The One Ring to Rule the Ball

“In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

– J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

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Help! I’m Being Held Hostage!

I’m in a predicament.

It’s much more difficult to predict these playoffs than it has been for the last few years.  The Heat would win every series, the Thunder and the Spurs would probably duke it out in the Western conference, and there were a lot of crap teams who would be toast in their first matchup no matter whats.

Now only one of these is true; the bottom half of the East is crap.  The Heat and Thunder aren’t even suiting up this year, to make things tricker, The Spurs are going head to head with the Clippers in the first round.

I didn’t want to have to go on record trying to predict the likely contenders this year: there’s so many variables at play, and it’s hard to tell which team will ultimately pull through.  However, if someone put gun against my head, I do have a quick list of the 5 teams I think are most likely going to win a championship this year.  Fortunately for my readers, this a guy broke into my apartment and is now holding me hostage.  There is a strange masked man behind me with a loaded gun pressed against my head, and he just gruffly whispered into my ear, “Which 5 NBA teams do you think are most likely to win it all this season?”

Luckily for me, I have a very particular set of skills.  Skills that make me a nightmare for people like him.  So I’m not too worried.

Luckily for him, it would be a pain in the ass to unleash the dragon on him, and I just drank a lot of almond milk so I’d probably get a cramp.

I’ll just write this article instead.

#5: The Los Angeles Clippers

Fact: the only people who don’t hate the Clippers are the Clippers’ fans.  There was even a show about it:

Thanks Tobes McGobes, whoever you are

Thanks Tobes McGobes, whoever you are

There was brief league-wide solidarity and sympathy for the Clippers during the Donald Sterling fiasco, but that time is over.

Maybe haters do make you famous, considering that Clippers stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have a tv show called BGCP3TV in HD.  In case you were wondering, the show is alright.a

BG is a dickSpeaking of BG, Blake Griffin is the second most unlikable player in the league.  There’s a Bleacher Report article about Griffin that I found informative. Also, turn your attention to the gif on your right.

What a dick.

The trainer is just doing his job, and BG has to degrade him for 13 year-old fat kid humor.  The only funny thing about the situation is that it was a BG BJ.  The face that Griffin makes afterwards is so punchable.  What a douche.

I mention all of this hate because, while I understand why people don’t like the Clippers, I personally don’t.  When it comes to playing the game of basketball, that is.

There’s this narrative that Chris Paul is wildly overrated because of his inability to win a ring thus far in his career.  That’s just stupid.  Steve Nash never won a ring: are you telling me that Nash, a two time MVP winner, was overrated?  Or was he just a victim of circumstance?  Karl ‘The Mailman’ Malone never delivered a championship; he got to the finals 3 times, but it just got lost in the mail.

Chris Paul is an excellent floor general with absurd levels of floor vision, accuracy, and basketball IQ.  His assist to turnover ration this season was 4.41 assists per turnover, despite having 10.2 assists per game.  He’s also a great shooter, a capable offensive force, and one of the best defensive point guards in the league.  He’s been selected for the All-NBA team five times, he’s has made the NBA’s all-defensive team five times, and he was an integral part of the gold medal-winning US team in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Most importantly, he was able to import a winning attitude to a Clippers organization that just didn’t give a shit.  Donald Sterling wasn’t just a virulent racist, he was also cheap as hell, unwilling to spend money on contracts that could have lifted the team out of permanent mediocrity.  For those of us unfortunate enough to witness the Clippers before Chris Paul, we know that his impact on the organization was a huge part of turning this team around.

This season’s Clippers boasted a league best 109.8 in offensive efficiency, calculated by the following equation: Offensive Rating = (Points Produced / Individual Possessions) x 100.  An article from SB nation, which isn’t all that interesting beyond the paragraph I’m about to quote, describes how it is that the Clippers are able to produce the leagues best offense:

The Clippers’ offense functions with militaristic precision and a clear chain of command. Paul is the ship’s captain, orchestrating everyone else into position and scoring when necessary. Griffin is the first mate, working directly in tandem with the captain, but also with certain powers as delegated by Paul. Redick is the second mate that initiates many Clippers’ sets and runs around like a decoy when he doesn’t get the ball. Everyone else falls into very specific roles without many chances for upward mobility.

The last few seasons the Clippers got bumped from the playoffs because the team couldn’t play the ‘grind it out’ style game that playoff basketball frequently necessitates.  That’s a thing of the past.  Noted douche, Blake Griffin, had this to say to ESPN LA on the subject:

“Lob City doesn’t exist anymore. Lob City is done.  We’re moving on and we’re going to find our identity during training camp and that will be our new city. No more Lob City”

“People will still wear T-shirts.  I can’t really go to people’s houses and take their T-shirts and cut them up. But we [will] have a new identity as a team and that’s going to be what we work out during training camp.

An article from Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale broke down the NBA’s best 5-man units, and the #1 lineup in the league featured Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick: Minutes Played: 1,173, Net Rating: Plus-17.9, Weighted Score: 20,996.7.  Their bench is garbage, but the Clippers’ core lineup could be good enough to propel the Clippers to their first championship.

#4: The Chicago Bulls

I mentioned in an earlier article that, at the beginning of this season, I had the Bulls pegged to win it all if they could stay healthy.

If they could stay healthy.

Some injuries happen simply because of bad luck.  The OKC Thunder, for example, just got screwed this season because that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Some injuries happen as part of a large trend because a team’s head coach is a pathological psychotic with a penchant for pushing players to their breaking points.

Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau is a basketball savant, cooking up defensive schemas that have made the Bulls one of the best defensive teams in the NBA since his arrival.  No one’s questioning his coaching ability; the discussion is about the insane demands he makes of his players.  I go into this topic in great detail in the article I mentioned earlier.

In an interview with Trey Kirby of the Chicago Tribune, Derrick Rose revealed some details about the agoraphobic psychosis that his coach suffers from:

“I’ve never played for a coach who was that focused,” Rose said of Tom Thibodeau, admiringly. “There’s nothing else — no kids, no wife, no leisure time to watch TV. I’m dead serious. There’s nothing else going on.

“I’ve never heard about Thibs being out eating. I never ran into him eating anywhere. No matter what city we’re in, I won’t see him until the next day. I never been around a coach like him.”

Thibs has lost touch with the outside world.

The Bulls still have, in my opinion, the most talented squad in the league.  Their bench is as swift a coursing river, and their starting 5 has all the force of a great typhoon.  Their defense has all the strength of a raging fire.  The reason why Thibodeau won’t keep his players adequately rested and injury-free is as mysterious as the dark side of the moon.

Did I mention that I wrote an article about this?

#3: The San Antonio Spurs

popovich

That’s Greg Popovich, the best coach and the biggest troll in NBA history. Just watch this video.

At the start of the season, every sports analyst in the history of sports analysts mentioned that you can’t count the Spurs out no matter what.  It doesn’t matter old they look or how bad they play, the Spurs will put it together in the end, and they will contend for the title.

If you google the phrases ‘Spurs too old,” or “Spurs slow start,” thousands of alarmist articles written by myopic dipshits will pop up.

Sure enough, the Spurs looked fantastic by the end of the season.  San  Antonio (56-26) won all 12 of their final 12 games, and 22 of their 29 games post all-star break.

Meanwhile, Greg Popovich is at home, polishing all of his NBA trophies, awards, and championship rings, taking breaks only when his uncontrollable laughter makes him pass out.

Every season, the city of San Antonio collectively thinks to itself: “are they really going to fall for this shit again? really? Even after last year?  are you serious?”

The Spurs aren’t complicated; everything you need to know about the Spurs is there in black and white.  And grey.

Let’s complete this fun mad-lib that I put together :

                      (any NBA team) enters playoff series with Spurs.  Coach ________(any NBA coach) decides to put his best line-up out on the court, but starters                     (any NBA starting 5) get their asses handed to them.  Then coach                        (any NBA coach) decides to put out a line-up that exploits a perceived Spurs weakness.  Popovich makes appropriate lineup changes from the deepest bench in the NBA, and the Spurs shrug off Team                     ‘s (any NBA team) attempt to create an advantageous mismatch.  Team                    (any NBA team) becomes incredibly frustrated.  Spurs win the series.

I think you get it.

giphy-2Hey Pop, how many championship experience do the Spurs have during the Tim Duncan/Greg Popovich era?

Oh, it’s 5?  Wow.  That’s impressive.

The Spurs know how to win.  Real Estate is all about location, but championships are all about match-ups.

The only contender this year with an established track record when it comes to championships is San Antonio.  The Warriors have yet to make it out of the second round, the Cavs are a fresh new team, the Clippers haven’t been able to pull it together in recent years, the Rockets can’t even make it past the first round: the list goes on and on.

I’ll leave you with a Sportsgrid.com article with a title that sums this all up exquisitely: Dammit, the Spurs are going to win the NBA championship again, aren’t they?

#2: The Cleveland Cavaliers

In Lebron’s first season in the NBA, the Cavaliers won 19 more games than they did in the prior season.

In his 3rd year, the Cavalier’s made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1998.

In his 4th year he brought the Cavaliers to the Finals, despite playing on a team totally bereft of talent.

In his 1st year as a player for the Miami Heat, he brought the team to the NBA Finals.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers went from a 61-21 record to a 19-63 record.

In his 2nd year on the Heat, he won an NBA championship.

In his 3rd year on the Heat, he won another NBA championship.  Both times he was voted Finals MVP.

In his final year as a player for the Miami Heat, he brought the Heat to their 4th consecutive Finals appearance.

After losing Lebron James this off-season, the Heat’s went from a 54-28 record to a 37-45 record.  They didn’t even make the playoffs

Now with Lebron back, the Cavaliers record improved from 33-49 last season to 53-29 this season, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since Lebron left.

Surprisingly few people realize this, but Lebron is by far the most valuable player in the league.

lebron

He has been every year except for his rookie season.  Lebron is the best player in the world, and it isn’t even a competition.  The only reason why he doesn’t win MVP every year is because the voters feel bad for the rest of the super-stars in the league and they get bored voting for Lebron every year.

This year, he’s surrounded by best team he’s ever been on.  Whether or not Kyrie and Kevin Love are better than Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade is up for debate; the rest of the teams, however, is not up for debate.  How can you compare Mario Chalmers with the one-two punch of JR Smith and Iman Shumpert?  The Birdman isn’t half the center than Mozgov is: there isn’t a single thing that the Birdman can do that Mozgov can’t do twice as well.  On the bench, the Cavs have a much deeper squad than the Heat did, even with Varajeo out for the season.  This Cavaliers team hasn’t even come close to its potential, and it’s already an incredibly frightening team.

I’m confident that the Cavaliers will waltz through the Eastern conference without missing a beat.  The only difficult part will be facing whichever Western conference team survives the impending slugfest.  Meanwhile, the Cavaliers will have barely broken a sweat.

I’m not sure whether or not the Cavaliers will win the title this year: but, my prediction for the next 3 years?

The Cavaliers will win next year.  And the next.  And the next.

Honestly, the only reason I’m not choosing the Cavaliers to win it all might be just because, like the the MVP voters, I feel bad for everyone else.

1. Golden State Warriors

All the criticisms of the Warriors are valid:

They rely heavily on jump-shooting, which isn’t the best strategy for the playoffs.  The game slows down, everyone puts their all into every defensive possession, and the lack of a dominant post scorer is very troubling.  Jump shooting teams are great, but historically, almost every championship team has a guy who can get to the basket to get 2 points and a reliable big man that he can dump the ball off to if his drive is too heavily contested.  It’s a strategy that doesn’t have the inconsistency that jump-shooting can face when their shots aren’t falling.

Shaq and Kobe.

Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

Jason Terry and Dirk.

Kobe and Pau.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

This is how every championship team has done it since the 1990s.

However, there are 2 exceptions to this rule.  And, boy, are they exceptions:

lebron mj2Sometimes a team is so transcendentally talented that they can defy convention and still win it all.  MJ’s Bulls had no dominant post-player, but it didn’t matter: they slaughtered the rest of the league and ended their ’95-’96 with a 72-10 record.  The MJ era Bulls ultimately won 6 championships.

Lebron’s Heat posted a 66-16 during their best season, despite having no effective post-scorer.  Chris Bosh was used a floor-spacer, and the other scoring options in the post were not viable scoring options to say the least.  Again, it didn’t matter: the Miami Heat simply had too much talent to be denied, and despite being consistently out-rebounded and outmatched down low, they won 2 championships during a 4 year period.

The Warriors posted a 67-15 record this year, which is tied for the 10th best record in NBA history.  Every one of these teams made it to the NBA Finals, and only 2 didn’t win a championship that seaon: the ’72-’73 Celtics, and the ’06-’07 Mavericks.  Both the Celtics and the Mavericks would go on to win championships in a subsequent season.

This Warriors team is just incredible.  They have the 2nd most efficient offense in the league, and the most effective defense in the league.  This team is among the best that has been composed  in NBA history.  They have 10 different starting-caliber players, and absurd amounts of utility all across the roster.

bogutAndrew Bogut is the unsung hero of this team, giving the Warriors the option to go as small as they want at positions 1-4, as long as Bogut is manning the 5.  He is the leading rebounder, a vastly underrated help defender, and he provides the single most vital service that the Warriors need to be effective offensively.

He sets one hell of a pick.

It’s not a flashy job, but Andrew Bogut’s screens allow both splash brothers the brief moment of separation it takes for them to fire off a dagger.  He’s got an amazing IQ on offense which means that his screens are beautifully executed time and time again; and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s 7’1″ and 260 pounds.  Defenders just can’t get past him.

Draymond Green is my vote for defensive player of the year and he has proven himself to be the quintessential utility player.  On defense, he calls all the shots and covers the best scorer, both in the post or on the perimeter.  On offense, he drifts between the post and the perimeter, depending on the role he needs to play.  He constantly sacrifices rebounds so that he can help on defense.

At the 3, the Warriors can freely switch between Andrew Iguodala and Harrison Barnes as the situation dictates.  Harrison Barnes provides deadly 3 point shooting, and Igoudala provides passing, driving, and defensive stopping ability: but the most valuable aspect of both players is that they can really do anything.  They both have individual strengths, but nearly no weaknesses.

This brings us to the crux of the argument:

The Splash Brothers

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An offense dependent on jump-shooting isn’t the most reliable way to put points on the board during the playoffs, but if functional, it can be the deadliest.  When you have MVP favorite Stephen Curry manning the offense, posting averages of 23.8 points, 7.7 assist, 4.3 rebounds, and a stunning 28.06 PER – Player Efficiency Rating, you don’t lose sleep about your team’s lack of a post presence: you play to your strengths.  He recently broke the record for most 3-pointers made in an NBA season.  Guess who held the record before this season?

It was also Curry.

Speaking of broken records, the 2nd Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, recently broke the NBA record for most scored in a single quarter.

37 points.  37 freaking points in one quarter.  If I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t believe it: luckily, there is video documentation:

With the emergence of Klay Thompson as a legitimate superstar, the Warriors get even deadlier.

I have my doubts about the Warriors.  They do have a couple of flaws: they just kick ass so hard at everything else that I don’t think it will matter in the end.  With that final thought, I leave you, dear reader, with a video of Curry hitting 77 3-pointers in a row:

the prophet