NBA 2019-20 Awards Predictions

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, and Nikhil Pradeep

With this season happening and being completed in the most unusual of circumstances due to the continued outbreak of the Coronavirus in the United States, the NBA Awards could be affected a little differently this year. The NBA has announced that these 8 seeding games in Orlando will have no effect on who wins what award, and that the voting will take place from today until July 28th, and award winners will be announced during the playoffs (late August, early September timeframe). It hurts award voters because they cannot focus in too much on what is going on in Orlando with their contenders, but instead go 4 months back to see the whole season before the Coronavirus outbreak. That being said, here are the candidates for each award, and our predictions for the winner of each award. 

Most Valuable Player

  • Candidates
    • Giannis Antetokuonmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
    • LeBron James, SF, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Luka Doncic, PG, Dallas Mavericks

Defensive Player of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Anthony Davis, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Giannis Antetokuonmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
    • Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz

Most Improved Player

  • Candidates
    • Brandon Ingram, SF, New Orleans Pelicans
    • Devonte Graham, PG, Charlotte Hornets
    • Bam Adebayo, C, Miami Heat

Rookie of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
    • Kendrick Nunn, PG, Miami Heat
    • Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

Sixth Man of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Montrezl Harrell, C, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Lou Williams, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Dennis Schröder, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Coach of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
    • Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

Executive of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Pat Riley, Miami Heat President of Basketball Operations
    • Lawrence Frank, Los Angeles Clippers President of Basketball Operations
    • David Griffin, New Orleans Pelicans Executive VP

Saransh’s Award Predictions

MVP Winner: LeBron James

The debate between Giannis and LeBron for MVP has been going for the entirety of the season, and with both playing like the two best players in the league, and being on the two best teams in the league, no real separation has been created as to who should be the Most Valuable Player. Again, however, like previous years, we have to look at which player is more ‘valuable’ to the team, and which player has helped their team improve and win more this season. Last season, we saw LeBron miss 27 games due to an injury, the most in his career, and this season, his team is the 1-seed in the Western Conference and looking to secure homecourt throughout the playoffs against their Western Conference opponents. Giannis, on the other hand, is playing in a weaker conference, and playing for the better team, both record-wise, and statistically, despite putting up similar numbers. The biggest argument I have heard is that Giannis carries more of the load than LeBron, but that simply is not the case. Aside from Anthony Davis, no starters average double figures this season, whereas Giannis has 3 other starters averaging double figures. Milwaukee has also only changed their starting lineup once, whereas Los Angeles has had 10 different starting lineup combinations. With uncertainty and less support from starters, LeBron still being 11th in scoring and 1st in assists is as impressive as it gets, especially at age 35. Giannis will have more chances in the future, but LeBron takes this one.

Defensive Player of the Year Winner: Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis joining Los Angeles last summer to team up with LeBron James did not scare people because of his offensive ability alongside LeBron, but because of what he brought to the defensive end. James, while his defensive stats have been down, has had a great impact on the defensive end as a Laker, as last season, the team was top-5 in defensive efficiency before his injury, so adding Davis on just makes them even tougher. Davis is already 3rd in the league in blocks (2.4), tied for 8th in steals (1.5), and the team is 3rd for the season in fewest points allowed (106.9). The stats are huge, but his impact that is shown beyond the stat sheet, by often guarding the best player on the other team (alongside LeBron) both on the perimeter and inside, is what separates him from Giannis and Gobert on that end of the floor.

Most Improved Player Winner: Bam Adebayo

Bam Adebayo, fan-favorite amongst all Miami Heat fans, especially myself, has proved to Miami that taking him 14th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft was a huge steal, and he has turned himself into the franchise cornerstone. Bam went from playing 23 minutes a game and splitting playing time with elite rim-protecting center Hassan Whiteside, to now being the starter, playing 34 minutes a game, and nearly doubling his production in points, steals, and blocks, and averaging a double-double on over 56% shooting from the field. Adebayo has become the great sidekick to Jimmy Butler, both by being a complementary scorer, as well as the rim-protecting defensive anchor. Despite how much Devonte Graham and Brandon Ingram improved, Adebayo changed the future of Miami, and helped them go from a team many thought would be rebuilding or a fringe playoff team, to now being a championship contender. Adebayo is a player Miami has built around this year, and will do so in the future. 

Rookie of the Year Winner: Ja Morant

Memphis, a team that this offseason had: let its last piece of the legendary ‘Grit and Grind’ team go in Mike Conley, finished out of the playoffs for many years, but for once in the lottery were able to go low enough to get a good draft pick, and picked up a new head coach in Taylor Jenkins after spending over 2 months searching for one, finds themselves as the current 8-seed in the Western Conference, and putting all their faith and pressure on the shoulders of rookie sensation Ja Morant. Ja has been an efficient scorer like everyone expected him to be, but to be the floor general and defensive menace he is on the perimeter, was something unexpected. Ja has taken this team over in one season and completely redefined the culture, as now from the old ‘Grit and Grind’, veteran-built look, Memphis now is a fast-paced, pace-and-space team surrounded by a plethora of young talent, and then the right veterans at the right spots. Had guys like Kendrick Nunn, Zion Willamson, and maybe even Tyler Herro been more healthy, this discussion might be a lot harder, but even then, Ja would still be the well-deserving winner of this award, solely on his impact on the team alone.

Sixth Man of the Year Winner: Dennis Schröder

The Sixth Man of the Year award has largely been dominated by Lou Williams, who has won the award in three of the past five seasons, and his 3 wins are tied for most all-time. The only problem for LouWill is the fact that his teammate Montrezl Harrell played just as much Sixth Man as he did, and Dennis Schröder has outplayed both of them. Schröder has been as true a Sixth Man as you can get, be a reliable, big-time scorer off the bench, and start if necessary. While Schröder has only had to start once this season, his presence off the bench has been unmatch, being third on the team in scoring, second in assists, and third in minutes played, he has been a vital part to the success of Oklahoma City, which has been largely unexpected, considering the fact that they traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook and went into a complete rebuild mode with the multitude of draft capital they acquired for them. Trading Carmelo Anthony for D-Schro 2 summers ago has definitely paid off for OKC, as his impact and full potential is on full display for the first time in his career.

Coach of the Year Winner: Nick Nurse

Imagine this. Your first year into your job, in fact not even a month into your job, your franchise cornerstone in Demar DeRozan, is involved in a massive trade for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, both of whom are on expiring contracts and unhappy. You are sworn in to coach these guys to become championship contenders after years of heartbreak at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now that LeBron is in Los Angeles, the Eastern Conference is as wide-open as ever. He not only leads Toronto to the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference, but knocks off the 1-seed Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then wins the NBA Finals over the dynasty Golden State Warriors. 

Now what if I told you that both Leonard and Green would end up leaving in free agency, and Toronto signed no replacements, would you still think that they can be Finals contenders and defend their crown? Most people would say no, but Nurse proved them wrong. Leonard and Green are both doing great playing in Los Angeles, but Nurse’s situation in Toronto is no different than last. Same seed as last year, same record, same team they are chasing at the top of the East. Nurse helped this team become a consistent contender that they failed to be before the Kawhi trade, and made Pascal Siakam an elite power forward and franchise cornerstone, and looks to take his team to yet another NBA Finals. As great as the team has been, they were never this good before Nurse, and it shows.

Executive of the Year Winner: Pat Riley

Much like Sixth Man of the Year, this is a no-brainer. Let’s go back to last April, when Pat Riley signed Kendrick Nunn to a 3-year, $3 million deal (non-guaranteed) right as the regular season ended from the Golden State Warriors G-League affiliate team. Come June, Miami held a lottery pick, but not the greatest one ever at pick 13. Instead, they managed to turn that into Tyler Herro (whom many compared to Devin Booker), he then, without making a dent on the cap space, traded Josh Richardson and a first-round pick for Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade during free agency, and in that same 4-team trade, traded the often-disgruntled Hassan Whiteside for Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless (who found his way onto the New York Knicks after being traded by Miami to the Clippers, then to the Knicks). Then, fast-forward to the trade deadline in February, he traded away James Johnson, Justise Winslow, and Dion Waiters, his 3 biggest contracts, for experienced vets Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder, and then on top of that, signed Iggy to a 2-year extension which includes a team option, therefore not hurting the team’s cap space come 2021, when they try to make a push for Giannis. This team went from dealing with the retirement of Dwyane Wade in the form of a multi-year rebuild, to a championship contender with a fast-paced development for young players like Nunn, Herro, and Bam Adebayo. Those 3, along with Jimmy Butler and the rest of the players they traded for, will be part of the Heat Culture for a long time, and made them a contender for years to come.

Anish’s Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis has been in the runnings against LeBron for the Most Valuable Player. The reason I give Giannis the edge over LeBron is because the Bucks currently sit 53-12 with the best record in the league. Although the Lakers are second, LeBron gets the strong support of co-star Anthony Davis while it feels Giannis is more of a one man show in Milwaukee. Statistically the two are close, however Giannis obtains an advantage in the defensive side where LeBron continues to lack late in his career.

Defensive Player of the Year Winner: Anthony Davis

The reason I chose Anthony Davis is because of his presence in the paint for the Laker. Davis and McGee duo has been a problem for many teams against the Lakers as they make it very hard to score in the paint with their block totals. Anthony Davis currently averages 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals which are among the top defensive players in the league which is why he is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year.

Most Improved Player Winner: Brandon Ingram

This was a close decision between Brandon Ingram and Bam Adebayo. Ingram upped his PPG by 6 and Adebayo upped it by 8 PPG. The reason I chose Ingram over Adebayo is because Adebayo was given more minutes this year by 10 and performed better with more time he was given. Ingram on the other hand maintained the same minutes per game and still increased his PPG drastically. Although he was given another opportunity with the Pelicans and more chances his improvement in a new setting and team makes him my pick for Most Improved Player.

Rookie of the Year Winner: Ja Morant

While all the hype is currently surrounding star Zion Williamson as he was also announced as one of the 2K21 cover athletes, my prediction for Rookie of the Year would have to be Ja Morant. Although Zion has been extraordinary in his few games played, those games aren’t a large enough sample size to win this award and the only other person who comes close in comparison is Ja Morant.

Sixth Man of the Year Winner: Dennis Schröder

Schroder has been the backup to Chris Paul with the thunder but still has managed to put up a great 19 PPG. He is competing for this award with two other Clippers players in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. The reason I have Schroder winning it is because Lou Williams already has won this award consecutively and it’s rare for the NBA to give it to him again. Also, these two Clippers are competing for the award with each other giving Schroder a slight advantage and with their stats so close I give Schroder the edge to win.

Coach of the Year Winner: Nick Nurse

This one is a no-brainer. Nick Nurse should definitely win this award because of how he kept the Raptors in such great shape. After coming off a championship win and losing their finals MVP to the Clippers, no one expected the Raptors to even make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference anymore. Not only are they in the playoffs but they sit second in the East (46-18) only behind Giannis’ Bucks. To take a new team that Nurse hasn’t worked with before that just lost its superstar and has no real ‘star player’ to rely on and still be competing in the Eastern Conference is why Nick Nurse is my pick for Coach of the Year.

Executive of the Year Winner: Lawrence Frank

Lawrence Frank is my pick for Executive of the year for orchestrating the biggest offseason steal of this year. Kawhi was constantly rumored to go to the Lakers or stay in Toronto during the offseason and it came to a huge shock when we found out he’d go to the Clippers. But not only did the Clippers add former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, but they managed to add Paul George too in the package. Frank strategically knew that Leonard wanted to work with another superstar but didn’t want to necessarily be a shadow to LeBron, so bringing Paul George in to co-star Leonard was the perfect move. The offseason completely changed the future for the Clippers as now they’re neck and neck with the Lakers for who will come out Top in the Western Conference. This big move to acquire not one but 2 superstars during the offseason is why I chose Lawrence Frank as Executive of the Year.

Nikhil’s Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player Winner: Giannis Antetokoumpo

The fact of the matter is that Giannis Antetokoump has put up another season’s worth of historic numbers, and has vaulted his Bucks team into the best record in the league. Averaging nearly 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists despite playing less than 31 minutes per game is not an easy task, and Antetokoumpo did it in dominant fashion. Even though Lebron James was league leader in assists before the break, and put up staggering numbers of his own at such a late stage in his career, (25.7 PTS, 10.6 AST, 7.9 REB), I don’t think it’s enough to compare to the accomplishments of Antetokounmpo, and thus I wouldn’t pick him for MVP.

Defensive Player of the Year Winner: Giannis Antetokoumpo

With this take, Antetokounmpo is slated to win the MVP and DPOY awards, a feat that only Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan have ever accomplished. The numbers simply don’t lie when it comes to Giannis’ defensive contribution. He leads the league in defensive win shares with 4.8,he leads the league in defensive plus-minus standings with 4.1, and finally, he also leads the league in defensive rating with 96.3. Combine this with an average of 13.7 rebounds per game, and the most defensive rebounds in the league, and you get a freak of nature worthy of both the MVP and DPOY awards.

Most Improved Player Winner: Brandon Ingram

This can easily be given to Bam Adebayo, who like Ingram snuck his way onto the Eastern Conference All-Star team roster, and make no mistake what he has done this year is very much worthy of praise. However, many people expected him to undertake this maturation and this increase in skill, albeit not as quickly. Brandon Ingram on the other hand was written off by so many people, including myself. He simply didn’t fit under LeBron’s Lakers, and that stunted his growth as a player, to the point where he had to pack his bags and wonder if the NBA was the right place for him. A wildly unexpected coming of age season followed up this culture shock for Ingram, and he, to put it frankly, balled out this season. Since the Pelicans did not have the monster that is Zion Williamson for a good stretch, Ingram picked up the slack and produced OUTSTANDING figures, including 24.3 PTS, 4.3 AST, and 6.3 REB. I’d call it a comeback story for Ingram, one definitely worth the MIP award.

Rookie of the Year Winner: Ja Morant

This might be the easiest pick of the bunch: when you have a rookie who can take a rather mediocre team like the Grizzlies, and put them in playoff contention, you have to recognize the achievement. And when the next closest competition is Zion Williamson, who only played 19 games for the Pelicans, this shouldn’t even be a discussion. An honorable mention has to go out to Kendrick Nunn of the Miami Heat, who put up respectable figures for a player whom many have not never heard of before, however they pale in comparison and impact to a team than that of Ja Morant. Just give my man the award already.

Sixth Man of the Year Winner: Dennis Schröder

Dennis Schröder has been one of those cornerstone bench pieces for years in this league. When Jeff Teague finally left Atlanta way back when, Schröder finally had his change in a starting role, and largely underwhelmed, granted the team was pretty below average as well. In his new role behind Chris Paul with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’s enjoyed some of the best basketball of his career, and gets to do it under the guidance of the point-god himself, Chris Paul. He is an instrumental piece of OKC’s playoff push, something that NO ONE thought would even happen since the departure of Russell Westbrook. Averaging 19 PTS, 4.1 AST, and 3.7 REB, he provides that spark off the bench for one of the league’s surprise stories. Thus, I think he provides a better case for 6th Man of the Year than Montrezel Harril, and Mr. 6th man himself, Lou Williams.

Coach of the Year Winner: Nick Nurse

Nick Nurse took a championship team that lost the greatest thing to ever happen to it’s franchise in Kawhi Leanord, as well as an instrumental piece in Danny Green, and brought it back to 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, with almost no real big replacement. I think that’s enough validation in it’s own right. Just for argument’s case though, compared to Billy Donovan, who by all means has done a fabulous job with underdogs OKC, and Mike Budenholzer, who also has done very well with the league’s best team, Nurse simply outclasses them. Point proven.

Executive of the Year Winner: Pat Riley

Given the expectations for the Miami Heat and the actual outcome, Pat Riley deserves every ounce of praise he can get. When the news of Jimmy Butler leaving Philadelphia broke, I personally wondered why he would go to a non-contender, and one that didn’t even have much of a rebuild in mind. However, the likes of Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Derrick Jones Jr., and others have given this team so much life and so much firepower, they’re honestly one of the most fun teams in the league to watch, and by all means not where most thought they would be at this point in the season. Once again the NBA is treated to the genius of Pat Riley, and somehow he and Erik Spoelstra seem to work their magic once again.

Links you can use to help educate yourself, donate, sign petitions, and much more for Black Lives Matter and Ending Racism and Social Injustice, as well as the Yemen Crisis, Coronavirus, and so much more. With so much going on, it is very hard to keep up with it all, but it is still important to educate yourself, so please feel free to use all of these resources to help you out:

https://www.adhoc.fm/post/black-lives-matter-resources-and-funds/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/10-black-lives-matter-organizations-you-can-donate-money-to-right-now-22948855

https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html

https://blacklivesmatter.com/partners/

https://yemencrisis.carrd.co/

http://issuesintheworld.carrd.co/

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-04-28/coronavirus-charity-how-to-choose-and-donate

The NBA Returns: What To Watch For – Part 1

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, and Anish Dhondi

The NBA is officially coming back on July 31st in DisneyWorld with no fans, and we, along with all of you guys reading this, cannot wait for the return. By the time the league would resume, players would have been on a 4-month layoff due to the season being suspended for the Coronavirus. A quick run-through of how the return will work, the NBA has only invited 22 teams to Orlando, with the bottom 2 Western Conference teams (Warriors and Timberwolves) and bottom 6 Eastern Conference teams (Bulls, Pistons, Cavaliers, Hornets, Hawks, and Knicks) being amongst the 8 that were not invited. The top 6 teams in the East have clinched their playoff spots already, and the top 7 have clinched in the West. Each team will play 8 games and they will be played amongst the 22 teams remaining. 

As far as restrictions, the NBA has created a ‘bubble campus’ within Orlando where all the teams, coaches, players, staff, etc. are required to stay, and only 3 family members can be with you, and they almost must be within the ‘bubble’. Along with that, there will be tests every day for COVID-19 for all players, coaches, and staff, and if you are tested positive, you are out for at least 7 days, meaning that in the playoffs, that could be 3-4 games. Also, teams will eat at restaurants together and can only play golf, and the DisneyWorld rides will not be open for families.  

Now that we have given an overview of the regulations, we bring you to the biggest storylines of the return of basketball:

Saransh’s Biggest Storylines

Kyrie and KD Sitting Out

Kevin Durant was injured last year in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets, and then returned for the NBA Finals, where he would end up getting injured yet again, and has not been back on the court since. Despite the recent reports that he is healthy, he will sit out and get ready for a big title push next season, where Kyrie Irving will also be back and healthy. Irving has been injured off-and-on this season, and even though he is healthy as well (probably healthier than Durant considering Durant is still doing his last bits of rehab), he is sitting out as well. This is a big storyline because, for one, they only have a 0.5 game lead on Orlando for the 7th-seed, and a 6-game lead for the 8th-seed. With no superstars, a thin bench, and only 8 games to play, Brooklyn could potentially have to play-in for the 8th-seed to make the playoffs, or even miss them altogether. Second, if they do make the playoffs, they will face either Milwaukee or Toronto (Boston or Miami is possible but unlikely), but whichever team it is, they will easily sweep Brooklyn. Next season is when we will really start talking about them.

The ‘Other’ Contenders: Miami, Houston, and Dallas

All the talk has really been about the LA teams, Boston, Milwaukee, and Toronto matching up in the NBA Finals, and everyone seems to overlook the other true contenders. I’m talking about Miami, Houston, and Dallas, the teams that have been playing ‘in the shadows’, so to speak, yet still getting the job done every single night. Miami and Houston at one point in the season were as high as the 2-seed, and Dallas was the 4th-seed earlier. Now, with them being at 4th, 6th, and 7th, respectively, they face a different battle than expected, but with 8 games left and still a good shot at a higher seed, you never know. The biggest challenger to Milwaukee is Miami, and the biggest challengers to the LA teams are Houston and Dallas (Utah would be in the conversation if Bogdanovic was not injured. He is now out for the season). Miami with their size, balance, and 3-point shooting to match up with the best in the East, Houston with their unique small-ball lineup, and Dallas with Luka, Porzingis, and other upcoming young stars, these teams are going to surprise a lot of people this season and be around as contenders for years to come.

Nikhil’s Biggest Storylines

The Bubble Teams, And The Playoff Implications That Follow

It’s no secret the NBA wants to get as much viewership and as much buzz back into its games, and the best way to do that is to include as many teams as viably possible into its return. The method that the board has settled on is nothing short of complex and mildly confusing, but in many ways addresses all concerns of proper seeding, fair play, and equal opportunity for each ball club. The NBA firstly has invited 22 teams, which are all teams that were in the top 8 in each conference once the season was paused, as well as teams within 6-games of the 8th seed (New Orleans, Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, and Phoenix in the West, and Washington in the East). These teams will play 8 regular season style, “seeding games” to determine their positions going into the make-shift playoffs. A possible play-in tournament between the No. 8 and No. 9 teams in a conference could be utilized if the ninth seed finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth. In that case, the No. 9 seed would need to beat the No. 8 seed twice to earn the playoff berth, while the No. 8 would need one win from the two potential games. From there, a typical NBA style playoff structure would follow, and a champion will be crowned. It is the battle for the 8th seed, particularly in the West, that catches my eye. As the table stands, Memphis holds the 8th seed, and Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento are all tied for 9th, with San Antonio and Phoenix not far behind. I expect Portland to walk away as the 8th seed once the whole thing plays out, simply based on their experience, and talent. In all honesty, they should be higher up in the table given that Lillard is a bonafide superstar in this league, and he’s with a surrounding cast including CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony. Yes, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson (both of which I will elaborate on in a bit) are very prominent figures in their own right, but the teams they command simply aren’t at the level the Blazers are. I do expect to come down to the wire, possibly with the play-in tournament having to be used as well.

The NBA’s Polarizing Rookies Are Instrumental in the Bounce Back of the League.

The NBA has lost millions due to the pandemic, and since the virus is a worldwide phenomenon, they are losing revenue from everywhere all at the same time. So, in order to bounce back accordingly, the league needs to make every money-making move possible with this return they have in mind. This is definitely part of the reason why more than the standard 16 teams were invited back to the season, by adding the additional six teams, 88 games are effectively injected back into the schedule, and the collective salary reduces loss by $300 million. What is even more of a motivating factor is the massive viewership garnered by Zion Williamson and Ja Morant (Mainly Williamson but i’m trying to be nice). The No. 1 pick in this years draft has carried an insane amount of buzz ever since his high school days, and is a huge money maker for the league. By including New Orleans back into the season, and possibly the playoffs in some capacity, the league effectively boosts their revenue potential, allowing the world to focus once again on Williamson, and the hype to return to the league. Couple this with the lesser but similar effect Morant has had with Memphis, and you have two very prominent incentives for people to start watching again, and get hooked back into the league. By appealing to what the people want to see, the league directly propels themselves back to the position they were in before the pandemic striked.

Anish’s Biggest Storylines

No Home Court Advantage for Players

With this new format being in place teams lack the comparative home court advantage that they would have normally received in the playoffs. Normally a 1st seed team would have the advantage in a series against the 8th seed team, as the first 2 games would be in the 1st seeds court and if it were to extend to a 7 game series the 1st seed would get the extra home game. Now the home court advantage has been eliminated in order to maintain the safety of players. Can you imagine watching an NBA game with no crowd noise? Silence in the background and strictly the sound of the basketball would be a dull game without fan reaction. Ideas have been thrown around as a possibility of the NBA incorporating crowd sound effects from its popular NBA based video game, NBA 2K. Although this sounds strange it may benefit in giving the audience a little more excitement during moments of the game where the crowd would normally get pumped up. Although home court advantage may not seem like a big deal to us, it’s a big deal to the players. Many players thrive in a home court setting with their own fans cheering them on giving them a boost in confidence on the court. An example of this is shown with superstar Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers. This season, Lillard averaged 31.9 PPG when playing on his home court, however that number dropped to 25.9 PPG when playing on an opponent’s court. This is a significant difference for one player and shows the importance of home court advantage which won’t be a factor in the playoffs this year so it’ll be interesting to see how these players perform.

Players Getting Back in Shape

The NBA has been suspended for months and after a couple games it will be the playoffs which is the most important time of year for teams because it’s all of the years work towards winning a championship. Many players however may not be in the same shape as they were prior to the suspension which can be an issue. Without the proper routine and training to get these player’s bodies ready for the rigorous pace of the NBA again, many injuries can occur. It will be interesting to see the difference between all these player’s peak performance during the regular season and the effect quarantine has had on some of their bodies with a lack of going to a gym or being able to consistently work out. Even if players were to be exercising, nothing quite matches the pace of an actual NBA game, so with these players in offseason mode it would be a struggle to quickly get back into shape with no preseason or 82 game ‘warm up’ for the playoffs. Will this affect the favorites for winning the championship this year? And what if a star player was to get Coronavirus or returns back to the game too quickly for his body and gets injured that would have him out for basically the entire playoffs? There are many dangerous factors in opening up this season after a long absence and we’ll see how it turns out.

Links you can use to help educate yourself, donate, sign petitions, and much more for Black Lives Matter and Ending Racism and Social Injustice:

https://www.adhoc.fm/post/black-lives-matter-resources-and-funds/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/10-black-lives-matter-organizations-you-can-donate-money-to-right-now-22948855

https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html

‘The Last Dance’ Review, Recap, and Reaction

By Saransh Sharma and Nikhil Pradeep

The 5-week, 10 episode docu-series on the greatest run by a team in a decade in the history of sports, concluded today, with the ending being capped off with the 1998 NBA Finals victory by the Chicago Bulls to win their 6th championship in 8 years, thus completing ‘The Last Dance,’ which was what coach Phil Jackson called this last year quest for the dynasty. So much happened behind the scenes and off the court that we really did not know until now, and the fact that we got the chance to capture all of that and see Michael revisit and talk about these moments was truly remarkable. There are so many big pieces to the ‘98 Championship run from so many different past seasons, whether it be playing against Dennis Rodman and losing to him and the Pistons constantly and then eventually recruiting him to the team, and also Jordan having retired for baseball, then coming back and getting back in shape, Scottie Pippen’s role, Jerry Krause’s ignorance, MJ’s winning mentality being described as ‘disrespectful,’ and so much more. Here is the big review, recap, and reaction all-in-one to all the events, details, decisions, descriptions, and much more, of how ‘The Last Dance’ turned out to be successful, both as the ‘98 season, and as the critically-acclaimed docu-series.

Saransh’s Reaction

Michael Jordan’s Competitive Nature

The competitiveness of Michael Jordan is second to none not just amongst basketball players, but amongst athletes. Whether it was an NBA Playoff game, golfing with his dad, or just a simple ‘coin toss across the room’ game with the team security guard like in Episode 6, everything was a competition to Mike. The most impressive thing about his competitive nature was what motivated him to compete at such a high level. Sometimes it was as simple as just losing, like it was for him against Detroit and Orlando, seeing them celebrate in Chicago and winning against him in a series, but sometimes it was just one action or comment by someone that was their downfall, and Michael’s rise. When Charlotte stole a game from Chicago in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference in 1996 and B.J. Armstrong talked a little trash, it was over for Charlotte. The next 4 games went to Chicago and they even swept Orlando in the Conference Finals.

Then there was the side of Jordan which I think a lot of people were surprised to see and hear about, which was the ‘not-so-nice guy’ side of him. The stories of him at practices are honestly as legendary as you can think of. He punched Steve Kerr after a practice after Kerr did not back down from him when Jordan got mad at Phil Jackson for putting Kerr on him and making fun of him. He then proceeded to apologize and talk it out on the phone with Kerr, and as they were both competitive guys, they understood why it got heated. But even as great as Michael was, there were still people that did not like his ways as a teammate. Former Bulls Point Guard John Paxson talked about how he would be scared at times, and Power Forward Horace Grant apparently could not eat after games because Jordan did not let him. But at the end of the day, this made Jordan the greatest, the tough love. It was so hard for him to talk about his teammates, that he started tearing up talking about it and hearing about how some of his teammates felt sometimes. But in the end, the hard truth was that it was his way of gaining trust of them, and making them realize what he expected of them. If he did not go so hard on Kerr, Jordan would not have trusted him to take the Finals-winning jumper, he would not have trusted Scottie Burrell to be such a great role player, or Dennis Rodman to go out and skip practices, or even let guys like Luc Longley and Bill Wennington, who got overlooked, be vital pieces of the team in every title run. What made Jordan so great was that he involved his teammates through his trust in them and instilling his mental fortitude into them, and if you did not want that, you did not have to play with Michael and enjoy the great journey.

The Legend of Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr was a man who came from a humble beginning. Kerr was born into a family of UCLA professor Malcolm Kerr, and eventual professor Ann Kerr. As they were both professors, Steve’s family had Steve and his brother very academically-minded and focused, as the only time the TV would be on from Monday through Thursday would be for big basketball games. Malcolm being at UCLA, loved basketball and got Steve into it by taking him to UCLA games, and at that time, the John Wooden coaching era was going on, and the greatest college basketball teams ever were there for Steve to witness live and in-person. Steve played all through high school as well, but did not receive offers until the very last minute, when Arizona offered him a scholarship. At this time, Malcolm had gone to American University at Beirut, along with his wife and Steve’s brother. However, the story of Malcolm being shot and killed was truly heartbreaking, and really drove Steve to be the person and competitor that he is. 

When Kerr got to Chicago, he brought that competitiveness that he gained that drove him after having lost his father, into the championship culture of Chicago. He challenged Jordan, did not back down, did not let himself get brought down by Jordan’s competitive edge at practice, which sometimes Jordan took too far, including the time he punched Steve. From that time forward, however, their trust levels and understanding of each other was like no other. It led Steve to be trusted by Jordan to hit the Finals-winning shot in ‘97, just like MJ trusted John Paxson in ‘93 to do the same thing, whom Steve learned from and mentored. He not only won his rings with Chicago, but also in San Antonio as a player in 2000 and 2002, and a coach of the Golden State Warriors dynasty from the past 5 seasons. All in all, Steve’s competitive edge and love for basketball came from his father, who instilled in him the game, life values, and a hard-working nature into Steve.

Phil Jackson’s Resilience, Even When MJ Left

I think it is taking it a bit too far to say that Phil Jackson was overlooked throughout this whole run, but the work he did definitely can get a bit lost in the shadows when your players are as good as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Jackson was asked to make the Chicago Bulls into NBA Champions after Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen had been asked to make them relevant. He took over as the head coach in 1989 after Doug Collins was fired in Chicago, which, given the success he brought to Chicago, where he took the team from nothing to the Eastern Conference Finals with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the firing was a bit surprising, but Collins had been with the Bulls for a while, so therefore warranted his way out the door. Jackson took over the team when they were very close to ending the dynasty of the Detroit Pistons, and in his first year, he nearly did that. Had Game 7 been in Chicago and not Detroit, Jackson would have ended the dynasty in his first year with the Bulls, but the next year, Eastern Conference Finals rematch yet again, the Bulls swept, and won the 1991 NBA Finals over the Lakers, and then proceeded to win in ‘92 and ‘93. Then, out of nowhere, Michael Jordan retires.

Jackson did not back down or let Jordan’s retirement get in the way of him coaching this team. The team might have lost the greatest to ever play the game, but the team was pretty darn good even without Jordan. In 1994, the team won 55 games and if it were not for a blown call in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Knicks, they could have tried for their 4th straight championship. The year after that, the Bulls struggled a bit, but getting Jordan back got them a healthy seeding in the playoffs, but Orlando stole the series thanks to Horace Grant, the former Bull. He then allowed Jordan to be able to retrain his body back into basketball form and he helped the team add talent, such as Ron Harper and Dennis Rodman, and they helped go 72-10 and win the NBA Finals, and start another 3-peat. And then he did it again, going 3-peat with LA from ‘01-’03, and back-to-back in ‘09-’10. Phil Jackson is, in my mind, the greatest basketball coach of all-time, and it all started not when he won his first 3-peat with Michael, but the seasons he endured without him.

Nikhil’s Reaction

The 1992 Olympics Dream Team

For the first time, the United States sent a team of mainly NBA players to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona to compete in the Men’s Basketball tournament. This allowed the likes of Jordan, Bird, and Johnson to play on the same team, and form the inevitable Dream Team, the likes of which has gone down in history as one of the most legendary teams ever. What came as an initial shock was the exclusion of Isiah Thomas, and the sports media at the time associated Jordan’s icy relationship with him as a defining factor of this decision. Jordan, when interviewed for the filming of the documentary stated that he had no influence on the formation on the team, but did concede that had Thomas been selected, the flow and camaraderie of the team would have changed. Regardless, the cohesion of the team that did end up competing in Barcelona was second to none, and this is what elevated them above the rest. Their practices were some of the most competitive in existence, and this culminated in the infamous scrimmage in Monte Carlo. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan captained their respective sides in an anything-goes, trash-talking, no-holds-barred grudge match. At one point Magic’s team was up 8, and he felt the need to tell Jordan that if the famous ‘Air Jordan’ didn’t show up, they were gonna blow him out. As Saransh alluded to earlier, Jordan took this personally, and instantly made Johnson eat his words. He proceeded to score around 10 unanswered points, and won the game for his team. Those within the team recollected the tension in the air during the bus ride home as suffocating, but the instant Johnson cracked a joke with Charles Barkley, the team’s camaraderie rose back to prominence, albeit with Michael Jordan firmly at the helm of the ship. 

During the Olympics, the Dream Team faced off with Croatia, and the newly drafted Bull, Toni Kukoc. There was some friction between Jordan, Pippen and Kukoc, given that Jerry Krause placed a great amount of praise on the shoulders of the Croatian, and seemingly devalued the accomplishments of the current Bulls roster at the time. In the first game against Croatia, Jordan and Pippen seemed to go after Kukoc during the game, shutting him down defensively, and thus making every effort to make Krause look bad. However, the second time around during the Gold Medal game, Kukoc surged back and showed his worth even though they lost. The Dream Team took home the gold, and Jordan’s legacy started to take meaningful shape.

I found it very interesting to hear Kukoc’s side of this story, especially given the context of his situation before arriving in the league. Having hailed from Croatia, at the time a war-torn state of Yugoslavia, he, along with his teammates during the Olympics, all had an amazing amount of strength and focus that Team USA simply didn’t account for. To trash-talk, abuse, and target Kukoc doesn’t really faze him, simply because it isn’t comparable to the fight for his literal will to live. It just goes to show that no one’s story can be understood from a distance, and that everyone has certain traits that make them unbreakable, no matter what the circumstances are.

Jordan’s Stint in the MLB

The tragic death of Michael Jordan’s father in many ways defined Jordan’s career path, starting with his first retirement from basketball. At the time, Jordan’s reasoning was that he had produced 3 championships, and had given everything he had to the city of Chicago, so he figured that since he had no more challenges and no more motivation to play basketball, he should call it quits. The drama escalated and peaked during a White Sox playoff game, during which Jordan was present. The information of Jordan’s retirement leaked during the game, and the swarm of reporters and fans ensued. The media ran rampant with headlines up until the official press conference the next morning, in which Jordan stated that he was at peace with his decision, and also left the door open for anything down the road. What ensued was a list of allegations seemingly connecting the death of Jordan’s father, the presence of his gambling problem, and the progression of his career to his retirement. Some outlets even told a narrative that David Stern, the NBA commissioner at the time, veiled this retirement as a secret ban from the NBA due to his gambling. This is beyond absurd given that Jordan was the best thing to happen to the NBA financially, socially, and internationally. What is certain however, is that the retirement was of his own accord.

Jordan transitioned to baseball during his retirement period, and signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. This was one of his dreams that he had as a kid, and in many ways it follows his father’s dream to play in the MLB. The issue was that since Michael Jordan was such a polarizing figure all over the country, the facilities apparent in the lower levels of the MLB league system simply could not accommodate the amount of hype that he drew in. Due to this he was placed in the minor leagues Double A league, where the sufficient amount of fans could be accounted for. Couple this with the fact that Jordan had not played baseball properly since he was 17, and it was a seemingly disastrous fate. What no one expected however was how good he was. He started out with a 13-game hitting streak, and after a while opposing pitchers started to throw breaking balls rather than fastballs, the latter of which was never thrown for nearly a month. Jordan’s dry spell resulted in a media sandstorm, calling him out on his poor play, and labeling his decision as faulty. The most striking of these was the Sports Illustrated magazine cover of him missing a pitch, and labeled him as an embarrassment. As we all know, this lit the fire in Jordan’s mind, and he kept getting better and better as the season went on, to the point where it was speculated that he could’ve made it to the major leagues. The MLB had a strike that year, so that element of his career was cut short, and thus he returned to Bulls. What can be said however, is that he made a lasting impact in his reputation as the greatest ever.

Krause’s demolition of the Bulls: Good or Bad?

Jerry Krause has been documented throughout the course of the Bulls dynasty as a dictator type of general manager that would put prospective over his current players and even his own family to an extent. When the Bulls won their 6th championship, there was already huge speculation about what the Bulls would do and whether or not the team would get blown up. Jerry Reinsdorf, the team owner, states that he asked Phil Jackson to come back for the next year, which he turned down. He also states, that it would be suicide to keep the players they had due to injury, egos, etc. Jordan retorted that any player and coach would’ve been happy to sign the one-year contract to chase that 7th championship, and states that it’s “maddening” because it definitely could’ve happened. Following the 6th ring, Jackson, Pippen, Rodman, Kerr, and Jordan all left the Bulls organization, and the Bulls embraced a rebuild that can be argued to have progressed to the current-day.

I know that the immediate gut reaction to this is to have let Jordan and the team chase the 7th ring. But just to play devil’s advocate in this scenario, let’s look at the benefits of how things played out. Given that Jordan himself stated that he was physically drained following the season’s end, and that Pippen had struggled with injuries during the Finals run itself, it is almost a guarantee that someone essential to the teams success would sustain a lengthy injury during the season, jeopardizing a Finals run. This along with the fact that some players would inevitably ask for more money, and some key pieces would get moved around due to the nature of the business, all equates to a significantly lesser change of even getting to the endgame, let alone succeeding. In my mind there isn’t anything wrong with how the Bulls dynasty ended, because they went out on top. Doing so cemented their lasting legacy as the greatest dynasty to grace the NBA, and affirms Michael Jordan’s candidacy for the “Greatest Of All Time” conversation.