Is Serge Ibaka the worst defender in the NBA?

To answer the question, no, he’s not. That was simply a hyperbolic question used to state the fact that Ibaka is not the renowned defender that he once was. That isn’t saying that he can’t get back to being a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, because he easily can. The physical tools that he possesses in that incredibly athletic body are exactly what every team in the NBA wants. He is the perfect floor spacing big man with the shot-blocking ability to protect the rim. You know who fits the first half of that bill, but definitely not the second? Enes Kanter. However, who’s been closing games against the perfect machine that is the San Antonio Spurs? Yeah, it’s Enes Kanter. The guy who is constantly mocked by the media and fans alike for being a turnstile on the defensive end. He is incredible on the offensive end, with a soft touch around the basket and a silky mid-range jump shot, along with the occasional corner 3. But you’d think, yeah Kanter is pretty good but awful defensively, and Ibaka can bring all the same abilities with better 3-point shooting AND DEFENSE. However, in this past season, Ibaka has clearly been too focused on becoming the 3rd offensive option for the Thunder behind Durant and Westbrook. In years past Ibaka has been the x-factor for this team, the guy who occasionally gets 10+ points per game, but most importantly 10+ rebounds and a couple blocks. He was focused on being the defensive anchor, and let the shots come to him. Now he’s putting a majority of his effort into the wrong end of the floor. As the timeless saying goes, “defense wins championships”, and for a team with two top-5 superstar talents, two guys who can get their own on offense whenever they please, Ibaka was the perfect component to them. Two offensive focused mega-stars, and one defensive beast that scared opponents into only shooting outside of the paint.

 

Serge I-block-a, Thunder fans and the NBA miss you. You can be a top, two-way power forward in this league, but that has to start on the defensive end. Your shooting stroke has improved immensely, but you will become more involved on that end if you focus on shutting down the other team on D. Get the blocked shots stats up, the shots will come, and the All Star recognition will follow.

The Up’s and Down’s of being a Westbrook fan

Russell Westbrook is one of the craziest athletes I have ever seen in my life. His ability to walk the ball up the court one second, and then get to the rack at will is both mesmerizing and beautiful. The mid-range pull ups are a work of art, the skill to run at breakneck speeds, stop on a dime, pull up with a high jumper, and bury the shot. His intensity and passion are admirable, and his demeanor is similar to that of Draymond Green. They are the type of players who go for the jugular every minute they are on that hardwood.

Unfortunately, these positives do come with negatives. Whether it’s the rushed offense, the high turnover rate, or the overcommitment to getting off ball steals, these weaknesses contribute to the love/hate relationship many fans have with Russ. Russell has all the tools to be a great defensive player, he has size, physicality at his position, and the unending relentlessness, however he’s far too focused on the offensive end of the floor. Russell, you are easily a top 5-7 NBA player for the past couple of years, oh, and you’re teammate Kevin is right up there too! The best basketball the Thunder play is when the ball zings around the arc (crazy idea, I know), in games where Durant is the primary offensive weapon and Westbrook gets high assist and rebound totals. Russell Westbrook got 18 triple doubles this season. Yes, 18. That puts him in the same category as Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, two pretty good names to be included with. And another interesting note, the Thunder were 18-0 in games where Russell recorded a triple double, most of which his point totals did not exceed 15. Russell has grown from when he first came into the league, when he was an undersized 2-guard who was being molded into a point guard, something many in NBA circles did not think he could ever do well. Now in his 8th year in the league, he is one of the best point guards in the league. This is why it is so infuriating as a fan to see a different Westbrook every night. The talent on this roster should be able to compete every minute against any team in the NBA, even when two of those teams are historically great. Because when the Thunder offense is clicking, there’s no reason to not believe that they too could be dominant. Sadly, after they seemed guaranteed to make multiple Final’s after their first stint in 2012, Harden was traded, too much was expected of Russell to handle the ball, and now the future is consumed with the fear of two of the franchise’s greatest players leaving. We can only hope that Russell can go into Oscar-mode and somehow start averaging a triple double, because then there’s no way Durant can leave…

Finding a new home for DeMarcus Cousins

Dear Vivek Ranadivé, Vlade Divac, and the rest of the Sacramento Kings organization,

Accept it. It’s over. If you ever want to succeed, I would suggest selling the team to anyone else, preferably someone who won’t draft back to back shooting guards, or will stick with a head coach for more than one season. But, I understand you won’t sell Vivek, because that would be admitting defeat. However, you must assess the situation. You are going nowhere. No, you aren’t a bottom three team in the league, you aren’t embarrassing in that fashion (you are embarrassing in other ways but never mind that), but you aren’t in contention for a championship, you can’t even reach the 8th seed! Looking at your team, I see only one clear answer. Trade your disgruntled all star DeMarcus Cousins. He may be the only player currently filling seats, but he’s the only thing you have that carries value. Trade him, acquire multiple picks and role players, and move on. Currently, this league is being dominated by a couple of teams, two of which are historically great. The mid-level teams and others will be more than willing to throw the kitchen sink in order to have Cousins wearing their jersey. Let the guy free, let him learn what a competent organization is like, and allow him to compete like a top-10 player should. Here I have multiple trade scenarios for you to consider, but if I know your organization like I think I do, you’ll end up sending him to China or something stupid for the next great 3-point shooting shooting guard.

All hyperlinks are courtesy of the ESPN NBA Trade Machine.

Deal with the Boston Celtics

Boston acquires DeMarcus

Sacramento receives: Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, James Young, 2016 1st round pick (courtesy of Brooklyn) and 2016 1st round pick (courtesy of Dallas)

Boston receives: DeMarcus Cousins and Caron Butler

  • TWO FIRST ROUND PICKS, BRADLEY AND OLYNYK!?! Yes, DeMarcus is worth it. Incredibly worth it. Top 10 talent doesn’t come around often, and DeMarcus fits a need the Celtics have: a number one offensive option. Building a team around Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, and DeMarcus looks pretty good to me.

 

Deal with the Washington Wizards

Wall and Cousins Kentucky Reunion

Sacramento receives: Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, Kelly Oubre Jr., 2017 and 2018 1st round picks

Washington receives: DeMarcus Cousins

  • The only way this deal can happen is if Beal is included. While he has had injury issues throughout his short career, he has proven that when healthy he can be a great offensive weapon. The Wizards have no picks in the 2016 draft so they’d have to hope the future picks would be enough to entice Sacramento. But the thought of reuniting Wall and Cousins is tantalizing. I know Scott Brooks just got hired over there, but is there any way they could still talk John Calipari into the job if he had two former Wildcat all stars to coach?

 

Deal with the Los Angeles Lakers

Cousins dons the Purple and Gold

Sacramento receives: D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Bass, 2016 1st round pick

Los Angeles receives: DeMarcus Cousins

  • Now this one definitely seems like a lot. But if this trade went down, the Lakers would have five players under salary going into next season. Just five. And if they can trade Nick “Swaggy P” Young, like they’ve wanted to for a while, they’ll have even more salary cap room. And when you approach major free agents like Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, etc., what sounds better? We have D’Angelo Russel and Julius Randle, the former might break the bro-code on you, or we have DeMarcus Cousins and a lot of money. Want to come be a star in L.A.?

 

Deal with the Chicago Bulls

Cousins moves to the Windy City

Sacramento receives: Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, 2016 1st round pick, 2017 1st round pick

Chicago receives: DeMarcus Cousins

  • This Bulls team underperformed greatly this season, not making the postseason for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. With Joakim Noah almost certain to leave after tensions have arisen with the front office, and Pau Gasol definitely looking to opt out of his contract in order to make a run at a championship, the Bulls will be looking for their next big man. While that big man may be Gibson, or the young Bobby Portis, if they have a shot at DeMarcus they definitely will take a swing.

 

The Ridiculous Blockbuster

Cavs, Knicks, Kings Blockbuster

Sacramento receives: Kevin Love

Cleveland receives: Carmelo Anthony

New York receives: DeMarcus Cousins

  • I think this trade would shut down the internet if it actually happened. Three big names moving teams, one of which is the big market New York Knicks, and LeBron partnering up with his banana-boat buddy Melo? As they say, shit would hit the fan (sorry for the expletive). This is fun to think about, would it improve or worsen any of these situations? Nobody knows, and we never will because there’s no chance a trade like this could ever happen. I mean, there’s very little chance right? Well…it could happen…

Eastern Conference Semis Preview/Prediction

First off, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors, AKA the Drakes according to Zach Lowe. After that bad game 6 loss I lost all faith in the team coming from the 6. But they actually played like the better team they are and now move on to face Pat Riley and South Beach. A small part of me wishes the Hornets could have moved on, just so we could see Purple Shirt Man in the courtside seats, screaming at Kyle Lowry. Too bad. Then on the other side we have a rematch from last years Conference Cinal; Cavs and Hawks. With these two playing in the semis, that means we will see a new matchup in this year’s Conference Final. Could LeBron be returning to Miami? (Just to match up against them, relax Cavs fans. Well…actually…he could opt out and leave you in the dust again…but that’s for a later article.) Will Drake get to harass superstars in the Final? Could Paul Millsap throw the entire city of Atlanta on his back and block LeBron from reaching his 6th straight NBA Final? Well, let me attempt to answer these questions and more.

CAVALIERS vs. HAWKS

Key matchup: Al Horford vs. Kevin Love

  • Yes, Kevin Love starts at the 4, and Al Horford starts at the 5. But with the Cavs finally adapting to the idea of Love playing a small-ball 5, this is the series where he isn’t undersized. Al Horford may play the center for Atlanta, but ideally he would play at the power forward. With no DeMarre Carroll after he made the move up north, Millsap will probably be assigned with guarding LeBron in clutch situations, where Bron will be playing as a point forward. If Kevin Love can battle with Al Horford inside, while nailing his shots from downtown, the Cavs will dominate.

 

Things to consider when watching:

  • Can one of Teague or Schröder play defense well enough to contain Kyrie? Irving comes into this series averaging a league playoff high 27.5 points per game.
  • Which J.R. Smith shows up. He’s shooting over 50% from 3 so far in the playoffs, but we all know how streaky J.R. can be. Smith’s confidence and talent can either shoot a team into a series, or out of one.
  • If things aren’t going the Cavs way, who will be calling the plays in the huddle? Does Coach James surface once again, or does Lue actually command respect.
  • Fight watch: Matthew Dellavedova vs. Dennis Schröder. Delly, voted as the dirtiest player in the NBA by his peers, Schröder, had an altercation with Thomas last round and many more before him. I don’t want to advocate violence but, SOMEBODY HIT SOMEBODY!

 

Prediction: Cavs in 5

  • If the Hawks want a chance in this series, they need to steal the first game tonight. The Cavs have appeared to not fully show up in game one’s, they come in and look to see what the other team is doing and then they adapt. If the Hawks can come out strong and put the pressure on, they could stretch this series out. However, with Carroll gone, the only wing defenders to take LeBron on are Bazemore and Sefolosha, one who is much smaller, the other who is on the wrong side of 30. This will cause Millsap to guard LeBron, which will tire him out on the defensive end.

 

RAPTORS vs. HEAT

Key Matchup: Jonas Valanciunas vs. Hassan Whiteside

  • Once again, a big man matchup. Yes, the Wade/Johnson (presumably) vs. DeRozan will be a nice matchup as well, same with Carroll vs. Deng. However, I picked the center matchup for one reason and one reason only; one of these guys might end up punching the other. And I can’t wait to see them get physical in the post. I am not a fan of Jonas whatsoever, but he has soft hands and can finish in the post. And with Hassan leading the playoffs with 3.4 blocks per game, he will be going after every shot Jonas and the rest of the Raps put up. These two aren’t well known for having calm demeanors. Watch for these two to get in one another’s faces early on.

 

Things to consider when watching:

  • Casey earned a head kiss from GM Masai Ujiri after advancing past round 1. What will happen between these two if the Raps make the first Conference Final in their franchise’s history?
  • This matchup means one thing for the Raptors rotation: Luis Scola CAN NOT GET MINUTES. There is absolutely no way he can play in this series. The Heat’s big man rotation currently consists of Whiteside, McRoberts, Deng, and very occasionally Haslem. Other than Haslem, Scola can’t keep up with any of these players. Deng and Whiteside start at the 4/5, and the Raptors must continue with Patterson and Jonas. If I see Scola anywhere other than the bench, I will buy Drake’s new album and burn it ceremoniously to represent the Raptor’s title hopes.
  • Can Chris Bosh somehow convince Pat Riley and co. to allow him to play against his former team? This would be a great storyline if Bosh’s health has improved.
  • Lowry and DeRozan have to play like the All Stars they are in order to stand a chance. Will the playoff monkey be off their back now that this core has advanced to the second round, or will they still come out playing nervous.

 

Prediction: Heat in 6

  • Sorry Drake. But it’s okay, because you’ll hop on whichever bandwagon is the most attractive come Finals time and you’ll be able to celebrate then. But the Heat playing small ball, with Deng shooting the lights out from the corner 3, Whiteside actually playing up to his potential, and Wade rewinding the clock, the Heat will be able to steal at least one on the road. Get ready to see the Heat face off with their ex-teammate, with a berth in the NBA Finals on the line.

Thoughts on Spurs/Thunder Game 1

“You have to know the Spurs are gonna come out and punch you in the mouth off the bat.” – said by the ever eloquent Charles Barkley at halftime.

Oh boy. So on paper, this series should be a great matchup. The Spurs are favoured, but nobody could have expected what just happened. Sorry Billy Donavan, but that game had an outcome similar to those we see when the Globetrotters play the Generals. It was a college team with a college coach, against a historic professional basketball team. Basketball is a game of runs, but after the first quarter there was no way the Thunder were getting back in it. Here are a few of my thoughts on this game 1 blowout.

  1. Adams has to guard Duncan, and Ibaka has to guard Aldridge. It’s ideal to have Serge standing underneath the rim to play help defense, but if Aldridge is going to shoot half as well as he did tonight then this series is already over. Serge is the only big man on the roster with the foot speed to run out at him, along with the strength to play him in the post.
  2. The Spurs are in great hands with their new Big 3 of Aldridge, Leonard, and Green. Those three combined for 58 of the first half 73 points, with Kawhi shooting 8/10 and LaMarcus 12/16. This incredible shooting can’t possibly continue…..can it?
  3. Number one defensive rule of basketball: don’t foul a jump shooter. What could be worse than that? FOULING A 3 POINT SHOOTER. FOUR TIMES. Figure it out OKC. Nothing else needs to be said here.
  4. Who guards Kawhi Leonard? The guy is an MVP candidate, and yet there were stretches of Kyle Singler and Randy Foye getting defensive looks at him. These two can bring something on offense, but Kawhi is going to continue shredding them. Durant, Roberson, and unfortunately Waiters, have to be the only ones defending Kawhi.
  5. Can Cam Payne make a difference in a series where he can receive minutes? Patty Mills is a great backup in the Spurs system, but his height gives Cam Payne a chance at regular backup minutes. He may be a rookie, but early signs show that he can be confident running a backup offense. If he can prove to be reliable by initiating movement in the offense, Donavan might have to consider a small lineup with Cam and Russ at the 1/2. 
  6. Boban Marjanovic will take the crown of most popular player from Stephen Curry. How can you not love the guy? He rebounds without jumping and flips shots in with ease. 4 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 8 minutes? The shoe companies must be fighting to make his size 19 signature shoe.

Introduction

As a hopeful future NBA writer, I decided why not start practicing writing in a semi-formal setting for the people of the internet to tear apart and critique? My name is Nick Valka, a Canadian basketball super-fan, and I plan on posting articles and thoughts that I have concerning the NBA and basketball as a whole. Other than editing for basic grammatical and spelling mistakes, my writing style will consist of off the cuff, unprepared, and sometimes outlandish statements. But that’s the point. When it comes to debating sports facts are necessary, but without strong opinions and beliefs real conversations can’t occur. I enjoy nothing more than arguing why a team is terrible, or why a certain player will never win anything, and these conversations don’t rely solely on fact; rather more on gut feelings. So I expect backlash, I understand that some things I say will not be agreed upon, but sparking argument between fans is what I intend to do.

I hope to create content that is enjoyable to read, while also creating a discussion. Scientific journal articles and sports writing are completely different; one is meant to be universally accepted, while the other brings further questions to consider with the answers it provides. As long as I can make one person think further on a certain topic, then I will take that as a success. The goal isn’t to make someone change their view, or to switch team loyalty, the goal is to make someone consider both sides.

I write because I enjoy it, and nothing will change that. The decision to make such thoughts public is just to allow further analysis of my work. I hope anyone that looks at my work enjoys it, and takes it as it is.

Thank you,

Nick

Twitter: @HoopsBanterBlog