Tag Archives: Derrick Rose

More Than A Friday: The Hot Dog-Sandwich Conundrum and Other Things That Aren’t

It was only a matter of time.  I like discussing the trending topics, and I like food.

I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I’ve been drawn into the conversation, just about every time that it’s come up.  Is a hot dog a sandwich?

The short answer from my point of view is that it’s not.  I feel you can take that tubesteak meat, slice it long-ways and place the pieces diagonally across a slice of white bread, put your mustard, relish, cucumber, and sauerkraut or whatever, put another slice of white on top and call it a sandwich.  However, the traditional hot dog, regardless of toppings, the one that comes in a bun, that’s just a hot dog.

The non-sandwich designation isn’t exclusive to the frank.  Frankly, it’s more about the bread and whether it’s one unit that holds it together or two.  Really, it doesn’t matter what you put in that bun; it’s not going to be sandwich, whether it’s a brat, a Polish, or an Oscar Meyer weiner.  The more compelling question starts with the hamburger, because if you replace the hamburger patty with fish or fowl, it’s quite blatantly a sandwich.  And, if you take that burger patty, and put it between two slices of rye or sourdough with melted cheese, you have yourself a patty melt, which is absolutely a sandwich.

We’re scratching the surface here; what about wraps, pitas, tacos, and certain deserts?  Let’s get your weekend started with the legitimacy of things around the world of sports.

Connor McDavid, the Ham & Cheese

For selfish reasons, I was devastated by the news of the #1 overall pick in last summer’s draft sustaining a significant injury.  McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers visit my hometown Arizona Coyotes next Thursday, and yours truly acquired tickets for the affair.  Now, I’m just watching an early-season tilt between two sub-par teams in the Western Conference.  There’s no question about the sandwich status of chopped ham and American Cheese, it’s just been a while since I’ve had it and it will be a while before we see The Next Big Thing on the ice in the NHL.  “What have you done for me lately?” doesn’t apply to McDavid’s situation…yet.

Chicago Bulls, the Gyro

Just because the Greek man in the apron behind the bar, the one that makes a tzatziki sauce that is to die for, calls it a sandwich, it is not a sandwich, not by my standards.  Look, I understand lazy Americans don’t often think of all the applications of that gyro meat and assume that shaved cone of lamb meat is going to come in a pita, and usually with fries on the side, but there’s more to the menu at your typical Mediterranean grill.  In the same way, when we say “whoever comes out of the East”, we mean the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Yes, we saw what happened on Opening Night at the United Center, but think about how far down the list you’d have to go to get to gyro when someone asks what kind of sandwich the should get.  Now replace “gyro” with “2015-16 Bulls” and “sandwich” with “Eastern Conference favorites”.

 

Carolina Panthers, the Pulled Pork

In the same way that the Vinegar-based barbecue of the Carolina region gets overlooked in favor of its Kansas City or Texas counterpart, there’s not a lot of respect going around for “Riverboat Ron” Rivera, Cam Newton, and the Carolina Panthers, but they’re as legitimate as anything going in the NFL right now.  Sean McDermott has Luke Kuechly on the defensive side of the ball, but that unit is as impressive as anything I’ve seen east of the Rockies.  Yes, that offense misses Kelvin Benjamin like dry ribs miss sauce, but there’s no questioning how Newton is the smoke that makes the meat taste so good.  Whether it’s shoulder or butt, this is undeniably a sandwich, and the #1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft is undeniably a solid MVP candidate this season.

Big 12 Football, the Footlong Hot Dog

A hot dog is not a sandwich, and a winning team that doesn’t play passable defense in Division I College Football is not a juggernaut.  Did you just win a game 70-53?  Well, I’m a lot less impressed by the 70 than I am disgusted by the 53.  If Texas Tech is giving you hard time, while you wait for your offense to get back on the field, it’s fair to say that LSU and Stanford are going unequivocally ruin your day.  Bigger is not always better, and no non-sandwich becomes a sandwich when you make it bigger.  C’mon people!

tcuTxTech

Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony, the Club and the Big Mac

I haven’t seen a lot of the Knicks, but I’ve seen enough of Melo over the years to understand his popularity, though I question the hype behind his game.  The guy is a great scorer, and I enjoy watching his bad team play in more Games of the Week than they deserve, but I wouldn’t want to do it 82 times a year, in the same way I don’t need to eat a Big Mac a couple times a week.  He doesn’t pass or think about his team, like most of us don’t think about the extra bun Mickey D’s puts on their signature menu item, but the extra bun still somehow matters.  The club, with turkey and bacon, is a little more complete, a little better for you, and actually a sandwich.  You wouldn’t order either on a date, but you could make a lot more arguments for the extra bread on the club, like it was a 7’3″ stretch-five with legitimate perimeter ability.  You wouldn’t fries with that, but a side of pasta salad seems fitting if Phil Jackson can find it for him the Big Apple.

New England Patriots, the Steak Sandwich

It’s messy and you can’t get it everywhere, but I honestly can’t think of a better sandwich.  I’ve had this opinion for a long time, and while there’s been a crappy skirt steak that doesn’t get the job done, every now and again, it’s certainly a go-to.  It takes the right amount of fire1Bill Belichick and the right amount of seasoning2Tom Brady, even if you don’t put it between the greatest pieces of bread, but that just makes for a good steak.  The weapons the Patriots currently have in Dion Lewis, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola seem to be the perfect starch to accompany an always reliable protein.  You can argue how ultimately unhealthy New England is for the league in the long-term, but it’s enjoyable to watch them play football in the moment.

Kansas City Royals, the Ice Cream Sandwich

What if there was a guy that legitimately drove a windowless white van and took random kids wherever they wanted to go, perhaps satiating their sweet tooth for the ride?  This could only happen in a world where the parents would trust this guy, sight unseen, to have their child’s well being in mind the whole time and not allow them to overindulge on the sweets.  Of course, the assumption is that world doesn’t exist, so nothing like that could happen, even if the guy driving the van is named Ned Yost.  In today’s world of Major League Baseball, you need the long ball and the dominant starting pitching; stealing bases and small-ball, in general, is just a way to get a late-inning run when you need it.  That’s not supposed to be how you win World Championships.

And the sandwiches, don’t forget the flippin’ sandwiches; it’s supposed to be bread, not fried chicken3We didn’t include the KFC Double Down here, but we’d go with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Sure, get fat and happy now, but remember you’re going to spend some time paying for it or cookies4If we were including Oreos, I’d go with the Houston Astros, a JV version of what the Royals have done. that sandwiches the meat together for clean eating with your hands.  Don’t tell that to Ned Yost, who could be the most notorious man driving the ice cream truck since Big Perm, I mean Big Worm.

The Royals broke all the rules.  You’re supposed to have meat and/or vegetables, or something from a jar?  Cheese is the only acceptable dairy?  Well, here’s some ice cream, so the lactose intolerant5New York Mets need not apply!  In a very “Life is short, eat dessert first” kind of way, the Royals decided that starting pitching an early-inning offense would supplement their bullpen and late-inning heroics.

You don’t think you want that, but you need that in your life.  That’s why these sandwiches are kept in freezers by the cash register, because you don’t plan to buy them, but your impulses entice you to do so.  And you don’t care that it’s just crappy cookies and ice cream, it’s the sandwich you wanted the entire time.

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1. Bill Belichick
2. Tom Brady
3. We didn’t include the KFC Double Down here, but we’d go with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Sure, get fat and happy now, but remember you’re going to spend some time paying for it
4. If we were including Oreos, I’d go with the Houston Astros, a JV version of what the Royals have done.
5. New York Mets

The Magnificent Matthew Dellavedova

The Cavs are on the verge of reaching their first Finals appearance in eight years.

Many people thought they would be in this very position before the season started. It’s hard not to think a team with Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love could be within four games of a conference championship, even in their first year playing together.

The Cavs brought in vets with championship pedigree throughout the season. Players like Mike Miller, James Jones, and Shawn Marion were expected to help guide this overall young and inexperienced team through tough moments and be leaned upon in do-or-die situations.

However, many of these players were nowhere near as impactful in this year’s playoffs as most expected for different reasons.

Miller and Marion proved to be way past their prime, too much so to even contribute in the playoffs to this point. Love’s season ended in game four of the first round due to a dislocated shoulder. And Kyrie has dealt with knee and foot issues during the Bulls series.

The Cavs needed guys to step up in a big way.

That’s why the bench play of a guy like Matthew Dellavedova was and is so important, especially after facing a rough-you-up Chicago Bulls team.

Obviously, as more players get injured, the more important a team’s depth is. The “next man up” approach and trust in those replacements is arguably equally as important. With the conclusion of the Eastern Conference semis, it seems as if Delly has earned the trust of this teammates, and for good reason.


Some can’t explain why or how Matthew Dellavedova is still around in the NBA, even in his second year and performing well on the biggest stage of his basketball career. Yes, even bigger than this.

I personally have been up and down on Delly throughout his short career, with far more ups. I tend to gravitate towards players like him, who don’t seem to have the necessary talent to be effective but make up for it with an incredible amount of hustle.

At some point in the season, it came to a point where I uttered the phrase “I’m not willing to die on the Delly hill anymore.” I can safely say that I’ve climbed back up on that hill and have re-planted my flag. Delly is awesome again.

He had some cool moments in his rookie year, including a 21-point game (5-7 from 3) late in the season in Detroit when the Cavs were technically still in the playoff hunt (shout out to Dion Waiters). He also successfully guarded the likes of Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant for stretches.

But none of those enlightening moments came in a game with as much importance as any of the Bulls games in round two.

Delly’s defense isn’t all-world by any means, but there are these incredible spurts where his man just can’t seem to shake him. Just ask Derrick Rose.

https://vine.co/v/eADTghB27v1

Rose was held to just 1-4 in the fourth quarter of game six last Thursday. And while many factors go into that, it was Delly who was asked guard him for the majority of the half after Irving was sidelined. It’s also worth noting that Delly played every second of that second half. That in and of itself is quite honorable given the magnitude of the game.

Delly is willing to do the dirty work, too. You may remember him guarding Dirk Nowitzki earlier this year in preseason. Well, he’s still ungrudgingly able to guard 7-footers.

https://vine.co/v/eADnKDLqB2j

As you can see, Delly switches onto Pau Gasol while Thompson switches onto Rose. This is something the Cavs love doing with Thompson on defense. Having a guard like Delly that will do anything no questions asked on defense and can actually be decent at it is good for the Cavs.

Delly and Tristan have also created an ungodly amount of chemistry on offense, specifically on pick-and-rolls. I’m not going to show a Vine of it here because you have already seen one with those two; Delly lobbing it and Tristan throwing it down. Seriously, it has to happen at least once a game. Those are the rules.

And while Delly has looked like a PnR artist, he hasn’t always been that smooth with it this year. Many times when the roller was heavily covered, Delly just did not know what to do with the ball. He was indecisive and it usually led to a bad shot or a turnover.

https://vine.co/v/eAtjj5tEezE

This is from January 28 against Portland. Thompson gets stuck on the screen and once Delly sees he’s not where he wants him to be, he panics, jumps without a plan, and throws it away. (And really, that’s also a product of trying to have Marion stretch that side of the court).

Now we’re seeing less of that and more decisiveness from Delly, almost as if he knows what he’s doing. And the great thing is, he’s doing it when it really matters, as in potential-series-clinching-games-with-the-All-Star-point-guard-nursing-an-injury matters.

https://vine.co/v/eAtUzmE9Vzx

I didn’t even mention that Delly shot 42.9% from 3-point land in the Bulls series. It was much needed and magnificent to watch.


Deep into the night on Tuesday (technically Wednesday morning), ESPN’s Dave McMenamin penned an excellent article on the relationship between Delly and Irving. As McMenamin noted, unknown to many, they had a rocky relationship at the start of Delly’s rookie campaign, almost leading to fights in practices. Eventually, however, the two started to respect one another, as Tristan Thompson explained.

“Probably the first three months of the season he was irritated by Delly,” Thompson said, “but he realized Delly is not going to stop and it was going to make him a better player.”

In a matter of a couple seasons, Delly went from a guy I thought could’ve gone down in Cavaliers infamy with the likes of Omri Casspi, Semih Erden, Christian Eyenga, and Manny Harris – the random players on dreadful Cavaliers teams – to an important part of a championship caliber team who commands the respect of James Jones, David Blatt, and, most impressively, LeBron James.

He makes plays that force people to rip their hair out. He’s one of, if not the most unorthodox looking players in the league. Nothing about him stands out until you hear him talk. But he has a world of intangibles.

From McMenamin:

“Heart, man,” [James] Jones said. “On this team, Delly embodies all heart, all hustle and all the work.”

I don’t care if that’s cliché. I don’t care if someone doesn’t think that Dellavedova’s heart and effort don’t matter. Delly is talked about how Anderson Varejao was talked about eight years ago. And despite multiple severe injuries, the Cavs have opted to keep him around for 11 years now.Sometimes we just have to accept that some players just outwork others. And while those players aren’t as blessed with the same natural talent of a LeBron James (who also puts in the work), it’s the rare level of intangibles that keep them in the game.

Heading into the ECF, I think the Aussie will break out some more Peanut Butter Delly time. He’s rarely a good on-paper matchup for the Cavs, but I think he’s proven enough times that “on paper” doesn’t always translate to on-court performance.

Cavs Heroes in Games 4 and 5

The Cleveland Cavaliers are one win away from reaching their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2008-09. It’s been six years, but it feels like a whole hell of a lot longer.

After the loss of Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs in round one; injuries by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Iman Shumpert; and the two-game suspension of J.R. Smith; the Cavs were able to #grit out wins in games two, four and five.

The series will head back to Chicago where the Bulls face elimination.

The Cavs seemed to be okay with ping-ponging series position with the Bulls since no team could get a string of two wins together. The Bulls had the only leads in the series after games one and three.

But the Cavs decided in games four and five that they would plant their flag in this series and force Chicago to win two straight of there own or go home and watch the Cavs face off between the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards.

With Kyrie noticeably hobbled, the Cavs had to find some way to win games four and five. LeBron needed to be more aggressive and needed some help on the offensive end. Thankfully, we’ve seen both at varying points.

While LeBron wasn’t terribly aggressive in game four, he almost came away with a triple double with 25 points (on 30[!!!] shots [only four free throw attempts]), 14 rebounds, and eight assists. He was sloppy with the ball in the first half, but was able to seal the game on a buzzer beating shot in the corner to even up the series once again.

For my money, game five was the best game LeBron’s had in the playoffs, and perhaps since he’s come back to Cleveland.

LeBron talked about how, with all the obstacles mentioned above, he needed to be more assertive even though his M.O. is to be efficient. In game five, he was both. And he was fantastic.

It’s no secret that LeBron fell in love with his jump shot a too much in this series. On Tuesday night, while he still put some up, he did so in a decisive fashion. There were less jab steps to create space/ball-hold and more quickness towards the rim.

In the first four games of this series, only 18.9% of LeBron’s shots came after holding the ball for less than two seconds. Most of his shots, 46.2% to be exact, came after holding the ball for more than six seconds. Not ideal.

In game five, there were more plays like this:

https://vine.co/v/eKZQpDhv562

LeBron took 25% of his shots when he held the ball for less than two seconds. The amount of shots he took when he held the ball for more than six seconds dropped to 37.5%. I think part of this definitely had to due with the fact that Jimmy Butler was in early foul trouble, but I also think LeBron just flat out wanted to make that adjustment (or at least I hope so).

Even from the naked eye, it seems LeBron is able to make more buckets when he’s in rhythm. Him receiving a pass and taking four jabs steps, holding the ball for seven seconds, and heaving a long 2-pointer just isn’t a good shot. This is especially true for him since he isn’t the purest shooter in the world.

LeBron’s efficiency/aggression combo showed up in the box score as well, to the tune of 38 points on 24 shots and 12 free throws, 12 rebounds, and six assists. And…

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Thankfully, LeBron had some help the last two games of this series.

Timofey Mozgov

Mozgov was pretty bad offensively in game five. He was 0-7 in just 23 minutes of play, committing three fouls and three turnovers. Three of his seven shots were from 10 feet or further away from the hoop. He did contribute a six rebounds and a block.

Mozgov made his positive impact in game four.

Part of this is due to an adjustment probably made by David Blatt/his staff.

In game one, Mozgov looked like a defensive liability. Part of his duty was to guard Pau Gasol, which just doesn’t suit his style. Gasol finished that night with 21 points on 10-16 shooting and a bazillion mid-range jumpers.

In games three and four, Mozgov was never on Gasol (who was out with a hamstring injury in games four and five). Mozgov was usually either on Noah or Taj Gibson, where they primarily make their offensive plays in the paint – or in Gibson’s case, more so than Gasol and Nikola Mirotic.

Mozgov played much better in this role and it really stood out in game four on Sunday. Even when Noah was setting high screens for the guards, Mozgov hung out in the paint, knowing Noah isn’t much of an offensive threat, even close to the basket.

This remains true when Noah receives the ball. Mozgov just stays back and baits Noah into these types of decisions

https://vine.co/v/eKmew2FP9lM

Shots like these and defense like Mozgov’s led Noah to shoot 4-12 in game four. Noah’s just not a good pick-and-roll player unless he keeps the ball moving.

Noah’s liability on offense let Mozgov stay in or near the paint at all costs. This helped the Cavs defense hold the Bulls to 37.9% (11-29) in the restricted area. Which, uh, isn’t good.

https://vine.co/v/eKm6b21nEO0

This block on Derrick Rose pretty much sums up how Mozgov was able to be effective. Noah had the ball between the elbow and the wing. Since there’s no reason to respect his shot, Mozgov sagged off. Once Rose got the ball and drove, Mozgov was in position to funnel him to the backside of the rim and had the athletic ability to block him from behind.

J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert

Even though the Cavs came up short, Smith was a clutch contributor in game three, hitting three of five shots in the fourth quarter – all 3-pointers. This came in his first game back from his two-game suspension.

In game four, he added three more 3’s, all of them coming in the fourth quarter. When the Cavs needed him the most, J.R. Smith showed up. J.R. Smith.

Smith was performing so well, he forced me to defend Blatt for possibly having LeBron inbound the ball on the last possession of game four. Had the Cavs been down and needed a bucket, Smith should’ve been the one to shoot it. He was doing that well; head and shoulders above his teammates.

It can’t be understated how important J.R. is to this team right now, especially if Kyrie’s foot bothers him like it did on Sunday. He looked much better on Tuesday night, but if it starts to act up, Smith will be the one the Cavs have to look for to get some points.

Shumpert has been just as important on the defensive end. And while he had his way with the mid-range jumpers in game five (4-4), it’s been his defensive ability that the Cavs have been able to lean on given Kyrie’s injury.

Even with Shumpert’s groin problem, the Cavs have asked a lot from him recently on the defensive end. He’s done everything from guarding Jimmy Butler at the start of games to defending Derrick Rose to switching on pick-and-rolls and playing tough in the post.

Since J.R.’s return to the lineup this series, in the last three games Shumpert has played some of his best defensive basketball for the Cavs, given the circumstances, and the numbers reflect that.

(Click to expand the image if it’s blurry)

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 3.28.01 AM

Above are Shumpert’s diff% numbers. It’s a small sample, just three games, but the numbers are pretty striking. He’s held his opponents to a worse percentage than normal in every area of the court.

This is huge because it gives the Cavs more options on to do with the defense. When Kyrie was hurting, they put him on Mike Dunleavy and Shumpert on Rose. When the Cavs wanted to switch on PnR’s, Shumpert’s shown he’s able to hold up on a guy like Mirotic in the post (which admittedly isn’t Niko’s forte).

The Cavs have been battered and bruised since game four of the first round. They’ve been able to gut out a few wins against the Bulls and are another away from meeting the Hawks or Wizards for a chance to go to the NBA Finals.

Did you just get chills? Well you should’ve.

All stats are courtesy of stats.nba.com (because it is really awesome) unless stated otherwise.

Chicago Bulls are Testing My Faith

I watched the entire fourth quarter of the most recent Bulls-Cavs game feeling as if I had just finished my 12th cup of coffee. My foot tapped rapidly. Sweat pooled above my brow and upper lip. My palms involuntarily grated my cheeks like blocks of cheese. I morphed into a little kid watching his first scary movie—my fingers covered my eyes but ever so slightly separated, like partially open blinds, to avoid completely obstructing my view. Ceaselessly on edge, utterly unable to contain for even a moment my nervous fidgets, I stared unblinking at the screen.

All this happened as I witnessed the Bulls march back to tie the game.

Then LeBron hit the game winner. Suddenly my twitching stopped.  I was paralyzed.

Sports fans all suffer agonizing defeats, some more than others depending onto which team you have hitched your wagon. As a loyal Chicago sports fan that was born in the 90s (I was too young to appreciate Michael Jordan in his zenith), I’ve endured more heartbreak than most. This type of loss was a familiar sight, yet something about this one in particular left me more devastated than any other that I can recall.

After I gathered my bearings and collected my thoughts enough to regain coherency, I felt no relief. Actually I felt worse. Upon mentally recapping the game, I remembered that the outcome could have been different if David Blatt’s assistant coach/babysitter didn’t stop him from calling a timeout that the team didn’t have. A prime example of the paper-thin line between winning and losing. One tiny little moment could have given Chicago a win, but it didn’t happen. I was totally distraught.

Unable to redirect my focus onto anything else, my mind explored the present feeling.

How can the loss hurt this much? Why do I care this much about a basketball game? I do not currently nor have I ever worked for the Bulls. I have no friends or family with ties to the organization. I have no affiliations whatsoever with the team. The Bulls players, coaches, and management have no idea that I even exist. The outcome of this game had no direct impact on my daily life.

Knowing all this, somehow I was still inconsolably grieved following the Bulls loss.  Psychosomatic pain was kicking in. I felt like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed just took turns pummeling the crap out of my stomach.

It’s irrational. I’m crazy to care this much about sports. After tough losses like this, I sometimes wish that I cared less. I would like to be able to just go for a walk then yell at my dog for a while and be able to quickly feel better. But the walks just increase my blood pressure, making me more irritable and I don’t even have a dog, so that doesn’t work. Alas, I am forced to grit my teeth and endure, free of any pain-relieving savior.

So after all the heartache, what keeps me coming back? Perhaps my daily routines have become so saturated with sports watching that I have essentially become addicted. Maybe subconsciously I’m some of sort of twisted masochist. Most likely, I continue to follow sports because I am drawn to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, my team will wind up on the winning side of one of those gut-wrenchingly close finishes.

Actually, the Bulls secured such a victory in game three, just two days prior to the devastating loss. Upon seeing Derrick Rose bank home that game-winning buzzer beater, I experienced all those extreme emotions, but from the opposite end of the spectrum. That time it was pure bliss.

Once again the feelings were totally illogical. Just as with the pain, it was crazy to derive such great joy from a team, completely oblivious to my existence, winning a game as I watched on my 32 inch (I’m not braggin’) TV.

That’s just the nature of the beast.  From one game’s irrational heartbreak to another game’s irrational bliss, we care too much about sports.  Despite this awareness, I have no intentions of changing my ways.  I’ll love my teams until the day I die.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports. But it’s also pretty freakin’ crazy.

How the Cavs Beat the Bulls in Game Two

It’s been a tale of two games for the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round series versus the Chicago Bulls.

In game one, the Bulls handled the Cavs on 66 points from their big three of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, and Pau Gasol. Gasol, who rinsed the Cavs with a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds, tore the Cavs’ pick-and-roll defense apart with the help of Rose and Butler (more on that later).

The Cavs, meanwhile, got 30 points from Kyrie Irving, but it just wasn’t enough. LeBron James was an assist away from a triple-double (15 rebounds), but scored just 19 points on 22 shots.

Game two was a much different story in this chapter of the Cavaliers’ playoff run.

LeBron was aggressive from the get-go, as highlighted by the thick, bright white headband he sported once again after its almost 2-month hiatus. LeBron only dished out five assists, but scored a much-needed 33 points in a route of the Bulls.

LeBron was the catalyst behind the Cavs’ win that even up the series 1-1. And while it’s sort of unfitting to proclaim a team’s best player its “catalyst,” in the same vein it is to declare him their “x-factor,” that’s just the way it is with the Cavs more often than not. And now, with Kevin Love out, it’s truer than ever. For the Cavs to win, LeBron must be engaged and efficient. Otherwise, the Cavs must count on career-long role players to pick up any slack left behind to help Kyrie Irving.

Thankfully, LeBron had the right mindset in game two, as Cavs fans were on the cusp of losing their minds before the series headed to Chicago.

The Cavs went into the second quarter with a 20-point lead. From there, the game was never seriously in question, even though the Bulls outscored the Cavs in quarters two through four (by one, three, and one point[s], respectively).

LeBron James cavs bulls round two playoffs

LeBron was able to put up 14 points in the first quarter, setting a different tone than in the first game of the series. He was basically the same LeBron we had seen (and the one the Cavs needed) throughout the regular season with Kevin Love, sans the ISOs and ball-stopping.

LeBron is no-doubt this team’s best distributer. That he was able to accumulate nine assists in a game without the scoring ability of Love and J.R. Smith in game one was impressive but not what the Cavs needed to win that game. So, LeBron made the appropriate mental adjustments and decided to be more aggressive/efficient.

In game one, LeBron took 15 shots in which he held the ball for more than six seconds (yuck) and only seven shots when he held the ball for six seconds or less (ew). Those numbers improved to 12 and 17, respectively, in game two. Holding the ball for longer than six seconds is rarely a good thing, even when you’re down two starters. For the Cavs, many times when LeBron holds the ball for that long, the other four guys stand around waiting for him to do something. This makes things much easier on the defense, especially when LeBron settles for a jump shot instead of driving/dishing.

Furthermore, LeBron focused on scoring more at the rim. While he did take more shots 15-19 feet away from the rim – nine in game two compared to two in game one – he took 18 shots less than eight feet away, up six from game one.

It’s not just great that he converted more of those shots near the rim (61.1% rather than 58.3%), but that he was cognizant of what the Cavs needed from him and able to make that philosophical adjustment was a great sign on the outlook of the rest of this series.

Maybe the most important stat differentiation regarding LeBron’s assertiveness was this: two free throw attempts in game one (in 42 minutes), nine in game two (in 34 minutes).

Of course, there were other contributing factors to the Cavs’ turnaround in game two.

Improved defensive execution

Even the most untrained basketball eye saw how open Pau Gasol was left many times on his jump shots. On the surface, it looks like lazy defense and bad planning by the coaching staff, who had over a week to implement a defensive scheme for the Bulls (unless they really thought there was a chance for the Bucks to comeback and win that series).

Gasol’s shooting success in game one seemed to be the thing fans focused on, and for good reason. The amount of space the Cavs left him on his shots, given some of the situations, was egregious. This seemed to be another philosophy the Cavs would have to adjust before the next game.

However, as I dug deeper and looked at the specific plays that were crushing the Cavs’ defense, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I looked over all 10 shots Gasol made from game one and came away thinking that what David Blatt and co. had thought up was justified; the players just didn’t execute well.

(After game two):

Below is Gasol’s 3rd shot of the night.

https://vine.co/v/eZwP06J0nBh

It’s a PnP with Butler, guarded by LeBron, and Gasol, guarded by Mozgov. The Cavs had their bigs hedge on these, which is a bad idea with Mozgov, but it is what it is.

In my opinion, what makes this play for the Bulls is the little switch Mike Dunleavy and Derrick Rose perform. Rose goes from the wing to the corner, leaving Dunleavy a pass away when Gasol gets the ball. Kyrie, who’s now guarding Dunleavy, has a legit 3-point threat to guard, preventing him from getting to Gasol on time. Had Rose stayed on the wing, it’s possible Kyrie would’ve sagged off more/got to Gasol in time.

And that’s what happened with most of these shots where Gasol was left open. The plan was decent. Having the bigs hedge on Rose and Butler is totally understandable, even though they should probably only be doing that with Thompson. The problem was the lack of rotating by the Cavs, which led to shots like these:

Pau Gasol wide open shot Game One Cavs playoffs 2

In game two, Gasol only scored 11 points on 3-8 shooting. For the most part, the Cavs kept the same hedging philosophy, but clearly put an emphasis on at least getting a body on the roller/popper. Kyrie was that guy that did so multiple times.

https://vine.co/v/eZLnrLQbuVU

It’s not much, but it’s a lot more than what they did with Pau in the first game. The Cavs relied a lot on Mozgov to either recover when he was on Pau, or rotate when he was close. That’s not ideal for the big man. He’s mobile, but he’s not as defensively savvy or athletic as Thompson.

The Cavs made Gasol feel uncomfortable on offense the whole game with their rotations and even tried putting Kendrick Perkins on him. I in no way endorse Perkins being on the floor except to send a message to the other team in those rare occasions. But he actually did a decent job on Pau. One of Gasol’s weaknesses is his opponent getting physical with him and that’s what Perk brings to the table.

Iman Shumpert

Shumpert is known for his defensive abilities and is perhaps the best, or at least most consistent perimeter defender the Cavs have.

That said, it’s been his 3-ball that’s been helping to carry the Cavs in this series so far. That is a huge development with J.R. having served his suspension.

Shump has always been a streaky 3-point shooter, no matter if it’s season-to-season, series-to-series, or even game-to-game. Per basketball-reference, he started off his Cavs career shooting 42.6% from deep in his first 14 games. Then he hit a road bump for the next 10 games, shooting a lowly 11.8%. He was able to even out to end the season, shooting 35.3% from 3 in the last 14 games, which is a bit better than his career average.

Even against Boston Shumpert shot just 25% (2-8). Luckily, he was able to get on a good streak in these last two games, going 8-17, or 47.1%. That is huge. And Jason Lloyd from the Akron Beacon Journal tells us why:

That’s why having Love and J.R. is great for the Cavs. It makes their opponent honor their 3-point shot and gives LeBron and Kyrie room to operate in the paint. The Bulls chose to sag off Shumpert to help these drives and Iman made them pay.

The big question now is if Shumpert can sustain this. It’s not as important now with J.R. coming back, but the Cavs still kinda need it.

As always, Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson is always around. You cannot hide from him. He will find you. And he will destroy your dreams.

https://vine.co/v/eZL2pliDFPu

Thompson’s been able to grab 20 rebounds so far in this series, nine of them offensive rebounds, and six of them coming on Wednesday night.

But that’s…

…that’s not all…

…THAT’S NOT ALL HE CAN DO.

Whew. Alright. Time to dispel any notions that all he can do is rebound… which he is pretty damn good at icymi.

I’ve used this stat before, but I’m about to show a couple graphics that I want everyone to understand.

Diff% is, as stat.nba.com put it:

“…the difference between the normal field goal percentage of a shooter throughout the season and the field goal percentage when the defensive player is guarding the shooter. A good defensive number will be in the negative because the defensive player holds their opponent to a lower field goal percentage than normal.”

For example, say Thompson guarded Jonas Valenciunas, who shot 57.2% this season. If Jonas went 40% on all shots defended by Thompson, the latter would have a diff% of -17.2 for that game.

Now, to shoot down the narrative that “all Tristan Thompson can do is rebound.” On top is Tristan’s diff% in six playoff games, on the bottom is the two second round games against the Bulls. (If the image is blurry, click on it to enlarge)

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 2.07.55 AM

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 2.08.11 AM

Of course, any kind of statistic you look at is just a piece of the puzzle when evaluating a player’s performance. But this piece of Thompson’s puzzle is pretty impressive.

And it’s shown up in a big way against the Bulls. In other words, the eye test lines up with the numbers.

For whatever reason, when Thompson gets switched onto another player, the Bulls like to put up shots against him. This is not a good plan. I’m talking to you, Derrick Rose.

https://vine.co/v/eZlduUj63Wz

Tristan did this against Jimmy Butler too. Of Butler’s 14 attempts in game two, Thompson was switched onto him four times. On those shots, Butler was 1-4 with three points. Not bad.

All stats are courtesy of stats.nba.com (because it is really awesome) unless stated otherwise.

Bulls Take Game 1 Over Shorthanded Cavs

The Bulls needed this one. With J.R. Smith out for the first two games of the series, it was imperative that Chicago did not leave Cleveland trailing 0-2. Game one was their best chance to secure a W since the Cavs may have been rusty after cruising past the Celtics in round one and then doing that thing LeBron James did in Miami for two weeks during the regular season—rest.

With the win, the Bulls gave themselves a boost of confidence and inserted a sliver of doubt into the minds of the mostly inexperienced Cavs. Chicago also grabbed home court advantage for the series, but we just witnessed the road team win 4 of 7 in the Clippers-Spurs series, so location doesn’t really seem to matter much in a playoff matchup between two top teams. In any case, the Bulls lead the series 1-0. That’s what matters most.

On their way to victory, the Bulls tormented the Cavs with a slew of pick and rolls using Derrick Rose as the handler and Pau Gasol as the screener. All night Cleveland failed to stop that action, though I’m reluctant to fault them for this. The Bulls simply executed well.

When the Cavs hedged Rose hard above the pick, Gasol backed away from the action to provide a passing lane for Rose to dish to him for a wide open jumper. When the Cavs played under the screen, Rose attacked the lane, sucked the defense in and kicked out to teammates for corners threes. Since neither of these defensive tactics was effective, Cleveland later opted to switch many of the screens, which left Rose in isolations against a big (usually Tristan Thompson). This should have been a mismatch in the Bulls’ favor, but Rose often settled for tough jumpers as the shot clock wound down. He will need to better take advantage of these switches as the series continues.

In previous seasons, Joakim Noah typically served as the screener in pick and rolls. He tried a few times Monday night, but it produced next to nothing since the Cavs just ignore Noah as an offensive threat, which is the right move at this point. He didn’t score and is clearly laboring out there. The poor guy is hobbling around like a dude on stilts. The Cavs fans should probably save their boos for another player, one who actually scores.

To Noah’s credit, he remains valuable since he, amazingly, is still able to rebound well, and he is a solid screener away from the ball. His picks helped free up Mike Dunleavy, who torched Mike Miller early in the game until the Cavs finally pulled him out. Miller finished the game with a dreadful -20 +/- in 16 minutes. Fortunately for the Bulls, the Cavs will be forced to play Miller for at least part of game two before Smith returns to the lineup in game three. Every second that Miller plays he is a defensive liability. The Bulls must exploit him when he’s on the court.

Possessions in which the Bulls did not run Dunleavy off screens or initiate a pick and roll mostly fell stagnant and ended with Rose or Butler in isolation. This is going to happen from time to time late in close games so they will need to knock down a handful of jumpers late in the shot clock. That’s just the reality of playoff basketball. Limiting the number of these attempts will be a key. They do not want to get caught up trying to defeat Kyrie and LeBron in an iso contest. That’s a battle that the Bulls tandem won’t win.

Kyrie was virtually unstoppable in game one. With Jimmy Butler locked onto LeBron, the Bulls had no defensive answer for Irving. He easily blew by Rose, Brooks or Hinrich and subsequently finished over the likes of Gasol and Noah. His conversion ability at the rim is astounding. He handles the ball like Steph Curry except he does it in midair with a 7-footer staring down at him. My chin is bruised from the number of times Irving made my jaw drop to the floor with his dazzling finishes. I’m no longer surprised by anything that he does, but I’m very often still impressed.

With the Cavs trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter, they shied away from Irving isos for something even more terrifying—Kyrie and LeBron pick and rolls. They are completely indefensible. Hedge hard and Irving splits the double with a drive or a knifing pass to a slashing LeBron. Hedge soft and Irving calmly accepts the open jumper. Not to mention that LeBron can also fake the screen and slip out to the three point line for an open look. With this weapon, along with the option to let LeBron or Kyrie go one-on-one, the Cavs have more firepower than the Bulls when closing games. To secure victories, Chicago will need to build leads and just hope to hold on like they did in game one.

The key to series, as is always the case with a LeBron team, will be Cleveland’s supporting case. LeBron is going to get his; he always does. The Bulls can still win the series if they contain Cleveland’s role players. Of note, Chicago needs to limit Shumpert, who had a strong opening game, Smith when he returns, and the offensive rebounding of Mosgov and Thompson. If they can contain those four players, in addition to continuing their execution of the pick and roll on offense, the Bulls will have a shot to win the series.

To all the jubilant Bulls fan who are ready to claim this series, slow your roll. The game one victory feels good, though it hasn’t exactly been a positive omen against LeBron’s teams lately. The last two times that LeBron and the Bulls have met in the playoffs, they have taken game one. In each case, that was their only win of the series.

This team could be the one to buck the trend. They are different, deeper and more talented than any team during Thibodeau’s tenure. Plus I’m pretty sure that LeBron’s reign of terror in the Eastern Conference must end at some point. Now seems to be as good a time as any.

Around the Association

Notable News and Notes

Elfrid Payton Records back-to-back triple-doubles

Wille J. Allen, Jr. - AP Photo
Wille J. Allen, Jr. – AP Photo

Elfrid Payton recorded 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in Saturday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers 111-104. This was Payton’s second triple-double of the year and it came in consecutive games. His first triple-double came in a loss at Dallas recording 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. The rookie has had a great month averaging 12 points, eight assists, and 5 rebounds across the board in March. A young cast has the Magic at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the play has increased every season and the young talent now meshes more as a team, but is still far away from anything promising. Current MAgic Starting Five: PG Elfrid Payton, SG Vic Oladipo, SF Maurice Harkless, C/F, Channing Frye, and C/F Nik Vucevic.

Paul George’s Possible Return?

PGeorgia
The Pacers will play four games in the next week and Paul George may be apart of one of those lineups. George has been rehabbing from a compound break in his leg since last August and is eyeing his return quite soon. The plans, for now, are to get George implemented in the lineup by at least next Saturday’s game versus Brooklyn. George has been practicing with the team for the past three weeks and he thinks his return is in the near future. The Pacers were rolling earlier in the month ripping off seven straight wins scratching the surface of entering the playoff picture. Obviously, George won’t be relied on to come back immediately in his stardom form, so don’t initially think that his return should ultimately give Indiana the best chance at the eight seed in the Eastern Conference.

What’s New on Kevin Durant?

KD

Whether people were talking more about Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s glasses on Friday, it was clear that Kevin Durant’s playing status for the rest of the season doesn’t look too promising. No, there was no sure fire answer, so of course NBA fans will be uneasy about that, but it seems as Durant’s 2014-15 NBA season is over. The former MVP has dealt with continuous injuries on the same right foot throughout the season and there is no timetable for his return. Presti: “He’s not making the progress we expected…(on shutting him down) essentially that’s the direction we’re headed right now.” The Thunder have still managed to battle for the eighth seed in the tough Western Conference and Russell Westbrook has done his best MVP impression guiding this team to a possible playoff berth.

Gortat Has Jokes

If you’re looking for a laugh, don’t go anywhere else. After a flopping incident that cost Marcin Gortat $5,000, Gortat took his thoughts to Twitter. How fans and then the Washington center reacts is very comical. Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.43.03 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.44.05 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.45.07 PM  Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.46.40 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.45.42 PM  

James Harden, Houston

Harden sits on top of the current fantasy basketball rankings averaging 27 points a night. He just captured a career best 50 point performance in a win versus Denver receiving and deserving many “MVP” chants from his home crowd.

Derrick Rose, Bulls
Like George, Derrick Rose is eyeing a comeback this season after suffering a torn meniscus. With Rose’s list of past knee injuries, the team isn’t thought to rush him back, but he seems to be ahead of schedule and should return before the playoffs. If you’re eyeing and needing about 15 fantasy points a night, Rose may be a great pickup, if your league dumped on him already.

 

Power Rankings

1. Golden State Warriors

gstate
The Warriors managed to solidify their top spot after defeating the Atlanta Hawks in Oakland 114-95 on Wednesday night. A great stat that defines future champs for this team is that they lead the league in field goal percentage on both offense and defense. The last team to do that was the Sixers in 1981 (from ESPN’s Marc Stein).

 

2. Atlanta Hawks

Hawks

Atlanta sometimes likes to flirt with our emotions winning the big staged games then  losing to the lower tier teams like this season’s Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, and Denver. Regardless, Atlanta is still the top team in the East and has already clinched a playoff spot in March.

 

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

cavs
The Cavs may have reached that point we were all expecting. After a 50-point performance from Kyrie Irving and the constant effort from LeBron James, this team can be ultimately unstoppable. This team is surging at the right time. See, nothing to freak about?

 

4. Memphis Grizzlies

grizz
Even though having placed in the top five since October, Memphis still seems to be underrated, but they just keep winning games. The team has not looked all that impressive since the All-Star break, but they still tend to play well offensively.

 

5. San Antonio Spurs

San-Antonio-Spurs-Logo
The Spurs have ripped off nine wins of their last 11 games (somehow losing to New York) and have an average margin victory of 16 points during that span. The aging Spurs are playing their playoff style basketball right now, but are only considered a seventh seed right now in the Western Conference at 43-25!

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Extra

If you’re one of those guys, like me, that think the NBA standings should be combined and not separated by conference, USA TODAY put this out this week with that format for the playoffs:

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.20.13 PM

How to Choose an NBA MVP

As the NBA nears its regular season conclusion, end-of-the-year awards rise to the forefront of conversation, especially the award for Most Valuable Player. In many ways the late-season MVP race parallels the final weeks leading up to the Oscar’s. Pundits tirelessly discuss the hottest candidates, seemingly updating their rankings daily in response to each triple double, flashy ball handling display, or box office result. Inevitably, the campaigning thunders from all corners—players state their teammates’ cases, fans shower their stars with M-V-P chants, writers choose sides, and suddenly ubiquitous G.M.s vouch for their guys. I can just imagine Daryl Morey inviting the voters to a private screening of James Harden’s highlights then sending them home with gift baskets filled with Rockets merchandise, a Fear the Beard t-shirt, and a poster of the new King James.

The importance of campaigning must not be overlooked. The media frenzy that swooned over Derrick Rose during the 2010-2011 season carried him to the award win. The hype storm raged so torrentially that respected sports analysts were openly referring to Rose as the league MVP by January. I’m not saying that Rose didn’t deserve the MVP that season; I think that he did, although it was certainly debatable. In Rose’s MVP year, and virtually every season that features a competitive MVP race, the age-old question resurfaced: what is the actual meaning of “most valuable?”

The answer: not much. It’s simply the name that the NBA chose for its “player of the year” award. Other leagues use different names for the same honor. College football has the Heisman Trophy. College Basketball has the Naismith Award. The PGA Tour simply calls its award the Player of the Year. These are just different titles for the same award.

Would the NBA writers adjust their votes if the league changed the name of the award from MVP to Most Outstanding Player or Player of the Year? Of course not. The presence of the word “valuable” garners far too much attention. It was an arbitrary choice. The NBA execs probably opted to use the word “valuable” because they thought that MVP was the coolest sounding acronym. The bottom line: do not fixate on the word “valuable.”

With that said, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what makes a player the MVP. Since there are no specific criteria outlined by the NBA, I decided to create my own. My criteria consist of questions to ponder, classic pitfalls to avoid, and how to break the tie in an extremely tight race. Let’s begin with the questions.

If the MVP candidate was replaced with a serviceable player at his position for the entire season, what would be the effect on his team’s record?

This is the most important question and the one that determines which way many voters lean. In essence, this is what an MVP is all about. In a league obsessed with winning, the player who is worth the most wins to his team should always be one of the MVP favorites, if not the eventual winner.

If two knowledgeable NBA fans are drafting teams for a giant pickup game and every player in the league is available, who would be taken first?

I borrowed this idea from Bill Simmons. Hopefully he doesn’t mind.

I feel that this question needs to be included because it prevents us from voting each year for the best team’s best player and gives hope to a great player stuck on a bad team like Kobe Bryant was with the Lakers after Shaq left. Kobe carried truly pathetic supporting casts to 45-win seasons. Unfortunately, those are not the type of performances that MVP voters typically favor, which is why Mamba was twice beaten out by a Canadian with feminine hair.

What did the MVP candidate do to distinguish himself from the rest of the league/What stood out about his season?

This can be accomplished via a gaudy stretch of triple doubles (like Russell Westbrook’s recent run), by carrying the team on a historic winning streak (à la LeBron James in 2013), or by becoming so furious about not winning last year’s championship that you mercilessly massacre the rest of the league for an entire season, ultimately winning 72 games (Michael Jordan in ’96).

Upon review, most seasons feature a standout performer. In 2006, Kobe averaged 35 points per game, scored 62 points in 32 minutes, and recorded the second highest scoring game in NBA history with 81. In 1962 Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points per game for the entire season. That same season Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double. In 1987 Michael Jordan averaged 37 points per game and in 1989 he recorded seven consecutive triple doubles en route to averaging 32-8-8. These are some of the most acclaimed and memorable seasons in league history, yet none of them were deemed MVP worthy. I repeat: not one of these seasons resulted in an MVP for these players. (*Note* In 1962 players voted for the MVP, and they selected Bill Russell. Wilt scored 50 points per game, Oscar averaged a triple double, and Bill still won MVP. That’s really one of the greatest testaments to how revered Russell was by opponents. He was the exception to this question, and since he won 11 titles, I’ll give him a pass.)

While it seems impossible that none of these standout performances earned an MVP, there is actually a pretty simple explanation for how this happened: the voters had not yet learned about my criteria for choosing an MVP. It’s a real shame. Sadly, it’s mostly the kids studying old NBA seasons who suffer. They toss and turn all night as they attempt to fathom why Michael Jordan only won five MVPs (I may or may not have done this).

Once voters have contemplated the questions, they should review the common pitfalls to be sure that they are avoiding them. One of the most important things to remember is that the MVP vote should be based solely on the player’s performance this season. These are not lifetime achievement awards.

Additionally, these are not Most Improved Player Awards. That vote is separate. Simply because a player exceeds expectations does not make him the MVP. We are so often wowed by the flashy player who is having a breakout season that we overlook the perennial MVP contenders. This is similar to the most frustrating pitfall of all—voter fatigue. The voters grow tired of selecting the same player year after year so they become tempted to choose a less qualified candidate merely because he is someone different. They must resist this urge.

Voters must also be wary of favoring an MVP candidate based on his team’s improvement. For instance, they should recognize that the Warriors have made a significant leap this season for a litany of reasons, only one of which is Steph Curry’s stellar play. Curry is certainly a viable MVP candidate; voters just need to be careful about showering him with praise because of the team’s win total this year. Many parties are responsible for the team’s progress.

Most voters would agree that this is the tightest race in years. When facing a difficult decision like voters will this season, the questions are pitfalls are not always enough.  Then the voters should look to the numbers. First, compare how many games the candidates have played. This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. In a close MVP race, the candidate who played 82 games has made a greater impact than the guy who played 72. This could be the difference maker. Despite how great Russell Westbrook has played lately, he has missed 15 games this season. That will severely inhibit his chance to win MVP.

If the games played numbers are equal or negligibly different, voters should turn to the most common advanced stats such as +/-, PER, and win shares. While it’s best to determine who deserves the MVP through mostly subjectively means (after all, it’s your own personal vote; of course it’s going to be subjective), an objective look at the key stats can be a helpful way to make that final decision.

What do you think? Follow Jared on Twitter (@JaredAndrews3) or leave a comment! Make sure to like More Than a Fan on Facebook!

Joakim Noah is the Best Teammate in the NBA

Once again Derrick Rose is facing media scrutiny for the wrong reasons. Over the past two seasons, fans, other players, and analysts have exhaustively covered concerns about Rose’s ankles, knees and hamstrings. This time, an entirely different body part of Rose is making waves: his mouth.

On November 11, Rose, who is usually soft spoken and understated, was asked about his health situation. He responded with some puzzling comments.

“I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to. I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past,” Rose said after practice.

The outcry to Rose’s statements was abrupt and harsh. NBA fans on social media were aghast at the possibility that Rose may be sacrificing time on the court now simply to avoid being “all sore.” Charles Barkley, as always, had a strong opinion on the matter. When discussing Rose’s remark Barkley stated, “Derrick is a good kid, but that was stupid… There are consequences for what we do for a living.”

While a majority of reactions were critical of Rose, he still had his defenders. Perhaps fittingly, his most notable defender was teammate and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah. Noah has always been an eccentric personality, evidenced by his dawning of some of the most peculiar mannerisms, fashion choices, dance moves, and a hideous floppy ponytail the likes of which we pray that we never witness again (he has since slightly upgraded to a tightly wound bun). He is also an infamous villain to many teams across the league, notably the Heat and Celtics.

In spite of all that, Noah is a down to earth guy who gives thoughtful interview answers and is noted for being gracious with his fans off the court. A man who is obsessively competitive on the hardwood is actually kind at heart. He cares deeply for his teammates and is always quick to shield them, especially Derrick Rose.

When the media rushed to criticize Rose for his latest comments, Noah immediately protected his teammate. “I know sometimes it’s frustrating, you got injuries, you got tweaks. Every time something happens to him, people act like it’s the end of the world… Everybody needs to chill the f— out. I mean, I’m sorry for cursing, but I’m really passionate. I don’t like to see him down,” Noah gushed. Noah’s passion for basketball is obvious to all observers, but his compassion for his teammates is often overlooked. Whether he is playing the rah-rah role, or offering a simple reassuring gesture to a frustrated teammate (shown at 16 seconds in), Joakim embodies what it means to be a truly great teammate.

Last year, the Bulls were struggling to find ways to score without Rose. So coach Thibodeau molded an offense that featured Noah at the high post, allowing him to best utilize his passing skills. While he may not necessarily have been comfortable in this new role, Noah selflessly embraced the challenge. After the 2014 All-Star break, Jo averaged just over 7 assists per game, by the far highest of any big man. In that span, he also recorded an NBA high four triple doubles. Noah essentially became the first Point-Center in NBA history. And all this he did for the good of his team.

The newly invented Noah soared in popularity. Fans showered him with MVP chants during every one of his free throw attempts and in the waning minutes of quality performances. After a win over the Heat last March, Bulls writer Chuck Sworsky asked Jo what he thought about the chants.

“I don’t like it… Because our MVP is not playing. We have one MVP, and that’s Derrick Rose,” Noah replied. Incredible. The guy is receiving the highest of praise that all NBA players dream of hearing, and he turns it into a compliment of his injured teammate.

As Gator fans remember, the selflessness of Noah extends beyond his days with the Bulls. When he played at Florida, he was the leader on a national championship winning team. After securing Most Outstanding Player honors after the 2006 title, Noah would have likely been the first pick in June’s NBA draft. Turning down millions of dollars, Jo returned to school and convinced NBA prospects Corey Brewer and Al Horford to remain at Florida for another year as well. Thanks to Noah’s leadership and team-first approach, Florida repeated as national champs in 2007.

While Noah has clearly been gracious to all of his teammates, there seems to be something special between him and Rose. He lovingly refers to Derrick as his brother, and he praises Rose’s accomplishments just as he defends him from his detractors. Whether it is through heartfelt comments, or warm embraces provided at just the right moment, Joakim has proven himself to be the ultimate basketball altruist.

Last season, Joakim Noah lifted himself to new heights as a basketball player, earning himself a spot on the All NBA 1st Team. With this year’s addition of Pau Gasol and the return of Rose reducing Noah’s role in the offense, a return to the 1st Team appears unlikely. A new star will brand that honor. But Jo will be just fine with that. He cares not about his personal accolades, only about bettering others around him. That is exactly why he will retain the only individual honor that matters to him. Once again, Joakim Noah will be the best teammate in the NBA.

Don't Rush an Injury

Washington’s Robert Griffin III is a talented quarterback and athlete, one who is fun to watch on Sunday afternoons, but I fear for his long-term future in the NFL for reasons that have nothing to do with his on-field performance.

Last season, Griffin sprained his knee in a Week 14 victory vs. the Baltimore Ravens, and then suffered a more serious injury to his knee; he tore his Lateral Collateral Ligament more in Washington’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. As a spectator to the sport it was hard to see someone with his athletic ability go down and suffer an injury like that. He didn’t give up or let his injury define his career, instead he let it define his character.

I never enjoy, nor do I wish for, an athlete to sustain an injury because, depending on the severity, rehabilitating can be a difficult and lengthy process.

In Washington’s opening game of the season versus the Eagles, RGIII looked to be limping and was not running in the same fashion as he did during his rookie season. I fear that because of his competitive nature, he did not take enough time to completely heal from his knee injury.
I understand that for a player like Griffin, it must difficult to be injured and not be able to contribute to your team. But I would hate to see any athlete, especially one as talented as RGIII, rush back and jeopardize his career because he was not completely healed.
As a fan, I would much rather see him take his time rehabbing his injury and not come back until he is fully ready so that he can be a true competitor. I want to be able to watch a healthy RGIII play, as he is a versatile and exciting player. Plus, the threat of him running is what makes him a standout, compared to other quarterbacks.

Even though he plays another sport, another athlete that seemed to have rushed back after he tore his ACL a year and a half ago is Derrick Rose. Both Rose and Griffin are the leaders of the teams, the face of the franchise and the ones who were just beginning their careers when injuries struck. He got injured in the playoffs of the 2011-2012 season and was out for the entire 2012-2013 season. It was hard to watch Rose, a very promising star and the new “franchise athlete” of the Bulls. I think Rose was overworked though. I think he was the top performer for the Bulls. Do I think that is why he got injured? No, when he was playing he looked like he had jumped off his leg wrong. Seeing a guy like Rose go down sucked. It sucked for the fans, for him and for the Bulls. He was their leader and they needed him. At the same time they relied on him too much that in his absence they didn’t have a solid backup. The Bulls weren’t terrible without him, but they weren’t as good as they were when Rose was playing. With basketball just around the corner Rose says he is fully healthy and ready to come back to play. Do I think he is? Absolutely. He has had plenty of time to rest and really rehab his knee to get over this injury. I want to see Rose come back and just flourish.

In this case, I believe he just needed more time to completely heal.
The decision to return to the field should not fall solely on the player, however; the coaches need to do a better job of determining when a player is ready to return. As a coach it is partially their responsibility to protect their players. They need to make sure that when talking to the athlete and the doctor that they come to an intelligent conclusion of when it is the right time for them to return to action.
Professional leagues are working to improve player safety – especially in the NFL and its recent focus on concussions – but there are other injuries just as serious that players try to play though. How could anyone forget the 2004 ALCS with Kurt Schilling and his bloody ankle? Luckily not as many athletes do play through injuries because of the advancements in technology and the steps to make it safer.
There has been a lot of research that has gone into concussions and the league is trying to make it safer by the type of hits that players are allowed to make. Also when a player is on the ground (NFL) and they have to take a “medical timeout” that player has to sit out for one play for assurance. The NFL realizes that there are problems with athletes and injuries and are trying ot do their part to make it safer.
While it is understandable that RGIII and Rose would both want to return to help their teams – even if they are not 100 percent healthy – ultimately I think they need to consider what is in their best long-term interests and put their health before their team.

Note: I think everyone would agree that it would be nice if anytime someone is injured they can take as long as they want to get healthy but, sadly, that’s not the reality of professional sports. RG3 may have pushed it a bit, but Rose got a chance to take his time and really rehab his injury.