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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Point Guard Project - Damian Lillard

Welcome to the sixth edition of the Point Guard Project.

Past participants:
PGP1- John Lucas
PGP2 - Luke Ridnour
PGP3 - Jrue Holiday
PGP4 - Ricky Rubio
PGP5 - Royal Ivey

This time we're joined by Damian Lillard

The PGP questions:

1) Who did you watch play growing up? And whose game did you try to emulate?

2) What was your first memorable point guard match-up, when you first got into the league?

3) What is your definition for the job of a point guard?

4) How do you determine when to shoot vs. when to pass?

5) What is a typical workout for you like?

6) Do you have any words of advice for young aspiring point guards?

In case you don't know Lillard yet, he has to be the early frontrunner for Rookie of the Year.
He is currently averaging 18.9 points and 6.4 assists a game, which is first among rookies in both categories. And beyond rookies - he's ranks 5th in scoring for all point guards in the league.
In a recent win over the Spurs he put up 29 points, 6 assists, and 7 rebounds.

Damian is listed as 6'3" and 195 ibs. and was drafted 6th overall by Portland. From Oakland, Lillard played college ball at Weber State (in Utah) - where he averaged 24.5 points a game his last year.

Mr Lillard, welcome to the Point Guard Project:

Summary of answers:

1) Grew watching Chuancey Billups, Stephon Marbury (he really liked Marbury), and Gilbert Arenas.

2) First memorable point guard match-up: Chris Paul. A lot of stuff he could take from him being on the court and seeing him as a leader and as a point guard.

3) Definition for the job of a point guard: Lead and make everyone else's job easier.

4) When to shoot vs. pass: More simple than people think - especially when playing with the people he's played with. Getting others involved early and getting them going is what you need to do, so the defense loosens up on you then everything comes easier as far as scoring the ball (which some doctors may diagnose as a pass first and take what the defense gives you point guard).

5) Typical workout: It's different from summer time than in the season.
In season: a lot of pick and roll stuff, a lot spot ups (no number of takes in particular), change speed stuff, floaters, and pull up jumpers.
Summer: Just try to add stuff. Definitely the middle game - floaters, mid range pull up jumpers, different finishes around the rim. And just try to get in better shape and improve everything else.

6) For aspiring point guards: Work on every part of your game so you'll be ready for every level you move up in. College, every level is tougher. So it's important to work on every part of your game.

Was it me or did Lillard's responses seem well beyond his years and designation as a rookie?

Perhaps for good reason. Lillard is 22 years old and went to Weber State for 4 years. That's kind of a rarity these days (Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, & John Wall - all number picks as point guards - were all one and done in college). Certainly Lillard's age and college experience has something to do with how he handles himself both on and off the court.

One subtlety, which speaks volumes of his maturity and professionalism, is how he talked up his teammates and mentioned that because of them it's easy to be a point guard ("when you've had the teammates I've had"). I'm sure that would make his teammates feel good. And guess what? Instilling confidence and positivity is absolutely part of being a good point guard - even if doing so while speaking in a random interview!

There are also a few things I found interesting with regards to his maturity and style of play.

Of the players he mentioned he watched growing up, two out of three of them were scoring point guards (another shot out to Steph!). Perhaps non-coincidentely this fits his mold, being the 5th highest scoring point guard in the league. However it's Ironic that despite following and fitting the mold of a scoring point guard, Lillard defined himself (with my help) as a pass first point guard.

And that really is something to consider. There is a difference between being a scoring point (Rose and Westbrook) that gets assists when the defense helps and a point that runs the team then takes what the defense gives them. You'll notice that for the latter (Lillard's answer for when to pass vs. shoot) I responded with "that's the first time I've heard that response."
It's true.

I seem to recall hearing a lot of "always be aggressive", or more passive: "if someone's open, give them the ball." Here you have a talented scorer saying that he actively looks to get others involved and then makes the defense pay when they play off of him (maybe like Paul and Williams - in contrast Rondo and Rubio seem to be pass first, pass second point guards). This is not an easy thing to do, even for established point guards. But already as a rookie, Lillard seems to recognize this is what a point guard should do - use your talents to make others better and be good enough to score when needed. And he seems to already be adept at it. It will be interesting to see how this changes if and when Lillard becomes the best player on his team.

As impressive was Lillard's description of his works outs.
(By the way, if you want to see one of his Draft workouts, take a look).
Is there anything more important for a point guard than being able to master the pick and roll? And in turn being able to make the mid-range/pull jumpers coming off a screen? Or how about being able to make spot up jumpers - you know in case you throw the ball down to LaMarcus Aldridge in the post who then kicks it back out to you when he is double teamed. Let's not forget different ways to finish around the rim (not just dunks) and floaters in the lane in case you don't want to challenge the trees at the rim.

And ah yes, my favorite advice for a point guard: change speeds.
Did he get this from Steph???
When Jason Williams got into the league, Steph told him (as Rumeal Robinson told him) that you can't play only at one speed - even if it is fast. You need to change speeds.
By changing speeds, you actually become faster and always have the defense on it's heels. One speed makes you predictable. Two speeds makes you intractable.
In other words: slow down before you speed up. Or if you prefer, hesitate and go.
In any event, the fact that Lillard alludes to this is amazing.

And finally, how about:
"work on every part of your game so you'll be ready for every level you move up in?"
May I paraphrase???
Always try to make yourself better, so you can be prepared for the challenges you'll face in the future.
Great words of advice!

Much thanks to Damian Lillard for his time!
I hope you enjoyed this edition of the Point Guard Project!
Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Point Guard Project - Royal Ivey

Welcome to the 5th edition of the Point Guard Project.

Past participants:
PGP1 - John Lucas
PGP2 - Luke Ridnour
PGP3 - Jrue Holiday
PGP4 - Ricky Rubio

Today we are joined by Royal Ivey

The PGP questions:

1) Who did you watch play growing up? And whose game did you try to emulate?

2) What was your first memorable point guard match-up, when you first got into the league?

3) What is your definition for the job of a point guard?

4) How do you determine when to shoot vs. when to pass?

5) What is a typical workout for you like?

6) Do you have any words of advice for young aspiring point guards?

First off, I have to say that this is a real treat for me.
For those that don't know, not only was Royal my first one-on-one interview here at True Hoops but I actually played against him in High School during a charity event.

If you haven't heard the interview before, please check it out.
Not only one of my favorite pieces, but it's actually something I showed my high school players my last year as a coach in NYC for both educational and motivational purposes. It's been know to bake noodles.

Now for the numbers.
Royal is in his 9th year in the league. He was drafted in the second round of the '04 NBA draft.
He is listed as 6'4'' and 200 ibs, with career averages of 3.4 points, 1.1 assists, and 1.2 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game. His career highs are 19 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds, respectively.

FYI, Royal Played 4 years for Texas. He is second all-time in school history for career starts, and helped lead Texas to the 2003 Final Four. He played prep school ball at Blair academy,  alongside Luo Deng. Of course he is from New York, and played at Benjamin Cardozo high school in Queens.

Mr. Ivey, welcome to the Point Guard Project:

Summary of Answers:

1) Grew up watching Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, and Mark Jackson. But of course that's because he's a New York guy!

2) First memorable point match-up: Steve Nash. He was in his prime. Real good and real fast with the ball. Just dissected him and his team. It was the first game of the season too. He was like "wow, this is what the league is about!"

3) Definition for the job of a point guard: Distribute the ball, be a catalyst like a quarterback. Get the offense started, run plays and make sure everyone is on the same page. A point guard is the head of the snake.

4) When to shoot vs. Pass: Most of the time - in his situation - it's pass first, trying to get everyone in the offense, and make sure the offense is running. Certain guys have the green light - shoot first then pass later. And that's what they do and that's what they get paid for. He is paid for running the offense and getting guys in the right position.

5) Typical workout: Coming off pick and rolls, screens, pin downs. You always handle the ball. Perhaps some in and out moves(?). Has a set workout and sticks with it.

6) For aspiring point guards: Keep working on your game. Point guard is the toughest position to play in the NBA. But it's the best because you always have the ball in your hands. Keep on honing your craft and work at it everyday.

A couple of things.

First off, that NYC point guard allure of going to Georgia tech is REAL.
I remember growing up and playing high school ball - it was just known that Georgia Tech recruited point guards from New York. It was just known about Kenny Anderson and Steph. And is was certainly a desire/dream to be the next to go there. In fact, when I was a freshman at LaGuardia High school, there was a senior across the street at Martin Luther King high school, Kevin Morris, who was the next point guard being recruited by Georgia Tech. And of course everyone wanted to see him play. I even went to a game to watch.

And to let you know that the whole NYC Georgia Tech point guard thing never really faded, when I played against Royal in the Wheel Chair Basketball Classic my senior year, Bobby Cremins - coach of Georgia Tech - was there. Because of the game, I ended up going to St. John's. But I remember, even years after, saying to my friends "man, if I would have dunked the ball I would have went to Georgia Tech." (perhaps a story for another day).

Ironically, going to St. John's I got to look at a picture of Mark Jackson every day in the locker room.

And Steph? You want to know about Steph??? My goodness, there isn't enough space in this post to write about all the Steph stories I heard while in high school (and even in college and after college). That was New York's guy (at least before he played for the Knicks). And forget about kids from Brooklyn, Steph was their main man. He was their end all be all.

Second, I truly think Royal's response about when to shoot vs pass is extremely informative.
I love how he makes it known, "in my position, I pass first......I get paid for running the offense and getting guys in position."

My, it's as if we're revisiting my first interview with him.
Knowing your role in a system and your strengths in order to be successful as a professional. In Royal's case, an NBA point guard. Yes, there are other point guards in the league (Rose & Westbrook maybe?) who best serve their team by attacking and scoring. But that's not everyone. A lot of players are role players. And if they want to keep their spot on a team (or in the league), they have to play a certain role and play it as best they can.

For sure, this is an honest answer (with a touch of humor) and is context dependent.
It may also be a little sobering. Having to play by the conventional rules of society and strictly adhere to the requirements of a job, just to keep that job and your lively hood. Where is the freedom? The free will? But for how many people is this the reality? And how many of those people don't have the benefits of playing in the NBA?

Perhaps many of us would prefer not to.
But again, that is a story for another day.

Much thanks to Royal Ivey for his time!
I hope you enjoyed this edition of the Point Guard Project!
Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Point Guard Project - Ricky Rubio

Welcome to the fourth edition of the Point Guard Project.

Our previous participants:
PGP1- John Lucas
PGP2 - Luke Ridnour
PGP3 - Jrue Holiday

This time we are joined by Ricky Rubio

The PGP questions:

1) Who did you watch play growing up? And whose game did you try to emulate?

2) What was your first memorable point guard match-up, when you first got into the league?

3) What is your definition for the job of a point guard?

4) How do you determine when to shoot vs. when to pass?

5) What is a typical workout for you like?

6) Do you have any words of advice for young aspiring point guards?

Ricky Rubio is a bit of a throw back, if you will. Yes, it's hard to call him a old school point guard, considering that he is only 22 years old and entering his 2nd year in the league. But there is no doubt that in contrast to many of the other scoring point guards that currently dominate the NBA, Ricky is more of a "true" point, a pass first point, that fits more the mold of a Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo.

Ricky was drafted by Minnesota with the 5th overall pick back in 2009 and is listed at 6'4'' and 180 ibs. Of course, Ricky is also from Spain and didn't play in the league until last year. It is an interesting question to ask - whether international point guards may fit the mold of "pure" point better than american point guards. But that is a debate for another day.

Last year, as a rookie, Ricky averaged 10.6 points per game, on 36% shooting to go along with 8.2 assists. Those stats speak volumes to his strengths, along with the fact that Minnesota - after years in the doldrums of the league - had a legit shot of making the playoffs. That is of course until Ricky's season was cut short by a torn ACL (which he is still in the processing of recovering from). Besides the playoffs, one also has to ask if Spain legitimately would have been able to beat the USA in the gold medal game this past Olympics had Rubio played.

FYI, Ricky started playing professional basketball when he was 14 years old. He led Spain to the FIBA-europe under 16 championship - by scoring 51 points to go along with 24 rebounds, 12 assists, and 7 steals in the final game. He was also the youngest player ever, 17, to play in an olympic basketball gold medal game.

Mr Rubio, welcome to the Point guard Project:

Summary of answers:

1) Too young to watch the NBA growing up! It came on at 2-3 in the morning and his mother wanted him to go to sleep. Followed Elmer Bennett in Spain and his brother. When the "youtube" came on he watched Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams. (Elmer Bennett was a point guard at Notre Dame and only played a few years in the league. But he played 12 years in Spain, and a couple with Rubio).

2) First memorable point guard match-up: Derrick Rose

3) The job of a point guard: Be a coach on the court and has to run the team. Has to do the right decision and things. Has to be the brains of the team.

4) When to shoot vs. pass: It depends, shoot when team needs to score and no one wants to shoot. Pass if you see a free guy ready to shoot, go for him.

5) Typical workout: If you feel good you keep shooting, if you don't fell like its a good day you stop so as not to pick up bad habits. It depends on the day and how you feel.

6) Words of advice to aspiring point guards: Not applicable

These answers really are enlightening and speak volumes about age.
Both Rubio and Jrue Holiday are only 22 years old but it is truly amazing to hear how their response differ, especially when it comes to workouts/game preparation. For Rubio, no particular method to his workout? At least none that he let on. "If you feel good, keep shooting." How simplistic is that response? For sure it seems as if at this age he is relying more on "feel" for the game.

It will be interesting to see how Rubio develops with age. Imagine when he starts thinking the game in a methodical manner? How good will he be then? But then again, is it a good thing to think about the game methodically, especially when on the court? It's not like this is molecular biology.

Much thanks to Ricky Rubio for his time!
I hope you enjoyed this edition of the Point Guard Project!
Stay tuned for more!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Point Guard Project - Jrue Holiday

Welcome to the third edition of the Point Guard Project.

Our previous participants:
PGP1 - John Lucas 
PGP2 - Like Ridnour

This time we are joined by Jrue Holday

The PGP questions:

1) Who did you watch play growing up? And whose game did you try to emulate?

2) What was your first memorable point guard match-up, when you first got into the league?

3) What is your definition for the job of a point guard?

4) How do you determine when to shoot vs. when to pass?

5) What is a typical workout for you like?

6) Do you have any words of advice for young aspiring point guards?

To borrow somewhat from Charles Barkley, Jrue Holiday is becoming somewhat of  a "stud."
At 22 years of age, and entering his 4th year in the League, Jrue is currently averaging 18.3 points on  ~ 45% shooting to go along with 8.8 assists a game - by far his best numbers in his young career (12 & 5 his previous three years).

Listed at 6'4" and 205 ibs (which I can believe), this guy seems destined to become a top point guard in the league. Of course he has had his fair share of novice mistakes, but that just comes with the territory.

FYI, Jrue was a McDonald's all-american in high school, and only played one year at UCLA. He was drafted 17th overall in the 2009 NBA draft.

Mr. Holiday, welcome to the PGP:

Summary of answers:

1) Watched Magic Johnson  - I mean, he did grow up in California...and the doctor did tell him he would be 6'8"

2) First memorable match-up: Deron Williams. Knew he was really good - but a lot bigger and quicker than he thought he was.

3) Job of a point guard: Be a floor general, bring everything together. Get people shots when they need them, direct the DEFENSE (wow, defense) as well as the offense. Be a floor captain. Picking up and being aggressive on defense.

4) When to shoot vs. pass: If you have a open shot (simple enough). And if you're open all the time - then you should probably be scoring a lot. But, when a guy isn't having a good shooting night or a shooter hasn't touched the ball that many times - run a play to get them a open shot.

5) Workout: Passing is more so playing and having a feel for where your teammates will be. Shooting and ball handling is repetition. Different variety of shots - 1-2 pull-ups, coming off screens, & spot ups. During the off-season, make a 1000 shots a day, who knows how many it takes (2000-3000 shots). Repetition is about muscle memory, when you start hitting - it becomes natural.

6) For aspiring point guards: Keep working hard, don't be discouraged! Be the hardest working player on the court. Be able to do everything. Know where everybody is supposed to be, know where the defense is supposed to be. (Don't worry Jrue - it's not generic!).

Much thanks to Jrue Holiday for his time!
Hope you enjoyed this edition of the Point Guard Project!
Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Point Guard Project - Luke Ridnour

Welcome to the second edition of the Point Guard Project.

Our previous participants:
PGP1 - John Lucas

This time we're joined by Luke Ridnour.

The PGP questions:

1) Who did you watch play growing up? And whose game did you try to emulate?

2) What was your first memorable point guard match-up, when you first got into the league?

3) What is your definition for the job of a point guard?

4) How do you determine when to shoot vs. when to pass?

5) What is a typical workout for you like?

6) Do you have any words of advice for young aspiring point guards?

Luke Ridnour is 31, in his 10th year in the league.
Listed as 6'2'' and 175 ibs, Luke was drafted 14th out of Oregon.

He has career averages of 9.9 points and 4.9 assists a game (almost 10 & 5!).
His career highs are 32 points, 15 assists, and 9 rebounds, respectively.
And FYI, Luke was a McDonald's All-American out of high school and PAC 10 player of the year his junior year in college.

Mr. Ridnour, welcome to the PGP:

Summary of answers:
1) Watched John Stockton & old footage of Pistol Pete Maravich

2) First memorable matchup: Mark Jackson. He was bigger and posted up......the whole game.

3) Job of a point guard: lead the team. Get guys in the right spot and get everyone in the best position possible to succeed.

4) When to shoot vs. pass: Depends on how the game is going. If guys are making shots, then just run the team. If guys aren't making shots, start the spark by making things happen.

5) Workout, during the season: not so much about the number of shots. Take game shots: pick and rolls, live shots, spot up threes. Pick and rolls and spot ups are almost the only shots he takes.

6) For aspiring point guards: It's a medium between being aggressive and leading the team. But always be aggressive - it makes things happen and opens things up for others. And learn how to dribble with both hands, "that's huge."

Much thanks to Luke Ridnour for his time!
Hope you enjoyed this edition of the Point Guard Project!
Stay tuned for more!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Point Guard Project

It's a new season for True Hoops NY!
And in the spirit of scientific enquiry, what do you say if this season we do a little survey and analysis?

For your enjoyment, Here is what I drafted up:

Title: Point Guard Project (PGP)

Proposal: ask EVERY point guard in the league the SAME 6 questions.

Rationale: the point guard is perhaps the deepest position in the league, with a wealth of diversity in playing styles. Therefore, understanding what the conventional, as well as, non-canonical tendencies of point guards are is of value.

Hypothesis: Based on analysis of responses, a correlation can be made between answers and playing style. Therefore one can be used as a prediction model for the other.

Expected results: responses will vary according to an individual's game, with similarity corresponding to age, pedigree, and playing style.

Scoring points vs. pass first
Power vs finesse.
Age/years in the league
Athleticism vs. skill set
Starter vs. bench player.
Star vs. role player.

You get the...... point......right?
Well then, let's get to it!

Here are the 6 questions for the Point Guard Project:

1) Who did you watch play growing up? And whose game did you try to emulate?

2) What was your first memorable point guard match-up, when you first got into the league?

3) What is your definition for the job of a point guard?

4) How do you determine when to shoot vs. when to pass?

5) What is a typical workout for you like?

6) Do you have any words of advice for young aspiring point guards?

First up, John Lucas III, currently of the Toronto Raptors.

Lucas is turning 30 and entering his 5th year in the league.
He is generously listed at 5'11'' and 165 ibs, but not sure if I believe it.
Apparently LeBron doesn't either.

Undrafted out of Oklahoma, Lucas has career averages of 4.8 points and 1.8 assists a game. But, that's only on 11 minutes per game, in a total of 116 games.

However to give you an idea of the talent level in the NBA, while filling in for Derrick Rose last season, Lucas scored 24 points in a victory over the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat. He boasts career highs of 25 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds.

Not to mention those 60 points he scored against a Kevin Durant street ball summer league team a couple of summers ago.

Mr. Lucas, welcome to the PGP:

Elaborate, humorous, and enlightening.

I would say John Lucas' responses are important to guards who aren't blessed with height or tremendous athletic ability, and therefore need to scrap for everything.

Summary of John Lucas' answers:

1) Watched & emulated Allen Iverson, Damon Stoudamire, Mugsy Bogues, Chris Jackson (aka Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf) and Mark Jackson (yes, he's old enough for Mark Jackson).

2) Memorable match-up: Iverson and Kobe (whom he fouled).

3) A point guard should be smart, under control, and limit their turnovers

4) Shoot vs. Pass: If you don't have a shot, pass. If you're open you should be able to knock down the shot. Today, there are a lot of shoot first point guards. Knowing when to pass is not really something that can be taught. It's a feeling, based on the flow of the game, what the defense is giving you and their schemes.

5) Workout: make 1000 shots a day! Practice 14 hours a day! (What?!?!).
Constantly play - to simulate game situations.

6) Words of advice: never let nobody say you can't do it, have the will, the desire, have faith in yourself. Play for yourself

Much thanks to John Lucas III for his time!
Hope you enjoyed this edition of the Point Guard Project!
Stay tuned for more!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Blast Off

Maybe I was wrong.

At least wrong with regards to the winners and losers of last week's James Harden trade.

Initially, I thought Harden lost out for leaving OKC.
But after averaging 41 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 7 assists in his first two games in Houston, perhaps this guy knew what he was doing all along.

And since we're talking numbers, we should mention that Harden turned down 55 million to stay a super sub/third option for a championship contending team over the next 4 years. Instead he opted for 80 million to have a chance to become a super star/first option and lead a basketball revival in Houston over the next 5. Hard to argue with the choice he made. Sometimes blazing your own trail (and being financially rewarded for it) has a certain appeal to it. Sometimes more (money, playing time, responsibility) is...... more.

Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Yes, the rockets are 2-0. But they beat Detroit and Atlanta. Not exactly NBA powerhouses.

Listen, I still think Houston will be hard pressed to make the playoffs this year. And I still stick by my statement that Houston is not going to the Finals anytime soon.

Or are they?

Here is where it gets interesting.
Let's say Harden does indeed become a superstar. And not just a scorer/ball hog, but one who truly makes his teammates better, who willingly comes off of screen and rolls, and passes as well as he shoots. Mind you, these are all qualities he already possesses. Does he then make Houston a destination of choice for another star player? With Harden being their only max contract, the Rockets still have money.

Here is food for thought:
What if the Lakers have a underperforming year and Dwight Howard isn't happy there?
Is it possible he can leave and sign with Houston in the summer?
Would Harden, Howard, and Lin make the Rockets a Finals contending team?
Is there anyone else the Rockets could pick up via free agency?

Am I making too much of this?
Am I drinking the Kool-aid?

Good enough to shoulder the load on his own?
Remember when I asked (rhetorically) if Harden was even as good as Kobe or Wade?
Well here is a non-rhetorical question for you:
At this stage in everyone's respective career, is Harden better than Kobe and Wade???

Yes that is a serious question.
Perhaps with a larger sample size we will have a serious answer.

And perhaps I should reconsider if OKC really was a winner after the Harden trade.
Don't get me wrong, I believe at the time (all of last week) they got fair value, all things considering. Harden was still a 6th man averaging 17.8 points per game.
And for that, OKC essentially got 4 players, which includes a proven scorer, a young talent, and two first round draft picks. And I stand by OKC still being a contender and will be able to find another player to replace what harden was giving them, at least statistically (chemistry wise may be a different story). Kevin Martin already seems to be fitting in nicely - 17 points, 3.5 assists in his first two games off the bench for OKC (shooting 43% for the field, 67% from three). With KD and Westbrook, perhaps those are numbers that will suffice for a third option.

And let's not forget, They did offer Harden near the max he could get for 4 years.
What else could they have done?

Well, here is where we have to consider the options.
I believe it was a mistake to take care of Serge Ibaka's contract before James Harden, and I felt that way when it happened last year. OKC should have locked up Harden first and then asked Ibaka to sacrifice. And there is no other way around it.

Also, you have to ask if they should have looked into maybe trading Perkins to make more monetary space for Harden as well. They still have Collison off the bench and probably could have picked up someone else. If they maintained their core of KD, Westbrook, and Harden (a-la Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli) they could always be able to find someone else.

Again, I don't know if this really would have mattered. OKC offered Harden near max for 4 years. If Harden was looking for 5 years only, I don't know if OKC  could have done anything to pull it off. But still, it's one thing to have KD and Westbrook locked up before you, it's another to have Perkins and Ibaka locked up before you.

Also, let me reconsider Jeremy lamb's situation.
Initially I thought he would benefit from going up against KD in practice everyday. But I was also assuming he would play. But if he doesn't get much burn (only 1 minute in OKC's first two games), I don't know how beneficial this situation will be for him. It's my belief that playing early and often is of huge value to young players. Of course, it's equally important to have good/great players and coaches around you to to instill correct fundamentals and work ethic as well.

I always use the Knicks as an example for this.
The year the Knicks passed up Ron Artest in the draft, everyone in New York was angry.
Not me.
I was happy for Artest. Had he been drafted by the Knicks and placed behind Allen Houston and Latrell Sprewell in the rotation - I think it would have been detrimental to his career. Then again, the Knicks organization is detrimental to most players careers, regardless.
As the latest example, look at Jordan Hill. No burn and considered a bust after being drafted lottery by the Knicks. And now a quality big, with playing time, for the Lakers.

I hope Lamb gets a chance to play and develop.

Now you want to talk about Winners?
How could I forget to mention that one of the biggest winners out of all of this is Jeremy Lin?
How about going from a guy with the franchise on his shoulders and LeBron expectations to a guy who can be a normal point guard, a supporting player, and can have a "good" year with out it being considered a failure. And by good I mean 14 points and 8 assists a game. Actually, I think that would be a great year for Lin and worth every bit of the 25 million the Rockets committed to him over three years (for your information, his salary, ~ 8 million a year, is on par with that of average starting point guards in the league).

But with Harden now the center of attention, maybe Lin can do better than average.
How about his stat line last night: 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists.

At the very least, all of this makes Houston a compelling team to watch this season.
And that's all they want right?

It will surely be interesting to see team beard go up against Miami, L.A., and of course the OKC kids.

By the way, what do you think KD and Westbrook are texting/tweeting to each other and even Harden right now?

Here's a guess for KD:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Disappear the Beard

OKC decided it was time to shave James Harden from their team.

Is this a move that dramatically shakes up the western conference?
That remains to be seen, but my answer would be no.
After all, the Thunder still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
But more importantly, the Lakers still have Kobe, Pau, Howard, and Nash.

Still it is interesting to see a team break up a young NBA Finals and Olympics core so quickly. But the question is did OKC ever have a legit shot of keeping Harden to begin with?

In any event,

The Winners:

Oklahoma City
Yes. They came out pretty good, all things considered. James Harden is a top 5 shooting guard in the NBA. But that's not really saying much considering it may be the weakest position in the NBA (either the 2 or center). And truth be told, there are a lot of people in the NBA that can score. Therefore, very few players are truly irreplaceable.

And, OKC essentially replaced Harden with 4 players. Kevin Martin is as good a scorer as Harden. You may argue about defense, but last time I checked, Harden got abused so much by Kobe in the playoffs, OKC had to switch Durant onto him (a great and perhaps series deciding move by the way). Plus Jeremy Lamb is going to be a really good player - a 6'5" shooting guard with a 7 foot wing span, who helped UCONN win a NCAA championship two years ago and averaged 20 points per game on 47% shooting during the summer league.

Not to mention two future first round draft picks. Best of all, OKC probably accomplished it's main goal, avoiding a year long distraction of endless questions regarding Harden's contact situation.

They were looking to get rid of Kevin Martin anyway. So essentially they traded Jeremy lamb for James Harden (forget about the picks - who knows how they will turn out). Lamb will be a good player in the league. But James Harden already is a good player in the league: a top 5 shooting guard that has been to the Finals, and won a gold medal. More importantly, he is a name (and personality) that Houston can use to draw in fans. Mix him with Jeremy Lin and there will be plenty of interest in H-town this season.

Jeremy Lamb and Kevin martin
It is my belief that probably everyone in the NBA is talented.
If you put them in the right situation, they can excel and contribute.

Kevin Martin's talented is that he can really score (career 18 points per game on 44% shooting - and if you remove his first two years in the league the numbers are 21 points per game on 43%). Barring injuries, something tells me he is still going to be able to score in OKC and really contribute. He is not a franchise player that can turn a team around, but he can probably be a good compliment to players that demand a lot of attention. Playing in Sacramento and Houston are not ideal for that. Playing along KD, Westbrook, and Ibaka is. Think about when Mike Bibby went from Vancouver to Sacramento. Or, think about when Jason Terry went from Atlanta to Dallas. It seemed to revitalize their careers. Plus, Martin is still only 29 years old.

Some places are just better fits.
The only question is can Martin be an efficent scorer without taking a lot of shots.

Lamb is a talent.
Now imagine him going up against KD in practice every day.
With his length he also has a chance to be a difference maker on defense.

The Losers:

Kevin Durant
More than his scoring, I think OKC will miss some of Harden's ball handling and playmaking capabilities. It seems as if there were times when he might be a more steady point than Westbrook. But that's okay, because I think it's safe to say Westbrook is at his best when looking to attack/score.

Ironically, the rise in scoring point guards might have ushered in the demise of shooting guards. And perhaps more teams, as long as there are no true centers, are willing to play small ball and go with two smaller combo guards rather than having canonical backcourt positions.

That's fine. But every team still needs some sort of moderator that can settle things down and direct the offense by playing efficiently, passing a lot, and playing smart. Harden was that for OKC.

Since Westbrook is a point guard, he handles the ball and can do as he pleases. But Durant needs someone to get the ball to him. Maybe Harden didn't do that directly, but perhaps he helped create a certain balance.

I wouldn't be surprised if you see a lot of OKC lineups this year with Eric Maynor at the 1, and Westbrook a the 2

James Harden
It's easy to take certain things for granted.
Like playing with the second best player in the world and an all-NBA point guard, as well as complimentary players with size. But something tells me Harden will realize this season how good things were in OKC, as Houston struggles to have a .500 record, let alone make the playoffs.

How many times have we seen this before?
How about Marbury leaving Minnesota and KG to go to the Nets?
Or more similar, Joe Johnson leaving Phoenix with Steve Nash and Stoudemire to go to Atlanta?

How did those work out?

And how hard is it to win without the proper supporting players?
Ask Kobe, who still talks about his days after Shaq and before Gasol with such vitriol.
What about Dwyane Wade after Shaq and before LeBron? He had perhaps two of his best years individually but  couldn't make it out of the first round.

Do you think Harden is even Kobe or Wade?

That's not to say this dude isn't nice.
At only 23, he averaged almost 18 points a game as the third option, coming off the bench.
More than likely he is an all-star, and his numbers will surely go up in Houston.
But I don't think this guy is going to another NBA Finals anytime soon.

Good thing he'll be only 27/28 the next time he is a free agent.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Golden Age

Perhaps Chris Paul said it best:
"'08 was all good and well, but there was something about our 2012 team that was just special. I hate that this was our last game playing together. It's something that we'll never forget."

Special and finality seemed to be two words that came to mind after watching team USA win the gold medal. And I must admit I was a little emotional watching the medal ceremony (no, I didn't cry). Rivals mere months ago - now celebrating a universal goal achieved. All at different stages in their respective careers, all succeeding at the highest level. Some for the first time. Some for the last time.

Certainly we will never see this team again - with all it's unique permutations and blend of personalities.

Which got me thinking.

A special makeup
Yes. It was special to see LeBron and Durant celebrate so joyously after the gold medal game. How touching was their last embrace at the end of the Finals? Can a display of mutual admiration, especially at a moment of polar opposite emotions, be anymore genuine? So after that, how cool was it to see them be able to share success at the highest level together?

And throughout this whole process, wasn't it fun to see LeBron teamed up with three OKC players - each of which were the first to cheer LeBron for every play he made. How about LeBron standing between Durant and Westbrook on the gold medal podium? Each looking up to him like an older brother, following his every movement, trying to impress him - with LeBron willingly learning them how to be a champion.

Don't think that imagery was significant?
When was the Last time two (or four) players that had it out in the Finals joined forces immediately after for the Olympics?
That would be '96 - when Pippen teamed up with Gary Payton.
Doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
Certainly not when LeBron and Durant can be seen as the two best players in the world.

And speaking of the best players in the world - give this a thought: this team was the first and last time that Kobe, LeBron, and Durant ever will play together.

Think about that for a second.

We're talking about the past, present, and future best players in the world. Not even the original Dream team had that sort of generational spectrum.

Kobe's Twilight
While we're talking about Kobe, there was also something bitter sweet about seeing him play in his final Olympic game. I would still say Kobe is the best two guard in the NBA (Wade is right there). And Kobe is by no means old. But, he will be entering his 17th year in the league and has already starting talking about retirement. With this being his last international competition - in a way, the end has already begun.

I remember when Kobe came out of high school -  I was a freshman. He might be the first superstar that I can legitimately say that I've seen from beginning to......
Now that I think about it , he probably is the last superstar that I can say I am younger than.
During these moments you truly start to realize how finite every player's career is - and appreciate them. But don't worry, with all that's happened in the NBA over the last week - I'm sure Kobe has one or two last hurrahs.

Want to talk about imagery? How fitting was it that Kobe was in the center of team USA as they stepped onto the podium to collect the gold? For all the talk of comparing Kobe to Jordan, maybe Magic is more fitting. Didn't seeing Kobe on the podium evoke thoughts of Magic in '92?

The Olympics are the perfect time capsules of players at different stages in their careers. Of course 4 years ago, at a youthful 29 years of age, Kobe saved the US in the gold medal game against Spain. This time around, the self proclaimed 33 year old "OG" of the squad still made big plays when needed, but didn't seem to be needed as much.

But that's no knock on Kobe, it's just a testament to how much better his contemporaries and successors have become 4 years later. Want snapshots of a career? 8 years ago LeBron was 19 coming off his rookie year. 4 years ago he was 23, on the cusp of greatness. Now, 27 years old, with 3 MVPs, 1 championship and Finals MVP - he is undeniably the best player in the world.

Kevin Durant is only 23 years old himself, three time scoring champ. In 4 years......

The world has caught up
As great as Kobe, LeBron, and Durant are - what does it say that they only beat Spain by 7 in the gold medal game? Or beat Lithuania by 5 in pool play? And trust me, this isn't an aberration - the US only beat Spain by 11 in the gold medal game last go around (and only because they were saved by Kobe), lost in '04, only beat Lithuania by 2 in the '00 semifinals, and beat France by 10 in the '00 gold medal game.

Let's not kid ourselves anymore.
With the exception of perhaps a handful of transformative players that are better than everyone else - you know, like Kobe, LeBron, and Durant - international players are operating on a similar level.

This is evidenced by the fact that Spain has around 7 guys on their team that have either played or are currently playing in the NBA.
Argentina has around 5.
France has just about as many.
Brazil has several as well.
It seems that about every country has at least one of two.

And we're not talking about slouches either.
Manu Ginobli is a top shooting guard in the league.
Spain has the all-star Gasol brothers, Defensive force Serge Ibaka, and even Jose Calderon, who was fourth in the NBA last year for assists with almost 9 a game.

There is no doubt this seems to be a golden age for several countries - like Argentina and Spain. As the US continues to regenerate greatness, albeit at younger ages, it will be interesting to see if other countries get young crops of players that will continue to compete and perhaps close the gap even further. Ricky Rubio is a good start.

Before, the NBA could probably bring anyone to the Olympics and win.
Bringing their best at first meant total annihilation but soon became a requisite for gold.
Now, the US has to bring their best players and play with strategy to win.
And even then some games are close.

Pau to the People
Pau Gasol still has to be one of the best skilled low post players in the NBA.
24 points, to go along with 8 rebounds, and 7 assists in the gold medal game

And this guy has been on the trading block for the past year?

He seems to have gotten out of last year's funk  - you know a mundane 17 points and 10 rebounds a game as the third option for a team that tried to trade him -  and was playing with a new found sense of freedom and energy. It's as if he suddenly he realized things are looking up next season.  I wonder what it could be.

As skilled and perhaps underutilized as he is on the Lakers, how scary would it be if you set him up with a great pass first point guard and perhaps the most athletic and dominant defensive center in the league. That's assuming you could find two that would perfectly complement Gasol's strengths and make up for his weaknesses and put them all on the same team with Kobe.

Oh wait.......

It's good to be gold......and purple
How is it that the Lakers can make all the right moves?
How can they land Steve Nash out of no where, and then play all their cards right and land Dwight Howard - while still keeping Pau Gasol?!?

Conversely, how is it the Knicks can make all the wrong moves?
How is it they can get a gift in Jeremy Lin - someone who saved their season, can make them billions, and perhaps be the point guard to bridge Melo and Amar'e......and they find a way to screw it up?

Look no further than the Lakers and Knicks for Webster's definitions of class and crass organizations, respectively.

Why can't Carmelo play like this in New York?
While we're on NY......

It would appear obvious that this guy is at his absolute best - and in the same league as Kobe and Durant - when playing under the Team USA free flowing offensive scheme. You know, one where the ball moves and all he has to do is catch and shoot.

Why revert to that New York brand of isolation basketball where the ball stays put and some players (particularly Amare) get left out?

You could argue the the reason is because he hasn't consistently had a solid/true point guard during his tenure in NY. In fact, his best year with Denver was when they landed Chauncey Billups.

So obviously the solution for the Knicks to rectify this problem was to let Lin walk.

I hope Felton, Kidd, and Pablo can collectively get the job done.

USA point guard play is not dominant in international competition......
Speaking of point guards, was it me or did it seem like the US really didn't have a major advantage at the point guard position? At almost no point (no pun) during the tournament did I get the sense that the international point guards we over matched by Chris Paul, Deron Williams, or Russell Westbrook. Because they never really were.

And again - this isn't an aberration. I remember back in the '00 Olympics thinking to myself : "wow, this Steve Nash guy really is holding his own with Jason Kidd and Gary Payton." We know how that turned out right?

I'm just saying, there are plenty of guys that held their own and then some.
Most you never heard of before:

Marcelinho Huertas of Brazil. I saw him play twice (once agains the US) and was amazed with his game. He averaged 11 points and 6 assists per game during the Olympics.

Pablo Prigioni of Argentina. Led the Olympics in assists and will be on the Knicks next year.

Sergio Rodriguez of Spain. Didn't make it in the NBA but was adequetly competing with the best the US had to offer with the gold medal on the line.

How about Patty Mills of Australia. Rarely gets burn in the NBA, but was the leading scorer during the Olympics and the only player to average over more than 20 points a game (21.5).

Or what about Juan Carlos Navarro of Spain? Not really a point, but burned the US two gold medal games in a row after not making it in the NBA.

......Until USA points play to their strengths
Just as soon as I was contmeplating this fact during the gold medal game, Chris Paul straight up embarrassed Sergio rodriguez on the first two plays in the 4th to give the US a much needed cushion. It's as if he decided to take matters into his own hands and show that there is no way he could be guarded one on one.

And that's just it. If you allow US point guards to follow the international brand, solely orchestrating, it's to the advantage of the international teams. But, if you unleash the US point guards offensively and allow them to utilize their advantages in terms of power, athleticism, and one on one scoring capability -  then they will dominate.

But, is this in the best interest of the team? And, how sustainable is this style of play? How effective is it if you put them in the international style that focuses more on all five players on the court, running pick and rolls and other plays that doesn't necessarily require point guards to score?

It's an interesting conundrum.
NBA point guards for the most part are at their best when they are the best on their team - controlling the ball and looking to score. The problem is, teams don't usually win championships when their point guard is their best player - or at least highest scorer. But many NBA point guards are not as good when when not looking to shoot.

Think about what makes Rose and Westbrook special. Would you rather have Deron Williams pass or score? What about Kyrie Irving? But as great as these guys are, for team USA and international competition, the point guards are not the best players or top scorers on their team - that honor goes to LeBron, Durant, Kobe, and Melo. This actually plays into international point guards hands and ironically allows them to be more aggressive and attack US guards.

But it's okay.
The NBA caters to a different skill set, mostly speed and athleticism, which enables US point guards to better showcase their attributes and take over games. As far as NBA vs international brand, neither style or demand is right or wrong. It's not like comparing the Lakers or Knicks, more like apple and oranges.

Here is an interesting question with regards to style of play: What does it mean that the best pure point guard in the NBA, Rajon Rondo, wasn't on team USA and never will be (if you would like to argue as to whether Rondo is the best point in the NBA, please let's do so)?

But really, who cares.
Do you even need a point guard when you have LeBron running point center?

What a difference a year makes
Did someone mention LeBron?
They must have been mentioning the best basketball year in history.
Regular season MVP, NBA championship and Finals MVP, gold medal.
Of course by now you've heard the only other player to ever do that was Michael Jordan.
However, LeBron is the only player to do all that and get engaged.

Anthony Davis
How about college player of the year, NCAA championship and tournament MOP, #1 pick in the draft, and gold medal.

Not so bad either.

International marketing
But back to Jordan for a second.
I am not one to buy his products or sneakers, for numerous reasons.
But I have to give props to his creative marketing team in charge of his commercials.

One of my favorite basketball commercials ever is a Jordan one. And last year' lockout themed commercial was hilarious. But their recent Olympics/international themed commercial might have been better. It's a good look:

Disappear the Beard
Speaking of good looks.
James Harden - it's time.

You have just won your first major competition in the pro ranks. I think a shave is in order.
Sure, you were holding out till you won your first chip, then the thing took on a life of it's own and started to distinguish you from everyone else - I get it.

But, it's never a good look when you have to move your beard out of the way just so the gold medal can fit around your neck, and so that you don't poke the guy presenting you with it in the eye.

Just think about how much higher you will jump.

Just what the doctor ordered
As Coach K has stated this is his last tour of duty coaching team USA, it won't be long before a new coach has to take over the reins.

My pick would be Doc Rivers.

The guy is classy, cool, and most importantly one of the best coaches in the NBA. It's to the point where besides Rondo, he may be the biggest advantage the Celtics have. He is great at making adjustments on the fly, drawing up situational plays, and putting his players in positions to be successful.

Additionally, being a coach requires being able to relate to your players, managing egos - all while commanding their respect. Relating egos? Doc is able to keep a range of guys like Garnett, Rondo, and Avery Bradley all on the same page. Respect? Not sure if LeBron will play in the next Olympics, but judging by their long embrace after game 7 of the eastern Conference Finals - seems harder to find a coach LeBron has more adoration for - unless the guy just likes hugging opponents at the end of every series and is the most gracious winner of all time.

Although if you're going the respect route - maybe Doug Collins isn't a bad choice either. Did you see almost all of the team USA players seek him out after the game to shake his hand and give him a hug? This dude was an announcer for NBC and still at halftime he was giving LeBron instructions - and LeBron was listening too.

Of course there is coach Popovich - without question one of the greats. But his teams seem to be more veteran and I'm not sure how he would relate to younger players. Plus a lot of the times he seems either too strident, serious, or perhaps even arrogant (much like coach Larry Brown). But there is absolutely no way I can judge - I've never heard him speak live at a press conference and honestly maybe it's me that isn't keen to his methodologies.

But I have been to plenty of Celtics post game press conferences to hear Doc. He is always engaging and you always get the sense this guy really is passionate about what he does and is excited by not only  thinking the game but also conveying it - to any and everyone that wants to engage him in conversation. Collins gives off that impression as well - and he coaches young players in Philly (it will be interesting to see how he helps Bynum mature). Both guys seem to always speak in a positive light and talk matter of factly.

Plus as an aside, I remember when Doc was gully as a member of the Knicks.
Like the time when he chased down and tackled Kevin Johnson to start a huge halftime brawl between the Knicks and Suns back in '93. A brawl that saw Pat Riley rip his pants Grey Anthony get ejected - even though he was in street clothes.

Save the best for last
And finally, anyone who has read this blog or heard me talk NBA basketball in person might accuse me of being biased towards favoring LeBron James.

My response would be...... so?

To quote Doc Rivers after the gold medal game: "It's okay to root for LeBron James."

He is without a doubt the best player in the world right now, coming off the greatest single season in NBA history. And he is only 27!

He plays the game the right way, he makes everyone around him better - seemingly on and off the court. He is unselfish, and his overt joy for playing the game - and having fun while doing it - is infectious.

Case in point:
Seeing LeBron dance after winning the gold medal I couldn't help but smile and laugh...... and even freaking wanted to start dancing!
And you should too!

Did you see him play these Olympics?
Running all 5 positions, from center to point guard.
Guarding the Gasol brothers while setting up Durant, Melo and Kobe on the wing.
Facilitating but taking over when necessary.
Being clutch in their two most competitive games - the end of the Lithuamia game and scoring five points in the last 2:30 of the gold meal game.
Oh, and just for good measure, how about the first triple double in Olympic history?

Let me quote Jim Boeheim: "I'm glad we have LeBron James on our side."

How importance was he to team USA?
Let me quote Doc Rivers again. When asked what lineup he liked best for team USA his response was: "LeBron and four other guys."

You want to talk about golden age?
This is it for LeBron - the beginning, in his prime, from 27 till......
He's only going to get better - how great can he be?
I want to see!

So let's enjoy it all, as it happens.
Bring on Kobe, Nash, Howard, & Gasol.
Bring on KD and the OKC kids.
Bring on Doc, Rondo, and the Celts.
Bring on whoever.

The NBA is in good hands.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The King Gets His Ring!!!!!!

I'm sure by now you've seen all the highlights and you've heard all the analysis.
We can look at all the numbers and stats we want, but the bottom line is this:
The Miami Heat were not going to be denied this year.
This is their time. And more specifically, this is LeBron's time.

Yes, the Thunder are a great young team. They will more than likely get another opportunity.
Yes, Kevin Durant is perhaps the world's greatest offensive talent and a top 2-5 player.
But, Miami is the best team in the NBA.
And, LeBron James is the best player in the world.
And, "it's about damn time" everyone recognizes that.

It has certainly been a journey.

So much so, that going into last night's championship clincher both my brother and myself thought LeBron would cry upon receiving the trophy (and Finals MVP). But why on earth would we think that? LeBron always does things his own way. We all know he likes to dance and have fun. And this is Miami after all. These guys know how to party. It's actually the first thing they did when the Miami Big three came together.

I guess practice makes perfect.
Care to see all that practice pay off - in the championship locker room?

1) you are in a noise sensitive environment
2) You are still a LeBron is the best denier
3) You are still a Heat hater
(And let's be real, if you're one of the latter two - shame on you).

But, if you want to see LeBron celebrating after attaining greatness and the Heat champagne soaked, dancing, and clutching the trophy......will a Fab Five cameo......then by all means, enjoy:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On the Cusp

The Miami Heat are on the verge of winning the NBA championship.
This shouldn't come as a shock.
But, it may be a little surprising as to how they actually got to this position.

As they have done all series long, the Thunder big three out scored the Heat's big three in game 4. The Durant/Westbrook/Harden trio combed for 79 points while the LeBron/Wade/Bosh trio combined for 66 points. For the series, the Thunder trio is averaging 70 points per game, compared the Heat trio's average of just over 65 points per game.

You would think since 3/4 of the games in this series have been decided by 6 points or less, having a -5 point deferential from their stars wouldn't bode well for the Heat.


Not when the Heat's supporting players are decisively outplaying that of the Thunder's. Not when Mario Chalmers goes off for 25 points in game 4, including the last 5 points for the Heat to close it out. Who cares about only three players? With those 25 points, the Heat's big three + 1 combined for 91 points - clearly pushing them over the top.

Truth be told, having that extra help hasn't been aberration for the Heat in the Finals. Okay, maybe Chalmers' performance was a little bit of an aberration, I mean after all with 26 for LeBron, 25 for Wade, and 25 for Chalmers the Heat became the first team in the NBA Finals to have three players score at least 25 points since the Lakers did it in 1984 with Magic, Worthy, and Abdul-Jabar. But still, the notion of a 4th player making significant contributions has been a consistent theme for the Heat thus far in the Finals.

Dig this: the Heat have had a 4th player score in double figures 3/4 games this series (Battier twice and Chalmers once). The Thunder, on the other hand, have yet to have a 4th player score in double figures.
Of course, the Thunder have also only had one game in which every member of their big three score in double figures, but that's another issue.

As stated last time, the emergence of the Heat supporting players has surely been the biggest irony - and thus far defining factor - of this series. Coming in, the Heat was the team supposed to be top heavy and lacking depth. While the Thunder was supposed to be the team more balanced with numbers and chemistry. This couldn't have been anymore opposite from the truth in game 4. Beyond Chalmers' 25 points, you had Norris Cole off the bench with 8 points, and even without scoring as much, the Heat still had Battier making winning plays by tipping a loose ball out to Chalmers with under 20 seconds to go in the game.
What balance.
And then you had the Thunder, who are suddenly top heavy and without any support for their stars. In game 4 Westbrook was absolutely brilliant with 43 points and Durant - as always -  was impressive with 28. But as eluded to earlier, no one else on OKC scored in double figures.

Did anyone see this turn of events coming???

I know someone that might have.

I would like to bring up something I asked LeBron a couple of weeks ago, after his 45 point, 15 rebound, and 5 assist performance in game 6 of the Eastern conference finals. After almost single handedly staving of elimination, I asked LeBron if "it was ever anymore apparent how essential it was....that he continues to shoot the ball......even if it's over 2-3 defenders?" With a laugh, he responded "This is a team game. Without my teammates we don't win this game. I am very good at math, if 2-3 defenders are on me that means someone is open. I will continue to pass the ball to my teammates when they are open. I have confidence in them that they will make the shot. That's they way I was raised and learned how to play the game. And that's the way I will continue to play the game."

After the best game of his NBA career, from an individual stand point, here you had LeBron James talking about his teammates first and how essential they are to winning. How he will willingly pass the ball, even though it's quite obvious he can score at will.

It's one thing to just say those things.
It's another thing to actually believe them.

Now go back to game 4 the other night.
LeBron had only 10 points in the first half, yet the Heat still managed to erase a 17 point first quarter deficit. Of course, LeBron also had 8 assists in the first half. He finished with 12 assists for the game.
The Heat won.
Obviously his trust and confidence in his teammates was prescient.
More importantly, it has also been rewarded.

That's why he is the best player in the world and I am just a biomedical scientist.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that LeBron, thankfully, still knows how "essential" it is for him to shoot. For the first 33 minutes of game 4, LeBron had 12 points and 12 assists on 6-11 shooting, without going to the foul line. Over the last 15 minutes of the game, LeBron had 14 points and 0 assists on 4-9 shooting and 5-8 from the line. And he knows how important it is for him to shoot - thankfully - even when barely able to walk. With under three minutes to go in the game, with the score tied, and with leg cramps, LeBron took and made a three to give Miami the lead for good.

Yes, that's trusting in/making your teammates better and dominating the game by being aggressive and scoring  - even if it's mostly through shear will. Thank goodness.

And now here we are, game 5 tonight.
Keys to winning the game?
At this point, it's quite simple.

For the Thunder:
Don't let the moment get the best of you.

For the Heat:
Get the best of the moment.

Things to consider:
1) The difference between LeBron and Durant.
Has it ever been more apparent?
Durant, perhaps the most gifted offensive player in the game, is averaging 30.3 points in the Finals (on 55% shooting). LeBron, 29.3 points (on 47% shooting).

Durant is also averaging 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a little over 1 steal per game.
LeBron, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and almost 2 steals per game.

In other words, LeBron is averaging 1 point less than the most skilled offensive player in the league while being at least twice as good at doing everything else.This is no knock on KD. It's just a testament to how great LeBron is.

I think Greg anthony said it best the other night after the game:
"LeBron James may be the only player in the history of the NBA that averages 30 points a game......and that's not even what he does best."

2) Sidekicks?
Yes, it's been LeBron vs. Durant in the Finals.
But I just have to say something else:
Russel Westbrook is averaging 29 points (on 48% shooting), 7 assists, and 7 rebounds.
And dudes want to hate on this guy???
Westbrook's numbers are so good, Wade looks like the 4th best player in the series:
23 points (on 41% shooting), 6 assists, and 6 rebounds a game.

3) Finding ways to win
How many have the Heat discovered through their run thus far?
Without Bosh.
Down 2-1, on the road.
As a two-man show with LeBron and Wade.
Down 3-2, facing elimination on the road.
With LeBron literally doing everything.
In a game 7 - coming from behind.
With Bosh hitting three pointers.
Down 0-1, on the road.
With battier dropping 17.
With Bosh being a 12 & 10 "role player."
Down 17 in a game.
With an opponent going off for 43.
With Chalmers dropping 25.
With LeBron playing the whole game.
With LeBron not playing the last minute in a close game.

What more do you want?

I know.
Finding a way to win a 4th game in the Finals.