A quick moment of stupidity before my actual column thingy.
Take some NBA players names, write them in MS word and spellcheck them. Here are my favorites. This is the kind of thing you notice when spellchecking something that includes people with funny names:
Andrei Kirilenko: Andrei Virulence
Nenad Krstic: Nomad Rustic
Hedo Turkoglu: Hero Turmoil
Mehmet Okur: Mermen Occur
Dikembe Mutombo: December Motorbus
DeSagana Diop: Decagonal Dope
Chauncy Billups: Chancy Billbugs
Manu Ginobili: Manu Ignoble or Manu Gumboil
It’s time for the inevitable NBA playoff ranting, as well as my final regular season awards. I’m well aware that I handed out these awards over a month ago, but it’s my prerogative to hand them out as often as I want, since I don’t actually get to do it in real life.
I’m going to do this backwards, saving MVP for last, because I still haven’t made up my mind who it should be. I’ll start with the lesser awards and move up.
Most Improved Player: Having watched Boris Diaw play a lot lately, I must say I’m very impressed by what he’s done this season. At the European basketball championships before the NBA season he was the star for the French national team, despite the fact that he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from the free-throw stripe, and I thought to myself, “This guy is a lot better than the Hawks realize…” (Either that or “who the hell is this guy and why doesn’t he ever play?”) Then the Hawks fell all over themselves to get Joe Johnson, and gave up not only a ton of money (excusable) and a few draft picks (borderline inexcusable) which are going to keep the Suns motor running for years to come, but also a certain French guy who “passed too much and was reluctant to shoot” (mind-shatteringly stupid). You mean to tell me nobody on the Hawks could’ve figured out a way to use this guy? Have you seen the way Diaw effortlessly finds Marion for alleyoops? Imagine Diaw doing that on the Hawks where there are at least three players with Marion-like athleticism who would be only too happy to be on the receiving end of passes for easy baskets. Here’s a team with no actual point guards giving up their best passer as a throw-in in a trade in which they were already overdoing things. At any rate, now the Suns have Diaw and he’s made their lives so much easier as the season has gone on, and has something like four triple-doubles in the last month. He’s also played out of position at center almost all year at 6’8” and 215lbs (That’s seriously undersized). He’s played admirable defense and hit the boards all while helping Steve Nash find the artillery battery that is Raja Bell, Tim Thomas, Eddie House, James Jones and Leandro Barbosa open on the wing for endless streams of threes (they set an NBA team record this team and had the top two three point shooters in the league, Barbosa and Bell, as well as the seventh, Nash, and two other guys, House and Jones who are very close to 40% from three for the season). Simply put, he enabled the running, gunning Suns to at least partially forget that their franchise player of the future (Amare Stoudamire) missed the entire season and may never be the same. With all that said, it has to be Diaw. Watch this guy play; it’s a lot of fun.
Rookie Of The Year: This is still a no-brainer. This is Chris Paul’s award. He’s amazing. He’s only 20 and he’s having a better rookie season than either Magic or Jason Kidd did, and they’re the best point guards of the last 25 years (oh, and Isaiah, the other great one). He’s amazing. He barely missed the playoffs this year, but considering his team won about two and half games last year, I wouldn’t fault him for that. (Magic made the playoffs, but don’t forget that there were already some pretty good players on that team… Kareem for one). And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better rebounder under six feet tall… ever. And he’s got eyes in the back of his head. And he’s going to be an all-star in this league for the next twelve years. The next great point guard.
Defensive Player Of The Year: I’m sticking to my guns on this one too. Just judging by the amount of people (as well as the kind of people) who would fight Bruce Bowen to the death out of frustration, this guy should be the Defensive Player Of The Year. Vince Carter has a hard time not going ballistic every time these two face off. Ray Allen used to be close friends with him, and now has to try to restrain himself from calling him nasty names in post-game interviews. Bowen is the one player who can give Kobe genuine headaches. Coaches in last year’s playoffs started throwing smaller three men on Dirk Nowitzki (McGrady, Marion) and shut him down. This season, Dirk learned how to overcome that, and has abused any smaller defenders assigned to him, except for one guy… yup, Bruce Bowen. Despite being five inches and at least twenty-five pounds smaller, he gives Dirk nightmares. In short, he may me a little slap-happy and he may have a few gimmicks at his disposal, (namely pulling shorts, stepping under shooters etc.) but he gets the job done. The great ones get away with things. Just ask Michael Jordan, whose blatant (but uncalled) offensive foul on Bryon Russell in the ’98 Finals led to one of the iconic shots of his career. Watch some old tapes of any Knicks game, where Ewing takes fourteen steps across the lane with the ball before shooting. Defense is the same. I’m not saying Bruce Bowen is an all-time great player, but he is a great defensive player, and he’s earned the right to be a pain in the ass.
MVP: This is really difficult to figure out. I can’t help but think I’m making a mistake by picking one guy. Anyway, I picked Nash earlier, but his team slowed a bit when Kurt Thomas got injured, and I think I’d rather pick one of the rock-steady guys on one of the teams that have been dominant all season, San Antonio, Detroit or Dallas. I can’t pick any of the Spurs, and not simply because I hate them. Their best player this season was Tony Parker who simply shredded the entire league, but I don’t put him up there just yet, especially with two other starters who are all-stars (albeit injured all-stars for most of the season). That leaves Detroit and Dallas. As we all know, Detroit (probably undeservingly) had four all-stars this season while everyone was busy fawning all over them, so picking the best, Billups is probably simplifying things a little bit. But he’s definitely my runner-up. He led the league in assist to turnover ratio while posting one of the best assists per game averages in the league, which is pretty damn good, and he threw up something like 18 or 19 points a game on top and played some pretty good D as well. But he’s playing alongside a bunch of other pretty good players. That leads me to Dirk Nowitzki. I didn’t think of him as the MVP until about 5 minutes ago, but I’m content with the choice. He led a team that wasn’t supposed to be this good in a race with San Antonio for best in the west all season long. On top of that his whole team was messed up with injuries all year. He was not only the leader and the scorer and, incidentally, a much-improved defender (maybe not one on one, but his team defense is vastly improved). On top of that, the average layperson could probably not tell me who the rest of the Mavs starting five is. Give it a try (the answers are right over there, try not to cheat). Josh Howard, Jason Terry, DeSagana Diop and Adrian Griffin. Good players yes, but not the kind of all-stars that Billups is surrounded by in Detroit. Dirk is the MVP.
All League Teams: A quick note: The league picks actual centers for the center position even though most of them suck/didn’t play enough games, so I’ve picked actual centers too even though I didn’t want to (with the exception of Ben Wallace who I would’ve picked regardless). Stupid rules.
All League First Team
F: Dirk Nowitzki (MVP.)
F: Lebron James (Soon to be best player ever.)
C: Shaquille O’Neal (Old and decrepit, but still better than the rest… I guess.)
G: Steve Nash (Did it again with a whole new team.)
G: Kobe Bryant (Simply the best basketball player alive right now… which I find really upsetting.)
All League Second Team
F: Elton Brand (Comes from a town near my town. Hoorah.)
F: Shawn Marion (Does everything.)
C: Ben Wallace (Defensive beast and coolest looking guy in sports.)
G: Chauncy Billups (Bald.)
G: Dwyane Wade (Spells his name wrong.)
All League Third Team
F: Tim Duncan (I really think he’s so boring, but he’s very good.)
F: Carmelo Anthony (Officially the best clutch player in the entire league.)
C: Yao Ming (Got his gangrenous toe fixed, ruled the league for a month or two and promptly broke his foot.)
G: Tony Parker (Tiny and French, kinda like France.)
G: Gilbert Arenas (Watch this guy play. I swear he’s just playing HORSE the whole time. Sick.)
Players that were close: Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce. Garnett and Pierce’s teams sucked even though they were individually good as usual (especially Pierce). Pau just plays at a stacked position (forward). Vince is a wuss, and even though I like him, I think he sometimes limps around too much and plays passive. Kidd was amazing in the second half, but looked slow in the first.
Some of the best defenders in the league missed a lot of games this season, but I’m still giving them their due because I feel like it. So there. I’ll mark them with an asterisk or something.
All Defense First Team
F: Rasheed Wallace (Great post-defender. Kills Tim Duncan, much to my delight.)
F: Andrei Kirilenko*(Along with Gerald Wallace, my favorite shot-blocker in the league. Watch him play and you’ll see every kind of block you can imagine: on the ball, off the ball, on the break and against players large and small. And he kinda looks like skeletor.)
C: Ben Wallace
G: Bruce Bowen (Most annoying defender in the NBA.)
G: Jason Kidd (lost a step, but still gets up for the big games. Shut down Billups and Nash on back-to-back nights earlier this season. Saw him attempt a putback dunk a week ago and nearly fell off my chair. If he’d nailed it, I would have.)
All Defense Second Team
F: Tim Duncan (*yawn*)
F: Shane Battier (doesn’t get big numbers, but shuts people down, and his head looks like a freshly ploughed field.)
C: Marcus Camby* (Great shotblocker and rebounder, who is, unfortunately, made of glass.)
G: Quinton Ross (the next Bruce Bowen, a chilling thought.)
G: Earl Watson (despite being a bench player, he may be the best defensive point guard in the entire league. If he started regularly, he’d be my first team pick.)
All Defense Third Team
F: Ron Artest* (Waiting with baited breath for him to run into the stands and devour some small child.)
F: Gerald Wallace* (Had the best block of the season on Etan Thomas. Came from the weak side and grabbed the shot out of the air with one hand like it was a rebound. Sick.)
C: Not really sure who to put here because I don’t have a third center I think is all that good… it’s Sam Dalembert by default here.
G: Raja Bell (Takes charges. Lots of them.)
G: Andre Iguodala (Not sure if this is a good pick, but I’m not actually sure that there is an all Defense third team anyway, so this may all be for naught.)
Playoff predictions: Will this post ever end? Nobody knows for sure.
1. San Antonio vs. 8. Sacramento
A lot of people seem to think that Sacramento have a chance at an upset in this one. Those people are dreaming. I would personally like nothing more that watching the Kings beat these boring bastards, but it ain’t happening. Spurs in five.
2. Phoenix vs. 7. Los Angeles Lakers
People seem to be making a big deal about the fact that Kobe averaged something like 42ppg against the Suns in the regular season. What they don’t seem to notice is that the Lakers were destroyed in all of those games except the last one where Nash sat out and the starters didn’t play much. In short, Phoenix is going to shred this team and Kobe will average 40+ while the rest of the team is bombed into submission by the three-point barrage. Phoenix in five.
3. Denver vs. 6. Los Angeles Clippers
LA tanked on purpose to get this matchup and they may have been smart for doing so. If Camby is not at full strength and K-Mart is still injured, guarding Kaman and Brand will be tough. If the Nuggets hadn’t made the trade for Reggie Evans (robo-rebounder) and Ruben Patterson (Zach Randolph-eye-socket-breaker), they’d be dead in the water. Carmelo will get his team a few wins here because he’s that good, but look forward to the Clips winning and Sam Cassell doing his “look at my huge testicles” dance at least once. Don’t think of that as an upset though because the Clips actually finished with a better record than Denver, and Denver is the third seed only because of the NBA’s dopey seeding system. LAC in six.
4. Dallas vs. 5. Memphis
Memphis got screwed here because of the effed-up seeding system (see above), which seeded 7th best Denver in the 3 spot because they won their division. Dallas, the second best team in the west didn’t win their division because San Antonio was in the same division and, as a result, are seeded below Denver despite winning 16 or 17 more games. As a result, Memphis gets the shaft and Dallas wins. Dallas in four.
1. Detroit vs. 8. Milwaukee
This is a complete washout. Detroit in four.
2. Miami vs. 7. Chicago
Chicago is rolling right now, but if Wade is at full strength there’s no hope here. Chicago will fight tooth and nail, Shaq will throw Tyson Chandler around like he’s not even there and Nocioni will make somebody want to beat his ass and… Chicago will be swept. Miami in four.
3. New Jersey vs. 6. Indiana
Indiana isn’t playing as well as they should be, but Jermaine O’Neal is rounding into form at just the wrong time for the Nets. Good thing the Nets have finally figured out how to play defense again and everybody’s clicking. Jason Kidd is looking better than he has in a year and a half, and Carter and Jefferson are playing very well. Krstic is the difference maker. When he plays well, the Nets become a much better team. Nets in six.
4. Cleveland vs. 5. Washington
This is the series that everyone is watching for two reasons. 1) LeBron’s playoff debut. 2) The Cavs could actually lose this one. If the Cavs had gotten any of the other bottom seeds in this first round, they would have cleaned up, but Washington can take them. Washington had the edge in the regular season matchup (two games to one I think). Cleveland is spotty defensively as it is, and they will have trouble containing Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas at the same time. Look for Arenas to see his matchup against former-teammate Larry Hughes as motivation and torch the Cavs for 35+ at least a couple of time. Antonio Daniels is also playing well now for Washington, and Haywood can provide some good D if he stays out of foul trouble. LeBron will not falter. I think he will have a spectacular series, but I can really see this going either way. If Larry Hughes contributes the way he is capable of, the Cavs win… barely. If not, the Wizards (can’t these guys be the bullets again? The Wizard thing is pretty weak) can look forward to complete annihilation in Detroit in Round 2. Cavs in seven.