Monthly Archives: March 2009
Height is not an important factor in most sports. Take football for example, some of the best players in history have been, lets call it “vertically challenged”. Diego Maradona is probably the best footballer in history and he was only 5’5. “The next Maradona” Barca’s Lionel Messi is only 5’6. But basketball is a sport where height matters: where seven footers are commonplace and where giants reign supreme. Look at some of the best NBA players of the last few years: Shaq (7ft 1), Kevin Garnett (6ft 11), Dwight Howard (6ft 11) and Yao Ming (7ft 6). And that’s just the big men. The likes of Lebron James (6ft 8), Kobe (6ft 6) and D-Wade (6ft 4) tower well above 6 feet. Then there is one man, one man that may be small in stature but big in talent. A combo guard that may be smaller than his rivals but can still deliver in the NBA. A man whom Lebron James described as a “freak of nature”. It’s Nate Robinson, the 5ft 9 New York Knicks guard and a two-time NBA Slam Dunk champion. Anyone who watched Robinson claim his second victory in the Slam Dunk competition last month would have been amazed by Nate’s athleticism. Sporting a green Knicks uniform and going by the name “Krypto-Nate”, in response to Dwight Howard’s “Superman” persona, Robinson jumped over Howard to complete the dunk and win his second Slam Dunk championship. It may be the only championship that the Knicks are going to win in the next few years, but the fact that Robinson was able to dunk over a player who is a foot and a half bigger than him, is a perfect testimony to how good Robinson has become. Since being selected as the 21st pick in the NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns, Robinson was then traded to the Knicks with Quentin Richardson for Kurt Thomas, and has established himself as a fan favourite with the Madison Square Garden faithful. Since the All-Star break, Nate has been in the form of his career – averaging 30ppg, 7rpg and 7apg over five games. The icing on the cake was a 41 point, 8 rebound performance against the Pacers in February. Not bad for a reserve. The fact that Robinson can grab 8 rebounds in a game is a tribute to his will to succeed. 8 rebounds per game is close to what Shaq (8.5rpg) and Dirk Nowitzki (8.4rpg) are averaging for the season, and they are two former MVP’s that are both 7-footers. That fact that a 5ft 9 guard can average around 8 rebounds in a five game stretch is impressive. Robinson is averaging 18.2 ppg this season in a mediocre Knicks team that somehow is still in the hunt for the final seed in the playoffs. With a record of 28-38, the Knicks are 1 ½ games behind the eight seeded Milwaukee, and are locked in a five-way battle for eighth place, competing with the likes of Chicago, New Jersey, Indiana and Charlotte. Nate is seen as one of the most popular players in the NBA, he defies the notion that you have to be tall to be successful in the NBA. Robinson is one of a few point guards under 6ft, joining Detroit’s Allen Iverson and the Hornets’ Chris Paul as point guards who don’t let their size affect their ability to score. CP3 is averaging 21.8 ppg and A.I 18.0 ppg so far this season. Even King James is a fan of Krypto-Nate. Speaking before his Cleveland team took on the Knicks this week, he said: “Love him… One thing about Nate, there are certain players in this league that you know what you’re going to get out of them every night,” James said of Robinson’s boundless energy. Every night, you know you’re going to get high energy and they’re going to compete every night.” Speaking of Lebron, King James has put his name forward to be a part of the Slam Dunk contest next year. That will really provide some competition for Robinson, and he will really have to step up if he wants to beat Cleveland’s number 23 and become a three-time Slam Dunk champion. But knowing Nate Robinson, he will find a way to defy the odds again.
First it was Carmelo Anthony, who was suspended for one game when he refused to take his “hot hand in a close game” to the bench against the Pacers. Then Atlanta’s Josh Smith decided he would follow suit, with an alleged slanging match with Hawks coach Mike Woodson during the loss to the Bobcats, which led to the forward being benched for the entire second half.
Then today saw Lakers forward Lamar Odom banned for one game without pay for leaving the “immediate vicinity” of the bench after Trevor Ariza’s flagrant foul on Portland’s Rudy Fernandez. Is this suitable behaviour for professional basketball players who are seen as role models to millions of people? Or is just a case of inflated ego’s, players who throw a tantrum when they are told to go to the bench by their coaches? Whereas the likes of Chris Paul, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant, Danny Granger and basically every other young dynamo conspicuously sports the New NBA’s clean cut, smiley-faced, trouble-free, earnest sheen, rebels like Anthony, Smith and Odom are be bringing the NBA’s image into disrepute.
The NBA’s clean cut image is becoming more and more evident in recent weeks. The likes of Allen Iverson, Ben Wallace and Carmelo are a few players who have ditched their trademark cornrows in a bid to adapt to the NBA’s new rules. The NBA has always had its fair share of controversial players – just remember Portland’s team a few years ago, nicknamed the “Portland Jailblazers” because of their bad boy image. According to Mark Woods in his Guardian blog, he described them as: “Nutjobs, knuckleheads, ne’er do wells. A rogue’s gallery of the poster boys for too much, too soon, an embarrassment of rich young men who left good sense and good standing at the door when they arrived to pick up a NBA pay-cheque.
Like Zach Randolph, who attracted trouble like Calum Best attracts blondes. Or Ruben Patterson, the registered sex offender who once absconded with a team-mate’s luggage. Or Sebastian Telfair, who thought it would be OK to carry a gun on to a plane. Or Rasheed Wallace’s threats to punch out journalists.”
It’s as if these recent offenders, Melo’ in particular, are trying to return to the glory days of the bad boys. In addition to the DUI last year, the possession of weed at an airport and the 15 game suspension for punching Mardy Collins at Madison Square Garden, a bar fight in NYC, you can now add his public spat with Denver coach George Karl to Anthony’s repertoire of high-profile indiscretions. Karl said Anthony “crossed the line”; Anthony said he shouldn’t have been suspended. “There’s a thin line between passion and an aggressive want to be on the court and emotional immaturity,” Karl said.
Melo responded by saying he wishes George Karl would have kept his insubordination a secret but promises next time his coach tries to sub for him, he’ll sprint right to the bench like a kid lunging for an empty seat at musical chairs. “I’m going to run. I’m going to run to the bench. I’m going to run hard to the bench,” Anthony pledged.
It’s just a bit of a kick in the teeth, when a player refuses to be subbed in a game, it sends out the message that his replacement isn’t up to scratch. Essentially, Carmelo is saying that Linas Kleiza is not good enough to replace him in a game. Carmelo may have thought his response was witty but it comes across more like veiled protest than good soldier obedience. Hardly the correct behaviour for an All-Star like ‘Melo.
Dwyane Wade for MVP? Admit it. You’re starting to consider it, after another stunning performance Monday night when Miami’s rejuvenated star pick-pocketed John Salmons in the final seconds of double overtime, then hoisted a running 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded for the win over Chicago. Wade finished with 48 points, 12 assists and 4 steals and so thoroughly controlled the game. This is a man hoisting a mediocre Miami Heat team on his shoulders and carrying them into the playoffs single handedly.
When Wade is feeling right, he is one of the most devastating pick-and-roll players in the game, bursting to the basket, as Kobe Bryant described it, “like a bat out of hell that nobody can catch.”
Wade is currently part of a three horse race to win the MVP award, fighting Lebron James and Kobe Bryant for the chance to be called the most valuable player.
The race to see who wins the MVP award was probably summed up in two consecutive nights at Madison Square Garden this year. First, Kobe Bryant came and scored 61 points, the highest total of any visiting player. The next day, a certain Lebron James stepped up with a 53 point triple-double. These performances at MSG consolidated the top two in the MVP race, both are undoubtedly amazing players and are in the top five in scoring in the league (Lebron is averaging 28.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 6.2 apg and Kobe 28.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 4.9 apg).
But a few weeks Wade also managed to pick the Knicks apart with a 46 point, 10 assist performance, despite a bloody lip that needed three stitches.
To highlight how important Wade is to the Heat, just look at last season. A knee injury forced Wade to miss the final 22 games of the season, and the Heat slumped to the worst record in the NBA (15-62). This season with a healthy Dwayne Wade, the Heat have doubled their number of wins (33-29), and sit in 5th place in the Eastern Conference. Surely there is no coincidence that Wade’s presence in the team has led to the Heat being more successful, he lifts his team mates to a level far beyond their means, a key quality of an MVP. To show how important Wade has been for the Heat this season, up until this week’s win against the Suns, no other Heat players other than Wade has scored more than 25 points in a game this season until Michael Beasley had 28 and Daequan Cook had 27. The talent level of the Heat shows that even with Wade’s 50 point game against Orlando last month, the Heat still lost.
Even though Lebron and Kobe have been excellent this season, Wade’s recent performances alone should win him the MVP award. In fact, after the Heat’s win against the Raptors this week, Wade has topped 40 points for the fourth time in seven games. What could count against Wade though is the Heat’s record. The MVP traditionally comes from one of the teams in the NBA with the best record, and this explains why the award may go to James or Bryant. Lebron’s Cavs occupy first place in the East (49-13) and have already guaranteed a playoff spot, and Kobe’s Lakers are running away with the Western Conference title, with a record of 50-12. The Heat are only hovering just above .500 (33-29) and it has been well documented (especially in Rob Peterson’s Race to the MVP column) that Wade may drop out of the top 10 of the MVP race altogether if they fall below .500. Why do you think players like Kevin Durant, Danny Granger and Al Jefferson (ranked 4th, 6th and 7th in scoring respectively) failed to make the All-star grade… it’s because of the poor record of their teams – Oklahoma City, Indiana Pacers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
But look at the quality of the Cavs and the Lakers; and then compare them to Wade and the Heat. Lebron has fellow All-Star Mo Williams, as well as the likes of Ilgauskas and Delonte West. Kobe has All-Star Pau Gasol, as well as team mates like Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, all of which are capable of putting up numbers of 20+ points per night.
But then there’s Wade: he is single-handedly carrying a mediocre Heat team by himself. The likes of Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers are talented, but they are just rookies and still have lots of areas to improve on. The likes of Udonis Haslem (10.6 ppg), Joel Anthony (2.3 ppg) and Jamario Moon (9.2 ppg) are not going to guarantee you 20+ points are game. The arrival of Jermaine O’Neal from the Raptors does give the Heat a low post scorer and another option for Miami on offence, helping to take the load of Wade.
So, even though he is in the form of his career and outscoring both Lebron and Kobe, it all depends on the Heat’s form and whether they can get past the first round of the playoffs. If they can, Wade may earn himself that elusive MVP award, to go next to the Finals MVP award that he got when he won his first championship ring in 2006. If the Heat lose, then it’s likely that Kobe may retain his MVP crown, or Lebron will be crowned MVP. Maybe it could go to other deserving candidates: the likes of Dwight Howard, Chauncey Billups or Chris Paul… but no one deserves the honour as much as Miami’s number 3.
He may be one of the NBA’s most popular performers, and one of the most prolific scorers in history (his career averages of 27.7 points per game is the third highest in NBA history behind MJ and Wilt Chamberlain), a former MVP in 2001 and a ten-time All-Star, Allen Iverson is used to being the centre of attention. Since entering the NBA as the first pick in 1996 for the 76ers, Iverson is used to carrying a team on his shoulders on the offensive end. He is used to being the centre of attention mainly because he has been the focal point of his team’s offence.
But then look at the calibre of his former team mates: the likes of Samuel Dalembert, Kyle Korver and Andre Igoudala hardly scream All-Star. Yes, there was ‘Melo (Carmelo Anthony) in Denver, but even the “A.I Experiment” failed to take the Nuggets past the first round of the playoffs.
But that all changed last November with the blockbuster trade that sent Iverson to Detroit in exchange for Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheik Samb. It was a move that could improve A.I’s chances to achieve that elusive ring and his first NBA Championship. The Pistons, with their array of All-Stars such as Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton, won a NBA championship as recently as 2004 and this looked to be a last hurrah for an ageing squad.
But replacing Billups with Iverson in the point guard slot in Detroit simply hasn’t worked. Whilst the Nuggets have flourished since Billups’ arrival, sitting atop the Northwest Division and 3rd in the Western Conference, trailing the Lakers and the Spurs with a 40-22 record.
Detroit meanwhile, have been disappointing. Detroit are six games under .500 with Iverson starting, and are languishing in 6th place of the Eastern Conference, slightly above Philadelphia and Milwaukee. An recent eight game winless streak with Iverson in the team against the likes of Chicago, Milwaukee and Miami highlighted the Pistons problems. Iverson himself has been struggling this season, he is only averaging 18.0 ppg with 5.0 assists. Is Iverson the problem?
Well, the Pistons are now back to winning ways, with recent wins against Orlando, Boston and Denver. What changed? The fact that Iverson is currently sidelined with a back injury and will be out for two weeks might be the reason. Or the fact that Rip Hamilton, who has been glued to the bench to make way for Iverson, is averaging 28.8 points in the games without A.I, with 25 points against the Celtics and 21 against the Nuggets notable examples.
Despite the fact that the Pistons have won three straight without Iverson, Detroit coach Michael Curry says the team still need A.I,”We need Allen, no different than when Rip (Hamilton) went to the bench and we needed Rip. We need all our guys to play well.”
Antonio McDyess agrees, “You definitely can’t say we’re a better team without him… A guy of his calibre, that plays the game as he’s been playing, scoring … you can’t say that.We were fortunate enough to win a game without him last night. This guy can definitely bring scoring, and bring mental strength to this team that we need.”
Whether Iverson can accept a role as a sixth man when he returns remains to be seen. He may have never come off the bench before in his career, but with Hamilton’s good form Iverson may have to play second fiddle. When asked about the possibilty of being a sixth man, Iverson said: “My goal is to help this team win a championship and I’ve said that from the first day I arrived here in Detroit. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help us achieve our goals as a team regardless if I’m starting or coming off the bench.”
Whether Iverson can regain the form that brought him the MVP award in 2001 remains unlikely, and winning that first championship ring with Detroit looks a long way off. With Detroit unlikely to make it through the first round of the playoffs in the highly competitive Eastern Conference, dominated by reigning champs Boston, and the likes of Cleveland and Orlando, unless they can all get on the same page soon.
But Iverson? His contract expires at the end of the season and in a time surrounded by financial uncertainty, it is unlikely that many NBA team will want to pick up Iverson’s huge contract for next season, especially when many are trying to clear cap space for the summer of 2010, when the likes of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are available for free agency. The future of the once-great A.I looks ominous.