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…


Oklahoma@Miami, Lakers@Clippers: This much we know

April 5, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Four teams with realistic championship aspirations faced off against each other on Wednesday night with the NBA regular season finish line in sight.

Here’s what we learned.

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Miami Heat.

@There are way too many hot, young women going out with old (rich) men in Miami. Man.

@My heart might want something different (I see you Chi-Town) but an OKC-Miami NBA Finals would be out of this world. The standard of play when both teams are on the floor is off the scale.

@Kevin Durant has acquired The Look.

@LeBron James-KD is the best player match up in the league by a long way. They play each other pretty much the entire game and guarantee the other a tough night, both offensively and defensively.

@OKC can be nasty when it needs to be. Between Ibaka, Perkins, Mohammed and Collison, the Thunder have four solid bodies who can dish out a hit and on Wednesday they did. Frequently. The game had more missed layups than any other I have watched this season and every one was down to players waiting for the crunch.

@If I was a Miami fan, I would worry about Chris Bosh. He was milk-carton missing on Wednesday night and wanted no part of a positively scary OKC frontline.

@On that note, OKC’s front line is the best in the league. Between Perkins, Ibaka and Durant the Thunder have everything you need to be a great team on both ends of the floor.

@If Shane Battier cannot consistently make the left corner three in the fourth quarter the Heat could be in big trouble.

@Eric Spoelstra must drink a lot of Red Bull prior to each game. He walks around a lot. (Could make a ‘he spends more time on the floor than Mike Miller’ joke here, but I won’t because I am all class.)

@There is no scarier defensive player in the League than Serge Ibaka.

@If OKC-Miami do meet in the Finals Mike Breen is going to need to take a deep breath.

@Mike Breen is the best announcer in the NBA and it’s not even close.

@James Harden is the slipperiest player the the league.

Los Angeles Lakers @ Los Angeles Clippers

@There are way too many hot, young women going out with old (rich) men in Los Angeles. Man.

@Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant. The ‘raise up’ wing three pointer he hits with alarming regularity is probably the toughest shot any player takes in the league and it is also probably the most demoralising for the opposition.

@Yes Blake, the dunks are nice. But they are still only worth two points.

@Pretty sure Vinny Del Negro pulls names out of a hat to pick his starters and their minutes.

@Chauncey Billups has some truly horrible ties.

@Andrew Bynum is the biggest and strongest player in the league. There is no one in the entire NBA who can play him one on one any more. He made DeAndre Jordan look like a 6-year-old on the low block.

@Blake Griffin looks lost in just about every half court set. Although to be fair, so would you if you had VDN teaching you.

@Randy Foye cannot play Kobe Bryant straight up. Who knew. Kobe was asked in his half time interview what he thought about the Clippers leaving Foye on an island. Kobe grinned and simply said in that situation ‘it’s just time to go to work’.

@Pau Gasol is the most skilled big man in the league. He is also the owner of the best stinkface. After Blake dunked on him a second time on Wednesday Pau gave a facial expression similar to the one given by a workman who arrives home to see his wife getting banged by an alligator. Amazing.

@A Clipper-Laker series would be fun, but the Lakers would win.

@Ramon Sessions is an upgrade over Derek Fisher in the same way that the animation in Toy Story is an upgrade over Steamboat Micky.


The Art of the Miami Heat

January 28, 2012

By Jack Maidment

I cannot stand people who are addicted to their cameras. If I go the aquarium I don’t want you in my face taking pictures. If I’m drinking at the club I don’t want you bothering me for a snap.

Why can’t people just enjoy the now, the real thing, instead of interrupting the moment to create a pale imitation?

Why take a picture of a Lichtenstein original when you can take in its genius with your own eyes in the present?

The same can be applied to sports.

Basketball is such a unique blend of power and poetry that the game can explode into life at any moment. Why miss the explosion or interrupt the oh-shit-this-is-about-to-happen feeling trying to grab a photo?

I just don’t understand it. Watch the game.

The Miami Heat are the reason I bring this up.

They beat the New York Knicks last night 99-89 and they put on a show so exciting it was enough to shake me from my severe dislike of The Decision. No mean feat.

The first quarter was an absolute dunkfest and the entire game was one long highlight reel.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had five dunks each, running the floor and punishing the Knicks for every sloppy turnover.

Two especially stood out.

1.LeBron James dribbles his way down court off a Knick miss, backing into the paint with Bill Walker trying to guard him. LeBron feints slightly to his left shoulder as if looking for the turnaround jumper before powering to his right as the Knicks clear out. One dribble, two steps and LeBron elevates off his left foot before powering the ball through the hoop with his right hand, the wrong hand.

2. Wade receives the outlet pass off another New York miss just before half court on the near side. Two Knicks race back and Landry Fields meets Wade at the three point line. Wade takes one dribble before executing a perfect euro step, evading Fields, and elevates, jams. No other guard in the league is physically able do this. When you thought he would reach his ceiling and have to lay it up Wade carried on rising. Unbelievable.

Why the hell would you want to miss this?

(For the record I love photography, especially Ansell Adams and Weegee. Check them out.)


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.


Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh Miami Heat bound

July 8, 2010

Miami: two for three, one day to go

by Jack Maidment

Dwyane Wade has agreed to re-sign with the Miami Heat – and he is bringing the most coveted big man in this year’s free agent class with him.

Chris Bosh will make his long anticipated departure from the Toronto Raptors to head for the sunshine and tax breaks of South Beach.

Details of each player’s respective contracts have yet to be discussed, with one eye on LeBron James and his announcement on ESPN this evening at 9pm, ET.

Should James decide to join Wade and Bosh in Miami the three of them would be setting an unrivalled precedent in the NBA: taking a significant pay cut to play together in the name of a championship, or championships.

It seems at this stage that James is more likely to re-sign with his home town Cleveland Cavaliers because of his stated desire to be a global icon and billionaire.

Leaving Ohio without delivering a championship would be a serious smudge on his legacy and winning with two other All-NBA talents in Miami would not bring the same benefits and respect that winning with himself as the main man would.

The other problem with Wade, Bosh and James playing on the same team, aside from whose team it will be in crunch time, will be signing other players to fill out the rest of the roster, with the Heat only being offer to offer the veteran minimum of $1 million after taking care of the Big Three.

Can three players win a championship with little help?

A tandem of Wade and Bosh with money to fill out the roster might almost be the better option with plenty complimentary talent and no question over who gets the last shot of the game.


Miami Heat seek Lamar Odom and Carlos Boozer to appease Wade’s concerns

July 16, 2009

wade

by Jack Maidment

The wheel that squeaks gets the grease.

True. Just ask Dwayne Wade. While nothing is concrete until the papers are signed, the noises emanating from Miami surely have to go some way to appeasing their franchise player’s fears over his supporting cast.

Everyone in the League knew the situation: Wade was never going to commit to the Heat’s extension offer unless Pat Riley made moves to suggest that Wade would be leading a contender, sooner rather than later, instead of carrying the entire hopes of Miami on his shoulders.

Riley seemed to be reading from the contrary script: without a commitment from Wade, no changes would be made.

However, it would seem that Riley has come to appreciate the sheer value of his franchise player with news of not one, but two, major trades involving the Heat both with the aim of helping Wade back to Championship challenging status.

Lamar Odom. Calos Boozer.

Boozer, who is being shopped to anyone and everyone, is apparently edging nearer to Miami as part of a trade that would send Udonis Haslem and Dorell Wright to Utah. To balance salary and enable the Jazz to re-sign Paul Millsap, the Memphis Grizzlies will take on Wright’s salary, around $2.8 million, with cash and picks in return.

Odom, whose new contract offer from the Laker’s has been taken off the table, is allegedly being offered a five year $34 million deal at the mid level exception from Miami.

The Laker’s offered the forward four years at $36 million with his agent looking for five years and $45 million.

With money around the League all but dried up after the signing of Villanueva, Marion, Turkoglu etc Odom may well be forced to accept a move to Miami if the Laker’s remain staunch in their decision to withdraw their offer.

If both moves are successful, the Heat will boast one of the best starting front courts in the Eastern Conference with Boozer and Odom joining Jermaine O’Neal. 3 big men who can all score the ball will undoubtedly take the strain off of Wade, allowing him to shed some of the weight from his back.

It would also give the Heat scoring from the bench with Michael Beasley likely to lead the attack for the second unit.

The only question that remains will hang over the head of their point guard, second year Mario Chalmers, who did an impressive job in his rookie year: will he be able to keep Wade, Odom, Boozer, O’Neal and Beasley happy?


NBA Playoffs 2009: Where Far From Predictable Happens

April 9, 2009

portland-trail-blazers

Such is the nature of the NBA’s two conferences that every game between now and the end of the regular season are filled with potential consequences for the teams involved. Wins can mean an important jump up the playoff standings or perhaps the appeasement of the front office and fans with a more respectable finishing record. They also mean progressively less chance of obtaining the #1 pick come the lottery.

 

On the flip side, a loss in any of the games before April 15th can mean a dramatic slide down the rankings or perhaps the loss of home court in the playoffs. A loss for certain teams could result in that extra 0.5% chance of draft success.

 

Barring the fact that no teams in their respective conferences will want to hold the 8th seed for the Big Dance due to the teams they will have to meet in the first round, jostling for position is increasingly becoming chess like. Who matches up with whom better? And who do teams really want to avoid?

 

The importance of not finishing 8th in the East and West cannot be overstated. Every team will be trying their utmost to avoid the fate of facing Kobe or LeBron. Regardless of Rasheed Wallace’s statement that they truly believe they have a shot at the title, a meeting with Cleveland, who have held a vice like grip over the top spot in the East, must surely be viewed as nothing more than a formality. As for the Mavericks, nobody in Dallas, save for an ill advised rookie, believe that they have any shot at all at forcing the Los Angeles Lakers into a stumble.

 

In the East, perhaps the most important seedings of all are the 4 and 5. The team that occupy these positions know that they avoid the ‘Big Three’ of Cleveland, Boston and Orlando, giving them a real chance of progressing to the conference semi-finals, subsequently building some momentum with which to bring into a match up against the East’s top 3. Currently the 4/5 appears as if it will be fought between Miami and Atlanta, potentially the most exciting first round duel.

 

Whichever team can hold onto the 4th seed and secure home court for the first round will clearly have the advantage, although nothing is assured, especially when the opposition possess one of the best closers in the League in Dwayne Wade.

 

The Eastern semi-finals appear to be pretty sewn up with 3 of the 4 apparently already chosen. Unless Chicago, Philadelphia or Detroit can pull of a remarkable upset, the Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic will progress with the 4th spot being decided between the Heat and the Hawks. Nothing is so predictable out West, where seeds 2-8 are separated by very little.

 

The Lakers will likely face Dallas in the first round although the Mavericks are only 1 game back on 7th seed Utah who as things stand will face the Manu-less Spurs in round 1. The fact that San Antonio are missing one of their three major players must appeal to all the other teams in contention. An aging Spurs who are over-reliant on Tim Duncan and Tony Parker do not match up well with a healthy Jazz who could realistically overpower San Antonio inside with Boozer, Okur, Kirilenko and Milsap all fit and productive.

 

Houston, with a healthy Yao Ming, are a difficult match for anyone in the Western playoff picture. Nobody, not even Superman, can deal with him. If the likes of Von Wafer can provide scoring off of the bench and Aaron Brooks can maintain his composure, the Rockets could have a deep post season run.

 

The real wild cards out West are the Portland Trailblazers. The combination of youth and potential make them a difficult prospect for a first round match up. They have power and length inside in the shape of Greg Oden who is beginning to fulfil some of his promise as he stays healthy, and LaMarcus Aldridge who is flat out scary some nights. Combine this with the leadership and scoring of Brandon Roy and the versatility of the likes of Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum and Portland are a tough team.

 

Which leaves New Orleans. Having the best point guard in the League can only be a good thing and as long as CP3 stays healthy the Hornets have always got a chance. The fact that they are as banged up a team as there is in the playoffs is some what misleading as a full strength Orleans is capable of going deep into the latter stages of the playoffs. To have a real chance they need everyone back to compliment Chris Paul, especially the inside presence of Tyson Chandler.

 

The West is wide open and the East is far from decided. Drama is assured, but it is hard to look past a Cleveland Lakers final.