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March Madness, Joakim Noah, and Tanking – Fastbreaks: 3/19 Edition

Every week a group of writers from the Bad Man Bureau will discuss several topics regarding both the NBA and basketball at large with quick, paragraph-long responses. This week, we’re getting ready for March Madness, while still keeping an eye on things in the NBA, including Joakim Noah‘s recent contributions, and whether or not we approve of Philadelphia’s tanking. The panel for this edition of the Fastbreaks column are Andrew Greer, Anthony Jimenez, Mark Laturno, Domenic Lanza, and (contributor to the Bureau) Drew Hudson.

Question 1: What will you be watching or looking forward to most in the NCAA tournament?

Andrew G: You mean, other than seeing on the ticker that Jeff Bzdelik has been fired?

There’s always at least one game (or day) where a sizable underdog has a crazy shooting performance while the favorite struggles to pull it together. Generally, it’s a mid-major against a major conference team. The crowd – outside those rooting for the favorite – go crazy in supporting the upset, brackets be damned. It’s one of those games where you start hearing from people nearby that there’s a HUGE upset in the making. Everyone switches to the game to see how it’s going to end. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it does, and we fall in love with a team like Stephen Curry‘s Davidson, the VCU First-Four-to-Final-Four team, or the Florida Gulf Coast Dunk City. That’s what I’m looking forward to; the next surprise darling.

Anthony: Obviously the billion dollars on the line with my bracket … and I’m looking forward to seeing how deep into the tournament Wichita State can go. We’ve seen mid-major conference teams go pretty far in the tournament in recent history, but it has always been a Cinderella story. This year Cinderella is undefeated, and got the short end of the straw when it comes to region and potential upsets.

Mark: I honestly know shit-all about the particulars of college basketball. I really only watch a few minutes here and there to scope out future NBA prospects, so I won’t waste time blabbing on about Wichita State (sorry Jordan). I am, however, very interested to see how Kansas’ two freshmen phenoms handle the pressure of the tourney. For the first time in a long, long while, not having a unanimous number one pick does not mean the draft is terrible … in fact, just the opposite. It’ll be interesting to see who pushes ahead.

Domenic: Wichita State is the first team since the 2004 St. Joseph’s Hawks to go undefeated in the regular season, and they are a scant six victories away from becoming the first squad in nearly four decades to have a perfect season altogether (the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers were the last group to do so). Of course, it is not quite that simple, and the odds of the Shockers living up to their nickname and winning it all are infinitesimal. That will not stop me from watching all of their games, however, as the mere possibility of the team making history is enough for me to park myself in front of the television – and the fact that Wichita State is a mid-major team with nary a blue chip NBA prospect makes that possibility all the more alluring.

Drew: I really look forward to the upsets, as it really shows the power of a 1 game elimination style of setting. I’m not usually a fan of college sports, but there is something about the tournament’s high-pressure situation that I love. There will potentially be players we haven’t heard of hitting buzzer beaters, allowing a little known school to upset a juggernaut simply because they played tougher for those 40 minutes. Then, of course, I look forward to seeing how players like Wiggins and Parker perform in the tournament to try and propel their team to a national title.

Question 2: What do you make of Joakim Noah’s recent run of play? Is he the leader for Defensive Player of the Year and/or first team All-NBA?

Andrew G: It’s certainly been exciting for a team that generally plays offense as if it’s a chore that Tom Thibodeau has finally found a focal point for a semi-competent offense. Noah’s passing has always been an underrated aspect of his game; I’ve always wondered why the Bulls didn’t run more plays to get Noah the ball in the high post to facilitate when he’s shown an effectiveness there for years. His defense is nothing new, but what makes it even more amazing is that there hasn’t been a drop-off on that end despite his increased offensive burden. As for the awards, he’s certainly played himself to an All-NBA position, but I don’t know if he’s been better than Dwight Howard this season. It’s still a toss-up for me. But I still have to go with Roy Hibbert as the Defensive Player of the Year, simply because Indiana’s defense has been more stout all season long.

Anthony: Noah has been sensational, and it is hard not to root for him and the Bulls during the stretch. There is nothing pretty about Joakim Noah’s game, but he is someone who literally doesn’t take a possession off. He goes all out offensively and defensively, and if we were voting for awards right now, I don’t see how Noah isn’t your Defensive Player of the Year. He is anchoring the second best defensive team in the league, and has led the Bulls to the second best record in the East since the beginning of the new year.

Mark: He may very well be. He’s a terrific all around player that has really only gotten the respect he’s (always) deserved recently, thanks to some crippling injuries that have the world wondering whether Portland has finally passed off their curse. (Any coincidence that this is the year the Blazers made the playoffs? Let’s be real.) He’s been critical to their overachieving, and has played like the best center in the league over the past month. More than anything, though, we’re nearing the end of the season, and Noah is the hot topic right now. He’s fresh in our (and the media’s) minds. So while Dwight’s probably most deserving of the first team All-NBA slot, I think Noah probably has a slight edge. And come on now, he’s a “shut it down/let’s go home” lock for DPOY honors. No need for discussion there.

Domenic: Noah has been the best center in the NBA for the last month or so, and his high-energy, high-effort play makes him one of the more entertaining players in the league in general. He is the leader of an overachieving Bulls squad, serving as the fulcrum of the team’s offensive and defensive machinations. I am consistently amazed by his ball-handling and court vision, and I believe that his dominance as a ‘point center’ alone could merit a spot on the All-NBA First Team. That being said, there is still a hell of a lot of basketball left to play, and Dwight Howard is looming.

Drew: I’m actually amazed at his ability to amp that team up enough to still be able to compete with significantly stronger teams. Noah always struck me as a hustle guy who could chip in a little bit here and there, but never as a player who could have the offense run through him. I would have no problem with him winning defensive player of the year, but I think Roy Hibbert or Anthony Davis are equally worthy of that award, and it’ll come down to this final month for it to be decided. I’d still likely have Dwight as my first team All-NBA center, but Noah is certainly right there, and if he keeps up this amazing pace to finish the year I would move him above Dwight.

Question 3: What do you make of the so-called “Tank Race”? Is it good for the league what Philadelphia is doing?

Andrew G: Was it good for the league when the late-2000’s Indiana Pacers or the Milwaukee Bucks of the last few years gunned for that 8th seed, but ended up with draft picks in the 12-15 range year after year? Is it good for the league when we have franchises incapable of moving up in the league’s hierarchy simply because they don’t want to bottom out? Is it good for the league when we continue this charade that all cap space is equal? Philadelphia isn’t hurting the league’s product. Even if the Sixers end up with one or some combination of Wiggins/Parker/Embiid/Randle/Smart/et al, there’s going to be maybe a handful of nationally televised Sixers games.

I’m actually more interested in the potential tanking going on with some of the league’s other teams. Detroit and New Orleans, in particular, can kiss their playoff chances goodbye but also might have to part with their pick if it falls out of a certain range. Do we see these teams try to keep the pick for this class full of projected solid contributors?

Anthony: Just take look at some of the names on that roster: Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson, Brandon Davies, Jarvis Varnado, James Nunnally, Elliot Williams, Darius Johnson-Odom. Right now we are witnessing what would happen if we had a D-Leauge team play in the NBA. It hurts the product, and if I were a Sixers season ticket holder, I would be furious (although, based off their attendance, there might only be a handful left – though, who can blame them). It hurts their short-term financial outlook, losing revenue with ticket sales and merchandise as well as TV ratings; but if they land Wiggins or Parker, all would be forgiven – which is a joke.

Mark: Anyone who says that it’s not a problem is just used to it. There are so many adverse effects that it’s a wonder to me that it hasn’t been dealt with yet. Tanking’s risky. For every Sam Presti (Thunder GM) driven Cinderella Story, there are ten Michael Jordans scouting the next Kwame Brown. Look at the Cavaliers – after four abominable years, they’re just about ready … to hit the reset button on the rebuilding process. You watch sports to be entertained; watching Kyrie Irving go one and one and shoot 40% every game does not fit that modest goal. It alienates fans and cheapens the team’s brand.

Domenic: The race to the bottom doesn’t bother me at all. I believe that a team should always strive to build from within, and if tanking is the best means of doing so, then so be it. I’m not sure that that’s the case, to be sure, but I’m also not certain that any team in the NBA has been able to maintain itself without either high draft picks, or huge free agent splashes (save for the San Antonio Spurs, of course). Is it good for the league? Probably not – but I don’t think it’s any worse than a team like the Detroit Pistons spending a ton money, and cobbling together a team of knuckleheads without any semblance of strategy involved.

Drew: I don’t really feel that tanking is a huge issue from a fan’s standpoint. It’d be different if every team was out there playing like garbage to have a shot at a high prospect, but it’s only the bottom feeding teams anyway. Did anyone really expect Philly to be anything better than bad this season? What about teams like the Bucks and Jazz? I certainly had them all as bottom feeding teams, so while it’s obvious they are tanking, I don’t feel it has a major negative impact on the game. A playoff berth and a successful season are great things to have, but as fans of the game we all want our team to win the ultimate goal – a championship. So with that in mind. I have no complaints about when teams tank, they are just trying to give themselves a better chance in the future.

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