A Fan’s Appreciation of Kobe Bryant

As Kobe Bryant’s career comes to an end tonight, there’s no better time to look back at why he resonated with fans, or at least this one.

kobewave

Tonight will mark the last regular season game for many NBA players. We may not know it yet and the players themselves might know it yet, but it’s a reality that hits plenty of NBA players every year.

We know this will be the last game Kobe Bryant ever plays and we’ll be celebrating a miraculous career that we’ve witnessed.

At it’s very core, it seems silly. A 37-year old man will stop playing basketball for millions of dollars a year. Bryant’s retirement, or anything he’s done in his career hasn’t made a tangible difference in my life and chances are, you can say the same.

For many people, myself included, this isn’t to say Bryant hasn’t made a difference in who we are.

When Kobe Bryant was drafted, I had just turned 4 years old. I have no recollection of anything in my life happening at that point in my life. Thus, I don’t remember a world where Kobe Bryant was not an NBA player.

My earliest memory of basketball came in the 1997 NBA Finals. I remember watching Michael Jordan play, but the most vivid memory of that series was seeing Utah Jazz forward Antoine Carr. Hearing his name pronounced, I went to a school spelling test and misspelled “car” as “Carr”.

But that’s not the point. The point is that while I remember watching Jordan play, I don’t really remember anything he did. I was 5 years old at the time. I knew he was great. He was the guy on my shoes, but I was too young to know what was going on.

Growing up as a fan of the sport, I became a fan of the hometown Indiana Pacers, led by fan-favorite Reggie Miller.

When the Pacers played in the 2000 NBA Finals, they were steamrolled by Shaquille O’Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers. For some reason, it wasn’t O’Neal that I felt drawn to.

It was a 21-year old with a small afro who wore #8.

Really, it was luck. Bryant was a rising star in the league, but it would’ve been much easier to be drawn to O’Neal, an oversized personality who was the most dominant player in the world at the time.

By luck, I had picked the best person to be a fan of. I got his jersey (and matching Lakers shorts) shortly after and had the shoes that looked like microwaves.

Why was I drawn to Shaq’s sidekick and Reggie’s nemesis with the ugly shoes? I don’t know, but it’s one of the better decisions I’ve made.

Fast forward to 2005 and no longer is Bryant sharing the spotlight with O’Neal and I am old enough to have a bit of a clue as to how basketball works.

The Lakers weren’t very good, but they were still on TV all the time and Bryant was a one-man show that I had never seen before. In a starting lineup that featured Kwame Brown, Smush Parker, and Chris Mihm were regular starters, Bryant shot the ball 27 times a game and scored 35.4 points per game.

This is the season where Bryant had TWENTY-SEVEN games of 40 or more points, including his historic 81-point game against the Raptors and 62-points in 3 quarters against the Mavericks.

I remember watching and being amazed at how Bryant would take on double and triple teams and still score with ease, play after play.

And he was making All-Defensive Teams on the other end of the floor, constantly defending the other team’s best player.

It may have been the most impressive season for a single player during my lifetime, leading that team to 48 wins.

Over the next couple seasons, Bryant made being a basketball fan so much fun.

 

I remember cheering so hard for the Lakers during his 2008-09 season that concluded with the Lakers winning the NBA title over the Orlando Magic. As a Bryant fan, I had heard how Bryant couldn’t win it all without Shaq to the point that I wanted Bryant to silence those critics.

On the day of the series clincher, I went to Buffalo Wild Wings with a few friends, blaring Lil Wayne’s song dedicated to Bryant.

When Bryant finally silenced his critics who said he couldn’t win it all without Shaq, his excitement was evidenced in his celebration. It wasn’t a new thing either. You knew it was important to Bryant because of his will to win he showed in previous years.

One common complaint about the NBA is that the players don’t care about winning it all. It’s hard to blame them. If you made hundreds of millions of dollars in your career, would you lose sleep over your employer not being the most successful?

I wouldn’t.

For Bryant, he cared. His dedication to greatness was evident and well-documented. There was the Reddit story from an athletic trainer who claimed Bryant showed up at 4 A.M. to a gym during the Team USA practices. You heard stories about him practicing without a ball, stories of him taking tons of shots, and being a workaholic at his craft.

My parents had constantly told me to work hard because then you’ll see improvement and success. Once you see the success, you’ll work harder.

Bryant was a living testament to that. He outworked everyone and you saw the improvement and success.

Bryant cared about winning and pleasing his fans, two things not a lot of athletes truly care about and no athlete cares as much about as Bryant.

It’s worth something to see someone who just wants it more. Bryant could’ve been one of the many star athletes who compete, play well, make a ton of money, and leave it at that. Bryant lived and breathed basketball.

Peak Kobe caring probably came during that 2009 season, when he played with a dislocated finger because he knew that the elusive title without Shaq was close. It was in these playoffs that we saw the debut of Kobe Face, a menacing look that exhibited his determination to win at all costs.

If there’s one thing I remember about Bryant, it will be that work ethic.

If there’s a second thing I remember about Bryant, it will be the memories.

There are so many.

There’s the 81-point game. I recall waking up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning unable to go to sleep. I turned on ESPN News and in a little box on the side of my small TV, I read that Bryant had scored 61 points.

“Good for Kobe, but he scored 62 in 3 quarters a few weeks ago,” I thought before going back to sleep. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw that I had misread it and he had scored 81 points, not 61.

I remember thinking that the Lakers were playing well in 2007-08 and wondering if the Lakers could make some noise in the playoffs. Then, the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol and I was downright giddy that Gasol would allow the Lakers to become a legitimate title threat.

I vividly remember watching this 2008 game against the Dallas Mavericks, where Bryant scored 52 points and grabbed 11 rebounds on his way to a Lakers win, where he just refused to lose.

 

It’s the type of game that makes a teenager go out to the nearest basketball court and go play. Which is exactly what I did in my backyard the moment that the game was over.

I remember during the 2009-10 NBA season when Bryant hit what seemed like a game-winner every single night.

My favorite memory of Bryant’s game-winners came in the video below against the Sacramento Kings on New Year’s Day.

I was watching the game and it appeared to be over when Shannon Brown missed a jumper in the last few seconds while the Lakers were down 2. A Kings player went to the free throw line and missed them both, making the mistake of giving Bryant a chance to win the game. During the timeout before the Lakers possession, I ran upstairs to tell my little brother that Bryant was about to hit a big shot.

I probably woke him up and he probably wished I would’ve let him sleep, but I felt like it was my duty to make sure he saw Bryant with the game on the line.

Sure enough, Bryant somehow got open for a three-pointer and nailed it as time expired.

That’s my favorite memory of Bryant. I was so confident in his clutch ability and killer instinct that I just felt certain he was about to hit a game-winner. He was so important at the time that I felt like it was my duty as a big brother to wake up my little brother to watch this.

The reaction from the announcers said everything.

“He is hard to believe.”

“No he’s not.”

It was hard to believe that one player could be relied upon to hit that shot, but at the same time it wasn’t a shock to anyone that he made it.With the ball still in the air, Lamar Odom went running downcourt to celebrate.

Another favorite memory came in 2008, when the Lakers were playing the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

Midway through the third quarter, the Lakers were down 20 points. It was at this point that my dad, a Spurs fan, left the room and on his way to bed gave me the old “maybe next year” trash talk.

I remember telling him that as long as Bryant was in the game, the Lakers had a chance to win.

Bryant got hot and led the Lakers with 25 points in the second half on the way to a Lakers comeback victory.

Bryant gave hope. He represented that nothing was impossible, to never accept defeat, and that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything.

He was basically a superhero to me and I know I’m just one of thousands of people across the world to feel this way.

Without Bryant, I probably never develop the passion that I have for basketball. I probably wouldn’t be writing on this blog right now, which I started because I wanted to pursue my passion for the game as a writer.

A part of me is sad that tonight is it for Bryant as a player. It means I’m growing older. He gave me a joy as a fan that only a kid can have. Once you get older, you can’t enjoy a player or game in the same way that you did as a kid. I will never have another athlete as an idol or role model. I’m too old and too smart for that now.

With that said, I’m extremely grateful that I had the luxury of enjoying Bryant’s career through a child’s eyes.

There’s no other player other than perhaps Michael Jordan who delivered the ultimate fan experience for spectators.

I feel sad that my time of enjoying that experience is over, but lucky to have ever experienced it in the first place.

Thank you Kobe for making it all happen.

 

Pacers New Offense On Display In 97-92 Win Against Magic

Oct 8, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Glenn Robinson III (40) holds the ball as Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) defends at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers won 97-92. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 8, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Glenn Robinson III (40) holds the ball as Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) defends at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers won 97-92. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The new-look Indiana Pacers continued to showcase their new offense on Thursday night in a 97-92 victory against the Orlando Magic. The benefits of their new uptempo game and small-ball lineups were on full display against the Magic even when things didn’t appear to be working out.

The biggest display of the advantages of their new style came midway through the third quarter when a combination of wings hit three straight three point attempts that anchored the team’s decisive third quarter that proved critical to winning the game. The three consecutive three pointers on three possessions were made by C.J Miles, Paul George, and Glenn Robinson III. For most teams, it’s illogical to even have those three players who are all typically occupy the same positions on the court at the same time. Playing Paul George at the power forward position allows the Pacers that type of offensive firepower to space the floor and fully use the three point shot, something that wasn’t possible with Roy Hibbert and David West taking up space in the paint for the past few seasons.

Let’s take a look at the raw numbers. The Pacers attempted 80 shot attempts and 32 free throws last night compared to the 83.2 shot attempts and 22.2 free throw attempts per game that the team attempted last season. The shot attempts were down for the first time this preseason, but part of that is because the Pacers were getting to the line more frequently at the free throw line for better scoring opportunities. The Pacers shot totals were also lowered because missed field goal attempts on continuation opportunities for “And-1’s” don’t show up on the box score. The Pacers matched last season’s scoring average of 97 despite shooting 41% from the field and only 24% on three point attempts. Playing uptempo allows the Pacers to get more chances to score and the spacing allows them better looking attempts to do so.

The Pacers attempted 29 three pointers in their exhibition against the Magic. That numbers of attempts would’ve ranked the sixth most in last year’s 82 game schedule. Of the five games last season in which the Pacers attempted more than 29 three’s, the totaled three of their top 11 scoring outputs as a team. Last season the Pacers most attempted three pointers in a game was 34 in a March matchup against…the Orlando Magic. It’s no coincidence that that game also served as the team’s highest scoring game in a 118-86 win. With the team’s new offensive philosophy that embraces the “pace and space” era of NBA basketball, expect more games like this and the end to the team’s identity as a team that has troubles scoring the ball. Frank Vogel addressed the new style of play in his postgame press conference by saying “Playing with space is good for all of these guys. Great for Ian Mahinmi to have space to catch the ball, and Monta Ellis and George Hill.”

Other things of note in the game for the Pacers is the play of Glenn Robinson III, who started in place of the injured George Hill while Monta Ellis shifted over to the starting point guard position. Robinson III finished the game with 14 points and 4 rebounds. On seemingly every offensive possession, Robinson III immediately headed to the weakside corner of the offense. This created space for the offense to operate as Robinson III’s defender had to stay away from the action on the other side of the court. When his man cheated off of Robinson III, he made his defender pay by knocking down three of his four attempts from deep. Vogel stated in the postgame presser that Robinson III can expect “8 to 10” minutes a game this season, but if he can prove to knock down that corner three with consistency, that number could rise given how important that corner three is to the new offense.

(Photo via Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)

How The Warriors Were Built

This NBA season will be remembered as the year the Warriors owned the NBA. Led by MVP-favorite Stephen Curry and first-year head coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors cruised to a 67-15 record and captivated NBA fans with their wildly entertaining brand of basketball that is equally effective and fun to watch.

The Warriors success did not come overnight led by a once-in-a-generation prospect or the signing of a superstar. Instead it came from years and years of scouting, developing players, and making bold moves that the front office believed in despite some dissenting opinions from fans and analysts alike. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Steve Kerr, and others get the recognition and glory from this team’s success and rightfully so, but some of the real stars behind this transcendent season are the guys off of the court.

In a time where NBA teams are looking for shortcuts to success by means of tanking entire seasons and gutting their rosters in order to chase and recruit superstars through free agency, the Warriors approach to team-building is a refreshing one. Team owner Joe Lacob has surrounded himself with great decision-makers in the front office that has included current general manager Bob Myers, former GM Larry Riley, NBA legend and logo Jerry West, and many others who have played significant roles in the construction of a championship contender. It’s also extraordinary that many of the moves that have made this team the powerhouse that it is were moves that were moves that ranged from mildly unpopular to wildly unpopular.

monta

Drafting Monta Ellis at #40 began the construction of the Warriors team that we see today.

To trace how the Warriors got to where they are now, the origins begin on June 28th, 2005. June 28th, 2005 is the date that the NBA Draft was held and the Warriors held the ninth overall pick.  Andrew Bogut, a sophomore at Utah by way of Australia, went first overall to the Milwaukee Bucks.

With the ninth overall pick after a 34-48 season, the Warriors took a flyer on Ike Diogu. Diogu only played two seasons in Golden State and has been out of the league since a two-game stint with the Spurs in 2012. The Warriors did acquire a valuable piece in the second round with the 40th pick by taking a combo guard out of high school by the name of Monta Ellis.

 

Scouts take: Ellis made a bad decision to declare for the draft and hire an agent. Now he’s paying for it…Now he’ll struggle to make the roster at Golden State.

Fast-forward through a few seasons of being a team on the rise under Don Nelson and the team’s peak of their upset of the 67-win Dallas Mavericks and NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki, the Warriors found themselves again towards the bottom of the standings. Electrifying guard Baron Davis left in free agency to the Los Angeles Clippers, key players suffered injuries, and suddenly the “We Believe” Warriors were dead. The collapse of the promising team left the Warriors back at 29-53 and in possession of a lottery pick.

June 25th, 2009

Picking seventh, the Warriors were faced with an interesting proposition. The pick was a hot commodity and then-Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr coveted it so much that they had offered All-Star big man Amar’e Stoudemire in a package deal in exchange for the seventh pick. The 26-year old Stoudemire had finished the 2008-2009 season averaging 21.4 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game. The trade offer was contingent only if the player that Kerr and the Suns had in mind was still available when the Warriors were on the clock.

That player was an undersized, sharpshooting guard out of Davidson named Stephen Curry.

Instead of pulling the trigger and acquiring a big man who seemed perfect for head coach Don Nelson’s uptempo style, the team declined to make the trade and instead drafted the somewhat controversial combo guard from Davidson. Curry was selected one pick after Jonny Flynn and one pick before Jordan Hill.

Critics argued that Curry was the latest product of a small-school where good players get an enhanced role against less-than-stellar competition, not unlike college stars turned busts like Jimmer Fredette or Adam Morrison. Curry was also picked apart by scouts for his lack of athleticism and size that they said would doom him at the next level. ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb echoed those sentiments with his thoughts in this tweet:

Summer of 2010

After a 26-56 season, head coach Don Nelson officially resigned from his coaching duties. At the time, it was reported that he resigned although he would later tell Bay Area radio station KNBR that he was fired because new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber wanted a young, up-and-coming coach to guide the Warriors.

Longtime assistant coach Keith Smart took over as head coach and was given the goal of taking a team led by Monta Ellis (25.5 ppg) and Stephen Curry (17.5 ppg, second-place in Rookie of the Year voting) up a notch.

The franchise was once again rewarded for the mediocrity with a lottery pick. This time the team was in possession of the sixth overall pick, the highest that the team would draft in their rebuilding process. One selection after Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins was taken, the Warriors chose Ekpe Udoh, a 6’10 shot blocker who the team hoped would anchor the defense while Ellis and Curry would put points on the board.

The Udoh selection would be a rare example of the Warriors front office missing a golden opportunity to make the most out of a lottery pick. Udoh is 27 and on his third NBA team with the Clippers this season. He appeared in only 33 games and hasn’t fulfilled the expectations of being an Ibaka-like defender in the NBA.

To make matters worse, Udoh was selected ahead of Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward, and Paul George.

The selection of Udoh was overshadowed by the acquisition of David Lee in a sign-and-trade deal that involved the Warriors letting go of Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azuibuike, Ronny Turiaf, and a future second-round draft pick to the Knicks.

Lee was coming off a season as a season where he established himself as an upper tier talent in the

league by making his first All-Star team and averaging 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. With Ellis, Curry, and Lee in place, the expectations had risen for the team.

Summer of 2011

Just one season after Keith Smart was hired to be the coach of the future, he was fired after a 36-46 season. In his place, the team hired former point guard and TV analyst Mark Jackson to be their coach. As a player, Jackson was known for his leadership and basketball IQ, skills that would make the transition into his first coaching job a smooth one.

With a new face leading the franchise, the team still found themselves in a familiar place towards the back-end of the lottery. The Warriors were armed with the 11th pick of the draft and chose Washington State shooting guard Klay Thompson. The Thompson pick did nothing to quiet down the rumors that the team was looking to trade Monta Ellis. Ellis would remain with the team throughout the season with Thompson coming off the bench with Ellis and Dorell Wright starting at the wings.

March 14th, 2012

After years of trade chatter, the Warriors finally ended the Monta Ellis era and handed the keys to the organization to Stephen Curry. Ellis was sent to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Ekpe Udoh for former number one overall pick Andrew Bogut in a package that also netted the Warriors Stephen Jackson, a fan-favorite from the “We Believe” Warriors days.

Bogut didn’t appear in a game for the Warriors that season as he was recovering from a fractured ankle.

April 26th, 2012

In 2008, the Warriors had traded a future first round draft pick to the New Jersey Nets for point guard Marcus Williams. That future first round pick was top-seven protected for the 2012 draft, meaning that if the Warriors picked eighth or worse, they would lose their pick. Going into the final game of the 2011-2012 season, the Warriors needed to lose in order to finish tied for the seventh worst record in the league. Armed with a promising roster, the Warriors went all-in to keep their pick and started five rookies against the Spurs, who were resting their own stars for the playoffs. The injury-ravaged Warriors became the first team in modern NBA history to start five rookies. The team only played seven players, six of whom are no longer in the NBA just three years removed from that game.

The Warriors lost 107-101 and won the tie-breaking coin toss with the Raptors to retain their pick.

Summer of 2012

If the foundation for what the team would soon become was already in place with Curry and Thompson, then the summer of 2012 is when the Warriors truly started building around those young and promising players. The pick that the Warriors had wanted so badly to retain ended up being Harrison Barnes from North Carolina.

Once the number one player in America according to most scouting websites, Barnes had been a bit of a disappointment in his two seasons as a Tar Heel. Barnes had failed to live up to the expectations of being the next Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, but was still seen as a promising prospect with great size, strength, and athleticism. Curry, Thompson, and Barnes make the Warriors a young team full of potential.

The selections of Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green would prove crucial to the team's success.

The selections of Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green would prove crucial to the team’s success.

The Barnes pick was nice but the team really hit the jackpot in the second round by selecting Draymond Green. Green was a star in college who once had multiple triple-doubles in the NCAA tournament. Green fell in the draft because he was one of those players who is pretty good at everything but great at nothing. Also at 6’7 236 lbs, he was undersized for the power forward spot and not as athletic for the small forward spot.

The 2012-2013 Warriors are when the Warriors’ roster we see today started to come together. Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, Lee, and Bogut all played together and the makings of a juggernaut were in place. We just didn’t know it yet.

2012-2013 Season

The Warriors make the jump from lottery-veterans to playoff team. After a lockout-shortened season where injuries decimated the roster, the Warriors stay mostly healthy other than Andrew Bogut. They won their first playoff series since the aforementioned shocker of the Mavericks in 2007. Curry and Thompson improve and get the green light to start launching threes religiously. With Bogut injured for all but 32 games, Mark Jackson relies on small-ball and plays Harrison Barnes at power forward. Barnes as a power forward gives the Warriors the advantage of spacing the floor and allowing the team to play a run-and-gun style that played to their shooting strengths.

Also worth mentioning is that Stephen Curry cements himself as one of the game’s all-time great shooters while breaking Ray Allen’s record for three pointers made in a season with 272.

Summer of 2013

With main players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green all on rookie deals, the Warriors had cap space and were looked at as a hot destination for free agents. Since the starting lineup appeared to be set for the future with Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Lee, and Bogut, the team didn’t need any position but just needed another player to put them into the status of being a contender.

Enter do-it-all wingman Andre Iguodala. Iguodala signed a four-year, $48 million deal and was sent to Golden State in a sign-and trade that freed the Warriors of $24 million of cap space tied to Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush. All of a sudden the Warriors were on the fast track to contend in the West. The addition of Iguodala gave the Warriors an even more versatile option as he’s a great ball-handler for his position and a solid defender.

Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry defected in free agency and were replaced by Steve Blake and Jermaine O’Neal. Jordan Crawford and Marreese Speights were also added to improve depth.

2013-2014 Season

The team’s record improves for the third straight season and is rewarded by making the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in over 20 years. Curry, Thompson, Barnes, and Green all improve their numbers . The Splash Brothers of Curry and Thompson finish first and second among the league’s leaders in made three pointers. However, they lost in seven games to the LA Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.

Throughout the season, murmurs of the Golden State front office and Mark Jackson engaging in battles of power that grew more and more visible as the season progressed. Assistant coach Brian Scalabrine was reassigned to the D-League in the middle of the season and another assistant Darren Erman was fired on April 5th for allegedly recording conversations in coaches’ meetings and discussions between players and coaches without their knowledge.

Summer of 2015

After much speculation, Jackson is fired after only two seasons. Owner Joe Lacob said “Obviously (the decision) was not made exclusively on wins and losses.” The decision to fire Jackson after taking the team to the playoffs in both of his seasons as coach angered many fans who believed the front office were making moves based on behind the scenes politics and not moves that were in the best interest of the team. Immediately, Steve Kerr, Stan Van Gundy, and Lionel Hollins were rumored to be Jackson’s replacements. The head coaching job with the franchise was an odd one as the roster was a young and talented one but the issue of job security was considered risky as the new coach would be the fourth coach in seven seasons.

Just over a week after firing Jackson, the Warriors named Steve Kerr their head coach. Like Jackson, Kerr had no head coaching experience and was a former TV analyst. Kerr also spent time as the Suns general manager and had the good fortune of playing for coaching legends Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich.

Mostly capped out, they added no major free agents over the summer but did manage to sign rotation players such as the versatile 6’8 point-forward Shaun Livingston and bench scorer Leandro Barbosa.

Perhaps the best thing to happen to the Warriors in this offseason was the move that they didn’t make. It was apparent that Kevin Love wanted out of Minnesota or he’d leave in free agency. The Warriors were constantly in rumors to trade for Love. In order to acquire Love and his 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, the Timberwolves wanted Klay Thompson or else there was no deal. Most fans and many analysts considered this an easy move to make. The Warriors had other plans and refused to part ways with Thompson.

Just as the front office declined to make fan-pleasing deals for Stoudemire and make the unpopular move to fire Jackson, the team stuck with their gut and chose to keep Thompson instead.

2014-2015 Regular Season

(Photo via Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Photo via Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Warriors start off the season with a 21-2 record and don’t slow down much at any point in the season, finished with a 67-15 record. The team’s 67 wins are tied for sixth most wins in a regular season ever. Kerr shows no signs that he’s a rookie coach and successfully experiments with lineups that showcase the team’s marksmanship and versatility.

David Lee was injured to begin the season and it served as a blessing in disguise for Steve Kerr. His injury made it easier to insert Draymond Green into the starting lineup over the declining, defensive liability that is David Lee. Green makes drastic improvement and becomes a lockdown defender who can guard multiple positions. By the time Lee makes his return to the court, it’s near impossible to justify him taking minutes away from Green, who has a strong case to win Most Improved Player.

Curry and Thompson continue their Splash Brothers display. Curry breaks his own record for three pointers made in a season. Thompson’s 239 made threes rank ninth all-time. Thompson makes his first All-Star team and Curry is the leading vote-getter by the fans for the All-Star game.

The team stats are almost unreal as the Warriors finished second in points per 100 possessions while also being first in points allowed per 100 possessions. They finish the season first in points per game and also own the league’s best defense when adjusting for pace. Typically, teams that play at a faster pace don’t play much defense (the Steve Nash/Mike D’Antoni-era Suns come to mind) and the league’s best defenses seem to struggle putting points on the board for themselves (think Memphis Grizzlies, the Pacers over the last few years, the Thibodeau-led Bulls). The Warriors break those stereotypes and become the rare team that is dominant on both sides of the ball and playing defense at an elite level without playing a slow-it-down style.

Lost in the beauty that are Stephen Curry heat checks and Klay Thompson’s record breaking quarters that bring graphics from NBA Jam come to mind is that the Warriors are special because of their ability to play positionless basketball. The LeBron James-led Miami Heat did it to a certain degree under Erik Spoelstra, but the Warriors take that to another level. At times the 6’8 Shaun Livingston is the tallest player for them on the court and he’s listed as a point guard. The versatility on this roster makes them special. Klay Thompson can defend three positions. Shaun Livingston can defend three. Iguodala and Barnes can defend wings and many power forwards. Draymond Green can defend just about anyone. This type of basketball allows the Warriors to abuse mismatches offensively and utilize their spacing that is created from Curry and Thompson.

The Warriors have all of the tools to win a championship this season and become the future of how basketball can be played. Never before has a team had this type of talent and versatility.

Even if they do lose in the playoffs, they can return every key piece on this team and make a run for the title for years to come. If they do make a run and win it all, then this team has to be mentioned among the best of all-time.

Anthony-Davis3-e1333204283659

The “What-If” College Basketball Rosters

Anthony Davis3 e1333204283659 Anthony Davis Becomes Kentuckys First AP Player of the Year

(Photo via Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Have you ever wondered what NCAA rosters would look like if players were forced to stay all four years? I certainly have and I think it about it more than ever this time of the year.

Before the preps to pros era that Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant started, it was commonplace for highly regarded prospects to forgo the NBA Draft and enjoy a college career that lasted beyond one season. NBA legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Jerry West, Tim Duncan, and countless other stars all spent at least three years on a college campus before taking their talents to the NBA.

Instead of dominating the NBA, Anthony Davis would be a senior at Kentucky wreaking absolute havoc on the college basketball world. Kyrie Irving would just now be winding down an impressive Rookie of the Year campaign after a four-year stay at Duke. Players like Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Michael Carter-Williams, Steven Adams, and Cody Zeller would be some of the faces of college basketball instead of showing varying levels of success in the NBA.

For better or worse, the one-and-done era is upon us and shows no sign of slowing up any time soon. When faced with the decision to play basketball for millions of dollars or play basketball for free, it’s not too hard to understand why.

With March Madness on the horizon, let’s take a look at what some of these teams might look like if they still had the players who left school early.

Click the right arrow to see what the Kentucky Wildcats would look like if their players would’ve stayed in school.

(Photo: EPA)

Chris Paul: The Silent MVP Candidate

With just over a month remaining in the NBA’s regular season, it’s becoming the fair time to start evaluating end-of-season awards like MVP. With amazing performances throughout the season and multiple candidates making their case, there’s been one name that has gone under the radar who deserves some MVP votes. While James Harden, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis have taken turns lighting up box scores on a night-to-night basis, Chris Paul has been quietly making his case to steal a few votes.

Paul has kept the Clippers afloat without Blake Griffin and putting up MVP-caliber numbers in the process. Since the game where Griffin suffered his injury on February 6th, Paul has led the Clippers to a 9-5 record against some of the league’s toughest teams. In this stretch, the Clippers have wins against the Mavericks, Spurs, Grizzlies, Bulls, and Thunder. Many predicted that the Clippers would plummet in the Western Conference standings but they are currently sitting in the fifth seed and still within striking distance of the second seed.

Paul has taken it upon himself in Griffin’s absence and averaged 21.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 12.4 assists on just over 50% shooting since Griffin went down. Paul’s seasonal averages took a slide with Griffin in the lineup as Griffin continued to get more plays ran through him, but Paul has shown that those slides were due to usage, not a decline in what he’s capable of at age 29. Paul is shooting just shy of 48%, a very impressive number for a guard who only takes 18.8% of his shots from within 10 feet. By comparison, even long-range sniper Stephen Curry takes 28.7% of his shots within 10 feet of the basket. The consistent amount of longer and therefore traditionally lower percentage shots Paul takes makes his 47.9% shooting look even better.

While Paul’s traditional stats are very good, the advanced stats speak volumes about Paul’s impact on the Clippers’ offense. When Paul is on the court, the Clippers’ offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) are nearly 8 points better than their already league-leading 109 rating. Even more telling, their offensive rating dips from 117.1 to 100.0 when Paul is off the court. To put that in perspective, that 17.1 dip in offensive rating when Paul isn’t playing is the same distance between the Warriors’ second place in offensive rating and the Sixers’ worst rating.

It’s even more noteworthy that we take into account that these Clippers aren’t exactly loaded with depth or scoring options. Their next best player without Griffin is DeAndre Jordan, who is one of the most dependent scorers in the NBA. Without an elite point guard creating alley oops for Jordan or him getting putbacks while the defense is out of position, Jordan can be completely ignored as a scorer. JJ Redick has stepped up in the meantime, but he’s also dependent on plays being called for him to run off of screens in order to get catch-and-shoot opportunities. Jamal Crawford is the only real player on the Clippers capable of creating his own shot or for others. CP3 is the center of attention for defenses and is still getting the job done at an elite level.

Paul’s game hasn’t just been impressive on the offensive end either. While his steals are down from his usual rate among league leaders, he’s stepped up his game as an on-ball defender in a league full of scoring point guards. If you want proof, check out your favorite point guard’s stats when he goes head-to-head with Chris Paul to his per game averages for the rest of the season.

When not running the league's best offense, CP3 has been extraordinary on defense. (Photo via Gary A. Vasquez / USA TODAY Sports)

When not running the league’s best offense, CP3 has been extraordinary on defense. (Photo via Gary A. Vasquez / USA TODAY Sports)

For example, note how opposing guards tend to struggle against Paul. Stephen Curry, one of the MVP favorites, had one of his worst games of the season against Paul on March 8th, going 3-9 with 4 assists and 4 turnovers. Curry still won the game, but he played much less of a role in the victory than he typically would. Damian Lillard had his worst game of the season against CP3 on March 4th, going 1-13 from the field with more turnovers than assists. Just last night, CP3 did an excellent job in slowing down the Russell Westbrook Express. Westbrook still got his 24 points but did it on 5-14 shooting with 10 turnovers, 7 of which came while Paul was directly defending Westbrook.

Everyone knows what Paul brings to the table offensively, but it’s his defense this season that has truly been remarkable. If not for his offensive skills, Paul would be recognized for his lockdown defense.

Chris Paul will not win MVP and nor should he, but he should at least be mentioned in the discussion. MVP discussion aside, Paul is having a tremendous season and making a statement to the young guns like Curry and Westbrook that the crown for the king of the point guards will not be taken away from him easily. His season averages of 18.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and league-leading 10.1 assists are near career-average numbers for Paul’s career that will earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame someday, but those numbers are trending upwards and have came at a time where his team needed it most.

Isn’t that what being valuable is all about?

NBA daily plays: 2/4

While KD is away, Russ will play.

While KD is away, Russ will play.

Every day that the NBA has at least two games on the schedule, our partners at DraftKings have opportunities for you to make some money. I’m here to help you earn that money and build your bankroll.

The NBA has blessed us fantasy basketball players with an incredible 11 game slate tonight that leaves you with plenty of options for your daily fantasy lineup. Let’s get to the action.

Point Guard:

Russell Westbrook ($10,600)

Russ might not come cheap tonight and is the highest price of all point guards playing tonight at a $10,600 price tag. Sometimes the obvious option is the best option and all signs point to that being true tonight for Westbrook. Kevin Durant is out once again tonight with a toe injury and when he’s out, get Westbrook in your lineup. His usage rate is off the charts when KD sits out as he basically has to do everything for this team. He went off for 73.75 fantasy points while posting 25 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists, and 4 steals against the Magic on Monday. A matchup against the Pelicans is one to target as the Pelicans have been 28th against opposing point guards over their last seven games.

DJ Augustin ($6,200)

Since Brandon Jennings went out of the lineup, Augustin has been a must-own fantasy player. In that timespan, Augustin has averaged 21.8 points per game and 9.2 assists. Augustin had one dud against the Sixers in that time frame, but four out of the five games running the show, he’s given his fantasy owners tremendous value. The matchup also serves to be a good one that also is a revenge game for Augustin. The Pacers have struggled to contain trigger-happy point guards all season.

Marcus Smart ($3,700)

Last night, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens finally gave Marcus Smart the start and didn’t disappoint for fantasy owners. At his very low price point, he’s almost guaranteed to get you 20+ fantasy points, which is what you aim for. He ended up with 26 fantasy points, but more importantly played 37 minutes. Smart should have plenty of opportunity to rack up fantasy points and he’s a player who isn’t dependent in one area. If his shot isn’t falling, he’ll still grab a few rebounds, assists, and a steal or two. If you need a cheap punt play, Smart is your guy.

Shooting Guard

Kevin Martin ($5,500)

Since returning from injury, Martin has been one of the best values in fantasy basketball. In those four games, Martin has gotten between 24.5 and 29.0 fantasy points. That kind of consistency at reaching value is what fantasy players love. He’s gotten no fewer than 17 shot attempts in those games as well. Even though he hasn’t been shooting it well from deep, we know Martin has a sweet stroke and has potential to get hot on any given night. A matchup against the Heat who will be without Dwyane Wade is a plus. Mario Chalmers started at shooting guard and his lack of height should give Martin good looks whenever he wants them.

Wayne Ellington ($5,200)

Ellington has also been a great value lately as his role has gotten much bigger since Kobe Bryant’s season-ending injury. Despite a dud in his last game, Ellington still played 38 minutes and got 12 shots up. His price went down $500 and you can expect a few more of those shots to fall for Ellington. Ellington should see a nice night and at $5,200 looks to be a good value.

Dion Waiters ($4,500)

Along with Westbrook, Dion Waiters is poised to be the beneficiary of Kevin Durant’s absence tonight. He started in Durant’s place on Monday and played 41 minutes, racking up 24 points. Waiters doesn’t have to score 24 to get his value, but it’s a glimpse at his upside and what he could do when his shots are falling.

Small Forward

Jared Dudley ($4,500)

With Durant out tonight, there aren’t a lot of great options for the small forward slot. This might be a spot you want to save money at and Dudley is a virtual lock to get his value. With Jabari Parker,Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, Kenyon Martin, and Larry Sanders out, the Bucks have been spread thin with what active players they have left. Ilyasova and Pachulia are unlikely to play tonight. Jared Dudley has been forced to play a few positions and he’s played 34+ minutes in the last two games. Dudley doesn’t have the greatest upside, but 22 fantasy points is his floor given these circumstances. A matchup against the Lakers isn’t bad for anyone either.

CJ Miles ($3,300)

Injuries have led to Miles’ price going down drastically in recent weeks. He was at $5,100 less than two weeks ago before a couple games in which he left early due to injuries. The Pacers have had the first three days of January to rest. In their last game, Miles played 30 minutes and earned 27 fantasy points despite going only 1-9 on three-point attempts. It’s highly unlikely Miles goes through another game shooting that poorly against a Pistons team that struggles to defend the wing.

Power Forward

Pau Gasol ($9,300)

Pau has been Mr. Consistent recently by scoring over 41.25 fantasy points in his last six contests. The All-Star Spaniard has been a rebounding machine lately with double digit rebounds in his last nine games. He’s a great fantasy player due to his ability to rack up numbers in all categories. The Rockets will be without Dwight Howard for a while, which leaves many smaller players for Gasol to feast on.

Donatas Motiejunas ($5,600)

One of those players that Gasol should feast on is Donatas Motiejunas. DoMo has been a consistent lock to value lately, scoring between 24.0 and 43.5 fantasy points in his last five games. With Howard out, DoMo should see 30+ minutes with ease and more rebounding opportunities. His role within the offense sees a bump with Howard gone as well, as there are more shots to go around.

John Henson ($5,000)

As mentioned with Dudley above, there aren’t many options for Jason Kidd to roll out at big man positions. Henson will have to log heavy minutes against a Lakers team that plays plenty of bigs, sometimes three at a time. Henson should be on fantasy owners radars because any time he gets minutes, he produces. He’s a shot blocker who scores easy buckets and grabs rebounds. Consider him an automatic 25 fantasy points with potential to score in the 35-40 range.

Center

Hassan Whiteside ($7,700)

Whiteside has been a revelation for NBA fans and fantasy players alike. Out of nowhere, Whiteside has earned himself a higher price tag than Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, and Joakim Noah. Whiteside’s price is well-earned and could see a spike yet again. In five games since hijacking Chris Andersen’s minutes, he’s earned between 34.5 and 58.75 fantasy points. His stats look similar to that of DeAndre Jordan, but Whiteside gets more shot attempts and has even more shot blocking potential. Although he’s no longer in the bargain bin, his price isn’t terrible yet. He’s proven that he has potential to single-handedly win you money with a monster performance. Minnesota has problems with centers and Whiteside should continue #Hassanity.

Robert Sacre ($3,300)

Sacre hasn’t set the world on fire and is more known for waving towels and doing ridiculous sideline dances than playing. That isn’t stopping me from taking Sacre and his bargain price. If Whiteside or Marc Gasol is out of your price range tonight, Sacre’s a solid option. He looks to remain the starter and play between 22-30 minutes. He won’t score a ton but will grab rebounds and block a shot or two. It won’t be sexy, but if Sacre can net you 30 fantasy points like he did against Chicago two games ago, you’ll be a very happy fantasy player.

Report: Curry, Klay, Korver to participate in Three-Point Contest

3ball

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, five of the six participants in All-Star Weekend’s Three-Point Contest are set. This year’s crop of sharpshooters threatens to steal the show on All-Star weekend with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews, and JJ Redick partaking in the annual shootout.

All five of the listed participants are among the top seven in three pointers made, making this on paper one of the most competitive shootouts we’ve seen in years. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s shooting ability is a large reason their team is on top of the NBA. Kyle Korver is having one of the greatest shooting years in NBA history, making an insane 53.1% of his attempts from deep. Wesley Matthews is the NBA leader in three pointers made. Redick has a reputation as one of the league’s deadliest shooters and has lived up to it this season shooting a career-high 44.1% on three point attempts.

The sixth spot remains open and there are quite a few names who are worthy of that final spot. James Harden, Damian Lillard, Danny Green, and Gerald Green are all among the top 10 in three pointers made and are shooting respectable percentages from deep. Ryan Anderson and Channing Frye rank just outside of that top 10 and are known as a couple of the finest stretch power forwards in the game today. Former winners Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving could make their way back into it. Last year’s Three-Point Contest champion Marco Bellineli could go for the repeat, but has been limited this season with a groin injury.

The Three-Point Contest will be held on February 14th in Madison Square Garden as a part of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend.