Who You Should Cheer for in the NBA Playoffs: Western Conference

Yesterday, I did a post on who you should cheer for in the Eastern Conference. Today is the Western Conference edition. So you know the drill: no stats, no analytics, just highly biased fan-opinion. Let’s get it on!

 

No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets

Let’s face it. Houston doesn’t have a chance. They have an interim coach in JB Bickerstaff who most likely will be replaced this off-season by a much bigger name. James Harden went from trendy 2015 MVP pick to classic “I don’t play defense and I make crappy turnovers” James Harden of previous years. Dwight is Dwight with all his on and off court issues, and the supporting cast has been tremendously disappointing this year after being key to the Rockets’ Western Conference Finals run a year ago.

But I can see why people would cheer for the Rockets. The Warriors have set a NBA record with 73 wins. They are looking to make history and truly beat the Bulls for the moniker of “greatest team of all time”. That doesn’t happen if they don’t win a championship. But a loss in the first round? That would be something of epic proportions. I mean…that would be the single greatest upset of all time in any sports, no bones about it. And the Rockets have…somewhat of a shot…right? They have Harden and Howard. Those two certainly would give the Warriors a better shot than anything the Jazz would have brought (come on…Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors? Please).

And to be honest, I have soured a bit on the Warriors the past few years. You see, I grew up a Warriors fan during the lean days. I grew up with Antwan Jamison, Bob Sura and Erick Dampier. I saw them waste the potential of a Gilbert Arenas-Jason Richardson-Jamison core. I reveled in 2007’s “We Believe” team, only to see cheap ownership and overly egotistical Don Nelson (egotistical but lovable nonetheless) ruin the core two years later. When the Warriors broke through with Stephen Curry (who I was a huge fan of when the Warriors drafted; people forget that not everyone was in favor of the pick at the time), it seemed right. All the painful waiting had been worth it. Those days of Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson as our premiere 1-2 combo was a thing of the past.

However, then all the bandwagon fans jumped in. Suddenly the Warriors became the OKC Thunder: everyone’s suddenly favorite team. Family that used to talk Lakers now suddenly were “All In” on the Warriors. I grew tired of that bullshit. I grew tired of having to defend my Warriors fandom to a bunch of bandwagon fans. And thus, I started to cheer for the Kings. They sucked sure, but at least I wouldn’t be dealing with the insufferable bullshit of all these “newly minted” Warriors fans.

Despite this though, we (myself included) should be pulling for the Warriors, and not just in this series, but in the playoff in general. We could see history and no team has captured basketball’s attention like this Warriors bunch. Yes, the Bulls won 72 games. But they won it in a time where there wasn’t constant media scrutiny. They won it despite the game being much different. They won it where the talent level between the top and the bottom teams was a lot more lopsided than it is now. And they won it with a lot of veterans who were expected to be great. This Warriors team is still relatively young. Yes, there are vets like Iggy and Bogut, but Draymond, Curry, Klay and Barnes still are relatively early in their NBA careers. The Warriors don’t have the potential to be just the greatest team of all time this year, but for the next 3-5 years. That is crazy, and as a basketball fan we should revel in that potential and greatness and not see it spoiled by an inferior bunch, which Houston is.

Yes, I know the “Hipster” thing would be to cheer against Golden State. But don’t do it. Let’s see the Warriors let this ride. Let’s see them dispatch the Rockets and the rest of the Western Conference.

We’ll be all glad to say that we witnessed history when it is all said and done.

 

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Portland Trailblazers

Chris Paul, Damian Lillard

 

No team has been more entertaining this year than the Blazers. Remember: this team lost four starters from last year’s playoff squad. FOUR!!! And they’re back in the playoffs and arguably more fun than the team a year ago. CJ McCollum and Damion Lillard have been one of the best 1-2 combos in the league, up there along with Curry and Thompson. Mason Plumlee has made everyone forget he was a Dookie. Al-Farouq Aminu and Noah Vonleh have been an interesting and athletic duo that have given the Blazers all kinds of versatility in the post. The Blazers are young, they’re fun, and they play hard night in and night out. This is the kind of Blazers teams Portland fans have been hoping for years, and not only have they been successful this year, but they have set themselves up for a bright future in the next five as well.

And, the Blazers are going against a team that is so easy to hate. This is a Doc Rivers coached team that has Chris Paul, who may be the most chippy player in the league. They have insufferable players like JJ Redick (who continues to be an example of a hate-able Dookie) and Austin Rivers, who I’m still surprised is in the league. They have DeAndre Jordan who basically played all kinds of drama this year in terms of his free agency decision just so he could play a mom in a State Farm commercial. Blake Griffin is Blake Griffin and new owner Steve Ballmer is a lot less racist, but a lot more annoying not to mention sweaty. And for god sakes…look at those damn uniforms!

Unless you were an original fan of the Bill Walton-led Clippers, I don’t know how you can enjoy this team. Especially when they are playing a team like Portland. Portland is scrappy and overachieving, while the Clips are entitled and seem to always pale in the big moment. Terry Stotts is composed on the sideline; Rivers is always in the ass of some ref complaining over every little call. Trail Blazers fans have been with this team through thick and thin and the Sebastian Telfair-era. Clippers fans couldn’t even name who Loy Vaught is.

Seriously. If you’re cheering for this Clippers team, you are an ass hole. I know Portland isn’t a good matchup against this Clippers team, especially with a healthy Griffin. But God…I want them to pull the upset. I want Dame to go nuts. I want Mason Leonard to be streaky, crazy Leonard, like he was in the playoffs last year. Why? Because a first round exit and Kevin Durant going to the Lakers next year would devastate this Clippers fanbase beyond belief, and we’ll see a sharp regression in LA fans sporting those terrible jerseys in the Staples center next season.

Seeing less of those jerseys would be a victory for mankind people. Plain and simple. Go Blazers.

 

No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 6 Dallas Mavericks

Just FYI: I don’t like Mark Cuban. I think he’s self-centered and an overblown personality who imbues all the qualities of the “rich venture capitalist who shits all over the little guy, but convinces people that he is good for the economy because he wears jeans instead of expensive slacks.”Nothing was more glorious than seeing the 2007 Warriors totally shut Cuban up in the playoffs after Cuban’s Mavs teams had the best record in the NBA and was coming off a runner-up finish in the NBA Finals the previous year. Many people felt sorry for Cuban and the Mavs. I didn’t. He was tampering anyways before the free agency period, and of course, Cuban gets no serious kind of punishment, much like his insider trading on Wall Street.

But…I can’t get behind this Thunder team. Maybe I don’t like Oklahoma. Maybe I have ill-feelings about the Thunder stealing the Sonics. Maybe I secretly hate Steven Adams because he ripped off Adam Morrisons’ look and nobody is getting over his ass like they did with Morrison. Maybe I don’t like Billy Donovan and want his NBA career to look closer to Rick Pitino than Brad Stevens. Maybe I want Kevin Durant to walk and go somewhere in a bigger market that deserves and would utilize him more than the small market of OKC.

So, plain and simple, I can’t get behind this Thunder team. I love Durant and Westbrook. Serge Ibaka isn’t the player we thought he would be, but he’s still damn impressive. If this were the Sonics, I would be riding behind this Thunder team all day. But it’s not. It’s the Thunder. With their boring uniforms and lame mascot. Beyond the players, there’s nothing to really like about OKC.

Dallas on the other hand has been an enjoyable mish-mash to watch this year on League Pass. They really shouldn’t be all that impressive. Their starting center mixes between Zaza Pachulia and some dude I can never remember, though I know he is Lebanese or something. Their star player is Chandler Parsons, a third wheel in Houston. They have Raymond Felton and Deron Williams, both over the hill, running the show. And Charlie Villanueva, somehow in some damn way, gives them productive minutes.

This Mavericks teams shouldn’t win. On paper, the Kings look better.  But the Mavericks win. Dirk keeps defying age and keeps doing Dirk things. And Rick Carlisle continuously shows that he’s one of the best coaches in the league, up there with Pop from San Antonio. Seriously, other than Pop, who else could make the playoffs with this kind of talent?

I know Westbrook and Durant are fun, and I know Midwesterners might want to pull for OKC because they represent the Midwest in fan-appreciation and city size. But don’t. Let’s see Durant walk. Let’s see the Thunder implode. And let’s see the Mavs and Carlisle, despite their rag-tag collection, upset a team that really should have won 1 title by now, but hasn’t due to injuries, bad coaching and dumb personnel moves.

The city of Seattle will thank you with a free latte for doing it.

 

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies

I love Grit n Grind, but this is Grind n Wheeze. Gasol? Out. Conley? Out. Grindfather. Barely walking. All this team has is Z-bo and a bunch of guys from the Iowa Energy. Memphis has no chance. Give Dave Joerger credit for getting this team to playoffs. But when it comes to competitiveness? Holy Cross had a better chance of winning in the first round than the Grizzlies.

So this is about San Antonio, arguably the second-best team in NBA history. Seriously. In any other year, the Spurs would be discussed as having one of the best seasons of all time, and unfortunately, the Warriors go out and win 73 games and steal all their spotlight. Just see anything with the Spurs out there and it’s always prefaced with the statement: “But the Warriors…”

And that is what makes the Spurs-Warriors Finals possibility so exciting. It’s the de-facto title game, really. It is going to be Kings-Lakers 2002 all over again in the sense that whoever wins this series is going to win the NBA Finals. And we need to see this. We need get immersed in this possible scenario where the Spurs and Warriors slug it out for seven games. It’s going to be the greatest Western Conference Finals in history and you should cheer that nothing gets in the way of it. Not the Grizzlies (not that it would happen anyways). Not the Clippers. Not even the Blazers, should they pull off the upset. The basketball world deserves Spurs-Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

Leonard and Curry. Pop vs. Kerr. The Bay Area vs. the Southwest. The new dynasty vs. the old guard. The storylines are endless.

So yeah…cheer for the Spurs. The Grizzlies would want you to anyways. They want this damn season to end as soon as possible. And we don’t need to see Matt Barnes celebrate anything either.

NBA Hipster Profile: Jason Williams (i.e. “White Chocolate”)

Jason Williams (center) was not just known for his spectacular play, but also carrying a NBA Hipster legacy

NBA Hipster Profile is a part of Flannel, PBR and PER where I look at NBA players both past and current who represent the “Hipster” players of their generation or time. This can be in terms of style, the way they played, their attitude with media, management, players, etc. Hopefully this becomes a year-around series that also delves into the D-League and College game as well.

Jason Williams was probably one of the most important players during the Rick Adelman era in Sacramento. I am not saying he was the best player or most crucial to their success. In fact, his successor, Mike Bibby, experienced much more success as the point guard of the Kings, especially in the postseason (Bibby was a catalyst in the 2002 playoffs, especially against the Los Angeles Lakers, where he almost pushed the Kings to the NBA Finals). But even though Bibby was probably the better overall point guard and had a more lasting impact on the Kings in terms of wins and losses, nobody jump started the new era of the Kings more than Williams. Through his brash, highlight-making, and unapologetic style of play, Williams helped the Kings jump onto the national radar and began the process of what would be their incredible run in the early 2000’s. But more importantly, he inspired a generation of point guards and guard play that was incredibly against the grain and well…hipster.

Why was Jason Williams hipster, even if such a term did not really exist for him during his playing career? Let’s look at a few reasons why.

Reason #1: His style of play was incredibly different from what was expected from NBA point guards

Williams in all sense of the word was a showman, especially when it came to his passing and ballhandling. Regularly, Williams was a regular feature on Top-10 lists on Sportscenter and his style of play not only captivated fans, but also inspired a generation of “streetball” players that eventually morphed into a greater interest and participation into the “And1 MixTape Tour” movement.  You wouldn’t think a white guy from West Virginia, who played college basketball in a Football-Mad conference (He played at Florida and in the SEC) would have such a profound impact on the game of basketball not just in the NBA, but at the amateur level with And1. But, I have a hard time seeing And1 stars such as “The Professor“, for example, reaching the kind of legendary And1 status without the influence and success of Williams in the NBA his first 3 years in the league.

And if you don’t believe me, watch some of the highlights below. Watch as Williams make incredible crossovers (he crosses up Bibby quite a bit when Bibby was a Grizzly; ironic considering they were traded for each other) and passes with style, swagger and ease. Witness as his expressions pump up the Sacramento fans and teammates. (Heck some of his plays made Tariq Abdul Wahad look good…no simple task mind you!) Tell me that was not fun to watch. You’re either a curmudgeon or a middle school basketball coach from Southern Indiana if you cannot find some kind of joy or entertainment in Williams’ highlights.

Without a doubt, his streetball style changed what was expected going forward from NBA point guards. Point guards were expected to be Bobby Hurley types: leaders, intense competitors and quarterbacks on the floor who were known to be composed and consistent in order to leader to efficiency on the floor and boredom in the personality area. As a Gonzaga alum, I love John Stockton. He was the prototype of what was expected from a NBA point guard: no flash, play within the offense, execute regularly to the point where it almost becomes routine. A lot of NBA point guards have followed that mold. You could argue current NBA point guards such as Chris Paul and Tony Parker have found success following the mold Stockton set before them (and Paul’s excitement comes from his arguing with the refs and flopping; when the ball is in play, he is consistent and deliberate in his play and it is beautiful to watch).

Williams on the other hand? Everything was flashy. The behind the back passes. The crossover step backs. The baseball bounce passes from beyond half court. Everything Williams did was high risk on the floor, the antithesis of what a good point guard did. A good point guard, in any coaches’ mind, is to run the offense while minimizing risk. Williams wanted to maximize the risk. He would go faster in a car to see if he could jump a gorge rather than brake and stop before it like any sane, normal driver would. This kind of quality endeared a lot of Kings and NBA fans to Williams, especially the younger generation as well as those who enjoyed the playful spirit of street-style, playground basketball. Williams was anti-expected, anti-establishment when it came to the foundation of what constituted a “good” point guard in the league and that was a “hipster” quality in him that becomes more and more appreciated as the years pass, especially as the game gears more toward his style that he helped push and pioneer when he entered the league.

Reason #2: Williams bucked the expectation and style of the “white” player in the NBA.

Stockton wasn’t just the quintessential “NBA” point guard. He was also the prototype image for every “white” player in the league. Stockton was clean-cut, wore short shorts, did ho-hum interviews and did borderline “dirty” things on the court that was usually characterized as “scrappy” or “intelligent” by the mass media. Bobby Hurley followed that mold. So did Greg Ostertag and Bryant Reeves and Christian Laettner. They were not just basketball players, but they also could have served as presidents of their chapters Young Democrats or Young Republicans in college.

Williams could have followed that mold. When he initially came into the league, he had a full-head of hair and a boyish look that made him resemble more like a Boy Band member than the point guard of a NBA squad. But, as he garnered more minutes and started to display his “streetball” style of playing that made him such a hit with NBA and Kings fans, it became obvious that Williams was going to break that “white point guard” mold that had become expected from media and general basketball fans.

By the second year, Williams ditched the Boy Band haircut and went with a shaved head and went with a buzz cut for most of his career beyond Sacramento (he also played for the Grizzlies, Magic and Heat). He started to garner more tattoos each year, as he only had a couple as a rookie but by his later years in the league his arms were covered almost as much as Chris “Bridman” Andersen’s. There was an urban swagger to Williams and unapologetic way he carried himself not just on the court, but off it as well. Williams, from West Virginia (he played high school sports famously with Randy Moss), didn’t care if the traditional media or basketball fans didn’t approve of his style. He didn’t care if people claimed he was trying to be something he wasn’t (which proved to be untrue; Belle, West Virginia is like any coal-mining West Virginia town and though it was primarily white, the town had its hardships like any major town from that tri-state area (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) suffering both socially and economically after the fallout from many mines and plants closing; Williams never claimed he was from Compton or Baltimore or somewhere likewise). And his uncompromising way of carrying himself endeared Williams to many young basketball fans and players who wanted to rebel against the status quo regardless of race or background (I know as a half-white, half-Asian american, I secretly admired Williams both on and off the court growing up).

In fact, if you don’t remember, check out this segment from ESPN’s “The Life” which profiled Williams’ first year in Memphis. He is candid, honest, blunt, and incredibly intense both on and off the court. If you have some time, watch the 20-minute clip. I find it hard to see a lot of point guards in general both then and now displaying the kind of honesty that Williams displayed in this video segment.

Reason #3: His style still influences guards today

In his day, Williams was the leader of the “rebel” cause at point. He didn’t look to make the “sure” play, but the spectacular one. He was a gunner when he wasn’t making the flashy pass, as he posted a career 49.1 percent 3-point attempt rate (the percentage of his shots that came from beyond the arc), something that wasn’t typically associated with great point guards. Point guards, when they weren’t passing the ball or making the assist, were supposed to get to the hoop on the pick and roll. And while Williams was certainly capable of that, his affinity for the 3-point shot drove him a little bit more.

For many NBA fans, Williams probably seemed to be the last of his kind, the product of the “Streetball” “And1 Mixtape” movement that died out in the late 2000’s. But since the turn of the decade, we are starting to see more and more point guards not just dominate the ball with flashy move and energy, but the 3-point shot as well. The biggest example is Stephen Curry who displays the same kind of highlight producing skills that Williams showcased in the early to mid-2000’s. Look at the highlights of Curry below and see how similar Curry and Williams’ games are similar nearly a decade later.

Is that saying Curry is the modern-day Williams? No. Curry was a whole lot more efficient with the ball and a much better shooter. (After all, Williams never won a MVP award). But, Williams broke the mold that a point guard could show flash and be successful. He displayed that a point guard could be a 3-point shooter and still be labeled and successful running the point. Maybe Stephen Curry exists without Jason Williams. But to say Williams game didn’t have an influence on guards like Curry, whether intentional or not, is dubious to think.

Final Thoughts on “White Chocolate”

Williams was a unique character both on and off the court. Even though he came off as a showboat on the court, he was incredibly reserved and easily agitated off of it. He was incredibly blunt and not just with the media, but opposing fans, as it even got him into trouble quite often (I remember his incident where he got in an intense heckling match with Golden State fans where Williams crossed the line with his comments). For a while, Williams was characterized as a “malcontent” and a “cancer”, but in reality, he just happened to by a hyper-competitive player who wanted to win, who wanted to play the game the only way he could (with panache and style) and wanted to stick close to his roots despite the misconception and sometimes, criticism (Williams was a West-Virginia proud guy; for those from Kansas City, he was like someone from Wyandotte County, which I got a lot of love for since I used to live there for a couple of years and found it hard to leave).

In short, Williams was hipster before the term was popular or even existed. The only thing Williams cared about was the game. He didn’t care about making movies. He didn’t care that he punted a lot of opportunities to market himself beyond the court more because of his style and the way he carried himself. As I said before, Williams could have probably been a media and marketing darling if he bought into the “98 Degrees” look he sort of sported his rookie year. But Williams passed off on that, because he knew that wouldn’t be who he was at the core, and “White Chocolate” can only be him at the end of the day.

There probably won’t be a hall of fame spot for Williams. And frankly, I don’t think Williams cares nor does he think about it, and that not only makes him a retro NBA Hipster, but so endearing as well. It is refreshing to see, in a day where many athletes are so self-conscious about their image and legacy, that he willingly stays out of it and doesn’t give a crap. Instead, his legacy is displayed in the current crop of budding NBA point guards endearing themselves to new waves of fans (like Curry) and his son, who is already gaining notoriety as “White Chocolate Jr.

It is exciting to think that another Williams can make it in the league. It gives hope to future generations that they can enjoy basketball like we younger fans did in the early to mid-2000’s when Williams was out there tearing up and “Hipstering” up the league.