LeBron James put up 44 points in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals as the Cavaliers went down to defeat in overtime, failing to take advantage of what was probably their best chance to steal a game on the Warriors’ home floor. It was the highest-scoring Finals game of James’ career, and an at times dominant, yet at times frustrating performance.
In many ways, LeBron did a perfect job of exhibiting what I view as the good and the bad of his offensive game.
The good: He is an unstoppable scoring force who can bring a defense to its knees when he posts up, attacks the basket, and takes on-balance shots in the flow of the offense.
The bad: He too often bails out the defense with ill-advised, long-distance, low percentage shots, often fading away, completely outside of the flow of the offense. When he does this he fails to take advantage of his strengths and reduce his teammates to useless bystanders.
Good LeBron was on display in abundance, as he posted up no less than 26 times – surely as much as any time in his career. As an onlooker who often bemoaned his unwillingness or inability to do work in the low post throughout the first half of his career, it is refreshing and rewarding to see him going to his now beautifully-refined post game. Continue reading
Golden State center Andrew Bogut is averaging 7.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, hardly earth-shattering numbers. However, he has established himself as perhaps the best passing big man in the game as well as one of its finest rim protectors. He has helped lead the Warriors to a league-best 14-2 start and is due proper praise here.
Bogut is a newly-unleashed offensive fulcrum for the Warriors, who are stylistically and statistically much-improved on that end of the floor in large part due to his increased role. I wrote on the eve of the season that the Aussie could “get his Boris Diaw on” and be devastating as a passer in a motion-packed offense under new coach Steve Kerr. He has done exactly that.
Remarkably, Bogut is currently assisting on 18.7% of teammates’ buckets whilst he is on the floor, a distinctly Diaw-like number. Fittingly, Diaw is putting up an almost-identical 18.5% assist percentage.
The season is in its infant stages, but it is never too early to celebrate a player who is putting up 27.7 points, 7.2 assists and 6.3 rebounds and playing some impressive defense. That player is not LeBron James. It is the Warriors’ new and improved Stephen Curry.
Coming into the season, Curry was 40/1 to be named MVP – the 11th favorite to win the award. Based on A) the news that Kevin Durant would miss 8 weeks through injury and B) my firm belief that the Warriors would be much improved under Steve Kerr, I wagered a harmless pound on him. At this stage I wish I had wagered £100.
With KD out and LeBron having a sluggish-by-his-standards start to the season and Cleveland playing .500 ball, the MVP race is, for now, wide open – making those odds look laughably long.
Whilst Anthony Davis is a once-in-a-generation force of nature who is doing unseemly things on the defensive end, the unwritten rule is that the MVP must win a bare minimum of 50 games. AD’s Pelicans may not even make the postseason. Besides, he is only 21 and has plenty of time to win several MVPs before he is done.
The time is now for Steph.
Last year’s Mark Jackson-coached Golden State Warriors went 51-31 and took the Los Angeles Clippers to seven games in the first round. This year, under a coach with an actual offensive strategy, I expect them to be significantly better. Going into the new season, they are the team I am most excited to watch.
Their offense was difficult to stomach last season. Somehow, a team with the most deadly catch-and-shoot bomber in recent history (Steph Curry), two of the best-passing big men in the game (David Lee and Andrew Bogut) and a top-five offensive player at every position conspired to play a distinctively bland and unimaginative brand of isolation-heavy basketball. It left me feeling empty inside. When others bemoaned Jackson’s firing, I rejoiced on behalf of all basketball purists.
Jackson, despite being good for a well-rehearsed motivational speech whenever the microphone was on him in timeouts, was not a good coach for this team. His religious ramblings and us-against-the-world sermons clearly hit home with several of his players, but some actual X’s and O’s beyond “give the ball to Steph” and “post up Klay” would have given them a greater chance of succeeding on the floor.