With only two months to go before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, the biggest off-season story remains Kyrie Irving’s desire to be traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and one Championship Ring, Irving presumably wants to escape the long shadow cast by teammate LeBron James. Assuming they can no longer coexist, who would you take? The answer may not be as easy as it seems.
Perhaps more than any other year in recent NBA history, the 2016-17 MVP Award justifiably could go to one of five different candidates. Depending on how you define MVP, you might vote for the following players.
– Best player on the best team (the most popular definition): Kevin Durant.
– Best player on any team (a.k.a. “The Best Player on the Planet”): LeBron James.
– Best two-way player on a Top 3 Team: Kawhi Leonard.
– Best statistical season for a player on a Top 3 Team: James Harden.
– Best statistical season for a player on any team: Russell Westbrook.
When you combine one of these definitions with a season that hasn’t happened for over 50 years, the winner becomes more clear cut. Well, at least my son thinks so.
Twenty years ago, the NBA celebrated its 50th Anniversary by revealing the names of the 50 greatest players in league history. In anticipation of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary, many sites are starting to compile their own rankings of top players. Given the outstanding players from the last two decades, the league easily could expand the honor to 75 players without diluting quality. At the same time, it could fix the injustice of omitting players like Dominique Wilkins and Walt Bellamy. Thanks to analysis provided by my son, Top10Busts has joined the fray with a ranking of the NBA Top 25. As a teaser, the top five are Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and LeBron James.
With the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Ben Simmons. After years of tanking, the Sixers “earned” the right to select one of the highest profile phenoms since LeBron James. Despite conventional wisdom, Brandon Ingram made a legitimate case to be the first pick instead. During his “one-and-done” season at Duke, Ingram averaged 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. It’s hard to question Phildelphia’s decision. However, the organization has been a complete embarrassment for over a decade. Would you be surprised if 2016 becomes a repeat of 2007 when the Trail Blazers passed on Kevin Durant? Based on Ingram’s upside, you shouldn’t be.
While researching potential Top 10 Busts Keith Edmonson and Russell Cross, I learned an interesting sports trivia fact. Specifically, only three college basketball coaches have taken two different schools to the Final Four within four years. First, Gene Barlow took Memphis in 1973 and UCLA in 1976. Second, Lee Rose took UNC-Charlotte in 1977 and Purdue in 1980. Third, Roy Williams took Kansas in 2003 and North Carolina in 2005. Of note, North Carolina (18), UCLA (17) and Kansas (14) have been to 49 Final Fours between them. In contrast, UNC-Charlotte and Purdue have combined to reach only three (i.e. one without Rose). As such, Rose’s achievement should be viewed as the most impressive. Overlooked on every elite coaching list, Lee Rose may deserve special recognition.
Going into the 2015 NBA Finals between the Cavaliers (led by 4x MVP LeBron James) and the Warriors (led by reigning MVP Steph Curry), the best series in the 2015 playoffs still has been the first round match-up between the Spurs and the Clippers. That 7-game series ended with the Clippers beating the Spurs by the score of 111-109 on a last-second shot by a hobbled Chris Paul over the outstretched arm of Tim Duncan. Despite that final play, the 39-year old Duncan showed that he still is a superstar who can compete at the highest level. With a style of play based on fundamental soundness instead of flashy highlights, Duncan is often forgotten in conversations regarding the all-time greatest players. The following post was inspired by his enduring dominance, which has only been matched by two other players in NBA history: Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Overlooked too often, Duncan is poised to earn a spot on my personal NBA Mount Rushmore.
Every decade, the NBA seems to have a proverbial changing of the guard. Unlike the daily ceremony at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, the revolving door of NBA royalty doesn’t obey a specific schedule. That being said, NBA dynasties historically have fit a recurring time frame such that the team or player’s first title comes towards the beginning and final title comes towards the end of each decade. Supporting this claim, the range of titles for the game’s most dominant players from the last three full decades include: Magic Johnson [1980-1988]; Larry Bird [1981-1986]; Michael Jordan [1991-1998]; Shaquille O’Neal [2000-2006]; and Kobe Bryant [2000-2010]. Assuming LeBron James wins at least one more title this decade, the trend should continue. The one notable exception is Tim Duncan who won his first title in 1999 and most recent title in 2014. Then again, as someone who is often overlooked as one of the game’s most dominant players, “King Duncan” seems to the get the short end of the stick just like his fictional namesake from Macbeth.