Monthly Archives: March 2017

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.

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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.

NBA Needs to Drastically Crack Down on “Resting”

I guess the Warriors schedule is too hard for a professional athlete. Photo Credit: NBA.COM

When the 2016-2017 NBA schedule was released and the schedule makers blessed us with a March 11th game where the San Antonio Spurs would host the Golden State Warriors in a late season push for the number one seed, it was expected to be the most interesting and viewed regular season meeting this side of each of the Kevin Durant versus Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder meetings. Especially after the 29-point manhandling the Spurs put on the defending Western Conference Champions on opening night with their new Big Four.

A potential preview of the 2017 Western Conference Finals was ruined when Warriors coach Steve Kerr decided to “rest” the healthy Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, with Kevin Durant already out with a Grade 2 MCL injury in his left knee, because Golden State was on the second night of back-to-back games and having played ten games in the last seventeen days (February 23rd to March 11th). Seven of those were on the road, and the last four of that streak in five days.

Add to that that Kawhi Leonard (concussion protocol) and LaMarcus Aldridge (minor heart arrhythmia) also missed the game killed any excitement the league was building by having these two juggernauts face off in primetime in the first season of their highly promoted venture with ABC/ESPN to broadcast the most compelling games of the week on Saturday nights.

Instead we got an unwatchable game that was a 20-point blowout at halftime, with a final score of 107-85 San Antonio, while the Warriors trotted out a bunch of dudes you wouldn’t watch play pick-up at the playground if you just happened to be walking by.

This was clearly Kerr’s attempt to throw up a middle finger at the Association and its schedule makers. He could have easily looked ahead and staggered resting his top guys earlier in the streak when they played inferior teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, with an eye on a big finish to end the 10-game span at full strength against the Spurs. Instead he basically said “F*** You” to anyone who cared about the game.

It’s time for Commissioner Silver to do something drastic end this trend. This isn’t good for the sport, the fans and business.

Why should fans pay hundreds and thousands of their hard earned dollars on tickets, travel, concessions and merchandise at any NBA game with the thought in the back of their mind they may or may not get to see their favorite player play or favorite team at full strength?

And why should fans across the country, that can’t attend the game in person, continue to pay a premium for League Pass and carve out time in their schedule to watch D-League quality?

So here’s what Commissioner Silver should do, NEEDS to do.

First, reduce the schedule to 65 games, similar to the format from 2011-2012 when the league was in a lockout that delayed the season. I’m cool if the owners want to take some money back from the players because of this, serves them right. Just back loading key divisional and conference games that will affect playoff seeding near the end of the season like the NFL did a couple of seasons ago isn’t working.

Limit preseason games if you have to as well, and spread the 65-games out over late October to mid April, and eliminate back to backs as well as three games in four night deals, giving no coach or player an excuse to “rest.”

Finally, heavily fine players that aren’t active for any reason other then a disclosed and diagnosed injury if they continue to “rest”. Instead of levying a hefty fine on teams like the one given to the Spurs when Coach Gregg Popovich did something similar as Kerr against the Miami Heat in 2013, dock from their salary cap which will hurt their ability to build a competitive roster. That will fix it.

Resting healthy players is also an insult to the history of the game and past players that so many of today’s players say inspired them. As ESPN/ABC analyst Michael Wilbon, said on ABC during Halftime of the Spurs-Warriors game, “twenty years ago forty-four NBA players played all 82 games. Last season only 18 players played all 82.”

For more perspective, arguably the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan played every game scheduled in a season nine of his fifteen seasons, including his final season at age 39-40. He also played 81 and 80 games two other seasons. By comparison, LeBron James, the best player in today’s era, has NEVER played all 82 games and has only reached 80 games two times in his fourteen-year career.

Today’s players are supposed to have better nutrition and better training, so what’s the problem?

How healthy and great would Kobe Bryant have played at the end of his 20-year career if he took so many nights off?

This is another reason why Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett and other legends of the game say today’s players are soft. And I’m starting to think they’re right.

Jalen Rose, Wilbon’s co-analyst on ABC’s Halftime show hosted by Sage Steele, also a 13-year NBA vet, pointed out that the Association is followed on Twitter more than any other sports league, the NBA also has thirteen current players followed on the social media site that are in the Top 100, while the NFL has none despite being the most popular sport in America. The NBA also has two current players in the Top 5 on the Forbes Endorsement list while the NFL has none.

NBA players are more popular and make more money based off their notoriety than any other sport. So figuratively and financially speaking, they’re spitting in the face of those who they’ve made their fame and fortune off of, the Consumer.

Mister Silver, you’re the only one that can fix it. You’re the most proactive leader in sports, so I trust that you will. Until then, hopefully when these two meet again on March 29th we’ll get something closer to what we expect to see come playoff time. But I doubt it. Got rest up for that playoff run.