Tag Archives: Joakim Noah

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.

Cardale Jones Needs To Step Out Of The Spotlight

Cardale Jones spent December and early January leading the Ohio State Buckeyes to a football national championship. He has spent the months since then trying to become the Mayor of Cleveland.

Since Jones and his Buckeyes teammates raised that national championship trophy, it seems like Jones has spent as much time out in the public eye in Cleveland as he has anywhere else. And of course, being a Cleveland kid, he is afforded the right to go back home during a break from school and training.

But sometimes, enough is enough.

It all started with the press conference on January 15th at the Ginn Academy gym, where Jones stunned most by announcing that he would return to Ohio State instead of putting his name into the NFL Draft. An admirable decision it was, as the quarterback said he wanted to return to school to finish his degree. Ever since then, Jones has been parading around as if he declared for the draft and was the number one overall pick.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, Jones and other Cleveland area Buckeyes were honored at the Cleveland Cavaliers game just a couple of days after Jones made the announcement. Meyer and Jones addressed the crowd, where Jones again professed his love for the city of Cleveland.

Jones then took to Twitter and gave Ohio State fans heart failure on May 1st when he tweeted that he was going to be transferring from Ohio State and then tweeted #ZipNation a few seconds later, insinuating that he would be attending the University of Akron. A few minutes later, Jones said it was all just a “May Fool’s Day” prank.

Because you know, Jones has always made his best decisions when he opens his Twitter feed.

This week, Jones was back at Quicken Loans Arena to watch the Cavaliers and addressed the crowd once again. As Jones addressed the crowd this time, it was reported by Anthony Lima of 92.3 the Fan that Bulls center Joakim Noah – a University of Florida product – made a comment about Jones and the Buckeyes not being in the SEC.

When word got back to Jones, he immediately took to Twitter to address the situation. Again, he used Twitter without really thinking.

Cleveland fans LOVED it, because Cleveland fans HATE Noah. And because Cleveland fans love Cardale since he is a Cleveland kid. But was it really the best thing for a college football player to do? Of course it wasn’t.

Oh, that wasn’t all for Jones this week.

The St. Louis Cardinals had Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott throw out the first pitch at Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Cubs. The St. Louis native was a major factor in Ohio State claiming the national championship, as he ran for 696 yards and eight touchdown in the three games that Jones was the quarterback – the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin, the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama and the College Football Playoff National Championship Game victory over Oregon.

Seeing this, Jones felt like he had to get in on the action as well.

And of course this worked, because well, it is Cleveland and the Indians are playing so poorly that they could use any excuse to get fans interested while the Cavaliers are in the midst of the NBA Playoffs. The Indians responded to Jones’ request and will have him throw out the first pitch at an upcoming game.

After Jones throws out the first pitch and no doubt does something to fire up the fans (the few in attendance anyway), it is time for him to lay low for a while. I know this isn’t a popular opinion because Jones is from Cleveland and the fans have fallen in love with him due to the “he gets us” factor that no city uses to judge its players more than Cleveland. But that’s what needs to happen.

With the recent history of Ohio State and the NCAA, do you really want the NCAA to start looking into seeing if the athletic department and/or Jones have committed any violations this offseason?

Remember – Ohio State self-reported 22 violations in the first half of the 2014 calendar year, with six of those stemming from the football program. And then just this past March, it was quarterback Braxton Miller who came under fire (and investigation) after Miller uploaded a photo onto his Instagram account of himself along with a trainer next to a table full of products from AdvoCare – a nutritional supplement company. While nothing has come from the incident (yet), it was just another case of an Ohio State player putting himself into the limelight that just wasn’t necessary and was completely unavoidable.

The NCAA has an eye on Ohio State – and everything that happens within the athletic department – like possibly no other program in the country. And I am not saying that the NCAA doesn’t have a reason, because they absolutely do. So when Jones is out at Cavs games and Indians games and starting beefs with NBA players, you better believe the antennas are up at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, which is ironically the site of Jones’ first career college start.

I am not saying that Jones shouldn’t be enjoying his time after helping the Buckeyes win the first College Football Playoff, but it might be time for him to just concentrate on the upcoming football season.

[Eleven Warriors/Ramzy Nasrallah: Unwasted Youth: An Investigation]

After all, there isn’t even a guarantee that Jones will be the guy taking the snaps once the season begins. Jones began last season as third on the depth chart behind Braxton Miller and JT Barrett and was given his chance only because both of those players were injured. With both looking to be healthy entering the season, the competition at quarterback is still up in the air.

And maybe that fact is the reason Jones is soaking in every single minute of the spotlight he can, because he doesn’t know when it is going to end. But Jones has spent his fifteen minutes (and then some) already and the clock has struck midnight.

Now, it is time for him to jump back into the carriage and return to Columbus. Or, at least cut his public exposure down to a minimum. I don’t know – maybe take some time to visit sick kids in the hospital and play them in video games.  Wait, that didn’t turn out so well either.

No matter what, the public tour of Cleveland needs to end. And soon.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

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.

The Bulls Leave the Door Open

After watching the Bulls play the Bucks last night, I came away from the game thinking three things:  1. The Bucks’ length and athleticism is absolutely terrorizing the Bulls.  2. Even sans Kevin Love, the Bulls are not going to win a series against the Cavs.  3. The sideline reporter interviews with coaches after the first and third quarters are totally worthless.

I suppose I should open with the Bulls since they don’t know how to close. They had another opportunity to wrap up the series on Monday night, and they came out playing flat. The Bulls missed their first eight shots of the game, as the Bucks raced out to a 9-0 lead.

After the initial brick fest, Chicago responded well. Actually they responded exceedingly well. The Bulls blitzed the Bucks to the tune of a 21-4 run to quickly flip a nine-point deficit into an eight-point advantage. This stretch of brilliance was tantamount to the type of performance people were expecting in advance of the game. After the Cavaliers had just announced earlier in the day that Kevin Love is going to miss the entire Eastern Conference Semi-finals, it seemed reasonable that the Bulls would excitedly finish this series with Milwaukee so they could leap ahead to play the weakened Cleveland team.

Alas, the Bulls struggled for the remainder of the game to find any sort of rhythm. They wasted offensive possessions standing around waiting for post-ups that never developed. They missed wide open looks, many of which were within a foot of the rim (Joakim Noah missed three or four easy lay-ins that I’m sure he wishes he could have back). As frustrating as those offensive woes proved to be, by far the most egregious issue for the Bulls was the one that has plagued them all series long. This issue is so simple that it could be answered with a classic Gregg Popovich interview response—turnovers.

Of course, any common fan could have watched the series and noticed that Chicago’s turnovers were an issue. Recognizing the problem is easy; solving it is the real challenge.

To their credit, the Bulls reduced their turnover rate in game 5, but they still gave the ball away far too often. Many of the turnovers were the result of careless passes. At times Chicago simply does not seem to value each possession quite enough, almost as if they expect to win despite their less than optimal play. The back-to-back defeats should serve as a wake-up call that sharpens the team’s focus, and the Bulls should still be expected to win the series.

While the Bulls certainly deserve criticism for the past two losses—they are the superior team, after all—the Bucks also are due their praise. This team was overlooked all season long as they continued to quietly remain in playoff position. They feature a number of little-known players who are now announcing themselves to the world (at least the select part of the world that has been watching this first-round series). Khris Middleton, who has been beloved this season by stat geeks because of his impressive Real Plus-Minus numbers, and Giannis Antetokounmpo (just call him Greek Freak and don’t bother with that pronunciation nightmare) have been Milwaukee’s greatest individual stand outs.

Collectively, the Bucks play stellar defense. Their length and activity have made life miserable for the Bulls on offense. Even the most routine passes and shots at the rim have been challenging because of Milwaukee’s seemingly limitless reach, especially Antetokounmpo. He is a real-life Inspector Gadget. His arms are so long that when he leaves them dangling at his sides, his fingertips practically reach the bottom of his knees. Needless to say, his epithet is fitting.

Milwaukee has already played well enough to make Bulls fans legitimately concerned, which is more than most people were expecting from this series. That’s a great sign for the youngest team in this year’s playoffs. They also have Jabari Parker returning from his injury next season. If head coach Jason Kidd can develop all this young talent, the Bucks should be a perennial playoff team.

***

Briefly I just want to share some thoughts on the in-game coach interviews: they serve no discernible purpose. If the NBA decided to eliminate this annoying practice, I cannot imagine who would miss it. A friend of mine suggested that the time wasted on the interviews should instead be used to air sound bites of players and coaches who are mic’d up during the game, which sounds like a vastly superior option.

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the NBA attempt some sort of off-the-wall idea, such as a report from a fashion aficionado in place of the coach interviews. The fashion update could include commentary on the attire of the coaches, players on the bench, and even some fans sitting courtside. This insight couldn’t possibly be less interesting than what the coaches share now, so I wouldn’t seeing one network give the idea a try. This may even pique the interest of a few loyal girlfriends who are reluctantly watching the game. Most fans would likely tune out the report, just like most fans ignore the current coach interviews, so there wouldn’t be any harm done.

Anyway, that’s just one idea. I’ll come up with others.

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.

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.

Learnings From the NBA Playoffs

A fond adieu from this year’s NBA Playoffs to the Thunder and the Bulls: two teams who easily could have been matched up in this year’s Finals, and who are the top 2 contenders to unseat Miami as they attempt a three-peat next season.  It’d be tough for either team to advance to the next round of this year’s playoffs, but both teams could use a strong finish as they look hopefully toward a healthier 2014 playoff season.

Obviously a TON can happen between seasons.  Last year at this time we thought OKC would be running James Harden out there next to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.  We were also pretty sure Derrick Rose would be ready in plenty of time for the playoffs (especially after Adrian Peterson’s “miraculous recovery” from a similar injury).

Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at some learnings from this year’s playoffs that should carry into next year.

Joakim Noah is a top 15 NBA player – who would you rather have at center in the NBA playoffs?  Maybe Marc Gasol, and I think that’s it.  It’s always possible Dwight Howard finds his game and his brain, and becomes a dominant force again.  It’s always possible Anthony Davis takes some giant steps forward in his sophomore season.  But if I’m Chicago, I wouldn’t trade Noah straight up for any other big man in the league.  He’s a willing passer, he’s an elite defender, and he pisses off opposing teams and their fans.  As an unabashed Kevin Garnett supporter, I can tell you that those 3 things are real nice to have in a big man.

Serge Ibaka can’t play without a point guard.  Yet. – This might be one of those learnings that never matters again.  Presumably Westbrook will be back and healthy for next year’s run, and he and Ibaka can get OKC back to their fast breaking, secondary breaking, pick and roll offense.  They had better, because Durant still doesn’t look like he wants any part of being the 1 superstar on this team

Paul George can lock down Carmelo Anthony; LeBron James is a tiny bit nervous about that – Tyson Chandler is crying about the Knicks not passing, Ray Felton has disappeared against the Pacers, and JR Smith has some crazy flu that aggressively attacks the body’s shooting percentage, but none of those are why the Knicks are going to lose this series.  They’ll lose as long as Anthony doesn’t figure out Paul George, and right freaking now.  Unless everyone’s bombing 3’s, the Knicks are run of the mill when Carmelo doesn’t get going – they’re a pouty, whiney bunch without him bailing them out with 1 on 1 moves late in the shot clock.

My fervent hope is that George provides the blueprint on shutting down Anthony, then he doubles down and slows LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals.  This should inspire more teams to work on finding themselves a long, wing-defender who can shut down guys like James, Anthony, and Durant.  It’s really pretty simple at this point – acquire an elite small forward defender or give up on making the Finals for the next few years.

Big Men aren’t quite as obsolete as a lot of us thought – the time of the small-ball 4 has arrived, or so I thought coming into these playoffs.  It seemed like the league had really shifted toward a world where guys like LeBron, Carmelo, Durant, Jeff Green, and Harrison Barnes would play power forward for the upper echelon teams.  Memphis and Indiana are slapping us in the face with that false logic, though.

George’s work on Anthony has been fantastic, but it’s much easier to lock down a shooter / slasher when you know Roy Hibbert and David West are right behind you.

Speaking of Big Men… – Marc Gasol is the NBA’s defensive player of the year, but doesn’t make first team all defense?  Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler both made the first team over him.  Um…ok.  I guess this is pretty low on the list of WTFs from the NBA, but it’s pretty freaking strange.  I understand why it happens (coaches vote for the teams and writers vote for the POY), but there shouldn’t be this big a disparity (If Noah and Chandler hadn’t exactly tied in the voting, Gasol wouldn’t have made even the second team, which is strange on multiple levels).  It makes both awards seem like a joke.  Either writers think they know more than they do (never, never) or the coaches don’t take it seriously.  Fix that, David Stern.  Right after you hire a legitimate officiating body for the country’s 3rd biggest sport.

Paul Pierce has played his last game in a Celtics uniform – it seems like the national press is starting to pick up on what a few guys in the local Boston press have been saying for a few days now.  Paul Pierce appears resigned to the fact that he’s not coming back to the Boston Celtics.  I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this if (when) it is official, but it’s the right move for one big reason: the 2014 draft.

Flagner willing, I’ll be with MTAF long enough to write more than my share about next year’s draft, and if my Celtics can swing themselves a decent pick I’ll be insufferable. I’ve talked about Andrew Wiggins in this space before, but he’s moved towards the forefront of the NBA world this week with his decision to attend Kansas.  From all I’ve read over the past year, this guy is the next great thing.  The Celtics probably won’t be downtrodden enough to contend for the #1 pick, but I think they need to figure out how to get into the top 10 – whether it’s because they were able to trade Pierce and/or Kevin Garnett for cap fodder and a pick that turns into something, or whether it’s their own, Rajon Rondo needs a running mate and 2014 is the draft to find him.

Pierce is a truly great Celtic, possibly top 5, and that means more in Boston than anywhere else in the NBA (Masshole alert).  But I’m not interested in going back to the era of futility that immediately followed Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish.  I’m not looking for Dino Radja, Michael Smith, or Antoine Walker.  I’ve had another taste of winning basketball in New England, and if the quickest way to get it back is to trade two of the greatest players this town’s ever seen, that’s business.

Make the deal.  Take the cannolis.

Some Thoughts on the NBA Playoffs

I really didn’t know what to write about this week. I have some big things happening on other sites, and last week I spent the week telling you what I wanted and didn’t want in Cleveland sports. Today, however, I figured I’d pick the most high-profile happening in sports at the moment: the NBA Playoffs.

First, I would like to comment on the imbecile that didn’t vote LeBron James as the NBA MVP. You sir, or ma’am, should have your vote taken immediately. Either you had a grudge, don’t take your vote seriously, or are flat-out unequipped for such responsibilities. I don’t think there has ever been a player more deserving of the NBA MVP than LeBron James this season, and that is evident by the historic number of votes LeBron received.

Unanimous or not, LeBron won the MVP by the most votes in the history of the award and garnered his fourth career NBA MVP Trophy. With that being said, here are some thoughts on LeBron and the Heat.

People believe it is a foregone conclusion that the Heat will win the NBA Title and I believe that they are essentially correct. I truly don’t see any team beating the Heat four times in a series, (or maybe even once for that matter.) Rather than watching to see whether or not the Heat will make it, we should be focused on who will give the Heat the best run, who will take a stab at shutting down the league’s best player, and who can stop the Heat from sliding through the postseason undefeated.

I know the Bulls ended the Heat’s winning streak, but the Cavs almost did too. It’s hard for me to see Chicago winning a game in this upcoming series. With Hinrich on the mend, Deng fighting a horrible flu, and Derrick Rose trolling the free world, I just don’t see Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer beating the Heat. It’s too hard to fathom. We’ll see if they can squeak a game out, but I find it doubtful.

When it comes to the other NBA Playoff series, the matchups are MUCH more interesting.

I am absolutely intruiged by the Pacers and the Knicks series. The Knicks have struggled through the first round and the first game of the second round, but I can still see them putting up a fight and making this series against the Pacers a close one. I wasn’t old enough to remember, but back in the day, the games between Reggie Miller and the Pacers and John Starks, Patrick Ewing and the Knicks were incredible. It was a rivalry like any other, with Reggie’s constant chirping and his incredible shooting backing up his talking. I think this Pacers and Knicks rivalry is starting to heat up again, as I believe these two teams will be facing each other in the playoffs for a few years to come.

In the Western Conference, you have two great matchups as well.

First of all, in what I find to be the lesser of the two series, you have the Grizzlies and the Thunder. While I said it was the lesser series, it is a phenomenal series nonetheless. In last night’s game, Kevin Durant and the Thunder were able to squeak by Memphis, thanks to a few missed free throws by Quincy Pondexter, but I could see Memphis squeaking by and winning games like that at home as well. The only thing I don’t like about this series involves Russell Westbrook.

As we all know, Westbrook went down with a torn muscle in his knee and could be out for the remainder of the playoffs. This is a TREMENDOUS blow to the Thunder and the chances of any team beating the Miami Heat. Many Clevelanders, and NBA fans alike, are comparing Durant’s Westbrook-less Thunder to the Cavaliers team LeBron James took to the Finals. It’s a fair comparison and it doesn’t bode well for the Thunder. LeBron played the most dominant playoff series of his career to get to the Finals, and once he got there, he was swept by a tremendously better San Antonio team.

If Durant can get his team to the Finals, I don’t see how they would compete against Miami without Westbrook. If Memphis wins this series, Miami will have a cakewalk to another ring.

The most intruiging matchup of the playoffs, thus far, is the Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. It’s a matchup of two teams with the opposites in terms of mantra. For Golden State, it’s shoot, shoot, shoot. For San Antonio, it’s rely on fundamental, defensive basketball. Golden State has a great young coach trying to prove himself. San Antonio has one of the best ever trying to add to his collection. The Warriors are a bunch of young guns. The Spurs are bunch of old veterans who know the game better than anyone. The opposite styles of each team will create a great matchup. San Antonio has the edge, just in terms of experience and coaching, but Golden State has the athleticism and the best player on either team in Steph Curry. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in this series. Can Golden State shoot their way to an appearance in the Western Conference Finals? Can San Antonio defend the perimeter and wear down the Warriors with their experience? It’s a matchup more than worthy of watching.

Here’s my prediction as to what will go down in the semi-final round:

Heat beat the Bulls 4-0.

Pacers beat the Knicks 4-2.

Memphis beats Oklahoma City 4-3.

Golden State beats San Antonio 4-3.

This is the worst case scenario in terms of a battle against the Heat, as neither Golden State nor Memphis have a chance in the NBA Finals, but it would create a tremendous opportunity for a Finals run for the three great fan bases in Memphis, Oakland, and Indianapolis.

Obviously, anything can happen. LeBron could tweak an ankle and be ill-fit to play the rest of the way. Steph Curry could have a playoff run, worthy of legendary status. The Spurs could drink from the fountain of youth and take home another NBA Title. You just never know

I’m just hoping that the Playoffs are more exciting than they should be.