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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

Haynes Bomb: NBA Drops the Spalding

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We’ve become accustomed to “Woj-Bombs” in the last few weeks, even if it’s earlier in the calendar year than we anticipated. Woj Bombs have grown to include more than just Adrian Wojnarowski… Shams Charania, Marc Stein, and Chris Haynes have each become fixtures in #NBATwitter. Each reporter has, especially in the silence without basketball games, broken news that shakes the NBA world. Usually it’s about a specific player transaction, a business of the NBA meeting, or some player’s reaction to something. Often, when it’s not the early days of NBA Free Agency or the last days before the trade deadline, the bombs feel more like duds. Often, things like a shift in sponsorship or minor detail of the game has fallen more in the “dud” category…

But on Wednesday, Chris Haynes “bomb” hit a chord with NBA fans in a way most sponsorship news does not.

The NBA is the last major professional sport to use Spalding, and it may be their last. On the Spalding website, fourteen of the top twenty-five sold items have the NBA logo on them. Seven of their top eight sold basketballs are some version of and “Official NBA” basketball. Apparently, in 2021, that will all end.

Spalding has been the official basketball of the NBA since 1983. It’s the logo in the hands of some of the games most prolific history. When Kawhi’s shot bounced around the rim last year? It was a Spalding. Jordan’s last shot in the ’98 Finals? A Spalding. Ray Allen’s corner three to save the Heat in 2013? A Spalding. Magic Johnson’s baby hook? Horry’s put back three against Sacramento in 2003? Kyrie’s three in the 2016 Finals? All Spalding.

The NBA’s Spalding has been a centerpiece for more than thirty-five years. It’s been the understated logo for the history during the exponential rise of the NBA through the 80s, 90s, and 2000s.

And now… It will be Wilson.

NBA athletes have not spoken out much initially, but the NBA ball has been debated in the past. Summer Leagues, Pro-Ams, and pick-up facilities have lost out on pro attendance when they don’t have official NBA Spalding basketballs. Nevermind the time that the NBA tried to change the ball for a season…

The NCAA has used the Wilson brand basketball for the NCAA tournament for more than a decade now, even though each school is allowed to play with the brand of their choosing (read: sponsored by) for home games. While that has led some schools and conferences to pursue Wilson sponsorships (with the thought being that, if you’re going to use it in March, why not use it all year?), colleges typically use the same sponsor they have for uniforms and sneakers.

Haynes report indicates a lot of the new NBA ball will be similar to the last thirty-seven years. The same leather, rubber, and size specifications are all non-negotiables. The NBPA and Wilson have agreed to meet to be sure the ball is NBA player-approved. While that means the only change will likely be that the logo is different, the idea of playing with slightly softer, harder, bouncier, heavier, or lighter basketballs is difficult to think about. How would, say, a Wilson Evolution basketball change the game? Would Kawhi’s bouncing game-winner have bounced the same if it were a Wilson NCAA basketball?

Or perhaps more importantly, how will those shots bounce in 2021?

(One of the more famous Wilson balls… Probably not the one the NBA will use)

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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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