Russell Westbrook’s Historic 50 Point Triple-Double in 2017 Revisited

All-Pro Reels
In honour of the Houston Rockets’ bizarre offseason, here’s another film breakdown involving one of their two stars – Russell Westbrook – and his historic game in 2017.

Russell Westbrook wants out of Houston. He reportedly wants a return to a role where he’s captain of the ship – but what does that look like? Well, it would look something like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offence, when Westbrook was their star, after Kevin Durant left for Golden State. Put simply, the only time Russ doesn’t have the ball is when he’s resting on the bench.

His 50-point triple-double, in the Thunder’s 106-105 win against the Denver Nuggets on the 9th of April 2017, was Russ summed up. That season (2016-17) he posted an NBA record for Usage Percentage at 41.65, which basically means that Westbrook was involved in 41.65% of OKC’s entire plays that year. In this game against the Nuggets, he had a Usage Percentage of 42.9. Captain of the ship.

That season, everything went through Westbrook, unlike in Houston, where James Harden is the man in charge. Interestingly enough, Harden posted the second highest Usage Percentage for a season in 2018-19 with 40.47. Two high usage and ball dominant players, that also can’t play off the ball, couldn’t mesh on the same team – who could have guessed?

Anyway, back to 2017. In this game against Denver, Westbrook was going for the single season triple-double record – and managed to get it, with his 42nd of the year. He ended up with 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, on 53% shooting from the field, 41% from three-point range and 100% from the free-throw line (making all 11 attempts).

For Westbrook, these splits are surprisingly efficient, so it’s easy to see why this game is considered his best. What makes it more impressive is the fact that he was shooting from all over the floor, not just hitting layups and threes, as his shot chart shows.

To start, Westbrook was constantly getting to his spot at the elbow and making mid-range jump shots. At times he would gather the rebound from a Denver miss, walk the ball up the court and simply step into a shot.

If Westbrook wasn’t walking into a shot from a Denver miss, he’d be looking to assist his teammates – usually by making lead passes in transition.

In terms of specific actions, Westbrook used the pick and roll constantly against the Nuggets. The two-man game enabled Russ to easily get to his spots on the floor – which, as mentioned, usually included the elbow.

The offence was typically in Mid-Screen alignments, with a big screening for Westbrook in the middle of the court, the other big in the ‘dunker’s spot’ near the baseline, and a shooter in each corner (like below).

Denver’s drop coverage on pick and rolls helped get Westbrook going. Usually running the action with Steven Adams, Taj Gibson or Enes Kanter, the sinking Nuggets’ bigs allowed Westbrook to walk into open jumpers after his man had been screened. Like in this play, where Westbrook receives the screen from Kanter, and because Mason Plumlee is so deep into the lane, it allows Westbrook an open shot at the elbow.

Here, the drop coverage gives Westbrook space to drive towards the basket. He obliges, and finishes the layup whilst drawing a foul on Plumlee.

The main purpose of drop coverage is to invite mid-range shots, as they’re seen as inefficient in today’s NBA, but Denver’s drop coverage eventually led to Westbrook stepping outside the three-point arc to shoot. Here, again, the Denver defender (which in this case is Nikola Jokic) is so deep, it gives Westbrook an open look for three when coming around the Adams screen.

When the Nuggets didn’t drop on pick and rolls, Westbrook still created problems for them. He was too fast for any Denver big that would be defending the screen, so he could drive past them, and he was equally adept at finding his rolling big for assists.

In this play, Jokic doesn’t drop on the pick and roll, and switches onto Westbrook as he drives. Westbrook easily blows right past him, and all Jokic can do is foul.

Here Wilson Chandler hedges the ball screen to try and send Westbrook away from the basket. However, it allows Westbrook to make a nice pocket pass to Gibson, who hits the runner in the lane.

Billy Donovan, OKC’s head coach, was running various kinds of sets to get Westbrook the ball in different parts of the floor, or to give him opportunities to drive and create. It wasn’t just transition offence and ball screens.

Here, Westbrook hands off the ball to Semaj Christon, who reverses it to Andre Roberson. Westbrook cuts under the basket and receives a cross screen from Taj Gibson, and then collects the ball from Roberson on the opposite side.

Westbrook then receives a screen from Steven Adams, who slips his man and rolls to the rim. Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris attempt to trap Westbrook, but he manages to get the ball to Adams, who easily scores over the smaller rotating defender.

On this out of bounds play, Westbrook inbounds a floated pass to Victor Oladipo, then receives a pin down screen from Adams to get the ball back at the top of the key. This allows him to isolate, get to his spot and hit the elbow jump shot.

The strangest part of the game happened in the fourth quarter, which also happened to be the part of the game that perfectly sums up Russell Westbrook. There was a 4-minute stretch where everyone in the building knew that Westbrook only needed one more assist for the triple-double record. And Westbrook wasn’t shy about trying to get it.

Westbrook passed to Kanter out of a pick and roll, but he was called for a travel when rolling towards the rim. In the next offensive possession, Russ passed to Sabonis only for him to miss an open 20-footer. Later on, Westbrook again passed to Sabonis – but he passed out of the 20-footer this time. On a drive, Russ dumped it off to Sabonis (for a third time) and he missed a jump hook inside the paint. Semaj Christon finally hit a corner three off a Westbrook kick out, with 4:17 left in the fourth quarter, to give him the record.

Then the Thunder tried to win the game.

That Christon three was the start of a 13 to four OKC run, that brought them back to within four with 29.8 seconds remaining. The Thunder then ran this out of bounds play, in a Single Stack set, where Westbrook and Oladipo are stacked just outside the lane on the right of the court. Oladipo comes off a pin down from Adams, and moves towards the inbounder as if he’s to receive the ball. At the same time, Adams sets another pin down, but for Westbrook – who comes off that screen, catches the ball and drives to the hoop. He adjusts in the air as the Denver defenders collapse around him, and finishes at the rim.

After getting the stop at the other end, OKC have the ball with 2.9 seconds left and are down two. It all came down to this final out of bounds play.

The two OKC bigs are stationed at the elbows, while Westbrook is at the top and Oladipo is on the right wing. Westbrook cuts towards the basket, which cues Jeremi Grant and Oladipo’s cuts to the corners. As they get to the corners, Westbrook runs up the court back to where he started, coming off a pin down from Adams – but the Nuggets are switching defenders and do a great job of communicating, which stops Singler getting the ball to Westbrook. With no time-outs left, he has to inbound the ball to Adams.

This is where everything breaks down, and Russell Westbrook hits, arguably, the most iconic shot of his MVP season.

Adams fakes the hand-off one way, then Westbrook changes direction and goes back to his left. Adams then dumps the ball off to Westbrook, who has enough space to hit the deep game winning three-pointer.

If you trade for Russ and make him your star, this is the show you’re buying a ticket for. The ball is in his hands to start the game, and the ball is in his hands to end the game.

But he’s 32, is owed $41 million this season, $43 million next season and has a $46 million player option for the 2022-23 season. It’s a hard contract to move, and people probably don’t want to pay that much for a ticket for the Russ show. Plus, with Harden rumoured to be leaving, maybe Westbrook will stay in Houston and become the man – then again, he might not have a choice.

Does a team with Russell Westbrook as the captain of the ship have a high ceiling? No – but it’s fun to watch.

How James Harden Delivered One of the Best Performances of the 2019-20 NBA Season

All-Pro Reels (Cropped)
In honour of the NBA’s imminent return, here’s a breakdown of how James Harden dominated the Atlanta Hawks last season.

When looking back at the best individual performances of the 2019-20 NBA season, it’s hard to look past James Harden’s display when the Atlanta Hawks faced the Houston Rockets in November last year.

Harden scored 60 points in just three quarters. He also handed out eight assists, and in fact, he was only one point off his career high.

Playing against the Atlanta Hawks probably helped, as they had the worst defence in the NBA last season, with their opponents averaging 119.7 points per game. Harden’s shooting splits also helped. He shot 16 for 24 (66%) from the field, 8 for 14 (57%) from three, and attempted 23 free throws, making 20 of them (87%).

As expected, Harden was up to his old tricks – working in isolation offence to shoot layups, three pointers, or get fouled.

Harden drove to the rim on countless occasions, utilising his trademark crossover dribble to do so. He’s such an impressive ball handler and is so strong, he was almost impossible to knock off balance. As such, he easily finished through contact or drew fouls.

He was also hitting his step-back threes, as per usual.

The Rockets ran either a four-out or five-out offence, which basically means how many offensive players are stationed outside of the three-point line. For example, a five-out offence would start with all five players outside the three-point line. Tyson Chandler started the game for Houston, so he obviously dictated that it was four-out to begin with.

Later, when there was no Chandler, it became five-out.

The benefits of having shooters spread out around Harden have been well documented, and these benefits were seen against the Hawks. There was space in the paint for Harden to drive into, as defenders didn’t want to help off Houston’s shooters. Harden’s two-point attempt shot chart shows how close to the basket he was getting – and he only missed twice.

So how exactly did James Harden get to 60? Firstly, he was looking for switches to get himself a favourable matchup. In the play below, Chandler set the screen on Harden’s man, forcing the switch onto Jabari Parker – all for Harden to size him up and hit the three-pointer.

To get the switch on this play, Harden did something a little different. Russell Westbrook was the ball handler, and Harden was the screener. This forced DeAndre’ Bembry onto Westbrook, and Evan Turner onto Harden. Harden then drew the foul on his three-point attempt. He, of course, hit all three free throws.

Going back to Jabari Parker, Harden went at him a lot.

A lot.

He was even turning down screens to attack him off the dribble (and draw fouls).

One-on-one defence was a struggle for Atlanta at times. Jabari obviously had his problems, and DeAndre’ Bembry was also matched up against Harden, but to no avail. Whoever guarded him, Harden still managed to score.

This led to Atlanta defending Harden in various ways. Double-teaming became the next logical step, but the problem with that logic is that Harden is one of the best passers in the NBA. Here, Jabari Parker and De’Andre Hunter doubled Harden, and he drew them to the right side-line to create space at the three-point line for PJ Tucker. Ben McLemore’s cut from the left corner to the top of the key occupied Bembry, so Harden got an assist by passing out of the double team to Tucker, who hit his open three.

The Hawks even tried triple-teaming Harden at one point. But Harden reacted quickly enough to find the open man in the corner for three.

On pick and rolls Atlanta would sometimes trap Harden, trying to force the ball out of his hands. However, that strategy didn’t work too well. In the play below, Harden got a pick from Ben McLemore, and Trae Young and De’Andre Hunter tried to trap him – only for Harden to make a beautiful bounce pass to McLemore who got by Parker for the dunk.

However, Houston didn’t just run isolation plays or pick and rolls for Harden – he moved off the ball quite frequently, with the Rockets utilising Westbrook as the primary ball handler.

The Rockets often ran Chicago action – which is a pin down screen into a dribble hand off. Here, Tucker set the pin down for Westbrook, who then collected the hand off from Chandler. Although it did slow down towards the end of the action, Hunter was ball watching – so Harden made a backdoor cut for an easy layup.

Houston’s head coach Mike D’Antoni also took a page out of Gregg Popovich’s playbook, running Motion Strong for Harden. Motion Strong is where two players set two pin down screens (basically stagger screens) to get a shooter open off the ball. Here, Tucker and Chandler set the pin downs for Harden, who managed to escape from Hunter into enough to space to catch the pass from Westbrook, set himself, and hit the three.

Here, the Rockets try Motion Strong again, but Jabari Parker actually did a great job of reading it and disrupting the pass. This forced Houston to reset.

Westbrook then drove and kicked to Tucker on the wing. But Harden didn’t just stand still and expect to receive the ball in order to create something himself. He cut off the back of Trae Young, got a nice bounce pass from Tucker, and made the layup with no resistance.

In fitting fashion, Harden eventually got his 60th point at the free throw line. His playing style has its detractors, but he’s arguably the best scorer in the entire NBA.

New Houston head coach Stephen Silas said he wants the Rockets to be “a little bit more versatile on the offensive end,” this coming season, suggesting that the team’s scoring output won’t be completely geared around Harden isolation plays. But on this night against the Hawks, James Harden showed the advantages of doing just that.

This was a little different and fun to do – maybe if I can figure out how to edit videos, I can diagram some of the plays and actions teams run. It also may seem a bit strange to look at a game almost a year old, but you’ve got to start somewhere, I guess!

What’s next for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons?: The Philadelphia 76ers’ attempt at a breakthrough album

All-Pro Reels / Robert Banez
76ers fans trusted The Process for years, but it seems as if the franchise has stalled – so when will the real breakthrough come?

If ‘The Process‘ was this generation of 76ers players’ debut album, it was a triumph of sorts, like many artists often find with their initial work.

The debut lets audiences and fans know how the artist could sound throughout their career, encapsulating all their work up until that point. The second release is always heavily anticipated, and people are excited due to the potential the debut offered.

The Process had two stand out tracks for Philadelphia – All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Embiid, on his day, is the best big man in the NBA. He can do it all, shoot well for a big, rebound, get in the low-post and score and protect the rim. Simmons is a constant triple-double threat and a fantastic defender capable of forcing turnovers and guarding every position.

Embiid embraced The Process more than anyone. It became his nickname, and he the embodiment of the rewards that losing in the NBA can bring. Perhaps it was fitting that in Game 3 of this years’ first round playoff matchup against the Boston Celtics, after being doubled, Embiid’s cross-court pass to Tobias Harris was intercepted by Marcus Smart with 1:46 left in the fourth quarter.

It led to Jaylen Brown converting an and-one at the other end to put the Celtics up 95-94. The 76ers eventually lost the game 102-94, and went down 3-0 in the series – all but sealing their first round exit. The exit, and sweep, was confirmed with a 110-106 loss in Game 4.

Despite the pass, the loss wasn’t entirely on Embiid’s shoulders. The Philadelphia 76ers are finishing up their difficult second album.

It could be argued the 2018-19 was the follow up, but NBA teams don’t seem to be seasonal. You think of them when multiple seasons are grouped together. The Big Three in Miami that spanned 2011 to 2014. Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers from 1999 to 2004. These are successful iterations yes, but they are never remembered in terms of a single season.

The beginnings of this 76ers debut album came in the 2017/18 season.

Ben Simmons won Rookie of the Year, helping Philadelphia to a 52-30 record – improving their win total by 24 from the previous year. Embiid was an All-Star and selected for both All-NBA and All-Defensive Second Teams. The young side won their first round playoff series against the Miami Heat in five games. They lost in the second round to the Celtics, but the future looked bright.

The following season appeared to the be the end of the first album.

The acquisitions of J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler and then Tobias Harris signalled intent. For the 2018/19 season, the 76ers were no longer trying to lose. They were trying to win. And they went all in, trading assets gained from the lean years, including Robert Covington and Dario Šarić, to get Butler from Minnesota.

Simmons made his first All-Star appearance this season alongside Embiid, who again made the All-NBA and All-Defensive Second Teams. They again won their first round playoff series in five games, this time against the Brooklyn Nets.

Now think of Only in Dreams by Weezer from their first album.

The emotional, bittersweet crescendo to an influential project. Some things aren’t meant to be, and are only meant for dreams. The 76ers took the Toronto Raptors to seven games in the second round, only to lose in possibly the most heartbreaking of fashions. A buzzer beating game winner in Game 7.

A shot that bounced and hung upon the rim for an eternity. A shot that was made over Joel Embiid’s outstretched arm. The emotion of the situation was encapsulated in his tears when he knew he was going home.

You have your whole life to write your debut, but only a year to make the follow up.

The start of this current 2019/20 season was the start of the difficult second album.

People were excited, many picking Embiid to win MVP. Philadelphia lost Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat, but had signed Al Horford and re-signed Tobias Harris. They were on big contracts, but the 76ers seemed to be righting the wrongs of The Process days.

But as often happens, the second album fails to live up to expectations. Think The Klaxons’ Surfing the Void, or MGMT’s Congratulations. Maybe a better case is that of The Stone Roses. An iconic self-titled debut came out in 1989, but The Second Coming was seen as a disappointment from a band that offered so much.

Philadelphia seemed poised to be a defensive monster, they had length on the wings, size in the middle (in the form of Horford and Embiid) and the disruptive force of Simmons who would guard any team’s best player. The Philadelphia 76ers were a popular choice to make it to the NBA Finals.

The Stone Roses soon broke up after their second release, and maybe the same will happen with the 76ers.

An underwhelming season this year was aptly rewarded with the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. The team’s lack of spacing has been well documented, with only eight teams in the NBA attempting less three-pointers per-game. They were the 6th best defensive team in terms of points allowed per-game, but the 10th worst team in terms of points scored per-game. Simmons famously doesn’t shoot three-pointers, and he kills the team’s spacing further when he simply stands in the ‘dunker’s spot’ when he’s not handling the ball.

Horford and Harris are the 76ers’ highest paid players, making $31 million and $28 million this year respectively, and unfortunately, helped dig the hole that got the team swept. Through the first three playoff games, Horford had averages of 5.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 40 FG% and 0 3PT%. He was also a -11 when on the court. Harris had averages of 14.3 PPG, 33.3 FG% and 0 3PT%. He was a -12.3.

The front office has to take some blame. Coach Brett Brown has to as well, and he’ll more than likely pay with his job. Yes, Simmons is out with an injury, but they should be putting up more of a fight.

As such, the second album ends – not with a bang, but with a whimper.

But where do they start with their third record? The issue that remains is the one that has always plagued the 76ers – can Embiid and Simmons play together?

Embiid has career averages of 23.9 PPG, 11.5 RPG and a 48% Field Goal Percentage. Good numbers. However, whilst in the NBA, he has had issues with injuries and his conditioning.

Embiid’s strengths offensively are in the post. He can shoot from the outside, and shoots 31.9% from three for his career, but he should get down low. He has an array of post moves unlike anyone else in the league, but how the 76ers are currently set up doesn’t help Embiid.

It was summed perfectly up at the beginning of Game 3 against Boston this year (below).

Firstly, because of how much of a threat he is, the Celtics were quadruple teaming Embiid when he was trying to post up. The defenders helped off of the 76ers’ poor shooters and crowded the Philadelphia big man, attempting to force a turnover and weren’t letting him establish post position.

Horford’s position at the opposite block wasn’t helping either, with Tatum situated to try and cut off a pass to him, or Richardson just behind him. Even a pass to Milton at the top could let a defender recover in time, and the same can be said for a pass to Harris in Embiid’s near corner. There’s no movement off the ball, and it left Embiid to either try and draw a foul, shoot a contested shot or force a risky pass.

Would Simmons solve this problem? With his lack of shooting probably not, but at least he can run an offence, properly pass to Embiid to help him establish post position and is a threat to move or cut off the ball. Simmons’s absence in this series obviously hurt Philadelphia – especially defensively, with Boston’s strength being their wing players, the same players that Simmons would guard.

If Embiid excels in the half court, Simmons does in the full court.

Ben Simmons has career averages of 16.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 8 APG and a 56% Field Goal Percentage. He’s an excellent ball handler with terrific vision who can drive towards the basket and finish (shown by his high FG%).

In a career performance against the Brooklyn Nets earlier this year, you can see where he’s at his best (below).

Simmons ran the floor and collapsed the Brooklyn defenders around him with his drive to the hoop. This opened up the shooters spaced around the three-point line, who he kicked out to for a shot. However, his lack of shooting is why he was able to drive – teams allow him to build up a head of steam because he’s not a threat from the outside.

Curiously enough there was no Embiid in this game. Embiid’s presence clogs up the lane for Simmons, but Simmons’s presence also clogs up the paint for Embiid. Defenders can help off Simmons when he’s not in the paint because of his reluctance to shoot.

Out of Simmons’s 648 shot attempts this season, 624 were either in the paint or in the restricted area – 96.3% of his total shots. He doesn’t shoot from outside.

Out of Embiid’s 806 shot attempts this year, 390 were either in the paint or in the restricted area – 48.4% of his total shots. Embiid actually attempted 239 mid-range shots compared to 238 in the restricted area. He should be closer to the basket, but it seems he’s settling for outside jumpers, possibly due to the spacing. He can shoot those shots, but that doesn’t always mean he should.

The Guard/Forward should be the one shooting from further out when compared to their Center, but this isn’t the case for Embiid and Simmons.

The two can play together, but it appears it doesn’t optimise either’s skillset. Do the 76ers carry on as they are, and remain a team that never makes it out of the second round? Or do they move on from one of Simmons or Embiid in a bid to maximise the other’s potential and make a breakthrough?

If Philadelphia want to move on, who do they trade? A Guard/Forward that won’t shoot outside of the painted area, or a big man that’s hardly ever in shape? The team also has to deal with the heavy contracts they gave to the underperforming Horford and Harris, who would be incredibly hard to move. More than likely they move on from Brett Brown, and try this team with a new Head Coach. The duo has at least one more year together.

But they may be hesitant to move anyone. Trades haven’t turned out well for the 76ers recently. It must hurt their fans to see players they traded away such as Landry Shamet, Jimmy Butler, Robert Covington and Markelle Fultz all play (and play well) for other teams this post-season.

But if they trade Simmons or Embiid, they need knock down shooters. Embiid needs movement when he’s in the post. He also needs someone to run the pick and roll with who has a jump shot – so defenders cannot simply go under screens and wall off the paint.

Simmons needs shooters and movement also, but possibly in a system more like Giannis Antetokounmpo has in Milwaukee. One transition based, where he can make plays with his vision or even be the roll man in pick and roll situations – again, surrounded by shooting.

They could create a system that involves all of these aspects for the two players, but it would almost always leave one stuck in an ineffective offensive position.

The Philadelphia 76ers are in the sessions for their third album. How do they break into the Conference Finals? How do they break into the mainstream?

The third album can catapult an artist to global superstardom, perfecting a formula that appeases fans and critics alike. Radiohead’s third was OK Computer. Blur had Parklife. The Clash released London Calling. Springsteen’s third album was Born to Run.

It’s a delicate situation to be in, but if the right decisions are made, a third album will be universally celebrated and all those involved hailed as geniuses. Or it can cement a band’s position as a flash in the pan whose early success simply wasn’t sustainable.

Which will the Philadelphia 76ers be?

All my information is from Basketball-Reference and Harris and Horford played a lot better in Game 4, but it was their sub-par play that added to Philly’s mess anyway. I also hope Harris is OK after taking that nasty fall. I’ve been gone a while with dissertation and other stuff, but I’m hopefully going to be writing more for my blog soon. If people read what I post it would very much be appreciated.

Anatomy of a Play: The NBA Restart and a Tale of Two Endings

Erik Drost
The Utah Jazz played the New Orleans Pelicans and the LA Clippers played the LA Lakers when the NBA returned on Thursday. Here’s a bit of a dissection of, and comment on, the endings of both games.

Two close games both decided by the final possession is exactly what everyone wanted when the NBA came back, and that’s exactly what the NBA delivered. The Jazz beat the Pelicans 106-104, and the Lakers beat the Clippers 103-101 – with Brandon Ingram and LeBron James showing how games can be both won and lost.

As Utah and New Orleans played first, let’s start there.

Rudy Gobert made two free throws to give the Jazz the lead with 6.9 seconds left, and the Pelicans called a time out. Pelicans Head Coach Alvin Gentry ran a nice looking play to get J.J. Redick an open shot at the end.

It starts with Lonzo Ball (#2) inbounding for the Pelicans. Jrue Holiday (#11 for the Pelicans) sets a screen for Brandon Ingram (#14 for the Pelicans) who runs to the left wing to collect the ball. At the same time, J.J. Redick (#4 for the Pelicans) is running along the baseline towards the left block.

Ingram gets the ball on the left wing. Holiday and Redick stop at the left block and Derrick Favors (#22 for the Pelicans) stands at the top of the key.

As soon as Ingram gets the ball he moves towards the right wing, apparently about to use the screen Favors is setting at the top to get open and away from the Jazz’s Royce O’Neale (#23). At the same time, Ball runs towards Holiday who are both about to set screens for Redick to get him open at the three point line. Notice where Favors is looking.

Watching the left corner, Favors knows that it’s time to move away from the screen he’s faking to set, and move just inside the three point line. Redick uses the double screen to run towards Favors, and Ingram carries on towards the right wing. Gobert (#22 for the Jazz and circled) is obviously concerned with a drive towards the basket, so wanting to protect the paint he watches Ingram.

Favors is now in position to screen Joe Ingles (#2 for the Jazz), who is fighting through the initial screen set by Ball, for Redick. Ingram stops his run to the wing short.

This is where it all comes to naught.

Favors has screened Ingles, getting Redick open, and Gobert (circled) is still frozen from anticipating the Ingram drive. Redick (also circled) is second in the NBA in three point percentage this year, so Ingram passing to him for a simple catch and shoot makes sense. He doesn’t need much time, and he’s been finishing these kinds of plays his whole career.

But Ingram doesn’t pass the ball.

Maybe he’s concerned with a deflection, but instead of passing, Ingram carries on towards the right wing. He side steps, and takes his shot.

The ball rims in and out. The buzzer sounds. The Pelicans lose.

Ingram was New Orleans’ leading scorer in that game with 23 points, and had a brilliant first half – so he must have been feeling it and didn’t want to pass. Gentry set up a great play to get a great shooter, in Redick, open – but it all went to waste.

It was interesting that the first game ended like that, and then the second game, in the Clippers vs the Lakers, ended how it did. Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel opted not to call a timeout and run a set play, but instead chose to let LeBron James dictate the possession.

The Clippers’ Paul George just hit a three pointer (as he had been doing all game) to tie the game at 101 points each. LeBron (#23 for the Lakers) walks the ball up to the left wing for the Lakers and is met by Kawhi Leonard (#2 for the Clippers). After LeBron ran the clock down, Danny Green (#14 for the Lakers) comes out to meet Leonard.

This gets LeBron the switch away from one of the best wing defenders in the NBA, and onto Marcus Morris (#31 for the Clippers), and so he drives to the basket. Notice how every other Laker is beyond the three point line. LeBron surrounded by three point shooters has been unplayable for years.

Is Anthony Davis (#3 for the Lakers) a shooter? Maybe? You have to respect him, and the other Lakers, from that distance, and if he gets the ball his legs are so long he can take a single step and be at the rim anyway. The Clippers can’t afford to leave the shooters open and collapse in on LeBron.

LeBron takes a tough shot just by the free throw line, expecting a foul. Nothing’s called. But despite being surrounded by every Clipper on the floor, LeBron follows his own miss and puts the ball in the basket for the win.

Nothing is ran from a timeout to get anyone an open shot. It’s all LeBron James.

And It worked.

LeBron followed that with some fantastic defence on Leonard and then Paul George on the Clippers’ final possession. He stopped Leonard’s initial drive and fake, then when Leonard had to kick it out to George, LeBron switched and moved his feet to make George drive to his left. As George is right handed, going to his left makes the shot harder, and as such he misses his three at the end.

The lack of Zion Williamson down the stretch for the Pelicans was curious. Even though he was only playing in short “bursts”, and was on a minutes restriction, you would have assumed he could manage the final few minutes of the game. Plus, with him on the court they probably would have been able to score a couple of extra baskets and win. As they were 4 games behind the eight seeded Memphis Grizzlies before tip-off, they needed to win as many games as possible to get into the Playoffs. An odd decision, but if Ingram hits that final shot none of this even matters.

The Clippers didn’t have Montrezl Harrell or Lou Williams, so maybe at full strength they could have won that game against the Lakers. Anthony Davis was superb, leading all scorers with 34 points and also played some great defence – stopping, and altering, all kinds of shot attempts. The prospect of an all Los Angeles Western Conference Finals is still as exciting as ever.

So there were two games, two endings, two strategies and two outcomes. The parallels are interesting to see.

Maybe it mirrors the fact that the Lakers are number one in the Western Conference standings, and that the Pelicans are number eleven.

Or maybe it shows one of the best things about basketball. You can draw up the perfect play and have your tactics spot on, but sometimes it all comes down to one simple question.

Who’s got the better player?

This “Anatomy of a…” topic might be something I carry on, I’m not sure, I’ll see how it goes. Although I am aware with the LeBron ‘analysis’ it’s just drawing circles around things. It really is that simple at times I guess. These NBA posts I’m writing might be a little delayed due to time differences and the like, but I hope someone reads them!

What I’m Looking at When the NBA Season Restarts

The Come Up Show/Harrison Haines
You could talk me into thinking that almost anyone has a chance at winning the NBA Championship this year – from the Raptors repeating, to Kawhi or LeBron winning a ring with their third different teams. With 22 teams heading to Orlando, here’s a few other things I’m looking at as the NBA goes Disney.

As the National Basketball Association becomes the National Bubble Association, and that bubble floats on down to Orlando, I’ve got an eye on plenty of things in the Sunshine State.

The league was suspended at the beginning of March and finally comes back on the 30th of July, when the Utah Jazz play the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angles Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite the obvious excitement surrounding the situation, I want to touch upon a few topics before the opening tip.

Will the season be finished?

The biggest (and most obvious) problem surrounding any sport right now is Coronavirus. What will happen if someone tests positive, and then, a whole team? I’m sure the NBA has plans in place, but it’s still a scary prospect nevertheless.

According to Google, as of the 24th of July, Florida have almost 390,000 confirmed cases. New York and California are the only American states with more. That makes it a strange place to hold the remainder of the NBA season. I’m not sure that when Vesuvius erupted the people of Pompeii wanted to jump straight into the volcano as their city was getting covered in ash and lava (was there lava? I’m not sure but I like the analogy).

Richaun Holmes was quarantined after leaving the bubble to get some food, and you know people are going to come into the bubble, or leave it, for… other things.

But as time has gone on, I’ve become more and more optimistic at the thought of the season being completed, especially after this:

Will there be a high number of injuries?

Obviously, no one has played competitive basketball since March, so it’ll take them a while to get back up to speed – I don’t think anyone would be surprised at that or would criticise anyone for it. Everyone will be well rested but rusty, and it will be interesting to see how many minutes of game time players get to begin with. I know there are preseason scrimmage games (being played right now, actually) but they aren’t the same.

Someone like the Lakers, with the number one seed all but theirs, will probably ease LeBron and Anthony Davis into the remaining regular season games. Then they’d ramp up their minutes so they peak, in terms of conditioning, for the playoffs. Someone like the Pelicans however, need to win as many games as possible. So do they want to try and to claw their way into the playoffs through the play-in tournament (more on that in a moment), but risk injuries to Zion Williamson (who has only played 19 games this season anyway)? Injuries happen, I understand that, but do you really want to risk your young superstar?

There were rumours that Luka Dončić wasn’t in the best shape, but they were quickly refuted, and James Harden and Nikola Jokić have both seemingly lost weight before the restart. Maybe the stars are ready to go after all.

As explained by Tifo, in the Bundesliga the number of injuries per game in post-lockdown matches almost tripled – albiet in a small sample size, and with a very small number of injuries per game anyway. They also point out that after the NFL Lockout in 2011, preseason was cut dramatically. This led to 10 players rupturing their Achilles tendon in the first 12 days of training. The injury rate was twice the normal level for the first month of games also.

It wouldn’t be strange therefore, for something similar to happen in the NBA. This may lead to teams being overly cautious with players, especially with Kawhi Leonard for example, who is known to miss games due to “load management” (basically managing his health by avoiding injury and fatigue to be fresh for the playoffs).

But will fitness and seeding mean (from teams at the top of the standings, all the way down to teams at the bottom) that we’ll see more of the young guys, and possibly some worse basketball? We’ll see. They need to get their legs under them yes, but the playoffs are all that matter.

It’s the classic ‘rest versus rust’ – do you rest and stay fit, healthy and fresh, or do you play, keep playing, and maintain your rhythm?

Will we get a play-in tournament?

The bubble sees a new addition to the playoff system. It allows the possibility of the number eight and nine seeds in each conference having a mini-tournament for the final playoff spot. According to the NBA itself:

“If the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, no play-in tournament will be necessary. The final playoff berth will simply go to the team with the eighth best record (regular-season games + seeding games).

But if the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, then we’ll have a battle for the final spot between those two teams.

The tournament will basically be a best-of-two series — where the No. 9 seed will have to win two head-to-head matchups to take over the No. 8 spot.”

So if the number eight seed has less than five wins more than the number nine seed, we get an extra two games.

Looking at the standings in the West, the prospect of this is actually pretty tasty:

The Suns are only six games back with the final eight “seeding” (or regular season) games left to play. This means that if any team puts a decent run together, and a team ahead of them stumbles, they could trigger the tournament.

This opens up a whole host of possibilities and storylines. Will the young stars Ja Morant or Zion Williamson get playoff reps in their Rookie years? Will the Spurs keep their 22 year playoff streak alive? Can Damian Lillard drag his Blazers into the playoffs?

Expect fireworks if the Blazers do get in. Lillard has a chip on his shoulder, Jusuf Nurkić is back from injury and some are even picking them for a first round upset if they do get into the playoffs. But the Lakers are still overwhelming favourites, and 99 times out of 100 they will get out of the first round.

The East isn’t so tasty:

Yes, the Wizards are six games behind the Nets, and five and a half behind the Magic. But they’re without their best player in Bradley Beal, and they’re missing David Bertans who had a great season up to the suspension. So even if they do make the play-in tournament (which they won’t) and beat the Magic (which they won’t), they get the dubious honour of being swept by the Bucks in the first round. The Nets might slip down the standings and be caught, considering half their team isn’t going – but the Wizards have been garbage this year and don’t deserve that playoff spot anyway.

It’s a little bit of added fun I guess? Who are we to turn down more basketball at this point?

What will happen in the Eastern Conference?

Honestly, I could talk myself into thinking that any of the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics or 76ers could win the East this year. Allow me to try and talk you into it also.

The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA, the best Defensive Rating in the NBA (101.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, almost 3 points higher than the Raptors), the best Net Rating in the NBA (meaning on average they’re 10.7 points better off than the other team, per game, per 100 possessions), score the most points per game in the NBA (118.6) and probably have the league’s MVP for the second straight year in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Giannis is clearly the conference’s best player, and has no Kawhi Leonard to slow him down this year. They have to go to The Finals.

The Toronto Raptors have the third best record in the NBA (behind the Bucks and the Lakers) the best defence in the NBA in terms of opponent points per game (106.5), the second best Defensive Rating in the NBA (104.9) and arguably the NBA’s best coach in Nick Nurse.

They’ve done all of this with a heap of injuries this season, with Nurse getting the best out of players no-one has ever heard of, like Chris Boucher (exactly). The only worry is that they may lack that go-to scorer who’s needed at the end of a tight playoff game. Lowry is great but he’s not that player, and never has been, so Pascal Siakam has to step up.

Siakam has been a first time All-Star this year and will get some deserved All-NBA votes (probably third team) – but he’s got to prove he can be the scorer they need. 23 and a half points a game is great (the best of his career by a mile) but his shooting percentages have gone down from last season. However, that’s to be expected if he’s taking more shots as Kawhi isn’t there anymore. The Raptors will win with their defence though, so 23 and a half might be all they need.

If Siakam has a good playoff run, the Raptors will go deep. They have to be the dark horse for the title.

The Boston Celtics are no strangers to making deep playoff runs under Brad Stevens, taking LeBron’s Cavaliers to seven games in the Conference Finals in 2018. Boston have the second best defence in the NBA in terms of opponent points per game, behind the Raptors by .3 points. Similarly to those Raptors, they’re going to win games by defending well. Both teams score 113 points per game, 11th and 12th in the NBA.

The difference between the two is that the Celtics have stars. Kemba is cold blooded, but Jayson Tatum is the big baller in Boston. All-Star, probably All-NBA, and a field goal percentage just under 45% at 21 years old. The sky’s the limit, but this year he could really take over.

He has done before.

The Philadelphia 76ers are the most interesting team in the East. Defensively they’re a top 10 team, but offensively they’re pretty average. The lack of any home playoff games is a huge loss for them too, as their home record of 29-2 is the best in the league. The 76ers’ hopes rest upon the shoulders of their star players.

If Joel Embiid plays to the level he’s capable of, and to the level that had some people pick him for MVP before this season, he’s unplayable – there’s no player in the NBA quite like him. I’m a huge Ben Simmons fan, he’s a brilliant defender (he leads the league in steals) and has the capability to defend players one through four. His issue of not shooting from the outside and it clogging up the paint is well documented. Even though he’s shot threes this season (and to be honest, the form looks pretty good) he’s not doing it enough. If they can solve the Al Horford conundrum, and not have a player earning $28 million this year coming off the bench, he would solve so many of their offensive problems and drastically improve their title chances.

Philadelphia will be worth keeping an eye on. Especially because, in my opinion, anything less than a Conference Finals appearance and coach Brett Brown will more than likely be fired.

I can’t really see the Heat or the Pacers doing any real damage in the playoffs – my money’s on Giannis and the Bucks.

What will happen in the Western Conference?

The West is more Don Broco this year – come out to LA.

The Lakers and Clippers are everyone’s pick to meet in the Conference Finals, and they’re currently first and second in the conference respectively. Both are fantastic defensively, but the Lakers hold a slight edge. Opponent points per game are 106.9 for the Lakers, to the Clippers’ 109.7. The Lakers have a 105.5 defensive rating and the Clippers’ rating is 106.6. Offensively they’re very close, Clippers score the 5th most points per game, and the Lakers the 7th (116.2 to 114.3). The Battle of Los Angeles is pretty evenly matched.

LeBron’s revenge tour, that isn’t really a revenge tour because no-one doubted him, but is a revenge tour because he was injured last year and wasn’t in the playoffs (I don’t get it either, but his Instagram is flooded with revenge tour hashtags), continues in Disney Land. What a tour it’s been. This season he’s averaging the most assists per game of his career (which also leads the league) with 10.6 – all at the tender age of 35. Averages of just over 25 and half points and just under eight rebounds per game mean he’s been an MVP candidate all year. He has his best teammate since Dwyane Wade in Anthony Davis, who is the possibly the Defensive Player of the Year. No Avery Bradley is a huge loss, but his replacement, J.R. Smith, does have Finals experience.

In terms of the playoffs, LeBron’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt and the ring – but so has Kawhi.

Leonard (averaging essentially 27 points and seven rebounds per game this year) has defended LeBron brilliantly in the past. His run to the title with the Raptors last year reminded everyone how good he is. He had averages of 30.5 points and just over nine rebounds per game. The issue with the Clippers is chemistry. Their best lineup (Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams) has played just 56 minutes together all season. But they are +13.8 (meaning they’re 13.8 points better off than the other team, per 100 possessions) when they do play. So they might be fine. If any coach can figure it out, it’s Doc Rivers.

All in all, the Western Conference Finals should be fun.

Who’s going to win it all?

It’s down to three teams – Bucks, Lakers and Clippers. No fans in attendance would mean that no one would see the Clippers’ first ever title, or the Bucks’ first title in almost 50 years.

If I had to pick conference winners, I’d say that the Bucks would beat the Raptors four games to two, and that the Lakers would beat the Clippers four games to three.

In the finals, Bucks vs Lakers, the Lakers win in six games. I can’t bet against LeBron.

Basketball is nearly back!

I got all of my stats and numbers from Basketball Reference and I would try and write something witty, funny, or something about what’ll I’ll write next here, but I’m still upset about Forest.

Luka Dončić: The 2020/21 NBA MVP?

Javier Mendia García (Cropped)
When it comes to the NBA’s MVP, don’t get too comfortable Giannis – Luka’s got next.

Poor Phoenix.

I remember reading an article about the Phoenix Suns. It was about how the team isn’t tanking right now – they’re just losing.

Tanking is supposed to come with some kind of reward. One big win at the end of a period of small, numerous losses.

It’s a process, if you will.

You tank, you suck, you get a good draft pick, you get a good player and then they make you suck a little less.

It’s the circle of life.

To the naked eye Phoenix are tanking. Allegedly loosing on purpose to draft that can’t miss prospect. That player who would have an immediate impact on the franchise. And even if all that losing wasn’t on purpose (why would anyone admit to losing on purpose?), it did lead to the number one overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, however.

Deandre Ayton was the prize. The big man, the can’t miss prospect, the player who would have the immediate impact on the franchise. He played for the University of Arizona too.

It was perfect.

Now I’m not here to slate Deandre Ayton. He’s a good player don’t get me wrong – he was All-Rookie First Team. But since they drafted him the Suns are 45-102. He also had his drug policy violation and subsequent ban. I’m not pinning the fact that the Suns aren’t winning games on him – the Suns have had a host of other problems over the last few years. In fact the failings of the Phoenix Suns organisation is a whole other topic to write about in its own right.

I want to focus on the Dallas Mavericks, who had the fifth pick in that 2018 NBA Draft. They managed to get a 19 year old European after a trade with Atlanta involving another first round pick and Trae Young. They obviously saw something in this European.

That kid is 20 now. That kid is the next great NBA talent. That kid is the can’t miss prospect, the player who would have the immediate impact on his franchise.

That kid is Luka Dončić.

Luka won Rookie of the Year for the 2018/19 season, averaging 21 points, almost 8 rebounds and 6 assists a game. In NBA history, only two 19 year olds have averaged 21/6/6, or even 20/5/5, for an entire season – Luka and LeBron James.

That’s pretty good company.

But as stats exist in a vacuum, it’s important to note that both Luka and LeBron were basically handed the keys to the franchise in their rookie years – both players had their team’s highest Usage Percentage. The ball was in their hands, and the systems that they played in were designed to put it there.

LeBron’s team in his Rookie year is seen as the worst he’s ever been on, and the Mavericks traded the player they selected with their first round draft pick from the year before to make Luka the primary ball handler. These two young stars’ teams revolved around them.

But winning ROY doesn’t always mean you’re going to be MVP, or play anywhere near that level (sorry Michael Carter-Williams). But Luka was instantly seen as something special. There was even a chance in his debut NBA season he’d be the first Rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011 to play in an All-Star game. He ultimately didn’t make the cut.

Don’t get too upset he didn’t make it though, he got there in his second year.

And that second year has been pretty impressive, much like the first year. Actually, it hasn’t been “pretty impressive”.

It’s been phenomenal.

In his second year in the NBA, at 20 years old, Luka is averaging 28 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists a game. Only one other player has averaged that for an entire season, Oscar Robertson.

If 28/9/8 seems a little too cherry picked, Luka is one of only six players in NBA history to average 25/8/8 for a year. Luka is also one of eight players to average a ‘LeBron‘ for an entire season (27/7/7), which, in my opinion, is the gold standard for all-around basketball play. All the other players on these lists, besides Luka, are current, or future, Basketball Hall of Famers.

But again, it’s important to note that all these players always had (or have) the ball in their hands. They also led (or lead) their teams in Usage Percentage for these seasons. I’m not counting Luke Jackson’s 10 games for Cleveland in 2004/05, Coby Karl’s 3 games for Cleveland in 2009/10 and Josh Reaves’ 2 games for Dallas this season. Sue me.

Luka is the joint youngest player to put up these numbers too, so hopefully as Yazz sang, the only way is up.

That MVP could well be on the horizon.

But, for a player to be awarded the MVP, voters do concentrate on these stats, but also on the win/loss record of the player’s team and the media narrative surrounding said player (as odd as that sounds, just give it to the best player).

Allow me to explain quickly.

When Russell Westbrook won the MVP in 2017 playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was putting up absurd numbers. He became only the second player in NBA history to average a triple double for an entire season. He was winning games and getting the Thunder into the Playoffs – even if it was only a six seed. But most importantly, the storyline of his season was dominated by the fact that Kevin Durant had left in free agency. Westbrook was the “one who stayed”, and he dragged his team into the Playoffs all by himself (or so it seemed, I’m not going to get into that season right now).

Russell was the “most valuable” player. He led his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, minutes – almost everything. He won MVP because his individual stats were impressive, his team won games, and because he had a story that triumphed over all others.

Luka can do this too.

The stats mentioned previously show he can put up the numbers. The man seems to stuff the stat sheet, but not in the obscene and egregious way that Westbrook does. Or maybe he does. Either way, the basketball talent this 20 year old possesses would confuse even James Naismith.

Also, the Mavericks’ system will give Luka the ball. This year he’s second only to the one-man-wrecking crew that is Giannis Antetokounmpo in Usage Percentage. He also has the sixth most isolation possessions per game in the entire NBA. Dallas give him the ball and let Luka loose.

There’s no doubt that the Mavericks can win games. They’ve got a coaching savant in Rick Carlisle sat on their bench, and a solid number two in Porzingis.

Plus, the MVP voters may get tired of Giannis’ dominance with the award. Voter fatigue is a real thing, ask Karl Malone and Michael Jordan. Voters felt that it was Malone’s “turn” in the late 90s – even if MJ was the better player. Plus, as this article from Bleacher Report points out: “Voter fatigue tends to slant toward up-and-coming players.” Luka’s only been in the league for two years, and he’s certainly up and coming to say the least.

So, voters can look at; the Slovenian wonder’s numbers, the fact that he has the ball in his hands, my assumption that the Mavericks will win games, and their possible Giannis-related boredom.

All signs point to Luka.

His play is already near MVP level too.

Luka said himself that in the NBA, “it’s easier to score compared to Europe”.

He’s got that signature move, the step back jumper. Despite not being the quickest move of all time, it’s still effective. You can see how it helps him get into his shooting rhythm and is almost unguardable.

He’s also got a strange combination of a first step and a head fake to drive towards the basket. Again, it’s not the quickest move, but it seems to get defenders off balance and get him to the hole. Even if a drive doesn’t lead to him directly going in for a score, he can set up his crafty “I’m going to stick me inbetween you and the ball” body position to keep defenders away.

His passing is already fantastic.

He seems to like to jump and pass the ball to the roller when running the pick and roll, which can be a little risky. But this elevation, combined with the height advantage he already has over smaller guards, enables him to see over the defence and zip the ball right where it needs to be. But it’s his lob passes that impress me. Just watch the touch on this one. The ball floats in the air for a second, just begging to plucked out of the sky.

However, his defending could do with some work.

His one on one defending isn’t bad, but as he’s not the most athletic player in the world, it’s hard for him to shift his feet quickly enough sometimes. But, he seems to read the game well, and knows where to stand. He’ll get better over time.

By the way, bad defending never stopped James Harden from winning the MVP.

Speaking of Harden, Luka’s 3-point percentage is slightly below the league average of 35% at 32%. In my opinion, to really take his game to the next level, he needs to get that up into the high 30s. But it’s not a bad percentage by any means. The opposition still need to respect him from 3-point range, so he spreads the floor nicely – that opens up opportunities on the pick and roll, or for Luka to drive into the paint himself.

I’ve waxed lyrical about the stupendous Slovenian enough now. The Eurostar. Ludicrous Luka. Dynamic Dončić.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype when European players come to the NBA sometimes. As a Chicago Bulls fan, I remember how excited everyone was when they drafted former Liga ACB MVP Nikola Mirotić. He was good, but, maybe not as good as everyone thought he would be.

Luka is a former Spanish league MVP too, so you can argue that he knows what it takes to win this kind of award.

Everything seems to be in place for Luka to be MVP next year.

He can put up the individual stats. He can win the games. He can steal the media spotlight from Giannis.

To get players to play at an MVP level, yes, teams do need to put a good set of complimentary players around them, coach them well, have a good win/loss record and some Playoff success.

But you have to make sure that the player is the next great NBA talent. That the player is the can’t miss prospect. That the player is the one who will have the immediate impact on the franchise.

So you need to get lucky, and you need to draft the right player.

Poor Phoenix.

I took all my stats from Basketball Reference and – which are both great if you’re into that kind of thing. Also if you’re interested in Luka’s play a little more, watch this video by Thinking Basketball on his Rookie year – it’s fantastic and the YouTube channel should have way more subscribers that it does.

Michael Jordan and The Last Dance

After watching the last episode of The Last Dance on Netflix last night, here’s a few thoughts on what I learned from it all as someone who knew some, but not all of what they went in to.

Spoiler Alert: All of The Last Dance, basically. Obviously.

Pretty much all of you have seen Space Jam, so you know who Michael Jordan is. He’s the best basketball player ever, global icon, champion, gold medalist, cigar aficionado, meme, hero, villain, everything. He is basketball. The king of kings.

My name is Michael Jordan, king of kings;
Look on my rings, ye mighty, and despair!

But in all seriousness, he was the NBA in the 1990s. That smooth fadeaway jumper, the dunks with the tongue sticking out, the dominance.


I knew about the Bulls (obviously). I knew he’d won six championships in eight years, took a season and a bit off to play baseball (yes, really), won six Finals MVPs, won five regular season MVPs, was a dominant sporting force and I knew pretty much all of the Michael Jordan lore.

I knew about the game against the Celtics, The Shot, the lay-up in the 1991 Finals, The Shrug in 1992, passing to Paxson in 1993, 72-10 and winning the title on Fathers Day in 1996, The Flu Game in 1997, and his final shot in 1998.

All of that was a spoiler if you didn’t know anything about him or basketball, but it goes over it all in the documentary anyway.

Talking about spoilers, that’s one thing I felt they did well with The Last Dance. They really managed to build suspense and keep you on the edge of your seat, before you just think, “Oh yeah, this happened 20 years ago and I know exactly what happens.”

That’s probably a nice metaphor for MJ there actually.

You were on the edge of your seat watching him, but you still knew exactly what was going to happen. He was going to win. That was his thing, he was the ultimate winner. Ultra competitive, and you really saw that in The Last Dance. To look inside his head and see, in his own words, what the psychology of a winner is like, was amazing.

To be surrounded by all these professional athletes, the best basketball players in the world, and he would still think he was the best, still wanted to prove he was the best, still wanted more, and was still driven to win, was brilliant to watch.

He never wanted people to think they had one over him. Like the bit with Gary Payton and he’s all, “Oh yeah when I defended him he got tired and that’s why they lost those two games against us in the 1996 Finals.” (I’m paraphrasing there).

Then MJ laughs and goes, “I had no problem with The Glove.”

That’s some BMT stuff right there. Badass, absolute badass.

You saw he did whatever it took to win, well, did whatever it took to put himself in that situation mentally, where he could find something to motivate himself to win. You would never be able to have one over on MJ, he just wouldn’t let it happen. He had to win. He needed to win. You saw it in the documentary.

That story about LaBradford Smith saying, “Nice game Mike,” and then MJ just spanking him in the next game was absurd. It was made even more absurd when it turns out he didn’t even say it! Jordan just needed to find some way to drive himself to dominate.

Which I suppose is a strange thought in itself.

The only thing stopping him from wiping the floor with any basketball player in the world at the time, was him knowing they thought he was the best. But how can you think anyone’s better than you when people scream your name everywhere you go, there are cameras in your face all the time, and apparently five people want to deliver your pizza in Utah just to see you? (I’m not getting into that nonsense, watch it yourself). What’s the Kanye lyric? “Hood phenomenon, the LeBron of rhyme / Hard to be humble when you stunting on a jumbotron“.

People hated LeBron for how he saw himself, thinking he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. But you can see with Jordan in this documentary how people put him on that pedestal – so why would you not think it? People didn’t really seem to hate MJ for that.

They seem to hate him for that same competitiveness that made him so great. That competitiveness that appeared to make him push people to do what he was doing, even though to everyone else on the planet it was impossible. Especially his teammates. I knew he wasn’t the nicest to them.

I knew it was bad.

Those parts of him laying into Kukoc and Harper were harsh, but, poor Scott Burrell. He was going at Scott Burrell all the time. Constantly. There’s no need to call him a ho MJ, come on. The mad part about that is, if this is what he says when he knows the cameras were on, what did he do when they were off?

Oh yeah, he’d punch Steve Kerr in the face.

People counter it by saying he’s pushing his teammates to win, and I see that. He’s not asking them to train or practise any harder than he would. But like I said, not everyone is Michael Jordan.

Not everyone can do what you do MJ.

Is gambling the next logical step with competitiveness? Would he want to win everything, so would he make everything a contest by putting money on it? Again, I’m not so sure, but The Last Dance‘s step into that was interesting. I didn’t know about his trip to Atlantic City trip in the playoffs because he wanted to go gamble. And how he casually got a limo there. As you do.

But who am I to preach to Michael Jordan? He had a pretty good career, so it’s incredibly harsh to pass judgement on gambling I think. It never affected his basketball (David Stern talked about about it, and he thought the same), unless you believe the suspension baloney that led to him playing baseball.

Regardless, and again, it’s all a part of his psyche, and there for you to see.

Perhaps it wasn’t a suspension that led to him playing baseball, maybe it was more of a, “Screw you guys, I’m going to play baseball” kind of thing. Everyone was on his back for the gambling, and sadly his dad died, so he thought, “You know what? I’m gonna hit some homers in the old diamond.”

You saw he wasn’t that good at baseball to start, but again, the work ethic and the competitiveness came through. He was getting better because he was putting in the work. He couldn’t stand not being the best.

That’s the highlight of the whole documentary for me. The look into the ultimate winner’s head, and seeing why winners win. Looking at how their brains are wired.

Oh yeah, and there’s some sick basketball in it too.

Just quickly, here are a few specific points I really liked and just wanted to point out:

  • The Chicago Bulls traveling cocaine circus in the 80s. I knew cocaine was a problem for the NBA from Bill Simmons’ book, but still, hearing MJ talk about it was pretty mad.
  • How awful was the quality of competition in the NBA if MJ wasn’t lifting weights until the early 90s? Bro you gotta get that squat up! There was literally only one team that he couldn’t beat until then. Madness.
  • The individual bits on the past of Jackson, Pippen, Rodman and the like. It was interesting to see where they came from, and how little I actually knew about them. To think I was worried about how much money Pippen was making.
  • He still hates Isiah Thomas to this day. I’m sure you didn’t keep him off The Dream Team, Mike.
  • The footage of him and Kobe at the All-Star game. Awesome. RIP Kobe.
  • The bits of him talking about playing all the NBA stars when filming Space Jam. That movie has given society so much.
  • Toni Kukoc’s defending of Karl Malone (I think it was) in episode nine, when he just kind of danced on his toes and let Malone back him down. I’m not sure why but it just got me laughing.
  • That Larry Bird and MJ “bitch” exchange from episode nine. Stupendous.
  • The photo above, where he’s swinging the bat and smoking a cigar like some kind of weird mob boss. It had me, and everyone else on the internet, reeling.

All in all, it was interesting to see inside his brain, to see his competitiveness and what made him tick. It didn’t really criticise him or go into anything that was too serious, or could maybe paint him in a bad light. But MJ had a hand in making the documentary, so I’m not sure what I expected. The behind the scenes footage was ace, the basketball was ace, as was the fact you really got to see why they called him ‘Air’.

He flew.

It was so good to learn about one of the biggest celebrities ever, and even better to have something basketball related in this Coronavirus drenched world we’re living in. Give it a watch if you haven’t. If you have, watch this video on what the Bulls did after MJ retired. It’s a great video connecting what Reinsdorf talks about in the last episode, to what the Bulls became in the 2000s.

I want to live the rest of my life wanting to be as good at something as much as Michael Jordan wanted it.

Or I might just play as him on 2K.

Rose Coloured Spectacles

“I am trying to post stuff more frequently.” Whoops. Anyway, here’s D. Rose and the 2010/11 Chicago Bulls.

The Last Dance has me thinking a lot about my Chicago Bulls.

When I say my Chicago Bulls, I mean the team that I watched. The team that was mine. The Michael Jordan teams from the 90s were not my team. I barely knew what basketball was back then. I’d seen Space Jam, but that was about it.

The 2010 Finals were really when I started watching the sport, but the 2010/11 season was when I found a team and followed them. That team was the Chicago Bulls.

The 2010/11 Chicago Bulls were my team.

And looking back at them is a lot of fun.

Don’t get me wrong, MJ’s Bulls were a far better team than the 2010/11 Bulls, but I didn’t watch them. I watched this team, and I watched Derrick Rose in his MVP year. I loved that season too, I loved watching Derrick Rose play, it was exciting, it was fun, and they won games.

I was staying up until about 6am (especially in the Playoffs) just to watch basketball on some dodgy stream, which, depending on the stream, was so pixelated the ball was just a few orange squares on the TV.

Rose was great that year. People say that LeBron should have won the MVP, and maybe they were right, but he didn’t. Derrick Rose won it. 25 points per game, 7.7 assists per game, All-Star, All-NBA, best player on the league’s best regular season team. MVP.

I remember watching the Playoffs too, and bloody, Psycho T, Tyler Hansbrough (who? exactly.) being a story in the first round when the Bulls played the Pacers, because he had a good game. If memory serves in the first game, the Pacers were leading for most of it, but the Bulls pulled out a win down the stretch because Rose just, did what your best player should do and won the game.

I think it was Game 3 of the second round when Derrick Rose had a (then) career high in points (upon Googling it, that was 44 points) against the Hawks and that was cool to watch. They won the series, and me in 2011 was all, “Wow, basketball is ace! I can’t wait for the Bulls to win the Championship and it’s going to be even more fun that it is now, and I’m having so much fun right now!”

Hahahaha, oh god.

Yeah, losing to the Heat kind of sucked. I remember people saying, “make anyone else but Rose beat you,” and that’s what the Heat did. The team wasn’t quite there yet, as amazing as I thought they were. Luol Deng wasn’t an All-Star yet. Joakim Noah wasn’t that Defensive Player of the Year yet, or the player where you could stick him in the high post or the top of the key and run everything through him because he’s such a great passer yet. So the Heat kind of took advantage of that. They won in 5.

At least we had this:

But I remember thinking, “that sucked, but there’s next year. This is going to be a great team to watch for a while. Derrick Rose is going to be a great player to watch for a while.”

Everyone knows what happened next. The injuries ruined Rose.

I’m not here to get into that, but I believe that if he stayed healthy, the Bulls have at least one Championship. The other players become better. They have their superstar, their MVP player. They get a steal of a draft pick in Jimmy Butler. Maybe if all this happens even Carmelo Anthony joins in Free Agency. That sounds like a Championship to me.

Derrick Rose still had his moments though, see exhibits A, B and C:

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be, but looking back at this season fills me with happy basketball memories. Maybe the fact there’s no basketball on right now is making me nostalgic, but, it’s nice to remember.

Maybe they weren’t even that good of a team. They didn’t win anything. They just had an unbelievable player. Or maybe they were. They were a great team defensively, and you have to defend as a team.

I don’t know.

Maybe they were better in my head, looking back at a team that only went as far as one Conference Championship and saying they were “my team” is a bit much.

But, they were my team.

Do I want to know how good they really were? No.

It’s just nice to think about my basketball team.

An Englishman’s Ode to Kobe

(AFP/Getty Images)
I thought I’d write a few words about how, even though I never realised, Kobe Bryant got me into basketball.

Kobe Bryant sounds weird. It was always just Kobe.

Kobe got me into basketball and the NBA.

I remember playing as Kobe on NBA 2K9. I had no previous interest in basketball, or really knew anything about it – but I played a demo, enjoyed it, and bought the game. At 16 it got me interested in the sport, but I eventually found out that in England it was always kind of hard to watch the NBA. In-between the time difference, school, and University, watching games was near impossible. I’m not going to go into how I managed to end up watching games, but the 2010 Finals were the first time I truly followed the NBA.

Kobe was MVP of those finals when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 4 games to 3. I didn’t really know what I was watching to be perfectly honest, but I bloody loved it. Kobe got buckets in those finals too:

  • Game 1 – 30
  • Game 2 – 21
  • Game 3 – 29
  • Game 4 – 33
  • Game 5 – 38
  • Game 6 – 26
  • Game 7 – 23

He averaged almost 30, but, I just remember it captivating me – and Kobe was the star of the show. Even when Ray Allen was going off for all those threes in Game 2, I just vividly remember (and it might not even have been in that game, but that’s not the point) Kobe sticking his hand right in front of Allen’s face, daring him to shoot. I was thinking: “What on earth is that?” The notion of it was just so weird to me, because I was so new to the game. That, alongside him stood on the scorers table, are what I remember from those finals.

I was hooked. Kobe was considered the best in the first series I’d ever watched. The man would do whatever it took to win, and I saw it for all of those 7 games.

Mamba Mentality.

Now I’d like to take you to the 2012 Olympics.

This was really the first time I was able to watch basketball at a reasonable time (I know, woe is me). I knew who the players were. I knew LeBron, I knew KD, I knew Chris Paul, and of course I knew Kobe. I remember him and LeBron from those Olympics. Not much of a story here, but Kobe’s what I remember.

People always talk about how the 2008 Olympics were his magnum opus.

They went to him down the stretch. But I didn’t watch that. I remember them doubling Pau Gasol and they still couldn’t stop him, and I thought: “Woah boy, here comes Kobe time!” He had some big shots in 2012, a big offensive rebound and put back, but no real take over. Not knocking him, the game didn’t need that.

But the point is that’s what you expected from Kobe. You expected him to take over. You expected him to do whatever it took to win.

Mamba Mentality.

The man tore his achilles tendon literally CARRYING his team into the playoffs. The Lakers (who were supposed to be a ‘Super Team’ that season with him, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol) were average heading to the 2013 playoffs, but Kobe became more of a passer, and they won games. They lost in the first round, but that’s neither here nor there – no Kobe. That season I remember so vividly. I remember him tweeting about taking the ball into the post (or something like that) really aggressively because that’s how he saw the Lakers winning the series.

He did whatever it took to win.

Mamba Mentality.

I’m not here to talk about his famous work ethic, the fact he has 2 numbers retired at The Staples Centre, or he scored 81 in a game against the Raptors. I’m not here to mention his rings, his MVP, or his All-Star appearances. I don’t really know what I’m here to talk about.

I just wanted to say thank you to Kobe. He got me into Basketball, and I never even knew it. He was there when I grew an interest in it, and helped turn an interest into love. He made it fun to watch. He was fun to watch. He’s the reason I’m here, trying to write about the NBA. He started it all.

I never really thought about it until last night.

Thank you Kobe.

Mamba Mentality.

All info from Basketball Reference and my Kobe reflecting memory.