October 29, 2014: Five Things to Know in the NBA
#1 – Lottery Reform and Tanking
Ever since the birth of the NBA draft lottery, league officials, players, and fans have all had problems with it. As a native Charlottean, I have watched Anthony Davis taken from right in front of the Bobcats’ record setting, 7-59 noses, and given to the team that was stolen from our city. I have watched Chicago jump up eight spots to take Derrick Rose, the hometown hero. I have seen the Cleveland Cavaliers win three of the last four lotteries, cashing in on Kyrie Irving and two pieces that brought Kevin Love to town. I saw Cleveland win in 2003 when they drafted a budding hometown high school standout, LeBron James. I have watched tanking, disappointment, conspiracy theories, and I think a large portion of the NBA community has trouble respecting the NBA Draft. It all stinks a bit.
Last week, NBA owners got together to vote on draft lottery reform. It would have given the top four teams an equal chance at the number one overall pick, and redistributed the odds much more evenly among the lottery teams, essentially making it even more ridiculous and giving fairly decent teams larger odds to luck into the next franchise player. This reform was dreamed up as an anti-tanking measure, and one that many NBA bottom feeders fought against with every fiber of their being (I’m looking at you, Sam Hinkie). The unreliable pre-vote polls I saw last week suggested that it was a done deal, and that we may even see a 29-1 vote in favor, with only the 76ers holding out. In reality, there were not even enough votes to pass the refor
As a fan, I’m actually pretty happy about this development. Reform would have made the lottery even more frustrating for small market teams that just aren’t good. Anti-tanking measures would have a huge effect on everyone else who is trying to rebuild and contend. In my opinion, the only way to fix the draft lottery is to get rid of it. The NFL has its system for a reason, and while I know the two sports are completely different, and high draft picks have a much larger effect on basketball teams than they do on football teams, I think the only fair way to do it is with a set order based on record: worst goes first. Not that I’m still mad at David Stern about this or anything, but the next great player should go to the worst team. That’s the way it is supposed to be. Anthony Davis should have been a Bobcat.
#2 – Steve Nash Out for Season
This doesn’t come as a shock for anybody who follows the NBA, but Steve Nash has sustained back injuries which will prevent him from playing in any games this year for the Los Angeles Lakers. This is an interesting development for a few reasons. First, I sort of predicted this in my last column, but I almost feel bad about it because it happened so soon. I was really interested to see how Nash would perform at age 40 in the NBA. Second, it opens up the starting PG spot to Jeremy Lin, which I think will actually help out the Lakers. I think he can work as a compliment to Kobe Bryant, whose age has limited him to literally two shots: spot up three pointers and high post fadeaways. Lin has the penetrating and passing ability to get Kobe those looks, so I don’t think they will lose much due to Nash’s injury.
However, the NBA loses a guy who is an all-time great, a two-time MVP winner, an eight-time All-Star, and one of the greatest passers in NBA history. He is in the John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson category for pass-first point guards. It’s sad to see him go out like this, and it’s worth taking a minute to go on YouTube to watch some old Steve Nash highlights, because in his day, this first-ballot Hall of Famer was a dominant player. One last interesting note: upon retirement, Steve Nash will officially become the only MVP in the history of the NBA never to play in an NBA Finals (other than Derrick Rose, but he has a lot of time left).
#3 – Stat-line of the Week
As we all remember, the Los Angeles Clippers went through a lot this offseason. The Donald Sterling incident showed us that there is a lot more to sports than players and coaches. Good GMs, Owners, and fans are vital to teams’ success. The support of a good front office and loving fans can go a really long way to creating an atmosphere of not only winning, but also sportsmanship. These are the reasons we come out and support our teams; not only for the love of the game, but also for the community we get to be a part of. As we saw this summer, there is no place for racism or hate on any level in any sports community. On October 22nd, Steve Ballmer made his debut home appearance as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers for a preseason matchup with the Phoenix Suns. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul made sure to show Mr. Ballmer what they are willing to do for this organization as long as he keeps the Clippers community strong, and works to heal the scars left by Donald Sterling.
Blake Griffin: 35 points on 14/26 shooting and 7 rebounds in an extremely efficient 40 minutes.
Chris Paul: 34 pts on 12/18 shooting, 6-6 from the line, 4-7 from deep, 9 assists and 5 rebounds.
I think these two superstars made it pretty clear that if they get what they expect from Steve Ballmer, he can expect these sorts of numbers from them. I think he’s going to do just fine in L.A.
#4 – 3 Teams to Watch this Month
Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder are going to be very fun to watch without Kevin Durant for the first 20-25 games, because it will literally be the Russell Westbrook show. Russell Westbrook is an extremely exciting athlete, and although he takes some mind-blowingly bad shots, seeing him chuck up 35 shots per night and rack up some triple doubles will surely be a spectacle. We have never really gotten a chance to see what a Westbrook-led team looks like and it should be an interesting experiment. If it works out well, who knows what could happen as both Oklahoma City stars approach free agency on a team with the stingiest front office in the NBA
Chicago Bulls: If you like team defense, good coaching, passing, and spacing, you’ll love to watch the Bulls play. They have an unselfish and efficient frontcourt, made up of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, new acquisitions Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic, and the rim-rocking Taj Gibson. These guys are above average defenders, great passers, and each one has a unique scoring ability. Mirotic and Pau have nice touch from outside, Noah, at 6’11”, can put it on the floor and finish around the rim, and Gibson is a powerful post presence. They should be a great team down low. The real question mark on this team is Derrick Rose’s health. He looks like vintage MVP Derrick Rose. In the preseason Cavaliers-Bulls game, which was incredibly exciting, Kyrie Irving looked like he was on roller skates; Rose was really giving him a tough time. It’s exciting to think that after two horrible season-ending injuries, Derrick Rose could be back to playing basketball at an elite level. I think I speak for the entire basketball community when I say that everyone is rooting for him to succeed.
New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and a very suspect supporting cast are being coached by Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson on how to run the Triangle Offense without a legitimate big man and with only one decent passer (Jose Calderon). The narrative is just hilarious. Here’s J.R. himself on his difficulty with the triangle: “I mean, believe it or not, being the type of player I’ve been, it’s a struggle. I’m not going to lie… Trying to think about the rest of the team over myself or my scoring is something that I never really had to do before” – via ESPN. Again, the narrative is just hilarious.
#5 – Basketball Fail of the Week
Watch and laugh as Matt Barnes inbounds the ball directly to Steph curry for a three. Doc Rivers looks pretty upset. The Warriors and Clippers have a rivalry going these days, so even though it’s the preseason, this is just unacceptable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W2PLWSHpN8