By John Krolik, @krolikjohn July 15, 2022
Can you believe we’re already halfway through the BIG3 regular season? If the season ended today, these are the players who I’d put on top of my awards ballot:
MVP – Jason Richardson, Tri State
24 hours ago, I would have put Kevin Murphy in this spot – I’ll discuss him in a bit. However, the more I looked at everything, the more evident it became that J-Rich has been the league’s most valuable player through the first half of the season.
Richardson missed the first game of the 2022 season and Tri State lost that game by a final score of 50-35 when they played Power.
Richardson returned to the team in Week 2, and Tri State defeated 3’s Company 51-35. The next week, they defeated the Killer 3’s 50-38. In Week 4, they defeated the Ball Hogs by a final score of 50-44. In other words, Tri State lost the game they played without Richardson by 15 points, and have won the three games they’ve played with their Captain in the lineup by a total of 34 points.
Richardson’s per-game numbers don’t fly off the page, but his efficiency does. Over the first four games of the season, Richardson has put up 18.7 points per game on 62.9% shooting from the floor and 50.0% from three-point range. (He’s also made the only four-point shot he’s taken so far.) That’s some off-the charts stuff. Only four players have a higher FG% than Richardson this season, and they’ve made a combined one three-pointer between them – Richardson has made eight.
Richardson also deserves a lot of credit for what he does defensively. The 6’6 Richardson, who played center growing up, is a physical and versatile defender capable of handling any matchup.
Tri State have given up fewer points than any other team in the BIG3 so far, despite the fact their go-to lineup is Richardson, swingman DaJuan Summers, and the 6’0 Justin Dentmon, one of the smaller players in the league. (N.B. – since the FIREBALL3 format means you’re not allowed to play offense anymore after you allow your opponent to score 50 points, a good offense can quite literally double as a good defense, but I promise Tri State brings it on both ends of the floor.)
There’s also the matter of Richardson’s leadership. In each game their Captain has been on the floor, Tri State has looked as crisp as any team in the league, constantly running sets, finding the counters when their initial action gets defended, and setting each other up for open shots through screening and passing instead of relying on isolation basketball. Reigning Coach of the Year Julius Erving, of course, deserves a lot of credit for this, but the effects of Richardson’s leadership are evident.
As I stated above, it was hard not to give 3HM’s Kevin Murphy the nod here. He leads the league in total points and points per game, and has led the 3 Headed Monsters to a 3-1 record despite team Captain Rashard Lewis having missed the last two games, both of which 3HM won. He is the very definition of a walking bucket, and has certainly shouldered a larger offensive role than Richardson. He’s also averaged an impressive 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, and has turned it over less than once per game.
I gave Richardson the nod for now because of his incredible efficiency and the clear difference in how Tri State plays with their Captain on the floor. Honestly, though, I’d be content to flip a coin and name the mid-season MVP based on how it lands.
Also, don’t forget about Iso-Joe. The reigning two-time MVP missed a game and didn’t make much of an impact in Week 2, but he’s dropped 30 points in two of the three games he’s played in this season, even though his jumper hasn’t been falling as much as it has in the past. Do not, under any circumstances, write off the possibility of Johnson winning his third consecutive MVP.
Rookie of the Year – Gerald Green, Bivouac
Honestly, there’s not much of a discussion to be had here. With all due respect to #1 overall pick Glen Rice Jr., who leads Power in scoring thanks to his ability to make any shot at any time against any defense and has pulled down a very impressive 8.3 rebounds per game, Green has been on another level.
The numbers are impressive enough. Green is averaging 23.3 points per game (3rd in the league) and 7.5 rebounds per game (8th in the league). He’s been doing it with remarkable efficiency as well, and is currently shooting 47.3% from the field and 45.2% from beyond the arc. The latter is particularly impressive, as he leads the BIG3 with 14 made threes.
He makes it look so easy. On the occasions when a teammate of his gets a defensive rebound, he sprints to the corner for the pass, and is generally rising up for a three-point shot before the defense realizes what’s going on. In half-court situations, he can rise up and use that beautiful shooting stroke of his to swish it home if a defender gives him anything resembling space.
If the defense plays up on him, he’ll go past them and glide through the air for a spectacular finish at the rim. He has an easier time swishing jump shots than I do putting my keys in the bowl in the airport security line. I just want to know what it’s like to be able to play basketball like Gerald Green for one day. I’d give up a year of my life. When he rises up, he must see an ocean of nylon. If Bivouac wasn’t 1-3 (and as a reminder, all of their losses have come by exactly three points), he’d be a serious MVP contender.
Defensive Player of the Year – Deshawn Stephens, Aliens
A ton of the credit for the Aliens’ 3-1 start goes to what the team’s three European players have brought to the team, but the Aliens experiment would not be working without Deshawn Stephens. The LA Native technically stands at 6’8, but he has a 7’3 wingspan and he gets off the floor in the time it takes a hummingbird to flap its wings. The LA native has been a beast of a shot-blocker and rebounder throughout the course of a career that has taken him to four continents, and that hasn’t changed in the BIG3.
Stephens averages a league-high 10.8 rebounds per game and simply owns the paint on both ends of the floor. In the Aliens’ Week 4 matchup against Trilogy, who may be the most physical team in the league, Stephens was able to will the Aliens to a win by battling in the trenches and managing to pull down 19 rebounds.
An argument could be made here for Franklin “Frank Nitty” Session, who stands at 6’2 but is somehow second only to Stephens in rebounds per game, as he manages to grab 8.5 boards per game. He also averages a steal per game and is generally just everywhere on the court at all times. Frank Nitty hasn’t managed to get his perimeter game going so far this season (he’s shooting 40.5% from the floor and 12.5% from 3-point range), but the way Session leads the Killer 3’s by example with his energy and physicality makes him a special player.
4th Man of the Year – TJ Cline, Power
Coach Nancy Lieberman starts the game with a lineup of Royce White, Glen Rice Jr., and Captain Cuttino Mobley, but the team has been at its best when Mobley takes a rest and Power plays its double-big lineup with Cline, White, and Rice.
The combined skills of Cline and Rice negate all the traditional disadvantages of going big. The 6’8 White is willing and able to bully his man in the post if he gets a mismatch, but he’s also one of the best passers in the league.
For his part, Cline, like White, is a savvy passer. He’s also perhaps the best big man in the league without the ball. On set plays, he knows exactly when and where to set a timely screen. In the run of play, he’s in constant motion. He finds openings for layups with cuts. He’ll feint a screen and catch the defense napping for a layup. If all else fails, he can step out and hit the open three.
He does not waste possessions. He’s currently shooting 62.9% from the field and 45.5% from three-point range. He has turned the ball over a grand total of once in the 2022 season.
Finally, Cline has a sixth sense for what to do on “no-clear” situations, FIREBALL3’s version of a fast break – when a team gains possession after an opposing team fails to hit the rim for whatever reason, they do not have to clear the ball before putting up a shot. Most players take a bit of time to get used to this, but Cline is not most players.
If he rebounds a shot that failed to hit the rim under the basket, he goes right back up and lays it home. If he grabs a long airball rebound or collects a turnover away from the basket, he knows to look for a teammate (usually Royce White) and feed him for a layup. If a teammate gets the ball in a similar situation, he flies to the rim and puts home the layup on a pass from the teammate who collected the ball.
Cline is Power Coach Nancy Lieberman’s son, and Coach Lieberman should certainly be proud of him as a coach and mother. However, she should also be proud of herself as a talent scout, as she was able to grab a true impact player with Power’s second-round pick in the 2022 BIG3 draft.
Coach of the Year – Rick Mahorn, Aliens
The Aliens have a share of the best record in the league at 3-1, and a big part of their success is due to the fact they’ve brought a whole new style of play to FIREBALL3. Their European-influenced style of offense is a symphony of cuts, off-ball screens, feints, and extra passes.
Most of the teams they’ve faced in 2022 simply haven’t known how to deal with the Aliens’ style. It’s unlikely they’d be able to play this way without their trio of European players (Captain Dusan Bulut and Co-Captains Karlis Lasmanis and Tomislav Ivosev), but Coach Mahorn deserves a ton of credit for his willingness to bring this style of play to the BIG3.
Too Hard To Guard – Chris Johnson, Ghost Ballers
He’s 6’11, handles like a guard, can take contact and finish in the paint, has a beautiful fadeaway from mid-range, and has range out to the three-point line – he even swished a four-pointer in both Week 3 and Week 4. If he has it going, particularly from outside, there’s absolutely nothing that can be done.