Why Kevin Durant Is The MVP: By @ProfessorCorria

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How can we describe value? What’s valuable to one individual might hold no significance to another party. However, value theory encompasses a range of approaches to understanding how, why and to what degree people value things; whether the thing is a person, idea, object, or anything else. Everyone with two eyes can discern that LeBron James is the best and most complete basketball player in the world, he’s earned that distinction. Does this make him the MVP? Paul George and LaMarcus Aldridge have put together fine seasons thus far, but team success is only one variable to the MVP quotient. Nevertheless using the eye-test and melding it with advanced statistics, Kevin Durant has risen to the top of the sport for the season thus far. Shouldering a huge load with his running mate Russell Westbrook having missed 16 games, Durant has pushed his game to another level, culminating with a cruelly efficient 54-point demolition of the Golden State Warriors. His transformation from wide-eyed, sweet humble kid into a sneering, brutally efficient scoring machine has been a joy to watch.

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                Kevin Durant has been extraordinary this season, and although I feel that LeBron James is the best player on the planet, but Durant has been the most valuable to his team. Is he the most valuable player in the NBA in relation to his team? That’s very hard to quantify, but Durant is on an elite team, so he gets that distinction as being the MVP of the league. Kevin Durant’s “traditional” stats are very good, averages of 30.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 5.1 APG. Durant is shooting 50.2% from the field, 41.1% on 3’s and 88.1% from the charity stripe.  Something that amazed me is that a player who is 6-11 is the most efficient player in the league at scoring on the pick & roll(Per Synergy Sports), where he is used as the primary ball handler. If you take a look at Durant’s “advanced” statistics you can really start to get a closer look at the monster season that Durant is having. Durant is leading the league in Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, 3rd in offensive Win Shares, 7th in Defensive Win Shares, and win shares Per 48 minutes(Per Basketball-Reference).

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                KD is the MVP and as he keeps ascending, his game keeps on expanding, he is slowly going to morph in the best player in the league and carry that mantle of “standard bearer” for the NBA. It won’t happen this year but it is coming in the near future and it isn’t a veiled shot at LeBron James, but KD is on the come up. Durant has shown up and shown out this year, while LeBron has sort of coasted, averaging the same name number of blocks per game as Stephen Curry and giving up 46% shooting when isolated on defense which is a great deal higher than anyone on his team and way above the league average(Per Hoop Data). Durant has been incredible this season and I think he will win the MVP trophy, which might be accompanied by another big trophy in June….

Images Courtesy SB Nation and Bleacher report

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The Black Mamba

Today is Kobe Bryant’s 35th birthday. The black mamba has been electrifying patrons in Staples Center for exactly half of his life, and even after suffering an achilles tear on April 12th, Kobe is determined to be back in purple and gold this coming season. Kobe has always been a winner, and that derives from his unmatched work ethic and drive. That has been tested this summer as Kobe has been in the toughest battle of his life, against his ailing body. Kobe’s rehab has gone very well to this point, and barring any setback, he expects to be ready when the Lakers open the season. Below is a birthday homage to one of the all time greats.

The Art of the Tank: By @BrettDOIT

Although this week has been filled with ninety degree heat, I am not referring to the popular clothing top.  Nor am I writing an article on TTO about a vehicle of war.  And I am certainly not Jesse James, with an opinion on the construction of a gas tank.  I am however referring to every commissioner’s worst nightmare. Tanking games.

I am a firm believer in the Circle of Life.  If you are a bad NBA team you should be looking to use draft picks, to become a younger team with equally young players who will (we hope) develop into stars, helping their teams become legitimate contenders.  Signing big name free agents is also a quick route to help your team win.  If a bad team is lucky enough to find a superstar willing to play for them, I encourage it! The Circle must, of course, include the good teams as well.  Those at the top are working towards a championship now, before their cast becomes old or is split up for other, financial reasons.

The problem in this Circle occurs when teams refuse to be bad, unable to determine which way their season is going to go.  These teams are stuck in mediocrity.  They need to make a decision whether or not to make a move and become better and possibly contend, or pull the plug and rebuild.  Where people get confused is when the term ‘tanking’ is thrown around.  Simply stated, tanking is losing games on purpose.  The benefit of this comes with falling to a lower ranking, increasing their chances for a higher pick for the best available player.  Despite the seemingly valid rationale, this is highly frowned upon for a number of reasons.  The most obvious of which is the fact that it’s just not good business sense, leading to a decrease in both ticket and merchandise sales.  This can taint a franchise.

When people hear the term ‘tanking’ they think of things like trading away star players for a future pick and keeping injured players out for unnecessarily extended periods of time.  I would argue that there is a more subtle approach to this, still allowing the opportunity for a high draft pick while managing to keep the fans happy.  The key: avoid mediocrity.

I don’t have problems with young teams with a bright future.  My issue comes with teams who would rather be mediocre than bad.  As I write this, many players have joined new teams (J. Smith, Pistons. D. Howard, Rockets. A. Iguodala, Warriors. Etc…) and there are still big name players available (M. Ellis, A. Bynum, B. Jennings) who have been linked to teams such as Atlanta, Dallas, and Milwaukee.

With next year’s draft class being so promising, teams should not be afraid to be bottom feeders for a year. The Hawks were in a perfect ‘tank’ situation.  They had only a few players under contract going into the summer, with Teague and Smith being free agents, leaving them with a ‘bad’ team.  This gave them cap space to pursue Atlanta-native Dwight Howard.  Pursuing Dwight is a solid play.  However, with Dwight choosing Houston, plan B should have been to just play out the season.  The team would be bad, but not as a result of tanking.  They would just not be a particularly talented bunch.  Tanking assumes they are trying to lose, whereas losing would come naturally.  By signing Paul Millsap and overpaying for Kyle Korver they are refusing to be a bottom dweller and in turn are going to be mediocre for another year as opposed to ‘bad’.  Even with a potential signing of another talented guard, this team will not find itself near the top of the East next season.

With the recent signing of Josh Smith and the assumption that the Bucks attempt to re-sign Brandon Jennings or someone to play with Larry Sanders, I can assume both teams will join the Hawks in having a mediocre season as opposed to using their free pass to ‘tank’, playing with the team they have.

Certain teams feel their name is not synonymous with losing.  I feel this year that the Celtics, Lakers, and Mavericks fall into that category.  All three teams are looking to rebuild, yet fear the losses that come with it.  L.A. and Dallas were looking to use free agency to establish a future for their team.  With both teams failing to do so as of yet and with no valuable trade assets available to them, a complete rebuild should be in order.  Neither Mitch Kupchak nor Mark Cuban are willing to sacrifice games for the future of their team.  The Mavericks followed up Dwight Howard’s decision by signing Jose Calderon to a four-year, twenty-eight million dollar deal.  Although Calderon is a solid point guard, he will by no means turn the Mavericks into a contender.  Therefore I expect both teams to join the list of mediocrity.

The Celtics, similar to the previously mentioned teams, are too proud of an organization to lose games.  Yet unlike them, the Celtics have young assets and a bounty of picks.  By trading Garnett and Pierce, you trade away any chance of winning now.  It should be assumed a rebuilding process would come next.  Danny Ainge has publicly stated, “We are not tanking.  That’s ridiculous.  This is the Boston Celtics.” That leaves us with a team of young talent, large salaries, and an all-star Rajon Rondo coming off injury.  With tanking out of the question for Ainge and the Celtics, this team finds itself in the category of mediocrity, albeit with a more promising future than L.A. and Dallas.

With where teams currently stand – in solely my opinion – I would say a potential bottom three teams next season include the 76ers, Jazz, and Magic.  That is not to say that I do not like what these teams have been doing.  All three used the draft wisely, and will be good in the near future because of it.  By avoiding mediocrity these teams have acquired young talent such as Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Trey Burke, and Victor Oladipo, while accepting the role of a team who does not have to tank.  They are naturally ‘bad’.  Even though teams like Detroit and Dallas may be better than a team like Utah this year, they will suffer for that mediocrity in the years to come.

NBA Draft Preview: The Ocean State Edition

In a matter of hours, dozens of young men will see a childhood dream come true, as they’ll become professional athletes and members of the NBA. Whether they were Mcdonald’s or collegiate All-Americans, or foreigners who have been competing as boys, amongst men overseas; the slate will be wiped clean as they embark on a new journey. New Englanders, (Rhode Islanders in particular) will have a close eye on tonight’s draft, as multiple prospects who either hail from Lil’ Rhody, or played their high school ball here, are expected to hear their name called. You would be hard pressed to find a mock draft that does not include the names, Ricky Ledo, Erik Murphy, and Michael Carter-Williams, all of whom have come from, or through the Ocean State.

PG Michael Carter-Williams- Syracuse (So) While he resides in Hamilton, Mass, Carter Williams became an All American while playing at St. Andrew’s. He then went on to take the Big East by storm, as the catalyst of a very good Syracuse Orange team. Carter-Williams wowed everyone with his scoring and passing ability, all while making it look effortless. He came on very strongly in the latter part of his sophomore season, playing his best ball, and elevating his stock into the top 10. Carter-Williams is expected to go anywhere from #7 overall (Kings) to #13 overall (Mavs). He will be expected to be a franchise PG one day, and if he continues to learn and grow at this rate, it seems likely that he’ll live up to those lofty expectations.

SG Ricardo Ledo- Providence (Fr) Is there a more intriguing prospect in this 2013 draft then Ricky Ledo? The young man who chose to stay home for his college ball, never got to put on a Friars uniform after being ruled ineligible.  Ledo never waivered in his journey, and continuously put on unreal shooting displays for NBA scouts in practice. After impressing many at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Ledo traveled the country working out for a large group of NBA teams, who were looking to get a first hand taste of what he is like, and what he’s capable of on the court. Ledo is regarded by many as the best pure scorer in this class, but with him sitting out a year, some NBA GM’s may be a bit weary to pull the trigger. He may hear his name called as early as the lottery, and as late as the beginning of the second round. Ledo has impressed in recent months, and I expect a team to choose him somewhere between the late teens, and the early twenties. Regardless, of where he lands, Ledo seems poised to silence the critics, and let his play answer any of the lingering questions anyone may have.

PF Erik Murphy- Florida (Sr) Not many 4* recruits had a college career quite like South Kingston’s own Erik Murphy. Not only did Murphy stay in school for four years, he went through his share of ups and downs in those four years. Murphy, who comes from an outstanding basketball family, continued to work on his game and became Florida’s most consistent player last season. He is your prototypical NBA stretch four, and is considered by many as the best big man shooter in this year’s draft class. Murphy is expected to go in the mid to late second round in tonight’s draft, and may end up being a steal because of the tremendous upside he possesses, with his shooting touch and basketball IQ.

All three of these young men have traveled vastly different paths to end up where they are today, and in the end their love for the game of basketball has trumped any, and every obstacle set before them. On this day, they are able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, with the reward of becoming professional basketball players. It’s not to often that this little state of ours produces professional athletes, and tonight we will likely see multiple Rhody natives become members of the NBA. This is a rare thing, and something we should all enjoy and appreciate, as we don’t know for certain when this will happen next. I wish these three young men the absolute best of luck, as they embark on this journey, and look forward to watching them go from the countries smallest state, to the world’s biggest stage.

TTO x S4TB: The Basketball Talk (Parts 1 & 2)

Recently Professor Corria and I teamed up with the talented gentlemen over at Sorry 4 The Blog to touch upon the numerous story-lines of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, and what’s ahead for NBA hopeful Ricky Ledo. Both parts 1 and 2 have already dropped and can be seen below, and be sure to keep an eye out for remaining videos in the series.

The Business, Man.

Shawn Carter is not only the greatest rapper alive (not debatable) but in recent years, the Brooklyn born rapper has immensely raised the bar for musicians and artists who look to venture outside of music in order to gain recognition and ultimately, increase the cash flow. We’ve seen The Jigga Man, make numerous power moves within the rap game, CEO of Def Jam Recordings, co founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, founder of Roc Nation, and so on. He’s ventured outside of music and struck gold with his Rocawear clothing line (that sold for $204 million dollars, in 2007), he’s opened multiple 40/40 Club’s, his lavish chain of sports bar’s, and he was also a pivotal part of the Nets move to Brooklyn this past season, as a minority owner.

“Would’ve brought the Nets to Brooklyn for free, except I made millions off of you fucking dweebs. I still own the building, I’m still keeping my seats…” This line appeared in a recent track released by Jay entitled, “Open Letter” and stirred up some discussion amongst rap fans, and basketball fans alike. Had Jay sold his shares of the Nets? The organization he almost single-handedly re-branded, and brought to his hometown of Brooklyn. If so, why would he do such a thing? The Nets seemed to be his first born (sorry Blue Ivy). Days later it would go public that Jay-Z had indeed sold his 1/15 of a single percent share of the Nets, for $350,000 and shifted his focus to another aspect of sports, representation.

On April 2, Jay-z launched Roc Nation Sports, and in true Hov fashion, he has teamed with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the industries most prominent sports and entertainment agencies. His first client? None other than Major League Baseball’s best second baseman, and New York Yankees slugger, Robinson Cano. Cano, not only signed with the agency headed by a rapper, but also left the top agent in the game of baseball, Scott Boras. Since the launch, Roc Nation Sports has also signed the WNBA’s 2013 #1 pick, and new face (a beautiful one) of the league Skylar Diggins, and according to multiple media outlets he has also signed NY Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, although the official Roc Nation site does not confirm a Cruz signing, as it does Cano and Diggins, (CAA does claim Cruz, and credits Jay-Z for bringing him aboard). This is a testament to the legend Jay-Z has created, not only in the music industry but far beyond that. It has been said, many, many times that sports and music are synonymous. Athletes often get hype for games listening to music. Music, that often features lyrics driven by comparisons or homages to those same athletes. This move though, this  is on a whole different level.

The launch of this agency was greeted and digested by many as another business move in which Jay-Z would use his fame and wide reach to line his pockets and the pockets of his associates. Many felt Jay-Z would simply be the face of Roc Nation Sports and use his friendship with numerous superstars to convince them to sign with Roc Nation. An easy conclusion to come too, and one that seemed likely. That is until the NFL and MLB stepped in, and promptly put an end to that notion. As I stated above, Jay-Z has already signed Cano, and has also seemingly signed Cruz, much to the chagrin of their respective leagues. Both of whom suspected tampering on Mr Carter’s behalf while he was courting these two stars. There is no issue with the friendship between these men, but when that friendship is deemed responsible for the defection of an athlete from one agency to another, that’s when the lawyers get involved.

Rivals agencies and league officials alike raised concerns with Jay-Z’s new role in sports management, and they were not going to take this lying down. CAA was somewhat able to come to the rescue of their new partner, and tie up any loose ends regarding their clients, but Jay-Z wasn’t in the clear. He would be able to represent MLB and NFL athletes, but if he wanted to handle NBA stars he needed to relinquish his shares of the Brooklyn Nets. Being that basketball is his first love, and he’s often seen court side in numerous NBA arenas, the ability to handle NBA athletes must’ve been a priority when starting his agency. Almost immediately, Hov began selling of his shares of the Nets, proceeded to complete, and then filed the necessary paperwork to become a certified sports agent. Jay-Z or rather, Shawn Carter’s applications with the MLB and NFL have already been approved, and he is expected to be approved by the NBA just in time for June’s NBA Draft. Making him the most recognizable, and influential sports agent across the countries three most predominant sports.

So what, or rather who is next for Hov and CAA? The rumors has already started with Kentucky freshman PF and projected #1 overall pick Nerlens Noel. As we all know, Jay-Z has a solid relationship with Kentucky and Coach Cal, not to mention his relationship with high school and college “handler” World Wide Wes. I expect Jay to make a run at a few more MLB stars, predominantly African Americans. There has been an infusion of young, talented African Americans in the big leagues recently, and I would expect Jay-Z to capitalize on that. Roc Nation Sports will surely venture more into the NFL, and I am certain that Cruz will not be their only client come opening day in September. Jay-Z seems extremely serious about this venture, and in due time I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a certified agent in other, more worldly sports, helping to grow his brand on a global scale.

Could the NBA’s best player team up with his good friend, who doubles as one of his biggest fans? Lebron James and Jay can often be seen together, whether it’s courtside after a game, or out on the town, because of this and CAA’s reputation as one of the best agencies in the game. A jump to Roc Nation Sports wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Shoot, maybe Jigga will even sign former KC Chief running back Larry Johnson. I know you all remember him being down with the ROC during his playing days. Ok, so maybe he won’t, but whether or not you like Jay-Z the rapper, you have to respect Mr. Carter the mogul, as he hasn’t taken many losses in the board room. This agency is a big time power move for Jay and his brand, and only solidifies that fact that he is indeed not a businessman, but rather a business…man.