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LeBron James on verge of history as losing Finals MVP


LeBron James on verge of history as losing Finals MVP

The NBA began the process of selecting one player as Most Valuable Player of the Finals in 1969. The first recipient, Lakers guard Jerry West, won the award but lost the title. Los Angeles fell to Boston that season. West's triumph remains the only instance of the player on the losing team winning the MVP award. 

That changes this year assuming the Warriors wrap up the series.

LeBron James' numbers are that good. 

They're also a bit misleading.

Golden State leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 following Sunday's 104-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors won despite James' second triple-double of the series. He finished with 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. The only other player with at least 40 points in a triple-double during the NBA Finals? Jerry West in 1969.

Through five games, the do-everything forward is averaging 36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists. Remarkable numbers indeed and certainly better than any cumulative stats produced by Golden State's top two candidates, Andre Igoudala and Stephen Curry.

Igoudala's shooting helped secure Golden State's Game 1 win. The decision to move the assertive forward into the starting lineup before Game 4 led to two straight wins. He's averaging 14.6 points a game, shooting over 40% o 3-pointers and only his defense gives the Warriors any hope of slowing down James. That's all solid, but unless he hits the title-clinching buzzer-beater, Iguodala isn't surpassing James.

Curry's signature game in the series came Sunday as he exploded for 37 points with seven 3-pointers. That's the type of performance we saw from the regular season MVP throughout the campaign. However, while James was making his fifth straight finals appearance, neither Curry nor any of his teammates had ever played in the Finals before this season. Collectively, they appeared unsure of how to handle the moment as they fell behind 2-1 after the first three games.

"I think there is a glaring difference between having been there before and having not been there before," Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said of the Warriors during an ESPN radio interview before Game 4. "Most of the Cavaliers haven't been there before, but LeBron James won championship. He's been there many, many other times. I think on some level you're seeing that experience gap show up in these [Finals]."

So while Curry needed a minute - or least three games including his first in the finals on the road - to find his swagger, James has been on point with producing points from the start. He's been on track to win the MVP since game 2. The only question was whether he would so as champion or not.

Which brings up one final point about his stats. For the most part, the Warriors don't mind at all.

Not that they could "stop" the most athletically advantaged player in the league since Shaquille O'Neal, but the Warriors have been content with using single coverage on the four-time regular season MVP. That means the physical force can often get anywhere on the court he desires, not to mention see all available passing options without much interference.

The thing is, the plan is working. All that work also wears James out late in games. Without any consistent rhythm - lots of isolation plays being called for No. 23 -, Cleveland's other players are struggling for any offense not directly generated by James. When James doesn't score, neither do the Cavs.

Though he's missing plenty of shots (39.9 FG%), James is scoring lots of points. Golden State isn't "letting" him score nearly 37 points per game, but they aren't exactly trying to slow down his scoring either. This is the plan. 

At times, especially during the first half of games, Warriors coach Steve Kerr must  wonder if James is just unstoppable. Many of the stats suggest he is. Thanks to his unreal production, James may match West's unique MVP honor.

Golden State doesn't mind. That's because it will have come in a losing effort, which will have occurred in part because the Warriors can offset points from James with plenty of their own while defending Cleveland's supporting cast with vigor.

West, otherwise known as the NBA's logo, surely won't mind losing his unique MVP status. That's because, as a member of Golden State's front office, he's one win away from another NBA title. Who better than West to understand that's really all that matters.

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Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

The NBA is so perimeter-oriented these days that often the first statistic cited for a player leaving college for the pros is three-point percentage, regardless of the position. Even big men are expected to knock down threes, for if they can't then there is less space on the floor and like Neil deGrasse Tyson, NBA teams love them some space.

Three-point shooting, however, is not a strength for Wizards' first round pick Troy Brown, Jr., at least not yet. In his lone season at Oregon, he shot just 29.1 percent from long range. Brown can play multiple positions, from point guard to small forward, and shooting is important to be successful at all of them.

Brown and the Wizards, though, are not concerned about his potential to develop an outside shot in the long-term. Brown addressed the issue after his pre-draft workout with the Wizards earlier this month and cited a very specific reason not to worry.

"I don’t think it was my mechanics. I think it was my shot selection this year," he said. "Some of the shots I was taking weren’t very good. It’s about repetition, getting in the gym and putting up shots. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job showcasing that and I feel like a lot of teams are impressed with my shooting."

Brown knocked down plenty of shots in his workout with the Wizards. That helped convince them to select him at No. 15, as they see a guy with potential to become at least a serviceable shooter from long range.

“We’re very confident that we can improve it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "From what I understand, he’s very coachable and he wants to get better. That’s a big part of the step in developing a young player."

Team president Ernie Grunfeld seemed to agree with Brown's personal assessment, that it's not a problem with his mechanics per se. Surely they will tinker with his shot once he gets in their development system. But they don't see the need for a dramatic overhaul.

"He's got a nice stroke," Grunfeld said. "Obviously, when you're a freshman coming up to another level there are different things you have to work on, and we have a really good player development staff and we're going to get him to work right away."

Players of Brown's ilk developing an outside shot at the NBA level is more common than many may think. Just because someone isn't a good shooter in one college season, doesn't mean they will never be able to develop the skill once they mature as a man and a basketball player.

Though Brown's scoring repertoire may seem limited, plenty of players have gone from rags to riches offensively at the professional level. Brown may have to begin his NBA career helping in other ways, like on the defensive end, before his scoring abilities round into form.

Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler could be seen as a best-case scenario example. He made only 36 threes in three years in college and shot just 35.3 percent as a junior. When he was Brown's age, as a freshman he averaged only 5.6 points, and as an NBA rookie he shot just 18.2 percent from three.

Through years of hard work, Butler turned himself into a 20-point scorer with a respectable outside shot, including a career-beset 37.8 percent from three in the 2014-15 season. Some guys take more time than others. At only 18 years old, Brown has plenty of time to figure it out.


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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”


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