Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Bye, Kevin!


                The question if the Warriors are better without Kevin Durant is tricky. Of course, they win more games with the best player in the world on the squad. The problem is the “team” is not better with him.
                 Kevin Durant has made us forgot just how good the three original Warrior’s all-stars really are and how well they work together. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green without Durant on the floor are reestablishing what this team was built on. The isolation basketball has gone out the window and in its place, a beautiful game is back.

                Curry may not be a better complete player than Durant, but he’s a better team player. The fact that Curry has taken a back seat to the best player in the game, further illustrates my point. Curry will do whatever leads the team to more wins. It sucks that Durant coming to his team has overshadowed how great Curry really is. Remember, after the 2015 finals there was real talk about whether Steph and his new style of basketball could overtake LeBron James as the best player in the game. What we’ve forgotten is Steph still deserves a place in the current top five players in the league.

                Thompson is streaky but when he’s hot there’s no better shooter in the league. As with most streaky players he needs to be in the flow of the game and be part of a team concept to flourish. Durant being added to the team, taking up shots and playing isolation basketball, makes it harder for Thompson to be the great team player and shooter he has proven to be.
                Green is the spark the used to make this team go and he’s back to being that with Durant out. He’s a true leader. He forces himself to take a back seat to sooth Durant’s ego, but since Kevin has departed the lineup it is clear to see Draymond Green was born to lead. The way he has taken charge of the team on the floor making sure everyone is in the right spot and the ball gets where it needs to be is every bit as important to this team this year as Durant has been in the playoffs the last two seasons. Green’s uplifting nature and fieriness is the engine that has always powered this team to greatness with or without Kevin. The problem is because of Durant’s sensitive nature Green actually has to dial back this attribute that makes him so great.

                By joining an already great team Durant hindered the progress he had made in inserting himself into the greatest of all time (GOAT) conversation while with Oklahoma City. Since the day Durant announced he was going to join the Warriors I have rooted against them and lost respect for his game. It is clear to see, the other three all-stars have willingly taken a back seat so Durant can feel like the leader, even though he is the third best leader on the team. Now that these three greats have returned to their rightful spots, I’m rooting for them again and hoping Durant doesn’t return to the court until after the “team” brings home another title.

                It’s time for Durant to move on, not only for the legacy of Curry, Thompson, and Green but also for him to put himself back in the GOAT debate. I wish him a return to full health (after the finals are over) and the best of luck going forward, as long as it’s not with the Warriors.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Western Conference Playoffs

“How Golden State Versus Houston is Ruining Basketball in 2019”


                The NBA playoffs are in full swing and we finally have meaningful basketball with real matchups, so why is it so hard to watch the Western Conference playoffs.


                We can start with the Portland versus Denver series. Who? Yes, that's the question asked by average sports fans when you mention any player on either roster short of maybe Damian Lillard. Unfortunately, this series is suffering from a lack of star power and that has left this one as the series that has been forgotten by fans and media alike, which is sad.


                The quality team basketball that is being played on both ends of the floor by each team rivals an instructional tape.  For anyone trying to teach your youngster how to be the ultimate team player, you should not miss a minute of this series. Even if your youngster desires to be the all-star with the shoe deal, watching these games could make them develop similar to Steph curry or LeBron James who are great leaders and team players with multiple championships. Not watching this series may not prevent them from being on that level but it will increase the odds of them following in the footsteps of ball dominant Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, and Allen Iverson who have a combined zero championships.


                So if the Trailblazers Nuggets series is not being watched due to a lack of star power, then everyone should be watching James Harden, Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green battle it out, right? Wrong, of course we love watching our stars do star things and Kevin Durant is once again providing us with the shock and awe factor, but whenever the ball is not in his hands, it is a different story.


                The style Steph Curry invented, we loved at first, but now I find myself struggling to watch an entire game between these two teams because James Harden has taken it to the extreme. Steph figured out that learning how to shoot from further out than the defense generally picks you up and then falling to the floor as they attempt to close out is quite effective in small doses for an undersized injury prone player.


                By breaking down the value of each type of shot that can be taken in a possession, the analytics nerds for the Rockets have convinced Harden to take this once groundbreaking strategy and make it his entire game. Now Harden, who has the ball in his hands 75% of the time the Rockets have possession, spends a majority of that time dribbling out the clock before launching from 33 feet. The result is a style of basketball that is hard to watch or root for. I find myself not watching the ball fly toward the hoop on his shots or even watching box outs. Since he now falls to the floor on every shot, I am more concerned with watching to see if someone is dumb enough to get close to him so that he can pretend they impeded his "landing zone." Then my attention quickly shifts to the referee and how he is going to call it. Steph still uses the move, but not nearly as often or as laughably obviously. Regardless of who does it how many times, between the two of them, the games have become almost unwatchable.


                Do yourself a favor, watch the rest this forgotten series and remember how basketball is supposed to be played. More importantly, I am begging anyone who will listen, do me a favor, Tweet, write letters, make phone calls, get the attention of the Adam Silver and the NBA rules committee in whatever way possible because something has to be done about this ridiculous flopping that has taken over what should be an all-time great series.

(Follow me on twitter @Jake_Ruch for updates on when I post new articles on my blog and tweets on my real-time sports-related thoughts.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Eastern Conference Playoffs

"A New King"


                 In the eastern conference, something has me captivated. I'm shocked by the game to game, series, and year-long overall conference dominance that is being displayed.


                 When LeBron James left the east I thought he would be making room for a few teams to spread the wealth around. I thought maybe multiple new stars would get to show their ability to lead a team to the finals. It looked like this would be a break for Kyle Lowry who was joined by Kawhi Leonard in Toronto and Ben Simmons with a healthy Joel Embiid playing for the 76ers to take that next step and prove to the basketball world they are ready to take the torch. It also looked like Kyrie Irving with the help of Gordon Hayward and Jason Tatum may finally have an opportunity to get out of Lebron's shadow. Instead what appears to have happened is a new shadow is emerging with the potential to be just a broad as the one cast by James and it calls Milwaukee home.


                The Greek freak shows nightly why he has the nickname. The man is nothing short of a freak of nature. His ability to move with that fluidity as a seven-footer is a gift from God. His ability to take over a game as he has done all year long is a testament to his hard work and dedication to his craft.


                Before the series between the Bucks and Celtics began I expressed that I felt the playoffs, because of the pressure involved, are a different animal from the regular season. I didn't think Giannis Antetokounmpo and his lack of experience combined with less talent around him than that on the Boston roster could keep up. Game one had me pounding my chest and saying I told you. Game two, three, and four have made me question everything I thought I knew about the Celtics roster. However, I've quickly realized it's not actually about them, a new king to rule the east has emerged.


                When Toronto added Marc Gasol, I declared that was the veteran piece that would provide the leadership to propel them into this year's finals. I do still like the Raptors to finish off this series against this talented, emotional, injury prone, young Philadelphia team. The 76ers are probably the best collection of talent in a starting five other than the Warriors. The problem is Joel Embiid has nearly the same god given talents as Antetokounmpo but not the same level of dedication to being his best. This has led to him not being in his peak physical shape and as a result, he carries around extra weight. The unnecessary pounds do not help with the litany of injuries he is consistently suffering from or his chronic back issues. In addition, his immaturity leads to public comments about how other players on the team may be afraid to shoot because the fans are booing. It seems this comment was about Ben Simmons but was it necessary, and did it help anything?


                Simmons has the potential to follow the model set out by Magic Johnson and LeBron James as a big man with excellent vision and the passing skills to run the offense. The difference is, unlike those two greats, Simmons doesn't seem to be making any headway on his jump shot. I agree with Embiid that the booing contributes to this. The problem is calling him out in the media only applies more pressure that at this point it does not appear Simmons can thrive under.


                Then there is the ultra competitive Jimmy Butler who is the opposite of Joel. Anything Joel lacks in seriousness, dedication, intensity, and hard work, Butler more than makes up for. The problem is some people aren't ready for that kind of leadership and it seems that the other two stars on this team, with their youthfulness and lack of will to work, fall into that category. A leader that pushes as hard as he does combined with a cast, who just want to have fun, mixes about as well as oil and water.


                We'll see how things play out in each of the current eastern conference series before I declare my pick to win the conference finals, but short of another Bubonic plague, I don't know what is going to slow Giannis down.

(Follow me on twitter @jake_ruch for my real-time sports-related thoughts, and updates on when I post new articles on my blog.)

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