#IMHO: MVPs, “The Last Dance,” and prep stars hitting the G-League

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

 

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at 11:13 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike,

We’ve spent the last few weeks sorting through some of the candidates for the various NBA season awards, and now we’re at the point where we should talk about the big award, the MVP award. Which is a big deal, right? Being named the Most Valuable Player in the NBA is a huge honor, the ultimate individual reward. But this year it seems sort of obvious: Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to win the MVP.

I agree with the sentiment. I had to play in a recent 2K tournament using the Milwaukee Bucks, and Giannis is miles above the rest of that roster, on both ends of the floor. He’d carried the Bucks to the best record in the NBA when the pause button got pressed, and besides being amazing on offense, was also probably a first-team All-Defensive player.

So, my task for you this week Mike, is build a case for anyone else (LeBron? AD?) to win the MVP award over Giannis.

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 9:11 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Lang, there’s no “probably” to it. Giannis is absolutely a first-team All-Defensive player this season. Heck, he should be NBA Defensive Player of the Year because of his impact on that end of the floor, too. Giannis is the most dominant player in the NBA right now, and he’s powered the Bucks to the best record in the league essentially from the outset. The MVP criteria often doesn’t extend beyond that. The only question is whether he’ll pull off the Michael Jordan double, winning both MVP and DPOY?

So, there’s really no case to be made for placing anyone ABOVE the Greek Freak in this discussion. The simple fact that LeBron has Anthony Davis as a teammate, and vice versa, it negates their respective MVP cases, to some extent. There’s enough nuance and advanced analytical impact to their respective games to get behind LeBron or A.D., but that argument won’t get too far when Giannis is on the board above both of them.

Which leads to a bigger task, and that’s rounding out who the top-five finishers for MVP should be this season. We agree on No. 1, Lang. And regardless of the order, we see LeBron and Davis taking the next two spots, presumably. So who gets the honors of finishing fourth and fifth? I’ve got Nikola Jokic, who leads Denver in scoring, rebounds and assists and has kept the injury-plagued Nuggets between second and fourth in the West throughout the season. And from there, I’ve got Dallas Mavs young superstar Luka Doncic, who is rapidly becoming the most versatile and impactful wing player in the league outside of LeBron.

Who rounds out your top five for MVP?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 10:29 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

Well, I’m with you that LeBron and AD belong in the two and three spots — they are each magnificent players, but in a weird way we have to almost penalize them for being on the same team. Which is something they knew they were getting into when they teamed up: Bron got dinged a bit in Miami for teaming up with D-Wade and Bosh, and he had to know the same thing would happen in Los Angeles.

As far as two more players, let’s stay in the West and look at two guys you didn’t mention. Houston has been through some stuff the last few years, but man, they stay in the Playoff picture and somehow seem to stay relevant throughout it all. And as creative as Mike D’Antoni can be and as impactful as Russell Westbrook has been, I feel like James Harden has been overlooked a bit this season. He’s not only averaging 34.4 ppg, he’s 4 points ahead of the next closest scorer (Brad Beal). The other guy I feel like probably should get some mention in this category is the guy Russell Westbrook swapped places with: Chris Paul went to Oklahoma City and has been a leader, carrying the Thunder to a middle spot in the Western Conference postseason hunt.

Let’s go back to the other topic everyone’s talking about these days: “The Last Dance.” We’re now sixty-percent of the way in on the series, and what has become abundantly clear is that this isn’t a documentary about the ’97-98 Bulls so much as a Michael Jordan documentary. I mean, on one of the episodes this week, they barely mentioned that the Bulls started the season 8-7 and finished 62-20! Yeah, just a casual 54-13 closing stretch.

And I get it — you have this much access to Michael Jordan, which is so, so rare, that you kinda have to shoot your shot and make a Michael Jordan documentary while you can. Even if you don’t really dive into the topic we thought we were tuning in to see.

This past week we saw so much about some of the other Bulls’ titles teams, including the Ho Grant years (shoutout the white RecSpecs). Of all of those Bulls’ title teams, which do you think was the best?

 

Lebron James and Anthony Davis high-five

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 11:59 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I was sort of thinking the same thing about ‘The Last Dance,’ and how it’s more ‘The Gospel, According to M.J.’ That said, it hasn’t missed the mark or misled folks. The truth is, there were plenty of backstories to the 1997-98 Bulls season. And in creative ways, I think the producers and directors of the documentary have done a fantastic job giving us the real-time challenges the Bulls faced on their last run, but also linking back to the source of some of the issues as well.

The documentary tells the ‘coming of age’ story of that final season in Chicago, with Jordan as the narrator, star and everything else he needs to be. I haven’t walked away yet from an episode wondering why I haven’t seen more of B.J. Armstrong or what ever happened to Craig Hodges or why didn’t they ask Bill Cartwright what happened during the fights at practice. I feel like all the primary characters had their own sort of spin-offs within the documentary, with Pippen, Rodman, Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause all featured in orbit around Jordan.

For me, it’s easy to say the 72-win Bulls team from the 1995-96 season was the best one. They had all the ample ingredients to simply dominate the league that year. Jordan was motivated in his first full season back to prove that the loss the previous year in the playoffs to Orlando was a fluke. Pippen was back in position as the best Robin in the NBA. And Rodman found a new lease on life on and off the court with a city and team that embraced all that came with being Dennis Rodman. So that 95-96 team was the best, but the 91-92 team might have been my favorite because that was the Bulls team that literally shrugged off Portland in the Finals and started to embrace the dynasty it would become.

Lang, we’ll end on this: We never really touched on the NBA’s recent decision to create an alternative for elite prep players to bypass the one-and-done college route and instead head to a semi-lucrative development season in the G League. We’ve since seen a few top prep prospects turn down major colleges to instead sign with the G League, including the half-a-million dollars deal Jalen Green agreed to last month. I get the financial incentives, but I’m still not sure a year in the G League rivals the exposure of making a Final Four run in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, I could argue there’s probably more risk of being exposed or underwhelming while going against grown men fighting for NBA jobs in the G League.

So, I ask you, who stands the most to lose here: NCAA major college teams, the NBA or the top prospects headed to the G League?

 

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman lined up

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 10:29 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I agree with you that the party with the most to lose might end up being the players themselves. And I’m glad you mentioned the exposure a player can get from participating in the NCAA Tournament. It reminded me of a conversation I had maybe a decade ago with then-NBPA Head Billy Hunter, who theorized that the NBA actually loved the NCAA, because it did so much of the work for them when it came to marketing players. Guys who were going to the NCAA Tournament were getting a jump-start on their off-court recognizability before even entering the NBA, and the NCAA (and CBS) were essentially giving the NBA a head start. That is, until LeBron came along, and even though Carmelo Anthony won the NCAA Tournament before going pro, LeBron was still miles ahead of Melo when it came to their off-court statures.

The generation of this G-League team is very interesting, and shoutout to my former high school basketball team manager (now G-League commissioner) Shareef Abdur-Rahim for getting the G-League to a place where it can invest competitive salaries for player development. I have some questions about how it will work out in practice – can you surround the young guys with role players willing to sacrifice touches?

And who knows? With the new NCAA rules, maybe there comes a day soon when players can make comparable money by going to college and marketing themselves the right way, in which case bigger colleges might regain the advantage they have currently.