Tag Archives: Kevin Durant

Can the Thunder Unseat the Champion Warriors?

The Warriors finally added a blemish to their record-setting start over the weekend when they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks.

They are 24-1, and barring any extended injuries to key players it seems that the number one seed in the West, as ridiculous as it sounds to say in mid-December, is under their ownership.

The Warriors boast the league’s best player in Stephen Curry, but there is a team that boasts even more star power in the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have two top five players in Kevin Durant, a former MVP, and Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder sit at 16-8, which is good for third in the West behind the Warriors and Spurs. After a less than impressive start, which included Durant missing six games due to a hamstring injury, the Thunder have seemed to have steadied the ship, currently possessing a five game winning streak.

So are the Thunder capable of beating the Warriors in a seven game series? A lot of things could happen between now and next May, but as of right now, it’s possible but not probable.

The Thunder have played well of late, but it seems their overarching consistency is their inconsistency.

Any chance that they have to beat the Warriors in a series, should they play them, will hinge on Durant and Westbrook’s willingness to involve their teammates.

Durant is third in the league in scoring average and Westbrook is sixth. Together they average half of the Thunder’s per game average. They are the team’s primary ball handlers when they are on the floor.

In a recent game against the Memphis Grizzlies Westbrook and Durant presented the recipe the Thunder must implement to have any hope of knocking the Warriors off of their championship throne.

In the game’s opening minutes Durant and Westbrook got the Thunder going, not by scoring, by passing. The twosome assisted five times to big men Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka to begin the game. Neither one even took a shot during that time. They finished the game with 22 combined assists, Westbrook with 16 of them. In what was easily the Thunder’s best performance of the year, they destroyed the Grizzlies 125-88.

Durant finished with 32 points on an ultra efficient 11 for 14 from the field and six assists while the usually shot-happy Westbrook took only seven shots, making five, to go along with the 16 assists. If you’re keeping score, Durant and Westbrook took a combined 21 shots in the game, embarrassing Memphis by 37 points. Durant and Westbrook average 17 and 18 shots a game respectively. Memphis isn’t the Memphis of the last few years but the Thunder have historically had trouble with the Grizzlies.

The problem for the Thunder is, games like these, even under former head coach Scott Brooks, are merely anomalies. But for them to beat the Warriors in a seven game series, these type of games must be commonplace.

The Thunder will be a difficult out for any team when its supporting cast is consistently engaged on the offensive end by its superstars. Serge Ibaka is at his most effective on both ends when he’s involved on the offensive one. But for him to be a factor on offense, Durant and Westbrook must get him open looks. Ibaka can not consistently create his own shots. His getting off early seemed to energize him in all facets of the game, especially in his forte’: rim protection.

In addition to Westbrook and Durant’s willingness to distribute, the Thunder’s small ball lineup has been highly effective of late as well. Against the Grizzlies, the wiry Durant guarded both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. His length was effective on both. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies had fits on the defensive end as the Thunder closed the first half on a 13-4 run to take a 59-47 lead at intermission.

And speaking of defense, through the first 14 games the Thunder gave up an average of 105.2 PPG, but in the last 10 that number has shrunk dramatically to 94.3 PPG.

The Thunder know the recipe to put themselves in position to take down the Warriors. It begins and ends with Durant and Westbrook’s willingness to engage and involve their teammates on a consistent basis. Stay tuned.

NBA Sportsmanship: Gone Forever?

 

I can’t pinpoint the moment it happened, in much the same way I can’t pinpoint the moment green summer leaves turn autumn brown. But happen it has. And long ago.

I’m guessing it began to loosen its grip on the NBA right around the time the tongue-wagging, trash-talking demigod we call his “His Airness” took flight in 1984.

The days of playing hard without trash-talking(and of course trash-talking means cursing and/or belittling) the opponent or an official have long been gone.

The days of raising one’s hand after fouling have long been replaced by raising one’s voice.

And the days of helping a fallen opponent off the deck have been replaced by walking away as if he hasn’t.

These things are now just a part of NBA culture, much like an MLB pitcher firing a revenge pitch at the shoulder of a batter who had the audacity to stand and gawk at his towering home run in his previous at-bat.

I suppose the increasing lack of sportsmanship in the NBA, as well as in other sports, isn’t so much indicative of the sport itself, but of our society as a whole.

Sportsmanship equals respect, so its converse is also true. Let’s face it, we live in an increasingly me-centered, me driven society-a society that defiantly screams, “I’ll do or say whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want!”

If you’ve ever stepped foot into a public school classroom, you know the discernible difference between how students talk to teachers today and how they talked to them in your day.

Respect isn’t on many’s radar. It’s been replaced, at least in the male gender, by this superseding desire to present a sense of bravado, which in reality is false bravado.

But today, unlike the days of old, when sportsmanship was the consistency and bad sportsmanship was an anomaly, a man is thought to be less of a man, or more specifically, less of a teammate, if he acts kindly toward his opponent.

The NBA, I believe more so than the NFL and MLB, is a player-driven league. Superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant hold much more sway than the league’s head coaches. That’s no secret.

And with this power and fame and obscene riches comes an enormous sense of entitlement. Entitlement simply means, “I deserve whatever I want and if I don’t receive it I am justified in being offended.” In other words, players, in their minds, can do no wrong.

So, will the sportsmanship of yesteryear ever return to the NBA? Is it possible for players to play their tails off without berating referees over a missed call? Is it possible for players to play their tails off without belittling their opponents?

Yes, yes, and yes. All of those things are possible. I think the NBA can return to an era where sportsmanship is more prevalent than the lack thereof. Not sure if it will, but it can.

What will it take? It may just take one player. It may just take one player who values others more than he values himself and the perceived inalienable rights of the players. It may just take one player who isn’t afraid of being ridiculed by his teammates and coaches.

I love the NBA. I love watching anyone perform at the highest level of their craft. But I have come to detest watching players not helping their opponent up simply because “that’s not the way we do things around here”. I have come to detest watching players undress officials because they didn’t get their way. I’ve come to detest this part of NBA culture.

Is there one player or one coach who is willing to say, “Enough is enough!?”

Around the Association

Notable News and Notes

Elfrid Payton Records back-to-back triple-doubles

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

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

Paul George’s Possible Return?

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

What’s New on Kevin Durant?

KD

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

Gortat Has Jokes

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

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

James Harden, Houston

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

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

 

Power Rankings

1. Golden State Warriors

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

 

2. Atlanta Hawks

Hawks

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

 

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

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

 

4. Memphis Grizzlies

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

 

5. San Antonio Spurs

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

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Extra

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.20.13 PM

Fixing the NBA Awards Voting Process

According to Kevin Durant, “[the media] really don’t know s***.” This was far from the type of graciousness that Durant normally displays when dealing with the media. Since entering the NBA in 2007, Durant has consistently been one of the most kind and polite players in the league. If he willingly delivered such a blunt affront—even one that when taken out of context sounds harsher than it was meant to be—it must be true.

At least on some level what Durant said was accurate. The reporter touched a nerve by asking Durant a leading question on Scott Brooks’ job security. KD went a bit too far in his response, certainly. Though for the most part the media grasps the goings on of the NBA, they are littered with biases and lightly researched opinions. The media knows more than Durant suggested, but not everything. So why should they determine which NBA brethren take home prestigious individual hardware each year?

Currently, the media is solely responsible for choosing the NBA’s, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, All-NBA teams, All-NBA Defensive teams, and MVP. The only honor not controlled by media vote is the All-Rookie teams, which are chosen by the coaches. That’s a tremendous amount of clout handed to the media guys and gals who—for the most part—do not re-watch game film, are not privy to game plans, and do not recognize the various idiosyncrasies in strategy that teams implement throughout each game.

The NBA needs to restructure its award voting processes to divvy up the power that is currently held entirely by the media. It’s not that the media as a whole is completely incompetent, they simply should not be handed such great power to claim all to themselves (aside from the 1 vote out of 125 that comes from a fan poll on nba.com that most people probably don’t even know about). No one entity deserves that type of influence. The select media members still deserve to play a role in the NBA awards voting process, just a smaller role.

In place of the current system, I suggest a new, balanced arrangement. The vote for each individual award and All-NBA team honor should be determined by vote from three separate parties: the media, the coaches, and the players. Each party would account for an equal 1/3 of the total vote. This setup draws from the three most relevant sources of insight on the NBA and would yield the most valid recipients.

The coaches and players deserve to contribute to the vote. After all, they are the ones responsible for creating the product, while the writers are merely consumers. The coaches and players spend countless hours devouring game film. They break down every opposing coach and player. They know the game inside and out. They have the answers. That’s why the sportswriters are always asking them questions.

When the NBA MVP Award was first given in 1956 and up until 1980, a vote from the players determined the winner. This created some discrepancies between the league’s MVP and the players elected 1st Team All-NBA, which were chosen by the media vote. On three separate occasions, Bill Russell was award league MVP, yet only made 2nd Team All-NBA (Wilt Chamberlain was 1st team each time). The media was awed by Wilt’s gaudy stats, while the players placed greater value on Russell’s intangibles and superior team success. Neither decision is necessarily right or wrong—they are simply different opinions. And that’s exactly what the award voting process needs.

This change to the process of determining NBA honors may not lead to many changes in the outcomes. However, it will serve to create a much needed balance, eliminate the monopoly that the media currently holds, and give players the voice that many of them crave.

Commissioner Adam Silver has repeatedly stated that he is open to making changes in league policies.  He should add this to his list.

Revamping NBA All-Star Weekend

Evidently sick of all the speculation about his worthiness of an All-Star roster spot, Kevin Durant presented a challenge in an interview with NewsOk.com. “Whoever want my spot can play me 1-on-1 for it,” Durant dared with a wry grin.

We have come to expect this type of comment from KD. He is always genuine with the media and self-assured enough to crack a joke now and then. While no one is likely to accept Durant’s invitation, I imagine that he would willingly engage in the competition if prompted to do so.

Even though the NBA would not adjust the All-Stars to honor Durant’s offer if he was bested in such a contest, that 1-on-1 battle would still make for quite a spectacle. In fact, just about any fan of the NBA would love to watch KD square off against a disrespected and retribution-seeking Damian Lillard. Of course, Lillard has since been named as an injury replacement for Blake Griffin, but the point remains intact: a 1-on-1 game between NBA stars would be a captivating watch, one that could be included during All-Star weekend.

As it currently stands, the format of the NBA All-Star weekend events is in need of renovation. Luckily, Commissioner Adam Silver appears to be open to any and all changes to improve the league, so an upgraded All-Star weekend may soon be on its way. If I was selected by Silver as the head and sole member of the Committee to Revamp All-Star weekend, my new format for the weekend would look something like this:

Friday:

NBA All-Star Celebrity Game This event typically features little to no quality basketball, and the term “celebrity” is liberally applied to most of these competitors. Somehow it manages to be reasonably enjoyable, mostly thanks to mainstay Kevin Hart. Plus watching a 50-year-old white guy with silver hair (Arne Duncan) completely dominate the game is pretty entertaining. Other than pushing for greater star power, I would not change anything about this event, mostly because it’s just not that important.

Rising Stars Challenge – The 2015 version of this event features a weirdly creative and somehow acceptably jingoistic twist: a roster of U.S. players vs. a roster of foreign players. The Rising Stars Challenge has been searching for a new identity since it changed from its original setup of rookies vs. sophomores. I rather enjoyed the Charles Barkley vs. Shaq dynamic that the challenge used a couple year ago. Even if the challenge does not pit Chuck and Shaq against each other every year, it should retain the concept of two celebrities drafting their own teams from the pool of chosen Rising Stars and battling for braggin’ rights on the courts. The two celebrities who are drafting the teams should be noteworthy names/rivals of the moment, such as Chris Evans (Captain America/Patriots fan) vs. Chris Pratt (Star-Lord/Seahawks fan) or Kanye West vs. whoever topped Beyoncé for the best album Grammy that year.

Many people probably think that All-Star weekend begins on Saturday, so this event is far from the main attraction, and therefore is not the focus of my revamping. It’s just a chance to showcase some of the league’s future stars. Let’s move on.

Saturday: 

Shooting Stars Challenge – King of the half-court shot Chris Bosh may object to this, but this competition needs a total overhaul. The purpose is to reveal the best team of shooters in terms of relevant shots, not half-court heaves. At least that’s the purpose when I’m running the show.

The setup does not need to be particularly elegant; something simple will suffice. The event should stick with its four teams of three competing in a first round followed by championship format. That element is acceptable. The changes made will revolve around the shots that these players attempt.

A basic outline: Each player is given his or her own ball. The team must make a total of eight shots from pre-selected floor locations. The first six shots—in order—must be low block, free throw elbow, free throw, mid base line, opposite free throw elbow, top of the key. The teams will divide up the shots so that each player is making two. After making the first six shots, the group will gather at the three-point line directly behind the top of the key. From this location, the team must make a total of two shots. Whichever team finishes in the least amount of time is the winner.
Skills Challenge – N/A. It’s lame. I’m scrapping it from my event list.

2-on-2 Tournament – While I really like the notion of a 1-on-1 contest, I absolutely love the 2-on-2 idea. So if this 2-on-2 idea goes well, maybe I’ll add the 1-on-1 next year. For now, the tournament would consist of four teams of two, each of which is comprised of teammates from their own NBA squad, playing games to seven scoring the baskets by ones and twos.

Imagine this setup with teams of LeBron & Kyrie, Durant & Westbrook, Steph Curry & Klay Thompson, and Chris Paul & Blake Griffin. This would instantly become the most exciting event of the night.

3-Point Contest – I have nothing to change here. This year’s challenge even boasts what is perhaps the best cast of contestants in the event’s history. As long as the star power is high, the 3-point contest is a lot of fun.

Slam Dunk – The current dunk contest has three problems: no stars are involved, there are too many missed dunk attempts, and no freaking stars are involved. Resolving the dreadful number of missed dunk attempts is easy: allow less misses. The current rules allow three attempts per round. My contest would allow two. One less–big deal, right? In isolation, this probably would not have a huge impact, which is why I would also make one other critical change: if the dunker misses his first attempt of the round, his second attempt must use a different dunk. This would avoid the painful tedium of watching the same dunk missed twice and then finally completed successfully on the third try. At that point it’s hardly even exciting.

Of course, even these upgrades cannot single-handedly save the dunk contest. The key is who is doing the dunking. I just cannot imagine anyone springing from their seats while viewing a Mason Plumlee jam. Even if he pulls off something special, I’m still going to be wishing that I was watching LeBron throw down.

The only way to restore the Dunk Contest to its former glory is to bring back the stars. I would search for the proper incentive to attract the household names. Be it money, a car, or a marketing opportunity, I would find the bait and reel in the big fish. The most likely incentive to actually draw stars to the event is probably the marketing opportunity. Most of these stars are looking to gain more acclaim and grow their brands, so the prize for winning the contest should be an endorsement deal with the event’s sponsor.

Let’s say that this year Victor Oladipo wins the Dunk Contest. He would be rewarded with an endorsement and commercial deal with Sprite, the event’s sponsor. Oladipo and Sprite collaborate to create an epic commercial that plays over and over again on ESPN. Oladipo is lauded as the dunk king of the NBA. The stars of league watch this commercial and it hits a competitive nerve. Someone (maybe LeBron) sees Oladipo receiving all this attention and he decides that he wants to compete in next season’s contest. He wants to be the king.

This may be a bit of a long shot, but I’m willing to consider any idea that may bring LeBron James to the Dunk Contest.

Sunday: 

NBA All-Star Game – At long last, we reach the main event. Brace yourself, these changes are going to be radical. I would begin my revamping of the game by overhauling the entire selection process. I would eliminate the East vs. West dynamic. The West is the better conference; everyone already knows that. As such, the West should rightfully boast more All-Star representation.

In my selection process, the pool of 24 players throughout the entire league (i.e. not necessarily 12 from each conference) would be decided by a combination vote from fans, coaches, and the players. This way, ideally, the 24 best players in the NBA will make the All-Star roster. Of the best players in the league today, how many reside in the Western Conference? I estimate around 15 or 16. With that being the case, it just makes more sense to allow the superior conference to send more players to the All-Star game.

Since the roster is not evenly comprised of Eastern and Western Conference players, a new way to divvy up the two teams must be arranged. In this new system, the top two vote getters become the captains of the two teams. These captains and their head coaches then draft their teams from the pool of the remaining 22 All-Stars. This would create so many potential salivation-worthy matchups. Depending on how the draft played out, at some point during the game Kevin Durant could be guarding Russell Westbrook. Or perhaps an opportunity would present itself for Kyrie Irving to showcase his filthy handle while defended by Cavs teammate, but All-Star foe LeBron James. These are the dream matchups between friends and teammates that we never have a chance to witness during regular game action. That’s what the All-Star weekend is all about: dream matchups and fun. And there is nothing more fun than burying a sweet J in the face of a friend.

Around the Association: Week Seven

All-Star Synopsis

John Wall, Wizards
John Wall’s improved play was recognized this week as he was awarded the Eastern Conference player of the week leading the Wizards to a perfect 4-0 record from December 8th to December 14th. Over the four games, Wall averaged 18 points, 11 assists, five rebounds, and two steals per game. He also showed his refined shooting hitting 54% of his field goals and knocking down 50% of his shots behind the arc. This is Wall’s best week as a pro.

James Harden, Rockets

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

James Harden has upped his game this season in all aspects. His improved defense stands alone and many NBA followers have taken notice. Harden was just recently named Western Conference player of the week while averaging 34 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, two steals, and one block per game. Harden achieved a season-high 44 points in an overtime win over Sacramento and recorded his third career triple-double versus Denver.

Flying Under the Radar

Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Kevin Durant, Thunder
It’s weird to think that Kevin Durant has been flying under-the-radar even after his return to the season, but Durant hasn’t received much attention this season so far. Durant, as expected due to injury, hasn’t had his 40 point moments and closing victories as he is notoriously known for, but he has been effective in turning around the Oklahoma City Thunder from a 5-12 record to only losing one game since his return (11-13 overall; 6-1 with KD). Even though the record doesn’t show, the Thunder will be right in the thick of things starting next “year.”

Power Rankings

1. Golden State Warriors                        gstate                     
No Golden State team has ever won 16 games in a row until the 2014 version did it Sunday night at New Orleans. And history likes Golden State’s 21-2 record because of the eight teams that have started the season at 21-2 five have made a trip to the Finals and four of those have hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season. Remember that Golden State has been rolling without the presence of David Lee and most recently an injury to center Andrew Bogut.

2. Memphis Grizzlies

grizz

Many people are waiting for the moment that Memphis fades and becomes more of a pretender than a contender. But that’s not the case  in 2014. Memphis has held their own with a four game winning streak inching by Charlotte and Philadelphia in overtime. Marc Gasol has been playing lights  out with four 30-point games this season only having one in his previous seasons. This article is/was written before the game last night, but I still like the Warriors at one and the Grizz at two no matter the outcome.

3. San Antonio Spurs
San-Antonio-Spurs-Logo

The Spurs have been in-and-out with various starting lineups and only three players have appeared in every game for the Spurs this season: Aron Baynes, Boris Diaw, and Danny Green. But whatever the method may be, it seems to work for Coach Pop. The Spurs aren’t the flashiest and are not sound on all cylinders, but can you blame me for putting them at three even after Houston’s solid week?

4. Houston Rocketshouston-rockets
Dwight Howard is finally back after missing 11 games with a back injury. But Houston was 8-3 without Howard and banked off of Harden’s stellar performances. One of Howard’s biggest assets is his defensive presence, but the Rockets have held their team defensive efficiency rating in the top two just behind, you guessed it, Golden State.

5. Portland Trail Blazersblazers
Portland is one of only few teams to place in the top ten in offensive and defensive efficiency in good company with Chicago, Golden State, Memphis, and San Antonio. To credit the Blazers’ 2014 success so far, you have to credit the defense that has improved from 104 points per game to 99 and is currently sixth in defensive efficiency, yet last season finished sixteenth last season.

28. New York Knicks

knicks
The Knicks have been terrible and there’s no sugar coating it. There is no consistency and the group of players that have been with each other for two seasons still have no chemistry and are still not developing as individuals or as a team. It’s not Derek Fisher to blame, but I really don’t know what’s going on. The Knicks have had some pretty bad seasons, but none have started off worse than the 2014-15.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves
TWOLVES-LOGO There is a positive for Minnesota. First round pick Andrew Wiggins had a great week with two 20-point games, while also recording his first double-double as a pro. The future is bright with this kid. Hang in there Minnesota

30.Philadelphia 76ers
sixers-logo

Nothing to say here as the status quo has continued.

What’s Trending?

Kobe passes MJ
It was only a matter of time that Kobe Bryant would surpass Michael Jordan as one of the all-time best scorers in the NBA. Bryant achieved this milestone versus Minnesota after nailing two free throws with five minutes left on the clock in the second period. Kobe finished the night with 26 points and a win improving the Lakers to an 8-16 record. Bryant is now third on the all-time scoring list with 32,310 career points only behind Kareerm Abdul-Jabbar (38,837) and Karl Malone (36,928). Congrats Kobe!

Kings Coach Out
Even though it seemed as the Kings were a much improved team, the fornt office didn’t think so. Here’s what ESPN analyst Henry Abbott had to say about Mike Malone: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:12033418

Knicks continue to struggle
The Knicks have had their worst start in franchise history and Chris Rock had a few things to say:

Atlanta Hawks Streaking
Atlanta continues to fly under the radar winning ten of their last eleven. Atlanta fell short to Orlando, but have still played some good basketball as of late.

*All stats and rankings compiled before last night’s games.

Josh's Five Thoughts; Dabbling in the NBA Edition

Here’s the quick and dirty from the start of the NBA season, presented to spur some conversation. Join me @MTAFSports or More Than a Fan on facebook.  All of these things are indisputably true.

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1) The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t terrible yet.

I’m starting with my favorite team because this is my column, and I can do what I want. The Cavs just suffered a lopsided loss at the hands of the Washington Wizards. It was so bad that I spent the entire second half just being thankful the game was in D.C. and not Cleveland.

I want to be very clear that I’m sticking to my guns about my opinion that I won’t judge this team as a whole until January. There. Read that sentence again, because last night was so terrible, I almost greased up those guns and let them slide out of my hands. I present my only three in-game tweets from the Wizards loss. These are coaching issues.

2) How the NBA handled Jeff Taylor’s arrest for domestic violence is perfect.

Charlotte Hornets Jeff Taylor was arrested in September for domestic violence in East Lansing, Michigan.  NBA Commish Adam Silver ordered an investigation after Taylor pled guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence and was sentenced to the usual got-off-to-easy probation and community service crap. After the investigation returned its results to Silver, the Commish handed down a 24 game suspension to the Hornets forward.

“This suspension is necessary to protect the interests of the NBA and the public’s confidence in it.” ~ The most important sentence from Adam Silver’s statement on the matter

3) How the National Basketball Players Association is handling Jeff Taylor’s suspension is maddening.

I fully understand that NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts’ first responsibility is to represent the players in her association vigorously based on the current collective bargaining agreement. I understand that the current CBA has a minimum suspension set up for felony domestic violence convictions. I understand that Taylor only pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, one which will likely be dismissed at the end of his probationary period.

I get it.

But I can’t help but think that, based on reports to ESPN and USA Today that Taylor won’t appeal the suspension, Taylor himself understands the long term impact to the NBA – and his character – is much better served if he allows the league to make a stand against domestic violence and serve his suspension and criminal sentence.

Michele Roberts absolutely means well as she rails against Adam Silver’s discipline, but I’m disappointed that she can’t find a different avenue to dissent. Roberts has a chance to be a role model to women based on how she handles Taylor’s suspension, even if she maintains her stance that the punishment was unfair. Instead, she did the same thing any socially disconnected legal beagle would do; act like a socially disconnected legal beagle.

4) No. Kentucky would not beat the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Yes, the Sixers are terrible – relative to an NBA team – to an extent that I can’t really describe it here without being downright foul. And Kentucky is amazing – relative to a college basketball team – to an extent that I can’t really describe it here without starting rumors of carnal desire for John Calipari.

But, here’s the thing; the Sixers have a roster which includes as many first round draft picks as Kentucky’s roster is projected to have, and Philly’s first rounders are acclimated to playing against NBA competition. The longer games, tougher defense, harder fouls… those things mean infinitely more than whether Cal’s kids are dominating the NCAA hoops circuit.

That’s the rub for me. Maybe the Kentucky Wildcats have more talent than the 76ers, but talent doesn’t always win basketball games. The five old guys that dominate your amateur hoops league are proof of that.

I’ll take a top level professional team against a top level college team every time, in every major sport, for the largest bet that’s allowed.

5) I’m sorry, Seattle.

Kevin Durant signed an endorsement deal with Sonic.

WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE SONIC?

 

Tell me what I missed at @RailbirdJ or [email protected]

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Drivers Hurting NASCAR Nationwide Series

by Ryan Isley

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting that you have one in the first place. That is something NASCAR is not very good at doing, but they need to start.

No, the problem isn’t that Aric Almirola won the rain-shortened Firecracker 400 to throw a wrench into the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series. It has nothing to do with the newly formed Race Car Alliance. This time, it doesn’t even pertain to their attendance and falling television viewership. Nope, this time the issue is how NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers are taking over and dominating in the lower divisions.

This was not a problem prior to 2011, because all drivers were eligible to compete for the driver’s championship on multiple levels if they chose to do so. However, NASCAR made a change prior to the 2011 season that stated drivers must declare before the season which of NASCAR’s three – Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series championship they would be competing to win.

In 2013, there were six drivers who were regulars in the Sprint Cup Series who ran at least 10 of the 33 races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Kyle Busch ran 26 races, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth in 16 each, Joey Logano in 15 and Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne each raced in 11. Those six drivers combined to win 25 of the 33 races, with Busch leading the way by visiting victory lane 12 times and Keselowski racing to seven wins. They also combined to finish in the top-5 57 times and had 75 top-10 finishes.

Of the 33 races in the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, only four were won by drivers who were actually competing for the series championship. Regan Smith won two, while Sam Hornish, Jr. and Trevor Bayne each won one.  The series champion – Austin Dillon – didn’t see victory lane once.

In 2014, there have been 13 of the 16 races where multiple Sprint Cup Series drivers have been entered in the Nationwide Series race. Sprint Cup drivers have won 10 of those races, and have 46 top-5s. That is 46 of a possible 65 spots in the top-5, or 71%. Sprint Cup Series drivers have taken at least three of the top-5 spots in 11 of those 13 races and have swept the first three spots six times.

That isn’t to mention that Kyle Busch has raced in five of the eight Camping World Truck Series races this season – and won them all. This was after winning five of the 11 he entered last season.

While these drivers are not eligible to win the driver championship in the Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series once they declare their intentions to run for the Sprint Cup Series title, teams have Sprint Cup Series drivers race in other series in order to give them a shot at the owner’s championship. This worked last season, when the Penske Racing team of the No.22 car that was driven 15 times by Logano won the championship. In no surprise, the No.54 of Gibbs Racing being driven by Busch is leading the owner’s championship for this season so far. That same car finished second last season to the No.42. In fact, the top three in the 2014 standings are all driven by Sprint Cup Series regulars, as the No.22 of Penske is second and the No.42 of Turner Scott Motorsports is third. The No.42 has been driven by Kyle Larson 14 times.

This is insanity. Seeing as how the Nationwide Series is supposed to be a sort of a minor league for drivers trying to make their way to the big league (the Sprint Cup Series), there is no way NASCAR can continue to allow the drivers from their premier series to drop down and race in the lower-tier series on a regular basis. This would be like the Pittsburgh Penguins sending Sidney Crosby to Wilkes Barre/Scranton to help win the AHL championship. It would be like the Los Angeles Dodgers sending Clayton Kershaw to the Albuquerque Isotopes to try to deliver a PCL title. It would be like the Oklahoma City Thunder sending Kevin Durant to the Sioux City 66ers to bring home a NDBL championship.

Just like in those instances, NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers taking spots in the lower series takes away an opportunity for a younger driver who is trying to make his name in the sport. But instead of a driver who could step into those cars and get some experience and possibly catch someone’s eye for a bigger opportunity, the big boys of NASCAR continue to drift down to the Nationwide Series – and to a lesser extent, the Camping World Truck Series – and take away those chances.

The series has a commercial running on ESPN – the flagship home of the Nationwide Series races – that states “names are made here.” Well sure, names might be made in the series if you can make your way through the likes of Busch, Logano, Keselowski, Harvick and others.

There are only 17 drivers who are eligible to win the Nationwide Series championship who have participated in all 16 races this season. Sure, there are young drivers like Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon, Dylan Kwasniewski and Joey Gase who have been afforded the opportunity to run in all 16 and are making a name for themselves. But there are also plenty of guys who are getting just a taste of the series while either running in the Camping World Truck Series or one of the lesser circuits.

There just aren’t enough full-time rides in the series because the owners are so invested in winning the owner’s championship rather than developing the young talent. Obviously, this makes sense for the owners, as they are the ones putting the money into the teams and want to see as immediate of a return on their investment as possible. It just seems to put some drivers on the outside looking in as they try to advance their careers. Even if teams aren’t willing to commit to one driver for the entire season in a full-time ride, it would be better for the series if that ride was split up between multiple drivers who were trying to get experience instead of guys who are Sprint Cup Series championship contenders.

Another issue that presents itself when the Sprint Cup Series drivers race so many races (and finish as well as they do) in the Nationwide Series is that it compromises the race for the driver’s championship. Among the drivers who are racing for the championship, there are only five drivers who have multiple top-5 finishes in the first 16 races. Regan Smith (the current leader) has four, Elliott Sadler has five, Chase Elliott has seven, Brian Scott has three and Trevor Bane has two. In contrast, there are seven Sprint Cup regulars who have multiple top-5 finishes in the Nationwide Series this season. Kyle Busch has 12, Kyle Larson has eight, Harvick has seven, Kenseth has four, Logano and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have three each and Paul Menard has two. That is 39 top-5 finishes between those seven drivers that are not being earned by Nationwide Series drivers and therefore are points that are not being awarded to those drivers vying for the championship. For each spot that the drivers like Harvick, Busch, Kenseth, Logano and others take away from a Nationwide Series driver, they are impacting the championship.

As the points stand right now, the top three drivers are separated by just 15 points as Regan Smith (577 points) leads Elliott Sadler by 12 points and Chase Elliott by 15. In 2013, Austin Dillon won the Nationwide Series title was by just three points over Sam Hornish, Jr.  It isn’t just about the championship, either. In 2012, Dillon lost out on second place in the series by one point to Elliott Sadler. Three points and one point were the difference between a championship one season and a second place finish the next season. Now imagine how different the standings might have shaken out had there not been so many results changed by the addition of Sprint Cup Series drivers.

There has to be something that NASCAR can do to fix this problem, and I believe it is to set limits on how many races the Sprint Cup Series drivers can race in either the Nationwide Series or the Camping World Truck Series. Instead of just allowing teams to use these drivers whenever they want, each driver should be given a maximum of 10 races they can race in each series, with no more than five of those races coming in one series. That way, they can run five in the Nationwide Series and five in the Camping World Truck Series.

This seems like a compromise that can help each side. The owners can still use the Sprint Cup drivers to an extent to give themselves a shot at the owner’s championship, while younger drivers on the rise just might find a few more opportunities to prove what they can do. This decision might not be met with a happy reaction from the likes of Busch, Logano, Keselowski, Harvick, Kahne and Kenseth, but it would be for the better of the sport.

One of the arguments will be that fans want to see their favorite drivers (read: Sprint Cup Series drivers) as much as possible, even if that includes in Nationwide Series races and that attendance and/or viewership will be down without those drivers. This might be true for some fans, but if there is good racing to be seen, people will watch it. The best racing will be when drivers who are supposed to be on the same level are driving against each other. You will always get those occasions like when Chase Elliot holds off the likes of Busch, Larson, Harvick, Earnhardt, Jr. and Kenseth as the 18-year-old did in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this season for his first career win. But the majority of the time, you are going to see the best of the best outduel those without as much experience, as evidenced by Sprint Cup Series drivers winning 29 of the 33 races in the Nationwide Series last season and 10 of the 16 so far this season.

Make it fair for those who are not only trying to make a name for themselves, but also trying to win a championship. Limit the amount of time that the Sprint Cup Series drivers can spend beating up on the little guy and let the little guy have his time in the spotlight.

But as usual, NASCAR has so far stayed the course and will allow the Sprint Cup Series drivers race in the Nationwide Series. I just hope it doesn’t cost somebody a championship.

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

 

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.

My Two Cents on Healing in the Heartland, E. Gordon Gee and Jim Brown

by Ryan Isley

It was definitely an interesting week in the world of sports, especially in Northeast Ohio. Trade rumors continued to swirl around the Cleveland Cavaliers and the first pick in the NBA Draft, the Indians went on a losing streak, Chris Perez was pulled from a game due to injury and then the Indians had a Cuban Missile Crisis of their own after Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman tried to behead Nick Swisher with a fastball.

But these are the three topics I am thinking about most as the week comes to an end:

On Healing in the Heartland:

While I realize this is a sports site, sometimes there are things in the world that are more important than sports. One such instance is the devastation that happened in Oklahoma last week when a tornado ripped through town and destroyed everything in its path. Last week, I used this space to write about Kevin Durant and how he donated $1 million and visited the town of Moore, Oklahoma that was in the eye of the storm.

This week, I want to recognize another group of people who gave of their time and organized a fundraiser for those in need in Oklahoma.

On Wednesday night, “Healing in the Heartland” – a benefit put together by country music superstar and “The Voice” coach Blake Shelton – aired live from the Chesapeake Energy Center in Oklahoma City on NBC as well as other channels.

Blake was joined in person by his wife Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Vince Gill, Ryan Tedder, Luke Bryan and Usher, who all performed songs live on the show. In addition to the performances, there were public service announcements throughout the show from Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Alicia Keys, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson.

While there were many emotional moments during the show, none were more tear-jerking than when Miranda Lambert started to cry during her performance of “The House That Built Me.” There was also a touching moment when Blake brought out a student who had lost her mother in the tornado just a week before her high school graduation.

All in all, it was a great event for a great cause and each artist who took time out of their schedule should be commended for their efforts. Anyone who would like to donate to the “Healing in the Heartland” benefit can do so by visiting the “Healing in the Heartland” Facebook page, texting REBUILD to 52000 to make a $10 donation on their cell phone bill or by calling 1-800-890-4999.

On E. Gordon Gee:

It seems that Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee had a Mitt Romney “47 percent” moment this past December. According to the Associated Press, Gee told a university committee that the reason Notre Dame wasn’t invited to join the Big Ten was because they’re not good partners, and then made a joke that Catholics can’t be trusted.

He went on to say that Notre Dame “wanted to have its cake and eat it, too.”

While I can’t completely disagree with Gee’s last assessment of Notre Dame wanting to have its cake and eat it too, this is just another in a line of stupid comments made by Gee when he should clearly be addressing anything other than the athletic programs at his school.

Let’s not forget that this is the same university president who hoped the football coach (Jim Tressel) didn’t fire him and also said that TCU played a schedule full of “Little Sisters of the Poor.” He has also continued to back Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith and even went as far as to say that Ohio State was “blessed” to have Smith, despite the numerous issues within the athletic department. When I called for Smith’s dismissal in 2011, I also said he should take Gee with him on the way out the door.

If Gee doesn’t learn to keep his mouth shut, someone needs to do something before he embarrasses the school any further.

On Jim Brown:

It was announced on Wednesday that Jim Brown would be taking the role of “special advisor” within the Cleveland Browns organization. This was a move that sparked a ton of response on social media among Browns fans – some liked it, some hated it.

My question is this: Why does it matter?

Jim Brown is not going to be in the front office and will have zero impact on the players that the Browns bring in to help their football team. He won’t be on the sidelines coaching the team or having any say so on what happens during the 60 minutes of football played each game. The last time I checked, Brown is 77 years old, which means he also won’t be playing running back for the Cleveland Browns.

If Brown feels like he had to take a job just to feel vindicated and to get one last shot in at former Browns President Mike Holmgren, so be it.

Browns fans need to be more concerned with the people running the front office and the coaching staff than they need to be about a former player – albeit a GREAT former player – coming back to the organization to act as a glorified Wal-Mart greeter.

As Kendall Lewis – AKA “The BSK” – used to always tell me: It is what it is young fella.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]