THE ’15-’16 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS COULD BE THE ’07 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS.

Commentary:

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Record breaking, historic season all comes down to one Thunder win away from losing all of it. Photo: Associated Press

The Oklahoma City Thunder are one win away from eliminating the best team in NBA history based on regular season wins.

After delivering another beatdown last night, OKC now on the verge of returning to the NBA Finals, needing only to win one game out of 3 remaining matches. They have contained the Warriors’s deadly offense, forced turnovers, outrebounded Golden State and just flat out outplayed them during their two home games. They are now a win away from being able to chase the ultimate prize.

The Warriors have been complacent. Both Draymond Green and Stephen Curry have struggled mightily in this series. Curry hasn’t shot the ball well, and has been giving the ball away plenty. Green is not in his usual self, not as energetic and has been contained all over the court. The entire Warriors’ defense, their calling card, has not been visible outside of Game 2.

The Warriors are on the verge of missing out on one of the best seasons in all of sports. After breaking the record of having the most wins in a regulars season, and having the first ever unanimous MVP, Golden State is closing in on what could be a failure of year, just by not finishing and winning the year’s championship. What that means could simply be one thing…

Irrelevancy.

In sports, the year is defined by winning the Championship. Records are made, performances have been highlighted, but the rest of the world will talk about the one who takes the crown. Always.

Take the case of the 2007 New England Patriots.

The Pats have ran sacked thru the 2007 NFL season, going undefeated, 16-0, a new league record. They reached SuperBowl 42 in 2008 going 18 – 0, including the two wins they had in the AFC Playoff picture. Everyone is talking about Patriot destiny, the perfect season, they even had the Pats as a 12 point favorite in the biggest game in American Sports.

And then came the New York Giants, the biggest SuperBowl underdog in history riding a hot streak. The Patriots, the dominant team that they were, didn’t play to to their dominant standards, and the Giants took advantage, and pulled off not only the biggest upset in SuperBowl history, but ending the Patriots’ perfect season in the process.

And while the 2007 Pats are still being considered one of the best American Football teams in history, no one is talking about their perfect 16-0 regular season, instead, when people hear SuperBowl XLII, they think of one thing.

Eli Manning’s pocket awareness, and this catch by David Tyree.

It goes to show, a magnificent regular season won’t matter if there’s no title. These Patriots are one of the best teams in history, a team you can debate, can beat any SuperBowl Champions in any era, and with one bad game, and and unbelievable play, they have, in a way, got brought to irrelevancy.

It’s not to say that the series is over. Eight NBA teams have come back to win a series from being down 3-1 in the Playoffs, two of them won the championship in the same year, so it’s plausible. But this is different. There is something different about this one, and it’s the magnitude of the pressure.

These Warriors have been talked about as quite possibly the greatest basketball team to ever stepped on a hardwood. There are talks of dynasty possibilities, and how they are close to being invincible due to their roster makeup, their style of basketball and their results. The 73-9 season made it even more of a possibility, and then you add the first ever player to be voted first place for MVP.

And they are one win from Oklahoma City away from having it all crumble down.

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What happened to the energetic Draymond Green in this series? Photo courtesy of thecomeback.com

The pressure to succeed has far reached sky limits. This is what the Warriors have to deal with to save their historic season, or they get brought down to the pits of irrelevance along with the 2007 Pats. A great team, a once in a lifetime squad, ending as a “what if” topic because they couldn’t close the year with a Championship.

Is that going to be the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors’ destiny? Are they going to be the 2007 New England Patriots?

They need to get their stuff straight, or all this talk about them being the greatest, will be replaced by how great LeBron James was in the Finals, or how Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook final got their ring, or how the Toronto Raptors make history.

ROUND 2 AND AROUND THE NBA COMMENTARY:

Commentary:

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Russell Westbrook took over in Game 5, just as his buddy Kevin Durant did in Game 4. Photo courtesy of USATODAY Sports

The NBA Playoffs are still rolling. We’ve seen yet another sweep, a comeback, and a couple of series that might go the distance.

Let’s get to it, and all the stories around the NBA during the Conference Semis.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS – OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER:

It just goes to show, that no matter how good a team is, if you have two of the 10 best players in the world, you’ll always have a chance.

Oklahoma City is now one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals, thanks in part to Kevin Durant’s 40 point performance in Game 4, and Russell Westbrook’s 35 point effort in Game 5. The San Antonio Spurs failed to score in the dying minutes of a hotly contested game, and eventually falls to the Thunder, who goes back home to Chesapeake Energy Arena and try an close out the series.

The Thunder’s game plan is simple, give it to the superstars, and let them take us to the top, as they did with KD exploding in Game 4, and Rus taking his turn in Game 5 with a near triple-double performance. It has worked for two game in a row now, and Game 6 should be no different.

But Game 5 didn’t end without controversy, mainly due to, once again, bad officiating…

THE REFS DECIDED THE GAME, AGAIN:

As if the basketball world haven’t moved on from the Game 2 blunder the NBA officials had, they are in store for yet another one.

In the dying seconds of Game 5, as Russell Westbrook drives to the baseline, an obvious foul was committed by San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, who got beat, but had enough arms to wrap around Westbrook and stop the clock.

Everyone saw it, except for the three referees who are officiating the game, apparently. The Spurs are down by 1, with about 9 seconds left in the clock, are obviously going for the foul, and they did. How the referees not only didn’t figure that out, but to fail to call the Leonard intentional is just as bad as how they missed a Dion Waiters offensive foul in Game 2.

The missed call ended up an And-1 for Rus, and eventually putting the Thunder up by 4.

Now granted, Westbrook could have made both FT’s if the foul was called, and the Spurs would need a 3 to tie the game and force overtime, and LaMarcus Aldridge should have not fouled him as he is getting to the cup, but it still isn’t enough of an excuse to miss what turned out to be a pivotal call.

(The NBA has no response as of yet, personally, I’m dying to see how they are going to deal with it. This is twice now.)

DWYANE WADE TURNED BACK THE CLOCK:

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Not done. Not even by a long shot. Photo courtesy of USATODAY Sports

Willing his Miami Heat to an overtime win vs the Toronto Raptors, Dwyane Wade has turned into Classic Flash Monday night, scoring dropping 30 and flat out taking over, in the most Dwyane Wade possible.

He was near unstoppable getting to the rim, and to force overtime, he did what he does best his entire career.

Game 5 will be on Wednesday night, and with Wade dropping a combined 68 points in Games 3 and 4, expect more fireworks from good old Flash.

CLEVELAND IS MAKING IT LOOK EASY:

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Kevin Love has been deadly from downtown. Getty Images

Tough defense and a barrage of 3 pointers, it’s the new Cleveland Cavaliers’ way.

By sweeping the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland is back to the Eastern Conference Finals, and is looking like a juggernaut, winning convincingly vs the Hawks in 3 of the 4 games.

The Cavs are averaging 16 3PT shots made per game this post season, making them a much more potent and deadly offense capable of just ran sacking anyone, with Kyrie Irving leading the barrage, averaging 24 points per playoff contest with a blistering hot 53% from 3PT on 6 attempts per game.

The Cavs are now, once again, waiting. They may have to wait a little bit more, and it remains to be seen if the long days off would cool them down. But so far, they are making it look easy.

STEPH CURRY IS BACK:

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The face you make when Stephen Curry sucks the life out of your team. Photo courtesy of SB Nation.

Steph Curry should have only played 25 minutes in Game 4 vs the Portland Trail Blazers, but a Shaun Livingston ejection prompted a performance of the ages.

Scoring 17 points in overtime, an NBA record in both regular AND playoff season, Steph Curry puts his Golden State Warriors one win away from a return trip to the Western Conference Finals. He came out cold and rusty, but as the 4th quarter went down the wire, the world has seen why he was, for the second time, in a row, the MVP of the league, silencing the MODA Center crowd, dropping jaws in the process.

Game 5 will be Wednesday night, a chance to close the series in which it look like it would take a Game 3 Damian Lillard performance to be extended.

OUTSIDE THE PLAYOFFS:

Two coaches have been relieved of their duties as the 2nd round of the Playoffs progressed.

The Indiana Pacers parted ways with Frank Vogel, not renewing his contract, and the Memphis Grizzlies fired Dave Joerger, with both teams being suggested that the reasonsfo letting go of their coaches is due to a change of direction moving forward.

They weren’t unemployed for long, though. Vogel takes over the Memphis Grizzlies job, which seems like a perfect fit for a defensive minded coach. Joerger on the other hand, has been handed the Sacramento Kings job, making him as, quite possibly, the hope to fix the seemingly never ending turmoil in Sacramento.

Got fired quickly, got hired quickly. Not bad.

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ROUND 1 OBSERVATIONS AND MOVING FORWARD

Commentary:

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Kyrie Irving has shown that he is Playoff ready. Photo courtesy of kingjamesgospel.com

We are (almost) thru the first round of the NBA Playoffs, and it hasn’t really been that exciting, except for maybe a handful of games. And while some expected things have already happened, interesting story lines have brewed in during the first two weeks of the post season.

From free agency, to potential, to possible “what’s next’s?”, we tackle on what the first round of the NBA Playoffs have possibly told us, and what’s next for each of the 16 teams who made it this year, and preview the 2nd round matchups.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs (1) Cleveland Cavaliers:

The Hawks got past the Boston Celtics in 6 games, but done so unconvincingly. They have not shot the ball well, and 4 of their 5 starters have been inefficient in shooting the ball the entire series. They lived on defense in the first round, but it could be misleading due the the Celtics lack of scoring options to begin with.

The 2nd round could prove to be a much more difficult task if they continue the poor shooting going against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs, unlike the Celtics, are going to score. They have weapons all around the court and will drop points at will. And while the Hawks can defend, they could be left behind if they don’t score efficiently.

The Cavs on the other hand, have done their part, sweeping a young, upcoming, but obviously not ready Detroit Pistons. They have looked unstoppable offensively and expect it to trend in the second round. Kyrie Irving has been on fire, averaging 27.5 points in the first round and shooting a blistering 47% from the field, with 47% from the 3 point line.

Expect the Cavs to ride Irving offensively until the Hawks figure out how to stop him. And in a way, it’s beneficial, as it puts LeBron James in a role where he doesn’t have to put a ton of effort to drop points just for his team to catch up, preserving him for the rest of the series.

The Hawks are in for fireworks. They have the schemes and the personnel to be able to defend, but unless they get their all-star to score at an efficient rate, the Cavs would have no problem finishing the series by just out scoring their opponent.

Boston Celtics:

Losing Avery Bradley has costed them the series. But for a team that, once again, shouldn’t even be considered to get past the first round, let alone be a 5th seed, they have had a marvelous season.

It’s always looking forward for these Celtics, but now, they add 2 Playoff wins in their pockets. They now know how what to put on in the post season, and they just need help. And help they shall receive, with the Brooklyn first round pick they own could potentially be a top 3 pick, cap space, and now, credibility that they showed to the league that even without a superstar, they can do damage in the Playoffs, and that bodes well for their free agency plans moving forward.

The Celtics may been eliminated in the first round again this year, but rest assured the rest of the Easter Conference is giving them a really good look.

Detroit Pistons:

Great season, but just a case of not being ready yet for the post season. They didn’t have a real scoring threat to have Cleveland to worry about, and they have been out executed the entire series.

But like Boston, there is something brewing here. This is a young core, with a ton of potential to develop. And what happened to them in the 1st round is something that typically happens to young, inexperienced teams once they broke thru the post season.

The series however, showed that they could use another scorer, possibly coming off the bench. Reggie Jackson also needs to step up and be THE GUY. Taking 11 shots per game isn’t enough when you’re the main offensive option.

One big takeway for Detroit despite being swept on the other hand, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He had a really good series, and when players this young, this inexperienced, and debuts in the post season and shows up in the big stage, you got something good.

(5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (1) Golden State Warriors:

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No Steph Curry to guard for Damian Lillard for atleast 3 games. But Shaun Livingston is no easy task. Photo courtesy of oregonlive.com


Portland has upset in their eyes right now.

With Stephen Curry possibly not returning until Game 3 or 4, the Portland Trail Blazers is going to come out swinging. Damian Lillard has torched the Warriors this year, and of course, he’s looking forward to keep doing it, although he hasn’t shot the ball particlarly well vs the Los Angeles Clippers. The entire Blazers squad have shown balance on both sides of the ball, and they have the pieces that can go toe to toe with the Warriors with their speed.

But, but, they are going against the defending champions, who, outside of one bad shooting game, and an uncalled offensive foul, have dispatched the Houston Rockets easily, even without their MVP on the lineup. Klay Thompson has stepped up in the scoring department, and the Dubs have, as always, relied on their good ball movement and their deep bench to carry the burden in scoring left behind by Steph Curry as he’s sitting in the side lines.

The interesting part in this series would be Shaun Livingston. Another guy who had a terrific first round, he’s a matchup nightmare for Damian Lillard, assuming they are going to be matched up. He’s going to have a length advantage over both Portland starting guards, and would certainly put them to a ton of work. And Shaun Livingston is not a slouch defensive too, capable of disrupting opponents, again due to his length. It would be interesting to see how Portland plays him, as he could be the Warriors’ biggest X factor in this series.

Houston Rockets:

This could be the final year for Dwight Howard donning a Rockets jersey. His involvement, or lack thereof in the Rockets offense is evident by the fact that even though he averaged a double double in the series, he only took an average 7 shots a game.

His beef with James Harden doesn’t help Houston to retain him either, and that beef was the sole reason they got ran sacked by Golden State. While he did average 7 assists in the series, their offense looked predictable and stagnant due to Harden having most of the possession.

Where does Houston go from here? Howard is leaving, and they have regressed significantly. Will they hire a new coach or keep JB Bickerstaff?

Los Angeles Clippers:

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One more run, or time to blow it up? Photo courtesy of inquisitr.com, Getty Images.

It’s safe to say that two big injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin is what costed them the series vs the Blazers.

The question now is will they keep their core, and run it one more time? Next year will be year 6 of the DeAndre Jordan – Paul – Griffin era. Their bench has been better this year, and with the cap rising, they should have the capabilities to retain at least a couple of their guys. But this core also haven’t gotten past the 2nd round in their 5 year run. Is it time to break it up? Or will the injury be enough of an excuse to run it again, at least one more year?

Dallas Mavericks:

The window should be closed.

The Dallas Mavericks is now looking forward to the offseason, but how are they going to approach it. They had a team of Dirk Nowitzki and a squad full of rejects from other teams, and managed to sneak into the Playoffs as a 6th seed, because of exceptional coaching by Rick Carlisle.

But Deron Williams is opting out of his final year to become a free agent. Dirk is one more year older, and they need to address the rest of the squad as most of it are going to be free agents next season. Will Chandler Parsons be healthy for once?

Do they start the rebuilding process? Or will they, as they have been the last few years, will push for another playoff run and sign veteran guys that could help?

With all that said, the window is closed. It’s not even known if Dirk will have one more year in him, even though it looks like he has. There’s a big rise in the cap which makes them at least an attractive place for free agents, but do they really want to build a team that would exit the first round yet again, or should they start rebuilding for the future?

(3) Oklahoma City vs (2) San Antonio Spurs:

We have already been treated with a Game 1 matchup in the second round yesterday, and boy was it disastrous.

The Oklahoma City Thunder looked unprepared, and lacked intensity and it showed as the San Antonio Spurs romped their way to a 32 point Game 1 win. They had no answer to everything the Spurs threw at them.

How will they respond in Game 2? Do they have enough to respond despite having arguably two of the top 5 players in the NBA so far? Do they have the proper adjustments to counter the Spurs’ ball movement, who produced 39 assists in Game 1?

The Spurs look mighty last night, the Thunder are in for a heck of a climb back.

Couple of Game 7’s:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan

Not so bright stars in Toronto at the moment. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

There are a couple of game 7’s on the line tonight, and both involve highly talented teams that have been unimpressive.

The Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat are in for the fight of their lives tonight, even though on paper, they shouldn’t have too. But have been unimpressive on their defensive effort and both are going against teams in the Indiana Pacers and the Charlotte Hornets that are coming in with a nothing to lose mentality, and really, they have nothing to lose.

Whoever advances will face the other, so there are interesting story line as who will what team play after this. And it will all be answered tonight.

END OF THE YEAR AWARDS COMMENTARY

Commentary:

The 2015-16 NBA regular season is over, it’s now time for the post season.

But since we have a couple days of wait time, other than first round upsets and playoff match ups, most of the speculation from the basketball world is about the individual awards. Who gets which awards at season’s end?  Who’s the best 15 players of the year?

There have been so many predictions for this, pretty much in any sports media, so here and Up and In, we decided that we’d put our own little prediction ourselves. And while some of the awards should have crystal clear winners, there’s plenty of room for discussion for the rest. So let’s get to it.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:

Winner: Stephen Curry

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Photo courtesy of USA TODAY.com

There’s really no debate. He’s done historical things and helped his team do historical feats in the process. This is a few of what Steph has done this season.

– Lead the league in scoring at 30.1 PPG. (improved 6 points better than his last year’s MVP average). He will be the scoring champion this year.
– Leads the league in PER.
– Leads the league in Win Shares
– Leads the league in True Shooting %
– Made 402 Three Point FG. A mark so outrageous that no one in the history of the game has ever seen a player get 300 makes, and he obliterated it.
– He’ll enter the 50-40-90 club, while averaging  11 3PT attempts per game. Think about that for a second. He’s shooting 50% from the field, with half of his makes are from 23 feet out.

The only reason to not vote for Stephen Curry as the league’s MVP is either hate, or bias, or both.

Make a case for anyone:

Can’t. It will be a waste of time.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:

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Photo from sportingnews.com

Winner: Karl-Anthony Towns:

The kid posted 18 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.7 blocks. Not since Tim Duncan did a rookie big man posted those kind of numbers. Oh, and he’s shooting 54% from the field, 34% from the 3 point line. Yeah, he shoots threes too.

That, and add to it the defensive impact and the poise makes KAT the easy choice for Rookie of the Year.

Make a case for anyone: 

You can’t. Kristaps Porzingis had a case, but he with Towns being so good, he pulled away of this race quickly. Devin Booker and Nikola Jokic made some strides during the late part of the season, but won’t be enough.

COACH OF THE YEAR:

Winner: Gregg Popovich

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at San Antonio Spurs

Soobum Im – USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs won 67 games this year, are 4th in Offensive Efficiency and is the best defensive team in the NBA. Unfortunately for them, the Golden State Warriors had one historical season at the same time.

But with Steve Kerr missing a chunk of games during the season, the Coach of the Year award should go to Pop, who still managed a team, improved 12 wins more than last year and is still one of the elite clubs in the NBA.

Make a case for anyone:

Terry Stotts. 

The Portland Trail Blazers were decimated, with four guys in their starting lineup moving on to different teams. Some pundits even thought they weren’t going to win more than 30 games, and yet here they are, the 5th seed in the West, with a lineup of bench guys upgraded to fill the starter spots, and a few new players that fit perfectly to what Stotts wanted the Blazers to be. He is certainly in the running.

Brad Stevens.

How do you not consider Brad Stevens?

The Boston Celtics is still a rag tag group of guys with no “franchise guy” at their helm, and they won 48 games, not to mention being in the top 10 in both Offensive and Defensive efficiency.

This team is supposed to be tanking, for the last three years. Other than first time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics really don’t have a player that many people would consider a star player, and yet they have home court advantage vs the Atlanta Hawks when the Playoffs start.

How do you not consider Brad Stevens?

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER:

Winner: CJ McCollum

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Photo from sportingnews.com

CJ McCollum has been a god send for Portland. After losing LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio, he softened the blow on the scoring end by averaging 20 points per game this season. That’s a a 14 point jump from his last year when he’s only getting 6 a game. Shooting averages were also up, as well as increases from his rebounds and assists totals.

But his overall fit within the team is what should get him the award. He has been a reliable ball handler if Damian Lillard is not on the floor, also a go to scorer. It’s not just the numbers that improved, but also his role within the squad.

Make a case for anyone:

Kemba Walker.

Still scoring, but now more efficient. He has been clutch for the Charlotte Hornets. And his team won 48 games with him being a big part of the picture. He’s got a nod.

Will Barton.

A weak case, but Barton has looked like a capable scorer this season. Not much else to offer, but that’s a drastic improvement in his game

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:

Winner: Kawhi Leonard

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Soobum Im – USA Today Sports

This will mark the second time, and back to back wins for Kawhi Leonard if he wins DPOY this year.

It’s fitting that the best defender on the best defensive team should get the vote. and it’s not just recognition, he’s shown why he’s the best. He’s a perimeter stopper, he gets to the ball, on any part of the court. His individual brilliance, topped with it that he’s a big part of the best defense in the league should be enough to win him the award two years in a row.

Make a case for anyone:

Draymond Green.

One word, versatility.

Draymond Green has once again proved why he’s one of the premier defenders in the NBA, and that’s because he can defend literally anyone on the court. This is honestly a virtual tie between him and Kawhi, the nod goes slightly towards the Leonard, but it won’t be a big surprise if Green wins it this year.

Sixth Man of the Year:

Winner: Andre Iguodala

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Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

 

The numbers don’t tell the story here, it’s more of the impact. Andre Iguodala comes in off the bench, the Warriors get another great defender, ball handler, passer and just compliments virtually anyone on that team. Him missing a few games might dock some votes, but despite the non flashy numbers, there’s isn’t a more valuable come off the bench guy in the league than Iggy has been for the Dubs.

Make a case for anyone:

Jamal Crawford.

Crawford can once again win the role he has so embraced. The key setback is his inefficient shooting, but he’s once again being an added scoring punch for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Evan Turner.

Think of Andre Iguodala’s impact on Golden State, that’s what Evan Turner does for the Boston Celtics, but not as good defensively. He’s an extra ball handler, passer, even a go to scorer on some occasion. The defense isn’t as mighty as Iggy’s, but Turner can switch to defend wings and PGs when he’s on the court, adding defensive versatility.

His inconsistencies are going to be the big drop in his nod, but he’s certainly in the conversation.

Lastly, let’s take a peek at our All – NBA teams.

1st Team All – NBA:

Chris Paul – Stephen Curry – Kawhi Leonard – LeBron James – Draymond Green.

2nd Team All – NBA:

Russell Westbrook – Kyle Lowry – Kevin Durant – Paul George – DeMarcus Cousins

3rd Team All – NBA:

Damian Lillard – James Harden – Paul Millsap – LaMarcus Aldridge – Andre Drummond

Make a case for anyone not on the list:

Klay Thompson.

He could easily a 3rd Teamer, but the nod goes to James Harden for his ridiculous post All-Star stats where he’s putting up 30 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds per game. Thompson can easily slide. as he’s also having great scoring numbers with with great shooting splits, but he just slips a bit.

1st Team All – Rookie: 

DeAngelo Russell – Devin Booker – Justise Winslow – Kristaps Porzingis –  Karl-Anthony Towns

2nd Team All – Rookie: 

Emmanuel Mudiay – Josh Richardson – Myles Turner – Nikola Jokic – Jahlil Okafor

Make a case for anyone not on the list?:

This should be the best crop of rookies for this year. Will be hard to make a case for anyone else.

1st Team All – Defense:

Chris Paul – Kyle Lowry – Kawhi Leonard – Draymond Green – Hassan Whiteside

2nd Team All Defense:

Avery Bradley – Tony Allen – Paul George – Paul Millsap – DeAndre Jordan

Make a case for anyone not on the list?:

Easily, LeBron James.

He has been tailing off defensively, possibly due to saving himself for the Playoffs. With that said, he’s still one of the better versatile defenders in the league. Will not be surprising at all if the King makes another All Defensive team, but Millsap and George gets the nod.

Rudy Gobert could also make a case, but a lot of missed games may take him out of the equation.

SAM HINKIE GONE. THE PROCESS IS OVER.

Commentary:

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Sam Hinkie has stepped down as Sixers GM, leaving a big mark in NBA history. Photo courtesy of thesixersense.com

The Process has come to an end.

Sam Hinkie, the very famous (now former) General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers stepped down from his duties on April 6th. And boy did he become famous alright.

In his tenure in Philly as the GM, Hinkie had a plan, a plan that actually challenged the NBA mettle in their sort of reward system of giving the worst teams a very nice gift, a high draft pick. The Process, or as it is popularly known, involved Hinkie completely dismantling the Sixers, starting in 2013 to, in a sense, have a roster in which the goal is, well, to lose games. And lose games they did (they really did).

The Process was simple and straight to the point, tank like no else have done before, try to a top three draft pick in the process, and acquire assets along the way. It made sense in analytical and mathematical perspectives, be the stupidest team in the league, have the best chance of the best prospects coming in. It has been that way, the whole time, until 2 days go, or when the Sixers hired Jerry Colangelo as Chairman of Basketball Operations, possibly ending the Process and leaving the future of Philly in doubt as to what comes next.

In a way, it has worked. Sam Hinkie in his tenure, have managed to give the Sixers multiple draft picks, something they didn’t have after using them for the Andrew Bynum trade (remember that trade?) and has positioned the Sixers within striking distance of getting the top overall pick in the last three years. Sure, the plan is to not win a lot of games, and doing so gave them back to back #3 picks in 2014 and 2015, and could possibly have another one this year.

As far as moves, trading away All-Star PG Jrue Holiday for a pick that ended up being Nerlens Noel might seem questionable at the time, but along this Process, Hinkie made good moves to cut salaries, and acquire draft picks along the way. He traded Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams to what could now be a top 10 pick in the upcoming draft or the next year (via the Lakers with a top 3 proetection). He fleeced Sacramento to get yet a couple of first round picks and has gotten one more from Oklahoma City.

The tank and grab part of the Process has worked. They are in position AGAIN for a top three pick, and a plethora of assets to move around or include to be a trade package to acquire more pieces. So what went wrong? Why is it all of a sudden Hinkie is stepping down?

The Process had one major flaw. It does, in a way made sense, but only if you have no sense of emotion. The Sixers have became a joke of a franchise in the last three years, closely coming in as the worst team in the history of the NBA. Hinkie failed to realize that while it’s great to have top draft picks every year, it’s also necessary to build a culture of competitiveness, cohesiveness and winning. He embraced losing, and it rubbed off to the entire franchise. It’s one thing to tank, it’s another to flat out just didn’t care, and it showed not only in games, but in player morale, media backlash and fan support, who ultimately paid the price in the Process’ ultimate side effect.  He also wasn’t willing to sign good players despite the cap space he created, and settled on D-Leaguers and bench players with longer contracts who would not sniff and NBA floor in any other team, but is welcome in Philadelphia because they come with a draft pick along the way.

There was no certainty, there was no sense of urgency, and there was no interest in the locker room, mainly because their GM is smiling ear to ear every time the team gets blown out.

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Sam Hinkie drafted Center Jahlil Okafor, after drafting two Center in the two previous drafts. David Dow, FOX Sports

Hinkie’s draft history with Philadelphia isn’t helping the Process’ case as well. The tank worked, it landed them Noel two top 3 picks in two straight years. But the decisions were rather questionable. Hinkie drafted 3 Centers (THREE) in a row in the last three years, one of them hasn’t even played an NBA game yet. And sure, we can’t blame him for Joel Embiid’s injury, and he’s clearly the best prospect within that spot at the time, it’s baffling that Hinkie would be willing to carry three young Center prospects in his team. DeAngelo Russell being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers could have thrown the Sixers’ and Hinkie’s draft board, but they could have easily moved down to draft either Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow and a couple of other names that were not Centers and had a better fitting team, while possibly getting more . Instead he had Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, two guys who lacked floor stretching capabilities that completely don’t compliment each other. And Dario Saric is still yet to be seen after being traded for Elfrid Payton in 2014, a guy the Sixers have drafted and is developing into a decent PG on his own in Orlando. But of course, Saric won’t play for possibly two years, which means it’s an open roster spot to get an inferior player to get his place, more losing.

The Sixers were a laughing stock, and Hinkie seems to be alright with it. There’s only one thing on his mind, get a franchise player from a draft class, and then rebuild. The Sixers possibly decided they won’t have none of it when they hired Colangelo on December of last year. The ownership bought in the Process, but the humiliation probably was too much that they decided to bring in help. And now help seems like it’s taking over.

Speculation about Hinkie’s resignation is possibly due to him being forced out. Adrian Wojnarowski that Colangelo wanted Hinkie to be a “glorified director of analytics or run  or run him out of the Philadelphia 76ers altogether. And that was the Process to begin with. Hinkie put a plan in place based on numbers, probability and analytics, completely ignoring basketball. With his resignation, it’s going to be interesting to see where the Sixers go to next. They have the best shot of landing the #1 overall pick in this year’s draft, again. And boy would it hurt for Sam when they do. His plan was to land that top pick from the start. He missed out on Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, not Anthony Bennett but he could have had Victor Oladipo. The Process could have had a payoff this year, and he won’t be there to see it. It promises a new path for Philadelphia this year, but the foundation, oddly enough, has been laid by Hinkie, at the expense of total disregard for results and culture.

The Process is over, Sam Hinkie is gone. The master plan will not be seen until the very end by it’s crazy designer, but it could end up being a very good plan after all at the end of it, when new builders come in. And that’s bittersweet.

He did leave a 13 page resignation letter that is so worth reading, so there’s that (via Deadspin.com).

http://deadspin.com/here-is-sam-hinkies-full-13-page-letter-of-resignation-1769545687

THON MAKER AND THE NBA 1 YEAR RULE

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Thon Maker could set either make the 1 year rule stricter or obsolete. Photo courtesy of tipofthetower.com

Reports from all over the sports media and the Internet were flying in. High School phenom Thon Maker is declaring for the 2016 NBA Draft.

Maker has graduated High School in 2015 and is 19, currently playing in a Canadian prep league as a “post-grad”.

Maker, who made waves as a 7 footer, who’s highly touted due to the level of skills he had, rarely to be seen from 7 footers. He is forgoing college and would go straight to the NBA, the first High Schooler to probably do so since the NBA invoked the 1 year rule. And while some guys like Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay took the China path to their NBA careers, Maker is setting a new precedent. This is different. Maker made the cut as a 19 year old, but technically still playing in High School as a post grad, which would test the NBA rules of eligibility.

This will test the NBA mettle when it comes to these rules. Both sides of the argument make sense. Some of these kids have shown great games and ability, but vs high school competition. And with the few current crops of top high school recruits failing to make a mark in their colleges, it’s easy to say why the 1 year NBA rule makes sense. If some of them can’t even show flashes in the college scene, they aren’t ready for the pro’s.

Depending on the NBA’s ruling, there could now be a loophole. The 1 year rule brings the kids to college or international pro competition if players decide to go that route. That exposes them to better competition to test their skills, and in a way learn how to be a pro by experiencing travelling, self reliance, among other things. Thon Maker, if granted permission to enter the draft, would set a new set of way to not just avoid the 1 year rule, but this is to hide what flaws and holes they have in their game and mental aspects by not being exposed to better competition and to situations the mimic the professional life of a basketball player.

And Thon is an interesting prospect. The kid has legitimate ball handling skills that would make any big man back pedaling their way just trying to defend him. He’s got quick and nimble feet for a 7 footer. Put it this way, he’s a 7 feet, but he plays like a Small Forward, capable of slashing, shooting and putting the ball on the floor. He has dominated in the high school scene, and is one of the top recruits in the nation. But that’s the thing, he dominates, in high school. He has the skill, and his size and uniqueness intrigues everybody, but how would he fare well versus better competition, let alone in the pros? While people can make the argument that Thon is one of a kind, he is still raw and hasn’t in a way been tested against better, bigger and faster opponents. And the potential for him to make a name in the college scene is high, his pro potential is up in the air.

And this is what the NBA faces if they allow Thon Maker to go this route. It may work for Maker, but will it work to the other highly touted High School players who may not have the ability to take it to the next level, but can hide it thru the same process, be drafted high, paid high and never materialize as a good pro. Would the NBA allow this to happen?

If they don’t, then what then would they consider “being eligible”? And if they do, why would they just not allow High School players to get drafted then?

In all scenario, Thon Maker wins.

SHOULD THE CHICAGO BULLS TANK THE REST OF THE SEASON?

Commentary:

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It’s probably time to call it a year. Photo courtesy of slam.com

 

It may not be such a bad idea.

The Chicago Bulls are in NBA limbo. Quite good to make the the bottom half of the Playoff picture, but is obviously not enough to get a deep post season run. Not a position a team that was built to be a title contender would want. Mired with injuries and chemistry issues, the Bulls have fallen from being considered a team who could beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for a spot in the East, to a squad barely out of the Playoff race.

The Bulls should consider hanging it up.

The Bulls are currently 9th in the East, chasing the Detroit Pistons for the 8th and final spot in post season. But what benefit will it do for Chicago? Pau Gasol’s knees have been acting up lately, and could be limited. Their defense have dropped off, and they haven’t solve the chemistry issue. Even if the Bulls reach the post season, it’s looking like they are a first round exit with the way they are playing, especially with the Cavs as likely opponents.

Chicago missing the Playoffs could end up being a good thing for them moving forward. For starters, they can rest Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler for the last 12 games of the season. Both are having lingering knee concerns, and an early off season will help them fresh and fully recover and be ready for an another run next year. Sitting both of them also brings extended opportunities for their young players like Bobby Portis and Doug McDermott, who could use a boost in playing time for further development.

Another benefit for giving up the season is it give the Bulls enough games talent evaluation. They have about 12 games left, and in those 12 games, they could easily experiment lineups, play everybody and evaluate which players could be used for one more run, or guys that may not fit the system. It could also be a time to play veterans like Aaron Brooks, E’Twaun Moore, Mike Dunleavy, and young but experienced players in Justin Holiday and Tony Snell and actually have a gauge if they are going to fit the team moving forward, and possibly raise their trade values if they perform to par.

But quite possibly the biggest benefit from actually giving up on this year is having the chance of getting a lottery pick. Jumping into the top 12 would be a big boost for the Bulls fill the needs in their big man spot, with Joakim Noah poised to leave via free agency. Having a lottery pick also boost their trade chances if they go the route of acquiring a veteran presence instead. Making the Playoffs would put them in the 16 and higher range, while missing it could potentially bring them to 12 -8 spots, huge difference.

The Chicago Bulls have 12 games to either make the Playoffs, or decide for themselves if they should call their season early.  It does look like tanking the rest of the year is a better option at this point, as making the Playoffs would not benefit the team in any other way. The New Orleans Pelicans have already done it this year, sitting out Anthony Davis for the rest of the season. And the Golden State Warriors had some success in this scenario, tanking the 2011-12 season in the last few months and they ended up getting Harrison Barnes, a pick that would have went to Utah if they won a few more games. The Bulls still have the core talent to make another run next year, sacrificing the season for a better run in the next should not be a bad way to go out.