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Kawhi of the Storm

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The NBA is locked in the waves of a whirlpool, forever spinning slowly, painfully, towards the end of a bizarrely inevitable yet stretching season.

The dry decks of the Cavalier frigate and the Warrior trireme are biding their time, watching 28 other galleons fight and claw to be the last ship to fall inevitably into the abyss. Only, there’s one relentless watercraft with a black and silver sail that doesn’t seem to see the futility in their efforts. Captained by a man revered and championed by a first mate with a calm demeanor but potent abilities, the Spurs vessel is adamant in their insurrection.

The chapter is new but the narrative is the same, the San Antonio Spurs endure. This time it wasn’t that they were too old, nor that their best days were behind them. This time, their dismissal was hammered assertively due to the loss of legend Tim Duncan, combined with the insurmountable challenges levied by the league’s daunting elite.

The most successful franchise in pro sports over the last 20 years still can’t get an inch. Duncan departing is a tough loss to swallow but his protégé and the franchises esteemed replacement is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and MVP best man.

Duncan, along with long retired David Robinson started as two rowers muscling San Antonio forward but the Spurs have evolved. With the additions of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili they launched a steam boat and the franchise grew bigger, tinkered longer, and found new ways to span the gap. The Spurs are a machine and the engine is humming to the tune of a 32-9 record early in 2017.

Team success is paramount in the MVP bid and yet Leonard, the team’s clear front man, can’t even get a mention. The 32-9 mark is good for second in the NBA!

Some of you reading this may believe Leonard is overvalued, or a product of the system he’s in, but squash those thoughts and be better for it. The fruits of Leonard’s labors are undeniable. Not unlike Tom Brady, Steve Nash, or current James Harden it’s the results yielded that matter, not whether you think those same results could be produced elsewhere.

Regrettably, it’s not just the fans who turn their backs, Leonard’s peers have denied him at every turn. Remember Kevin Durant in 2014? Following the Spurs 2014 championship Durant took to Twitter and said, “No. He doing work like this because of the system. Put Paul George on the Spurs what would happen?”

Something about Leonard’s humble nature and quiet but rock solid work ethic has rubbed the community the wrong way. An insight into perhaps a much larger societal flaw that leads people into loathing those who seem to be too clean, or too kind, demonstrating foundational skepticism and assuming skeletons are behind every curtain. Hollywood has preconditioned us to love flawed personalities, and as writers will claim realistic* characters. This is a mistake, not all characters need a visible crux to be entertaining or worthy of praise.

See Tim Tebow and the violent opposition he received solely because the media sang his praises. The morality, decency, and humble nature of certain players is praiseworthy. Yet it’s the loud, bold, and often arrogant spotlight seekers the masses seem to flock to. Leonard’s path isn’t for everyone, but it’s bizarre how resolute some are in downplaying what he brings to the table because of it.

This week on the True Hoop podcast Brian Windhorst said:

“Not everyone in the NBA feels the same way about Kawhi – there’s some people frustrated Kawhi has gotten as much love as he has – it’s not just LeBron actually. There’s other top players who feel the same way.”

Why is anyone opposed to Leonard getting love as a basketball player? He’s 25 years old and has a championship ring, a Finals MVP award, two defensive player of the year awards, a runner up placing in the MVP race, and has made the All-NBA or All-Defense team on four occasions. Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only two who can claim a resume checking both the Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year boxes. If Leonard was a different man he could Facebook Live his own rendition of Kanye West’s Can’t Tell Me Nothing but Leonard isn’t about that instaface life.

Leonard is a widely regarded defensive leviathan that sinks even the best offensive heroes to new depreciating depths, we know this to be true, even in a year where analytics say something is funky. But legitimate and fair questions arose last season about Leonard’s ability or lack thereof to carry an offense. Leonard should’ve settled those criticisms then but many were still suspect heading into this season. When the engine smoked and the tires were stuck in the mud, could Leonard rise above and find meaningful offensive possessions where none should exist? It was Leonard’s mission this season and he chose to accept it.

Leonard is averaging 24.8 PPG a career high, he has a true shooting percentage (TS%) of .626. He has given you more volume while also increasing his efficiency for the second straight year.

Of qualified players only Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, and Klay Thompson score more point per touch. For a stat the seems to favor spot up shooters and off-ball players Leonard sits above known snipers like J.J. Redick, Kevin Durant, Anthony Morrow, Eric Gordon, Carmelo Anthony, etc.

Kawhi Leonard is scoring from everywhere. There’s a false notion he’s just waiting for an open look to fire but that’s off-base, he’s absolutely forcing the issue. Only 47.39 percent of his shots are assisted by a teammate. Durant widely regarded as the best scorer in the game is assisted on 60.16 percent of his scores. It’s not a knock on Durant but it does shed light on who is reaping the greatest rewards within their relative system.

This week Leonard became the first ever Spur to score 30 or more points on 60 percent or better shooting in four straight games. His 12th 30 plus scoring outburst of the season on Tuesday night places him seventh for such outings across the league. That places him above Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Durant just for context.

Leonard and the Spurs have little in general to remorse over this season. The Spurs are 1-0 vs. the Warriors, in a game where Leonard led all scorers with 35 points. They have yet to play Cleveland but Leonard has been big in feature matchups. Including two face-offs against Jimmy Butler who is also enjoying a career year. Butler is averaging 24.8 PPG on 45 percent shooting on the season but he has averaged 16 PPG and 36 percent shooting vs. San Antonio. Don’t underestimate the Claw.

James Holas, another writer at Press Basketball talked about the lessons to be learned from Sun Tzu in regards to Russell Westbrook. A fitting pairing, but for the Spurs and Leonard look to Moliere who said, “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”

The water is choppy, the chart is unclear, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. The rhetoric surrounding both the Warriors and Cavaliers is hard earned and understandable but don’t count out Leonard and don’t count out the Spurs. If the weather was to turn and one team was to ascend from the whirlpool swinging around broadside for a battle with the Warriors and Cavaliers – I wouldn’t bet against Leonard and his Spurs.

Josh is a strange Canadian, born and raised in Calgary, Alberta skates should've been stapled to his feet early. However, it was not to be. Nike's just happened to fit better and he has been shooting his shot ever since. He's an NBA aficionado who is always one bounce pass away on Twitter. You can find his work here on Press Basketball and at HOOPmag an official NBA publication.

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Year 15 | A Mini Documentary

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What’s to come for the man on top, and what got him here?

It’s Year 15 of a man’s career, but it’s also Year 15 of a legacy…

Created by Tristan Laughton | Twitter: @Ctrice

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers

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Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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