Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Growing old with a Bang

It’s another Monday morning which means the NBA Power Rankings are rolling out in a state of infinite arbitrariness, but deep down in the western corner of the country, Kobe-colored confetti is raining from the skies celebrating the Lakers fourth win in 17 games this year. We’re about 20% of the way through the 2014-15 season and the Lakers are probably near the bottom of the aforementioned power rankings, but we don’t care because this post is celebrating the weird accomplishment of Kobe last night. No, it’s not becoming the first player in NBA history with 30,000 points and 6,000 assists, although that’s mostly an incomprehensible achievement that speaks to the highly irregular elite play which he’s sustained for so long. But instead of looking at macro-Kobe, we’re going micro-Kobe and exploring his individual performance against power ranking darlings, the Toronto Raptors.

In 42 minutes, Kobe triple doubled with 31 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and repeatedly finding good looks for his teammates while tallying 12 assists – a Lakers individual high this season. If we want to get semi-nitty gritty, Bryant had just two turnovers and attempted only one three while putting up his highest game score of the season at 27. It was a gem of a throwback game from a player putting up one of the best individual seasons we’ve ever seen from a 36-year-old.

In the process, Bryant became the oldest player on record to post a 30-10-10 triple double:

Stats from basketball-reference.com

Stats from basketball-reference.com

[It’s taking a thorough amount of self-restraint to not go full on research mode and dig into that Larry Bird game from 1992 when a 35-year-old Larry Legend executed a 49-point, 14-rebound, 12-assist game on Portland, but we’ll save that for a rainy day.]

In what otherwise feels like a lost season without meaning for LA’s first basketball franchise, Kobe and his MASH unit continue to find ways to make games interesting and add meaning through effort. Kobe’s me-first game and me-first personality have a polarizing effect on fans and people who don’t know diddly about basketball, but all the same, a 36-year-old Bryant is still revealing himself as a professional fully committed winning every night – even if those wins are coming at the most infrequent pace of his career. Sunday night while languishing at the bottom of power rankings, Kobe’s game came together and he willed the Lakers to a victory over a shorthanded, but superior Raptors team. It took a herculean effort from Kobe and quality performances from his mates, but in a season without spoils, even the scraps are easy to savor.

kobe celebrate

 

 

 

Ain’t no Sunshine when Ricky’s Gone

Up in Minnesota where winter is perpetual and ice ages are annual occurrences, the most intriguing pro athlete is banged and bandaged, unable to share his gift with the native Minnesotans who love him. It’s not future Governor and Minnesota Twin, Joe Mauer. Nor is it the switch-wielding Adrian Peterson of the Vikings. It’s not a hockey player either and if it was I wouldn’t know him. Ricard Rubio I Vives (said with the Spanish accent of an American, the words pop with flair and gusto), aka Ricky Rubio, is the most special of all Minnesota’s pro athletes. And after destroying his ankle on the night of November 7th, he’s shelved for no one knows how long as Minnesotans cope by listening to “Ain’t No Sunshine” by the late, great Bill Withers because if Elton John taught us anything it’s that sad songs say so much.

With the immaculate outlet passing of the wide-bottomed Kevin Love gone to the rosy environs of Cleveland, Rubio’s natural joy and effervescence has quickly become the guiding light of the young Wolves’ identity. In the four full games they played before the ligaments of his ankle shredded, Rubio infected his team with fun – laughing, smiling, sharing, competitive fun. They were 2-2 and showing the earliest signs of young definition. Always a great passer, Rubio was assisting even more with a career-best 55.5% assist rate and 11 assists-per-game in the four full games in which he appeared. His rebounding was up, his three-point attempts cut in half. Historically a sub-40% shooter on two-point field goals, he was up over 44%, but most interesting was his scoring on assisted plays. Prior to this season less than 18% of his two-point buckets came on assists, but this season it more than doubled up to nearly 37% which is significantly above the norms we see from point guards. In the tiniest of a sliver of sample sizes, Rubio’s prodigious talents were merging with patience and improved decision making and the entire team was benefiting.

111714 - Rubio faces

But what does it mean to lose the jewel of the 10,000 Lakes, that bright and shining beacon of the great snow blanketed north? Aside from the young Wolves (seventh-youngest team in the league) going from one of the most exciting teams to watch with Rubio they’re suddenly like a canoe of fisherman floating through the frigid Great Lakes with frozen snotsicles hanging from noses, men without spears and without oars, hunting for game which they can’t find, lost in the chilling mercilessness of a brutal voyage. Minnesota is a winless basketball team without Ricky, his absence felt in nearly every aspect of the game, but most notably his infectious positivity which can keep a team sane through the leanest of times.

111714 - rubio stats

The Wolves are now shooting more threes, but making less, unable to find the easy shots which Rubio creates. They’re guided by a 19-year-old wing miscast as a point guard in uber-athlete Zach LaVine. Not surprisingly, turnovers are up and assists are down. ORtg and points-per-game are falling like sad snowflakes alongside dips in shooting percentages. Most telling is the hit to DRtg. With Rubio, the team had a 104.5 DRtg which is better than the league average, but without the maestro that number leaps to 121.6 which is worse than the Lakers’ miserable 117.8. To be fair, the two drivers of that spike are a couple of blowouts against New Orleans and Dallas, but with Rubio, those blowouts are maybe mere six-point losses with character building competitiveness.

Stats from Basketball-Reference.com

Stats from Basketball-Reference.com

The timetable for Rubio’s return from this severe Grade three ankle sprain has been listed as 7-8 weeks which puts Minnesota at a Rubio-less disadvantage until sometime around Christmas or New Year’s. While 7-8 weeks can fly by in metaphorical blinking of eyes, that same time for a maturing team can seem like ages, particularly if the losses keep piling up like thick layers of ice. No one had great expectations for the Wolves this year, but missing out on 25 or more games of prime gelling opportunities is sickening and saddening for Wolves disciples and b-ball fans alike. So as much as Ricky is missed and we want him back as soon as physically possible, let’s hope he doesn’t rush and risk further injury. To paraphrase Mr. Withers, “ain’t no sunshine when Ricky’s gone, only darkness every day.”

 

A Detroit Brouhaha

Brandon Jennings‘s incomparable Cali-born swagger is part of the reason he’s in the NBA. When we’re finally able to measure player confidence, we’ll find that Jennings’s confidence in Jennings borders on the absurd and so far that’s been enough. Despite miserable shooting that’s followed him from Italy to Milwaukee to Detroit, he keeps finding work as a starter, but how long will it last under the no-nonsense regime of Stan Van Gundy? Just three games into the 2014-15 season and incumbent journeyman point guard/tight beard-line wearing D.J. Augustin is creeping into Jennings’s minutes like a spider nibbling away at his ink-covered skin in the night. And Brandon is not happy! Or is he?

Like point guards passing through an identity crisis-having team, these are the days of Stan Van Gundy’s life. And while I’m certain SVG has the pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses of each point guard narrowed to the granular details, what offers a guide to competition better than boxing’s tried and true Tale of the Tape format? Nothing, so let’s get to the tape and see who’s really the best fit for Detroit’s lead guard spot. To quote the great Liquid Swords, “you don’t understand my words, but you must choose one. So come boy, choose life or death:”

 

Thanks to www.basketball-reference.com for all these great stats.

Thanks to http://www.basketball-reference.com for all these great stats.

Proxy Wars of Kobe Bryant

combine_images

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.

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