Author

Mark Travis - page 14

Mark Travis has 137 articles published.

Legacies On The Line For Duncan, LeBron

in NBA by
duncanlbj

This article was originally published on Caller.com and is only reproduced here for the author’s personal archives.

Six years ago, Tim Duncan walked out of the interview room at Quicken Loans Arena dawning a gray shirt that said “2007 NBA Champions.” It was Duncan’s fourth such shirt, this one noticeably dry without a champagne stain in sight, and perhaps his easiest to earn. His Spurs had just vanquished the Cleveland Cavaliers in the minimum four games thanks to the versatility of Duncan and the brilliance of young guard Tony Parker.

As he walked off the press platform and back towards the lockerroom, Duncan bumped into Cleveland’s rising superstar LeBron James. James was coming off of his worst series of a very memorable post-season run, which included that epic 48-point performance against the Pistons in the conference finals. The Spurs forced him to do everything in order to get the Cavs a win, and not even the game’s best individual player had enough in him to carry that Cleveland team to a title.

In a moment that will live in NBA lore for decades to come, Duncan immediately embraced LeBron. After sweeping him off the Finals stage, Duncan offered James some words of encouragement before famously telling LeBron that the NBA “is going to be [his] league in a little while.”

As it turns out, Duncan is just as good at prognosticating as he is at posting up.

Despite his poor showing in the Finals, LeBron’s ascent to the top of the NBA ranks was predictable back then; nobody would have called you crazy if you had projected LeBron to have four MVPs in his trophy closet and a ring on his hand by 2013. Conversely, suggesting that the Spurs would be back at the top of the basketball mountain in 2013, fighting to become king of the hill one last time, has been seen as asinine by NBA scribes almost every year since they swept those Cavaliers. Counting the Spurs out and writing them off as too old and too slow to keep grinding out 50-win seasons has become an annual tradition, one the Spurs have made look foolish year-after-year, like clockwork.

In a remarkable twist of fate, two of the game’s greatest titans ever are meeting on the Finals stage again this season, six years after it was perceived that Duncan was handing off the torch. The Spurs have run through the 2013 post-season with little resistance, with the Golden State Warriors being the only team to beat them through three rounds. The Heat, as they did last season, had their ups-and-downs during their trek through the Eastern Conference and had to deal with countless questions about the viability of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, only to deliver their best performance of the post-season last night in their game seven win over the Indiana Pacers in the conference finals.

Now we are presented with a Finals that couldn’t have two more contrasting organizations. Aside from the obvious main event of LeBron vs Duncan, we have several storylines that make for extremely compelling undercards. This is a battle between a team that organized a welcoming party for their big three in front of thousands of people and a team that eludes the spotlight like it’s the plague. It’s a battle between a team that used conventional methods to acquire three superstars to build a championship team around and a team that artificially transformed themselves into title contenders. It’s the media magnets versus the attention repellents; the witty, wise, terse and veteran head coach versus the analytical, astute, driven and bright up-and-comer. the marketing moguls versus the guys whose biggest ads are local ones for a Texas based grocery store; the glamorous beaches and lively clubs of South Beach versus the historic streets and avenues of the Alamo City.

In other words: It’s one hell of a Finals matchup.

While there are many specific battles within this series that will dictate the winner of this series, such as how Miami defends Duncan in crunchtime, who wins the Ginobili/Wade matchup, how Splitter impacts the game with his hard rolls to the rim, how Danny Green gets involved if Miami’s rotations are swift, how Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Battier shoot the ball and so on, at the end of the day, the biggest storyline of this entire series is all about where this tale began: with the two legends.

It’s incredible how much is at stake for LeBron and Duncan in this series. I thought last year was a huge deal for the legacies of two future Hall-of-Famers when LeBron and Kevin Durant took the floor, but this takes it to another level. Durant will soon be seen in the same glowing historical context that LeBron is seen in now, but it’s unlikely that he will ever catch Duncan in the accolade department, not with his Manu Ginobili now playing for the Houston Rockets.

It should be known that the Spurs could have lost to the Warriors in round two and not made the Finals next year and Duncan still could have retired as a top 10 player of all-time, but another run to the Finals at the age of 37, especially with Timmy being the most important player on the team, is not a tiny addition to his multi-page resume. Duncan has a chance to win his fifth ring 14 years after he won his first one back in 1999, which is just absurd. The only chance for another active player to match that accomplishment is if Kobe Bryant makes it to the Finals again before he retires (his first ring came in 2000).

Speaking of Kobe, he fits into this battle of legacies quite prominently. Aside from the fact that he’s slowly losing the “most times compared to Michael Jordan” title to LeBron, the closest thing Kobe has ever had to a rival is Duncan. While he never guarded Duncan or matched up with him like Magic did with Bird, I’m sure Bryant would tell you that Duncan was the only player from his era that he considered a historical competitor given his similar amount of success. If Duncan matches Kobe with his fifth title, the debate for the best player of their generation becomes one of the most interesting talking points in NBA history, and Duncan would probably have a slight edge.

For LeBron, a second ring gets him even closer to the Kobe/Jordan standard that he is constantly held to. His individual level of play has arguably already risen above the levels that those two ever reached, so all that is left for James to make a legitimate challenge to Jordan’s throne, surpassing Bryant as the best post-Jordan perimeter player in the process, is to pile up championships. A loss, however, would be devastating for James, who already has as many Finals losses as Kobe and two more than the undefeated Jordan.

So while there are many X’s and O’s and schematic trends to follow throughout this series, the grand scheme implications of this series are far more interesting to me.

Will Duncan capture his fifth ring, remain undefeated in the Finals, become unanimously recognized as the greatest player of his generation and perhaps even enter the discussion as a top five player ever? Will LeBron come up short in the Finals for the third time of his career, leading to an apex of undeserved criticism for the game’s most dominant player?

Or will LeBron win back-to-back titles, a feat so rare that not even the Spurs have accomplished it, redeeming himself for his loss to the Spurs in 2007 while proving Duncan right at his own expense?

Watching the way these two battle over the course of this series, even if LeBron isn’t matched up with Duncan (although this could actually happen), will be fascinating, and that alone will make this Finals one for the ages.When searching for a favorite in this series, it’s tough ignore the fact that Wade and Bosh were not good versus the Pacers. Improvement for both could be in the cards, but the Spurs will surely be ready for Miami’s best punch. Though Miami has the best player in this series and the best player in the world, I turn to something that Spoelstra said when asked about closing out the Pacers:”We know that the toughest teams to play are the ones that are on their last stand.”

When interpreting that quote in the context of these Finals, you realize that this Spurs team is likely playing the last Finals games of the Duncan/Ginobili/Parker era. And I think you can safely assume that the Spurs realize this, as the players have made subtle references to allowing Duncan to go out on top. The Heat have a ton of talent and are a great team, but the toughest teams to play are the ones on their last stand.

And what a glorious last stand this would be for one of the greatest combinations of players and coach to ever grace the hardwood.

Pick: Spurs in six.

Kevin Durant’s Evolution Ties Up The Western Conference Finals

in NBA by

Kevin Durant’s start to last night’s game was pretty ominous. The feeling coming into game four was that – after an emotional game three win for the Thunder – the veteran Spurs would strike back and take complete control of the series. That’s the way things seemed to be going at first. Similar to the opening sequences in game one, Durant was being bullied off the ball and was unable to get any separation from either Kawhi Leonard or Stephen Jackson, leading to a invisible beginning for the three-time scoring champ.

The result was a stuttering Thunder offense that took a lot of time to get where it needed to go – something that played into San Antonio’s hand. At one point in the first quarter, TNT got a great shot of Jackson draped all over Durant on the right wing while a visibly frustrated Durant pushed him off. That scene was an accurate representation of what has become the status quo for defending Durant. Get up into his body, push him off his spots and keep him from getting easy shots on the break. Though the scored was tied at the end of the first period, it seemed like the opportunity was there for the Spurs to step on the Thunder’s throat.

And then something unexpected happened. When a scorer as good as Durant has as quiet a quarter as he did in the first (he only took two shots), they tend to try to force themselves into a rhythm by getting off a few shots in a row, even if they aren’t exactly great looks. It’s not an ideal practice but the best often make it work, and Durant has fallen into this routine before. But last night, instead of trying desperately to get himself going with some tough 20-footers, Durant responded to San Antonio’s successful defensive scheme in the first quarter by making everyone around him better.

Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…

Durant was still drawing a ton of attention from the Spurs defense, but he was able to get some space in the second quarter thanks to some more acute screening from OKC’s big men. But instead of shooting the ball on the catch, Durant waited out the defense and forced them to react to him as a playmaker. San Antonio couldn’t do it. The Thunder’s offense looked better than it has all post-season long in that quarter. They may have scored more points previously but the ball movement was, frankly, Spurseque. Ball movement became contagious and Oklahoma City manufactured good look after good look because the ball was moving through the air instead of via the dribble. Suddenly the team that ranked dead last in assists this season was getting three to four good looks per possession and the team praised for their precise execution all season long was reduced to one-on-one matchups.

Oklahoma City took control of the game, and perhaps the series, in that quarter. They outscored the Spurs 29-17 and sent a clear message with a 12-point halftime lead. Durant’s willingness as well as his ability to go from pure scorer to playmaker swung the game for the Thunder. Their stagnant, pull-up jumper laden offense turned into a juggernaut with a swing pass to the corner from Durant. Durant was as elated as he’s ever been on the floor when he found Kendrick Perkins for a dunk in the final minute of the second quarter to push the Thunder’s lead to 10, which was a glimpse at his infallible team-first attitude. And then with six seconds left in the half, Durant hit a jumper from 16-feet, properly illustrating just how dangerous of a player he can be.

San Antonio would push back, of course, getting Oklahoma City’s lead all the way down to four with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. But just when you thought all of Durant’s work early in the game would be wasted, the second stage of his evolutionary night kicked in. His finale for last night’s performance was masterful and it left everyone in the basketball universe begging for more. Durant’s stunning efficiency in the fourth quarter solidified what was previously a prowling narrative: The Thunder superstar is the best closer in basketball.

Durant spent the first two rounds of the playoffs winning individual late game battles with Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, two of the sport’s most storied and respected clutch performers. He hit the game-winner in game one of the Dallas series and he had a pair of clinchers in closing seconds against the Lakers, too. After successfully eliminating Nowitzki and Bryant, Durant was pitted against a team full of crunchtime options. Durant’s post-season journey has unfolded just like a video game with each boss getting progressively harder. From the seven minute mark to the one minute mark, the Spurs scored on eight of their 11 possessions as their surgical offense picked apart the Thunder defense and their role players made some tough shots. And it didn’t matter one bit.

That’s how good Durant was. He completely took over the game once the Spurs came within four. He seemed to sense the moment and realized the game was hanging in the balance; either he took over, or the Spurs took the series. Durant made his choice and the Thunder responded by going to their best crunchtime play nearly every time down the floor in the fourth. The play started with James Harden coming off of a downscreen and receiving the ball from Russell Westbrook on the left wing. Westbrook then went down to the right block and set a brush screen for Durant, who used the screen to get to the free throw line or the right elbow in a post-up situation.

No matter what San Antonio did to defend it, Durant scored. He hit the 17-foot jumper, he hit one-handed push shots from nine feet out, he hit an incredibly tough fadeaway with contact and, inexplicably, he got free for a lob (with a foul) as the Spurs cheated on the Westbrook brush screen. San Antonio fought through the screen to get into Durant, they switched Parker onto to Durant (not unlike what they did against Dirk in the 2006 Western Conference Finals) and, after six scores, sent a double at him. None of it made a difference on this night. The Thunder only had to go to their secondary action for Durant on that play (a screen on the left side from Perkins) once in the fourth. That’s how well Durant was playing.

Durant scored 16 consecutive points during one stretch (he was 7-of-8 from the field in the final seven minutes of the game) and it could have been more if San Antonio hadn’t started sending doubles his way. When the Spurs did send someone at Durant, he dribbled away from his launching point (or where he had doing most of his scoring during his crunchtime binge) and hit a wide open Harden on the left wing for a three that iced the game.

Durant delivered the total package for the Thunder last night. Not only did his typically unbelievable and absurd scoring ability shine through, but it appeared as if Durant’s pulse and the beat of the Thunder were indistinguishable after the first quarter. Durant made his teammates better last night, invigorating them on both ends of the floor by getting them in the right spots and firing them up with constant scoring. The Thunder’s defense was inspired by their offense last night, and their offense was a creation of Durant’s.

Durant’s evolution into something even more than a deadly scoring threat took his team to an entirely different level. Oklahoma City isn’t supposed to win when Westbrook and Harden score 18 points on 23 shots, but because Durant got everyone’s juices flowing with his pass happy second quarter, everyone was involved and a flawless Serge Ibaka (he had 26 points on 11-of-11 shooting and all of his looks were wide open dunks or wide open 18-footers) and an inspired Kendrick Perkins (15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, with only one basket outside the paint) provided the supplemental production.

With the offense flowing, all the Thunder needed to do to even this series up was defend. Oklahoma City took what was one of the most productive offenses in recent NBA history and forced them to play one-on-one basketball. Thabo Sefolosha has done a great job containing Tony Parker on the pick-and-rolls which has made the Spurs rely on either Parker and Manu Ginobili scoring on their own, something they aren’t great at. If that fails, San Antonio has had to fallback on posting Tim Duncan, something that ruins their tempo and presents few efficient scoring chances. Duncan shot 39% on post-ups this season and he is now shooting 38% overall in this series. Because San Antonio’s defense is so suspect, if you’re able to take them out of their offensive flow for even 25% of a game, you’ve got a chance to beat them, and the Thunder did just that in games three and four.

After evening up the series, the young Thunder know they have what it takes to win and, more importantly, they know what they have to do to win. Durant has taken his game to another level, Oklahoma City’s role players are contributing when they need to and the Thunder have all of the momentum headed into game five.

The Thunder grew up last night.

Now it’s time to see if the resilient Spurs have any growing left to do.

How J.J. Hickson Changed The Landscape Of The NBA

in Archives by
Dec 7, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Denver Nuggets forward JJ Hickson (7) celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Nuggets defeated the Sixers 103-92. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not a huge cinema fan. Most of the movies that I like have Will Ferrell in them and I rarely fork out $10 to go see it in theaters.  A couple of nights ago I watched Adjustment Bureau, which was chosen because I love watching movies that include at least three shots of Matt Damon walking on a crowded city street. If there was an Academy Award category for something that specific, Matt Damon would have five of them.

Anyways, the premise of the movie is that there is some higher up power that has control of fate and what things are supposed to happen. To avoid giving you a synopsis I’ll just say that the “hook” in the movie is that these special agents travel through doors that take them to other places in the world, creating ripple effects. This got me to thinking about how much one event can effect another. In life, these decisions seem to be obvious. If you buy something, you will lose money. And it goes on from there.

In sports, ripple effects can be very subtle and they can be earth shattering. Chris Paul may decide to drive to his left rather than his right in the first quarter which may lead him into Andrew Bogut, who is a stronger help defender when moving to his right. Later on in the game, Paul may go left and catch the defense off guard because they were expecting him to go left again and he may end up at the basket for an easy lay-up. These little things happen hundreds of times a game but we don’t pick up on 90% of them.1

And then there are the larger ripple effects, usually created by management, that can leave long lasting effects on a franchise. Where would the Blazers be today had they taken MJ over Sam Bowie in 1984? How many championships would the Chicago Bulls have today had Michael Jordan not taken a break to play baseball? What if the Orlando Magic didn’t give Rashard Lewis a six-year contract worth more than $110 million in 2007 before trading him for Gilbert Arenas, who will be 30 next season, is no longer effective and has three years and $62,423,766 left on his contract?

One of the most recent seismic shifts in the NBA landscape involved the Cleveland Cavaliers but it wasn’t as simple as LeBron wanting to go play with his friends down in Miami.2 For two straight seasons, Danny Ferry entertained the idea of acquiring the Amare Stoudemire from the Phoenix Suns. In 2009, he ended up acquiring a Phoenix big man, but instead of getting Amare, Ferry traded for Shaquille O’Neal. Despite the whole “Witness Protection” campaign, he didn’t end up working out. The following year, the Cavs once again contacted the Suns about bringing Stoudemire to Cleveland. Cleveland was more motivated to make the deal this time around as they were just months away from LeBron being a free agent.

The Cavs came close to acquiring Amare, but there was a hold up in the final stages of negotiations: Cleveland didn’t want to part with J.J. Hickson in a deal for Stoudemire. At the time, this was a questionable move. Hickson had shown some potential and even had good chemistry with LeBron, but still, they had a good shot to get one of the 15 best players in the game. That said, it wasn’t necessarily egregious.

But then the post-season came. As we all know, the Cavs season would be abruptly ended by the Boston Celtics in the second round and LeBron James would leave for Miami a couple months. James’ own performance against Boston was the center of attention after the series and because it seemed like James quit during the last two games of the series, all of the blame was placed on him. LeBron does deserve a good amount of grief for the way he went out on his team but something that often gets ignored by fans was Cleveland’s refusal to trade Hickson.

In one of Danny Ferry’s final moves as the general manager of the Cavs, he said no to the Suns in a trade that would have brought Amare to Cleveland and instead opted to trade for Antawn Jamison instead. The ripple effects of these two decisions are obvious. Not only would adding Amare given Cleveland a significantly better chance of beating the Boston Celtics and eventually the Magic and Lakers as well, Jamison’s awful contract (he made $13,358,905 and is on the books for $15,076,715 this season) prevented the Cavaliers from making any serious offers to players like Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh or even Amare. And if you don’t think that matters, remember that Wade and Bosh played for $14,200,000 and $14,500,000 respectively last season. The only other contract traded to the Wizards was Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had an expiring contract anyways, so without Jamison’s contract on the books Cleveland could have offered Bosh or Wade or Amare or even Carlos Boozer a sizable contract to entice one of them as well as LeBron to Cleveland.

But Cleveland didn’t have that cap room during the summer and Miami did, allowing them to form a superteam with James, Wade and Bosh. This left Cleveland with a team that had no star players or even a pretty good one3 and Jamison ended up being the new leader of the team. Despite his decent average of 18 points per game he took 16 shots a night to get there, made only 43% of his shots from the field, averaged his fewest amount of rebounds since the 2002-2003 season when he was with Dallas, posted the lowest PER of his career since his first two years in the league and played some of the worst defense that you will ever see.

Even with Jamison’s poor performance, the deal could be salvaged on one condition: if J.J. Hickson had developed into the superstar that the Cavs expected or wanted him to be. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Hickson did have a career year numbers wise but part of that was playing the most minutes per game of his career while playing on a team that needed anyone that could score to take shots. Hickson averaged 13.8 points per game but also took 12 shots a night and saw his field goal percentage drop from 55% in 2009-2010 to 46% in 10-11. Despite the feeling that Hickson was expanding his offensive game, he continued to struggle with all shots outside of three feet and scored just .833 and .919 points per possession on post-ups and pick and rolls respectively, both of which are categorized as “average” by Synergy.

Average would be a good  term to describe Hickson. He isn’t awful but he is clearly not much more than a rotation big man. A year after Cleveland’s general manager Danny Ferry refused to trade Hickson to acquire Amare Stoudemire, new GM Chris Grant traded him for Omri Casspi. The trade opened up a spot for rookie Tristan Thompson but it also closed the door on the LeBron era in Cleveland. Hickson could have been the piece that kept James in Cleveland for a long while had he been dealt for Stouremire. Instead, he was a player the Cavs believed had enormous potential that ended up being traded for an average player just months after the Cavs chose him over Amare. If only Dan Gilbert could put a nice fidora on, walk through his front door and make that deal in retrospect. Can you imagine the world today without a Comic Sans meme?

Oh, and with LeBron still in Cleveland?


Footnotes

(Return)

1. Unless, of course, the decisions creating the ripple effects were made by Russell Westbrook. In that case, everyone and their mother will be voicing their concerns about his play on some online forum within an hour.

(Return)

2. Though it seems like LeBron is much closer to LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, at least based on their activities this summer. While Dwyane Wade has been off in other countries attending fashion shows and Chris Bosh has been getting married and having his honeymoon with his family on an ostrich farm, James has been in the spotlight playing in more than a few summer league circuits with Paul and Anthony (and Kevin Durant).

(Return)

3. You can make an argument for Anderson Varejao as a pretty good player simply because he’s one of the games best and most underrated defensive players. That said, in order for him to reach his maximum potential, he needs to be the anchor of a defense that is at least average and the Cavs were not that last season. To top it all off, Vareajao only played 31 games last season anyways.

The LeBron James Paradox

in Archives by
CLEVELAND - MARCH 5:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Detroit Pistons on March 5, 2010 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Cavaliers won 99-92.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

When it comes to defending LeBron James for not being able to win an NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the argument was always that he never had sufficient help around him to properly combat the likes of the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. Big Z was only on the team because of what he meant to the Cavs franchise, mid-season acquisition Antawn Jamison didn’t fit in at all with the team and Mo Williams was only an “all-star” because Chris Bosh was hurt and the Cavs had the most wins in the league at the break.

Thus, LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach was not exactly shocking. The Cavs tried their best to get one of the all-star free agents to come to Cleveland but they failed and Miami was the most enticing locale for James given Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh’s decisions to sign with the Heat. Of course, even though LeBron signing in Miami meant he would finally have help, help in the form of an NBA champion and top five player in Dwyane Wade and another all-star in Chris Bosh was too much for fans to give James a pass for leaving Cleveland.

Had he teamed up with humble youngster Derrick Rose in Chicago, the backlash of his decision never would have reached astronomical proportions. But because Wade already has a title and got James to come to his city, James was killed for giving up on the idea of winning as “the man” and will undoubtedly be followed by the “couldn’t win without Wade” tag just as Kobe carried the “couldn’t win without Shaq” tag prior to 2009.

I won’t kill LeBron for going to Miami if he thought that’s where he had the best chance to win a title. I actually kind of admire the fact that James disregarded the fact that any title he wins would likely be diminished so he could win one. Even if he has Wade on his team and wins a title, he still won a title and you can’t take that away from him (unless he trades his ring for tattoos – Ohio kids are notorious for that). When James accepted the fact that he needed Wade to win by signing with Miami, he humbled himself and proved to many that he was OK with not being “the man” so long as he got to taste victory.

But as these playoffs have gone on, it seems to me that James didn’t just give up a part of his legacy this summer, he also sold a part of himself to contend for a title. Everyone understood that neither Wade or James would produce the same numbers that they did when they were on separate seasons but what has happened this post-season goes far beyond how many possessions James and Wade have given up. If you’ve watched the Finals, and there’s little chance you haven’t, you’ll notice that Dwyane Wade has played no differently than he did during the regular season, or 2009 or in the 2006 Finals. He attacks the basket, he settles for jumpers and he goes all out on defense for 48 minutes.

But LeBron James has completely changed in the Finals. He’s not attacking the basket, he’s getting beat on defense, he’s giving the ball up in crunchtime and its not just to the open man – he’s openly deferring to Dwyane Wade. LeBron’s still settling for jumpers but he’s lost all touch on his jumper. Despite the poor reputation he seems to have amongst casual fans for his jumpshooting, he’s been one of the league’s better shooters from the mid-range. He’s not Dirk or anything, but given the degree of difficulty on his shot attempts, he’s been a solid shooter for several years.

LeBron has seemingly bought into the idea that the Heat are Dwyane Wade’s team and that he’s supposed to let Wade do all of the dirty work while only chipping in a few times throughout the game. When Wade went out with an injury, suddenly, James was attacking the basket and on consecutive possessions he was either scoring at the rim or creating wide open looks for his teammates as the defense collapsed. But then Wade came back in and James was back to roaming the perimeter and giving the ball up as soon as he touched it.

For whatever reason, when Wade is on the floor with him, James refuses to take over games. You can point to the Boston and Chicago series and how well James closed those games out but if you go back and watch those games, the big shots James was hitting were jumpers. He wasn’t getting to the lane and aggressively attacking, he was shooting jumpers, some of which were spot-up shots rather than pull-up attempts.

What’s funny to me is that James left Cleveland because he wanted to win championships and having Wade at his side increased the odds of that happening significantly. But now that the Heat are in the Finals, things have basically unfolded as if James never came to Miami as Wade has had to play hero ball the entire series in the fourth quarter. James has completely changed as a player. He’s not trying to attack, he’s not trying to make the big play and he’s not trying to put his stamp on the game.

LeBron left Cleveland because he didn’t have enough help, because he needed better teammates. But because LeBron has stopped being himself, it is entirely possible that playing along a great player like Wade is the worst thing to happen to LeBron James.

When LeBron was a Cav, he was unquestionably the game’s greatest talent, its best player and its most polarizing persona. When LeBron was a Cav, he was a monster and he produced numbers that nobody has put up since Jordan. When LeBron was a Cav, he was one of the game’s two best closers – in fact, I can’t remember LeBron flat out failing in crucial situations over the course of his Cleveland career (other than games five and six against Boston last year, of course).

When LeBron was a Cav, he would constantly put together some of the most ridiculous runs of scoring, passing and defending that we’ve ever seen. Its easy to forget now that he’s left town, but remember when LeBron scored 29 of Cleveland’s final 30 points in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2007? Or when he averaged 39/8/8 against the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009? Or when he scored 16 points in two minutes against the Bucks with four ridiculous three-pointers? Or when he scored 18 points in the final three and half minutes of the fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz to erase a nine-point deficit before Sundiata Gaines stole the thunder?

LeBron James as a Cavalier was always in attack mode, he was always ready to seize the moment in the fourth quarter, he always had a swagger about him and he was always the best player on the floor. Mo Williams knew that LeBron was going to make the decision that decided the game and acted accordingly. Mike Brown didn’t even think twice about what to call – it was always a one-four clear out for LeBron.

Now that James is in Miami, we’ve seen both he and Wade struggle to close games all regular season long and, after a string of made jumpers in the previous two rounds, those issues are back, only that James isn’t even attempting the majority of the big shots anymore. Spoelstra has no go to sets and teammates no longer know that LeBron is going to decide the game. LeBron can decide the games, but he’s no longer allowing himself to. Instead, he’s letting Wade make the big plays and take the big shots, and he lives with the results, even if its loads of criticism for his low fourth quarter scoring.

When LeBron chose Miami, he did so because he was finally going to be surrounded with good teammates, but as it turns out, having good teammates may prevent us from seeing the best LeBron James that there is. Having good teammates has not brought out the best in James, its brought out the worst version of him that we’ve ever seen, at least in these Finals. LeBron James left Cleveland and went to Miami to win championships, but in the process, he’s morphed into a lesser version the two-time MVP that constantly took over games when he was a Cavalier.

LeBron may end up successful in his pursuit of a title as soon as next Tuesday, but even if James piles up titles over the next few seasons, I don’t think we’ll ever see the same LeBron that suited up for the Cavs. I know it was expected that Wade, James and even Bosh would see a reduction in numbers and touches when they all joined together in Miami, but in James’ case, he’s put up (slightly) worse numbers while playing a totally different game.

Perhaps I’m just selfish because I’m finally realizing that I’ll never see LeBron do anything like this again, but I am starting to wonder whether or not James winning titles in Miami, even if he wins three or four, while clearly deferring to Wade in the fourth quarter is better for his legacy than staying in Cleveland and never winning would have been. If LeBron wins three or four titles with the Heat will being Wade’s equal, then of course it was the right move. But if he does that with Wade indisputably being “the man”, wouldn’t he have been better off not pairing himself with a superstar and staying in Cleveland, where he could have easily won somewhere near six or seven MVP awards?

Obviously James did not have a great supporting cast in Cleveland, but he was so good that, with Williams showing up in the playoffs, the development of J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao and the addition of one solid bench scorer (think Delonte West but not Delonte West because, well, you know), he could have taken that team to the Finals at least once or twice over the next few years while also piling up MVP awards. I mean, if Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu don’t hit some incredible fourth quarter shots in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009 (while Mo Williams disappeared), and whatever caused LeBron to quit last season didn’t happen, there’s a chance that James could have taken the Cavs to the Finals twice over the past two seasons.

Instead, the Magic did hit incredible shots and LeBron was sorely effected by off-the-court issues, and LeBron was forced to decide where to playout his prime years. He chose Miami because he thought Wade would give him the help he needed to win a title. I’ll admit that James could come out and dominate games six and seven and regain that mojo that he had in Cleveland and everything I said above would be nonsense. But right now, the fact that James left Cleveland to play with better teammates may have gotten him to the Finals for the first time in four years, but its also caused him to turn into a different player. Instead of seeing Cavalier LeBron on a different scale, we’ve seen a new LeBron James and frankly, this is not a player I enjoy watching.

When the Heat were formed this summer, despite all of the hate and venom spewed towards them, I think everyone would agree that they couldn’t wait to watch James, Wade and Bosh all on the same team. But now that its happened, even though the Heat have been involved in some of the most entertaining Finals series in recent memory, I still think that watching LeBron James take over that game against Detroit in 2007 or close out his opposition night after night as a Cavalier was better than anything we’ve seen out of him this season.

Perhaps moving to Miami will pay off in the long run for LeBron James in the form of championships – and hey, that’s why he went there – but right now, LeBron James is not as good of a player that he was in Cleveland. He has the ability to be the same guy, but with Dwyane Wade on his team, he refuses to embrace that role. Again, he has ample time and opportunities to change that, to start taking over games once again like he did in Cleveland. But as of today, James is a changed player, and even if he wins a title next week, I still think he’d be better of as a Cav, throwing up triple-doubles every other night, taking over games with ease, playing with the mindset that he is the best player in the world, racking up MVP award after MVP award and playing some of the best basketball we have ever seen.

Boy, I really do miss #23. And I’m not talking about Jordan, either.

Next Step For OKC: Abolishing Incorrect And Unnecessary Position Tags

in Archives by
russ

The idea of positions in basketball has been called into question a few times this year. The subject has been deemed “positionality” and most people are starting to believe that the traditional PG/SG/SF/PF/C lineups are becoming outdated due to the advancement of NBA athletes and the way coaches use those athletes.

One of the biggest storylines of the 2011 NBA playoffs is the play of Russell Westbrook. Because Westbrook is the Thunder’s “point guard,” having him take more shots than Kevin Durant in some of the Western Conference Finals games bothered a lot of people who thought Durant should be taking 25+ shots a game. Even though it was Durant’s fault for not getting enough attempts because he was not working hard enough off the ball, all of the blame fell on Westbrook for being a “point guard” who supposedly wasn’t doing his job well enough to get Durant those shots.

It is no secret that Westbrook is not a “true” point guard in the sense that he doesn’t think or play the game like Chris Paul. One could argue Westbrook is a shooting guard trapped in a tall point guard’s body. Westbrook played two guard at UCLA and the truth is that if he was just two inches taller, he’d be Dwyane Wade-lite, devoid of any criticism when it comes to distributing the ball. Instead, he is OKC’s point guard, and because his running mate is NBA Golden Boy Kevin Durant, everyone who watches the Thunder searches for a scapegoat to blame Durant’s shortcomings on.

Although Westbrook certainly wasn’t perfect in the Western Conference Finals, we saw the solution to the Thunder’s problems in Game 5 and it had nothing to do with Westbrook looking to pass more. With his back to the wall in a do-or-die, Thunder coach Scott Brooks played James Harden extended minutes with his starting unit. A lineup of Eric Maynor, Westbrook, Harden, Durant and Nick Collison was used often and though the lack of size with that lineup did cost the Thunder big time in the fourth quarter because the Mavericks were able to outwork them on the glass for key offensive rebounds, we saw how well that lineup worked offensively because Westbrook wasn’t forced to handle the ball.

Within a few minutes it was painfully obvious that Harden was the Thunder’s best option at “point guard” but since I am advocating the removal of that term from our collective basketball vocabulary, instead I’ll say that it was painfully obvious that Harden was the Thunder’s best creator with a knack for finding the open man or a cutter. Harden was a creator in college as well and even though he didn’t have the tag of point guard attached to him at Arizona State or as an NBA draftee there’s no doubt that having Harden run the offense is Oklahoma City’s best option not only because Harden is their best passer but also because of what it allows Westbrook to do off the ball.

Because I prefer giving players descriptive tags rather than position tags (like creator/distributor for Harden), the most obvious tag for Westbrook is “attacker/slasher.” I used Wade as a comparison for Westbrook earlier and though there are some differences between the two, there are certainly a lot of similarities as well. Westbrook is either an extremely savvy player when it comes to attacking the basket in an attempt to draw fouls or a youngster with fresh legs and no regard for his own health when he goes to the rim. Westbrook is made up of some combination of those two things and that’s what makes him so dangerous off the ball.

When Westbrook was playing off the ball he was able to make viscous cuts toward the basket and Harden was on-point with several passes when Westbrook was in motion. Westbrook has a tendency to lose the ball on the dribble when he attacks the cup simply because he can be too aggressive sometimes but catching the ball on the cut allowed for Westbrook to go up immediately without having to put the ball on the floor. With Westbrook cutting to the basket, Durant and Maynor spotting up and Collison providing some interior spacing and offensive rebounding, the Thunder offense looked as good as it had all season with Harden running things.

Looking forward, it is hard to envision a scenario in which Brooks continues to have Harden coming off the bench. The defense/offense substitution has worked for some teams before, but they can’t have their best creator on the bench to start games, particularly in the playoffs. Getting into big holes was a problem for the Thunder at the start of games this season and a lot of blame goes on Brooks for refusing to alter his starting lineup. Westbrook and Durant is a deadly combo, but when there is no one on the floor beside them that can create shots or post-up, it’s hard for the team to score at an efficient rate – especially when the other three players on the floor are Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

Not only is Harden just a creator for others but, as he showed against the Mavericks, he is also capable of getting to the rim and finishing over bigs. Harden scored 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting in Game 5 in addition to his six assists and five rebounds. Harden has had himself the occasional one-of-10 shooting night in his first two seasons but becoming a consistent player is part of the rookie learning curve and the poise he showed against the Mavs leads me to believe he is more than ready for a starting job. Harden can distribute, get to the rim (and the line) and rebound. Sefolosha is a superior defender, but it is clear at this point that Sefolosha’s defensive skills don’t make up for what he lacks on the other end.

Embracing the idea that positions in basketball are no more is something the media has done over the past year or so. In order for Brooks to keep his job and in order for the Thunder to take the next step towards a title, they will also have to embrace the idea that there is no such thing as a point guard in the league anymore. Just because Westbrook is 6-3 and James Harden is 6-5 doesn’t mean Westbrook has to be the point guard and Harden is the shooting guard. It’s not a slight to Westbrook to say that Harden is the better creator – some players are born with passing instincts like Harden while others are born with a relentless desire to attack the rim like Westbrook.

If the Thunder want to make it further than the Western Conference Finals next season, they don’t need to make any major roster changes by trading one of their core players, Scott Brooks simply has to reassess the way he uses his players. If Brooks can adapt to a world without positions and put a lineup of Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Ibaka and Perkins on the floor to start games and a lineup of Maynor, Westbrook, Harden, Durant and one big man (unless they’re playing the Lakers) on the floor during crunchtime, I think the Thunder will be set next season.

But if Brooks doesn’t make that adjustment and continues to rely on Westbrook to create for others, it may cost the Thunder another season of basketball and Brooks his head coaching job.

Rajon Rondo: One Of A Kind

in Archives by
rajon

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (But The Game Is On) – At the top of the NBA’s point guard class we have a Chris, a Deron, a Steve, a Derrick, a Russell, a Jason. And a Rajon.

Rajon Rondo.

Even the name is unique.

Everything about the six-foot-one point guard that just finished up his fourth season with the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics is different. In a good way, obviously.

In those four years, Rondo has made the transition from a college player that couldn’t shoot, needed to improve his understanding of the game and his defense, and wasn’t a complete point guard that could dictate an offense (all of things are listed as weaknesses on his NBADraft.net profile), to a key role player on the 2008 NBA Championship team and now to one of the best point guards and overall players in the world that nearly won a second title this past season as the best player on his team.

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

And unlike most of the young guys here at the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas, Nevada, that have looked up to some of the older players in the NBA and tried to emulate their performance, Rondo has created his own brand of basketball. One we haven’t seen before.

“No,” Rondo replied when I asked him if there was any veteran point guards in the league that he has taken moves from. It’s certainly not a bad thing to admit to something like that. Kobe Bryant has said multiple times that he has stolen all his moves like the baseline turnaround (from MJ), his post-game (Oscar Robertson), his footwork (from Elgin Baylor) and his pull-up jumpers (from Jerry West) and nobody gets on him for that. But Rondo’s gone the opposite direction. He’s introduced some things to the NBA that we have never seen before and that’s part of what makes him, well, him.

“You never know what (Rondo)’s going to do,” said Oklahoma City Thunder Small Forward and new face of Team USA Basketball Kevin Durant. “Of course, you just got to get used to him because he can go down the lane and you think he’ll pass and lay it up, where the next time he could wrap it around to you and throw it to you on the other side of the court.”

Durant, who is thought of as the only lock to make the 12-man squad that will head to Turkey in August for the World Championships, endorsing Rondo is almost like Kobe calling one of the kids in his basketball camp by name and saying he is impressed by his play. Obviously, Rondo is not a camper in comparison to Durant but because Kevin is seen as the leader of the team and someone the coaching staff talks to about the team on a daily basis, having his endorsement is a big plus.

“(Rondo)’s kind of unpredictable. That makes his game unique. But, at the same time, everybody has to be ready for his passes and what he’s going to do because he’s such a great player,” the Thunder superstar continued.

If you’ve watched any game of Rondo’s over the past couple of years, you’re bound to have seen one of his unorthodox moves that makes him such a tough player to defend. Creativity is the name of his game and he shows off his gifted ability to fake out any opponent with a quirky dribble or a “H-O-R-S-E” shot off the backboard on a game-by-game basis.

“That’s just my personality,” Rondo said of his devotion to being a unique breed. “I’ve always been myself. I just try to stick to being me and do what I do best. You definitively try to take stuff (tips) from other players, but as far as minting my game I just do what I do best.”

The best part about Rondo’s game is that he doesn’t even work on the stuff that he does in games like behind-the-back dribbles or crossovers. “It’s natural,” Rondo said. “I don’t practice that stuff. I may horse around with “H-O-R-S-E” shots but not practice-practice. … The behind-the-back fake is my favorite fake.”

Even though Kobe Bryant did a pretty good job on Rajon Rondo in the 2010 NBA Finals (with a lot of credit also going to Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum for protecting the rim), the rest of the league has not had much success defending Rondo. Opposing teams often try to place a bigger guard or forward on Rondo in hopes of stopping him from getting to the rim and forcing him to either take long jumpers or defer too often. While its a nice plan, with all of the plays the Celtics can run to free him up, the Lakers are really the only team with the personnel to cover each option and even the defending champions had trouble stopping Rondo in the Finals as he went on to average 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds while also recording a 19-point, 12-rebound and 10-assist triple-double in game two.

“It’s hard,” Derrick Rose, who went up against Rondo in an epic seven game series to start off the 2008 NBA Playoffs and is now competing to play on Team USA with him, said about guarding Rondo. “Its very hard. He’s very quick. He’s got big hands so you gotta watch it, he’s very tricky … He’s kinda like a veteran player (in terms of his basketball IQ) and he’s been playing on a good team almost ever since he came into the NBA. (The Celtics) won the championship (in 2008), so he has a lot of experience as well.”

Rose also believes Rondo is in the upper echelon when it comes to NBA point guards.

“He’s one of (the best),” the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year said. “There are a lot of point guards. All of them are better than me. I’m just trying to get up there. But he’s one of the best for sure.”

Rose may be selling himself too short by saying every point guard here is better than him but he is definitely right about Rondo. Any list involving the top five or so point guards in the NBA has to have Rondo in consideration at the very least.

Its not only his play and fancy moves that sets Rajon apart from the rest of the players here with Team USA, it is also his attitude. That’s not to say he has a bad attitude, far from it, but there is no denying that he has an edge about him, something most likely derived from his NBA title in 2008. While guys like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant find it hard to admit they are some of the best players in the world or that their teams are among the best in the NBA, Rondo has a supreme confidence in himself and in his team that resembles the mindset of Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest competitors and champions in the history of the league.

When asked if he felt threatened by the “new Big Three” in Miami as the defending Eastern Conference Champions, Rondo responded quickly and tersely: “No.” When asked whether or not he was nervous about facing the new NBA’s newest trio, Rondo answered with a more definite: “Hell nah.”

“Be nervous why?,” Rondo asked.

“I mean, I’m worried about the Lakers. That’s the team we have to beat. Miami looks really good on paper and I’m sure they’re gonna be good. But they gotta come together as a team. I’m not saying they won’t, but only those guys will tell. Of course they have a big target on their back with LeBron, Wade and Bosh, but its still a team game and its gonna take five guys.”

“They ain’t done nothing yet,” Rajon added with a chuckle. “They ain’t done nothing.”

Rondo’s uniqueness and ability to get the best out of his teammates figures to be a very big attribute and reason for addition to the United States squad should he make the team. Rajon has been a pass-first, pass-second, shoot-third kind of point guard during his time in Boston and, even though becoming more aggressive is something that Rondo needs to improve on (as well as his mid-range jumper and free throw shooting), having a facilitator’s mentality with such a complete team like Team USA around him.

“There are a lot of guys that can score the ball (here),” Rondo said. “I’ll just try to be a more vocal leader and keep everyone happy.”

Rondo’s experience with the Big Three in Boston will undoubtedly help him in Turkey (again, should he make the team) because he has been distributing to the talented trio for years now and feeding guys like Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay and Lamar Odom the ball an equal amount of time is an advantage he has over someone like Derrick Rose who hasn’t had many offensive options to defer to with the Bulls.

Additionally, the Celtics were at their best when they got out in transition and gave Rondo the basketball. Whether it was faking someone out and getting to the rim himself, tossing up a lob to Kevin Garnett on the break, or finding a sagging Ray Allen for a wide open three, Rajon got his team the best look possible anytime he had the ball in the open court. In the International Game, the style is much more up tempo and with athletes like Rudy Gay, Gerald Wallace or Andre Iguodala around him, expect a lot of alley-oops when Rondo is leading the break.

“I’ve played in (the international game) before and I had a little bit of success so I’m looking forward to it,” Rondo told me.

Rajon strives to be the new kid on the block, the next generation point guard, and a unique talent. His individualism, his confident attitude and his breathtakingly fresh basketball abilities give Rondo a pretty good shot at representing his country in the 2010 World Championships as well an opportunity to become one of the faces of the NBA as the game adapts to fit the style of quick, athletic point guards like Rondo.

Then again, there is nobody like Rondo. Because just like the custom made Beats by Dre headphones, this edition golden with a touch of Celtic green, Rajon walked into the Thomas & Mack Center sporting today, he is one of a kind.

And he’d have it no other way.

Kevin Durant Is Going To Amaze This Year

in Archives by
durant1

For weeks and weeks, I have been watching Kobe Bryant mix videos on YouTube that were made with Kanye West’s “Amazing” playing in the background. I soaked it up as if he was the only player on the planet that would be as fun to watch despite playing the most fundamentally sound basketball that anyone has ever seen.

However, after spending some time with and watching Kevin Durant, I have realized that there might be a new guy on the block that has just as much talent as Kobe already (he’s in just his third year in the league), is fun to watch, has the desire and passion to be the best, and has a ceiling that could extend to a player that we have never seen before.

Not Kobe. Not Michael. Even Better.

Durant was in Las Vegas for the 2009 USA Basketball Showcase, a three-day program designed for the Team USA coaching staff to see the talent they would be dealing with over the course of the 2010 World Championships and 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Entering the three day mini-camp, Kevin was the favorite for earning a spot on the Redeemed Team. He had already been close to making the 2008 Team, so a couple of solid practices would ink his name onto the roster.

Durant had been in Vegas for a week or so before the mini-camp, watching and rooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder Summer League Team while getting to know some of his soon-to-be teammates. It must have fun for Duarnt to sit and watch a team of Summer Leaguers play for a roster spot at the ages of 21 and 22, while he sat and watched as a 20-year old NBA superstar.

At 20, his time in  Vegas consisted of basketball, more basketball, some UStream from his hotel room at the Wynn, and then more basketball.

On the first day of practice for Team USA, Durant entered a high school gym with a pair of headphones, flip-flops and a gym bag hanging on his shoulder. He quickly changed shoes, put his cell phone away and hit the court before anyone else finished chatting it up.

The media (me!) was allowed to approach the players for a 15-minute time frame before the actual practice began. Since Durant was already shooting around, I figured I’d catch him coming back to the bleachers. After talking to Derrick Rose, David Lee, Greg Oden, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and others, I had some interesting conversations. But they were nothing compared to the four minutes I used to speak with Durant.

I walked up to him as he was shooting three’s from out of bounds and started the conversation with an icebreaker. I asked him how he felt graduating from Texas (Well, basketball wise anyways. We all know that none of the degrees from UT can actually be acknowledged by the general public.) and playing in Sooner territory.

“It’s fun,” he said with a chuckle. “The fans there are great.”

After asking him about adding James Harden in the draft, which he said helped make the roster complete and added a defensive presence on the wing that lightens the load on him when they play someone by the name of Bryant, my final question to him went something like this: “Most people think the Thunder are a team of the future. Do you think that you guys can surprise by winning this upcoming season?”

Durant smiled again and said, “We can definitely win this season. We’re hungry for it. I’m hungry.”

***

When Durant says “We’re,” he is referring to his team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Looking at this group of guys, whose core consists of Durant. Russell Westbrook (age 20), and Jeff Green (age 23), you can see what the foundation of a championship franchise looks like in it’s early stages. Drafting Durant back in 2007, Thunder GM Sam Presti decided to build around Durant instead of inserting him into a situation where the talent around him was going to be in the mid-30’s by the time Durant could legally pick up an alcoholic beverage, which is the mistake the Cleveland Cavaliers made with LeBron James and have yet to realize their mistake to this day,  signing 34-year Anthony Parker and a 37-year old Shaq who has more tread on his tires than Britney Spears to deals this off-season.

Instead, Presti put young players with a whole lot of potential around Durant for him to grow old with. So now, when Durant hits 27 and is in his physical peak, his teammates will also be in the prime of their careers.

Durant’s relationship with Westbrook and Green is another reason that we could see something very special out of this kid. All three guys were attended the Showcase in Vegas and all three of them were pushing themselves through every drill. Last season we saw Kobe Bryant and the Lakers win a championship playing primarily with focus and tenacity. Durant and the Thunder may open up a whole new type of winning style by doing so while having fun and playing as hard as then can.

KD seems like a kid when he is on and off the court. And heck, he is still just a kid.

***

Despite questions about his strength during his pre-draft workouts, Durant has the perfect body for the small forward position in basketball. He’s 6-foot-10, has a perfect shot, and can jump as high as anybody in the NBA.

He has developed an effortless stroke from beyond the arc to compensate for his lanky frame and lack of a physical post-game. Durant’s long arms will also allow him to become a premier perimeter defender in the league, so long as he improves his defensive knowledge first.

As far as numbers go, last season, Durant averaged 25.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals a game. He shot 48% from the field, 42% from beyond the arc and 86% from the charity stripe. Although I’ve said it several times in this article before, I feel it needs to be said again:

He’s just 20 years old.

Durant’s national coming out party occurred twice during NBA All-Star Weekend last year. The way that he took over the H-O-R-S-E contest (heroically coming back by beating Joe Johnson who had no letters while he himself had four letters) and dominated the Rookie-Sophomore game with a record setting 46 point performance.

(Even then Durant was big on team. His quote after that game: “I had a blast,” Durant said. “I’m just happy I’m here and I’m glad I won MVP … to have Jeff [Green] and Russell [Westbrook] there to watch me hoist the trophy felt great. It shines a lot of light on the organization.”)

InFebruary of last season, Durant went of on a tear that should have ripped through the headlines. In 10 games, Durant averaged 33.1 points per game, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. His percentages were deadly too, as he shot a 54% clip from the field, 51% from deep, and 87% from the free throw line.

The standard shooter’s formula, which is basically adding all of those figures together, denotes a player that totals 180 as “great.” Durant’s shooting number was slotted at 192 for that month and his total for the season was 176.

This is Durant without even filing out physically or learning all the little intricacies of the game that make the great ones legendary.

Durant’s impressions on me at the mini-camp allow me to imagine a player in the coming years who will put up numbers we thought were impossible. Projecting logical player progression combined with Durant’s physical skills make this line possible: 35 points a game, 58% from the field, 45% from three, and 90% from the line.

Mind you, this is what I think he will do in the next two seasons at the ages of 21 and 22, so you can only imagine what he could be doing at age 27. I know those expectations are steep, but I would be shocked if he averaged anything less this season.

***

Watching Kevin Durant for the next few years is truly going to be one of the best treats that the NBA can give us.

Unfortunately, the NBA really wet the bed with their national TV schedule this season, with the Thunder playing no times on standard TV (ABC), once on cable (ESPN) and twice on extended cable (NBA TV). Their one game on ESPN isn’t a huge match-up either, it’s against the Mavericks.

I can’t believe that TNT or ESPN didn’t pick up one of the four match-ups between Kevin Durant and Kobe, which occur on normal NBA broadcast days of Sunday, Tuesday and Friday.

But really folks, if you ever needed a reason to purchase NBA League Pass, Durant may be it. This kid is something special and it’s going to be a pleasure watching him play 82 games this season.

1 12 13 14
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Go to Top