Joe Santoro: Although Curry deserved MVP, LeBron perhaps just as valuable
There is no question that Stephen Curry deserved the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. The Golden State Warriors’ sharpshooter averaged 30.1 points a game, his team won a record 73 games and it’s just a matter of time before they win their second consecutive NBA title. It’s Curry’s year. But this is still LeBron James’ league. James is five inches taller than Curry, weighs 60 more pounds and could play any position on the floor. He scores, rebounds, makes his teammates better and can defend anybody in the league. Let’s not forget that James averaged 25.1 points this year and averaged more assists, blocks and rebounds than Curry. The Warriors would still win the NBA title without Curry. The Cleveland Cavaliers would have struggled to even make the playoffs without James.
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Is the Golden State Warriors’ domination this year great for the NBA? Curry, without question, is fascinating to watch. But the Warriors as a whole don’t really seem to be capturing the imagination of the country the way the Chicago Bulls did on the way to 72 wins and a NBA title in 1995-96. The Bulls, with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson, were rock stars. It was like following the Beatles from city to city. Following the Warriors is sort of like following Paul McCartney and Wings. Catchy tunes that sell. Nice beat. And everybody loves Paul. But nobody cares about the Wings part. The national media covers the Warriors because they win. That’s it.
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Why are the San Francisco Giants so reluctant to sign Tim Lincecum? The Giants rotation now is Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and, hopefully, two rainouts. Each time Jake Peavy or Matt Cain steps on the mound the Giants are secretly hoping that same gust of wind that knocked Stu Miller off the mound in the 1961 All Star game at Candlestick Park returns to blow Peavy and Cain out of the stadium. Lincecum is not the same pitcher that won a pair of Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009. He doesn’t have his fastball anymore and he just tries to get by with a combination of arms, legs, stringy hair and a cheesy mustache. But he is a Giant legend. Giant fans love him. The Giants need starting pitching. And Lincecum, who was 7-4 last year with a 4.13 earned run average with a bad Giants team, just might have a few bullets left in his gun.
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Braden Shipley’s rise through the Arizona Diamondbacks system continues. The former Nevada Wolf Pack pitcher beat the Sacramento River Cats on Wednesday and is now 3-2 with a 3.27 earned run average through seven starts for the Reno Aces. The 24-year-old Shipley, who was 16-7 in 2012 and 2013 combined for the Wolf Pack, has allowed just one home run and seven walks all season. He’s had just one bad game in his first season in Triple-A and is 1-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at hitter-friendly Greater Nevada Field. Not bad for a guy who wasted his freshman year in 2011 playing shortstop for the Wolf Pack and driving in 19 runs.
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Shipley just might turn out to be the greatest major league pitcher in Wolf Pack history. That honor right now goes to Chad Qualls with Carson High graduate Darrell Rasner and Eddie Bonine right behind him. Qualls, who now pitches for the Colorado Rockies, is currently in his 13th season in the big leagues. He’s made nearly 800 major league appearances with 51 wins and 74 saves and a 3.82 ERA over 768 innings. Rasner won nine games with a 5.00 ERA over 41 appearances with the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees from 2005-08. Bonine was 7-3 with a 4.74 ERA over 62 games from 2008-10. Shipley, a first-round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, might make his big league debut later this summer.
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The Diamondbacks’ roster moves, though, are anybody’s guess. Why Peter O’Brien remains in Reno, for example, is a mystery. O’Brien is clearly one of the top power hitters in all of Triple-A. Heading into Thursday’s game he had 10 homers and 25 RBI on a .322 average. There is nothing he needs to prove at Triple-A anymore. Last year, after all, he had 26 homers and 107 RBI in Reno and even went up to the Diamondbacks and went 4-for-10 with a homer and three RBI. The Diamondback’ offense is a mess. Even Paul Goldschmidt is hitting .240 because, well, opposing pitchers don’t ever have to throw him a strike. O’Brien is still a bit too aggressive at the plate (he has just two walks for the Aces this year) but his power would translate to any league.
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If you haven’t seen O’Brien play for the Aces yet you need to do so before he’s gone. The Diamondbacks never gave Reno the gift of Paul Goldschmidt (he went right from Double-A Mobile to Arizona in 2011) but O’Brien is the next best thing. The young man with the powerful right-handed bat was made for Greater Nevada Field and its thin air and windy jet stream. In 14 home games this year, in mostly awful weather conditions, O’Brien has hit seven home runs, driven in 18 runs and scored 14 runs. He is also hitting .407 (22-for-54) with half of his hits going for extra bases. During the Aces’ last homestand in the final two weeks of April, O’Brien was 15-for-30 with five homers and 14 RBI. The Aces return home Saturday night to start an eight-game stretch. And, no, I don’t get a percentage of the ticket sales.
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Max Scherzer turned in one of the more remarkable pitching performances in major league baseball history Wednesday night. But hardly anybody noticed because, well, it is baseball. Scherzer struck out 20 Detroit Tigers in nine innings and didn’t walk a single hitter. Just three other pitchers (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Kerry Wood) have fanned 20 in a nine-inning game. Scherzer was once property of the Diamondbacks. Arizona made the wise decision to draft him with the 11th overall pick in 2006. And then they turned into morons by trading him in a three-team deal for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy.
— Joe Santoro writes a weekly sports column for the Sierra Nevada Media Group.
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