NBA Kingdom, Pt. 1: Lay of the Land

Once the clock hit zeros in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals, it was finally clear the league didn’t belong to LeBron James for the first time since 2010, at least not solely. But James didn’t lose the league to another player or a single rival opponent who outgunned him in a one-on-one showdown. No, James lost the league to a collective of individuals who had no chance to dethrone him without the assistance of one another. They jumped him for it.

Still, the Warriors haven’t completely snatched the league from James. With two championships in a three year span, they simply forced him to share it with a worthy opponent. When an individual changes teams, yet stretches his streak of finals appearances to seven straight like James did, it’s hard to draw an end to his reign, regardless of recent results. All it takes are a few calculated moves and the Cavaliers could be right back in position to win their second championship in three years. Even if they don’t make moves, most of us expect them to at least get back to finals.

It’s asking for a lot of any team to knock off the likes Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the best supporting cast in the league without injuries playing a factor. This means star players will join near-forces to have at least a fighting chance at sniffing a championship. It means Chris Paul will consider joining the Spurs, Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward will consider the Celtics, Dwyane Wade might team back up with James in Cleveland, and Kyle Lowry might leave a good situation in Toronto for a better one elsewhere. It also means players still under contract like Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony will be brought up in trade speculation.

Before James took hold of the kingdom, it hadn’t belonged to a single player since Michael Jordan. It was shared by teammates on great teams, or fought for every year by new contenders, but it hadn’t been shared by individuals from separate teams since the Celtics/Lakers rivalry of the 1980s. In order for that type of shared kingdom to continue to exist today however, James will need to win another ring soon. Because if Golden State wins another championship or two, he’ll simply be a footnote in what we look back on in the future as the Golden State dynasty.

Draymond is the bad guy, and that’s a good thing

Are you not entertained? I have to ask, because everyone’s complaining about Draymond Green’s intensity as if they’re a Cleveland or Golden State fan.

Unless you root for the Warriors, you should probably look down – you’re sitting on a high horse that’s not in the race. The thoroughbreds left awhile ago. Get down and enjoy the show. This shit is getting good.

Green is providing all you pundits the talking points necessary to bash the bad guy, but without him you wouldn’t have anything interesting to talk about – just the mundane chemistry issues of a 35-6 team. Poor Warriors, with their best record in the NBA, how will they ever get it together? Let’s face it, Green’s the most interesting thing about this team right now.

His 2nd-quarter flagrant-1 foul on LeBron James Monday night was probably unnecessary and uncalled for, but it was also run-of-the-mill. This is the type of stuff rivalries are made of. People complain about the new, “softened” NBA, but when someone infuses some old-school toughness, it’s a problem?

Maybe it’s the antagonistic nature of the person at fault that turns you off, but beggars can’t be choosers. Personally, I can’t think of anyone better to get this party started. I didn’t like the foul. I loved it.

James denied the validity of this Warriors-Cavaliers thing as a rivalry, attempting to downplay the reality of what it is to ease his own psyche more than fool any of us. We, however, know exactly what this is. It’s more than Heat vs Spurs. It’s even better than Bulls vs Jazz. No two teams have met in the finals three years in a row in NBA history, and these two teams are heavily favored to become the first. Green embraces what this is all the way, and he plays like it.

“A team that you beat, beat you, it’s definitely fun,” Green said. “If you look at the last two years and this year, we’ve been the top two teams in the league each year, and so I look at it as a rivalry, and it’s definitely a fun game to play in.”

Is he over the top sometimes? Sure, but why strip down the thing that makes him such a good player at risk of minimizing the pure enjoyment and entertainment of this wonderful rivalry. Green is just as integral to this series as James, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, or Andre Iguodala are – and more so than the Kevins, with Love missing the first finals and Durant just coming around this season.

Rather than complain about Green picking up flagrant fouls that don’t affect anyone outside of potentially himself and his team, let’s embrace the fact that as himself, Green makes this thing interesting. He’s the wild card.

Without Green on the court last summer, Cleveland picked up a pivotal Game 5  victory necessary to spark a rally from being down 3-1. Had Green kept his cool, the Warriors may have clinched a second ring – but Durant doesn’t enter the fold. This season (and rivalry – maybe still?) wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if the latter happened. Green is what makes this thing fun. We need start embracing him finally and stop resisting the urge to enjoy the bad guy.

 

Is John Wall a top-5 point guard?

For at least two years, I’ve held unpopular opinions about John Wall and where he ranks among NBA point guards. While I never actually took the time to sit down and compare the numbers and make an educated decision, I’ve always held the belief he was a fringe top-three player at his position, at least top-five. Now that Wall came out and personally declared himself a top-three point guard, I took a deeper look. As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong.

As of Saturday, Wall is averaging a career-high 19.8 points and 4.7 rebounds. His 9.8 assists per game is third in the league and almost matches his career-high of 10 from last year. As far as point guards go, Wall ranks eighth in scoring average and is more of a distributor than most of the players ahead of him. Of those, only Russell Westbrook averages more assists, 10.2, and it’s safe to say Westbrook is better than Wall. The only other point guard averaging more assists than Wall and Westbrook is Rajon Rondo, who leads the league with 12 a game. At this point in his career, however, Rondo isn’t a better all-around player than Wall.

Stephen Curry is the league’s best point guard simply because he can’t be stopped. Curry leads the league in scoring with over 30 points a game, and he’s just outside of the top 10 in assists. Chris Paul, who Wall probably matches the most statistically, is still better than Wall because of his more consistent shooting, and his ability to command the offense without as many turnovers. So, no, Wall is a little off base by declaring himself a top three point guard. That title belongs only to Curry, Westbrook, and Paul. After them, however, is where the conversation opens up.

The next best point guards to come to mind after Curry, Paul, and Westbrook, are Wall, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, Kemba Walker, Tony Parker, Isaiah Thomas, and Jeff Teague. At one time, Parker might have even been a top-three point guard, but he’s not top five anymore and certainly not better than Wall. (Sorry Skip Bayless.) Walker and Conley haven’t even made all-star games yet, and while it’s a little harder for Conley being that he plays in the West – along with my top-three point guards – he wouldn’t have the same impact without those big men he plays with. Thomas is more of a scorer in a point guard’s body, and he doesn’t impact the game in other ways enough to be considered top five. Teague can’t take over a game and be a playmaker how some of the others can.

That leaves Wall, Lillard, Irving, and Lowry, competing for the final two spots of the top five. Of those players, Irving is probably the most naturally talented, but before LeBron James came back home, Irving hadn’t cracked the playoffs. He can shoot and dribble with almost anyone, but Irving doesn’t make anyone else better on his team. Of the remaining players, Wall is the only one to make the playoffs without another all-star on his team. Although Lillard looks to be bucking that trend this season, he had LaMarcus Aldridge in past playoff appearances, and Lowry has had Demar Derozan – and the Wizards swept them in last year’s playoffs. This goes to show how much better Wall makes his teammates. All things considered, I would say Wall is definitely a top-five point guard, and I would throw Lillard in that group with him.

So, here’s my top five:

  1. Stephen Curry
  2. Russell Westbrook
  3. Chris Paul
  4. John Wall
  5. Damian Lillard

I have to agree with Stephen A. Smith in the video below, however, on the point that Wall shouldn’t be ranking himself. I love his confidence, but Wall should allow us to do the ranking for him.