Saturday, June 25, 2011

NBA: Season in review

What a great year of NBA basketball.  It wasn't the same old teams doing well and it wasn't a completely new set of teams on top.  There was the perfect mix of established teams and new blood.  The Lakers, Spurs, Mavs, Celtics and Magic all won 52+ games and there was the addition of the Heat, Bulls, and Thunder to the top tier.  Add in Amare and Carmelo going to the Knicks, Kevin Love's Double-Double streak, and Blake Griffin's endless highlight reel of dunks and there were so many intriguing teams and storylines to follow this year.

The regular season was very entertaining, and that would continue in the playoffs.  Here's what I think are the highlights of the first three rounds:

Most Memorable Series Performance: Chris Paul
Chris Paul put on a clinic against the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.  He averaged 22 points, 11.5 assists, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game, while shooting 55% from the field and 47% from beyond the arc. His performance was even more impressive, considering that almost all of his regular season numbers were down across the board after having knee surgery last season (he averaged just 15.8 points and 9.8 assists per game).  It was great to see Paul return to form and hopefully he can carry that over to next year.

Honorable Mention: LeBron James.  LeBron had a great series against the Bulls in the ECF.  He averaged 25.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.4 steals and 2 blocks per game.  And he did that while guarding the MVP of the league.  Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Rose's averages were 28.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 42% from the field.  With LeBron guarding him, he averaged 23.4 points, 6.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting just 35% from the field.

Most Memorable Game Performance: Brandon Roy
With less than 40 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter, the Blazers trailed Dallas 67-44.  To that point, Roy had 3 points and zero assists.  Then he took over.  He finished the 3rd quarter with an assist to Aldridge and a 3 that bounced in at the buzzer.  He followed that up with one of the greatest 4th quarters in playoff history, finishing with a game-high 24 points and a game-high 5 assists.  In and of itself, it was an amazing performance.  But like Chris Paul, it was made even more amazing considering that Roy was coming off of double knee surgery that caused him to miss almost half the season.  Last year, Roy was arguably the third best shooting guard in the league.  But after a knee surgery last year during the playoffs and double knee surgery this year (supposedly making his knees now inoperable), it's unknown how long he'll be able to play basketball and how good he'll be able to be.

Now Roy's performance wasn't the best of the first three rounds, that honor would have to go to Dirk's 48 point masterpiece against OKC (12 of 15 from the field and 24 of 24 from the line), but it was the most memorable for me.  Part of that is because I unfortunately missed most of Dirk's amazing performance.  But the other part of it is the circumstances surrounding Roy's performance.  One of the best players in the league has career-threatening injuries and is relegated to the bench, then leads his team on one of the best comebacks in playoff history in front of one of the best crowds in the NBA and then delivers an excellent postgame interview.  Words don't do it justice, so just watch this excellent recap of the game.  And watch this video (at least the last two minutes) for the raw footage of his performance, to really get a feel for the atmosphere of the game.  It's definitely a performance I'll never forget.

Most Memorable Game: Memphis vs. Oklahoma City- Triple OT
I think this is pretty obvious, seeing as it was triple OT.  Big shot after big shot.  Great crowd in Memphis.  Just a fantastic game.

Most Memorable Series: Memphis vs. Oklahoma City
The only playoff series to go seven games.  It included the best game of the playoffs, and a team (Memphis) on one of the most memorable playoff runs that I can remember.  Most people knew Memphis was better than an eighth seed, so I wasn't shocked to see them beat San Antonio in the first round, but I was pleasantly surprised by how good they actually were.  They were very impressive in the postseason and gave the Thunder a run for their money.  It was just a great series with two young, energetic teams battling to advance in the playoffs.  It had great offense, great defense, hot crowds, and stars in the making (Durant, Randolph, Westbrook, Mayo, Harden, Gasol, Conley).  Would anyone complain if this was the WCF in the future?  I know I wouldn't.

After a great regular season and a great start to the postseason, is it any wonder that the Finals was one of the best Finals of all-time?  Other than going 7 games, could it have gone any better?  Game 2 featured one of the greatest comebacks in Finals history and games 3 and 4 were decided by a total of 5 points.  You had the most hated team in the league going against a team led by one of the easiest superstars to root for.  Dirk Nowitzki is just incredible and so fun to watch.  It was awesome to see him finally get a ring, and even better to see it come at the expense of the team that beat him five years ago.  There was not a better team for Dirk to beat in the Finals.  It was a storybook ending.  Dallas got revenge on Miami and proved that it takes more than talent to win a championship.

Side note: It's stupid for anyone (*cough* Dan Le Batard) to say Miami would've won if LeBron just played like LeBron.  You can't point that out and ignore that Dallas' second best player never suited up.  Or that Brendan Haywood's injury limited him to three minutes total after game 2.  Yes, LeBron didn't play up to his ability, but Dallas still won with Cardinal, Stojakovic, and Mahinmi playing instead of Butler and Haywood.  Dallas deserved to win.

All in all, it was a fantastic series that was a fitting end to a fantastic season.

*stats provided by
*Blazers-Mavs recap provided by

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Winning Personality? LeBron needs a little Magic.

At the end of this season, two things happened that has sparked an interesting question: Is there a personality type best suited for winning?  The first thing that happened was Shaq's retirement.  As Shaq's career came to a close, people talked about all that he had accomplished.  But they also questioned whether or not he could have accomplished more.  Shaq touched on this in his retirement press conference, when he talked about how he would have scored more points than Wilt if he hadn't missed so many games and so many free throws.  This is true.  Shaq missed a total of 351 games over his 19-year career (an average of about 18 games per year).  If he played in just 100 more games, at his career average of 23 points per game, and shot just 65% from the stripe, he would have finished above Wilt and Jordan.  If he would've been more committed to staying healthy and practicing free throws, he would have finished his career 3rd all-time in scoring instead of 7th.

Shaq is one of the funniest, most entertaining guys to ever play basketball (maybe even the most).  While that translated to him probably having the best relationship with the media of any player ever, did it hurt his career?  Was he too gregarious to maximize his talent?  Is someone who's naturally outgoing and fun-loving going to be as hard-working as you need to be to fulfill your potential?  It's an interesting question, and one that came up again following LeBron's lackluster Finals performance.

Is LeBron's personality more Shaq than Jordan?  If so, is that holding him back from reaching his full potential as a player?  I would say so.  I think there is truth to fun-loving guys being "underachievers" (in that they could be great players, but not as great as they could have been).  Shaq isn't the only example of this.  I think Barkley is similar.  He has an outgoing personality and is someone who wasn't always in premium shape.  Kevin McHale is another one.  In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons states that Kevin McHale "was the funniest Celtic of all time."  He also mentioned that Bird thought McHale underachieved.  He writes:

"People always assumed they were friends - you, know the whole 'two big goofy-looking white guys' factor - but they rarely mingled and McHale was the only teammate Bird always avoided praising, partly because of their friendly rivalry, partly because Larry resented the fact that basketball didn't consume McHale like it consumed him. He praised Parish and DJ constantly but never seemed to have a compliment for McHale that wasn't at least a little backhanded. Even after their careers were over, Bird bemoaned the fact that McHale never drove himself to become the best player in the league, saying that his teammate could have become an MVP had he 'really wanted it.'"

There does seem to be some type of connection with personality and fulfilling your potential.  Bringing this back to LeBron, should he strive to have as much fun as possible, while looking to achieve success, or should he put all his energy into having as much success as possible?  Should he follow in Shaq's footsteps or Jordan's?  I think neither.  I can think of one guy who balanced both fun and success and, ironically, it's the guy LeBron's most often compared to: Magic Johnson.  Magic was exuberant, but I don't think that he feels like he left anything on the table, like Shaq may, and he didn't need to be pathological like Jordan to do it.  So I don't think LeBron needs to model himself after Jordan.  But if he doesn't want to end up leaving something on the table, he needs to evolve somewhat (like actually learning to play in the post).

LeBron doesn't need to be like Mike to achieve success.  He just needs a little Magic.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

O'Brien or Oscar?

Someone needs to tell LeBron and Wade that June is about winning the Larry O'Brien trophy and that the Oscars happened back in February.  While flopping and exaggerating fouls has been a growing problem in the NBA for awhile, it has now gotten completely out of hand.  Here's an example of Wade's acting ability from game 3.  Not to be outdone (like he has been when it actually comes to basketball), LeBron put on his own performance in game 4.  At least he's stepped up part of his game from the ECF.  He's gone from over-exaggerating to completely fabricating (maybe he got some pointers from Bosh).  Awhile ago, I wrote about how Wade and LeBron need a history lesson. The way they flop only reinforces that.  You would never see Magic, or Bird, or Jordan flop at all, let alone the way Miami's stars do.  LeBron has now entered into the soccer player territory of flopping and it's a disgrace to the game.

If the players don't have enough integrity to respect the game themselves, then the league is going to have to step in.  First, I think they should have officials brush up on physics.  If a player falls faster and harder than the contact, it's a flop.  Unfortunately, while that may help a little, the game is too fast for the refs to make the correct call every time.  Therefore, the league is going to have to implement an incentive for the players to not fake getting fouled.  What they need to do is review games and fine players.  If a player clearly flops, fine him ten or twenty thousand dollars.  If that doesn't work, start handing down suspensions.  That might sound harsh, but the penalties should be harsh.  There's no reason for this crap to continue.  If players don't want to lose money, all they have to do is not flop.  If they want to flop, they can take the penalty or go play soccer. 

I want to watch basketball.  If I wanted to watch basketball with acting, I'd watch Coach Carter.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Necessary Danger?

I wanted to write about the Posey situation right after it happened, but I held back.  I held back because I didn't want to write a purely reactive piece.  I wanted to let it sink in and think about it rationally.  If I was going to say that baseball should make changes, I wanted it to be because I thought it was needed and not because I had just seen Posey get run over a thousand times on TV.  So I took some time to take a step back.  In that time, I've read opinions saying that baseball should get rid of home plate collisions and I've read opinions saying that it's just a part of the game.

The reasons for why they should take it out have been pretty compelling.  Grant Brisbee's article noted that "it's the only element of contact in a non-contact sport. It's like the NFL using Scrabble to decide games that are tied after regulation -- it's the exact opposite of how the rest of the game is played."  An article written by Dave Cameron noted, "Major League catchers already endure enough wear and tear on their bodies as is. They break down in their early thirties and have the shortest careers of any position on the field. Why should we also expect them to have to stand in and take hits that no other player on the field has to take? Why do they have to be football players when everyone else gets to play baseball?"  That Cameron article also included a hilariously ironic quote from Kevin Millar about the A-Rod interference play from 2004.

As compelling as those reasons are, the reasons for leaving collisions in persuade me just as much that they're not necessary.  Basically, because I've yet to really find any good ones.  Here are the reasons for why things should stay the same: Because "it's just a part of the game," the catchers wear protective gear, and because scoring a run is on the line.  "It's just a part of the game" is the dumbest reason there is.  That's not a reason.  It's just a statement.  An observation of how things are is not a justification for why they should stay that way.  The catcher wears protective gear?  Is that really a valid reason to use, when a catcher has had a season-ending injury - as the result of a collision - for the second year in a row?  It sure is protective....just not from serious injuries.  Now we come down to the issue of a run being on the line.  The problem with this reason is that, technically, a run isn't always on the line.  A collision can happen when the catcher has the ball or is fielding the ball.  If you're colliding with a guy who he hasn't even secured the ball yet, wouldn't you have most likely scored anyway?  And if you're colliding with a guy who has secured the ball, wouldn't you most likely be out anyway?  How many times has a guaranteed out been undone by a collision? 

The problem with collisions is that they can be done "in case".  Plays happen so fast that a runner is not always going to be sure whether or not a collision is necessary to score, so they could end up running over the catcher "in case" they were going to be out.  Should we really allow catchers to get run over, because the runner may have been out otherwise?  Or when they could be out anyways?  A runner should risk a lot of harm for the little chance that it may benefit his team?  Is it really necessary to subject a catcher to a collision, where an out could stay an out or a run could stay a run, for the small chance an out could become a run?

Frankly, it seems like most of the arguments for leaving things the same are more of a resistance to change than a resistance to the results that the change would actually have.  What would the adverse affect be, if no home plate collisions happened?  What would the game lose?  If catchers couldn't obstruct the path to the plate and the baserunner was mandated to slide into home (when there's a play at the plate), how different would things actually be?  And any change that would happen, would it really be so much so that it negates the benefit of not subjecting the catchers to unnecessary punishment?

Player safety should be more important than this idea that somehow baseball would lose something if home plate collisions never happened.  People should stop focusing on the idea that baseball would be changed and focus on how things would actually be different.  If they did, I think they'd realize that they're fighting for way less than they think they are.  How often is a player at risk of injury during a collision?  Always.  How often is a collision unequivocally necessary to score?  Hardly ever.  Why on earth are people supporting such a high risk, low reward play?

The rarity of success that a collision brings should not be more important than the widespread danger it entails.  Make baseball safe.  Throw collisions out.