Amare Stoudemire

Sorry, New York, but Stoudemire is no MVP. Rose either.

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We all want to be smart, clever, cutting edge. Nobody wants to give the tired, same old answer. Even if it’s the right one.

Ask “experts” and fans who the best player in the NBA is and they’ll talk about how Player X is better than LeBron James. Kobe has more rings and finishes better, Durant has taken his scoring mantle, etc. Sorry, but the answer is LBJ. Has been for a few seasons now. Nobody is forcing you to like LeBron, but respect the game.

The same theory holds with the MVP discussion. We don’t want to state the obvious few guys because they don’t show us as forward thinking. We seem staid and boring saying LeBron should have a third straight MVP.

So we fall in love with the new guy and their fresh narrative. We sell their story. Amar’e Stoudemire has brought the Knicks back to relevance, carrying all of Manhattan on his broad shoulders, so he should be MVP. Derrick Rose has made this Bulls team the best since you know who, so he is in the MVP discussion.

Sorry, no.

Both Rose and Stoudemire are having genuinely fantastic seasons, they deserve truckloads of praise. Neither should have to buy a dinner in their respective cities. But MVP is another discussion entirely. Neither of them should be in that discussion once it gets serious.

Here’s the thing about Stoudemire — he’s the same player now he was in Phoenix. The numbers are close. Go ahead and point out he is scoring three more points per game than he was in Phoenix and I’ll note his shooting percentage — traditional and true shooting percentage — is down. Yes, he’s scoring three more points per game but he’s taking four more shots to do it.

Spare me the “defenses are focusing on him now” bit — if you think that defenses didn’t plan for him in Phoenix, you didn’t watch any of their games.

Which is kind of the point — Stoudemire was great in Phoenix but never got credit because people weren’t watching and too many of those that were became captivated by Steve Nash. Again, not to bash Nash, but he drew some of the attention that rightfully belonged to Stoudemire. Now, Stoudemire is getting that adulation on the big stage.

He has lifted the Knicks up to… average. The Knicks are not a good team folks, they’re just no longer craptastic. Credit Stoudemire for that — but that is very different than the MVP discussion. And you’d be shortchanging Raymond Felton. The truth of the campaign is that Stoudemire is New York’s favorite son and so all these Knick fans — including my bosses, so enjoy this column because I am biting the hand that feeds me — think he is now deserving of the league’s highest honors. No. He didn’t change, the Knicks changed a little with him and Felton. Stoudemire is not even having his best season (07-08).

As for Rose, you can make a better case for him — he is having his best season (of three, but still) and the Bulls are on the bubble of contender in the East. So he passes those criteria.

But Rose is also doing that in part because the team around him is better. The real MVP of the Bulls is Tom Thibodeau and his ability to coach defense. Then there are the  comparisons: Rose is undoubtedly good, but he is not as efficient a player other elite team leaders such as LeBron or Dwyane Wade. Chris Paul has a true shooting percentage of 60.4, LeBron is 57.7, Rose is closer to the league average at 53.8.  He’s about the same in terms of usage as Kevin Durant but not nearly as efficient a scorer. Rohan broke it all down well right here, I will not rehash it.

As Tom Ziller points out, the Durant of last season is a good comparison for Rose now because the casual basketball fan base is falling in love with his game for the first time, hence the glowing stories like Rick Riley’s on espn.com. The “he’s a good person, we love his game” meme. Which all may be true, but that is different than an MVP discussion. For me MVP should be about efficiently leading your team to a higher place than they could go without you. Rose and Stoudemire both do that to a degree, but others do it better.

The problem is the NBA issues no guidelines on how to define MVP. Best player in the league? Best player on the best team? Guy who meant the most to his team? Best player to make a rap video cameo? You can define it however you wish.

In the absence of direction, many NBA writers are drawn to the guys with narratives. Writers like stories. We do. Here’s the thing: We’re like the rest of you — we want our job to be easier. Guys who come with their own narratives attached make our jobs easier. So many in the media root for those storylines. Guy changes the fortunes of New York/Chicago makes a great story.

It does not make an MVP.

To be fair, here are the three guys at the top of my list right now. Feel free to tell me how inadequate they are:

Chris Paul. The Hornets stunk last year and are good this year — 30-16 and currently riding the longest winning streak in the league. What’s the difference? CP3 is healthy. (And Monty Williams deserves a nod here in part). Paul is the best point guard in the game — you may be wrong, Barkley — and he somehow gets undervalued. He can shoot or dish like Nash. He carries this offense. He has lifted his team farther than any other player this season and done it efficiently.

LeBron James. Best player in the Association on one of its elite teams. Sure, he’s the same guy as the last two seasons, but that guy was MVP.

Dirk Nowitzki. If you’re one of those who say you can tell how good a player is by his absence from his team, then Nowitzki is your guy. Remember that Dallas was 24-5 (largely against a tough schedule of above .500 teams) while Nowitzki was shooting 55 percent (a career best) before his injury. He left and the team collapsed. What hurts his candidacy is what has happened since his return, which is unimpressive.

Too much Stephen Curry, too many threes bury Thunder in Game 7, Warriors win 96-88, advance to Finals

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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For seven games the athleticism and improved defense of the Oklahoma City Thunder smothered nearly everything Golden State tried to do inside the arc. The Thunder length and aggressiveness had them dominating the glass much of the series. Oklahoma City played Golden State below the arc all series long.

But the Warriors owned the three ball.

After a rough shooting first half, the three balls started to fall for Golden State in the second half — many of them contested, the Thunder defense remained stout. The Warriors opened the game 2-of-6 from three, then hit 12 of their next 24 — 10-of-20 in the second half — while the Thunder missed 13 straight at one point.

The Warriors made 10 more threes than the Thunder in Game 7 and — just as it was in Game 6 — that proved to be the difference. The Warriors came from down 3-1 to win Game 7 96-88 and take the series.

Golden State will host Cleveland in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

It took the best run of games these Warriors have put together in two-plus seasons — those are seasons that ended in a championship and included 73 regular season wins — to get that chance to go back-to-back. The Thunder played their best ball in years and forced the Warriors to find another gear.

Stephen Curry, who finished with 36 points and hit 7-of-12 from three, was the difference as he played like the MVP version of himself. That version had been held in check much of the series by the Thunder’s defense, and likely a lingering knee issue (although he would never admit that). All series long Curry had struggled to beat the Thunder bigs who switched onto him off picks, but not in Game 7 when he hit four threes over those bigs, and blew by them and into the lane a host of other times.

Kevin Durant was giving up the ball early in the game, trying to get teammates involved, but late in the fourth he put together a personal 7-0 run that made it a four-point game inside three minutes. Durant was a beast and finished with 27 points to lead the Thunder. Russell Westbrook added 19 points and 13 assists.

Early on it felt like it might be the Thunder’s night. It was a disjointed start to the game (as often happens in Game 7s), which helped Steven Adams get a couple of buckets and had the Thunder trying to move the ball. Both teams had jitters and guys are trying to do a little too much, evidence by Curry starting 3-of-8 and Thompson 0-of-4. What OKC did was get six offensive boards in first quarter, which had then up 24-19.

In the second, Waiters came in and played a little out of control but proved to be a spark that had the Thunder pushing the lead up to 13. The Thunder also got solid play early from Enes Kanter, who had eight points and four rebounds in eight minutes. Meanwhile, the Warriors were missing their twos — started 6-of-20 inside the arc — but unlike Game 6 they were missing their threes as well. Play Thompson started 0-of-7.

Then Thompson hit three in a row from beyond the arc, the Warriors’ energy returned, and they went on 11-2 run to make it a game again. Thunder responded with 7-0 run of their own. Then Warriors have 7-0 run to get it to five. By the half, it was 48-42 Oklahoma City.

Golden State came out gunning from three to start the second half and behind a few Curry threes went on a 15-4 run and the Warriors were up 57-54. The Thunder hung around but got sucked into the wrong style of play and they missed 13 consecutive threes at one point. The threes were falling for the Warriors, the Thunder could not buy a bucket, it was a 29-12 third quarter for the Warriors and they were up 71-60. The Warriors felt in control.

But the Thunder played too hard and too well this series to go quietly into that good night. They defended with heart and Durant made plays down the stretch. Just not enough.

Because the Warriors threes kept falling no matter what.

Stephen Curry goes high off the glass at the buzzer just before the half

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Golden State hadn’t shot well all first half — 38.6 percent — and Stephen Curry was 4-of-10 with time running out in half.

Then Curry hit this high, high off the glass to end the half and bring Golden State within six at the break, 48-42.

Notice that Curry grabbed his knee after the shot. He was out for the start of the second half.

Draymond Green pulls Steven Adams down on him in latest tangle between rivals (VIDEO)

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The double personal foul call by the officials here was a cop out.

Either you call Steven Adams for falling on Draymond Green. Or, better yet, you call Green for hooking the arm of Adams and pulling him down on top of him (which could have led to a dislocation).

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Or — my preference — you make it a no call and move along.

But the officials looked at the latest tussle in the Green/Adams rivalry and gave them each a personal foul.

I will add, I think the officials have generally handled this game well and let the players play in a Game 7.

Can Pat Riley convince Hassan Whiteside to take a little less to stay in Miami?

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 29:  Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat reacts after a call against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Miami has a lot of key free agents this summer — Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire — but at the top of the list of guys they want to keep is Hassan Whiteside. Pat Riley said re-signing Whiteside is the Heat’s top priority. The shot-blocking center is at the heart of the style Erik Spoelstra wants to play because of his ability to protect the paint on defense, run the floor, and get buckets at the rim.

He’d fit with a lot of other NBA teams, too. Which is why he is going to get paid a max or near max contract (that and the salary cap spike that means a lot of teams have money to spend). While Whiteside reportedly likes Miami, the challenge for Heat is they do not have his Bird rights so they need to use cap space re-sign him. In an ideal world, Riley could work his magic and get Whiteside to take a little discount, but would he? Barry Jackson laid it out at the Miami Herald.

My understanding, reiterated in recent days, is if all things are equal financially, Whiteside wants to re-sign with Miami. He likes living here and likes the organization.

But we’ve repeatedly heard the Heat’s preference is persuading him to sign under the max (projected to be $21.6 million next season) by selling him on the lack of state income tax, his comfort level here, the roster flexibility created by him taking a bit less; and that Miami can offer 7.5 percent annual raises off the first year salary (compared with 4.5 percent elsewhere). That means a four-year deal starting at $20.7 million with Miami would equal a four-year deal starting at $21.6 million elsewhere.

But if Miami offers, say, $2 million less per year than max offers elsewhere, what would Whiteside do?  That decision hasn’t been made and it won’t be an easy one.

My guess is the Heat will max out Whiteside if that’s what it takes to keep him. Maybe he would take a discount, maybe not, but in the end, the Heat need him and can’t replace him (Al Horford is a free agent and would cost more, and there isn’t another center nearly as good out there). Are the Heat going to let Whiteside walk and take a significant hit on the court over just a couple million? Probably not.

But with Whiteside and Wade in the fold (they aren’t letting him leave, either, even if it costs them $20 million a year) it’s likely Deng will land elsewhere. Probably the same with Johnson, unless he is willing to take a steep discount to stay (and I wouldn’t bet on that).