Making a case from the bench

This past week saw Steph Curry take on a new role for the Golden State Warriors. A spot on the bench. Curry missed back-to-back games for the Dubs due to a lower leg injury. He is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game against the Nuggets.

Stephen_CurryIn the two games that Curry has missed so far, the Warriors have struggled. First came a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks in which Dallas shot over 50 percent from the field while Golden State only hit 40.7 percent of their shots. The next was a narrow win over the Rockets where the Warriors were sloppy with the ball, turning it over 18 times.

There is no doubt that the Warriors are worse off with Curry on the bench but this raises an interesting question. Does this solidify Curry as the league’s MVP yet again? It seems a bit crazy but it actually makes some sense.

Peyton_ManningThis type of idea originated for the first time for me when it came the 2011 NFL season. Peyton Manning missed the entire season due to an offseason neck surgery. The Colts went from a 10-6 playoff team in 2010 to a 2-14 debacle in 2012. It made many people wonder just how valuable Peyton was to Indianapolis if his absence could make that much of a difference.

Obviously, this is not the same scenario and no one actually voted for Manning as the MVP for that season but it still presented the idea. The reason why it could genuinely work in Curry’s favor is because he has actually played during the season and is not expected to miss an extend run of games.

Stephen_Curry2Curry has already made a pretty good case to be the league’s MVP again. He leads the NBA in points per game by a decent margin and is second in shooting percentage among guards. He has chipped in a healthy 6.4 assists per night and fourth in thefts per game. He has the best box plus/minus rating and the highest number of win shares in the league this season. Not to mention that the Warriors have only lost one game that Curry started.

His absence underlined how important he is to the team. There are some noticeable changes to the Warriors game without Curry. When Curry starts, Golden State scores 114.8 points per game. Without him, the Dubs averaged only 102.5. Their three-point shooting and overall shooting dropped off. It became apparent very quickly that no matter how deep the Warriors seem, they need their leader on the court to be a contender.

Yes it is a very small sample size and it is clear that Golden State is a good team even without Curry. I really think that missing those two games strengthened his campaign for a second consecutive MVP award. He showed his true value as the most important piece on the league’s best team.

Should a player be named MVP because of the drop off his team suffers when he doesn’t play? Maybe not in the case of Peyton Manning back in 2011, but I think in the case of Curry in 2016, it helps. The award is not designed for the league’s best player, but it’s most valuable one. His value was underlined in those two games.

Does this mean that Curry has locked up the MVP race? Absolutely not, but I think he just strengthened his resume by spending two nights in late December sitting on the bench.

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Land of 10,000 Mistakes

Not every NBA draft pick turns into a Hall of Famer, a five-time all star or even a starter. A lot of making these picks is just luck. However, there seems to be one team who just cannot seem to get it right. The Minnesota Timberwolves seem to manage to blow the draft worse than anyone else in the Association. You might think I’m crazy but hear me out.

Shaquille O'Neal
O’Neal won three straight championships in LA.

The Wolves were founded in 1989 in the heart of the Twin Cities. In the past 26 years, they have found some spectacular ways to strikeout when it comes to the NBA draft. Some of it was bad luck, some of it was stupidity.

Fast forward to 1996, when the T-wolves found themselves on the clock with the fifth overall pick. They drafted a guard out of the University of Connecticut who looked like a promising shooter. However, they were enamored with the player who went the selection before them, a kid named Stephon Marbury. So they swung a trade with Milwaukee to get Marbury, which included the UConn guard. Marbury left Minnesota after three years when he said he wanted to sign somewhere else so the team traded him. Oh and the guard they sent to Milwaukee turned out to be NBA all-time three point leader Ray Allen.

Ray_Allen
Allen joined forces with Paul Pierce and fellow Timberwolves draft pick Kevin Garnett to win a title in Boston.

The year Marbury left, 1999, Minnesota owned the sixth pick and selected Wally Szczerbiak. Szczerbiak was by no means a bad player, but some other notable names that went that year include Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Baron Davis, Richard Hamilton, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Steve Francis and Metta World Peace. Yet somehow, Minnesota ended up with the kid from Miami University.

After several years of avoiding the lottery altogether, the Timberwolves found themselves with the sixth pick in the 2006 draft. They selected Brandon Roy and sent him to Portland. That ended up being the right move because Roy spent six injury-marred season in the league before retiring. However, the Wolves missed out on Rudy Gay, J.J. Redick, Rajon Rondo and Kyle Lowry. All of those players were drafted after Roy.

Stephen_Curry
Curry is the league’s reigning MVP.

The 2000s just got worse for Minnesota. In 2007, they drafted Corey Brewer. Brewer has had a solid career, carving out a role as a reliable bench player Joakim Noah went two picks later and the Wolves missed out on another All-Star.

2008 went pretty well for Minnesota as they gave up O.J. Mayo and got Kevin Love in return. That small bright spot was quickly forgotten in 2009 when the Wolves managed to have their worst draft ever. The Timberwolves had four first round draft picks. They selected Johnny Flynn, Ricky Rubio, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. On draft night, they sent Lawson to Denver, where he became a star point guard. They kept Rubio and Flynn, whom they selected with consecutive picks. Flynn flamed out of the league after three years and Rubio has never developed into a reliable shooter. The player that went after those two: Stephen Curry.

Kevin Garnett
Garnett made it past the first round once in eight years with the Wolves.

The following year wasn’t much better. The Wolves took Wesley Johnson fourth overall and he ended up being a dud. Players who were picked in the top ten after Johnson included DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward and Paul George. Cousins and George have both been All-Stars while Monroe and Hayward have been the cornerstones for their respective franchises for the past few years.

The last two years have brought some optimism to the franchise with the selections of Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns. Underscored in all of that is the return of the one true draft success Minnesota has in its history. Kevin Garnett was the face of the franchise for the Wolves for many years, becoming one of the league’s best players. Unfortunately, even Garnett’s greatness is not enough to wipe out all the years of draft failure from the Minnesota ledger.

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: Point 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.

I thought I would start first with the NBA. This is one of the smaller size professional teams as far as American sports go. So without further ado, let’s get going with this one.

The selection: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Honorable mentions: Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook

This took a little bit of thinking. Curry still has probably another five or six years of his prime left in him. The longevity factor is there, which makes Curry a logical choice. Outside of the 2011 lockout year, the former Davidson guard has played in at least 74 games every season. That is not perfect but I will take that over the uncertainty of Rose. Curry also has the potential to still improve a little bit in his career. His potential to improve his passing is there. He has been a good distributor already but he has the potential to grow into a great one. His defensive presence is lacking as well and could definitely use a boost.

Now, Paul is a better passer. He fills the role of pure point guard a bit better than Curry does. However, the Clippers guard does not score anywhere close to as much as Curry does. Curry also finds a way to do it at an efficient level. The 26-year old has shot 47 percent from the field over his 6-year NBA career. That is much better than Westbrook or Lillard, who both sit around 43% for their career. He is also a deadeye from beyond the arc. If the 2015 season ended today, it would be the first time Curry ever finished below 40 percent shooting from 3-point territory. Even still, it would only be at 39.9 percent. He has also been solid from the line over his 6 years as well shooting a shade under 90 percent. Shooting wise, Curry might be the best guard in the NBA (maybe other than Kyle Korver). He is a marksman on the court and efficiently destroys teams.
With his shooting abilities, Golden State’s leading scorer is also eighth in scoring for the league this year. The only other point guard in the top 20 is Lillard, but he ranks eleventh. Westbrook does not qualify yet because he has not played enough games in 2015 due to injury. Since 2012, Curry has scored more than 22 points per game in every season. His career average at this point is now up to over 20 a game.  Curry also has hit the most three pointers of any point guard so far this season, again slightly ahead of Lillard. The man can score and likely will continue to do so at a high rate.

Curry also has proven he can develop into a floor general. He is not as good as Paul is in this respect but well above average. Curry has averaged about 6.8 assists per night throughout his career and he is improving, as that number for each of the last two years was 8.5 and 8.1 respectively. He has some better pieces around him in California now so we should see Curry posting between 8 and 9 assist per night. Those are not eye-popping numbers but they are very good for a player regarded more as a shoot first point guard. The 2015 All Star also has some very talented dribbling abilities. He can break down players in the open court and will occasionally break a player’s ankles. Curry has also averaged just over three turnovers per game for his career, which is a solid number for a player with a usage rating of over 25 percent.

I think overall Curry is probably one of the top three point guards in the NBA. The other two are probably Paul and Westbrook. Paul is a better passer and scores efficiently but he is not a dominant scorer. Westbrook is an athletic playmaker who has an uncanny ability to get to the basket, he also can put up a lot of assists playing for the Thunder but he is a streaky and overall average at best shooter. Curry is a combination of the two. He has the athletic ability to give slower guards some problems and he is an incredible shooter who will make contested baskets. Curry does have some shortcomings with his defensive game needing a little bit of work. It is beginning to improve but overall it is fairly weak. Westbrook, Paul and Rose all play much better defense. He also lacks experience when it comes to playing deep into the playoffs. Only Westbrook and Rose really have that experience. So, while the pick isn’t perfect, I am sticking to it. My first NBA cornerstone player has to be Steph Curry.