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Kawhi Leonard is the NBA’s Jason Bourne



He wakes up in a cold sweat, on a tropical island as the ocean waves pound the beach outside his hut.

The man is lost in thought; his green tank top soaked in perspiration as the regrets of his life weigh him slowly. His joints creek and his back aches as he makes way to the bathroom; he glances at the mirror for a moment, barely able to look.

This is Larry Bird—the man who cast away Kawhi Leonard.


The organization knew exactly what they were looking; R. C. Buford standing at the back of a humid gym on the outstretches of Tijuana. He observed the hardwood diligently as the navy men in the bleachers roared for a corn rowed saint. The young man fit a profile: athletic, cerebral, and malleable.

His past would sometimes fire the synapses like battery acid on a wire—he remembers bits and pieces. Blindfolded. Thrown in the trunk of a car. Led to the Alamo bunker before the draft. Buford and shot doctor Chip Engelland teaching him the corner three in an empty gym. He was versed in being a Spur and everything that entailed.

This is not a drill soldier.

The young man’s final exam was killing an hombre somewhere around Puerto Escondido on the western rim of Mexico. Streams of blood permeated his dreams. Surfers found his body floating on the Pacific tide, exit wounds and all; it’s a miracle the sharks hadn’t caught wind.

Leonard went in survival mode; a rogue soldier living on instinct.

Like Bourne he had a natural gift for anticipation. It’s just wrong. The guy. The car he’s driving. What he’s wearing. It’s just wrong. Leonard would see plays before they happen. Stealing balls. Blocking shots. Reading the body language of his opponent.

I send you to be invisible. I send you because you don’t exist.

Leonard became a master of blending in; traveling across the hemisphere with a suitcase of cash, passport, and his 1997 Chevy Tahoe.

Everything about him was efficiency. Modest clothes. No entourage. A haircut from an era long gone by. He cultivated a knack for languages; learning from agents hailing form Argentina, France, and Italy.

Both assassins mastered the art of stasis –the complete conservation of energy.

…Then striking with fury.

Bourne used it best at the Customs House in Naples. Sitting silently under armed watch.

Lunging to his feet. Punch. Punch. Two unconscious men on the ground.

Kawhi uses stasis even more often. Watch him before a game: hands on his knees, not moving a muscle. Sweat dripping as he awaits what may come. You’ll see the same every free throw, just motionless until motion is needed.

Defensively, it’s his anchor.

He quietly probes the man in front of him, lulling him into a false sense of control. Lunge. Yank. Leonard suddenly heading down court for a dunk; his opponent not clear what just happened.

Bourne would use whatever he had available to defend himself: a pen, a rolled up magazine, an old shotgun. Kawhi would use his gangly paws and length. There was no glory in what they did. Bourne would kill a man, and wash off the blood.

There was no sentimental Hollywood music, no action star machismo, no smiling for the camera. For Kawhi, the audience didn’t even exist. He put the ball in the basket and trotted downcourt as if he were alone.

Silence is the umbilical cord that ties them together. Bourne stayed mute as a way to keep off the radar, yet masking that he didn’t know who he was. There was loneliness. A horror. An awful truth their fathers had both been murdered.

His mind is broken.

Bourne had no natural allies, yet CIA leader Pamela Landy slowly became his friend. She believed he was being set up; that the agency was corrupt. Landy called the Russian interior minister and saved his life. She told him who he really was.

Kawhi developed that type of bond with Popovich, an Air Force man who was gruff on the surface and morally strong.  There was a moment that marked their kinship. Heading into a timeout, Pop walked up and gently put his fist into Kawhi’s chest over and over and over again. Leonard was the future of his franchise, and he would never lead him astray.

Of course it was Marie who balanced out Bourne. The German gypsy with auburn hair was talkative, jovial, worldly, and eccentric. All things he was not. When Marie was sniped by a Russian agent with a bullet meant for Bourne, he did something he had never done before: he went on the offensive.


Kawhi Leonard’s soul mate was always Tim Duncan.

Timmy was an islander with an I’ve seen it all laissez-faire life. He was sarcastic. A jokester. He talked non-stop on the court. His defensive prowess around the rim allowed Kawhi the latitude to roam and play free safety and become the ultimate NBA cornerback. Duncan was the calming hand on the back of Kawhi’s head.

How could I forget about you? You’re the only person I know.

That all ended in Oklahoma City when Timmy put his finger in the air and left the game for good; super free agent Kevin Durant had put a hit out on Kawhi, and ended up taking out Duncan instead.

Bourne took a train into Moscow alone, bloody, limping; screeching a cab through pouring rain with the KGB and the Russian police in pursuit. He found his man, the one who took Marie. Putting his gun to his head, yet sparring his life.

Look at this. Look at what they made you give.

Kawhi is not the man we once knew; he’s now alone down by the border.

Both agents will use technology; Bourne with his cell phones, surveillance scopes, and high speed driving. Kawhi engaged in analytics, statistics, and biometrics.

Leonard learned to control the flow of the game off the dribble with better handles. Patience. Working the pick and roll. Creating his own shot. Launching a nouveau pull up jumper from behind the arc. Defenses will gravitate towards him, and he’ll find the open Spur.

Kawhi’s vocal chords are opening up. Talking on the bench. On the court. Even to the press. The elusive 50-40-90 club is not out of question, nor is a League MVP and a pardon from the agency.

Nonetheless, there will always be demons.

Cold sweats. Ocean waves. The world is still a dangerous place, and for that, they must always run.

Kawhi pulls out a crumpled photo out from his pocket. His face is still, as a single tear rolls down his cheek to the ground below. It’s a photo of him and Tim Duncan.

He’s off to Oakland to find a sniper; Kawhi’s gotta promise to keep.

Marc is a Montreal-based writer and filmmaker. His work has appeared on, Sole Shift Magazine, and Sportsnet. Marc is co-founder of Hoops Lounge, the oldest weekly basketball show in Canada. He was the only Canadian media covering the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Marc enjoys travel, indie films, Pistol Pete montages, and always believing in Kawhi Leonard.

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Ranking the Second-Best Player on Every 2017–18 NBA Team — and Why It Matters

In a star-driven league, could the second banana be the one that shows us how good a team really is?



Image via FanRag Sports

Two weeks ago, Press Basketball published a ranking of the best player on each NBA team for the 2017–18 season, from LeBron James to D’Angelo Russell. Amidst the many responses (and Devin Booker stans), a few people wondered who was the worst second-best player on each NBA team. One thing led to another, and eventually curiosity ranked the KAT.

Below is a ranking of all 30 second bananas for the new NBA season. Any ranking is fun to argue over, but these rankings turned out to be pretty enlightening, too. The NBA is a league driven by stars, perhaps more than any other major sport. And in a star-driven league, a ranking of the top stars turns out to be a pretty good facsimile for a ranking of the teams themselves.

Let’s take a look at the rankings and draw some conclusions at the end…


Golden State Is Not Fair

1. Steph Curry, Golden State

You can argue whether Curry or Durant is second best, but they’re both top five players and that’s what makes Golden State so dangerous.

But it’s not just that. If we did a third piece (narrator: they didn’t) ranking the third-best players, Draymond Green would be a runaway winner. So too Klay Thompson among fourth bananas and Andre Iguodala with fifth wheels. If anything, the gap between one and two on each list just gets bigger and bigger.

That’s why the Warriors are so unfair. It’s not just the two superstars at the top but also the depth. Think of it this way: if the worst happened and Golden State lost Curry or Durant for the season, they’d still have a top-three best player, Draymond would still be a top-three second banana, and Klay and Iggy would still be top-three third and fourth players. Even without Steph or KD, the Warriors would still be deeper and better than every team in the NBA.

Of course, 73–9 already proved that.


Everyone Wants a Second Superstar

2. Chris Paul, Houston
3. Paul George, Oklahoma City
4. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans
5. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota

You can tell how good these stars are because you could argue for each of them over their superstarrier teammates any given night. We talked about these four teams all offseason, in part because they’re all so much better than they were a year ago because of their star acquisitions.

You’ll notice they’re all out West. Eight of the top-nine second bananas are in the West. The conference disparity is real. The Thunder, Pelicans, and Wolves have all struggled at times, but they’re three of the five teams with a pair of legitimate superstars, so don’t count on them falling away so easily.


Everyone’s Favorite Underrated Players

6. Mike Conley, Memphis
7. Kevin Love, Cleveland
8. Paul Millsap, Denver

None of these guys are actually underrated after years of Basketball Internet complaining how underrated they’ve always been, but they’re still awesome. Conley has the highest ceiling of the trio as we saw last May, high enough that perhaps Marc Gasol should have been here. He can take over the game for stretches. Love and Millsap can’t quite do that, but they’re the best traditional power forwards in a league that doesn’t really play guys at the four anymore.


The Second Bananas

9. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
10. Al Horford, Boston
11. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto
12. C.J. McCollum, Portland
13. Bradley Beal, Washington
14. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia
15. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio

Every player on this list is a star. Each brings a lot to the table, but they each take something off too. Some of them don’t play defense. A couple can’t shoot. A few can’t seem to stay healthy. All of them feel like second bananas.

Well, all of them except Ben Simmons. He’s the lone rookie that counts as his team’s best or second-best player, and that’s because he’s not exactly playing like a rookie. It’s probably foolish to rank Simmons this high so soon, but not many guys average 18/10/8 with three stocks over their first ten games and it might seem just as foolish to rank Simmons so low a year from now.

You can order the rest how you like. I’d push Costco Kobe DeRozan down a few spots with LMAo if I was being really honest, but the order of this group isn’t really the point of the exercise.

It’s worth noting the gradual slide of the Boston Celtics because of the season-ending injury to their would-be best player. Gordon Hayward would’ve ranked 12th among best players; Kyrie ranked 16th. Irving should have been the sixth-best second player; Horford is 10th. Horford would have been one of the very best third stars. Instead it’s probably Marcus Smart, and he may not even rank in the top half of the league’s third bananas. That’s what happens to a non-Warriors team when a star gets hurt. Everyone has to play one level up. Even if the guys at the top overachieve, it’s the depth that can really suffer if the folks at the end of the bench don’t step up too.


The Bledsoe Trade

16. Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee

Sure, Eric Bledsoe is already the second-best player in Milwaukee in less than a week. Jabari Parker is still rehabbing, and a healthy Bledsoe is easily better than even Khris Middleton’s or Malcolm Brogdon’s best day. Already you can see how much speed and dynamism he adds to Milwaukee’s guard rotation.

So how good is Bledsoe? At his best, you could probably place him somewhere between seventh and tenth on this list, a borderline top ten point guard with a penchant for defense and a mini-LeBron on offense. Of course the same player has averaged only 55 games over the past four years with a 33 percent three-pointer and has never really featured on a winning team.

At 16, Milwaukee is the lowest ranked team on the list assumed to be a playoff lock. That’s not great. But once Jabari is back, he, Middleton, and Brogdon will rank among the top third-, fourth-, and fifth-best options, and that’s the strength of this Bucks squad now. One Freak at the top and a deep, long team of athletes around him.


The Old School Centers

17. Dwight Howard, Charlotte
18. Andre Drummond, Detroit
19. Hassan Whiteside, Miami

It’s tough to imagine an old school seven-footer being the best player on an NBA team in 2017, and these guys found that out the hard way. Twenty years ago, each of them would’ve been 12-time All Stars and first ballot Hall of Famers. Now it just feels like they get in the way.

Dwight actually is a surefire Hall of Famer, and he looks terrific in Charlotte. It’s crazy that a decade ago, you could have made a sane argument (and some did) for starting a franchise with Howard over LeBron James. He’s a weird dude and he’s not particularly likable, but he’s still terrific.

Drummond gets the nod over Whiteside in hopes that this free throw thing is real. And the thing is, it pretty much has to be. Drummond was a career 38 percent free-throw shooter coming into this season. He had 40 attempts his first 10 games. Binomial probability gives Drummond about an 8.4 percent chance of making at least half of those, but Drummond hit 30 of them, an incredible 75 percent. The odds of a 38 percent free-throw shooter randomly having a 30-of-40 streak are not good — like around one in a million. So you’re telling me there’s a chance.

Drummond is still 24 and could still be a really valuable player if he isn’t such a black hole on free throws. The advanced metrics always make Whiteside look better than the eye test. At some point it matters that you never pass, block your shots out of bounds, and guys don’t seem to love playing with you. Either way, these three are very close and very good at what they do. It’s just hard to know if what they do is still valuable in 2017.


The Point Guards that Can’t Shoot

20. Ricky Rubio, Utah
21. Elfrid Payton, Orlando

Derrick Favors? Joe Ingles? Rodney Hood? Nikola Vucevic? Evan Fournier? All nice players, but we’ll go with the point guards. Having a good point guard no longer guarantees you anything as deep as the position is these days, but it’s nearly impossible to win without at least a decent point guard in 2017.

Rubio will always be more valuable on the court than any stat can encapsulate. He just makes his teammates better, and he’s a very good point guard, whether he can shoot or not. Payton averaged a tidy 14/7/8 line post-All-Star Break, but let’s see if he can keep that up when it’s not garbage time all game. Neither of these guys can shoot a three to save their life, but they’re both good starting point guards anyway.


The Very Expensive Shooting Guards

22. Victor Oladipo, Indiana
23. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers
24. Tim Hardaway Jr., New York
25. Wes Matthews, Dallas

If you were building an NBA team in 2017, would you want to spend $18 million of your precious cap room on an average shoot-first-shoot-second two guard? Me neither, but that’s the going rate for the guys here.

They all shoot well enough, each of them between 35 and 36 percent from downtown last season. They’re fine passers. They’re okay defensively. They don’t draw many fouls. There’s just not much to write home about. Put one of these guys on the Spurs, Cavs, Rockets, Warriors… are they the fourth-best player? Do they even start? Are they Jamal Crawford with starter minutes?


This Is Why Your Team Is Awful

26. T.J. Warren, Phoenix
27. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn
28. Robin Lopez, Chicago
29. Taurean Prince, Atlanta
30. Buddy Hield, Sacramento


You can rank this quintet any order you like, and you could talk yourself into another option or three on any of the teams, too. And not because there are so many good choices, but because there are so very few.

Phoenix, Brooklyn, Chicago, Atlanta, and Sacramento are going to be really bad. Go ahead and combine all five rosters — could you find a starting five that contends for the playoffs? Even in the East?

Last year’s worst second-best players included names like Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, Joel Embiid, and Devin Booker. Those are good players! A year ago, there was hope. With these five teams, the only hope is for a high lottery pick next summer. The other end of the spectrum has expanded too. Last year, guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan were top-seven second bananas. This year guys like Boogie, KAT, and PG-13 took their spots. The good teams got much better, and the bad teams got much worse. There is a chasm between the top of the league and the bottom.


Scroll back up and look through the list one again, focusing on the teams instead of the player names. It’s not a terrible power ranking of the real-life NBA, is it? The Warriors are at the top, with the Rockets just behind them. The Rockets, Thunder, Timberwolves, and Pelicans made the biggest jumps from a year ago, just as they did in our minds. The Cavs and Spurs fell off from last year. The Hawks, Bulls, and Knicks bottomed out completely.

The NBA is a star-driven league, so perhaps it’s not surprising that we can determine so much just be looking at the top couple stars on each team. Depth matters, along with coaching and defense and all the other stuff, but it still comes down to the stars at the end of the day.

Who’s the top third banana outside of the Warriors? A year ago it was Kevin Love, and that’s part of why the Cavs have been in three straight Finals. Who’s Cleveland’s third-best player now? It will be Isaiah Thomas by playoff time, but who is it right now and are they even among the top half of the league’s third bananas? No wonder the Cavs are struggling so much.

Is Carmelo Anthony a great third banana? Could Otto Porter or Andrew Wiggins be the best non-Warriors third banana by the playoffs? For all the great pairs around the league, we are seriously lacking in threesomes. That’s why the Warriors are so darn good, and that’s why this is such an interesting season anyway because it’s so hard to figure out who their top contender is. One role player making the leap (think Gary Harris or Marcus Smart) could send a team to another level, one key injury could doom a sure playoff team, and one superstar leap (Giannis or Porzingis) could change everything.


This wouldn’t work in any other sport. Just having Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell isn’t enough to make the Pittsburgh Steelers a sure contender. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols can’t drag the Los Angeles Angels to the playoffs. Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic haven’t returned Manchester United to greatness.

But basketball is different. Just five guys share the court, and a couple players can dominate the shots or have a supersized impact on defense. One star isn’t enough to make a team, but two just might be.

So next time you need to decide which NBA teams are best, do like the astronomers of old and turn your gaze upon the stars. But instead of focusing on the one shining brightest, look for the second star to the right — that might be the one to lead you to the Promised Land.

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Which NBA Team Has the Worst Best Player in 2017–18?

Not every team can have megastars, but some teams are in far better shape than others…



Image via

LeBron James is the best best player on any NBA team. He’s better than the best Spur and the best Buck, although Kawhi and Giannis will see about that soon enough. He’s certainly better than anyone on the Pacers or Magic or Hornets. The Cavs’ best player is better than your best player.

Some teams have LeBron or Giannis. Some even have a couple star players. They’re the ones that get printed on the season tickets, the guys holding the ball with five seconds left in a tie game. But not every team has a superstar or even a star. Some barely have any good players at all.

We did this exercise a year ago and found a surprising conclusion: ranking the star player on each team turned out to be pretty analogous to just ranking the teams themselves. In a star-driven NBA, teams can only go as far as their superstar takes them.

So who are the brightest stars in the NBA universe? And what team has the “worst” best player for the 2017–18 season?


The Best of the Best

1. LeBron James, Cleveland
2. Kevin Durant, Golden State
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio

Is Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry the best player on the Warriors? Durant is much bigger, and all that extra size helps him become an elite defender for stretches if necessary and lets him exert more of himself on the game on offense. And second, you could sanely argue KD over LeBron after last June, but no one would even try to argue for Curry over LBJ. So Durant it is, with LeBron still in first and Kawhi nipping at their heels.


We Got Next

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee
5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans
6. James Harden, Houston
7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City

Focus more on the tiers than the order within. You’ve already seen all the summer #NBARank stuff at every other site. These four are undoubtedly next in line, but you can choose your own order.

Giannis looks like The Next Big Thing, and it looks like next might be now. Maybe this ranking is reactionary to an incredible opening two weeks… or maybe he’ll be in the top tier by season’s end. What are the odds on Antetokounmpo not winning an MVP at some point in his career? 10-to-1? 25-to-1? By the way, Greek Freak was 24th on this list just one year ago.

Of course, the other three guys in this tier were First Team All-NBA last season, so you need no introduction. Davis plays the most defense, and Russ is the least efficient, so that’s the order. These are the best players in the NBA without a ring. They’re the ones trying to wait out LeBron and the Ws.


The Long-Shot MVPs If Everything Breaks Right

8. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota
9. John Wall, Washington
10. Rudy Gobert, Utah
11. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

I once heard Jimmy Butler described as, “LeBron, but if he were human.” Butler put up a 24/6/5 last year while guarding the opponent’s best guy each night and single-handedly dragged a terrible team to the playoffs. He simply does everything, the sort of player we would worship if he didn’t play the same sport as the aliens holding down spots one-to-four on the list.

Wall does everything except shoot and nicked seven MVP votes already last season. He might get more this year if he ends up the best player on the best team in the East. Gobert somehow led the league in both offensive and defensive rating and may be the one player in the league that transforms a team into a top-five defense all on his own.

Where does Blake belong? You could probably place him anywhere from eight-to-17 and be right any given day, and that’s precisely the problem. Good Blake is awesome but too often we’re stuck with Jumper Blake, Disinterested Blake, or Injured Blake.


The Fighting-for-Third-Team-All-NBA Guys

12. Kyle Lowry, Toronto
13. Marc Gasol, Memphis
14. Damian Lillard, Portland
15. Nikola Jokic, Denver
16. Kyrie Irving, Boston
17. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia

The NBA is awesome and loaded with talent. Everyone here is a franchise player, but none of them will be showing up on MVP ballots or fighting for a First Team All-NBA spot anytime soon, and that says more about the rest of the league than it does about them.

There’s three bigs and three guards here, so let’s compare apples to apples. Kyle Lowry put up 2015 Curry numbers last year before getting hurt. He is the best guy playing in Canada. Kyrie Irving went from great second banana to best player with a trade and a gruesome injury. He needs to prove he can do it without LeBron before moving ahead of Dame or Lowry.

Joel Embiid will either move up this list or fall off of it completely in a few months. Let’s hope for the former, because he’s an incredible talent who’s still learning and getting better every game. I ranked Nikola Jokic 29th on this lista year ago, behind the likes of D’Angelo Russell and rookie Ben Simmons. I’ll take the fall for that, but at least give me credit for calling him the best Nuggets player a year ago. Marc Gasol tops these three big men for now because he’s done it before and done it on both ends. You can argue for Mike Conley over Gasol. They’re 1a and 1b and probably end up in about the same spot on the list either way.


The Eastern All-Stars

18. Kemba Walker, Charlotte
19. Myles Turner, Indiana
20. Goran Dragic, Miami
21. Kristaps Porzingis, New York

A Western team featuring one of these lads would be floundering deep in the lottery. In the East, three of the four will lead their team to the playoffs.

Kemba Walker is the new Mike Conley, a guy that gets a little better every season and someone that has become one of the most underrated and overlooked players in the league. Goran Dragic gets the Heat nod because of the way he dominated EuroBasket this summer en route to MVP honors and a Slovenian title. Hassan Whiteside just can’t take over games like that.

Myles Turner edges Kristaps Porzingis in the battle of 2015 draft bigs, for now. Maybe Porzingis will make this look silly by year’s end, but Turner was clearly the better player last season. He was more efficient on offense and far more valuable on defense, even if he’s not as sexy as KP.



The Up and Comers

22. Harrison Barnes, Dallas
23. Tobias Harris, Detroit
24. Aaron Gordon, Orlando

Pause for a second and remember what list these guys are on. Barnes, Harris, and Gordon are young dynamic up-and-coming wings, two of them 25 and AG a young 22, but how are their teams supposed to compete with the ones led by LeBron, Giannis, Russ, and the other mutants above?

Harris and Gordon lead the NBA’s two most surprising teams. We entered the season thinking the Pistons and Magic might battle for the East eight-seed and instead they’re tied for the best record. October basketball is wonderful. Are Harris and Gordon even their best players?

Detroit homers swear Harris is their guy and he looks the part this season with 21 points per game on sizzling shooting. Gordon has matched that scoring average with some of the hottest shooting in the NBA and superb defense after returning to his natural position at the four. We’ll see how both of them hold up once the shooting cools off, but the NBA is better for having budding star wings at two forgotten Eastern teams.

Harrison Barnes might still be the worst American pro basketball Olympian of all time.


The Role Players Posing As Best Players

25. George Hill, Sacramento
26. Brook Lopez, Los Angeles Lakers
27. Dennis Schroeder, Atlanta
28. Zach LaVine, Chicago

It’s getting ugly. George Hill and Brook Lopez are below average NBA starters. They would make wonderful fifth starters as role players on a good team. Masquerading as the best player instead could make for a long season for fans, but Hill and Lopez aren’t exactly the guys fans are there to see. Remember, rookies and sophomores typically aren’t actually good yet. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, De’Aaron Fox, and Buddy Hield will have to wait their turn.

Dennis Schroeder was the best player on his team at EuroBasket this summer, leading Germany to a surprise upset of France and a quarterfinal exit, but has he really shown much improvement for a guy in his fifth NBA season? He’s yet to have a season with better offensive than defensive rating.

That’s true for Zach LaVine too, who we’re cheating a bit by ranking him a few weeks before his return because it’s too depressing to pick another Bull. LaVine is atrocious defensively but a big time scorer with a 39 percent three-pointer and athleticism for days.


The Young Stars that Aren’t Actually Good Yet

29. Devin Booker, Phoenix
30. D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn

Russell was the second pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Booker went 11 picks later. Both of them had huge moments amidst tumultuous sophomore seasons. Booker scored 70 in a game against Boston, and Russell hit an emotional game winner on the day his grandmother died. The two played each other Tuesday night and put up 65 points combined with a few highlight-reel plays.

But highlights don’t make a player good, and neither of these guys actually contributes a ton to winning basketball yet. Heck, neither of them was even supposed to be their team’s best player. It should have been Eric Bledsoe for Phoenix if they hadn’t seen him home, but that’s much better for tanking since Bledsoe would’ve been ranked 22nd. Russell takes Jeremy Lin’s spot, but the Nets didn’t exactly plummet down the list.


So which of these 21-year-olds is better right now? It’s closer than you think. Both are horrible defenders who turn the ball over way too much. Each is a good creator and a strong scorer, though not exactly efficient. Both are average shooters, and Russell’s almost as good as Booker.

So who’s the “worst” best player in the NBA for 2017–18? Tie goes to the guy who’s worse at the more important position on both offense and defense. That’s D’Angelo Russell.

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If Usher Could Dunk: A “Songs For You” EP Review

Victor Oladipo put out an R&B EP this week and it is insane. We gotta talk about this.



Art by Andrew Hamilton

Victor Oladipo is a very talented young man. The Indiana Pacers shooting guard is good for 15 points a game, has a name worth at least 21 points in Scrabble (depending on placement, it could rack up 63 or more), and has the booming singing voice of an absolute angel.

Victor first hinted at this secondary talent during the 2015 All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest—coming out of the tunnel dressed like a member of The Rat Pack and singing Sinatra’s “New York, New York” with a mixture of Usher’s swagger, Seal’s crystal-clear tone, and the lack of singing-related shame that only actual singers or tenured locker-room crooners show. He then ditched the suit and eventually threw down a 540-reverse dunk on his third attempt (haters will say it was closer to a 360, but the perfect 50 the judges gave him nullifies that babble).

After eventually losing to Zach LaVine in 2015’s contest, Vic’s vocal talent has gone nearly as unnoticed as the fact that Indiana has decided that they’re okay with Oladipo being their No. 1 star moving forward.

That is, until this past summer.

In August 2017, he dropped his first ever single, “Song For You,” which straight up sounded like John Legend sang a song written by a horned up 12-year-old. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater but V.O. (that’s the name he’s releasing music under—like Bart Simpson’s “Bartman” moniker) did not prove to be the second coming of Marvin Gaye with his leadoff ballad: “She said it wasn’t her first rodeo, so I took her shopping on Rodeo; Beamer, Benz, or Bentley—she wasn’t impressed—so I had to show her that S on my chest.” Yeeeesh … Maybe that dunk was only a 360.

I remained hopeful though—his vocal ability must outshine his songwriting at some point, right? We found out the answer to that question when V.O. released his debut EP, “Songs For You,” earlier this month.

Okay, the bad news is that the songwriting does not get better. It’s very sophomoric and just unbearable throughout the whole EP. I’ll give V.O. the benefit of the doubt—he plays basketball professionally year-round (fortunately for his musical career, he won’t have to worry about scheduling conflicts during the playoffs for at least a couple seasons) and he is only 25. Even an NBA player who has spent his formative years as a handsome millionaire celebrity hasn’t really lived enough to warrant seven full-ass ballads and only one 2 Chainz feature.

Thankfully, though, for V.O., there is some very solid tracks that may salvage the project. The lyrically disastrous “Unfollow” (it boasts lyrics like: “Too much time alone, it’s too dangerous When I ain’t got shit to do but look for the girl with the cool butt”) is a real dumb song about Vic having sex with treacherous NBA fans and feeling some type of way about it. Regardless, it’s got a solid hook and cool drums—it’s like an Usher song from his “I cheat on girls, but I’m sorry about it” phase. The best Usher phase, probably.

The next track, too—it’s called “One Day” and I’m not even trying to understand what it’s about, but I could dance in the rain to it like I’m a living Ne-Yo music video, and that’s my personal standard of excellence for modern R&B music.

Again, another song called “Still Want You” is such a bop that you will absolutely ignore the fact that Oladipo is singing about like 10 different things, and at some points nothing at all. I do not know who produced these tracks for Vic, but he owes them at least two tips of his un-ironic fedora.

We do need to discuss how wack the track with 2 Chainz is. As a white millennial, a 2 Chainz feature makes me freak out like how Greg Kinnear makes my mom freak out, and Victor Oladipo absolutely squandered an opportunity to have a goddamn hit single with Tity Boi. The song starts off sounding like knockoff Frank Ocean—Store Brand Frank Ocean—or Fredrick Lakely or something like that. Then Vic comes on singing “Wave yo’ flags, you don’t want no smoke, ‘cause everything you got still won’t come close. I came into this world with my back against the ropes, so watch this foot work, it’s the Rope-A-Dope.”

My guy, is this a WeDay commercial? Is this a charity thing? Did you write this song just so high schools would finally have one family-friendly 2 Chainz verse to play at pep rallies? I’m confused. After Victor is done his singing, 2 Chainz finally comes in and spits THE LAZIEST VERSE OF ALL TIME! I was sick listening to it for the first time—whatever cheque Vic cut 2 Chainz, it obviously wasn’t enough to make the former Duffel Bag boy care about this song even a goddamn little bit. Don’t get me wrong—it’s still a decent verse, because 2 Chainz is a consummate professional and feature verses are his bread and butter—but I could practically hear my guy falling asleep in the booth.

My closing thoughts on this project are this: Keep trying, V.O. I’m a 22-year-old, straight white man who does not have an opinion you should value—but at the same time, your EP is sorta cheeks dude! Pay your life-saving producers well, hire some songwriters and next time you release something it better have at least four Lance Stephenson verses in it—he’s the undisputed best MC in the NBA (don’t come at me in the comments talking about Damian Lillard if you listen to J. Cole) and he’s on your goddamn team!

I’m gonna have to rate this album now, I guess, right? Okay … I give this EP 2.5 2016–2017-Russell-Westbrook-drive-and-kicks-that-resulted-in-bricked-three-pointers out of 5.  No wait … I give this EP 5 sleepy “TWOOOOO CHAAAAAAIIIINS!” adlibs out of 10.

This EP is a 5/10. The fun production and the pure vocal ability that Victor Oladipo possesses drags the project across the finish line. Check out the tracks “Unfollowed” and “Still Want You” for fun bouncy R&B, and the track “Rope-A-Dope” to hear 2 Chainz take a paid nap.

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