Monthly Archives: May, 2012

The 5 Key Match-ups in the Thunder-Spurs series

Can Russell Westbrook keep up with Tony Parker for an entire series?

5.  Gregg Popovich vs Scott Brooks

This is a matchup of great minds, both who have received the Coach of the Year award, Brooks in 2009-2010 and Popovich in 2002-2003 as well as this season.  Brooks represents a fast-paced young team ready to take over the NBA while Popovich is the wily veteran who has managed to get his veteran players to buy into a system that values the team over any single player.  What amazes me about the Spurs are their ability to rotate so beautifully on defense and their knack for passing up a good shot for a great shot, they always seem to make that extra pass.  The Thunder surprised me several times last night when the rotated just as well, stopping the Spurs from any good looks no matter how many passes they made.  If the Thunder can keep that up all series (or at least for an entire game) this series is going to be even better than anyone anticipated.
Advantage: Spurs

4.  Tim Duncan vs Kendrick Perkins

Perkins brought to the Thunder a defensive minded post player with championship experience and toughness in the paint.  He has been very important in their rise to the top, but unfortunately his counterpart in this matchup exceeds his pedigree by a longshot.  Duncan has receded from his super-stardom with great dignity, taking a reduced scoring role all while maintaining solid interior defense, rebounding, and passing out of the post.  Perkins may be able to stop Duncan from scoring inside (Duncan was 6 for 15 in game one) but Duncan’s vision from the post frequently leads to an assist or a pass leading to an assist.  Watch for Duncan to hit those open midrange shots when Perkins is slow to rotate.
Advantage: Spurs

3.  Kevin Durant vs Kawhi Leonard/Stephen Jackson

Last night we saw Popovich throw the combination of Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson at the scoring king Kevin Durant in an effort to at least slow him down.  That strategy didn’t work so well as Durant scored 27 points on 42% shooting and was 11 for 12 from the free throw line.  Leonard was struggling offensively and Jackson wasn’t a detriment on that end so the Spurs’ coach opted for the veteran late in the game.  Personally, I think Leonard has a better chance at stopping Durant if you keep him out there most of the game.  He has the length and athleticism to stay on him and contest those difficult shots that KD is known to make so frequently.  Obviously you can’t expect anyone to shut Durant down, but if you play defense well enough on him he’ll be forced to pass it to Westbrook who has the unseemly talent of putting up terrible shots, especially late in the game.  If the Spurs can figure this out they’ll have no problem in this series, but if Durant continues to produce at this level expect every game to be as competitive as last night.
Advantage: Thunder

2.  Manu Ginobili vs James Harden

James Harden may have won 6th Man of the Year, but Ginobili has long been one of the greatest bench scorers in the NBA.  Manu easily won the matchup in game one, scoring 26 points on 9 of 14 shooting while Harden struggled, going 7 for 17 with 19 points, but Harden will come out on top over the course of the series.  Ginobili really stepped up his game last night, but he has struggled throughout the playoffs, which we delve deeper into here, shooting 30% from beyond the arc and 43.8% from the field.  Meanwhile Harden has slipped a little in shooting from the field (41.8%) but has maintained his 3-point shooting (38.1%) and has gotten to the line almost twice as much as Ginobili (7.1 times per game compared to 3.6) while shooting 90.1% from the line.  Harden’s youth, consistency, and ability to get to the line really give the Thunder an outstanding option off the bench that will surely pay dividends throughout the series.
Advantage: Thunder

1.  Russell Westbrook vs Tony Parker

Westbrook is the epitome of what teams look for in a young point guard.  He’s incredibly quick and athletic, gets to the lane with ease, has a developing jumper, and rebounds well for his position.  Parker, on the other hand, is a coach’s dream of what a point guard can become.  He creates his own shots as well as setting up others for shots.  He always seems to know whether he should take the jumper, drive the lane, or pass up the shot and make the key extra pass to a wide open teammate.  In Game One of the series this wasn’t much of a competition.  Parker had 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, not to mention some key buckets towards the end of the game to extend San Antonio’s late run.  Westbrook, however, went 7 for 21 from the field while accumulating 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.  His shot selection towards the end of the game was a momentum killer and he could not seem to contain Parker.  If the Thunder are going to win this series they will need their star point guard to step up, put that athleticism to use on defense, and work on being much more choosey with his shots.
Advantage: Spurs

Possible Landing Spots for Pau Gasol

Yes Pau, believe it or not, you may be on your way out of LA.

In the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers’ ouster from the playoffs, fans of all allegiances are calling for the Lakers to shake up their roster if they want to compete for a title any time soon. Naturally, the first name to be mentioned is Pau Gasol. As important as Gasol was for this organization in bringing two titles to LA, he has struggled mightily in the past two postseasons (13.1 points per game on 42.0% shooting and 7.8 boards in 2010-2011 and 12.5 points on 43.4% shooting this year). The Lakers are a team that desperately needs multiple consistent contributors to add depth to a roster than saw their bench score a meager five points in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. So if the Lakers choose to deal Gasol, where might he go and what might a potential deal look like? Here are six teams that would most likely entertain the thought of adding Pau for the 2012-2013 campaign, in order of least to most likely:

6. NEW YORK KNICKS
How it could happen: The question really becomes: how desperate are the Lakers for change? If down the road they are in fact reeling after being ousted in the second round, losing GM Mitch Kupchak, and looking like a team without a plan, the New York Knicks may sneak into this conversation. Why? Two words: Amare Stoudemire. Again, this is highly unlikely, but New York may, in Stoudemire, be able to offer a star who could use a change of scenery to resurrect his career as much as Gasol does. Rather than adding more depth to their bench, the Knicks could potentially send star power in return, something that few other teams can offer. The risks are obvious here, but gambling that Amare may bounce back to his 2010-2011 levels (25.3 points per game and 8.1 rebounds) after a rollercoaster 2011-2012 season might be worth it.
The trade: New York receives Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts
Los Angeles receives Amare Stoudemire
Trade analysis: Los Angeles is not going to pull the trigger on this deal without receiving additional depth, salary cap relief, or draft picks from the Knicks. By trading away McRoberts, who had fallen out of favor in LA, the Lakers not only shed a contract, but preserve their amnesty to use on another player. LA would surely have to do some retooling of their offense to incorporate Stoudemire’s skill set but, considering the way Gasol struggled to fit in, that might not be the worst consequence. New York surely has to be thinking about ditching the idea of making a contender out of the Carmelo Anthony-Stoudemire pairing. Gasol certainly knows he is a second option and would not have as difficult a time coexisting within the same offense as Stoudemire seemed to.

5. ORLANDO MAGIC
How it could happen: There is only one person who has the power to make this trade happen: Dwight Howard. If Howard says that he would be open to signing a long-term extension with the Lakers then a Howard for Gasol trade immediately makes sense for both teams. However, the Magic are likely to ask for more than the Lakers are willing to give up, so this trade is still a long shot.
The trade: Orlando receives Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, and Christian Eyenga and future draft considerations
Los Angeles receives Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu
Trade analysis: Unfortunately for the Lakers, they may have to give up Bynum and Gasol to get Howard, something that may not be worth it for the Lakers. Hypothetically, a trade that has Orlando receiving Gasol and Bynum while LA brings in Howard and Turkoglu seems to be just too perfect for Orlando to ever happen. Instead, LA is more likely to offer something more along the lines of the above package for Howard. If Orlando is comfortable giving up Howard for Gasol, cap relief, and future draft picks, then this trade makes sense for both sides. The Lakers would then be able to flip Bynum, who is proving to be a major headache, for players to complement the Bryant-Howard pairing.

4. BOSTON CELTICS
How it could happen: With Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett becoming free agents this summer, Boston may be looking to revamp its roster. Rondo has got to be untouchable, unless an elite PG is coming back, so that leaves Boston with little else to offer. But again, if Los Angeles desires another star to pair with Kobe Bryant before his window slams shut, Boston should be getting a call from Lakers management about the following trade.
The trade: Boston receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Paul Pierce
Trade analysis: If LA could ever convince the Celtics to give up the face of their franchise, this might be the trade that makes the most sense. Sure, it would be interesting to see how Pierce and Bryant would coexist on the same court, but along with Bynum, they would form quite possibly the third best “Big Three” in the league behind Miami and Oklahoma City. Boston could then attempt to re-sign Allen and/or Garnett, or pursue other free agents to build around Rondo, Gasol, Brandon Bass, and Avery Bradley.

3. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
How it could happen: Minnesota figures to be aggressive this summer in an attempt to make the jump from rebuilding team to playoff contender. The Timberwolves were slotted as the eighth seed out West before Ricky Rubio’s injury and in order to guarantee a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, they need to improve the roster. Gasol would be a natural fit in Rick Adelman’s offense as a big man who can pass, knock down open jumpers, and create his own offense.
The trade: Minnesota receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Luke Ridnour, Nikola Pekovic, and Michael Beasley
Trade analysis: In order for this trade to work, Minnesota would first have to re-sign Beasley at approximately $6.4 million. Granted, this gets tricky as Beasley is a restricted free agent and would have to agree to be signed-and-traded to the Lakers. But if the Beasley signs on, this trade could have the desired effect on both teams. Minnesota would get a player Rubio is extremely familiar with who A) would compliment Kevin Love’s game reasonably well and B) would thrive in Rick Adelman’s system. The Lakers, on the other hand, would obviously add some much needed depth. Ridnour could easily compete with Ramon Sessions for the starting spot and, at worst, would be a great back up, thus freeing the team to amnesty Steve Blake. Beasley would add some scoring off the bench that the Lakers desperately need. Pekovic is one of the rising stars in the league who, although he may not have a obviously clear role with the team, has a bright future as a solid contributor. With this trade, the Lakers would address several needs by adding point guard depth and consistency, another scorer, and a big with a high motor who can score and rebound.

2. CHICAGO BULLS
How it could happen: We wrote earlier about how, after the Derrick Rose injury, Chicago needed to seriously look at bringing in another star to compliment Rose. Considering Gasol had been on the team’s radar at the trade deadline, with Rose supposedly advocating for his team to acquire him, Gasol is a natural choice.
The trade: Chicago receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Carlos Boozer, CJ Watson, and a draft pick (No. 29 this year)
Trade analysis: This is very similar to the rumored trade discussions that happened around the deadline this year. Chicago would do this trade in a heartbeat for obvious reasons, mainly the fact that they could add Gasol without breaking up much of their core group of players. Los Angeles certainly would be a little more hesitant. However, Boozer is a guy who put up 15.0 and 17.5 points a game, respectively, in his two seasons with the Bulls despite the perception he has been a let-down. Watson, likewise, could add offensive fire power off the bench to a Lakers team that had very few contributions on the wing outside of Kobe.

1. HOUSTON ROCKETS
How it could happen: It is well documented that the Rockets have been zealous in their pursuit to add both a star and a big man. With Gasol, a player they have long coveted and almost landed before the start of this season, they could accomplish both tasks. They certainly have plenty of assets to offer the Lakers; it could simply come down to how much they are willing to give up in exchange to bring Gasol to town.
The trade: Houston receives Pau Gasol
Los Angeles receives Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, and two draft picks (No. 14 and 16 this year)
Trade analysis: Houston is even more attractive because they possess two picks in this year’s stacked draft. Not only would this trade provide the Lakers with a satisfactory replacement for Gasol to start at PF and give them an intriguing prospect in Lowry, but they would be able to further add to the roster with these two picks. There will be an abundance of wing players who will still be on the board that could come in an contribute right away. This trade gives the Lakers a great deal of depth while replacing Gasol with Scola, a player who is only one season removed from a campaign in which he averaged 18.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. The Rockets would be ecstatic to add Gasol while holding onto key pieces such as Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Patrick Patterson, Samuel Dalembert, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, and Chandler Parsons.

Indiana’s Most Dangerous Asset: Mean Reversion

Danny Granger is one of several players likely to benefit from the theory of “Mean Reversion.”

Game 2 of the Indiana-Miami series showed just how important Chris Bosh is to the Heat’s chances of contending for a title this season. Without their best big man, Miami lost gave up its +12 advantage it had scoring in the paint in Game 1 and the rebounding margin was +10 in favor of the Pacers. Clearly, the Heat ought to be worried about their glaring disadvantage in the frontcourt.

However, more than anything else, Miami ought to fear the theory of “Mean Reversion.” This theory states that a statistic’s high and low values are only temporary and that over a longer period of time, these statistics are bound to move towards the average.  In basketball terms, it’s simple really: no player or team will stay cold or hot forever; they are bound to return to normalcy.

So far in the playoffs the Pacers have not played up to their regular season standards and, more than likely, their production will return to normal sooner rather than later.

Offensively, the Pacers numbers are down across the board when compared to their regular season output. During the regular season Indiana scored 97.7 points a game on 43.8% shooting from the field and a 6th best mark of 36.8% from behind the 3-point line. In the playoffs, Indiana’s scoring is down to 91.0 points per contest while shooting only 29.3% on three-pointers. If the Pacers shot that poorly during the regular season, it would have been the worst percentage in the entire league.

Individually, several players are bound to break through. Shooting percentages for many of the Pacers’ key players have plummeted. Danny Granger shot 41.6% from the field during the regular season, but is only shooting 38.0% in these playoffs. Paul George has regressed from 44.0% to 39.0%. David West’s 48.7% conversion rate has dropped to 43.9% in the playoffs.

Roy Hibbert, who shot three out of his six field goal attempts in the first two minutes of Game 2, is bound to perform better against lesser competition. You would have to imagine that he will outperform his Game 2 numbers of 8 points on 2-6 shooting from the field. His 8.7 attempts per game are 1.6 less than he averaged during the regular season.

The theory of mean reversion would indicate that all these areas in which the Pacers are under-performing will eventually return to normal.  It is highly unlikely that a very good three-point shooting team will continue to struggle in that category and that a player will shoot well below his season average.

Long story short: at some point Indiana is going to start making their threes, Granger, George, and West will step it up, and Hibbert is going to take advantage of the obvious advantage he has in the post. When all of that happens, how will the Heat respond? Certainly their defense has been a factor in keeping some of these numbers down, but a team that shoots the ball from distance as well as the Pacers do is bound to regain its form. Especially when you consider that Miami was tied for 25th worst in the league in opponents’ 3-point percentage.

Miami has to pray for a speedy recovery for Chris Bosh and that Indiana’s reversion to the mean does not happen any time soon.

Five Up, Five Down

Some players thrive in the playoff atmosphere, the pressure ignites something within and they call upon every ounce of talent they have to give it their all when it matters most.  On the flip side some players just can’t handle the spotlight of the NBA playoffs and end up withering when their team needs them the most.  These are the 5 players who improved the most from the regular season and the 5 players who saw the biggest drop offs in the 2012 playoffs.

The 5 Up

Rondo has dominated the playoffs thus far.

Rajon Rondo:
We all knew Rondo was a triple-double waiting to happen when the playoffs started, but his performance so far in the playoffs has been ridiculous nonetheless.  Over the course of the Celtics’ seven playoff games Rondo has averaged 15 points, 12.7 assists, and 6.7 rebounds.  That’s an increase from 11.9, 11.7, and 4.8 respectively from the regular season, all while maintaining a shooting percentage around 44%.  The Celtics will need his consistent play and ability to improve the veterans around him if they hope to advance past the Sixers.

Ty Lawson:
Yes, the Nuggets eventually lost to the Lakers, but the series would have never made it to seven games if it weren’t for Lawson’s play.  Lawson increased his scoring from 16.4 per game in the regular season to 19 in the series against the Lakers, playing almost the exact same minutes per game and meanwhile improving his shooting percentage from 48.8% to 51.4%.  Lawson’s performance in game 6 and 7 are reason enough to include him on this list.  In those two games he averaged 28 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds while shooting 64.9% from the field and 58.3% from beyond the arc.

Kevin Garnett:
Garnett has re-emerged as the KG of old in the playoffs, scoring, rebounding, and bringing the swagger that won him defensive player of the year in 2008.  After averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1 block on 50.3% shooting in the regular season the 2004 season MVP has improved to 19.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks while shooting 52.9% and giving Rondo a reliable scoring option.  Look no further than Game 6 against the Hawks for proof, when he scored 28 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and garnered 3 steals and 5 blocks.

Nick Young:
In 22 games for the Clippers during the season Young provided a solid but streaky scorer off the bench.  So far the former reigning “Not Top Play” champion has excelled in the playoffs.  Despite seeing less minutes per game Young has averaged 8.8 points on 45.8% shooting, 59.1% from three, making the most of the 6 shots he sees per game.  Considering he shot 39.4% (35.3% from three) during the regular season it’s great to see him pick up his play in the postseason.  I guess it takes a little while to scrub the musk of the Wizards off you.

George Hill:
Hill contributed 9.6 points per game off the bench for the Pacers after they took a risky move trading Kawhi Leonard for the former Spurs guard.  That move is now paying off with Hill stepping into the starting lineup and providing a reliable scorer while Darren Collison comes off the bench.  The guard out of IUPUI has contributed 13.7 points per game during the playoffs and has more than doubled his trips to the free throw line where he has improved from 77.8% in the regular season to 85.3% in the playoffs.

Honorable Mention: Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday, Roy Hibbert, Reggie Evans, and David West

The 5 Down

Pau, wondering why he can’t perform in the playoffs.

Pau Gasol:
Gasol’s strength and resolve have been questioned in previous years when it came playoff time, and this postseason does nothing to refute those claims.  While his counterpart in the post has maintained his performance, Pau has experienced a significant drop in a number of major statistical categories.  Throughout the regular season he averaged 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, and shot 50.1% despite the continued emergence of Andrew Bynum.  Unfortunately during the playoffs he has regressed to 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds while only shooting 43%.  The last time the Lakers won the championship Pau averaged 19.6 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 53.9%, what a difference two years make.

Manu Ginobili:
Ginobili struggled to stay on the court during the regular season due to injuries, but he still provided a reliable and efficient scorer off the bench that was a threat from anywhere on the floor.  The Spurs have succeeded in the postseason so far despite Ginobli’s significant decline in production.  After posting 12.9 points on 52.6% shooting, including 41.3% from three, Manu has been struggling to find his shot.  He is averaging more shots per game (9.2 compared to 8.4) while scoring less (11.2, down from 12.9) thanks to his 41.4% field goal percentage and 27.3% from beyond the arc.  The Jazz weren’t even a speed bump on the Spurs path to the championship, but the Clippers are a significantly better team.  If the Spurs hope to put away good teams Ginobli is going to have to step up his production.

Avery Bradley:
Bradley impressed Celtics and NBA fans alike when he stepped into the starting lineup for Ray Allen and produced spectacularly.  He averaged 15.1 points while shooting 52% from the field and 54.5% from three during the month of April, a promising performance knowing Allen may have to miss some games during the playoffs.  Despite his regular season burst in production Bradley has fallen hard back down to Earth after Allen returned.  During the postseason Bradley is averaging 7.4 points on 38.3% shooting from the field and 23.5% from three.

Lou Williams:
Rarely does the leading scorer of a playoff team happen to be a bench player, but the Sixers put together an impressive season that led to a playoff berth with Lou Williams leading the charge with 14.9 points per game off the bench.  He wasn’t the most efficient scorer (40.7% from the field and 36.2% from three) but he brought life to the second unit and proved to be a valuable asset.  During the Sixers playoff run Williams has seen a drastic drop in his already not-so-efficient play.  The runner up for the 2012 6th Man of the Year is currently shooting 34.8% from the field and 15.2% from three point land, making the already difficult task of taking down the Celtics that much tougher.  Fortunately the Sixers have enough players that can contribute scoring that it may not be too detrimental to their playoff hopes.

Gordon Hayward:
The Jazz were late in joining the playoff picture and early leaving it.  The young team was no match for the top-seeded Spurs and were easily taken care of in four games.  I’m sure there are plenty of startling bad stats from that series, but Hayward’s performance stands out among them all.  The former Butler phenom enjoyed an impressive improvement from his rookie year this season, averaging 11.8 points on 45.6% from the field and 34.6% from three.  Those numbers seemed to indicate progress made on his jump shot, but they took an unfortunate turn for the worse once the playoffs started.  Hayward made 6 out of his 33 shots during the series, 1 out of 12 from three, which translates to 18.2% from the field and 8.3% from three.  The only player who averaged more than 10 minutes per game and had a worse shooting percentage was Iman Shumpert.  However, Shumpert gets a free pass since he played 19 minutes of one game and then tore his ACL.  Hayward averaged over 30 minutes per game in that series.  I don’t know who to feel worse for, the guy that got injured or the one who had everyone watch him shoot slightly better than Jared Jeffries (16.7% in 6.8 minutes per game).

Honorable Mention: J.R. Smith, Deandre Jordan, C.J. Watson, O.J. Mayo, and Elton Brand

Playoff Troubles

The Lakers were demolished by the well-rested Thunder, the Heat choked in the final seconds against the Pacers, the Celtics slipped in a tight game against the Sixers, and the Clippers fell to the savvy Spurs.

Durant or LeBron? Each Case for the MVP Race.

It’s been a tight race all season, but who will win this year’s MVP award?

LeBron or Durant?  That’s been the question all season.  While other names have come and gone these two have consistently been the front runners in the MVP race all season.  But who really deserves it more?  The two contributors to the Original NBA lay out their cases for their MVP candidates.

The Case for Kevin Durant, by C.M.

People go on and on about the historic regular season that LeBron James had this year.  Hell, at one point in the season I heard some people calling it the greatest season of all time.  But just compare his numbers to those of Kevin Durant and you will be a lot less floored.  This year, Durant averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks, while James posted averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals.

Fans (myself included) and members of the media are astonished by the fact that LeBron posted significant numbers in several different categories.  I mean, seriously, how many guys in the league can put up 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals a night?  But Durant’s numbers are equally as impressive.

The difference here is that Durant puts up great numbers in the “big man” categories (rebounds and blocks) but does not excel in the guard categories (assists and steals).  However, his numbers down low are pretty damn impressive for a wing player as wiry as he is.

The reality is that people think of Durant as simply a scorer, whereas LeBron gets credit as the one guy in the league who can effect a game in every way imaginable.  Admittedly, Durant will not penetrate and dish like James, he won’t run an offense like LeBron can, and he isn’t going to shut down the other team’s best player like LeBron can.  But Durant doesn’t need to do those things for his team to win like LeBron does.  Durant has other guys on his team who can run a pick and roll, who can create for others, and who can shut down the opposition.  Instead, KD excels as a scorer (where his input is needed most) and as a rebounder and shot blocker (areas where others on his team specialize).

The Heat need LeBron’s efforts to maintain the delicate balance they have on their roster; the Thunder use Durant’s extra efforts all over the court to put them over the top in several categories.

If you replace Durant with another scorer who would put up those same exact 28 points a game while shooting 49.6% from the field, 86% from the line, and 38.7% from beyond the three-point line, the Thunder become a team struggling for home court advantage.  But with Durant on their side, they continue to score the ball at the third highest rate in the league while also standing out as the best shot blocking team and the sixth best rebounding team.  For all LeBron’s efforts,Miami still ranks No. 21 overall in both rebounding and assists.

Simply put, Durant puts his team over the top while LeBron is the keeping his team afloat in many different areas.

Lastly, Durant deserves credit for taking a team full of youngsters and delivering them to the third best record in the league; whereas James’ team is stacked with proven veterans.  Oddly enough, it is the young Thunder squad who is known around the league for having laser-like focus and the Heat who have a reputation for going through lulls throughout the season.  Durant, as the unquestioned leader of his team, deserves a ton of credit for that.  He has done everything for this team from leading, to deferring when needed, to sacrificing his body.  And for that, he is the MVP.

The Case for LeBron James, by J.M.

Let’s get this out of the way right now.  I am not a fan of LeBron.  I disliked him when he came into the league and dubbed himself “King James” and that disdain grew when he pulled off “The Decision.”  I cheer for almost any opponent he faces and gain sustenance from his 4th quarter meltdowns.  With that said, LeBron is easily the best player in the NBA and my vote for the regular season MVP.

After an MVP-caliber 2010-2011 season that was only out-shown by the “anybody but LeBron” MVP race, LeBron took to the offseason aiming to improve his game and take this Miami Heat team to an NBA Championship.  With the way he has played this team doesn’t look too far away from that goal.  He improved in almost every category including: field goal percentage (53.1%), three point percentage (36.2%), rebounds (7.9 per game), and points (27.1 per game), all while playing less minutes, taking the same number of shots, and greatly improving his post game and defense.

While the argument can be made for Kevin Durant as MVP it is not nearly as strong.  Yes, Durant is the better scorer and in all likelihood I would choose him over LeBron in a late game scenario, but his advantage ends there.  LeBron is the better rebounder, passer, and defender and a more valuable asset to his team.  Some people may argue that because LeBron has one of the best wing players in the league on his side (Wade) along with faux-star Chris Bosh he cannot possibly be the most valuable player.  The issue with this argument is that while LeBron may have the better superstar sidekicks, Durant has a team built around him.  Surrounding Durant are Westbrook, a young star point guard, Harden, a young wing scorer off the bench, Ibaka, a young dominant defensive presence, and Perkins, a veteran, championship-winning, hard-nosed, post player.

The key difference is that the Thunder were assembled to work as a team, each player knows their role and they almost always defer to Durant (at least this season after the whole “Durant or Westbrook” debacle last playoffs).  LeBron, however, is burdened with the task of keeping the Heat afloat without any key role players and two sidekicks who are accustomed to being ball-dominant players.  The fact that LeBron distributed the ball well enough to keep both Wade and Bosh scoring frequently and efficiently (22.1 ppg 49.7% FG and 18 ppg 48.7% FG respectively) is reason in itself to hand him this award.  I haven’t even mentioned that LeBron was far and away the most efficient player in the league with a PER of 30.8, three points higher than the man in second, Chris Paul, and nearly four points ahead of Durant who placed in fourth.

I know it’s hard to place yourself objectively off the anti-LeBron bandwagon, I struggle with it plenty of times, but when it comes down to it, we all know LeBron is going to win the MVP, and rightfully so.  Now if only he could work on that hairline.

The NBA: Where Injuries Happen

This has been an all too common site this year. Teams’ abilities to avoid scenes like these may be the difference between an early exit and a deep playoff run.

After the mad blitz that was the NBA regular season, teams in the playoffs are certainly showing some fatigue. Many have argued that a season that demanded players to attempt to play 66 games in approximately 120 days has led to the rash of injuries. Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Josh Smith, Ray Allen, Baron Davis, Kendrick Perkins, and Iman Shumpert are among the players who have missed time this postseason because of injuries. Throw in the suspensions to Rajon Rondo and Metta World Peace and it is clear that perfect attendance was almost impossible to achieve this season.

Obviously, teams who are able to keep their best players on the floor have a sizable advantage over their opponents. A quick glance at the number of games missed by rotation players on playoff teams during the regular seasons offers a little insight. By looking at a team’s roster and gauging how many players from each team missed time due to injuries or suspensions can quite possibly predict that team’s chances of keeping its best unit intact throughout the playoffs.

Here are the teams that did the best job of keeping its best players on the court throughout this hectic season:

1. Indiana Pacers
30 games missed, 10 rotation players, 3.0 games missed on average
Players considered: Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Leandro Barbosa, Darren Collison, George Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Louis Amundson

2. Oklahoma City Thunder
41 games missed, 9 rotation players, 4.56 average
Players considered: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Derek Fisher, Daequan Cook, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison
Note: Eric Maynor was not considered in this evaluation as his injury was suffered very early in the season and the team was adequately able to replace him with Derek Fisher

3. LA Lakers
35 games missed, 7 rotation players, 5.0 average
Players considered: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Ramon Sessions, Matt Barnes, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake
Note: The amount of games missed by Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill was incredibly difficult to quantify as each players’ up and down play led to inconsistent playing time

4. San Antonio Spurs
83 games missed, 12 rotation players, 6.92 average
Players considered: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson, Dajuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw
Note: The Spurs’ position on this list is remarkable especially considering several of their best players were held out of games at the end of the season.

5. Memphis Grizzlies
63 games missed, 9 rotation players, 7.0 average
Players considered: Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mareese Speights, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter

6. Miami Heat
73 games missed, 10 rotation players, 7.3 average
Players considered: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf

7. Philadelphia 76ers
86 games missed, 10 rotation players, 8.6 average
Players considered: Jrue Holliday, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Thad Young, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, Nikola Vucevic, Lavoy Allen

8. LA Clippers
86 games missed, 10 rotation players, 8.6 average
Players considered: Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Nick Young, Mo Williams, Caron Butler, Randy Foye, DeAndre Jordan, Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans

9. Orlando Magic
78 games missed, 9 rotation players, 8.67 average
Players considered: Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, JJ Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Quentin Richardson, Chris Duhon

10. Utah Jazz
99 games missed, 11 rotation players, 9.0 average
Players considered: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, Devin Harris, CJ Miles, Derrick Favors, Josh Howard, Alex Burks, Raja Bell, Enes Kanter, Earl Watson

11. Chicago Bulls
100 games missed, 10 rotation players, 10.0 average
Players considered: Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, Joakim Noah, CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik

12. Dallas Mavericks
102 games missed, 10 rotation players, 10.2 average
Players considered: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Delonte West, Roddy Beuabois, Brendan Wright, Jason Kidd, Ian Mahimni, Brendan Haywood

13. New York Knicks
95 games missed, 9 rotation players, 10.55 average
Players considered: Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, JR Smith, Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, Baron Davis

14. Denver Nuggets
136 games missed, 12 rotation players, 11.33 average
Players considered: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington, Javale McGee, Kenneth Faried, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer, Rudy Fernandez, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov
Note: Faried was not counted as having missed any games, even though he only played 46 games this season. Once he started receiving consistent playing time beginning February 9th he did not miss another game.

15. Atlanta Hawks
133 games missed, 10 rotation players, 13.3 average
Players considered: Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Willie Green, Kirk Hinrich, Ivan Johnson, Tracy McGrady

16. Boston Celtics
167 games missed, 10 rotation players, 16.7 average
Players considered: Greg Stiemsma, Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Wilcox, Michael Pietrus, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Bass, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce
Note: Wilcox and O’Neal were both included because it appears the team still has not recovered from their injuries, shown by inconsistent minutes still given to Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins, and Marquis Daniels. It just seems like Doc Rivers is still trying to make up for the size they are missing with Wilcox and O’Neal out.

It should come as no surprise that the four teams that are widely considered to be the favorites to contend for the NBA Finals (Thunder, Spurs, Heat, and Lakers) are all in the top 6 teams on this list. Not only did these teams do a superior job avoiding the injury bug, but it is also incredible how few games their star players missed this season. James, Bosh, Duncan, Parker, Bryant, Bynum, Pau Gasol, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden missed a combined 38 games between the ten of them.

A team like Indiana, who no one thinks has a chance at winning a championship this year, certainly must be overjoyed at their ability to stay healthy. If a major injury does occur to one of their opponents, the Pacers’ tendency to field a healthy roster could prove to be the catalyst in a series against an undermanned team.

On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised the Bulls are in the position they are in. Surely it was not their fault, but the numbers don’t lie: Chicago has a team that struggled with injuries all year long, and surely the playoffs are no different. The Bulls thought they might be able to get everyone healthy and on the same page down the stretch, but it should be no surprise to any of us that their unhealthy trend continued into the playoffs.

5 Worst Self-Inflicted Injuries

In light of Amare Stoudemire’s recent run in with a certain fire extinguisher in Miami, it got me thinking about the most idiotic self-inflicted injuries in the NBA. Most are self-inflicted out of the sheer stupidity by the offending party.  Where does Stoudemire’s hand laceration rank in the list? Believe it or not, there have been more foolish injuries, albeit both by the same player. And no, Lionel Simmons doesn’t make the list for missing games during the 1990-1991 season because of a wrist injury caused by playing Game Boy. Simmons is saved by the fact that Derrick McKey missed time for the same reason a year later. You cannot fault these guys for being passionate about their Tetris.  And there is nothing stupid about playing Game Boy.  That being said, let’s see the real list:

5. Paul Pierce
The stage: the 2008 NBA Finals, Game 1, the biggest game of his life. Paul Pierce is bumped by teammate Kendrick Perkins and…Oh wait, we’re talking about real injuries? Excuse me, that was just so damn convincing.Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

5. Derrick Rose
Given his recent injury, maybe we shouldn’t be picking on the guy, but you haven’t heard just how ridiculous this injury really is. During his rookie season, Rose injured himself when he got a cut underneath his left elbow. Fortunately, Rose didn’t end up missing any game time, but it’s not the impact of this injury that is worth noting, it is the absurdity of it. Rose claimed that the night before the injury, he had been eating an apple in bed. The next morning as he went to grab a bottle of water, he forgot that the knife he used to cut the apple was still there. Thus, he sat down on the bed and sliced his arm.  I guess it was an honest mistake, but lack of common sense is no excuse for being excluded from this list.

4. Monta Ellis
Ok, this one is pretty simple. When you sign a 6 year, $67 million contract, typically you owe it to your team to stay out of harm’s way. Instead, in August 2008, a little over a month after signing that big deal, Ellis revealed that he had torn a ligament in his left ankle. Initially, Ellis claimed that he had injured the ankle in a pick up basketball game in his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. However, the Warriors looked further into the situation and discovered that Ellis had actually injured the ankle in a moped accident. The Warriors decided to suspend Ellis for 30 games without pay for the incident, assuming that he was too injured to play in those games anyway. That guess proved to be a tad on the conservative side as Ellis ended up playing only 25 games that season.

3. Tony Allen
Poor Tony Allen. Back in the days when he was known as “Trick or Treat Tony” for his maddeningly inconsistent play, he suffered one of the most unfortunate turns of fate on the court. But I can’t leave him off the list because I feel bad for him. No, his stupidity must be pointed out. On January 10, 2007, Allen was playing in the second half of a Celtics’ loss when, after hearing a whistle blow, Allen decided to drive into the lane and throw down an uncontested, dead ball dunk. Unfortunately for Allen, his knee didn’t exactly cooperate; upon landing he tore his ACL and MCL and ended up missing the rest of the season. You hate to see a guy go down with such a devastating injury, but in reality, Allen injured himself by showing off to the crowd. He went up for what he thought would be an emphatic and impressive dunk, but literally fell flat on his face, shredding his knee in the process.

2. Amare Stoudemire
Notice how all of these players “suffered” their injuries in the regular season? Too bad we can’t say the same for Stoudemire. He gets a lofty position in these rankings for the timing of everything. With his team struggling through a first-round playoff series with the Heat, Stoudemire took out his frustrations on a fire extinguisher. Bad news for Amare: after the dust settled, the fire extinguisher came out on top. Surely, the Knicks had little to no chance of winning the series, but with its second scoring option out for the foreseeable future against one of the best defensive teams in the league, New York was all but eliminated as fast as you can say “Amare’s a dumbass.” Not only that, but when the 6-10 Stoudemire went down, the Knicks were forced to play small ball, taking away quite possibly the only advantage the Knicks had, their size.

1. Lew Alcindor
The man now known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar was once upon a time a very stubborn and, apparently, not very sharp young man. During a pre-season game in 1974, Alcindor was hit by an opposing player and, being so infuriated, swung at and punched the basket support. He broke his hand and missed 16 games. Ok, you’re probably thinking “that’s excusable, what’s the big deal?” Fast forward to the 1977-1978 season opener, now as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and facing his former Bucks team, Kareem loses his temper once again. This time, after being elbowed by Kent Benson, Abdul Jabbar punches Benson, breaks his hand, and is forced to sit out for two months. You would imagine that after missing significant time for punching an inanimate object, Abdul Jabbar wouldn’t take his chances with a human being, but apparently he didn’t learn from the first time around. I’m assuming he finally did learn his lesson as, after this injury, Abdul Jabbar never missed more than 8 games in a single season.

5 Players for USA Basketball to Consider

Who should join these guys in training camp in Las Vegas?

There are currently fifteen players on the US Men’s Basketball roster that are healthy enough to play for the team this summer. Those players are Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin and Tyson Chandler. With injuries to Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Dwight Howard and the decision that Lamar Odom will not be representing the team at this summer’s Olympics, Jerry Colangelo has stated that the team is likely to add one or two players who will compete for the twelve spots on the active roster.

Here are five players that should warrant some consideration:

5. Greg Monroe
This team is clearly lacking size here and need a player with Monroe’s rebounding and low-post scoring ability. Monroe has something that the other big men on this team do not: a low-post scoring game. He can back down his man and score with an array of low-post moves unlike anyone else on the roster. However, Olympics basketball rarely ever favors big men in the post; therefore, Monroe (and player’s like him, such as Zach Randolph) has an asset that may very well be mitigated. USA Basketball may want to add him into the mix in order to give him the experience and prepare him for the future when he may very well be part of the teams’ plans.

4. DeAndre Jordan
Jordan would bring another dimension to this team as a big man who can run the floor in transition. Surely, with Williams, Paul, or Westbrook running the point and the best wing players in the NBA, this team is going to have the ability to get out on the fast break like no other team in the field. Add a center like Jordan into the fold and USA Basketball could field a lineup that would devastate less athletic teams in transition. Just imagine a limeup of Westbrook, Wade, James, Griffin and Jordan running the break. Just downright frightening.

3. Anthony Davis
Kentucky’s big man is sure to be the first pick in this year’s draft, but why not throw more accolades at this 19-year-old? He may very well be the future of the USA Basketball program, so giving him experience now can only help. His ability to rebound, protect the rim, and knock down open shots are all very attractive to a team whose only true center is Chandler. Have you noticed a theme yet? Yup, this roster is short on size and defensive presence in the paint.

2. James Harden
A scoring wing player certainly is not a need for this team, but as one of the best young players in the league, Harden certainly deserves a look. He has drastically improved his 3-point shot, shooting 39% this year, and has a fantastic all-around offensive game. Considering Gordon represents the US’s biggest 3-point threat and his ongoing health issues, Harden would be a sound investment.

1. Josh Smith
Smith has everything the team could possibly want: athleticism to run the floor, defensive presence and ability to alter shots, and a middling offensive game that won’t require a lot of shots. Of course, Smith has a tendency to take unadvised jumpers, but you would hope that in this environment he would defer to others and the betterment of the team. Smith averaged 1.74 blocks a game to go along with 9.6 rebounds, numbers that should draw the attention of Colangelo. Lastly, Smith is versatile enough to play the 5, 4, or, if necessary, the 3, which would be an asset, especially considering the US will likely have to matchup with Spain’s front court of Serge Ibaka and the Gasol brothers.

Note: Andrew Bynum has said he will not participate this summer. Roy Hibbert is not eligible because he played for Jamaica’s national team in the 2010 Centrobasket tournament.

The Answer to the Bulls’ Problem

Where can the Bulls turn now that Derrick Rose is injured?
(Hint: the answer cannot be seen in this picture…or on the current roster)

Don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but there’s a bit of a formula for success in the NBA. Get superstars on a team, surround them with quality role players, and you’re bound to succeed.

Take a look at the seven teams that most would consider are in the running to play for an NBA championship: the Spurs, Thunder, Lakers, Clippers, Heat, Bulls, and Celtics. Every single one of them has bona fide superstars, guys that can take over a game at a moment’s notice, guys that can carry them to the Finals. Look even closer and at least five (I say “at least” because it depends on how you judge the Spurs) of those seven have two superstars.

Now, take the Chicago Bulls into consideration. They have one superstar (Derrick Rose) and have surrounded him by the highest-quality role players. Guys like Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton, and Carlos Boozer are very good players, but they certainly are not superstars. However, this chose team to go against the grain. They chose to build around their one superstar with very good players, play team basketball, get everyone involved, and play nasty defense. It is a formula that is rare in the current NBA, but a noble thought nonetheless.

Sad news is this: it doesn’t work.

The Bulls, now without Rose, are all but taken out of the conversation. They have no shot at winning a title this year. In the blink of an eye, they went from title contenders to a team that many doubt can advance past the second round.

Derrick Rose was the motor that kept this team going. He was the guy that could neutralize any advantage any opposing team had over these Bulls because, simply put, there is no one in the league like him. He is a point guard who creates matchup problems no matter who you put on him. He is always looking for his own shot, but this benefits his teammates as much as a pass-first point guard because the attention he receives from opposing defenses creates quality shots when he does give it up. He was the guy who the Bulls could give the ball to in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Now all of that is gone and there is no one to replace him.

So now, the Bulls are left to pick up the pieces to try to contend without their leader. And you know what? They have a fantastic roster and coach and are sure to give teams headaches. They will still beat the 76ers in the first round, might even beat the Celtics or Hawks in the second, but they sure as hell are not beating the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. When Rose went down, any chance this team had of competing with the Heat, and for a title, was thrown out the window.

Therein lies the problem: Rose was far too important to this team’s success for them to have much of a chance. This year he goes down to an ACL tear and the season is over. Last year, the Heat threw so a wide variety of defensive combinations at him, stunting his game, and none of his teammates could effectively step up. Who knows what’s to come if the Bulls keep on this same course?

That is why the Bulls need to make a move this offseason. They need to lessen Rose’s burden and get someone on their team who can take the pressure off of him.

Just look at the Heat this season. In LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they have two of the ten best players in the league. But they aren’t too reliant on either one; you need not look further than Miami’s 14-1 record when Wade was out of the lineup and James was in as proof. Sure, James is the best player on the planet and he’s not going anywhere, but a team like the Heat can stay afloat without their best player.

Surely, you can cite the Bulls’ 17-8 record without Rose as proof that they can do the same, but not a single sane person reading this is going to argue that the Bulls can still win the title. Not the same for the Heat; if Wade were out for the rest of the playoffs there is no doubt in my mind that the Heat could still contend for a title.

So what are the Bulls to do? It is clear to me that they need an additional superstar that will complement Rose as well as the team itself. A player that will not demand an inordinate amount of shots, but can still take opposing teams’ attention away from Rose. A player that will buy into the defensive intensity that this team prides itself on. A player that can step up when Rose is down or out. A player that has seen his team go through a similar process (although to a lesser extent).

Yes, that is right, the player the Bulls need is none other than Dwight Howard.

The Bulls were rumored to have had internal discussions about dealing for Howard at the trade deadline, but did not pull the trigger for many reasons, including Howard not guaranteeing he would sign an extension. But this injury to Rose absolutely has to change management’s thinking.

Howard could come in, be a secondary scoring option to Rose, and anchor their defense. It would give the Bulls one of the top 3 one-two punches in the league.

After the season, once Howard once again makes it clear to Magic management that he does not intend to sign long-term, Orlando will look to trade their franchise center. The hysteria will begin all over again and the Bulls would be wise to be in the mix. A package of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and draft picks for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu would work mathematically and would certainly give the Magic a competitive offer.

Until the Bulls reassess their situation and understand that their current formula is doomed, Chicago can get used to the disappointment they have felt since they heard about Rose’s injury. But that can all change with one move: a trade for Howard.