Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Best Player in the NBA Question

Entering today’s SmushPot is the question “Who’s the Best Player in the NBA?”

Debated in chatrooms and blogs and newsrooms and press boxes and sports bars and homes across the world, this question is really an impossible one to answer, yet it continues to be asked over and over and over and over and over again. Today, the SmushPot looks to put this doggy to sleep. Permanently.

First off, well, there’s Chris Paul. He can carry an offense and create havoc on defense with his thievery. But his game is mainly predicated on the strengths of his teammates. If his teammates aren’t going (see, right now), then he could put up otherworldly stats (see now) and his team still won’t be winning (also, see now). He can hit clutch shots, but he can’t really carry an offense with his shooting (for a whole season) and, because he’s so small, can be a detriment on the defensive end. So as good as he is, and he’s right up there with the following three, he’s not really in the running.

If you wanted a workhorse to carry you through the season, Lebron James would be your man. He would be considered the best player. He’s a 6-8 linebacker who can move like an elite shooting guard and pass like an elite point guard. He’d give you 30, 8 and 8 with 2 steals while shooting 50 percent or better. Lebron has carried three weak Cavs teams deep into the playoffs. Kobe Bryant can no longer put up those kind of raw numbers, never had the assists to begin with and only took his weak Lakers team to the first round. And while Dwyane Wade can put up those kinds of numbers (see right now), he gets hurt too much to be counted on for an 82 game season (see right now and all of last year).

However, if you wanted one player to win you a tournament…say, the Olympics, or, I dunno, a 7 game series, I’d have to go with Dwayne Wade (see this past summer, see Dallas series in 06). Wade can carve up defenses, can get the right people the rock, and can average 2 blocks and 2 steals, while shooting 50 percent. He knows how to give his whole body on every play. Bryant isn’t as good at getting his teammates involved, has been transcendent in the first three rounds of the playoffs, but seems to disappear in the finals (check his career finals stats, not that impressive) nor is he as efficient (career 45 percent shooter) while Lebron’s misfortunes at the line (career 72 percent) make him a bit troublesome in a tournament. Wade’s a better one-on-one and team defender than Bron Bron. Plus, Wade’s the only one of the trio to win a finals MVP award.

Kobe’s a mixture of both the King and Flash. He’s strong, knows how to keep his body healthy, avoids injuries and yet can put up elite stats. He suffers mainly from a certain lack of proper decision-making skills that come naturally to both Wade and Lebron (when to pass and when to shoot). But if I had to bet my life on winning one game, I would pick Kobe in a heartbeat. Wade’s never come close to 60 in a game, and Lebron can’t hit freethrows or 3s. Wade isn’t as good of a freethrow shooter as Kobe and can’t hit the 3 either. And, only Bryant, of the three (including MJ for that matter) has dropped 81 all by his lonesome. Also, with six all-NBA first team defensive selections, #24 has proven his defensive prowess above the likes of Lebron and Wade (who have one 2nd Team defensive selection, Wade in 05 between them). There’s no denying in a must win game, Bryant can be the most clutch both offensively and defensively.

Of course, if you want a guy who can dominate on both ends of the floor, put up huge as well as efficient numbers, and hit clutch shots in big moments? Look no further than Tim Duncan. Over the past 3 seasons he’s averaged 79 games—so he’s kept himself in shape and proven he can stay healthy—and 19 points, 2.1 blocks, 3.1 assists, 11 rebounds, and .8 steals while shooting 51 percent from the field. He’s also amassed 8 first team all defensive awards and 2 second team all defensive awards, been a finals MVP three times, and the league’s MVP twice. Of course, that woeful freethrow percentage makes him highly susceptible to hack-a-Tim.

So, is that conclusive? No, but it does illustrate the different ways in which “best” can be defined. So, Smush on you “Best Player in the League” question. You are tired and really irrelevant and your answers are based upon intangibles and conjecture and your whole premise of “Best” is focused on as ambiguous a word as any that can be defined. Smush on you!!!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Corey Maggette

Today’s post is about a man who is at long last getting sweet release from the clutches of the Smush Pot. A man unloved in this past summer’s free agent market. A man who never really found a big fan base in Los Angeles despite being the lone star on the Clippers to survive nearly a decade of Clipperdom while still putting up respectable numbers.

He is a man who lives at the freethrow line. Who has consistently been making himself into a better, more efficient player (True shooting percentage and 3 point percentage were the highest of his career last season, and he nearly tied his second highest PER despite playing on a comically injury-riddled team last season).

Sure, he seems to be always hurt (averaged only 65 games per season). Sure, he doesn’t seem interested whatsoever in playing a lick of defense. Sure he doesn’t pass (career 2.2 assists). Sure, the griping with his coach (Mike Dunleavy Sr.) the past couple of seasons seemed, well, unnecessary at the time.

But seeing how fast Elton Brand bolted town, the franchise’s classless brush off of Elgin Baylor and just knowing the way Donald Sterling has run his organization over the past, uh, I don’t know, forever, you would have to invariably start to think that, in a similar position, you would pull a Maggette too.

About the grumbling. I mean, it’s the classic case of shit or get off the pot with him. He’s been in trade talks for the past 5 years, nothing ever coming to fruition. You would grumble too.

Especially if you are the best offensive threat on the team not named Brand, and you were told by your coach that you were better suited coming off the bench. This from a team in the bottom half of the league in offensive rating and points per game.

And those horrific assist numbers? He’s really had no one to pass to. I mean, think about it. The disappearing act of Odom (his pre-2008 still smoking pot version)? Cuttino Mobley? The blackhole of Sam Cassell? The non-shooter in Livingston? Mr. career massive underachiever, Tim Thomas? The, gasp, bobbling, certainly-not-worth-even-a-lottery-pick-let-alone-a-number-one OlawoCandyman?

Uh, no thanks.

But, what about not playing both ways? Uh, when you’re consistently playing for nothing (seven of eight losing seasons) what’s the point in defending?

Okay, okay. That’s a negative attitude. “Be a team player!” critics will most assuredly cry out. Then we all must remember that he tried to do that. Begrudgingly sure, but he did try.

What did sacrificing for the team do for him? The 07 season ended with a losing record and his stats, across the board suffered as well. This offseason? Only one team was interested in his services.

So, that team player sacrifice thing is a fine line to walk. One Mr. Odom will be trying to balance this season. But at least he has championship aspirations. Even when the Clips were good in 06, they weren’t championship good.

So, despite going to, ugh, Duke, I think it’s time we all give Corey Maggette a break for goodness sake. I mean, he’s been a fringe all start talent who has been piddling away his career on the lowly Clips (yeah, I know, I still love them, but honesty is important) despite a career 18.2 PER.

In fact, the Smush Pot wants to say that Maggette, as long as he stays healthy (a career-long “if”) will push his scoring upwards of 26 points per game and could even challenge for a scoring title if the optimism gets really big.

He’s the go to guy (thanks Monta for riding that moped), who finally has found a place where they actually appreciate him. He doesn't have to play any D in the Nelly Ball system, but will get to jack shots up to his heart’s content.

He still probably won’t be an all star unless he’s leading the league in scoring (thanks Melo, Durant, Gay, Artest and maybe Josh Howard) but he’ll put up numbers worthy of a spot.

So let’s give this 28-year-old, who, might I add, will be entering his prime, a little more credit.

Well, at least enough to get him out of the Smush Pot.

We see ya Corey.

Represent in Oakland!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shaquille O’Neal

Entering the Smush Pot today is a man who has been known by many names: The Diesel, the Big Aristotle, Superman, and most recently, the Big Cactus.

I’d personally like to add another…the Big Underachiever. I’ve written and verbalized on many occasion my distaste and dislike for the Big Fella. Even when he was winning championships for the Lakers (my home team).

Among my rants were and still are his refusal to work on his game (something that is showing now that his athleticism has betrayed him), his need to pursue music and movies and police work during his basketball career, and his humongous ego that was 50 percent of the reason why the Lakers broke up their championship squad.

He had the athleticism and agility and sheer strength and size to be the most dominant big man of all time, without question. But, he never took that leap. He let outside distractions and in-house disagreements and his own penchant for taking off the entire offseason derail what could have been the best career by a big man ever. Unquestionably better than Wilt. Unquestionably greater than Kareem. Considered by most greater than Bill Russell. All of that could have been his, including 7 or more championships (which would put him ahead of MJ).

Instead, he's a rapidly aging player living on the afterglow of his youth.

He came into last season out of shape, like so many other seasons before (except for that first season in Miami in which he came into training camp in the “best shape of his life”).

His team got off to a horrible start without Dwayne Wade. Then they continued to play miserably even after Wade came back (Wade, who is playing through severe injuries as well). Wade questions O’Neal’s motivation and heart. Riles does the same. Then O’Neal gets hounded by the media, is left for washed up and past-his-prime, and decides that his hip bursitis or whatever he’s calling it, is too much. Rumors fly that he’s going to sit out the rest of the season.

Let me remind you readers that we are talking about one of the most well paid players in the NBA. After KG, there is only Shaq in terms of monetary reimbursement (at that time) for bigs. And dude contemplated sitting out as his team suffered with the worst record in the league. He was and still is one of the five highest paid players in the L, had “Michael Jordan” reincarnate playing with him, played in the JV league (the East), and yet still, his team had only mustered 9 pathetic wins. So, instead of man up and try and salvage any part of the season, he sat out and watched Wade play through his myriad of injuries. He sat back, let the team he promised to bring a championship (to his credit he did) fall into the laughingstock of the NBA.

And then, then the basketball gods who love Shaq, blessed him with the opportunity to play with Steve Nash. Marion got whisked away to Miami and Shaq helped the Suns to a five game ousting in the first round, by the very specific team he was brought in to help defeat.

Phoenix is his fourth team. He’s jumped ship three times now. He couldn’t get along with Penny Hardaway, so he left that situation to pursue music and Hollywood, and, oh yeah, some basketball in Los Angeles.

He was paired with Kobe, and the second Bryant turned the corner from potential to stud, the Lakers won 3 straight. Each year, Kobe continued to work harder and get better, and each year, Shaq slacked off more and more. When one talent works hard to get better and the other doesn’t, yet gets all the credit and tries to dictate all the rules, well, just put yourself in Kobe’s shoes for a sec. Kobe wanted to be the man. When Kobe started taking more and more shots, Shaq couldn’t stand not being the alpha dog. He continued to take jabs at Bryant through the media. When they lost in 04, Shaq, still under contract, demanded an unreasonable extension from Buss, who said no (he wanted 30 plus million per). Shaq then let Bryant shoulder the blame for his own trade demand, and Kupchack sent him packing to the Heat.

Once again, Shaq was gifted with another superbly talented wing, this time Dwayne Wade, and rode Wade to his fourth championship. Of course, after collecting his fourth ring, he let himself go again. Eased off his hard workload. Got lazy. Riles didn’t like that (though he did the same thing). Flash didn’t either—especially since he was battling out there barely stitched together.
Now, Shaq is Steve Nash’s ticket to a championship. I have been rooting for Nash to win it the past three seasons (since he knocked the Lakers out the past two) and each year he has come up short. It’s so frustrating because Nash goes about doing it the right way. He works hard. Has upped his game. He loves basketball. And now Shaq, the antithesis of that work ethic is on his team. So if Shaq wins, karma doesn’t mean a damn thing. And if Shaq doesn’t bring Nash a trophy, Nash’s hard work, discipline, and determination were all for nothing.

Their first attempt failed miserably. Shaq looked old.

He has no post game. His athleticism is on the Erick Dampier level (maybe worse). He still can’t shoot freethrows. But he says he’s now motivated again by the loss. He wants a fifth ring.
What happened to being self-motivated? Or playing hard because of the love of the game? Ask Allen Iverson why he plays basketball. Ask Kobe. Ask Nash. I’ve never met Shaq nor talked to him personally, but his actions dictate to me, that he doesn’t love the game.
Speaking of Kobe, Shaq has a history of criticizing the teams, coaches, owners and players he leaves behind. It’s amazing that someone hasn’t written more about how he has left three franchises in a disgruntled manner. Could the Lakers, an organization that cherishes and reveres all of the greats who have played in the Purple and Gold, really be the ones behind Shaq’s disgruntledness?

How about the Magic who were put on the map by Shaq? Who, consequently, were left in ruins when he skipped out of town (A side note, a couple of months back, The Diesel talked about coming back to Orlando when he retires and being the GM, to help save the franchise. I don’t understand why he thinks they want anything to do with him. After all, He gets booed there every time he shows his face).

The Heat and Pat Riley? Riles is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, despite his penchant for being a frontrunner (check how he quit on the team last year, and came back the year before just in time to take credit for winning the championship).

The only constant in all three scenarios is the Diesel himself.

The former Superman (dethroned by Dwight Howard) has thrown former teammates under the bus faster than a speeding bullet.

He called Penny Fredo from the Godfather. He has countless quotes about Kobe, both thinly veiled and pinpoint direct that have been put to press over the course of their time together. Not to mention the recent rap video, where he asked, “Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes?” as well as took a shot at the reigning MVP saying that he couldn’t win a championship without him. He basically called Chris Quinn and Ricky Davis non-players.

He said, “I don't give a fuck what Riley said.”

He said about Jerry Buss who paid him nearly $150 million, “I needed a real owner like Micky Arison, not a guy that parties with girls three times [younger than him] – when you’re 60, hang out with 60-year-olds, not 20-year-olds. You can quote me on that. I’ve got nothing else to say about Jerry Buss.”

He called Phil Jackson a Benedict Arnold…okay, well, some things he says might ring true.

Sure he’s the most entertaining personality in the NBA since Charles Barkley. Sure he’s done a lot for downtrodden youth. Sure he’s won 4 titles. Sure he’s got an MVP and 3 finals MVPs. Sure he’s led three different teams to the finals. Sure he’s got career averages of 25 and 11.5 with 2.4 blocks.

But instead of calling Shaq the 2nd or 3rd greatest center of all-time, or the MDE…let’s call Shaq what he really is.

No, we won’t call him the Big creepy R&B-singer stalker. No, we won’t call him a jealous, bitter, divorcee. No we won’t call him the Big Statue (check Plaschke’s Olympic blog www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-olyplaschke19-2008aug19,0,1984672,full.column).

Instead, let’s just simply call him,

The Big Underachiever.

Smush on you Shaq.

Smush on you.

Welcome as the first to enter the Smush Pot.