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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10.) We all tried to forget about Ron Artest’s reputation. The man who won the NBA’s sportsmanship award in 2011 had certainly worked hard enough to try to get us to forget. Hell, he even changed his name, maybe tricking some of us into thinking he was a completely different person altogether. But after Sunday night, no one is going to forget Metta World Peace was once, and still is to a degree, Ron Artest.
9.) By elbowing James Harden square in the back of the head, Word Peace committed one of the most violent plays in the history of the sport…again. And the fact that he is a repeat offender should absolutely be taken into consideration when the NBA levies a suspension.
8.) I have heard some compare this play to “The Punch” that occurred on December 9, 1977 when LA Laker Kermit Washington punched Houston Rocket Rudy Tomjanovich in the face. I can’t go that far; this play was not nearly as malicious as that one. However, World Peace’s actions simply cannot be compared to basketball-related fouls, like the one committed by Andrew Bynum in last year’s playoffs. I cannot think of a violent, non-basketball play like this one in recent memory.
7.) The Lakers knew they were taking a chance by bringing in Metta World Peace as a free agent in July of 2009. The team should be recognized for looking beyond his reputation and seeing that in recent years, the man formerly known as Ron Artest had actually been behaving. However, inherent with that signing was the risk that Artest would revert back to his old ways. As much as you and I would love to mock World Peace for his often offensively challenged skills, the fact remains that he is indeed an incredibly important player for the Lakers. I would not be surprised to see the team knocked out in the first round, in no little part thanks to a suspension to World Peace. As unfortunate as it may be, franchises that keep knuckleheads like World Peace employed are going to pay the price.
6.) World Peace made a completely non-basketball move when he threw his elbow into Harden’s head. It wasn’t even part of his celebration. Instead, it was a player getting too caught up in the moment and, for some reason I cannot even begin to explain, unleashing his energy in an incredibly violent way.
5.) Metta World Peace’s attack on Harden seems pretty unprecedented, but in all honesty we have come close to this before. The only difference is in the past, players haven’t connected on their swings at each other. Obviously, the force with which World Peace hit Harden combined with his history make this a big story, but Shaq’s swing at Brad Miller could have potentially been worse.
4.) Throw in the fact that the NBA has seen one of its most marketable players, Blake Griffin, targeted in thug-like ways throughout the season and you know the NBA is going to come down hard.
3.) One of the most feared enforcers in the league, Kendrick Perkins, was far away from the fight that broke out on the floor. For that we should all be thankful.
2.) The NBA is loathe to be unconventional. So you can throw out any idea of World Peace being suspended indefinitely, only to be reinstated when the Lakers are eliminated from the playoffs. Same for JA Adande’s (very good) idea of suspending World Peace as long as Harden is out, plus two games.
1.) So if this play isn’t as bad as Washington’s, but worse than Bynum’s, how many games should World Peace be out for? Washington was suspended for 60 days (26 games) and Bynum was ruled out for 5 games. Considering Harden’s health, the action itself, and the player’s history, I think that World Peace should be suspended for 15 games. However, throwing in the fact that he is going to miss playoff games, which to me, and anyone who has ever watched an NBA game, carry more weight than regular season games, the suspension should be reduced to 10 games. This way, World Peace would miss the Laker’s final game of the regular season, the first round of the playoffs, and beyond. It sounds a tad extreme on its face, but World Peace cannot be allowed to get away with such a heinous act. The NBA cannot allow players to be assaulted on the court with little penalty. 10 games, which includes several in the playoffs, would send a clear message to the players and teams alike that this will absolutely not be allowed.