Chemistry in Cleveland
The Cleveland Cavaliers are playing out of their minds right now and look poised to make the NBA Finals undefeated. I still think the Raptors will win a game in this series, but I don't feel good about it and it feels impossible for them to do more.
Last night's game 1 blowout was predictable. The Cavaliers were rested. The Raptors are coming off back-to-back seven game series. From mid-first quarter when the Cavs found their rhythm offensively, it was clear Toronto was dead.
What's most impressive to me about the Cavaliers right now is their chemistry. Often chemistry is hard to see, which is why it's so impressive that Cleveland's is so visible. There was a sequence in the first half where the Cavs did something great (it might've been LeBron James' vicious baseline dunk) and the whole bench was standing. That's not uncommon. What is uncommon was they stayed standing, all gathered in the corner of the bench. There wasn't a single player staring off into space, not engaged in the game. They looked like a college team. That college attitude became even more cemented moments later when Iman Shumpert threw down another highlight jam but landed awkwardly. As Shumpert laid on the ground, the entire team came to check on him.
Why does this matter though? What does chemistry like this do besides make us feel good about all the platitudes of sports? The answer is that chemistry leads to trust, trust leads to confidence and confidence leads to better play.
Chemistry and trust lead to a mental freedom that allows players to play without thinking. If a player trusts his teammate will do his job, he can focus on doing his. It also leads to investment in the result. If every player is truly playing for each other, there's a positive pressure to not let teammates down.
Chemistry matters. The Cavs have it. The question is how far it, and their immense talent, can take them.
NBA Draft Projections
This blog will feature surely feature NBA draft breakdowns eventually as its one of my favorite times of year. For now though, a bigger thought on the morning after the NBA Draft lottery.
This thought actually hit me last week during a twitter exchange about Malachai Richardson. The Syracuse freshman had decided to stay in the draft and hire an agent. The particular fan I was interacting with thought it was a mistake. I disagreed. That's fine. People disagree.
What bothered me though is something that bothers me every year around this time when fans around the country scream that Player X needs to stay so that he can get better. Would a player like Richardson benefit from another year in school? Sure, but who says he'll benefit more than leaving.
Staying in school means a player has to go to school. That's time consuming. We mock the term student-athlete, but in terms of a time commitment, it's not joke. These guys have mandatory tutoring time and actual academic responsibilities. A professional basketball player's life revolves around basketball. Richardson is also guaranteed to be on a team who will play twice as many games as the Orange next season even if Syracuse (God willing!!!) wins the national title.
Will he play all those games? Probably not, but that chance exists and every game he does suit up will be against the best players in the world. Colgate won't be on the schedule. A game in DC won't be against Georgetown, who sucks.
Also existing is the opportunity before each and every one of those games to workout with a top level coach. The point of all of this is development, especially for a 19 year old kid, doesn't stop when he leaves school. He's going to get better next year, and he could even improve more than if he had stayed in school. It's impossible to know.
What we do know is that it makes sense financially without a doubt. Richardson starts the money clock faster, and while he would've made more on his first contract had he returned and been a higher pick next year, the difference is overwhelmingly smaller than the difference he'll make between the last year of that rookie deal and the first year of a second contract four years from now.
All that matters in NBA money is getting to the second contract. That's where the real cash is. Now Richardson will get there faster, and as long as he's mentally ready to work and become something in the NBA, it won't effect his development very much at all.
If you didn't sing the word "unity!" like Rick James aka Dave Chapelle from the Charlie Murphy sketch, report to YouTube immediately. Anyway, I wanted to quickly put in a thought that's been rumbling around my head for a week now and I haven't had a place to put it.
Steph Curry was named the NBA's first ever unanimous MVP last week and I think that's awesome. A lot of people were apprehensive about it. They said it means the media is voting scared of being belittled on social media since the voting is public. A vote for not Curry would lead to public scorn. I love it. I think it means we're getting smarter.
There's just no reason that in 1995-96 Michael Jordan wasn't the unanimous pick. He averaged 30.4 ppg on a team that won 72 games. The advanced stats even further cement this as he blew away guys like Penny Hardaway who also received first place votes. Hardaway had a great year. So did Hakeem Olojuwan, who also got a vote. But it was clear Jordan was the best player. Why not just vote for him?
The closest anyone's ever been to unanimous before was in 1999-2000 when Shaq came up one vote short. That one vote went to Allen Iverson, who finished 7th in the overall voting. While Iverson had a great year, scoring 28.4 ppg, it was obvious O'Neal was the better choice. He averaged 29.7 ppg, 13.3 rpg and 3.0 bpg for good measure. Again though, it's the advanced stats that cement the story. Shaq had 18.6 win shares. Iverson had 6.9.
With the NBA's analytical revolution we understand the game better. The numbers don't lie, but only if you know how to use them. We know how to use them better now so unanimous thought is going to happen more. It's not about peer pressure and fear of social media scorn, it's agreement in data. Nobody argues what 2+2 is because we all agree. Nobody argued Steph Curry was the league's most valuable player this year. We just all agree.
The Good Reads
Been a while since I gave some reading recs. For your eyeballs:
Tom Verducci profiled the one and only Vin Scully. My favorite factoid is that when Scully took over the Dodgers play-by-play job, the manager was born in 1884!! The story: http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/05/10/vin-scully-dodgers-tom-verducci-profile?xid=si_social
Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report spent some time with Jon Gruden. It was awesome: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2636358-inside-jon-grudens-maniacal-obsession-with-football
Lee Jenkins of SI profiles Draymond Green. When Lee writes a profile, you bleeping read it: http://www.si.com/nba/2016/05/16/draymond-green-warriors-michigan-state-stephen-curry-steve-kerr-nba-playoffs
ESPN The Mag's WNBA issue produced two awesome pieces I found really interesting. I don't watch the WNBA, but I'm familiar with the players from college, which is exactly the point.
Mina Kimes on Skylar Diggins: http://espn.go.com/wnba/story/_/id/15472015/dallas-wings-star-skylar-diggins-wants-change-marketing-game-wnba-players
Kate Fagan on Brittany Griner and Diana Taurasi's life in Russia: http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/page/espnw-russia160505/brittney-griner-diana-taurasi-opted-play-russia-money-escape-spotlight