Monday, 6 October 2014

Baseline Leaner Sword of Omens: Most Improved Player 2014-15

The Sword of Omens gave Lion-O the power to see into the future. We are calling on it to help us predict season 2014-15.

The NBA’s Most Improved Player is, along with the Rookie of the Year, probably the hardest to predict. Logically, past performance gives us an excellent base when selecting our MVP, Sixth Man and Biggest Waste of Cap Space. In the case of rookie players, we’re obviously working with a blank canvas, making things difficult to call. We’d argue that the MIP goes even one step further as poor or mediocre performance in previous seasons is usually a requirement for winning. Not often will a player win for elevating his play from great to outstanding – it can be better to go from Gerald Green to GERALD GREEN. That said, 2014 MIP Paul George is a recent example of a B or B+ player rewarded for becoming an A or A+ one. Goran Dragic went from a C+ to an A last season, too, and took home the trophy. 

We’ve aimed to identify contenders from both camps, aided as always by our Sword which predicts the future - namely who Panthro should nunchuck first and where this year’s NBA hardware is headed. 

The Outsiders

The players making up our long shot group could likely walk unidentified into the homes of most casual fans and disinterested beat writers of Any Team But Their Team. In the tradition of previous winners such as Isaac Austin and Darrrel Armstrong, obscurity may give them an edge - upping the wow factor if and when they put numbers on the boards.

Troy Daniels enjoyed a moment in the sun during last year’s playoffs after spending the regular season raining 3’s and breaking D-League records. He is a chance to play more as the Rockets look to fill the gap left by the reliable Chandler Parsons. Free-agent signing Trevor Ariza is likely to get most of his shots and minutes but has a history of going in the tank after balling in his contract years, leaving the door slightly ajar for Daniels.

BL favourite Rudy Gobert is an enormous human capable of dominating a box score with his size and intensity - see this excellent piece from Zach Love for more. Unfortunately for Rudy's MIP candidacy, he will struggle to get minutes with former top 3 picks Favors and Kanter ahead of him in the rotation.

Another big guy with international roots, Gorgui Dieng, has shown plenty of promise in Minnesota. Unbeknowns to Kevin Martin, Kevin Love is no longer on the team, freeing up time in the front court. However, with Minnesota’s roster in a state of flux, it’s hard to predict who will start, let alone who will be featured.

Maurice Harkless warrants a mention as he aims to establish himself as Jacque Vaughan’s 3 and D guy of choice. The Magic are flush with options on the wings - Harris, Oladipo, Gordon – but Harkless may have the best combo of skills to suit today’s league. Minutes are still far from guaranteed and it's hard to see him playing consistently enough to make a huge impact on the voters.

Other MIP dark horses, in brief:

Alex Len –  2013's #5 pick with an opportunity to play move in Season 2
Shelvin Mack – underrated combo guard who may step into Louis Williams’ vacated role
Kendall Marshall – may start for Milwaukee and has put up strong numbers when given minutes thus far in his career
Fournier – promising player now on the Magic and their only wing with a proven 3 point shot
CJ Miles – on a Pacers team with a huge scoring hole to fill in the absences of Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Known to shoot it everytime he goes near it and make them in bunches
Mason Plumlee –spent all summer with Team USA, which usually bodes well for an improved NBA year
Shumpert – his skillset should fit nicely in Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher’s NYK triangle
Ray McCallum – should start with Isaiah Thomas gone and can hoop a bit

The Contenders

Even though our Sword flagged almost half the league as an MIP dark horse, it was still able to identify a few legitimate contenders. The most obvious is reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who fits the Paul George-mould as a borderline All-Star who may become an All-NBAer. If Kawhi were to continue his Finals form - especially his form from the last 3 games - and sustain it for all 82 this year, it’s fair to say he’d be a runaway winner. However, in San Antonio, where the ball moves without agenda, minutes are restricted and winning comes before individual accolades, Kawhi’s true value will likely continue to exceed his per-game averages.

A similar multi-faceted talent with similar ginormous limbs, Giannis Antekoutompo, is another player expected to figure in end of year MIP discussion. Compared to Pippen and Magic, among others, Jason Kidd’s experiment of playing him at point-forward during the Vegas Summer League has people wondering if he can be a regular triple-double threat from as early as this season.

Your 2014-15 Sword of Omens Most Improved Player(s): Gordon Hayward and Andre Drummond

The Sword almost melted when trying to arrive at a verdict and eventually settled on a tie, before being placed in a freezer to cool down. Both Hayward and Drummond were involved with Team USA in the off-season, and as noted above, participation in these camps has been known to kick start a career or two.  Moreover, both players have shown potential to be franchise-cornerstones. Hayward was one of only 5 players last season to average 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists and Drummond’s per 36 minute numbers - 15.1ppg, 14.7rpg, 1.8bpg and 1.4spg - are pretty impressive.

Hayward had an off-year shooting wise in 2013-14 which is likely an anomaly, given his solid numbers earlier in his career. He also looks to have added some serious muscle to his frame which may lead to more points in the paint and even some minutes as a stretch four, where he’ll be a very tough cover. It’s his do-it-all ability that remains his calling card and that’s why season averages of 20-5-5 are not beyond him in 2015. The Sword says it will be.

As for Drummond, he has had an off-decade when it comes to shooting free throws, but when you can dominate a game at both ends, people don’t tend to care. Whether by chance or by choice, Detroit have turned their entire basketball operation over to Stan Van Gundy, former coach of Shaq and Dwight Howard (before everyone hated Dwight Howard.) If anyone can get the most out of a physical specimen like Drummond, you’d think it would be Stan. Detroit’s bizarre roster composition meant that Drummond was often on the floor with Greg Monroe and Josh Smith last season, allowing him little room to operate. If Stan’s past is anything to go by, he’ll put a bullet in that lineup early, surrounding Drummond with the Pistons grip of shooters –  Kyle Singler, Jodie Meeks, stretch 4 Josh Harrelson and DJ Augustin, to name a few. This is the man who paid $110 million for Rashard Lewis before "stretch 4s" were cool. We’re predicting that we'll see many of the same sets that Stan and Dwight’s Magic ran during their time as an Eastern Conference powerhouse, with Drummond playing the roll of leading man. Pacing the league in rebounds is well within Drummond's reach this season, after narrowly missing out last year, and averaging 16-20 points a night should be in sights. The Sword says he does both and shares what we fondly refer to as The Borris Diaw Award with Hayward.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Male Model from Mudgee vs Josh Childress

Some amazing work from Kenny. Just incredible.

Ken Sutcliffe and Josh Childress
(October 5, 2014)

GIF of the Week: Tony Allen to Tony Allen

An under appreciated effort by Tony Allen as a rookie during his first visit to Denver. It is not unforeseeable that Ricky Davis put him up to this.

Tony Allen windmill vs Denver Nuggets
(February 25, 2005)

Card of the Week: Skybox Super Hugo

To mark the return of the Charlotte Hornets, the Super Hugo promotional card by Skybox: