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…

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Boris Diaw: An alternate history

January 26, 2012

By Jack Maidment

In Jack McCallum’s excellent 2005/06 season-on-the-bench book Seven Seconds Or Less, Mike D’Antoni, head coach of the Phoenix Suns, sits down with Boris Diaw for the Frenchman’s end of season exit interview.

“Boris, real quick, I’ll tell you what I told you last night. In the biggest game of the season you gave us thirty and eleven. You were the league’s Most Improved Player. I just appreciate everything you’ve done. You’re fun. You helped make the locker room great. Other than kissing your ass, I don’t have much to say.

“The main thing is that there is no reason your goal should not be to be one of the best players in the league. That’s how good you can be.”

So what happened?

At 6’8, 230lbs and with all of the skills of a guard, Boris Diaw was an absolute revelation in his debut season in Phoenix.

Having played two non-distinct years in Atlanta for the Hawks he arrived in the desert in 2005 as a result of the Joe Johnson trade with no hype and proceeded to tear our of the blocks doing everything the injury ravaged Suns needed.

He had played back up point guard in Atlanta but in the absence of Amar’e Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, he dutifully played center. Like that’s a normal progression.

How many times has that ever happened before? How many players could even contemplate such a shift?

Regardless, Diaw poured in his best ever season, 13-7-6, the versatile fuel which ignited the Suns to their imperious high-tempo best.

He was too big for guards, too skilled and quick for hulking big men who grimaced at the thought of running with the Frenchman in the 7 Seconds offense.

He was the MIP in the league during the regular season and got even better in the playoffs (19-7-5), culminating in his 34-11 game one performance against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, including the game winner, which caused D’Antoni to gush with praise.

So what happened?

Things changed.

Stoudemire came back and he never averaged double digits as a Sun again. He got traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008. He put on weight. He became a pale imitation of the match up nightmare born in the desert.

Four years later and Diaw is playing off the bench for the woeful Bobcats, posting 8-6-4. Solid numbers for a bench player, but for D’Antoni’s Diaw?

It’s tempting to write the Frenchman off as his production drops and say that he is done.

But he is only 29-years-old. Why can’t he come back?

He is enduring the toughest stretch of his career right now, a bench cog on a perennially bad team, potentially a fire slowly petering out.

It would surely be fitting, almost poetic, for him to rise again. Just like a Phoenix.


Phoenix Suns Start 7-1, Nash Proves Numbers Tell Only Part of the Story

November 10, 2009

nash

by Jack Maidment

How many times in the past has a man been written off because of numbers.

In the same week that David Haye defeated 7 feet and 23 stone of human being in Nicolai Valuev to become the World Heavyweight Champion, Steve Nash showed his disdain for the world of statistics in a show of solidarity with the Hayemaker.

Sure, Nash is 35 years of age. For any sport in which running is a main component, that kind of mileage tends to signify the end of the line. It is exactly that kind of thinking that has led many members of the basketball community to label the Canadian as done: he may have signed a 2 year extension with the Phoenix Suns, but with Shaquille O’Neal and Mike D’Antoni long gone the last chapter in Nash’s career will surely be nothing more than a farewell tour, right?

Seems as numbers play such a large part in determining our view on sports, here are 2 more for you: 21 points, 20 assists.

Read that again.

Now consider that the Suns were playing the Philadelphia 76ers, far from a basement dwelling team.

Nash’s second 20 20 night this season (8 games gone) powered his team to another win and a 7 and 1 start leaving most people around the hoop world with their jaws dropped and a look that says ‘where did that come from?’

The tempo has been restored in Arizona and the dumping of the Diesel to the Cleveland Cavaliers has effectively banished the ball and chain that dragged the Sun’s roster down the past two seasons freeing up a roster that can boast a collection of offensively talented players that very few if any teams can match.

Amare Stoudemire, goggles and all, has returned and is reminding the League why so many teams used to covet the man they call STAT. In the place of Shaquille O’Neal there is Channing Fry, an acquistion in the offseason from the Portland Trailblazers. Far from the banger that he has replaced, Fry’s outside game has allowed Amare the room he needs to manouevre in the low post.

Adding a center who can shoot the 3 has combined with the rest of the Suns’ outside threat to return the team to most capable of scoring in the entire League. Check out who is leading the NBA in points for. You wont be surprised.

Jason Richardson, Leandro Barbosa and Grant Hill have all started the season sharing the belief that missing the playoffs as they did last year simply isn’t going to happen again.

7-1 start has the rest of the League wondering, can they keep this up? Nash’s legs will almost certainly be brought up for losses in the future, but for now the engine is still there. Ultimately, a player that has never relied on pace to get his shot or dish his assists will not miss his legs as they start to fade.

In the next two years the Phoenix Suns will score more points than any other team. They will win more games than many. But will they prove the ‘defense wins championships’ mantra wrong?

Hope is a wonderful thing.