons.  One, Curry had enough time on the clock to take a different shot.  He chose to take a 38-footer and he hit it.  I remember watching it for the first time and thinking “the balls on this guy”.  It takes a lot of guts to take that shot.  This play is also prime example of how Curry changed the dimensions of a basketball court.  He is a legit threat from 38 feet, this shot proves that.  This play is Curry’s MVP year in a nutshell, and it also showed a sidelined Durant the level of dominance the Warriors were capable of.  I don’t know if this was the moment Durant first considered joining the Warriors, but I’d like to think so.

 

  1. Blake dunks on Perkins

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8vbdA0wGuI

In the world of power dunks there are four important rating categories; the size of the defender in relation to the dunker, the altitude of the dunk, the amount of contact, and any pertinent background information I.E. grudges, rivalries, nut-punches, etc.  While as far as I know Blake Griffin and Kendrick Perkins have no beef going, this dunk ranks 10/10 in every other category.  This is pre-injury Blake, when he was still jumping 30 feet in the air and attempting to dunk on anything that breathed.  Blake has had a number of hall of fame level dunks over his career but this one is the best because of how it displays the pure athleticism of a prime Blake Griffin.  First the dunkee, Kendrick Perkins, 7ft and 260lbs by this point in his career.  10/10.  The altitude? Blake gets up so high he throws the ball through the rim after cocking it back with the right hand.  He was four feet from the basket and 48 inches off the ground. 10/10.  The amount of contact?  Forget a shooting foul, Perkins hacked the shit out of Blake.  This is a strategy used by shot blockers when a highflyer is coming in for a dunk and you realize you might get posterized.  If you can’t get to it you can either step aside and look like a bit of a wuss, or you can just foul the heck outta the guy and maintain your dignity.  In this case Perkins decided to go with the latter, although it backfired spectacularly as Blake put his bellybutton in Perk’s face and effectively ended his NBA career.  10/10.

 

  1. Deandre Jordan murders Brandon Knight

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPN0ylFEaFo

From one power dunk to another this one’s ranks a little higher than Blake’s because it’s the only dunk I’ve ever seen that made me worry for the life of the person getting dunked on.  While usually dunks are more impressive when the dunker is smaller than the dunkee, Deandre Jordan’s evisceration of Brandon Knight is bit like what I imagine it would be if Goliath stood back up and gave David a piece of his mind.  Let’s also keep in mind that this was an ally-oop, so Deandre was catching this lob and overpowering Knight in midair with nothing but his upper body.  Deandre propelled his 280-pound frame three feet in the air, caught the ball, and slammed it.  Brandon Knight fell a legitimate five feet straight down onto his back on this dunk, and as he lay there Deandre stepped over his lifeless body with one exaggerated stride.  Brandon Knight did not get back up for a full minute after this play which also counts for something in the same way a knockout is measured in boxing.  This along with Blake’s dunk sum up the lob city Clippers in a full 60 seconds of pure basketball murder.

 

  1. LeBron’s revenge on Jason Terry

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-QTiByTKaI

If the only thing lacking from the last two highlights was bad blood, this LeBron James masterpiece is the few dunks in existence that completes the full 100% perfect dunk circle.  Aesthetically it mirrors the Deandre dunk a lot.  A huge athletic beast knocking an unprepared point guard onto his ass with only his upper body and jumping force.  But the icing and charry on top of this move is the way LeBron put a lesser player in his place after being rubbed the wrong way by him one too many times.  This all goes back to the 2011 finals where LeBron suffered the only real black mark on his career and played so badly that a Dallas Mavericks team featuring a single aging all-star in Dirk Nowitzki took down his Heat super team featuring Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.  During that series Jason Terry (6’2” starting point guard for the Mavs) guarded LeBron straight up for stretches.  Now, I love Jason Terry as much as the next guy.  He’s a great scorer, shooter, and has had a great NBA career.  But if you’re LeBron James, the best player on the planet, and they have Jason Terry guarding you?  That my friend is an insult, and LeBron rightly took it as such.  Fast forward two years and LeBron was on his way to his second championship and fourth MVP.  Jason Terry was now in the twilight of his career on the Boston Celtics but was still a valuable role player, but ever since defeating LBJ in 2011 Terry has not been shy about reminding everyone of LeBron’s mortality.  This dunk was LeBron putting Terry in his place and I must say that it worked.  After knocking his man clean over and leaving him spread eagle on the parquet floor, LeBron took a step towards Terry as if he wanted to kick his lifeless body into a hole, earning himself a technical (side note:  every dunk that has a technical called for it gets a +1 on the dunker scale).  This dunk was just one more step on the path LeBron took to putting that 2011 finals behind him, and judging by Jason Terry’s lack of trash talk from then on it looks like LBJ quieted at least one of his doubters with this play.

 

  1. Lillard game winner 1/ Lillard game winner 2

2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mejFtEY5faU

2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-M3x-eZpV8

I couldn’t pick just one of these shots for this list and I didn’t want to write two separate Lillard-playoff-game-winner paragraphs.  I put his 2015 shot over his 2019 shot and here’s why.  Firstly, the game was tied in 2019, if he missed, they would go to overtime and play on.  The Blazers were also up 3-1 in the series so the stakes weren’t as high as in 2015.  The Blazers also got swept out of the playoffs by the Warriors in the Western semis, which isn’t something to hold against them but I can’t help but remember this team as a 2nd tier contender whenever I watch this shot.  Lillard’s shot in 2015 had higher stakes, and more historical weight.  This was the moment when Damian Lillard cemented himself as a star and as the alpha dog in Portland.  If it missed the Blazers would lose, it propelled the Blazers to their first playoff series win in 15 years and won the series on a walk off three.  Awesome.

 

  1. Kyrie’s shot over Curry

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZ8yCJgsF_4

The 2016 finals game 7 is the most important game of the 21st century, and Kyrie hit the winning shot.  On a team with LeBron James on it, both the coach, Kyrie, and LeBron recognized the matchup advantage of Kyrie and decided to run an iso play for him when the whole season was on the line.  The move in Curry?  A couple of rhythm crossovers into an escpae dribble, than a step back to the right off the left foot, and turning his shoulder back to hit the three.  It was one of the best scorers in the world taking the reins, putting his head down and saying, “that’s it, I’m scoring, there’s nothing you can do about it.”  When people look back at Kyrie’s career this is the moment they’ll remember.  Him outdueling the MVP and hitting the biggest shot of the finals as LeBron James stood in the corner to give him space.  It may just be a sidestep three pointer, but it swung the championship and the legacies of so many hall of fame careers.  Think about how we would view LeBron if he didn’t win this title.  Would there be a real Curry vs. LeBron debate?  What about Kyrie?  If he hadn’t hit this shot would fans and teams continue to give him second and third chances because the price of his shananigans are worth the chance at a locked in Kyrie.  This shot is not the flashiest or spiciest play of this list, but it might hold the most “what-ifs” as it hung in the air.

 

  1. Kawhi’s game winner against Philly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChT3ewZXTfM

This may be the greatest non-finals shot ever.  It gets a boost historically because of how it became the signature play of the team that would go on to win the title, but even if you look at Kawhi’s shot as an isolated play it’s still a pretty amazing maneuver.  With four seconds on the clock Kawhi catches the ball on the left side, dribbles all the way to the opposite baseline, gets doubled by the 7”2’ Embiid and the 6”10’ Simmons, fades away and shoots over the outstretched arm of Embiid.  I don’t know how Kawhi could even see the rim much less make the shot.  Then of course the four bounces.  Kawhi had time to crouch and watch the ball decide whether it wanted to go in like a golfer during a long putt. It’s the only game 7 buzzer beater ever, it completed one of the greatest individual scoring series’ ever and became the defining shot of a playoff run that crowed Kawhi as the best player in the world.  It is one of the few shots in the NBA history that made an opposing player cry.  It will probably be the defining shot of Kawhi’s career and is as of now the defining shot in Raptors history.  I remember watching this play happen in real time while sitting in my favourite living room chair.  I remember when the shot went up thinking “that’s a tough shot.”

Then after the first bounce: “well, we’re going to overtime.”

Second bounce: “Huh, the ball is still bouncing.”

Third bounce: “Wait a minute, this might go in!”

Fourth bounce: “This is gonna go in!”

Drop.  It was easily a top 3 moment of my life as a sports fan, and I know many of my fellow Canadians would say the same.

 

  1. Ray Allen’s shot against the Spurs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr6XsZVb-ZE

When you think about game winning shots, I believe it’s 30% about difficulty and 70% about stakes.  While this corner three may not be the most difficult shot on this list, it by far had the highest stakes.  The Heat were down in the series 3-2 and trailed the Spurs by three with less than a minute to go.  LeBron misses the three to tie, Chris Bosh gets the biggest offensive rebound of his life, he swings it to the corner as Allen is backpedaling for three.  He catches, shoots over his defender, and sinks it.  If this shot missed, the Heat would’ve blown the finals two years in a row.  If this shot had missed Tim Duncan would have six rings and LeBron may only have two.  If this shot had missed the season would have been over.  This is the biggest back-against-the-wall shot you’ll ever see, and he drained it.  It’s also a signature Ray Allen shot because of how he was able to backpaddle at top speed, stop, catch, and shoot all while keeping himself perfectly balanced.  This is the shot that saved the championship, and I would argue that it’s harder to make a game saver than a game winner. This was a vital shot, a difficult shot, and a historically important shot.  All this combined makes this shot the most important shot of in the roughly 3 million points scored over the past 10 years.

 

The Block

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zd62MxKXp8

There are only a handful of plays in basketball history that you can refer to with a single word.  The shot, the steal, the baby hook, the step over, and the block.  It was the defining play of the defining championship of maybe the greatest career in professional sports.  If we want to get really hippy dippy about it the block was a metaphor for that entire year.  The Warriors are running through the league on a fast break to the greatest season ever, and LeBron swooped in at the last moment and knocked it out of the sky.  Context and dreamy metaphors aside they play was ridiculous even without any background info.  When LeBron is trailing the break looking to do his signature chase down block it always reminds me of the shark from Jaws.  He’s trailing ominously but doesn’t go into a full sprint until he’s 30 feet from the rim.  I can just hear the theme music behind the play as he runs…

Duh-dun

Duh-dun

Duh-dun Duh-dun Duh-dun Duh-dun Duh-dun Duh-dun DUH-NWBAH!

He jumped with a grace and explosiveness that only the most elite athletes can pull off.  He extended both hands out, one defending the layup and one defending the reverse.  He also blocked it right at the last second.  I it had been a fraction lower or if LeBron had been a fraction slower it would have been a goaltend.  Instead LeBron proved his mastery again and the Warriors didn’t score for the rest of the game.  It happened in the same quarter as Kyrie’s game winner and this play eclipsed it entirely.  It’s the best play of LeBron’s career, and really it could just grab the top spot on this list for being that, but instead it becomes the defining play of the best 10 years basketball has ever had.  Here’s to another decade of success, we may not see another LeBron for a while but we’ll be sure to have a new set of pantheon plays to look back on in 2020.  See you then.

1/4 Season Rookie Report

Chicago Bulls v Indiana PacersWith most rookies logging roughly 20 games so far and in the process given us a solid picture of what kind of player they are as NBA freshman, we can now go back and see which of last years top college players have excelled and which have not.  I’m gonna try to avoid talking about players I’ve covered in other blog posts this season (with the exception of R.J. Barrett, who I love and will never stop talking about).  And yes, I am aware that the biggest cloud hanging over the league this season is the Zion injury, and yes I know all of my ROTY predictions here will be crushed when Zion returns and tears out Ja Morant’s soul Mortal Kombat style.  But for the sake of quality I’m setting all the Zion takes aside and keeping them in a file under my desk.  I promise an entire post devoted to Zion when he returns.  But until then!  Pelicans fans can kiss my ass because basketball Jesus is yet to log NBA minutes, so for the sake of the ROTY race he hasn’t even started running.  Here are some of the best, brightest, and most fun rookies so far this 2019-2020 NBA season.

 

Ja Morant

With Zion Williamson out and R.J. Barrett in the fourth ring of hell (New York), Ja Morant looks like the early favourite to win rookie of the year.  And as big a Barrett fan as I am, I can’t argue with Ja’s play thus far.  He attacks the rim with a ferocity and reckless abandon that recalls the likes of a prime Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, his long range shooting has been good at a low volume, but most importantly it seems like Memphis placing the ball in Ja’s hands has translated to a winning style of basketball.  Granted the Grizzlies are still not a good team, their 8-16 record thus far is not really a cause for celebration.  But on a team losing as much as the Grizzlies have been Morant’s box plus minus of -0.7 is a real bright spot for his long-term success with the team.  For some context the Grizzlies are currently 25th in the league in point differential with a sorry -7.0 loosing average, but if we just look at the minutes with Morant on the floor the Grizzlies jump to 19th in the league.  This is a fancy way of saying that Morant has been the best rookie in the league this year, and to be honest it’s not even really that close.  Things are sure to get more interesting when Zion comes back.  If he can play at the level, we saw in preseason then we may very well have a 2017 Brogdon/Embiid style ROTY race on our hands.  But with this start for Morant, Zion would have to pull off something pretty special to steal the award away.

 

Kendrick Nunn

Despite that at age 24 we may already be seeing the prime of his career, Kendrick Nunn has been the second option or the fourth best team in the league this year.  Averaging 16 ppg on a solid 45% clip, Nunn has been a huge part of the winning culture for a Miami Heat team that has overachieved at every turn so far.  Whether it’s free agency, the draft, or team development, the Heat have exceeded all expectations and are currently sitting pretty as second seed in the East.  A lot has gone right for Miami; Jimmy Butler playing as well as he has, drafting steals like Tyler Herro (we’ll get to him in a second) and Duncan Robinson.  But even with all of that, the biggest and brightest surprise for Miami has been Kendrick Nunn.  Spending his first professional year with the Warriors G-League affiliate in Santa Cruz, Nunn has been putting up these kinds of numbers since his days in college, but it has been his ability to translate his game as he jumps from level to level that is so abnormal.  And it’s not like he’s a specialty player with just one elite skill to translate.  We’ve seen G-League players, deadeye shooters in particular, come into the league and succeed in limited roles as cogs in a team’s offence.  But in contrast Nunn has become the face of the Miami offence, if not when Jimmy Butler is on the floor then definitely when he’s off it.  It’ll be interesting to see how the Heat front office will manage this team over the next couple years.  With Butler being their sole max contract and many of the Heat’s best players under rookie deals, the Heat may be a sneaky strong free agent destination over the next few off seasons.  Giannis anyone?

 

R.J. Barrett

It really is kind of impressive how bad the Knicks management seems to be at times.  Managing to ruin a team of talented young players has become the norm in New York as of late, but it looks like they’ve hit a new low with how they’re running the Knicks this year.  Why?  Let’s look back and see.  Rather than play their 20-year-old lottery forward Kevin Knox, the Knicks throw touches and money at Julius Randle and Marcus Morris, who have been dominating the ball all year and are currently leading the team in touches, minutes, and FG attempts despite being older and less valuable to a rebuilding team like New York.  If the Knick’s goal this season was to give Randle and Morris a ton of empty scoring stats then mission accomplished.  The guard situation?  Dennis Smith still thinks he’s the best guy on the floor at all times, Frank Ntilikina is still a zero on offence, and Alonzo Trier can barely see the floor because he’s stuck behind guys like Damyean Dotson in the rotation.  They have so many wings and forwards they’ve been running Randle at the point guard for stretches.  And I haven’t even gotten to Barrett yet!  While I’m sure Knicks fans are still sad they didn’t get Zion, lets lean into the holiday spirit and be thankful for what we do have.  R.J. Barrett is a 19-year-old point forward with an NBA ready body and athleticism.  He is a great playmaker in the half court and on the fastbreak, he can play both on and off ball on three levels and can create his own shot and shots for others in iso situations.  He has a great handle for his size, has improved his jump shooting to a positional standard, has shown flashes of great defensive potential with his switchability, effort on the glass, and average of 1.3 steals a game.  I just described an NBA GM’s wet dream.  How does one best compliment a player like that?  Surround him with shooters so he has space to attack the rim, give him a veteran point guard who can be a cooler on the floor and get the young guys easy looks within the flow of the game, and give him energy forwards who can cut off ball and run the fastbreak with him.  If the Knicks had done all of that the rookie of the year race may be a lot more competitive.  Instead they’ve surrounded Barrett with slower, ball dominant, drive first forwards, who can’t shoot or play off ball.  Of course Barrett’s FG% is bad!  The best aspect of his game is his ability to slash to the rim, but thanks to the Knicks lack of spacing and movement on offence he’s had to go up against two or three help defenders every time he beats his man.  If I were the Knicks front office, I would try to trade Randle and Smith Jr.  Try to get an adult to run the point for your team, and get an unselfish, off-ball forward to replace Randle in the frontcourt.  I pray that the Knicks figure out how to properly use R.J. before the end of this season or else New York may have ruined the best rookie they’ve had since Porzingis.

 

Coby White

Ever since his three-point explosion in November, Coby White has not shied away from his shots with the Chicago Bulls.  Though maybe another score first guard isn’t what that team really needs right now, the Bulls have so far been playing White off the bench in a sparkplug scorer role when Lavine sits.  Young and talented, White has had the typical ups and downs rookie point guards experience early in their careers.  Namely shooting too much, mistakes on D, and moving around the court like their brains aren’t as fast as the rest of their bodies.  Coby will have to learn to play steady and read the room more on offense.  I’d like to see some more pick and roll run with White and Carter Jr.  Both of whom are a little trapped right now in the Bull’s rotation behind players with similar styles.  But both are talented enough to warrant their own plays called for them.  With the only thing between White and starting being Kris Dunn, expect to see a new point guard rise in Chicago in the coming months.  Whether or not White’s individual potential will translate into team success only time will tell, but with another strong draft pick in White under their belts the Bulls front office is another step closer to creating winning basketball in Chicago.

 

Rui Hachimura

Hachimura has been everything the Wizards could have hoped for this season.  With him they’ve gone from being a terrible team to just a bad team.  And though they’re a long way from being competitive, basketball in Washington has a stronger pulse than it did last year.  Though his decision making has been questionable at times, his elite length and athleticism combined with his strong shooting stroke at the power forward position is the offensive package all teams look for in young forwards.  Hachimura has helped the Wizards to one of the best offenses in the league, while likewise playing his part to creating one of its worst defenses.  But as the Wizards begin to shift to a youth identity, it’s positive to see that they found value in the team’s first top 10 pick since Otto Porter in 2013.  Though still a long way away from contention, the return of John Wall may help to further Hachimura’s already strong scoring for the Wizards and propel the Wizards from a bad team to a mediocre one.

 

Tyler Herro

This might be weird coming from a Canadian but I love players with a little bit of an F-you attitude.  Tyler Herro thus far this season has been defying the stereotype around little white shooting guards by coming into the NBA swinging and is currently playing with a swagger and confidence that whether warranted or not, has helped him carve out an immediate place for himself in this league.  There is no shot that he doesn’t like, and likewise there is no shot that he doesn’t have a chance at making.  On a team led by Jimmy Butler those without a certain degree of toughness will either strike big or strike out, and if Herro has lasted this long in Miami than we can safely say he has the cojones to run with a leader like Butler.  Whether he can evolve to be anything more than a shoot first guard is still in question, but at the very least I can see him being a great sixth man for a team down the line.  That said there is still some Louis Williams potential here, I bet you Herro drops 40 points before his 21st birthday.

 

Terence Davis

Every year it seems there’s always one guy who slips through the cracks.  An undrafted rookie that comes in with a chip on his shoulder and makes the rest of the league pay for doubting him.  So far this season that player has been Terence Davis.  An athletic combo guard from Ol’ Miss, Davis has been a reliable backup guard for the Raptors and has fought his way into early all-rookie consideration.  Stepping into a larger role during the team’s latest stretch without Kyle Lowry, Davis played with a fearlessness of someone beyond his years.  When given the opportunity Davis has showed strong offensive potential.  He doesn’t hesitate to pull from three, he attacks the rim with the energy of a 20-year-old but with the control of a 30-year-old, and has shown a trust in himself that you don’t often see from an undrafted rookie.  Though you won’t see Davis put up huge numbers this year he will surely be a vital cog in the winning machine in Toronto.  A strong build and standing at 6’4”, Davis will benefit the Raptors the most on the defensive end, where his size and athleticism will be used when guarding against teams with larger backcourts.  The Raptors have struggled in the past against the likes of Houston and Oklahoma City because of the size advantage they give up by starting Fred VanVleet and Lowry together.  But with Davis now the Raptors have another body to throw at the league’s top perimeter talent.  While still playing at an elite level, Kyle Lowry is now moving into the twilight of his career.  Now transitioning into his mid 30s, it may be time for the Raptors to start thinking about life after their all-star point guard.  But with the offensive emergence of Fred VanVleet and now the discovery of Terence Davis, Toronto may have found their backcourt of the future.

 

Matisse Thybulle

Philly has sure done its best to convince us about Matisse Thybulle.  An athletic, defensive minded wing, Thybulle was expected to preform early this year and fill some of the defensive hole left by the departure of Jimmy Butler.  While that may seem like a tall order for a first-year player, Thybulle has found success in a limited role for the Sixers.  It’ll be really interesting to see how the next few years unfold for Thybulle.  With the Sixers trying to maximize their core of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Thybulle may find himself on the trade block if Philadelphia decides they’re not good enough to win big with their current roster.  And while Thybulle’s style of defensive wing is valuable, he hasn’t shown the star potential that would render him untouchable.  The 76rs may very well have the most interesting team situation in the league right now.  With two young all-stars and a smattering of other elite level players on the roster, one would expect to see them contending with the Bucks rather than with the Pacers and Raptors.  Thybulle’s future all depends on the direction the front office wants to go.  If they believe they’re good enough to contend as it is Thybulle could grow into a strong role player for one of the better teams in the East.  If not, then we may see the Sixers shop an asset like Thybulle to improve their immediate title chances.

 

Jaxson Hayes

It looks like the Pelicans have finally decided to play their lottery big man more than ten minutes a game.  One of the younger rookies in his class, Jaxson Hayes is a raw, athletic, mobile centre, standing comfortably 7 feet with a 7’4” wingspan.  He has enough explosiveness and dunk-on-you potential to give Zion a run for his money, but still has a long way to go before he becomes anything more than a giant flying teenager.  Now besides his awesome size and verticality, Hayes doesn’t have a lot to offer a team yet skill wise.  But a teenage big man with the body of Hayes is a prize too juicy to ignore.  If the Pelicans develop him right, maybe add some finesse to his game, maybe run some pick and roll with him and Lonzo and Ingram, maybe a jump shot here and there.  If they can do that, then the training staff will be giving New Orleans’ point guards the ultimate lob target and modern rim protector to play with for the next half decade.  Keep an eye on Hayes, if nothing else he’ll give us some great highlights.

Can we just copy and paste last year’s award winners?

73e62a7e-f112-453b-858c-29c527c1bd94-2019-06-24_Giannis

With most teams approaching 20 games played this year, we’re now finally able to shake off the “it’s too early to say” cloud that hung over our heads since opening night.  We have a solid sample size now, and while nothing we’ve seen so far is guaranteed to continue through the remainder of the season, we have too much information now to ignore it entirely.  The Suns don’t suck, the Spurs do, and Ja Morant is really good (I admit it).  We now can start to create informed opinions for a change.

With all that, that fact that we may have FIVE of last year’s NBA award winners threatening to repeat the same awards is both silly and plausible.  Just as a refresher; Giannis won MVP, Gobert won DOTY, Siakam won MIP, Louis Williams won sixth man, Kawhi won finals MVP, Luka won ROTY, and Mike Conley won the sportsmanship award (which is somehow manages to be the dumbest award here and the most feel-good.  Seriously, check out the list of players who’ve won the sportsmanship award, I want to give 99% percent of those guys a big hug.).  Anyway, go back and look at the list of last year’s winners.  With the exception of rookie of the year the rest of those guys are not only in contention to repeat, they’re all leading their respective races!  It may just be a one-time fluke, but it’s very funny and very possible.  I know it’s still early, but with a quarter of the season in the books the award campaigns these guys are putting together can’t go unnoticed.

 

Most Valuable Player:  Giannis Antetokounmpo

The defending MVP is currently averaging a monstrous 31 points, 6 assists, 14 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.5 steals, while shooting 56% from the field and carrying his team to the top seed in the East.  For some historical context, Giannis is basically duplicating Shaq’s best season except he’s averaging more assists.  The numbers are historic, the winning is constant, and the eye test on Giannis is the best show in the league.  It’s like a middle school game where there’s the one kid who’s hit puberty and he’s just a level above everyone else athletically.  That’s what Giannis is except with professional NBA players.  He makes them look like prepubescent boys.  As far as his MVP campaign goes Giannis is basically repeating what he did last year but maybe a shade better.  Giannis will be Giannis, he’s unstoppable and all the rest blah blah blah but thus far what has really pushed his MVP argument is that he’s winning on a worse team.  With Middleton out for the past couple weeks and loosing Brogdon in free agency, you would expect the Bucks to pick up a couple more losses this season.  Whether this is a slight on Middleton or not is up to you, but the Bucks have kicking their usual ass with Giannis as their lone blue chipper.

Is there anything that could stop Giannis from winning his second MVP?  Maybe if Harden averages 40 points a game, a feat which he is dangerously close to.  But even then, I don’t think Harden has the narrative or the charisma to sway MVP voters this season.  Harden’s numbers are both his greatest strength and greatest weakness in this regard.  He’s in the process of completing the greatest scoring season in 50 years, but if it’s all free throws and step back threes it’s a limited number in a popularity contest.  Really Giannis’s game is just way sexier than Harden’s, whether that’s fair or not is up to you.

The only other real threat to win MVP is LeBron.  If the Lakers finish with the best record in the West and LeBron puts together a monstrous second half of the season (getting his efficiency up, leading the league in assists, etc.).  But even then, it would take some kind of slip up on Giannis’s part to lose to that.  A few other dark-horse candidates are Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard.  But Luka is too young and too untested to win an MVP, and Kawhi doesn’t play enough games.  If he continues to produce as he has so far Giannis may already have this year’s MVP award wrapped up, and this may not be the last time we say that.

 

Defensive Player of the Year:  Rudy Gobert

In some ways Rudy Gobert was the safe pick for defensive player of the year last season.  He’s the best defensive big in the league, he averages over two blocks a game, and is on his way to his fifth consecutive double-double season.  This is what you want from a defensive player of the year.  In some ways I think Gobert will continue to win this award until someone takes it from him.  In a league built around offensive stars, the great defensive players of the game don’t get nearly the attention they deserve.  It’s hard to build a movement behind Marcus Smart and his scraggly beard (no hate though, I love Marcus Smart.)  I’d really like to see Jrue Holiday win the award this year, he’s averaging over two steals and nearly a block a game at the point guard position, but the Pelicans team defense is a black mark on his defensive resume.  Kawhi is always an option, but again he doesn’t play enough games.  Anthony Davis is a real threat.  If the Lakers finish with the best record in the West and LeBron isn’t the MVP, I can see the world wanting to reward the Lakers and Davis by acknowledging him here.  Him leading the league in blocks wouldn’t hurt his chances either.  My point is Rudy Gobert is the cop-out answer for every year’s DOTY award, and as much as I’d like this repeat thing to happen it’d be nice to recognize someone else’s work on D.

 

Rookie of the year: Luka Doncic

Luka can’t win twice.  It is against the rules.

 

Finals MVP:  Kawhi Leonard

If the Clippers win it all (currently the favourites) Kawhi will probably be the finals MVP.

 

Sixth man of the year:  Louis Williams

            As much as I love Montrezl Harrell it’s hard to see him closing out Lou Will for the sixth man of the year trophy.  There aren’t really a lot of other contenders for the award this year; Goran Dragic is a thought, so is Dennis Schroder, but neither have the stats or the spunk to win it over either of the Clippers.  What’s so interesting about this awards race is how much the two depend on each other for success.  The Williams/Harrell pick and roll is one of the deadlier plays in basketball right now, but that doesn’t really help if we’re trying to choose between the two of them.  I think the shrinking of the scoring gap between Harrell and Williams will really work in Harrell’s favour, but Lou’s 22 ppg is still the prettiest stat in bench basketball.  Could Harrell average 18 a game without Williams?  Probably not.  Can Williams play a lick of defense?  Probably not.  This will be one of the tighter award races this year, just you wait.

 

Most Improved player:  Pascal Siakam

            This may be the funkiest award race this year.  Pascal was the much-deserved MIP last year, jumping from 7 to 16 ppg and becoming a legit second option on a title team.  The big question for the Raptors entering this season was how much Pascal could fill the void left by Kawhi Leonard.  Could he be the best player on a winning team?  Now I was a big Pascal believer entering this season, but even Siakam’s most loyal supporters could not have expected this.  Thus far this season Pascal Siakam is averaging a cool 26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, a block, a steal, and shooting 47% from the field.  Keep in mind this is an even bigger scoring jump than he had last year.  But more than that, Pascal has become a truly complete player.  He can guard all five positions in a pinch, he can score at three levels, he can create his own shot face up or in the post, he can spot up from three or cut off-ball, he can the offence on the fastbreak or in the half court, he has joined a very short list of players without holes in their games.  DeRozan was never this good on both ends, never.  This jump from star to superstar should be rewarded and if Pascal continues to play as he has been.  Winning the award this year make Pascal the only two-time in history, and even after ignoring my own Raptors bias, that would be cool.

The only thing between Pascal and history is the slew of players taking a leap this year.  Just some names to throw out; Devonte Graham, Brandon Ingram, Malcolm Brogdon, Aron Baynes, and Andrew Wiggins.

Devonte Graham has taken a huge leap from last season, but there’s sort of an unspoken rule about giving the MIP to second year players.  Despite Graham’s huge step forward, I support holding off on giving players the MIP for their first couple years.  Aron Baynes is way better than anyone thought he’d be, but he’s still just a role player and I think the world wants something a little flashier for the NBA awards.  Andrew Wiggins has also taken a big leap with both his scoring and passing so far, but this has a lot to do with his role on the Wolves this year.  Also, I don’t think people really like Wiggins so…

The two other major contenders for this award are Ingram and Brogdon.  Both have taken huge all-around leaps both statistically and intangibly this year.  Brogdon has proven he can be the primary guard on a winning team, and Ingram has been leading the Pelicans in scoring with a strong 25 ppg.  Both of them are viable candidates for the award, both deserve it, both give Pascal a serious run for his money.  HOWEVER! There are two reasons why Pascal will win it over them, I will share this reason with you now.  Firstly, the Raptors are a really good team.  The Pacers are a solid B+ in the East a B overall.  The Pelicans are a fat F in whatever context.  This hurts Ingram and Brogdon not because it diminishes their improvements but because it tucks them into the bottom half of the league, a place that’s hard to win awards from fair or otherwise.  But here’s the real reason Pascal will win.  Brogdon is currently the best guard on the Indiana Pacers, that will be true for another two weeks.  When Oladipo comes back the ball will be placed back in his hands and Brogdon’s numbers will dip.  This is not a slight on Brogdon, he has proven himself to be an all-star in the East and that cannot be ignored.  However, Pascal’s jump from complimentary star to a top ten player in the league is a much sexier story than Brogdon playing second fiddle to Oladipo in Indiana.  This is mirrored in New Orleans with Ingram as Brogdon and Zion as Oladipo.  Ingram is best displayed with the ball in his hands, and even though Zion has proven himself to be an elite off-ball player, having another star on the floor won’t help Ingram’s playstyle.  I’m not saying Ingram and Brogdon are any less valuable because they’re not the best players on their team, but when it comes to winning awards like this how you fall in the pecking order matters, and so do wins.