Tag Archives: Steph Curry

The Final Dance of the Last Dance

 

Well, good people, we had our final dance of the 10-part documentary “The Last Dance” last night and what a dance it was.  It lived up and surpassed the hype leading up to its early release.  For the last five Sunday evenings, we’ve been treated to an intimate inside look into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the ’90s.  Did it leave you wanting more?  I know it did for me, it could’ve been 10-20 more and I’m here for it.

The timing of this documentary also added to the aura of Jordan.  In typical MJ fashion the light is shining brightest on him like there are 1.1 seconds left in the game, he has the final shot, and the entire world is holding its breath.  Same as his first retirement announcement in ‘93 on a Wednesday morning or his first game back in ‘95.  What better time to have this series air than during a global pandemic with sports halted and the world salivating for any sports content? Enter Michael Jordan.

Final Dance of The Last Dance

Supporting Cast

We know the documentaries main focus was Jordan but it’s about the team as well.  Chicago definitely had the supporting cast that helped with the six championships Mike led them to.  The show did a great job highlighting the diverse characters of the team.  It revealed things about some players even die-hard fans didn’t even know.  We knew about the star power of arguably the greatest number-two player in history Scottie Pippen and the best rebounder in league history Dennis Rodman aka the Worm.  Pippen was also the only other Bull that was with the organization for all six championships so his role was vitally important to the team’s success.

Their backstories were the intriguing part, Scottie coming from very humble beginnings and his fractured relationship with the general manager the late Jerry Krause.  The biggest takeaway was that Pip also is probably the most grossly underpaid superstar ever.  Rodman was that wild card, the rockstar of the team.  His off the court life was legendary within itself!  He leaves the team during the season for a 72-hour whirlwind weekend in Las Vegas with Carmen Electra and gets back to play with no problem. If that’s not crazy enough how about right after a finals game getting on a private plane to appear on WCW Nitro and missing practice the next day. Things that NBA players wouldn’t think about doing today.

Steve Kerr was another player that played a key role, hitting big shots (see Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers).  His career-defining shot though came in the ‘97 Finals Game 6 when he hit the game-winner to give the Bulls their fifth title, this one over the Utah Jazz.  Besides these great moments, Kerr surprisingly was the teammate that could most relate to Jordan with tragedy.   Both men’s fathers were murdered.  Per Kerr’s account they never spoke about it. But that was their silent connection.

Global Icon

The Jordan brand was birthed back in 1985 when Nike first introduced the Air Jordan.  At the time nobody knew it but a trail was blazed.  Countless other endorsements derived from MJ’s game. Gatorade, Chevrolet, Hanes.  Just like the NBA, anything that was associated with the Jordan name turned to gold.  Pre-Jordan, the NBA was in 80 countries. When he retired it was over 200.  Not to mention the Chicago Bulls 90’s teams are considered the creme de la creme of NBA franchises.

The success of Jordan has allowed the players of today to be some of the highest-paid athletes in sports.  Even guys that sit at the end of the bench averaging about seven minutes a game got it made.  It’s also allowed the likes of Lebron James and Steph Curry to be their own brand.  There’s no doubt Jordan was the force that started the power change from the owners to the players.

Last Impression of the Dance

Going into the Last Dance docuseries, most people considered Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time.  A recent AP poll has him ranked as the most popular athlete in America, even after being retired for 17 years.  After watching it I think it proved he’s head above shoulders of his NBA peers.  That’s no knock on the other greats, it’s just that MJ carved out a section in history where only he can stand.

He’s the epitome of taking your skill and sculpting greatness from it.  There also was the example of sacrifice.  To be successful in any endeavor it takes sacrifice and putting your all into that you wish to succeed in.  One of the most profound things that I heard Mike say was at the end of the last episode. That all you need is “hope” to spark that fire within you.

In The End: An NBA Finals Story

NBA Finals a Matchup Years in the Making

Each year 2,460 regular season games are played. This year there have already been 76 playoff games played. But in just a few more hours the entire NBA universe will be laser-focused on Scotiabank Arena as the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors square off for game one for the NBA Finals. It is a matchup two years in the making. Kawhi Leonard was forced from action by a Zaza Pachulia closeout in 2017 and the Dubs swept the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi missed most of 2018, including the playoffs, and the Warriors took out the Spurs in five games.

 

Rap City

We haven’t really gotten to see a fully healthy Kawhi against the NBA’s latest dynasty. He had 26/8/3 in ‘17 before exiting. In his lone appearance against them this season it was 37/8/3, 58.3 percent from the floor and, 50 percent from deep. He averages 16.5/6.5/2.2 against Golden State, but that includes games before all parties reached their current peak levels. Who knows if he can keep it up, but the Klaw has been asserting his dominance all postseason.

Leonard averaged 26.6/7.3/3.3 in the regular season, one of only five players with those numbers. He also slashed 49.6/37.1/84.5, marks matched by only five others, none of whom are in the same breath as Kawhi. But in the playoffs, Leonard has been unconscious. He is averaging 31.2 points, 8.8 boards, and 3.8 assists on a 50.7/38.8/87.5 shooting line. The quiet superstar started this postseason with crazy efficiency (55.6/53.8/89.3 in the first round), and while that has waned, he has put the team on his back. Just in case you forgot, he did this.

The Western Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks was different. Pascal Siakam was the Robin to Leonard’s Batman through the first two rounds averaging 20.8 points. Perhaps still bothered by an injured calf, he only averaged 14.5 versus the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell served as the cavalry. Lowry, in particular, has been big. His floor game has been steady, but he has also upped his scoring output from 11.4 in the first round to 13.1 in round two. He goes into the Finals scoring 19.2 points on 50.7/46.5/84.4 shooting versus Milwaukee.

If Toronto is going to pull off the upset, they are going to need more from their complementary parts. Siakam and Lowry have taken turns as top wingman. But the Raptors need the Spicy P from rounds one and two and for Lowry to stay hot. One has to imagine they will also need more from Marc Gasol and Danny Green. Gasol has done yeoman’s work in the playoffs, clogging the paint and generally making smart decisions with the ball. But he faces the real risk of being unplayable in this series should Golden State decide to go small. Green joins Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka as contributors who will need to have a big game here and there to finish the job.

 

Dub Nation

When Kevin Durant went down, many in the NBA world questioned if there would be a significant dropoff. At a minimum, the expectation was they would need their best player eventually, right? Well all Steph Curry has done in the five games since is average 35.8 points on 46.6 percent shooting (41.7 percent 3PT) with 7.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Much has been made of the Warriors success sans Durant but with Curry in the lineup. Still, those are stellar numbers. Should Durant remain out and/or Steph stays en fuego, he is a good bet to earn his first FInals MVP.

Klay Thompson has found his stroke as well. He has put up 22.6 points per game since Durant’s injury. In fact, Thompson’s scoring output has gone up each round; from 17.3 in the opening round to 19.2 in the Conference Semis to 21.5 in the sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. He will also be tasked with defending Leonard. It is a tall order indeed. But if there is anyone up to the task, it’s Thompson, perhaps the best two-way guard in the NBA. It will be two very similar players facing off. That is when Kawhi is not chasing Steph around a multitude of screens.

The elephant in the room, Durant has already been ruled out for game one. Most recently, the idea was broached that a Warriors title without him is the Easy Money Sniper’s worst nightmare. He would certainly bristle at the notion, but it should not be dismissed by the rest of us so easily. This could be used as an opportunity to diminish Durant’s standing in the league hierarchy. That will not happen here. It has already been noted that KD is so great is that the Warriors diverge from what made them great prior to his arrival.

Draymond Green is healthy and locked in this postseason. His job gets interesting this series as he will have to deal with Siakam. Green is the defensive anchor in the Bay. He roams the middle of the floor, setting the defense and playing center field. He will have to stay with Siakam, who despite seeing his numbers fall of late, is always active on both ends of the floor. He (Siakam) generates most of his offense in the paint but will likely play a bit more of a perimeter-based game to draw Green away from the basket. That is where Kevon Looney will have to keep giving solid minutes. That is, of course, unless Boogie Cousins makes his return to action.

In The End

There will have to be significant contributions by the benches, that should go without saying. But this series will undoubtedly feature a lot of 40-plus’s in the box scores for the starters of both teams. As things stand, the Warriors are still themselves, with or without KD and Boogie. But what do they do if they keep winning when those two are ready to return? Do they rush them back if they fall into an early deficit? Would either player try to force their way back into the rotation/lineup?

The Raptors are not immune to the nagging questions. This team is by and large the same group that wilted in the presence of LeBron James three straight years, including last year’s sweep. How will Lowry and Siakam perform this round? Especially if the Warriors defense shuts Leonard down. Will Gasol and Green provide stats that show up in the boxscore? Maybe more important than any of that, has Toronto done enough to secure the (sorry in advance) Klawtograph? Will they have to win it all to do so (and will that even be enough)? We are about to find out. 

Is KD NBA’s Best Player?

Making the Case for Kevin Durant as Best Player in NBA

With no Lebron James in the playoffs (much to the chagrin of many), Kevin Durant has an opportunity to solidify his place as the best player in the NBA. It is a conversation that many believe is long overdue. Now before anyone gets riled up, let’s take inventory of why this is significant. Several factors make this a bigger deal than most people realize.

For starters, the obvious cause for pause is the team that Durant plays for and the players he plays with. Steph Curry is a two-time (and first unanimous) MVP. Klay Thompson is one of the best two-way guards in the NBA. And Draymond Green is the heart and soul of the group as well as a solid defender himself. But Durant, Durant is the difference.

Easy Money Sniper

Sure, the Warriors won a title without KD. They also came back from down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals against Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016. Golden State would go on to lose the ensuing Finals against Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. That led to a parking lot phone call from Green and the rest is two more Larry O’Brien trophies for the Dubs with two Finals MVP awards for Durant.

 

Despite averaging 25.8/7.1/5.4 while slashing .524/.384/.883 during his time in the Bay, Durant has often been looked at as the ‘1A’ to Steph’s ‘1’. When looking at the numbers since Durant joined the Warriors, one might conclude that they are more equals than any sort of hierarchy. Curry’s 26.3/4.9/6 (.476/.424/.911) since they became the ‘Hampton’s Five’ rivals Durant’s output and even exceeds it in some aspects.

When parsing the numbers, however, the two superstars’ playoff numbers paint a different picture altogether. During the two championship runs with both Curry and Durant, the former averaged 26.9/6.2/6.1 and slashed .468/.407/.919. The latter put up 28.8/7.8/4.5 on a .514/.379/.898 line. What we see is while Curry is still a key component, but Durant’s scoring and rebounding (i.e. more scoring opportunities) set him above his teammate.

Chef’s Kitchen

Detractors (and Curry truthers) will almost certainly point out Golden State’s 25-9 record sans KD. Compare that to their 19-15 record minus Steph and the opinions start to formulate. Aside from the two interestingly missing the exact same amount of time the two years prior to this one, Golden State appears to miss the presence of the Chef more.

The problem is, all the missed game data is from the regular season. And we have already shown the disparity between the two in the postseason. But barring injury (please, no) there will be no sample size to draw from in the playoffs. So how can we determine who is the more important factor? This could be a case of Occam’s razor.

If the simplest answer is usually right, what is it? It is this: Kevin Durant is the most important player to the Golden State Warriors championship aspirations. Now, that’s not to say that the Warriors would fall off a cliff if Durant were not there (more on that later). But for as good as the Dubs are as a whole they are, for the most part, not iso players.

Isolated

For all the talk of beautiful basketball, Durant is one of only nine players to average at least three iso attempts per game during the regular season. Of those nine players, only two (Lebron and John Wall) failed to make the playoffs. When things slow down in the playoffs, teams need players that can get their own shot. Steph and Klay only had 1.3 and 0.9 attempts, respectively.

So far this year in the playoffs, Durant is fourth in ISO attempts. Last year’s postseason he was third. Year one in Oakland was different, though; he ranked 20th. One interesting tidbit, he is actually taking fewer shots (3.6) in ISO this year but is shooting just 36 percent on those plays. That is down from 44 percent on 5.7 shots a game last year.

Golden State led the league in assists for the fifth consecutive season, even with Durant’s ISO usage. Clearly, he is by no means a ball stopper. But he is still just as unique a circumstance on his whole team as he is in the league as a whole. A team founded offensively on making the extra pass is largely reliant on a player that plays 1-on-1 at a rate three times higher than his next closest teammate. Every year since KD has arrived, his ISO attempts have risen as Steph’s have fallen.

King of the Castle

You know who teams switch up philosophies for? Their best players. Just look at James and the Lakers. When wooing a franchise-altering type of talent, organizations acquiesce a little. Said talent (rightly) becomes the focal point within the scheme. Well, some players are so good they alter the way teams execute their scheme inherently.

Durant has impacted the Warriors in that very way. And it wasn’t through a hostile takeover. It was the gradual progression of his game meshing with the Golden State system and the ball finding the best player. They say “ball don’t lie” for a reason. But what about the man that many have said KD has been following in the path of, with conspiracy theorists even pointing to their championship poses as evidence.

Lebron is still in the NBA, despite the void his absence may have left in our playoff-lives. The King still, in year 16, averaged 27.4/8.5/8.3. That was better than his first years in Miami and returning to Cleveland. It is also better than Durant’s numbers, but is the gap wide enough to say James still reigns over the Association? We may have to wait till next year to get the definitive answer on that after the tumultuous season the Lakers had clouded the situation.

You Know Who He Is

When Durant sat in front of the media gallery and made the proclamation, “I am Kevin Durant. You know who I am” I felt that. It felt like a player finally fully comfortable in his skin. His transformation from babyface to heel is well documented, but his acclimation to not being universally beloved was not as quick or smooth. Clashes with the media (and teammates) overshadowed a player’s game superseding the system he was determined to be a part of.

There are those who will argue Durant has been the best player in the NBA since 2014, his MVP-winning season when he averaged 32/7.4/5.5 with a .503/.391/.873 slash line. Since then he has averaged 27.5/7.3/5.3 at .514/.387/.881 clips. James has averaged 26.5/7.7/7.8 while shooting .530/.353/.712 over that same span. The numbers are again comparable, Durant scores more and with better efficiency from deep and the free throw line. Bron’s do-it-all game has him ahead in rebounds and assists and shooting a higher percentage from the floor.

In the playoffs, the discussion gets even more interesting. Durant, over the past two postseasons, put up 28.8/7.8/4.5 on .514/.379/.898 shooting. James has put up an insane 33.5/9.1/8.5 while shooting .550/.376/.725. Their head-to-head Finals match way back in 2012 favored a prime James (28.6/10.2/7.4, .472/.188/.826) over a third-year pro in Durant (30.6/6/2.2, .548/.394/.839), though the latter was the more effective and efficient scorer even then.

Say That to Say This

We can get into the off/on stats (hint: the Warriors are by and large better with Durant on the floor) but we already know the answers. Golden State’s best player is Kevin Durant. Curry may be their most important, but that is an entirely different conversation in my opinion. And that is where the KD’s path may take him away from the team he sacrificed more than Thanos to join.

The rumors have swirled all year that Durant may leave while seeing and hearing the stories and dustups with media and even the man who made that history-altering phone call from the parking lot. KD can be a tough person to get a read on. But even before becoming the hyper-sensitive turned at-peace superstar, he let it be known his goal was to be the best player in the NBA, a goal that seems impossible to achieve in the Bay.

No matter what he does, Durant will never reach the heights in the eyes of the public as long as he is on the Warriors. They will always be ‘Steph’s team’. That is why it makes so much sense for Durant to move on after achieving his goal of winning championships. It is also why the stories rubbed him the wrong way and why the spat with Green occurred. This feels like both the last hurrah for the Hampton’s Five, and in many ways, the start of the Kevin Durant-era in the NBA.

 

All stats and info courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise stated. Accurate through 04/29/2019.