Time to get off Russell Westbrook’s back, it’s not his fault

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Whenever the Thunder lose, like they did in Game 2 Thursday night, the blame falls quickly on Russell Westbrook. He started 1-7 shooting with just one assist as the Thunder fell behind 18-2 to open the game. A hole they could never get out of.

If he would just stop taking shots away from Durant, if he would just be a more traditional point guard, if he…

Stop it. That means you, Magic Johnson. You are missing the point on the Thunder’s team dynamic. And the Game 2 loss is not Westbrook’s fault.

People need to stop trying to make Westbrook into what he is not and appreciate what he is. Here is Thunder coach Scott Brook’s comment, from the twitter of Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman.

“He’s never going to be John Stockton. He’s never going to be Mo Cheeks (one of Brooks’ assistant coaches),” he said “But there are a lot of players out there who are never going to be Russell Westbrook.”

Let me be blunt — this team would not be better with Mo Cheeks or even John Stockton at the helm. Because what the Thunder have to have to win is a dynamic scorer next to Durant, not just more shots for Durant.

Don’t believe me? From ESPN’s Dean Oliver (one of the gurus of advanced stats for basketball):

In fact, the refrain that “he takes away too many shots from Durant” has been a commonly heard criticism of Westbrook all season. The problem with this attack is that the numbers show that the Thunder haven’t actually done better in games where Durant has had more opportunities than Westbrook this season….

For some perspective, the average usage percentage (number of possession a player uses per game) is 20.0 percent, Durant’s average this season is 30.3 percent, and Westbrook’s average is 31.7 percent (5th-highest in NBA)….

The Thunder offense is at its worst when Durant has an above average usage percentage and Westbrook has a below average usage percentage – averaging just 104.0 points per 100 possessions in those 20 games, with the team winning less than half of those as a result.

Right now, Kevin Durant is an efficient scorer because he doesn’t have to do all the scoring. He has Westbrook, he has James Harden, some nights other guys step up. Remove Westbrook from the equation and Durant is now forced to take shots he currently passes up as not good enough, not open enough. You don’t score at a high rate on those shots. Durant would be less efficient and the Thunder would suffer.

Interestingly, Oliver notes that the Thunder are at their best when both Westbrook and Durant use fewer possessions than normal. Those are the games where James Harden or some other player stepped up for the Thunder, taking the scoring burden off both of the big stars.

There are nights Westbrook is going to miss shots, like any other scorer. But the man does pass — he has assisted on 28.9 percent of his teammates baskets when he has been on the floor these playoffs. Remember some of those plays, like late in Game 2 when he passed up a good look 15 footer on the baseline to feed Durant in the corner. He will make the basketball play.

The fact of the matter is if the Thunder are going to come back and win Game 3 in Miami Sunday, it will be because Westbrook was shooting and scoring. A lot. Not just passing. He has to be himself.

And we should appreciate him for what he is.

Warriors, Cavaliers meeting in most star-studded NBA Finals ever

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Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Klay Thompson – the 2017 NBA Finals will be oozing with stars.

Seven All-Stars appearing in the Finals the same year is tied for the most ever with 1983 (76ers: Andrew Toney, Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks; Lakers: Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and 1962 (Celtics: Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn; Lakers: Elgin Baylor, Frank Selvy, Jerry West).

But there were 24 All-Stars and 23 teams in 1983 and 24 All-Stars and nine teams in 1962. This year, there were 25 All-Stars and 30 teams – a ratio that makes this year’s feat more impressive.

To account for these differences, I’ve used All-Stars above average – the number of All-Stars in the Finals relative to the number of All-Stars for two average teams that year. For example, the average team had 0.83 All-Stars this year. So, an average matchup of two teams would feature 1.67 All-Stars. The 2017 Finals have seven All-Stars – a difference of 5.33.

Here are the All-Stars above average for every Finals since the NBA instituted an All-Star game:

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Here are breakdowns of the Finals with the most All-Stars above average:

2017: Warriors-Cavaliers

All-Stars: 7

All-Stars per team: 0.83

All-Stars above average: 5.33

Warriors

Stephen Curry

Kevin Durant

Draymond Green

Klay Thompson

Cavaliers

LeBron James

Kyrie Irving

Kevin Love

1983 76ers 4, Lakers 0

All-Stars: 7

All-Stars per team: 1.04

All-Stars above average: 4.91

76ers

Andrew Toney

Moses Malone

Julius Erving

Maurice Cheeks

Lakers

Magic Johnson

Jamaal Wilkes

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

1987 Lakers 4, Celtics 2

All-Stars: 6

All-Stars per team: 1.09

All-Stars above average: 3.83

Lakers

Magic Johnson

James Worthy

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Celtics

Larry Bird

Kevin McHale

Robert Parish

2013 Heat 4, Spurs 3

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.83

All-Stars above average: 3.33

Heat

Chris Bosh

LeBron James

Dwyane Wade

Spurs

Tony Parker

Tim Duncan

2012 Heat 4, Thunder 1

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.83

All-Stars above average: 3.33

Heat

LeBron James

Dwyane Wade

Chris Bosh

Thunder

Russell Westbrook

Kevin Durant

2009 Lakers 4, Magic 1

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.87

All-Stars above average: 3.27

Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Pau Gasol

Magic

Jameer Nelson

Rashard Lewis

Dwight Howard

2010 Lakers 4, Celtics 3

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.93

All-Stars above average: 3.13

Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Pau Gasol

Celtics

Paul Pierce

Rajon Rondo

Kevin Garnett

If you’re wondering about the below-average outliers:

Washington Bullets forward Elvin Hayes was the only All-Star in the Bullets’ 4-3 win over the Seattle SuperSonics in 1978, when there were 23 All-Stars and 22 teams.

There were four All-Stars in the 1965 Finals: Sam Jones, Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn for the victorious Celtics and Jerry West for the Lakers, who lost in five. Yet, that was still below average in a league with nine teams and 21 All-Stars.

That’s why it’s important to consider the NBA’s changing landscape – which leads to even more appreciation for the caliber of players in this year’s Finals.

Of course, current All-Star status is not the only measure of stardom. The NBA’s best player should count more than the league’s 12th-best player in the lesser conference.

But these Finals would hold up by any measure. They feature winners of the last five MVPs (Curry, Durant, LeBron) and the consensus best player in the world (LeBron).

Cavaliers-Warriors III will truly feature a special collection of talent.

Adrian Wojnarowski: Clippers, not Spurs, ‘pretty overwhelming favorite’ for Chris Paul

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Both the Clippers and Spurs are reportedly taking seriously the idea that Chris Paul could sign with San Antonio this summer.

Is Paul bolting L.A. for the Spurs realistic?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on CBS Sports Radio:

Not that I see. I don’t know where that came from, and I’ve spent a lot of time around the Spurs this spring. They would have to just tear up that entire payroll. It’s almost unlike anything the Spurs would have done or would do to. To even have a chance at him, they’d have to really gut the roster. And to do that for a 30-plus-year-old point guard, who has a couple great years left, there’s no question – I think there’s more pressure on the Clippers to have to re-sign him than for the Spurs to turn their whole franchise over to make a run at him. Listen, Chris Paul, financially, the difference with him being able to stay in L.A. and get paid, I’d still have a hard time imaging him leaving there. There’s so much money for him to be made. And in that Los Angeles market, in terms of his marketing endorsements, I still think they’re a pretty overwhelming favorite to re-sign him.

The Clippers can offer Paul a projected $205 million over five years. Because they have his Bird Rights, they don’t need cap space to re-sign him.

The Spurs’ max offer to Paul projects to be $152 million over four years, but they’d need major moves to clear enough cap room to do that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker, they’d still need to dump two of those players.

It’s obviously a lot for San Antonio to overcome.

But it’s not so far outside the Spurs’ norm. To sign LaMarcus Aldridge two years ago, they traded Tiago Splitter (to Hawks) and let Cory Joseph (Raptors), Aron Baynes (Pistons), Marco Belinelli (Kings) walk in free agency.

Paul is probably more valuable than the players San Antonio would have to shed this time around, though his age and the Spurs’ loyalty to Parker raise questions. Would they rather dump an injured and declining Parker or a productive player like Green or Aldridge? (Gasol, who has spent only one year in San Antonio and might even be convinced to opt out, is the most likely to go.)

The Clippers should be favored to sign Paul. But I wouldn’t completely rule out the Spurs.

LeBron James admits Warriors pose one of biggest challenges he’s faced in Finals

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LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.

Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.

“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”

The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.

Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.

All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.