The 2017-18 NBA season is well underway. There will be scores of articles about questioning good teams, declaring individual award races over, and the bickering over true shooting percentage and defensive rating. There is also a feeling surrounding this season that we're headed towards the inevitability of a Golden State Warriors championship. Thus, some of the fun is met with a bit of gloom. Cheer up, lover of hoops. Basketball is a sport in which the journey of the season is just as important as its destination in the Finals. Here at TSFJ, we're going to highlight some things and people the basketball realm can be excited for between now and June.
Song of the Week: Busta Rhymes, Jadakiss, Lil Wayne - "Respect My Conglomerate"
(Headphones if you are in the presence of the kiddies.)
Last week, the All-Star reserves were announced. Naturally, as with any list or ranking, there is debate about who truly deserves to make the team. We at The Sports Fan Journal have discussed this topic several times. The fervor is always centered around a player whom most feel should be there, whether or not the selection of every player on the All-Star team is merited.
This year, Paul George missed the initial roster (later added as an injury replacement went DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles tendon). Oklahoma City Thunder teammate and fellow All-Star reserve Russell Westbrook spoke out against this error in his mind. His response also seemed to take shots at Damian Lillard, who is also a reserve. At the very least, Westbrook was willing to remove a player for his snubbed teammate and not hypothetically expand the roster with, "[George] is an All-Star. He should be there." Yet, this does beg the question of detailing the criteria used to select an All-Star.
Let's start with this tweet from excellent basketball writer and recipient of a Temecula beef diss track James Holas:
Now I'm curious. To all the NBA heads out there, how much does entertainment value factor in to your MVP choice? Does how much you like watching a guy play matter? SHOULD it matter?
— Tweetgood Mac (@SnottieDrippen) January 28, 2018
While Holas's tweet is centered around an MVP discussion, the concept of value holds weight when discussing All-Star selections, albeit with a different formula. Like Most Valuable Player, there is a subjective number placed on winning that is counterbalanced by an All-Star caliber player's level of productivity. For example, Draymond Green is viewed as an All-Star because he has an intangible role in the highly-efficient Golden State Warriors' machine. His raw numbers, despite highlighting Green's impact on multiple facets of the game, pale in comparison to the NBA's best — especially scoring. Green is fifth in the league in assists. But of the qualifying players in the top 15 in assists per game, Green's 11.4 points per game are only higher than Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball. No, a player's value is not solely based on scoring. However, it is true that the All-Star players do get rewarded for putting up buckets. Draymond is an All-Star-caliber outlier because the Warriors are so good — not the other way around.
Just because a team isn't winning at a substantial clip doesn't mean its best player is not a key component of the success that team is having. In the case of Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers are 27-22, good for 7th in the Western Conference. Portland is not a team considered to be a championship contender, but they appear to be headed towards a winning record. Lillard is having a wonderful year. He's eighth in scoring and averaging more points than six other All-Star players, including starters DeMar DeRozan and Kyrie Irving. Lillard's individual season is comparable to his peers, and that is worthy of All-Star acknowledgment.
I understand wanting to reward George for his role in helping to right the ship in Oklahoma City. He also even carries intangibles similar to Draymond with the Warriors — his defense is a big reason why the Thunder are one of the league's best at shutting down opposing teams. And we must even consider that should George have the exact same season next year, he may get the initial All-Star nod. One season, a player is a snub, whose cause is taken up by most of the basketball realm. The next, he's on the team and the consensus is rightfully so, except for those who make a case for someone else.
In the words of The Wire staple Avon Barksdale, "The game is the game."
- Speaking of the Thunder again, ever since this PG-13 dunk against the Utah Jazz, the Oklahoma City Thunder are 15-5. It appears the triumvirate of All-Star players have figured out how to coexist better together, with Russell Westbrook as the lead.
- Yesterday, the Clippers traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons for three players and two draft picks. This signifies the official end of the "Lob City" era Clippers and the official beginning of a retooling, if not rebuilding, of still the best team in Los Angeles.
- This week's Hooper Appreciation Blurb goes to Aaron Gordon. Most may remember him as the rightful runner-up to Zach LaVine in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest. But he has expanded his game, and is averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds a game. He's even shooting a respectable 34.6% from three (for perspective, Jimmy Butler is shooting 35.3%), proving he's striving to become more than an aerial assailant.
- Bonus blurb on Blake Griffin: there will be montages dedicated to his time with the Clippers, and there will undoubtedly be a clip of his most famous dunk over then-Knicks center Timofey Mozgov. But his best dunk is this one over Danilo Gallinari in the same game.
Fifteen weeks in, and the journey continues. Happy NBA, folks.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.