We'll pivot a little for this All-Star edition of the And Now for Something Completely Different Awards, which, as a preliminary matter, needs a shorter abbreviation—if only as a time-saver.
ANSCD Awards? Suggestions are welcome.
Anyway, we're still going to celebrate unconventionally like we usually do—recognizing off-court moments, plays, coaching decisions and anything else that wouldn't typically get an award but should. As always, this is about celebrating the weird, surprising, generally fun stuff that sometimes slips through the cracks during the grind of the season.
The difference this time is that we're confining the trophies (there will be no actual trophies; that's not in the budget) to participants in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.
This Has Gone Too Far Award
Winner: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry has gone too far.
He's shooting from the logo now, and it's pretty much a weekly thing. The truly scary part is that he's practicing these heaves (they're not heaves for him though. Check the form. It's just a regular jumper) before games, which suggests he plans to incorporate them into his regular shot profile.
Curry already strains the elasticity of conventional defense, pulling opponents farther from the basket than anyone thought possible. The tension of guarding out to almost 40 feet is going to snap schemes like a rotten rubber band on a Sunday paper.
He's hitting 45.5 percent of his shots from 25-29 feet, per NBA.com, and he's taken 312 of them on the year. On seven attempts from 30-34 feet, he's hitting at a 57.1 percent clip. From 35-39 feet: 50 percent.
Curry has another shot he practices before every home game, so you know what's coming next, right?
We joke about what Curry can do, but he is fundamentally altering how the game is played. And there are only a handful of players in league history who've done that.
Award this man. Give him all of them.
Scale It Back Award
Winner: Kawhi Leonard
This is going to be a delicate topic, so first, a preface: Kawhi Leonard is probably one of the three or four best players in the NBA.
Now, having dispensed with that, we can make the case that it might be time to table the idea of his serving as an offensive focal point. One reason comes from Adi Joseph of the Sporting News:
The Spurs are 0-4 when Kawhi Leonard takes 20 field goal attempts this season.— Adi Joseph (@AdiJoseph) January 26, 2016
Just because Leonard's high-volume nights correspond to losses doesn't mean they're the reason behind the defeats. On balance, Leonard has been insanely efficient this season, leading the league in three-point accuracy and hitting more than half his shots from the field.
The issue, though, is that a lot of Leonard's offense rests on high conversion rates from typically inefficient areas. He's taking 19.9 percent of his shots from 10-16 feet and 18.8 percent from 16-23 feet, per Basketball-Reference.com. Both are career-high rates.
And though he's hitting those mid-post and step-back attempts with pretty high accuracy, it's just not reasonable to expect sustained efficiency. Short summation: Regression is coming.
Again: Leonard is awesome. He's killing it from deep, finishing everything inside and defending the perimeter better than anyone. But the Spurs might be better served by cutting back his offensive role and getting the ball hopping again. At worst, San Antonio could excise the mid-range stuff from Leonard's game by setting him up for deep post-ups, spot-up threes and cuts. He's unstoppable in those situations.
At best, the Spurs could get their offense humming like it had been over the past few seasons.
You'll Regret This Award
Winner: Russell Westbrook
Robin Lopez has been on a mascot-pummeling crusade for years now, and it's been an all-in-fun affair that aligns with his mostly unserious personality. What Lopez does is funny, and he knows it.
Russell Westbrook is different, and in possibly forcing him to choose a side in the mascot vs. player conflict, the Denver Nuggets' Rocky may have assured the extinction of his plush brethren.
Cut to Westbrook in 2018, reclining languidly in an armchair upholstered with what looks alarmingly like the sable skin of the Phoenix Suns Gorilla. He closes his eyes, satisfied, and the camera pans back to reveal he's in a remote hunting lodge, the walls hung with a ghastly menagerie of mounted heads.
Benny the Bull, Harry the Hawk, Stuff the Magic Dragon—they're all there, velveteen grins eerily fixed.
Westbrook doesn't mess around, so it'd be best if mascots left him alone.
Last of His Kind Award
Winner: DeMarcus Cousins
There is no one else like DeMarcus Cousins.
In a league increasingly dominated by finesse and outside shooting, the Sacramento Kings' hulking center punishes ganglier (and they are always ganglier) foes underneath. Per Synergy Sports data provided to NBA.com, Cousins is tied for fourth in the league among high-volume post-up bigs (at least 200 plays) with 0.92 points per play on the block.
The distinguishing feature of his bully-ball approach, though, is the rate at which he forces opponents to just give up and hack him. He draws shooting fouls on an insane 19 percent of his post-up tries—easily the highest rate in the above sample. For reference, Nikola Vucevic, the guy tied with Boogie at 0.92 points per play, draws shooting fouls only 2.9 percent of the time.
Cousins' strength even hurts him sometimes, like when he fouled out of a double-overtime loss to the Charlotte Hornets in which he'd already scored 56 points, because frailer bodies went flying when he pursued an offensive board.
Guys who've been around the league for a while, like Baron Davis, know monsters when they see them:
Cousins is a beast... Bad call .. Gotta let him stay in the game. Can't give these guys calls for not being strong enough smh.— Baron Davis (@Baron_Davis) January 26, 2016
The Kings play at the fastest pace in the league, and Cousins has long been a bit too enamored of working outside the paint, so only 20.7 percent of his individual possessions come on the block.
If Sacramento intends to make good on its push for the No. 8 seed in the West, it might want to consider dumping the ball into the last truly terrifying post-up force in the league.
Know Your Numbers Award
Winner: Kyle Lowry
All-Star starter Kyle Lowry will check your math—even if you're a teammate, even if you're also an All-Star and even if it means creating the best interview clip of the season at your expense.
We'll cut DeMar DeRozan some slack. He was in London at the time, and, you know, metric system.
Incomplete Throwback Award
Winner: Dwyane Wade
We got some vintage stuff from D-Wade in the last full week of January, marked by 28 points and a closing run against the Chicago Bulls that included floaters, weird little in-between shots, step-back daggers and even a running righty slam.
Then, on the second night of a back-to-back, Wade put up another 27 points and dug deep into his duffel for a filthy spin dribble and fallaway jumper that could have easily come from a 2007 highlight reel.
Wade's reaching-in-the-bag celebration is among the best we've got in the league right now, and he played it up after the Nets game, per Ethan Skolnick of the Miami Herald:
Wade: "We had to go all the way into the bottom of the bag tonight."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) January 27, 2016
One complaint: Wade only attempted 13 free throws in those two games. That's fine, I guess, but a true Flash throwback effort would have included roughly three times that many foul shots. Lest we forget, Wade was a James Harden-level foul magnet before the Beard ever needed a razor.
Remember the 97 free throws he took in six games during the 2006 NBA Finals?
Given the health risks of flinging himself into contact (Wade is 34), we'll forgive him for the caution.
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