Blair Miller > HIGH POSTS
Our leading (and only) basketball writer gives his, um, blunted, unconventional – and occasionally obsessively detailed – take on recent happenings in the hoops world.
Heat Make The Bulls Hot, and More…
Thanks again to Phdsteve at Raptors Republic for inviting me to participate in a roundtable discussion yesterday. For the full podcast, click here. Here’s an expansion of a few of the thoughts I spat out to contribute while waking up on Tuesday morning, followed by some blurbs about tonight’s two games (Heat-Bulls; Spurs-Warriors):
The Thunder traded the wrong guy…
You’ll hear it in the podcast, and you’ll certainly read me expanding on this in future posts (hopefully with some yummy stats to boot): Russell Westbrook is a beast of a talent, but he suffocates an offense much the way that other high-scoring, high-assist “point guards” have in the past. (Ahem, Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson – I’m looking at you.) Westbrook’s propensity to over-dribble and take too many shots would be even more exposed if he played on a team that didn’t have Kevin Durant to create his own looks with little space on the floor, or without much time on the shot clock. The same things can’t be said about James Harden, whom Oklahoma traded in the offseason. Harden has been nothing short of a facilitating godsend in Houston, while still being able to get his own scoring opportunities. Of course, part of the problem lies with the fact that Thunder head coach Scott Brooks candidly encourages Westbrook to chuck shots like George Costanza at the YMCA. This isn’t just because Brooks is in over his head as coach of the second-best team in the NBA (though he is – big time) – it’s also because roster weaknesses make it appear as though the team needs Westbrook to be a black hole on offense.
…And that’s not the only questionable move made by this now-praised franchise.
Unfortunately, it’s too easy to see the Thunder not shaking up their roster a bit this offseason because Westbrook’s recent injury can cloud the other shortcomings this team has. Say what you will about their veteran presences (and occasional clutch plays), but players like Derek Fisher, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins are woefully deficient on both sides of the court. (No, being good at boxing out and setting screens doesn’t sufficiently address that accusation.) On top of GM Sam Presti’s ill-advised trade of Harden, his trade of Jeff Green for Perkins now seems quite short sighted. (Can’t a coaching staff instill the same defensive attitude that an asshole who can’t even rebound well can?) Serge Ibaka is a very solid player, but as the third-best offensive option on this team? Well, that speaks towards the lack of useable pieces on the Thunder. Yes, Kevin Martin should be able to contribute, but being a spot-up shooter was never his forte even before his game started to deteriorate after he left Sacramento – and spot-up shooters are what Oklahoma needs to help spread the floor for Durant and Westbrook. Presti has acquired none of those, and it’s a pretty obvious priority to overlook for a guy who comes from the vaunted Spurs-Gregg Popovich system.
The Raptors shouldn’t follow OKC’s “blueprint” either.
As Phdsteve pointed out in the podcast, perhaps the Thunder “model” mostly consists of the benefit of drafting Durant and Westbrook. If what I just said above is any indication, that’s probably true. As such, Toronto shouldn’t follow that model. The Raptors will have a ton of cap space after they get through the last part of Rudy Gay’s hefty contract, and we touched on the notion that the Pacers have a better – and more repeatable – formula than most franchises. Team President Larry Bird has twice rebuilt his team around anchors in the post and a bevy of hard-nosed athletic players. I personally think it’s way too early to assume that Jonas Valanciunas can be such an anchor, but he deserves more time to develop after years of playing against inferior competition in the post overseas.
LeBron should have been unanimous MVP.
I’ll give credit to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe for explaining his MVP vote for Carmelo Anthony that was the lone one cast against James for this season’s award, but his self-defense is poor. (Here’s a link to it.) First of all, I think he referred to Mario Chalmers as “a fearless point guard”….ummm, okay. How should that figure into an argument for James vs. Anthony for MVP? In broader terms, arguing that the Knicks are a lottery team without ’Melo drastically overrates his limited role on that team, and underrates players like Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton. I’d like to see how well New York would have fared if Chandler was taken off that team. Don’t get me wrong – Carmelo has improved his all-around game this season and involved his teammates more. But at the end of the day he’s still a scorer by trade, and one that doesn’t concern any opponents when he’s playing defense. LeBron James is one of the best players of his generation on both sides of the floor – and was this season. Here’s another insane LeBron stat: I noticed during Game 1 of Heat-Bulls that Marv Albert said Miami finished last in the NBA in rebounding this season. I had to look it up to believe it. So, I was curious, and spent about an hour in between beers (okay, during several beers) stat-digging on that, and I discovered that no team in NBA history has ever finished last in the regular season in rebounding and won the championship. The Heat are clearly the favourites to repeat as champs. If they become the historic first team to do it from the glass basement, I think that speaks even more towards the immeasurable and/or intangible job James does in elevating his team on both ends of the court.
Mike Conley can ball!
The point guard has quietly guided the Grizzlies offense all season, and last night he saved his team against another unbelievable game from Kevin Durant for the Thunder. (More on that in another High Post.) One of my favourite harsh comments from ESPN’s Bill Simmons came when Conley was given his 5-year, $45 million contract in 2010: “Mike Conley??? Are you sure it wasn’t 5 million for 45 years?” Well, after 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists on Tuesday night – including clutch shooting down the stretch – I’m happy to inform readers that Simmons apologized last night on Twitter.
Chicago loses its cool in the White Heat.
Maybe all the white T-shirts in American Airlines arena in Game 2 of Bulls-Heat turned the Chicago players rabid. To be clear, it takes two to tango – especially if that tango is a god-awful, excruciating dance that is choreographed with 43 personal fouls, 9 technical fouls, 1 flagrant foul and two ejections. But when Bulls Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson basically cursed and shoved their way out of the game once it became a blowout, it stunk of bad losers. TNT analyst Steve Kerr defended the behaviour based on a slew of bad calls by the referees (which indeed did occur), but it was Miami who took Chicago out to the woodshed, not the zebras. When the dust settled, the Bulls lost by 37 points and were called for six player technical fouls. According to ESPN Stats & Information that’s the most by any team in a playoff game since the pre-bully-bitch Kevin Garnett Celtics had that many against Indiana in 2005. Again – to be fair, Miami had three techs, which was a season-high for them. But Chicago lost its professionalism as this game wound down.
“…He’s been doing it all his life.”
That’s what TNT’s Kenny Smith said last weekend about the notion that Golden State’s Stephen Curry can’t keep shooting like this, nor can his teammates. Smith said that the night Curry went off for 23 points in the third quarter against the Nuggets. In Game 1 of the Warriors’ Round 2 series against the Spurs, he scored 22 in the third quarter – en route to 44 points and 11 assists while nearly stealing the win away from San Antonio in double OT. Curry became the first player ever to put up 40+ points and 10+ assists against the Spurs in a playoff game. (Remember – the Spurs used to be the best defensive team in the league for, oh, about a decade or more.) As I’m typing this, Curry is already swishing one-footed three’s to score 9 of his team’s first 10 points in Game 2. He’s become my fourth-favourite player to watch in the NBA (after Durant, LeBron and Kobe) – and his offensive game is complete. He creates shots for his teammates, dribbles and passes like Steve Nash, and is a very instinctive and scrappy rebounder for a 6’3” point guard. Even the preternaturally reserved Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was gushing after Game 1 about Curry’s skills.
I am still in shock at how well Mark “Assball” Jackson has done as the head coach of the Warriors. (I call him Assball, because when Jackson played, he was so slow and had such average handles that he’d turn around and back defenders down from half court.) After listening to him spout goofy nonsense as a TV analyst for years, I expected him to be a lame duck coach, but his players play much more inspired ball than that would have indicated. To start the second quarter of Game 2, his team holds a three-point lead. This post isn’t as high as it was when I started, so I’m off to fix that and hope for more hot Curry action in the third quarter….
One last thought: Assball should’ve had to use this ball when he played. Designed by Juergen Mayer H. and available to purchase here.