30 thoughts for 30 picks

  1. Timberwolves:  Anthony Edwards

            This is probably the right pick for them.  They couldn’t take Wiseman or LaMelo Ball because they have KAT and D’Angelo Russell playing the same positions, and there isn’t really anyone else who fits the T-Wolves’ bill like Edwards.  I’ve never liked guys who have an 85-15% athleticism to skill ratio, but the potential is definitely there.

2. Warriors:  James Wiseman

            I’m glad Golden State didn’t try to get too fancy with this pick.  With Klay Thompson injured again it makes sense for the Warriors to take a swing on a prospect with the upside of Wiseman.  He’s raw and inexperienced, but with Curry feeding him in the Warriors’ system I expect Wiseman to have a really good rookie year.  Athletic monster.  Could easily be the best player in the draft.

3. Hornets:  LaMelo Ball

            Again, not a huge fan.  His ego and his dad are immediate red flags, but for a team like Charlotte who’s just looking for an offensive identity LaMelo is the perfect pick.  Playing for the Hornets, he’ll put up big numbers as the whole offence flows through him Harden style, except they will lose over and over and over again.  The Hornets are one of the few teams who have my blessing to take LaMelo Ball

4. Bulls:  Patrick Williams

            Ummm, ok.  I know Chicago is drafting for the future and not the present but Patrick Williams is a stretch, especially with guys like Okoro and Avdija on the board.  The positives?  Williams is the 2nd youngest player in the draft with elite size, athleticism, and the makings of 3-point range.  The negatives?  He came off the bench his freshman year at Florida State and averaged 9 points.  Patrick Williams is the Marvin Williams of this draft.

5. Cavaliers:  Isaac Okoro

            Good pick.  Solid player.  Good defender.  Good roll player.  This was a no risk low reward pick by Cleveland.  I don’t know where this selection takes the team but it’s not an embarrassing move.  Don’t know why they didn’t take Avjida here.

6. Hawks:  Onyeka Okongwu

            Might be a little redundant next to Clint Capela, but Okongwu’s gonna create a really nice defence/offence frontcourt with John Collins.  This might be more of a system pick by Atlanta than someone with unlimited potential, but with Trae Young as the conductor of the team, a nice rim runner/rim protector is a good choice at pick 6.

7. Pistons:  Killian Hayes

            Perfect.  This is the right pick.  The Pistons need a creator, someone with the potential to be the lead guard on a playoffs team.  I would’ve accepted Tyrese Haliburton here too, but Hayes has a little more scoring upside which works for Detroit.  Expect to see Derrick Rose being shopped around now.

8. Knicks:  Obi Toppin

            NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO NO NO!

            Just when I thought the Knicks were getting smart for a change, they go and do this?  I was praying they take Tyrese Haliburton here.  An outstanding playmaker with 3-point range to set up R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson while being able to move around off the ball.  Instead, the Knicks take yet another power forward who can’t shoot from 3, can’t play defence, and can’t make his teammates better.  This just means another year of my man R.J. Barrett having to slog through 3 help defenders because everyone on his team plays like it’s the freaking 70s.  

I’m like Lewis Black level upset about this.

9. Wizards:  Deni Avdija

            About time!  Deni fell far enough and this is a great pick for Washington.  He was my favourite player in this draft, and he goes to an organization that despite sucking last year has the exoskeleton of a playoff team.  Playing with all-stars Wall and Beal will help him adjust to the league and focus on his off-ball play and shooting (something he’s shown flashes of but nothing consistent yet).  With this pick the Wizards just went from 12-8th seed range to the 10-6th seed range.

10. Suns:  Jalen Smith

            This is higher than I thought he’d go but this is a great pick by the Suns.  Just another modern NBA player for Chris Paul to feed.  Smith’s greatest strength is his ability to space the floor at the 4 or the 5 position, so while there were probably more talented players left on the board there wasn’t anyone bringing Smith’s skillset to the table.

11. Spurs:  Devin Vassell

            Spursiest pick ever here.  Another low-risk low reward, 3-and-D type who won’t be an all-star but won’t be a bust either.  I thought the Spurs might want to gamble on someone who could make a splash for them but Vassell was right if they didn’t want to risk wasting a pick.  

12. Kings:  Tyrese Haliburton

            I don’t know how I feel about this.  Haliburton was my favourite guard in the whole thing and while I think this was a great move by the Kings, I kinda bummed that we won’t get to see Haliburton with the ball in his hands.  I think that backing up De’Aaron Fox (who I like) or playing the two-guard is a waist of his passing talents.  Still, kudos to the Kings for taking the best guy available. 

13. Pelicans:  Kira Lewis Jr.

            Smart to get another guard after shopping Jrue Holiday.  Young, with a lot of tools and work to do.  Lewis Jr. should be a good fit next to a point forward like Ingram, or when Lonzo goes cold scoring.

14. Celtics:  Aaron Nesmith

            Good size and experience, Aaron Nesmith was the most efficient shooter in college hoops last season with an insane 52% clip from deep.  This isn’t a bad pick by Boston, but I’m surprised they didn’t pick up Cole Anthony (who had already fallen) to play backup to Kemba Walker, or a rim protector to round out their frontcourt.

15. Magic:  Cole Anthony

            Weird fit, but this is undoubtedly the best guy available here.  He’ll probably take some minutes away from Markelle Fultz but maybe that’s a good thing?  Anthony had an underwhelming season at North Carolina but it was mostly due to his injuries and weak supporting cast.  I like his style, he’s a really good guy and has a little VanVleet in his game.  Cool hair too.

16. Trail Blazars (traded to the Pistons):  Isaiah Stewart

            Detroit gets a player with similar strengths to Andre Drummond.  A sort of bruising, inside center.  Stewart is big at 250 lbs but is a bit more mobile in the open floor at 6’9.  Not a bad trade for a team looking to rebuild.  The Pistons sort of need everything though, so…

17. Timberwolves (traded to the Thunder):  Aleksej Pokusevski

            Damn!  I wanted him on my Raptors.  I love the Timberwolves taking him here and I love the Thunder trading for him.  Poku is the weirdest prospect in the draft with maybe the highest ceiling and lowest floor.  Playing for a young rebuilding team like the Thunder is great though because we’ll be able to see what he is right away.  I’m excited to watch him play alongside SGA and the rest, hell I’m just excited to see him on the floor.

18. Mavericks:  Josh Green

            An ideal athlete at 6’6, Green will never be a star in this league but what he will do is perfectly compliment Luka Doncic.  The Mavs were defensively bankrupt on the perimeter in these last playoffs, matching up Seth Curry on Kawhi straight up.  With Green, Dallas gets a multi-positional wing defender who thrives without the ball in his hands.

19. Nets:  Saddiq Bey (now on the Pistons)

            Another solid defensive wing.  Another guy who won’t be a star.  Another guy who won’t flame out.  Cool.

20. Heat:  Precious Achiuwa

            This is the kind of player that lucked out because he was drafted by the team he was.  A bruising, mobile athlete, Achuiwa shows a lot of the same physical gifts that we love in Bam Adebayo.  On a lesser team he might never develop a real jump shot, never have his very particular strengths harnessed and emphasized.  He’ll get all the goods in Miami.

21. 76ers:  Tyrese Maxey

            Love this pick for them.  Tyrese Maxey has that Marcus Smart/Kyle Lowry/Patrick Beverly pit-bull energy on D.  The Sixers were an incredible defensive team last year at almost every position, the only thing they were lacking was a stopper at point.  Maxey will slide in perfectly there.  For a team restructuring their identity, having one more dog in the lockeroom can only be a positive.

22. Nuggets:  Zeke Nnaji

            Another talented pick, Nnaji’s energy on the boards and soft hands inside make him a dangerous double double man, but my concern is the fit with Denver.  His shortcomings lie on the defensive end, and I thought that if the Nuggets wanted to target a big then they would go for a rim protector (something Jokic is not).  What I see here is Mason Plumlee insurance.  If Plumlee walks in free agency then the Nuggets will be able to slide Nnaji in the backup 5 spot.

23. Knicks:  Leandro Bolmaro (traded to the Timberwolves)

            Looks like Manu, plays like Manu, is he Manu?  No, but he does have the same twitchy, unselfish, euro-style Manu Ginobili brought to the table.  Just another high ceiling guy for a Timberwolves team swinging for the fences.

24. Bucks:  R.J. Hampton (traded to the Nuggets)

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 26: RJ Hampton of the Breakers makes a lay-up during the round four NBL match between Melbourne United and the New Zealand Breakers at Melbourne Arena on October 26, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)

            Really good pick up here.  I’m surprised Hampton fell this far, and while his stats in New Zealand aren’t eyepopping, you have to consider the lesser role he had playing for a competitive team in a top international league.  Hampton has the size to become a pest defending opposing lead guards, which will take the pressure off Jamal Murray to defend the point guard loaded Western conference.

25. Thunder:  Immanuel Quickley (traded to the Knicks)

            At least the Knicks have one guy who can shoot.

26. Celtics:  Payton Pritchard

            Celtics get a smart, reliable guard here.  Might not see time in the rotation but should be a good piece in case the lead backcourt has injury trouble.  I’m surprised they didn’t take Tyrell Terry here.

27. Jazz:  Udoka Azubuike

            Gobert insurance as a defensive force in the middle, Azubuike should work well with Mike Conley in the pick and roll with his blistering screens and rim running.

28. Lakers:  Jaden McDaniels (traded to the Thunder)

            Long, rangy stretch 4.  Just another young peace for the Thunder.  McDaniels was highly regarded out of high school and has higher upside than most at this point in the draft.

29. Raptors:  Malachi Flynn

            In researching Malachi Flynn, I was really impressed by his passing and shooting stroke ( a little John Stockton in him).  He’s a really solid all-around point guard.  Passes, shoots 3s, defends really well (positionally), and is a solid ball handler.  The only issue is that he probably won’t break the rotation that much.  He’s too small to play the 2 guard, and between Lowry and VanVleet there isn’t much undersized point guard time to go around.  I understand taking a sound fundamental guy like this as insurance for VanVleet in free agency, but I wish the Raps took a swing on a more hit or miss guy in the front court.  They need that now without Gasol.

30. Celtics:  Desmond Bane (traded to the Grizzlies)

            A savvy, athletic, senior wing; Bane should fill the Grizzlies need for a backcourt defender.  He should be able to help their young core succeed immidiatley.  This a smart pick for a smart team.

Masai Ujiri’s plan for the 2022 NBA Title

Raptors fans, we haven’t felt like this in a while.  We were spared asking ourselves “what went wrong?” last year, because it didn’t.  We reached the mountain top.  Now however, we find ourselves back with the rest of the league.  Climbing.

            The key difference this offseason is that we have a clear plan.  This is the second of a three-year mission.  As soon as Kawhi left, Raptors’ President Masai Ujiri triggered ‘Operation: Freak’.  A massive free agency ploy based around financial Jerrymandering, nationalism, and espionage.

            Of course, I’m talking about the impending free agency of Giannis Antetokounmpo.  The Raptors have been highly speculated to be one of Giannis’s the top tier suitors, but that’s just it, it’s all speculation.  Still, every move between now and the summer of 2021 has to be made with acquiring Giannis in mind.  So as we go back to the drawing board, we have to think about our plan for tomorrow.

That said, we have some decisions to make.

            This is a sneaky big summer in terms of roster construction.  We have 5 notable free agents looking for a bag of cash, some of whom we should be chasing, and some not.  Here are the names; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and most notably Fred VanVleet. 

Who do we keep?

Fred VanVleet:

We all know how valuable Freddy is.  An elite point-scorer who can play on and off ball, space the floor as well and anyone, and annoy the hell out of any opposing offences with his average of 1.9 steals a game (3rd in the league).

            I’m sure we’re all thinking this but I’ll say it anyway; we have to keep VanVleet.  This is the exact kind of point guard every team is looking for, for all the reasons we mentioned before but also because the swath of elite point guards the NBA had a few years ago has been quietly drying up.  He’s entering his prime, and I know we just watched Kyle Lowry put together the best individual playoff run of his career but the man is still 34.  He’ll be 36 by the end of ‘Operation: Freak’ and I’d rather invest in a 26-year-old than a 34-year-old long-term.  

            Fred VanVleet has become one the top guys of this year’s, albeit weak, free agency class, which means that we’ll have to put together a pretty serious package to keep him.  In my opinion, Freddy-V will be making between $18-25 million annually for the next few years.  I know it looks like a lot, but this is why we have money right?  Who are we saving space for if not guys like VanVleet?

Serge Ibaka:

While the stakes and potential salary isn’t as a high as it is with Fred VanVleet, our intentions around Serge are more nuanced.  

            He just put together the best statistical year of his career, he’s already making $23 million a year and he’s going to want a contract resembling that.  So can we afford him, and Siakam, and VanVleet, AND Lowry, AND still go after Giannis?  Probably not.  But the way we keep him in-house while still having our options open in 2021 is to sign him to a 1-year deal.  We’re not chasing anyone bigger than Fred this offseason, but we still want to be competitive short-term.  So let’s give Serge as big a contract as we can this season so that when we’re trying to make it all work with Giannis and Lowry next year maybe Serge will be willing to take a pay-cut.  If not, Giannis will take a lot of his minutes anyway.

Who do we cut?

            Here.  I’m about to get Marlo from The Wire level ruthless for a minute.  We gotta let Chris Boucher, Rondae Holis-Jefferson, and Marc Gasol walk.  

            Why?  

  1. Boucher is fun and funky and dunks a lot, and that looks awesome until you realize that he’ll be 28 next season and that his unpolished game doesn’t spell potential, it just means he’s unpolished.  
  2. I’ve always loved Rondae’s effort and defensive versatility but call me when he can make a jumper.  Or a free-throw.  Or a layup.
  3. Gasol breaks my heart because I have a soft spot for any chubby, unselfish, Spanish dude, who can win Defensive Player of the Year with a 18-inch vertical leap.  Still, we gotta let him go.  We can’t risk paying him any more than the minimum, and to be frank, he’s not good enough anymore to warrant big money.  Gasol was a great player but he’s gotten old, and it’s time to admit it.  With him gone, we’ll also be able to officially offer Serge the starting 5 job, something he’s talked about wanting for a while now.  I wish Marc all the best in Spain, he’s earned a mojito.

            Good?  Good.

Let me lay the whole thing down brick by brick so you can see what I’m talking about

2020-21:  

  • We basically have $78 million wrapped up for next season in Siakam, Lowry, OG, Powell, Terence Davis, Stanley Johnson, and Matt Thomas.  
  • Serge, Rondae, Gasol, Boucher, and VanVleet are unrestricted free agents.
  • We let Boucher, Rondae, and Gasol walk.  That leaves us with roughly $30 million in cap room ($50 million hard cap).
  • We offer Fred VanVleet a long-term deal that’s $18-25 million annually.
  • That leaves us with $5-12 million to offer Serge.  We can free up another $3 million if we dump Stanley Johnson (pleeeeeeeease!)
  • Remember, we have our pick!  So we either draft a wing (Tyler Bey) or big (Jalen Smith) to back up OG or Serge.
  • We sign either a scoring wing (Deandre Bembry, Rodney Hood, etc.) or a rebounding big (Tristan Thompson, Kyle O’Quinn, etc.) depending on who we draft.
  • We really commit to Terence Davis and Matt Thomas as our backup guards and stagger them with Lowry and VanVleet.
  • We lock and load.  We’re a strong playoff team, but not title contenders (yet).

2021-22:

  • Lowry’s a free agent, Powell’s a restricted free agent, ideally Serge is a free agent.
  • We have basically $50 million on the books for the 2021-22 season.  Just Pascal, Freddy, and Matt Thomas (add $11 million if Powell picks up his player option).
  • That leaves us with $45-55 million in salary cap to throw at Giannis, OG, and a 36-year-old Lowry.  With another $20 million in wiggle room.
  • Give $35 million to Giannis and split the rest between Lowry and OG (around $13 million each give or take).  We may have to pay the luxury tax, but who cares it’s not my money.
  • We’ll have to let Serge walk, but it’s ok, we’re giving a lot his minutes to Giannis anyway. 
  • We probably won’t be able to keep Terence Davis if Powell picks up his player option, but unless Davis becomes better than Lowry or OG then that’s what’s going to have to happen.

            If operation “Freak” is accomplished to full capacity, then for the 2021-2022 season the Raptors would have a starting five of:  

G) Lowry

G) VanVleet

F) Anunoby

F) Siakam

C) Giannis

with a bench of

point guard X, 

Matt Thomas, 

either Powell or Davis, 

draft pick X, 

and a big man off the scrap heap.  

I need a shower.

            I get that it’s a lot of speculation.  A lot can change.  A lot can happen.  Giannis might re-sign with the Bucks, Freddy might leave the Raptors, the city of Toronto could be completely desecrated by a hostile alien invasion.  There’s a lot up in the air.  But this is Masai Ujiri’s vision for the future, and if it works, we’ll be champions again in less than two years.

What does the 2020 title mean?

            With this exceptional NBA season finally coming to a close, it’s made me wonder how best to write about it.  Better and more informed writers than myself can report and question and debate this whole thing, but what can I do?  I can speak as a fan with a little more interest information than the rest of you. 

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What does this mean for the NBA?

            Some people have argued that due to the exceptional circumstances of an extended season and the NBA bubble, this Lakers title should have an asterisk next to it in the annals of history.  Some have argued that because the tensions of the bubble essentially broke the L.A. Clippers (NBA title favourites) it caused the path to the championship to be easier for the Lakers.  While others have argued that because of the wear and tear from their own bubble experience, the Lakers’ championship should be held in even higher regard than a ‘classic’ NBA title.

            I think these are both dead wrong.  The whole point of this bubble was to finish the NBA season.  Not to create something like it, not to try and weasel out some cash my upholding their TV contracts, this bubble was created to finish the 2020 NBA season.  If we start trying to add footnotes to it, whatever stance you have, you’re delegitimizing everything the league accomplished.  When we look back at these playoffs ten years from now, we’ll remember the exceptional circumstances, but if we try and make the argument that this title was any less or any more than titles prior, then the bubble didn’t truly work.  A championship is a championship is a championship, no matter the circumstances.

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What does this mean for the Heat? 

            What this Finals run tells the Heat is that they’re capable of beating anyone.  They’re tough, they’re young, and they’re only going to get better.  Bam Adebayo is a 23-year-old all-star, Tyler Herro is a 20-year-old rookie who won his team playoff games, Duncan Robinson is a rookie (granted, an old one), Kendrick Nunn is an all-rookie, they have a strong supporting group, and a top end star in Jimmy Butler.

            The Heat’s core is only gonna go from great to exceptional, but the real X-factor here is one Giannis Antetokounmpo.  The frontrunning teams in the Giannis sweepstakes are the Raptors, Warriors, Bucks, Mavericks, and Heat.  Keeping cap room open to go after Giannis will affect how the Heat try and re-sign Goran Dragic, but with this playoff run in the bag the Heat suddenly vault from a real-estate destination to a basketball destination as well.

            Miami has overachieved this year, that not only buys them confidence in themselves but credibility across the league.  I’m very interested to see how they follow this up next season and how their young core will continue to grow.

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What does this mean for Jimmy Butler?

            I’m not sure if he’ll ever reach these heights again.  He’s 31, he’s never been one of the seven best guys in the league, he doesn’t really have that one exceptional skill to carry him past his prime.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Jimmy Butler never makes the Finals again.

            I don’t know if you can tell but I’ve never been a huge fan of Jimmy.  His whole winner/tough guy thing seemed blown out of proportion when he was demanding to lead his teams, but then leading them nowhere.  I obviously remember rooting against him in the famous Philly-Toronto series in 2019, but even then, I was more scared of Embiid and Simmons.  To me, Jimmy Butler always seemed like a tough hang.  He’s a guy who thinks he’s as good as the LeBrons and Kawhis, and he just isn’t.  He will give those top tier stars a good fight, but in the end he’ll lose.  Every time.

            That said, this Finals run validates a lot of what Butler’s been preaching all these years.  He was screaming and screaming at us that he’s good enough to be the best player on a Finals team and now he’s proved himself right.  He was incredible in the series with the Lakers, no question.

            Now, granted he still lost.  He went toe to toe with LeBron and lost, but that’s ok.  So what you’re not LeBron James?  Nobody is.  The underlying point is this; after game five I remember turning off the TV and thinking to myself ‘damn, Jimmy Butler is a Hall of Famer’.

            That’s what these Finals mean to Jimmy Butler.  It’s the difference between a Hall of Fame career and not, and that’s pretty F-ing big.

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What does this mean for the Lakers?

            For the Lakers, this gives them a shot at the title every year until LeBron retires.  No matter who you put around him and Anthony Davis as a supporting cast, those to stars shine so bright you’re always gonna be in the mix.

            The league will probably become more competitive next year.  The Nets will presumably become title contenders with the return of Kevin Durant, the Clippers still have Kawhi and Paul George, the Warriors get their core back, the Nuggets are getting better, Giannis is still Giannis, it’s gonna be good.  The difference is now that the Lakers are on top they’ll be able to attract roll guys who’re ring chasing.

            This year’s free agency class is pretty weak, but it has a bunch of veterans who I don’t think would mind living in L.A. and winning every night.  I expect the 2021 Lakers will actually be stronger than the 2020 Lakers.  Imagine giving Kyle Kuzma’s spot to Danilo Gallinari, or giving the Javale McGee minutes to Serge Ibaka?  Scary to think about this team getting even more dangerous.

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What does this mean for LeBron?

            When he upset the Warriors in 2016, I thought he became the 2nd greatest player of all time.  Over the next three years he cemented his place at number two, highlighted by highlights, crazy stats, and two Finals appearances in in 2017 and 2018.  The former of which he would have won if they weren’t playing against the greatest NBA team ever in the ’17 Warriors, and the latter of which was with a horrendous Cavs team made up of nobodies and a past-his-prime Kevin Love.  The fact that LeBron was able to take that ’18 Cavs team that far proves that he’s the surest Finals appearance ever.  What I mean is if you have a prime LeBron on your team, nine times outta ten you’re making the Finals.  He could take the Garbage Pail Kids there.

            This year, LeBron won his 4th title and his 4th Finals MVP.  Only Jordan has more.  Here’s a quick list (note that you don’t see Bill Russell because the award was founded in 1969):

Michael Jordan:  6x Champion, 6x Finals MVP

LeBron James:  4x Champion, 4x Finals MVP

Magic Johnson:  5x Champion, 3x Finals MVP

Shaquille O’Neal:  4x Champion, 3x Finals MVP

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:  6x Champion, 2x Finals MVP

Tim Duncan:  5x Champion, 3x Finals MVP

Kobe Bryant:  5x Champion, 2x finals MVP

Larry Bird:  3x Champion, 2x Finals MVP (should be 3)

Kevin Durant:  2x Champion, 2x finals MVP (should be 1.  Ooooooh oooooooh oooooh)

            I like the listing of Finals MVPs because it helps to contextualize a star’s roll on a title team.  There have been some exceptions (Andre Iguodala in 2015, Cedric Maxwell in 1981) but the Finals MVP usually goes to the best player on the winning team.  When comparing players of this caliber, rings become very influential in your argument, but with this trophy we get a way of comparing those rings.  Robert Horry has 7 championships but 0 finals MVPs.  Why?  Because he was a good roll player who happened to play on some exceptional teams.  But that’s obvious.  Where I think the nuance of the Finals MVP is shown is with guys who grew into stars on already contending teams.  The best example of this is Kobe Bryant; he won 5 titles and two Finals MVPs, does that subtract from the 3 rings he won playing behind Shaq?  No.  But it does let us know “Hey, this guy wasn’t the best man on the team for those titles.”  I think that matters.  That said, LeBron has been the unquestionable #1 guy on all of his Championship teams.  

            Before, I was firm in my belief that LeBron was comfortably the 2nd greatest player of all time, now I’m less confident.

Top Dunk by Franchise (East)

For those of you who missed last week, we’re going through every NBA franchise and ranking the best dunk from their history.  Last week was the West, this week is the East.  I rank these by use of my handy dandy Dunk-O-Metertm.  A scale of my own invention created for the sole purpose of determining the awesomeness of a dunk through the use of these five factors:

  1. Altitude of the dunk:  Pretty straight forward, the launch point of the dunk, how high the guy gets off the ground, how high his hand is over the rim, etc.
  2. Size in relation to dunkee:  How many inches is the dunker giving up.  A point guard dunking on a center gets a higher rating than a center dunking on the point guard.  Size matters guys.
  3. Amount of contact:  Literally just eyeballing how much the dunker is getting hit.  Is it wide open?  Is someone contesting the dunker, or is the defender hacking the shit out him?
  4. Showmanship:  Any spinning, cocking, reversing, windmilling, ally-ooping, or stylistic frills of any kind
  5. Any pertinent background information:  Was the dunk actually important to win the game?  Was their beef between the dunker and dunkee?  Was there any trash talking, savagery, or disrespect before or afterwards?  You get it.

I’ve also included some bonuses.

And-1:  +1

In the playoffs:  +1

Technical foul called:  +1

            Delighted to meet you, overjoyed, enraptured, entranced.  Are we ready? Yes?  Good.  In we go.

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Wizards:  John Wall behind the back lefty

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  This was a fine move.  The fake was probably better than the dunk.  The most impressive thing was the end-to-end speed of a prime John Wall.  It was mostly just a normal dunk though.

            I can feel I’m talking myself out of this pick right now.  I’m sorry, the Wizards just haven’t had a lot of great dunkers (or basketball players) in their history.  So…there you go.

 Altitude of the dunk:  7/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  6/10

Amount of contact:  6/10

Showmanship:  9/10

Any pertinent background information:  5/10

Dunk rating:  33

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Celtics:  Tatum on LeBron

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  I remember watching this when it happened, and it was interesting because of the back and forth narratives it created.  The Celtics were a young team overachieving in the playoffs with their star in Kyrie Irving sidelined with an injury. LeBron had manhandled the entire Celtics team, single-handedly beating them into submission over six games.  In game 7, LeBron looked like he was about close it all out when Jayson Tatum, a rookie at the time, drops this hammer on the King’s head.

            It wouldn’t be enough to finish off the Cavaliers, but this was the signature play of a playoffs that put Jayson Tatum on the map.  He had had a strong but pretty quiet rookie season up until that point (14pts, 5rb), but it was in this series, absent Kyrie, that he started to show the kind of two-way scorer he would become.

Altitude of the dunk:  7/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  7/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  6/10

Any pertinent background information:  8/10

In the playoffs:  +1

Dunk rating:  36

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Magic:  Shaq brings it all down

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  It’s really what it looks like.  Shaq went to the rim with more power than any player in NBA history and the result is him snapping the metal stanchion in half like a carrot.  The league never anticipated a man of his size and speed terrorizing their equipment the way he did, and we see here that cutting costs on those backboards was a bad idea.

            Now, Shaq claims he was doing it on purpose.  He claims that earlier that season the Nets’ Derrick Coleman had dunked on him, so he had vowed that next time he was gonna “tear the whole thing down.” I’m not sure if that makes it better or not, but I don’t know that it really matters. It’s still the most brutal display of force the NBA has ever seen and he was only 20 years old at the time.

Altitude of the dunk:  6/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  6/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  10/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

And-1:  +1

Dunk rating:  36

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Hornets:  Larry Johnson dunks on Cliff Robinson

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  I think Zion Williamson is the long-lost son of Larry Johnson.  In his younger days with the Charlotte Hornets, Johnson attacked the rim, jumped off two feet, and dunked with the same shamelessness Williamson does today.

            This move in the open court is great because it’s just that, shameless.  You see this a lot with young guys in the league, they’re green and cocky and have athletic superpowers.  A young Blake Griffin attempted to dunk on everything he saw, same with Derrick Rose, and here we see Larry Johnson, who looks at the 6’11 Cliff Robinson and decides,

            “I think I’ll go over him.”  

Who does that?

            Another thing I love about this is how far back Robinson falls after he got postered.  I’m sure it has something to do with Larry Johnson being a human wrecking ball, but Cliff Robinson also sells it to the crowd.  That’s classy.  Not a lot of guys can recognize when they got postered that badly and take it that well in stride.

Altitude of the dunk:  7/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  8/10

Amount of contact:  9/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

Dunk rating:  37

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Hawks:  Dominique Wilkins ends Bob Lanier’s career

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I still haven’t decided who’s the greatest dunker of all-time but Domonique is definitely in my top 5.  For this move, poor Bob Lanier was near the end of his storied career.  He was at the point as an old big man where he’s been sapped of his speed and his vertical, all that was left was his bulk and his old school jump hook.  

            Wilkins dropped baseline from the post and scooped the ball down to his chest as Lanier came to help.  He then hung in the air, and as he was beginning to dip back to earth, he reached back and dunked it behind his head.

            This move was like lightning striking an old oak tree.  Lanier was the tree, Dominique was the lighting.

Altitude of the dunk:  9/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  8/10

Amount of contact:  8/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  5/10

Dunk rating:  37

Dunk rating:  37

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Nets:  Vince Carter over Alonzo Mourning

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    It pains me a little to say that Vince’s best dunk came while he was on the New Jersey Nets, but in a career of full fabulous dunks, this is the big one.  Literally.  I put a lot of emphasis on contention and contact when I’m rating a dunk, which can put acrobats like Vince at a disadvantage.  However, this tomahawk on the head of two-time defensive player of the year Alonzo Mourning had all the contact you could want.

            Even the move to get into the lane is great.  Vince catches the ball on the left wing, does a behind the back dribble to escape the defender closing out, then rushes towards the rim, jumps with Mourning, except Vince just decides he’s going to stay up there in the air while Mourning crashes down to earth.

            Vince reaches back and spikes the ball over his own head and Mourning’s for the best in-game dunk of his career.

Altitude of the dunk:  8/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  8/10

Amount of contact:  8/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

Dunk rating:  37

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Bucks:  Giannis vaults Tim Hardaway Jr.

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 In the pantheon of incredible NBA athletes, a guy literally nicknamed ‘The Freak’ is probably going to do some whacky stuff, but still, hurdling a 6’5 man completely by accident is pushing it.

            On this lob dunk, Giannis takes three enormous strides towards the hoop and taking off before realising his manhood is brushing the top of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s forehead.  It was like watching a giant bird take off.  He bats his wings a couple times ‘whump whump’ and then gives one more ‘WHUMP’ before swooping into the sky.  We’re always going to compare this dunk to Vince Carter’s (6’6) legendary vault of Olympic France’s Fredrick Weis (7’2), and while Carter’s was better, that shouldn’t subtract from what Giannis did here.  It was, for lack of a better word, freakish.

            The one turd in this delicious punchbowl is that Kris Middleton completely, no doubt, 100%, travels before throwing the lob pass.  Go back and watch it again, he takes four steps.  It sucks because he’s not even doing anything tricky here!  He’s just throwing a pass to the most athletic man on the planet and – aww whatever, it’s fine, nobody cares anyway.

Altitude of the dunk:  10/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  5/10

Amount of contact:  6/10

Showmanship:  10/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

Dunk rating:  37

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76ers:  Dr. J rocks the baby

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  You have to remember that back in 1983 nobody was dunking with the level of flair we’ve come to expect from the Aaron Gordons, Zach Lavines, or Derrick Jones’ of the world.  So, while you might look at this move and think ‘it’s not as showy as the contest dunks today’, rocking the cradle like Dr. J did here was about as flashy as it got.  The Dr. was a New York streetball legend and pulling this dunk out in game was about the showiest trick in the book.

            You can only rate these things in relation to their pears and the league at time, but for context I’m going to try and make a modern equivalent to this masterpiece of a dunk:

            Imagine Kawhi Leonard stole the ball from Marcus Smart and gets out on the break down the floor.  He picks it up at just inside the 3-point line with Smart still riding his hip.  Kawhi feels his man there but still takes off from outside the key.  Then, as Smart contests him at the rim, Kawhi continues to rise and does the Vince Carter ‘elbow’ dunk, in game, while in motion, well defended.

            That’s what the rock-a-baby dunk was in the year 1983.  A dunk contest level dunk in game, on the head of an all-world defender in Michael Cooper.  Also know that the 76ers would go on to sweep the Lakers five months later in the finals, so while this wasn’t a playoff game, it was close.

Altitude of the dunk:  9/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  6/10

Amount of contact:  6/10

Showmanship:  10/10

Any pertinent background information:  7/10

Dunk rating:  38

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Pacers:  Paul George spikes the Birdman

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 For those of you who remember, this was Paul George’s equivalent to the Tatum dunk.  It was a young player in the middle of a transformative series stapling it into history with one awesome highlight.

            The actual dunk itself is really aesthetically pleasing.  Paul George is one of those guys who just looks like an NBA player.  Tall and bouncy and coordinated, he just has all the right technical quirks.  In this case, it’s the athleticism to punch it on a 7-footer in the playoffs, and the style to put a little extra sauce on the play. Watch the clip back very closely, George pulls his hand back away from the rim real fast after putting the ball home.  Almost like he was grabbing a hot pan without knowing it.  I don’t know why, but I love the way that looks.  It’s subtle, but it really does make the dunk look like a roundhouse punch.

Altitude of the dunk:  9/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  7/10

Amount of contact:  8/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

And-1:  +1

In the playoffs:  +1

Dunk rating:  39

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Pistons:  Grant Hill on Alonzo Mourning

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  I had never seen this dunk before researching for this blog post.  It’s a shame really, it has everything the fans would want; drama, violence, all-stars, trash talk, and two of the leagues smartest, nicest guys trying to kill one another.  It’s perfect.

            I think the reason this has become lost and forgotten to time is because the two guys involved have.  Grant Hill and Alonzo Mourning were two of the best players of the late 90s.  Athletic and electric, both were 7x all-stars, Hill has five all-NBA selections highlighted by a first team selection in 1996, beating out guys like Scottie Pippin (think about the year Scottie had in ’96).  Alonzo Mourning is a 2x Defensive player of the year, and from 1997-2001 only Shaq was better at the center position.  We talk about how everyone is underrated all the time, but these guys need more recognition. That’s just a fact.

            Back to the dunk in question.  Alonzo Mourning sets a hard screen on Hill, who rather than see his man get the easy jumper decides to grab Mourning around the waste and drag him to the floor.  Mourning actually smacks his head on the court and gets up mad.  The two go at it a bit and have to be separated, so tempers were running high already.

            Literally the very next play, Grant Hill isolates on the right wing, fakes out his Dan Majerle, and dunks all over Alonzo Mourning’s face, and one, and Mourning just walks away, defeated. This was about as personal as personal can get.  It was like a movie the way the two plays happened in succession like that.  The dunk itself was good, the theater around it made it incredible.

Altitude of the dunk:  7/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  8/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  6/10

Any pertinent background information:  10/10

And-1:  +1

Dunk rating:  39

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Knicks:  John Starks on the Chicago Bulls

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 If there was one constant in the 90s it was the Knicks getting their asses kicked by the Bulls every Spring.  This was the one exception.

            John Starks is one of the NBA’s feel-good stories.  According to legend, he was bagging groceries before he got the call up from the Knicks and he never looked back.  His rise from nobody to somebody to body to body with Michael Jordan is a reason to bet on some of the undrafted talent every year.

            For this dunk, he’s 6’3 going up against the 6’10 Horace Grant with MJ as the help man.  He’s also using his left hand.  Undrafted guys, undrafted. 

Altitude of the dunk:  8/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  9/10

Amount of contact:  6/10

Showmanship:  6/10

Any pertinent background information:  9/10

In the playoffs:  +1

Dunk rating:  39

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Cavaliers:  Ricky Davis (oh shit!)

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  Poor Nash.  He gets the business end of a botched charge attempt and gets Ricky Davis’s Ricky Davis to the face.

            The dunk was great, what made it legendary is Davis’s reaction.  The NBA usually tries to keep the players’ swearing to a minimum, but you don’t need to be a genius to read his lips on this play.

Altitude of the dunk:  9/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  6/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  8/10

Any pertinent background information:  9/10

And-1:  +1

Dunk rating:  40

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Raptors:  DeMar DeRozan wins it over Tolliver

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 This is a slightly controversial pick.  I know Vince Carter is the better dunker, the better player, more famous, but we’re ranking the individual dunks here not the player, or their entire body of work.

            I remember watching this with my dad late on a Wednesday night.  The Raptors were playing against a sub-par Pistons team that always seemed to give us trouble.  Blake Griffin was eating us alive.

            Down by one with ten seconds to go and no timeouts, DeRozan gets the ball full court and slowly dribbles it up.  It was like watching an engine rev as he slowly picked up speed with every step.  Around our own 3-point line the Pistons’ Reggie Bullock and Ish Smith try to press but they get caught on a backscreen by Kyle Lowry.  DeRozan takes off. Now running full tilt down the floor leaving his double-team in the dust, DeRozan picks it up from the free throw line and jumps from the dotted line.  Anthony Tolliver sees DeRozan with a clear path to the hoop and rather than give up the dunk, he fouls him hard on the arm taking the chance at a missed free-throw.

            DeRozan takes the hit and throws it down anyway.

            I remember standing up and yelling at the TV like an ape.  I didn’t care how loudly I was swearing or that my little brothers were asleep upstairs.  Sometimes ‘Holy Shit!’ is the only thing to say, and my dad didn’t give me any grief over it.

Altitude of the dunk:  7/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  7/10

Amount of contact:  8/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  10/10

And-1:  +1

Dunk rating:  40

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Heat:  The King’s Revenge

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I love this dunk.  Not just because knocking anyone over while in air is impressive, not just because Jason Terry laid there on the ground like a wounded animal, but because this was a fully provoked attack.

            Let me take you back to the spring of 2011.  The LeBron James Miami suffered a brutal upset to the more experienced and better constructed Dallas Mavericks.  This is the worst finals series of LeBron’s career, he played bad, no other way to say it, but to add insult to injury the Mavericks put their two smallest men to defend him down the stretch.  J.J. Barea (5’10) and Jason Terry (6’0) outplayed LeBron on the world stage, and Terry in particular wasn’t shy about reminding him about it.

“He can’t hang with me!”  Was his constant refrain.

            By the time LeBron executed this dunk, he was a champion, in the middle of this 4th MVP season, and a fully formed basketball body and mind.  Everyone, including LeBron, knew he was five times the player Jason Terry ever was, but the man just couldn’t let the slight go.

            After jumping out of the building and knocking Terry flat on his ass, LeBron took one step over towards his lifeless body to quiet any doubt about the anger behind this move. It was his version of Bird’s “Merry f-ing Christmas”, or Ali’s “Say my name”, or Will Hunting’s “How d’you like them apples?”

            Jason Terry has been more respectful since.

Altitude of the dunk:  8/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  6/10

Amount of contact:  9/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  9/10

And-1:  +1

Technical foul called:  +1

Dunk rating:  41

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Bulls:  Pippin over Ewing

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  This is the greatest dunk of all time.  

I mean it.  It’s in the playoffs, a foul was called, a tech was called, it’s an all-world level athlete dunking on the best player on the other team who’s also a 7-footer, both of them are hall of famers, and it’s about as disrespectful as a dunk can be.  Scottie Pippen stands over Ewing after ripping out his soul, then turns to Spike Lee and gives New York the it’s worst beating since the Smallpox pandemic.

If anyone ever asks you about the so-called rivalry between the Knicks and the Bulls, just show them this clip. It explains it all.

Altitude of the dunk:  8/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  8/10

Amount of contact:  9/10

Showmanship:  8/10

Any pertinent background information:  10/10

And-1:  +1

In the playoffs:  +1

Technical foul called:  +1

Dunk rating:  46

Best Dunk by Franchise (West)

            One of my proudest inventions as a basketball writer is my personal Dunk-O-Meter.  It’s my system of rating and ranking a dunk on a scale of 1-10 through five contributing factors:

  1. Altitude of the dunk:  Pretty straight forward, the launch point of the dunk, how high the guy gets off the ground, how high his hand is over the rim, etc.
  2. Size in relation to dunkee:  How many inches is the dunker giving up.  A point guard dunking on a center gets a higher rating than a center dunking on the point guard.  Size matters guys.
  3. Amount of contact:  Literally just eyeballing how much the dunker is getting hit.  Is it wide open?  Is someone contesting the dunk, or is the defender hacking the shit out him?
  4. Showmanship:  Any spinning, cocking, reversing, windmilling, ally-ooping, or stylistic frills of any kind
  5. Any pertinent background information:  Was the dunk actually important to win the game?  Was their beef between the dunker and dunkee?  Was there any trash talking, savagery, or disrespect before or afterwards?  You get it.

I’ve also included some bonuses.

And-1:  +1

In the playoffs:  +1

Technical foul called:  +1

            So, here’s what’s going to happen.  Over the next two weeks I’m going to look back at history and rank every franchise’s best jam.  I’m gonna to break it up by conference because I don’t think you want to read a 6000-word blog post about random dunks.  We’re gonna deal with the Western Conference this week, so buckle up, Shawn Bradley I’m looking at you.

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Jazz:  Donovan Mitchell puts it back

            This was the move that officially put Donovan Mitchell on the map.  He’s listed as 6’1, for this dunk he ran in from the weak side, took off from the restricted circle, launched himself three feet off the ground where he caught the ball behind his head and spiked it in net.

            Nobody really got dunked on here, there wasn’t any trash talk or showboating, this was just a pure display of athleticism.  Kudos to Mitchell here for doing it against the Lakers and fellow rookie Lonzo Ball.  Lonzo was the fan favourite and league darling at the time and Mitchell clearly had something to say about it.

Altitude of the dunk:  9/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  7/10

Amount of contact:  6/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  5/10

Dunk rating:  34

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Spurs:  DeRozan on his old team

            The Spurs don’t get a reputation as a fundamental focused team by having a long list of flashy dunkers in their history.  In researching the dunk candidates for this team, the pickings were pretty slim.  Nothing immediately came to mind except for this standard, yet classic tomahawk jam by DeMar DeRozan on his former teammate Chris Boucher.

            Even though this is full chest to chest poster, it’s still very Spurs-esque in how there’s no extra sauce, no trash talk, and no real anger.  All I can say is that this is one of those situations where a guy gives it a little extra juice vs. his old team.  Not everybody does it, but here are some guys who do.

DeRozan vs. Raptors, Kawhi vs. Spurs, Vince Carter vs. Raptors, LeBron vs. Heat, Darko Milicic vs. Starbucks Baristas

Altitude of the dunk:  6/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  7/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  6/10

Any pertinent background information:  7/10

And-1:  +1

Dunk rating:  34

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Kings:  Derrick Williams over Biyombo

            Derrick Williams has done two things over his NBA career, dunk and disappoint.  When Williams was scouted out of Arizona, what immediately stood out was his size and athleticism.  Athletics may be the easiest thing to judge from a scouting point of view, but it becomes nothing without the proper skills to go with it. Well, there isn’t a lot of skill on this play, but there is athleticism, so it fits Williams to a ‘T’.

            Here’s we see the Hornets switch on an Andre Miller/Derrick Williams pick n’ roll.  Miller threads the needle on the lead pass and Williams packs one over top of Bismack Biyombo. He does a cliché flex and scream to tell everybody what just happened.  I don’t blame him, it was a great dunk, it’s just sad that this was the high point of his basketball career.

Altitude of the dunk:  6/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  7/10

Amount of contact:  9/10

Showmanship:  6/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

Dunk rating:  34

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Pelicans:  Kirk Snyder dunk on Von Wafer

One of the great, lost dunks of the 2000s, maybe because nobody watched the Pelicans/Hornets back then, and even those who did didn’t watch Kirk Snyder.

            With a name that sounds like he just walked out of Zabar’s and a career that spanned 3 years, 2 trades, and 4 different franchises, Snyder doesn’t have a lot to keep himself in circulation 13 years after his retirement.  If not for this hammer on Lakers’ wing Von Wafer.

            New Orleans stole the ball from Andrew Bynum and got out on a 3 on 2 break.  An old Speedy Claxton does a shuffle pass to Snyder on the left side, and Snyder jumps as high as he can towards the basket. Now, Snyder hangs on the rim afterwards, so I can’t give him the nod for a full jump-over-a-guy dunk, but he did jump high enough so that Von Wafer was eye level with his nuts.

            Another great part about this dunk is the sound.  You can hear the dull CLANG of the ball hitting the back of the rim and Kirk Snyder’s muffled roar over the explosion from the crowd.  Remember, this was the year the Hornets temporarily moved to Oklahoma to escape Hurricane Catrina.  It’s plays like this from that OKC crowd that would earn them their own team two years later.

Altitude of the dunk:  10/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  6/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  6/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

Dunk rating:  35

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Timberwolves:  Kevin Garnett dunks on the Tower of Bradley

            Kevin Garnett is one of those guys who you don’t realise is as strong as he is.  Because he’s long and lean it’s easy to mistake Garnett for skinny, but this power jam on the 7’6 Shawn Bradley proves that he’s not only spry but can pack a punch.

            This is one of those moments when the big gets caught on a late rotation and the roll man is already airborne by the time they get contested.  Still, Bradley is tied as the 3rd tallest player in NBA history and averaged 2½ blocks a game for his career.

            I think the best part about this move is how Garnett not only dunks on Bradley, he bowls him over.  He throws down with such force that he knocks the big man off balance and to the floor.  Guys, turns out Kevin Garnett is pretty strong.

Altitude of the dunk:  7/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  8/10

Amount of contact:  9/10

Showmanship:  6/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

Dunk rating:  36

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Grizzlies:  Stromile Swift over Yao Ming

Go to the 3:31 mark of this video: 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZghWav2tC0

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            There haven’t been a ton of highflyers in the Grizzlies’ short history, but Stromile Swift was one of them.  An athletic 6’9 PF/C, Swift is best known for his criminal record, which happens to include this assault on Yao Ming.

            Any time you dunk on a guy 6’10 or taller it’s noteworthy, but if you happen to catch one of the true giants of the game, it’s even more so.  Appropriately nicknamed “The Great Wall of China”, Yao was a clean 7’6 and was known to bully guys the size of Shaq.  This was not someone you wanted to challenge at the cup.

            The reason I love this particular dunk so much is because despite Yao’s size it was clearly a conscious decision by Swift to go at him.  Usually when a guy that big gets dunked on it’s off a switch or as the help defender.  The dunker beats his man, goes for the flush, and the center rotates too slowly and gets one punched on him.  Not here.  

            Swift gets the ball at the right elbow and faces up Yao, he then takes two dribbles, hop steps, and goes up with two hands off two feet and puts it down.  

            This was not Yao getting caught under the rim, this was Swift seeing his defender, recognizing that the man is seven-foot freaking six, and being like; “Yeah, let me try this real quick.”  That takes balls.

Altitude of the dunk:  6/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  9/10

Amount of contact:  8/10

Showmanship:  8/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

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Grizzlies:  Stromile Swift over Yao Ming

            Go to the 3:31 mark of this video  

            There haven’t been a ton of high flyers in the Grizzlies’ short history, but Stromile Swift was one of them.  An athletic 6’9 PF/C, Swift is best known for his criminal record, which happens to include this assault on Yao Ming.

            Any time you dunk on a guy 6’10 or taller it’s noteworthy, but if you happen to catch one of the true giants of the game, it’s even more so.  Appropriately nicknamed “The Great Wall of China”, Yao was a clean 7’6 and was known to bully guys the size of Shaq.  This was not someone you wanted to challenge at the cup.

            The reason I love this particular dunk so much is because despite Yao’s size it was clearly a conscious decision by Swift to go at him.  Usually when a guy that big gets dunked on it’s off a switch or as the help defender.  The dunker beats his man, goes for the flush, and the center rotates too slowly and gets one punched on him.  Not here.  

            Swift gets the ball at the right elbow and faces up Yao, he then takes two dribbles, hop steps, and goes up with two hands off two feet and puts it down.   This was not Yao getting caught under the rim, this was Swift seeing his defender, recognizing that the man is seven-foot freaking six, and being like; “Yeah, let me try this real quick.”  That takes balls.

Altitude of the dunk:  6/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  9/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  8/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

Dunk rating:  36

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Suns:  Tom Chambers flies

            Two things stand out about this dunk

  1. This is one of those highlights where it doesn’t look real.  If Tom Chambers told me he had a wire harness on when he made this dunk, I’d probably believe him.  The man is 6’10 and had his chin over the rim and his knee on Mark Jackson’s face.  People shouldn’t be able to jump that high
  2. I hate to take this angle but screw it.  The Caucasian man is not really, shall we say, a high flyer.  This dunk changes the old phrase ‘white men can’t jump’ to ‘white men can’t often jump’.  I’m just saying it’s not something you see every day.  I’m gonna stop now, I’m gonna stop now, I’m gonna stop now.

Altitude of the dunk:  10/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  5/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  8/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

Dunk rating:  36

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Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr. slings it on Julius Randle

            To fully appreciate this dunk, you have to have been watching this game.  I had the good fortune to be tuning in right as it was happening, third quarter on, in the background of a restaurant.  Don’t ask me why they were showing the 2018-19 Mavericks/Pelicans game, must’ve been a quiet night.

            Less than a minute before the Dennis Smith play, the Pelicans’ Solomon Hill had a pretty strong dunk of his own when he got out on a break and put it on Maxi Kleber.  A literal minute later, Luka Doncic got trapped in the backcourt but managed to find Dennis Smith Jr. on a cut down the middle.  Smith takes one dribble and then cocks the ball back as far as he can without dislocating his arm.  The 250-pound Julius Randle comes to help on D, but too late.  Smith is already in the air there’s no turning back now.  Any time someone cocks the ball back that far it’s impressive, but all that extra power you rip from doing it is usually for show.  To do it in the half court and to have it land?  That’s like the windmill punch from a cartoon right in Randle’s face.

            You gotta watch this sequence in real time because the highlight real won’t do it justice.  It was almost the very next play.  That’s how you know that this dunk wasn’t just a guy trying something out, Smith was getting revenge, and then some.

Altitude of the dunk:  9/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  8/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  7/10

Dunk rating:  38

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Rockets:  McGrady gets Shawn Bradley too

Altitude of the dunk:  8/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  9/10

Amount of contact:  8/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

In the playoffs:  +1

Dunk rating:  39

It’s weird. For a 7’6 guy, Shawn Bradley really gets dunked on a lot.

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Nuggets:  J.R. Smith flies

Don’t be totally fooled.  The contact on this dunk is exaugurated because Gary Neal tries to take a charge and falls down.  I’m all for trying to draw the charge when you see someone taking it hard in the paint, but it can be misleading when trying to rate a dunk.

            We get a break here because the contact is not the most amazing part of this dunk.  J.R. Smith leads the ball up the court, almost casually, then on the left side he does a quick push-cross to get Manu Ginobili off him.  He then takes off from the dotted line, or free-throw line, or 3-point line, I don’t know.  It could have been from anywhere.

            Announcer Kevin Harlan summed it up best immediately after the play with these words; “J.R. SMITH!  We just saw a man fly.”

Altitude of the dunk:  10/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  6/10

Amount of contact:  8/10

Showmanship:  8/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

And-1:  +1

Dunk rating:  39

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Trail Blazers:  Drexler dunks on Bill Cartwright in the finals

            One my favourite things about this jam is that the dunker sees a 6’11 man in front him, knowns he has two teammates to pass the ball to for easy layups and decides that the best option is still to jump over the guy and put it down himself.

            Clyde Drexler gets a lot of criticism for his finals series against Michael Jordan in 1992.  Yeah, Clyde gets his ass handed to him by MJ, but so did a lot of people in the 90s.  Drexler has become one of the most underrated stars of that decades, which I think is strange considering his playoff success (he did manage to get to the finals), and his catalogue of highlights and dunks.

            Back to the dunk in question; Drexler takes it baseline on John Paxson but gets blocked at the rim by Horace Grant.  The Bulls trigger the fastbreak but Scottie Pippen gets his pocket picked by Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth picks it up and leads the ball back down the floor in a 3-on-1 retaliation on Bulls center Bill Cartwright.  Duckworth feeds it to Drexler at the top of the arc, Clyde sees the two teammates running with them, decides they’re a soft option, and jumps from the dotted line to slam it on Cartwright’s head. Foul is called.  Drexler gets high fives from his bench.  Oh, and did I mention he attempted this in the FINALS?

Altitude of the dunk:  8/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  8/10

Amount of contact:  8/10

Showmanship:  8/10

Any pertinent background information:  6/10

And-1:  +1

In the playoffs:  +1

Dunk rating:  40

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Lakers: Shaq assaults Chris Dudley

            If we’re talking about the pantheon of disrespectful dunks, this one has to be mentioned with the top of the top.  Here we get an unfiltered view of the brute force a prime Shaquille O’Neal brought to the table, and how even the 7ft, 235-pound Dudley was reduced to a prop when guarding him.

            It starts like any other post possession; Kobe tosses it down to Shaq on the low block, Shaq takes three rhythm dribbles, then drop-steps right knocking the defending Chris Dudley off balance.  

            Here’s where it gets good; Shaq goes up with two hands and does his signature ‘pull on the rim and kick up your knees’ thing.  This move is so powerful that the already wobbly Dudley has no chance to keep his footing.  All he can do is hang on to Shaq for dear life as he gets tossed around like a maraca.  

            After dunking on the next four generations of Dudley’s, Shaq then proceeds to shove him to the ground.  Note that this wasn’t some weaselly elbow when the refs weren’t looking, this was a full-on, arms-extended, open-palm shove.

            Dudley crashes to the floor, gets up upset, whips the ball at Shaq’s head, and gives him some choice words.  Double tech on Shaq and Dudley.  Single greatest dunk sequence in Lakers history.

Altitude of the dunk:  6/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  6/10

Amount of contact:  10/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  10/10

Technical foul called:  +1

Dunk rating:  40

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Warriors:  Baron Davis over Andrei Kirilenko

            It’s rare to get a poster this nasty from a guy who’s barely taller than Ashton Kutcher, but in the early 2000s Baron Davis was maybe the best point guard-dunker around.  Like Russell Westbrook 1.0, he would attack his defender like a tight-end on the run and explode to the cup with force.  

            This move on the defensive minded Andrei Kirilenko was the best of Davis’s career.  Beating his guy to the hoop and putting it down as Kirilenko rotated was one thing, Davis got fouled and finished while giving up 6 inches to his man.

            The unintentional comedy of this dunk is the trash talk that came after.  After smashing it on Kirilenko, Davis turned around, lifted up his shirt, and showed all of Oracle Arena his dad bod.  I don’t know why he did it, I don’t know what he was trying to say by it, but I love it all the same.

Altitude of the dunk:  8/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  9/10

Amount of contact:  8/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  7/10

And-1:  +1

Dunk rating:  40

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Clippers:  Blake Griffin (oh me, oh my)

            Blake Griffin may be the all-time league leader in dunker scale points, but this is the crown jewel in his collection of posters. 

            By this point in his career Blake had already established himself as a world class dunker who automatically struck fear into every rim protector when rolling to the hoop.  In this case, Chris Paul and Blake run a slip-screen play and Paul drops a bounce pass right in Blake’s pocket.  Kendrick Perkins sees Griffin in the launch position and (all credit to Perk here) decides that rather than get out the way like a sane human being, to hack the shit out of Blake.

            Blake cocks the ball back as far as he can, takes a full shove to the chest, turns 180 degrees and throws it into the net.  It was the best power dunk of the best power dunker this century.

Altitude of the dunk:  9/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  7/10

Amount of contact:  10/10

Showmanship:  7/10

Any pertinent background information:  7/10

And-1:  +1

Dunk rating:  41

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Thunder:  Shawn Kemp over Alton Lister

            The catch was great, the dunk was better, pointing at Alton Lister may have been the best part.  It was Kemp letting the fans, the media, the players, and Lister himself know; “Look at that!  Look at that guy!  I just did that to that guy!  Damn!”

            For those who don’t know, a young Shawn Kemp was the most athletic forward of the 90s.  He could run the floor like a stag, jump like a stag, and father children like a stag.  He fell apart as his career went on, but here we see him in his prime.  His 1991-97 stretch was really incredible.

            Another important piece of this all-time play was how it made Alton Lister famous.  Plays that are so famous they make their victims famous deserve extra credit (think Fredrick Weis, Tyron Lue, Timofey Mozgov, and Craig Ehlo), and this is definitely one of those.

            Kemp catches the ball at the 3-point arc, he takes one dribble in, two enormous strides towards the hoop, cups the ball, cocks it back, and knocks Alton Lister to the ground as he completes the greatest dunk in Western Conference history.  Boom.

Altitude of the dunk:  9/10

Size in relation to dunkee:  8/10

Amount of contact:  7/10

Showmanship:  9/10

Any pertinent background information:  10/10

Dunk rating:  43

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Tune in next week for the East!

Week 1 Bubble Report

The wait is now officially over.  I know we’ve had scrimmages for a while now, but it feels different now that we have the NBA back with full force.  A few things to say off the bat before I get into the specifics; the NBA has demonstrated through the success of this bubble that they are the highest functioning sports league in the world.  How they were able to create a safe and enjoyable environment for its players and staff, how they were able to adapt to the no-fan format smoothly, how they were able to keep the owners and players steady financially while still having the call for social change in the spotlight.  It’s all worked out better than I dared hope, and Adam Silver deserves a lot of praise.  The NBA has threaded the most difficult needle sports has seen this century, and we should acknowledge that.

Ok, moving on…

 

The injury list

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One thing we were worried about happening as the NBA resumed was increased injury risk.  NBA players have their bodies and their lives on a strict schedule and with the new frequency of games and the acceleration from no basketball to pre-playoff basketball, we’ve already seen some scary injuries amongst high level players.

The first came before the bubble even started.  Domantas Sabonis was having a stellar year for Indiana.  A first time all-star and face of the Pacers, Sabonis was set to be one of the defining players in the Eastern conference playoffs before going down to a foot injury pre-scrimmage.  Reports say he’s making good progress but that Indiana doesn’t want to try and rush him back for this year’s run at the East.  This puts a real cap on what the Pacers can do to teams on the inside.  The Eastern conference is chock full of talented interior players, most notably Giannis, Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo, and Marc Gasol.  The Pacers could really have used Sabonis, but I think they’re right not to try and rush him back and risk further injury.  If T.J. Warren continues to average 40 in the bubble, they may not even need him.

The two real sad injuries so far have been Ben Simmons and Jaren Jackson Jr.

The Triple-J injury is just a bummer.  The Grizzlies were one of the feel-good stories in the league this year and Jackson was playing incredible ball.  I’ve always really liked his game and it sucks now that he’s out.  This makes the race for the Western 8th seed even more wide open.  I can almost see Damian Lillard licking his chops at the prospect of an all or nothing game against the Jacksonless Grizz.

The Simmons injury has a little more consequence in the grand scheme of things.  We all remember how Simmons suffered a spinal injury before the league shut down in March.  We thought that it could spell a no-show from Simmons in the post-season, but since returning to the bubble he’s been playing better than ever.  That’s what makes this latest injury so heartbreaking.  The 76ers were finally starting to find some quality roll players to put around Simmons and Embiid, and it looks like it’s all for moot.  The one interesting thing will be what this’ll mean for next season (if there is one).  I’ve often said that if the Sixers disappoint in the playoffs again this year, it’ll be for the last time with this core.  Many have speculated the Simmons/Embiid pairing to be a bad marriage, and the argument of “They’re young, give them time” has been whittled away with each passing year.  I wonder if a Sixers run without Simmons will convince the team to run it back again.  I hope it doesn’t.  I’m a believer in both of them, I think they both have the upside to be MVP candidates one day, but the truth is they’re holding each other back.  If I were the Sixers, I would trade either of them to the highest bidder this offseason.

 

Yowch! That’s hot!

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On to something a little cheerier.  We’ve seen the on-court play, if not shaken, then stirred by the move to the bubble.  Some players have had trouble adjusting to the new environment and lack of fans, but some have come out like Al Pachino at the end of Scarface, guns a-blazin!

Some of these hot hands make sense.

Anthony Davis has looked like a monster.  Leading the bubble in effective field goal percentage and free throws made.  Thus far, the Lakers offence has looked half-interested at times, but AD has looked like Karl Malone out there.

Speaking of monsters, Luka Doncic has found a different way to post an obscene stat line in every Mavericks game so far.  First putting up a 28-point triple double against the Rockets, then dropping 40 on the Suns, and finally slapping 34 points, 12 assists, and a career high 20 rebounds to bury the Kings.  The Mavs haven’t won as much as their star’s stats would suggest, but Luka has left nothing to be desired.

Meanwhile, some of the hot hands are more out of the blue.

Far be it from me to talk about the Raptors, but Fred VanVleet has been on a tear lately.  He’s gotten to the point with his dribble drive that he’s picking teams apart like a surgeon.  He’s hitting 3s from everywhere, automatically finishing inside, and the scariest part is that it doesn’t look like just a hot streak.  We’ve seen guys in the past who heat up for a week or two and bomb shots left and right until they eventually return to the mean.  But with Fred it looks more like he improved his balance somehow over the break.  Before, I would think about how losing VanVleet to free agency would be a real bummer for the Raptors, but this stretch has convinced me that we absolutely, 105%, MUST keep him.  When Lowry starts to decline, Fred will be ready to take over, and I think I’ll be ok with that when it happens.

VanVleet, ok.  But T.J. Warren?  He’s always seemed like a more of a third banana to me.  A solid wing scorer who could get you 20 but couldn’t get you much else.  Well, up that 20 to 53 and that’s what we have with bubble T.J. Warren.  Who would have thought that after Oladipo’s fall from grace and Sabonis’s injury, T.J. Warren would absorb the scoring output of BOTH of those guys?  I doubt this is anything close to the new norm, but it’s fun to see the Pacers stay in the mix.  They’re a likeable team, and Warren has taken too much shit during his time in Phoenix for me to bring him down now.  I take back what I said last week about Bol Bol, T.J. Warren is the greatest player of all time.

 

Devin Booker

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It’s sometimes difficult to separate Devin Booker from the Zach Lavines, Trae Youngs, and D’Angelo Russells of the world.  Gifted offensive guards who will but up big stats and lose every night.  It’s taken me a while to fully develop an opinion on Booker.  I’ve always liked his scoring and his development from a 6th man at Kentucky to the face of the Suns franchise, but until now it was tricky to project what he could be in the league.  Well, now we can say that Devin Booker has fully come into his own.  The Suns are playing well, it may be a fluke, but still, Booker has had the most efficient offensive season of his career, he’s played the best defence of his career now that he has other ball handlers to take some of the scoring load off his back, and last Tuesday he rained points in at will against the likes of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.  I don’t know what the Suns ceiling is, but with Booker proving he’s set for a career of all-star games and with Deandre Ayton improving on both ends, we may see them back in the playoffs before long.

 

I’m gonna try and make these reports weekly.  See you next Friday!

Biggest Takeaways from the NBA scrimmages

Basketball is back!

With the NBA bubble officially underway, us diehard fans have been serviced to a week and a half of pre-pre-season scrimmages.  It’s been a bit of a mixed bag.  On the one hand, the majority of these games are being played by the last guys on the bench (Yippee! Brad Wanamaker!), but on the other hand I’m just happy to have basketball back.

While it is the first whiff of NBA action we’ve had in months, I think it’s important not to read too far into these scrimmages.  Nobody’s giving 100% effort, teams are trotting out their deepest bench guys, and winning and losing has zero consequence.  All that said, I’ve definitely been reading into it.  I’m trying to keep everything in perspective, but basketball is basketball and games are games.  We can discredit what we’ve seen so far, but we can’t ignore it entirely.

So what have we learned so far?

 

Bol Bol is the greatest basketball player of all time

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The son of 7ft 7 Manute Bol has always attracted attention from the media.  Standing a modest 7’2” with a nearly 8 ft wingspan, Bol Bol dazzled scouts in high school and in college with his incalculable basketball potential.  Emphasis on incalculable.  Bol missed the majority of his freshman year at Oregon with a foot injury and has spent most of his first NBA season with the Nuggets sidelined as well.  His name, his shooting, and his length draw you in, his frame and injury risk draw you out.

We’ve been wondering vaguely all year when we were gonna at least get a glimpse of this kid.  Let’s at least see him run off the bench.  Get some reps.  Try to develop his game during garbage time at the end of games, but for 5 months we got nothing.  Well, now we got it.  Bol played in all three of the Nuggets preseason games and looked awesome.  Averaging a cool 14 points, 6 rebounds, shooting 35% from three, and swatting away 3 shots a night.  The most interesting part is that they’ve been playing him as a forward.  This allows the Nuggets to run a super dupersized lineup of

PG) Nikola Jokic (7’0)

SG)  Michael Porter Jr. (6’10)

SF) Jeremi Grant (6’8)

PF) Bol Bol (7’2)

C) Mason Plumlee (7’0)

It’s like trying to score against a pack of dinosaurs.

It’s very early, and it’s true he’s been putting up these numbers in meaningless games, but if Bol can play like this when it starts to matter the Nuggets may have yet another unicorn on their hands.

Again, we have to remind ourselves that this is preseason.  He’s playing against other 12th men in low pressure situations, but what we’ve seen so far has been encouraging.  I’ll be interested to see how the Nuggets use Bol during these seeding games.  It’s not playoff ball yet, but the games do start to matter now.  Has Bol played well enough to secure himself a real place on the Nuggets rotation?  I don’t know.  But he has earned the opportunity.  I’m excited to see what he does with it.

 

The Blazer’s bigs are back!

The Trail Blazers have been one of the sadder stories in the league this year.  What’s the opposite of a feel-good story?  A feel-bad story? A not feeling-well story?  Anyway.  The 2020 Portland Trail Blazers have been a not been a feel-good story.  Until now.

With the return of Zach Collins and Jusef Nurkic, Portland can now operate at max capacity for these 8 seeding games.  The two have looked good so far, particularly Nurkic, who has come back leaner than before and now doing serviceable defensive job switching onto wings and forwards.  Imagine if Jonas Valanciunas didn’t move around like he was wearing cinderblocks for shoes, that’s Nurkic.

Before the scrimmages, I was skeptical anyone would be able to snag the 8th seed from the Grizzlies.  The gap was too wide, and the teams were too inconsistent, but now with the Blazers looking like a new and improved version of their playoff team from a year ago, we may have a real slugfest on our hands for the last spot in the West.

 

The Lakers backcourt is better?

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After losing Rajon Rondo to injury and Avery Bradley to racial prejudice, Lakers fans were starting to get a little nervous about facing the playoffs with this backcourt.  Granted, Rondo and Bradley are not cornerstone pieces for the Lakers, but when potentially going up against Harden, Westbrook, Lillard, Morant, Lou Williams, Jamal Murray, or Donovan Mitchell, you want your best defensive guards on the case.  Rondo is set to return before the second round of the playoffs, but even still.

To compensate, the Lakers signed Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith.  Two world class knuckleheads who combine the confidence of Kobe Bryant with the habits of Jerry Garcia.  I was more than a bit concerned with how the Lakers would fair with a new guard rotation of Smith, Waiters, Caruso, and Quinn Cook, but so far the team has looked great.  Better even.

J.R. Smith has been one of the league’s best spot up 3-point shooters for years now, and he gives the Lakers the same floor spacing he gave the Cavs during their playoff runs.  Smith made 4 finals and 42 million dollars standing in the corner and hitting 3s.  If anyone knows how to play in a LeBron offence, it’s him.  Alex Caruso has quietly been one of the better perimeter defenders in the West this year, and while the Lakers will surely miss the defensive play of Avery Bradley, I think the team will actually benefit from giving Caruso more minutes.  He’s bigger and more switchable than Bradley, and while he’s not the same playmaker as Rondo, the offence is gonna flow through LeBron anyway.  One more thing, don’t let the big name fool you, Rondo hasn’t been a good defender for years now.

Maybe the strangest development yet has been the play of Dion Waiters.  If there was one weakness with the Lakers this season, it was their lack of shot creation when LeBron was off the floor.  Anthony Davis is great, but he’s still a big, and bigs need to be fed, Rondo is far past his prime, and Kuzma can occasionally create his own shot, but not really shots for others, and neither consistently.  For better or for worse, Dion Waiters is not afraid to create his own shot.  Waiters’ belief in himself is enough to make Kanye blush, but it’s that same willingness to take the offence into his own hands that makes him such a valuable sparkplug off the bench.  I’ve watched a lot of these scrimmages, and Dion Waiters holds the league record for most “no, no, YES” shots by a mile.  In the playoffs, LeBron will be running things for 38-42 minutes a night, but if Waiters can come off the bench and hit some shots in those extra 6 minutes, he’ll have served his team well.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is here

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There’s something to be said about dominating lesser competition.  I noticed it in the box scores with Giannis and Harden, they would get to their 30 points with such absurd ease during these scrimmages as a testament to the gap between them and their opponents.  You can tell when watching the scrimmages who the real superstars are by how they’re able to score at will against lesser competition, and by that metric, SGA is a superstar.

The Thunder played him some extra minutes with and against deep bench guys in their games against the Celtics, Sixers, and Blazers, and it was almost embarrassing how he was able to dominate.  He did everything.  He cut through the defence with his signature twitchy style, he finished through contact, hit threes, everything.  I’ve long been an SGA believer because I believe in all my fellow Canadians, but in these scrimmages, he looked like a superstar.  Not a star, a superstar.

 

NBA.pngAnd the fun has only just begun.  We have our first real games today, Pelicans vs. Jazz at 6:30 and Lakers vs. Clippers at 9:00.  Brace yourselves folks.  The wait is over.  Basketball is back!

The Decemberists review

Yeah, this is a slight divergence from the NBA content you’re used to seeing from me.  I don’t know if this is just a one-time thing or what, but in this basketball draught I’m trying to expand this blog’s horizons.

While I might be a bigger basketball fan than I am a music fan, my physical, mental, and natural inclinations are all much more directed at the music world.  I play a few instruments decently well, I preform sometimes, I love to explore new genres and discover new artists blah blah blah.

Now that you have my credentials, here’s my degree:  Most of my musical knowledge I learned from my dad.  He’s a strong piano player and music fan in his own right, and through him I got what he and I like to call my “musical education”.  Banging his head in reminiscence of the hair he used to have, my father taught me the laws of the musical world.  Laws like;

  • Aretha Franklin is a goddess and should be treated as such,
  • Rush is the perfect Rock band for nerds like you and me,
  • Synths were born in 1979, died 1987, and should be remembered fondly but not too fondly,
  • Elvis is solid but all the black artists he covered do the song 120-300% better
  • The Cars are fun and dumb,
  • Radio Head is smart but not always fun,
  • Don’t be afraid to like sweet sentimental guys with acoustic guitars,
  • Don’t be afraid to like Showtunes,
  • Classical music does not suck,
  • Duran Duran does,
  • All of Elvis Costello’s music sounds the same and it still rules,
  • You have to learn about rap on your own because I’m white and grew up in Connecticut,
  • The best genre of music is good music.

I’m proud of my musical education.  And yeah, it leans late 80s, but that’s not a bad direction to lean.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.  I’m going to do a review of the Decemberists and rank their albums in ascending order.  An indie rock band from Portland Oregon, the Decemberists are special to me for a number of reasons.  First, they walk a cool line between rock and pop and folk and all other kinds of weirdness.  I love groups that cross genres.  They’re also really wordy.  If you listen to the lyrics closely, you’ll be able to hear the complexity of their storytelling and the fancy words they chose to tell them in.  More fuel for their fire of quirkiness, and more draw for literary nerds like me and my dad.  Lastly, they were one of the few bands I remember my dad and I discovering together.  Most of my favourite bands and artists are all old, or at least past their prime.  I remember I used to think that great music was a thing of the past.  That it lived and died in the 20th century, and that I’d missed the boat.  But to be able to live through the prime of a band like this, alongside my musical educator, that was what made me love the Decemberists even before I appreciated what they were talking about.

I’m pretty confident in saying that the Decemberists are my favourite band ever.  There are other groups I prefer at certain times for certain moods, but in preparation for this blog post I re-listened to all nine Decemberists albums and I didn’t skip a song.  I can’t think of another band I could do that with.

I know most of you reading this won’t know the band’s music as well as I do, but I encourage you to listen to one of these albums today.  If you’ve never heard of them, listen to a song, if you’ve heard one song, listen to an album, if you’ve heard one album, listen to a new one.  They’re really worth your time.

Anyway, let’s dive in…

 

#9 Castaways and Cutouts

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It’s unsurprising that a band’s debut album is their weakest.  Released in 2002, you’d think that a young band trying to start its career would conduct themselves with a green wild, a looseness and inexperience that would make their work messy, but in the case of the Decemberist’s Castaways and Cutouts it’s the rigidity that brings it down.  As a group, the Decemberists aren’t complex melodically, but it’s the lyrics and range of tunes they play that makes them so unique.  That’s why Castaways and Cutouts doesn’t work, it’s too slow, it’s too repetitive, it sounds like a kjillion other artsy college bands.  They show some signs of life with their ending track; Youth and Beauty Brigade, but by that point it’s too little too late.

I think the key struggle this album has is that the band hadn’t found themselves artistically yet.  They had a talented singer and lyricists, and were sophisticated people, but they didn’t have an identity.  In their own way, they showed their inexperience with this album.

Grade:  C

 

#8 Billy Liar

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It seems unfair.  This four song EP is 25% awesome 25% solid and 50% meh.  The title track of same name is one of the better hard openings of the band’s career.  No fade, no bullshit, just right into it with the solid piano chords and Colin Meloy’s unmistakable voice.  Unfortunately, the rest of the mini album isn’t as good, and to make matters worse, the song quality fades away.  The second-best song, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, is the second track of the album, then the third is the third best and so on.  This gives us an album that plays in descending order, something that should be avoided at all costs.  Because of its lack of length and oomph I can’t rank Billy Liar any higher than this, but it does get the nod over Castaways because of its brief flash of vibrancy.

Grade:  B-

 

#7 Her Majesty the Decemberists

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Similar to Castaways, Majesty has a lot of the same kind of repetitive strum strum songs that brought down the band’s first album.  The difference is three of Majesty’s eleven songs are really good.  If you want your ‘just deserts’, the songs to listen to are:

  1. Song for Myla Goldberg
  2. The Soldering Life
  3. The Chimbley Sweep

With these, we start to get some of the more ambitious musical elements that elevate the Decemberists into their prime (electric and acoustic guitar mix, brush drumming, upright bass, accordion) and some of the dark 18th century imagery that define the band’s narrative style.  The quality is inconsistent throughout the album, but we can see the gears turning here.  We get these little nuggets of what’ll make them great in the end, and that drives this album above the two mentioned before.

Grade:  B+

 

#6 What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

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The quality really jumps here.  What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World got mixed reviews from mixed audiences on its release in 2015.  The band tried to simplify their songs a bit for this album to try and appeal to a more mainstream audience.  While this did work in the end, a handful of hardcore fans felt a bit betrayed.  They mostly bleat that classic pipe about ‘selling out maaaan’.  I wouldn’t listen to them.  Granted, you can hear the shift in this album compared to the others.  The songs are catchy for sure, but they don’t have the darkness, same level of creativity, or overall signature sauce as some of their other work.

Still, I really liked this album.  I was 14 years old in 2015 and wasn’t really attuned to any sort of depth, lyrical or otherwise, so it didn’t bother me that the band decided to lean pop with this one.  It didn’t bother the mainstream either.  Tracks like Make You Better got some real play on pop radio on the album’s release, and that song in particular even got its own music video staring Zach Galifianakis.

The band still uses its signature quirkiness to let us know that What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is still a Decemberist album.  Philomena, a song all about the desire to perform certain oral acts, gives a raciness to a pretty subdued collection of songs.  Its ringing chorus of female sopranos makes this a standout track when listening to the album all at once.

Other standouts are Cavalry Captain for being maybe the most Rock & Roll, A Beginning Song, which ends the album with grandeur and beauty, and Anti-Summersong, which gives a nod to the band’s long time fans.  Anti-Summersong is a flip on the song Summersong from the band’s album Picaresque.  Here, they take the song’s original, darker, jangling, minor riff, and flip it major so that it sounds like a happy-go-lucky Western bop.

This album was a success, we can’t deny that, but it didn’t blow anyone away either.  I think that if not for the real genius we see in some of the later albums, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World could have ranked a lot higher.  It being this low should be a testament to the other albums rather than a knock on this one.  The only thing I don’t like about it is the title.  Too wordy right?  I can even find a good abbreviation for it like I did with the others.  Hmm.

Grade:  A-

 

#5 The Hazards of Love

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Hazards of love is by far the band’s craziest, and most ambitious album.  A three act, Shakespearian, Rock Opera, that features an overprotective Goddess, a shapeshifting deer, a double suicide, a triple filicide, rape, ghosts, and some of the most challenging vocal scores the band ever composed.  The whole thing is absolutely bat shit crazy and I love it.

It starts out with this girl Margaret finding an injured deer in the woods.  The deer then transforms into this dude William and the two fall in love.  William happens to be a sort of demi-god and the adopted son of the Queen of the forest.  William asks if the Queen could make him a mortal man so he can be with Margaret, but the Queen wants William to stay by her side and reminds him how she found him abandoned as a baby.  Finally, she agrees to let him see Margaret as a mortal for one day, with the promise that he’ll return to her side afterwards.

Meanwhile we get introduced to the Rake.  The Rake is a disgruntled widower who’s three children drive him nuts.  So, he kills them all and doesn’t feel any remorse for it (if I had to pick the catchiest individual song of the whole album, The Rake’s Song is probably it.  It’s dark and horrible and awesome all at the same time.  I feel bad listening to it at my summer camp though).  The Queen of the Forest asks the Rake to kidnap Margaret, and she puts them both on an island surrounded by water.  When William comes to Margaret’s rescue the Queen uses her power to churn the water into a riptide.  William begs the Queen to let him cross, promising to never be mortal again, and with the Rake about to force himself on Margaret the Queen relents.  The ghosts of the Rake’s children show up to save Margaret and the Queen calms the waters allowing William to cross.  Finally reunited, William and Margaret decide to get married right there, and rather than be separated forever they decide to take full advantage of William’s lingering mortality and they drown themselves in the moat.  Fun.

It’s kind of the ultimate test of Decemberist fandom.  The 17-track album is by far the band’s longest.  You have to listen to the whole thing from start to finish or else it doesn’t really make sense.  The entire album flows from one song to another like a Broadway soundtrack.  It also uses the guest vocals of Becky Stark to full effect for the female roles.  You fully appreciate the range of both Meloy and Stark on the song The Wanting Comes in Waves/ Repaid.

The only criticism I have for this album is that it’s hard to listen to.  The strangeness and ambition and complexity of the storytelling is what makes it such an artful masterpiece, but it can also make it inaccessible.  It comes with the territory, and I wouldn’t change a thing, but the band does push the boundaries of an indie/rock album with Hazards.  For better and for worse.

Grade:  A

 

#4 I’ll be your Girl

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The band’s most recent album shows the slightly more modern style of their new producer John Congleton.  Songs like Severed still give us those unmistakably dark and sophisticated lyrics, but they’re also more experimental with some techno sounds and synths.  Granted, they didn’t try to be something they’re not.  It’s a testament to the band’s maturity and experience that they were still able to stay true to who they were while still implementing new sounds and styles.  Songs like Rusalka, Rusalka/ Wild Rushes is classic Decemberists.  Creating an 8-minute long, weird, artsy, narrative track, derived from Slavic legend about a drowned girl is exactly the kind of song I’d expect from them.

What I like so much about Girl is how it’s more of a conversation than any of their other albums.

Does that make any sense?

They’re songs are really human and a few of them are really funny.  Songs like We All Die Young (which features a full children’s choir) and Everything is Awful (which speaks for itself) are legit laugh-out-loud moments.

It’s true there isn’t a “wow” song on this album.  I couldn’t pick one that knocked me off my feet, but top to bottom every song is good to really good.  It’s a strong, well rounded, enjoyable album, but it doesn’t have a genius moment.  That’s what puts it where it is.  I’m glad I was able to see the band on this album’s tour.

Grade:  A

 

#3 Picaresque

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Now we’re getting into the really good ones.

The peaks of this album are as good as you’ll ever see from the Decemberists.  Picaresque was really tough to rank because of that.  Because its best songs are some of my favourites, not just of the band, but just some of my favourite music period.

In 2005, this album opened on a drumroll and a howl that introduces us to a very different Decemberists than we’d seen before.  Using the musical skill of new addition Chris Funk, the whole album takes us on a wild ride from queens in the East to the ghost of a beggar, high school nerds and a henhouse of wives, finally ending on one of the best stories I’ve ever heard set to music, The Mariner’s Revenge Song.  In this we hear the tale of two seamen trapped in the belly of a whale, one telling the other how he had been pursuing him across miles and oceans to murder him in revenge.  The story ends with the guy promising to kill the other there and then and fading out with the song’s main riff playing faster and faster.  It’s a nearly 9-minute long song and it just kills me every time.  It’s so good.

So why is Picaresque only number 3?  Well, it’s not great all the way through.  50% of the album is some of my favourite music in the world, but the other half is pretty forgettable.  Maybe the in-between songs would be better if they weren’t surrounded by great ones, but I’m just calling it like I see it.

Still, if I had to make a list of my favourite Decemberists songs (and maybe I should), there would be more than a few from Picaresque.  The highs are really freaking high, and the lows are medium.  That’s pretty good.

P.S. The Mariner’s Revenge Song might be my #1 favourite song of theirs.  You MUST listen to it.

Grade:  A

 

#2 The King is Dead

The King Is Dead

If you care to know, this is my dad’s favourite Decemberists album.  I can understand why.  Up and down it’s nearly flawless.  That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of King.  Flawless.  It’s also the band’s most emotionally accessible album.  It may be their happiest album, which you wouldn’t think just from looking at the song titles.  Calamity Song?  Don’t be fooled, it’s a total jam.

I remember for about two months in the winter of 2012 my dad was totally obsessed with this album.  He listened to it over and over, he learned to play the songs on guitar, and I learned them after.  So, I have a lot of fond memories with this one.

Flawless.  Every song has a different mood, a different tone, but always with an energy that we really didn’t see on the band’s early work.  The opening track Don’t Carry it All sets the tone immediately with a simple but powerful array of major chords.  The band plays out the Kings is Dead with more raw spirit than any other album, and that is really rare to see from a band that makes most of its name in complexity and weirdness.

King also has the most beautiful ballad the band ever wrote in June Hymn.  Not to be confused with the album’s 5th track January Hymn, but the 8th track, June Hymn.  The two sort of parallel each other, each about raising your daughter and taking care of you house as the seasons change.  They’re just simple and beautiful, June Hymn especially.  The song is a bit of a microcosm for the album as a whole.  I love all the weirdness and stories the band gives us on their other stuff, but sometimes I just want to feel good.  The King is Dead isn’t a “feel good” album in the way we think of “feel good” albums, but it is the purest expression of music the band ever gave us.  When I pick up my guitar and play a Decemberist song, more often than not it’s one from King.

Grade:  A+

 

#1 The Crane Wife

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This is it.  I try to use words like genius sparingly.  I feel like hyperbole has become such a big part of fandom it’s almost expected.  Everything is genius, amazing, hilarious, devastating.  A term like genius should not be used every day.  It shouldn’t be used every week really.

All that said and considered, The Crane Wife is genius.

Every song is catchy but also so different.  You can listen to the whole album top to bottom, the storytelling is equal to Hazards of Love but it’s not so exhausting.  You can listen to it when you just want to relax, if you want to focus on it you can focus on it and be entertained by the majesty of the narratives, and if you want you can just sing along.  The album carries with it a strong message and a story all while diverting to separate short stories song by song.  The story of The Crane Wife is derived from a Japanese myth, but the album itself is about a war, but from the commoner’s prospective.  Each story has conflict at every turn, and with each story told, a different reaction to the strife.  I’ve never heard an album that covers more ground than The Crane Wife.  Never.

Let me break it down track by track…

The Crane Wife 3:  A soft opening.  It starts gently but then builds, still keeping its purity, but ends with a brass that you don’t often see from indie music.

The Island:  Mostly an instrumental flex.  It’s describing an island.

Yankee Bayonet (I will be Home Then):  I have no idea what they’re talking about in this song but it’s a jam with a faster pace than the one’s before.  I think it’s about coming back from war, but who knows?  I mostly love it fore it’s guitar and its chorus.

O Valencia!: A song playing off Romeo and Juliet.  We get the entire play in 3 minutes and 48 seconds while they make good on the exclamation point they put on the title.  They tell it modern, more like West Side Story, but we get all the same tropes.

The Perfect Crime #2:  They somehow give us the background track to an Ocean’s 11 movie while still making it artsy and folksy.  This song also has the best bass work the band ever did.

When the War Came:  Suddenly we have hard rock?  This is the hardest the band ever goes in the direction of metal and they somehow pull it off.  Singing with the force of Metallica while still sticking diligently to the album’s message of conflict and the story of war, this is the peak of the album’s bell curve in terms of raw energy.  It’s the biggest the band ever goes, but they do it with purpose, not just ‘hey, let’s play some rock & roll now’, they do it because they’re trying to encapsulate the savagery and magnitude of war.

Shankill Butchers:  They go from the biggest song of their careers to their most minimalist and haunting song in a matter of seconds.  Shankill Butchers is a legit horror story.  A creeping profile of an Irish street gang going out to thrill kill children in the night.  It’s the sharpest turn you’ll ever see, and they do it without sending us over the sidewalk.

Summersong:  Taking a title that sounds like a One Direction single and making it a minor keyed riff about a girl drowning at the beach.  Who else but the Decemberists?

 

Now we get to my favourite 20 minutes of Decemberist music.  The Crane Wife ends with three songs, each of which flow together so it’s really like one big 20-minute track.  The Crane Wife 1 & 2, Sons & Daughters, and After the Bombs.

The Crane Wife 1 & 2.  We hear a recounting of the Japanese myth of the crane wife.  A white crane that a man finds injured, nurses back to health, and falls in love with before it flies away.

Sons & Daughters takes us back to the war story, but now the conflict is over.  The people come out of hiding and celebrate in the streets.  This is a joyous resolution to a story we thought the band would end with grit and death.  Instead we get this picture of relief and ending with the whole town singing. “Hear all the bombs fade away.”

After the Bombs.  It’s sad.  Imagine now that you’re in the town.  The war is over, you’ve celebrated in the streets with hundreds of other people.  You then come back to your own little house with your husband or wife and celebrate with them.  Not sexually or anything like that.  It’s just pure and intimate.  Like an exhale.

The song is a promise of better times to come, but then it gives us one more tug at the very end.

“We will go dancing, until it all starts over again.”

It’s heartbreaking.  We’ve been on this wild rollercoaster all throughout.  We have all these different people and lives and infighting and we’ve now finally resolved it.  We’ve celebrated.  We can finally sleep.  But it won’t be forever.

That’s why this is the Decemberists best album.  That’s why this is my favourite ending to any album I’ve ever heard.  Because it makes you so happy and so sad all at once.  It relates to our lives within the framework of war, AND with the white cranes and gangs and all the crazy fantasy stuff.  I’ve never been able to feel all that with another band.  The Crane Wife isn’t catchier than The King is Dead.  I’d say it’s about the same, maybe a shade less.  But it’s also bigger.  It’s smarter and it’s heavier.  I reward this last 20 minutes of music with a sigh and a stamp of genius.

Grade:  A++

 

This post is new ground for me.  Please tell me if you want to see more music content on this blog, or if I should just stick to basketball.  I’m mostly just trying to stay afloat during this stretch before the season comes back, but maybe I’ve found something here?  I don’t know, you tell me.

My 2020 All-NBA Teams

 

For those of you who don’t know, the All-NBA teams work sort of like a positional “who done it best” for each year.  At the end of the NBA season we get to look back and rank the guys who’ve been the best at their respective positions; guard, forward, or centre, on each team.  Now, most years we would have had our All-NBA teams months ago, but because our planet is being ravaged by corona (the virus, solar winds, and the beer) we’ve had an extra two months to consider the matter.  Well I’ve considered.  So here they are, my picks for the 2020 All-NBA teams.

Just missed the Cut

Joel Embiid

Kyle Lowry

Kemba Walker

Khris Middleton

Bam Adebayo

 

First Team

Guard:  James Harden

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The 1st team is really all but a consensus.

It’s true the Rockets haven’t had the record they’d hoped when they traded for Russell Westbrook, but on the part of James Harden it’s not for a lack of trying.  Last season we saw him have one of the greatest scoring runs of any player in NBA history with a staggering average of 36 point a game.  While he hasn’t had quite that this year, he’s still having the 15th greatest scoring season ever, highlighted by a two month stretch where he averaged 40 a night.  Harden is a statistical juggernaut, he’s one of the greatest scorers to ever play the game, he’s improved his defence to a passable level, and he’s the lifeblood of a Rockets team that has contended with the top of the league for five years running.  This isn’t Harden’s best season, but there’s a huge gap between the first team guards and the rest so there’s not a ton of competition here.

The only argument against Harden’s 1st team nod is that the Rockets has been a bit of a disappointment.  We expected them to be a two seed or three seed, instead they’re treading water with the Jazz and Thunder.  If not for Harden however, the Rockets could throw their title aspirations completely out the window, so how much is really on him?

 

Guard:  Luka Doncic

Similar situation to Harden here.  The all-around statistical resume for Luka this season dwarfs anyone not named James, James, or Antetokounmpo.  Luka has missed time this season, but the time he’s spent on the court is more valuable than any other guard in consideration for this spot.  The only thing you could pin on Luka is his team’s inconsistencies.  They started off the year red hot, but since the midway point have only been about 500.  Still, Luka has been the focal point of the 3rd best offence in the league, and he’s only 21.

 

Forward:  LeBron James

Do we really need to debate this?  LeBron has led the league in assists this season with 10.6 a game, making him the largest NBA player to ever average double figures in this stat.  His Lakers are the first seed in a loaded Western conference.  He is a key part of one of the best defences in the league (people have been complaining the past few seasons about LeBron’s defence weakening but it’s really been stellar this year).  He’s resurrected Dwight Howard from the dead, he’s coexisted beautifully with Anthony Davis all while averaging his usual 27 points a game, and is still making a case for league MVP against one of the greatest single seasons in history being put up by Giannis.  LeBron is still LeBron.  In my humble opinion, he’s still the greatest player on the planet, and I won’t say otherwise until someone beats him in a fair fight (no super teams or cap spikes or J.R. Smith brain farts.)

 

Forward:  Giannis Antetokounmpo

Yet another no-brainer for the 1st team.  Giannis is probably the 2020 league MVP, he has had a record setting season in a lot of ways and there’s really nothing that could keep him off the first five for All-NBA.  It’s obvious.  Let’s move on.

 

Centre:  Anthony Davis

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Finally an opinion!

It took us this long to get to a non-consensus pick but here we are.  As the All-NBA teams go, the centre slot is the most polarizing to begin with.  In the modern game, positional basketball is looking like a thing of the past more and more every day.  So while Anthony Davis is listed as a Power Forward, I don’t think there’s any problem starting him at the centre here.  He plays centre half the time anyway.

So why Davis over Jokic?  A few reasons.  Firstly, for the first time in his life Anthony Davis is not the best guy on his team.  Has that mattered?  Not at all.  Davis slid into a new team and new system without missing a beat.  The pick and roll with him and LeBron is maybe the most unstoppable play in basketball right now.  Seriously, it’s scary.  They can both handle, shoot, screen, roll, finish, pass in, pass out, and are two of the 10 best athletes in the league.

The wins matter.  It’s true that no other centre in the league have a teammate like LeBron feeding them the ball, but the Lakers dwarf the W/L records of any other team with an All-NBA caliber big, so that argument is brittle at best.

Third is the consistency.  Davis has battled injury in the past but this season he’s played 55 of a possible 65 games (which put in context of an average NBA season is 69 of 82 games).  We were worried after last year’s groin tear with LeBron, and an increasingly older Lakers roster, how the team would fair health-wise, but the team has been thankfully healthy this year, and we should recognize that on Davis’s part.

And fourth is the defence.  Anthony Davis is the anchor of the best defence in the West.  He’s averaging his usual 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals to go along with his ability to guard positions 1-5.  It’s rare enough that we see a guy able to play all five positions on offence, that we get a defensive player who you could justify switching onto any player in the league might be even rarer.  I believe there have only been nine of them this century:

Anthony Davis:  2013-

LeBron James: 2010-

Kevin Durant:  2014-

Giannis Antetokounmpo:  2017-

Kawhi Leonard:  2014-

Draymond Green:  2015-

Andrei Kirilenko:  2002-2007

Shawn Marion:  2002-2008

Kevin Garnett:  1997-2010

 

Anthony Davis has my vote for defensive player of the year, and for 1st team All-NBA.

 

Second Team

Guard:  Damian Lillard

An interesting case to be made here.  One of the best scorers in the world, Lillard and the Trail Blazers have taken a step back from their winning ways this year, but Lillard individually has made a case for best PG in the league.  You could point the Blazer’s finger of blame at injuries and not without good reason.  Jusuf Nurkic was playing at a near all-star level before going down last March, and while Portland has been able to stay competitive, they’re not as dangerous without him.  Their starting five was Lillard, McCollum, Hood, Carmelo, and Whiteside.  I have a pickup game with some guys on Sundays, and I believe that we could play that five, we would lose for sure, but we would definitely score on them.

That said, there few guards in this league better than Damian Lillard.  With Curry sitting most of the year and Russ and Kyrie being Russ and Kyrie, there was no better 2020 point guard than Damian Lillard.   He’s had the best statistical year of his career with averages of nearly 29 points a game, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds.  After Harden and Doncic, most of the league’s guards are either putting up huge numbers on bad teams (Beal, Young) or are taking a statistical dip while winning games (CP3, Kemba).  Lillard may not be winning as much as before, but he and the Blazers are still in the playoff race and Dame has the individual resume to walk confidently into any series.  I expect some fireworks from him when the NBA season resumes.

 

Guard:  Donovan Mitchell

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz

I feel like we never properly represent this guy.  In his rookie and sophomore year he was getting an inordinate amount of positive media attention.  I was yelling at everyone to calm down, but noooooooooo.  You saw some cool dunks and thought he was the next Dwyane Wade.  But now, he’s having by far the best season of his career and the only Jazz thing we talk about is how white Joe Ingles is.

The Jazz’s record despite Conley’s regression has been, if anything, a feather in Mitchell’s cap.  Standing at a mere 6’1”, we often wondered how Mitchell would evolve at the shooting guard position.  Ideally, he would transition to a Harden-esq, Wade-esq, Oladipo-esq, part-time point guard, but when the Jazz brought in Conley we wondered how the two would coexist on the floor.

Have no fear, point guard Mitchell is here!

With Conley taking a dip, Mitchell took the reins and is now the Jazz’s primary ball handler.  He’s had a career year statistically across the board, scoring, assists, rebounds, shooting percentages, the works.  He’s been the primary offensive weapon on one of the better teams in the league, and he’s doing at all while picking up the slack for a disappointing supporting cast.  They may not be contenders, but this year has shown us the first glimpse of a prime Donovan Mitchell, and if the Jazz play their cards right, they’ll be contenders soon enough.

 

Forward:  Kawhi Leonard

It’s Kawhi, it’s obvious.  The only reason he isn’t on the first team because LeBron and Giannis are inhuman.  You could argue that Kawhi is the best player in the world right now, but Giannis and LeBron have won more, played more, and have put up better numbers this year.  So Kawhi is on the second team.  Boo hoo.

 

Forward:  Pascal Siakam

This is the most contended slot on these teams.  We can all agree on the forwards for the 1st team, and Kawhi is a lock for the 2nd team, but who is the other 2nd team forward?  The applicants are Pascal Siakam, Jimmy Butler, and Jayson Tatum.  All have had great seasons, all are deserving, but I believe it’s Siakam and here’s why…

First the raw stats for all three:

Points Rebound Assists Blocks Steals FG% 3P% FT%
Siakam 23.6 7.5 3.6 0.9 1.0 .46 .36 .800
Tatum 23.6 7.1 2.9 0.9 1.4 .44 .40 .80
Butler 20.2 6.6 6.1 0.5 1.7 .45 .25 .83

Butler’s are worse, Tatum and Siakam’s are almost identical.  The difference between them the winning.

All these guy’s teams are in the same conference and Siakam’s is the winningest.  The Celtic’s win% with Tatum playing is the same as normal at 67%.  With Jimmy Butler in the lineup the Heat’s win% goes up from 63% to 64%.  The Raptors are a different story.  With Siakam playing, the Raptors have a 75% win percentage, without him that plummets to 54%.  So there you go.  With him they are a 60 win team, without him they’re high 40s.

Individual statistics make the race a dead tie between Siakam and Tatum.  Even the advanced stats are mirror images of one another.  Yeah, Tatum is a better shooter, Siakam is a better finisher and passer, rebounding’s about the same, defence is similar with Pascal as a forward and Tatum as a wing, but the key is the winning.  Pascal Siakam wins more, and he does it with less.

 

Centre:  Nikola Jokic

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers

 

Jokic is really the only guy in consideration for this spot.  The only others you could really argue is Embiid, Gobert, or Bam Adebayo, and Jokic has won more with less help than all three of them.  His numbers are the usual 20 and 10 with 7 assists a night.  His 3-point shooting has taken a bit of a dip this season, but it’s still better than any of those guys.

Jokic belongs here.  No question.

 

Third Team

Guard:  Russell Westbrook

You can’t leave Westbrook off the All-NBA team this year.  He’s putting up his usual gaudy numbers all while playing second fiddle to James Harden.  It’s true that on offence he’s basically a rim runner but he’s scoring 27 a game and is leading all guards in rebounds this year so it doesn’t seem to matter.  We used to wonder if Westbrook could coexist with other stars.  Well, we saw it with Paul George, and now we’re seeing it with James Harden.  These two players hold the records for highest usage in a season, and now they’re playing together without stepping on each other’s toes.  Now that’s impressive.

 

Guard:  Chris Paul

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Let’s all remember that we thought the Thunder would suck ass.

We thought they could be the worst team in the league, but thanks to Chris Paul and SGA the Thunder have outperformed such teams as the Rockets, Sixers, and Pacers.  When looking at the guards for this final slot I was really only considering three; Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, and Chris Paul (all you Trae Young fans can stick his raw numbers up your butts.  Call me when he wins more games than the goddamn Knicks).  The raw numbers of Chris Paul aren’t why he’s considered.  His scoring averages of 18 points and 8 assists won’t wow you, but that’s not why any of these guys are here.  The reason we love guys like Lowry and Kemba is because they win games for their teams.  Lowry is so loved in Toronto because he makes the Raptors better.  He’s proven leader and deserves more recognition for that, Kemba too.  Winning should matter more than numbers.

If that’s the argument I’m making than who has improved his overall team this year more than Chris Paul?  The Thunder are deep in the playoff mix against all odds because of him.  Whether or not you want to attribute SGA’s growth to a CP3 mentorship is up to you, but either way, Paul has taken his team further than even the most optimistic Oklahoman could have dreamed.

 

Forward:  Jayson Tatum

Having been released from the dark spell that is Kyrie Irving, Tatum has fully realized the all-star potential we saw in the 2018 playoffs.  Since February, Tatum has been averaging 29 points a game and has been leading the Celtics to finals consideration.  He deserves this spot.  I could make the Tatum vs. Butler argument but I don’t need to.  They’re both here, and you can decide for yourselves who you like more.

 

Forward:  Jimmy Butler

Similar to Chris Paul in how Butler gets this spot.  He edges out guys like Khris Middleton because Butler is the unquestionable first option on one of the better teams in the league.  Butler has brought not only his skills but his culture to a Miami team that was looking for post-Dwyane Wade identity.  For the past four years the Heat have been celebrating the past more than planning for the future, but with Jimmy Butler in the driver’s seat they have ignited a bunch of late first-round picks and savvy free agents into the feistiest club in the league.  I love it when a team gets competitive this way.  When they grow through smart decisions rather than the luck of the lottery or the whims of star players.  The Heat have built a really fun team on the shoulders of Jimmy Butler, it’ll be interesting to see how far they can go in the playoffs.

 

Centre:  Domantas Sabonis

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Hot take alert!

Yes friends, I’m placing Domantas Sabonis over any Embiid/Gobert/Adebayo situation you want to argue for.  This guy is the most underrated player of the 2019-2020 season.  He’s putting up 20 and 12 every night, AND is having a historic passing season for a big man with 5 assists a game.  I love Bam, but Sabonis is not a point-centre like he is.  These are post passes and low-screen reads.  These assists are much harder to come by and are that much more impressive when they happen.  Maybe having his eyes so far apart allows him to see the floor better?

Sabonis has played so well that he essentially knocked out Myles Turner from the starting rotation, he’s been the best player on his team all year.  Brogdon has had a great season, but Sabonis has had higher peaks and has had them more often.

 

So…

The NBA is returning in less than a month.  As if we needed more excuses to watch TV. Be ready folks, it’s gonna be awesome!

2020 Eastern Playoff Preview

Last week you got the West, this week is the East.  There might not be as much drama, but it’s where I live, so it balances itself out.

 

  1. Charlotte Hornets

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There’s really no reason why the Hornets should make the playoffs.  Honestly the fact that they’re the 10th seed is a testament to the weakness of the East’s basement.  They have no real star, their leading scorer Devonte Graham is a score-first, undersized guard (an archetype that rarely leads to playoff success), and their roster is full of B-list prospects and C-list role players.  I guess their young guys can be fun at times, I’m a fan of P.J. Washington, and Miles Bridges and Malik Monk do cool dunks sometimes, but I don’t even know why they’d want to make the playoffs.  If by some miracle they make it into the 8th seed they will get the trouncing of their lives by the Bucks.  Expect to see Giannis sit out the final game if that happens, and then watch the Hornets still lose by 20.

Charlotte has backed themselves into a corner this season.  They’re not competitive, but they have too many regular season wins to push them into the top of the draft.  I only hope that they get lucky with a pick within these next few years, because while non of their young guys look like a franchise guy, they do make up a nice little base of young talent to prop a star up on.  At the same time, star players are the toughest thing to find in the NBA so the cards would really have to break right for Charlotte to get rich quick.  I guess there are teams with worse situations, but I’d rather be the Hawks or Knicks or Suns, at least they have some direction.

 

  1. Washington Wizards

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The Wiz might be sneaky good in the playoffs.  Why?  Because rumours have been circulating about the return of John Wall.  How bogus would it be for Milwaukee if they thought they had a cake walk through the first round just to get matched up with a Wizards team featuring Bradley Beal, Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans, and now John Wall.  Granted I still don’t think the Bucks would have much trouble, but you’d much rather not have to worry about it.

As an opponent, the Wizards are one of the better offensive teams in the league while doubling as one of the worst defenses.  They rank 6th in the NBA this year for points scored and 2nd in points allowed, letting a whopping average of 120 points in every night.  This makes them unlikely to win a playoff series but they could take home a game or two.  We’ve seen in the past how teams that rely so heavily on scoring can be fickle for better or for worse.  So if the Wizards get red hot one night and now have a healthy John Wall leading the ball, they could very well steal a game or two from the Bucks.

Still, don’t count on the Wizards to make waves.  A lot would have to go right for them to even make the playoffs and don’t be so sure John Wall will be the same player he was before.  Remember how much Wall’s success relied on his speed and athleticism, and Achilles injuries are nothing to mess around with.  I’ve never been a John Wall fan but I hope that he can come back and be the player he was, I just wouldn’t bet on it.

 

  1. Orlando Magic

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If the Hornets are trapped on the dark side of limbo, the Magic are on the shinier one.  They get to make the playoffs and then get squished every year by the one seed.  Orlando is like what the Hornets will be in 3 years if nothing goes their way.

They’ve done their damnedest to create a roster of all PF/Cs, featuring such greats as Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Mohamed Bamba, Jonathan Isaac, Khem Birch, and Al-Farouq Aminu.  Weirdly the most interesting prospect on the team might be Markelle Fultz.  He’s quietly had a promising rookie/sophomore/junior season averaging 12 points 5 assists and 3 rebounds shooting 47%.  He still can’t hit a three to save his life, but at least he’s contributing now.  For Orlando fans, they at least have a few defensive young guys coming along to pair with their offensive veteran core.  Especially Jonathan Isaac, who was having a really nice two-way season before he went down with a knee injury.  It’s a shame that he won’t be able to play in this year’s playoffs.  He’s the only person on the Magic’s roster that you could convince me will be something special one day, and guarding Giannis for a week and half is about the toughest tough love a guy can get.  The Magic have had a lot of chances at top prospects these last few years.  If they had been better at drafting, they might be fighting for the 5th seed rather than the 8th, but only time will tell if this team of giants, weirdos, and rejects can become something of note.  If nothing else, it’s weird.  I like that.

 

  1. Brooklyn Nets

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Any inkling that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving could come storming back to upset the Raptors has been put to bed in typical weird Kyrie fashion.  Firstly, the two were deemed unavailable by the Nets medical staff, nothing surprising there.  But Kyrie has also stated that he is against the 2020 season returning at all.

Now I don’t want to throw Kyrie under the bus too much.  His reasoning is valid in that he wants to boycott the season due to the social issues going on in the United States.  He’s not alone, as many as 50 players have expressed concern about returning to play, most notably Kyrie Irving, and Carmelo Anthony.  It’s easier for them to say because neither of them are on contending teams anyway.  Still, I understand the notion.  Race in America is a far too serious issue for something like basketball to cloud the nation’s poise, but I have to wonder if a boycott would hurt or help the cause.  Now, as a middle class, Jewish, white boy, living in Canada, I know I have little to no authority on the matter, but I believe that having the season return would help BLM by giving a prominently black league the largest possible stage and platform to speak their truth.  I also think it can only help the progression of African Americans to see other people of colour in these positions of fame and power.  (Also, I just really want to watch basketball and would be legitimately heartbroken if they cancel the season on me now.  I know race is much more important but I just really want to watch basketball!  Can’t we just solve racism in America and finish the 2019-2020 NBA season at the same time?  Please?)  It’s an interesting take by an interesting guy in Kyrie.

Oh, and the Brooklyn Nets are fucked.  They’re gonna get crushed by the Raptors.  Caris LeVert might steal a game but probably not.  Moving on…

 

  1. Philadelphia 76ers

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Just like the Rockets in the West, this year’s postseason is a real crossroads for the Sixers.  Maybe even more so.  Philly has been in a tricky situation for a long time, having the benefit of two young top-tier stars in Embiid and Simmons but also the frustrations that come with them.  Simmons has had four years to get himself some shadow of an outside game and has made zero progress on that end.  Embiid is maybe the best centre in the league but he’s injured half the time and he insists on playing outside in, taking 3-pointers rather than scoring in the post where he’s basically unstoppable.  I know I sound like an old head yelling at guys to take it in the post, but take it from a Raptors fan who watched as in a game 7 Embiid bricked jumper after jumper.

I have some sympathy for the Sixer’s front office.  As more time passes, we’re really starting to understand that Simmons and Embiid are a bad fit on the court, but you can’t blame Elton Brand for testing those waters as much as he did.  Three years ago, we looked these two guys and smelled a little Magic/Kareem action in them, but no luck.  This is why the 2020 playoffs is so important for this team.  They play the Celtics in the first round, and if they lose, I think that’ll be the nail in this core’s coffin.  It would take a real strong showing this post-season to convince the world that the Simmons/Embiid combo is worth another chance.  What’ll most likely happen is they’ll lose in the first round and trade Simmons in the offseason.  Why Simmons and not Embiid?

  1. They’re locked into the obscene Tobias Harris contract which means they’ll want to maximize the next three years and Embiid is really in his prime now.
  2. It’s easier to find a trade partner for a 23-year old forward with an injury history than a 26-year old center with an injury history.
  3. Embiid is a better player

All that said, the Sixers make the top of the East more nervous than any 6th seed I can remember.  The talent and upside and weirdness they can bring to the table is enough to scare even the Bucks, and while Philly has yet to deliver on any of the hype, it’s still intimidating.  Expect the first round to be a really good test for both Boston and the Sixers, two young teams trying to take the next step.

 

  1. Indiana Pacers

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Flying under the radar for the majority of the season, the Pacers have had minor successes at every turn, but now it’s time for the big show.  With a solid core of Victor Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner, one thing comes to mind when looking at both the Pacers record and their roster; good, not great.  Besides Sabonis (who I believe is criminally underrated and should be recognized as the all-star he is and for currently posting one of the better passing seasons of any centre in history), the Pacers are due to give any team a run for their money.  Whether or not Indiana can actually beat anyone is yet to be determined, but I doubt they’ll just roll over to the likes of Miami.

The only thing that can push the Pacers past the first round is if Oladipo finds his feet again.  We all remember the guy from 2018.  A player who took LeBron to 7 games and averaged 23, 4, and 5 whist leading the league in steals.  Oladipo has had a bit of a rocky start since returning from his knee injury this season, but if he can return to all-star form that could tip the scales in the Pacers favour.

 

  1. Miami Heat

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Miami is also a team in the middle of the pack.  Like the Pacers, they’re really a step below the top of the East, but they have two things going for them that the Pacers don’t.  First, an F-you edge.  I’m sorry, I love the Pacers, but they just cannot compete with the Heat’s personality.  Tyler Herro has already proved himself as a motherfucker, Goran Dragic knows how to ruffle feathers as well as anybody, and Jimmy Butler has been the biggest bully in the league for 3 years.  That’s also the second advantage the Heat have.  Jimmy Butler.  Yes, his numbers are down, and yes, he’s not on the level of a  Kawhi or Giannis, but on the biggest stage he’s proven that he can routinely lead his team to victory.  There aren’t a lot of guys who can say that.  We know now that Jimmy Butler is at his best when he’s the guy.  He’s not a sidekick, or even a co-captain, he needs to be the man.  What we’re about learn is how good a Jimmy Butler lead team can be.  I expect the Heat to lose to Milwaukee in the end, but also that they’ll punch a few Bucks in the face as it happens.

 

  1. Boston Celtics

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As a Raptors fan, I’m offended and a little afraid of the Celtics and Jayson Tatum’s rise to power.  Besides my sports idol Bill Simmons dropping his pants whenever Tatum’s late season averages are mentioned, the Boston Celtics have been mostly a feel-good story this year.  Their more consistent success after replacing Kyrie with Kemba proves once again that not being a weirdo triumphs over raw talent.  All that said, they have a tough road ahead this post-season.  Starting off with a matchup against the 76ers (a team fighting for their pride and boasting as much weird, raw talent as anyone), then moving on to the Raptors (defending champs, best defence in the league, the picture of an intelligent basketball club).  Boston’s one weakness is its interior defence, which could be a real problem against a rim running team like the Sixers.  Remember, Embiid dropped 38 on the Celtics last December.  Also, the Celtics will have to hide Kemba Walker on defence.  I remember when Fred VanVleet was literally unplayable in last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals because the 76ers played a lineup of all 6’8”+ guys.  How can you hide a guy barely bigger than Queen Latifah against a jumbo lineup of Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Joel Embiid?  I still think the Celtics will figure it out, but it’s a really tough first-round for them.

Then they face my Toronto Raptors.

 

  1. Toronto Raptors

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Let’s ignore Toronto’s first-round matchup.  Moving into the second round, whoever they play, it’ll be a fight to defend their narrow lead as “best team without a mega star”.  Both Boston and Philly have been on Toronto’s heels for three years and now that Kawhi’s gone, the race becomes open again.  The Boston series is nearly a dead even matchup.  Tatum and Siakam are about as good as one another, Boston might have a bit more offensive firepower but Toronto is more consistent and well-rounded on D.  If the Raptors play Philly it’ll be a real revenge series for the Sixers.  Remember last year when Kawhi ripped Embiid’s heart out and he cried on national TV?  Well, I’d imagine he’d be pretty motivated to beat us after that.  This year’s playoffs will just be another test for Pascal, who has met every expectation as a role player, complimentary star, and now star. Last year he could afford to flit in and out of playoff games because we had Kawhi as a safety net, this year Pascal is the safety net, he needs to be an all-star every night.  Can he do it?  He hasn’t let us down yet.

The real advantage Toronto has over these other eastern conference contenders is the defence and how we play as a unit.  Leading the league in points allowed and defensive rating, Toronto might not have an MVP on their roster but they do have the highest baseline of any team but the Lakers.  The team identity and two-way system that won them the championship last year is still alive and well, and it would take a real coming of age story from Philly or Boston to knock the Raptors off.

Making to the Eastern finals is also important for maintaining face.  By most accounts (though still just whispers), Toronto is a leading candidate for the Giannis free agency in the summer of 2021.  Being a contending team without him and beating up on the rest of the East is like putting on mascara before batting our eyelashes.  We’re gonna try and woo him, and we might get him regardless, but it couldn’t hurt to look our best.

 

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

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Anything less than the NBA finals is a disappointment for the Bucks.  Giannis is on track to win his second MVP, the team was on track for a 60+ win season, and the only thing they have left to do is win it all.  This year is important for Giannis personally as well.  When you’re this good but haven’t won a championship yet, the talking heads will start gunning for you.  We didn’t count previous years against Giannis because of how young he was and because Kawhi was Kawhi, but Giannis is a big boy now and he needs to start winning big boy games.

Making the finals this year is also vital if the Bucks plan to keep Giannis after his contract is up.  If they can prove that Milwaukee is the best place for him to succeed in games then that’s all they can do for him, but if they continue to fall short, what do they really have to offer?  Money?  The cap is gonna go down thanks to this whole COVID mess so the Bucks will be able to throw more raw cash at Giannis than any other team, but he’s going to be making max money anyway so it’d have to be a heck of a lot more to pull him back that way.  My point is success this year is really important moving forward, if not for Giannis, then for the Bucks front office.

Assuming they make the finals, the Bucks will likely have to go up against the Lakers or Clippers.  Both match up reasonably well with the Bucks, the Clippers have the one-two punch of PG and Kawhi, the latter of which has been the only guy to consistently slow down Giannis in the playoffs.  The Lakers of course have their own one-two punch, and while neither AD nor LeBron has ever played Giannis in the post-season, they might be the only two guys in the league that can match the Freak physically.  It’s gonna be a slug fest.

The key to victory for the Bucks is the shooting.  Mike Budenholzer’s Pace & Space system is all centered around Giannis getting to the rim and then finding open shooters on the perimeter.  You know Giannis is gonna get his points, but it’s about the other guys getting theirs.  Brook Lopez has been inconsistent shooting this year, Eric Bledsoe has been hovering around 30% from 3 in the playoffs, and it’s not like Kyle Korver is gonna win you a playoff game anymore.  Middleton is gonna have to really step up here.  The Bucks have one mega star compared to the L.A. team’s two, the only way they make up that deficit is with the rest of their guys stepping up, which includes Budenholzer.  He’s been the coach of the year, he’s one of the best in the league, but Mikey-B has fallen prey to system stubbornness in the past.  His Pace & Space system has gotten his teams far, but he hasn’t had much of a counter when his opponents figure it out, he can get out-coached by great defensive teams and he’ll certainly be getting that against the Raptors and L.A.

 

Here’s my final 2020 playoff map

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East:Screen Shot 2020-06-14 at 1.01.50 PM