Gowhere NBA Awards: Playoff Edition

Above: The 1-on-1 matchup of Round 2?

It’s about that time! With Round 1 in the books and still needing Sunday to digest how amazing game 7 of Spurs-Clippers was, I believe now that the Playoffs are really going to amp up. Of course that’s natural as we have 8 teams remaining in Round 2, but each series has its fascinating matchups and moments to look forward to, and it’s even harder to predict winners for now and beyond.

I’m not here to try and do just that, though I may offer a prediction here and there. For me, it’s more about looking at what unique takes and context to look forward to, with the help of some of my favorite new tunes of the last month or so. You may know how this works already, but if not, here’s the rundown to clue you in:

Gowhere NBA Awards: Playoff Edition

– “100K” Award for Team with the Most Urgency
“Darker Than Blood” Award for the Series with the Most Contrasting Styles
– “Adoration of the Magi” Award for the Best Sneaky Good Series
– “Talk About It” Award for Most Unfortunate 1st Round Result
– ‘SWISH’ Award for the Most Fascinating 2nd Round Series

And now the envelope please…

*** 

The “100K” Award
for Team with the most urgency goes to…
Los Angeles Clippers

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Naturally, I gotta start off where Round 1 concluded, right?

In an instant classic game between 2 teams so good that they should definitely not have been matched up in Round 1, the Spurs and Clippers battled through 31 lead changes and 16 ties to the final buzzer, where it was finally the biggest shot of Chris Paul’s career that gave the Clippers the Round 2 ticket. So good, it’s worth reliving.

As triumphant as the Clips’ first round win over the defending champs was (the best first round series ever, right?), isn’t this win not enough for Doc & Co.? Aren’t they the team that has the most urgency to win the title now?

That’s where the namesake of the award comes in: “100K” — the most lethal rap pump up anthem to drop this spring, and really this year, by unknown Chicago collective Goodbye Tomorrow.

The chorus boasts, “I need a hundred thousand dollars in my hand, right now (right now right now!) / Don’t nobody ever give it you just gotta go and get it (right now right now!)”

Those words, delivered at the slick break-neck flow, is absolute pure motivation to get on the grind. But as we’ve seen on Goodbye Tomorrow’s first 2 releases so far, there’s a deeper meaning behind the “100K”. In this case, I believe that chorus and the general motivational gems of the lyrics within the verses are a metaphor for really anything. In the Clippers’ case, they need that Larry O’Brien trophy right now, right now.

My logic: The state of their core, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin having been teammates now for 4 years. Chris Paul is entering the tail end of his prime and in a lot of ways, he needed a signature game like Game 7 to realign his career narrative. Blake Griffin has reached perennial all-star level, but likewise with CP3, his narrative is about to enter a breaking point: — is he good enough to win?

DeAndre Jordan will be a free agent after this season and the Clippers would have no cap room for a suitable replacement. JJ Redick had a career year. Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford are also veterans entering the twilight of their careers. When you look at all of these elements together like this, plus last year’s disappointing exit to Oklahoma City, a deep playoff run is the bare minimum.

Looking ahead to Round 2: It will be a battle versus the Houston Rockets. James Harden plus his resillient supporting cast (including Dwight Howard looking spry) are strong enough to get the series win, but considered underdogs by the experts. I think it’s more of a 50/50 pick ’em considering the Rockets have home court and that Chris Paul is limping in with a strained hamstring into Game 1. There is no way to quantify just how taxing the epic 7 game battle with the Spurs, but it’s safe to say the Clippers’ gas tank is less than ‘F’.

One more icing on the cake to “100K”: This Blake Griffin line.

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That’s not even the sickest NBA reference in the track either, so give it a whirl above (or here, set to an animated Chicago skyline.)

 

The “Darker Than Blood” Award
for the Series with the Most Contrasting Styles goes to…
Warriors-Grizzlies

warriors-grizzlies-gowhere

And hey, with these 2, there may be some actual blood sometime this series…

The Warriors-Grizzlies 2nd round series tipped off yesterday to predictable results given Mike Conley’s face injury. The Dubs won at home again and looked in control the whole way. It’s unfortunate to watch these two teams battle when one isn’t at full strength. As the series continues, I believe the Grizz can only get the Mike Conley Return Game at home. They aren’t in peak form like back in December, when the Grizz beat the Warriors at home in a game that experts were lauding as a Western Conference Finals preview. (Oh we forget…)

Potential short series aside, Dubs-Grizz is still sure to be an entertaining one of contrasting styles. The Warriors’ pace-and-space guard heavy attack versus the famed Grit-and-Grind approach led by Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies. The contrast was clear in Game 1 as the Warriors made more 3s (13) than the Grizzlies attempted (12).

The song that embodies this contrast in styles jumped to mind immediately: Steve Aoki’s new single with Linkin Park “Darker Than Blood”.

As longtime readers know, Linkin Park is one of the few favorite artists of ours that neighbor hip hop. I’ve (for the most part) been a fan of all of their albums, growing up on their music over the past 15 years — Duncan-esque longevity by the way. This collab with Aoki is LP’s natural attempt at keeping things fresh and current, especially on the heels of last summer’s more traditional rock heavy Hunting Party. While some may look at this collab as a farce, it comes across genuine to me. Hey, I like it. The clash of Aoki’s uptempo backdrop with Chester’s vocals works. Just like Dubs-Grizz will too.

Last point on the Warriors: Couldn’t you make the case that they have the most urgency to win right now? (And be rightful rulers of the prestigious made up “100K” Award?)

They put up a historical season with 67 wins and a top 10 point differential in league history this season. Just about everything broke their way individually: Curry, the official (and well-deserved) MVP of the league, Klay Thompson taking the leap to be a bonafide all-star, Draymond Green taking the leap as one of the most versatile and best complimentary players in the league, and Andrew Bogut protecting the rim and staying healthy for the most part *knocks on wood*.

The quick case against the Warriors not having the most urgency is that their core is young. They’re also likely to lock up Draymond Green this summer adding to Curry and Thompson with multi-years remaining on their deals. With the cap increase, the Warriors will eventually have the flexibility to replace the skillsets of aging veterans Bogut and Andre Iguodala, perhaps even in-house with extentions for Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli.

It looks promising for the Warriors to extend their window beyond this year, but as we may be seeing now with Oklahoma City and Chicago, untimely injuries can bring that window sill from wide open to open just a crack. That said, with everything that’s happened this year, it feels like the Warriors have to win it all… this year. (FWIW, I think they do.)

OK, one more: Not a point, but I just haven’t gotten tired of watching this. I was at a sports bar amongst only about 20 people watching this comeback live. I’ll never forget the range of “Oooh’s” and “Whoa’s” to this shot.

Now imagine this in June…

 

The “Adoration of the Magi” Award
for the Best Sneaky Good Series goes to…
Hawks-Wizards

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I have no idea who’s going to win this Wizards-Hawks series. The Wiz are peaking now, having won 5 straight in the playoffs and stealing Game 1 on the road yesterday in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Atlanta has had to overcome recent minor injuries to Paul Millsap and Al Horford as it tries to recapture their peak form from the undefeated January they had this season en route to 60 wins.

Both of these teams may not jump out at you from a star power standpoint or a contender standpoint. But on one side, you have John Wall, who really is a top-tier entertaining all-star that doesn’t get quite the mainstream pub he deserves. And for both teams, I wouldn’t be shocked if the winner continues to do just that and represent the East in the Finals over an injured Cavs team or an inconsistent Bulls team. That plausible end scenario makes this series even more sneaky good.

Also sneaky good, nay, sneaky great is what’s risen to become my favorite track off Tetsuo & Youth — Lupe Fiasco’s “Adoration of the Magi”. (NSFW below.)

First, if you haven’t yet experienced the greatest eureka moment in hip hop this year, listen to the hook of “Adoration” while reading the hidden allusions behind it here.

Then, if you missed it last week, read Grantland’s take on Tetsuo & Youth as a whole, and the idea that it’s intended to be an album played in reverse.

The section on “Adoration of the Magi”, plus Lupe’s co-sign of its meaning on Instagram brought to my attention in the piece, has even further driven home the message of the thought-provoking, and racy, NSFW visuals recently released above. Whoo! Flat out, “Adoration” is one of Lupe’s best masterpieces of many throughout his career. I’m not ready to say the Wizards-Hawks, and the winner’s eventual destiny, will be on that level too but both subjects here are simply too much under the radar. Needless to say, pay attention to both.

 

The “Talk About It” Award
for the Most Unfortunate 1st Round Moment goes to…
Kevin Love

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I’m a Bulls fan and even I feel kinda bad about this. Just as Kevin Love was turning the corner as the 3rd banana on the East-favorite Cavaliers, he gets his arm yanked by Kelly Olynyk and is not just out a few weeks, but the entire playoffs after surgery last week will sideline him to 4-6 months of recovery.

We can rehash whether or not Olynyk’s yank was intentional or not (in brief, I believe it was, but not to hurt the guy, just to bring him away from the ball) but I’d rather look ahead to what this mean’s for Kevin Love’s future. He has an opt-out clause in his contract to become a free agent this year and many wavered on whether or not he would use it, ultimately concluding that how the playoffs went would be the determining factor. And that still reigns true, but now is easier to predict since Love won’t be a part of the procedings.

I believe Love will stay for the final year of his contract and give it one more go around for the Cavs. I’m sure it’s unsatisfying for him to have to sit out the rest of the playoffs before fully realizing his potential alongside LeBron and Kyrie. If anything too, he’ll hit free agency this time next year when the 2016 salary cap explodes and he can make even more money.

What’s the scenario that has to happen for Love to bolt? Maybe if the Cavs still win the chip without him? Even still…

But it’s only fitting we recognize the unfortunate circumstances behind Love’s injury with the best R&B song to drop recently off Trey Songz’ new surprise 6-track EP — “Talk About It”.

The ‘SWISH’ Award
for the Most Fascinating 2nd Round Series goes to…
Bulls-Cavs

lebron-jimmy

In an earlier draft of this article, this was named the So Help Me God Award but Kanye literally had to go and change the album name to SWISH just yesterday. He added that he may change the album again, which may change the name of this Award for the Bulls and the Cavs.

But the reason it’s named after Kanye’s ever-changing named album is because I will expect nothing and everything for Kanye’s new album.

So far, we’ve gotten the emotional and personal “Only One” with Paul McCartney, the haunting “Wolves” (that hasn’t yet been dropped in CDQ form… my theory: Kanye’s still making subtle changes and adding additional layers to the production.), and the high-octane, premiere hype anthem “All Day”. All 3 songs cover a wide variety of range on the sonic and conceptual spectrum. And this is just 3 songs!

Just like there are still 3 rounds to go in the Playoffs!

Local bias aside, this Bulls-Cavs series has the potential to have the entertainment and intrigue that Spurs-Clippers just earned. There’s a rivalry buzz here, but given Love’s injury and the Bulls’ inconsistencies this season, the series is not the dominant storyline in the NBA right now.

The matchups are here though. Once we see it play out for a couple games, I predict the nation will get swept up in Rose/Kyrie, LeBron/Jimmy, and the physicality that’s sure to be there whenever Thibodeau’s Bulls face off against LBJ in the playoffs.

The series is another 50/50 coin flip as it’s simply hard to predict how the Cavs are going to come out without Love, J.R. Smith for 2 games, and on a week’s rest. Plus, the Bulls have been a maddening split personality team all year from game to game, even through last week’s Game 5 and Game 6 versus Milwaukee.

The key to the series will be the first 2 games. Can the Bulls take advantage of J.R. Smith’s temporary absence to steal a game in Cleveland, where the Cavs haven’t lost since in the all-star break? What Joakim Noah are we going to get? Will he be spry and backing up the talk that’s sure to come on LeBron? Just how much will Jimmy Butler be able to contain LeBron? Who will win that Rose/Kyrie battle, with Rose stepping up against elite point guards in the league, especially Kyrie throughout his career (and since Kyrie replaced Rose in the USA starting lineup last summer)?

I got the Bulls in 6 because I believe in the best version of them and because, hey, why not take the hometown team against our biggest rival (LeBron), what do I got riding on it? But if the Bulls take G1, then I think they’ll be in the driver’s seat to take it home in 6 or 7.

Whatever the case, this series is going long, and by the end, the mainstream will be like Taylor Swift watching these flame throwers.

Gowhere NBA Awards: Trade Deadline Edition

What better time to bring back the Gowhere NBA Awards this season than after the GOAT Trade Deadline yesterday?

By the end of it, 11 trades happened and a record 37 players changed teams, including all of the players pictured above. The flurry of trades was made even better if you were following NBA Twitter, where if you follow enough basketball reporters and bloggers, you were able the near deals, the finalized deals, and all of the jokes in real-time. (Not pictured above: Javale McGee.) The last 15 minutes of the deadline brought about one shocking deal after another that it became so overwhelming to keep track of, that I actually think this is the best representation of the trades.

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So let’s recap the movers and shakers with my usual made-up music awards highlighting the big new releases and some tunes in my playlist you shouldn’t ignore.

Gowhere NBA Awards: Trade Deadline Edition

The “One Man Can Change The World” Award to the most high impact traded player
The “Go Hard or Go Home” Award to the team going all-in
The “Wolves” Award to the player who’s running it back
The “begin again” Award to the team who is most starting anew
The “Come Find Me” Award to a player in a new and unexpected situation
The “It Takes Two” Award to the most highly entertaining trade of the deadline
The “Adoration of the Magi” Award to the team who made the best sneaky good move
The “Goodbye Tomorrow” Award to the…
The “Know Yourself” Award to the teams who are runnin thru the 6 with their WOES!

Ah, the suspense. Feel free to scroll down to Drake, I won’t get offended.

*** 

The “One Man Can Change The World” Award
to the most high impact traded player goes to…
Goran Dragic

Yup, there’s a song titled “One Man Can Change The World” and it’s a perfect parallel to describe which of yesterday’s traded players will provide the biggest impact on this NBA season. For that, I’m taking the clear choice of the 2014 3rd Team All-NBA guard, Goran Dragic.

I emphasized 3rd Team All-NBA because Dragic was amazing last season, especially in the 29 games without backcourt mate Eric Bledsoe. The Suns relied on Dragic as their primary scorer and distributor and he responded with 22.3 points per game (52.9% from the field and 46.3% from three-point range) and 6.6 assists as the Suns went a respectable 16-13.

This is just to illustrate how Dragic can be the team’s primary perimeter player, which is a role he’ll now find himself in alongside Dwyane Wade (and when Wade rests, especially.) This season, he’s handling the ball 40% less, per Tom Haberstroh — a direct, objective stat that depicts his lessened role with the Suns and why he demanded out earlier this week.

With Dragic in tow (Goran AND Zoran, which is great, but I’m talking about Goran here), the Heat now boast a very formidable starting lineup (Dragic-Wade-Deng-Bosh-Whiteside) that is a scary prospect for the East’s top seeds. In fact, a first-round upset (and maybe more) wouldn’t surprise me and is something I’d absolutely be rooting for in poetic Hollywood fashion over Cleveland.

The enthusiasm, best exemplified by ESPN Miami’s Le Batard Show, is unfortunately greatly dwindled today as Chris Bosh’s overnight hospital stay is circulating reports of potential blood clots in his lungs. This, in the wake of Jerome Kersey’s sudden and untimely passing earlier this week for blood clots in his lungs is scary. The relief is that Coach Erik Spolestra assured today that Bosh’s condition is not life-threatening but early speculation suggests Bosh may miss the rest of the season to recover and ensure good health. That’s first and foremost and I’d like to join the chorus and send our well wishes to Chris Bosh as well.

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Now, hopefully you also pressed play up above. The newest preview of Dark Sky Paradise features the likes of Kanye West & John Legend but it’s Big Sean who shines the brightest, dominating the verses and expressing an inspiring concept above all: that one man can truly change the world. I wrote the other day that for this alone, I appreciate the song and smile at the thought of it inspiring our youth. This is the Big Sean I enjoy and resonate with the most as well and naturally, I follow suit on other songs from the advance leak of Dark Sky Paradise like the intro and “Win Some, Lose Some” that are along this vein. I’m not sure there’s a better one than up above though.

The “Go Hard or Go Home” Award
for the team who’s going all-in…
Oklahoma City Thunder

Once again, the song title is pretty indicative of an attitude — this one representing that of the OKC Thunder in win-now mode, making one more push to shore up their bench and moving on from promising young guard, yet a team chemistry disruptor, Reggie Jackson.

On paper, everyone is a nice fit. Enes Kanter becomes the Thunder’s lone low-post threat. D.J. Augustin, more adept at distributing (8 APG as a starter in the last 10 games) and a better shooter than Jackson, slides into his role and was college teammates with Kevin Durant. And Kyle Singler & Steve Novak should provide some insurance outside shooting at the forward position.

For the Thunder, this is a net positive given not only the talent that they added but the addition by subtraction of the disengaged Reggie Jackson, who was pining for a greater starting role and gets one with the Detroit Pistons. Where I’m skeptical is if the sum of all these parts, plus the relatively new addition of Dion Waiters, will all mesh together with less than 30 games to go before the Playoffs amongst themselves AND with stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant may miss some games with ongoing soreness to his surgically repaired right foot, leaving last night’s game already.

Up above, Wiz Khalifa and Iggy Azalea provide the new theme for Fast 7, and unfortunately to me, it was nowhere near the pump up jam “We Own It” for Fast 6 that Wiz Khalifa worked on with 2 Chainz. In fact, it feels like more of the same and I question where Wiz’s buzz will go if this one and his new single “Decisions” falls flat like they do for me.

Maybe I need to see “Go Hard Or Go Home” set to a Fast 7 car race montage and it’ll grow on me. Just the same, we all need to see the Thunder try and gel with all of these new parts and a Kevin Durant who is not 100% healthy.

The “Wolves” Award
for the player who’s running it back…
Kevin Garnett

Alright, the most obvious parallel is too synchronistic to ignore. KG is coming back to the “Wolves”. But follow me for a few closer connections I made between Kevin Garnett’s surprising return to what he affectionately calls the ‘Sota and Kanye’s SNL 40 performance of track 01 off his upcoming album.

– Kanye opens up the performance with “Jesus Walks”, lying like, well, Jesus on a cross. He looks up and backwards into the camera for an iconic shot and close-up into his creepy/cool color-corrected contacts. I feel Kanye’s hoarse voice is on purpose and the dire vocals further represent the beaten down struggle in race relations he describes in that first verse that feels even more relevant today. While we get excited about “Wolves”, and for good reason, we shouldn’t overlook this part of the performance. Though KG’s impact on a basketball court doesn’t have the same depth as what’s described above, prime KG on the Wolves was when “Jesus Walks” blew up in 2004. I would also liken KG’s intensity to Kanye’s as both are notorious over-the-top performers in the best sense of the description. Can’t you imagine KG laying down like that in the locker room before a game?

– Before Kanye goes into “Wolves”, he performs a verse from his New Year’s release “Only One”. Before KG comes back to the Wolves, he finds greater pastures as a player, like Kanye did as a man. KG comes back to Minnesota with a Celtics championship ring, solidifying his career as one of the elite power forwards to ever play the game.

– Here’s where it gets fun. Joining Kanye on the narrow, simplistic stage is “Wolves” featured guests: Vic Mensa and Sia. The three crawl delicately together, igniting a light bulb that they’re wolves themselves. Like how Kanye is the veteran of the trio, Garnett is coming back to the Wolves to lead the young pack forward. With SNL 40 as high-profile a look as Chicago’s Vic Mensa has received in his already buzzing career to date, he shines with wonderful vocals that sound even better than the HQ studio version used in the adidas fashion show. Think of Mensa as Andrew Wiggins, the league’s runaway Rookie of the Year and perhaps an even greater star down the line. For Sia, this parallel is not as strong, but it is fun: Ricky Rubio. It’s probably the bangs, but Rubio has assumed the team’s leadership role that he’ll now likely share with Garnett. Sia’s star is bright in her own light as well and I’m confident in the early returns for both (Rubio’s limited games this season and Sia’s big-name looks this year) as a sign that they’ll both keep growing.

– I won’t dive into the lyrics since this is pretty personal a song for Kanye, Vic, and Sia, but now that I look at the performance in the wake of Kevin Garnett’s return, I can’t help but picture an intense KG face in place of Kanye’s. Timberwolves fans, hopefully KG’s return is something you’re anticipating as much as we’re all anticipating the studio release of “Wolves”.

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The “begin again” Award
to the team who is most starting anew…
Phoenix Suns

The song titles in 2015 are just tailor made anthems for the NBA, aren’t they? The Phoenix Suns “begin again” like Purity Ring for the rest of this season and beyond, having dealt 4 impact players that ultimately resulted in the same amount of role players coming back alongside their new Eric Bledsoe backcourt partner: Brandon Knight.

In the subtraction though, the Suns scrapped their plan from just this past summer. Gone are point guards Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Tyler Ennis. To contrast the talent sent away, the Suns received 2 future first-round picks from the Heat, which could prove to be high, who knows? But the disappointment for the Phoenix fanbase is the lingering feeling that it didn’t have to come to this. After last year’s feel-good campaign, the Suns added too many point guards and subsidized Dragic’s role. As the dominoes fell, now it feels like the Suns took a step backwards into rebuilding mode. Ideally, it’s to take two steps forward though, but we won’t know that for sure for years to come.

Purity Ring’s journey contains a few parallels. They burst onto the scene in 2012 with a critically acclaimed debut album but have left fans clamoring for more since. That is finally upon us on March 3rd with Another Eternity and “begin again” acting as the dark, synthpop preview that has really made a dent in my playlist this year. It’s in the top tier of 2015 productions so that alone makes it a must-listen. The track’s energy is an optimistic sign for a sophomore album that has a high bar to match, and perhaps an optimistic anthem for Suns fans to cling to as well.

The “Come Find Me” Award
to a player in a new and unexpected situation…
Isaiah Thomas

The music and NBA parallels continue closely with this next Award as “Come Find Me” features some eerie female vocals as well, courtesy of Lykke Li. The vibe of “begin again” and Emile’s song up above make for a seamless 1,2 punch so if you’re looking for something alternative to hip hop, I gotchu here as well. Emile’s album, We Fall, impacts even sooner: February 24th.

So who did I think of when I thought of “Come Find Me”? Former Sun, naturally, Isaiah Thomas who finds himself a new home in Boston — a surprise given Boston’s well-documented rebuild. But they bought low with Thomas still on a friendly contract and a target that got away from them this past summer. He’ll provide the C’s with a much-needed scoring punch for this season and beyond as Marcus Smart continues to mature. And hey, the Celtics may have a playoff run in them as well.

So while a Thomas trade was a surprise in the wake of the presumed Dragic trade, the actual reporting of Thomas’ movement secures the “Come Find Me” Award for him. Yesterday, Thomas was supposed to be sent to Philadelphia in Point Guard Roulette. Literally within minutes, the Celtics were his reported landing point which led to a fun game of, “Where is Isaiah Thomas going?” But that wasn’t the most light-hearted moment of the trade deadline flurry…

The “It Takes Two” Award
to the most highly entertaining trade goes to…
Javale McGee to Philly

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These are real names. *Sean Connery in Celebrity Jeopardy voice* Chu Chu Mad You a Bum?

It’s perfectly fitting they are the ones involved with a Javale McGee trade to the tanking Philadelphia 76ers. This makes Javale the highest-paid Sixer and now… a mentor for Joel Embiid?! High comedy potential.

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For as entertaining as this was when it’s announced, and as it looks a day later, let’s take an entertainment intermission thanks to Will Smith and Jimmy Fallon. They used a beat box app to re-create “It Takes Two” and the result was very fun. See the correlation?


The “Adoration of the Magi” Award
to the team who made the best sneaky good move…
Houston Rockets

With 11 trades yesterday, there were a few that slid under the radar. In my opinion, there were a couple that stood out as steals.

The obvious under-the-radar trade was the Portland Trail Blazers giving up no one in their rotation for Arron Afflalo — a starting swingman who will shore up their bench. While that’s also a reward to LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s bypassing surgery to play the rest of the season, I chose the Houston Rockets as my “Adoration of the Magi” recipient for their acquisition of rookie KJ McDaniels from the Sixers.

They stole someone who fits their 3 and lay-up culture (in KJ’s case, dunks.) for a prospect and a 2nd rounder. McDaniels has shown potential of contributing on the offensive end and his otherworldly athleticism to lead the league amongst guards with 1.3 blocks per game. The swingman rotation is pretty loaded in front of KJ right now, but if he re-signs with the Rockets after this season, he’ll eventually pair up with James Harden as a formidable starting swingman duo.

The namesake of the award is one of over a handful of brilliant records from Lupe Fiasco’s new album, Tetsuo & Youth. The lyrical meaning of the record outweighs an under-the-radar NBA trade, but the parallel comes with how sneaky good, nay great the hook to “Adoration of the Magi” is.

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Did you catch this? One of the coolest, most brilliant displays of lyricism in Lupe’s career… and as you know, that says a lot. I had the light bulb moment that brought me back to head scratchers like a “Dumb It Down” or a “The Instrumental” (when it comes to the hook.) Whoo! I don’t see this, and really the last “season” of records off Tetsuo & Youth leaving my rotation anytime soon.

The “Goodbye Tomorrow” Award
to the…
NBA Trade Deadline, in general

You could apply the phrase “Goodbye Tomorrow” towards the many teams and players affected by the NBA Trade Deadline, but to me, it also represents how both entities came out of nowhere… and to my thorough enjoyment.

The NBA experts predicted a quiet Trade Deadline so yesterday’s furious set of transactions was a pleasant surprise for everyone. The surprise factor for Goodbye Tomorrow is that they… well literally came from out of nowhere.

Goodbye Tomorrow did so under a veil of mystery at the top of the month with the debut single and video for “JAY Z”. Flat out, I proclaimed “JAY Z” at the time as “the video of the year so far.” So if that’s not a statement that piques your curiosity, then perhaps 77K views and some heavy co-signs from MTV, Huff Post, Complex, Revolt (and I can go on) will inspire a press of that play button.

What you’ll see and hear is an embodiment of its end message: “JAY Z: A Dissertation on the Diaspora of the BLACK Soul.” The beautiful visuals and audio itself work together to deliver a message each could not without the other. It will surely inspire a second viewing to understand (a simple, yet rare result for music videos these days) or purely just to enjoy the design of the video again.

So what’s next for Goodbye Tomorrow? Well, all that is known is that everyone is curious about the identity with the artist hailing from our hometown in Chicago. All I’ll add is that the rollout will continue to reveal a substantive message and versatility, over anything else, that many artists, again, are rarely able to communicate. I’m hyped to see Goodbye Tomorrow grow after about as strong of a debut release as any new artist could ask for. Needless to say, keep it locked.

The “Know Yourself” Award
to the teams who are runnin through the 6 with their WOES!
Golden State Warriors & Atlanta Hawks

Undoubtedly the most quotable song off Drake’s new surprise mixtape, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late the hype anthem “Know Yourself” is probably my favorite song, post-drop.

It was, like many of the music up above, a natural fit for the Gowhere NBA Awards because while all of the activity of the trade deadline was going on, the conference leading Warriors and Hawks were… well… just chillin’ amongst their WOES (woes=crew for the slang uninformed.)

In fact, it led to probably the best quote of the day, courtesy of Hawks all-star Paul Millsap.

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This is a rare, and highly entertaining NBA season that doesn’t have a true favorite from either conference. But the Warriors and Hawks have proved to be a tier above the rest with their play so far and have no holes to currently address. Everything can improve within, which you can also say that about similar non-trading contenders like the Bulls or the Spurs, but their play so far still leaves something to be desired. Any of these 4 teams though, and much of the teams that made moves yesterday can create a path to June and no one here would really think twice. It’s shaping up to be a great end of the year, while concurrently, a great start of the year for music.

Now, like any team as of today, or you and I at home… let’s act like Lil Wayne…

Mood

A video posted by syksense (@syksense) on

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BONUS: My weekly Friday column at Hardwood Paroxysm has even more on the NBA.

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.
a
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

warriors-christmas
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

warriors-bulls
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:

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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.

rose-butler-lead-gif

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.

rose-jimmy-4

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

jimmy-christmas
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

mavs-christmas
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?

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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

nikola-new2
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

west-christmas
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:

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 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 🙂

Gowhere NBA Awards (Pt. 1)

Above: Tim Duncan celebrates his 5th championship… or his 1st Gowhere NBA Award?

The 3rd Annual Gowhere NBA Awards honor the league’s brightest superstars and elite teams… with fake music awards I made up to connect the two things I love most: hip hop and the NBA.

Seriously this is a thing. And it’s really the 3rd annual. Last season, for example, I dubbed the Golden State Warriors as the winner of “The TDE Award” for the team ready to take the next leap. As it played out, both teams didn’t make the next leap because of a 1st round exit and an absence of Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album.

See? I’m great at this.

And look! This year we even have trophies! I know, I know. Please, remain seated as I open the first (fictitious) envelope…

Tonight’s Awards are as followed:

– The Kendrick Lamar “I Love Myself” Award
– The ‘Kauai’ Award
– The Raury ROY Award
– The Drake “I’m not new to this” Award
– BONUS mystery award… (in suspense yet?)

This is part 1 of 2 of the Award Ceremony. [EDIT: Part 2 is now up here.]

 

The Kendrick Lamar “I Love Myself” Award goes to…
Russell Westbrook

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Let’s start off on a positive note — the narratives of Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Lamar turning a new chapter.

As even the casual follower knows by now, last season’s MVP Kevin Durant has been sidelined indefinitely into December with a Jones fracture in his right foot. Durant said in a recent press conference that he plans to take his time with recovery, as he also takes his time ridin’ dirty around OKC practice in a scooter.

This leaves the OKC Thunder to fight for itself for the first quarter of the season without its superstar, and to be led for, really the first time, by its other superstar: the uber-talented, yet oft-maligned Russell Westbrook.

You know Westbrook’s game by now. He attacks the rim relentlessly in the fast-break or the half-court, utilizing his other-world athleticism to finish in breathtaking fashion or to simply get to the foul line. He combines this with a mixed bag of jump shots — either subpar 31% 3-point shooting on nearly 5 attempts a game or flow-killing, abrupt, pull-up mid-range jump shots that are either swishes or bricks with nowhere in between (here are the makes, set to the Lil Wayne “She Will” instrumental.) This is the reason why Westbrook is much maligned. Get ready for a steady dose of these…

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I love myself!

Hoops junkies caught wind of this stat the day Durant went down, which led Grantland’s Zach Lowe to predict that Westbrook is “probably going to lead the league in scoring and usage rate until Durant gets back.” He also says that, “much of the endless criticism aimed at him has been off base. He takes three or four terrible shots every game, sure, but he’s an unstoppable freight train going to the hoop, and he has made subtle improvements in his passing every season.”

Doesn’t that make you excited for Westbrook unleashed? Will he attempt 30 shots a game? Or show off improved point guard skills in a concerted effort to prove critics wrong? Considering Westbrook admitted during media day that he doesn’t know what a MEME is, I doubt he’s the type that takes any critic’s opinion beyond acknowledgement.

This is a MEME, Russell Westbrook. From your interview reaction, which is in the all-time interview reactions hall of fame.
This is a MEME, Russell Westbrook. From your post-game interview, which is in the post-game interview hall of fame.

Whatever the case, I am oddly more excited to watch OKC now with Durant injured, just to see what it would be like to watch a Russell Westbrook solo act for an extended period of time. Don’t get me wrong, I hope this only lasts for the first month, but the time is now for Westbrook to transform his narrative. Call me a doubter, but I think he’ll only strengthen it.

On the other hand, the namesake of the award is Kendrick Lamar’s first single to the long-awaited, hotly-anticipated, [insert other hyphenated adjective here because it’s that anxiously needed] sophomore album.

“i” centers around a theme that many first singles dare not circle: self-love. Any casual listener will gain at least one takeaway: Kendrick Lamar loves himself. Hopefully at least one more too: love yourself.

Kendrick’s single is still in my rotation and will assuredly be stuck in our heads as the NBA kicks off Premiere Week on TNT. I know I’m probably not the first one to make this comparison, but “i” reminds me of Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” and I hope it propels Kendrick to another level of stardom alongside what the rest of his sophomore album can potentially deliver.

Other Nominees: Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant (who could take over this award by Christmas), and Swaggy P (who is actually a fan of the song, which makes me happy.)

 

The ‘Kauai’ Award
for the player who is adding the most to his game goes to…
Blake Griffin

blake-gambino
At the top of the month, Childish Gambino released a surprise double project, S T N  M T N / Kauai. The former was a free, rap-focused mixtape that found Gambino doing familiar things over the likes of “Go DJ”. The latter, Kauai, was an EP where the profits went to keeping the oldest Hawaiian island clean.

It was also the first project where Gambino was singing the whole time.

Now, Gambino singing is nothing new. He’s been harmonizing since the days of “Lights Turned On” (one of his catalogue’s best tracks, imo.) The singing has progressively become more prevalent with each album and started to inspire Drake comparisons, to which Gambino replied, “This n***a think he Drake.’ Nah, I ain’t Drake. I sing better, I do better, my s**t’s wetter.” in an in-show call-out of Drake, Kendrick, and Schoolboy Q this summer.

Regardless of who’s better, Gambino took an element of his craft and displayed it, with large success, on a whole other level with Kauai. That’s where the connection with Blake Griffin begins. Hear for yourselves first, and press play on my favorite track of the project, “The Palisades” (named after the L.A. district where Gambino rented Chris Bosh’s mansion for the summer).

In fact, the Gambino-Griffin connection began much earlier. Sometime circa 2011 after Gambino’s #1 Blake Griffin rap reference connected the two in person.

(INSIDE INFO ALERT: Gambino’s 3-year crown for the most powerful Blake Griffin rap reference in hip hop is about to be thwarted… more on that when that song is released…)

The element of Blake Griffin’s craft that took a large leap forward last year was his jump-shot. It led to a career year in scoring, highlighted by his 27.4 PPG when Chris Paul missed 18 games in January. His jump shot from 10-16 feet improved from 36% to 40%, his jump shot from 16-23 feet improved from 34% to 37%, and even his 3-pointers from 17% to 27% (albeit on less than an attempt a game,) per Basketball Reference.

So, like Gambino’s singing, the jump-shot is now a known part of Griffin’s arsenal. Look for it to take a Kauai-level jump this season, if the preseason is any indicator.

Midway through the first quarter of the first pre-season game, Griffin swished a corner 3 in rhythm, en route to hitting his first 6 shots. I was watching it live and had the big eyeball emoji going. The performance inspired a superb, detailed investigation about the improved balance of his shot by SB Nation’s Mike Prada.

The one game case study was backed up in the rest of the preseason, culminating in Griffin’s 21 points in 25 minutes this past Friday vs. the Blazers. With a lot of these Clipper games on NBATV, I was able to easily track the consistency of Griffin’s fluid, no hesitation jumper. The points have been there, the jumper passes the eye test, and though the Clippers announcers may be biased, it’s also noteworthy that they are also genuinely impressed at Blake’s improved jumper after watching his career’s every game.

I think the jumper will carry over to the season and propel Griffin in the MVP race as my #2 candidate behind LeBron James. If the Cavs falter, I don’t think it’s out of the question that between Griffin’s improved individual success and the team’s chances at a top 3 seed, Blake can be the league’s MVP.

On top of that, Griffin is already the #1 MVP candidate of sketch comedy. Strong pre-season from Griffin, to say the least.

The Raury ROY Award goes to…
Elfrid Payton

elfrid-new
Elfrid who? Raury who?

The junkies know who I’m talkin’ about. If you’re neither a hoops junkie or a hip hop junkie, that’s OK. I’m here to educate you that Elfrid Payton may be the next Rookie of the Year and an eventual perennial all-star point guard out of the east. And that Raury may be music’s Rookie of the Year already, who’s drawn all-star comparisons to fellow ATLien Andre 3000 that the man himself calls “fair”.

Perhaps coolest of all: both came out of nowhere this summer.

Elfrid Payton’s story is really just one chapter in, compared to the two or three Raury’s is thus far. The lead chapter already indicates bright things ahead in future pages. Payton is a 6’3″ guard who played at non-descript Louisiana-Lafayette, but did enough to impress scouts and land at the #10 overall pick in this year’s draft by the Orlando Magic. He is not even 21 years old yet, but is prime to start the season opener and lead the Magic backcourt in the wake of Victor Oladipo’s injury.

On the new Grantland Basketball Hour show on ESPN, Bill Simmons likened Elfrid Payton to a rookie Russell Wilson, in the vein that he’s the young leader that the team has already gravitated towards. Simmons even went as far to bet Jalen a lobster dinner that anyone but Jabari will win Rookie of the Year, with Elfrid Payton being his pick. I think Jalen’s getting that free meal come April, but that speaks more to Jabari’s NBA-level talent and opportunity with the Bucks than it does Payton.

Damian Lillard became the bench mark for point guards coming out of a small school, so naturally Payton will be compared to him in the early stages of his career. While Payton’s jumper isn’t nearly as sweet, I do predict a culture-changing impact rookie season as a launching pad for the future. He’s already possessing the speed and strength to get into the lane and hit floaters while he’s there. Plus, Elfrid cares not for practical jokes against the rook and even has Kirk Hinrich-level grit:

Around the time of the NBA Draft, the mainstream was not only getting to know Elfrid Payton, but Raury, the Indigo Child, as well. The video release of “God’s Whisper” dates back to April, but it wasn’t until a photo this summer of Raury with Kanye West drew thousands more views to the fitting first impression of the 18-year old star in the making. It was “God’s Whisper”, possessing a hip hop production similar to ‘Ye’s Graduation work, that garnered Kanye’s attention.

In fact, the Kanye effect was how I found out about Raury. I digested the full Indigo Child project on the August night of its release, after watching “God’s Whisper” for the first time. I was impressed with Raury’s perspective beyond his years and how his heart and positive intentions spilled out onto the art. Accompanied by well-done visuals, the project has sat with me these past few months, with a handful of the tracks remaining in my rotation.

Though Raury shows his rapping skill across songs like “Armor” and “Superfly”, I think the greater potential in his career is when it’s just him singing with an acoustic guitar. “Superfly” is the song that best balances the rapping, singing, and guitar and is the one song with the most universal lyrical appeal too. Perhaps its inclusion here, in a discussion of how he and his NBA parallel prepare to take flight, is most fitting as well. I can’t wait to see where both Elfrid & Raury are at the end of the 2015 season.

The Drake “I’m not new to this” Award goes to…
Toronto Raptors

toronto-raptors-gwhh

When you think of Drake and basketball it’s 1 of 2 things:

1. The Toronto Raptors
2. “I been Steph Curry with the shot.” (here are some fire Steph Curry highlights mixed with “0 to 100”.)

Ok, 3 things:

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I’m not here to make fun of Drake’s airball… Kevin Hart already did. “#iHopeHeDoesaSongBoutHowStupidThisWas” 

I’m here to dissect Drake’s Raptors for this season… and beyond.

Last year, the roster collectively got their first playoff experience with an intense 7-game series with the Brooklyn Nets, who proved their equal since the series literally went down to the last second. The loss is not without its silver linings, however. Basketball is back in Toronto as “We The North” has doubled to personify the city’s feelings of being overlooked and galvanize national pride. For the team itself, one can first feel comforted that NBA history clearly shows baby steps are necessary in the climb towards the championship. Bitter playoff defeats usually create a clear hurdle for a team to jump it the next year, if they retain a young, growing core.

That’s just what the Raptors did this off-season. The roster is largely the same, after answering the summer’s big question mark with the re-signing of point guard and team leader Kyle Lowry. GM Masai Ujiri curated two improvements too: the signing of James Johnson to replace John Salmons and the sneaky good acquisition of one of the league’s top bench heat-check guys, Lou Williams. The Raptors will ride this improved depth, as Grantland’s Jared Dubin dissects, and continued internal development of contract-year starters Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, to win the Atlantic Division again and earn a top 4 seed.

My favorite line from one of Drake’s 3 new tracks this past weekend, “6 God”, is when he breaks into song with “I’m not new to this” (x 3).

I’ll admit it, I’ll admit it, I’m imagining the Raptors starting 5 blaring this aloud in the locker room throughout the season and into April as their playoff anthem.

The Raptors are now NOT new to this, however. The expectation is to advance in the playoffs. And Masai has one “How Bout Now” moment he can create by the trade deadline.

Toronto has $28 million in expiring contracts, as pointed out via The Starters, and can use a combination of those players to trade for an impact player. I can’t predict who that may be, but as things always twist and turn during the season, a player may present himself as a welcome fit/injury replacement to bolster the Raps. Ujiri has proven he’s the aggressive type to make that move.

 

BONUS: The Majid Jordan Award
for under the radar backcourt duo goes to…
DeMar DeRozan & Kyle Lowry

lowry-derozan-gwhh

Well, this award just blew up your Gowhere NBA Award Pool. I know it. Adjust your scorecard because the Toronto Raptors do indeed possess the highest total of Gowhere NBA Awards.

Alas, in the much debated, highly entertaining “Best Backcourt Duo in the NBA” discussion at the start of training camp, the Wizards’ John Wall & Bradley Beal first made their claim publicly. Dion Waiters said he and Kyrie are the best and provided proof in the form of: “Men lie women lie BUCKETS DNT” and a YouTube video of his 24 point performance over said Wizards. Steph Curry & Klay Thompson didn’t say anything, just posed with their Gold Medals, as experts almost universally anointed them as the Best Backcourt Duo. While I’d agree with the Splash Brothers pick, I also noticed that many forgot DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry should seriously be in the discussion.

DeRozan earned his first all-star selection last year that felt interchangeable with his backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, who just started to emerge as the Raptors’ fuel to the fire post-Rudy Gay trade. Lowry played better as the season went along, putting up career numbers with 17.9 PPG and 7.4 APG. I hesitate to predict he’ll improve on those numbers, but that’s more a testament to his large jump to get to those numbers — the first time he was able to be that consistent over one full season. I don’t, however, hesitate to predict more improvement from DeMar DeRozan, given his youth and the Team USA effect. He has had all of the tools to become a dominant scoring swingman and for the first time in his career, DeRozan starts the season as the clear #1 scoring option for his team. Last season saw 22.7 PPG on only 43% shooting, 30% beyond the arc. Look for a slight uptick in his efficiency.

So to me, DeMar & Kyle are more under the radar than not, when seen in the scheme of the entire league. This also holds true for the namesake of the award in the music game: Majid Jordan. Plus, how can you not appreciate the (contrived) parallel to keep everything OVO x Toronto?

Unpopular opinion alert: Majid Jordan is the best OVO artist to drop since the summer. The statement has nothing to do with Majid Jordan being poorly received either. I have really only seen positive reviews in my scope and research, in fact. But it’s clear that the masses would prefer their PARTYNEXTDOOR or say, iLOVEMAKONNEN, given the digital hysteria over the two solo R&B artists since August that has translated to both separately headlining the legendary SOBs in New York City in just the past week.

Prior to PND & Makonnen’s deserved splash, Majid Jordan dropped what time has proven to be my favorite R&B project of the yearI explained why this past July at the time of release of the 5-track A Place Like This EP. Simply put, I highly suggest the quick 22 minute stream below. I also highly hope for a creative live show along the vibe of the “Place Like This” video and another project from Majid in 2015 that I don’t doubt will make their blip even brighter on the radar.

* * * *

That’s it for Part 1! Thank you for making it this far. If you did, you’re as pumped for the NBA Season as I am. Pt. 2 is [EDIT: right here.]

You can expect some awards (once again, fake awards) handed out to Kobe Bryant (so he doesn’t death stare me), the Western Conference contenders (yup, all of them), and my hometown Bulls (of course.) I’ll also have more Playoff predictions, more music for your playlist, and more attempts to make you laugh.

Now let me hear your predictions! In the meantime, create a quick profile and drop a comment in our NBA Talk message board.

Salute!