Give And Go: The NBA’s best of 2013
4. What was the top storyline or news item of 2013?
Golliver: Unfortunately, I think the top storyline of the year was injuries. How could it not be with Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Andrew Bynum, Steve Nash, Danilo Gallinari, Greg Oden, Nerlens Noel, Alex Len and others all making headlines for health-related reasons. Brutal stuff, and not a topic I really want to rehash again right now, especially after the NBA just lost Bryant for another six weeks due to a knee injury.
I think one underrated — and great! — storyline of 2013 was the franchise name change game of musical chairs played by the Hornets and Bobcats. Although it still took some getting used to after it was officially announced in January, “Pelicans” has proven to be a superior and regionally-appropriate moniker for New Orleans’ team. The franchise’s new color scheme and jerseys are both big upgrades, and Pierre, the terrifying mascot, is always good for some chuckles too.
Returning the “Hornets” name to Charlotte and swapping out “Bobcats” was a clear next-step no-brainer, and it was welcome news when the franchise officially announced in May that its name change would take effect next season. Bringing back the teal/purple look that owned the 1990s marks a rare stroke of marketing genius from owner Michael Jordan and the timing couldn’t be better: Charlotte is enjoying an upswing under new coach Steve Clifford and they have a cache of draft picks on deck come June. There’s a strong chance that, in two or three years, the Hornets have shed the perennial laughingstock label that has followed the Bobcats in recent years. That would be a big win for everybody involved.
Mahoney: I’ve very much enjoyed the incremental rise of the Pacers, who over the course of the calendar year have gone from mere Eastern Conference competitor to one of the very best teams in the league. Almost every element of their ascent has been fascinating. Roy Hibbert is making his mark as one of the best centers (and most important players) in the league, largely through impeccable defensive technique and relentless off-court work. Paul George validated his max contract extension essentially on signing, as he followed up a fantastic playoff run with an even more spectacular regular season sprint toward stardom. Head coach Frank Vogel remains one of the sharpest (and youngest) in his industry, bringing the perfect mix of empowering bravado and basketball know-how. Lance Stephenson is one of the leading candidates for the Most Improved Player award, having expanded his game in utterly essential ways. George Hill continues to act as invaluable rotation adhesive, and remains one of the league’s most wholly underrated contributors. Indiana’s front office pulled off a successful offseason by re-signing David West and solidifying the Pacer bench, too, rounding out a team built without the benefit of high lottery picks or max-level free agent signings.
They’re confident, they’re talented, they’re defiant, and they’re one of the few teams that can legitimately and consistently challenge the Heat. There’s something in this team’s evolution for everyone, and that they now share the Eastern Conference summit makes for both brilliant basketball and a terrific story.
5. LeBron James was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 2012. Removing James from the discussion, who gets the nod as the NBA’s Sportsman of the Year in 2013?
Golliver: My vote here is split between Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. I’ll go with Duncan because Popovich is always the first person to deflect any credit he receives to the Big Fundamental. My case for Duncan’s Sportsman crown is the same case I made for him when The Point Forward ranked him No. 6 on our Top 100 of 2014 list. Here’s an excerpt:
Let’s talk about 2013, a season in which Duncan was the league’s best big man, period. Duncan was the most important player on the NBA’s third-rated defense and the second-leading scorer on the No. 7 offense. He earned All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive Second Team, and All-Star honors, and he finished sixth in Defensive Player of the Year voting. His PER ranked No. 6 in the league, his RAPM ranked fourth in the league, his individual defensive rating led the league, he boasted a gaudy +10.5 net rating (among the very best in the league), and he registered more blocks (183) than fouls (117). The only player to post a PER as high as Duncan’s at this age was Karl Malone. Then, Duncan averaged 18.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks as he led San Antonio to a 15- 6 postseason record. In case you somehow forgot, he put up a whopping 30/17 Game 6 of the Finals, a stat line that only Shaquille O’Neal has matched in a Finals game since 1986. Duncan came within 5.2 seconds of his fifth NBA title and his fourth Finals MVP award. Let’s say that again for emphasis: he came within about six inches on one Ray Allen three-pointer of beating out a 28-year-old, top-of-the-world LeBron James for Finals MVP.
The cruelest part of Allen’s shot really is its impact on Duncan’s legacy. Duncan was so close to a perfect 5-0 Finals record, a fourth Finals MVP award and the months of recognition/praise/history-revising/legacy-admiring that a Spurs victory would have produced. Overlooked and under-appreciated for more than a decade, Duncan was poised for a summer in the sun, only to have Allen flip the script at the last minute. The least we can offer Duncan is our imaginary Sportsman of the Year title as a lifetime achievement award/consolation prize.
Mahoney: Even more cruelly, then, I’ll go for James’ cast of teammates in Miami as the NBA Sportsmen of the Year, as none among them gets quite enough credit for their sacrifice. The fact that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both turned down more lucrative contract offers from other teams in 2010 to maximize their chances of winning a title is still pretty incredible, as in the years since we’ve seen frequent rumors of “super teams” without any other stars in their prime willing to take a similar pay cut. That they — and James — did so has also allowed the Heat to continue adding pieces as they go, be it Shane Battier, Ray Allen, or Chris Andersen.
All of those contributors, too, have given up money, touches, and minutes for the sake of something greater — an emblematic example of sportsmanship. All — in addition to Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and former Heat guard Mike Miller — played important roles for Miami, if understated ones alongside the Heat’s definitive best player. Make no mistake: It was James who drove Miami to its second straight title through two incredible final series. But he couldn’t have done so without all of the functioning, interchangeable parts that make the Heat machine go, whether by spacing the floor, overwhelming opponents with their defense, or snatching up a crucial rebound. Miami has been characterized as a team of stars, and later as a showcase for James. But there’s so much more to this team’s rotation and process than its spotlit leader, and for that this group deserves notice.