Tag Archives: Steve Nash

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.

Class of 96: the NBA’s Best Ever?

 

Class of ’96, could be the best the NBA has ever seen. Courtesy: NBA.com

Two time NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash retired this weekend after a stellar eighteen seasons that ended with two injury riddled seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers in Southern California. His departure now leaves the 1996 draft class with two active players; Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen, who isn’t currently on a roster but is still mulling over playing next season at age 40. As the well wishes and compliments flooded the twitter-verse, and national networks took time to reflect on Nash’s career, it also conjured up memories of his classmates and left me begging the question, “is the 1996 Class the best draft ever?”

Just look at the names. Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, Jermaine O’Neal, Marcus Camby, Peja Stojakovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Derek Fisher and the undrafted Ben Wallace.

The Class of 1984 is widely regarded as the best ever due to the exploits of Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. They even had their own NBA TV documentary and a book that explained how they changed the game forever. There are also some who give the nod to the Class of 2003 headlined by LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Time will tell as that class is still pretty much in the prime of their careers.

While both ’84 and ’03 classes boast All-Time greats, I can argue that the ’96 group as a whole is just as accomplished, if not more.

Let’s start with the consensus best player in this draft, Kobe Bryant. The “Black Mamba” is currently third on the NBA All-Time scoring list with 32,482 points and counting. He’s won the most titles with five and been named NBA Finals MVP twice (2009, 2010). He’s the closest thing we’ve seen to his “Airness” and is viewed by many of his peers and predecessors as one of the top five players in history.

Magic Johnson has already called him “the Greatest Laker Ever” and that’s saying a lot considering most view him as the greatest player in Laker history, as well as the many Hall of Famers that have donned purple and gold.

Don’t forget, Kobe was also at the forefront of the “Redeem Team” that recaptured the Gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and repeated at the 2012 games in London. It was his insistence on playing for that team that turned Team USA around after the 2004 Team lead by Class of 2003 stars Lebron, D-Wade and Carmelo could only muster a bronze medal finish.

Allen Iverson, the first overall selection in 1996, is pound for pound the best scorer in NBA history. He has the sixth best per game scoring average of all time (26.7) and finished his 16 year career with 24,368 points. For a guy known specifically for his offense, his 1,983 steals is good for twelfth all-time. A.I. caused a cultural shift on and off the court. He ushered in the hip hop era sporting braids and tattoos that made it commercially acceptable in the living rooms of the masses. Iverson announced he didn’t want to be like Bird, Magic or Jordan and by being the “anti-Jordan”, it actually helped him become one of the games brightest stars. His cultural impact could even rival Jordan’s from a marketing perspective because he was the first to do it as he put it “his way” and not be a cookie cutter replica of the stars of the past.

His grit and toughness on the floor was a throwback in a league that was getting and now is soft. “The Answer” is fourth on the career list in minutes played per game (41.1) and he played through a laundry list of injuries that would cause today’s player to miss a week worth of games.

His greatest accomplishment may be having lead a outmanned Sixers team to the 2001 NBA Finals and a game one victory over a Lakers team that dismantled the Western Conference playoffs—the only game L.A. lost in the postseason that year.

As I mentioned earlier, Steve Nash has two NBA MVP trophies and is the only player 6’3″ and shorter to accomplish this feat. He is third on the All-Time assists list—behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd—with 10,335 and led the league in assists five times. When you look at the numbers and his impact on the open free flowing style of play adopted by many teams today, Nash has an argument for top 5 point guard ever.

He was also a sharp shooter with a career percentage of 49% in twos, 42.8% on threes, which is ninth all time and 90.4% from the free throw line which is tied for the best in history. Four times he cracked the exclusive 50-40-90 club a record 4 times (shoot 50+% from twos, 40+% from three and 90+% from the FT line).

Speaking of shooters, Ray Allen is arguably the best in the history of the game. “Mr. Shuttlesworth” has made more threes than anyone with 2,973. His eight threes made in game two of the 2010 NBA Finals is sill a record, seven of which were made in one half which is also a record.

He also has the most 4 point plays made in a single Finals game. His clutch shooting is the reason both the 2007 Boston Celtics and the 2013 Miami Heat won World Championships.

Ben Wallace wasn’t drafted out of Virginia Union University, but he is the epitome of persistence in a professional athlete. Wallace signed with the Washington Bullets/Wizards franchise where he struggled to consistently stay in the rotation, then when he finally broke through as a starter for the Orlando Magic, he was shipped to Detroit in the trade for Grant Hill that at the time was viewed as lopsided for Orlando.

Now he will be forever known as one of the best defensive players in history, winning a record four Defensive Player of the Year awards with the Pistons. He stellar rebounding, shot blocking and defensive leadership lead the 2004 Detroit Pistons to an unlikely NBA Title over a stacked Laker team headlined by Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.

While the previous mentioned five guys are headed towards the Naismith Hall of Fame, there are several others notables that had significant roles on teams that were consistently in the title hunt.

Kerry Kittles (8th pick) was Jason Kidd’s backcourt mate in New Jersey when they made consecutive NBA Finals appearances in the early 2000’s. Shandon Anderson (54th pick) played key minutes on those Karl Malone, John Stockton Utah Jazz teams that challenged MJ’s Bulls in 1997 and 1998 for the title, and was a key reserve on the Miami Heat team that won the franchise’s first title in 2006. Zydrunus Ilgauskus (20th pick) was the starting center and LeBron James sidekick when the Cleveland Cavaliers made their first and only NBA Finals appearance in 2007. Malik Rose (44th pick) was a key reserve with the San Antonio Spurs as they won their first two titles. And you can’t forget Derek Fisher (24th Pick) who has five rings from hitting big shots playing alongside Shaq, Kobe and Pau Gasol.

Overall this class has captured:

20 Championship rings – Kobe 5, Fisher 5, Ray Allen 2, Malik Rose 2, Samaki Walker 1, Travis Knight 1, Shandon Anderson 1, Antoine Walker 1, Ben Wallace 1, Peja Stojakovic 1

4 MVPs – Iverson (2001), Nash (2005, 2006) and Kobe (2008)

8 – All-NBA Teamers which is a record for any draft class. [Iverson (3x 1st team, 3x 2nd Team, 1x 3rd Team), Marbury (2x 3rd Team), Allen (1x 2nd Team, 1x 3rd Team), Bryant (11x 1st Team, 2x 2nd Team, 2x 3rd Team), Stojakovic (1x 2nd Team), Nash (3x 1st Team, 2x 2nd Team, 2x 3rd Team), Jermaine O’neal (1x 2nd Team, 2x 3rd Team), Wallace (3x 2nd Team, 2x 3rd Team)]

11 – NBA All Stars

2 – Defensive Players of the Year; Marcus Camby (2007) and Ben Wallace (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006)

3 – All NBA Defensive Teamers (Kobe 9x 1st Team, 3x 2nd Team, Camby 2x 1st team & 2x 2nd Team, Wallace 5x 1st Team, 1x 2nd Team)

Many will disregard my premise and say, “but the 84 Class had MJ the G.O.A.T.” But I’m basing my opinion on the totality of the parts that equalled the whole. While the 84 Class changed the game on the court and globally, this talented group has proven they’re second to none, at worse they should be equal. Don’t be surprised to see their story documented in films and on bookshelves soon. I’m already working on my version.