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T Mac vs. B Diddy

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Baron and Rob Perez watch a classic playoff battle between the Charlotte Hornets & Orlando Magic.

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Basketball

WTF Baron Davis | Season 1 Episode 1

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It appears to be a normal day at the Davis household. Then Brandon “B-Dot” Armstrong storms in ready to make his entrepreneurial dreams a reality only to find Baron working on a wolf puzzle with his next door neighbor Kenny, a tech wizkid living under the thumb of his leech parents. Baron also introduces B-dot to Ron, a political strategist whose strategy appears to be eating Baron’s cereal and roasting B-dot. 

We also meet Baron’s team: Andy, an exuberant and enthusiastic business manager who knows absolutely nothing about basketball (and potentially nothing about business) and Zoe, Baron’s ever-unimpressed publicist who’s just trying to pick up her paycheck. 

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Basketball

MVP: an 82 Game Award

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Let the record show one very clear thing, out the gate:

LeBron James may have just had the best weekend of basketball, in the regular season, I’ve ever seen. He played the team with the best record in the NBA Friday night, and played the opponent with the next best record on Sunday afternoon. Granted both games were in Staples Center, but LeBron looked like the clear best player amongst the best competition on the floor. He was physical with Giannis, he was crafty with Kawhi. He blew past Bucks and he shot over the top of Clippers.

Each game was competitive, but they were clear Laker victories. Each game had a slew of All NBA talent, but LeBron was ahead of the pack.

Monday morning sports talk was full of arguments over the MVP race. “LeBron did this…” or “LeBron did that…” and the Las Vegas odds on LeBron winning the MVP nearly doubled. NBA talking heads tweeted out their opinions, morning talk shows went all in, and seemingly the single weekend flipped the switch. Tuesday was much of the same… Different commentators taking their turn to say “ya know, this LeBron James guy is kind of good at the whole basketball thing.” This week, we’ve begun to see more and more of the debate style talk shows, podcasts, and radio hosts try to turn the MVP award into a debate as we approach the final fourth of the season. But we need to make one thing clear:

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the NBA MVP.

If he plays even his averages for the majority of the rest of the games, he is on track to be the definitively best player on the best team in the East, after clinching the playoffs faster than any team before him, with Wilt Chamberlian individual numbers.  Giannis’ biggest knock is typically his low raw, per game stats. He is averaging 29.7 ppg, 13.7 rpg, and 5.8 apg. He’s shooting 54.7%/30.6%/63.3%. On their surface, even as the clear leader of team with the top record in the NBA, those numbers aren’t insurmountable. They’re MVP level numbers, but it’s easy to see how someone else may be able to compete for the MVP.

But the key numbers with Giannis begin with a single stat: 30.9 minutes per game.

Giannis is getting MVP level per game statistics and playing less than 31 minutes a game. Average NBA starters play roughly 36 minutes per game, the heavy usage guys playing 36-40 minutes, and potentially more in close important games. Giannis’ per 36 minute stats are: 34.5 p36, 16.0 r36, 6.7 a36. The last nba player to average 34 and 16 per 36 minutes? A guy named Wilt Chamberlain. Y’know, Wilt the Stilt, the guy who scored 100 in a single game, has the highest four ranking seasons in points per game, has the most points in a season, most career rebounds, highest rebound per game average, etc… That guy.

Clearly, Giannis has dominated the games he’s played for every minute he is in. Even in a loss last Friday, Giannis tallied 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists in just over 35 minutes. His “bad games,” the ones where he hits his averages, he’s the only Bucks’ player over 20 points, the only Bucks’ player with over 10 rebounds, and leads the Milwaukee in assists. And they lose by a mere 10 points, at Staples Center.

This isn’t to take away from LeBron’s 37-8-8 in that game, to take away from a big Lakers win, or to make light of a loss in a potential NBA Finals matchup. But in awarding a regular season award, we need to look at the entire season. The entire body of work includes every game. It includes a random game from early January, where the Lakers won despite an inactive LeBron James. It includes the game before Christmas, where LeBron is sitting a few days before a marquee matchup.

It’s not that there isn’t validity in load managing and taking a few nights off; the scientific and on floor evidence both point out that it helps to be healthy and rested when May and June roll around. But the MVP is not “who is the best player, period.” It’s not “who looked the most dominant when they played” or “who hit the definition of valuable on the head.” It’s not “who was the most impressive in the most important games” or “who showed up the best in nationally televised games.” It’s not “who had the most impressive single month” or “who had the most impressive single week” or “who had the most impressive weekend.”

It is, over the course of the entire regular season, who was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player? In looking at the entire season, or at least the first three-fourths of it, Giannis is still head and shoulders above the rest of the league.

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Sure, there are off the floor reasons that a LeBron James MVP would feel great. If there were any doubt before, LA became the center of basketball last summer. LeBron was joined in the City of Angels by All NBA Anthony Davis, All Star Paul George, and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. The NBA off season, and all acquisitions since, have been defined by the LA – LA rivalry. Further, LeBron has been at the center of that rivalry since it’s recent inception. LeBron’s hands are all over the team he built in purple and gold, and there are several players in red and blue he wanted in his locker room.

If there were any doubt this season were going to be about LA, the season’s connection to the Lake Show was sealed on January 26th. The tragic and sudden death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and their friends struck a chord with NBA fans everywhere. The focus became the organization Kobe spent 20 years with, and the stadium he built in many ways. It’s not that there’s anyone rigging the league for a Lakers title run, but one certainly feels like a poetic ending to a season that has been all about Los Angeles. As well as LeBron spoke about Kobe to the crowd at Staples, his dedication of said hypothetical trophy to him would bring flowing streams of tears out of Los Angelenos.

But that doesn’t dismiss that this is Giannis’ season to win the MVP. He ranks first overall in PER for the season, and may record the highest rating ever. His current Real Box +/- ranks in the top ten of any season in NBA history… LeBron’s, incredible in its own right, is 74th all time.

But individual statistics and analytics aside, Giannis also has his team atop the Eastern Conference, before his recent minor injury was on pace for a run at 70 regular season wins, and does not have the slew of handpicked teammates LeBron James has. James can defer to Anthony Davis, an all pro in his own right. When the defense collapses on James or Davis, Danny Green is spotted up and shooting threes at just over a 40% clip. As they showed over the weekend, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard, and Rajon Rondo can all work opposing second units. And if you’re a really unlucky opponent, it might be a night Kyle Kuzma goes 5/6 from behind the arc.

Giannis’ teammates? Sure, Khris Middleton made the All Star team, but he’s certainly never been top five in the MVP conversation like Davis has. Brooke Lopez is a great defensive big that stretches the floor on offense, but he can’t stretch it like Danny. The Bucks second unit is strong, but it doesn’t feature all time greats as veteran role players. The Bucks were built around Giannis being great. They were only going to go as he goes… And as he’s gone, they’re the best team in the league at this point.

The irony of citing statistics, or talking about teammates, yet again in the MVP conversation is not lost. In 2015, Steph Curry of the top seeded Warriors beat out James Harden of the number 2 seeded Rockets. Curry had multiple other All Stars for teammates, where Harden did not. Harden had better individual statistics… but Curry won the MVP. In 2017, the idea of statistics and team success were paramount in Russell Westbrook’s first triple double season with Oklahoma City, when compared to another James Harden season of individual greatness and a top three seed in the Western Conference. The following year, when James Harden won his own MVP, he and his Rockets won the most games in the league… but LeBron James led the league in most statistical categories.

Last season? Giannis won the MVP in Milwaukee as the team achieve great success, even though Harden had a historic scoring season. Harden had drawn his own likeness to Wilt Chamberlain, both in the peaks of his season and the sustained excellence he had individually… but Giannis’ team success and burst on the scene proved too much.

Is Giannis about to take his turn getting the “yeah but,…” when it comes to being the clearcut statistical MVP?

There is a month left, and certainly plenty of things could happen. But as it appears, and as it currently stands, it would take a lot of focus on the narrative and a shift from any inclusion of statistics to give the award to anyone besides Giannis.

So yes, LeBron James had the best weekend of basketball I have ever seen. He did play the team with the best record in the NBA Friday night, and he did play the opponent with the next best record on Sunday afternoon. He did dominate both games, and he did look like the best player on any of the three teams.

But the MVP isn’t about a month, a week, or a weekend. It’s not about 20 games, or the TV games, or even the post season games. It’s about the 82 regular season games. What we’re watching Giannis do over that span is historic… So while we enjoy it, we need to be sure we don’t overlook it come awards season.

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NBA and Others begin Corona Crack-Down… So What Can They Do Now?

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Monday afternoon, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS representatives on Twitter all flooded our timelines with the same piece of information:

As the country remains careful and precautions in handling COVID-19, professional sports have tried to be as in front of this as they can. Italy played soccer games in essentially empty stadiums last week, before suspending play in Serie A today. While Italian soccer will resume in early April, the United States have found itself spinning in much of a March Madness.

While other, larger gatherings in the US like SXSW have been cancelled, sports games like March Madness or NBA games have not. The NBA has asked that media keep a six to eight foot distance from the players in media availabilities, and that they stay out of the locker room. Only “essential team personnel” in the locker room limits the amount of people in close contact with the players, in theory. That does not keep players from being surrounded by one large group:

The fans. The 18,000+ people who are sitting courtside, who are yelling from the rafters, who are reaching for fist bumps and signatures.

But, who paid to get in.

While the fans may outnumber the media members in a locker room by literal thousands to one, the proximity is what the NBA has deemed the issue. Privacy in the locker room has been a push from players and team personnel for a while, and this may just have been the last push the NBA needed to get all non-essential people out of the locker rooms.

But this begs the question: how close are we to having empty gyms for games?

Potentially as soon as Wednesday.

The NBA has set up a conference call Wednesday afternoon with team owners and governors to discuss what the next steps are, including “in case of emergency” plans. Said plans may include some sort of option where the games postponed, and we get what may amount to a second “All-Star Break” of sorts. They may lead to games played in arenas with only the “essential personnel,” which notably does not include one large group:

The fans. The 18,000+ people who are sitting courtside, who are yelling from the rafters, who are reaching for fist bumps and signatures.

But, who paid to get in.

Undoubtedly, the NBA owners will have to wrestle with this on Wednesday. The idea that games are played in empty gyms seem farfetched… but so did postponing Serie A in Italy (and the larger implications for Champion’s League and the rest of Europe are ongoing). So if the NBA does need to grapple with this reality in the coming days…

Will fans get refunds? That could work, but will be a major blow to teams. There’s roughly a quarter of the regular season to go, and teams are already nervous about what the financial fallout from the commentary on China was last summer. And, home games aren’t split evenly. Miami has nine home games left, the Lakers have 12. Repaying all the lost tickets would hit teams evenly because their schedules don’t have even numbers of games remaining.

But simply rescheduling the games will be similarly challenging, because the NBA stadiums get used for various non-basketball things year round. While there’s nothing quite as dramatic as the long roadtrip the Spurs used to take during the San Antonio Rodeo once upon a time, there are different concert tours and things scheduled around the games. Perhaps no stadium is a better image than Staples Center in LA, which hosts two NBA teams, an NHL team, NCAA Tournament games, major comedy acts, a WNBA team, and dozens of concerts. Simply pushing back Laker and Clipper games throws all of that off. Can that really be done? That hits a much wider audience. Just like fans have paid for hoops tickets, tickets to all of the other events in Staples and other NBA arenas have also been sold.

As unfortunate as it may be, the way more probable option may be to just refund the tickets, play in empty arenas, and try to make up the revenue, but how?

For starters, any NBA producer that has had a creative thought needs to break it out. All forms of streaming revenues need to be looked into.

Here’s some ideas to start:

Can we see a stream of mic’d up players? Yes, we can all see Marcus Smart, Patrick Beverley, and Joel Embiid talking the entire game. But, if we could hear it? For starters, all of the primetime Warriors games will suddenly have a reason to be on primetime television… Who wouldn’t want to hear Draymond go the entire game? The NBA has become successful the American pro sports league full of individuals and personality, and what better way to show them off?

Logistically, this may be easier to do without a crowd. We occasionally hear bits and pieces in the rim mics, but what if we put mics strategically along the floor? All four corners, both sides of midcourt, maybe even at each bench area… And there would be no exterior noise to worry about. The only guys talking in the gym would be the guys we want to hear.

It’s also a chance to play with camera angles. Can we catch a stream of the floating camera we see in football games? There are literally no fans to have their view blocked, so can we try it?

The mic may have to fly around too fast, or it may cause dizziness with the up and down nature of a basketball game… but if there was ever a chance to try it, is this not (potentially) that chance?

If the NBA doesn’t want to mess with the acoustics or the aesthetics of the televised game, maybe they need to open up someway to get all of the games to all of the fans. Currently, paying for League Pass is the best option. League Pass costs a couple hundred dollars, and has local blackouts for games that aren’t sold out.

If they have to refund the tickets for the games, the NBA can get major bonus points with fans by opening up viewing and streaming options. One key difference from the normal League Pass would be the need for ads… as this is all a way to recoup some of the money lost in ticket sales. Opening up the game to fans on streaming, while also making more ad money, may be the best and safest option for trying to maintain a strong fan / league relationship.

Whatever the league chooses, it feels that the league is on the verge of proving one of two things:

Taking the press out of the locker rooms implies the spread of COVID-19 is something the league wants to take seriously. And, if the league is taking it seriously, then we are likely very near the idea of fans refunded and staying home.

And if they aren’t?

Then maybe it’s worth investigating why the league decided a few people should miss out on 20 -ish minutes near the players, instead of the 18,000+ that watch the games for a couple of hours.

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