Orlando Will Pick at the Dreadful Sixth Spot

The NBA Draft lottery provides new hope for struggling franchises. Photo Credit: NBA.com

The NBA draft lottery was held Wednesday night and the Orlando Magic will pick sixth in the 2017 Draft on June 26th. That collective groan you heard around 8:50 pm was from the central Florida area.

The disappointment is from early projections coming into the lottery expecting the Magic would get the fifth pick, where they’ve had some past success.

The sixth pick may have some Orlando fans doubting if a transformative player will be available. But with “experts” saying this is the deepest draft in several seasons, and the Magic having several needs–most notable an efficient shooting small forward that can be a versatile defender–hopefully there will be one available that can change the fortunes of the franchise.

For those fans that don’t think this 2017 pick will do much to help end the worst period in Orlando Magic basketball, I’ll be honest, I don’t blame them. There’s a dramatic difference, historically, in the one pick between fifth and sixth.

If you need evidence, here’s a look at some of the all-time greats, All-Stars, All-NBA performers and Champions that have been chosen fifth overall in the past thirty years.

  • 1987 – Scottie Pippen (Seattle Sonics; traded to Chicago Bulls)
  • 1988 – Mitch Richmond (Golden State Warriors)
  • 1991 – Steve Smith (Miami Heat)
  • 1995 – Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves)
  • 1996 – Ray Allen (Minnesota Timberwolves; traded to the Milwaukee Bucks)
  • 1998 – Vince Carter (Golden State Warriors; traded to the Toronto Raptors)
  • 2003 – Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat)
  • 2008 – Kevin Love (Memphis Grizzlies; traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves)
  • 2010 – DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)

Now look at the notables that were selected sixth overall in that span of time.

  • 1987 – Kenny Smith (Sacramento Kings)
  • 1993 – Calbert Cheney (Washington Bullets)
  • 1996 – Antoine Walker (Boston Celtics)
  • 1999 – Wally Szczerbiak (Minnesota Timberwolves)
  • 2001 – Shane Battier (Memphis Grizzlies)
  • 2003 – Chris Kaman (LA Clippers)
  • 2006 – Brandon Roy (Portland Trailblazers)
  • 2008 – Danilo Gallinari (New York Knicks)
  • 2012 – Damian Lillard (Portland Trailblazers)
  • 2014 – Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics)

See the difference?

Outside of Antoine Walker, Brandon Roy and presently Damian Lillard, those other sixth overall picks didn’t achieve their peak success with the team that drafted them. Majority of the players selected sixth in the last thirty years didn’t have more than a cup of coffee in the league and were nothing more than role players or all out busts. Remember these names?

  • 1988 – Hersey Hawkins (LA Clippers; traded to the Philadelphia 76ers)
  • 1989 – Stacey King (Chicago Bulls)
  • 1990 – Felton Spencer (Minnesota Timberwolves)
  • 1991 – Doug Smith (Dallas Mavericks)
  • 1994 – Sharon Wright (Philadelphia 76ers)
  • 1995 – Bryant Reeves (Vancouver Grizzlies)

I think you get my point. You can see how falling that one spot can set a franchise back even longer or propel it to greatness.

The Magic really needed to get the fifth pick, which they had two other times. In 2015, they selected guard/forward Mario Hezonja out of Croatia. In 2000, they selected Florida University guard/forward Mike Miller, who eventually went on to win NBA Rookie of the Year.

While the jury is still out on Hezonja’s career, Miller made an immediate impact helping the Tracy Mac-led Magic get back into the playoffs before being traded to the Grizzlies in his third season. Miller is still thriving in the Association in his eighteenth season.

Orlando hopes they can get some Magic and a reversal of fortune with the 2017 number six selection, and turn this franchise around to end its longest playoff drought in team history. Otherwise, this night will be remembered for sinking the franchise into a deeper sea of despair.

Russ is the NBA MVP. Case Closed!

Russell Westbrook has done the unthinkable and passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in a single season. Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

It’s no longer a discussion. The name Russell Westbrook should have been engraved on the Maurice Podoloff Trophy the moment his buzzer beating 3-point shot swished in to defeat the Denver Nuggets 106-105 Sunday night. He finished the game with 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. That’s his third 50+ triple double of the season, which is the most in a career in NBA history. His overall case is just stronger than any in of the other candidates.

The Thunder are 33-9 when he gets a triple-double. So you know it’s not empty stats. The 42 triple-doubles in a season passed Oscar Robertson for the most in a single season in NBA history. Those 42 triple-doubles also helped him pass Wilt Chamberlain for 4th place on the all-time list. Two times this season he had streaks of 7 consecutive triple-doubles. He’s also the first player to record a triple-double without missing a shot. His 31.9 points per game average leads the league.

Westbrook’s current player efficiency rating (PER) of 30.58 is tops in the league this season by almost 3 points, and it would rank 16th on the all-time list for a single season according to Basketball-Reference.com. FYI, the highest PER for a season is 31.82 by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63. So Russ isn’t that far off.

Westbrook doesn’t have the same quality of teammates, as say his closest competitor for the award, James Harden. The Thunder were delivered the blow of losing arguably the second best player in the NBA in July, after they spent the month of June making trades for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to play with him and Kevin Durant.

Harden has the extra benefit of playing for the leading candidate for coach of the year in Mike D’Antoni. He also plays with two of the leading candidates for Sixth Man of the Year in Eric Gordon and Lou Williams. Two defensive aces in former champion in Trevor Ariza and an all-defensive team performer in Patrick Beverly surround him on the perimeter. The Rockets have a better system built around Harden and had a whole offseason to transition into it.

In 2014-15 when Durant missed 55 games with a foot injury, Oklahoma City didn’t even make the playoffs. Many “experts” predicted the same or a down to the wire fight for the eight seed without him in 2016-17. Westbrook has the Thunder solid in the sixth seed.

He doesn’t have the shooting and scoring around him like the other MVP candidates. OKC shoots 45.2% from the field. That is 14th in the league. They’re last in the Association in 3-point shooting at 32.7%. Only 3 other Thunder players are averaging in double figures, while Houston has five to play along side Harden.

Any other season Harden or even Kawhi Leonard would run away with the award. But, how can you not reward the guy who’s doing something that hasn’t been done, or come close to being replicated in fifty-five seasons?

Maybe it was Durant who was holding Westbrook back all these years when the pundits kept saying he was getting in Durant’s way.

If you thought the Thunder we’re going to easily make playoffs before the season began, you’re lying. Yet here they are. That’s because Russ has single handedly carried them there. Scary to think of what he and this team can become when they can build the team around him with complimentary pieces.

Robertson averaged a triple-double over the course of five seasons, and Russ could very well be in the midst of having a similar run and winning a couple MVPs to add to his trophy case. This could be just the beginning. Why Not?

Westbrook exits the Pepsi Center after notching his 42nd triple-double and 3rd 50+ point triple-double. Both NBA records. Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Best Fits For Colin Kaepernick

That is if he isn’t REALLY being blackballed by NFL owners and executives.

Colin Kaepernick still has something left in the tank, but where will he get to display it next is the question. Photo Credit: NFL

Colin Kaepernick deserves a chance to play in the NFL. I won’t go over the list of quarterbacks who can’t compare to him that have already been signed this offseason. That angle has been beaten to death. Rather I’d like to look at the team’s that should be in demand of his skill set.

Let me also set this up by acknowledging that Kaepernick is in starting QB purgatory. He’s like an award winning lead actor who’s had several Box Office flops and now studios only inquire about his interest in a supporting role until he can get that “it” back that sold out theaters. It’s like that episode of “Entourage” when Vincent Chase had to settle for the supporting role in the “Smokejumpers” film after his fallout with Alan the head of Warner Brothers over the “Aquaman” sequel and “Medellin.” Like Vince’s agent Ari Gold told him “you’re in movie star jail.” That’s Kaepernick’s situation now.

Even though the last few seasons with the San Francisco 49ers wasn’t Colin’s fault, you can blame Owner Jed York and General manager Trent Baalke for that, Colin has to accept the fact that he’s not a starting QB right now. I put emphasis on right now. That’s not to say he still can’t be, it’s just that no team is going to invest in him being their starter at this point.

As far as his play, Colin is the definition of a dual threat quarterback. He’s not the historic prototype like Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck. So he can’t fit into any system and thrive. Think of the trouble Michael Vick had finding a team in his latter years. Kaepernick needs to be in a system where the incumbent starter does many of the same things he does best and the offense resembles the read option that helped him when he led the Niners to the Super Bowl and the NFC title game the season after.

The goal for him should be to get on a team that will help him best show that his skills haven’t eroded, just the situation around him in “The Bay” did, and possibly gain a starting offer for 2018.

With that being said, these are the teams I think he’ll be a great fit for as a backup. All of these teams have entrenched starters who play similar to the way Colin played in his best days. None of these teams would have to change their offensive schemes to fit Colin if he were called upon. That’s the “football reason” many are using to avoid signing him.

Seattle Seahawks. Can you name the Seahawks backup QB? Didn’t think so. It’s Trevone Boykin who has some off-the-field issues he has to deal with this offseason. You wouldn’t know that because Russell Wilson hasn’t missed much time since he took over in the great northwest. However, their offense suits the superior athleticism and improvisation both Wilson and Kaepernick thrive on. Wilson also struggled with some lower leg injuries last season that he played through when he probably shouldn’t have if they had a capable backup on the roster.

Plus, that locker room and head coach Pete Carroll is tailor made to handle the “distractions” that will come with signing Kaep. Plus many of the guys in that locker room agree with his anthem protest, which he says he won’t continue this season.

Carolina Panthers. Cam Newton takes a beating, which is why he just had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Derek Anderson is currently his backup. He’s a totally different QB than Cam, thus the Panthers would have to drastically alter their gameplan  if he’s needed to take snaps. Anderson is more suited to be Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. Kaep would allow Carolina to keep their same physical run first style in any absence of Newton.

Tennessee Titans. Marcus Mariotta is coming off a late season broken leg that could slow him down to start the 2017 season. His understudy is Matt Cassell. Those two couldn’t be any different. The Titans are also a run first offense with read option concepts. They rely heavily on their running backs DeMarco Murray and 2-year back Derrick Henry.

Buffalo Bills. If Tyrod Taylor really is their franchise QB, it makes more sense to have Kaepernick behind him than Cardale Jones, who I love, but is more like Roethlisberger or Carson Palmer. The Bills also have a strong running game led by LeSean Mccoy. Notice a theme here?

Miami Dolphins. Despite his size (6’4″ 216) Ryan Tannehill, a former wide receiver at Texas A&M, plays a more mobile game than pocket passer. Miami’s a more heavy rushing offense with Jay Ajayi in their backfield, with many read option concepts. Their backup is Matt Moore, who is more of a pocket passer. Moore is a career backup, which is why he’s in Miami, but as he showed when Tannehill was injured late last season, he can’t duplicate the success of the starter that helped get the Dolphins into the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Dallas Cowboys. With Tony Romo retired that leaves a significant void behind Dak Prescott. Right now the backup is Kellen Moore. You sure you want him to be the 2nd option? Remember how he fared in 2015 when Romo was injured for most of the season? You may say “the Cowboys wanted to move on from Romo because they don’t need Dak looking over his shoulder.” Like I said previously, at this point Kaepernick is a backup. Romo had shown when he is healthy that he’s a starter. That’s why there was a distraction, because everyone assumed Dallas would be better than they were with Dak if Romo was in the lineup. No one would be making those assumptions with Kaepernick. But Cowboy fans would feel much safer with him on the roster in case Dak were injured or suffered from a “Sophomore Slump.” Plus they have 2016 NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott, keeping with my run first theme.

All these teams I’ve looked at are heavy rushing offenses. That’s what the 49ers were in their best days with Kaepernick under center with the franchise’s all-time leading rushing Frank Gore in the backfield. Also with their style of play, they put the starter in harms way often. Signing Kaepernick would be the best insurance policy out there. After a season excelling as a backup it’s likely he’d get one of those deals Mike Glennon jut got.

Now that there is one less quarterback option on the market for teams in need, Kaepernick’s name should be coming up more. Hopefully his unemployment will end very soon, if not then we know what it is.

Here’s How You Solve The MVP Race, Give Out More Awards

The Maurice Podoloff Trophy shouldn’t be the only trophy handed out for a player having a great season. Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

The 2016-17 race for NBA Most Valuable Player is as close as any we’ve seen in recent memory.  Four players have a legitimate claim that they deserve the award. Russell Westbrook who is doing something that hasn’t been done since 1961-62. James Harden who is having a redemption season leading the Houston Rockets to 50+ wins and the third seed of the Western Conference playoffs after they only won 41 games last season, finishing in the 8th seed and he didn’t make any of the three All-NBA teams. Kawhi Leonard who has ascended into the conversation as a top five player in the game in the absence of the retired Tim Duncan. And LeBron James, who like the most famous 23 he’s chasing, is still the best player in the game and showing no signs of slowing down.

It’s going to be a tough choice for those who have a vote. Should I vote for the guy who is exceeding expectations along with his team? Or should I vote for the guy who is having the best season statistically? What about the guy who is having a breakout season while replacing a first ballot Hall of Famer and the team isn’t missing a beat? What about the guy who is the most valuable to the entire League?

It shouldn’t be this difficult because they should have more options. The NBA should add more individual awards to specify what they’re voting for.

Here’s my idea.

Keep the Maurice Podoloff Trophy and award it as the Most Valuable Player in the way it was intended, to go to the player who was the most valuable to their team’s level of success.

For example, if you took Russell Westbrook off his Oklahoma City Thunder team this season it’s very likely that they would be on the fast track to earn the most Ping-Pong balls to gain the number one overall pick in the 2017 Draft. I guess I just told you who I hope wins.

But I also think there should be a Player of the Year award given to the player who is the best regardless of their team’s success. I’d call this the Michael Jeffrey Jordan Trophy. I even have an idea of what it should look like. Despite what many would believe it shouldn’t be the Jumpman logo. Save that for the kicks. Rather it should be the pose from “last shot” he made as a Chicago Bull to propel them to their sixth NBA title.

The reason why this award should be named after MJ is because there were several times, 92-93 and 96-97 in particular, where he was clearly still the best player in the game, but Charles Barkley and Karl Malone deserved to win the MVP award because they lifted their teams beyond expectations. Handing out a “Player of the Year” trophy is my solution to get past this so called “LeBron Fatigue” where no one wants to vote him for MVP because he has a real case to win it every season. So since he’s suffering the same fate that kept Jordan from earning more than five MVPs, name the award after the G.O.A.T. and give it to the best player in the league.

I’ll add another award. Since the NBA already has a Defensive Player of the Year award, how about create and Offensive Player of the Year award as well like the NFL. I’d bet James Harden would win this award in a landslide. And I’d vote for Kawhi Leonard to win his third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award.

While I’m at it, I also think there should be an MVP given out at the end of both Conference Finals. This is my solution for those who for some reason want to wait until the end of the Finals to vote for MVP. I think that idea is absurd by the way. MVP is for the regular season. But the Finals MVP named in honor of Bill Russell shouldn’t be the de facto playoff MVP either. My solution, hand out the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson MVP trophy at the end of each conference final similar to the MOP in each region of the NCAA Tournament. This way the Finals MVP can be determined by just the seven game series that decides the title.

Several sports leagues already hand out several individual awards. So what I’m calling for isn’t that unprecedented.

Major league baseball does it.  In addition to the League MVP, they give out a League Championship MVP to the best player in each series before the World Series, and then they give out a World Series MVP.

For the season they give out the Silver Slugger trophy for best offensive player at each position in each league. The Cy Young Award for the Pitchers, Rolaids Relief Man award for the best relief pitchers in each league as well as the Reliever of the Year award. The Hank Aaron award goes to the top hitter in each league and there are many more.

The National Hockey League also hands out several individual awards to celebrate all the players who had special seasons. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I know some will call this the equivalent of Little League giving everyone a participation trophy, but they’re wrong. This is a fair way to make sure all greatness is celebrated.

In some seasons the same guy will rightfully sweep all the awards I’ve created. But it would be very rare. Between the historic once in a lifetime season Westbrook is having, the impressive turnaround Harden and the Rockets have made, the ascension of Kawhi and the consistent greatness of LeBron, I hate to see one, two or three of these guys not acknowledged for what they’re doing.

Satan’s Method is Trickery

First we must understand that even though we live in a physical world, it’s under the rule of evil spirits. Darkness is all around us and constantly at work to ruin our lives in a multitude of ways that include temptation, our insecurities, fears, other weak people, and even our own misunderstanding or misinterpretation of The Word against us.

The leader of darkness, Satan, is a slick and deceitful being. Don’t be surprised if he tries to use the word of God against you. He tried it on the “Living Word” Himself while He fasted forty days and nights in the wilderness.

“The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”  Matthew 4:3-11 | NIV

Have you ever heard the phase “devil will tell the truth to tell a lie”?

As you see, the tempter/devil/opposer, whatever you want to call him, knows The Word too. But he leaves key portions out to make it easier for him to manipulate and deceive. That is why discernment and our own knowledge of the Bible is SO important.

Let me show you how he tried to trick me by making me think I was doing the right thing. In 2008 the U.S. Economy was bad to say the least. Many people lost their jobs, consequently losing their homes, cars and some people even committed suicide to escape their problems.

In late 2008, early 2009, my employer at the time was terminating contracts and offering extensions with pay cuts or salary freezes to employees in an attempt to not have to lay anyone off. Seems like a noble thing right?

In my case, my boss came to me in April 2009 three days before year two of my three-year contract was to end. He told me they were terminating my contract, but wanted to offer me a two-year extension with my salary frozen at my current rate.

The fine print of my contract stated that the company could terminate our original agreement for any reason as long as they gave me sixty days notice before the next contract year was to begin, or else be force to pay me a pro-rated salary for each day they failed to notify me in the two month window if I decided to move on.

My first two years at this job were dreadful. If you’ve read any of my other writings, you’ve heard me discuss my discontent at my last place of full-time employment. I contemplated quitting several times, but didn’t because I did not want to have a blemish on my resume that I walked out of a contract.

So when they came to me I could’ve left with fifty-seven days pay, plus the pay from the current pay period I already worked. I would have had two and a half months pay to walk away from a job and career that I didn’t want anymore and start over.

But Satan had me using human reasoning. Why would God want me to walk out on a job that claimed they wanted me, especially when I had rent and a car note to pay? I reasoned why I should re-sign even though I hated the job instead of relying on faith that God had worked a way out of a bad situation without making me look bad.

Not one week after signing the two-year extension, the first incident that started the worst two years I had there took place. It was all downhill from there. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. From having co-workers lying on me, to even having the boss who said he really wanted me to re-sign question my work ethic and teamwork.

My last two years was twice as worse as the first two years that made me want to quit in the first place.

Had I trusted the Lord and left the job when they gave me a way out, I now believe He would have led me to better opportunities that would’ve financially allowed me to take care of my responsibilities and I would’ve been able to pursue my true passion of creative writing years sooner.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” ~  Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (C. 1150)

I thought I was doing the right thing by keeping the job, but in hindsight I realize that I bought into the lie Satan was selling me that it was best for me to keep a job in an dismal economy where hundreds of thousands were losing theirs and everything they built.

Satan wants to keep us from relying on faith in God. Tricking us into thinking we know better. Whether he omits part of The Word or human reasoning, he wants us to not use blind faith. Often times blind faith is how we show God He is the only one we’re relying on. If your situation doesn’t make human sense, then I would advise you to see it as an opportunity to activate your faith and draw closer to God.

Don’t allow yourself to be tricked.

Kawhi Leonard, You Remind Me of….

Kawhi has become the best two-way player in the NBA. Photo Credit: Chris Covatta/NBAE/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs are playing their first season in almost two decades without the greatest player in franchise history, Tim Duncan. Yet, they’re still a strong title contender pushing the Golden State Warriors for the top spot in the Western Conference, and that’s all thanks to already having the next leader of their dynasty playing at a high level.

Kawhi Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, has ascended to superstardom in 2016-17.

Always known as a tremendous defender as the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, with a vastly improved offensive game, Leonard has many saying he is the best two way player in the game. And that’s saying something when LeBron James appears to still be in his prime.

The two-time All-Star is averaging a career high in points (26.0), free throws made (6.7) and attempted (7.6), for a career high 88.4% shooting. He’s also had more 25+ point games this season (35) than he had his entire career before the season began. Two times he’s had scoring steaks where he scored 30+ points in four consecutive games, and from January 10th through the 21st he had a steak of 5 consecutive games where he scored 30+ points which included setting a career high of 41 points in a win at Cleveland.

Speaking of the defending World Champion Cavs. Kawhi has gotten the better of his matchup versus LBJ scoring 25 points against them in their second victory against them this season, a 103-74 blowout where Leonard sat out the last 10 minutes of the 4th quarter.

Watching his development has been a pleasure, especially since his evolution has reminded me of several players I cheered for growing up.

In this latest edition of my “You Remind Me” series…  I compare “The Claw” to a six-time NBA Champ, a key contributor to “Showtime” and a 2017 Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame finalist.

Michael Cooper was the “Showtime” Lakers premier perimeter defender helping them win 5 Championships. The 8-time All-NBA Defensive selection (1st-Team 5-times) is as decorated as any guard on the defensive end in league history. He could play against 1’s, 2’s, 3’s and some 4’s before that was even the norm. The 1987 Defensive Player of the Year was once called “the best defender he ever faced” by Larry Bird. His defensive prowess is something he and Kawhi have in common. Leonard is a much more advanced offensive player.

Scottie Pippen. “Pip” doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being one of the best all-around players in NBA history. Not only did he defend the Chicago Bulls’ opponents top offensive perimeter player, he was also Chicago’s second leading scorer during much of his career along side Michael Jordan. But the part of Pip’s career that is most similar to Kawhi’s is the season and a half he played without MJ. In 1993-94, Pippen finished second in the league MVP voting behind Hakeem Olajuwon. That season he averaged 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.9 steals per game. Those averages led all Chicago Bulls players.

Tracy McGrady. Kawhi hasn’t had the explosive 60+ point night that T-Mac had yet, but this season he has shown he has the ability. If Coach Pop let him. McGrady averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game on 44 percent shooting from the field in his 16-year career. The two-time NBA Scoring Champion could slash through the lane and posterize the giants that patrolled the paint, but also pull up and sink the elbow jumper and post up in the short corner. Leonard has diversified his offensive game with the help of Kobe Bryant and it’s showing. The way he gets his points in a variety of ways is what reminds me of T-Mac, especially his Orlando days. More summers spent working with Kobe and the historical explosive scoring prowess might rub off on him as well.

When the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge as a free agent in 2015 the expectation was that he’d be the one San Antonio built their championship hopes around, but it’s Leonard who has taken the baton from the three Hall of Famers (Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli) that led them to their previous five titles.

Kawhi is no longer just a defensive specialist or cog in the San Antonio wheel. The Spurs will need his overall game to continue to flourish if they have any hopes of defeating that juggernaut in the Bay Area and raising more banners in the AT&T Center.

James Harden, You Remind Me of….

James Harden is leading the Rockets to heights not seen since the mid-1990’s. Photo Credit: Troy Taormina/USA Today

The race for the 2016-2017 NBA MVP race is a dead heat between four men. LeBron James who is clearly the best player in the League, Russell Westbrook who is having the most historic season seen in over five decades, Kawhi Leonard who has ascended to a superstar, and James Harden who is having a redemption season.

Harden is the leader in the NBA in assists per game (11.3) and second in scoring per game (29.5) with a real chance to become only the second player in Association history to finish the season number one in both categories (Nate Archibald, 1972-73). He can also be the first player in Association history to score 2,000 or more points, while assisting on 2,000 plus points in a season. He also averages 8.0 rebounds per game, so he’s doing it on both ends which has been the knock on him in his career.

Most importantly, the Rockets currently hold the 3rd seed in the Western Conference with 51 wins, after winning only 41 games last season and finishing with the 8th seed.

The Rockets All-Star is the leader to grab the Maurice Podoloff trophy this season after a dismal 2015-2016 season where he didn’t make one of the three All-NBA teams shouldn’t be much of a stunner. “The Beard” actually was the inaugural players selection for Most Valuable Player in 2014-15 the season when the writers selected Steph Curry to his first of back-to-back MVP wins.

Also, playing in offensive innovator Mike D’Antoni’s system has turned Harden and the Rockets into legitimate title contenders. The smooth lefty’s talent is on full display now that he’s been converted from shooting guard to point guard in the hypercharged offensive system. The same system that turned future Hall of Famer Steve Nash into a two-time NBA MVP.

Harden’s reemergance as one of the top tier players in the game has me watching him more closely. The more I do, the pieces of his game reminds me of a couple of players we’ve seen before.

A Hall of Famer, a future Hall of Famer and a former NBA Finals MVP.

This is latest edition of my “You Remind Me of”… which includes LeBron James, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Russell Westbrook.

Chris Mullin is another smooth crafty lefty without explosive athleticism, but great playmaking ability for himself and others. Each play at their own pace and never let the defender get them out of their style. Mullin is mostly known for his precision shooting from mid-range to the 3-point line, but “Mully” could definitely fill up the stat sheet like the Beard does today.

In his five All-Star seasons from 1988-89 through 1992-93, Mullin averaged 25.8 points per game on 52% shooting from the field, while grabbing 5.6 rebounds and dishing 4.1 assists per game. For the young fans who don’t know, Mullin is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Manu Ginobli. This comparison isn’t new to hear for hoop fans. Actually, this is one of the legends Harden has be known to say he modeled his game after as youth growing up in southern California. They both have that devastating, for defenders, euro-step. Although, Ginobli probably does his with more force and speed.

Another player that Harden reminds me of is 2004 NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups. He and Harden are both bigger than the average point guard (6’3″ 210 & 6’5″ 215 respectively) with the ability to post up and get easy buckets on the block, but also carry the responsibility to spread the ball around and decipher which teammate’s hot hand to ride.

Billups was the maestro for those Detroit Pistons teams that won an NBA title, was 48 minutes from a repeat, and played in six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. “Mr. Big Shot” was Detroits best offensive player while making sure fellow All-Stars Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace’s offensive talents were maximized.

The success of Harden’s team may give him the votes needed to win the MVP over his good friend Westbrook. But, I wouldn’t be mad if this one time the voters coped-out and split the award between them.