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Patty Mills, the Spurs, and the Virtues of Patience

Posted by shawnintheflesh on November 1, 2013

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In the midst of Patty Mills’s demolition of the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2nd quarter on Wednesday night, the notoriously bad announcers for Memphis had a rare gleam of insight: Mills waited a long, long time for this moment. His moment. From the time he was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2009, Mills has toiled on the end of benches. He has spent the majority of his NBA career in relative obscurity, whether it was during garbage time, preseason, or games that had no bearing on the standings. For a player like Mills, who was a star at St. Mary’s and is currently a star while playing for his national team in Australia, that transition is a major shock to the system. There is an endless list of NBA players in his situation who have washed out of the league, losing their motivation to improve and getting out of shape or seeking more playing time and fame while playing overseas. It takes a tremendous amount of self-confidence and patience to continue working hard in practice, to stay in shape in the weight room, to be physically and mentally prepared, for a moment that may or may not ever come. While Mills had played very well in the limited minutes he’s received over the past two years, and he led the entire Olympics in scoring while playing for Australia, there was no guarantee that he would perform well against premier competition, much less a Memphis outfit that figures to be an elite defensive team this season. After four years, a laundry list of DNP-CDs, and winning a dogged backup point guard battle involving Cory Joesph and Nando de Colo, Patty Mills played the first important set of minutes in his NBA career on Wednesday night, and it was well worth the wait.

The Spurs have a penchant for this kind of thing. For of all the accolades that San Antonio has received over the past 15+ years, their most enduring and beneficial trait has been patience. It starts with their GM, RC Buford, and it trickles down to everyone on their roster. Everything about San Antonio, from their player development to their offensive system, exudes patience. During the gap between Finals appearances from 2007 until last June, there have been many calls for San Antonio to blow everything up. Granted, the untimely exits in May were unsettling, but while outsiders were busy leaving the Spurs for dead, Popovich understood that this was just part of his master plan.

Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs - Game One

This current incarnation of the Spurs is 4 years in the making, and Pop’s patience with the players in his system was every bit as vital as the system itself. Danny Green blossomed in last season’s playoffs after losing confidence during his previous two campaigns. Tiago Splitter has been integrated into the rotation over the past three seasons and developed into a valuable starter. Even Tony Parker had to adjust to being the focal point of the offense over Duncan after 7 years of playing second (and occasionally third, to Manu) fiddle. Given San Antonio’s status as a perennial contender, none of their previous 5 seasons can truly be considered a success in a vacuum, but when considering them within the context of progression and improvement, the picture is much different. After each year, the offense flowed a little smoother. Duncan picked his spots a little better in limited minutes. The defensive rotations became a little sharper. The pieces on the roster fit a little better. All of the tweaking, experimenting, and  growing pains culminated in San Antonio giving the Heat everything they could handle in the Finals last season, and while it was a surprise to many (myself included), we should have all seen it coming in hindsight.

The development of Patty Mills was just another step in that process. Mills didn’t become an important part of the Spurs’ rotation overnight; this was two years in the making. That same gradual development is being made with grooming Kawhi Leonard into a star and the face of their franchise. The fruits of their labor may not be readily apparent this season, but one day, maybe 4 years from now, when Mills is the heir apparent to Parker’s starting PG position, Leonard is the best two way player in the entire league, and the Spurs are still improbably contending for titles by being ahead of the curve offensively, just know that it wasn’t created by luck. It was all part of the master plan.

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My Bold (but mostly sane) Predictions for the 2014 Season

Posted by shawnintheflesh on October 29, 2013

I’ve prodded and hinted at predictions throughout the past month or so, but here are my official predictions for this coming season, in print, for everyone to mock and ridicule six months from now. At least I won’t be alone. This is also a part of the morningpickup.com NBA preview, which should be available tomorrow afternoon for everyone’s reading (and mocking) pleasure. My (totally, completely objective and not homerish in the least bit, I swear) Spurs preview will be available later this week.

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Who’s your MVP this season?  

For all intents and purposes, it will be Lebron again. My “anyone on earth besides Lebron” MVP will go to Rose, since he will have a stellar season for an outstanding Chicago team and voters will be itching to give the award to someone besides James.

Who’s the most improved player?

I think the most improved player award will go to Anthony Davis. Although he quietly had a good rookie season, a full year of health and spectacular play on both ends of the floor will push him into the national spotlight and propel him into the All-Star game conversation.

Who wins 6th man of the year?

Jamal Crawford. Although he was my winner last season (J.R Smith stole it with an amazing late season push), Crawford will dazzle off the bench for the Clippers once again. The combination of scoring with a ton of national exposure for a loader Clipper team will push him over the top this season.

Who wins DPOY?

Roy Hibbert. I think Hibbert’s playoff performance (and hopefully lack of foul trouble) will carry over into the regular season as he anchors an excellent Pacer defense.  By the way, do not play any drinking games that involve Pacer games and the word “verticality”.

Who gets rookie of the year?

Victor Oladipo. If preseason serves as any indication, Oladipo is ready to immediately produce at both ends of the floor for an intriguing Orlando squad. He plays hard enough to score consistently despite a shaky jumper, and he will definitely play enough minutes to pad his numbers.

Who gets named 1st team All-NBA?

Chris Paul (The voters already have this slot filled in ink, regardless of what anyone else besides Derrick Rose does.), James Harden (The official “torch passing” season, although Derrick Rose will have a very strong case for this spot as well.), Kevin Durant (Does this need an explanation?), Lebron James (Ditto), Roy Hibbert (Toughest choice. He’ll play more games/minutes than Duncan on a similarly great team. He’ll have better raw numbers than Marc Gasol. Lack of goodwill will prevent voters from picking Dwight Howard, unless he’s otherworldly.)

What about 1st team All-Defense?

Avery Bradley (CP3 will seriously contend. Conley and Wall are my sleeper picks.), Tony Allen (Consider this spot his for the next 3 seasons.), Paul George (I picked Iguodala on the morningpickup.com preview, and it was an absolute brainfart. Iggy will be on the 2nd team this season.), Lebron James (Because he’s Lebron James.), Roy Hibbert (My DPOY.)

Do you think we see any first time All-star selections?

Yes. Rondo’s injury and Jrue Holiday’s departure to the Pelicans have left a spot wide open for John Wall to grab an All-Star spot this season. In the West, I have Curry (For obvious reasons) and Anthony Davis making their first All-Star bids.

Give us one random prediction for the season.

There will be a very violent altercation that will be swept under the rug involving some combination of Metta World Peace, Carmelo Anthony, J.R Smith and Kenyon Martin.

Bonus (and self-serving, homerish) prediction:

The bench unit for the Spurs will feature some of the best passing ever seen on an NBA floor. I cannot wait.

Who makes the playoffs? (no seeds)

East – Miami, Chicago, Indy, Brooklyn, New York, Washington, Detroit, Toronto

West – San Antonio, L.A Clips, Golden State, Memphis, Houston, Oklahoma City, Portland, Minnesota

Who advances to the Finals? Winner?

Miami and San Antonio. Again. Miami. Again. Leave it to me to go out on a limb so you, the reader, doesn’t have to.

Finals MVP? Why?

Lebron James. Because betting against Lebron James is silly at this point, and he’s going to have to let me down before I change my mind about it.

Who finishes with the worst record in the league?

Philly, although Phoenix will give them a run for their money while transitioning into their next era.

Who’s this season’s scoring champion?

Kevin Durant. He’s going to score 31 PPG with a permanent frown on his face. Fun, fun stuff.

Who leads the league in rebounds?

Andre Drummond. Assuming that he plays 30+ minutes per game, he’ll have plenty of boards to grab from a combination of dominant defense and borderline unwatchable offense.

Who leads the league in assists?

Chris Paul. I don’t think it will be particularly close this season, either. Who is my pipe dream to lead the league in assists? Rubioooooooo!!!!!! There’s no such thing as too many assists from Rubio.

Does Greg Oden stay healthy all season?

Yes, incredibly enough. Miami will be in good enough position to only play Oden sparingly during the regular season, thus preserving him for decent run in the playoffs.

What does Kobe look like when he returns? Struggles? Doesn’t miss a step?

He’ll struggle a bit out the gate, the “gate” being around Christmas, but he should be back to normal by February because Kobe Bryant isn’t a human being. And Germany.

Does Royce White play a game?

No. Really hopes he invests the money from his rookie contract carefully. He’d do well from continuing to blog/tweet and writing a book about his condition too. Strike while the iron’s hot!

 

 

Follow @shawnintheflesh on twitter. Also, follow his work on morningpickup.com. 

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What to Expect from the Pelicans, featuring @Mslightbright

Posted by shawnintheflesh on October 23, 2013

If you’ve followed my past blogs and/or twitter feed lately, you know that I’m really high on the Pelicans this season. I think Anthony Davis is a legitimate superstar in the making, and that this team is loaded with talent that can scare the league if it can mesh correctly. I wasn’t sure whether my expectations needed to be tempered, so I asked Tanisha Robinson (@mslightbright) of Gumbeaux Sports for her input about the Pelicans this season. This is what she had to say.

 

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For the first time in a long time, basketball enthusiasts everywhere are actually excited about watching the NBA team in New Orleans, and for several reasons. It is a new team, in more ways than one. This will be the first season that the team debuts as the Pelicans (formerly the Hornets). With the new mascot came a revamped look and some highly anticipated new additions to the squad that went 27-55 last season.

So, what am I most anticipating? The new backcourt, of course. Though I was never shy in voicing my displeasure with the high priced signing of Tyreke Evans in the offseason, I am looking forward to seeing how the Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Evans trio will gel during the season.

What is even more hopeful is that the Pelicans are 4-0 in preseason for the first time since 2008, when they went undefeated throughout preseason. That might ease some fans’ minds considering that ’08 team was one of the best Hornets teams that New Orleans had. Yet, the Pelicans are 4-0 without participation from oft-injured star guard Gordon, and Evans. The latter suffered a badly timed ankle injury in the team’s first exhibition game against the Houston Rockets.

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Gordon, who is rehabbing from offseason ankle surgery, told Gumbeaux Sports that he would be playing in the last three preseason games, which would hopefully mean his debut will come against the Washington Wizards on October 19. But the depth chart for this young team is so deep, they can form a solid starting lineup, even excluding Gordon.

Granted, I never understood why the Pelicans elected to have like 875 guards on the depth chart. But thinking about Gordon injuries and the random injuries Evans has had in his career has me on board with the 96-guard rotation. At any given time, they can sub in Anthony Morrow, who is fantastic beyond the arc, which could relieve Ryan Anderson of some of his 3-point shooting role.

Morrow is currently shooting 56% from the 3-point line this preseason and added a team high of 26 points in the Pelicans’ comeback win against the Rockets. I would not count on the 5-year veteran to play 33 minutes a night as he did then, but it is promising that he can step up and fill that role if/when Evans goes out.

Then there’s young Brian Roberts who is averaging just over 12 points and 5 assists per game proving that he is a viable backup PG. I really liked Roberts last year, and with Greivis Vasquez gone, he will be one of the only bench players that can truly move the ball and facilitate shots for the team.

And lest we forget about Austin Rivers. Yes, I said Austin Rivers and I meant it too. I’m going all “Team Austin” this season just to see if I can prove everyone wrong. My only issue last season with the former Duke SG was his confidence level. I actually found myself yelling “Shoot it, Rivers” to the TV, something that I’ve never expected from a guard who has never been shy about taking quick pull-up jumpers.

With a better shot selection, I would take that Rivers any day because his jumpers create space against defenses. Add in his ball handling skills and defensive hustle, and you’ve got yourself a decent guard coming off the bench. He is averaging 11.8 ppg and 4 apg this preseason including a 21 point performance against Houston.

On the opposite end, the Pelicans frontcourt is questionable. With spending so much time in the offseason focusing on guard depth, the team seemed to neglect the issue of landing a solid big man, in which they are in desperate need. Last year the Hornets were ranked 26th in the league in opponents ppg allowed at 97.9. The only true centers on the roster are Greg Stiemsma (career 3.3 rpg) and rookie Jeff Withey. Jason Smith, who has been the go to big man for the team for three seasons is currently out with a hip impingement injury, and it has not been announced when he’ll return.

On the bright side, they do have Anthony Davis, but he can only handle so much on the defensive side. All in all, this young team will be interesting to watch in 2013. Excluding injuries, I predict a playoff appearance for the Pelicans the way the team seems to be shaping out. Be sure to catch their regular season debut against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, October 30.

 

Tanisha Robinson is the founder of gumbeauxsports.com, a site dedicated to New Orleans sports. Follow her at @mslightbright.

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10 Burning Questions (Team Edition)

Posted by shawnintheflesh on October 16, 2013

Sixteen long days remain until the NBA season starts again. Since I’m sure everyone is being inundated with lengthy previews (Hardwood Paroxysm’s will be great, by the way) and bold (read: low-risk/high-reward) predictions by now, I’ve decided to stick to asking questions that I’m looking forward to seeing answered this season. I’ve done this on the players, and this version will strictly focus on how the teams will perform.

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1. Are the Warriors a legitimate title contender this season?  

We’ve seen this movie before. A wildly underrated Warriors team takes the world by storm in the playoffs and beating a higher seed before falling valiantly in the 2nd round. Under the pressure of higher expectations a year later, Golden State fails to reach the playoffs and everything falls apart for a few years afterwards. But is this year different? Not only do they have a young core in Curry, Thompson, Barnes and Green, but they’ve actually improved this offseason with the addition of Andre Iguodala (who I think will be huge for them) and a healthy rim protector in Andrew Bogut. While they won’t sneak up on anyone this season, Golden State clearly has championship aspirations and is looking to crash the upper echelon of the West with their roster.

2. Who crashes the West playoff picture this season? 

While the upper portion of the West will be a closely contested dogfight all season, the race for the bottom two seeds figure to be fascinating as well. There could be as many as 6 teams (Portland, Minnesota, Sacramento, Dallas, New Orleans, and Denver) fighting for two spots late in the season, and since there is no clear-cut best team in the West, there is plenty of upset potential, depending on the seeding and matchups. Just like last season, the difference between a team being a 6th seed and out of the playoffs altogether can hinge on a single game in April.

3. Will the Thunder keep themselves afloat until Westbrook is healthy again?  

I’ve gone over my concerns with the Thunder in-depth here, but it’s worth repeating: who else consistently scores for OKC while Westbrook is hurt? Durant will obviously be brilliant and their defense figures to be top-notch once again, but it’s unreasonable for Durant to have to average 32/12/8 for his team to have a chance to win until January. It will be interesting to see how well Ibaka, Lamb, and the rest of that roster responds to having a bigger role offensively. That pressure early on could immensely benefit them during the playoffs if everything breaks well.

4. Are the Timberwolves finally ready to make their playoff push?   

Is this finally (FINALLY) the year that Minnesota stays healthy for an entire season and everyone gets to see how good they’re capable of being with their core of Love, Rubio and Pekovic? Love, at his best, is probably the best PF in the entire league, but the injury bug and his team’s record (a ghastly, vomit inducing 74-156 over the past three seasons) has pushed him off the superstar radar as of late. With their core and a great coach in Rick Adleman, they should dazzle offensively, but will they be able to defend well enough to be taken seriously as a playoff team? And again, are they capable of staying healthy for the majority of one single freaking season?

5. How will the top 6 seeds on the West play out?  

Barring injuries, the six best teams in the West are OKC, the Clippers, Memphis, San Antonio, Houston, and Golden State. In what order? Your guess is as good as mine. Seriously, a bad week or an injury to a key player can make the difference between a two seed and not even having homecourt advantage in the first round. The upper crust of the West is basically a crapshoot this season, and their seeds will look totally different in April than they will in January. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

6. How high is Cleveland’s upside?   

There are so many “what ifs” with this team. What if Varejao remains healthy for 70 games? What if Bynum turns into a top 3 center again? What if Kyrie Irving makes the leap to an elite point guard? What if Anthony Bennett develops into a dynamic player as rookie? In a conference that doesn’t figure to have many surprises, Cleveland has the highest ceiling and lowest basement. I wouldn’t be surprised if they got the 4th seed and pushes someone to their limit in the second round. However, an injury ravaged 30-win campaign wouldn’t surprise me either. Can they put everything together and turn their conference upside down?

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7. Will Miami have enough left in the tank to win the East again?

The following is a list of teams that have reached the Finals four consecutive years: 1959-66 Celtics, 1981-85 Lakers…..and that’s the entire list. This isn’t an accident; the grind of playing 100+ games every year is mentally and physically exhausting, not to mention constantly getting the absolute best from every opponent during that span. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe Lebron James long ago, but he IS indeed (barely) human, and the team around him is quickly aging as well. Indiana and Chicago have both drastically improved over the past three years. They’re (relatively) young, hungry, ferocious, and they both truly believe that they can topple Miami in a seven game series. Although Miami remains the favorite to win their 3rd straight title, fatigue will inevitably be a factor sometime during the run, and there’s no guarantee that Miami will be able to survive this time around.

8. Is Brooklyn good enough to seriously challenge the Big 3 (Miami, Chicago, Indy) in the East?  

More than enough has been written about the Nets and their additions (Pierce, KG, AK-47, Terry, even Kidd hasn’t been retired for long enough to rule out the possibility of him suiting up) over the summer. They’re definitely talented and deep enough to contend on paper, but will Garnett’s and Pierce’s minutes be managed well enough for them to be fresh come May/June? Will they be an elite defensive team? Do they have the legs to keep up with other teams in transition? Will there be alpha dog issues in the locker room? How will they mesh offensively? Brooklyn has a very small window to contend for a title, and they have to figure themselves out pretty quickly if they want to turn the Big 3 of the East into the Big 4.

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9. Does Orlando have the brightest future in the Eastern Conference?   

Let’s see. They have a very good young coach in Jacque Vaughn. They already have young studs in Vuvecic, Mo Harkless and Tobias Harris. It’s only preseason, but Oladipo already looks like a special player in his own right. Even if they’re a year away from playoff contention, they’ll have a lottery pick in a loaded draft next season. Orlando has done a fantastic job of rebuilding their franchise in the two years since they lost Dwight Howard in a deal what was widely considered to cripple them for the next five years. They’ll show flashes of (fleeting) greatness this season, and will put the rest of the league on notice in the process. It will only be a sign of things to come.

10. What do we make of the Knicks this season?  

I would hate to think that New York’s championship window opened and closed within a year, but when you look at the teams above and below them, one can easily make that case. The Knicks don’t have much youth to build around besides Iman Shumpert, their best player (Melo) is largely one-dimensional, and despite having great individual parts on defense (Chandler, Shumpert, World Peace), I don’t think they can collectively turn into an elite defensive unit. After squandering a golden opportunity to win the East last season (seemed to have Miami’s number, an injured Rose, etc.) they find themselves on the outside of the upper echelon of the East, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll even get the 4th seed with Brooklyn improving so much over the summer. It’s foolish to completely count out a team that has a ton of pride, devastating shooting, a legitimate homecourt advantage, and a world-class scorer who won’t back down from “the moment”, but putting themselves in a situation to win the East will be a tall order this season.

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10 Burning NBA Questions (Player’s Edition)

Posted by shawnintheflesh on October 8, 2013

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With the preseason underway and the regular season beginning in about three weeks, the NBA will be in full bloom once again after a long, long offseason. This season promises to be as fascinating as the last, and, as always, there are pressing questions that will determine everything from action at the trade deadline to entire championships when answered. The following are the 10 questions that I’m looking forward to being answered the most this season. This will be a two part series, and the second part will focus more on the teams as opposed to the players.

Will this be the year Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan form a great defensive unit?

“Down goes Lob City! Down goes Lob City!” The subtraction of Vinny Del Negro and subsequent addition of Doc Rivers may be the most important coaching change of an offseason where almost a third of the entire league employed new coaches, and he seems to have already inspired the Clips’ big men to finally be serious about making strides on the defensive end of the floor. Although they’ve both created their fair share of posters (I’m still mourning the tragic death of Brandon Knight), they have also underwhelmed in terms of rim protection (especially with their athleticism in mind), something that has reared its ugly head in their last two premature playoff exits. If last season taught us anything, it’s that a team won’t survive in the playoffs without a legitimate rim protector unless they happen to have Lebron James in his prime. They have upgraded their shooting on the wings, and a healthy Chris Paul almost ensures that they’ll have a top flight offense again, but Griffin and Jordan dedicating themselves defensively will be what ultimately pushes them to the top of a Western Conference with no clear favorite.

Will Anthony Davis make the case for an All-Star bid this season?

After a quietly stellar rookie season that was undermined by injuries and Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis wowed everyone this summer with a display of his expanding skills during the USA Men’s National Team minicamp. He stood out among the crowd of young stars with a mixture of speed, length and grace that is rarely seen in big men, and even showed range out to 19 feet, which will be really helpful when facing up on the perimeter. He now finds himself with a talented (even if the pieces may not fit) roster and an All-Star PG as his P&R mate. If Davis can carry his momentum into this season and continue his progression into a terrifying defender, then don’t be surprised if he’s playing on Sunday during All-Star weekend.

Are Rajon Rondo’s days in Boston numbered?

Despite what Danny Ainge says publicly, and reports of Rondo and new coach Brad Stevens being BFFs, Boston has clearly transitioned into rebuilding mode, and Rondo represents the last remnant of the old era. It’s no secret that Rondo isn’t a fan of a full rebuild after spending most of his career on championship caliber teams, and he will let this be known again when the losses start piling. Rondo is still recovering from the ACL tear he suffered last season, so we still won’t see him on the court for a while, but one has to wonder if he’s just auditioning for other teams when he’s healthy again.

How many more elite seasons can Tim Duncan possibly have left?

If we’re going under the assumption that Duncan is completely human (the jury’s still out), then Duncan’s time as an All-NBA player should be coming to an end pretty soon. He’s 37, and although he has lost more weight to take pressure off his knees and Pop will properly handle his minutes during the regular season…he’s 37. As long as his body holds, Duncan can still be a solid player into his early 40s based on his intelligence alone, but Father Time is undefeated, and Timmy is no exception to this rule. Hopefully, this reverse jinx works as well as planned.

Is Demarcus Cousins ready to be the “man” for the Kings?

This will be a very interesting year for Sacramento’s new $60 million man. The decision to max out DMC has been called everything from brilliant to idiotic, and it will be up to him to play up to that contract. Despite his well-documented flaws, Cousins is still an elite rebounder and has had absolute monster games that showcased his considerable talents. I’m firmly in the “Cousins is misunderstood” camp, and believe that most of his problems (shot selection, P&R defense, immaturity, etc.) are correctable with time and added responsibility. These contracts are projecting what a player could be instead of what they currently are (right, Mike Conley?), and it will be fascinating to see whether Cousins rises to the occasion on a nightly basis.

Will anyone seriously challenge Lebron for MVP this season?

By my count, there are 8 guys who can plausibly win MVP this season: Bron (the runaway favorite), Durant (the runaway favorite in a Lebron-less world), CP3, Rose, Harden (the dark horses), Parker, Curry and, Paul George (the relative longshots). Due to voter fatigue and the media’s love of fresh narratives, the combination of a slow start for Miami enroute to preparing for their three peat and someone else on that list propelling their respective team to the top of the standings could very well prevent Lebron from winning his fifth MVP in seven years. The voters were actually ready to give the MVP to Durant last year before Miami won 27 straight games and Lebron went on a once-in-a-generation tear, so I wouldn’t be shocked if the same thing happened this season.

Are OKC’s youngsters (Daniel Orton, Perry Jones III, Jeremy Lamb) ready to contribute major minutes this season? 

I went into depth about the Thunder’s bench here, so I’ll spare going into too much detail. But with Kevin Martin in Minnesota and Westbrook’s injury keeping him out until January, it will be absolutely vital for Lamb, Jones III, and Orton to contribute immediately on the big stage. Even going 12-8 instead of the 15-5 record that they’d normally have with Westbrook can make the difference between a 2nd and 5th seed in the bloodbath otherwise known as the Western Conference, and Durant, as great as he is, will need someone else to score consistently. Their timely emergence would make OKC’s life a lot easier until Westbrook returns to the lineup.

What will Philly do with Evan Turner?

With the stripped-down Sixers attempting the most brazen tanking effort in recent memory, Evan Turner suddenly finds himself as their best player. With him likely playing 38 minutes a night, Philly, along with the rest of the league, will be watching to gauge how good he really is. While he hasn’t lived up to his status as the #2 pick, he can still be an effective role player on the right team, and I’m sure contenders will be looking to add him before the trade deadline.

Will the young studs on the Magic (Tobias Harris, Nic Vucevic) make another leap?

Remember when everyone (myself included) thought the Lakers made out like bandits in the Dwight Howard trade two years ago? Good times. Now with promising rookie Victor Oladipo, along with Harris and Vucevic, in the fold, Orlando finds themselves with a very talented, interesting young core that can find themselves contending for a playoff spot sooner than later. If you find yourself at a sports bar in Milwaukee, do not, under any circumstances, mention Tobias Harris to them. The results will not be pleasant.

Is there any way for Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe to share the court effectively?

The Pistons will be an entertaining team to watch this season, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. The athleticism that Detroit can put on their frontcourt is absolutely scary, especially on defense. The only problem is that would destroy their spacing on offense, since all three players are at their best around the basket. I’m very interested to see how long Mo Cheeks goes with this starting lineup, and how effective it is when teams inevitably decide to cram the paint against them. For the record, the 1990-91 Nuggets hold the modern record for offensive rebounds as a team with 18.54 per game. Not that I’m implying anything.

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Is it Time for OKC to Panic Yet?

Posted by shawnintheflesh on October 4, 2013

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The following is a timeline of events for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the past 12 months:

October 2012: OKC trades James Harden and others to the Houston Rockets for Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, and two first round picks. Widely seen as a justifiable and necessary move to avoid the luxury tax, especially with the youth and assets in tow. Besides, it’s not like they traded Harden to a contender in their own conference or anything, right?

November ’12 – April ’13: Oklahoma City rolls to a 60 win season. Durant has an MVP year in a Lebron James-less world, Westbrook has a career year, Reggie Jackson emerges as a force off the bench, and Kevin Martin replicates 85% of Harden’s production. The loss of Harden is minimized and they are once again the favorites to win the West. Just like they drew it up, right?

May ’13: *cues ominous music* Westbrook tears his meniscus in the first round against the Rockets. At the time, Westbrook’s injury is seen as one that doesn’t carry over into next season. After surviving the Rockets, OKC falls to a Memphis team that loaded up on Durant and forced his undermanned teammates to step up. The loss is seen as plainly bad luck, as a healthy Westbrook would have definitely swung the series in OKC’s favor.

June ’13: OKC uses one of their first round picks on Steven Adams, an admittedly raw prospect from Pitt. At age 19, and with their frontcourt already fairly crowded, Adams is not expected to contribute this season.

July ’13: Kevin Martin signs with the Timberwolves, a departure that surprised exactly nobody. Dwight Howard annoys the media and blogosphere for a few weeks before finally signing with the Rockets.

September ’13: Deandre Liggins, another promising prospect, is arraigned on a disturbing domestic violence charge, and consequently released by the Thunder.

October ’13: Remember Westbrook’s meniscus tear that was fairly minor and had zero chance of carrying over into next season? Well, it’s carrying over into next season.

To review, the Thunder has gotten one year of Kevin Martin, a player who spent 2/3rd of the previous season in the D-League (Lamb), and a late lottery pick in what may be a historically weak draft (Adams) for what turned out to be a top-10 player in the entire league. To make matters worse, that same Top 10 player influenced another Top 10 player (Howard) to join their team, instantly creating another major contender in a Western Conference that already figures to be a bloodbath. In other words:

It’s quite jarring to watch a team transform from one that was supposed to rule the conference and contend for championships for the next 5-7 years into one that will be fighting to the death for a home playoff series next season in less than a calendar year. In the short term, have you SEEN the Thunder’s roster outside of Durant lately? There are multiple question marks that flank the death-and-taxes like brilliance of Durant, and those questions only become magnified with Westbrook out for the first 4-6 weeks of the season. Who will be able to score for them consistently? Although Serge Ibaka is developing into an elite defender and a big man who can stretch the floor from 17 feet (shot 45% on jumpers last season), the ceiling of his overall production offensively is still in doubt. It’s entirely possible that Ibaka is a very good complimentary player who won’t be able to take over a game for stretches to relieve the pressure from Durant and Westbrook. A common response I’ve heard from Thunder fans is that the emergence of Jeremy Lamb will compensate for the loss of Harden and solidify their bench. But, how do we know that Lamb will turn into that guy? He’s only played spot duty in 26 games last season for OKC while spending the majority of the season in the D-League, and Scott Brooks didn’t look in his direction in last season’s playoffs when they sorely needed a scoring punch outside of Durant. Although he averaged 19 PPG in this season’s Summer League (as if that’s a reliable barometer of how someone will perform against legitimate NBA competition), he did so on 41% shooting and didn’t show much in the way of passing, rebounding or defending. How realistic is it for Lamb to go from that into a premier rotation player in four months? Yes, it is possible that Lamb fulfills his promise and becomes the player that makes everyone forget about Harden, but it’s premature to state this as a certainty.

In the long term, the Thunder will be competitive at the very least as long as Durant exists and Westbrook’s knee doesn’t take a tragic turn for the worst. Unfortunately, merely staying competitive wasn’t anywhere in the plans for two elite players entering their respective primes. The top of the West has strengthened around them, with the Clippers improving their roster and coach, an already superb Memphis team improving their one glaring weakness (perimeter shooting), the aforementioned Rockets becoming contenders with a healthy (and presumably happy) Dwight Howard,  a suddenly terrifying Warriors team, and the Spurs being ageless zombies. One can easily make the argument that OKC has a worse roster than any of the ones I’ve just mentioned, and with the exception of San Antonio, all of these teams have stars in or approaching the prime of their careers. There isn’t much relief on the horizon unless the Thunder can acquire another solid player via trade, since they don’t have the financial flexibility to explore the free agent market at the moment. They’ll have some flexibility after they use the amnesty provision on Kendrick Perkins (this absolutely has to happen), but there is a real ceiling on the quality of free agents that OKC can attract since they’re so adverse to paying the luxury tax. Much of the championship potential of OKC hinges on Reggie Jackson (who I think is very good), Lamb, and Perry Jones III to produce consistently on both ends of the floor, and I’m not quite sure that it will happen.

In retrospect, a lot of people underestimated just how important Harden was to OKC, and his effect resonates beyond raw numbers. Although Kevin Martin managed to produce roughly as many points as Harden last season, he was never a threat to absolutely take over a game for 5-6 minutes, and he wasn’t nearly as effective in creating shots for himself or others, a trait that becomes even more important when your offense heavily relies on isolation.  People were so fixated on Harden’s performance in the Finals that they forgot how valuable he was for the previous 90+ games. There are a precious few players in the entire league who can change the course of a game at any given time, and a small percentage of those guys are willing to come off the bench. I’m not implying that OKC is a bad team without Harden; in fact, they’re still very, very good. But they don’t seem invincible anymore, and that aura of invincibility is one of the most important qualities that a budding dynasty could have.  As a Spurs fan, I’ve often wondered how well Manu Ginobili would fare being the best player on another team in his prime, but was always thankful that it never happened.  After watching how the OKC/Harden saga has unfolded so far, let’s just say that I’m glad to avoid experiencing this firsthand. Thunder up.

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5-on-5: Derrick Rose

Posted by shawnintheflesh on October 1, 2013

Derrick Rose’s return from his ACL tear in the 2012 playoffs is arguably one of the most anticipated in NBA history. After a controversy-filled 2013 season for the Bulls and millions upon millions of overdone #TheReturn jokes, Rose is finally fully healed and poised to swing the direction of the NBA title in the process. With the help of @juiceleroy, @klew24, @sideeyespecial, and @trisity_, we dissect some of the most interesting storylines involving Rose and how well we expect Chicago to perform this season.

 

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1. What place will a healthy Rose be in MVP voting next season?

@juiceleroy: A healthy Rose is easily a top 5 MVP candidate. In his 1st 3 seasons, Rose only missed a total of 6 games while averages of 20.8 ppg, 6.6 asts, & 3.9 rebs. Aside from his individual exploits, under Thibbs with a healthy Rose in the lineup the Bulls have won 75% of their regular season games. That’s the MVP formula these days… Standout player + elite regular season team = top MVP candidate. So unless Boozer drinks MJ’s special stuff to be the catalyst or the Bulls flounder around .500, then Rose will be in the running for MVP if healthy.

@trisity_: I’m going to go out on a limb and say Rose comes in second for MVP after Chris Paul. I think voter’s fatigue will set in with Lebron (again) and the media seems like they’re becoming antsy with Kevin Durant, giving the two guards the bigger chances. Chris Paul has the roster to pull of an impressive regular season run, and a number one seed in the West could equate to MVP for him. As far as Rose, if he plays well he’ll have the media on his side. And we know what the outcome was last time that happened.

@klew24: LeBron, Durant, Melo(?), Parker(?), Harden as a darkhorse? I’m not really sure. This is a hard question to answer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished 3rd. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had another MVP giftwrapped for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t finish top 5. Gun to my head,I think he will finish top 5. After all, the standards for him to do so will probably be refreshingly low.

@sideeyespecial: I think Rose would finish either 3rd or 4th in MVP voting. If CP3 coasts too far through the second half of the season, I could see Rose finishing in 3rd place. But ultimately I see the MVP battle coming down to Lebron vs. KD one more time.

@shawnintheflesh: I think that a healthy Rose will end up 2nd in MVP voting (behind the obvious answer), especially if OKC slightly regresses in that brutal Western Conference. Rose’s comeback narrative, along with his stellar numbers and Chicago’s record, should be more than enough for him to leapfrog Durant in MVP votes this season.

 

2. Will there be any lingering tension between Rose and the rest of his team for resting while everyone else played hurt in the playoffs? 

@juiceleroy: I don’t think so. Bulls players seemed to legitimately back Rose’s decision last season. Emotional leader Joakim Noah was probably the most vocal supporter of Rose’s choice to sit out. Noah has been recorded calling Rose “a brother” and even saying that critics should “shutup because it’s just so unfair to him (Rose)!”

@trisity_: I don’t think so. Once Rose steps on the floor, everything that happened last year should be looked at as a thing in the past. If Derrick returns to form, the Bulls will have a championship contender on hand, so there’s no reason in re-hashing old feelings that could create a riff in the organization and distract the team from what’s most important. 

@klew24: No. I don’t think that team is comprised of guys like that. Guys like Noah, Deng, Butler and company seem to be all about doing whatever is best for the team to win. And if Rose felt like he couldn’t help them at that point, I think they get it. After all, Rose’s body is essentially an investment.

@sideeyespecial: I don’t think there will be tension between Rose and his teammates. Despite his tour de force showings in practice, they know that nothing can simulate a true game situation, and if he didn’t feel ready, he couldn’t (and shouldn’t) play.

@shawnintheflesh: I doubt that there will be much tension in that locker room over the injury. Chicago appears to be a genuinely tight-knit group, and they have veterans on that team who are more focused on winning than anything else.

 

3. What seed will a healthy Bulls team finish with in the regular season? 

@juiceleroy: If by healthy, the standards of 2010-2012 Bulls are the norm, and I expect the Bulls to be no worse than 3rd & as high as 1st. The Bulls have found a unpolished, but hard working gem in Jimmy Butler to be in the mix. Boozer finally looked like the player Chicago paid all that money for after the All-Star break . Noah and Deng are pretty constant with what they provide when healthy. Newcomer Mike Dunleavy Jr is a wild card. He’s clearly in the twilight of his career, but he can provide long range shooting that’s desperately needed to balance Rose’s penetration. Hurts my heart to admit the Bulls are going to lean so heavily on ex- Dook (Duke) players, by the way.

@trisity_: I see no reason why this team can’t finish first in the Eastern Conference. Prior to Rose tearing his ACL, the Bulls were tied with the San Antonio Spurs for best overall record during the 2011-12 season. Fast forward to now and they’re a better team than they were two years ago. Add that with the fact that Tom Thibodeau isn’t one to coast through the regular season and we’re looking at a 58-60+ win team.

@klew24: #2. While the East is deeper than it was last season, the Bulls finished five while often looking completely lost on the offensive end of the floor. If Rose comes back and is 80% of his previous self, that helps them on the offensive end of the floor. I think they win 58+ if Rose stays relatively healthy and plays the majority of the games.

@sideeyespecial: A healthy Bulls team finishes #1 in the East, and #1 or #2 overall. They’re a top defensive team, and Tom Thibodeau doesn’t give his guys a night off during the regular season. Ever. 

@shawnintheflesh: I think that Chicago finishes with the best record in the East with a healthy Rose in their lineup. Although the upper half of the East has improved, they will still be a top notch, selfless unit, and they will be hungry to prove that they can beat Miami (and everyone else) for all 82 games.

 

4. Where do you rank a healthy Rose overall among point guards?

@juiceleroy: A healthy Rose is a top 5 PG in the NBA. He’s proven it pre-ACL injury. Not necessarily the most efficient PG out there, but he’s a one man wrecking crew when healthy. Hopefully he took his time being immobile to do stationary shooting drills to improve his touch like players such as LaMarcus Aldridge & A’mare Stoudemire did while coming off major knee surgery.

@trisity_: I currently have him third overall behind Chris Paul and Tony Parker when healthy. Offensively his only glaring weakness was his lack of a jumpshot (shot 35 percent on jump shots in ’11-12, h/t Bball Reference). He can create off the dribble, get to the cup and do everything you’d want your franchise point guard to do. If he can come back with an improved shot post-injury a la Amare Stoudemire, he’ll probably jump into the number two spot. Defensively he has a long way to go, but Parker isn’t a defensive stud either, so it does minimal damage to his rankings.

@klew24: Cp3, Westbrook, Parker, Kyrie maybe.. I haven’t seen a healthy Rose since 2011. I don’t remember what he looks like. Given what I know now I’d definitely take CP, Westbrook and Parker over him. Kyrie is on his way too, but this will need revision if Rose gets through the season healthy.

@sideeyespecial: I’d consider a healthy Rose to be anywhere from #3-5 among point guards. The only things that keep him from climbing even higher is his shot selection (which can be nauseating), and his facilitating. Rose has great teammates, and can be a huge help on the offensive end if he looks to hit them in their sweet spots with more consistency. 

@shawnintheflesh: I have Rose as the 3rd best PG in the league, after CP3 and Parker. Despite his shot selection at times, he’s almost impossible to guard 1-on-1, and he has shown improvement and range on his jumper. Improvements to his defense and general decision making can vault him to number 1 on this list.

 

5. What percentage would you give a healthy Bulls team winning the title next season?

@juiceleroy: 15% chance of the title. I’m a big fan of great team defense. Thibs’ defensive philosophy is proven in this league from Houston to Boston to Chicago, and a healthy Bulls team has proven to be a .750 win percentage team under his watch. The rest of the Eastern Conference has improved nicely though.  The Central division should be ultra competitive due to to the offseason moves in Detroit and Cleveland along with Indiana off a 7 game conference Finals appearance. By no means do I think the Bulls will win 60 games even if healthy this season, but 50-55 for them is well within reach, given good health and player improvement. 

@trisity_: I’ll give the Bulls a 65 percent chance of winning it all. I currently have Chicago as the third best team in the NBA after the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat when healthy. If their offense can come close to matching the defense and not show a heavy reliance on Rose on offense I see no reason why Chicago can’t represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. They just have to pray they don’t come across the Miami Heat in the playoffs or that kills all their chances.

@klew24: 5-15%. I just don’t think they have enough offensively to get it done. While Rose helps, he can’t do it by himself. The Bulls defense is obviously elite and has been ever since Tom Thibodeau got there, but their offense doesn’t inspire any confidence. I don’t really think they can beat the likes of a Miami, or (if they managed to get to the Finals somehow) a San Antonio or OKC 4 times out of 7. I don’t see it.

@sideeyespecial: I don’t really know how to quantify the Bulls’ title chances. I’ll say 8%. I don’t think this team can get out of the East, honestly. The Nets are a huge question mark in my book, but if the Bulls run into a vengeful Pacers team, or the Heat, I don’t think they’ll survive. Also, if they somehow manage to get out of the East, they still lack a reliable secondary initiator on offense, and the Western Conference champs will be sure to exploit that relentlessly. 

@shawnintheflesh: I give Chicago a 20% chance to win the title this season. The Bulls already have a championship-caliber defense, great coaching and an utter lack of fear of the other top teams in the league. If they can just be more diversified offensively (you know, something besides “Rose P&R and hope for the best”), they would be able to beat anyone, yes, even Miami,  in a 7 game series.

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NOT EVEN CLOSE??

Posted by shawnintheflesh on September 24, 2013

Originally posted on Breaking Bad predictions:

- Walter meets w/ Lydia; meeting does not go well. According to him she is misrepresenting his product. But what they are selling is as good as he used to make – better, even. Walter subs Ricin for Stevia.

- Jesse blows up the meth lab w/ himself, Todd and the Nazis in it.

- Walter shows up in time to see what’s left of his money burn.

- with no end game left but the most personal, he walks into Grey Matter with a machine gun and goes POSTAL.

- Walter/Heisenberg goes down in a righteous hail of bullets.

- Jesse crawls from the burning wreckage of the meth lab, rescues Brock from some shitty situation and gets out of town.

- Walter’s Lottery ticket comes in, his unlikely last gift to his family.  Clean money with no blood on it. They celebrate a new start with Marie, never…

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Which NBA Backcourt has the Best Future? Part 4

Posted by shawnintheflesh on September 21, 2013

For those who missed Part 3, the link is here.

Splash. Swish. Water. Bang. After an already historic shooting campaign during the regular season, all the Warriors did was up the ante by exceeding most reasonable expectations in the playoffs and providing some of the most electrifying displays of shooting and scoring I have ever seen. I mean, look at this. And this. As a Spurs fan, those first four games of that 2nd round series were the most helpless that I’ve ever felt while watching a series. Now, after an offseason where they upgraded their core and added Andre Iguodala, they have turned from one of the hunters into one of the hunted. Golden State’s response to these lofty expectations will heavily rely on Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

1. Golden State Warriors

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You might have heard by now that Steph Curry is a pretty good shooter. While it may not be necessary to say that it’s Curry’s greatest strength, he may be an even better shooter than what people think, which is terrifying. 44% from three in the P&R? 52% from three spotting up? 52% from three in transition? Players just aren’t supposed to be that lethal from downtown over the course of an entire season, especially when they’re the team’s primary ballhandler. His long range numbers, especially for a point guard, are basically unprecedented, and he presents a unique problem to opponents because forcing someone to shoot so often from long range is normally a victory for the defense. Not only does that change your entire defensive scheme, but it also opens up more opportunities for his teammates, which Curry is normally more than happy to exploit. For all of Curry’s (well-deserved) praise as a shooter, his passing should be celebrated just as much. While raw assist numbers can be a faulty way of measuring how well someone passes, the film shows that Curry is exceptionally unselfish for someone who is widely considered a shoot-first point guard. Over and over, Curry found open teammates the moment they sprung open in ideal situations. He also took advantage of his shooting ability and handle to create driving and passing lanes for teammates as opposed to looking for his own shot. The only weakness in his offensive arsenal is his inability to convert at the rim. Curry’s lack of size and elite athleticism forces him to take some difficult floaters and runners when he makes his way into the lane, which results in a relatively low conversion rate from close range. He would do well to take notes from Chris Paul, a similarly small guard who still manages to finish well around the rim and get to the free throw line 5 times per game. Overall though, Curry is a revolutionary offensive player. His combination of shooting and unselfishness, not to mention his occasional inclination to transform into a human fireball, makes him an absolute nightmare to guard and gameplan against.

Defensively, Curry….has a lot of work to do. The areas where he struggles most on defense are the P&R and spot-ups, which happen to be the situations he finds himself most often on the floor. Curry’s biggest issue with the P&R is the frequency that he gets totally pinned by the screener, which puts him at a major disadvantage from the beginning. He also allows the ball handler to dictate where he wants to go when the screen comes, instead of the other way around. The most common result of these plays are the point guards taking largely uncontested 15 footers, which are automatic at the professional level, especially when dealing with great point guards. Although his small frame may prevent him from being able to simply shed screens, Curry can improve his P&R defense by simply being more proactive before the screen actually comes. For example, he can make a better effort at icing screens, which would force the ball handler to reject the screen and put the rest of the defense in a much better position to rotate and recover. The film shows that Curry doesn’t lack effort when defending the P&R; he just puts himself in bad position by always being reactive instead of proactive. A much more worrisome trend from Curry defensively lies when he’s in spot-up situations. Although he has a solid grasp of where he’s supposed to be in terms of help defense and rotations, Curry often gets caught out of position due to ball watching and is late to a ton of those rotations, resulting in a lot of open threes. In the playoffs, Gregg Popovich spent the entire series taking advantage of these tendencies with misdirection plays that commonly resulted in wide open threes from Danny Green and Gary Neal. He also doesn’t close out on shooters hard enough to force drives into the teeth of the defense. While I don’t expect Curry to be Tony Allen defensively, he needs to do a better job on focusing on his man in these situations so he can make timely rotations and at least force his guy into help defense. Golden State has a chance to absolutely destroy defenses when they play Curry off-ball, but he has to improve into at least a serviceable defender so they don’t end up giving all of those points back on the other end.

Klay Thompson has already shown to be the ideal compliment to Curry in the backcourt. As the main beneficiary of Curry’s court vision, he has developed into an elite spot up shooter (96th percentile, per Synergy) and a very intelligent offensive player who knows how to read defenders and take advantage to create scoring opportunities for himself.  He and Steph have developed a genuine chemistry on offense and he’s one of those players who are somehow always open. However, what impressed me most about Klay was his work on the defensive end. Not only is he good enough to guard three positions, but he also a solid team defender who hardly blows rotations. While not spectacular, Klay uses his length and feet very well, shows great technique in defending the P&R, and is hardly ever out of control when closing out on a shooter. I didn’t expect to see him defending the opposing team’s point guard as often as he did, nor did I expect those guards to be largely contained in the process. The most important aspect of Klay’s game that needs to improve is his ability to create off the bounce for himself and others. He struggles to shoot well in that regard (sub-30% shooter in isolations and P&Rs), and he is also much more turnover prone in those situations.  Without the presence of Jarrett Jack to enable Golden State to use Curry off-ball, the onus will largely be on Klay and Andre Iguodala to be the de facto point guards of these units. Klay Thompson has a genuine opportunity to be one of the best shooting guards in the league, but he will have to be able to strike fear in the heart of defenses off the dribble to truly make that leap.

Golden State has found a couple of gems in the Splash Brothers, and if they stay healthy (let’s all say a prayer for Steph’s ankles), they’ll be able to lead an offensive juggernaut and championship contender in the very near future. A lot of this credit should go to coach Mark Jackson for empowering his backcourt with the green light to shoot threes at will. Jackson was widely criticized for calling Steph and Klay the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of ever, but after watching them last season, do you really think it’s smart to doubt him? Splash.

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Johnny Manziel’s Theme Song as Told by Kyle Madson

Posted by shawnintheflesh on September 21, 2013

shawnintheflesh:

Not hoops related, obviously, but still the greatest thing ever nonetheless.

Originally posted on #ProsperSeason:

GET YOUR MONEY JOHNNY

Johnny Manziel, for many reasons, is a bit of a personal hero of mine. Not that I would act how he acts or condone underage drinking or anything like that, I just thoroughly enjoy how he’s slowly exposing several corrupt and overall flawed things about college football. But I digress as this is neither the time nor place to discuss such things.
What you’re here for is a song. Manziel, the media and the fans have made a lot of Manziel’s escapades this summer leading up to the college football season. Given the constant theme of money and Manziel’s general unwillingness to dispute the fact that he’s loaded, I thought it might be fun to take Jay Z’s F*ckwithmeyouknowIgotit, and rewrite it through the eyes of one Jonathon “Football” Paul Manziel.
If you’re unfamiliar with the song, you can find it here.

Fuck with me, you know I got…

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