Tag Archives: James Harden

Cavaliers offend with their offense

After declaring a rebirth of sorts for the Cleveland Cavaliers in my last piece, I now feel a bit of egg running down my face after the team has dropped two very winnable games this past week. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss two factors that I think led to these disappointing outcomes.

I have said this before, and it rings true this week as much as it has all season. We MUST win the games we are supposed to win!

No one takes us seriously when we beat the #2 team in the league one week and lose to a sub .500 team the next. It makes fans and the national media question whether we are actually a good team or just putting on a show with smoke and mirrors.

Offensive Strategy: At times, I find the strategy that the Cavaliers decide to use on offense, offensive. Meaning that it offends my common sense approach as an analytical fan.

For example, when the game is close or we are starting to squander a lead late in a game, why on earth do any of these professional players think that the best idea is to run the shot clock down and hoist up a three pointer? Is it an engrained desire to be the hero as they have practiced thousands of times since they were first introduced to the game as kids?

Sure, sometimes the shot goes in and we all talk about how clutch that player is and how they always seem to bail us out. Most of the time, those shots do not go in and amongst fans there seems to be no accountability for having just wasted a crucial possession.

We should be taking high percentage shots from the paint in these situations. This is the most opportune time to rely on Kevin Love.

He has shown over the last few weeks to be not only shooting a high percentage from down there, but it also puts him in a great position to possible secure an offensive rebound for another clock eating possession. I don’t understand why we settle for just running out 24 seconds and taking a low percentage shot when we can get a higher percentage shot and possibly the chance to run out 40 seconds.

I also want to complain about one more strategy on offense that goes hand in hand with the one I just mentioned. That strategy is the isolation play for James.

Yes, I realize that he is The King and can make his way past most defenders one on one and get a high percentage shot, but it is what consistently happens AFTER he makes it past the player defending him that is in question.

Either he takes a tougher than necessary shot trying to get an “And One” and doesn’t get the call, OR if he does get the call and misses we take our chances at the free throw line.

For being a superstar in our league and contending with James Harden for most “And One” opportunities amongst all players, he has been mostly inconsistent at the free throw line. In close games like the 104-103 loss to Boston, #AllFreeThrowsMatter

Another thing that the isolation play does when you run it over and over, is that it gives the opponents time to rest as the play usually consists of James on one end of the court and the rest of the players just standing around watching on the other side. Make these guys run the slalom around picks at the end of the game so that the fatigue catches up with them and they will make more mistakes.

If Lue is dead set on running the ISO in these situation, PLEASE do it with Kyrie! At least he is shooting a reasonable percentage from the line and finishes just as well or better than James.

Bench Play: The contributions off of the bench in these two most recent losses have been truly disappointing as a collective group. Dellevadova being out with a hamstring issue only cements my suspicion that he is maybe the most important component of the second unit.

The strength of the second unit is clearly anchored in Iman Shumpert’s ability to steal the ball and make players think twice about lazy passes. This is an invaluable asset that we have as it gives us more possessions in addition to take potential points off of the board for our adversaries.

From an offensive standpoint, we just cannot produce consistently. Just when we think that Mozgov has “figured it out” he reminds us that there is a reason he is not starting anymore with another blunder at a crucial juncture.

Against the moderately talented Charlotte Hornets all that out five bench players could amass was 13 points. Delly is averaging over 8 points per game on his own so his contributions are clearly missed.

We cannot expect to win close games without these intangibles. I challenge the players and coaches to play a smarter game and, if necessary, make some key changes to the team that put us in a stronger position to contend in the Finals.

Even if we play horribly, we will get one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference purely based on our talent level. Having Kyrie and Love in the Finals this year will not matter though unless some of these issues are corrected.

I’m ready to see if Tyronn Lue is up to that challenge.

Around the Association

Notable News & Notes

Dirk Nowitzki Reaches 28,000 Points

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Nowitzki reached the 28,000 point mark on a three-pointer with seven minutes left to play in the third period at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on April 1st. Entering the game, Dirk was just 14 points shy have hitting the monumental mark that consists of a list that features Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain. The future Hall of Famer finished the night with 18 points and then followed that performance adding 21 points the following day in a loss versus Houston 101-108. Complete Scoring List Here

Russell Westbrook Continues to Ball

Remember when triple-doubles were not so common? Well, Russell Westbrook doesn’t. Westbrook recently recorded his tenth triple-double of the season in a loss to Dallas. Westbrook recorded 31 points (10-32 FG), 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. In his ten triple-doubles this season “Reckless” Russ averages 31.6 points (10.3-25.7 makes/attempts=40% FG), 12.6 assists, 12.1 rebounds, and 5.3 turnovers with a 7-3 team record. Russell Westbrook currently places 12th on the all-time list with 22 and is in striking distance of moving into the top ten by the end of this season and should finish in the top five once his career is over if he continues on a similar pace. Complete List Here

James Harden Records Second 50 Point Game

James Harden recorded his first 50-point game of his career on March 19 and shortly after recorded his second with a 51-point performance in a home win over Sacramento 115-111. Harden has averaged 32.5 points between the ten games since his first 50-point performance. He also joins some good company in Rockets team history:

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LeBron Climbs Another Notch on the Scoring Ladder

The headband-less LeBron James scored on a contested hook shot (in honor of Patrick Ewing?) in the lane, giving him 24,816 points to move into 20th on the All-Time NBA scoring list passing Ewing’s mark.

What’s Trending

John Wall Getting Down

John Wall showed off some of his moves in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Gimme Five Challenge. No dougie this time I guess. See it on his Instagram account: John Wall Instagram @johnwall

Kelly Olynyk’s Eye

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Boston center Olynyk took an accidental elbow to the face in pregame warmups and was left with this mess during the game. Yet, he still dropped 19 points on way to 100-87 win over Indiana.

Blake Griffin 360 block

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Blake Griffin’s block on Jonas Jerebko last Sunday night:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YQJchpk3iA

My Power Rankings – Once again dominated by the Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

2. Atlanta Hawks

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

4. San Antonio Spurs

5. Memphis Grizzlies

6. Houston Rockets

7. Los Angeles Clippers

8. Portland Trail Blazers

9. Dallas Mavericks

10. Chicago Bulls

I apologize for not embedding the videos into the text this week. For some reason I couldn’t link it directly into the content. Though, I am not all that computer savvy anyways…

Comparing the Final Four’s Stars to NBA Players

As we approach the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament, we near both the end of the season and the end of the college careers of some of the top players still chasing the title. Next Monday a champion will be crowned, and regardless of who ultimately hoists the trophy, many of the biggest names from these remaining teams will leave school to pursue their next challenge at the professional level.

Apparently since no prospect is allowed to be completely unique, they must all be compared to a current or former NBA player as they are graded for the draft. It’s sort of a rite of passage before they enter the league.

 

Jahlil Okafor, Duke – At the beginning of the season, I thought Okafor’s game most closely resembled that of Tim Duncan. As I have had a chance to view a larger body of Okafor’s work, a different NBA player comes to mind—Al Jefferson.

Both Okafor and Jefferson possess tremendous size and strength to bully players on the low block, which enables them to score consistently. Neither boasts exceptional athleticism nor defensive acumen. Where Okafor differs from Jefferson is in natural court awareness. When Okafor senses a double team, which he encounters frequently, he is a willing and capable passer.
His passing ability and superior agility should eventually allow him to earn the All-Star nod that has thus far eluded Jefferson.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky – Like Ricky Bobby the guy has two first names, except his are combined with a hyphen and one of them isn’t also his last name. Unlike Ricky Bobby, he plays basketball so a more fitting athlete comparison is LaMarcus Aldridge.

Most fans know Aldridge as a deadly mid-range shooter, whereas Towns spends most of his time posting players up near the basket, so their games do not seem entirely similar at a quick glance. However, Towns focus on post ups is mostly a function of Kentucky’s offense and the matchups that he faces. Like Aldridge, he is an excellent free throw shooter (82%) and is more than capable of stepping out and draining jumpers as far away as the three point line.

Sam Dekker, Wisconsin – The first rule of player comparisons requires that a white guy must always be compared to other white guys. So in accordance with the rules, Sam Dekker’s NBA comparison player is Chandler Parsons.

They two players are of similar height and physique, and they each have somewhat unusual-looking releases that cause their outside shots to be inconsistent. Dekker does not quite possess the playmaking ability of Parsons, but he is a more explosive athlete. If given more offensive freedom at the pro level (which is a virtual certainty) Dekker may very well prove to be an even more gifted scorer than he has shown in Wisconsin’s discipline-obsessed offense.

Justice Winslow, Duke – The second rule of player comparisons states that lefties must be compared to other lefties. This limits the available player to compare to Winslow. Luckily, there are two that fit the billing—Thaddeus Young and James Harden.

Young is definitely the safer comparison for Winslow since he sets a more reasonable standard to match.  But with the way Winslow has consistently stepped up for Duke in the pivotal moments, I felt that he needed to be paired with a more notable NBA star. Also, Winslow’s style is actually in many ways very similar to Harden. They are both lethal in transition with the Euro step and often unorthodox finishes. I’ve also recently noticed Winslow’s affinity for step-back threes.
The only issue with the Harden comparison is that Winslow doesn’t have a beard, and as cool as his hair is, “fear the modern afro” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky – To me, this is the easiest player comparison to make. Willie-Cauley Stein is Tyson Chandler to a T. The slender 7-foot frame. The exceptional agility and defensive instincts. The Prison Break style tattoo coverage. It’s all there.

Analysts always say, “this guy is the next (fill in the blank)” and they are almost always wrong. But Cauley-Stein actually is the next Chandler. They are a better player comparison match than Andrew and Aaron Harrison, who are in fact twin brothers.

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Again I must abide by the rules, so Frank the Tank’s comparison player is Pau Gasol. Much like Pau, Kaminsky has excellent footwork in the post and a feathery touch that allows him to score with either hand. Frank is also an excellent passer with outstanding court vision, much like Gasol. From a shooting standpoint, the two are again similar. Kaminsky has a smooth release for a big and range extending to the three-point line.

Travis Trice, Michigan State – Given the way he has led his 7-seeded underdog team to the final four, he has become this year’s Shabazz Napier. But Napier’s playing time at the pro level has thus far been limited, making comparison’s difficult. Instead I liken Trice to NBA veteran Jason Terry.

Like Terry, Trice is better suited to be a shooting guard, but his size dictates that he play the point. They both accept the role admirably and are equipped to create shots for teammates and themselves.
If Trice does not win a starting job in the NBA (which seems likely given that we are in the golden age of NBA point guards) he could fit in nicely as a 6th man/closer. Terry flourished in this role while with Dallas, during which he gained a reputation as one of the best clutch shot makers in the game. Trice has proven to have the same courage to take big shots and also the skill to make them at the most crucial moments in games.

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

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?

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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:

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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!

Westbrook: MVP?

It was easy to pick on the young and immature Russell Westbrook in recent seasons having supposed to play second fiddle to the nation’s best scorer, but didn’t always see eye to eye with that philosophy. Westbrook has always been the one to blame on Twitter and conversations based on his frequently missed shots, on bad shots, and acting as basketball was just an impromptu pickup game at the YMCA with your girl watching in the stands.

Well, his occasional recklessness still holds true, but his efficiency and growth has put him on the top of the NBA within the last month or so. Westbrook has picked up the pace for the often injured Kevin Durant this season by filling his own role plus picking up the void of Durant averaging 31 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 10 assists over the last ten games.

The Wild Child started his crazy chain of events after being a unanimous pick for the All-Star MVP in New York after a 41-point performance being shy of the all-time record just by one point. Since the All-Star game, Westbrook has put up games consisting of 34, 33, 39, 40, and 49 points. Wow! And to think he’s just been a scoring threat over that brief period of eight games, he has dished out the ball and has abundantly rebounded the basketball. He hasn’t recorded a game in which he had less than double-digit assists games since the All-Star break (10, 10, 17, 10, 11, 11, and 10) and his rebound numbers are as good as any center in the league right now (slight exaggeration) at 9.25 per game.

Westbrook’s recent numbers during his triple-double game outings have been mind-blowing. Over this four-game stretch he’s averaging 37 points, 13.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game. Westbrook’s performances as a whole in February (31.2 points/gm, 10.3 assists/gm, 9.1 rebounds/gm) was just the second time a player in NBA history has averaged 30 points, nine rebounds and ten assists per game over a particular calendar month. *Oscar Robertson was the only other player in history. Good company, Russ. 

Westbrook has become an MVP candidate just over one month? Yes. But he has been playing at a high-level over the past few seasons, so it shouldn’t be something that is too unfamiliar or surprising to the NBA following. The biggest concern regarding Westbrook’s MVP candidacy, is the fact that he missed the whole month of December with a hand injury that was supposed to possibly keep him out until the All-Star break, but you know, like Russ was really going to holdout that long. C’mon now!

Another factor to consider will be the possibility of his team not making the playoffs in the heavily talented Western Conference. First off, if the Thunder can win enough games to solidify the eighth seed in the Western Conference, Scott Brooks deserves a ton of credit with an in and out starting lineup (Thunder’s past two starting lineups: Westbrook (out vs. LAL), Roberson, Singler, Ibaka, Kanter-doesn’t read playoff team, but somehow they have been winning games, even if it’s just the Lakers, Sixers, and Pacers). With Kevin Durant still on the bench with injury, if Westbrook can help guide this team to a playoff spot, that alone could stand as a big resume builder on his MVP status.

As you get to this point, you may see much of this article as an overreaction due to Westbrook just having an MVP-type month as is Hassan Whiteside for Miami. Well, you may have a point as Westbrook is still shooting way under 50% currently having a 43% field goal percentage over the span of the season which ranks 87th in the league (Melo has a better percentage than that…). Other MVP candidates have slightly better ratings: LeBron James-49%; Stephen Curry-48%; and James Harden 44%.

But of course, once the MVP race talk starts to come about, the definition of “MVP” comes into question. Does the award really go to the most “valuable” player or the most “outstanding” player each season. Many of the times the award supports both causes and goes to the right player, but then you ask yourself “what does most ‘valuable’ really mean?” Is it scoring 30 points a night, but not being anymore vital or important than some other players on other teams across the league? We just really don’t know. Heck, you could make the argument that Jason Kidd was the most valuable player in the 2012-13 season guiding the Knicks team though only averaging six points and three assists per game.

If giving the M”V”P award means giving it to the best player, then give it to James. If it means rewarding the player who has had the best season as a whole, then it’s down to Curry and Harden. But then you have to decide if those categories don’t mean anything and you give the award to the hottest and most exciting player, i.e. Westbrook. But since we have a little while to ponder this, this article may not mean a darn thing in three weeks. Gotta love sports.

Around the Association: Dissecting the All-Star Teams

The NBA All-Star starters were announced last week and the league had us guessing on who would fill out the remainder of the roster in the game in Madison Square Garden. The Eastern Conference starters consist of: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Pau Gasol. Some of the ones that didn’t make the starting cut may have (are) been more deserving than the starters voted on by the fans.

East AS

Jimmy Butler of Chicago will most likely win most improved player of the year with his 20.4 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game improving from 13.1-4.9. Jimmy Butler is well-deserving of a starting position, but you know we have to cater to those of the high-powered organizations i.e. New York (Yes, I am aware that Chicago is a high-powered organization. Don’t get sassy). Kyrie Irving received a heap of an amount of harsh criticism at the beginning of the season, but used it as motivation and is now a big part of the red-hot Cavaliers.

Speaking about being red-hot, the Hawks were on the verge of breaking in a 20-game winning streak before the All-Star break. The phenomenal duo of Paul Millsap and Al Horford make a strong case for the best low-post one-two punch with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol as they have dominated the paint. Horford has been apart of an injury free season. Their much improved point guard Jeff Teague will join them.

You could make the case that the Western Conference bench could beat the starting five with players like Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook all considered as second teamers. The starting five is currently drawn out with Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, and Marc Gasol. Of course, now with Kobe’s injury one will take his place in the rotation and James Harden will probably be the favorite to do so after arguably being one of the league’s early MVP candidates.

West AS

Andy Furman of Fox Sports Radio (before Cousins got to take Kobe’s spot): Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 2.18.52 PM

Demarcus Cousins got the late invite after the Kobe injury news.

From a straight up unprofessional analytic standpoint, the West is freakin’ loaded. When the bench consists of Durant, Westbrook, and Paul (three of the league’s top ten players) the answer is clear to the question on which conference has the better players and might be the overall reason why this side of the league is in a constant battle every night in the standings.

The All-Star teams consist of the heralded stars of the game in its current state with Griffin, Wall, Curry and others, but what about the others that have had more of the eye-popping type seasons like Kyle Korver with a 74% shooting percentage and is currently on the case for a 50-50-90 stat line for the season? Damian Lillard is left off? Weird. Lillard has a stat line that is as impressive as any other stars in the league with 21.8 points per game, 6.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game. Lillard also stars for the league’s fourth best team.

When All-Star news breaks, critics come out and sign me up as one. Sure, I like to see the big names and superstars in the game every season, but when can we just admit that the spots (starters) don’t always go to the players having the best seasons or most deserving, but to the ones that are popular on 2k and have a big time following? But hey, who am I to judge?

All-NBA Teams: Properly Timed Edition

I’ve written columns in the past that detail my quibbles with the NBA.  Hell, the first words I ever wrote for this site were a list of things that bug me about the league.  If you were to go back and look, you’d see that those words were written in late February.  Now I don’t remember exactly what the weather was like that day, but it’s New England, so it was cold.  Today being a 70 degree early-June day, I’ll mention only 1 quibble: why not wait until after the playoffs to name All-NBA teams?

This isn’t a huge quibble.  It’s not like I’m talking about how David Stern doesn’t care that 1/4 of the sports fans in this country think his sport is at least partially rigged (completely unscientific estimate – in my experience it’s higher than that, but I generally hang around malcontents).  It’s not like I’m wondering why the NBA can’t keep a damn official in a video booth so they don’t have the 3 on the floor standing around with their hands on each other’s backs watching a freaking video monitor for 5 minutes at a time while we’re trying to end a game.

As I said, minor quibble.  I think the playoffs, and how far teams and players go, should factor into All-NBA voting.  I get why they don’t want to vote after the Finals have finished – fans generally don’t care about the league right then.  But why not right now?  Why not vote for teams once you have the Finals match-up set, and post the results at some point before game 5?

The goal of every player is a title, and how far a guy goes in the playoffs should matter.  A lot.  Kobe Bryant over Tony Parker on the first team seals this thinking.  Who cares that Kobe had a great regular season?  Tony Parker has arguably been the second best player in the entire NBA (the argument is that he might in fact be the best) at the time when it matters most.

So here are my teams.  They’re somewhat stat-based, somewhat feel-based, and I would say that the playoffs factor 25% into each decision.

All-NBA Emeritus Team

Kevin Garnett

Paul Pierce

Because it’s my column.  Can it.  You’re lucky I didn’t put Avery Bradley on my 3rd team, just because of how silly he makes Dwyane Wade look every time he guards him.

All-NBA First Team

Chris Paul – This one stays.  Second in the league in assists (Rajon Rondo bested him by more than a full assist per game; I don’t care if he didn’t play half the season).  Third in the league in Player Efficiency Rating.

Tony Parker – Took his team to the Finals.  That bumps him up from the second team.  Replacing Kobe is a nice bonus.

LeBron James – Um, yeah.

Kevin Durant – Again, yeah.

Tim Duncan – Could be Duncan’s final appearance on this list (although I probably would’ve said that 5 years ago, too).  Has there ever been a guy better at filling whatever role his team needs?  I wasn’t alive for the John Havlicek Celtics, but I don’t think anyone’s played as many different roles on a team during my lifetime than Duncan.  From the David Robinson years, to the time when he was the primary focus of the offense, to the Tony and Manu years, to the Tony years, Duncan’s always been about winning.  Love this guy.

All-NBA Second Team

Stephen Curry – He deserves this.  If you’re going to tell me that Russell Westbrook belongs on this list, then look at their regular season stats and tell me Curry’s not real close to him.  Then factor in that this guy might have been the best player in the NBA during the playoffs (sure he tailed off toward the end, but he was the best at one point), and Curry’s here.

Russell Westbrook – Toughest call on the list.  Sure, I hate Kobe, but he had one of his best seasons.  Problem is that Westbrook is one of the best players in the league, and his value was made perfectly clear when he went down.  Maybe the Lakers with Kobe don’t get swept by San Antonio, but they definitely don’t win.  Westbrook’s injury probably changed the Finals.  Kobe goes.

Carmelo Anthony – Seems like every All-NBA Second Team has a stat-monster who can’t ever win.  While I was looking that up, I came across the shocking reveal that Vin Baker made two All-NBA teams.  Goodness gracious sakes alive (copyright John Wooden for perhaps the best expression of surprise and incredulity I’ve ever heard).

Paul George – George gets a bump from the third team to the second because he’s been a top 5 player during these playoffs.  While we’re here, here’s that list: LeBron James, Tony Parker, Paul George, Stephen Curry, Nate RobinsonRoy Hibbert is #6.  Chris Bosh is below Chris Andersen.

Marc Gasol – Defensive player of the year.  I think he’s battling Joakim Noah for the first team next year.

All-NBA Third Team

Kobe Bryant – Great year for Kobe, but it wasn’t better than Paul’s or Westbrook’s, and if you factor in the playoffs it’s not better than Parker’s or Curry’s either.

James Harden – Breakout season.  Should stay on one of these lists for the foreseeable future.

Blake Griffin – Playoff performance hurts him a little, but he had a very decent year statistically.

Joakim Noah – I’m bending the rules and calling Noah a power forward.  C’mon – I showed tremendous restraint in leaving the NBA’s assists leader off these lists, give me this one.  He’s a game changer on defense and, along with Gasol (and Vlade Divac), is blazing the trail of the NBA’s new big man – the facilitator and defender.

Roy Hibbert – Another beneficiary of waiting to name these teams.  Hibbert makes this team ahead of Dwight Howard, and it’s not close.

So there you go.  The big winners of waiting to name the teams are Paul George, Tony Parker, and Stephen Curry.  The big losers are David Lee, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard.  Who has a problem with this?

Spurs in 7.

Is James Harden an Elite Player?

Sometimes before you realize what you have you must first let it go and see how much you miss it. That is what I am doing with my weekly Off-Base Percentage post this week. But also, the Oklahoma City Thunder are doing the same thing with James Harden. Harden is off to a great start in his 2013 campaign for Most Valuable Player.

The Beard is averaging 26.4 points per game, double his career average. But is he really doing that well? Or are teams just not used to that much James Harden on the court? He is averaging almost more than ten minutes more per game than he had in OKC last season. Or is his success just the product of playing some poor teams? Of the Rockets’ eight games they have only played two teams above .500. Also, we all know that the NBA is about match ups more than anything. Has Harden had it easy with less than stellar shooting guard opposition? Let’s look at the numbers.

Houston has played eight games. Harden’s four highest scoring outputs were against Portland (27 pts.), New Orleans (30), Detroit (37), and Atlanta (45). Those teams’ combined record is ten wins to twenty losses. He matched up mainly against Wesley Matthews, Austin Rivers, Rodney Stuckey, and Kyle Korver. None of those four strike fear with their defensive prowess (or lack there of). With their hands in his grill he shot 52% from the field.

However, when Harden and the Rockets have gone against stronger teams he has not fared as well. His four lowest scoring outputs were against Miami (22), Detroit (20), Memphis (18), and Denver (15). Their records total seventeen wins and sixteen losses, mainly because of Detroit’s one-win season so far. He drew much tougher shooting guards on the opposite side, too. Dwyane Wade, Stuckey again, Andre Iguodala, and Tony Allen all had much better luck keeping him in check. I attribute this too familiarity with Harden and sheer athletic ability. Obviously, his field goal percentage is significantly lower against better defenders at a little less than 33%.

But when you dig deeper you can see that given more time on the court, Harden produces exponentially more. In his 31.4 minutes per game last season he averaged 16.8 points. But this season he plays 39.8 minutes and scores 26.4. That comes out to .54 points per minute in 2012 compared this year’s .67 points per minute. Maybe Oklahoma City should have brought the beard off the bench for a longer amount of time.

Granted we are only one-tenth of the way through the season and it is unlikely that Harden will keep his statistics at this level, but it is now clear that he is probably worth a max contract–something Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook probably wish the Thunder would have given him. In my opinion, I think once players become more familiar with Harden, Rodney Stuckey for example, his scoring will drop a bit. Harden was a bench player last year, though he still played nearly seventy-five percent of the game starters did not defend him as often as they do this season. I could be wrong, though. It wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe Harden is taking on the ‘scorer’ role very well in Houston. Only time will tell.

How good is James Harden? Who will be the NBA MVP? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @Believelander.

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Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – An NBA Finals Game One Running Account

by Ryan Isley

There are strange NBA Finals and then there are strange NBA Finals. The 2012 NBA Finals has to rank among one of the strangest in recent memory, if only for the rooting habits of two cities who are not even involved in the series – Cleveland and Seattle.

When Kevin Durant was drafted in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Seattle Supersonics and then had a great rookie season, people started to think of the possibility that one day Durant would be facing LeBron James in the NBA Finals. What we never expected was that when it finally happened, most of the people of Seattle would be rooting for LeBron while most Cleveland fans would be rooting for Durant.

But that is where we are. As we all know, the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder following Durant’s rookie season and then LeBron left Cleveland to chase a title in Miami with Dwyane Wade and the Heat.

So for the most part it is Cleveland and Oklahoma City vs. Seattle and Miami. And of course I am not most Cleveland fans – I have been supporting LeBron for the duration of these playoffs.

Sounded like the perfect time for me to do a running diary of game 1 – Bill Simmons style.

Continue reading Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – An NBA Finals Game One Running Account