Above: How last season ended. Will LeBron James still be “Worried About Nothin'” as he attempts to ‘Heat Peat’?
One. Moar. NBA Preview! I can’t match the depth of Bill and Jalen’s (who today revealed our hometown Bulls is Bill’s #1 team), nor The Starters’ 101 Questions, but I can make up fake awards that connect hip hop to the NBA to sum up recent events in hip hop and reveal my predictions for the NBA season. It’s officially a yearly tradition! I did this on the day the season started last year, seeing mixed results. I nailed picks like Kyrie Irving with the “Kendrick Lamar Breakout Star Award” and Damian Lillard as one of the rookies everyone will know a year later (the “Kids These Days Award” … Whoops! They’ve since disbanded. BUT Vic Mensa and Donnie Trumpet are doin’ their thing as solo artists.) The picks I didn’t nail? Well, that’s the unfortunate downside of archives.
Anywho, let’s not dwell on the past, shall we? Instead, the envelope please…
The TDE Award
for this season’s team ready to take the next leap goes to…
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
It goes without saying that you tuned into the BET Cyphers just for #KendricksVerse and TDE. Sure, there were some other nice groups (Slaughterhouse & A$AP Mob) and emcees that you wanted to see too, but all the excitement was for the Kendrick Lamar-led crew. In between the start of last season and today, they’ve made the leap to one of the all-star crews in hip hop today. Remember, good kid, m.a.a.d. city was out for only a short time a year ago today and as the dust settled, the album still has serious lasting power. “Money Trees” was one of the endearing anthems of SXSW, and that was 6 months after it was released. More recently, Kendrick’s buzz is stronger than ever after bodying “Control” and the aforementioned BET Cypher, dissing Drake and taking names in the process. I’ve actually likened Kendrick to that of the no-nonsense/star-powered Bulls (on my guest spot on The Bulls Show), but I think of TDE as a whole to the Warriors because of what may come next.
The Warriors galvanized the Bay Area (and the country) behind the record-setting shooting of the Splash Brothers (Steph Curry & Klay Thompson) and an exciting playoff run that saw them hang with the eventual Western Conference Champs. Now, they add another dimension to their style with the versatile playmaker and defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala — the same way TDE just added a new dynamic with a talented female singer in SZA. I envision a fresh, and positive impact from both Iggy & SZA that’ll only help propel their respective camps to make the next leap. We all know about TDE and the Warriors now, but can they reach the top tier of the game? Some may argue that TDE’s already there, but I need to see more — namely the upcoming albums from Schoolboy Q & Ab-Soul. Then, the stars themselves got to take that next step too. Come May and June, I think we’ll see K. Dot ready to drop a much-hyped sophomore album and Steph Curry ready for another playoff run that I think will at least get to the Western Conference Finals (barring injuries).
In fact, let’s take this a step further…
The Kendrick Lamar Breakout Star Award
Last year, the award named after Kendrick Lamar had a different meaning than it does today. Citing his year’s progression summarized above, I’d say that Kendrick’s star power has grown since this time last season, and has taken him to the second tier in hip hop. I think with one more strong year (and album), that Kendrick will easily be in the top tier, no arguments. Likewise, Curry, who’s a lock for his first All-Star Game (barring injuries, again), can breakout into the top tier of the NBA with one more playoff run into June. I’m betting on both to happen.
Runners Up: Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving (but I didn’t want to give it to him again, and also prove, in my own weird way, that there is such a thing as “voter fatigue”. Watch out LeBron, the MVP is either D. Rose’s or CP3’s this year.)
The “Pound Cake” Award
for most hyped collab that ultimately falls short goes to…
(Runner Up: Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings with the Detroit Pistons)
Isn’t the Jay Z connection here poetic? You know, the connection I just made up? But to be frank, the internet nearly broke at the mere picture of Drake & Jay Z in the studio together this summer. Then, when Nothing Was The Same dropped, “Pound Cake” garnered some polarizing reactions including a negative one from me. I think this was Exhibit A in the “Jay Z has mailed it in for a few years” argument, as his repetition of “Cake” (amongst other lowlights) makes it an easy skip, even if that means I’m also skipping Drake’s solid output and the superb production. Isn’t it telling that so many rappers put their own freestyle down on “Pound Cake” and earned “better than the original” type praise?
On paper, a collab like “Pound Cake” should be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. You could say the same about this year’s new-look Nets (especially if it was 2008). Don’t get me wrong, they’re going to do damage in the league this year and rightfully earn a spot with the Heat, Pacers, and Bulls in the final four of the Eastern Conference. However, that’s where I think it ends, as opposed to the hype machine that has them as the team most likely to challenge the Heat. My reason: athleticism. As the roster stands right now, I don’t think there are the athletes to keep up with superstars in the league like LeBron, D. Rose, and Paul George (second tier star). Plus, I think monitoring the minutes of KG & Pierce (plus the higher potential that they, or one of the other starters, miss stretches of games) may cost them some important Ws in the regular season for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Just as I’m skipping on “Pound Cake”, I’m skipping on the Nets when I pencil in my conference finals teams. Whoever they play — either the Heat, Bulls, or Pacers — I’m not backing the Nets.
You’ll notice the runner-up being the offseason acquisitions of the Detroit Pistons. Adding two shot-happy perimeter players will only stunt the growth of a high-potential tandem of bigs in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. And might I add that one of those shot-happy perimeter players should not be a perimeter player! I of course mean Josh Smith, who will be playing the 3 and hence staying further out from the paint (and more apt to take those low-percentage jumpers). A lot of previews have the Pistons making the Playoffs this year… not this one.
The MMLP2 Award
for the player that’s not done yet goes to…
KOBE BRYANT & TIM DUNCAN (tie)
That’s right, a tie! Only in the GWHH Awards (where I create the awards and winners) can this happen!
Just like Marshall is proving he can turn back the clock with the upcoming Marshall Mathers LP 2 just a week away, Kobe and Timmay are certainly turning back the clock this season. For the former, it’s going to happen from Game 1 onward, whenever he comes back. The dude changed his Twitter avatar to “1225” for crying out loud (representing ESPN’s predictions that the Lakers finish 12th in the Western Conference and that he’s the 25th best player in the league in #NBARank). I think he’ll be motivated to come back asap, save the Lakers from their sure-to-happen putrid start (they’re starting Shawne Williams at Power Forward), and get closer to the all-time scoring record (he’s a mere 674 points behind Michael Jeffrey Jordan). I still doubt the Lakers make the Playoffs (partly so I can troll Kobe into sub-tweeting about it, because he’s obviously reading this right now), but I don’t doubt Kobe will be close, if not at his All-NBA 1st Team level of play from last season before the injury.
Meanwhile, every season we think it’s the year Tim Duncan falls off. After all, he’s played a shade under fifty thousand minutes in his career. Also after all, he’s the greatest power forward in history. His minutes will be managed, he’ll save his best for the playoffs (like last season), and to top it off, Duncan will be thinking about Game 6 and Game 7 all year. For both of these players, I’ll believe it when I see it. Two of the game’s greatest. Let’s appreciate their twilight seasons as much as we can.
To bring it full circle, many think Eminem is done as well (especially those who didn’t enjoy “Berzerk”). But for every mediocre or polarizing record like “Survival” or “Berzerk”, there’s a “Rap God” and a “Monster” where I think of Em dropping the mic like in 8 Mile. I don’t foresee Eminem’s best album of his career when it comes out in a week, and certainly not career years from Kobe or Duncan, but I do see the “turn back the clock” moments already in all of them. And I find myself rooting for all three more than ever.
The Bizarro ‘Dedication’ Award
for the series that should never end goes to…
What this award means is that Lil Wayne’s Dedication series should end and that the Uncle Drew series should absolutely never end.
In regards to Weezy, the best track on D5 this past September was the Chance The Rapper-featured “You Song”. And worse off, it actually feels like it’s Chance featuring Lil Wayne, not the other way around. After all, Chance and his team produced and pitched the record for Weezy, who admittedly put down a solid verse. The only other most memorable track on D5 was “New Slaves” and that’s because Weezy rapped about p****y and provided reason #2 why no one else rapped over “New Slaves” (reason #1: Kanye made it untouchable). So Lil Wayne, I think we’ve had enough. Let’s move on to albums or R&B features only, please.
In regards to Uncle Drew, I mean, did you see Uncle Drew: Chapter 3 yesterday? It was all sorts of awesome.
The Underground Chicago Hip Hop Scene Award
for the team that’s still overlooked goes to…
“Wait, what? But Tibs, the Chicago hip hop scene is as buzzing as it’s ever been in recent years. How is it overlooked? You’re a homer!”
– You, maybe.
Follow me for a second. I agree, the underground Chicago hip hop scene is as buzzing as it’s been in recent years. But what I have noticed is that we’re being boxed in to two styles: the drill movement (obviously) and Chance’s “Acid Rap”. No disrespect to Chance or any of the drill artists (and Ben Affleck), but the independent scene here is bigger than them and I feel like our melting pot of styles is not getting its due attention from a national perspective. This results in a national perspective that I’ve been seeing from publications and tastemakers that Chicago is only drill and Chance. That’s simply not the case.
Yes, I clearly have a close perspective and attachment to our hometown’s scene, and not nearly the amount of experience in other markets. But here’s what I can tell you about Chicago hip hop right now. We have some of the most talented artists, period, that have their own fresh style of hip hop — their own lane that I’m not really hearing elsewhere right now. As any consistent reader of the site can attest, I’m personally posting all kinds of music from everywhere, and I can safely say there are more rappers here in Chicago that have created or are developing their own true lane.
I’m only going to name a few artists, for example’s sake. Trust me, I see the irony of calling the city overlooked while overlooking a few Chicago artists doin’ their thing. The full list of artists are for another post: that’s why I’m just citing some of the unique styles and who comes to mind who exemplifies them:
– The ‘luxury rap’ storytelller with a dark sound: The Boy Illinois
And once again, that’s not citing everybody, including emerging artists within the drill scene or the Chance ‘quirky delivery’ scene that I like to think of it, and even all the talented singers we have comin’ up.
It took awhile to get here, but I was thinking about the scene, then I was thinking about how, or even if it could possibly be tied into the NBA. I thought of the T’Wolves because a lot of experts have them on the outside of the playoffs looking in, except they have two young stars in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. With the limited national attention they get, Love, Rubio, the rest of the Wolves, and the idea that they can be successful is sometimes lost. Like the underground Chicago hip hop scene, there are a lot of different styles and versatility within the entire roster, and together, they’re worth talking about more than just Love and Rubio (Pekovic is a beast down low, for instance). I believe in the Wolves’ talent overcoming their health concerns and making the playoffs, and as a dangerous team at that, too. And above all, I’m looking forward to the growth in their respective lanes of all of the above.
The Yeezus Award
for most entertaining interview goes to…
Let’s bring it back to something more light-hearted: the awesomeness, yet contrasting interviews of Kanye West and Gregg Popovich. I feel like this is an award
(that I made up) that honors a career’s worth of interviews. Yet in just the past month, Kanye has delivered some of his most powerful, poignant, and most influential interviews to the largest audience he’s had to date. Plus, it’s the same ‘Ye as in 2002 as you’ll see in this new unreleased interview.
Pop has similarly been an entertaining interview throughout his whole career, most memorably with Craig Sager after T-Mac’s 13 points in 35 seconds to, well, just last week when he was in midseason form with Sager once again. Need more proof? How about this wildly fun YouTube mix of Pop interviews?
Apologies to Joakim Noah, but I gotta respect the body of work and go with Pop. (“Voter fatigue” will certainly set in next season though and you’ll likely win.)
The Watch The Throne Award
for the team most likely to dethrone the Heat goes to…
That’s right, 2300 words (or one long scroll) later and you see what you’ve correctly assumed: I’m going with my hometown Bulls to stop the Heat Peat. (Heat Peat. Thoughts? I swear I haven’t seen that anywhere else and just made it up now. Prepare for the media to make this cringe-worthy pun stick come June.)
I’m only going to add to the case of experts like Bill Simmons or Steve Kerr. D. Rose looks like MVP D. Rose. And if he’s improving physically, mentally, and skillfully like we’ve heard and the “Eye Test” has supported this pre-season, the Bulls certainly have a shot. But at the end of the day, it’ll come down to the team. And that’s where I think we have the edge to dethrone the true top dogs of the game (Kanye & Jay).
Under Coach Thibs, the Bulls have been one cohesive unit and have boasted the best defense in two of the past three seasons. It’s the mentality though, embodied first by Thibs, Rose, and Noah, of responsibility and togetherness that any die-hard Bulls fan can attest, is something on an indescribable level. They just have “it”. I haven’t seen a team win and lose together, and care about one another as much as these Thibs-era Bulls squads and I believe that unity can be the separating factor in a race for the title that’ll surely be of the closest of margins again this season.
If you need me, I’ll be the guy walking around with his fingers crossed til June.
CHI over MIA
SA over GSW
CHI over SA
I was amongst a select few interviewed for the Chicago Tribune’s Red Eye newspaper in Chicago about what we respect most about Derrick Rose, on tonight, his official return! Check it out here because I admit I cried over D. Rose.