Well, here we are: December in the NBA, also known as “yaaawwwnnnn.” December is all about the NFL playoffs (it used to include college football, too, but now that there’s a college football playoff does anyone care about the other bowl games?) until the Christmas Day NBA games. December in the NBA is like May in the MLB: everyone knows the season is on but the excitement from the first month of games has waned as the season transitions into the grind-it-out, war-of-attrition, marathon middle of the season.
On the other hand, the NFL is riddled with distasteful issues like a rotten swiss cheese. No one in the WHOLE WORLD was okay with Monday Night Football’s game. The Shazier injury was terrifying. Did we just watch a young man get paralyzed? And, if so, why do we watch something like that? The NFL’s problems are infinite right now, but the real danger to the sport is the absence of an audience. If no one watches, then no one will play, it’s as simple as that. (Unless, of course, you’re the Baltimore Orioles, who literally played a game in an empty stadium. I still can’t believe that happened. Is that a dark horse sleeper for stupidest sports moment of the century? I mean, get real, look at this. Aren’t sports for the fans? Can’t you reschedule games? Can’t you trust your own citizens/fans? How is denying the citizens of Baltimore their right to attend their own town’s ballgame an appropriate response to a Baltimore citizen having his civil right violently, fatally, denied? By the way, Baltimore won 8-2, leaving them with a 10-10 record and the White Sox at 8-10. Thank God the Sox, who ended the season 76-86, and the BaltO’s, who ended 81-81, played that game. Who knows what could have happened if they didn’t???)
So, with the NFL making it uncomfortable and SCARY and SAD to watch their games, one might wonder if viewership levels will reflect the public’s changing views of the beautiful (American) game. In a seriously bad NFL season (not just the controversies, but the play itself), could the football goliath start losing their audience to a safer sport, one with recognizable stars who have careers that last much longer, and allow for narratives that literally last years rather than just one or two seasons? The NBA’s audience is larger than ever, and their national games are gaining viewership levels that are usually reserved for the playoffs. This is all centered around LeBron versus the Warriors, Round 4, the most important NBA series since Magic’s Lakers versus Bird’s Celtics, Round 3. If LeBron somehow wins, he will be immortal, and in a different way than Jordan because Michael never had a rival like Golden State.
What’s a better team, this season’s Warriors team at full health, or a combination of the best players Jordan’s Bulls played against in all of their Finals? That would be MAGIC JOHNSON, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, the Mailman, John Stockton, SHAWN! KEMP!, Gary Payton, and, oh yeah, some guy named JAMES GODDAMN WORTHY. ...Huh. So, the death lineups are (healthy) Steph, Klay, Iggy, KD, and Dray versus Magic, the Glide, Barkley, Worthy, Malone? (Kemp’s taller than Karl Malone, by the way, even though I don’t remember that being the case.) Well, hell’s bells, I’ll let y’all figure that one out, cuz it’s a real goddamner. Regardless, Jordan never faced an entire team like the Warriors in the Finals.
If LeBron can beat them, and without technicalities, then don’t we have to elevate him to Bill Russell and Michael Jordan status? LBJ has been in 8 of the 14 Finals since he was drafted in 2003 (Darko Milicic has been in none of them. Danke again, Joe Dumars.); his record in the Finals is 3-5. If LeBron doesn’t reach .500 in his Finals appearances, will we hold that against him and his legacy and refuse to say he belongs in the conversation for GOAT (Hey, why isn’t it BOAT for “best?”)? I think LBJ is firmly ensconced as the third best player who has ever lived, but folks would still immediately take Jordan over him (Bill Russell has more rings than both of them put together, and he coached some of those Finals, so I don’t want to hear it; win 11 titles, two as a player/coach, and then talk to me. Also, Bill Russell is listed as 6’9”. That is incorrect. He is as tall as he wants to be, and he’s always head-and-shoulders above the rest.). LeBron needs two more championships to reach 5-5, and three more to have a winning percentage in the Finals. Do we think he can do it? He probably has at least 5 more seasons in him, and who knows, maybe he has 10 (Vinsanity’s still playing). I feel like he has a pretty good shot, actually, but if he loses this upcoming Finals, then that mission becomes a lot more difficult. And, as presently constructed, I don’t know of a team outside of San Antonio, Houston, Boston, or Detroit (just kidding) that could realistically compete, unless we’re willing to say the Bucks are much better than they seem to be. Would LeBron on OKC in place of Andre Roberson make that team a legit contender? LeBron on Nawlins in place of Rondo? LeBron on DC in place of whichever one of the Morris twins that is? Philly instead of Saric? (WHOA.) LeBron works best with shooters surrounding him, and that sounds like Houston. Now that the Eastern Conference is improving and the West may be in decline, does conference matter as much to LeBron? If not, then go with what works: LBJ, shooters and threes. If the Cavs lose to the Warriors in Round 4 this summer, then expect to see the King in Rocket Red next year.
Who knows, maybe your favorite NFL player, who is obviously injured this season, will be healthy and playing by then, too.
Let’s take a look at the 5-man lineups so far this NBA season. We’ve played around a quarter of the season’s games, so let’s just look at lineups that were used in at least 10 games. What do we see?
Well, Minnesota is still playing their guys into the goddamn ground. The most used 5-man lineup is obviously the Tom Thibbies. Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Karl-Anthony Towns have averaged 25.6 minutes together across 20 games, which is 8 more minutes than the next most used lineup: the Detroit Pistons starting five of RJax, Avery Bradley, StanJohn, Tobias Harris, and the Drum (17.4 minutes over 21 games). Folks are noticing and talking about this disparity in playing time between the Timberwolves and LITERALLY THE REST OF THE NBA, but nothings come of it so far. Thibs gonna Thibs. And, because Thibodeau is also the head of the Minnesota front office, there’s no one to tell him to PLAY SOMEONE ELSE FOR THE LUVVA GOD JESUS, unless ownership steps in and tells him how to do his GD job. I feel like all you have to do to scare the bejeezus outta one of your Twin City compadres is to ask them how Thibbies’ old Bull players are doing; this will lead to them waking up in the middle of the night, screaming as they remember the dead: Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, DERRICK! ROSE!. (However, Taj Gibson, also one of Thibs’ Bulls, is having his best season ever, though he’s also playing the most minutes he’s ever played; plus, Jimmy Butler is improving after his slow start; and, Noah and Rose aren’t dead, technically.)
I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: you simply cannot do this to your players. It’s stupid of Cleveland to let LeBron play that many minutes, it was stupid of Thibodeau to run his Bulls into the ground, it was stupid of Mike D’Antoni to run his Suns and Knicks into the ground, and it’s stupid of Thibodeau to run his Wolves into the ground. Like, Karl-Anthony Towns is more important than Thibodeau. You have to protect the Big KAT, even if that means Adam Silver needs to get on the goddamn phone and make a call to Minnesota ownership. The owners are paying more than the 8 players that Thibs gives minutes to; it is absolutely within their right to ask/demand that he play those dudes, too. Exhausting your players before the halfway point of the season is demented, strange, self-defeating and Dumb with a capital D. I think Thibs philosophy is that you have to play like a blah-blah-blah bulldog/blue-collar/committed defender, etc., etc., ad nauseum, but get real, that time is over. The best defense over the past few years has been the Warriors and they rest people all the time (remember when Steph Curry 1.0 just sat for entire 4th quarters?). Extra possessions, increased pace, leads to more running. The game is quantifiably harder now because the ball changes hands more. You just can’t ask dudes to go at full speed at both ends of the floor for that many minutes, anymore; PLUS, you presumably are supposed to have bench players who can contribute, and so you must give them the opportunity. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Players Association has been grumbling about Thibs because he’s not just wearing out his stars, he’s also inhibiting his role and bench players, and both those things serve to depress future earnings for the players. Jesus, it almost seems like Thibodeau broke Derrick Rose’s mind with the overuse in Chicago. Does Rose hear Thibs’ hoarse yelling in his sleep? Is that why he keeps running away from the teams he plays for now, because he always has to keep running, running, running, must keep running, run to Thibs, run to Thibs, run to Thibs? And, where the hell did Kirk Hinrich go? Is he in some senior care facility somewhere, with white hair, and a thousand-yard-stare, drool dripping from his lips as he whispers, over and over, “Get...back...on...dee...fense...get...back...on...dee...fense…”
And, not for nothing, but that most-used lineup has a plus-minus of 3.4. You know who else has a plus-minus of 3.4? The Denver Nuggets most used 5-man lineup of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap and the Joker (and, they only play 16 minutes, whereas Minnie is tops with 25). That’s tied for the 8th best plus-minus rating of all the teams; big whup. For that you destroy your players?
I’d say Fire Thibs except he’s still a better coach than 90% of the chuckleheads you’re going to interview to replace him. Let’s be honest, most pro sports coaches are just absolute butt. They suck, they’re full of it, they initiate idiotic trades and signings just to save their own ass, and your team is usually worse off than before you hired them.
So, if you fired Thibs now, then aren’t you still ruining your season? Minnesota has the #4 seed in the West right now (with a 0.7 point differential, so big whup 2.0) and the Wolves SHOULD make the playoffs with that roster. But, they should also be able to make the playoffs with THE REST of their roster, too! Ownership has to step in here and tell Thibs to tone it down. If he won’t, then maybe you fire him, but Thibs’s fanatical devotion to this heavy usage philosophy is bad for bidness. It’s Minnesota’s own damn fault if they don’t stop it before they lose some scratch, or even a playoff appearance.
The five man rotation with the best plus-minus and the most minutes is the Bucks lineup of Bledsoe, Snell, Middleton, Giannis, and John Henson (5.4 over 15 minutes).
The five man rotation with the best plus-minus overall (at least 10 minutes) is obviously the Warriors at 6.1 with Curry, Klay, KD, Draymond and Zaza. But, the second highest plus-minus, 5.6, belongs to the Wizards lineup of Dr. Wall, Bradley Kind of a Big Beal, Oubre, Porter, and the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat. I like Oubre, Jr. a lot this season, and if he takes another step up, then this lineup might become devastating. Dr. Wall is injured right now, but goddamn, I’m excited to see the Wizards at full strength. Question: if you’re a Wizards fan, would you rather have Gortat or Deandre Jordan? A Boogie trade seems farfetched if the Pelicans are playoff-bound, so would Washington still want to trade their Hammer center for a (perhaps) better big? Dunno. I think I’d wait to see how the team plays when Wall returns; if that small ball lineup mentioned above starts playing well, then maybe you don’t need to make a move, at all?
There is only one 5 man rotation with a 0.0 plus-minus: the San Antonio Spurs lineup of Dejounte Murray, Danny Green, Slow Kyle Anderson, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol. So, basically, the Spurs’ Plan D lineup still has a non-negative value. The Spurs just don’t break, man. They’ll bend, they’ll play in slo-mo, and they look weird as hell sometimes, but they never give in, they never surrender. The goddamn Alamo, man. I bet the Spurs have a sign above the door in their locker room that reads, The time to live and the place to die. That’s all any man gets. No more, no less. And, then they silently march onto the court and kick your ass.
In other news:
- The two most added players over the last week and the two most dropped are each from the same teams: Utah’s Alec Burks and Donovan Mitchell are the most added, and Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins are the most dropped.
- You know who else is doing well recently? Thabo Sefolosha! Over the last 15 days he’s averaging 10 points on 55% shooting, with 4 rebounds, a steal, and a 3PM. Not bad! He’s only 4.5% owned on ESPN, so if you need a streamer or some cheap filler, holler at the man.
- So, one of my Bold Predictions was that Dame Lillard would have an MVP season. Right now he’s top 6 in scoring (25.7 per game), with 6 assists and 5 rebounds on the season (and, he’s been even better recently). Portland has the 5th seed in the West right now. How high would they have to get in order for Maestro Lillard to actually get the MVP? The 1 seed? The 2? I think LeBron is probably gunning for his fifth MVP (thus tying Jordan and one shy of Kareem’s record 6 MVPs), but I do think that Dame could be MVP of the West, if you think that KD and Steph cancel each other, ditto Harden and CP3, ditto the Thunder Twins (I know there are three of them but they equal less than the sum of their parts right now), and Kawhi has missed too much time to be an MVP candidate. If LeBron didn’t exist, there’s a scenario wherein Dame could win. He won’t, but he could. Regardless, Dame’s amazing and hella fun to watch.
- Courtney Lee is finally getting some love. His ownership is over 40%, and it should go higher with Tim Hardaway, Jr. out for a few more weeks. Lee scored 24 points in the Knicks’ last game. He’s been as valuable as CJ McCollum in my league (different/more rules than ESPN basic); he should be owned more.
- Over the last two weeks only 4 (uninjured) players are averaging at least 20 shots per game: Sergeant Westbrook (24, hahaha), James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Maestro Lillard. Westbrook, Harden, and Durant, hmmm, where have I heard those three names mentioned together before? Oh yeah, when they were all on the same team. OKC is Jekyll-and-Hyde AF: they’re able to pull off ridiculous personnel feats via trade so that they can remain relevant, but they broke up the best trio of drafted stars outside of Curry, Klay and Dray for bogus reasons. Can you imagine the battle royales between those three and a still-together Thunder squad of Russ, Harden and Durant? Who would win?
- I hate to say this but Ryan Anderson is under owned at 35%. Over the past two weeks he’s scoring 15 points on 57% shooting, 5 rebounds and 3.6 3PM per game. If you play with threes in your league, you should try to buy low on this guy. He is on the Rockets to shoot threes.
- Austin Rivers, my starting point guard, is now 39% owned, averaging 20 points and 5 assists over the past two weeks, and is firmly entrenched in the Clippers starting rotation. I believe that’s called an I-toldja-so. Who could possibly have predicted that the Clippers would have injury problems and the coach’s son would end up playing heavy minutes???