NBA 2012/13: Decision making and why the Los Angeles Lakers will make The Finals

October 2, 2012

by Jack Maidment

Sometimes it is easy to over think things.

Grocery store. Clothes shopping. Take out.

That’s why I advocate the philosophy of the Afro Samurai: My goal is to only move forward. Make a decision and don’t look back.

It doesn’t matter if it’s second thoughts about going for a new job or worrying that a girl you want to ask out might say no – in most cases the best thing you can do is just do it.

Open your mouth, inhale, speak and see what happens.

More than that, don’t wait. Every second you spend thinking about whether you should buy a black VW or a white one, or debating the merits of whether or not you actually want to see Looper (you do) is time you can’t spend thinking about this. Or this.

Decide. Move on. And if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried.

Nowhere is second guessing more prevalent than in sports – particularly in sports fans.

“Man, if Horry didn’t hit that three from the top of the key at the buzzer in game four, we would have killed the Lakers.”

Maybe. But he did.

Or: “Man, if Rose hadn’t gone down in the first round last year we would have taken the East and rolled the Thunder in the Finals.”

Maybe. But he did.

Don’t get me wrong, I like playing the historical What If? Hindsight Game as much as the next guy and that specific section in Bill Simmons’ excellent Book of Basketball is especially enjoyable.

But in the present I prefer to stick to my guns. No flip flopping.

So, embrace the spirit of the samurai and play along: I asked the following five questions about the forthcoming NBA season of myself and answered with no hesitation. You try too.

1. Are the Lakers good enough to get out of the West and win it all.

Yes. Just because it looks good on their promotional posters doesn’t mean it isn’t true. When the Lakers take to the floor against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday October 30 for the start of the regular season, their starting five will have 33 All Star nods, 4 defensive player of the year awards and three MVPs between them.

With that much experience and talent, along with having Dwight Howard at the rim to negate any worries about ageing legs, LA is not only good enough to make The Finals, with their roster and leadership they have to. And I believe they will.

2. Will LeBron James be any better this season?

Yes, definitely, even if that seems ridiculous given how good he was in 2011/12, but having firmly cemented his position atop the basketball mountain and got rid of the championship monkey which had been lingering on his back for almost a decade, there is every reason to believe King James will elevate even further.

Statistically speaking a 28-8-8 could be possible, maybe even a 30-8-8 if Wade goes down for any length of time. Enjoy.

3. Will Anthony Davis win rookie of the year?

I say no. I’m taking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. That’s not to say anything bad of Davis, who I think will be a very close second and eventually a franchise guy, but MKG just has something about him that makes me buy in from the get go.

You would think that changing the losing culture that’s so ingrained in Charlotte would be a nigh on impossible task but that’s what will make MKG’s achievement all the greater when he does it. The man is a tear-your-heart-out killer. I love him.

4. Mediocrity, thy name is..?

Brooklyn. Love the new arena, love the new logo, love the name. To a certain extent I love the backcourt.

But the rest of the team is simply underwhelming. Pricey and underwhelming.

The Nets as currently put together will never get out of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Essentially they are the new Atlanta Hawks – good, but in the worst possible way.

5. Who will have the last laugh: Jeremy Lin or the New York Knicks?

Lin, almost certainly. The Knicks say letting the Harvard man go was a strictly financial decision, which on many levels is fair enough (salary cap) but in others (shirt sales, ratings)? Not so much.

Regardless, replacing him with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd? Madness.

While the Knicks wait for their PG to bring the ball up the floor every possession this year, Lin will have all the shots he wants in a system built around him. And when he isn’t on the court he will be in his Houston penthouse counting cash from his latest endorsement deal and remembering how he used to sleep on a sofa and had to put up with Melo’s stink face.

Advantage Lin.

How did you do? And remember: No flip flopping…


NBA Superstar League: Dirk’s back

February 10, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Week 5. Here. We. Go.

1. Dirk Nowitzki: DEN, CLE, IND. It may have taken almost two months, but old Dirk’s back. The Mavericks did lose two of their last three (CLE, IND) but Dirk’s performances are cause for great optimism as he looks to regain the form which granted him the Finals MVP trophy and an NBA championship. He has had at least 24 points in each of the last three, shooting considerably better than 50% from the floor and only missing two at the charity stripe. The Mavs are starting to ramp it up. Plus 10.

2. Kobe Bryant: BOS, PHI, UTA. Going past Shag for 5th all-time in scoring and beating the old enemy this week is enough to vault Kobe from 6th to 2nd. The Lakers lost two of their last three but Bryant was good in all three games. He can only do so much with the current LA squad. They need a trade. Meanwhile Kobe will continue on, just like he’s done for the last 16 years.

3. Dwight Howard: MIA, LAC, IND. Howard was 9th last week, mainly because writing about the poisoned Magic season makes me feel ill. But credit where credit is due, Dwight has been excellent this week. The Magic had two wins (MIA, IND) and a tough loss (85-81 LAC) and Howard had games of 25-24 (MIA) 33-14 with 4 stocks (LAC) and 27-8 with 5 stocks (IND). There is a reason why teams want Howard.

4. Kevin Durant: SAC, GSW, POR. Durant’s Thunder lost to the Kings this week in the type of game they will have to get used to. As the model young franchise you better believe all the other young teams want to upstage Oklahoma on national television. The truth is good teams will lose 3-5 games like this a year – continually having to deal with team’s spiking their effort levels just for you is tiring. Slips one.

5. LeBron James: ORL, CLE, TOR. LeBron was top dog last week, but after two great performances against bad teams (CLE, TOR) he slipped a little against a slightly better Orlando team in a 89-102 loss. He was 5-15 from the floor against the Magic, scoring 17 points. He did everything else he normally does (10 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) but his points were down in a rivalry game which is hardly superstar behaviour. Just saying. In other LeBron news, this made me laugh.

6. LaMarcus Aldridge: HOU, OKC, DEN. Despite losing their last two and sliding to 9th in the Western Conference, LA makes it to 6th because of his performance against the Thunder. 39-6-3 and 11-11 from the stripe are superstar numbers and the loss was narrow – 107-111. Aldridge has been consistently very good this year with occasional explosions and as soon as the rest of his team put it together again the Blazers will be very good like they were at the start of January. Up one.

7. Chris Paul: CLE, ORL, WAS. Paul had an absolute shocker against the Wizards on February 4, scoring 2 points on 1-8 shooting. Urgh. Luckily Washington’s so bad it didn’t matter as the Clippers rolled to victory. He was infinitely better against the Magic with 29-7-8 and that’s the kind of production the Clips will need in the backcourt now that Chauncey Billups has been lost for the season.

8. Kevin Love: HOU. As a kid I remember a few things my mum used to say whenever I was acting up. One of her favourites was ‘only donkeys kick’. Guess Kevin Love didn’t learn that lesson. He kinda stood/stamped on Luis Scola on February 4 and was subsequently banned two games (one win, one loss). It happens in football. It’s cool in UFC. It shouldn’t happen in basketball. Falls four.

9. Derrick Rose: NOH, NJN, MIL. Rose has struggled this week with back spasms (insert ‘carrying city on his back’ joke here) but the calibre of the Bulls’ opponents has given him a chance for a little rest; he played just 22 minutes against the Hornets and 11 against the Nets. Bulls have won their last four and have the best record in the league. For the fist time in a long while their dominance is not strictly because of Rose. Down four.

10. Carmelo Anthony. Injured. Knicks win three straight. Riddles.

The NBA Superstar League is a weekly statistical snapshot, out every Friday, ranking ten of the best players in the league.

Our 10: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James/Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge.

NBA Superstar League: Durant by a distance

January 27, 2012

By Jack Maidment

A weekly statistical snapshot, out every Friday, ranking ten of the best players in the league.

Our 10: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James/Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge.

Let’s get to it.

Week 3.

1. Kevin Durant: NOH, DET, NJN. It was only a matter of time before Durantula made it to the top of the NBA Superstar League (5th last week). His Oklahoma City Thunder have won their last three and have the NBA’s best record at 15-3. KD had games of 25-7-4, 20-5-2 and 20-15-3 this week and he is the main reason OKC is looking like the best bet to come out of the West.

2. Kevin Love: DAL, HOU, UTA. New contract, same player. Nobody in the league is doing more to help his team win than Love who is top five in both rebounding and scoring. The Wolves did lose twice this week (Houston, Utah) but that’s to be expected. They are young and going through the same learning-to-win process experienced by the Oklahoma City Thunder two years ago. More than that they downed the champs in Dallas behind 31-10 from Love who was 4-6 from three. Can he do anything more?

3. LeBron James: DET, CLE, MIL. He was number one last week and he has continued his strong play in the absence of Dwyane Wade. Two wins and a loss to Milwaukee (urgh), but good James games them all. In each he had at least 5 assists as he sought to set the table for the whole team. He is a joy to watch at the moment. The question is, will things change when Flash returns?

4. Derrick Rose: IND, NJN, TOR. Rose was effectively exempt from the Superstar League last week due to injury but he has come back strong after two wins and a loss, all without Luol Deng who has caught the prevalent Bulls injury bug. Yes the wins were against bad teams (Nets, Raptors) but you can only play who is in front of you. Rose has Chicago tops in the East with a 16-4 overall record, 8-2 in their last 10. For the Bulls to carry on with that pace without Deng it will mean Rose giving even more for the cause. And he will. Rise.

5. LaMarcus Aldridge: GSW, MEM, SAC. The Blazers are slumping a little of late, 4-6 last 10, and LA has struggled with consistency but two wins and a loss this week should help steady the ship.

6. Kobe Bryant: LAC, IND, ORL. KB24 fell from 1st to 7th last week as the Lakers struggled to score. They are the league’s third best defense according to the numbers but the other end of the floor has been a problem, especially for the bench where production has been virtually non-existent. However, the Lakers snapped their skid on Wednesday night with a marquee win in a chippy game against the Clippers. Kobe threw the ball away 7 times but was successful in sharing the ball, especially early on, dishing 6 assists to go with his 24 points. He stays put, give or take one or two.

7. Chris Paul: MEM, LAL. CP3 has only just returned from a hamstring injury and this week we learned he doesn’t like people touching his head. Aside from that Paul gave us a demonstration of how to control a game by passing with his 4 points 12 assists against the Lakers. He drops but fitness and lack of activity is mainly responsible.

8. Dwight Howard: BOS, IND, BOS. Dwight Howard had a bad week with two awful losses against the Celtics, begging the question: is the trade speculation (this week the Knicks) getting to Dwight? Probably not. It’s more about the team he’s on and the relative lack of help he receives. If he doesn’t do it, who else will? The Celtics embarrassed the Magic and Howard twice this week. Good enough for a four place drop.

9. Carmelo Anthony: CLE, CHA, DEN. Uh-oh. 17 games into the season and there are already calls for the Knicks to blow up the roster and trade one of their stars. Carmelo was bottom of the Superstar League last week and he deserves to be there this week too. In their last 8 games, the Knicks have won 1, lost 7, the lone victory coming against the Charlotte Bobcats. Melo scored 1 point. Man. If he could be lower than 9th he would be.

10. Dirk Nowitzki. Has not played in almost 10 days due to injury and a terrible haircut, hence the fall.

The NBA’s Big Three: What’s up with the Lakers, Celtics and Knicks?

January 23, 2012

By Jack Maidment

The NBA’s three biggest teams are in big trouble right now.

New York Knicks. Boston Celtics. Los Angeles Lakers. All united in history by similar levels of success, prestige and expectation, but most recently bound together by a seemingly irrevocable slide into oblivion.

The Knicks, them of the ‘obvious’ championship calibre, are currently mired in a six game losing streak and their saviour Carmelo Anthony is being booed every time he gets the ball.

The Lakers have lost their last three and have a 1-6 record on the road.

The Celtics are at 6-9, a miserable 4-6 in their last 10, with half of their wins coming against the woeful Washington Wizards.

So what the hell is wrong with the NBA’s Big Three?

For the Knicks it’s all about the offense, even if that does fly in the face of every winning mantra ever given air time by a coach.

I have watched the Knicks play more than any other team this season and I can safely say they play terrible basketball. Car crash basketball.

And yet. The pieces look so enticing. It’s Carmelo! And Amare! And Mike D’Antoni’s offense! In the Garden!

But it just doesn’t work. And the idea that Baron Davis will swoop in and fix all of New York’s problems is absurd.

The only way the Knicks get fixed is if Carmelo buys in to a system that involves him passing. That’s it and all about it.

When he is selfish with the ball the Knicks struggle, particularly Amare Stoudemire, who is looking more and more like the forgotten man in fourth quarters.

When they pass the pall they actually look like an okay team: Nothing was more telling last week than when Carmelo left the game against Phoenix in the third and the Knicks moved the ball and played their best basketball of the night. No kidding.

But passing is a rarity in New York this season with the Knicks in the bottom five in the league for assists at a measly 18 a game.

Until that changes, and Baron will help, the boos will continue to rain down in MSG. But the Knicks will be back this year, of that I am sure.

I’m not sure the same can be said of the Celtics or Lakers.

The Celts’ problems lie in rebounding the ball and a severe lack of depth. Boston is the second worst team on the boards in the NBA this season, pulling down a paltry 38 a game, and its bench is absolutely awful. Look.

Combine that with an offense scoring 89 a game (26th overall in the NBA) and an over-reliance on Rajon Rondo and the Celtics are praying for the 8th seed in the East.

Such an aspiration is shared by the Lakers right now as they wallow in 10th place in the West having scored more than 100 points in a game just once this season. After 18 games.

Oh, and their starting point guard is averaging 5-2 a game. And shoots .241 from three. And their bench has exactly zero scorers. And they traded Lamar Odom for a second round pick.

After four years of Celtic Laker dominance it feels strange to think of them as 8th seeds. And despite their refurbishment the Knicks continue to struggle to shake off their immediate past.

But that’s where we are. Tough times are ahead for all three of these teams.

NBA Superstar League: LeBron James surging

January 20, 2012

By Jack Maidment

A weekly statistical snapshot, out every Friday, ranking ten of the best players in the league.

Our 10: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James/Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge.

Let’s get to it.

Week 2.

1. LeBron James: LAL, SAS, DEN. No Wade, no worries for King James this week who has upped his production in just about every category in the absence of The Flash. Last week he was dead last in the Superstar League after suffering from the line and losing two games. But this week he has been back to his best, grabbing two wins out of three tough games, averaging more than 30 points each night as well as a handful of other statistical goodness. Anything and everything the Heat needed he has delivered. From last to first.

2. Kevin Love: DET, SAC, ATL. The double-double machine is on the rise (he was 9th last week) and so are the Wolves who are finally remembering/learning what winning in the NBA means. Two wins in the last three against admittedly not great teams, but a win is a win and all that. He has had 30-13, 33-11 and 20-17 in the last week and he is pretty much a lock for the All-Star game. Join the Love Train while there is room.

3. Chris Paul: LAL. Has only played once this week due to injury but the game he played against the Lakers was an absolute masterpiece. He controlled the game and scored almost at will powering the Clippers to a big time win. 33-4-6 with just one turnover in a rivalry game? Good for a rise I think. Up one.

4. Dwight Howard: SAS, CHA, NYK. He was third last week after racking up three wins. Not quite so good this week with two wins and a loss to the Spurs, but still, he is winning games for a bad Magic team. No fireworks this week, but solid.

5. Kevin Durant: WAS, BOS, NYK. Two wins against two teams struggling for an identity and a loss to a team just, well, struggling, is not good enough to keep Durant in second place this week. You can’t lose to Washington and stay that high, not matter how many points you score.

6. LaMarcus Aldridge: ATL, NOH, HOU. Last week LA was in at 7th and he is probably good for about the same this week. His play is solid without being stellar with his Blazers suffering two losses in the last three. He has put up about 22-10 the past week but if Portland is going to make the leap with Aldridge as the man they probably need a little bit more from him. Not masses, but at least a little.

7. Kobe Bryant: MIA, DAL, LAC. Kobe was number one last week after scoring more than 100 points in three games and powering the Lakers to three wins, but it looks like the schedule has caught up with the mamba who is still playing well, but not like the man possessed he was last week. The teams he faced this week were all tough but two losses is not going to sit well with Kobe, especially against the noisy neighbours and the Heat. Down.

8. Dirk Nowitzki: UTA, LAC, LAL. He was in sixth last week after winning three in a row but not playing particularly well, but the Mavericks lost twice in Los Angeles this week, once against the Lakers and once against the Clippers. His play has continued to be sporadic and he put up just 12 points against the Utah Jazz in a win. Drops.

9. Carmelo Anthony: PHX, ORL, MEM. Three losses and Melo has been bad in all of them, struggling from the floor in the wake of injury troubles. The Knicks just are not playing well right now. Down 1.

10. Derrick Rose: Day to day with a left toe sprain and has not taken the floor since a gritty win over the Raptors on January 14. He is down, but he will be back.

Kobe Bryant or LeBron James: Is there more to performing in the ‘clutch’ than simply shooting?

January 15, 2012

Kobe shoots. But LeBron?

By Jack Maidment

The term ‘clutch’ is a funny thing. It’s just a word but its meaning when applied to sports can be profound.

Depending on the context in which it is used it can be the highest of compliments, ‘he’s a great clutch player’, or the strongest of condemnations, ‘he doesn’t get it done in the clutch’.

Effectively it’s a label and the label can be hard to shake once it’s attached, especially if it’s being used negatively.

Kobe Bryant is a clutch player. LeBron James is not. That’s the prevailing wisdom. But is it accurate?

This season LeBron has played in 11 games, 6 of which qualify for clutch analysis (games where the score margin is within 5 points in the last 5 minutes).

Unlike just about every other superstar in the NBA LeBron James’ field goal attempts don’t go up in the clutch, in fact they go down, albeit marginally so.

Compare that to Kobe Bryant who takes 23.9 shots per 36 minutes in regular play but with a shooting pace of more than 30 in the clutch. That’s a big leap.

So Kobe takes a lot more shots than LeBron down the stretch but he is the only player who can create his own shot on the Lakers while LeBron has Dwyane Wade to share the ball with.

But regardless of who gets the ball for the Heat, when it is LeBron he is shooting just 33% from the field in the final 5 minutes, down from an otherworldly 58% for the rest of the game. That’s an unreal drop.

That’s not the only problem with LeBron this year who is also struggling at the free throw line in the last 5 minutes.

He gets there a lot more at the end of the game, as you would imagine, but once on the stripe he is hitting just 58%, down from the 73% that he normally shoots.

Kobe, in contrast, has played in 10 games this year that qualify for clutch analysis and while his field goal % goes down about 10% to 35% down the stretch, his free throw shooting actually increases, from 84% from the line to 88% – In short he makes you pay when it matters most.

It’s also worth considering that Kobe’s usage rate goes up 10% in the clutch to 56.2% (‘takeover mode’) while LeBron’s goes up just 3% to 38.3%.

Much of that can be attributed to the make-up of their respective teams: the Heat don’t necessarily need to go through James to get a bucket, the Lakers are much more reliant on Kobe.

But it doesn’t stop there. Or at least it shouldn’t.

Historically, performing in the clutch has been associated with scoring the ball, but there should be more consideration to other intangibles, as LeBron’s assist rating shows.

His assist % in the clutch (an estimate of the % of teammate field goals assisted while he is on the floor) sky rockets in the last five minutes from 35.5% to a staggering 66.7%.

While Kobe, and the rest of his fellow stars, usually shoot the ball in the clutch, LeBron is often compelled to pass.

Different wiring I guess.

NBA Superstar League: The reign of Kobe

January 13, 2012

Kobe starts off #1

By Jack Maidment

NBA Superstar League: A weekly statistical snapshot, out every Friday, ranking ten of the best players in the league.

Play well and your team wins, you move up the table. If you suck, lose or moan about team mates, you move down. Simple.

The ten are in place for this season with LeBron/Wade counting as one person.

Our 10: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James/Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge.

Let’s get to it.

Week 1.

1. Kobe Bryant: UTA, PHX, MEM. Three wins. More than 100 points scored. Nine total turnovers. At least 38 minutes played each game. Kobe is the superstar playing the best right now. It’s not even close. He is on a tear. Number one.

2. Kevin Durant: NOH, MEM, SAS. Three wins against two and a half good teams and lots of work from Durant. He has done a lot of everything this week, 29-3-10 with 4 blocks against New Orleans, 22-5-11 going 8-8 from the line against the Grizzlies and 21-7-10, 10-10 from the line against the Spurs. He has been doing what superstars do. Just win.

3. Dwight Howard: GSW, POR, SAC. Three good wins for a bad Magic team and Dwight did what he had to do to grab the Ws. He put up 45 and 23(!) against the Warriors who made him shoot 39(!) free throws to earn them, the most in NBA history.

4. Chris Paul: MIA, POR, MIL. Two wins and a loss to Portland. Huge win against the Heat in which he had 26-11-6 and three steals. Forgettable games against the Blazers and Bucks, but on the strength of his performance against Miami, Paul deserves his fourth place spot.

5. Derrick Rose: MIN, DET, ATL. Two wins and a loss. He put up 31 and 11 on Minnesota and 22 and 8 on the Pistons, both wins. He struggled against the Hawks, scoring just 8 with 6 assists in a tough loss. He outdueled Ricky Rubio, did what he had to do against Detroit and went 3-10 against the Hawks. A mediocre week by the MVP’s standard. But the Bulls are 10-2. He’ll move up next week.

6. Dirk Nowitzki: BOS, DET, NOH. A shadow of who he was last season but three wins nonetheless. He scored just 10 on 2-11 shooting against New Orleans before picking it up against hapless Detroit. He’s not Dirk right now, but he is getting there, and wins are wins.

7. LaMarcus Aldridge: ORL, LAC, CLE. A loss against a reasonably good Magic team and two wins against the Clippers and Cavaliers. He has been solid, if not stellar, and averaged about 22 and 8 in the last three. All he needs to move up further are a few big nights with marquee wins.

8. Carmelo Anthony: MEM, PHI, CHA. He put up 14 before spraining his ankle against Memphis and 27 and 22 the two games before. The Knicks had won four in a row before losing to the Grizzlies, but are 5-5 in their last 10, so hopefully his Knicks are starting to figure it out.

9. Kevin Love: CHI, TOR, WAS. Two losses and a win. Minnesota’s PF has struggled mightily this week. He went 5-18 from the field against the Bulls, 3-16 against the Raptors (both losses) and 7-16 in a win over the Wizards. He has less talent to work with than most of the other guys on this list, but still, he hasn’t played well the last three.

10. LeBron James: LAC, GSW, NJN. Two losses and a win. He was 9-17 from the stripe in a loss to the Clippers. His line was 23-7-13 but the free throws in the fourth quarter killed his team. In a loss to the Warriors he had 26-7-11. His best performance was reserved for a win against the horrible Nets who he torched for 32-9-7. Superstars win games when it matters. This week he didn’t.