Every basketball season is an 82 game grind. A marathonic war of attrition that’s played at a high-level by some of the best athletes in the world. Playoff races normally come down to the last week, conferring just how important every game of the season has been. And while the season’s stories are constantly being rewritten, by the time the playoff comes around new stories are almost nonexistent.
The entirety of the season is enough of a sample size to flesh out all the narratives that come to pass during the year. Steph didn’t just become great in these playoffs, he won the MVP for a reason. We already knew the Clippers roster was suspect, we didn’t need their collapse in the Rockets series to tell us that. The playoffs don’t write stories, they just provide them a sense of finality. A punctuation, ending tales that have been told throughout the season. With that in mind, here are some of the stories that took shape during the season, but became finite during this postseason.
Steph Curry is the Greatest Shooter Ever and Something We’ve Never Seen: No this isn’t hyperbole, no this isn’t premature (If Curry never played another game he would receive Gale Sayers like reverence. We would all speak wistfully about how briefly we got to watch one of the greats.), and no this isn’t blasphemous. Steph Curry is the best shooter of this generation or any other. Sorry to the logo, no offense Larry Legend, apologies Reggie, Jesus Shuttleworth, or to the many others who have held this mantel. Thanks for playing, but the game is now over.
The records speak for themselves; after this season Curry now owns the first, second, and fifth best seasons in terms of total three-pointers made. He owns the record for three’s made over a two-year stretch. In this postseason Curry surpassed Reggie Miller’s record of three-pointers made in the postseason (58) in just 13 games. It took Miller 22 games to reach the prior record of 57 and Curry already stands at 70 with a minimum of 3 games left to play. Which means if he stays at his current pace of five 3’s made per game, and the Rockets somehow pull-off the greatest playoff comeback ever, he will still end this postseason with 85 three’s made. Do any of us really believe it will be that low?
But the eye test tells you even more. Our eyes see a man whose range begins when he arrives in the parking lot. We see a player who doesn’t seem to even notice that his defender is there, hand extended, looming over his whip-quick perfect release. We see a player who lives for every big moment and takes the shot that make most coaches cringe, but just makes his high-five. Steph’s eyes tell a story too. Steph may look cherubic, but behind those soft hazels lies a stone cold three-point bombing assassin. Ask the Rockets fans in the far corner during game 3, their eyes told a story too, one of abject fear. One of disbelief and heartache.
Steph Curry is unique in a way only some of the greats have ever been. His ability to shoot from just about anywhere on the court whether off the dribble or while on the move is just as transformative to the game of basketball as Lebron’s powerful grace, Jordan’s superlative athleticism and drive, Magic’s incomparable skill for his size, and Wilt’s dominant power. Steph Curry is redefining what we think a great point guard is like or can be.
Curry’s ability to shoot both off the dribble and on the move with such proficiency is unparalleled. He’s part Iverson, part Ray Allen. And yet he remains one of the best floor generals in the league as well. Curry is only the ninth player in league history to average 24 points and 8 assists per game. He’s part Tiny Archibald, part Tim Hardaway.
It’s very easy to imagine a season where Steph Curry leads the league in assists and yet he is a dominant offensive force. His wizardry with the ball makes him just as much a threat to break his man down off the dribble and kick to the corner, as it does for him to hit one of his signature step-back three’s (P.S. we need to give the man his due for the fact that he made a step back shot from 25 feet his signature move). He’s part "Pistol" Pete, part Steve Nash.
Curry’s all of these things and yet he’s none of these things. He’s one of a kind. His game is pure Steph Curry. It’s a combination of everything that makes a basketball game exciting. Steph is spectacular, he’s fundamental, he’s ebullient, he’s exciting, he’s out right lethal, his joy is infectious, and he’s the best shooter we’ve ever seen.
Curry truly is the first of his kind, but luckily for us thanks to Steph’s greatness, he won’t be the last.
The Cavs Should Part Ways With Kevin Love and Go Back to Starting Tristan Thompson: Kevin Love is one of the 15 best players in the NBA. Kevin Love is a versatile scorer and rebounding machine who creates fast-breaks simply by his ability to rebound and outlet the basketball. Kevin Love can stretch defenses with his shooting ability and he can dissect defenses with his passing from the high-post. This season Kevin Love averaged 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game this season. And while all of these things should should have made him a perfect fit for the Cleveland offense, he obviously wasn’t. But Tristan Thompson is.
Watching the Cavs this season showed us that Kevin Love needs the ball to be really effective, and needs it often to be his optimal self offensively. Yet on a Cleveland team with two of the five best one-on-one players in the league, Love rarely gets the touches he needs. Touches on the block that allow him time to work, not just the bailout 3’s he’s getting late in the shot clock on James’ drive. Tristan Thompson doesn’t need those touches, he just simply creates more of them for his teammates (he’s currently averaging 3.9 offensive rebounds per game in the playoffs, good for third in the postseason).
Kevin Love’s motor has been questioned, not just this season but for the entirety of his career. Tristan Thompson’s motor is something like a pogo stick attached to a jack hammer with a hemi boosted on amphetamines.
Don’t get me wrong, Kevin Love is a superstar. In a vacuum, an Olympic-like setting, where players defer accordingly, give willingly, and compete with pride, Kevin Love is probably on that 12 man roster. But in a league where numbers dictate contracts, where egos mitigate team success, and where Kevin Love isn’t getting his, Cleveland needs to be honest with themselves about what’s best for their franchise. During the regular season Love looked lost in Cleveland’s offense and saw his numbers dip in every category as he struggled to find a comfortable place for himself on the floor. Love was often benched in crunch time for Tristan Thompson because of his reputation as a defensive liability.
Thompson is a poorman’s Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, or Ben Wallace. Effort guys who can control games by getting second chance opportunities and playing pesky help defense. Love needs the ball to put his print on the game, but it’s a print Cleveland has barely missed. Love’s absence hasn’t really been noticeable on the floor. Cleveland’s defensive numbers are far better and offensively they’ve continued to get it done. And the Cavs haven’t seemed to miss their new power forward off the court much either. Love has only attended one game since being injured and doesn’t travel with the team. Did you notice? Because I hadn’t, and it says something about Love’s standing with the team that his absence isn’t being discussed by fans or media alike at this point.
So while Love has seemed the afterthought, Thompson has absolutely killed the Hawks. Thompson has been a monster on the boards, exploiting the Hawks undersized frontline, and helping shape the way the series has been played. While Love could have made a big difference on the offensive end, the Cavs haven’t needed his shooting nearly as much as they’ve needed Thompson’s effort and defense (two things Love’s not known for). The series would probably look a little different if Paul Millsap had the lesser defensive player in Love guarding him.
That being said the biggest part of this is brass tax. Love, even in the small event he would want to stay, is assured to be one of the highest paid players in the league. And while he deserves a large contract on a team that can allow him to get his touches, the Cavs can’t get their proverbial bang for their buck. Not with Love acting as the Krist Novoselic, to Kyrie’s Dave Grohl and Lebron’s Kurt Cobain. Especially with the impending free agency of Iman Shumpert and Kyrie Irving, players who are better fits for the team as they can compensate for Kyrie’s defensive shortcomings, and are far better compliments to Lebron’s style of play. Cleveland’s only hope at roster nirvana is to cut ties with the extremely talented power forward. Thompson allows them to do this as his deal isn’t up until after 2016, and his much lower cost could allow Cleveland to try to resign the now integral J.R. Smith and possibly hold on to Iman Shumpert as well.
Lebron James is Already on the NBA Mount Rushmore: His regular season numbers were MVP worthy for almost any other year and any other player as it is every year for this player. He’s currently averaging 28.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game during this postseason. He now has more 30-5-5 games than any other player in NBA playoff history (52, Jordan-51). In his last game he was the first player in 22 years with at least 35 points 15 rebounds and 10 assists (Barkley in ’93) in a game. He’s about to make his fifth consecutive NBA finals with a team missing two of the twenty best players in the league and a roster so thin that Matthew Dellavdova is seeing considerably playing time.
Lebron has achieved all of this and yet it just feels like another incredible year from a transcendent player. He makes the remarkable seem bland. Make whatever counter arguments you would like. And no i won’t list who my other three representatives are, I won’t give any further fodder for my digital lynching. I will admit that some of this comes from the comfort I find in the very safe assumption that Lebron will keep doing this for seasons to come. Thus decimating all records that stand in the way of his exclusion from this mythical NBA mountain (except for perhaps his number of championships, but we’ll see). But I stand by the belief that Lebron is one of the four greatest players to ever play the game.
Tim Duncan is a Cyborg: From the robotic movements, to the contrived interview responses, to the metronomic existence rife with victory after victory, record after record, and double-double after double-double, it’s clear that there is only way to explain Tim Duncan’s Pharrell-like ability to not show the deleterious effects of aging, he’s a cyborg.
Think about it, Pop refuses to talk about his military time. We all know Pop was high-up in military intel. Perhaps Pop played some hand in the creation of this basketball machine. It would go a long way to explain the father-son dynamic between the two men and it’s perhaps the only explanation as to why this man was still one of the 15 best players in the NBA this year. This theory explains how he was the best player on the defending NBA championship team that was a Chris Paul circus shot away from advancing to Western Conference Semifinals. Explains how he was one of the best two players in one of the best seven-game series ever we’ve ever seen played. Tells us how in his one millionth season he was still second team All-NBA defense and third team All-NBA. Tim Duncan is doing these things because that’s what he was built for, to dominate the paint for a period of time that only Sherwin-Williams could rival.
We’ve seen great players play well late into their careers. Malone and Kareem were still chugging along at 39. But we’ve never seen a 39 year-old put up averages of 17.9 point, 11.1 rebounds, and 59% (at 39 Abdul-Jabbar averaged 19.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, and 53% and Malone 19.6ppg, 6.8rpg. and just 40% from the field) against their supposed heir-apparent (Blake Griffin was absolutely fabulous in the series, but Duncan is 13 seasons removed from where Griffin currently is in his career). Tim Duncan is a machine. His resilience, professional composure, and systematic excellence are repeated with too much synrocity to not be that of a machine. And I just hope the people in San Antonio keep tuning him up.
Jason Kidd Can Coach and Milwaukee Might Be the Next Big Thing: This was supposed to be a transition year. A season with a new coach, a precocious young rookie, a budding sophomore star, and a collection of raw, young, athletic talent. This was supposed to be the year that Milwaukee found out whether or not Brandon Knight was their point guard of the future and if Larry Sanders could still be a part of their long-term plans. Jabari was a lock for rookie of the year, Giannis would be fun to watch, but no way was this team a threat to anyone. And then Jabari tore his knee, Brandon wanted way too much, and Larry Sanders had to leave to fight his own battles. And just like that the entire narrative of the season was changed, and Milwaukee fans should thank karma for the editing.
At the 53 game mark in the 2015 NBA season Milwaukee stood at a surprising 30 and 23. The Bucks had won 9 of their last 11 games, and Jason Kidd was finally being acknowledged for being the coach people thought he might be. But one more big change would have to further shape the future of this collection of young upstarts.
It seems that the Buck’s brass had decided that Brandon Knight, the team’s lone all-star, either wasn’t going to resign with the club or wasn’t worth the $16 million a year he was likely to get when his contract ends at the end of this season. So the surprising Bucks shook the whole thing up and traded Brandon Knight to the Suns in a three-team deal that included the Sixers and netted the Bucks the enigmatic Michael Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee, and Tyler Ennis. Milwaukee’s roster had suddenly become much younger, and much different from the already youthful group they had projected to have at the beginning of the season. After the trade Milwaukee had no longer had three of their projected starters after already having lost their rookie stud Jabari Parker with a blown-out knee, and their starting center Larry Sanders when he decided he no longer wanted play basketball because of difficulties with anxiety.
Yet up to that point the team had played well behind a defensive style that exploited the wealth of interchangeable length the team had on the perimeter. The swarm was led by the "Greek Freak" and the surprise play of sharp-shooter Kris Middleton, and the steady-handed guidance of their first year coach Jason Kidd. Kidd had Milwaukee playing competitive basketball despite the roster fluctuations and off court distractions. But the team struggled to coalesce after the trades and finished the year with 11 wins to 18 losses. But through all the tumult one thing remained, Jason Kidd had these guys playing inspired basketball, and in a fashion that best utilized his players best attributes. That’s exactly what a good coach does, he inspires and puts players in the position for success.
The postseason allowed the Bucks to show us all what the young team had learned. Milwaukee played inspired basketball against the Bulls, and were a Derrick Rose free-throw away in game three from taking control of the series. Kidd’s reputation as the point-guard whisperer grows with each efficient Carter-Williams game. And the way his team competes for him, swarming teams in a mass of freakish long arms and incredibly quick hands, show just how much of a stamp Kidd has put on this team and franchise. In fact Milwaukee plays like you could imagine a Jason Kidd team playing, tenacious defense, inconsistent shooting, great ball movement, and full of promise.