On Deron Williams and the NBA players who likely won’t be following him overseas

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Deron Williams, in his decision to suit up for the Turkish club Besiktas next season should the lockout continue, has officially opened the door for other locked out NBAers to seek employment elsewhere. The notion that top NBA players could jet across the Atlantic to play in European leagues is no longer a mere possibility; those reluctant to be the first to make commitments overseas now have their lockout role model, and could follow Williams to Turkey, or to China, or to any team in any country willing to temporarily invest in NBA talent.

But perhaps the oddest element of Williams’ exodus is how his unique circumstances enable him to make the jump. He’s not exactly a typical NBA player — Williams is the centerpiece of his current team, and holds a considerable amount of power as a result. He’s not even a typical star — Williams has more influence and leeway than most due to both his incredible skill and his impending free agency. The Nets are trying to convince Williams to stay with the franchise for the long haul, and — lockout or not — aren’t in any position to contest his bid to play overseas nor to void his contract. In this case, Williams holds most of the cards, if not all of them. Once he decided on playing in Turkey, there weren’t many actors capable of stopping him.

All of that makes Williams’ act a tough one to follow. How many players can command the kind of impunity that Williams does? Fringe NBA players — those likely most interested in securing some extra coin during the season by playing elsewhere — risk simply having their deals voided. The league’s top players hold the same sway that Williams does, but would only earn a fraction of their NBA salaries while playing overseas and risk possible injury in the process. Essentially, those for whom it makes the most financial sense to play in other leagues may be limited from doing so, and those who have the least compelling motivations for seeking that kind of employment hold all of the power to do as the please. There are dozens of shades of gray in between (Zaza Pachulia, a solid but unremarkable NBA big man, will join Besiktas along with Williams, for example, and will likely suffer little consequence), but the enabling and limiting factors on the extremes of the NBA spectrum create a pretty strange dynamic.

The potential wild card: rookie scale players. The threat of a contract void (and it may be little more than a threat; it’s unknown just how seriously teams would consider cutting their players loose) doesn’t seem to apply to team building blocks, a convenient fact which would theoretically offer young, talented players a bit of protection. However, players on their first NBA deals could still have the financial motivations to play overseas, depending on their individual situations and their expectations for their 2011-2012 NBA salaries. If anything, it’s the players on rookie scale deals — particularly former mid-late 1st round picks or second rounders — who would seem to have the most to gain. They could supplement their income, continue playing professional-level basketball, and further refine their skills in a different setting, all with seemingly little risk.

But outlining possible motivations and benefits for young players heading overseas is very different than that outcome actually occurring. There are a million legitimate and half-legitimate reasons NBA players could use to talk themselves into staying the course and trudging through the lockout, and many will be kept stateside as a result. The power structure of the NBA already restricts the sensible candidates for overseas contracts, but the wide variety of interests and caveats across even the viable options should dwindle those who intend to play overseas to a minimum. Williams may have opened the door, but many can’t even cross the threshold, and some would rather he close it and not waste what’s left of the A/C.

Bill Russell to Shaq, Kareem during awards show: “I would kick your ass”

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Bill Russell is one of the greatest basketball players to have ever lived. His dominance for the Boston Celtics is unquestioned.

And, he apparently knows it.

Russell received a lifetime achievement award on Monday night during the 2017 NBA Awards. Joined on stage by NBA big men Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutumbo, Russell opened his acceptance speech of the award with a little joke.

Via Twitter:

Tell ’em, Bill

Russell Westbrook has to choke back tears during emotional MVP acceptance speech

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Russell Westbrook was a tornado on the court this past season, tearing fearlessly through the NBA, leading the Thunder to the playoffs, and eventually himself to winning the MVP Award on Monday night.

It was a different side of Westbrook we saw when he accepted the award, barely able to hold back the tears in thanking his parents, teammates, and everyone who helped him get to that point.

Russell Westbrook wins the 2017 NBA MVP Award

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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for the 2017 NBA MVP? We finally have our answer.

On Monday night Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder star, took home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, earning him the right to be called the league’s most valuable player for the 2016-17 NBA season.

Westbrook had 68 first-place votes, runner-up James Harden had 22, however, Harden had so many second place votes that this was the closest race in a decade (although it wasn’t that close). Kawhi Leonard finished third, LeBron James fourth, and Isaiah Thomas fifth.

The MVP debate raged on the entire regular season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder star hit new heights in 2016-17, averaging a triple-double for the entire season, a feat not seen since 1962 when Oscar Robertson did it. That pushed him over impressive numbers by Houston Rockets star Harden, who was incredible as he moved to play the point guard position full-time for NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.

Whether you picked Westbrook or Harden, I’m not so sure that there was a wrong answer. Granted, the Rockets were a much better team and in fact gave some of the best squads in the Western Conference a run for their money. Harden and D’Antoni seemed like a natural pairing, and his move to the point guard position was inspired. Houston finished third in the Western Conference last season, a mark that most of us did not expect them to achieve without the likes of Dwight Howard.

In comparison, the Thunder were only in playoff contention because of Westbrook and even then, they scraped by the entire season. Oklahoma City had just three players with a positive VORP For the season, in stark contrast to the Rockets. While basketball purists might rightly point out that Westbrook’s contribution to his team was still centered around himself, the debate will have to rage on with the trophy now firmly in the Thunder star’s grasp.

Plus, if you ever watched the guy it would be hard not to point to him as MVP. Westbrook was just flat out ridiculous.

It is difficult to understate just how significant Westbrook’s statistical achievement is for the season. He averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. The ability of a player to achieve that record with modern defenses in the NBA being what they are is impressive, even if you want to argue that many teams allowed Westbrook to operate while concentrating on his lesser teammates.

In the age of advanced statistics, when an analyst with both a spreadsheet and a pair of working eyes may slide to the side of Harden, it is still an astonishing thought to think Westbrook dominated so wholly against his opponents statistically. Indeed, if you ask me who had a genuine impact and who was more impressive, the answer would have to be split between the two.

So here we are, at the end of the year and everything is as we thought it would be. Russell Westbrook is the individual season champ as a player, the best of the best. The Golden State Warriors are the team champions of 2016-17. You could argue against either of them, but I don’t think it would do you any good. Westbrooks season is a statistical anomaly we are unlikely to see again. NBA MVP voters have got it wrong a lot of the time over the years, but this isn’t one of them.

Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP.

Draymond Green wins 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year

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There were a lot of incredible candidates for the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, but make no bones about it: Golden state Warriors forward Draymond Green was the most deserving.

Monday night Green was announced as the Defensive Player of the Year during the NBA’s Awards Ceremony.

In a year in which the Warriors were coming off a 73-9 season, and after an offseason where they added Kevin Durant, Green’s importance to the team was never overstated. His tenacity on defense and switchability allowed the Warriors to continue to be one of the best defensive squads in the NBA. Golden State finished second in the NBA in defensive efficiency in 2016-17, and part of that was due to Green acting as they lynchpin.

A unique defensive player, Green was able to take some of the pressure off of Durant as well as boost his impact on defense. A player who at times had to guard all five positions, Green led his team in defensive win shares.

To take home his DPOY award, Green got 73 out of a possible 100 first place votes (from select media members), comfortably beating out Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, who was second, and San Antonio Spurs MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, who was third. Robert Covington of the Philadelphia 76ers was fourth, followed by LeBron James fifth.

Much like the MVP award this season, a real argument could be made for either Leonard or Gobert’s candidacy for DPOY. However, With yet another 60+ when season under his belt, it made sense that Green was seen as the key by voters for the Golden State defensive attack.

Green finished with 73 first place votes, while Gobert trailed with 16 and Leonard with 11. Green finished with 434 total points. Gobert was second with 169.

Durant was the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, and voting for DOPY closed before the playoffs began. But if anyone watched the great playoff run by the Warriors — one where they only lost one game — Green’s importance is easily understood.