The people vs Russell Westbrook

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The claws are out after the Houston Rockets have compiled a 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook’s critics now have the requisite ammunition to lower the phenom point guard down a peg.

After reading this article, I feel the need to defend Westbrook; I think the defense is simple — a player cannot average a triple double and be selfish. Wracking up 10 assists a night is easier than it used to be, but it’s still a difficult accomplishment. How many of Russ’ passes would have led to a dunk but the driving player was fouled in the act of shooting? How many times did a Thunder player miss an open look?

Westbrook averaged 10.4 assists per game over the course of 82 games and has averaged 11 assists a night in four playoff games. I implore you to watch the highlights of the 51-point performance in game 2 on the road. How many times did Russ make the wrong play, passing up an open teammate? Twice, maybe it was three times. His fourth quarter was awful, but the Thunder’s fourth quarter was also awful.

Comparing Westbrook to Allen Iverson, as Sean Fennessey coyly does, is not fair to Westbrook or Iverson. Iverson was a more willing passer than I remembered, averaging 7 assists or more in six of his seasons. However, Iverson had one career triple double. Westbrook had 42 this year.

The most assists Iverson ever had in a season was 596 in ’04-’05. Westbrook had 840 assists in ’16-’17. In comparison to one of the greatest point guards of all time, Isaiah Thomas, had four seasons of 800 or more assists. This included the sublime ’84-’85 campaign where Isaiah led the league in assists with 1,123, 13.9 per game. The great Oscar Robertson, to whom Westbrook is endlessly compared, topped 800 assists four times. In fairness to the Big O, the rules were different in the ‘60s. Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, topped 800 assists twice. Westbrook is just entering his prime, age 28, and he has had back-to-back 800-assist seasons.

Westbrook is as gifted and as skilled a player to have ever played the point guard position, but he doesn’t play the position like Kidd or Steve Nash. One of the characteristics that binds Westbrook, Kidd and Nash was that in their primes they played at a frenetic pace. Kidd and Nash had running mates. Kidd had Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson, who loved running the floor with Kidd leading the break. Nash had Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Russ is not the problem in OKC; the rest of that roster is the problem. I would be willing to shed every player except Steven Adams. It’s not that Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Singler and even Enes Kanter are bad players. I think most of those guys will by snapped up by contending teams looking for role players. None of those guys are athletic finishers.

The ’16-’17 season was the first year Westbrook was truly unleashed. Before he had been tied to Durant and Durant’s needs. I think Sam Presti needs to consider remaking this roster in Westbrook’s image. Kidd did not truly thrive until he had the right pieces around him. Nash was a great player in Dallas, but became an MVP in Phoenix. Well, Westbrook is already the MVP, but you can build a championship team if you build to Russ’ strengths: a relentless need to run the floor at full speed and a desire to toss dimes to teammates on artful cuts to the basket.

David Blatt and other coaching abominations

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Press Conference

Everybody, David Blatt is submitting a historically awful coaching season.

I’ll break it down:

  1. He was gifted the best player in the league who is either in his prime or very close. That player is also A. very unselfish, B. an extremely gifted defender and C. extremely coachable.
  2. Included under the Cavs preseason Christmas tree was the ultimate stretch four, who is a rebounding machine and a talented passer. Kevin Love is not that bad of a defender either.
  3. A talented point guard who can get into the lane whenever he wants.

Now the Cavs are certainly flawed:

  • Their bench is terrible.
  • Anderson Varajao is already (predictably) out for the season.
  • Dion Waiters was (predictably) a head-case, chemistry killer.

All of that said, the Thunder are 18-19. As you remember, they started the season without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and they play in the West, which is a million times better than the East. Their bench and overall depth are also terrible. The Cavs are 19-18 and their top three guys have been (mostly) healthy all year. What? How?

David Blatt is getting destroyed by Scott Brooks!

I admit that I fell into the same trap as everybody else. “I like that Blatt won all those games in Europe. I like that he’s bringing a different pedigree to the NBA.” Now that resume from Russia and Israel looks a lot less impressive. Like a gunfighter from Sweden.

I think I would have fired Blatt already. The whole, “well the 2011 Heat got off to a slow start” argument has worn off right? Everyone expected this team to be an offensive juggernaut. Maybe that was an unfair but this team should not be the fifth best team in the East.

This got me thinking of other historically awful coaching performances:

Sean Payton, 2014 Saints

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All they had to do was go 8-8 and they win the worst division in modern NFL history. And they couldn’t do it, with Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Jimmy Graham and three talented receivers. Sure, their defense was not good, but solid was all they needed. At the end of the season, they lost got crushed by the Panthers and beat handily by the Falcons at home. In the words of Will Ferrell, what the Hell happened! Is the Super Dome haunted?

Mark Richt, 2008 Georgia Bulldogs

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This team had Matthew Stafford, AJ Green, Knowshon Moreno, Mohamed Massaquoi (I know but on a college team with AJ Green?), Justin Houston (admittedly a freshman) and Geno Atkins. That team lost three games. Three.

Bob Stoops, 2008 Oklahoma Sooners

Bob Stoops

This team had Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, DeMarco Murray, Trent Williams and Gerald McCoy. They made it to the National Title Game, I’ll give them credit for that, but they got beat pretty bad by Florida, 24-14 (a more lopsided game than the score would indicate). But this spot is more of a life-time underachievement award for Stoops. I believe people ripped on the Big 12 in part because loaded Oklahoma teams kept coughing up big bowl games. The 2006 team, with Adrian Peterson as a junior, had a lot of those same players (notably as freshmen) and lost three games — notably the famous Fiesta Bowl to Boise State.

Dusty Baker, 2001 San Francisco Giants

Dusty Baker

Another life-time underachievement position because Baker also disappointed with very good Cubs and Reds teams. In 2002, people praised Baker for getting the Giants to the World Series. In retrospect, they should not have lost to the Angels. Oh my God, Barry Bonds hit .370 that season with 46 home runs, 100 runs and RBI each, had a staggering 198 walks for a .582 on base percentage and 1.381 ops. But that team wasn’t all Bonds all the time. They had Jeff Kent who hit .313, Benito Santiago (who had a decent offensive season), and Reggie Sanders (who wasn’t great but was a very solid player). They’re pitching staff had a top three of Russ Ortiz, Jason Schmidt and Livian Hernandez. Go back and look at the Angels roster.

But they lost to the Angels in seven games. What is inexplicable is the year before when they did not make the playoffs (2001 when Bonds hit 73 home runs).

Bobby Cox, any year in the ’90s that wasn’t 1995

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Now that It’s official a certain fact needs to be shouted from the rooftops. THE BRAVES TOP THREE PITCHERS WERE ALL HALL OF FAMERS. Um, that hasn’t really happened before. If this the rest of the Braves team was a bunch of castoffs and journeymen or if they could only keep Maddux, Smoltz and Glavin together for a couple years, I would give Bobby Cox a break. People give Cox a break because they won one World Championship, but give any other strong manager of the era that team and he would win at least two. In particular, the losses to the 1993 Phillies and 1997 Marlins seem particularly egregious in retrospect.

Bill Self, 2014 Kansas Jayhawks

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Bill Self had the best two players in college basketball — Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid — and they lost in the second round of the tournament to Stanford. In case you’re checking, Stanford had zero NBA players that year. The game was also in St. Louis, which I’m sorry to say is a partisan Kansas crowd. I don’t care that Embiid was hurt. Self still had the best five players in the game. Every year that goes by the 2008 National title win looks flukier and flukier. (Also, screw Kansas.)

John Calipari, 2010, 2011 and 2013 Kentucky Wildcats

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There’s been a significant amount of revisionist history foisted on the public these days about John Calipari. Pundits have been praising Calipari for his X’s and O’s work, in game coaching and that his teams play hard. They even give him credit for convincing players to sacrifice minutes. I believe this talk is inspired by the fact that the 2014 Wildcats might go undefeated and thus become the greatest college basketball team of all time. The coach of that team has to be an all-time great right? All of those people need to chill out because Kentucky should have won five titles in a row. Were Coach K, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino or Brad Stevens had been given this much talent, he would have won at least twice by now. I believe Calipari is the best recruiter of all time but he also has a prodigious history of leaving flaming bags of poop at two different programs in the form of NCAA sanctions as he walked out the door to a better job.

Mike Brown/Mike D’Antoni, 2012 Lakers

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If you think I’m being unfair to one coach or the other, Brown could easily make this list for his job manning the Cavs during the first LeBron era and D’Antoni did a horrible job with the Knicks. However, this season went so poorly that the emotional stress convinced Dwight Howard to flee the sinking Lake Show ship like it was on fire. The raging dumpster fire that is the 2014 Lakers owes its inception to these two guys.

Scott Brooks, Thunder 2011 to Present

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It’s not Scott Brooks fault that the Thunder traded James Harden. It’s a move that looks more perplexing every day, especially when Harden should win the MVP for the Rockets. Still, he’s had three of the top 25 players in the league, including two in the top 10 the past five years and has no hardware to show for it. The Spurs have made the finals twice in this span and the Thunder happen to be the worst match up for the Duncanettes.

The NFL’s Biggest Problem

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Every five years or so the NBA goes through a philosophical revolution. These days the association is about spacing the floor, perimeter defense and hitting corner 3s. At this point, having two low-post oriented big men is a detriment. Probably in five years, the league will swing back the other way — possibly spurred by the glut of big men coming from college this year.

Baseball also undergoes these changes in attitude, with, I think, one emphasizing speed and contact on the near horizon. Their philosophical changes just happen to be 10 or more years apart.

The NFL, in the past anyway, usually had their philosophical modifications happen naturally through coaching or personnel. The NFL is in dire need of an attitude adjustment.

I think the League is in a very similar situation as the NBA in the early 2000s. Back in the era of Allen Iverson and young Kobe Bryant, the NBA was viewed as bereft of likeable stars and rife with troublemakers. However, the style of play was also consistently frustrating. The knuckleheads were gradually weeded out of the league and rule changes encouraged a more entertaining, offensive style of play. For awhile LeBron was the most hated and popular player in the league, and he’s never been in any criminal trouble.

Yes, player conduct is a huge issue for the NFL. Yes, concussions are a threatening long-term issue. But the reason the NFL is getting beat in the ratings by The Walking Dead is that the NFL has been extremely boring this year.

The problem, I feel, is that teams are far too dependent on quarterbacks and there just aren’t enough good ones in the league. Here are the winning quarterbacks in the league:

  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Tom Brady
  • Peyton Manning
  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Tony Romo
  • Phillip Rivers
  • Andrew Luck
  • Russell Wilson
  • Drew Brees (hanging on)
  • Matt Ryan

And some borderline guys:

  • Matthew Stafford
  • Cam Newton
  • Colin Kaepernick
  • Eli Manning (maybe it’s unfair for a two-time super bowl winner but he needs to stop throwing so many picks)
  • Joe Flacco
  • Teddy Bridgewater
  • Andy Dalton

I would put Carson Palmer in that second group if there was an indication he was actually going to come back and play. Let’s examine that list. Ten teams every week have an offense that works because of their quarterback alone. Seven more teams have an offense that works about 50 percent of the time because of their quarterbacks. There are 15 more teams that are varying degrees of unwatchable because of their quarterback play.

Now that last sentence is not entirely accurate, because the Eagles are competent in spite of their quarterback play. And there in lies one of my fixes. Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh are two of the best coaches in the league coming from college. For most of NFL history, college coaches have struggled to transition to the pro game, with exceptions like Jimmy Johnson. But the NFL drastically needs injections of new blood. All the open jobs at the end of the year should go to college guys, Art Briles probably first.

Second why are so few quarterbacks transitioning successfully into the league? Is that defenses are just so talented? Here’s the elite defenses in the league:

  • Seattle
  • Arizona
  • San Francisco
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Buffalo
  • Houston
  • Cincinnati
  • Miami
  • Baltimore

Actually there’s more quality quarterbacks in the league than defenses. That makes sense because it’s harder to play defense than it used to be Also, none of the defenses this year could hold a candle to the best units from a decade ago.

NFL offenses are too complicated. I think back to Robert Griffin III’s rookie year. Part of the reason he was so successful is that the offense was simplified and modified to his strengths. Granted, Griffin’s injuries have been a big factor in the decline in his play, but why did they change the scheme when it worked like gangbusters the year before? Let’s look at Russell Wilson. Wilson has endured sustained success in Seattle because he doesn’t try to do too much and he isn’t asked to do too much.

I think coaches go out of their way to make these offenses so complicated as a testament to their genius. Then they complain the quarterbacks can’t make the reads. Maybe if there weren’t five reads on each play it would be easier.

Another solution, treat running quarterbacks like running backs and change them out every three to four years. Sometimes you’ll have an elite talent like Mariota, Newton, Wilson or Griffin, maybe you try to get five years out of one of those guys. But you could also run a Tebow or Dak Prescott into the ground. You just don’t pay them as much.

While I’m solving NFL problems, I’ll tackle the concussion issue as well, and it might very well help the style of play too.

Positional weight limits, combined with softer helmets (I believe there is a style that has foam outside of the shell).

  • Offensive lineman: 300 pound maximum
  • Defensive tackles: 290 pounds
  • 3-4 Defensive ends: 270 pounds
  • 4-3 defensive ends: 260 pounds
  • Linebackers: 240 pounds
  • Pass rushing linebackers: 250 pounds
  • Cornerbacks: 200 pounds
  • Safeties: 210 pounds
  • Tight ends: 230 pounds
  • Wide Receivers: 210 pounds, unless their over 6-4 then they can be 220
  • Running backs: 230 pounds
  • Quarterbacks: 240 pounds (because many of them are so tall)

Seriously, do any of these positions need to weight more than this?

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NBA underrated team

I’m going to try to put together a team that could contend but not break the bank.

C – Marc Gasol

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I know he won defensive player of the year honors two years ago, but I still feel like his offense, especially his passing, is underrated. He’s the better of the two Gasol’s in my opinion and Pau is a borderline hall of famer.

PF – Channing Frye

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With Gasol occupying the block, it’s nice to have a stretch four to create spacing. I think Frye’s defense is overlooked because he’s regarded as a turn style on that end of the floor. Gasol would make up for some defensive liabilities.

SF – Trevor Ariza

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Can go the bombs away route with corner 3s but is also a decent off the bounce creator. Really he’s pretty good at everything but not especially gifted at any one skill. Probably would get eaten alive by LeBron and Durant but so does everybody.

SG – Bradley Beal

Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards: Game Four

If he can stay on the court, he’ll challenge as one of the best 2 guards for years to come. Can defend, shoot and drive, which is everything you want.

PG – Kyle Lowry

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Everyone else so far is more of a clinical technician, Lowry is a pitbull, playing with extreme heart and power. He’s just now starting to get regular playing time and some credit as one of the best point guards in the league. He’s a poor man’s version of Chris Paul.

Back up SF – Luol Deng

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He starts for Miami but this team needs a plus defender to come off the pine. I would say he’s slightly worse than Ariza as a offensive player.

Back up PF – Taj Gibson

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Two nights ago Reggie Miller said Gibson would start for 25 NBA teams. Reggie overestimated quite a bit but Gibson is a talented defender and extreme hard worker.

Back up guard – Kirk Hinrich

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Even though he played for Kansas, I can’t help but love Heinrich because he’s white guy who plays great defense and can play either guard position.

Back up guard – Greivis Vasquez

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Speaking of a guy who can play either guard position. Vazquez is the type of passer that allows second units to thrive.

Back up Center – JaVale McGee

OCTOBER 4, 2012-DENVER CO JAVALE MCGEE PHOTOGRAPHER: CODY PICKENS

He’s a total head case, but this team needs cheap rim protection. I would rather take a chance on McGee than someone like Samuel Dalembert.

Back up guard – Danny Green

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Every team somebody who is just a lights out shooter.

Head coach – Brad Stevens

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He’s already one of the best coaches in the league. I feel he’s one of the rare guys who is both an X and Os master and a skilled motivator.