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Christmas Gowhere NBA Awards

Above: Some of the Christmas Edition honorees for the Gowhere NBA Awards.

Christmas time is here! And for the NBA, that means it’s the season’s first marquee date and the time the casual fans start paying attention to the new season. Believe it or not, even though the Playoffs aren’t until April, Christmas is also the first real point where we can draw some conclusions for the Playoffs. Historical trends actually suggest that the standings don’t change too drastically after Christmas.
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For this season, the 8 playoff teams in the West are already decided. Watching Durant and Westbrook healthy makes it feel like a certainty that OKC will climb back into the incumbent 8. Apologies Phoenix and New Orleans. Wish you were in the East because over there, well, only 5 teams matter. So even though we already know on Christmas who will likely (<—– me, hedging) be on the playoff stage come Easter, we have no idea who will be playing in June.

Thank you, Santa. 2015 is going to be fun.

So what better way to recap the season so far, and also look ahead, than with another installment of the Gowhere NBA Awards! Last time I handed out the prestigious, photoshopped hardware, it was in preview form. Now, with 100% more Santa hats, here are my made-up hip hop awards inspired by the holiday season’s top, or unheralded, new music. Here’s the rundown.

Christmas Gowhere NBA Awards:

- “Rewind That” Award for Best Live TV Performance
- ‘Forest Hills Drive’ Award for Best Go-To Play
- “Deliver” “Lunch Money” Award for Best Breakout Player
- “Lose Yourself” Award for Most Fascinating Remix Team
- Snoh Aalegra Award for Best Breakout Rookie
- PND ‘Colours’ Award for the “x” amount of Western Conference Contenders

The envelope please…

*** 

The “Rewind That” Award
for Best Live TV Performance goes to…
Golden State Warriors

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In what’s essentially the Award for the best team in the league, the Golden State Warriors have a league-leading 23-4 record, a top 5 offense, are #1 in Defensive Rating and Net Rating, and now they have a Gowhere “Rewind That” Award to show for it.

Additionally to their record, it is the Warriors’ style of play that makes for a beautiful “Live TV Performance” like that of Common’s emotional rendition of “Rewind That” on Queen Latifah’s show in November. Hence the namesake for the Award.

Note the additional skits to the song as Common acts out key parts of the story with No I.D. and remembering J. Dilla. It made the lyrics and his tribute feel that much more heartfelt and Common is one of only a few who could pull this off.

The Warriors, already one of the league’s most entertaining teams, are somehow even more entertaining this season thanks to new coach Steve Kerr’s offensive system and the increased utilization of Andrew Bogut. Bogut, when healthy of course, has become a pivot point for the offense as a fixture at the top of the key. He sets quick down screens for Klay Thompson’s curls, ball screens for Stephen Curry, or — the most fun of them all — acts as an option quarterback for dribble handoffs that create more efficient, easier mid-range shots for Steph & Klay or easier lanes to drive, finish or dish. That’s a great mix with a creative running back wizard like Steph Curry seeing the holes.

Example?

The offense is #5 in Offensive Rating and the Warriors lead the league in pace. This combination has led to 108.1 PPG, good for 3rd in the league. Klay Thompson’s torrid start has propelled him into all-star consideration and justified (so far) the speculated Kevin Love swap the Warriors so famously passed up, while Steph Curry is averaging 23.4 PPG., 7.7 APG and narrowly missing out on a 50-40-90 month during his Western Conference Player of the Month win in November (49.6% from the field, 41.8% from 3-point, and 92.3% free throws).

The narrative that the Warriors are more than just an exciting offense has now been fully acknowledged this season due to a repeat and improvement of their elite defense. Last season, the Warriors finished as the #3 defense and this year, they’re ranked at #1 (Def. Rating). As much as he plays an increased role in the offense, it’s Andrew Bogut’s role as the defensive anchor that is most important for the Warriors to make it to June.

Bogut allows Golden State’s lengthy, athletic perimeter defenders to be aggressive and switch assignments without really risking great mismatches. Klay, Iguodala, Draymond, and, eventually as he plays more, Shaun Livingston can guard a wide variety of guards and forwards. The sum of the parts makes for an even greater whole and the Warriors become just as entertaining to watch on defense than on offense (if you’re into rangy athleticism, I suppose.)

The asterisk for June is *if Andrew Bogut is healthy. He’s already battling knee issues and is still out indefinitely on Christmas. No need to rush him back during this marathon of a season, but it will be how he looks come April that will determine most everyone’s opinion on the Warriors as their NBA Finals pick.

Continuing to look ahead, I am also curious to see what the Warriors do with their bench. The recently returned David Lee, if he lasts the season or becomes a luxury tax trade casualty, has to get acclimated to his new role with Draymond Green emerging into the starting lineup. Plus, the Warriors still need to address their issue of creating enough offense when Steph Curry is off the floor.

Curry leads the league in Offensive Real Plus Minus (Total RPM, too) and one of my favorite new advanced stats: “Respect” Rating (tracking how much defenders gravitate towards an individual player. What a baller name for it. Hip hop should have this too.) Shaun Livingston should get more acclimated to creating for his new teammates from the post, but the Warriors could also look to improve their backup swingman spot for the struggling Leandro Barbosa and inexperienced Justin Holiday (though he has potential.)

The dream scenario for the Warriors, and really for any fan of basketball, is Ray Allen. The Warriors have already inquired and hopefully Allen chooses the Bay to become the Splash Bros’ new uncle: Uncle Splash? …OK, maybe not. But Allen off the bench would surely help the Dubs when Curry’s off the floor and create a real-life video game experience if he shares the floor with Curry and Thompson. Throw in Draymond as the stretch 4 for good measure and they’ll space out the entire arena. Coach Steve Kerr, already proving his worth in this young season, would have even more fun designing this potent offense that is finally living up to its potential.

Runner-Up for the “Rewind That” Award: Memphis Grizzlies.

Grit ‘N Grind is more fun than it sounds. The slimmed-down Marc Gasol is a treat with his fadeaways and passing and the ambidextrous Mike Conley is a deadly fun option to watch in the clutch.

Robbed for the “Rewind That” Award: The undefeated, Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers. (1-0 with a win versus the Warriors, somehow. Could Kobe Bryant be the Universal Mind Control of the L.A. Lakers? Common’s discography would be better without it.)

The ‘Forest Hills Drive’ Award
for the Best Go-To Play goes to…
The 1-2 Pick and Roll

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The 1-2 Pick and Roll this season has evolved in recent years from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Yes, Kevin Durant’s not a 2, but it’s the fact that the Thunder utilizes the supreme talents of their two best perimeter players in a pick and roll situation to create unusual mismatches and high, isolation post-ups that perimeter defenders aren’t used to trying to stop.

This really only works if you have the personnel to pull it off. So far this season, it has been a successful, end-of-game weapon for both the Golden State Warriors and the Chicago Bulls.

Adding to the Dubs’ offensive creativity this year has been a 1-2 Pick and Roll for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, with the alternative wrinkle of Draymond Green setting a secondary screen. The Splash Brothers alone are deadly enough, but this play gives them an even greater unfair advantage with Steph’s ability to create off the dribble and Klay’s ability to either pop out to the 3-point line or take a smaller guard down to the post. How do you guard this, especially when Draymond sets a screen on the screener, or a second screen on Curry’s guy? Watch the Pelicans try and fail as NBA TV‘s Brent Barry breaks down 3 examples from the Warriors recent overtime victory below:

The Bulls have also used the 1-2 Pick and Roll in the waning minutes of the 4th quarter. This was hard to fathom at the beginning of the season because of the hard to fathom thought of Jimmy Butler as an offensive scoring machine, in general, let alone late in games. Plus, it only took about two weeks for new teammates LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to pass Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler in amount of minutes played together. That sounds crazy, but it’s true. We just haven’t seen Rose and Butler play enough together, period, but they are prime to enter the NBA’s best backcourt discussion with chemistry like this.

We first saw the Bulls teammates perform the 1-2 Pick and Roll in Toronto in mid-November. The common denominator of the few times Rose and Butler ran it was Jimmy receiving the ball at the top of the key, then creating for either himself or others while driving to the hoop.

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This week, the 1-2 Pick and Roll was in full force during the consecutive 2011 Flashback 4th Quarter performances from Derrick Rose, versus the Raptors (again) and the Wizards.

Here was dagger #1 from Rose during his 15 point 4th quarter vs. Toronto. It was off this Butler pick, set on the wing as opposed to the top of the key.

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Typically the strategy against Rose is to let him shoot, and that’s just what happened minutes prior. Notice how Kyle Lowry’s head was turned planning for defending the Butler pick. Rose acknowledged the frozen Lowry and pulled up with plenty of space for the mid-range J.

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Below is what happens if the defense switches. Jimmy Butler has emerged as a low-post threat against smaller guards all season. After his pick caused a switch onto him by Kyle Lowry, Rose dumped the ball down low and Butler overpowered him for 2 points.

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One more. This one from Tuesday’s game against the Wizards as Butler first slips the screen. Rose actually had him for a bounce pass or even an alley-oop with Gortat still on the opposite side of the lane. No problem though, as Rose, already in a groove having scored the previous 4 points, drives and goes to the line for 2 more.

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As you can see, the 1-2 Pick and Roll is a deadly weapon that two of the league’s best backcourts are starting to use in crunch time. It’s a scary thought, especially as Rose continues to round into form after taking a step forward like his 4th quarter performances this week. You can see his confidence on another level (assistant coach Andy Greer agrees) and the numbers are worthy of flame and 100 emojis.

Virtually no one is talking about anyone from the East as an NBA Title contender. I get it. The entire West looks better and is playing more consistent than the Bulls or the Cavs right now, but we just need to see these Eastern favorites together more. The Bulls, winners of 7 of their last 8, will make some believers out of people if they keep going like this, and their health is as promising to date going into 2015.

So wait, why is this award called the Forest Hills Drive Award?

Named after J. Cole’s new album this month, the highest selling debut of any hip hop album of 2014, the Award also represents the go-to play in music right now: the surprise drop. Cole took it a step further by only revealing the new album a couple weeks prior (so a semi-surprise drop).

It wasn’t just the way it was released though. J. Cole focused on producing quality content, engaged his fanbase in personal ways (actually going to fan’s homes and taking pics, signing albums), and kept the features low because he didn’t need the extra firepower. Thanks to Beyonce for taking the trend to another level a year ago as J. Cole, by far, kept it going the best in the hip hop genre this year.

If you’re not in tune like 375,000 others in the first week, then you can start with the “Intro” (naturally).

The “Deliver” “Lunch Money” Award
for the Best Breakout Player goes to…
Jimmy Butler

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I know Jimmy Butler was covered above, but sorry, he deserves his own Gowhere NBA Award. An unquestionable candidate for Most Improved Player, Butler has been the Bulls’ MVP of the young season. He has been the constant in leading the Bulls to a 19-9 record as the team has balanced minor injuries to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Pau Gasol. Butler also hasn’t stopped progressing even after winning the Eastern Conference Player of the Month Award for November (his first of two prestigious awards this season, this one being the second.)

Here’s the breakdown:

- Last season: 13.1 PPG on 39.7% shooting. This season: 21.7 PPG on 48% shooting. That’s like a Doodle Jump on a trampoline type of jump.

- Butler ranks 5th in the league in Free Throw Attempts per Game with 8.2. He’s simply out-muscling guards from the perimeter or the post, and has even developed a yell to let the ref know he’s getting hit. Listen for “OH!” on a future Butler drive to the hoop. Dude’s even replacing Carlos Boozer’s best attribute to Bulls fans. That alone is deserving of the Most Improved.

- Coach Thibs has Butler playing a league leading 40.0 MPG, encompassing an also league leading 2.8 miles in distance traveled per game, per SportVU. That’s 2.8 miles per game more than Carlos Boozer on defense. (Sorry, Booz. I really do love ya.)

- When someone asked Butler about his numbers, he responded, “The numbers say we have a winning record.” Awesome.

Perhaps we should be consulting Mark Wahlberg for preseason predictions?

Whatever the case, Butler is well on his way to donning one of these come February, and more importantly, he has proven he can be the key #2 perimeter option that Derrick Rose has never had.

Even more importantly (debatable): Butler’s all-star two-way game inspires two songs for his Christmas gift — the “Deliver” “Lunch Money” Award.

I liken Lupe’s “Deliver” to Jimmy’s defense. We knew Jimmy would shut down wing scorers all season (Demar DeRozan: 3-17 for 10 PTS, Gordon Hayward: 2-11 for 6 PTS) just like we knew Lupe was going to mix simple and complex metaphors for a song analyzing societal issues for his new album. “Deliver” is the first one like that for Tetsuo & Youth, which combined with “Madonna”, have Lupe’s January album shaping up to be pretty strong.

I then think of Butler’s emerging offense as Pusha T’s “Lunch Money” with the way Butler effectively takes guards’ lunch money in the post and the way the pulsating Kanye West production of the song is stunning (even for Kanye fans.) The beat carries the song for me and compliments Pusha perfectly. I hope to hear Kanye’s production sound continue to progress like this, an extension from Yeezus, just as Butler continues to progress offensively in the clutch (see: back to back 30+ point games vs. New York and Memphis.)

The “Lose Yourself” Award
for the Most Fascinating Remix Team goes to…
Dallas Mavs

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Put it this way: I thought the Mavs were fascinating before last week’s trade for Rajon Rondo. They already boasted the league’s leading offense and the existing core has meshed well with this season’s new Chandler additions.

Now with the polarizing Rondo on board, the debate on how much he’ll help the Mavs is a fascinating one too. Grantland’s Zach Lowe objectively analyzes the case for and against the trade and is a must-read if you’ve gotten this far into these Christmas Gowhere Awards.

I choose to look at this trade in its most simplest form: adding a championship point guard in Rajon Rondo is definitely an upgrade.

He and coach Rick Carlisle will figure out his fit with Monta Ellis and the offense over time. Rondo’s length and (ideally) increased engagement at the defensive end will help slow down the west’s glut of elite point guards that Jameer Nelson can’t do consistently in the starting role. Both Rondo’s offense and defense were on display in his first game with the Mavs. Monta poured in 38 points and Rondo took 4 more charges than he had with the Celtics this season. Rondo, one of the best rebounding point guards in the league, will help the Mavs’ 2nd to last rebounding rating as well.

The larger point is still this: Rondo simply raises the ceiling of this Mavs team. They can certainly emulate their 2011 run this June, as the Mavs now boast arguably the league’s most complete starting 5.

That’s why they’re my Most Fascinating Remix Team of this 2014-15 season. The current Mavs are like a remix version of their championship team, illustrated most obviously in the effective return of Tyson Chandler.

The Most Fascinating Remix in hip hop during the last couple of months is actually an original version of a championship-level song: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”. See where I’m getting at?

In mid-November, Eminem unearthed the first recorded version of “Lose Yourself” that featured different verses and even a different hook over a skeleton of the iconic production. To my surprise, all of the new lyrics actually hold up pretty strong (especially the first verse) and it inspires so many “What ‘if’s?” How could this version of the song have finished up? How would it affected Eminem’s career if “Lose Yourself” wasn’t as big of a mega-hit? How far will the 2014-15 Dallas Mavs go when Rondo gets acclimated and they’re a finished product?

*inches towards edge of seat*

The Snoh Aalegra Award
for Best Breakout Rookie goes to…
Nikola Mirotic

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More Bulls. Sorry, I can’t help it. But I’ve seen nearly all the Bulls games this season, which is more than enough to believe in the potential of Nikola Mirotic as a contributor to a deep Bulls playoff run this season and as a long-term foundation piece for more to come. Plus, the much hyped 2014 rookie class still deserves an award even though much of it has succumbed to unfortunate injuries (Jabari and Julius Randle still elicit sadness.)

We all know about Andrew Wiggins, at least who he is given his #1 overall status. His steady rookie season has him as the front-runner for the Rookie of the Year Award in the wake of Jabari Parker’s season-ending injury. So this is the Christmas Gowhere NBA Award that goes to the under-the-radar rookie of the young season, named after an under-the-radar rookie of the music scene. For the latter, I chose Snoh Aalegra who is a growing blip on people’s radars with the strong new debut EP, There Will Be Sunshine.

In brief, she’s my favorite new singer. Her debut visual for “Bad Things” features Common and it’s an appropriate introduction to her, and the project below.

Like Snoh Aalegra, Nikola Mirotic brings a blend of skills and an international flavor to the game. In fact, I predict future stardom for both of them in their respective fields because of what they can bring to the table.

Snoh’s versatility is on display above and further dissected in my full review of There Will Be Sunshine.

As for Niko, he already shows above average agility and quickness for someone his size. He leads the league in the unofficial advanced stat of pump fakes per 36 minutes, which allows him to create shots for himself off the dribble from the 3-point line (or, to be fair, result in a travel call. That can be cleaned up though.)

We’re not used to seeing this in Chicago. A dynamic scorer and playmaker from the stretch-4 position that crested in a 6-6 3-point shooting display and career-high 27 points on the road at Memphis this past Friday.

The numbers, in an increasing sample size, back up the fun seen through Mirotic’s pump fakes, off the dribble 3s, and sprinting rim runs. In the 16 games Mirotic has played over 18 minutes a game, he has averaged a solid 12.4 PPG and 7.4 RPG. He is also shooting 40% from 3-point range overall on the season and has generally shown a headiness in all parts of his game from scoring to passing to defense. Injuries have kept all 3 of the other Bulls bigs, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, and Taj Gibson out of the lineup, and Mirotic has taken advantage to give the Bulls another dimension that should be further explored on a team that’s widely considered an Eastern Conference Finalist.

As a hometown Bulls fan, I understand you may think there is a biased excitement seeped in above, but it’s echoed by local columnists who are around the team daily and even on the national level by Grantland’s Bill Simmons (the link goes directly to his impression of Niko.) Mirotic has shown enough promise to become a new Chicago cult hero. Bulls fans are clamoring for more minutes, which I think he should receive to at least lessen the workload of 34 year old Pau Gasol (35 MPG).

Bonus Points:
- Embraced Bulls commentator Stacey King’s new signature call of “Threeeekola” enough to make it his Instagram handle @threekola.
- Finished 2nd in the Chicago Bulls Thanksgiving Ping Pong Tourney.
- Owned his Shaqtin a Fool moment at the hands of Kemba Walker by displaying an on-point emoji game on Twitter.
- Strong bromance developing with fellow rookie Doug McDermott at Bulls Bowling Night. *awaits invite to Bulls Billiards Night*

Runner-Up: Sixers rookie KJ McDaniels. Converse to the 24 Bulls games I’ve watched this season, I’ve only seen 1 Sixers game (the one where they played the Bulls.) But just by reading about him and seeing his stats and many highlights displaying his athleticism, McDaniels has shown the early potential to be a coveted 3 and D wing in the league for years to come.

The PND ‘Colours’ Award
for the “x” amount of Western Conference Contenders goes to…
GSW, POR, MEM, HOU, DAL, LAC, SA, & OKC

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x = 8.

a.k.a. the eventual, and entire 8 playoff teams out of the West are legit contenders to make it to the Finals.

Yes, OKC will get to #8 (and likely higher) and yes, the top 8 is already decided by Christmas.

And truthfully: if all 8 of these teams are reasonably healthy come April, there’s a scenario where any of them can make the Finals. The West is that strong this season, historically so in fact.

Let’s look at the standings:

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Your NBA Finals Champion is 18-11 and in the seventh seed.

I could break down the West team-by-team, but Grantland’s Zach Lowe already did and does it better than I can. Another great read, driving home this conclusion on another level: the West is really really good.

So, here’s where I come in.

At the beginning of the season, the overarching storyline of the season was LeBron’s return to Cleveland. As we hit the holidays, the narrative has changed towards the ultra competitive Western Conference, with LeBron and the Cavs lacking the excitement (and wins) that fans and critics have hoped for. The West is so good yet again that there has even been an increased voice for re-alignment. (I fully support this so Anthony Davis would be in the playoffs this year.)

What makes the West, and the entire NBA landscape, so fascinating thus far is the quality and depth of contenders with no one team really distancing themselves from the rest. Expect the narrative to only strengthen as the season proceeds, combined with LeBron and the Cavs bouncing back to relevancy with more Ws. Whoof, the best is yet to come.

And that brings me to this award’s title, which is an allusion to PARTYNEXTDOOR’s new 4-track EP release, Colours.

2014 has been a breakout year for PND. He is arguably the artist who has most benefited from Drake’s various co-signs. PND has built up a buzz through a few collabs with Drake, his hybrid Future/Drake style, strong self-production, and an aura of mystery about him that’s slowly being revealed in the occasional music video and across his second nationwide tour already.

For me personally though, PND never really lived up to the hype. Close friends and musicians even tried to put me on but outside of a track or two, PND never really cracked my rotation.

With Colours, the narrative flipped 180 for me just like I described with the NBA season. The best is also yet to come for PND.

Every one of the 4 tracks above resonated with me. Perhaps I better related to the lyrics and unique stories of each record, starting with “Let’s Get Married”. The production stuck with me more easily too, that’s for sure. With this project, I now consider myself a PND fan. Surely, another new album is on tap for 2015, plus more collabs with Drake and the OVO familia. Like I said, the best is yet to come.

One more important note: there are 4 ‘Colours’ and 8 teams that I consider are legit Western Conference Contenders. I can either narrow down the Western Conference contenders to my top 4 ‘Colours’ OR take the easy way out and just give you 4 more tracks.

Easy way out it is! I justify it because this is the way that benefits you the most: more new music in the form of 4 more tracks. (Plus, no embarrassment of a December prediction for April for me.)

Here is the other 4-track EP that I deem a must-listen this holiday season — Empathy Test’s new EP, Throwing Stones. Empathy Test is on the short list for my Favorite New Artist of 2014 and the U.K. synthpop sound is simply something different than anything above or elsewhere on Gowhere.

Hey, something different?! Only fitting for a different NBA season where we collectively can’t decide on a favorite to play in June.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading :)