Tag Archives: Russell Westbrook

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 of 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

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.

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.

Durant Made A Choice We’ll All Have to Make, Someday

It was tough, but Durant made a decision we’ll all have to make at some point in our careers. Photo Credit: NBA.com

 
Kevin Durant agreed to a two-year 54 million dollar contract to sign with the defending Western Conference Champion and record setting 73-9 Golden State Warriors. The same team that beat his Oklahoma City Thunder in seven games, after his OKC team had a 3-1 lead. And he’s getting killed for it. 

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith called it a weak move on his part to sign with them. Several other current NBA players threw some subtle, or not so subtle shade, at the former League MVP via social media.

   
  
The reality is, Durant made a decision every working American will have to make at some point in their life. That is, where and what is the best chance for me to accomplish everything I hope to accomplish in my personal and professional life. A professional life that has a shorter life span than majority of professions on Earth, and one where he’s at a stage he is in the midst of his prime. 

“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.” ~ Kevin Durant, The Players’ Tribune, July 4th, 2016. 

See the problem is, everyone is looking at this as just a basketball decision. I get that. Especially considering that is what Durant said it would be about when he was asked about his free agency immediately following the Thunder’s postseason loss. But as you can read by the portion of his piece he wrote for The Players’ Tribune to announce his decision, it was clearly not just about basketball. When you’ve lived in a place for more than 9 years, and those years are during your early to late 20’s, it’s not out of the realm of comprehension that a person would want to experience something different.  

How many of you have had a great job in a city you were comfortable in, and your co-workers value your ideas and love being around you and you them? I’m sure that’s a lot of you. But what if another job offers you more money, with new challenges, in a city you’re intrigued by what differences it has to offer you than where you are? And what if at your current job there is uncertainty that some of your favorite co-workers or boss may be on the way out and the camaraderie that you all have will be lost? I’m sure many of you are going to take a serious look at moving on to the new opportunity. I did, and I know of many others who have. 

I say all that to frame this. What if Durant knows Russell Westbrook is leaving? Or maybe he couldn’t get an answer from Westbrook he was comfortable with to make a decision for his future. If Durant had resigned in Oklahoma City and Westbrook leaves in 2017, then what? The Thunder aren’t the same team they were before his decision, and it’s not even close. The Thunder lost in the second round of the playoffs in 2013 when Westbrook was injured in the first round. They didn’t make it to the playoffs in 2015 when Durant missed majority of the season with a foot injury. This team needs both of them to be championship competitors, and if one of them isn’t there we know they aren’t. That means the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs and others would pass them by. Maybe Durant knows that, and instead of waiting to see that happen while entering his prime years, he decided it’s time to move on before he languishes on a team that is not a championship contender. Oklahoma City has already moved on from Scott Brooks, the coach he was with for seven of his nine seasons that helped him become the player he is. 

So I ask you, wouldn’t you leave a company or job you love that you see is on the verge of collapsing before getting left behind in the rubble alone? KD did just that.

NBA Should Consider These Cities For Future All-Star Games

The 2016 NBA All-Star weekend is under way in Toronto. The 6, as it’s known, is the first city outside the continental United States to host the Association’s annual mid-season event. Canada’s most vibrant city is sure to show hoop fans a great time on and off the court.

The 2017 event is already booked for Charlotte. It will be the first time since 1991 Buzz City has hosted the game. With MJ as the host, who wouldn’t want to go to a party hosted by his Airness?
It’s great to finally see the NBA taking the greatest All-Star experience among the major professional sports leagues to new and different places. Locations like Los Angeles (2004 & 2011), Houston (2006 & 2013), New York (1998 & 2015), New Orleans (2008 & 2014) and Phoenix (1995 & 2009) have more than their share in the past 20 seasons, while other great basketball cities have yet host the event or have it return in over a generation. It’s time to go new places.
Not to get to far ahead of myself before the headline events of the 2016 weekend have even tipped off, but I have a list of paces the NBA should visit in the near future and why they’d best for the league.

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Cleveland hosted the ’97 All-Star weekend during the NBA at 50 celebration. Photo Credit: Peggy Turbett/The Plain Dealer

Cleveland – While Cleveland isn’t necessarily the place you want to be in the middle of winter (average temperatures in February are a high of 40 and a low of 20 degrees), it is a great sports city and with the return of the NBA’s best player in LeBron James, that will be on full display as he continues in the prime of his career there.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was actively attempting to lure the NBA to Cleveland for the 2017 All-Star weekend which would’ve been the 20 year anniversary of the NBA at 50 celebration. NBA commissioner Adam Silver visited Cleveland to explore the feasibility of bringing the All-Star Game back to Northeast Ohio. “We had a great experience when we were there in ’97,” Silver told the Beacon Journal. “We would love to return to Cleveland” he went on to say.

The city has grown significantly since the NBA’s last visit and has the venues to host such a highly attended event. With LeBron James entering the backend of his career, it be great to see him get the opportunity to be the unofficial host to the game’s greatest players before he rides off into the sunset.

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Chicago hasn’t hosted the All-Star weekend since 1988. Photo Credit: AP Photos

Chicago, 2018 – This will mark 30 years since the weekend of MJ. In February 1988, Michael Jordan was in the midst of one of the greatest seasons of all time when he averaged 35 ppg, 5.9 apg , 5.5 rpg, 3.2 spg on his way to winning the league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.

While his Airness was already being regarded as a Top 5 player at the time, this one weekend can be viewed as when he ascended to a global icon. He won the dunk contest–albeit controversial–while breaking out his iconic Air Jordan III sneaker, and he took home the game’s MVP award after posting 40 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 blocks and 3 assists in only 29 minutes.

What better way to once again honor the greatest player ever, by recognizing this moment. Plus, the Windy City hasn’t hosted the event since 1988, which is odd considering it’s one of the top 3 markets in America and rich in basketball history on all levels.

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South Florida has successfully hosted several major sporting events, but only one NBA All-Star Weekend. 

Miami 2019 – South Beach in February. Let me say that again, South Beach in February.  The ultimate party town, hosting the NBA’s ultimate party event. Nothing else really has to be said.

I am surprised it hasn’t been back since 1990 when the Heat weren’t even relevant. At that time you had to think former Commissioner David Stern selected South Florida to showcase one of his newest franchises as the Heat were only in its first season. But now after being in five NBA Finals in a span of eight years, Miami is a perfect match for the league. Even though they have fans more fickle than the weather down there during tropical storm season.

The city boast an extremely upscale arena, venues and plenty of hotels accommodations and more than adequate means to travel across town. Seems like a slam dunk or a Ray Allen corner three in game six of the 2013 NBA Finals.

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OKC has been a premier franchise and the fans have created a vibrant college atmosphere.

Oklahoma City 2020 – Assuming the Thunder keep both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the fold, OKC will still be an attractive draw. The Heartland doesn’t get much respect from basketball purist. But this is a chance for the NBA to reward this city for how it not only has received the Thunder and made it a great atmosphere for basketball fans, but also for how the community received the New Orleans Hornets—now Pelicans—when they took refuge after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the “Crescent City.”

Also with the NBA cares events done during the weekend, this will be a great opportunity for the league and its partners to help continue to rebuild this area that’s still reeling after the tragic tornado that struck in the spring of 2013.

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Memphis is rich in Civil Rights and hoops history, and what better way to celebrate both than during Black History Month.

Memphis 2020 – If you’ve never been, you don’t know what your are missing. From the barbecue to the nightlife, music and tourist attractions such as the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated, to Graceland the home of Elvis Presley; Memphis would be a great host for All-Star weekend. By the way, “The River City” is also a hot bed rich in hoops history at the high school, collegiate and professional levels.

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Seattle is eager for the NBA to return.

Seattle – Depending on who you are, this may seem like trolling, but let me explain why this would be a win-win for the league and Seattle hoop fans.

The League needs to make a true showing that they really want to bring a team back to Seattle. Since the Sonics were hijacked and taken to Oklahoma City, Seattle has been mentioned as a possible destination for owners looking to scare their current cities into upgrading or building new arenas. Commissioner Silver has said he’d like to bring a team back to the city by expansion or an existing franchise. This will go a long way in proving he’s serious.

For the fans and city leaders, this will be their opportunity to show that their love for NBA basketball has not dissipated in the absence of their beloved Sonics. Players will get a chance to see what NBA life in the “Emerald City” has to offer.

It shouldn’t matter that Seattle doesn’t currently have a team, that precedent was already set when the NBA took the All-Star festivities to Las Vegas in 2007.

The Much Improved Orlando Magic

The 2015-2016 Orlando Magic will make the postseason! You can book it, guarantee it, bet on it, whatever.

The young Magic are poised to bring playoff basketball back to Central Florida. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

Yes, I’m aware we are only two games into the season. You’re correct, they lost them both. And, I know they haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010-2011 season. I’m well aware that they’ve had 3 consecutive 50+ loss seasons (62 losses in 2012-2013.) All those are very important points. But, I trust my eyes, and after watching this team struggle the last three years of the post-Dwight era with a lack of talent, then a lack of chemistry and confidence, I now see they’ve reached a breakthrough point.

Friday night this team went toe to toe with the last two NBA scoring champs, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and the team many “experts” have picked to represent the Western Conference in the 2016 NBA Finals. Even though they lost 139-136 in double overtime, It’s very likely that last season’s team, or the last three for that matter, wouldn’t have even been in the game to force overtime to begin with.

Victor Oladipo registered a triple double, 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

6 players reached double figures—in regulation—for the Blue & White. 4 had 20+, with Tobias Harris leading the way with 30. The Magic have shown—through two games—they can get easy buckets inside by playing through center Nik Vucevic, who made his first 9 shots and finished 10-14. Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris continue to slash defenses for lay-ups and mid-range jumpers. This team can also stroke the three ball with Evan Fournier, Channing Frye and rookie Mario Hezonja.

Coach Scott Skiles has them playing with the tenacity and hustle that he was known for during his 10 year playing career. There was no slouching  when the Thunder cut their 18 point 4th quarter lead to force overtime. Then, they kept fighting in the first OT down five points with no made field goals before Victor Oladipo tied the game with a three at the buzzer.

Defensively they are a better team. They forced the Thunder into 20 turnovers and the Washington Wizards into 17 on opening night.

The Magic’s biggest weakness right now is defensive rebounding. Oklahoma City beat them up on the glass 62-49. Against both OKC and Washington they had significant 4th quarter leads before ultimately losing in the last moments. Learning to hang on to them will come with experience as they’re in more close games. That wasn’t the case in season’s past because they were getting blown out.

Again, I know it’s only two games, but something is different with this team. You can’t tell me you don’t see it. Maybe, just maybe, this Orlando team will be this season’s Milwaukee Bucks of a season ago or the Boston Celtics, and bring playoff basketball back to the Magic Kingdom. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. Next up for the Magic, at trip to the Windy City to face Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. Orlando’s next four games are against playoffs teams from last season.