Is this the second coming of the Dream Team?

Dream Team JordanPretending that this team is as good as the “Dream Team” from 1992 is probably pushing it. However, if you can march out a starting lineup that consists of Chris Paul, James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who are you going to lose to? Even if those guys need a rest, you can roll out a lineup of Steph Curry, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMarcus Cousins. Even that lineup isn’t getting beat by anyone else in the world.

This is the most talent in a US camp that we’ve seen in quite some time. We just watch Team USA lose to Canada in the Pan-American games. And it wasn’t even in the finals. That team consisted on many college players, led by Ron Baker and Melo Trimble. The players who were already pros on that squad were Anthony Randolph and Ryan Hollins from the NBA and a few others hailing from overseas leagues. It has been some time since we’ve seen a top flight USA team.

LeBron_James_Even in 2014, when the USA won the FIBA World Cup yet again, some of the top end talent was not there. James, Durant and Paul were all watching from home. That’s three fifths of a potential starting lineup. Like I said, the US still dominated the competition. They won their five group play games by an average of 33.2 points per game. Every other team in their group finished with a negative point differential as well due to the massive losses at the hands of the US. In bracket play, the US’ closest game came in the quarterfinals against Mexico, and the US won by 23. It was a landslide the whole way.

Chris PaulIt begs the question of does the US need to send an even more stacked team to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil next summer? Obviously, any team can lose on any day but sending in even more reinforcements seems like overkill. We all saw what can happen to stars trying to play at the international level when Paul George careened into the barrier and destroyed his knee. That could very well happen to any of the other superstars walking out on the court. They could suffer a serious injury in a game that really could be won without them.

Stephen_Curry2Now if everyone left it would be an issue but for guys like Durant and George who are coming off major injuries that prevented them from participating in most of the previous NBA season, is this worth the risk? Both of them are in camp with the team, which doesn’t guarantee they will be playing in Rio but the possibility is there. I’m sure Oklahoma City and Indiana would both prefer if their two star players rested up and trained on their own, preparing to be on the court in the NBA this season. (Side note: George has since left camp.)

Anthony_DavisI know I sound critical of the best players participating on Team USA. The truth is that not all of that star power is needed to win an Olympic Gold for the US. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t be a ton of fun to watch these guys play together. It will almost be like the NBA All Star game but this time the outcome has some consequence. It should be an offensive barrage as well making the game just that much more entertaining. Those five guys, Paul, Harden, Durant, James and Davis scored a combined 118 points per night in the NBA this season. They obviously all can’t hit those numbers now as their usage ratings combine to reach 144 percent.

Harden_DurantIt may be a risk but it is one that we as fans of basketball should hope they continue to take. There have been some new precautions taken to avoid repeats of George’s gruesome injury. And if we get to see the best US players on the court together dominating it will be a sight to behold, even if games are blowouts. It probably couldn’t touch the “Dream Team” from ’92 but there is a good chance this will be the most talented team Team USA assembles since that point. That final 12-man roster is going to be stacked.

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NBA MVP debate

Three Second Look writers decided to talk about who the NBA Most Valuable Player should be for 2015. Here are the cases for who we think should be crowned league MVP.

Anthony_Davis

Anthony Davis has only improved in his first three seasons in the NBA. He had career highs across the board and played 68 games for the first time in his career. Most importantly, Davis carried his New Orleans Pelicans to the playoffs, and that is the reason why he is a dark horse MVP contender.

Let’s first compare Anthony Davis to other power forwards, and when one looks he is by far the best power forward. He has the highest the PER among all power forwards with 30. The next highest one was Blake Griffin with 22. LaMarcus Aldridge is not as efficient as Davis is, does not average as many points or rebounds and his defense is nowhere close to the level of Davis’.  Moreover, Griffin missed more games than Davis and did not even average anything close to a double double. Clearly, Davis has the clear advantage over his power forward peers.

Davis is the unanimous MVP of the Pelicans. When one looks at the other players they see that no one comes close.  Only four other players on the team averaged over 10 points, and no other player other than Davis averaged over 20 points. Davis’ MVP stock goes down because his team was an eighth seed. However, I think this is where Davis’s main argument for MVP comes in. This team had no business of getting into the playoffs without him. If you look at the 14 games Davis missed, New Orleans went 6-8 without him. The Pelicans are a below .500 team without the Kentucky product in the lineup. The fact that they were even an eighth seed in the stacked West should amaze most people.

The real comparison comes to the rest of the league though and Davis comes out on top. He led the whole league in PER this year. Better then both leading MVP candidates Harden and Curry. He also had a lower usage percentage then most of the top ten players and still averaged over 24 points a game. Davis was also in the top five in scoring, top ten in rebounding and led the league in the blocks. Stats like this prove he is a two-way player and a true MVP-caliber player.

When you look at Davis’ resume, he should win the MVP. He is the best power forward in the league. He is far and away the best man on the Pelicans not to mention the catalyst for their postseason berth. Davis was the most efficient player in the league and is arguably the most well-rounded player in the league. Many of players with a PER over 30 during a single season have won MVP. He should win this year, but the truth is, even if he doesn’t, he will be a candidate for the award for years to come.
Brian Mandel

James_Harden

For individuals, this basketball season may go down as one of the best in history. Here we are in April, season having ended a few days ago, and there are 6 players with legitimate MVP candidacies, whom in any other year may have run away with the title.

Chris Paul had a pretty typical year for him, to the point where now voters expect this out of him rather than recognize his brilliance as the undisputed best pure point guard in the league today. LeBron James did not impress enough on the stat-line, in spite of his 25.3 PPG, 7.4 APG, and 6 PPG. Russell Westbrook only playing 67 games, and many others without Kevin Durant, will cost him a trip to the playoffs and the MVP. Anthony Davis won’t win, even though he lifted the Pelicans into the playoffs for the first time. When Steph Curry is off the floor, Golden State is still a great team.

Yes, James Harden should be the MVP. When I look at value, it is beyond just the stat sheet (although 27.4 points, 7 APG, and 5.7 RPG is nothing to scoff at either). Harden is the only reason that Houston sits as the #2 seed in a stacked Western Conference. With injuries throughout the season to Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverly, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Motiejunas, Harden was forced into shouldering the lead for the Rockets; he responded by leading the league in minutes played all season. Take out Harden, and this team does not come close to making the playoffs, let alone have home court advantage for the first two rounds.

Harden was put into the limelight and had to singularly take on teams for himself, knowing that he had no other weapons to shield him from opposing teams. This especially comes into play on defense, a spot where Harden is known for his struggles in the past. This season, Harden did the beginning of a 180, tying for 5th in the league with 1.9 steals per game.  While he will never be recognized as a defensive force, he easily played his part in a weakened defense. Head into the playoffs now with Howard back lurking and Josh Smith on the wings, and Houston’s defense is strong enough to make opposing defenses sweat, especially when they have to outscore the Beard on offense.

If you take the player off the team, how much of a difference would it make? For me, the Rockets are nothing without Harden. He is the most valuable player for their team, by a landslide. The Rockets performed very well against the rest of the league, especially in one of the toughest schedules in basketball (Do you want to play the Spurs, Mavs, and Grizzlies 4 teams a year? I wouldn’t). For that, James Harden should win one of the most competitive and coveted Most Valuable Player awards in history.
Matt Luppino

Stephen_Curry

I know it is the easy to just say Steph Curry should be the NBA MVP, but he truly earned it. He piloted the Warriors to the top seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. This sharp-shooting phenom took the league by storm and should rightfully walk away with the MVP award.

Chris Paul might be the best pure-point guard (and should be the runner-up for the award) but Curry edges in terms of all-around player. He might have only been sixth in scoring but he was also sixth in assists per game. Curry is a true marksman, drilling shots from anywhere on the court. He led all point guards in shooting percentage. He finished third from beyond the arc and led the league when it came to shooting from the free throw line. Not to mention, he finished tied third for true shooting percentage and second in effective field goal percentage. Curry is the most lethal shooter in the NBA, making him invaluable to any team.

Defensively, Curry showed he could mix it up with anyone as well. He ranked fourth in the league with two steals per game. He vastly improved his pick and roll defense this year preventing big men from rolling to the basket and not allowing guards to drive as easily. He upped his perimeter defense as well. There is still plenty of room for Curry to improve on the defensive side of the ball but he definitely has reached the level of being a great two-way player. Anthony Davis was the only player other than Curry to rank in the top 15 for offensive and defensive win shares.

Beyond all of that, Curry is the most important cog in this Golden State machine. Curry played in 80 of the teams’ 82 games this season. The Warriors lost both of those games and neither of those games were against playoff bound teams. When you consider that Golden State only lost 15 games all season that is even more significant. The Warriors need Curry to be an elite team. He has the highest value over replacement rating in the NBA this year. The all-star point guard finished third in the league in total win shares. Breaking that down even further, Curry led the league in win shares per 48 minutes played. Curry earned his team the most win shares per full game played of anyone in the league. Curry might have a great supporting cast but they are nowhere near as effective without their leader.

The man they call the “Baby-Faced Assassin” had an incredible year as the best player on the league’s best team and was the integral part to their success. Curry demonstrated that he not limited to just being an efficient scorer. He can facilitate a team’s offense and provide an impact on defense. Curry’s incredible all-around play should land him his first MVP award, and with the level that he plays at, it might not be his last either.
Chris McGlynn

NBA All Star snubs

The NBA All Star rosters took another step towards being finalized yesterday. The coaches decided on who the reserve players for each team should be. The East roster now features Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Pau Gasol, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Kyrie Irving and Dwayne Wade. The West includes Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson. At least two players, Wade and Bryant, will likely not be participating due to injury. There are some notable names missing from this list and I am going to break down who among them should have made it.

The first name to jump out at me absolutely has to be Derrick Rose. The Bulls’ point guard has had an injury-ridden season but when he has played, he has looked like one of the best players in the league. He has struggled though, especially shooting the ball. However, he is still scoring at a great rate and he is tied for 16th in points per 48 minutes played. He is also scoring more than Teague or Wall, who made the team over him. Rose is averaging fewer assists and shooting at a much worse rate per game though so I can understand why he was not picked. That being said, I think he is the next logical add if it turns out that Wade cannot go.

The other thing that bothers me in the East is leaving out the Pistons’ frontcourt. Both Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are in the top ten for rebounding this season with Drummond ranking second and Monroe tying for ninth. Drummond is averaging almost thirteen points per game as well with Monroe accounting for more than 15 per night. Drummond also has the most board per 48 minutes played and is an excellent shot blocker ranking ninth in the league. The issue for these two guys is that it is hard to argue whose spot they should take. I think Millsap and Horford were deserving of their selections. Both of these Pistons’ big men have played well though this season and certainly should have been considered.

Flipping to the West now, there is no bigger omission than DeMarcus Cousins. The man they call “Boogie” has been a force in Sacramento this season. Cousins has missed some time due to injury this year but he has put on a show out in California. He cleans up the board with 12.3 rebounds a game, good for third in the NBA. That is also two more rebounds per game than Duncan, who did make the team. The Kings’ big man has also made his presence felt defensively, with roughly 1.5 blocks and steals each per matchup. Duncan is logging about 2 blocks but only 1 steal per game. The biggest difference though is the gap in scoring. Duncan is scoring a solid 14.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Cousins is tallying 23.8 per night, which ranks fifth best in the NBA. I understand that Duncan is a great veteran player but I would definitely have selected Cousins over him.

Damian Lillard was another man forgotten in the All Star selection process. He has been a much better scorer than Chris Paul has this season but Paul has registered a lot more assists. The Blazers’ floor general shot much more effectively than Bryant did this season but Kobe, even despite his age, has been the better defender. The reality is that Lillard has played extremely well but it hasn’t been enough to push his name into being an All Star. There is a good chance that had Lillard been playing the East he would have been selected this season. He has outperformed the majority of the guards in the East but that does not matter with voting being conducted by conference.

It is hard to argue with the lineups being assembled to play in New York this season (well, outside of Kobe of course). There were some guys who were probably qualified to make these teams but unfortunately come up short based on how tough it is to make the 12-man roster. Only 24 players are named All Stars meaning that there are plenty of others who are left out. Let me know if you think there were some other players who should have made it.

NBA Cornerstones: Shooting Guard

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I will have a couple of parameters for this selection though I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think it should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope that you guys agree.

The selection: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Honorable mentions: Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson, Tyreke Evans, Victor Oladipo

This pick was a lot more clear-cut than my previous selection turned out to be. Not to say that there aren’t many good shooting guards, there is just one that stands out above the rest. James Harden is one of the best players in the league and he is having an MVP caliber season in Houston. He is only 25 years old and likely has another 8 or so years left in the tank where he can play at an elite level. While he is already an excellent player he is still improving, evident by his overhauled defensive play this year. The other thing that Harden brings to the table that very few others do is playoff experience. In his first five seasons, Harden played in 55 postseason games. He was part of the Thunder team that made it to the 2012 Finals after playing in the Conference Finals the year before. Harden actually hasn’t played a year in the association where his team did not make the playoffs.

All of that aside, Harden would still win for best two guard purely on his superior stat line. He is leading the league in scoring this year. Not just shooting guards, all players. He also has the most assists per game and the third most rebounds per game by a shooting guard. Defensively, he ranks fourth in blocks and first in steals among shooting guards as well. This decision is an absolute no brainer. He is clearly the best shooting guard in the league right now and that likely won’t change any time soon.

He can basically score at will with his 27.6 points per contest. Since becoming a starter when he moved to the Rockets in 2012, Harden has averaged 26.3 points per game. He also scores them fairly efficiently. Harden has turned himself into a much more consistent shooter over the last two seasons, hitting on roughly 45.5 percent of his shots. He has also been an above average three-point shooter, converting 37 percent of his attempts. The man who’s beard takes on a legend of its own has also improved his free throw shooting every year that he has been in the league and is now making almost 89 percent of his attempts from the line.

I mentioned his defensive stats this season being impressive and they are even more so because of his historical weakness on that end of the court. He is not an elite defender quite yet but the recent improvements provide some hope that there is potential for Harden on defense. This better defensive play also has Harden’s player efficiency rating higher than it has ever been previously. He ranks third behind only Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant among starters for the highest rating in the league. In the past, Harden’s overall efficiency was held back by his below average defensive play. Offense might still be where he excels but he has turned himself into a much more complete player.

Another knock against “The Beard” is his high number of turnovers, which sits at four per game this season. However, Harden has the seventh highest usage percentage in the NBA this year. He fits in right about where all of the six players in front of him do for turnovers per game. The reality is, when you handle the ball a lot in the NBA, you are going to have a much higher number of turnovers.

You can make the argument that Thompson is a better shooter, or that Butler is a better defender or that Wiggins has more potential but for the combined mix of talents James Harden brings to the table, it does not matter. Harden is probably one of the best all-around players in the league right now and could push himself into the conversation of being the best if his defense continues to improve. When he plays, he is involved in just about every facet of what happens on the court.
Despite how good of a supporting cast Harden has, featuring Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Terrance Jones most notably, Harden is still making the largest impact on the game. He leads the NBA in a stat called Win Shares, which calculates how much a player contributes to his team winning. The fact that Harden is tops in the league for that and has the highest value over replacement value of any player this season speaks volumes. Harden is a proven winner and while he may not have an NBA title to his name yet, he is definitely the shooting guard I want on my team to help me pursue one.

For previous Cornerstones selections, click here.