Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Looking Forward: Regular Season Awards

As the end of the NBA season approaches, the topic of MVP (Most Valuable Player), DPOY (Defensive Player of the Year), ROY (Rookie of the Year), etc comes up amongst the conversations of many hoop fans like myself.  Without further ado, I'd like to present my picks for individual recognition this season.

Rookie of the Year - Michael Carter-Williams

This category was hard for me to decide because I had initially picked Victor Oladipo to win this award when the season began.  MCW totally surprised me, and probably a majority of hoop fans, with his emergence ever since his season debut against the Heat.  Averaging 16.8 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, MCW has the best statistics of any rookie across the board.  Oladipo, averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.1 points is a close second, with his overall versatility and impact on the Orlando Magic.  I had debated giving Oladipo a slight edge for leading his team to more wins; however considering both teams are terrible, and neither have a shot of making the playoffs, I will simply base my decision off of statistics and the impact on the court.  Neither player shoots the ball exceptionally well, with MCW shooting 39.6% from the field and 26.7% from three-point land, and Oladipo shooting 41.5% from the field and 31.6% from three.  Although these percentages could certainly use improvement, these rookies get a pass, due to the circumstances that they are in (being focal points of struggling teams, while trying to adjust to the NBA game).  With that being said, MCW has a slight edge over Victor Oladipo, hence worthy of the Rookie of the Year Award.

Most Improved Player of the Year - Anthony Davis

The leap Anthony Davis has made this season has been very refreshing to watch.  Coming into the league as a potentially dominant player on the defensive end, Davis has proven to the league that he can do a lot more than block shots and wreak havoc on the defensive end.  Going from 14 and 8 with 2 blocks in his rookie year to 21 and 10 with 3 blocks in his sophomore season, Davis has lived up to the expectations of being the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft.  His play this season has made him worthy of the Defensive player of the year award; however I believe that he deserves to be rewarded for more than just his defense. A healthy Davis has resulted in career highs in all major statistical categories thus far, and some outstanding individual performances like the 40-20 game he had earlier this week (the first and only in Pelican history). At this rate, Davis is bound to be a top 5 power forward in this league for many years to come.  Watch out Blake, Kevin, and Lamarcus.

Sixth Man of the Year - Taj Gibson

Taj Gibson has had an outstanding year in the absence of Derrick Rose.  Providing his team with a consistent spark off the bench, it is fair to say that Taj Gibson is the second most valuable player on the Chicago Bulls, behind Joakim Noah.  13 points and 7 rebounds might not seem significant but for a bench player on a low scoring defensive minded team, every bit of that contribution is needed.  If you had asked me this question about a month ago, I would say without a doubt that Jamal Crawford was the clear-cut winner of this award; however, with his injury and the emergence of Blake Griffin and the Clippers overall, Jamal's contributions are no longer critical to the Clipper's regular season (although his play will definitely be needed in the post season).  With that being said, Taj Gibson is the clear cut winner of the Sixth man of the year award because the Bulls will not as successful as they have been this year without his contributions.

Defensive Player of the Year - Roy Hibbert

Using the criteria that awarded Marc Gasol this award last year (anchor of the best defense in the league), Roy Hibbert deserves this year's honor for his defensive prowess.  The Pacers are number one in the league in points allowed, keeping teams to an average of 92 points a night.  Individually, Roy Hibberts blocks 2.4 shots a game in about 30 minutes of play.  His defensive impact goes far beyond the statistical value of his blocks, as he alters countless shots in the paint on a nightly basis.  Other worthy candidates include DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, Anthony Davis from the Pelicans, Serge Ibaka from the Thunder, and Joakim Noah of the Bulls.  Considering the Clippers, Thunder and the Pelicans aren't necessarily good defensive teams, that narrows down my choices to Noah and Hibbert.  Although Noah does a lot of things that isn't credited on the box score (such as his pick-and-roll defense), his rim protection does not nearly match the impact that Hibbert does for the Pacers.  If Hibbert gets a point for his rim protection and Noah gets one for his pick-and-roll defense, the .1 difference in points allowed per game (92.2 points allowed by the Pacers, and 92.3 points allowed by the Bulls) gives Hibbert an edge (even though minimal) because it is enough to have the Pacers ranked one above the Bulls.  In addition, Hibbert's 2.4 blocks per game average is much more imposing than the 1.5 of Joakim Noah.  With that being said, Hibbert gets my vote for Defensive Player of the Year.

Coach of the Year - Dwane Casey

Before we get into this category, let's give a round of applause for the great work of a lot of the coaches this year.  From Greg Popovich to Steve Clifford to even a Mike Budenholzer, these coaches deserve a lot of credit for making the most out of the rosters that they have been assigned.  Initially, Jeff Hornacek was my pick for Coach of the Year; however, I do not think that a coach can be rewarded for his work if his team does not make the playoffs, and it looks like the Suns have permanently lost the 8th seed to the Grizzlies.  With that being said, Dwane Casey of the Raptors is my pick for Coach of the Year.  Although the Eastern Conference is relatively weak, I do not believe that anybody (probably even Raptor fans) would have picked the Raptors to finish top 4 in the conference.  Dwane Casey has made the most out of a young bunch, giving them the confidence to play at a level higher than even the players were probably aware that they were capable off.  A lot of credit has to be given to the Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri for putting together a well balanced roster with a group of young talented athletes and a solid veteran group coming off the bench to compliment them.  Casey's ability to elevate the play of this group makes him worthy of the Coach of the Year honor.

Most Valuable Player of the Year - Kevin Durant

Finally, the cream of the crop.  The best of the best players this NBA season (emphasis on THIS season).  As a LeBron fan, it is very odd for me to make an argument for anybody besides LeBron when it comes to this award; however as an objective fan, it is my job to present the NAYked truth.  Long story short, the MVP for the 2013/2014 season is without a doubt Kevin Durant.  Although LeBron has made a late serge to reclaim what has seemingly been taken away from him, the MVP award is going to Oklahoma to Kevin Durant, unless something miraculous happens.  Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma Thunder has had a phenomenal year to say the least.  KD has always been known as a scorer; however this season he has taken that, as well as other parts of his game to different heights.  Durant is averaging 32 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists while shooting 51% from the floor, 40% from three point land, and 87% from the free-throw line; outstanding.  I don't know what's more impressive: the fact that his point average is the highest yet of his career, or the fact that a shoot first, shoot second player is somehow averaging 6 dimes a game.  KD has done everything possible to propel his team to  great heights, including scoring 25 points for 32 straight games (and counting), and 30 or more points for 12 consecutive games.  No argument really needs to be made here (as hard as it is for me to say as a LeBron fan), KD is the clear-cut winner of the MVP award thus far.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

The Great Debate: Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo

By: Kwame Awuah

In our modern world where everyone is obsessed with ratings and knowing who is the best and at what, the question all football (soccer) fans always argue is: who is better? Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. For starters, let’s compare a bit of their basic statistics and honors. For Ronaldo, he is the taller, faster and stronger player. For Messi, his lower center of gravity and ball control are second to none. Cristiano’s on ball skills and his desire to run at defenders are impeccable. There is no doubt that Messi’s finishing and his passing ability are unmatched by any other player (and yes that includes the ‘Pass-masters’ Xavi and Iniesta). Lionel Messi has 3 Ballon D’or awards while Ronaldo has 1. They both have an extensive list of awards, individual accomplishments, and records that will take me all day to discuss if I were to start so I won’t.

 Let’s pick a starting point to compare these 2 giants. How about the 2009-2010 season. I picked this season because it was Ronaldo’s first with the Whites and the season Messi won his first Ballon D’or (coincidentally also the first season he played with short hair and also the departure of Ronaldinho- we all know how much that meant for him). Since that season, Messi has scored 260 goals compared to Ronaldo’s 238 with Messi having almost 100 more official appearances. Take that how you want but to me, goals are not all that determine how effective a player is. A great player not only brings in the goals, but also means so much to his team that they are lost without him (just ask David Moyes and Manchester United). Being an avid football fan, I’ve watched Real Madrid and Barcelona play for years with and without their key players. The structure that Barcelona plays on is one that strongly leans on having key players on the field in order to penetrate these tough impregnable La Liga defenses. If you replace a Messi, Xavi, Busquets or even Pique with an inexperienced player, it always proves detrimental to the team. Case in point, when Barca played against Sociedad in early February, Tata Martino decided to play Marc Batra in place of the great diver Busquets on the right side of the field. This threw off the whole team as Sociedad just pounded away on that one side with no support from Pique or Dani Alves- we all know that man does not understand the concept of defense. Sociedad went on to win 3-1 scoring 2 goals in a five-minute spell. My point is even misplacing Batra for Busquets proved detrimental; imagine not having Messi play at all. Barca had one of their worst spells I’ve seen in a long time while Messi was out injured. There is no doubt that Messi is very important to that team.

With the Los Blancos, it’s quite the opposite; without Ronaldo (out on suspension for slapping a Bilbao player) recently the whites won all their games because players like Bale, Marcelo, and Benzema do not need other players in order to perform. Ronaldo is less valuable to Madrid than Messi is to Barcelona.

But that still doesn’t answer the question of who is the better player. Arguably, I thought Maradona was more valuable to Argentina than Pele was to Brazil and yet many consider Pele to be the best. But looking at it in terms of who is more valuable to their team, Messi is an amazing football architect who without him, his team is almost nothing. Like the great No. 10 Zidane said on losing Makelele: “It’s like putting a fresh coat of paint on the Rolls Royce when you are losing the whole engine.” Without an important player on a team, that team loses its identity and the player’s absence is felt. To me that’s what makes a player great.

Although Ronaldo does hold the record for being the best player, being the stronger, more agile, more aerial ability, I think Messi’s contribution to his team at the moment would make him the better player; the player I would start a team with.

Monday, March 3, 2014

LeBron's 61

Mark this date down: March 3, 2014; the day LeBron James scored 61 points in an NBA game. Impressive? Absolutely. Meaningful? Maybe not so much. This performance nonetheless has certainly given us hoop fans something to debate for the next few days. I struggled for the most part of the first quarter trying to find an online stream to watch the game against the unlucky Bobcats (who allowed Carmelo Anthony to drop 62 on them earlier this year), and once I did, boy was I glad. LeBron put on a show, needless to say; even though many might belittle the performance claiming that "it was against the Bobcats...." If you ask me, 61 points is 61 points, regardless of who you drop it on. Lets not forget the fact that it was mostly dropped on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, or the fact that he did it on only 33 shots. If you watched the game, you can agree that this was not an easy 61 points, as he mostly did it from long range going 8 for 10 from three. The first eleven points in the first quarter were mostly easy: lay-ups or finishes around the basket; then the three-point onslaught poured on in the second quarter, ending with twenty-four at halftime. Hot? think again, he turned it up another notch in the third quarter adding twenty-five in the quarter. I mean this was as good of a performance as I've seen live in a long long time, maybe since watching Kobe drop 81. The fourth quarter, where history was made, was not as impressive in my opinion because you could get the feeling that his teammates were pushing for him to get the record, as opposed to him getting shots in the flow of the offense like he did in the first three quarters. Nevertheless it was a great performance, and the topic of discussion until somebody else does something extremely impressive.

So what does this performance mean? For LeBron? For this Season? For his legacy? Well, if you ask me, not much.  LeBron James has and probably will always be a pass-first player for his entire NBA career.  If he wanted to go out and drop 40 every night, the man could easily do it, but it's simply not his style.  I admit, it is rare for him to explode in this fashion, but it's nothing surprising considering his talents and overall skill set. Many have gone on to make the statement that this performance puts LeBron ahead of Kevin Durant in the MVP race.  I would have to disagree, as KD's body of work this season cannot easily be shattered by the tear LeBron has been on lately.  I will however say that LeBron's peak form certainly makes this a closer competition than it was about a month ago.  What this performance DOES however indicate is that LeBron is ready for the playoffs.  LeBron has turned up his game at the perfect time, heading into the end of the regular season.  With about 25 games left in the season, he seems to have gotten his legs under him, and his conditioning back to the form we have grown accustomed to.  Even though tonight's performance was absolutely amazing, I have a feeling that the new masked man might have a couple more tricks up his sleeve.  It may not be another 60 point game, or another record breaking performance; but if he keeps shooting the ball at this rate, all I have to say afraid, be very afraid NBA.

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