Thursday, February 2, 2012

Big Names vs. Bigger Names

Every year, since it has existed, the NBA all-star game is one of the biggest venues in the country. Each year, the selected elite players always put on a show, and never disappoint. The exciting atmosphere keeps fans in the stands, as well as at home, on the edge of their respected seats. The biggest names, in basketball, and hollywood, and the world seem to make an appearance here to see players that over the course of the first 41 (or 33 this season) games in the season have displayed their qualities the best, in order to be put on the roster. This part poses a problem. The players that display their qualities the BEST over the course of the first half of the season. Although this theory is sometimes supported, it has not yet matured to become a law in the NBA. In recent years, the voters, the fans of the league, have picked the players who sometimes are not as deserving as other players in that first half of the season. However these players are picked over them anyway because of the excitement factor of the All-Star game. However, since All-Star appearances are one of the many variables that play an important part in a player's greatness equation, it's only fair that the ones that should be on the team, get to be on the team.

For example, Roy Hibbert. The Pacers' center, has been a pivotal, and perhaps the most important part in the Pacers surprising success. An unstoppable go-to hook shot, towering height, and crooked nose, is playing better than 95% of the centers in the league. When Indiana played Los Angeles (Lakers), Hibbert led his team to the win in LA, while impressing a lot of people in the process. Not only playing with a broken nose that game, he also outplayed leading Western Conference vote-getter at the center position Andrew Bynum. Bynum had no answer for Hibb's hook shot. Sounds like an All-Star to me, but imagine the phenomena, if Hibbert got picked to be an Eastern Conference All-Star starter in a Dwight Howard-ful league. Many would be upset because it just doesnt seem logical to pick Hibbert over Howard. Many could make the argument that Howard has led his team to the finals. Many could also argue that Howard has more All-Star appearances. 

Both would be great points in a debate, if we were talking about who's a better player. Both facts are based on past milestones in Howard's career, granted milestones that Hibbert hasn't acheived yet, but those shouldn't be valid points in choosing the best center to represent the Eastern Conference, based on his play in the first half of the season. If that wasn't the case, then there would be no need for voting each year.

The same thing happens to players like Andre Iguodala. Iguodala has led his team, just like Hibbert, in climbing the totem pole and beating some really good teams. He has played solid basketball, provided highlights, and won games for his team. To put it simply: this year, Iggy's an All-Star. However there is always someone that steps on Iggy's lego house. Dwayne Wade. Wade has been an All-Star since his second year in the league. He came out of that famous, stacked '03 draft class. He was destined for NBA stardom. But this season, Wade is averaging his lowest points per game since his rookie year. He has played in only 13 of Miami's 22 games, how is he an All-Star this year? Is it because his name is Dwayne Wade? Is it because he is a part of the Big 3? Or is it because he won a championship back in '06 and has made a name for himself as a top player in the leauge that deserves to be on the All-Star team because of his name?

On Groundhog Day this year, the NBA starters for the 2012 All-Star Game were announced. Wade was a starter, over a player that has had a better season than him, and has played more games than he has, and is actually leading his team to a decent record. But once again because he is Dwayne Wade, he is the starter.

The NBA All-Star game can accelerate careers, from good to great. And players that have potential to take their careers to the next level, and I for one, think it is unfair to those that every year have dampers put on their careers because some fan, wants to see their favorite big name player in because that leaves the more deserving out.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Pacers Win or Bulls Loss

  January 25th, 2012, Chicago, Illinois is the setting for the 8:00 matchup between the first place Chicago Bulls and the 5th place Indiana Pacers. The Bulls have the best record in the NBA, and are undefeated at home. The Indiana Pacers who, coming in, have already beaten Boston twice, and the Lakers in LA, are traveling to the United Center for the ultimate test to prove to all the doubters(me) that they are a force in the league this year. Starting lineup for the Bulls are; MVP Derrick Rose; former Detroit star Rip Hamilton; replacing Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer; Second option Carlos Boozer; and finally love him or hate him, Joakim Noah. As for the Pacers; solid Darren Collison, an improved Paul George, the pacers leading man Danny Granger, a re-energized David West, and underrated Roy Hibbert. 
 Now, let's be honest seems like an easy win for the home team right? Best Record, Best Record at home, last year's Best Player, surely with all of those small things in your favor you can't lose right? Not to mention this is the former 8th seeded team whom you faced in the first round, and beat. But there's something different about the Pacers this year. They hustle more, they play more as a team, some of the players that have been hibernating in their cocoons have awakened and the Pacers have blossomed into a beautifully good NBA team. A team that has the potential to perhaps, dare I say, make it deeper into the playoffs.  

 Now, that same process happened to the Bulls, early last season when they started to beat the NBA's elite also. So, coming into tonight's contest, it was close throughout the game. Every basket that Chicago makes, BOOM, Indiana makes one, Chicago misses a shot, BAM, Pacers turnover. The two teams looked very evenly matched.  Much of the reason has to do with the incredibly improved play of the Pacers' frontcourt. West has found a new life in Indiana, and is playing like an All-Star in the East. Roy Hibbert, broken nose and all, is displaying the true definition of heart. Not only is Hibbert playing, Hibbert is playing well, really well. Dominating some of the NBA's best big man and not getting the credit for the effort that is put in every night with a broken nose, is really speaking to his character. 
  The Bulls and Pacers were close throughout the game. No one seeming to pull away, until the final 4 minutes of the game. Not the Bulls, but the Pacers, started hitting shots, and outworking Chicago for every rebound. Now since Chicago's a good team, they kept up with them by matching the intensity. With good all around team play and a final Brian Scalabrine (?) miss, the Pacers prevail to hand Chicago its first loss at home this season. 

 Now, to analyze whether it was a Pacers' win, or a Bulls' loss. In the final 2 minutes of the game, the Pacers kept up their intensity and the Bulls were barely keeping up with them. Chicago did not make shots in the closing minutes of the game. In the final two mintues, Carlos Boozer picked up his 5th foul, Coach Tom Thibbodeau takes him out as any smart coach would do and he puts in, Brian Scalabrine? The Bulls have been dealing with injuries this entire season. So yeah, Brian Scalabrine goes in to give the Bulls a spark on defense which they desperately needed. He did his job and helped make the Pacers miss 3 key shots, which gave the bulls one final possession to tie. coming out of the timeout we all know whose hands the ball is going to be in: Rose's. So he takes it, easily gets past his defender, and like a good defender does Hibbert goes over to contest Rose from getting the easy layup. Rose passes it to the corner in hope that whoever is there is going to make the shot. Who is it? None other than Brian Scalabrine. Why is he even in the game? B-Scal is a man who only 4 days prior to this, was a guy that you brought in only when you were up 40. Now all of a sudden, Thibbodeau trusts this guy with the game? Scal wasn't even expecting the ball. He, just like everyone else in that United Center, thought that Rose was going to get the last shot. That's how it usually is, the leader gets it, and his teammates will go with what there leader does. I mean, at the end of a concert you dont see Taylor Swift tossing the mic to one of her backup singers. When it comes down to it, the Bulls got beat. The Pacers won this one. This win makes for a more competitive and exciting Eastern Conference, and a promising rivalry between the two teams.

Please leave comments below, and any feedback.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The KI-AI Comparison

"With the first pick, in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select Kyrie Irving from Duke University." With those words, Cavs fans hoped a new era had begun. They hoped for a savior in the 19-year old, barely college-tested point guard. Unlike former Number 1 Overall Draft Picks, there wasn't a whole lot of footage on Irving, namely because he only played a handful of games his freshman (and only) year. However, the footage that was there and the knowledge of Irving's skills that did exist were enough to convince the Cavs that he was the right first step into rebuilding after the departure of LeBron. Just like America had Franklin Roosevelt to lead them through the post-Depression era, Cleveland was hoping Irving was ready to lead them through the post-Decision era. And so far this year, it doesn't look like that's impossible. Sure, the Cavs don't have a winning record, but Irving is showing flashes of being a special player. In fact, he's showing flashes of another player....Allen Iverson.
Iverson was the 2001 MVP 

Is it a stretch? Sure. Is it impossible? No. Is it even close to impossible? Not really. Think about it. The similarities are definitely there. Not only are their games similar, but they're also physically similar. The differences are there too, but this isn't the KI-AI Contrast, so for now let's ignore those.

The best place to start is the top, and the thing that's similar between these two is that their tops are around the same place. With only about a 2 inch difference in their height, neither has a real height advantage over the other. Then there's their weight. While there is a 15 pound difference, in the NBA, they're both small. The similarities so far: height, weight, position. Iverson had a 41 inch vertical leap. While Kyrie Irving didn't participate in the NBA Draft Combine, it is reported that his vertical jump has been measured around 37 inches. Basically, both of them can get off the floor. While no official measurement has been taken on their speed, it's easy to tell  with the naked eye that both are incredibly fast guys. But the thing that makes their speed different from others in the league is that they are incredibly explosive guys. It takes the smallest fraction of a second and they're off to the races.

With all of those natural abilities so similar, it's only natural that these guys' games are equally similar. Think about it. Both guys are a triple threat. They can shoot outside, they can drive inside, and if they're shut down they can dime their teammates into easy scoring situations. This makes them incredibly hard to defend. Think about that. If you lay off of him, he hits the three. If you play him too tight, he gets around and drives the lane or draws a foul. If you double team him, he sets up the open man with a good dish. No matter what, you're in trouble. Both guys are masters of the behind the back pass, and both play with a certain swagger that you simply can't ignore. Iverson was good at getting to the basket, but when he got to the land of giants that often surrounded the rim, it was his acrobatic finishes that accounted for a large amount of his points. Now, a decade or so later, Kyrie Irving is doing the same thing. He gets to the basket and is always getting points on clever reverses and crafty up-and-unders. When it seems as though there's no way he can hang in the air long enough to outlast the 7-footers that frequent the paint, he puts it in at the very last second for two, just as Iverson used to wow the league by doing.

The 19-year old Irving was taken
by the Cavs with the first pick
in the 2011 NBA Draft
Other than the heights and weights, all of those things are opinions. But you know me, I love stats. I believe stats can back anything up; including this. You're wondering, what do the stats say? Well, obviously Irving's stats are limited. But so far, his stats are strikingly similar to Iverson's stats from his Rookie of the Year campaign. Iverson averaged 21.1points/36min. Irving so far? 22.5points/36min. He's actually edging out Iverson. Granted, it's one point and granted, it's 15 games into the season. But that just goes to show the people who say they are nothing alike. Other numbers are equally similar.

Stat: (Iverson/Irving)
Assists: (6.7/6.3)
Steals: (1.9/.9)
Blocks: (0.3/0.8)
Rebounds: (3.7/4.3)
Turnovers: (4.0/4.7)

The only stat where there is a difference of 1 is steals, and that's only because Iverson was one of the greatest thieves of all time. Like I said, the stats back it up. Both averaged 6 assists, both average less than 1 block, both average around 4 rebounds, both average about 4 turnovers. The stats back up the opinions, and the opinions explain the stats.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am in no way saying that Irving is the next Iverson. Iverson was a special talent. Easily one of the most electrifying scorers and one of the greatest players of all time. If I was picking a player today to go into a best-of-nine 1-on-1 series, and I had to pick between the two, my choice would easily be Iverson. Irving has a lot of work to do to get to the elite level that Iverson reached. However, with rookie numbers nearly identical to Iverson, he is certainly on the right path. If he continues to improve and rival Iverson's numbers season-by-season, it won't be long before KI joins AI on an elite level reached by few point guards.


Monday, January 23, 2012

The Man Inside the Man: David West

This offseason, (however short), had some interesting personnel moves. Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups to the Clippers, Tyson Chandler to the Knicks, Lamar Odom left the Lakers, Big Baby Davis found a home in the Magic Kingdom. Some crafty vets found a new niche in new places, the likes of Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse to the Hawks, Shane Battier taking his talents to South Beach, and Rip Hamilton helping D Rose in Chitown. One that not very many people talk about though, is the quiet signing of David West to the Indiana Pacers. It was not a huge headline. It was nowhere near the largest signing of the year. However, it's one that is having one of the biggest impacts on it's team.

Let's be honest, this isn't the first time that DWest has been stuck behind more flamboyant players in the headlines. When you think of the 2003 Draft, you can't help but think it's one of the most talented pools in NBA History. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh all drafted the same day. With big names like those, it's not hard to overlook the 18th overall pick, David West. He was brought in by the New Orleans Hornets where he began as a modest power forward. Easy numbers, nothing stellar. Then 2005-2006 rolls around. David West begins breaking out. He finishes second in the league in Most Improved Player Voting. He and Chris Paul teamed up to give the Hornets a good inside-outside game, and they were a good duo. People close to West, though, will be the first to tell you that his prowess on the court is easily matched by his prowess in life.

Chris Paul said that he would "not like to play with any other power forward in the league other than David West" and also that West was the "smartest Hornet". Those aren't statements to be taken lightly, especially the first one. Needless to say, the guy is a consummate professional sure to bring maturity to any team he is on.

Fast forward a bit and think about this timeline:
March 25, 2011: David West tears his ACL
June 27, 2011: Goes on record that he will not pick up his final year option
December 11, 2011: Signs with the Indiana Pacers

Take a look at the last date. It was a move that left quite a few people around the league pretty much saying, "Wait...the Pacers?". Which was a fair question considering he had a 3-year, 28 Million Dollar deal lined up in Boston with Gang Green and their vets. Instead, he took a shorter deal for less money. Which left pundits everywhere wondering....why? Nobody answered the question better than West's agent, Lance Young, when he said: "David looks at the Pacers as a good young team with lot of potential." Plain and simple. 

The argument makes sense. The Pacers put on a better show than anybody expected them too last year against the Bulls and seemed to respond well to the new system that Interim (now permanent) Head Coach Frank Vogel was playing. The only drawback? They were young. That was the story of the Pacers. Their only real veteran was Jeff Foster, who, while a steady hand, was not a star and couldn't exert himself over the young players enough. The Pacers were lacking a mature hand, the Pacers were lacking a professional hand, the Pacers were lacking a guy who could show that you could be mature and still play at a high level. The Pacers were lacking David West.

There were reports out of the Pacers' camp of a post-game locker room environment where players would pick up stat sheets and point out the other players' shortcomings in the game. They had a coach who didn't do anything about it, until (equally young) Frank Vogel became coach. Finally, they had a Commander in Chief that held them accountable. They rallied under him, posting a wining record in his 38 games at the helm. They made the playoffs as the 8th seed, and faced high-powered Chicago. In a series that turned into much more than it was supposed to be, the Pacers played the Bulls tough. And while the whole world wasn't watching, one guy was: David West. And boy did he like what he saw.

He got on the phone with Larry Bird, they kicked out a deal, and David West was a Pacer. Now, we talked all about the maturity he brought. He easily has turned the Pacers into a more nuclear team. He's the third leading scorer on a Pacer team with 7 double figure scorers. He's second on the team in rebounds. He brings a deadly mid-range game as well as a crazy inside presence. He's built like a tank. Broad-shouldered, very toned. He's no guy to mess with on the block, and he causes headaches for defenses. The acquisition of David West is easily the biggest reason for the Pacer's improvement to the second best record in the Eastern Conference and a recent Power Ranking of 6. 

David West, a leader on the hardwood as well as in the community.


Jason White

Quick little post to introduce our new writer, Jason White. Hit him up on Twitter @makaveli1376. He brings some good writing and good knowledge to the table. You won't be disappointed by this guy.