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When Will the Real Brooklyn Nets Stand Up?

This has been a haunted Nets season, plagued by the sense that the real Nets are lurking just off screen. For 82 games, the Nets were largely uninspiring, slouching into the play-in game with a 44-38 record. Before the franchise-rearranging James Harden trade, the Nets’ Big Three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden never shared the court together this year; after the franchise-rearranging James Harden trade, Ben Simmons, the newest tine of the team’s Big Three, has been sidelined by some combination of back problems and his own neuroses. Despite boasting a point differential that lags behind the Cavaliers and Hawks, the Nets still have the third-best title odds, according to Draftkings. This is a juggernaut that’s simply waiting for the right time to unveil their juggernaut-ness, or so people say. 

But the Nets have Durant and Irving, so there’s a very real chance that nothing else matters. While other teams certainly have superstar duos, Durant and Irving are unique in their capacity to create self-sustaining offense; no matter the circumstance, they’ll be able to create—and make—a shot. They’re capital-h Hoopers, in the purest, most empirical sense, shot-makers who thrive because of their skill and savvy rather than through brutish force. Durant, in particular, conveys the sense that he’s mastered basketball— Durant may not necessarily be the best basketball player in the world, but he’s the player who’s best at basketball. When Durant and Irving play together, the Nets score 125.39 points per 100 possessions, which is basically impossible; you could put the late-season Portland Trail Blazers in an empty gym and they’d struggle to equal that mark. 

In this sense, the Nets represent the NBA’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. At a time where players have bent franchises into their own personal concierge service and Adam Silver is begging players to, you know, play, the Nets are a monument to the aloofness of the NBA’s superstar class. Although he finally became a full-time player last month, Irving essentially disqualified himself from 53 games because he felt like it; Durant wantonly misses regular season games to preserve his knees and legs, which maintain a fragile, precarious equilibrium like a Calder mobile. A team with as much talent as the Nets should challenge for the league’s best record, but the Nets treated the last 82 games with such contempt that they still have to scrap just to make the playoffs. Notably, Harden, a player who isn’t exactly known for his professionalism, became so fed up by the Nets’ organizational moodiness that he forced a trade out of Brooklyn, just a year removed from forcing a trade to the Nets.  

But still, the Nets are capable of playing such magnificent basketball that all this bullshit is worth it; it makes sense why the Bucks flagrantly tanked out of a top-two seed to avoid playing the Nets in the first round. Whereas Durant and Irving are the load-bearing elements of the Nets’ goodness, the Nets are so potent because of the different ways that their  bench and supporting cast can be deployed around them. Seth Curry and Patty Mills are elite shooters who expertly slip into the defense’s blindspots for open threes; Andre Drummond gives them the interior heft to tussle with the likes of Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bam Adebayo; Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton are shots of adrenaline, jolting the team into action with their athleticism and motor. At their best, the Nets can assume a kind of amoebic quality, rearranging themselves around their nuclear star duo. 

As such, thinking about the Nets requires ambivalence. This is a mostly mediocre team that deserves to be the seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs; this might be also the best team in the NBA. While there’s been some grumbling about this year marking the end of the superteam era, the Nets are proof otherwise—a less super team would’ve never been able to weather a season this messy and dumb. The Nets only withstood Kyrie Irving’s galactic, unvaccinated weirdness because they had Kevin Durant and James Harden; they only stayed afloat after the James Harden trade because they had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

By doing so, the Nets proved that they’re practically too big to fail, free to mop and pout and fight through the season because they hold the promise that they can access a level of basketball so transcendent that everything else melts away. At least, that’s been the company line. But with the team staring down the ignominy of possibly missing the playoffs, the Nets are running out of time to realize their purported potential. Eventually, this team will make good—unless they don’t. Famously, Godot shows up at the end and justifies all that waiting, right? 

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Sports Strength

What Is The Closest MVP Race In NBA History?

This year’s NBA MVP race is one of the tightest we’ve seen in recent memory. In Philadelphia you have Joel “The Process” Embiid regularly babying any and every player in the paint. Out west in Denver, Nikola Jokic is putting together the most efficient season we’ve ever seen with his two main co-stars sidelined with injury. Finally, in Milwaukee we have Giannis Antetokounmpo vying for a spot on the Mount Rushmore of GOAT’s as he dominates the league night in and night out. All three players are well deserving of the MVP award, but only one will end up with hardware. This year’s race is reminiscent of the 1989-1990 MVP race, one of the tightest in NBA history. Here’s the top three MVP candidates for the 1990 race and how the voting played out.

3.) Michael Jordan
33.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.8 steals – 565 total MVP points
(Photo by John Iacono /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

You know that an MVP race was stacked if the widely-recognized greatest player of all-time finished third. At this point in Jordan’s career he had one MVP to his name but was largely becoming known for being a career loser. The Bull’s couldn’t get out of the eastern conference, and that was a major stain on Jordan’s legacy. The Bulls finished 55-27, the second best record in the east. Jordan put up video-game-like numbers with 33.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 2.8 steals per game. Just looking at the numbers Jordan should’ve won this year’s MVP but the bulls not finishing with a better record put a huge stain on Jordan’s resume this year. Jordan would finish with 21 first place votes and 564 total points in the MVP race.

2.) Charles Barkley
25.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists – 614 total MVP points
(Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images)

The runner up in the 1990 MVP race was the Round Mound of Rebound, Charles Barkley. Barkley had entered the NBA as an overweight, undersized forward but had proven to be an elite big-man. At age 26 he was able to average 25 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, shooting 60% from the field, all while propelling the 76er’s to the third best record in the east. Despite losing hall-of-fame guard Mo Cheeks, Barkley helped add six wins to Philly’s record and put them squarely into contention for a championship. The most odd part about this year’s voting was that Barkley actually received the most first place votes. He had 38 first place votes compared to Magic Johnson’s 27. Barkley only finished with 614 total points, which left him 22 points shy of the MVP award.

1.) Magic Johnson
22.3 points, 11.5 assists, 6.6 rebounds – 636 total MVP points
(Photo by Manny Millan /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

The inevitable winner of the 1990 MVP race would go to the leader of the showtime Lakers, Magic Johnson. Even though Magic only received 27 first place votes, his 636 point total put him over the edge to ultimately claim the award. Johnson would put up averages of 22.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 11.5 assists per game, but it was the Lakers win total that helped propel Magic to the award. The Lakers finished the season 63-19, a league best record. This was Magic’s second MVP in back-to-back years and his third in the previous four years.

As this year’s MVP race comes to a close I think it’s important to remember that all three of the finalists are deserving of the award. There is going to be someone snubbed of an MVP award this season and there is really nothing that can be done about it. The talent in the NBA is rapidly growing, and to have the most coveted award be this tight of a race is truly a beautiful thing for this league. I can’t wait to see who takes home the hardware at the end of this season.

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Sports Strength

Oregon Standout Recruit Chance Gray Is Ready For The Next Level

It’s rare for a high school basketball player to possess the skill of a three-level scorer at an elite level. Usually, the ability to slash, pull-up from the middy, and splash it from deep at an efficient and high rate takes years of development and practice at the highest levels. Chance Gray can do all that and so much more—and is just finishing her senior year of high school. Recently named to this year’s McDonald’s All-American in late March, Gray is just getting started dominating the world of hoops. 

Chance Gray is currently playing out her senior season at Winton Woods highschool in Ohio. The daughter of former NFL veteran Carlton Gray, Chance plays with an unsurprising intensity. Additionally, Gray’s older sister Amber was also a McDonald’s All-American high school basketball player in 2008, who then went on to play collegiately at the University of Tennessee and Xavier. With her sister and father on the Winton coaching staff, Gray has presumably received an immense amount of crucial knowledge on how to navigate the world of high school sports and beyond. 

In turn, Gray has taken that knowledge and manifested it on the court, becoming one of the best players in the country. Standing at 5’9” with shifty speed, Gray has the perfect frame and skillset to be a successful point guard at the collegiate level. Not only can Gray push pace immediately after a board, but she can break down any defender one-on-one in the half-court. Whether it’s hitting a sidestep three or a quick jab to get to her spot in the mid-range, Gray is an automatic shooter; last year in her junior season, Gray shot 44% from the field while putting up 25 points per game. 

Like all great floor generals, Gray is an exciting— and elite—dribbler, shaking defenders with flashy-yet-secure ball handling; it’s practically disrespectful the way that Gray relishes in isolating and breaking down her defender. When she mixes her killer crossover with her stepback, she’s practically a dead ringer for James Harden. Beyond her slick moves with the ball, Gray is also an impressive finisher in traffic. After dusting the first layer of the defense, Gray is able to maneuver in the paint and finish with ease around bigger rim protectors.

<div class =”code”><blockquote class=”instagram-media” data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-permalink=”https://www.instagram.com/tv/CafhEdoFidu/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” data-instgrm-version=”14″ style=”background:#FFF;border:0;border-radius:3px;margin: 1px;max-width:540px;min-width:326px;padding:0;width:99.375%;width:-webkit-calc(100% – 2px);width:calc(100% – 2px)”><div style=”padding:16px”> <a href=”https://www.instagram.com/tv/CafhEdoFidu/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” style=”background:#FFFFFF;line-height:0;padding:0 0;text-align:center;text-decoration:none;width:100%” target=”_blank”> <div style=”flex-direction: row;align-items: center”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;flex-grow: 0;height: 40px;margin-right: 14px;width: 40px”></div> <div style=”flex-direction: column;flex-grow: 1;justify-content: center”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;margin-bottom: 6px;width: 100px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;width: 60px”></div></div></div><div style=”padding: 19% 0″></div> <div style=”height:50px;margin:0 auto 12px;width:50px”></div><div style=”padding-top: 8px”> <div style=”color:#3897f0;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;font-style:normal;font-weight:550;line-height:18px”>View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style=”padding: 12.5% 0″></div> <div style=”flex-direction: row;margin-bottom: 14px;align-items: center”><div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px;flex-grow: 0;margin-right: 14px;margin-left: 2px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px”></div></div><div style=”margin-left: 8px”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;flex-grow: 0;height: 20px;width: 20px”></div> <div style=”width: 0;height: 0;border-top: 2px solid transparent;border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4;border-bottom: 2px solid transparent”></div></div><div style=”margin-left: auto”> <div style=”width: 0px;border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4;border-right: 8px solid transparent”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;flex-grow: 0;height: 12px;width: 16px”></div> <div style=”width: 0;height: 0;border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4;border-left: 8px solid transparent”></div></div></div> <div style=”flex-direction: column;flex-grow: 1;justify-content: center;margin-bottom: 24px”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;margin-bottom: 6px;width: 224px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;width: 144px”></div></div></a><p style=”color:#c9c8cd;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;line-height:17px;margin-bottom:0;margin-top:8px;overflow:hidden;padding:8px 0 7px;text-align:center”><a href=”https://www.instagram.com/tv/CafhEdoFidu/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” style=”color:#c9c8cd;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;font-style:normal;font-weight:normal;line-height:17px;text-decoration:none” target=”_blank”>A post shared by @chancegrayy</a></p></div></blockquote></div>

After she graduates high school in the spring, Chance Gray is set to follow in the footsteps of Sabrina Ionescu and attend the University of Oregon next season. Currently positioned as the seventh ranked prospect and second highest point guard in the class of 2022, Chance Gray has all the intangibles to be a great collegiate hooper and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.

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NBA MVP List: The Most Valuable Players of The Last 30 Years

There is no higher distinction for regular season play in the NBA than the Most Valuable Player award. Given out at the end of each season, the MVP encapsulates who had the best individual season, while simultaneously contributing to winning basketball. Being such a highly-contested award, the athletes who do secure an MVP are immediately thrusted into the forefront of basketball lore. Here is the list of the last 30 NBA MVPs.

2020-21 Nikola Jokic: Denver Nuggets
26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

After 20 years of no center winning MVP, Nikola Jokic reclaimed the award for big-men. Losing their second-best option in Jamal Murray, the Nuggets were still able to finish third in the West behind the ‘Jokers’ efficient play. Jokic led the league in PER this season, showing the NBA that it doesn’t take wild athleticism to be the best of the best.

2019-20 Giannis Antetokounmpo: Millwauke Bucks
29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists
(Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)

Coming off his first league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo followed it up with one of the best individual seasons to date. Leading the Bucks to the best record in the NBA, Antetokounmpo was able to secure not only the MVP trophy but also the Defensive Player of the Year award, becoming only the third player to do so in a single season.

2018-19 Giannis Antetokounmpo: Millwauke Bucks
27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists
(Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Turner Sports)

In 2018 the Bucks season ended in disappointment as they lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games during the first round of the playoffs. Antetokounmpo took that loss personally and proceeded to take out his anger on opposing defenders nightly. The Bucks hit the 60 win mark this season and held the best record in the NBA.

2017-18 James Harden: Houston Rockets
30.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists
(Photo by Will Navarro/NBAE via Getty Images)

One of the most dynamic scorers the league has ever seen, it’s almost mystifying that James Harden only has one MVP award. While the Warriors were getting Kevin Durant accustomed to Golden State, Harden got busy putting together an unreal regular-season resume. Notching a league-leading 65 wins, the Rockets set a new franchise record for regular-season wins in 2018.

2016-17 Russell Westbrook: Oklahoma City Thunder
31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

An MVP season is usually marked with one distinct game that undoubtedly pushes a player above the rest. This came at the last regular season game when Russel Westbrook notched his NBA best 42nd triple-double of the season while putting in the game-winning basket. Westbrook became the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double this season.

2015-16 Stephen Curry: Golden State Warriors
30.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Coming off his first MVP, no one thought that Stephen Curry could top what he did the previous season. It turned out he could, and Curry was so dominant in his second MVP season that some were petitioning for him to win the Most Improved Player award. The cherry on top for Curry this season was notching the NBAs best regular-season record ever, as the Warriors finished 73-9. Curry also set the highest points per game mark while shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free-throw line and became the first unanimous MVP in NBA history.

2014-15 Stephen Curry: Golden State Warriors
23.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.7 assists
(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

In his first MVP season, Steph Curry inserted himself as a household name. Routinely hitting insane pull-up threes from 30+ feet, Curry changed the landscape of the NBA forever. Curry would go on to win his first NBA title this season, solidifying himself in the upper-echelon of NBA greatness.

2013-14 Kevin Durant: Oklahoma City Thunder
32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists
(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

One of the most iconic moments for MVPs that have been robbed from us because of the new NBA award ceremony is the NBA MVP press conference. The league MVP would sit on stage with his teammates and family in attendance and give a speech about the season they just had. This is where a teary-eyed Kevin Durant famously looked at his mother, Wanda Durant, and proclaimed “you’re the real MVP”

2012-13 LeBron James: Miami Heat
26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists
(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2012-13 season saw the most recent and possibly last MVP of LeBron James’ career. James would finish the season shooting 40.6 percent from three, the highest mark of his career in an MVP season. This was capped off with a second championship for the Heatles as they beat the Spurs in one of the most iconic NBA finals ever.

2011-12 LeBron James: Miami Heat
27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists
(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

After LeBron James and the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals, some people were slow to put James in the upper-echelon of NBA greats. He quickly dismissed that ludicrous thought by carrying the Heat and leading the league in win shares this season.

2010-11 Derrick Rose: Chicago Bulls
25.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

“Why not? Why can’t I be the MVP?”. These were the words famously spoken by Derrick Rose before the 2010-11 season started. The hometown kid led the Chicago Bulls to 62 wins and the best record in the NBA, solidifying himself as the youngest MVP in NBA history. Rose would, unfortunately, suffer a litany of injuries and never return to an MVP level but was able to make an impact on a few other franchises as one of the league’s best vets.

2009-10 LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers
29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The last season that LeBron James would win an MVP in Cleveland came during the 2009-10 season. This was his second of four MVPs and was a clear signal to the rest of the league who the top dog was. James would infamously leave the Cavs to join the Miami Heat during this off-season.

2008-09 LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers
28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists
(Photo by Greg Nelson /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

No single player in NBA history has had the type of expectations that LeBron James had coming out of High School. He passed all those expectations and more putting together one of the best hall-of-fame resumes in NBA history. His first MVP would come in the 2008-09 season at the young age of 24.

2007-08 Kobe Bryant: Los Angeles Lakers
28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists
(Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

It is criminal that the late great Kobe Bryant only ended his career with one MVP. After being snubbed the previous two years, Bryant finally was able to secure his NBA MVP trophy in 2008. There is not much to be said about the Lakers legend that hasn’t been said already, as his iconic role in the lore of the NBA transcends any written testimonial.

2006-07 Dirk Nowitzki: Dallas Mavericks
24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists
(Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Today, over 20 percent of the NBA comes from countries outside the United States. That is one part, due to the generational play that Dirk Nowitzki would display every night. Nowitzki joined the NBA after playing professionally in Germany. Routinely hopping off one foot to hit his signature fade-away, Nowitzki was a master of the mid-range. He went on to win one NBA title in 2011, notably against the Miami Heatles big three.

2005-06 Steve Nash: Phoenix Suns
18.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 10.5 assists
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Before he was coaching the nets and dealing with the front-office drama of star players wanting to be traded, Steve Nash was winning MVPs, and yes that is supposed to be plural. In his second MVP season, Nash led the league in assists while helping the Suns reach 54 wins.

2004-05 Steve Nash: Phoenix Suns
15.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 11.5 assists
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

In his first year with the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash turned around the franchise in unthinkable ways. The previous season the Suns finished with a 29-53 record. After one season with Nash at the helm, the Suns improved to a league-best 62-20 record. Nash’s ability to turn around offenses is a pivotal reason for his MVPs and is something that most fans overlook.

2003-04 Kevin Garnett: Minnesota Timberwolves
24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists
(Photo by JERRY HOLT/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

It wasn’t a quiet entrance when ‘The Big Ticket’ was drafted to the Timberwolves. Kevin Garnett embodied the harsh interior defense of the 90s and brought it into the modern NBA. Garnett built one of the most respectable NBA careers which included an NBA championship in Boston.

2002-03 Tim Duncan: San Antonio Spurs
23.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists
(Photo by: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

In his second MVP season, Tim Duncan was a presence to be messed with in the paint. Dubbed ‘Big Fundamental’ Duncan’s came may not get you to jump out of your seat, but it will put wins on the board. Duncan would go on to win five NBA championships with the Spurs and is widely considered the greatest power forward to ever play the game.

2001-02 Tim Duncan: San Antonio Spurs
25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists
(Photo by Andrew D Bernstein/Getty Images/NBAE)

After leading the Spurs to a 58-24 record, Tim Duncan took home his first NBA MVP award. Already an NBA champion and established star, this MVP solidified Tim Duncan as a force in the league for years. Playing all 19 years with the Spurs, Duncan embodies what it means to be a consummate professional.

2000-01 Allen Iverson: Philadelphia 76ers
31.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists
(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

No single player shifted the culture in the NBA like Allen Iverson did. The argument can be made that Allen Iverson refusing to change his looks and dress a certain way helped spur the player empowerment era the NBA is in now. On the court Iverson was equally as iconic, regularly crossing defenders out of their shoes and onto the floor.

1999-00 Shaquille O’Neal: Los Angeles Lakers
29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists
(JIM RUYMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

When Shaquille O’Neal made his entrance into the NBA, it was grand and boisterous. Playing 19 seasons for six different franchises, Shaq did plenty to leave his mark on the league. Totaling 4 NBA championships, there aren’t many big-men with a resume built like Shaqs.

1998-99 Karl Malone: Utah Jazz
23.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists
(GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images)

When looking at the most fierce interior scorers in NBA history, Karl Malone stands near the front of that list. Even though Malone was not able to secure an NBA championship, he was able to nab two regular-season MVPs while reaching the finals three separate times.

1997-98 Michael Jordan: Chicago Bulls
28.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists
(Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

What better way to end the last dance than with a league MVP and NBA championship. Ending his GOAT resume with five MVPs and six championships, Michael Jordan stands alone at the top of the NBA mountain. 

1996-97 Karl Malone: Utah Jazz
27.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists
(Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images)

The concept of ‘voter fatigue’ is commonly thrown around when looking at MVP snubs. Yes, Karl Malone most likely edged out Jordan this year because the voters were simply tired of voting for him, but that doesn’t diminish the season Malone had. Leading the Jazz to a 64-18 record, Malone secured his first MVP.

1995-96 Michael Jordan: Chicago Bulls
30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

In his first year back post-retirement, Michael Jordan took no time to show that he was still the same high-flying dominating player he was before. Leading the Bulls to a then regular-season record 72-10, there was no question who would take home this year’s MVP. Jordan would cap off this season with another championship.

1994-95 David Robinson: San Antonio Spurs
27.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists
(Photo by John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Even though Michael Jordan may have dominated the 90s, it was the big men who defined it. Nicknamed ‘The Admiral’, David Robinson took home the MVP trophy after leading the Spurs to a league-best 62 wins. Robinson would go on to win two championships with the Spurs.

1993-94 Hakeem Olajuwon: Houston Rockets
27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

If you want to see the best footwork out of a center in NBA history, look no further than Hakeem Olajuwon. Coming out of the University of Houston, Olajuwon made an immediate impact at the rim leading the league in blocks three different times. Olajuwon was able to secure two championships for Houston, cementing himself as the greatest Rocket of all time.

1992-93 Charles Barkley: Phoenix Suns
25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

‘The Round Mound of Rebound’ otherwise known as Charles Barkley is quite possibly the most underrated player in NBA history. Standing at only 6’6”, Barkley was able to secure rebounds and score against the biggest and baddest the league had to offer. Even though he never got that coveted championship, Barkley will forever remain a key player in the history of the NBA.

1991-92 Michael Jordan: Chicago Bulls
30.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The landscape of the NBA would forever shift after Jordans 1991-92 MVP season. Jordan would go on to win his second championship this year and follow that up with Olympic gold at the summer games. If it wasn’t clear who the face of the NBA was at this point, Jordan damn sure made it clear.

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Sports Strength

How Robert Williams Saved the Boston Celtics’ Season

For the first three months of the season, the vibes in Boston were decidedly off. Through 36 games, the Celtics lurched to a 17-19 record. Their offense was stale and bad, non-existent beyond Jayson Tatum’s and Jaylen Brown’s solipsistic scoring. Their defense was similarly middling, felled by a dearth of players who could thrive within the bounds of conventional NBA defense. Basic rotations confounded them: help defenders were too slow or small or apathetic to bother rolling bigs; off-ball switches proved to be unsolvable riddles; closeouts just, like, didn’t happen. Despite the presence of a fearsome shot blocker in Robert Williams, they couldn’t establish a true sense of identity.

Since January 1st, though, the Celtics have played better defense than just about anybody ever. Winners of 16 of their last 22 games, the Celtics have surrendered just 102.9 points per game during that stretch. The key? They’ve let Williams get weird. Whereas Williams previously functioned as a fairly mundane big, anchored in conservative drop, he’s now used as an all-terrain detonator. Paradoxically, they’ve dramatically improved their rim protection by shunting WIlliams, their best rim protector, out towards the perimeter. Since the new year, the Celtics have allowed opponents to make just 63.5 percent of their shots at the rim, compared to 67.1 percent prior. 

In basketball parlance, the weakside defender closest to the basket is known as the “low man” or “MIG” (Most Important Guy); it’s their job to serve as the first line of help defense, stepping up to challenge shots at the rim while also remaining mindful of their original assignment (oftentimes a shooter in the corner). The low man is the unseen ligamenture that determines whether a defense coheres or collapses. 

Accordingly, the Celtics have redesigned their defense so that Williams can occupy permanent low man-dom, meaning that he’s often tasked with guarding shooters in the corner rather than tussling opposing big men. In this new capacity, Williams has transformed from the Celtics’ lower-case most important guy into their upper-case Most Important Guy, contesting more shots than a center traditionally would be able to. Shots that were once easy layups over too-small grunts like Romeo Langford are now engulfed by Williams. 

As the low man, Williams declares dominion over an entire side of the court. Not only can Williams block shots at the rim, he retreats back out to the perimeter to contest jump shots—Williams contests 4.25 threes per game (putting him in the 80th percentile per BBall Index) and allows just 0.82 points per spot-up, the lowest mark of any Celtic who has defended more than 100 of those situations. 

Beyond simply being asked to stand in a different place sometimes, Williams is increasingly trusted to switch onto dangerous scorers and ball-handlers. Although Williams lacks the footspeed to hang with guards full-time, he presents scorers with one major complication: it’s   basically impossible to get a clean shot over him because he can jump super high and his 7 ‘5 wingspan blots out the horizon. 

Even if the Celtics aren’t the first team to deploy a jumbo-sized low man (Cleveland does so with Evan Mobley and Milwaukee does so with Giannis Antetokounmpo), they’re unique in that their success feels somewhat replicable. Their stinginess isn’t born from any kind of one-of-one superfracted mega-talent; rather, it’s the result of skilled personnel used wisely. While Mobley and Antetokounmpo are athletic mutants, Williams is awesome in a more familiar way—it’s easy to imagine Mitchell Robinson or Daniel Gafford or Mo Bamba or Jalen Duren occupying this same role. 

In this sense, Boston’s scheme is quietly radical. With Williams untethered from the defensive responsibilities of a nominal center, the Celtics are at the forefront of the new defensive vanguard burbling in response to the spread pick-and-roll that defines modern offense. The romantic idea of the lionhearted, stalwart defensive stopper still persists, but it’s no longer an accurate representation of how basketball is played. Defense is a five-man exercise in crisis management; any one-on-one staredown is merely a prelude to the following series of rotations. 

By putting Williams away from the initial play, the Celtics ensure that he’s in position to disrupt the offense’s all-important second and third actions. This is the kind of quasi-zone that defenses have been trending towards over the last few years—Williams doesn’t so much guard a man as he patrols a space. He’s a universal principle that’s been weaponized into singular production.

The Celtics are introducing the sport’s future and still dominating its present. For years, people have talked about positionless basketball as a kind of metonymy for some Cruyffian vision of Total Basketball in which five interchangeable 6’7 super-humans fly around the court in perfect synchronicity. Instead, it’s simply come to mean that players are no longer bounded by geography or hierarchy—there’s still tremendous utility in having a center or a point guard or whatever, as long as they have the fluidity to thrive within a variety of contexts. Just as Viagra outgrew its original usage as a blood pressure medication, Williams symbolizes a reimagination of where rim protection comes from and how it’s conceived. The only rule is that it has to work. 

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Sports Strength

The Sacramento Kings Play By Their Own Rules

Being an NBA fan now requires a serious working knowledge of subjects that are only tangentially related to basketball. This caliber of basketball is somewhat alienating in its remove from what the average joe knows to be physically possible, so the regular-sized front office wonks become more relatable by default; I will never understand what it feels like to dunk, but the mechanics of negotiating a trade—wheeling, dealing, wearing normal collars, things of that nature—feel almost familiar. More than any other sport, the NBA has lent itself to a kind of economics-tinged abstraction in which players are assets and draft picks are capital. Increasingly, franchises are merely dynamic, volatile portfolios seeking to deliver returns to their emotional stakeholders. 

By trading Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Tristan Thompson for All-Star power forward Domantas Sabonis, the Sacramento Kings signaled that the single most pressing thing on their agenda is that they’d like to win basketball games. In fact, they’d like to win enough basketball games to qualify for the play-in tournament as the tenth best team in the Western Conference, which is an honorably silly goal (think: the NBA equivalent of trying to win a free t-shirt by eating a 72-ounce steak and a side of shrimp cocktail), but an honorable one all the same. Beyond simply swapping a very good young player for a veteran stud, though, the Kings have exposed the fundamental incoherence between how basketball fandom is intellectualized and how it’s actually experienced.

From a bloodless, empirical view, the Kings probably shouldn’t have traded Haliburton for Sabonis. National media figures were aghast when the news broke: “MAKE IT MAKE SENSE,” lamented JJ Redick. Kings fans were down biblically bad—the banner of the Kings’ subreddit reads “Welcome to Basketball Hell.”  The 21 year-old Haliburton, a tide-raising playmaker with budding self-creation chops and an artificially suppressed rookie-scale contract, is exactly the kind of player that bad teams like the Kings should want the most. 

Even if Haliburton lacks the requisite oomph to propel the Kings into the play-in right now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it helps nudge them towards Paolo Banchero or Chet Holmgren; prideless teams tank without prejudice because it’s a truth universally acknowledged that a general manager in possession of an NBA franchise must be in want of a blue-chip superstar. 

Similarly, erstwhile playoff hopefuls like the Knicks, Pacers, Trail Blazers and Wizards are all eager to slough off productive-enough 29 year-olds so they can force feed shots to tank-friendly, unproductive 22 year-olds. This kind of militant pragmatism—if you’re not first, you need to be last—has become the predominant school of basketball thought and has hollowed out the ambition of the league’s lower-middle class as a result. This is a needlessly severe approach and yet it’s still technically true: as long as only one team can truly succeed, 29 others have to fail. 


In this sense, the Kings are reimagining what “success” really means. No longer are they measuring their progress in terms of some unknowable distant future; instead, they’re actually engaging with the present. The Kings may be the only team in the NBA to realize that, at a certain point, dogmatically maintaining the longest view in the room is the same thing as farsightedness. There are 82 real games that you need to play each year, so why not at least try to win some of them?

On the most basic level, Sabonis makes the Kings a better team now than they were at the start of the week. Sabonis is a legitimately excellent player, even if that has been lost in all the ululating how the Kings’ should be dragged in front of an international tribunal for the sin of trading away Haliburton. And Sabonis is fairly young, too—at just 25 years-old, not only is Sabonis better than Haliburton right now, there’s a very real chance that he’ll still be the better for the next seven-ish years.

A quirked-up white boy goated with the sauce, Sabonis has been one of the NBA’s most statistically prolific big men since 2019—besides Giannis Antetokounmpo, Sabonis is the only player to average more than 12 rebounds and five assists per game over the last three seasons. Despite the Pacers’ organizational curdling stench, Sabonis is in the middle of the most efficient scoring season of his career, upping his true shooting by nearly five percentage points from last year. 

He folds a surprising amount of skill into his punishing,casual physicality, using his body to unsettle defenders and create openings that he can then feather a pass or a shot through. Since Sabonis assumed a starring role with the Pacers in 2019, he’s thrived within a variety of contexts, even occasionally moon-lighting as a spot-up shooter when needed. Toggle through different lineups around him and he’ll alternately be the synaptic hub of a dribble handoff-heavy attack, a quick-hitting facilitator on the short roll, or a punishing interior brute. Already the best Kings’ big man since Chris Weber, Sabonis turns scoring into a simple physics equation—a defender can either remain sturdy enough to hold their ground against him or spry and reactive enough to leap to contest a shot, but not both. 

Most promising for the Kings, though, is Sabonis’s potential fit alongside point guard De’Aaron Fox. After making a leap last year towards near-stardom, the 24 year-old Fox has spent most of this season mired in a quarter-career crisis. Namely, he devolved from a bad shooter to an abysmal one. While the presence of Haliburton ostensibly lightened Fox’s creation burden, Fox and Haliburton struggled to reconcile their fundamentally different ways of processing the game. If Fox plays with the single-mindedness of an Omakase chef and manifests greatness through his own individual vision and talent, Haliburton is a Vegas buffet, offering everybody on the court the opportunity to follow their own bliss. 

Conversely, in Sabonis, Fox now has a co-star who could be complementary, not competitive. Sabonis is an elite screen-setter who creates advantages for his teammates by concealing his intentions from the defense until the point of contact; it’s not a coincidence that Malcolm Brogdon blossomed from a perfunctory, low-lift combo guard to a high-level pick-and-roll operator once he partnered with Sabonis in Indianapolis.

Together, Sabonis and Fox have a natural symbiosis—in Sabonis’s first game with the team last night, the Kings exploded for 132 points and 32 assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves. For the first time in his career, Fox is playing next to a player who can single-handedly create advantages for the offense. Fox was already the fastest player in the league—now, aided by Sabonis’s versatile, bruising playmaking, he’ll seem functionally even faster. Although the brawling Sabonis and the speedy Fox move at such disparate tempos, they could establish an effective, arrhythmic synergy. 

Whether it leads to anything “significant” is a mystery and also kind of irrelevant—there’s an intangible value in playing basketball each night that your fans are happy to watch. So much of the NBA is oriented around transaction-based palace intrigue; the Kings are a reminder that it’s nice to care about the day-to-day too.

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Sports Strength

Is Jose Alvarado the NBA’s Most Likable Player?

An undrafted rookie point guard from Georgia Tech, Jose Alvarado has endeared himself to just about everybody since entering the New Orleans Pelicans’ rotation on January 20th; his handsy, heady play is so inherently likable that it’s hard not to fall for Alvarado’s charms. Sometime over the last two-ish weeks, Alvarado became your favorite player’s favorite player.

“He’s just a great dude. He’s full of joy, full of love. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Josh Hart said of Alvarado. “We see that. We see the hard work, we see him out there just grinding. Guys like that, you always want them to do well — in basketball, but also in life. He has all our confidence and trust when he’s on the court.”

“He didn’t back down, and I respected him,” Joel Embiid said, offering to pay a $2000 fine that Alvarado incurred during a skirmish with Embiid.  “I like that about him so after the game, I really just went up to him and I told him to keep fighting and to keep it going.”

The 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Alvarado’s pesky style has translated fairly seamlessly to the NBA. Despite his relative smallness preventing him from switching onto larger players, he’s a plucky on-ball hindrance, climbing into his man’s airspace and swiping at the ball; over the last five games, Alvarado has averaged 2.4 steals (a mark that would lead the league by a sizable margin) in just 19.9 minutes per game. Like Patrick Beverley or Alex Caruso, Alvarado is the rare point guard whose defense is truly game-changing—beyond simply hectoring his own assignment, he prevents opponents from easily establishing a rhythm and getting into their offense. 

On offense, Alvarado is more steady than spectacular. More, he’s perhaps the most fuck-up-averse player in the entire league: in his 22 games so far this season, he’s accounted for just four turnovers. In this sense, Alvarado’s meager per-game stats fail to capture the true impact he carries—he guarantees that each possession has purpose. It sounds unimportant, but merely ensuring that each possession ends with a shot is a tremendous source of value; the average shot yields about 1.06 points per possession , but a live-ball turnover results in 1.35 points per possession for the other team. Simply by lowering his team’s turnover percentage by 3.2 percentage points when he’s on the court, Alvarado ensures that his team scores 5.8 more points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court than when he’s on the bench. 

While he’s on a two-way contract for now, it’s only a matter of time until Alvarado inks a guaranteed contract with the Pelicans. Alvarado is the kind of hidden gem that every NBA team hopes to unearth, but Alvarado’s play has been so brilliantly competent that that he’s become impossible to ignore. 

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Sports Strength

Demar DeRozan’s Unbelievable Story Is Just Getting Started

Stepping into the lead role for the Chicago Bulls can be a tall task for just about anyone in the league. Backed by one of the most passionate fan bases in the league and the history of the house MJ built, expectations are always high in the windy city. With the pressure of building a championship squad, newly minted front-office tandem AKME (Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley) made a flurry of free-agent signings. The most significant of these signings was a three-year $81 million dollar deal for Demar DeRozan. 

While many talking heads labeled this the worst free agent signing of the summer, DeRozan has already secured a starting spot in the all-star game (The Bulls first All-star starter since 2017) and has led the bulls to the second best record in the East. Before he was hitting buzzer-beaters in back-to-back nights, DeRozan had to endure more adversity than many will experience in a lifetime. 

Born in California, DeRozan grew up in Compton, a neighborhood in Los Angeles notorious for its violence. It was the influence of his late father Frank who helped navigate him away from the streets and into the gym. After an exceptional year at USC, DeRozan was taken as the ninth overall pick in 2009. Even though his hoop dreams of making the league were a reality, there was still plenty of adversity that stood in DeRozan’s way. 

The Toronto Raptors would be the team to draft Demar DeRozan, which proved to be an overwhelming situation for the young guard. Playing his college days at USC, a school just down the road from his hometown, DeRozan never had to worry about being far from home. Upon being drafted, DeRozan found himself farther from home than he’s ever known as Toronto is  a little more than a hop, skip, and a jump from Compton. 2,517 miles away to be exact. The 2009 Raptors roster was littered with vets as well and no one for Demar to really connect with as a 20 year old kid. That would change in 2012 when the Raptors signed Kyle Lowry from Houston and paired one of the greatest bromances the league had ever seen. 

The Raptors found great success with the tandem of Lowry and DeRozan in the backcourt, even reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015. Any Raptors playoff success would be swiftly derailed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs’ were so dominant in Toronto during this era that Lebron James donned the nickname ‘Lebronto’. The Raptors, knowing their window was closing, had to make a move. Meanwhile in San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard was refusing to play because of conflicts with the front office. In the summer of 2018 we got one of the biggest Woj nukes ever as it was announced that Kawhi was on the move: 

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The Raptors found instant success. Kawhi Leonard led them to their first championship in franchise history in one of the greatest playoff runs of all time. Demar, on the other hand, was nearly forgotten. The Spurs struggled to consistently put up wins despite DeRozan putting up numbers that paralleled his days in Toronto. Unlike his peers, DeRozan never complained, never asked for a trade, he simply just went out and did his job. In the start of 2021, DeRozan would have to face the largest hurdle of his career. 

With his father’s health deteriorating, DeRozan would routinely fly straight from the hospital on game days, trying to get as much time in with his dad as he could. Unfortunately in early 2021, Frank DeRozan would pass after three years in the hospital. Demar would finish his contract out with the Spurs and find his new home in Chicago.

Calling DeRozan and the Bulls a good match is an understatement. DeRozan is a key reason why the Bulls are #2 in the East right now. Currently sitting at fifth in points per game putting up 26.4, DeRozan has more than earned his spot as an all-star starter. 

The next time you watch Demar DeRozan play, you’ll probably notice two huge portraits of tattoos on his shoulders. On one side, he has an image of Heath Ledger in the iconic Joker makeup, representing his long battle with mental health issues. On his other arm is a portrait of his late father Frank DeRozan. A symbol of how his father will always be right by his side. DeRozan has clearly found a home in Chicago and I for one can’t wait to see what he can accomplish in the playoffs this year. Without a doubt, the whole city is behind you Demar.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From January 3rd-9th

With the holiday season and the wave of Covid disruptions (hopefully) behind us, the first week of 2022 delivered some thrilling NBA action, Klay Thompson played in his first game in two and a half years and looked as if he never left. The Memphis Grizzlies and Ja Morant and bulldozed their competition, stretching their win streak to nine consecutive games. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action.

Thompson’s return elevates a already-great Warriors team
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For the first time in 941 days, Steph Curry’s fellow Splash Brother returned to action, and it seemed like the old times again. In his first game since the 2019 Finals, Klay Thompson rediscovered his rhythm and scored 17 points in 20 minutes as his Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, 96-82.

As previously mentioned when discussing what to expect from Thompson in his return, the All-Star shooting guard the Warriors’ offense a new dimension. He was fluid in his movement without the ball, successfully drove to the basket (even punctuating his return with an uncharacteristic dunk in traffic), and was sound on defense.

The Grizzlies are entering the conversation of title contenders
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It’s becoming a distant memory when some people thought of the Memphis Grizzlies as a playoff team, who would be fodder for an exciting yet predictable first-round exit. Instead, the Grizzlies, who are three and a half games out of first place in the Western Conference, are forcing their way into the conversation about the league’s title contenders.

Led by rising MVP candidate Ja Morant, the Grizz succeed because their depth and athleticism have produced the league’s No. 1 defense over the past six weeks (Allowing 101.8 per 100 possessions).

Don’t count out the Heat to lead the East
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Despite experiencing many injuries and a schedule that had them play 25 of their first 41 games on the road, the Heat are the third seed in the Eastern Conference– only two and a half games out of first. So what can happen next? A realistic run to the NBA Finals.

With Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo eventually making their return to the starting lineup, the Heat have all the necessary talents and coaching to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown, just as they did in the Bubble over a year and a half ago.

The Nets get Kyrie back but are still struggling
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Even if the season debut of Kyrie Irving (who will only play road games because of NYC’s vaccination mandate) reignites the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets, it doesn’t fully erase their struggles over the last two-plus weeks. their struggles over the past two-plus weeks. Besides a rousing fourth-quarter comeback against the Pacers or rookie Cam Thomas’s game-winning floater against the Spurs on Sunday, the Nets have been fairly listless, losing four out of their previous six games.

And although every team has stretches where they play below their standard, it still feels as if we haven’t watched the Nets play their best basketball yet. But, with Irving now in tow and Durant still in MVP form, maybe that isn’t a bad thing.

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Sports Strength

Ryan Razooky Explains Basketball’s Ongoing Evolution

In 2022, basketball continues to see its boundaries get pushed to levels one couldn’t have expected before and basketball trainers like Ryan Razooky are among those doing the pushing. Based out of San Diego, California, Razooky isn’t your typical trainer who teaches the X and O’s or only cares about their social media following; instead, he’s genuinely invested in the game’s growth and how hoopers of the next generation will be prepared to handle it.

“As fun as it is to be flashy, everything comes back to consistency and efficiency,” Razooky said. “Regardless of what some people may call a ‘pro move’ or too ‘advanced’ for younger hoopers if I’m able to teach them that and they become ready for the next level, why not do it?” At his gym, The Hoop House, Razooky and his staff teach hundreds of players every week as well as some of the game’s biggest talents at any moment–namely, Mikey Williams (a five-star recruit in the Class of 2023) and NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler.

<div class =”code”><blockquote class=”instagram-media” data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-permalink=”https://www.instagram.com/reel/CYPgLdbAd-Z/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” data-instgrm-version=”14″ style=”background:#FFF;border:0;border-radius:3px;margin: 1px;max-width:540px;min-width:326px;padding:0;width:99.375%;width:-webkit-calc(100% – 2px);width:calc(100% – 2px)”><div style=”padding:16px”> <a href=”https://www.instagram.com/reel/CYPgLdbAd-Z/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” style=”background:#FFFFFF;line-height:0;padding:0 0;text-align:center;text-decoration:none;width:100%” target=”_blank”> <div style=”flex-direction: row;align-items: center”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;flex-grow: 0;height: 40px;margin-right: 14px;width: 40px”></div> <div style=”flex-direction: column;flex-grow: 1;justify-content: center”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;margin-bottom: 6px;width: 100px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;width: 60px”></div></div></div><div style=”padding: 19% 0″></div> <div style=”height:50px;margin:0 auto 12px;width:50px”></div><div style=”padding-top: 8px”> <div style=”color:#3897f0;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;font-style:normal;font-weight:550;line-height:18px”>View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style=”padding: 12.5% 0″></div> <div style=”flex-direction: row;margin-bottom: 14px;align-items: center”><div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px;flex-grow: 0;margin-right: 14px;margin-left: 2px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px”></div></div><div style=”margin-left: 8px”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;flex-grow: 0;height: 20px;width: 20px”></div> <div style=”width: 0;height: 0;border-top: 2px solid transparent;border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4;border-bottom: 2px solid transparent”></div></div><div style=”margin-left: auto”> <div style=”width: 0px;border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4;border-right: 8px solid transparent”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;flex-grow: 0;height: 12px;width: 16px”></div> <div style=”width: 0;height: 0;border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4;border-left: 8px solid transparent”></div></div></div> <div style=”flex-direction: column;flex-grow: 1;justify-content: center;margin-bottom: 24px”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;margin-bottom: 6px;width: 224px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;width: 144px”></div></div></a><p style=”color:#c9c8cd;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;line-height:17px;margin-bottom:0;margin-top:8px;overflow:hidden;padding:8px 0 7px;text-align:center”><a href=”https://www.instagram.com/reel/CYPgLdbAd-Z/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” style=”color:#c9c8cd;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;font-style:normal;font-weight:normal;line-height:17px;text-decoration:none” target=”_blank”>A post shared by Ryan Razooky (@r2bball)</a></p></div></blockquote></div>

ONE37pm had the chance to connect with Razooky to discuss basketball’s latest evolution, how he built his gym, and what it takes to maintain a productive relationship with famous ballplayers.

ONE37pm: There are plenty of ways to properly invest in training players, but you were able to secure your own gym which is now known as The Hoop House. How did that happen?

Razooky: It took years to happen, but I’m blessed there was good timing involved. Before building The Hoop House, I trained people everywhere– YMCA’s, parks, and even their houses. At that time, things came together; a gentleman had reached out to me about the facility, and crazy enough, I had reached out to him about forming a partnership there three years ago.

I was on my way to Israel to train Johnny O’Bryant III (A 2014 second-round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks) when that guy called me and asked if I wanted the facility. I immediately said yes, we had the paperwork drawn up, and I went on to redesign the whole place with the help of some good people.

ONE37pm: How realistic is it for a trainer to own a gym instead of renting out of different places?

Razooky: It’s realistic, but there’s a lot of challenges involved. If you want to build a gym out of a warehouse, you must ensure the ceiling is high enough for basketball action. After that, you have to be patient with exploring the market for a location and getting permission or permits from your landlord and the city.

But despite those challenges, I highly recommend every trainer to look into this. You will feel so empowered by having your gym, and the possibilities are endless for what you can do.

ONE37pm: Given who you train and what’s happening in today’s era of basketball, how do you teach players what’s necessary?

Razooky: For us at The Hoop House, it goes back to our blueprint. We want all players to be comfortable using both hands, drawing contact, and shooting the ball with good form. In my opinion, if you’re able to do those things, you can be a JV or varsity player in your freshman year of high school.

As our players get older, we want to provide them with more options to play with. Expanding a player’s move set and teaching them how to ultize the pick and roll and any other situations is essential before reaching the college and pro ranks. I say that because when they’re a college player or a pro, specialization is appropriate and makes sense.

ONE37pm: When looking back at your experiences working with known talents such as Mikey [Williams] and Jimmy [Butler], why has it been successful?

Razooky: There’s an old saying, ‘the number one quality is your availability.’ These guys are willing to work out at any time of the day, and for me to be available and consistent with my effort further enables their trust in me. Once that is established, our relationship blossoms because I’m well prepared with what I want to teach them and flexible enough to incorporate their wants and needs.

Your communication and availability will dictate your relationship with your players at the end of the day.