Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Solution to the OJ Mayo Problem

Not only do the Minnesota Timberwolves have the worst GM in the NBA (especially with the recent firings of Billy Knight in Philly and Isiah Thomas in New York), but they also have the worst luck when it comes to NBA Lottery ping-pong balls. Yes they did have the league’s third-worst record and got the third pick, but when Chicago gets the #1 pick when they had only a 2% chance to do so, well, you can’t help but feel a little frustrated. Picking third means they miss out on the two can’t miss prospects in the draft in the Best Player In the Draft Derrick Rose and The Guy Who Will Go First Michael Beasley. After that, it’s a pretty sketchy group with very few if any sure things. Right now NBA draft guru Chad Ford has Minnesota taking Stanford 7 footer Brook Lopez, which would be funny if it wasn’t destined to happen. Lopez definitely qualifies as a Big Ugly White Center, and sometime before the draft I’ll explain why you never take one of those in the first round. Ever! I don’t care what Chad Ford or any other draft expert says: Lopez is the next Andrew Bogut.

Anyway, someone else who is sure to be on the Wolves radar is OJ Mayo, who is getting attention these days for all the wrong reasons (after the Reggie Bush fiasco resulted in nothing, if USC doesn’t burn for this thing with Mayo, what’s the point in all of these NCAA rules? Actually what’s the point of all of these NCAA rules anyway. I think they call that a segue…). As I’m sure you’ve heard Mayo allegedly took cash from an agent before enrolling at USC, which woulda/coulda/shoulda made him ineligible last season. Whatever the investigation brings, Mayo will be untouched by the NCAA and making millions in the NBA by next month. Every media outlet has weighed in on the Mayo allegations, from some guy named Luke Winn on SI.com to wiley veteran sports writers Tim Keown and Gene Wojciechowski (who both used to write for SI) and college hoops guru Andy Katz on ESPN.com.

While their venom is spewed in varying directions, all four, as well as just about everyone else I’ve read or heard on the topic, come to the following conclusion: the NBA Age Limit (which says players must be 19 and/or one year removed from high school) is the problem here, and if we’d just get rid of it and allow high school kids back in the draft, we’d have a lot less OJ Mayo’s to whine about.

While they're all excellent basketball writers and smart guys, they're wrong. The Draft limit is not the problem- the NCAA is. And getting rid of the draft age limit is not the solution: the solution is a true minor league system.

Allow me to explain…

Look I don't disagree that this whole convoluted system of trying to push basketball players through college for a year or two is messed up, or that the high school and AAU scenes are flawed and in bad need of an overhaul. But the fact is, 18 year old kids are NOT ready for the NBA. I know, I know, Lebron James was 18 when he took the league by force. No argument there. Good lord look at his numbers from his 18 and 19 year old seasons:

2003-04 39.5 MINS 20.9 PTS 5.5 REB 5.9 AST 41.7 FG% 18.3 PER
2004-05 42.4 MINS 27.2 PTS 7.4 REB 7.2 AST 47.2 FG% 25.74 PER

Holy cripes that is sick and wrong! Let there be no doubt that King James was ready, and is the most physically gifted basketball player we've ever seen. But please, somebody, ANYBODY, give me another example from the last 40 years, other than Moses Malone, of a teenager who was ready to jump into the league, be a starter and make an impact. These two are the exception, people: NOT THE RULE.

I also hear from those who oppose the age limit "Look at the best players in the league! Look at how many of them never went to college! Lebron! Kobe! KG! D-Howard! T-Mac! Amare!" While it's true that these stars have been very successful in the NBA without spending one single solitary second on a college campus, there is still ZERO evidence to suggest that jumping straight to the NBA from high school was the best way to develop their skills.

Here are the numbers for the aforementioned NBA superstars for their teen years after high school (KG, Howard, and Amare were all 19 their rookie year. Oh, and remember a PER of 15 is league average):

Kobe Bryant
96-97 15.5 MINS 7.6 PTS 1.9 REB 1.3 AST 41.7 FG% 14.4 PER
97-98 26.0 MINS 15.4 PTS 3.1 REB 2.5 AST 42.8 FG% 18.5 PER

Kevin Garnett
95-96 28.7 MINS 10.4 PTS 6.3 REB 1.6 BLK 49.1 FG% 15.8 PER

Dwight Howard
04-05 32.6 MINS 12.0 PTS 10.0 REB 1.7 BLK 52 FG% 17.27 PER

Tracy McGrady
97-98 18.4 MINS 7.0 PTS 4.2 REB 1.5 AST 45 FG% 17.4 PER
98-99 22.6 MINS 9.3 PTS 5.6 REB 2.3 AST 43.6 FG% 20.6 PER

Amare Stoudamire
02-03 31.3 MINS 13.5 PTS 8.7 REB 1.1 BLK 47.2 FG% 16.23 PER

Not exactly Lebron-type impacts, were they? While they all became stars by their third season, they were not taking over the league as rookies. And while you could argue that the on-the-job training they got as rookies were better than college or any minor leagues 1) we don't know that for sure and 2) what about all the high school flameouts we've seen? Guys like Dajuan Wagner, Darius Miles, Kwame Brown, Gerald Green, and many more were teenagers when they came into the league and never made it because either the pressure of starting was too much, or they were buried on the bench and never got the chance. And sure, some of them might not have made it no matter what the system in place was, but shouldn't we have more options for development than trying to crack an NBA roster at 18 or 19?

NBA rosters are small, and there just isn’t playing time for everybody there. The NBA is not a developmental league, and it shouldn’t be. What is needed is a real minor league system for basketball. Baseball, hockey, and even international soccer have excellent developmental pro leagues. They are allowed to draft kids right out of high school, yet instead of having them toil on the end of the bench, they’re sent to the minors, or back to juniors or college (in hockey’s case), or are loaned out to play for smaller clubs (soccer). They can develop at their own pace, and when they’re ready to make an impact, then, and only then, do they get the call up to the big club.

EVERYONE benefits from this system. Pros can select kids and don’t have to worry about developing them on the fly, and the players get put in an environment more conducive to them learning the pro game. Everyone wins. So why hasn’t this happened with basketball? One word, or acronym: The NCAA.

The NCAA has been exposed as a poor way of developing NBA talent. Too many restrictions and not enough practice time means players don’t get the coaching or development time to make them effective pros. Would it make any sense to tell accounting students “you can only use your calculator for your homework for 10 hours per week.”? Of course not, yet the NCAA limits practice and game time for college athletes in much the same who are trying to learn their craft to become professionals.

The NCAA continues to and will forever try to hold onto the crock of sh*t that men’s football and basketball players are students athletes who are there to get an education and, oh by the way make universities and their presidents billions by playing sports. There’s a gigantic double-standard here for these two sports over any other that both the NCAA and Title IX will never allow us to handle properly.

First, the NCAA will NOT give up the billions of dollars they make off of football and basketball and share it with the players. Will never happen. Paying players in these two sports would alleviate the problem of agents or booster paying players illegally. It needs to happen but never will because the NCAA will not share, and nobody can force them to. Furthermore, even if that system ever started, the fine folks who continue to champion Title IX would never allow only male football and basketball players to get paid because that wouldn’t be fair to the women (not to mention male wrestlers, golfers, baseball players, or track athletes. But conveniently the male athletes in non-revenue sports never seem to get brought up by the feminists), even though, you know, the massive revenues are being made by men in these two sports.

The thought has been floated of shoe contract money going to the players instead of the coaches, but again the lovely folks of Title IX would sue until it was spread to all athletes for “fairness and equality”. Awesome, and it doesn’t solve the problem. The NCAA could also allow high school graduates to be drafted but not signed. If a kid wants to go to school first, he goes, and while he does not sign a contract or get any money from the team, he is under that team’s control for the next four or five years. When he’s ready to leave school- be it after one year of four- he the signs a pro contract and either joins the pro team or is sent to the minors. For the life of me I have been able to find an explanation on why the NCAA allows this for hockey, and yet does not for baseball, basketball, or football.

College basketball as it stands has passed its usefulness for developing pro players, and the only solution for the “one-and-dones” and creepy agent guys and tag-alongs is to make a real minor league. And don't even get me started on the NBA's current "developmental league", the NBDL. It has 14 teams with no affiliations to NBA teams. What the NBA needs are 30 minor league teams divided into three 10 team leagues. 8 teams make the playoffs in each league to give players more experience and playing time, and then the three league champs play a round-robin-style “Champions League” tourney to crown the minor league champ.

Each NBA team would have its own roster to fill with players that they could call up or send down, just like in baseball or hockey. The young kids would have a chance to develop at their own pace with proper coaching and LOTS of practice. Older vets and fringe players would also be given a better opportunity to make an impression. Not only that, all of your players would be playing NBA-style basketball instead of college or FIBA international rules.

This is the obvious solution, and yet no one seems to understand it. What's more, instead of each NBA team being forced to fund a WNBA team, why not have them fund something that will actually benefit themselves and the sport by funding a minor league team of their own? Instead of drafting kids who aren't ready for the league and hoping like hell that throwing them into the fire will teach them to play in the NBA, teams could draft kids on potential and know they'd have time to train and develop them properly. Yes, Lebron, KG, and Kobe may have benefited eventually from not going to college, but for many more we’ll never know what could have been.

Friday, May 09, 2008

75 Skills Every Man Should Master

Bruce Feldman writes a great college football blog for ESPN.com which is, of course, Insider only, so there's no point in linking to it. Every Friday, even today in the off-season, he goes through the ol' mailbag, and then at the end will throw in random things. One today caught my eye: Esquire's list of 75 Skills Every Man Should Master. Like I wasn't going to take a look at that?

Feldman had a few he added that I liked...

Be able to start a conversation with the person next to you on a plane even if you don't find them attractive.

Get your point across on e-mail without starting a fight.

Get up-and-down out of a bunker.

Be able to hit to the opposite field in a softball game.

Know how to set your buddy up with someone in the bar while not getting yourself caught up in the mix.

Learn when it's acceptable to remark, 'Yeah, she is good-looking' while in the company of your girlfriend/wife.

Know when to not take things too seriously.

I think those are all good. From the actual List...

5 I Really Liked
3. Take a GOOD photo.
Maybe this is an obvious one for some people, but I took a photography class last fall, and learned some amazing things. While I'm not expecting every man to be a professional photographer, there are some really basic things every guy should know about taking a picture.
10. Buy/Own a good suit.
I have one, but it's old so I could use an upgrade.
14. Chop down a tree.
Or chop wood. In the winter. At the BS. Naked. BEEEEEGGGG SAAAAAAMMMMMMMMM!!!!
23. Be loyal.
Enough said.
65-67. Throw a baseball over-hand with some snap. Throw a football with a tight spiral. Shoot a 12-foot jump shot reliably.
The first two I can do. The 12 foot jumper? Not so much. Of course, The Dan believes in the "12 foot Jumper Gene", meaning you're either born with the ability to hit the 12 footer, or you're not. I am not. But I will keep trying.

5 I Really Didn't Like
16. Tie a bow tie

The only time I've worn a bow tie is for weddings, and they were the clip-type. I don't need a bow tie for any other occasion. Tying a tie? Mandatory.
20. Sew a button
That's what my wife is for! Oh wait, I don't have a wife.
29. Understand quantum physics well enough that he can accept that a quarter might, at some point, pass straight through the table when dropped.
I don't even understand the question.
31. Make a bed.
I can make a bed, but if we're talking "Martha Stewart-style with no wrinkles, everything creased and perfect", that's ridiculous. I can make it look presentable, but anything beyond that is unnecessary for a man.
64. Know that Christopher Columbus was a son of a bitch.
I'm not saying he was or he wasn't, all I'm saying is I can come up with 75 more important skills/things every man should master than this.

5 I Want to be Better at...
8. Not Monopolize the conversation.

My problem is actually the complete opposite of this. At times I am horribly awkward with conversations, and need to do a better job of carrying them.
18. Speak a foreign language.
Since Josh and I went to Europe, it's always something I've wanted to do
36. Make three different bets at a craps table.
If I can ever get any of you fine upstanding gentlemen that I am proud to call my friends to Vegas or into a casino, I'd really like to play craps.
37. Shuffle a deck of cards.
Holy shinto do I suck at this! And I have big hands. No excuse. This needs to improve.
75. Negotiate a better price.
I'm getting better at bartering/negotiating/haggling. Better, but still a ways to go.

5 I Would Add...
Don't make excuses.

Try to understand the other side of an argument (you don't have to agree with it, just make the attempt to understand it).

Be able to play a musical instrument.

Be able to tell one good story.

Be decisive.

Feel free to add your own. Have a good weekend.

I hate Toronto

If you're living in America and can actually watch the Lakers/Jazz game tonight, I hope you enjoy it. If you live in Canada, welcome to hell. The D-bags in Toronto that run the three "sports" networks are carrying the Blue Jays (they're Canada's team you know!), Cars Turning Left For Four Hours, and Fake Wrestling. I hate Toronto.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The NBA: Where Gawd Awful Happens

Wow. If you managed to watch the entire Celtics/Cavs game last night without a) gouging your eyes out with a pen, the remote, or any other sharp or blunt object b) throwing said pen, remote, or sharp or blunt object through your TV or c) wondering why there was a WNBA game on instead of an NBA playoff game, well, good for you. That was really, REALLY tough to watch- like tough enough to ask this question: would you rather watch last night's game again or a WNBA game courtside? I know, of course you're going to take a repeat of last night's game, but still, it was bad enough to at least ask the question (we've been blogging here for how long now and STILL can't find anything worse than watching a WNBA game: the impossible quest continues).

So for the record, in case any of a-c happened to you while attempting to watch, it was a 76-72 Celtics victory. Yes, that's with four full quarters. 76-72. Every year I hope the Eastern Conference has left the Knicks/Heat 70-68 playoff battles of the 90's behind for good, and every year they throw up at least one of these. The Cavs shot 30% as a team. All we were missing from them for a full-fledged WNBA game were some set shots, 20-30 jump ball tie-ups on rebounds where two players go for a board but neither has the strength to rip it away from the other, and...what else am I missing here? Oh yeah, lesbians. Way too many "heteros" in the crowd last night. ANYWHO, Bronbron went 2-18 from the field with 10 turnovers. I expect this in the regular season but I never EVER thought Stern would allow this in the post-season. As bad as Cleveland is, and after last night's game there is no longer any doubt they're bad, I thought once the playoffs started Bronbron would get the "D-Wade 2006 Title Run" treatment from the refs where he could drive 1-on-5 all night and as long as he got near the rim he'd get calls all night long. Well it didn't happen, and you can credit the Celtics D for that.

Chuck Barkley made the comment in the post game (albeit about 77 times, but still) that all night the Cavs tried to set-up Bronbron at the top of the key and either a) run the pick and roll with a big man or b) let him go 1-on-5. Well the Celtics were ready for it each and every time. When they'd run the pick and roll, the C's would send two guys after Lebron and force him to give it up, sometimes sagging a third and fourth white shirt into the lanes. And if he tried to go 1-on-5, again, two guys there at all times, with Celtics three, four, and five not far behind. Barkley also made the point that the one time, late in the game, when they ran a pick-and-roll with Boobie Gibson, the Celtics again doubled Bronbron, leaving Gibson wide open. What happened? Gibson buried the 3! So what'd the Cavs do the next time down? To quote Sir Charles "THEY RUN IT WITH THE BIG MAN AGAIN! IDIOTS!" Thank you Charles.

Seriously, is it that hard to make adjustments? Can you not see after the first half that giving Lebron the ball 25 feet from the rim at the top of the key is not working? "The Best Studio Show In Sports", which is Inside the NBA, had some other nuggets as well. Chris Webber pointed out that teams like the Lakers get Kobe the ball in the post or at the elbow where he has a chance to create and NOT go 1-on-5. They get him the ball more in his comfort zone where he can be much more effective. The Cavs? Yeah not so much. This then lends to a point Kenny Smith made. It's one he's claimed he's made in the past, but since I so rarely get to watch this show living here, it's the first time I'd heard it: In games decided by 7 points or more, it's the players. In games decided by 7 points or less, it's tactical errors (i.e. coaching) that decide the game.

GREAT POINT KENNY! Chuck and CWebb all agreed, and the three of them basically pinned this on Cavs coach Mike Brown without actually saying it, and I couldn't agree with them more. Now, it certainly doesn't help that Bronbron's teammates are just awful. The obvious strategy here will be to force Lebron to give the ball up, because as they proved last night, they don't have a consistent second or third scoring option to kill you, shooting 4-18 from threes last night. Actually, they DO have a decent secondary scoring option in the "Big Z", but Z's only effective 8 feet from the hoop and in, and it takes 6 weeks for him to make a move down there. The one guy they have who can help Lebron hurts him because his style is completely different. These are things you'd think would have been obvious to GM Danny Ferry when they gave Big Z that huge extension a few years back, but hey, they won't have to worry about this chemistry issue in 2 years when Lebron's playing in Brooklyn.

So the obvious strategy for game 2 then is to run pick and rolls with a guard setting the screen, making the Celtics decide whether they should double Lebron and leave a Boobie Gibson (2-6 FG's last night, 44% from 3 this season), Wally World (5-14 FG, 41% 3 this year. And by the way, Wally last night was doing what Wally always should have done in Minnesota. Shoot the damn ball when he's open. That's it. He didn't take more than a dribble or two without giving it up or having some idea where he was going. And the shots he missed were generally open looks. This is what Wally is and always should have been: a third or fourth option spot-up jump shooter) or Delonte West (2-10 FG, 35% 3's this year). The answer to me is STILL to double Lebron and have somebody else (i.e. whoever's guarding Ben Wallace or Joe Smith- two COMPLETE non-factors offensively) rotate over to get a hand in the shooter's face. You CANNOT allow Lebron to go to work 1-on-1, and I'd be shocked if the Celtics allow it to happen. Even if you're leaving some Cavs guards open for 3's, I'd much rather take my chances with those than Bronbron driving, scoring, and racking up fouls on you.

Further screwing the Cavs is that Kevin Garnett is going to absolutely, positively destroy them all series. Last night's 28 point barrage is just the beginning for him (did you also notice he took a HUGE crunch time shot last night and made it?). He not only can score at will over Ben Wallace or Joe Smith, but neither of those guys are going to make KG work AT ALL the other end. Garnett, who is at his best defensively as an off-the-ball defender, can roam like a free safety all series helping on Bronbron or the open wing shooter because Wallace and Smith don't need to be guarded. The two played a combined 47 minutes at power forward last night. The combined totals? 2-6 FG, Wallace hit 2 FT's (a total fluke), with 12 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 3 turnovers. 2-6 FG's? In 47 minutes? That's the most telling stat of all last night, and there's absolutely nothing Cleveland can do. A Ben Wallace or Joe Smith are fine if you have four or five others around them who can score. Well the Cavs have one guy who can do that, and the other, The Big Z, needs a football field of room to have space to make his moves. Unfortunately having Wallace or Smith clear out to give Big Z room isn't an option either because, again, the further away from the basket they get, the more useless they are on that end.

I know Cavs fans are going to say "well our best player shot 2-18 and got no calls all night, and we STILL had a chance to win!" To which I say, "while Lebron will have better games, so too will Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, which means the outcomes will still come down to what it did tonight: Cleveland has no answer for Garnett, no secondary scoring options, and in a close game, I like Boston's chances better than yours." Pierce and Ray-Ray will not combine for 4 points again, and unless Lebron starts going for 50 a night, which unless we get a "D-Wade against Dallas"-level performance from the refs will be impossible against Boston, I just don't see how Cleveland wins here. It's a testament to just how amazing Lebron is that the Cavs have even gotten this far, but it's as far as they're going. Boston wins game 2, the Cavs take game 3, and the C's rap it up in 5. Just in case we get 4 more stinkers like last night, I thought I'd save you the agony of having to sit through it. You're welcome.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The NBA MVP Award: We Gave it Kobe Because We Should Have Given it to Him in 2006. Our Bad

I'm cranky tonight. Let's just get that out there now. I was all set to watch Game 2 of the Hornets/Spurs series tonight. Really, I was looking forward to it. I was looking forward to David West, the underrated All-star of underrated all-stars torching the Spurs yet again. Was looking forward to Chris Paul doing things we've never seen a six foot point guard do (Even though Paul will go down as a better player in history that Deron Williams, I will forever be ok with Utah taking Williams in 2005 3rd instead of Paul because he fits their system, which is exactly what they said on draft day. And he does. The Bucks and Hawks taking Andrew Bogut and Marvin Williams ahead of both? Yeah not so much). I was just plain fired up to see the Spurs lose. I really was. But instead, three Canadian "sports" networks were treating me to WWE rastlin', Sportscentre (misspelled intentionally. Isn't that just dumb? Everyone knows it's "er".) was showing two hours of hockey highlights, and then was heading right to poker. And Sportsnet? Are you ready for this? A Canadian metric ghetto gangster raptastic show...ABOUT THE FREAKING NBA!?!?!? I can just see the genius at Sportsnet now "Hmmmm... so you're telling me we could actually show an NBA playoff game...or a ghetto gangster POS show ABOUT the NBA? Well hell, of course we'll show the ghetto gangster raptastic show! I love that one! Why would anybody want to watch the actual games?" I hate Canada.

By the way, they sure did show the Pistons/Magic game earlier though. Thanks for that. Nobody outside of Detwah or Orlando cares about that series. It's over already. Orlando will win game three because Detwah is already looking ahead to the conference Finals, and maybe they'll sneak out game four because the Pistons still won't care, but I can tell you right now the Pistons win it. I don't need to watch it, although the Dwight Howard dunk over Jason Maxiell (to show you how little I care about this series, I'm not even looking up his name to spell it right. Deal with it. I said I was cranky. Now get me a kokanee!) in the third quarter was nice. Did you see it? The one where Howard grabs an offensive board, he and Maxiel go back up at the same time, except Howard goes two feet higher and 200 times faster AND WITH TWO HANDS and thumps one on poor Maxiel? I'm enjoying the Dwight Howard Era. Not as much as I would have enjoyed the freaking Hornets/Spurs game, but still.

So anyway, before I got distracted with my hatred for Canada and it's gawd-awful pathetic excuses for sports channels, I was going to rant about Kobe Bryant getting the MVP award. It's not that Kobe's not a great player, and it's not that he wasn't in the top five finalists for the award. It's just that the voters, aka sportswriters, gave him this award not so much for what he did this year, but because he's a great player and has never won an MVP. They felt bad because they realize that Kobe should have won in 2006 instead of Steve Nash, so this year? Might as well the hell not!

Look, call me crazy, and many have, but I like for my MVP awards to be NOT be influenced by votes for the award from past years. This is what drove me most crazy about "Steve Nash 2-time MVP!" He was not the most valuable player in the league either of the years he won it, but he WAS the MVP the year after when he should have won it! Why didn't he? Because the voters didn't want to give him three straight MVP's because of the company it would put him in! Really? So because you guys screwed up the vote the past two year's let's NOT give it to him when he most deserves it? Awesome. Great thinking. Makes a lot of sense.

ANYWAY, Kobe was certainly one of the five best players this season, as he led his team to the best record in a ridiculously deep Western Conference while averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 boards, and 5.4 assists per game. Pretty impressive numbers really, until we consider two things: 1) his culmaltive numbers the last three seasons were better and b) his teammates were a helluva lot better! OF COURSE his team did better when they fleece Memphis for Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, at least until he got hurt, morphed into an all-star caliber big man, and their young bench finally started to develop. Kobe's numbers weren't as good as the past two or three years, but because his teammates finally started playing better and his GM fleeced the Grizz for an all-star power forward, that makes Kobe the MVP? Really?

Then there's the idea of how he compares to his competition this season. ESPN.com's John Hollinger has come up with a stat called PER, which takes all the positive things you can do on a basketball court and divides them by all the negative things you can do and puts it into one number. As he himself says, this should not be considered the be-all, end-all of basketball stats, but it's certainly a damn good measurement of a player's abilities. The number one "PER rating" in the league this year (by the way, a PER of 15 is considered league average)? Lebron (PER of 29.23). Second? Chris Paul (28.39). Kobe was eighth (24.31), ranking behind Amare Stoudamire (27.61), KG (25.30), Dirk Diggler (24.66), and two Spurs Timmy Duncan (24.41) and Manu GINOBILI (sorry channeling my inner Charles Barkley there. Manu's per was 24.34).

Again, this is not the all-encompassing stat, but it's certainly a good barometer for where he ranks among his peers, and this says he was eighth. While I don't think he was eighth in the MVP race, he certainly was a long ways from first. Looking at the other guys on the list, Manu and TD cancel each other out, since both were undervalued and overlooked on yet another good Spurs team. The Diggler's Mavs team struggled to make the playoffs, and there's no way Amare gets a look at MVP when a)he plays with Nash and b) his big numbers didn't come until after the Shaq trade. So that leaves us with four guys: Kobe, LBJ, CP3, and KG.

KG's case is very similar to Kobe's. His individual numbers weren't as good as past seasons, but his teammates were much better. Garnett was deserving of the Defensive Player of the Year award, and I have no doubts he was a gigantic emotional presence on that team, but he missed too much time and to me was no more valuable that Paul Pierce. Lebron is quite simply the best player on the planet. He average 30 points, eight boards and seven assists a game. Good lord stop and look at those numbers. LOOK AT THOSE!! While Lebron never developed into the "more athletic version of Magic Johnson" that I hoped he'd become, that's still damn impressive. Beyond it really. His team, on the other hand, was and is awful. Getting them to fourth place, even in the crappy Eastern Conference, still counts as a great accomplishment in my books. If you gave Lebron the MVP for this year, I would have no problems with it whatsoever. He's the best player in the league, and if it wasn't for him, Cleveland could have quite easily been the worst team this year.

However, if I had an MVP vote (because of all the moving around I think it got lost in the mail. Then again when the Canadian postal system works by strapping your mail onto the back of a beaver and telling it "go on! Find Jeff! Go on! Find his igloo village!" well it's probably not the moving around), it would go to Chris Paul. If Paul played in New York, LA, Boston, Chicago, or anywhere else but Toronto or Memphis, he'd be the MVP in a landslide. His numbers (21.1 pts, 11.6 assts and 2.7 stls- both of which led the league- and a 4.61/1 assist-to-turnover ratio) stand alone as impressive. As Hollinger's PER stat shows, his cumulative totals were the second best in the NBA behind LBJ. His team went from 39 wins a year ago to 56 this year, good for second spot in the West. And unlike Kobe or KG, CP3 had the same core of players this year as last. While 100% of that success cannot be given to Paul, I would say he's responsible for a much larger amount of that than anyone else on the Hornets. Add it all up, and Chris Paul should be your 2007-08 MVP instead of Kobe.

But hey, look on the bright side: next season, or the year after, when the voters realized they should have given it to Paul this season, then CP3 can be given a "Lifetime Achievement" Award too!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Rounding Up the NBA's First Round

So whatever happened to the all-world all-time greatest playoffs ever we were supposed to get in the Western Conference? Eight teams, all of whom won at least 50 games, were separated by just seven wins. Seven. The ESPN.com panel o' experts are 10 gentlemen who write about The http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifAssociation for a living, and know what they're talking about. They, and me, and everyone else, expected an epic: instead, we got domination. While nobody picked the Nuggets to upset the Lakers, I don't think anybody picked LA to sweep either. New Orleans in five over Dallas? Not only did nobody pick that, six of ten panelists picked Dallas to win the series! San Antonio over Phoenix in 5? Seven of 10 picked Phoenix to win the series, and the three who picked San Antonio had them in six or seven games. The Utah/Houston series is the only one going according to plan, as everyone but Jalen Rose (who said Jazz in five) picked Utah to win in six or seven.

10 experts, and like everyone else, they were way off on the first round out West. My question is: should we have seen this coming? Should we have known from the way the regular season shook out that things would be so one-sided? I just don't see how. Yes Denver was dysfunctional, and Phoenix just never looked like Phoenix, and Dallas looked...well ok the Dallas loss we should have seen coming. But the other two? Hard to say.

For me, the biggest shocker, or at least most impressive showing so far had to be from LA. It's pretty obvious now that as talented as the Nuggets were, the pieces just didn't fit. Still, this team won 50 games in the regular season, the most ever for an 8 seed. To put that in perspective, they would have been a 3 seed in the East. They have two of the league's top scorers in Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson (show of hands, who thought AI's old team would last longer in the playoffs than his current team? Anyone? Yeah me neither), a defensive player of the year finalist in Marcus Camby, an outside gunner and slasher in JR Smith, and some good role guys like Eduardo Najera and Something-or-Other-Kleiza. This is a good team. They did not luck their way to 50 wins. In the East they would be right there in the conversation with Detroit and Boston. Out here? THEY GOT SWEPT. I'm trying to show you how impressive this is. It's not that I thought Denver was better than the Lakers, just that this should have been a tough series: it wasn't. LA's average margin of victory in the first three games was almost 16 points. And even the fourth game, which the Lakers only won by seven, was never really in doubt. Be afraid of LA. Be very afraid. They're just getting warmed up, and poor Utah doesn't stand a chance in the next round. Kobe could average 40 unless Andrei Kirilenko has an all-decade type performance defensively.

San Antonio showed they have plenty left, and if we don't get a Lakers-Spurs conference finals I'll be surprised. That said, the Hornets are for real, and Chris Paul will not only be a handful, but New Orleans has plenty of athletic bigs to send at Tim Duncan. Should be a long series- then again, we thought that in the first round too.

My one and only comment about the East so far:
Scary: In the five games against the Raps Dwight Howard AVERAGED 22.6 pts, 18.2 rbs, and 3.8 blks.
Scarier: Dwight Howard has no post moves. None. Have you seen him in the low post? He turns and dunks or turns and lays it in every time, and yet he still averaged 22 a night in the playoffs. Can you imagine what the young man is going to do when he develops a turn-around jumper or god forbid a hook shot? Scary, scary, SCARY!