By: Brett Stover
Welcome to my first column for KCOU Sports. I’m the News Director here as well, but this is my space to share a collection of takes about the NBA. Hopefully they’ll be good, but I can guarantee you they’ll be hot.
5 – MVP Candidates
5. Steph Curry
4. Kevin Durant
Curry and Durant, both former MVP winners and scoring leader, have both put together impressive seasons to this point. The Warriors’ defensive woes and occasional miscommunications this season has obscured just how dominant the team has been on offense. While there are other players who have averaged more points than both, none have done so with such efficiency. Curry, who recently broke the record for three pointers made in a game with 13, is on pace to make 394 threes this season. That would be higher than anyone in NBA history – except his MVP campaign last year. He’s doing that on 47.5% shooting from deep, shooting 50.6% from the field and averaging 27.2 points per game in only 33 minutes. Durant, in his first season with the Warriors, is shooting an absurd 56.2% from the field. The presence of capable shooters around him has freed him up from better and less guarded shots than his tenure in Oklahoma City. His line of 27.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game would put him in the top five, before you even consider the fact that Durant is shooting better than 40% from deep.
3. Anthony Davis
I’m going to start with the disclaimer that there’s no way The Brow would actually win the MVP, given that he plays on one of the worst teams in the league. However, like Mike Trout in the MLB, he’s one of the very best players who gives every bit of effort towards his team’s success, however minute that might be. Davis may have been forgotten by some after his 2015-2016 season was cut short by injuries, but the big man is back with a vengeance this season. He’s efficiently scoring over 30 per game, with over 11 rebounds. 1.9 steals and 2.9 blocks? The poorly managed Pelicans don’t deserve Davis.
2. Lebron James
The King has been criticized in the past for coasting through the regular season, but he’s been proving he can play near the level of his playoff performance during the regular season so far. While he’s not shooting from outside the paint as during his peak, he’s been just as dominant as ever inside. However, that isn’t why he’s on this list. For a man who just broke into the top 10 in scoring all-time, Lebron has never considered himself a score-first player. He’s averaging 8.9 rebounds and 9.1 assists per game, good for third in the league.
1. James Harden
I have never been the biggest fan of Harden’s game; aesthetically, eight free throws per game and often-leaky defense isn’t the most fun to watch. But you can’t deny the efficiency. New Rockets Mike D’Antoni has moved Harden to point guard, and the results have made The Beard even more unstoppable on offense than previously in his career. He’s leading the league in assists with an insane 12.6 per game. Add in 30.3 points and 7.9 rebounds, while carrying a bad team to 6-5 record, and you have the player who’s looked like the MVP so far this season.
4 – Tiers of Teams
Bad, but there’s hope:
Should make the playoffs:
Teams that could actually win a ring!
3 – Over/Underrated
Overrated: DeMar DeRozan.
I’m not saying that he’s not one of the top ten shooting guards in the league, and his hot start to the season has been impressive, but DeRozan will not continue to shoot close to 50% from midrange over the whole season. DeRozan’s inability to develop a consistent shot from the outside the arc will keep him from being an elite player in this league, and the Raptor’s lack of a third scoring threat alongside him and Kyle Lowry will keep his team from having a shot at the NBA finals.
Underrated: The Clippers.
LA’s “other team” is sitting atop the league with a 10-2 record, and it’s not a mirage. Chris Paul has always been overlooked, and is probably the second best point guard in the league. Blake Griffin looks better than ever coming back from last season’s injury. J.J. Redick is one of the league’s premier sharpshooters, and his off-ball movement and defense hold down the two spot beside Paul. DeAndre Jordan has developed into a good two-way center, despite his free-throw woes, and is great at playing within his role on the team. The most underrated part of this year’s Clippers squad, though, is the improved bench. While Ray Felton, Wesley Johnson, and Mo Speights aren’t high-profile signings, they provide much needed scoring punch alongside Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. While many overlook this team, don’t bet against an early playoff exit this year.
Overrated: Warriors starting lineup.
I’m mainly including this here so I can talk about Zaza Pachulia. As you know, the Warriors had to trade away Andrew Bogut to make room for Kevin Durant. This improved the team, and I’m not trying to argue that it didn’t. But Zaza Pachulia has been a liability for the Warriors this season. Some of this may be more noise than signal, and obviously it’s over a small sample season, but Pachulia has had a -1.1 Net Rating this season in 17 minutes per game, playing largely alongside the Warriors’ “Big Four.” The Warriors’ obviously, obviously, improves with a smaller lineup, but the defense improves as well. Clearly, Draymond Green shouldn’t play starter’s minutes at center during the regular season, but the Warriors might want to reduce their new center’s minutes and play more of David West at the five.
2 – Hot Takes
The Timberwolves will make the playoffs. Outside the top three teams, the West is wide open. I don’t buy the Grizzlies this year, and if they can’t stay healthy then I think the T-Wolves sneak into the eight-seed. Towns is a rising star in the league and could be a top-five center in his sophomore season. We all forgot just how good Wiggins was, and his jumper looks like it’s improved. Plus, Tom Thibodeau has and will continue to improve his team’s defense throughout the season. In KAT we trust.
Russell Westbrook isn’t really that good. Yeah, I know he’s probably the fastest basket-to-basket runner in the NBA, and he pulls off crazy in-game dunks, but Russ isn’t an efficient scorer. If he can keep up his rebounding and continue to set up his teammates throughout the whole season I’ll reconsider this, but Westbrook’s poor shot selection has been exposed without former teammate Kevin Durant. He’s the fourth best point guard in the West.
1 – Favorite Moment This Week
I’ve never been an advocate of athletes and coaches “sticking to sports.” Honestly, I admire all celebrities who use their power and fame to advocate for those whose voices are silenced. So this week, my favorite moment was the reaction of NBA coaches and teams to the results of the election. (These displays of individualism also are why I find the NBA to be such a compelling league from top to bottom.) Marc Stein and Zach Lowe from ESPN reported that the Grizzlies, Bucks, and Mavs will not stay at Trump-owned hotels in NYC. Reigning coach of the year Steve Kerr, who’s never shied away from politics, reflected on it.
Stan Van Gundy, the first coach to discuss the election, called the result embarrassing, saying that “I have been ashamed of a lot of things that have happened in this country, but I can’t say I’ve ever been ashamed of our country until today. Until today. We all have to find our way to move forward, but that was — and I’m not even trying to make a political statement. To me, that’s beyond politics.” He went on to call President-Elect Donald Trump: “an openly, brazen misogynist leader.”
The best coach in the NBA (in my not-so-humble opinion) also condemned the result, comparing the United States to the twilight of the Roman Empire. Popovich discussed his own privilege, saying “I’m a rich white guy and I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it. I can’t imagine being a Muslim right now, or a woman, or an African-American, a Hispanic or a handicapped person – how disenfranchised they might feel.”
I can’t promise that future columns will be any less political, or that the takes will be any less bad. If you like it, maybe I did something right. If not, please leave angry comments; I’m sure they’ll change my mind.