Thursday, January 24, 2013

2013 NBA Awards Predictions, updated mid-season edition


As the All Star break nears, we can get excited to see the fan favorites take the court. Or in more accurate terms, we can watch the players from the largest markets play together in one game. Eight out of the ten starters are from only three cities: Los Angeles (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard), Miami (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade), and Boston (Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo). Let's just say it is not bad that few people place much consideration of a players legacy on All Star appearances.

Here are our updated mid-season predictions on who will take home the hardware for individual accomplishments. (Note: statistics are as of 1/22/12.)

Coach of the Year

Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors


The former ESPN analyst did not have the confidence of his players immediately. But after a complete offseason with the Warriors, it is readily apparent that he has tremendously influenced the culture of a team previously run by a me-first guard in Monta Ellis. Jackson has established accountability among the players while not patronizing them; he attributes this mentality to the problems he saw with coaches when he was a point guard in the NBA. While Mike Woodson and others have worthy resumes for the award this year, Jackson stands out among all of them, with wins against Miami and Oklahoma City to bolster his resume. Contrast the Warriors and teams where stars are plentiful and it’s obvious that what he has accomplished is very impressive. Combine that with the fact that this is his very first coaching stint and all signs point to M-Jack being a great coach for years to come.

Defensive Player of the Year

Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls


Noah has led his team on defense and provided stability with the absence of Derrick Rose. The Bulls have a top-five defense in the NBA and it centers (pun intended) around the big man’s 11 rebounds, two blocks, and (more than) a steal per game. A player like Noah may not be the greatest scorer—and he’s only shooting 45 percent from the field—but what he brings on defense is something that has helped the Bulls win 60 percent of their games thus far. And while Kevin Garnett is a consideration for this award, the fact that KG plays less than 30 minutes per game drops him at least a spot in the DPOY pecking order.

Most Improved Player of the Year

Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers


There are a host of players worth mentioning here but two in particular stand out: Jrue Holiday and Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Bobcats. Up until Kemba’s stellar play this season, you could only count on Michael Jordan’s Bobcats for one thing: a very high draft pick. But what the former North Carolina Tar Heel has done for a team that hasn't even won a quarter of its games this year is impressive, particularly in light of their perennial struggles. But the singular improvement of the 76ers point guard is remarkable. His defense has marginally improved (almost a rebound more per game than 2011-12) but what he brings to the court offensively now is pivotal to the Sixers success. His assists per game have doubled (4.5 to 9.0) and his PPG has increased from 13.5 to 19.0…all while shooting over 45 percent from the field as a point guard.

Sixth Man of the Year

Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors


This offseason pick up has proven to be the best move for the Warriors thus far. While Andrew Bogut sits in a suit on the sideline, Jack is out draining dagger threes, finding teammates for game-winning shots, and providing an energy off the bench that has given his team a second wind. His per game stats are an indicator of the influence he has had (13 PPG / 6 APG / 3 RPG / 48% on FGs / 87% on FTs) but a look at some of the individual efforts he has had in games show that he is invaluable to this team. Case in point: in the last month of basketball he has had four games with over 10 assists and eight games with over 15 points—including two games with 28 and 29.

Rookie of the Year

Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers


To lead a team into Western conference relevance is impressive for any player…but for a rookie to do it is something special. While there is no doubt that the Trailblazers have pieces around Lillard (like MIP candidate J.J. Hickson), his team is significantly out-performing even Kyrie Irving’s Cleveland Cavaliers in Irving’s second year in the league. Another comparison would be to Wizards point guard John Wall, who came out of college with high expectations but could not turn around a terrible team and whose frustration has affected his performance. Lillard is well on his way to becoming one of the best scoring point guards in the NBA.

Most Valuable Player

LeBron James, Miami Heat


This is the only pick that has remained constant since my preseason predictions but it is much closer than I expected. The offensive monster that is Kevin Durant has made this a more competitive race especially in light of James Harden’s departure. While Durant is worthy, he has Russell Westbrook and a host of other skilled defensive players to lean on—namely Serge I’ll-Block-Ya. LeBron has again proved that he can win with teammates underperforming. Erik Spoelstra’s decision to bench Wade and Bosh in the fourth quarter of a game gives a glimpse into how even LeBron’s most reliable teammates have been struggling. Miami is last in the league in rebounding despite LeBron’s 8.1 rebounds per game. Also, surprisingly the Eastern conference Heat have a nearly identically difficult schedule this season as the Western conference Thunder. It is very tempting to say that Kevin Durant and his 50-40-90 shooting is worthy of the honors; however, it comes down to the fact that LeBron is playing better than ever with often less than capable surrounding players.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How good does Josh Hamilton make the Los Angeles Angels?



In 2012, the Angels thought they had put together a team capable of making a World Series run. They were unable to overcome their slow start, ultimately finishing just outside the playoff race. Instead of staying pat, they opted to instead build up their lineup even more. The key acquisition, Josh Hamilton, might be just what they need to complete their roster.

Albert Pujols was the big pickup a season ago, and for the most part he provided a pretty solid first season for the Angels. The biggest surprise by far though was the emergence of Mike Trout. Everyone knew that he was one of the top prospects in baseball, but few figured that he would be their MVP candidate and one of the most used players in daily fantasy sports.

To provide protection in the lineup, the Angels went out to find a solid left-handed bat. Hamilton will fit nicely into an already powerful lineup and can provide value right away. Not only is he a valuable bat, but he will no longer be forced to play centerfield like he did with the Rangers. Trout will handle those duties, while Hamilton moves to a corner position.

Some are slightly concerned with Hamilton’s drop in production in the final months a season ago, but ironically, the reason for the dip was a different kind of dip. Hamilton later explained that he started weaning himself off of chewing tobacco at the end of last season, and many of his struggles were due to those side effects. Now that he has had a few months to get his body back to normal, he should be able to jump right back in and produce.

The Angels are built to win now, and Hamilton is just the latest signing that proves that. If he can produce the next few seasons at the same level as he has been, Los Angeles could have the best top of the lineup in baseball.


This post is written by a guest author. If you would like to write an article for Bases and Baskets, please contact our support here!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Why Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds saved their sports



Lance Armstrong saved cycling and Barry Bonds saved baseball. No, not saving in the sense that their race/on-field ability mesmerized millions and brought the sport back up from a decline to American irrelevance—that much is quite obvious and not debatable. Seven Tour de France titles after beating cancer and seven MVP awards with seventy-plus home runs? These guys brought magic to their sports.

Well, sort of. PEDs were instrumental parts in what led to monumental performances in the careers of two of the most disgraced famous athletes in sports history. Bonds and Lance are household names of even the American who has nearly no interest in sports. They defined a generation…and while at the time they were heroic, now they are despised and rightfully labeled as cheats. Both have officially admitted to using banned substances (Bonds official statement at this point was that he did so “unknowingly”) which has led to the belief by many that their careers were lies.

There is merit to that argument, and particularly so in Lance’s case considering he admitted to doping even prior to his life-threatening cancer diagnosis. But the reason that these two players specifically are the faces of a PED-laced era in their respective sport is because they had so much talent to begin with. For example, the meteoric rise of (now stripped) Tour champion Floyd Landis was attributed to PEDs. His mediocre career was amplified tremendously at one point due to EPO and banned drugs. In baseball, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both had average ability (maybe slightly better) but until their slugfest in 1998, they were nowhere near Hall of Famers. Now, McGwire has a 70 home run season and Sosa a 600 home run career—both previously rare achievements. Only the absolute best in MLB history posted such astounding numbers and at the time, 70 was the new single season record. (In retrospect, something should have been immediately suspicious considering these feats, like Bonds’ and Lance’s were quite literally too good to be true. That just goes to show how much people love star athletes.)

Bonds was different. By 1995, he had already won multiple MVP awards, Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger Awards, as a once in a generation type combination of power and speed. Similar to LeBron James, Bonds was a “five-tool” player whose career was Hall of Fame worthy even before his steroid use in the mid-to-late 90s. Yes, he was that good. Then there’s Lance: beats testicular cancer and follows it up with not one, not two, not three…but seven consecutive Tour de France titles. This is, as Lance admitted, virtually impossible (without PEDs, of course). But, his childhood was filled with remarkable performances and his 2009 comeback ended up in a third place finish in the Tour—and for that, if we take what he told Oprah in their recent interview to be true, he was clean. Although it was masked more than Bonds, clearly a PED-free Lance Armstrong would have been elite.

In both cases, the culture of the games propagated feelings of invincibility. Thus, Bonds and Lance were not satisfied with being great. They aspired to be the greatest.

The definition of greatness was different between these athletes. Bonds was competing against history—namely his godfather, the great Willie Mays, and the home run records set by Roger Maris and Hank Aaron. Lance was competing against the odds: he beat cancer, now he wanted to prove he could be the best in the world of cycling. In his words, “win at all costs.”

These outlandish standards were what propagated reckless use of PEDs. The culture of the sports that began in the 90s was the foundation and their personal expectations led them to PEDs and a ride to the top of their sports.

For precisely these reasons, Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds saved cycling and baseball. The PEDs that were running rampant during this time period would not have been stopped if somebody didn’t reach the pinnacle of their competition. Many stories have been told about MLB players that never would have reached A ball without anabolic steroids or other PEDs. Players saw their friends ascend the ladder of professional baseball when clearly something had miraculously improved. MLB turned a blind eye, yes, but nobody would have noticed if only the mediocre or below average players were taking steroids. 

It took someone at the top to shine a light on the crooked playing field these substances created.

With baseball, it is nuanced by Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco admitting to using PEDs but for the most part, two men with marginally Hall of Fame careers would not cause a true shift in testing. Why? Each generation has those types of players. Attributing such careers to steroids is almost insignificant when considered alongside the fair competitors of recent memory a la Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter. Great natural ability could compete with average ability plus steroids.

Moreover, when the culture of a sport is such that these substances are necessary to compete, it is hard to say something is unfair when nothing outrageously spectacular is occurring. When Bonds did what he did for MLB and Lance Armstrong for cycling, Santa Claus became real. Finally, people came forward and the truth unraveled. But the reality is that nobody brings presents down the chimney.

By achieving such spectacular success and ultimately admitting to cheating, these athletes helped force the organizing bodies of their sport to clean up their sport. Two star athletes proved that PEDs made a huge difference—quite literally making the impossible become possible.

Ignorance was no longer an excuse.

Now, in the post-PED era, players are monitored much more closely. The biological profile that cycling invoked in the mid-2000s has helped clean up that sport tremendously. The enhanced and more frequent testing in MLB took place at nearly exactly the same time period. And just recently, a deal was struck to add in-season HGH testing to MLB players—a major stride for any sport (HGH testing involves blood draws). Baseball has gone from highly unregulated to arguably the strictest testing in any sport.

So while it would be remiss to place the entirety of this testing revolution on Bonds and Armstrong, undoubtedly they played both pivotal and primary roles in such. 73 home runs in a season and seven consecutive Tour championships are meant for video games.

Even though these sports are paying the price now, the future of the games will be better off because of the rises and falls of two of the most famous and polarizing athletes of a generation.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why the Golden State Warriors playoff hopes rest with Andrew Bogut



As their recent losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets suggested, the Warriors, well…they are who we thought they were! They have some of the best shooters in the league, no doubting that. The backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can hit a dozen threes before you even know what hit you. Even Harrison Barnes has proven of late to be good for the occasional shot from behind the arc. Then there’s Jarrett Jack who sometimes forgets the half-court line isn’t the three-point line…but makes it anyway.

Of course, there’s the foundation of David Lee, who should be a 2013 All Star. 20 points and 11 rebounds per game, D-Lee is an incredibly well-rounded scoring weapon and playmaker. Just when the opposition locks him down on the inside, he dishes to a shooter or steps out for a 15-foot jump shot.

But the Warriors excel in high-tempo games where Steph Curry can step up and hit threes or Klay sits in the corner waiting to drop daggers (Golden State has the 6th highest tempo in the NBA). As the Grizzlies proved, when the tempo slows, the Warriors will struggle. Two main reasons: 1) harder to get off in transition on made baskets and 2) second chance points. The first point is self-explanatory but the second is something that the Warriors have been able to cover up against weaker competition—which, to their credit, is most of the NBA.

The Warriors gave up second chance points to the Grizzlies because Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph were too much for the Warriors to handle. They create mismatch problems; if Mark Jackson opts to put his defensive stoppers on the floor (Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli, Andris Biedrins), then he risks defenses locking in on the “Big Three” (Klay, Lee, and Curry). If Jackson chooses to go small with Curry-Jack-Thompson-Landry-Lee, which is a popular choice the Warriors are nearly helpless on the inside. It’s a that will have a tough time against the Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Clippers.

Some problems even arose against the Trail Blazers, who had seventeen offensive rebounds against Golden State in last Friday’s game. While their shooting overcame that, it won’t against the best Western conference teams in the playoffs.

This is why the Warriors need Andrew Bogut.

Realistically, a playoff appearance alone will excite a Warriors fan base that has been deprived of May basketball for more than five years. But if they want to go further than a first round exit—which is possible—Andrew Bogut will need to be there. He won’t be a “cure-all” because for one, the Warriors have proven that they can do very well without him. What he will be is an important piece that has been missing from the puzzle. His size allows David Lee to take advantage of mismatches (take smaller forwards inside and taller big men outside of the lane). Most importantly it adds a tremendous defensive presence and yet another way the Warriors can put the ball in the bucket.

If he returns from injury and plays anything like he did during his tenure in Milwaukee, Golden State can compete with any team in the West (save maybe the defending conference champs). While I originally thought the Warriors matched up well against Memphis, their last meeting proved there are challenges to overcome. And even though they have played the Clippers well over the season series, a playoff matchup will allow Los Angeles to exploit their weaknesses inside. I still believe that Steph & Co. match up well against the Spurs…especially in a potential second round matchup (which is likely unless the Warriors fall to the seventh spot in the West or San Antonio drops a slot to Memphis). Put Bogut on Duncan and even ESPN might start whispering upset.

Bogut is that combination of offensive and defensive playmaking that the Warriors have starved for. In most cases Mark Jackson is forced to choose between expecting scoring or stopping from the center position—and thus far has made it work. But come the playoffs, the top teams in the West will know what buttons to push against the Warriors; and if the shots aren’t falling, it could cause some serious problems.

With a healthy Bogut, on the other hand, a deep playoff run is very much within reach.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

LeBron vs. Durant: Comparing the two best players in the NBA today



Within their first five years neither LeBron James nor Kevin Durant had won an NBA championship. Nonetheless, both proved in that short stretch that their ringless fingers could not hide one very obvious fact: they would ascend the ladder of NBA greatness in their careers. While enjoying the entertainment that both NBA superstars exhibit today, there is a very high likelihood that both will finish their career in the heart of the discussion for greatest NBA players of all time.

So how do the two best players in the NBA compare? Quite frankly, as you will see in their statistics, they are eerily similar. Here is a comparison of LeBron and Durant’s respective first five years in the NBA, both of which started at age 19:

Coming into the league, LeBron James was hailed as the next great thing. Gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school basketball player, LeBron was expected to be nothing short of the stature of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Conversely, many analysts questioned Kevin Durant’s relevance as a professional player. While LeBron had an NBA-ready body right out of high school, Durant’s physique was much more questionable. Whispers of bust surrounded the dynamic scorer who was 2007 College Player of the Year in his one year at Texas. Perhaps prophetic, in their respective drafts, LeBron was No. 1 overall and Durant was No. 2.

As their high selection suggests, both landed in cities with NBA teams desperately in need of a franchise player. At the time of James’ arrival, the Cleveland Cavaliers had missed the playoffs for five consecutive years. Outside of LeBron, little hope was on the horizon. In the Akron native’s rookie year in the league (2003-04), two of the top five scorers on the team included Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ricky Davis. Similarly, Kevin Durant came to the then-Seattle SuperSonics hoping to revive a franchise that had lost Ray Allen. The SuperSonics had one playoff appearance in the five years leading up to Durant’s rookie year.

In KD’s rookie year (2007-08), he scored about as many points as the second and third leading scorers on the team combined. But unlike LeBron, Durant would get some help over the next couple years as two more high draft picks, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, contributed to a turnaround in what became the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise.

Graph of Thunder and Cavaliers winning percentage. Rookie years of James and Durant
indicated with red points. Cavs 10-year stretch is 99-08. Thunder is from 03-12.



















Although LeBron had significantly more success in his rookie year than Durant, neither LeBron’s Cavs nor Durant’s Thunder made the playoffs for the first two years that both players were in the league. However, there was immediate hope that there would eventually be a turnaround. Both won NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Scoring titles, All Star appearances, and a host of other accolades followed in their first five years.

As if those trends don’t mirror each other enough, take a look at the regular season numbers they put up in their first five years:

Per game statistics
LeBron James
Kevin Durant
Points
27.3
26.3
Rebounds
6.9
6.6
Assists
6.6
2.8
Steals
1.8
1.2
Blocks
0.8
1.0
FG percentage
.467
.468
FT percentage
.728
.878
Games played
390
380

The only significant differences are in assists (LeBron has the edge) and free throw percentage (Durant has the edge)…everything else is nearly identical. Going to advanced statistics helps differentiate a little bit more, but one beats the other in categories you would expect them to (LeBron in PER, Durant in eFG% and TS%). As a measure of the extraordinary beginning to their careers, only 24 players have a career PER above Durant’s 22.6. Eight had higher than LeBron’s PER (25.2).

Go to their playoff records and again, not much difference. Neither won a championship—but to put it in perspective, Jordan was not a champion until his seventh year in the league. LeBron made it to the Finals once and Conference finals twice. Durant has advanced one round deeper into the playoffs each year starting his third year in the league. Both had their own jaw-dropping playoff performances, as well. And like their regular season numbers, playoff stats are remarkably similar:

Playoff per game statistics
LeBron James
Kevin Durant
Points
27.5
28.1
Rebounds
8.0
7.7
Assists
7.3
3.2
Steals
1.6
1.1
Blocks
0.8
1.2
FG percentage
.433
.465
FT percentage
.742
.854
Games played
46
43

But here, LeBron has the edge with a top-five playoff performance of all time in his first five years in the league. So, with all of this in mind, who was better? Stats and awards point to a wash but there are some unquantifiable differences that help provide a marginal separation.

LeBron James was an athletic monster who proved he could get to the rim at will and was a gifted facilitator. Durant, on the other hand, was a pure shooter whose length creates tough offensive mismatches. Defensively, LeBron was more polished than Durant even though the rebounding, steals, and blocks suggest equality. For one, defensive rating and defensive win shares both favor LeBron.

Durant is definitely the better pure shooter but LeBron’s overall game gives him the slight edge. And strictly in terms of performance, the then-Cavs star made more happen with less surrounding pieces. Kevin Durant needed Westbrook and Harden to make the playoffs. LeBron, in his first year making the playoffs had the help of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall, and Larry Hughes. So even though the Western conference is more competitive than the East, Durant had the luxury of playing with a host of other scorers and defensively-minded players. Bottom line: if your franchise needs a player and LeBron James and Kevin Durant are on the draft board, they would be taken in the same order that they were on their respective draft days.


If you liked this comparison, check out our series of comparisons that includes: Kobe vs. LeBron, LeBron vs. Jordan, Jordan vs. Kobe, and Kobe vs. Duncan.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Best and worst case scenarios for the 2013 Los Angeles Lakers



With Dwight Howard slated for an MRI and neither Pau Gasol nor Jordan Hill traveling on the team’s upcoming road trip, the Lakers season hangs in the balance. Kobe Bryant’s patience has worn thin, and talks have swirled about a potentially growing feud between him and Howard. Undoubtedly both have alpha-dog type personalities, and we know what happened the last time Kobe was paired with an opinionated big man.

Can the Lakers overcome this? The return of Steve Nash was once hailed as the solution…but the Lakers are 3-4 since his return.

Best case scenario:

The Lakers split the upcoming road trip, with a win in Houston and a loss in San Antonio. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant run the show as a tandem offensively despite lack of any presences down low. Los Angeles has a realistic shot to beat Houston if they can shut down Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson while limiting James Harden’s ability to score and facilitate.

Howard, Gasol, and Hill all come back by the end of the week. Even though they probably drop the game against Oklahoma City, Los Angeles can take two out of three next week (vs Cleveland and vs Milwaukee) to get back on the right track. This will boost their confidence and dull any hard feelings between D12 and Kobe. The month of January finishes with a five game stretch that the Lakers go 5-2 on (losing at Memphis and vs Oklahoma City).

Mike D’Antoni figures out a way to run the offense more effectively, which is what the Lakers organization has been looking for all season. Dwight Howard plays like himself and returns to the thoroughly dominating big man that he was in Orlando.

How would their best case scenario regular season end, considering they are sitting at 15-18 on January 7?

Finishing 47-35 is the best record with which they could conclude the regular season. This would mark a true turnaround and put the Lakers back in a position to make a competitive playoff run. They would land a five or six seed in the Western Conference which would match them up with the likes of the Grizzlies, Warriors, or Spurs. If they manage to get past their first round matchup, the Lakers would probably lose in the Western conference finals at the hands of the Clippers or Thunder.

Worst case scenario:

Los Angeles comes back with no wins on the two-game road trip. Houston beats them with scoring coming from angles the Lakers cannot stop and the Spurs beat them by 15 or 20. Kobe’s frustration amplifies and questions begin to swirl around the security of Mike D’Antoni’s job.

Doctors tell Dwight Howard it would be best to sit out the next four games and return on the 15th at home against Milwaukee. During these three games, the Lakers drop three of four and—with a win against Milwaukee—face LeBron James and the Miami Heat with a record of 19-22.

Including a loss at home against Miami, the Lakers end the month of January with a record of 6-10. Dwight Howard’s injury lingers and prevents him from returning to his 20 and 14 ability. Gasol remains unsure of his role offensively and Kobe is not satisfied with the way that D’Antoni and Nash run the offense.

The Kobe-Howard feud heats up considerably and Dwight proclaims to the media that he will not re-sign with the Lakers at the end of the season and instead head to either Dallas or Atlanta (two likely options, according to one Western conference GM).

In the end, the Lakers miss the playoffs for the second time in Kobe Bryant’s career. Of course, he will not retire but questions swirl around the legitimacy of the aging Lakers. Their season finishes with a disappointing sub-40 win season at 37-45. No playoffs.

----------

Ultimately the Lakers will most likely finish somewhere in within this frame of best and worst case scenarios. The major question is, of course, where they will fit into this spectrum.

Regardless, it is safe to say that the Lakers will not live up to the expectations heaped on them prior to the NBA season. With the superpowers assembled in Boston during 2007 and Miami in 2010, the Lakers were expected to compete with those teams’ results.

Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, MWP, and Pau Gasol…on one team.

On paper, you would be hard-pressed to find a starting lineup more stacked in NBA history. The firepower on offense with Kobe, Nash, Howard, and Gasol combined with the defensive prowess led by Kobe, Howard and MWP looks dominating. The 2008 Celtics had a second year point guard who was still finding himself and a center who opposing defenses could essentially neglect (6.1 PPG career average). Boston was 2008 NBA champions with no one near the stature of Kobe or Howard on board.

The 2010-11 Miami Heat made it to the NBA Finals but lost in LeBron’s famous no-show fourth quarter spectacle. But their leading scorers outside of the Big Three were Udonis Haslem (8.0 PPG), Mike Bibby (7.3 PPG), and Eddie House (6.5 PPG). No player had more than 8.3 rebounds per game in the regular season.

The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers will be compared to these two teams. On paper, they have the best of those three teams and even now, their offense has been doing fine (fifth in the NBA in points per game). Defense, on the other hand, is quite a different story—the Lakers are near the bottom in both opponents PPG and defensive rating (26th and 21st, respectively).

If they cannot compete into May and June, or if they manage to even miss the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers prominence may become a thing of the past. Kobe will finish his career one shy of Jordan’s six rings. Could the fate of this season even change his legacy?

Friday, January 4, 2013

NBA All Star voting: 2013 will prove it must change



This year, the NBA overhauled a part of the All Star selection by eliminating the center position from the ballot. While this was justified and ultimately a good move, the NBA failed to address the larger problem: the All Star voting process itself.

As of January 3, some of the top 15 vote getters in the Western conference include Omer Asik, Pau Gasol, Jeremy Lin, and Steve Nash. In the Eastern conference, they include Shane Battier, Amare Stoudemire, Jeff Green, Jason Terry, and…wait for it...Andrew Bynum.

Before we lose our sanity, only the top-five vote getters in each conference will make the All Star team. This means that the vast majority of the above players won’t grace the court in the 2013 ASG. However, the top two voting getting guards and top three forwards will “earn” starting roles in the game.

That means the starting squad in the West would be Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant, and Chris Paul. In the East: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo. Barring an incredible voter surge, Jeremy Lin and Chris Bosh are the only players with vote totals capable of challenging those 10 players for starting roles by the January 14 deadline.

The reserves are chosen in a much more judicial manner: coaches vote for players not on their own team.

But the problem here is elucidated by players like David Lee and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. This duo contrasts perfectly with the fellow duos down in southern California, those of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. All three teams have All Star worthy guards: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, and Stephen Curry. What’s the difference?

The market that each calls home leads to a tremendous disparity in votes. Kobe and the legacy he comes with has garnered over 1.1 million votes, and CP3 has nearly 700,000. Curry, on the other hand, does not even have 100,000. Fans of each team can argue until 2014 which player is better and deserves an All Star spot but nobody would say Curry is seven-fold less deserving than Paul or almost ten-fold less than Bryant.

Curry has played a pivotal role in the revolution by the bay and has earned the right to be recognized as such. But will he? Doubtful with the likes of Kobe, Chris Paul, and even the sub-par performing Jeremy Lin. A comparison between Lin (600,000 votes) and Curry (98,000) is laughable.

Golden State’s point guard is in a difficult position, though, because the West does have a host of talented guards (Parker, Harden, and Westbrook, in addition to those already mentioned). But as a forward, David Lee,  should be a no-brainer. But per that January 3 tally, he’s nowhere to be found in the top-15 forwards in votes. Chandler Parson and all of his 14.5 points and 6.2 rebounds are ahead of Lee.

The Warriors big man is currently the only player in the NBA averaging 20 and 10, has shot 54 percent from the field to go along with 3.7 assists, and has a triple double to boot. So in addition to being a top rebounder and scorer, Lee is top-10 in assists behind point-forward type players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Nicholas Batum, and Evan Turner. And he is the foundation with which the Warriors build on.


Tim Duncan
Blake Griffin
Dwight Howard
David Lee
Points
17.8
17.4
17.3
20.2
Rebounds
9.7
8.7
11.9
11.1
Assists
2.6
3.0
1.9
3.7
Blocks
2.5
0.6
2.6
0.2
FG percentage
.509
.527
.563
.538
FT percentage
.810
.621
.513
.824
Team win %
.743
.758
.484
.688
Statistics as of 1/3/12

Yet the other three players are all top-five in forward All Star votes for the Western conference. As Charles Barkley said of the ASG voting, it’s a “travesty.” Fans vote for who they like best, so it stands to reason that the more people like you, the more votes you will get. If this is the way the NBA wants to do it, might as well base the All Stars on jersey sales.

One may argue that there is considerable overlap between All Star votes and the players who deserve it, so why not keep it? All Star weekend is “for the fans,” so why not let them choose who plays in the game?

Sure, it’s for fans like you and me, but don’t we want to see a showcase of the best NBA talent? And shouldn’t the small market star be recognized over the mediocre players in large markets (Garnett, Griffin, Gasol, etc.)?

Ultimately, the All Star game should honor the best players. And the fact that Andrew Bynum has votes exacerbates that point. The 76er center has not played a minute.

Let’s put the votes in the hand of some combination of coaches, general managers, and sportswriters. There will be biases amongst these people but it will be much less pronounced than fan voting. We will still see greats Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant on the floor. If you want Bynum and Garnett on the floor with them, that ASG should be in NBA 2K13, not in Houston on February 17.