Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

Russell Westbrook’s MVP Bid and History

March 5, 2015

I’m not going to write a big post about whether or not Russell Westbrook deserves the MVP award.  He certainly deserves consideration.  What I am going to write about is how unicorn – rare it is for two different players from the same team to win the MVP award in back to back years.

The last time it happened was 1957 and 1958 when Red Auerbach’s dynasty was still young.  Bob Cousy won his last MVP award in ’57, and Bill Russell won his first MVP award in ’58.

Even having two teammates win MVP while they are both still on the same team is extremely rare.  Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it.  Kareem won his 6th and final MVP award in 1980.  Magic won the first of his three MVPs in 1987 while Kareem was still a Laker.  Moses Malone and Julius Irving both won MVPs as 76ers, but Doc won his before Moses joined the team.

That’s the list.  Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant both won MVP awards, but Kobe’s came years after Shaq left the Lakers.

Really if Russell Westbrook wins the MVP award in this season, while he and Kevin Durant are both in their primes, it will be unprecedented.  Cousy stopped winning MVPs after Russell won his first because Bob was at the tail end of his career, and it was crystal clear that Bill Russell was the lynchpin of the team.  Kareem was well past his prime when Magic won his first.

Of course the reason that Furious Styles has a shot at MVP this year is because he has been a stat-machine on a winning team in the absence of Durant.  Had Shaq missed a little more time in 2003, maybe Kobe would have been a serious contender that year (though Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady both had insane seasons in ’03).  If LeBron had been out in 2011, maybe Dwyane Wade becomes an MVP candidate that year and James takes in 2012.  Basically you need two of top 5 players in the league on one team, and they need to trade off who is doing the heavy lifting from year to year, which won’t happen without something like an injury.

None of this is to say at this point that I think Westbrook is the 2015 MVP front runner.  Stephen Curry and James Harden are probably still the best bets with LeBron James coming on strong.  It’s just that Westbrook’s candidacy is remarkable in light of Durant’s award last season.

Forecasting Team USA without Durant

August 8, 2014

Losing Kevin Durant (don’t worry Thunder fans; he’s fine) is a serious blow to team USA’s goal of winning a gold medal in the newly minted FIBA Basketball World Cup. Not only was KD the best player in the entire tournament, he was also the focal point of Coach K’s offense and according to reports out of the Las Vegas training camp, the heart and soul of the team. He’s the guy everyone else looks up to. It’s a big loss to drop your most talented, most central, and most respected player.

Quick list of all the players that team USA expected to be available for this tournament who for various reasons are not:

Kevin Durant
Paul George
Kevin Love
LaMarcus Aldridge
Blake Griffin

That’s a full complement of big men, less Anthony Davis, and it is the two best wings on the team. Love, Aldridge, and Griffin have been out of the picture for some time now, but George and Durant comprised the team’s starting forwards as recently as last Friday. How will Mike Krzyzewski and his staff adjust their game plan, and who will make the final roster?

No one in the player pool or the rest of the world for that matter can approximate what Durant does. He’s a 6′ 10″ quick forward with guard skills and limitless range and possibly the best one on one scorer in the game today. You don’t just replace that skillset. In 2010 KD undressed the rest of the world with his combination of length, quickness, and shooting touch to the tune of 33 points per game (in a 40 minute contest). Without him the team will need to leverage athleticism for transition buckets and maybe use Duke’s motion offense to a higher degree. Thankfully the team is loaded with great point guards. Overloaded maybe.

Speaking of point guards, let’s take a moment to figure out that position and how losing Durant and George, two playmaking wings with range and speed, might impact which PGs make the final roster. The available pool contains: Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, John Wall, and Damian Lillard. The team has 12 roster spots, and it will need at least 4 bigs and 4 wings, leaving no more than four available slots at guard. At least one of these All-Star caliber guards is off the team. Rose is a lock. By all accounts he’s been the best of bunch since day one at training camp. Rose will function as a penetrating creator off the dribble and in the pick and roll. He’s also a quick-footed defender who can harass opposing ball-handlers in the open court. The most obvious candidate to back-up Rose and possibly pick up some minutes beside him is Steph Curry. Curry is the premier shooter off the dribble in the league and another strong pick and roll distributor. With the loss of Durant, shooting will be at a premium, and Curry seems like a sure thing.

If you consider minute distribution, there are only 80 total guard minutes in a 40 minute game. Rose, Curry, and presumed starting big guard James Harden could split those minutes equally between them and play less than 30 minutes per game each. If Harden picks up some minutes at the small forward slot, a move made more likely with the injury to George, that would make a little space for one of Irving, Lillard, and Wall. Of the three Lillard is the best shot-maker, Irving is most familiar with Coach K’s offense, and Wall has the most size and thus the best chance to defend big guards alongside another PG. Personally I think taking Wall is a no-brainer here. His size and speed add versatility to the position. Irving and Lillard both have their merits at the double secret reserve guard spot, but Coach K will probably go with the more trusted and familiar Kyrie.

Reports had the staff favoring energy bigs like Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee playing short minute bursts off the bench. Faried may have to start now. There are other options. Chandler Parsons has enough size to play a small-ball power forward in place of Durant, but he’s a poor substitute for the MVP, and the skills he brings may not make up for his lack of size defensively and on the boards. The team could also choose to play a bigger brand of basketball and pair Anthony Davis with either DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond. Drummord shoots free throws worse than Dwight Howard on horse tranquillizers, so he’s probably out as a crunch time player at least.

Replacing Paul George is less of head-scratcher though the drop in talent is still an issue, and the damage to the team’s depth is incontrovertible. George’s role was to be the team’s wing stopper on defense, to finish on the break, and in the half-court to play off the ball with hard cuts and space the floor with spot up shooting. Klay Thompson, who seemed like a lock to back up both the shooting guard and small forward positions, is the obvious replacement. Klay is a good on-ball defender, has good size, and he’s a deadeye shooter. He’s not the athlete that George is, but he’s a good fit. Starting Thompson depletes the bench of one of it’s best two way players. Those extra minutes will be picked up by the combination of Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons, and Gordon Hayward. None of them is a proven defender at the wing, but I’d lean towards Korver who is the NBA’s premier distance shooter and smart enough to use Coach Boeheim’s zone defense principles to his advantage.

Final Roster Prediction:

G – Derrick Rose
G – Stephen Curry
G – James Harden
G – John Wall
G – Kyrie Irving
F – Klay Thompson
F – Kenneth Faried
F – Kyle Korver
F – Chandler Parsons
F – Mason Plumlee
C – Anthony Davis
C – DeMarcus Cousins

I would anticipate starters of Rose, Harden, Thompson, Faried, and Davis, but that PF spot could go a lot of different ways. I think team USA will still be favored to take the gold, but the roster and game plan have been compromised in some serious ways, and it will be a real test for some young guys who are unproven in international play.

2014 NBA Awards and Playoff Predictions

April 18, 2014

Dear beloved readers,

If I could properly apologize for the two month gap in top notch basketball coverage content that my hiatus has left in your lives, rest assured, I would. But no amount of codified remorse could ever make up for my lapse. All I can do is offer you the most exhilarating, thrill-ride of a season wrap up, you’ve ever encountered. Brace yourselves for awards, playoff predictions, and whatever else pops into my head. I don’t want to oversell it, but it’ll probably be better than the NCAA tournament and all four rounds of the NBA playoffs combined.

2014 NBA Awards (Not predictions – how I would vote)

Season MVP: Kevin Durant – I don’t even see an argument here. The Thunder are the second best team in the league by record and by statistics, and the only better team, the Spurs, spreads the wealth too thin to have a real MVP candidate this year. Durant leads the league in scoring, PER, WS, and WS/48. The Thunder are a top 6 in both ORtg and DRtg. KD produced the most and did it efficiently for a great team. That’s the MVP.

MVP Runners up: LeBron James, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Tim Duncan

DPoY: Joakim Noah – He held it down all season long. Chicago is the second best defense behind Indiana, but unlike the Pacers, the Bulls start and give big minutes to a number of sub-standard defensive players. Noah carries the weight that they can’t at the defensive end.

DPoY Runners up: Roy Hibbert, Andre Igudala, Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka

6th MoY: Ray Allen – This is going to be an unpopular pick because his stats are a career worst, and maybe he should be disqualified since he started so much in place of Dwyane Wade, but the dynamic that Ray brings to the Heat offense is an overlooked aspect of their team greatness. Lots of good shooters stretch the floor, but Ray draws so much attention with his movement and the cross screens he sets for James and the perimeter guys, that it totally warps team defensive concepts. The Heat employs two big minute line-ups with +4 point differential. Wade is only on one. James is only on one. Ray is on both.

6th MoY Runners up: Manu Ginobili, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter

CoY: Gregg Popavich – He’s simply the best, better than all the rest, better than anyone, anyone I’ve ever met. Seriously. Pop has been ahead of the curve for a decade. He and RC Buford together are this generation’s Red Auerbach. Pop’s masterful manipulation of his team’s minutes, and his ability to adapt his system to the talents that come through to get the best out of everybody sets him above the pack.

CoY Runners up: Jeff Hornacek, Tom Thibodeau, Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle

MIP: The entire Phoenix Suns team. It’s hard to pick. Green maybe? Dragic? Let’s go with the Dragon. Goran Dragic.

MIP Runners up: Gerald Green, DeAndre Jordan, Markieff Morris, Reggie Jackson

RoY: Michael Carter-Williams – I don’t care if the Sixers were one of the worst teams we’ve ever seen. That was management’s decision, and the players were not put in a position to be able to compete. MCW was the best rookie by the numbers averaging 16 ppg with 6 boards and 6 dimes. I’m not sure if projects to have the best career, but he did the most this season.

RoY Runners up: Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Kelly Olynyk

All NBA
First Team:

G – Stephen Curry
G – James Harden
F – Kevin Durant
F – LeBron James
C – Joakim Noah

Second Team:

G – Chris Paul
G – Tony Parker
F – Blake Griffin
F – LeMarcus Aldridge
C – Dwight Howard

Third Team:

G – Goran Dragic
G – Paul George
F – Kevin Love
F – Tim Duncan
C – Al Jefferson

All-Defense

First Team:

G – Andre Igudala
G – Tony Allen
F – Tim Duncan
F – Paul George
C – Joakim Noah

Second Team:

G – Mike Conley
G – Lance Stephenson
F – Jimmy Butler
F – Serge Ibaka
C – Roy Hibbert

Playoff Predictions

East Round 1:

PACERS def Hawks 4-1
HEAT def Bobcats 4-0
NETS def Raptors 4-3
BULLS def Wizards 4-2

West Round 1:

SPURS def Mavericks 4-1
THUNDER def Grizzlies 4-1
CLIPPERS def Warriors 4-3
TRAILBLAZERS def Rockets 4-3

East Round 2:

PACERS def Bulls 4-3
HEAT def NETS 4-3

West Round 2:

SPURS def Trailblazers 4-1
THUNDER def Clippers 4-2

East Finals:

HEAT def Pacers 4-2

West Finals:

THUNDER def Spurs 4-2

NBA Finals:

HEAT def Thunder 4-3

I’ve been predicting a Heat three-peat all season, and I still think it’s going to happen (Wade’s knee permitting). They just have another level they can go to, and I’m not sure that any of their would-be dethroners can say the same. I do think the Spurs would win a repeat of last year’s finals, but I don’t believe San Antonio would beat OKC to get there simply because of the match-ups involved. That said, Miami matches up very well against the Thunder and takes them out of their defensive schemes by going small, so that’s sort of a rock-paper-scissors that falls out in the Heat’s favor. LeBron wins his 3rd consecutive Finals MVP to join only Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.

2014 NBA Mid-Season Awards & Projections

January 31, 2014

I would normally wait until the All-Star break to start looking at possible award winners and projecting how the All NBA and All Defense teams will break down, but I’m going to be on vacation over the All-Star break, and we are past the halfway point in the season.  Most teams have played at least 45 games, and we have a feel for who is good, who is bad, and why.  Of course a team could get a player back from injury or click into Godzilla vs. Tokyo mode and run off 20 straight wins, but we’ll work with what we know so far.

Awards

Most Valuable Player – Kevin Durant.  We’ve talked about why KD is the best choice for MVP a few times on this site, so I’ll keep this brief.  He plays on the best team.  He has the best statistics / metrics.  He comes through in big moments.  He can’t be defended one-on-one, which disrupts the defense of every opponent and opens things up for his teammates.  He’s doing it all without the help of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Jeff Green or any of the other young talent the Thunder management drafted to put around him with the exception of Serge Ibaka.  Runners up: LeBron JamesChris Paul has been disqualified after missing so many games (and the fact that his team has excelled without him probably doesn’t help his cause).  No one else is close.

Defensive Player of the Year – Roy Hibbert.  He is the defensive anchor of one of the greatest team defenses in league history.  I’m going to write a post about where the Pacers rank all-time defensively (the Oracle predicts that it will be very high), but suffice it to say that this year, Indiana is the best by a Midwestern mile.  The separation in Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) between the #1 Pacers and #2 Bulls is larger than the separation between Chicago and #8 Minnesota.  Roy’s size and alert positioning are keys to the Pacer defensive superiority.  He leads the league in individual defensive rating, and his ability to protect the rim and discourage slashers from even attempting to drive helps Indiana to play man to man along the perimeter limiting fouls committed and 3 point opportunities as well.  He’s a classic NBA giant in a league of stretch bigs, and he is dominant on the defensive end.  Runners up: Paul George, Serge Ibaka, Joakim Noah, Andrew Bogut.

Rookie of the Year – Michael Carter-Williams. Not the strongest race in the world this year. Of players given more than 20 minutes a game to show their stuff, MCW is the only one with a PER above the 15 mark, which is the level of an “average” NBA player. Several future stars could emerge in the second half of the season or in years to come, but so far this has been an underwhelming rookie class. Runners up: Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tim Hardaway, Jr.

6th Man of the Year – Markieff Morris.  This is a really tough award to pick so far this season.  San Antonio and the Clippers have both gotten fantastic contributions from multiple players off the bench.  Manu Ginobili and Jamal Crawford, both former winners, are producing well and coming up in big moments for their teams.  However, I’m leaning towards Markeiff Morris of the Phoenix Suns for the award this year.  He leads all bench players in Win Share and has a 19.2 PER, and his shooting, defense, and versatility have really helped Phoenix’s second unit excel. Runners up: Manu, Jamal, Darren Collison, Taj Gibson, Andre Blatche.

Most Improved Player of the Year – DeAndre Jordan.  I don’t think Jordan will win this award, but his improvement has been tremendous.  He has doubled his rebounds per game, is playing over 11 more minutes per game, and has become a positive factor in crunch time.  Doc Rivers deserves some of the credit for positioning Jordan to succeed, but DeAndre certainly has done his part as well.  The actual winner will probably be Lance Stephenson of the Pacers who is also highly deserving.  Runners up: Lance, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Isaiah Thomas, Roy Hibbert, all of the Suns.

Coach of the Year – Jeff Hornacek. The Suns are great, and their commitment to team play is the reason.  Credit Hornie for keeping them on the same page and instilling a system that is fun and effective.  Runners up: Frank Vogel, Gregg Popovich, Terry Stotts, Doc Rivers.

I’m not going to do full 3 team All-NBA projections, but I will say that I think the voters need to get creative with the positions because so many of the best players this year have been forwards.  LeBron, Durant, Paul George, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, and Carmelo Anthony all need to be included, and Ibaka and David Lee deserve consideration as well (and I’m probably leaving some guys out too).  Maybe move George to guard and call LaMarcus a center?  I do believe the All-NBA team is still G-G-F-F-C.  I hope so anyway for the sake of historical consistency.

I’ll just give some options on the All-Defense Teams as well.  Hibbert and George need to be on the team, and I could see Lance making it as well.  Ibaka is a no-brainer as is Noah.  I like Bogut for the third center, but Tim Duncan and DeAndre deserve consideration as well.  To beef out the perimeter, I’d go with Andre Igudala, Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard then consider some guys on good defensive teams who might not get much press like Thabo Sefolosha and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  Could I squeeze Dwight Howard in as a forward?  He’s been a great defender on a terrible defensive team.  Surprisingly, I don’t think LeBron James has a guaranteed spot on this team.  He probably will make it, and his athletic ability is one of the keys to causing the turnovers that sustain what is otherwise a mediocre Heat defense, but his attention to detail and overall effort have been lacking this year, and there are a lot of deserving forwards.

All-Injured Too Long to Win Awards This Year Team – SG Eric Bledsoe, PG Derrick Rose, C Brook Lopez, PF Al Horford, SF Kobe Bryant

2014 Heat – Most Difficult 3Peat Ever?

January 24, 2014

Right now, at just about the halfway point of the 2014 season, the Thunder, Spurs, and Pacers are all top 25 all-time teams by the Simple Rating System, a one number team rater that factors in margin of victory and strength of schedule. This is by no means a perfect estimation of a team’s ability to win, but as you can see in the below table, it captures something that picks up on many of the greatest teams of all time.

Miscellaneous
Rk Season Tm G W L W-L% MOV SOS SRS
1 1970-71 MIL* 82 66 16 .805 12.26 -0.34 11.91
2 1995-96 CHI* 82 72 10 .878 12.24 -0.44 11.80
3 1971-72 LAL* 82 69 13 .841 12.28 -0.63 11.65
4 1971-72 MIL* 82 63 19 .768 11.16 -0.46 10.70
5 1996-97 CHI* 82 69 13 .841 10.80 -0.11 10.70
6 1991-92 CHI* 82 67 15 .817 10.44 -0.37 10.07
7 2007-08 BOS* 82 66 16 .805 10.26 -0.95 9.31
8 2012-13 OKC* 82 60 22 .732 9.21 -0.06 9.15
9 1985-86 BOS* 82 67 15 .817 9.41 -0.36 9.06
10 1985-86 MIL* 82 57 25 .695 9.04 -0.35 8.69
11 1993-94 SEA* 82 63 19 .768 9.09 -0.41 8.68
12 2008-09 CLE* 82 66 16 .805 8.93 -0.25 8.68
13 1990-91 CHI* 82 61 21 .744 9.10 -0.53 8.57
14 1966-67 PHI* 81 68 13 .840 9.44 -0.94 8.50
15 1990-91 POR* 82 63 19 .768 8.68 -0.21 8.47
16 1969-70 NYK* 82 60 22 .732 9.09 -0.66 8.42
17 1999-00 LAL* 82 67 15 .817 8.55 -0.14 8.41
18 2013-14 SAS 42 32 10 .762 7.86 0.54 8.40
19 2006-07 SAS* 82 58 24 .707 8.43 -0.08 8.35
20 1986-87 LAL* 82 65 17 .793 9.30 -0.98 8.32
Rk Season Tm G W L W-L% MOV SOS SRS
21 2013-14 IND 41 33 8 .805 9.05 -0.76 8.29
22 1961-62 BOS* 80 60 20 .750 9.24 -0.98 8.25
23 2013-14 OKC 43 33 10 .767 7.26 1.00 8.25
24 1972-73 LAL* 82 60 22 .732 8.54 -0.36 8.16
25 1996-97 UTA* 82 64 18 .780 8.79 -0.82 7.97
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/24/2014.

Glaringly absent from the list are the two time defending champion Heat (currently ranked 235th all-time). This is not necessarily a nail in the coffin of the Heat. The last three teams to three-peat did not make the top 25 either – 1993 Bulls, 1998 Bulls, and 2002 Lakers. However, no other teams from those seasons made the list. 2014 Miami looks to be up against stiffer competition than these other teams, at least midway through the season. There’s a lot of time for these three 2014 juggernauts to slip out of the top 25 and for Miami to right the ship and make it higher up the list.

Assuming that the current rankings hold relatively static through the rest of the season, at least for one or two of these teams, what is the prognosis for the title this year? Well 14 out of the 22 teams in our top 25 who are not currently playing won the title. Of the 8 teams that failed to win the title, half of them lost to teams ranked higher in the top 25, so they didn’t underachieve, they just got beat by higher ranked teams. The remaining four squads that failed to win are:

2013 Thunder – Lost Russell Westbrook in round 1 of the playoffs.
1994 Sonics – Possibly the worst 1 – 8 upset in NBA history.
2009 Cavaliers – Epic fail against an inferior Magic team. LeBron James put up impossible stats.
1973 Lakers – Knicks kicked their butts in a revenge Finals meeting.

That’s one injury excuse, one major collapse, one minor collapse, and one that just got beat in the Finals rematch. The good news for Miami fans is that the 2013 Heat, 1994 Rockets, 2009 Lakers, and 1973 Knicks who won the title those four years also don’t show up on this list. If that Pacers, Spurs, and Thunder keep up their dominant play throughout the regular season, there’s still a 4 out of 22, basically 20% chance that someone will beat them. Heck, it’s very probable that of the Spurs and Thunder, one will eliminate the other. But that still leaves the Heat to go through Indiana to get to the winner of the match-up (you know, assuming many things fall out right for all four teams). Three-peating is never easy, but it should be especially tough against this level of competition.