Tuesday, July 31, 2012

3 Potential Trades Involving OKC's James Harden


Is he shocked at the idea of a trade?


The best solution for the Oklahoma City Thunder moving forward is probably without the tail-end of their Big Three, James Harden.

Harden has been a wizard off of the bench, scoring just under 20 points per game. He takes some pressure off of the primary scoring options, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Although his effectiveness dwindled as the playoffs wore on, don’t blame Harden.

Oklahoma City had a quest to even make it to the NBA Finals, plowing through the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. Those teams have won 10 of the past 13 NBA championships.

Harden will eventually be the odd man out. Although I have personally pushed for Westbrook to be the trade-bait, Westbrook brings a superstar presence to the Thunder and coupled with Durant the Thunder have arguably the most potent scoring duo in the NBA.

Not only that, but there is the issue of money. Oklahoma City will have difficulty being able to support the large contracts of their starters which again suggests the Thunder should trade the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year.

If they manage to find a way to support all of the contracts, of course that is the best option.

If not, here are three teams that have excellent options to trade the Thunder for James Harden.

Golden State Warriors

Suggested trade:
Oklahoma City gets Klay Thompson, Richard Jefferson and 2014 draft pick
Golden State gets James Harden and Cole Aldrich

Why this trade is good for OKC:

The large contract of Richard Jefferson is the most unappealing part of this trade for the Thunder. They would be hard-pressed to accept this deal as is unless Golden State took on part of Jefferson’s contract—which is reasonable because Jefferson is set to make $11 million next season.

But on the flip side, Jefferson gives the Thunder a reasonable post- and mid-range shot presence. Klay Thompson is a young player who the Warriors have a lot of trust and hope in because of his incredible talent which is why Sam Presti would be very attracted to an offer that involves Thompson.

Warriors draft picks have been pretty good based on the past couple years considering they have had repeated lottery picks. And OKC GM Sam Presti drafts well so that would be an excellent asset to keep OKC young as they continue to make a push for an NBA championship.

Why this trade is good for Golden State:

Cole Aldrich is mostly an “icing on the cake” type player but will give the Warriors an added big man off the bench which will be nice to have as former Bucks’ center Andrew Bogut looks to rebound from injury.

James Harden is the perfect fit for the Warriors. A scorer who isn’t as selfish as Monta Ellis, he could even split time at point guard with Jarrett Jack and Stephen Curry. That is ideal for the Warriors because Curry and Harden are also very valuable at the shooting guard position and can play minutes there, as well.

Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers (3-team trade)

Oklahoma City gets Eric Bledsoe (LAC), Nick Young (PHI) and 2014 draft picks (LAC)
Los Angeles gets Andre Iguodala (PHI)
Philadelphia gets Chauncey Billups (LAC), James Harden (OKC)

Why this trade is good for Oklahoma City:

In giving up only Harden, Oklahoma City gets 27-year-old guard in Nick Young who showed promise late in the season for the Clippers last year. Add Eric Bledsoe, a 22-year-old guard with a lot of potential (which includes a 23-point performance against the Spurs in the playoffs) to the equation and OKC may bite.

Like for all trades that involve the Thunder, draft picks are excellent temptations, too.

Why this trade is good for LAC/PHI:

Los Angeles is giving up Bledsoe, Billups and draft picks for Andre Iguodala. There isn’t much else to say—this is a great trade for the Clippers.

Same thing for Philadelphia—there have been constant rumors that Iguodala will be traded and this is a great trade for them. They give up a second-tier superstar in return for a similar superstar and also get the benefit of a veteran point guard with playoff experience.

Billups even managed 15 points per game last season for the Clippers.

Boston Celtics

Oklahoma City gets Avery Bradley, 2014/2015 draft pick
Boston gets James Harden

Why this trade is good for Oklahoma City:

Oklahoma City is weak in terms of perimeter defense. Although Bradley wasn’t able to showcase his talent against the eventual champion Miami Heat, he was known as a defensive specialist. And his scoring isn’t too bad, either (six games in April scoring over 17 points including one 28-point show).

Bradley’s talent may be underestimated by the rest of the league but not Sam Presti. Again, add a draft pick and OKC would strongly consider such an offer.

Why this trade is good for Boston:

James Harden is the absolute perfect fit for Boston. He would be happy to have the role of a starter and the Celtics have great players to balance Harden. With Rajon Rondo creating shots for Harden and Jason Terry coming off the bench to give either Rondo or Harden a breather and Kevin Garnett still manning the middle—the Celtics would be looking really good.

Not only that but Harden adds some star-powered youth to the organization (although granted, they are giving up talented youth themselves). Boston is in better position to handle a larger contract (like Harden’s) and OKC would have time to work with Bradley, who is a restricted free agent after next season.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kevin Durant vs. Michael Jordan and the Greatest Scorers of All Time



Kevin Durant is one scoring title away from being in the elite company of three of the NBA’s greatest players of all time: Michael Jordan, George Gervin and Wilt Chamberlain.

The reigning three-time scoring champion has proven that he is one of the best scorers in today’s game alongside (and often above) future Hall of Famers like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

And he is only 23 years old.

Durant is the complete scoring package, possessing the ability to knock down jumpers, threes, hit tough post shots and drive to the rim when he gets the mismatch. Like the seven-foot tall former MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Durant’s height and long wingspan are incredible assets for a scorer.

He can spot up outside against slower power forwards and post-up small guards if the match-up presents itself. Few defenders have the combination of size and speed to combat Durant’s offensive potency.

So where does Durant stack up against the all-time greats?

Looking at Gervin and Chamberlain, the scoring discrepancies are eye-catching but need to be considered in light of the different pace between now and then. Those players played in different eras than Durant is playing in.

While it may be difficult to compare the three because of the difference in pace of the game (or possessions per game), you can still get a glimpse of how they compare based on their performance compared to the rest of the league at the time.

The reality is that nobody is going to score 50 points per game like Chamberlain did in 1962. Even in Jordan’s highest scoring season he “only” averaged 37 points per game.

Scoring titles are a great place to look. While it is unfair to players like Chamberlain who spent decades scoring at a league elite level, Durant has managed to enter the conversation as a 23-year-old which shows the incredible accomplishments he has already achieved as well as room to improve—if it’s even possible to do so.

Right now, there are scorers that you would have to put ahead of Durant simply because their tenure in the league (Kobe Bryant, Jordan, Chamberlain, Gervin, Allen Iverson) . And Jordan’s ability to score over 30 points per game on over 50 percent shooting is video-game like. Durant probably will never match that.

But if he wins a couple more scoring titles and has a couple seasons where he hits 33-35 points per game there is no reason he should not be sitting right below Michael Jordan.

The main impediment to the former Texas star reaching his full potential as a scorer is teammate Russell Westbrook.

Jason Terry can dream of having KD35's shot.
Oklahoma City has had incredible success already with their talented young core but strictly in terms of scoring, Westbrook’s tendency to deviate from the traditional role of a point guard will hinder Durant to score 30+ a game. Even in the playoffs, the box score showed the stunning proof that Westbrook managed to take more shots than Durant.

If Durant had someone like Rajon Rondo or Steve Nash dishing to him, watch out. But he doesn’t and has still been doing well as it is.

Not only that, but the OKC star manages to appear unselfish even though he has won scoring title after scoring title.

With more than a decade left of basketball, Durant can shatter scoring records left and right—maybe even approach Jordan’s record of 10 scoring titles.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

5 Keys for Kevin Durant to Win His First MVP Award in 2013



Beating out defending MVP and Finals MVP LeBron James isn’t going to be easy. But Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant can do it.

Two years removed from a Western Conference semifinals loss to the Dallas Mavericks (who would go on to become NBA champions) and this past seasons’ loss in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat will fuel the fire in Durant.

If these five keys fall into place for Kevin Durant he will hoist the Maurice Podoloff trophy at the conclusion of the 2012-13 NBA season.

1. Lead the league in scoring

Scoring is the strength that defines Kevin Durant. He has been the league’s premier scorer for the past three years running, beating out stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

If Durant wins a fourth consecutive title he will be in the company of only two other players in NBA history: Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. Those two Hall of Famers have combined to take home nine MVP awards. Voters would be hard-pressed to short-change Durant if he joined such company.

Kevin Durant isn’t well-rounded enough to not be in the NBA at his strength and still have a realistic shot at MVP. Winning the scoring title does not guarantee an MVP for Durant but not winning it guarantees that he won’t.

2. Rebound like he’s 6’9” and be a more effective facilitator

Although his rebounding is heavily criticized, there has been a marked improvement since his rookie year in the NBA.

His eight rebounds per game in 2011-12 nearly doubled his total in his rookie year (4.4 RPG), an excellent sign of things to come. He is simply too tall not to be a good rebounder even if his wiry 215-pound frame makes it more difficult to battle the 230+ pound big men.

In terms of being a facilitator, Durant has a lot of room to improve. Over his career his regular season assist totals have never surpassed 3.3 per game. He cannot win the MVP award if he puts up these meager numbers.

He needs at least eight rebounds and five assists per game to be a serious threat for the MVP.

3. Russell Westbrook creates more open shots for him

Although I have questioned Russell Westbrook’s place on the Oklahoma City Thunder—and once argued that the Thunder would be better off if he was traded—there is no doubting Westbrook’s elite talent. If Westbrook can figure it out and take on more of a facilitator role than a scoring role from the point guard position, then the Thunder will have a legitimate shot to win a title.

And Kevin Durant may win the MVP award.

Although he averages a respectable 6.8 assists per game over the course of his four-year career (in which he has played every single regular season game), Westbrook only managed to haul in 5.5 assists per game in the shortened 2012-13 regular season.

With Durant’s ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor, Westbrook could easily average nine assists per game.

4. Be a versatile defender

Durant managed to pull down 7.4 defensive rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game which isn’t all that bad. As a comparison, NBA MVP LeBron James had 6.4 defensive rebounds, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.

Surprisingly comparable, right?

The only thing players’ defensive ability cannot be judged strictly on statistics—whereas offense can often be. For instance, LeBron James has guarded all five positions on the floor at some point and Durant isn’t at that point yet. You cannot quantify the value of that to a basketball team.

Durant, however, has the ability to do so because his long arms enable him to compete with the league’s taller players as well as the shorter ones who may have a step advantage over him.

The key is consistency and versatility. If he can shut down opposing forwards for long stretches during games and possibly defend guards and centers when asked to, Durant will shed the reputation of a weaker defender. He already showed glimpses of his true defensive potential when he shut down Kobe Bryant during the playoffs in the fourth quarter.

5. Voters prevent LeBron James from winning his fourth MVP

LeBron James will be better next season than he was this season.

That is a scary proposition for the rest of the league and its potential MVP candidates.

The hard reality is that he is the favorite to repeat—as he should be. You can debate his overall greatness, but LeBron is arguably the most athletically gifted player ever to hit the NBA court. His size and strength are simply unparalleled and while Durant has the size to create significant mismatches so does LeBron.

But James also has the strength of a power forward or center at 6’8” and 250 pounds.

The two things that would stop LeBron from repeating as MVP for the second time in his career are injuries and voters.

NBA sportswriters have an odd inclination to spread around the wealth of MVP honors.

If they feel that way at the conclusion of the 2012-13 NBA season and Durant reaches each of these keys, the MVP trophy will be his for the taking.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Top 10 Players on the Golden State Warriors, 2000-2012


Warriors fans don’t need to be reminded of their sparing success since the new millennium.

Aside from the “We Believe” year in 2007 where the eighth-seeded Warriors beat the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks, there have been numerous miserable seasons as few as 17 wins to complement six seasons of less than 30 wins. But, as players legacies are often defined by playoff success, half of this list is composed of members from the We Believe team.

B/R featured columnist Dave Leonardis ranks the Warriors as the fourth-best fan base in basketball in between perennial contenders like the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks.

Here is a list of the top-10 players to hit the court at Oracle Arena since 2000.

Note: Statistics include entire years when players also played for teams other than the Warriors (ie Monta Ellis playing for the Warriors and Bucks in 2011-12).

Honorable Mention

Erick Dampier—
12.3 PPG/12.0 RPG in 2003-04

Larry Hughes—
22.7 PPG/5.9 RPG/4.1 APG in 32 games for the Warriors in 2000

Gilbert Arenas —
15.6 PPG/4.0 RPG/5.3 APG in two seasons as a Warrior

Jamal Crawford—
19.7 PPG/3.3 RPG/4.4 APG in 2008-09

Dorell Wright
16.4 PPG/5.3 RPG/3.0 APG in 2010-11, started all 82 games

10. Troy Murphy

Years: 6
Points per game: 11.2
Rebounds per game: 8.0
Assists per game: 1.3

Troy Murphy was never a particularly glamorous player but he got the job done. It always seemed like when the Warriors were in need of a three pointer to stop the bleeding , either Murphy or Mike Dunleavy was there to at least temporarily quell the onslaught.

Sadly, Murphy left in the middle of the 2007 season and was a member of the Indiana Pacers when the Warriors defeated the Mavericks in the playoffs.

9. Al Harrington

Years: 3
Points per game: 16.6
Rebounds per game: 6.0
Assists per game: 1.7

Al Harrington is one of those in-between players that created excellent mismatches. Harrington was kind of a hybrid like Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom, possessing the ability to succeed at the power forward position and occasionally the small forward if necessary.

A pivotal part of the 2007 team that made a playoff run for the first time since 1975, Harrington was a fan favorite who was known for draining three pointers.

8. Corey Maggette

Years: 2
Points per game: 19.3
Rebounds per game: 5.4
Assists per game: 2.2

Although Maggette was not a Warrior for as long as Al Harrington or Troy Murphy, he did make the most of his time in Golden State. Coming off a season averaging 22 points per game with the Clippers, the Warriors were excited to get the former Duke star.

Even though he started only 19 of his 51 games played in 2008-09, Maggette managed to still average 18.6 points per game—adding a much needed spark of offensive production.

7. Stephen Curry

Years: 3
Points per game: 17.5
Rebounds per game: 4.1
Assists per game: 5.8

Although hopefully his best years are ahead of him, Stephen Curry has already put together a couple of solid years as a Warrior. From earning All-Rookie first team honors to nearly grabbing a quadruple-double on April 7, 2010 with 27 points, 14 assists, eight rebounds and seven steals, Curry gave the Warriors hope that their rebuilding effort was not futile.

Coming off an injury-shortened season, Curry will look to rebound and make his way up this list.

6. David Lee

Years: 2
Points per game: 18.1
Rebounds per game: 9.7
Assists per game: 3.0

Last season David Lee had nothing short of a spectacular season.

Even though he didn’t make the All-Star team, Lee put up the season worthy of such honors. 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game went largely unnoticed in a season that the Warriors ended up tanking in the hopes of getting a high draft pick.

His performance during the previous season (his first as a Warrior) wasn’t unimpressive, either. Lee’s 17 points and 10 rebounds per game were quite comparable to the following season.

The Warriors will definitely be more than happy if Lee can continue this type of production in 2012 and he may, like Curry, make his way up lists of top players to don the blue and gold.

5. Stephen Jackson

Years: 3+
Points per game: 19.2
Rebounds per game: 4.3
Assists per game: 4.4

It’s too bad that Stephen Jackson’s name will be forever attached to the Malice at the Palace because he was (and is) an excellent player.

But, I do believe it wasn’t in the Warriors best interest for Jackson to make a return to Golden State in the Monta Ellis trade—thankfully he ended up being traded nearly immediately (for Richard Jefferson).

That’s certainly not to say he didn’t make a significant contribution to the Warriors—especially in the “We Believe” run. His 33-point show in Game 6 clinched the series against the Mavs for the Dubs.

In the words of teammate Baron Davis: “He is the heart and soul of this team. He is a big-game performer.”

Enough said.

4. Jason Richardson

Years: 6
Points per game: 18.3
Rebounds per game: 5.4
Assists per game: 3.2

Let’s be real, you don’t remember J-Rich for his on-court performances. Well maybe aside from his nasty jams in those five-on-five opportunities, Richardson is famous for his incredible dunk contest shows.

If you need to be refreshed on how—with Vince Carter, of course—Richardson made the dunk contest relevant to the NBA again, look no further than this video.

His consistent effort in the regular season was hidden behind that between-the-legs reverse dunk.

3. Baron Davis

Years: 3+
Points per game: 20.0
Rebounds per game: 4.4
Assists per game: 8.1

Baron Davis was the Monta Ellis before Monta Ellis.

He would take shot after shot in transition but more often than not you had to keep your mouth shut because it went in.

Davis was another critical cog in the wheels that led the Warriors to their first playoff appearance in more than three decades.

If you get nothing else out of this list, check out the video. This dunk over Andrei Kirilenko never fails to give you chills, nostalgia and an uncanny desire to high-five the nearest Warrior fan.

2. Antawn Jamison

Years: 5
Points per game: 20.2
Rebounds per game: 7.5
Assists per game: 1.8

In the 2000-01 season, Antawn Jamison had his best season in Golden State, averaging 25 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He played in all 82 regular season games for the Warriors from 2001 to 2003 and led the team in scoring each of those years.

Before being traded to Dallas, Jamison scored over 50 points per game on two separate occasions and provided something for Warriors fans to cheer for in years when they won as few as 17 games and never reached a .500 record.

1. Monta Ellis

Years: 7
Points per game: 19.5
Rebounds per game: 3.7
Assists per game: 4.5

Love him or hate him, there is no disputing his place atop this list.

Monta was a blur heading to the rim and a well above average, if not elite, scorer. He played some high-risk defense that often led to easy baskets for opposing offenses rather than transition baskets for the Warriors but Monta was the undeniable heart and soul for the Warriors from the conclusion of the 2007 season until being traded to the Bucks last season.

The peak of his time as a Warrior was back-to-back seasons as a 24 PPG scorer in 2009-10 and the following season.

Logging unparalleled 48-minute games across his tenure (which occasionally led to injuries), Monta was a warrior among Warriors.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Predicting Stats for Rookies on the Golden State Warriors



The Warriors had an excellent draft that begun with North Carolina star Harrison Barnes falling into their hands with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

With a new-look franchise that hopes to evolve from a rebuilding team to a playoff contender, the Warriors did everything they could in terms of the draft. If Mark Jackson is able to incorporate the variety of skills each rookie possess, Golden State may very well be in for a playoff run.

Now here is a look at the four picks that the Warriors thought would help improve their organization now and ideally well into the future.

4. Ognjen Kuzmic, 52nd overall

Contract status: unsigned as of 7/21/12
Position: Center

And you thought Andris Biedrins name was hard to pronounce.

The 7’1” center from Bosnia adds some depth in the middle for the Warriors, a team that now has three seven-footers (Biedrins, Kuzmic and Andrew Bogut). While Biedrins better days are probably behind him, Kuzmic will be a nice option to have coming off the bench when he leaves Europe for the NBA.

The 22-year-old will likely remain in Spain for at least the 2012-13 NBA season but Kuzmic will eventually provide a solid rebounding and shot-blocking presence.

He was also the first player mentioned in the article I wrote a month ago on steals of the 2012 NBA draft.

Predicted stat line:

None, will not play in the NBA during the 2012-13 season.

3. Draymond Green, 35th overall

Contract status: unsigned as of 7/21/12
Position: Small forward

Warriors assistant coach Pete Myers has high praise for the former Michigan State star.

In an interview with CSN Bay Area’s Matt Steinmetz, Myers called Green a “coach’s dream” and someone he sees “getting some minutes this coming year…[not] many players come into the league with his skill level.”

While Harrison Barnes, Richard Jefferson and (if he re-signs) Brandon Rush will all probably get more playing time initially than Green, if Green proves that he is worthy he may get respectable minutes.

However, I do not think that will happen in 2012 regardless of his ability to play both forward positions.

Predicted stat line:

3.1 PPG / 1.6 RPG / 0.5 APG / 29 games played

2. Festus Ezeli, 30th overall

Contract status: signed, 2 years / $2.1 million with team option through 2016

Position: Center


Believe it or not, prior to the NBA Draft, Festus Ezeli was yet another choice of mine to be a steal.

Ezeli is has an NBA-ready frame, weighing 260 pounds and possessing an enormous 7’6” wingspan. Although Kuzmic will not make the Warriors roster, Ezeli has a realistic shot to compete for time that recently acquired Andrew Bogut is on bench.

His humble contribution to the Warriors will make him a fan favorite but don’t expect him to get extended minutes if Bogut stays healthy.

Predicted stat line

6.8 PPG / 4.1 RPG / 0.7 BPG / 44 games played

1. Harrison Barnes, 7th overall

Contract status: signed, 2 years / $5.7 million with team option through 2016
Position: Small forward

Harrison Barnes should be getting a clue: the Warriors are putting a lot of trust in him.

Although it looked like he would at least begin the season behind Dorell Wright in the depth chart, the Warriors proceeded to trade Wright to the 76ers for rights to Edin Bavcic (whose rights would be traded to the Hornets in the Jarrett Jack deal) and a $4.1 million trade exception (per CSN Philadelphia).

That sure makes it look like Harrison Barnes first NBA regular season game will start on the court and not on the bench.

His game should fit in nicely with the Warriors and he very well could make a run at the Rookie of the Year award.

Predicted stat line:

15.2 PPG / 4.9 RPG / 1.6 APG / 0.9 SPG / 74 games played

Friday, July 20, 2012

What Should Golden State Expect of Andrew Bogut in 2012-13?



The Warriors have finally gotten the piece that they have been missing for a long time: a true big man.

Seven-footer Andrew Bogut is a former number one overall pick and has been consistently at the top of the centers in the NBA—until he got injured last season. The Warriors needed to shake something up in their player personnel so the front office took advantage of the opportunity.

In a multi-team deal that sent Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Warriors got their wish in Andrew Bogut. While he is nothing close to the league’s premier centers in Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, Bogut is in that second-tier of solid, reliable centers (that is, of course, provided he is healthy).

The three years prior to his injury-shortened 2011-12 season, Bogut averaged a double-double that included as many as 16 points per game.

That is exactly what the Warriors hope they are getting with the 27-year-old from the University of Utah.

The Warriors already have an excellent post presence in David Lee (who also has a solid mid-range game) and 10-15 points per game is all that they need from Bogut considering that they have a relatively high-powered offense led by point guard Stephen Curry and impressive second-year sharp shooter Klay Thompson.

While I have already discussed that potential all-star Stephen Curry may be the key to a playoff appearance for Golden State, Andrew Bogut may be the man who has to reach up and turn the key in the lock.

The Warriors cannot survive as a run-and-gun team with no size and he is the solution to that problem. They simply do not have the elite guards to make such a system work as they proved when they had the talented Monta Ellis.

That’s not to say their guards are not good—it’s just that they aren’t Chris Paul or Dwyane Wade (both even actually have support in the interior with Blake Griffin and Chris Bosh, respectively).

What type of numbers should the Warriors expect from the $13 million pick-up?

13 points and 10 rebounds per game to complement a couple nightly blocks is definitely within reason if he can bounce back from his injury.

Whether that is enough to help the Warriors reach the playoffs remains to be seen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why the Golden State Warriors Will Make the Playoffs in 2013



This fall the Golden State Warriors will be best prepared to make a playoff run since the “We Believe” era of 2007 led by point guard Baron Davis.

Although he may have been popular because of his scoring ability, the Warriors are a better team without Monta Ellis. Having watched Monta play since the beginning of his NBA career, I have always firmly believed that he has the potential (and has shown he is capable) of being an elite scorer in the NBA.

But he has taken shots and playmaking opportunities from above average scorers in the process. The Warriors have been known as a high-powered offense in recent years—they’re main problem is awful defense, stay tuned for discussion on this topic—and Monta has averaged roughly 20 points per game in the blue and gold.

While that is an impressive number, his inclination toward one-on-one and fast-break opportunity baskets do not help build team chemistry. Stephen Curry’s full-time acquisition of the playmaking role as a facilitator will help the Warriors reach their full potential.

And the addition of Jarrett Jack will enable Curry to also take on a scoring role as a shooting guard, something that he is more than proficient at.

Curry’s health is key to the Warriors success.

Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson are all excellent players and create the opportunity for a team-oriented style of basketball. Moving toward a Spurs/Pacers/76ers type of basketball is something that should suit the Warriors very well.

With Andrew Bogut manning the middle, a 20 and 10 power forward, a promising rookie and proven veteran (Richard Jefferson) at the small forward position, and knock-down three-point shooters at the point and shooting guard the Warriors have all of the tools to be successful.

Even their defense is improved by Bogut’s presence, and Klay Thompson is somewhat of an underrated defender. The Warriors won’t be as much of a run-and-gun team.

Looking at Golden State’s competition in the Western Conference, they nearly certainly will not be able to compete with the Spurs, Thunder, Lakers and Clippers without a superstar. It will probably be a stretch to compete with Memphis and Denver which means six slots in the West are probably reserved for the 2013 playoffs.

But the Warriors could very well give the rest of the league a run for their money and fight for the seven- or eight-spot in the West.

The next most obvious threat for a Warriors’ playoff berth is the Dallas Mavericks. But they have become slowly dismantled with the losses of Jason Terry to the Boston Celtics and 39-year-old Jason Kidd to the New York Knicks.

If Anthony Davis can revive the Hornets they may challenge the Warriors, but the reality is that the Warriors have the talent to support their third playoff appearance in nearly two decades.

Isn’t it about time?

Monday, July 16, 2012

LeBron James: The King’s Path to No.2 Greatest of All-Time



Barring a miracle, LeBron James will not be able to overtake Michael Jordan as the greatest NBA player of all time. What Jordan did for the game of basketball was something any player—present or future—will be hard-pressed to match.

In the words of Magic Johnson: “There’s Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us.”

If he can manage to win two or three more MVP awards and five more Finals MVP awards, then maybe it will be reasonable. But for the sake of argument and the fact that is nearly impossible unless the Miami Heat pull out a three-peat and then some, the more realistic throne for LeBron James is right below Michael Jordan.

He has a lot of work still to do, but at the pace he is going, it is more than possible.

First, let’s qualify who is in the discussion for the number two slot. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons ranks Bill Russell as number two but Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain are the other players oft placed right below MJ.

Statistics are the best place to start because unless you watched Bill Russell play in the 50s and 60s, you don’t have a true grasp of how he impacted the game. Looking at the numbers he and other greats put up and awards that he won is the best place to analyze.

Numbers may not give you the entire story considering the different eras of basketball, but they don’t lie.

With that in mind, here is a comparison of the five players (including James) in the running for the No. 2 slot.


L. James
M. Johnson
K. Abdul-Jabbar
W. Chamberlain
B. Russell
Points
27.6
19.5
24.6
30.1
15.1
Rebounds
7.2
7.2
11.2
22.9
22.5
Assists
6.9
11.2
3.5
4.4
4.3
Steals
1.7
1.9
1.0
N/A
N/A
FG %
.483
.520
.559
.540
.440
Blocks
0.8
0.4
2.5
N/A
N/A
Years played
9
13
20
14
13
MVP
3
3
6
4
5
Finals MVP
1
3
2
1
N/A
All statistics are per game unless otherwise noted. All awards are career totals.

Finals MVPs are a greater indicator of personal success on the NBA’s biggest stage, which is why I chose that as opposed to championship wins. The only player who is at a disadvantage with this measurement is Bill Russell, but he would have won many Finals MVP awards had the award been around when he played.

He was the best player on a team that won 11 championships—and the Finals MVP trophy is named after him.

Looking at the stats, a couple categories jump out immediately: Chamberlain and Russell posted incredible rebounding numbers, Russell shot a relatively low FG percentage and every player except LeBron averaged some type of a double-double over their career.

So what does James have to do to overtake each as the (second) greatest of all time?

With regards to Magic, one or two more of both regular season MVP and Finals MVP would do it. His facilitating ability was second-to-none but even though Magic leads the NBA all-time in assists per game, scoring is a more treasured ability in a basketball player and the greatest player of all-time only had 5.3 assists per game.

LeBron post-game winner vs. the Magic
Looking at Kareem, again the main difference is awards. Although Kareem has a higher field goal percentage, it is a wash because big men shoot a higher percentage (which makes LeBron’s 48 percent even better considering he is a small forward).

If LeBron wins two or three more of both regular season MVP and Finals MVP then he will have a strong case for being better than Kareem. He will need to play roughly 15 strong seasons and James probably has about a decade left of basketball in him.

And of course, the longer LeBron plays the better chance he has of accumulating said awards.

Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell are two players that statistics aren’t as satisfactory in a complete comparison of greatness. They played in a different era, and the NBA wasn’t as strong of a league as it has become.

Bill Russell may have won 11 championships in the 60s but he would not have won that many in today’s game.

So how do you compare the three? James currently has the advantage in points and assists but is nowhere near Wilt and Bill in rebounds. Again, I think awards is a good place to turn to because it offers analysis of how the player compares to the league he was in.

The famous "Decision."
Although Bill’s likely Finals MVP awards would blow the field out of the water, his five MVP awards are a good standard for comparison. Like the comparison to Kareem, two or three more of each the MVP award and Finals MVP award would give LeBron a very strong argument for No. 2 G.O.A.T.

As for what LeBron has done for the game, it is already up there with the greatest of all time. Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg said it best: LeBron James is the most gifted player in NBA history.

And as the NBA is a much stronger league, consistent distinction today is worth more as an individual than it was 50 years ago. I firmly believe that LeBron would succeed at least as much as Russell and Chamberlain did in the 50s and 60s and those two big men would have less success in today’s game—particularly Bill Russell, who stands 6’9” tall and played center.

Two or three more of each the MVP award and Finals MVP award in conjunction with sustained excellence in PRA (points, rebounds and assists) would be enough for LeBron to sit next to Jordan.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Golden State Warriors: 5 Keys for Stephen Curry to be a 2013 All-Star


View this article on Bleacher Report.

Coming off of an injury shortened season last year, Stephen Curry has the opportunity to rebound but he doesn’t have to stop there.

The pieces are in place for Curry to become a premiere point guard in the NBA.

He has already shown glimpses of his potential but after 2+ seasons in the NBA, Curry has the experience necessary to find a comfort zone in an already competitive Western Conference.

Here are five reasons Curry can really make a name for himself next season and take a trip to the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas as an NBA All Star.

1. He finally has the size and skill in the post

Stephen Curry has previously had players like Andris Biedrins to complement David Lee in the post. Needless to say, that hasn’t really worked out.

Now that he has Andrew Bogut and David Lee at center and power forward, Curry has two players to go to in the post. David Lee proved last season that he is a top forward in the league, averaging 20 points and 9.6 rebounds per game on 50 percent shooting.

Curry averages just under six assists per game over his career and should see that number increase with Bogut and Lee providing reasonable contributions on offense.

2. No more Monta Ellis

Monta Ellis is a great—sometimes even an elite—scorer, there is no doubt about that.

But he was not helping the Warriors perform very well as a team. His selfish play was useful when he was at his best, but if he had an off-night and was still shooting the ball, the Warriors couldn’t win.

Ellis is a great scorer but not on the level of other comparably selfish scorers like Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant. Those guys are nightly threats to put up 25 or 30.

Stephen Curry is the prime beneficiary of the Monta trade because not only does he get players that better complement his strengths (Richard Jefferson and Bogut) but he will be in control of playmaking for more minutes, thereby allowing him to create for teammates and himself.

3. He has other guards to work with

All-Rookie First team guard Klay Thompson has shown he is a terrific shooter.

The 22-year-old from Washington State played in all 66 regular season games for the Warriors (starting 29 of them) as a rookie. He shot 41 percent from three and 87 percent from the line. That’s not bad, but if he is even better during his sophomore season in the NBA, Klay Thompson could be a driving force in a Golden State playoff run.

The recent addition of Jarret Jack increases depth at the guard position and could really help Curry reach his full potential. Jack is primarily a point guard and the idea of Curry moving over to the two-guard could allow him to take on more of a scoring role, which will also take off some pressure of setting up his teammates every offensive play.

While this “going small” may have been a bad idea in years past, it seems like a perfectly legitimate idea for the Warriors next season. Monta had been playing the majority of the minutes at shooting guard and going small never boded well for the Warriors who had no really competent big man.

Now they have some flexibility with rookie Harrison Barnes and veteran presences in Lee and Bogut.

4. He has the talent to succeed

The Western Conference has a plethora of strong point guards.
                                                            
On a 12-man All-Star roster, the West had four point guards: Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Steve Nash. Curry will have a difficult time competing with Westbrook and Paul if they remain healthy but he could certainly be in the mix with Parker and Nash.

Many people believe that Nash can succeed and be rejuvenated on the Los Angeles Lakers but it also has the potential to backfire. Kobe Bryant has been confrontational with his teammates (see Pau Gasol in the 2012 playoffs) and with trade talks constantly swirling around Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Nash signing may not go quite as well as planned.

Parker may only be 30 years old, but his relatively humble statistics are something that may deter him from earning a spot on the All Star team if Curry can put up the numbers that he is capable of.

Curry has proven he is a lights-out free-throw shooter (career 90 percent from the line even with a “bad” 81 percent from the line in 26 games last season). And his three-point shooting is Nash-esque—Curry is a career 44 percent shooter from three (Nash is 43 percent and Ray Allen is 40 percent).

If Curry can increase his assist numbers a bit and put up a line something like 19 points, 7.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game there is no reason he shouldn’t be in the conversation.

And he is perfectly capable of doing just that.

5. Bay Area fans are dedicated to their sports teams

With fan voting, fan bases matter.

And half of the 2012 NL All-Star team were San Francisco Giants players. Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey all represented the Bay Area in Kansas City.

Cabrera even took home the ASG MVP award.

Warrior fans have consistently filled up the arena in Oakland even as Golden State struggles to make it into the eight-slot in the perennially challenging Western Conference.

Right or wrong, if Curry puts up respectable numbers the Bay Area will undoubtedly rush to put one of their own in the All Star game.