A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for November 2010

Post-November NBA Awards Watch

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My top picks for the various NBA Awards after one month of play.  Expect to see this updated each month with my picks for ROY, DPOY, MIP, 6MOY, COY, and All-NBA teams.

MVP:  See Monday’s post.  This gets updated weekly.

Rookie of the Year

1. Blake Griffin

2. John Wall

3. Landry Fields

Well, we see that both of the last 2 #1 picks are legit, future stars.  Fantastic to see, fantastic to watch.  Still following the rookie trend of not seeming to help their teams win, but what can you do.

 

Defensive Player of the Year

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2011 POY Watch 11/29

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My version of the NBA MVP list. Updated weekly.

Player (Last Week’s Rank)

1. Dirk Nowitzki (3)

We had two really strong candidates leading the way before this week.  They fell off.  Dirk is still going strong.  His team is a force to be reckoned with that shows no sign of going away.  And when the team does lose, it’s basically a given that Dirk will have turned in a heroic performance that just comes up short.

2. Chris Paul (1)

Ah man, the Hornets are plummeting back down to earth.  3 losses:  1 a blowout, 1 a choke, and 1 against the worst team in the league.  And Paul didn’t look like a hero in these losses.  He only drops one place for now, but it won’t take much for him to fall further.

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Written by Matt Johnson

November 29, 2010 at 2:59 am

Federer vs Nadal Debates, after 2010

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We’ve reached the end of the 2010 ATP tennis season, but it doesn’t make sense to actually talk too much about it because there’s not much to argue about.  Rafael Nadal is clearly the Player of the Year, Roger Federer is clearly #2.  Then Djokovic, Murray, and Soderling.  I do think though that it’s an appropriate time to talk about Nadal’s career year, and the Federer-Nadal rivalry.

My opinions:

1)      Nadal was great this year, but his peak still hasn’t match Federer, and possibly not John McEnroe either.

2)      Nadal’s edge in the rivalry over Federer remains far smaller than most people think.

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You Damn Well Better Give Cam Newton the Heisman

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Okay, first things first.  Cam Newton still has to play the SEC Championship game there – so this post is in some ways premature.  I write it because:

1) Newton’s so far out in front of everyone else now, it’s hard to imagine anything could possibly justify considering him other than the most outstanding player in the country.

2)  People are actually, and ridiculously, telling voters to NOT vote for Newton.

Cam Newton is Very Good

First, a refresher on point (1)…

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Thoughts on other sites’ NBA MVP Watch-es

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As is probably clear, I’m a bit of a ranking junkie, hence the weekly top 10 list for NBA POY *cough* MVP.  Over at RealGM, we always end up with an on-going thread on the subject.  In fact, I believe we started using the phrase “MVP Watch” before Maurice Brooks.

There are two MVP watch lists I’m aware of at major sites that are reliably updated each week, and so I check them out regularly.  Both are bugging me right now though, so I feel the need to spout.

nba.com’s Race to the MVP

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Written by Matt Johnson

November 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm

2011 POY Watch 11/22

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My version of the MVP list. Updated weekly.

Player (Last Week’s Rank)

1. Chris Paul (1)

Still the obvious choice. I’m hearing some people get confused because of Paul’s modest stats. Make no mistake, he’s dominating like an MVP – the Hornets have just been good enough to not need maximum doses of him.

2. Pau Gasol (2)

Caps the week with a ridiculously dominant performance against Golden State. It’s amazing how against how many teams in this league he is literally unstoppable. Also worth noting for all the talk about why exactly Gasol has so much more respect now than he did against Memphis – that the gap between his current performance and what he did in LA initially is pretty clearly bigger than between the first couple years in LA and Memphis.

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Oden’s Day was full of woe

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So, Greg Oden.  Out for the year.  Again.

A million pundits have chimed in about this, giving their own eulogy for Oden.  Zach Harper called it a “Basketball Tragedy”, distinguishing it from it from “real life tragedies” because no one died, and I think that’s a good description, but it does it get at the crux of what I feel for Oden.

It’s one thing to have one big, bad thing happen, and then have to deal with your dream just not being a real possibility any more.  Personally, I think what Oden’s gone through is far tougher.  He’s essentially the modern Charlie Brown, having the football yanked away from him just before he’s about to kick it, again and again.  I think about how it would be for me in that situation.  Surgery is not fun.  Months of rehab is not fun.  And the added negative vibes that comes down on Oden each time there’s a setback for  him despite him doing nothing wrong…man.  This is a recipe for some serious depression issues.

Sports fans tend not to see it from that angle, and tend not to take the idea of millionaire athletes getting depressed seriously, but they should.  We saw in September Denver Bronco Kenny McKinley take his life after incurring a career-threatening injury.  Often times, doing well in their respective sport is the primary source of identity for an athlete, and when that gets taken away, look out.  With that said, people seem to be on their best behavior right about now.  While Oden’s often been butt of jokes these past few years, he’s mostly getting sympathy now.

What’s bugging me right now, is the idea that there’s a lesson to be learned here.  To be fair, the people I’ve heard debating this in the recent aftermath haven’t been that bad, and I doubt I’d feel the need to rant on this if it weren’t for what came before.  Because the 2007 draft had 2 superstar prospects in it, Oden and Kevin Durant, and because Oden has struggled while Durant’s become a superstar, it’s presented a natural opportunity for hacks to say “I told you so”.

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Written by Matt Johnson

November 19, 2010 at 2:28 am

Beasley, Bosh, and Opportunity in Basketball

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Over 4 games in the last week former future superstar turned bust Michael Beasley has averaged 32.5 PPG on a TS of 58.7%.  In other words, pretty damn good.  Meanwhile on Beasley’s former team in Miami, B-list superstar Chris Bosh is averaging 14.5 PPG on 55.5% TS for the season after not having done less than 22 PPG or 56.9% TS since he hit his prime over a half decade ago.  Now I don’t want to blow this out of proportion.  Beasley’s not going to keep up this pace, and his Timberwolves still stink.  Bosh was expected to have his scoring volume decrease substantially while playing with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.  However, any attempt to argue that this is a coincidence is silly.  Something is definitely going on, and while there’s nuance in any story like this, I’d say one word summarizes the situation well:  Opportunity.

Wizard of Westwood’s Wisdom

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2011 NBA POY Watch 11/15

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Ordered by current ranking, here’s the top 10 with last week’s ranking in parens.

1. Chris Paul (1)

Unreal.  This Hornets club has to be one of the most surprising 8-0 teams in NBA history.  Paul clearly deserves a ton of credit.  He’s playing spectacular, and is the team’s star in really all senses.  The teams been extraordinary enough that I’d like to also give a shout out to rookie coach Monty Williams.  What a way to start a career.  The fact that it’s all being done with defense as the focus, and with Paul not playing huge minutes is stunning.

I’m still not a believer – I can’t quite picture this team being fitted for rings – but credit where credit is due, at this point it’s unfair to treat this like something could be due simply to luck.

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Written by Matt Johnson

November 15, 2010 at 4:24 am

Why I Love Sports: Paul Millsap

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Last night’s performance by Paul Millsap pretty much embodies everything about what makes sports great.  You want a drama where the plucky hard-working underdog comes from behind against all odds  to grab victory by the slimmest of margins?  A great game can tell this story better than the best literature.

46 points in as clutch a performance as you’ll ever see.  Here’s the fantastic rally to tie the game in regulation where Millsap miraculously scores 11 points in 30 seconds with three 3-pointers, which people are now comparing with Tracy McGrady’s 13 point outburst a few years back:

People are debating about degree of difficulty here, and they shouldn’t – what McGrady did was harder, the defense was completely focused on him and he still pulled it off.  The focused on him of course because he was an established superstar – and that’s exactly what makes it so much less captivating.

Millsap came into this league a lightly regarded 2nd round pick from Louisiana Tech (ironically the same college Karl Malone came out of), and had to beat the odds to even have an NBA career.  For his first 4 years, the man worked hard and impressed with every opportunity he was given, but he was limited because the Utah Jazz already had star power forward Carlos Boozer.

This off season, Boozer left to join the Chicago Bulls, and I was initially hopeful that this would become Millsap’s break out year.  I was prepared to champion the guy as a candidate for Most Improved Player (and I’ll mention the irony again of ‘improvement’ in the NBA being more about opportunity than actual improvement), but then the Jazz swindled the often-swindled Minnesota Timberwolves out of Al Jefferson.  At that point, my expectation was that Jerry Sloan simply didn’t see Millsap as star material, and I was disappointed but figured he knew better than me.

Of course, he does know better than me, but clearly his opinion of Millsap isn’t what I feared.  Millsap’s getting his greatest opportunity and he’s killing it.  Lead scorer on his team, with ridiculous efficiency, even before this last game.  Now he’s in the top 3 in the league in both PER and Win Shares, and you have to start thinking about him for the accolades reserved for stars.  This isn’t a guy getting great efficiency off of limited usage and small sample size, this is a guy capable of taking over a game.

Now on the other side of things, The Heat have to be concerned.  The worry from the inception of Miami Thrice was that they didn’t really have a big man, which could be a huge problem on defense.  The Heat have proven to be very effective on defense against most teams, but now both Emeka Okafor and Millsap have torn them up.  Both fundamentally sound big men, and neither really considered a star.  I have no qualms about singing Millsap’s praises because his performance was so amazing it doesn’t matter that issues with Miami’s defense helped it happen, but in the long run the most informative part of this game might have been the realization that the Heat have a huge problem right where we feared they’d have one.  They need to make some adjustments ASAP, and if they can acquire a solid defensive big like Erick Dampier, they need to do it.

Written by Matt Johnson

November 10, 2010 at 1:19 pm