We have come to the end of the road with the NBA regular season. The playoffs start Saturday, and the basketball world will be thrown into chaos from here until mid-June. Zach Lowe has a preview of what’s coming over here, but we couldn’t let the buzzer sound on the regular season without looking back at the world champions of our heart. We previewed the season back in October with the Triangle All-Stars, and now it’s time for one more check-in with the People’s Dream Team.
We begin with some awards for the players who stuck around from the original All-Star team.
The Anthony Peeler Award for Best Feud
Andrew Sharp: BOOGIE VS. CHRIS PAUL.
As he explained to our Jonathan Abrams earlier this year: “It’s just, some players I don’t respect. Just their playing style of basketball. I don’t respect it. I feel like it’s basically cheating and I don’t respect a cheater. If that’s your tactic to winning, I don’t respect you.”
What other player in the NBA openly called out a superstar for being a cheater? Especially in this kinder, gentler, everyone-goes-to-the-same-Illuminati-parties-in-the-offseason era of the NBA, it’s good to see a little bit of hate restored to the proceedings. There aren’t many reasons to watch Sacramento Kings games, but the never-ending war between CP3 and Boogie will always make Clippers-Kings games fun.
For the record: In addition to his ongoing war with CP3, Boogie had a 26.18 PER this year, which was good for fifth-best in the entire league, and he averaged 23 and 12, making this his best season yet. He didn’t go to the All-Star Game, and he won’t make anyone’s All-NBA team, but all that’s OK — DeMarcus Cousins wouldn’t be an underground legend if the mainstream showed love. (Boogie was also suspended for the final game of the season after piling up one too many technicals, and really, that’s how all Boogie seasons should end.)
The Icarus Award for Flying Too Close to the Sun
Chris Ryan: It feels like Lance Stephenson has had more ups and downs this season than most players do in an entire career. Burgeoning All-Star to All-Star snub? Yup. Scores 28 on the Knicks? Check. Recklessly gunning for triple-doubles? Check. Sometimes looking like the only Pacers player outside of David West who gives a shit if they win or lose? Check. Possibly being the player Roy Hibbert was talking about when he complained that Indy’s roster featured some “selfish dudes”? Checccccccck. This is what you get with Lance. You get the good:
And the bad:
And that’s why we love him. He is all heart, even if you question his head. And when you hear him say stuff like this, about not getting selected for the Eastern Conference All-Star team …
“I already had a chip on my shoulder and it made me even worse … Now I’m going to kill everybody who is in front of me.”
… then you know you have yourself a basketball player who cares about the game as much as you do. Long live Lance. Keep flying toward the brightest star, little angel.
The Gloria Gaynor Award for Courage and Perseverence
Sharp: Nothing captures the year in Andre Drummond better than this article from last weekend:
CHICAGO — “Wow, that’s 26 rebounds,” a Bulls fan murmured late Friday night. With the game well in hand — the Bulls beat the Pistons, 106-98 — Bulls fans could marvel at Pistons center Andre Drummond. He put up 26 points and 26 rebounds in the losing effort to raise his season averages to 13.4 points and 13.2 rebounds per game …
Drummond, weary of discussing the team’s mounting losses, politely declined questions afterward.
But the Bulls were talking.
“He’s not even 21 yet,” Gibson said of Drummond. “He’s just one of those guys that you see a bright future for him. He’s just really physical and I’m not used to seeing Joakim really get pushed around sometimes, but it happens.”
It was a long year for Dre. I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong than I was wrong about the Pistons making the playoffs this year. Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings were disastrous, and the coaching was even worse, but Drummond remained a bright spot all year long. And all this after he endured a broken heart and the dark cloud of a scandal that left all our lives a little gloomier. Through it all, Dre survived.
The human spirit always surprises us, doesn’t it?
It sure does. Just listen to Gloria Gaynor.
Drummond won rookie game MVP in New Orleans, and even after the year from hell, he’s still right there with Anthony Davis, watching the playoffs from the outside, ready to rain fire on this league within the next few years. Seriously, watch these highlights and tell me you’re not terrified of what he’ll look like by his 25th birthday.
The Scott Storch We Never Stop Award
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Ryan: John Wall got paid and then John Wall earned more money. He scored 99 points over the course of three games, won the dunk contest, put himself in the “Who is the best point guard?” convo (YOU CAN EMAIL ALL YOUR ISSUES WITH THIS STATEMENT TO BARACK.OBAMA@IDONTCARE.GOV), and then he messed around and led the Wizards to their first playoffs since Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House. You don’t like John Wall? You think John Wall is overrated? I THINK YOU’RE OVERRATED.
The Michael Irvin Award for Achievement at High Altitude
Sharp: This was supposed to be the section celebrating Kenneth Faried, but that Terrence Ross dunk was too good to leave out. Really, Faried remains on the roster simply because he survived this depressing Nuggets season. He is another Gloria Gaynor award winner. It’s one thing to be on a bad team, but it’s so much worse to go from a 3-seed in the West last year, to … whatever the Nuggets were this season. Faried remains here simply because he didn’t lose his mind and strangle Terrence Ross after that dunk.
The NBA Nobel Peace Prize
Sharp: If you’re the type of person who focuses on Giannis shooting only 28 percent in April instead of everything Giannis did for the first four months of his career by showing us what true joy really looks like … well, then you are probably the type of person who thinks it’s stupid that Chris and I created an entire All-Star team of spiritual champions. If you don’t get it by now, you never will.
Sharp: Touch the sky, Bargs.
When we first picked these teams, there were some people who were dubious about including Andrea Bargnani on any kind of All-Star team, but you know what? In just a half a season, he proved the whole world wrong. Bargs was an icon in New York City this year. A force of nature, a phenomenon, and above all else, a true New York Knick.
Gone, but not forgotten.
We had to have someone from the Mavericks, because their whole team was one of the best stories in the NBA this year. We couldn’t choose Dirk, because he’s an actual superstar. Monta was attractive, but a little too obvious. The choices came down to Shawn Marion or Vince Carter. Matrix deserves love here, too, because he’s been guarding three different positions for the last 10 years, and he still hasn’t really shown signs of slowing down. But Vince is the choice, because the Mavericks have been wonderful all year, and nobody personifies their charm better than Vince, the guy who’s definitely shown signs of slowing down, but keeps going anyway.
He’s gone from a freak of nature to something a lot more earthbound now, but he’s also gone from flawed, perpetually frustrating superstar to overqualified role player who is constantly a breath of fresh air. We left him for dead just like we did this Mavericks team, but then all he did was hit big shots and refuse to disappear. Compare Vince to the way Tracy McGrady or Allen Iverson aged and this gets even better. He made a transition that’s generally impossible for true superstars, and for two years now, all he’s done is surprise people.
He belongs in the Hall of Fame for the 2000 dunk contest alone, but whenever he actually retires, we’ll remember him differently because of these last few years. He was never as great as he should’ve been, but after watching him the past few years, any true NBA lover has a soft spot for Vince. And that’s exactly how we’ve all felt about the Mavericks for the past three months. —Sharp
Did you know Marcin Gortat has dreams of becoming the president of Poland one day? Just last week, he saw a reporter’s blazer and asked, “What’s that, silk? That shit sexy.” He gave us what’s perhaps the most Wizards Vine of all time. He listens to “Miami joints” and “trance music” before games. His idea for the NBA, as he told Kyle Weidie: “I would loosen up a little bit the rules about the fighting fines … Because today you go to an ice hockey game, and the one thing they’re waiting for is a fight, you know what I’m saying? So if they could set it up something like that in the NBA. That if there are two guys and they have a problem, if they could just separate everybody. And these two people that have problem, if they could fight … ”
Gortat deserves his own separate post, honestly, but he’s been easily my favorite human on the Wizards this year, and he’s exceeded everyone’s expectations on the court. If he ever runs for Polish president, he’s got my vote.
Dragon and Green
The two most fun players on the most fun team. Dragic’s 40-point game against the Pellies was one of the best performances of the season and led to one of the great GIFs of the year …
I think you could make a legit case for him as All-NBA first team. When you think of fearless guards, you think of Russ Westbrook and Lance Stephenson. But Dragic is in that class.
Gerald Green? Gerald Green has nine and a half fingers and scored 41 points against the Thunder. He was kind of a dunking curiosity; now he is an Avenger. And he can still do this:
A stretch 4 that stretched our concept of what the 4 was, McGodberts was the spiritual mascot of this wonderful Bobcats Cinderella season. If I told you this time last season that Josh McRoberts was going to be a legit offensive weapon, a 3-point-drilling, slick passing dynamo, on a playoff team, you probably would have shot me full of antipsychotics and called my mother? That’s why the NBA is amazing: There are such things as second acts. —Ryan
The Final Roster
C Andre Drummond
PF Boogie Cousins (captain)
SF Kenneth Faried
SG Lance Stephenson
PG John Wall
6th Nick Young
7th Goran Dragic
8th Josh McRoberts
9th Marcin Gortat
10th Vince Carter
11th Gerald Green
12th Giannis Antetokounmpo
13th Andrea Bargnani
Coaches: Gregg Popovich (HC), Rasheed Wallace, Brian Scalabrine, Darren Erman
And, of course …
Sharp: Of course he’s the MVP. “I’m the star,” Nick Young told TMZ two days ago, when asked why he addressed the Lakers crowd in the team’s final home game.
“I am Swaggy P. You see what I’m going in this car with?” he said, motioning to his Aussie girlfriend. “What I’ma do with this shouldn’t be legal! All that ass?!”
The NBA is more fun to follow on a daily basis than any sport in America. This isn’t even something that can be debated anymore. Because of people like LeBron and Kevin Durant, but also because of people like Nick Young. Especially because of people like Nick Young. And the rest of the Triangle All-Stars. And Iggy Azalea. And all that ass.
The playoffs are here now, so it’s time for LeBron and Durant and the Spurs and everyone else to battle, with some games that will shape the way we look at the NBA, and possibly even alter the way history remembers these guys. That’s why the NBA playoffs are amazing. But the regular season is 82 games long, and full of forgettable nights, and even the most incredible performances from the best players mean only so much — if you’re great enough, everything is just prelude to the playoffs. And this is where people like Nick Young pop up to make the regular season worth it.
People say he’s a gimmick, or a clown, and all you need to know is that these people might be technically right, but they are so, so wrong. Nick Young is both jester and king. Jester because he’s constantly making the world laugh, sure. But also a king because, seriously, he’s figured out a way to enjoy his job more than anybody we’ve ever seen. From preseason tobaggan runs in China to late-season celebrations.
It was the Year of Swaggy P.
The year the religious experience went mainstream. The only downside to this was that some people were laughing at him, more than with him, missing the fundamental teaching of the Church of Swaggy.
We can’t watch LeBron and Durant and learn anything; they are aliens, so flawless and gifted that trying to emulate them is just a waste of time. But Nick Young? There’s nobody in the NBA who has more fun playing professional basketball, win or lose. We can all live our lives a little bit more like Nick Young every day. When you screw up at work, laugh at yourself and shrug it off. When you’re about to take a risk, just launch that 27-foot jumper. When you’re considering how mad to make the haters, just ask yourself, “What would Swaggy P do?” — and then go out and there and infuriate them. Small minds will laugh at him, but really, the joke is on them. Nick Young’s getting paid millions of dollars during all this, dating Iggy Azalea, and he’s out here throwing Space Jam–themed birthday parties. Maybe LeBron and KD have hacked basketball, but Swaggy P has hacked life.