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Danny Chau, Jonathan Tjarks, and Jason Concepcion break down the NBA heading into the playoffs.
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In the April 14 newsletter, Danny Chau reflects on the Golden State Warriors’ historic regular season, Jonathan Tjarks proposes the next step in LeBron James’s evolution, Jason Concepcion names a few players primed for big pay days, and Bill Simmons and Joe House gush about Karl-Anthony Towns.
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Steph Curry
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Golden State’s Space Odyssey

By Danny Chau

Before 72 became 73, and before 400, there was 399. With 2:49 left in the first half of the Warriors’ final game of the regular season, against Memphis, Andre Iguodala hurtled down the court in transition. There was a layup if he wanted it, but Steph Curry, who had darted to the right wing behind the arc, waved his hand within Iguodala’s peripheral vision. That was all Iguodala needed. The ball made its way into Curry’s hands, then through the net for Steph’s 399th made 3-pointer on the season. It was an awe-inspiring display of shamelessness, or, for the truly smitten, a perfect example of how the team has chosen to embrace its journey. If the Warriors were going to rewrite the history books, then they had might as well tag the entire thing up.

All year, the Warriors have forged a new normal. The court is 94 feet long and 50 feet wide, and in seemingly every game, there’s something new to learn about how every inch, every second, can be used. The Warriors screen, prescreen, and rescreen to allow Curry and Klay Thompson the room to snipe atop a constantly shape-shifting fortress. Those snipers are then reabsorbed and become screeners themselves, creating avenues for Draymond Green to cannonball his way through the defense. Curry took 20 shots from at least 30 feet out with the game clock at two seconds or less this season. He made 35 percent of them, which also happens to be the average 3-point percentage of the entire league in 2015-16.

The Warriors have challenged the limits of gravity by exploring the depths of space. They are astronauts. The near-universal celebration of this team makes sense in that way. Their meticulous science has become its own form of magic. Their daily forays into the impossible this season have become comforting, like the best kind of recurring dream — like when we were kids and dreamed of being astronauts.

They weren’t the only ones turning the league upside down. Was it the fanfare surrounding the chase for 73 that made us hyperaware of the records in play this year? Or was it the whirring frenzy of the league as a whole, desperate for a stake — any stake — in this season to remember? Russell Westbrook logged as many triple-doubles in a season as any player in the last 50 years; the Spurs tied the all-time single-season home wins record; James Harden committed more turnovers this year than the NBA has ever seen — at face value, these records tell us little about the Warriors. But together, they tell a tale of overexertion. Show me a fan who thinks the Warriors are bad for basketball and I’ll show them a whole lot of teams and players feeling the pressure, galvanized by what Golden State has accomplished. Here’s to all the history still to be changed in the playoffs.

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LeBron James
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There’s Only One Way for LeBron to Beat the Warriors: Be Them

By Jonathan Tjarks

If LeBron James is going to beat the Golden State Warriors in what appears to be the most likely NBA Finals matchup, he’s going to have to play like the greatest player of all time. It’s a level the masses have waited for him to reach his entire career. That’s the gift and the curse when you are blessed with near-supernatural talent, blessed with being bigger, faster, more skilled than everyone else. He was expected to engulf the NBA just like Jordan did in the ’90s. The question had been when it would happen; now, it’s more a matter of how.

The Warriors have given us the answer. LeBron isn’t the evolutionary Michael or Magic or Malone. He’s the archetypal Draymond Green. The Warriors became a great team when they started Green at the 4; they became an all-time great team when they featured him at the 5. Playing Green at center poses an existential problem to every other team: How do you beat an opponent that plays five-out on offense and can switch every pick-and-roll? Play them at their own game.

Steph Curry gets all the press, but Green is the pulse of the Warriors. He holds all the keys; he guards all the doors. To beat the Warriors, you have to beat the Lineup of Death — you have to beat Draymond at the 5. If the Cavs are going to do it, they’ll have to seriously consider a lineup with James at the 5, surrounded by perimeter players like Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert.

Placing LeBron in the Draymond role, rolling to the basket with four shooters around him, would make him unstoppable. It’s not a glamourous way of playing, considering the amount of banging in the paint an undersized center has to do to survive. But it’s the sacrifice LeBron will have to make if he wants his best shot at another title. And even then — even if the Warriors bring out the very best in him — for the first time in his life, that might not be enough to win.

So, you could argue that the Warriors are the worst thing to ever happen to LeBron James. They beat him in last year’s NBA Finals and, should Golden State and Cleveland meet again this year, the Warriors are overwhelmingly favored to repeat. They broke Michael Jordan’s most unbreakable record. They look like what the Miami Heat were supposed to be. Except it would be Curry, not James, racking up all the acclaim if they win not one, not two, not three championships. It was unthinkable just a year ago, but LeBron could be displaced as the greatest player of his era.

Yet, could anything be better for him at this point? For the first time in his career, LeBron is the underdog. If he can return to the Finals, he can play freely. No one (except for maybe Charles Barkley) would actually expect the Cavs to win. But say they do. Even if James never matches Jordan’s number of championships, he could record his greatest career achievement to date.

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Kent Bazemore
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These Guys Are About to Get Paid: The Contract-Year All-Stars, Playoffs Edition

By Jason Concepcion

Nothing focuses the mind like a deadline. In the NBA, the contract year is an 82-game dash that determines whether an impending free agent’s direct deposit stays pop-pop-popping. For non-star players, those who would be lucky to land an ad campaign for a regional supermarket chain or car dealership, the contract year means it’s time to sing for your supper. The following players sang their asses off this season, and they’ll get at least four more chances once the NBA playoffs commence on Saturday. These are your Contract-Year All-Stars:

Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks — Current Salary: $2 million

Baze more than doubled his scoring average over the previous season (11.7 points, up from 5.2), and is averaging a career high in rebounds (5.0) and PER (13.5). Oh, and he was instrumental in getting Steph Curry signed to Under Armour.

Evan Turner, Boston Celtics — Current Salary: $3.4 million

SOMEONE IS GOING TO REGRET PAYING EVAN TURNER THIS SUMMER, AND, BY GOD, I THINK IT COULD BE THE KNICKS. Please enjoy this Reddit master list of Evan Turner quotes.

Marvin Williams, Charlotte Hornets — Current Salary: $7 million

RIP to “This is the year Marvin Williams figures it out,” 2005-15. He finally did it. It took 10 years, but whatever. He did it. Williams is averaging career highs in 3-point percentage (40 percent!), rebounds (6.5), blocks, and PER (16.7) for the low-to-mid-key-fun Hornets.

Michael Beasley, Houston Rockets — Current Salary: League Minimum

I don’t want to say Super Cool Beas saved the Rockets’ season, but — whatever, I’m reckless — he saved their season. Houston had put up a negative net rating two months in a row before Beasley arrived from China with a remorseless, what year is this midrange game in his suitcase to put them back in the black.

Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets — Current Salary: $13 million

Nic struggled with nagging injuries and a demoralizing divorce during the 2014-15 season, his last with the Trail Blazers. Unsurprisingly, it was the worst statistical season of his career. He looked, if not washed, then certainly washed-adjacent. Well, forget all that. Batum has rebounded splendidly in Charlotte. He’s averaging a career high in points (14.9) and the rest of his numbers have stabilized to normal levels.

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Karl-Anthony Towns
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You Betcha: Karl-Anthony Towns and Minnesota’s Bright Future

By Bill Simmons and Joe House

On yesterday’s episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Bill ran down his NBA awards ballot with House. Their discussion about Rookie of the Year turned into a celebration of a young team on the rise, the Timberwolves. During that portion of the show, excerpted here, they compared Karl-Anthony Towns to an all-time-great, silky-smooth big man and basked in the overall glow emanating from the Land of a Thousand Lakes. Check out the entire episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. This transcript has been condensed and lightly edited.

Bill Simmons: House, I have my awards ballot for All-NBA, and I thought we could talk it through. … I'm just going to bounce some stuff off you. You can just be my shit detector for my ballot. Ready?

J.H.: I'm listening.

B.S.: Rookie of the Year, I think [Karl-Anthony] Towns. I think he's had one of the greatest rookie seasons in a while. I was actually kind of startled by how good he was. It dawned on me watching Minnesota win in Oakland last week, and Towns kind of took over in overtime — is it fair to say he's very C-Webb 2.0-ish?

J.H.: Oh, I like that. I like that a lot.

B.S.: He had one drive in that game, in OT, when he was in the 3-point line and he did one of those C-Webb meanders into the lane, switched hands, kind of off-balance, herky-jerky layups. You know that was, like, the signature C-Webb play.

J.H.: The surprising thing with that is we didn't get to see all of that on display when [Towns] was at Kentucky.

B.S.: Right.

J.H.: He was always fluid with the ball in his hands down low, inside the free throw line. But that's a complicated move that you just described there, that old C-Webb move.

B.S.: And he can post up. C-Webb, his post-up game was basically the jump hook, which he would just do in a variety of ways. He had a nice little 15-footer, which Towns has, he was a great passer — so is Towns — very good defender. … I could never figure out who Towns reminded me of, and that was the game I was like, "Oh, there's some C-Webb potential here." So I looked up rookies that average 18 points, 10 and a half rebounds, and had a PER of over 21 since 1984: Towns, Hakeem, David Robinson, Shaq, Duncan, and technically Blake Griffin, but he sat out his rookie season, then his rookie season was his second season. Those are the six names. That's a pretty nice list, House.

J.H.: That's a great list. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. ... The thing that I've been most impressed by with Towns, and we haven't even talked about it yet, is his defense. The defense is the thing that you can't really teach. You either have a nose for it or you don't have a nose for it, and that was the thing I thought was most impressive about him early on in his tenure in the National Basketball Association. But those are very mature offensive statistics that you just described there.

B.S.: I know. If C-Webb and Rasheed Wallace had a baby, and that baby was allergic to marijuana, I think it would've been Towns. That's my takeaway on Towns. I love that guy.

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Bill Simmons Podcast
All-NBA Ballot
Bill submits his All-NBA selections, with help from Joe House. Topics include: Karl-Anthony Towns's ROY campaign, Pop vs. Kerr.
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Chris and Andy prepare for the Game of Thrones premiere, get hype over the Rogue One trailer, wrap up The People v. O.J. Simpson, and more.
ShackHouse Podcast
Masters Recap
Geoff and House recap Danny Willett's Masters win, Jordan Spieth's collapse, CBS's telecast miscues, and House's Masters menu.
 
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