awards-lead-christmas

Christmas Gowhere NBA Awards

Above: Some of the Christmas Edition honorees for the Gowhere NBA Award

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, 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 drastically after Christmas so we have an idea of the top 8 seeds already.

For this season, the 8 in the West are already decided and in the East, well, only 5 teams matter. So even though we already know on Christmas who will be on the playoff stage come Easter, we have no idea who’s going to be playing in June.

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

So what better way to recap and 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. Following suit, here are my made-up hip hop awards inspired by the holiday season’s top new music with 100% more Santa hats. 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 (Demo)” Award for Fascinating Remix Team
- Snoh Aalegra Award for Best Breakout Rookie
- PND ‘Colours’ Award for the “x” amount of Western Conference Contenders

Alas, the first award of the night…

*** 

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

warriors-christmas
In what’s essentially the Award for the best team in the league so far, the Golden State Warriors have the league-leading 23-4 record, are tops in key advanced stats like Defensive Rating, and now have a Gowhere “Rewind That” Award to show for it.

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

The Warriors, already one of the league’s most entertaining teams, are even moreso this season thanks to new coach Steve Kerr’s offensive system and the increased utilization of Andrew Bogut. Bogut, when healthy, 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 the quarterback for dribble handoffs that create more efficient, easier mid-range shots for Steph & Klay or easier lanes to drive, finish or dish.

Example?

The offense is #5 in Offensive Rating 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 the non-Kevin Love deal (so far), 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 an exciting offense has now fully shifted to the acknowledgement of their elite Defense. Last year, the Warriors finished as the #3 defense and this year, they’re ranked at #1. As much as he plays an increased role in the offense, it’s Andrew Bogut’s role as the defensive anchor that’s 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, and Draymond, and eventually Shaun Livingston can guard a wide variety of guards and forwards. The whole makes the Warriors almost as entertaining to watch on defense than on offense, if you’re into rangy athleticism.

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 sprint, but it’s how he looks come April that’ll have me seriously considering the Warriors as my Western Conference Finals pick.

Bogut’s health and Steph Curry heat checks aside, I’m also curious to see what the Warriors do with their bench. The recently returned David Lee has to get acclimated to his new role with Draymond Green emerging into the starting lineup. And 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.) Shaun Livingston should get more acclimated to creating for his new teammates over time, 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 just a 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.

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 Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers.

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

rose-butler-lead-gif
The 1-2 Pick and Roll this season has evolved from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in recent years. Yes, Kevin Durant’s not a 2, but the Thunder rolled out a pick and roll with their 2 superstar perimeter players as a go-to that was/is largely effective due to the unusual mismatches it creates and the supreme offensive talents of Westbrook and Durant.

This really only works if you have the personnel to pull it off and so far this season, it has for both the Warriors above 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 added wrinkle of Draymond Green setting a secondary screen. The Splash Brothers alone are deadly enough, but this play gives them an even more 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 as NBA TV’s Brent Barry breaks down 3 examples from overtime of the Warriors-Pelicans game earlier this month below:

The Bulls have also used the 1-2 Pick and Roll at ends of games, which was hard to fathom at the beginning of the season. After all, it took about 2 weeks for LeBron and Kyrie to pass Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler in the amount of minutes played together. Also hard to fathom: Jimmy Butler as an offensive scoring machine, in general.

We first saw Rose and Butler perform the 1-2 Pick and Roll in Toronto in mid-November. Our friends at Blog-a-Bull have a nice GIF breakdown of the end of game instances where Jimmy got the ball at the top of the key to either create for himself, or others, driving to the hoop.

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

Dagger #1 from Rose in his 15 point 4th quarter was off this Butler pick, set on the wing as opposed to the top of the key as we’ve seen it otherwise.

rose-jimmy-2

Minutes prior, notice how Kyle Lowry’s head was turned planning for defending the Butler pick. Rose acknowledged the frozen moment and pulled up with plenty of space for the mid-range J.

rose-jimmy-1

This is what happens if the defense switches. Jimmy Butler has been a low-post threat against smaller 2-guards all season. After his pick switched Lowry onto him (not shown), Rose dumped the ball down low and Butler overpowered him for 2 points.

rose-jimmy-3

One more: from Tuesday’s game against the Wizards, Butler slips the screen and 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.

rose-jimmy-4

As you can see, the 1-2 Pick and Roll is a deadly weapon that 2 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 like his 4th quarter performances this week. You can see his confidence on another level (especially assistant coach Andy Greer) 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 them more. The Bulls, winners of 7 of their last 8, will make some believers out of people 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. Focus on producing quality content and engaging your fanbase, keep the features low, and pull off the surprise drop. Thank you Beyonce for setting the trend that J. Cole carried out the best in hip hop this year. If you’re not in tune like 375,000 others in the first week, then you can start here.

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

jimmy-christmas
Sorry, he deserves his own Award. An unquestionable candidate for Most Improved Player, Jimmy Butler has been the Bulls’ MVP of the young season. While balancing minor injuries to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Pau Gasol, Butler has been the constant in leading the Bulls to a 19-9 record. He hasn’t stopped progressing since winning his first prestigious award of the season, the Eastern Conference Player of the Month Award for November (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 career-high and 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.)

- 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, has proven he can be the key #2 perimeter option that Derrick Rose has never had.

Even more importantly, Butler’s all-star two-way game naturally inspires two songs for his “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. “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 surprises (even for Kanye). The beat carries the song for me and compliments Pusha perfectly. I hope to hear Kanye’s production sound continue to progress 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 (Demo)” Award
for the Fascinating Remix Team goes to…
Dallas Mavs

mavs-christmas
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 wouldn’t be able to have done in the starting role. Both were on display in Rondo’s first game with the Mavs as Monta poured in 38 points and Rondo took 4 more charges than he seemingly had with under .500 Boston. Rondo, one of the best rebounding point guards in the league, will help the Mavs’ 2nd to last rebounding rating as well.

And overall, Rondo simply raises the ceiling of this Mavs team to go all the way in June as Dirk & Co. look to repeat their 2011 run. That’s why they’re my 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 somewhat of my surprise, all the new lyrics hold strong (especially the first verse) and it inspires so many “What ‘if’s?” How could this 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 it’s a finished product?

*inches towards edge of seat*

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

nikola-christmas
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 and as a long-term foundation piece. The hyped 2014 Rookie class deserves an award even though it has primarily succumbed to unfortunate injuries (still salty about Jabari and Julius Randle).

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 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 release of her 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 discussed 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.)

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

The numbers, in an increasing sample size, back up the fun of 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. Mirotic 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 and even Grantland’s Bill Simmons. Mirotic has shown promise and has Bulls fans clamoring for more minutes to at least lessen the workload of 34 year old Pau Gasol (35 MPG).

Bonus Points:
- Embraced Bulls commentator Stacey King’s call of “Threeeekola” 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.

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 seeing the his stats and many highlights displaying his athleticism, McDaniels has shown the 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

west-christmas
a.k.a. the eventual, and entire 8 playoff teams out of the West.

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.

Let’s look at the standings:

west-standings

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 will do it better than I can. Another great read that concludes the West is really really good.

So, here’s where I come in.

At the beginning of the season, the overarching story of the season was LeBron’s return to Cleveland. As we hit the holidays, the narrative has changed towards the West, with LeBron and the Cavs not exciting the fans and critics as much as probably hoped. There has even been an increased clamoring 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 as LeBron and the Cavs do as well with more Ws. Whoof, the best is yet to come.

And that brings me to this award’s title in allusion to PARTYNEXTDOOR’s 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 2, PND didn’t really crack my rotation.

With Colours, the narrative flipped for me and like the West and the NBA season, the best is yet to come.

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.

Now you can consider me a PND fan. And the best is yet to come with, surely, another new album on tap for 2015 and more collabs with the OVO familia.

So note: there are 4 ‘Colours’ and 8 teams that 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.

I’ll choose the way that benefits us all: new music for you and no embarrassment of a December prediction in April for me.

Here’s the other 4-track EP that I deem a must-listen — 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?! Sounds fitting for a different NBA season where no one team is really a favorite for playing in June.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading :)