-Our by-the-minute coverage of and reaction to sports is nothing new. It started with ESPN and the internet, and has soared to new heights with social networks and mobile technology. In a way, though, we’ve failed (the media and fans alike) to consider or acknowledge how this new brand of coverage impacts perception and the way we talk about today’s athletes. Athletes in the 80s weren’t necessarily better, we just didn't care or have the means to criticize as harshly or as often. Michael Jordan, the greatest NBAer ever, missed shots and had bad games. They just weren’t obsessed over then like they are today. It’s one of the reasons we view the past through such a glorified lens, and find ourselves forever scrambling to reassess and redefine the athletes we cover today. I bring up this line of thinking because during this NBA postseason alone we have dramatically changed how we talk about and view the following players: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Gary Neal, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Paul George Roy Hibbert and Steph Curry…to name a few. Personally, I think we often overreact to single plays and games, I believe players are defined over long periods of time and not by often random results in a single moment…but if that’s the approach you enjoy or the way you like to watch sports, more power to you. You can’t, though, take your by-the-minute calculations and observations and compare them to your relatively incomplete, romanticized perceptions of the past. And in the future, try giving yourself some time before you're so sure.
-With that said, LeBron, perhaps more than anyone, is regularly hurt by our overly aggressive coverage. The dude can go from champ to chump faster than any athlete I’ve ever seen (note: after his dismal performance in Tuesday’s Game 3, he’s currently back in a chump phase). And, sure, he sometimes lacks aggression at the most puzzling of times, but his struggles aren’t that simple. The game plan for defending LeBron has always been the same: sag defensively, deny the paint, turn him into a jump shooter. And that task, a usually impossible one, is far more manageable when he’s short on help, which the Spurs have proven. The truth, then, is that Dwyane Wade is killing LeBron James and, in turn, the Heat. And Wade’s lack of production (43 points in 3 games on 19-43 shooting) is only part of the story. When defenses don’t have to worry about Wade’s explosiveness – in addition to his long-range shot, which has never been a huge threat – it disrupts the Heat’s floor spacing and offensive flow, making it a whole lot easier to neutralize LeBron. Simply put, Wade’s clogging LeBron’s paint (where he’s at his best) and doing so without producing points or occupying defensive attention. And the postseason numbers from NBA.com back it up: just 37.8 percent of James’ field goal attempts occur in the restricted area when he’s playing next to Wade, but that portion soars to 44.9 percent when Wade leaves the court. And for more proof of Wade’s hazardous affect on the Heat, check out this stat: For the postseason, Miami has outscored opponents by a mere 3.3 points per 100 possessions with James and Wade on the court together. When James is playing without Wade, however, that number skyrockets to 21.8 points per 100 possessions. Not surprisingly, then, when the Heat went on a 33-5 run in Game 2, James was on the floor, leading the show. But guess who wasn’t? Dwyane Wade.
-Speaking of perceptions, and just how wrong they can often be, the 2013 NBA Finals were supposed to be all about The Big 6 (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Duncan, Parker, Ginobli) when in fact the first three games have been all about the role players…and in a big way. Not only did Danny Green and Gary Neal combine for 51 points in Game 3, but out of the aforementioned six, LeBron and Parker have each had just one great game (Games 1 and 2, respectivel), Duncan’s had two decent ones and that’s it. It’s all about the benjamins…and the role player.
-In national recruiting news, America’s top prospect, Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Virginia), cut his list to a Final Three on Wednesday. In somewhat surprising news, the 6-4, 248-pounder eliminated hometown power Virginia Tech, in addition to South Carolina. Left when the dust settled: Florida, Alabama and Michigan. What’s more interesting? First, Hand becomes the fourth DE in the last five years to rank at the top of Rivals’ recruiting rankings (he joins Robert Nkemdiche, Jadeveon Clowney, and Ronald Powell). To me, this has to say something about the DE position in general, as well as the way in which the high school game is setup for dominant athletes to excel as edge rushers. At the very least, it’s clear that DE is the most glamorous position on defense, and among the most glamorous on the field altogether. Also, as good as Hand appears to be, he’s not even my favorite player at his position. Personally, Norcross DE (and Georgia 5A State Football Champion) Lorenzo Carter is where it’s at. It’s worth noting, Carter has already visited Alabama and Georgia and will take in Gainesville and Tallahassee in the coming weeks.
-Speaking of Georgia, even though it’s months away, I can’t stop thinking about the Week 1 battle between UGA and Clemson. At first I really liked Clemson here. The game pits a dynamic and veteran-land Tiger offense (see Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins) against a startlingly young Georgia D (replaces 9 starters). Then the Josh Harvey-Clemons suspension news came and I really lost hope in the Dawgs. But the more I think about the game, the more I’m starting to like Georgia. I still have no faith in Todd Grantham and company, and tons of it in Chad Morris’s (Clemson OC) unit, but I can’t stop the visions of Gurley and Marshall running wild from reoccurring in my head. And if Clemson can’t at all slow the Bulldog run game, its oh-so lethal offense won’t be on the field enough to matter.
-With the French Open not too distant in our rearview mirrors, I want to finish this thing up with a bold tennis claim: Rafael Nadal is the greatest male tennis player to ever live. He’s playing in arguably the sport’s most golden of ages and doing so in dominant fashion. His all-time resume is still a bit behind a few of his top competitors, including Roger Federer, but Nadal’s just 27 and far from done. Roger has perhaps the game’s greatest resume, but he’s four years older than Rafa and had the same number of majors (12) at 27 as Rafa does now. So considering his resume is all-time impressive and still growing, it’s Nadal’s record against the world’s other top players that has me convinced. In fact, no player of any worth has ever posted a winning lifetime mark against Rafa. He’s 20-10 against Roger, 20-15 against Novak, and 13-5 against Andy Murray, to name a few. He’s the only player ever to win a single major (the French) eight different times, and dominates the game’s best when the game’s never been better. Long live Rafa.
OK, that’s all the captivating insight I’ve got for now, but if you’re interested in doing so, you're more than welcome follow me on Twitter @BrainTrain.