Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Proxy Wars of Kobe Bryant

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Dispatches from Des Moines’ first NBA game in 17 Years

Two nights ago, NBA preseason made a stop in Des Moines Iowa for the first time in 17 years. Denver vs. GSW was the matchup hyped as Harrison Barnes‘ homecoming of sorts. Despite two mostly ho-hum seasons as a pro, central Iowa loves itself some Harry B. Iowans turned out in huge numbers and overwhelmed the Wells Fargo arena staff (more on that in a bit) … If I recall, the last game here was between the KG/Marbury T-Wolves, and Ray Allen‘s Bucks. Fendo (Ed’s note: Fendo has little recollection of this) and I attended that game together. The only vivid memory I have is KG making some ridiculous facial expression for a child behind the bench taking photos. I remember nothing else about it. Three years earlier, Denver and GSW played here and I was entered into a contest (without my knowledge) to be a ball boy. I won and had an experience that was … unforgettable. Anyway, here are a few things I noticed the other night.

Security was wanding people on their way into the arena, which is annoying enough on its own but to make matters worse, they only had one dude with a wand for every set of DOUBLE doors. There were seriously hundreds (thousands?) of people at each of the three entrances waiting to get in. We waited 15 minutes and only missed three minutes of game. Some folks had to have missed nearly the entire 1st quarter or more. A man scanning tickets – who appeared to be in charge – had a look on his face like he wanted to vomit. He just knew a shit storm was coming his way … Never seen wands at WF Arena, or an NBA game. It appeared they were looking for guns and while I can’t be certain, I’m guessing the number of firearms they found was zero.

Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, where an NBA game was played recently

Every time I go to a game, I’m amazed at how thin these guys are. This was the closest I’ve sat, and man, they all look damn skinny. Even the dudes that look beefy on TV are lean.

Kenneth Faried‘s lucky if he’s 6’6″. I noticed him standing next to Arron Afflalo, and he couldn’t have been more than two inches taller. Faried closed out on a Klay Thompson shot (all net despite a good contest) and they jogged back together chatting it up. He’s shorter than Klay, but he’s everywhere on both ends which appears to make up a bit for his size. Plays like a guy that just loves to hoop. He’d be fun to have on your squad as a coach or teammate.

Barnes hasn’t improved. He showed no indication he’s added anything to his game.

Denver’s got an interesting mix of bigs. Mozgov’s got a nice looking stroke. He hit his FTs and buried a three from just off the top of the key. Jusuf Nurkic is huge. Each of his legs probably weighs at least 100 pounds. He needs to adapt to the speed of the NBA (got caught slow on some rotations and picked up dumb fouls) but he’s so big that once he gets it down, he could be one of the better interior defenders in the league. Pretty decent spring off the floor too. He worked hard to post up, but didn’t get as many touches as he should have. Denver Coach Brian Shaw really coached him up before he checked in and when he came off. I’d bet Shaw would love to get rid of Javale and wouldn’t feel too bad if he got hurt. There’s no way he likes that guy. He and Hickson didn’t play a single minute, but appeared to be enjoying themselves.

Nate Rob didn’t play either, but was into the game – except for during the Q1 break when he and Hickson spent a team huddle staring at, and discussing, the Iowa Energy (D-League team) dancers. They must have seen something they liked because they were laughing as they nodded in agreement and gave each other dap.

Golden State Coach Steve Kerr looks like he wants to run Andre Iguodala at PG with the 2nd unit. Had him out there handling the ball a lot with guys that won’t even make the team. Shaun Livingston did NOT look happy during timeouts. I don’t know if he was being held out for some reason, but his displeasure very well may have had to do with Iggy playing that role.

Kerr’s suit looked like it cost $10k. What’s a $10k suit look like? I can’t really describe it, but you just kind of know an expensive one when you see it.

Gary Harris is a small guy. He may not be taller than Steph Curry and has a young guy’s body (Curry’s got some definition to him nowadays). My first thought when I saw Harris was, “This guy might be too small to play SG.” And then he got the ball in transition and SMASHED on some poor GSW big man, plus the foul. It was the most impressive play of the night. He got open and hit some jumpers too. He’s fast and athletic and could be a nice player (both in real life and fantasy) this season if Denver loses a guard or two.

James Michael McAdoo had 20. He’s fighting an uphill battle to make GSW and has to kick himself daily for not coming out after his first year at UNC … Jason Kapono played for GSW late in the game and buried a three (or two). I didn’t know he was there until he got into the game. It was like that scene in Major League where Willie Mays Hayes wakes up in the parking lot and smokes those dudes in that race. “Get him a uniform.”

Aside from the metal detector debacle, it was great. Better ball than I expected from a preseason game, and very well attended. Des Moines and WF Arena should be pleased. They’ve got an application in for March Madness for ’16-’18 and drawing 10,000 for preseason NBA certainly doesn’t hurt that cause.

Nasty Nurkic on Display

There are giants smaller than Jusuf Nurkic. At 6’11”, 280lbs, and having just turned 20, the massive Bosnian takes up space in ways that call to mind an Eastern European Jahidi White. He’s a rookie for the Nuggets, just drafted this past summer by the Bulls, but immediately traded to the Denver. It’s only pre-season so all this evidence we’re piling up is merely a miniscule sampling of a kid dipping a giant big toe in the paint of American pro basketball, but the early returns are cause for intrigue beyond the Mile High City.

Nurkic on left

Just ask Taj Gibson, the 6’9” all-world sixth man, ball of quick energy who’s held down the Bulls bench units since before Nurkic was even playing ball. Gibson was tasked with bodying up Nurkic in Monday night’s pre-season game and was soundly manhandled. In some ways it’s not surprising since Nurkic outweighs him by around 50 pounds, but if mass and weight were the only indicators of post-play success, then Luther Wright and Oliver Miller would’ve been enshrined in Springfield long ago. But there was Nurkic, a basketball beast in high tops, making seven of his nine shots, scoring 15 points in just 14 minutes on what SB Nation’s Denver Stiffs blog described as “very nifty post moves.” On the flip side, he also committed six fouls. If anything, I guess we know he was active.

Having seen snippets of Nurkic play in Denver’s pre-season opener against the Lakers, his feel for the game was evident even in a night where he shot a crummy 1-8. Laker reserve center Ed Davis looked like Billy Madison against a bunch of little kids as he repeatedly rejected Nurkic’s predictable interior attempts, but the big man still found ways to impact the game with nine rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot in 20 minutes.

It’s still too early to make declarations about a guy who projects to be the Nuggets’ third-string center, but his size, feel, and ability to improve game-over-game are positive indicators for the Denver faithful. We don’t love you just yet, Jusuf, but we’re happy to get to know you and see where it goes.

Enigmatic Approaches to the Three-Point Shot featuring Dwyane Wade

As part of what’s become a completely random foray into the pre-season here at Dancing with Noah, today we’re exploring some strange comments by Miami Heat lifer, three-time NBA champion, and Li Ning-shoe lover, Dwyane Wade. On the Miami Herald’s Sports Buzz blog, writer Barry Jackson shares Wade’s recent comments:

“I’m not falling in love with the three but [will be] shooting it more than the last couple of years,” he said. “Coach hasn’t told me I could shoot threes the last couple years. So just him saying that is a different mindset.”

In Jackson’s own words, he specifies “corner threes,” which appears to be a league-wide trend and one need not stress too hard to imagine a future where the corner three is as fundamental as the Mikan Drill with pickup ballplayers racing to tight corners in droves while creative coaches strive to create defensive schemes leveraging corner traps.

Awkwardly enough, it was just over a week ago that ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh tweeted out:

As a player with dwindling athleticism due in no small part to a roughshod playing style that has seen him spend a good portion of his career picking himself up off the floor after countless fearless forays to the hoop (Wade’s averaged over eight free throws/game for his career – only three other players in league history who have been 6’4” or shorter have averaged as many FTAs), Wade no longer has the same lateral quickness or straight forward explosiveness that marked his first 500+ games. That he would choose to not work on his long ball is a questionable choice.

But contextually speaking, it could just be Wade was worn out from playing so many high stress minutes over the past four seasons. Maybe he saw LeBron leaving and decided to give himself a break this past summer.  For his career, Wade’s three-point shooting has oscillated somewhere between below average (31.7% in 2009) and very bad (17.1% in 2006) with no trends indicating improvement in either volume or rate. If he’s done any work on the long ball in the past, it hasn’t stuck. Whatever the case, his comments that Coach Erik Spoelstra may be open to more Wade threes appears to be a poor idea or unlikely misinformation.

If we drill deeper into Wade’s corner-three ability, we see a player who rarely finds himself in the corners. Corner three attempts make up 1.5% of the total shots he’s taken in his career and over the past three seasons it’s made up less than one percent of his shot volume. And that makes sense because he’s a career 28% from corner threes. To put that in context, no single team has shot below 30% from corner threes in any of the past three seasons. As players are gaining efficiency and shooting more threes (and corner threes), Wade’s shot less of them, but to his credit, has made a few more (10-26 from the corners – over 172 games!). This is a guy who shot less than one three per 100 possessions last season. For more perspective, the only other non-post players who shot threes as infrequently as Wade were Michael Kidd-Gilchrest and Shaun Livingston.

So Dwyane Wade didn’t work on threes this off-season, he’s struggled without the shot for the duration of his career, Miami lost the great LeBron James, Wade’s no longer the same attack threat so it’s less likely he’ll have a big cushion (unless he keeps missing), and yet he may shoot more threes? Welcome to life after LeBron, a place where all options are on the table.

Guess Spencer’s Strange

When some people think of Spencer Hawes being strange, they might be like, “Oh wait, that’s that politically conservative dude that plays center and shoots threes, right?” While that’s true, it’s only part of the reason he’s showing up in this segment of Guess I’m Strange.

At 7’1”, Hawes contains a unique set of skills for a man his size. He’s just 26-years-old and coming off a career year split between the demoralizing rebuild in Philadelphia and underachieving turnover of Cleveland. Recently signed to the Clippers, he brings a dynamism that maybe Byron Mullens was supposed to add but never could. He’s the anti-Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and that has nothing to do with skin pigmentation. Where Blake and DeAndre catch the lobs and smash them with pent up aggression, Hawes, all 85-inches of him, sees over the heads and hands of defenders and envisions himself throwing the lobs. Coach Doc Rivers is already on the record saying he’ll play the three big men together and Hawes, as a plus-40% three point shooter, has the ability to open up the court and give more room for Jordan and Griffin to operate inside while pulling big defenders further away from the hoop. That stretchability creates more chances for the Clippers to get creative with how they deploy Griffin who could create matchup nightmares at the three.

Hawes’s line last year: 13.2ppg, 8.3rpg, 3apg, 1.6 3s/game while shooting over 40% from beyond the arc was a statistical rarity for a seven-footer. The only other seven-footer in league history to put up a varied line like that is Dirk Nowitzki. No one’s confusing Hawes for Dirk, but there is an overlap in skills that not many other big men in the league’s history have shared.

When viewed through the lens of advanced stats, Hawes’s 2013-14 is much less impressive. His assist percentage and true shooting are still good for a center, but further advanced measures are average for a modern center.

But the Clips didn’t sign Hawes to be some kind of advanced-metrics savant. They signed him for all the things he can do well that Griffin and Jordan can’t. They signed him because he’s become a nearly-80% free throw shooter who can spell Jordan late in close games without sacrificing significant defensive drop off. They signed him because at seven-feet with a three-point shot, great passing, and a good rim protection, well, we guess he’s strange.

 

NBA Biographical Sketch #11: Lindsey Hunter

Lindsey Hunter spent his off-seasons boxing and was a prolific scorer at Jackson St in the early 90s. The Pistons drafted the lean, but strong 6’2” combo guard from Mississippi with the 10th overall pick in the 1993 draft then took Allan Houston as his running mate, probably with some hopeful notions that the wiry Hunter and sweet-shooting Houston could/would catch the torch being arthritically handed off from Joe Dumars and Isiah.

Hunter was a part of one of my first real draft lotteries where I comprehended what the hell was going on. Before that, it’s impossible to know where my thoughts were placed or what they were incapable of grasping, but once I could associate college players with basketball cards and a televised event, it all came together so symbiotically. [Side note, the 1993 draft can be found in its mostly entire form on Youtube, but inexplicably the footage skips from Vin Baker at eight to Doug Edwards at 15, skipping all the way over Hunter and Houston and the new Detroit narrative.]

Hunter though, was an OK NBA player with a career that stretched nearly 1,000 games (937 to be honest, good enough for second most games out of his class). He gave capable effort on defense, handled the ball well, and was a volume three-point shooter before it became the lynchpin of the game that we know it to be today.

To my mind, he’ll always be a Piston (12 of his 17 seasons were spent in Detroit), but sandwiched between spells in the Motor City was a title-winning season with the Lakers in 2002, the same year Robert Horry hit the immaculate Divac tip out to complete a comeback against the Kings. Two years later, back in Detroit, he played a supporting role in helping the Pistons beat those same Lakers in the finals.

Two-time titlist, long-term pro, NBA lifer …. Oh Lindsey Hunter we can live without you, but your consistent professional presence over the years has added quality to our collective experience and we didn’t even realize it.

Jump to 1:43 to see a young Lindsey toss an iconic alley-oop to Mr. Grant Hill:

NBA Biographical Sketch #10: Jahidi White

Where oh where have the biographical sketches gone? If a man could tell you, that man would be me, but since I don’t have the answer, we’ll turn to that whale of a man known as Jahidi White.

Reaching into the recesses of my mental filing cabinet, I see the ominously large White during his Georgetown Hoya days as a 6’9”, 290lbs (listed) tank with a shaved head and maybe a barely-menacing goatee. He played alongside the great Allen Iverson at G-Town, but was more bodyguard than sidekick.

White was blessed enough to get seven seasons out of the NBA which is more than most of us could even dream. His time there is best remembered as a member of the Wizards and his best season in 2001 when I was a 20-year-old sophomore in college. That year White gave the Wizards a productive 8.5ppg, 7.7rpg, and 1.6bpg – all in under 24mpg. But it was all for naught or at least all for very little as the Wiz won just 19 games.

Over his seven seasons, White never sniffed the playoffs and never played on a winning team. He played alongside an over-the-hill Michael Jordan, shared a front court with Kwame Brown, spent a few games with the Bobcats and Suns, and retired with over $25-million made as a pro basketball player.

I don’t remember much about Jahidi White, but here’s a clip where someone says “He puts the fear of God in the opposition.”

Knicks by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

“I got it sellin’ nickel bags … bitch.” With that, we’re on the hook with Freddie Gibbs’ track “Knicks” off the Piñata album he released with Madlib earlier this year.

The only reason I’m writing about the track is the basketball overlap and the double meaning usage of “Knicks” and “nickel bags.” Gibbs kicks it off:

Pimpin on lil’ sis/

I’m watching Jordan drop a double nickel on the Knicks/

That was ’95, couple of us ain’t live til’ ‘96

(The first line also sounds awfully similar to “Pippen on the assist,” but doesn’t make as much sense with the following verse.)

With that opening we’re transported back to 1995 when MJ had just come back from his baseball sabbatical and was delivering up and down performances for 20-some odd games. In the middle of all, his Royal Baldness returned to the Mecca where he eviscerated the Knicks for 55.

While the rest of us were doing whatever it was we were doing (I was a freshman in high school recovering from a hideous basketball injury where I broke my arm and leg at the same time), Freddie Gibbs was “fresh up out a school bus fighting up at Pulaski.” The MJ game for him, like sporting events are for so many of us, acted as a mile marker on the highway of time. And while the Knicks mark one experience for Gibbs, selling nickel bags marks another.

If life is an endless stream of “same shits, different days,” Gibbs shows the continuity of it all 20 years later as marked by the Knicks and a basketball court and the cyclically painful familiarity of violence:

Chilling with a bitch/

Watching LeBron put up a 56 on the Knicks/

In 2005, police killed my n***a in 2006

While LeBron didn’t ever put up 56 on the Knicks (he put up 56 on Toronto on March 20th, 2005 and 50 in MSG on March 5th, 2008 and 52 in February of 2009), for the continuity of the cyclical nature of the song, it makes sense. In some ways too, the foggy memory more accurately resembles the way many of us end up sorting recollections in occasionally convenient sequences. After all these years though, for Gibbs, the best players in the game are still dropping 50-spots in the Garden and Freddie’s still encountering the same shit: women, friends dying, and nickel bags. I can relate in the sense that I’m still watching basketball, still trying to find a pickup game, and still kicking it with some of the same guys I was hanging out with back in 1995. 33-year-old me is a million miles from 14-year-old me, but there are quite a few things I’ve kept close all the way across these years and evolutions of self.

But as Jordan turns into LeBron and as Freddie Gibbs goes from a “middle school fool” to an emcee signed to a major label, collaborating with a legend like Madlib, we’re reminded that change still occurs within any season.

For Gibbs, both the change and cycle can be traced to the literal and metaphorical nickel bags. Towards the end of the track as he’s shouting out Melo and MJ’s fade away, he’s painting the conflicting dualities of slanging dope in the most Nino Brown style: highlighting the connection between his charitable side (giving out turkeys, building basketball courts) and the source of his charity: selling nickel bags.

I’m not out here selling nickel bags, but I can still tell you where I was when Mark McGwire beat Roger Maris’s homerun record. With clarity, I still remember John Paxson’s game-winning three over the Suns in 1993. Sports stick with us over times and call to mind the events that floated within our orbit for a given time and Freddie Gibbs captured that here in “Knicks” in his own uniquely American manner.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #13

Last week I wrote some brief thoughts on the bomb LeBron James dropped on the basketball world and while I wouldn’t stay I’m still reeling from it, there are aftershocks rumbling under my feet all the way out in Seattle. All day Friday I was unable to do anything but consider the choice a man from Akron, Ohio made which is an odd circumstance at which to arrive to say the least, but Bron’s done nothing if not become a sculptor, shaping the lives of millions and I was just one more being surreally affected by his decisions. For as big as LeBron has become (and it’s frightening how big he is), the rest of the basketball world is still orbiting around the sun, trying to do whatever it takes to achieve a hundred thousand different goals:

Carmelo Anthony re-signed with the Knicks and even penned his own letter a la LeBron which he posted on his site (that most people likely have never heard of): www.thisismelo.com. It’s unfair to compare Melo’s situation and letter with LeBron’s, but it’s hard to not compare them. They came into the league together, possess world class talents, play the same positions, have won Olympic medals together, and now explained their free agency decisions in remarkably similar fashions. All week leading up to LeBron’s announcement, we had heard speculation that he would tell us through his Samsung app or on his own website. All along though, it was Melo working behind the scenes on his own brief explanation and website release. It arrived with little fanfare, a New York wave in LeBron’s tsunami, great in his own right and sought after by all, but continually eclipsed by the King.

Melo's letter

By returning to Cleveland, LeBron removed the massive roadblock that had created a Chinese National Highway-like traffic jam for free agents. And it resulted into a scrambling dash by front offices and agents to jockey for space and players, some of which leaked through to Twitter which made for a most exciting Friday. Beyond Bron, teammate Chris Bosh held the most intrigue as Houston GM Daryl Morey (of Sam Presti fleecing fame) rolled the dice with a whole lot on the line. At risk were trades of previous poison pill contract players and neglected humans, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, the Rockets 2015 first round pick, a future second round pick, and the choice of whether or not to sign the versatile and eminently handsome, but suddenly expensive Chandler Parsons (Parsons’s price tag went from a team option of $960,000 in 2014-15 to three years for $46M after Dallas signed him to an offer sheet).

After Morey had made the trades, cleared away depth and assets to bring on Bosh, the 6’11” native Texan surprised us all, and no doubt Morey the most, by re-signing with Miami. Houston then declined to bring back Parsons back with Morey predictably criticizing the deal by describing it as “one of the most untradeable (contract) structures I’ve ever seen.” Maybe it’s an untradeable deal or maybe Morey’s got sour grapes. Whatever the case, it took about 24 hours for the Rockets to go from Bosh and Parsons alongside Dwight and Harden to Trevor Ariza (signed to replace Parsons) and that can’t be spun as a positive.

Get your requiems ready because in addition to watching Derek Fisher make the transition from crustily grizzled veteran to head coach of the Knicks, we may soon be waving hasta la vista to Jermaine O’Neal and Ray Allen who are both considering retirement. But for those of you who have a soft spot for shiny-headed power forwards who have penchants for bullying European players and cursing to themselves, fear not because Kevin Garnett is reportedly “excited” to play with the Nets – and likely excited to make the $12M that’s owed to him for playing 20-25 minutes/game.

From the unrestricted batch of remaining free agents, the last big name without a home is playoff problem child, Lance Stephenson who, like so many before him, had to learn the hard way that you don’t tug on Super LeBron’s cape, you don’t blow into his ear, you don’t pull the headband off the King, and you don’t mess around in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jim Croce paraphrasing aside, Stephenson was one of just four players to average at least 13ppg, 7rpg, and 4apg in 2013-14. He’s only 23 and aside from the aforementioned ass-hattery of the ECF, he’s a terrific, if immature, player who can play either wing spot and whether he returns to Indiana or signs elsewhere he’ll continue his evolution in 2015.

The summer league circuit is well underway and Las Vegas has been overrun with scribes wielding pens and voice recorders and polo shirts and new Cavs Coach David Blatt coaching in jeans. I tuned in for the Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins extravaganza on Saturday when the weather in Seattle was hot enough that my living room felt like the inside of a convection oven, but it wasn’t so scorching for me to miss out on these rookies. Wiggins showed flashes of otherworldly athleticism while for Parker it looked just like another game at Cameron Indoor with a variety of slashing drives, strong finished, and a mix of well-developed jumpers. More so than the top-two picks in the draft were the contributions of last year’s number one pick, Anthony Bennett and Bucks’ cult favorite, the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. (This is where I break the hearts of my few readers by admitting that this was the first time I’d undistractedly watched Antetokounmpo.) Bennett’s shed baby fat and looks like he could be ready to step into a contributing role off the Cavs bench, assuming he can set a screen without being whistled for a foul – he had eight in the game. Antetokounmpo was most impressive with his self-confidence on the long ball. At 6’11”, or however tall he is, his combination of shooting range and athleticism are worth getting excited about. It’s ok to be late for the train as long as you arrive.

Summer league: More than comfy shorts

Southern Methodist University, currently coached by basketball nomad Larry Brown, just lost a recruit named Emmanuel Mudiay who’s taking his talents across the pond to play pro ball. The 6’5” guard out of Texas wasn’t just some random player with marginal talents, but rather a top-five nationally ranked player good enough to be projected as the number-three overall pick on Draft Express’s 2015 mock. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story:

“This is not an academic issue, since he has been admitted to SMU, but rather a hardship issue,” Brown said in a statement.

Nevertheless, little evidence supports the Hall of Fame coach’s assertion on Mudiay’s reason for leaving SMU.

Mudiay had conversations with Brown and university officials about his ability to become academically eligible and withstand NCAA scrutiny into his amateur status to play his freshman year, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Mudiay becomes the latest in a list that includes Brandon Jennings, Jeremy Tyler, and Latavious Williams as players who have, for varying reasons, bypassed college for either the D-League or international leagues. While I’m fundamentally opposed to any NBA age limits, as long as one exists, the league would do well to present the D-League as a better alternative to international pro leagues. The success of players like Glen Rice Jr. and PJ Hairston will continue advancing the league’s profile, but it would’ve been a coup for them to get a talent like Mudiay, but if money is even an iota of a consideration for the young man, then Europe or China or wherever he lands makes logical sense.

Nothing much else happened this week except for the latest great white hype Doug McDermott scored 31 points on 12 shots in Vegas on Sunday.

 

Time Traveling with Carmelo Anthony

Now that Carmelo Anthony is officially opting out of his contract and, for the first time in his pro career becoming a free agent, the possible destinations for his scoring prowess is narrowing by the day. The Bulls and Rockets appear to be at the front of the pack and while it’s a fun game to wonder where oh where would Melo fit, it’s even more fun to ponder the impossible: historically speaking, what are some of the top mutually beneficial teams for which Melo could’ve played?

2003-04 Detroit Pistons:

We’re all familiar with the Pistons’ legendary misstep taking Darko Milicic over Melo, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. Any one of those players would’ve made a great addition to a talented and mature Pistons team that would go on to win the 03-04 title, but a 19-year-old Melo would’ve come in and immediately been the best offensive player on the roster. Whether the Pistons would’ve brought him off the bench behind Tayshaun Prince or started him doesn’t matter, the only man who could’ve stopped him from scoring 20/night would’ve been coach Larry Brown. Just as importantly as his on-court production is that he would’ve been on a rookie deal lasting through at least 2007. From 2004 to 2008, this Melo-less Pistons group made the Eastern Conference finals every season and reached the finals twice. Do they tack on another title with the ultra-talented Melo? Does Melo find winning ways in the pros and create a legacy to match his other 2003 draft counterparts? Thanks to Joe Dumars and the Pistons brass, we’ll never know.

1996-97 Utah Jazz:

Karl Malone’s best Jazz teams never could overcome MJ’s Bulls. Maybe it was Malone’s clutch woes or just the indomitability of Jordan and Scottie. Whatever the case, let’s re-imagine the methodically pick and rolling Jazz with the 6’8”, 230lbs Melo at small forward in place of 6’7”, 225lbs Bryon Russell. While Russell was absolutely a better defensive player than Melo, comparing their offensive games is like comparing a beautifully crafted club sandwich with Boar’s Head turkey, thick slabs of bacon, a little avocado, a slice of Swiss cheese on gourmet toasted bread to a butter sandwich made out of two dried out heels. Is Melo’s offense enough to extend Pip on defense and give Malone more room to operate? Does the presence of Melo in the pick and roll game add enough variation to an already excellent offense that it breaks the Bulls defense? I don’t know and I have my doubts, but me and Karl Malone and Bob Costas would like to see this.

1990-91 Golden State Warriors:

First thing’s first: There’s no way Golden State could’ve afforded Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Melo, but we’re going all in. The ever-imaginative Warriors Head Coach Don Nelson loved to tinker with a lineup and having a three-point shooting Melo at the four alongside an already potent offensive group would’ve delivered enough options to satisfy Nelson’s always-curious mind. Would Melo have been chewed up and spit out by the Mailman and Charles Barkley? Of course, but can you imagine those same guys attempting to defend Melo as he shoots 40% on threes and attacks slow-footed defenders with an array of moves that rivals the best players in the game. The net gain for adding Melo to Run-TMC is likely minimal, but inasmuch as we love Herm Edwards and his “You play to win the game” attitude, we yearn to be entertained.

1987-88 Detroit Pistons

For a team that won back-to-back NBA championships and made it to three straight finals and five straight EC finals, it’s hard to ask for more, but if we replace Adrian Dantley or Mark Aguirre with Melo, the offensive gains outweigh the defensive losses. Aguirre and Dantley both made individual sacrifices for team success and without the pressure of being the leader, I like to imagine Melo’s capable of doing the same. Assimilating into a Bad Boy culture of family and hard-nosed loyalty could’ve been the best thing to ever happen to Melo and maybe would’ve lifted Detroit into the stratosphere occupied by Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, and Jordan’s Bulls. Also, Melo vs. Dominique, Bird, Pippen, and other 80s stalwart SFs would’ve been a joy to behold.

1988-89 Cleveland Cavs:

Everyone remembers MJ’s game-winner over an outstretched and overmatched Craig Ehlo and the Cavs in game five of the 1989 first round, but less people remember this Cavs team was one of the top-three teams in the league that year. With a starting five that featured healthy seasons from Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and Ron Harper, plus Larry Nance and Mike Sanders, this team was on par with the eventual champion Pistons and Magic’s Lakers group. If we swap out the perennial role player Sanders with the perennial all-star Melo, we have a team of all pros and all-stars too good for MJ to overcome on his own. Melo gives them four players capable of scoring 20+ any night and a group that finished second in the league in defensive rating and third in opponents points/game. Maybe it’s enough to get Cleveland a title and revamp the entire future psyche of a long-fucked fan base. And maybe we’re even talking about Mayor Anthony.

1974-75 Washington Bullets:

There’s a good chance that you, like me, weren’t alive when the Washington Bullets were one of the league’s most successful franchises in the 1970s. They went to four NBA Finals and won one in 1978 with possibly one of the worst titlist teams of all time (they won 44 games in the regular season). That title team was far from their best. In 1975 the Bullets won 60 games and tied for the best record in the league. They had the best defensive team, the highest margin of victory, and kicked much ass with a front line that included all-stars Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. The weakest spot on the roster was at small forward where the blue collar Mike Riordan teamed with Nick Weatherspoon to hold it down with some sense of regularity. These Bullets were destroyed in the finals by the Rick Barry-led Golden State Warriors in a series where Warriors coach Al Attles was ejected in game four for storming the court and fighting with the aforementioned Riordan. Mixing in the 6’8” Melo alongside the Hall of Famers Unseld and Hayes gives the Bullets two of the top players in the league. Chemistry questions will always arise, particularly with high usage guys like Melo, but how he would’ve blended with Hayes, a player whose presence was once compared to “Chinese water torture … it’s just a drop at a time, nothing big, but in the end, he’s driven you crazy,” is the ultimate question.

1958-59 St. Louis Hawks:

Were it not for Bill Russell and the Celtics’ dominating run in the 50s and 60s, Wilt Chamberlain would likely have numerous championships and a different reputation among basketball historians. Another team and player that nearly suffocated under the Boston success is the St. Louis Hawks and Bob Pettit who faced the Celtics four times in the finals, lost thrice, and went to game seven twice. The Hawks started 6’4” Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan at the SF slot, but the 1959 version of Hagan is simply outmatched by 2014 Melo and that’s the version we’d transport back in time. Melo’s combination of quickness, strength and legitimate jump shot would be indefensible by 1959 standards. Different challenges such as racism, dirty fouls, and uncomfortable shorts would replace modern obstacles, but for a team that spent five years on the cusp of all-time greatness, Melo would’ve gleefully pushed them over the top and instead of having a Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP, perhaps we’d have the Carmelo Anthony NBA Finals MVP award … chew on that. [Side note: In the 1957-58 finals, the one St. Louis won, Bob Pettit scored 50 points in a series-clinching game six win.]

 

 

 

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