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Just messing around, getting triple doubles
Category Archives: NBA Preview
March 2, 2013Posted by on
Trends and their meanings and sources are always insightful in sports, but I’m just as interested and sucked into the completely random stat line or statistitical accomplishment like the one that occurred on Friday night in the whipping the Spurs applied to the Kings. After dropping a stunner to the Suns in overtime a few nights before, the Spurs took out their frustrations on the Kings in the form of a 130-104 victory where San Antonio shot just over 60% from the field and scored 130 points on just 84 shots.
It was this environment of cleanliness and efficiency that Tony Parker went down with an ankle injury forcing Manu Ginobili into playmaking duties where Ginobili set a career-high with 15 assists and did it while spending less than 23 minutes on the court. That makes him one of just three players to achieve this random act of prolificacy over the past 28 seasons and of the accomplishment Manu had this to say: ”Yeah, it just happened…” For that, I guess Manu’s strange:
February 20, 2013Posted by on
“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time” – Homer, the Odyssey
It only seemed appropriate that I should be traveling on foreign soil and wake up under a Mexican sun when I found out Terrence Williams was being invited back into the NBA; this time signing a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics. This basketball-playing vagabond of sorts with hush hush off-court baggage and the on-court potential of an NBA all-star has been a ship without a port since departing Louisville back in 2009.
A quick review reminds us the Nets grabbed him in the 2009 lottery with the 11th overall pick followed by a demotion to their D-League affiliate where he casually averaged a triple double in three games. The Nets tired of his antics (publicly communicated that he missed practices, but if you’re willing to trade a lottery pick after less than two full seasons, there’s likely more tumult occurring beneath the surface) and shipped him southwest to Houston where he failed to establish himself, so they outright cut the problem child and in the process GM Darryl Morey essentially plagiarized Nets’ GM Billy King’s rationale for dumping the kid:
King in December of 2010: “He’s getting a clean slate in Houston, a new start. He was not going to be a good fit for the future here. The opportunities are better for him in Houston.”
Morey in March of 2012: “We’ve got a very strong wing rotation…and we wanted to give Terrence an opportunity to play somewhere in a contract year.”
Aw, the GMs of this league are a caring bunch, so eager to provide kids with opportunities on the rosters of their opponents. I don’t mind calling bullshit on these quotes and acknowledging that while yes the opportunities are better elsewhere, the real reason is that anything that was going on off the court outweighed the few positives Williams delivered on the court. The coaches and front office in New Jersey were a little more honest in their dealings with the media whereas Houston didn’t even bother.
Like so many Americans before him, it was a westward journey for Williams and he landed in Sacramento last season where he appeared to thrive on the court, but again couldn’t establish himself enough to be offered a contract this past summer. Most official reports out of Sacramento were positive; they appreciated what Williams did in his limited tryout, but when it came time to make a long-term decision on the 6’6”, 220lbs combo guard/forward, they were simply unwilling to commit. Next on the Official Terrence Williams Pro Basketball Tour was an invite to the Pistons training camp. This time around, Williams couldn’t even find a spot on the roster and instead found himself homeless (n the basketball sense) and contract-less to start the season so he did what many before him have done and took his talents to China where he signed on with the Guangdong South Tigers where he played on his first winning team since his Louisville days and helped lead the Tigers to a league-best 27-4 record.
I don’t claim to have the keenest, most well-developed scout’s eye, but I swear talent isn’t the problem with T-Will. And the fact he’s been able to consistently find work despite his miserable shooting and the whispers about his off-court unprofessionalism lead me to believe NBA front offices and scouts see something similar. Fellow Seattleite and Celtic Jason Terry articulates what a lot of fans and scouts see in Williams:
“Playing with him in the summer, playing against him, just seeing him and seeing his work ethic, I know he’s a tremendous talent … A freakish athlete, can handle the ball, and he’s a physical guard. I just can’t wait to see him get an opportunity.”
There it is again; this word “opportunity” follows Williams around like a sad little puppy, or more likely it’s Williams who’s crisscrossing the globe in search of opportunity. His ex-GMs use it as an excuse to dump him (“You’ll be happier without us…”) and his new teammates use it to tout him. Meanwhile, Terrence travels in pursuit of it and along the way encounters unseen sagas and imaginary enemies.
Beyond my wholly fallible eye-assessment, why do I keep getting sucked into this nebulous web of Terrence Williams? I took a look at the scattered sample size that makes up his career and was crestfallen to see how bad things have been. In questing for statistical redemption, I came up mostly (and sadly) empty-handed. I’ve searched the stats of 129 career games that include nothing more than a handful of games where he’s appeared in more than 35 minutes and see he has a total of nine career starts, he’s an above average rebounder for his size and positions, and has a fairly robust usage rate relative to the amount of action he’s seen. His shooting can generously be described as putrid and you can apply that description to nearly any spot on the floor. Unless he’s dunking, he doesn’t have a “sweet spot.” Interestingly enough, a little sliver of light shines through in increased playing time. For Terrence, his efficiency improves as he sees more on-court minutes:
Not only do his ratios improve when he sees more floor time, but his per-36 numbers improve almost across the board with the exception of steals and blocks:
Williams appears to get better as he gets more opportunity and in-game rhythm. I think a lot of us can relate to this in that the more we do something, the better we are at that task which of course doesn’t make it acceptable to shoot 35% from the field, but at least provides some possible color around his deficiencies. If it feels like I’m grasping at straws of efficiency, then maybe it’s because I am. But this is part of what I wanted to discover in this investigation: Why am I fascinated with Terrence Williams? I can tell you the fascination began back at Louisville when I first witnessed his awesome athleticism, his versatility, his above average court vision and who’s not excited about a 6’6” playmaker?
Sadly though, the numbers hardly validate my fascination in the same way occasional on-screen Hollywood plots put countless obstacles in between two characters that are madly in love with each other despite the obvious hurdles and incompatibilities. Sometimes we just can’t let go even when all the evidence suggests, no, demands we should. To follow and support T-Will is to bet your whole hand on a Joker wilder than JaVale McGee. There’s a reason T-Will’s being offered 10-day contracts while Joel Anthony flaunts his championship ring and it has little to do with actual ability—which isn’t a knock on Anthony. To bet on Terrence, to write this story on vacation with skin burning under the high Cabo sun is to invest in the hope that people can change.
The data above tells me there could be a formulaic element to Williams’s success and it includes steady minutes (20-30/night) on a team where his role is clearly defined; a team that takes advantage of his ball handling and playmaking while encouraging him to scale back his three-point attempts. We’ve never seen Williams on a winning team in the NBA so it’s difficult to assume how he’ll perform with a veteran Celtics squad, but if his previous roles in winning situations are an indicator (at Louisville and Guangdong), he’ll hopefully be able to blend his strengths (rebounding, ball handling, defense) into the existing structure in a supporting role. And this would merely cover the on-court piece of the equation and it appears the off-court stuff has often been a challenging aspect for Williams.
Having undergone a series of changes in my own life since crossing the age-30 threshold, I can only hope that young Terrence (he’s still only 25) can discover his own path towards NBA success; which for him should simply be stability. And if not, perhaps he’ll just become the greatest D-League player of all time.
*I wanted to add a note here that I was and still am unable to resolve about Williams. As an outsider, the only off-court transgressions I have access to are those reported by teams to the media. In Williams’s case, that means a couple run-ins with Avery Johnson during his time in New Jersey and public comments by Williams regarding playing time in Houston. There weren’t any notable issues in Houston or Sacramento, but off-court issues in Sacramento have been alluded to and it’s unlikely the Rockets would outright cut the kid just to give him more opportunity to play in a contract year. I acknowledge that I don’t recall how far out last year’s trade deadline was extended, but it seems the Rockets would’ve at least tried to get something for him in a trade. And lastly, yes his stats leave something to be desired, but there’s something odd about a 25-year-old kid with his unique set of skills who is unable to latch on in the league. It’d be a lot more understandable if there were more published instances of him having run-ins with coaches or getting into trouble with the law, but there are just a handful of documented issues so I/we are forced to speculate on how/why this kid has struggled to latch on somewhere. I tend to believe there’s more going on off-the-court as opposed to teams avoiding him due to his poor shooting.
February 10, 2013Posted by on
A post-Jordanian titanium mass of a man,
Rings be damned
If he never wins again
What we have is enough
Memories (feats, destructions) to last us a
Million basketball-less summers
Memories aren’t just for the lonely,
But for the longing too
And the longing don’t have to be lonely
The longing and/or lonely don’t
Need rings or royalty
Just a man moving through a
Slow-motion world of
Blank-faced helpless defenders,
A screaming freight train barreling towards punctuality
Narrative be damned
His ability exceeds our qualifications and
Definitions and Parameters,
His existence on-court is
Independent of contemporaries and
I’ll take a ghetto blaster and destroy the
Trophy cases with heavy bass
I can’t wait to invent a ray gun just to melt the
Infinite statues symbolizing his greatness
I’m resurrecting René Descartes to help imagine a devilish saw and equations that
Undercut the stats and tables we use to articulate greatness
What is victory
Without the struggle?
What is war
Without the sacrifice?
What is success
Without the failure?
The anticipation of a hundred thousand years is
We made it
And free to believe in whatever we please
January 28, 2013Posted by on
I’m not a Boston fan
I don’t love the city or their teams
I don’t drape my shoulders in anything remotely Celtic Green
But my heart can ache
For the injured Alien whose
Ligament(s) tore, ripped, shredded
Like sheets of paper
Covered in inky dreams
The point guard from another planet, another world or underworld
With extra-terrestrially long fingers
An infinite scowl that’s
Like looking into the bottom of an inkwell
Shifty shifting eyes straight from a Gorillaz animation,
Demeanor borrowed from Mad Max’s post-apocalyptic Thunderdome,
Always alert, always suspicious,
Trusting no one, no thing, not even the man-made ligaments he was given
A black hole mood that rises with the moon
…yes, Rajon Rondo has fallen
Kids choke back kelly green tears
Garnett & Pierce in their wizened years
Understanding now more than ever
The importance of young Rondo
But the shredded ligament (that we didn’t know he had), the last
Single elastic straw that held up
The hope of a million Celtics fans
Collapsed under the expectations
And amid the rubble, Celtics fans attempt to
While Danny Ainge painfully retrieves a stuffed,
Frayed, and Faded manila folder
Stenciled with red letters spelling out:
Danny and Doc deeply contemplate deconstruction
While Rondo sits in a chair in the corner
Quietly sipping seltzer water
Thinking of the Moon
January 24, 2013Posted by on
The other day I spent a bunch of time writing a recap about being at the midpoint of the season with the emphasis being on the Eastern Conference (the West was to come later), but after closer examination, I didn’t enjoy what I had written and writing something you disapprove of is sort of like holding up a mirror to your face or your actions and not liking what you see (at least that’s the way it is for me sometimes). But if you’ll excuse my pissing and moaning, we can get on to the new and approved Eastern Conference midway point review which, sadly, isn’t as entertaining as the Western Conference. Also, I apologize in advance for the length; I swear on the NBA rulebook that the Western Conference version will be an exercise in concision.
We’ll start at where we left off last season: with LeBron James standing atop the NBA landscape with his thick headband obviously hiding an obviously receding hairline. LeBron took the 2012 year and molded into a year-long celebration of magnificence that began with him blazing through the shortened 2011-12 season, followed by an MVP award, an NBA title that many people thought he didn’t have the mental strength or commitment to earn, followed by a shiny gold medal at the London Olympics, a brief respite from the hyperactive camera lenses, mics and recorders that follow him around in hopes of simultaneously feeding our appetite for all things celebrity and enhancing that same appetite, to the 2012-13 season which is where we’re at today. And yes, the Heat is a team, an organization made of up of a lot of people who bust their asses to do great work every day, but as so many of us have realized, not everyone gets to be king, but LeBron James does. In any of our strongest pursuits, I’d say we strive for greatness and a chance to reach our potential. Well, if you value hard work, dedication (sorry, Floyd, but it fits), improvement, overcoming adversity (even if it’s self-made) and continually searching out ways to become better, then Bron’s your guy. Except for an anomalous fourth season (I’ll dive into this aberration at a later date), James has improved every season to the point where he’s shooting 55% from the field and 40% from three and leading his team to the best record in the east despite Miami not having an actual center.
Way up north of Miami where the weather’s cold and basketball fans are extremely serious about things like Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn and Jay-Z, the Knicks have found some kind of magic adhesive gel that’s united their team into something much greater than competent. The Knicks are the oldest team in the league and the presence of wise basketball sages like Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas combined with the all-inclusive embrace of Tyson Chandler (really though, when Tyson stretches his arms wide, the entire Knicks family, friends and fans can huddle up inside and commiserate or do what it is Knicks fans do) has maybe (as I write that word, I’m making face … my lips pursed together, my shoulders shrugged in complete uncertainty) had a positively profound impact on Carmelo Anthony. Melo’s a trending topic this season and while I think any talk about him as the Most Valuable Player in the league this year is completely out of line, I also recognize that he’s playing with a crispness and consistency (and a massively improved three-point shot; Olympic carryover? Sustainable?) which have been tough to come by in his career. Add in the JR Smith Effect (some kind of mad Evel Knievel of the hardwood) and you have regeneration at MSG. Regardless of where the Knicks fall on your list of favorite or least favorite teams, it’s fair to acknowledge and admit that a good basketball team in New York City is good for the league.
I haven’t seen the Pacers play much and maybe that’s because there are just other teams that I prefer. Or maybe it doesn’t matter why I have or haven’t watched the Pacers, but it just matters that you’ve seen the Pacers and their suffocating defense which, I suppose, probably tells me why I haven’t watched them much: they’re a defensive-minded squad and when you have a League Pass-worth of games, defensive stalwarts are rarely the first choice. The Pacers, despite missing one of their premier players in Danny Granger, have become a platform for the exploits of Paul George; a 6’8” wing who launches threes with grace and dunks with aggression, but most importantly for this team, uses his great physical gifts to impact the game defensively. George leads the league in defensive win shares and is fourth in defensive rating and most basketball fans can appreciate him without condition (as an aside, give it a couple years and a big contract until people are poking holes in his game with the tiniest needles until a bit of daylight shows through at which point we can all push our critical urges through because this is what we do). Then there’s Roy Hibbert who just signed a huge contract, but is painfully struggling to live up to expectations on the offensive side of the ball where he’s shooting .415—the worst FG% in league history for a man 7’2” or taller:
At least Hibbert hasn’t let his offensive struggles impact his defense though. He leads the league in defensive rating and is third in blocks/game. Sticking with the Central Division, the Bulls have warmed my heart this season with their commitment to executing Tom Thibodeau’s thoroughly disciplined approach. This is a team that was decimated by free agency over the summer and has been without Derrick Rose for the first half of the season and they still go out there every night and grind hard, all the way down to the pavement (or the bone) where most teams don’t want to engage them. Credit goes to Gar Forman or John Paxson or whoever’s calling the shots here because the roster’s made up of guys who buy in and in this league, that’s a soft skill that’s more easily assumed than it is actualized. The Bulls trot out guys like Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton, Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli … in crunch time—and win. It’s such a scrappy crew made up of a bunch of guys who hit the floor without reservation. The only oddball of the bunch is Carlos Boozer (oddball relative to the rest of the roster) and he’s been playing great in 2013, averaging 22ppg, 11.5rpg and shooting 52% (compared to under 46% in November and December). But the guys Thibs heavily relies on are Luol Deng and Joakim Noah who’re both near the league leaders in minutes/game. Noah’s playing nearly six minutes more per game than at any other time in his career. I know six minutes is a drop in the bucket in most of our lives, but six NBA minutes where you’re banging against guys who are well over 250lbs of chiseled muscle and sharpened bone and you’re running and jumping on a wooden floor can be an eternity; look no further than D. Rose’s freak ACL tear last year. Speaking of Rose, I don’t know when he’s supposed to return or who he’ll be when he comes back, but his game change-ability alters the second, non-Miami, tier of the East.
There are a lot of cosmetic things I like about the new Brooklyn Nets: the floor color, design and lighting at the Barclay Center, the new black/white jerseys, an attractive roster on paper. Toss in an owner who’s willing to challenge Vladimir Putin and it sounds like something that could become an HBO series; or at least one of those mini-series’ like Generation Kill. Instead, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are playing below our (and Prokhorov’s) expectations. Deron’s developing a reputation as a coach killing malcontent, but this probably isn’t completely accurate, just an easy label. But at least they have Reggie Evans who does one single thing probably better than anyone else in the NBA does one single thing. With the exception of Dennis Rodman, we haven’t seen someone gobble up more possible rebounds than Evans is gobbling up this season:
There’s not much to be excited about in Atlanta or Milwaukee where GMs grab headlines as frequently as the players. If Atlanta doesn’t care about the Hawks, why should I? Well, that was a rude Q:A, but honestly, I’ve been tuning into Hawks games for years and unless it’s the playoffs, the seats in the lower bowl are consistently half empty. Perhaps the fans are as tired of this team as I am though. They grossly overpaid Joe Johnson and then sat on the same team for what seemed like an eternity until Danny Ferry finally showed up this summer like a refreshing scent on garbage day and somehow managed to rid this franchise of that wildly inaccurate contract. We’ll all just have to hope Ferry has more up his sleeve than a dirty arm. Up north in the frigidity of Lower Canada is the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks play in the Bradley Center which is really just a warehouse playing dress up as an NBA arena. It’s not a place for vibrancy or colors, but for serious and mindless endeavors like bulk shopping. I don’t say these things to put down Milwaukee or their basketball team, but because the Bradley Center is outdated and the team’s management is imitating its arena. They’re a queer bunch who float through the league’s purgatory without hope or fear. I mean, what is success defined as for the Milwaukee Bucks? They have a 22-18 record today and should make the playoffs where Brandon Jennings can get more much-needed experience, but since they weren’t able to extend him when they had the chance, what’re the odds this spindly ray of sunshine sticks around? There is Larry Sanders though and while he’ll never carry a team, he’s proving his ability to be a satisfactory anchor on defense where he leads the league in blocks at 3.2 and is third in defensive rating. *If the NBA ever decides to contract teams, these are two I’d recommend and it doesn’t have anything to do with the fans. It has to do with front offices and/or owners who’ve proven they’re either unwilling or unable to commit to improving.
I wouldn’t add Toronto to the list of contracted teams even though Bryan Colangelo has a résumé built on the shoulders of below average teams. The reason I give a thumbs up to Toronto is their borderline Euro-soccer enthusiastic fans. I’m reluctant to say any fan base “deserves” this or that, but Raps fans could use a lovable star who returns the love as well as he receives it. Similar to Milwaukee, the Raptors won the draft lottery, but have little-to-nothing to show for it. Andrea Bargnani’s banged up (again), but I have a feeling I’m in the minority in believing there’s still an NBA contributor lurking around inside Barganani. Sadly though, it may have to be rediscovered in another city, in another uniform and with a different set of supporters.
My relationship with these Celtics, the KG-Pierce Celtics, has never been as flat as my relationship with the Hawks or Bucks. Kevin Garnett’s arrival in Boston stirred up a profound, but vaguely natural hatred in me. I hated KG and Perkins and Pierce not because they won, but how they went about winning. Now that the end’s probably in sight, my hate for this Boston team has receded and I find myself (passively at best) disliking this team. (Someday I’ll write a post called The Great Thaw of Boston; but that day’s not today.) There are plenty of other people (like Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler) to spew my venom towards. And that’s what occurred a couple weeks back when the Celts and Knicks were in the middle of an old fashioned east coast dustup. KG was deep inside the psyche of Melo, poking, prodding, disrupting and annoying the hell out of him and I encouraged it from my couch. I laughed and cajoled and gave myself high fives. For a moment, Boston had rediscovered their attitude and used it to upset a superior Knicks team. A week later, it was the Bulls turn and instead of getting rattled, they remained calm, focused and victorious and the Celtics, for me at least, were back to their villainous ways. It’s not the same with Boston anymore because the mystique has gone with time and fading ability, but their win over NYK and the manner in which they went about it was a little reminder for the rest of the league and for all of us that this team can still be dangerous. But if you want to purchase the headstone, let me know and I’m happy to help write the epitaph.
As of today’s date, Philly’s the big loser in the Dwight trade from this summer—and that’s saying something given the Lakers struggles (actually, the Lakers are likely the bigger loser given the shit show brewing in LA). Not only has Andrew Bynum failed to play a game in a Sixers uniform, but the players they gave up have played fantastic: Nikola Vucevic has been brilliant in Orlando and Andre Iguodala has at least been decent in Denver. In addition to those two, Philly lost Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams, but brought in Dorell Wright and Nick Young. It’s a young, young team with their top-three players (not counting Bynum) being 24 or younger. Stylistically, Doug Collins has these guys playing to their athletic strengths as a defensive team, but they’re not even very good at that. Surprisingly, they take care of the ball well (except for Jrue Holiday at 4 TOs/game); they just don’t do much else very well. If grades were associated with this team, they’d get an incomplete. As disappointing as Bynum’s injury has been for the Sixers, Holiday’s confidence and improvement have hopefully been appreciated by the Philly faithful. At just 22 and already in his fourth season, he’s making leaps this year. Did you know he’s the only player in the league this season averaging 19 or more points and 9 or more assists per game? And just to provide a bit more context around this, the only players who’ve accomplished this in the past 12 years are Chris Paul, Gary Payton and Deron Williams. And Jrue’s only 22! I feel better now that I’ve discovered this.
The rest of the Eastern Conference starts to get muddled because intentions aren’t as clear. We have what should be a full-fledged youth movement in Detroit, but it’s difficult to move forward when Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva are still around. This isn’t any fault of their own, but these are throwbacks to the John Kuester era which was an undeniable disaster of almost mutinous proportions. If that same Pistons group would’ve been at sea and Kuester was their captain, my guess is he’d be fish food. That being said, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond appear to be a legitimate big man tandem; even if Monroe is possibly a bit on the timid side. In a league devoid of strong post players, what kind of advantage would Detroit have with a pair of near-seven footers who are young, talented and motivated? If I’m a Detroit fan, the biggest gripe I have is that my team hasn’t shifted full on into the youth movement. It’s actually gone the other direction with Drummond playing better in nine January games, but seeing less minutes than he did in December. Lawrence?
In the Southeast Division, Orlando and Charlotte are in similar situations where success is measured by player development and asset acquisition. Both teams have first-time head coaches in Jacque Vaughn and Mike Dunlap and both coaches have gotten their teams to play particularly hard. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Kemba Walker’s progression and the entire Magic team’s competitiveness. Where the Bobcats are a young team just trying to find a way, any way, the Magic are composed of youngsters and steady vets in Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, Big Baby and JJ Redick who, on the surface at least, take their profession seriously every night. And if that’s not enough, Nikola Vucevic, who was tossed into the Dwight/Bynum trade, is proving to be a bloody savage on the glass where he’s averaging 11 rebounds/game and had a 29-rebound night against the Heat. On top of that, he’s shooting close to 52% from the field. He’s only 22 and I’d love to read an in-depth scouting report detailing his possible ceiling—which I’m guessing is lower than I hope it is.
And now we arrive at the Wizards and Cavs; a couple teams clearly playing for the future and developing today. In basketball terms, both of their seasons have been strained with injuries. John Wall’s missed over 30 games for the Wiz and Anderson Varejao developed a blood clot in his lung and is out for the season. Varejao’s injury in particular is painful for me to bear. Here he was in the midst of an absolute career year at age 30, averaging 14 and 14 with a career-high PER of 22.8 (previous high was 18.9) and like that it’s gone. John Wall will have other seasons and other chances, but for Varejao, the opportunities will only shrink. And Kyrie Irving. He’s not a traditional pass-first playmaking point guard and it’s refreshing his pro coach hasn’t tried to make him one. He looks for his shots in part because he’s a scorer and in part because the Cavs don’t have anyone else who can score that frequently; except for Varejao who’s all done, no one else scores with volume and efficiency. If Dion Waiters develops more consistency, it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, impact it has on Kyrie’s game.
This concludes the 2012-13 Eastern Conference mid-season review. Getting through the EC is a slog. The weather’s cold, the basketball is grittier, the collection of talent is less than in the west. Talent isn’t distributed nearly as well here where six of the 15 teams are in rebuild/development mode, four teams are stuck in NBA purgatory and the remaining four teams (Brooklyn, New York, Chicago and Indiana) are chasing Miami, but doing so with what almost amounts to futility.
*Note: All stats are as of games completed 1/22/13
December 26, 2012Posted by on
It wasn’t always about Jarrett Jack, but for now at least it will be about him; this burly, hard-headed (in appearance) man with his brick wall frame, compact like a boxer’s, eyes locked in what appears to be a perpetual squint—in anger or humor—eyes given by mom or dad, eyes passed through the gene pool generations ago perhaps, a head that looks almost too big for its body; always cleanly shaven as if he calmly stands in front of the mirror before games and at halftime, straight razor in-hand, head covered with thick white shaving cream, slicing the hairs away from that immense rock-like brown dome with the same precision he’d cut open an adversary’s throat; a face and appearance (particularly in scowl mode) that draws comparisons to emcee Sticky Fingaz and could land him a spot in the aforementioned’s aggression-fueled hip hop group from the 90s, Onyx, with their furious black baldness, black hoodies, black pants, black boots. This is about Jack, who’s traveled the jet streams of the NBA; from and to teams I couldn’t even recall off the top of my head (completely blanked out on the long lost Pacers days). A journey begun back at Georgia Tech with BJ Elder and Paul Hewitt and moved on to Portland and Indiana and Toronto and New Orleans and now Oakland. Always steady, but never anyone’s first choice. Passed over in favor of Jose Calderon, traded for Jerryd Bayless not once, but twice, a multi-time trade casualty …
When I see Jack in 2012 playing with Steph Curry (as a replacement of sorts for Monta Ellis) I see indispensability and luxury. In terms of pure ability, it doesn’t matter how he compares to Monta, but in terms of the Golden State Warriors, he’s a flawless fit, pragmatic and versatile, complementary and embraceable. He’s glue, Velcro, a viscous player that appears in 83 games in an 82-game season, oblivious to any limitations. He’s the kind of dude every team needs even though they’re quick to send him on his way. Call him a liberator in that he can relieve Curry of his playmaking duties.
2012 isn’t the Year of Jarrett Jack, it’s just another in a career of underappreciated years. What’s so profound about Jack is that there’s nothing profound about him. He does what he’s called on to do and in a league of specialists and superstars, he’s easily taken for granted—just like the PJ Browns and James Poseys of the world. I’ve been thinking about this all season and now I’m expressing it in full, or maybe just in part because I’m fairly certain Jack will provide plenty more reasons to write and think and consider his uniquely simple place as a backup guard in a league gone mad with awards, titles (of the individual variety) and over-analysis.
(and no, this hasn’t turned into a Golden State Warriors fan blog)
December 15, 2012Posted by on
I arrived home last night (12/14/12) after an evening of wrestling with tallboys of Rainier and eating massive slices of New York style pizza and promptly did what I often do: Scoured NBA box scores in search of anything out-of-the-ordinary. This exercise is typically futile which is why it’s out-of-the-ordinary, but on this Friday night, I noticed something in the Kings-Thunder box score that caught my eye:
In the box score above, I highlighted the most intriguing stat of the night: Isaiah Thomas scored 26 points … in 16 minutes. This is no small feat; it’s prolific. It’s Reggie Miller prolific, Kobe Bryant prolific. I was curious to see if/when this had previously occurred and cross-referenced Basketball-Reference’s Player Game Finder which shows individual game data from 1985-86 to present. After plugging in the criteria (26 points in 16 minutes or less), I was pleased to get the following message:
All of this leads to a few quick observations:
- If Isaiah Thomas earned the starting spot last year and the team isn’t winning with Aaron Brooks running point … and IT’s stats are better across the board, why is Brooks still starting?
- As a follow-up question to the first point, is it possible that the same reason Thomas dropped to the bottom of the draft in 2011 (his height—5’9”) is the same reason Kings coach Keith Smart insists on starting Brooks (6’0”)?
- I can honestly say I didn’t see any of the game last night. And with that admission, there’s a good chance IT entered after the game was already out of hand and just gunned for the 16 minutes (15 minutes, 42 seconds to be precise) he was on the floor.
- That’s a lot of points in a short amount of time whether you’re playing with grade schoolers or in a JV game or in summer league, but against pros who are paid millions to prevent you from scoring? It’s a hell of an accomplishment.
So for your efforts on Friday, December 14th, 2012, I award you, Isaiah Thomas, the first ever Dancing with Noah Extraordinary Performer of the Night (EPN) award. The opposite of this award would be given to Keith Smart for his complete inability to logically choose which players should be on the court and how much time said players should spend on the court.
December 12, 2012Posted by on
Back in September, the odds makers in Vegas or Jersey City or Macau or wherever it is they reside set the odds of a Lakers championship at 9-4. For the sake of comparison, the defending champion Miami Heat also had 9-4 odds; which makes the Heat and the Lakers the odds-on-favorite to win the NBA crown … as of September. As I sat down to write this, the Lakers were 9-12 and a full two games outside of playoffs in the Western Conference. They were in the middle of a strange slap fight in Cleveland against the Cavs—a team that no doubt scraps and scrapes, but in terms of today’s talent, they’re many rungs lower than the Lakers on any imaginary talent ladder.
But for multiple reasons, I enjoy watching this Lakers team and it’s not because of any hatred I harbor for Kobe or the Lakers because I don’t hate the Lakers or Kobe. It’s not even the smoldering dislike I have for Dwight Howard—which I do have. It’s because there’s something beautiful in the struggle and I don’t mean beautiful struggle the way disenfranchised people struggle to find justice and equality in a prejudiced world. I mean it in the sense that there’s an awesome collection of talent on this Lakers team and, to some debatable degree, they’re trying to learn how to successfully coexist with each other. And in that struggle, I find them more intriguing than the team that won over 70% of their games the past five seasons because there are so many strange things going on with this team and their least interesting player is somehow Metta World Peace. And since I think lists are kind of gimmicky, but my brain moves in bullet points, I decided to lay out my feelings and views on the 2012-13 Lakers, an old team that could be hopeless or hopeful … or both:
- The Lakers as imagined by a European soccer owner: The Lakers have always loved to make a big splash and collect talent and in that regard, they’re similar to those mega-spending Euro soccer clubs that build football foundations on cash and bricks of gold and hope that’s enough for success. Sometimes it works like Manchester City’s EPL title last year, but other times it ends up like Chelsea or Real Madrid—a pair of accomplished clubs that seem to be influx for perpetuity. Chelsea’s been through eight managers since 2008 and Real Madrid’s backups could compete for a UEFA crown on their own. It’s talent for days, but what’s that matter when it’s assembled without any sense of compatibility, cohesion, personality or style? Sound familiar?
- Will Steve Nash even help this team? Mike D’Antoni loves to run the pick and roll, but how’s that going to work with Dwight and Kobe out there? How’s Nash feeling sitting on the bench and witnessing this avalanche of ineptitude? He looks sharp, has a nice new Tom Cruise-approved LA haircut and can be counted on to be a good soldier, but on the insides of the walls of his mind, in places we can’t penetrate; it’s likely a tumor filled with doubt and regret is growing.
- Speaking of Steve Nash … how great is the Phoenix training staff? Anyone who follows the NBA is aware of the Suns’ magical powers of resuscitation and now we have the final proof, the absolute truth: Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Each of these aging (by NBA standards) players experienced mostly clean bills of health during their stays in Phoenix, but now that they’ve relocated to opposite ends of the Staples Center, they’ve appeared in a combined two of 42 games this season. Phoenix, we salute you.
- How bad does it hurt to let your team down? Hack-a-Shaq has evolved into a hack-a-Dwight and Howard has predictably failed at the free throw line where he’s shooting a career-worst 48%. Too much pressure in LA? Too much pressure having to look Kobe in the eye after you miss another freebie? Eh, I’m not too concerned that Dwight’s missing these shots, but I’m curious about the psychological impact it has on him. Shaq couldn’t shoot throws to save his life and Wilt Chamberlain was worse than Shaq and Dwight. Each of these dominant giants has masked any insecurity they may have with blinding and deafening personas that divert and distract from pain, but somewhere deep in those psyches, behind the conquests, jokes and accomplishments lays shame and embarrassment at having stand in front of the world, naked and vulnerable, and be judged.
- I alluded to this a bit in the second paragraph above, but part of the reason I want to keep watching this team is because something is going to happen. If the Lakers keep up like this, then the finger pointing, the blame game, the inability to trust … all of it is going to get to worse and while I don’t wish harm or anguish on these guys, it makes for an entertaining season and future and after all, sports exist for entertainment. The other reason, the preferable reason (depending on your allegiances) is the belief that the Lakers will figure things out, that Nash will come back, Pau will thrive in D’Antoni’s system, Dwight will get his legs and his back healthy and dominate defensively and of course Kobe will have the opportunity to explore the non-scoring facets of his game. This is the hope, but we have to find out if our basketball prayers (for better or worse) are answered.
- Is this the longest winter of Mike D’Antoni’s life? That’s kind of tongue in cheek since the experiences life delivers us far exceed the game of basketball, but in professional terms, this has to be painful. And it leads to another question: Can Mike D’Antoni coach at this level? While the Seven Seconds Suns were delightfully pleasing to the eye and the box score, D’Antoni hasn’t proven capable of improving or innovating from that original style. Many fans and analysts saw his apparent disregard of defense as a cardinal sin he could never overcome and sadly he’s done nothing to prove otherwise. Instead, he’s bounced across the country in high profile jobs with his maverick mustache, laid back approach and lukewarm results. I have to give him leeway with this Lakers team that was strangely constructed and the short timeframe he’s had to turn things around, but if the struggles continue, Mike D’s head’s going to be on the chop block (figuratively speaking … I hope).
- Phil Jackson can coach. It’s a natural segue from the previous questions about D’Antoni. I’m not saying the Lakers should’ve caved to the allegedly ridiculous demands made by the Zen Master, but to all the fans and anti-Phillipians out there who love to accuse Phil of riding the coattails of Jordan and Kobe, look at the nightly confusion that is the today’s Lakers and tell me that shit would fly with Phil sitting on the bench in that crazy special-made chair he had.
- Was a curse attached to this trade and if so, did Rob Hennigan cast the spell? When I first read about the Dwight-Bynum-Iguodala trade this summer, I was least impressed with Orlando’s inability to get back any worthwhile assets (except for Aaron Afflalo, we all appreciate his contributions). But in the true, humbling nature of the universe, everyone in this deal appears to be struggling with their new acquisitions—except Orlando. Andrew Bynum’s combination of knee injuries and hairstyles has resulted in Moses Malone reconsidering his retirement (“for the good of Philadelphia,” he says). I thought Iguodala would blend in brilliantly in George Karl’s intense defensive approach to the game, but instead he’s playing about as poorly as he ever has as a pro. We’ve already discussed a few of the Lakers woes above. And that leaves Orlando; limping along at 8-12, but doing two things extremely well: Playing hard and playing together. And they’re facing some of the same challenges as the Lakers—new coach and new teammates. It’s a relative comparison since the Lakers are living below lofty expectations while the Magic are playing above the lowest expectations (they tied Charlotte with the worst odds to win the title: 1,000 to 1).
- Dwightmare revisited? Of the possible dastardly outcomes of a Lakers collapse, the potential for a return of the Dwightmare is most concerning. Nothing gets the media’s attention like a juicy, sensational rumor; especially one that involves one of the league’s best players and signature franchises. And if the Lakers continue the current backslide, only time will stand between us and a litany of quotes from “unnamed sources.”
There’s a reason the sports books in Las Vegas are still accepting sports bets and haven’t gone out of business yet: They know more than we do. And they missed this early-season Lakers conflagration by a country mile and then some … just like the rest of us did. To say there’s anything certain attached to this Lakers team (other than them playing 82 games this season) is to actively participate in self-deception. So when your friends or your favorite bloggers or handicappers approach you with their foolproof theories and analysis of why this Lakers team will either sink into the abyss or triumph over the uncertainty of the day, kindly remind them, like the universe occasionally has to remind us, that we’re all walking through the darkness of today toward the light at the end of the tunnel of a tomorrow we’ll never reach.
December 6, 2012Posted by on
Don’t get it twisted, this isn’t my foray into a new genre of basketball erotica and I am wearing (sweat) pants while I write this. It’s about me accepting the aesthetic of Stephen Curry’s game: a sweet, sensual convergence of college fundamentals with the boldness of Marvin Gaye on his classic I Want You.
I live on the west coast, so I get the great pleasure of watching west coast teams play at a reasonable time—at least reasonable based on my 32-year-old/married standards. The straight up west coast options we have: Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Blazers, Suns and Warriors. The Lakers are a comedy of errors, a team without a collective identity even though they have players with well-defined identities. The Kings have really disappointed; particularly because of their decision not to re-sign Terrence Williams. I don’t care for the Blazers, but I do like some Nicolas Batum and Young Mr. Damian Lillard is pure joy—regardless of how you feel about point guards. The Suns are another laughable comedy routine on a nightly basis. Shannon Brown as your get buckets guy? It takes a rare NBA roster architect to devise that scenario. Then there are the Clippers and the Warriors, a couple of teams that are entertaining for entirely different reasons. The Clippers are potential-in-the-process-of-being-realized and this kind of maturation is so magnetic because we’re eagerly anticipating their ongoing improvement. Once the ceiling is reached, we can get bored because we’re simple people with short spans of attention living in a world full of attention grabbing experts. As a group, the Clippers are more fun than Golden State and yes, Chris Paul is the PG archetype, but there’s nothing human about Paul single-handedly demoralizing and discouraging defenses or Jamal Crawford heat checks or Blake Griffin or even Los Angeles for that matter. But up in Oakland? Oh, up north it doesn’t get much more human than Bogutian tragedy, the erosion of Andris Biedrins’ confidence, Brandon Rush’s torn ACL, David Lee’s around-the-basket intuitiveness (it’s still underrated) or Steph Curry’s nightly flirtations with basketball death, a dreaded Grant Hill career arc.
The crowd in Oakland pleads a great case for watching the Warriors, but Lee’s interior aptitude and the development of Harrison Barnes are entertaining too. The primary reason to watch, the main event … that’s Curry. There’s a reason he’s still the (baby) face of the Warriors despite missing nearly 25% of his team’s games through his first three seasons (of course, part of that reason is that they were never able to find a trade partner willing to take on those papier-mâché ankles). They’re still going to war every night with Curry as their lead guard because the kid (he’s still just 24) is disruptively good and can get better.
I’m not positive if the NCAA’s and ESPN’s and Dick Vitale’s infatuations with Curry during his Davidson days soured me on him or if I was too distracted following the explosions of Monta Ellis (fiery spectacle one night, snap pops the next), but I only studied Curry from afar for his first few years. His ankle(s—was it both?) turned last season into one long, depressing sputter. And if it was frustrating for fans, imagine how Curry felt riding that physical and emotional roller coaster: special shoes, protective boots, ice bags on ice bags in ice baths, multiple doctors, fear that something’s wrong, that maybe it’s somehow his fault … failure; letting down your teammates, fans, the people who pay you huge checks to be on the court performing. So when he rolled his ankle (again!) in the pre-season, I think there was a part of me that lightly erased Curry from the NBA panorama. He wasn’t a ghost yet, but he was fading.
This is a terribly unfair thing to do, particularly given the steadily impressive performances of Curry’s first two seasons in the league which compare better than favorably with Derrick Rose’s and Russell Westbrook’s:
Not too many people put Curry in the same echelon as Rose and Westbrook and there are a couple of obvious reasons why:
- The Third Season: While Curry spent his third season on crutches, in walking boots and enduring a bombardment of tests on his ankle(s), Westbrook and Rose made a motherfucking leap in theirs. Remember how similar these three guys were through their first two seasons? The third seasons created a massive chasm:
- Playoff Appearances: Rose was a black NBA version of Rocky Balboa as a rookie when he led the 8th seed Bulls to a memorable seven-game series against the defending champion Boston Celtics in the opening round. Westbrook made a name more violently for his volatility—eruptions of athleticism versus decision making follies and the unique ability to forget Kevin Durant was on his team (and in the damn game!). Where Russell made the playoffs three of four years and has Rose has advanced to the postseason every year, the ill-fated Curry is still awaiting his first appearance.
I didn’t set out to write a story about how Steph Curry does or doesn’t compare favorably to two of the best young point guards in the game, it just organically occurred this way and I’m happy with that. Beyond the inconclusive stats we have above, the Curry I’ve seen this year is a smooth ball handler with great court awareness, passing ability and a hyper fast shot release. His handle is so much better than I realized, but it looks like he’s still figuring out how to fully utilize this skill. You see Rose and Westbrook combine their ball handling with raw speed and quickness: Rose more lateral quickness with the ball in-hand and Westbrook more straight ahead speed. Steph’s handle is so often used on the perimeter to keep defenders at bay instead of attacking with it. If and when he improves that part of his game, he’ll be able to create more space and get to the rim more frequently than he already does which would make him close to indefensible. Of course, the more he penetrates, I feel like the odds of rolling an ankle increase (is that true?).
So while the rest of you east coast and Midwest fans are sleeping away the nights or blowing rails just to stay up for the west coast games, your brothers and sisters on the left are settling in on couches and recliners from San Diego to Blaine with beers and green teas while our spouses and partners and roommates flit in and out, oblivious to our fascinations with a guy named Steph…and even more oblivious the fingers we have discretely crossed under a pillow or blanket, vainly hoping those tender ankles hold up.
Conquistadors in California, alternately: Channeling Emotion into Effectiveness: A Contrast of Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins
November 6, 2012Posted by on
Two of the league’s youngest, shiniest, brightest and most volatile stars are residing in the same Sunshine State and we all get the luxury of watching these mountains of agility, power and skill square off four times this season. I’m not talking about Dwight Howard (not that bright), Pau Gasol (not that young), Andrew Bogut (not that volatile) or DeAndre Jordan (just not enough). Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins are captivating for what they’ve done in two short years and maybe even more for what they haven’t done; which is reach their stratospheric potentials.
Last night, Monday night, these two giants competed; not against each other, but for my attention. Big Cuz did his thing in Sacramento and went bananas during a third quarter stretch where he seemed to galvanize himself, his team and fans. His emotion rises in pitches and can be tracked by events: A blocked shot on the defensive end leads to Cousins making a face, a scowl that takes place while the 22-year-old barrels down the court, sprinting to get to the offensive end where his excitement almost results in turnovers, but instead it’s a hustle play, a jumper that extends the Kings’ lead and it’s followed by more sprinting and obvious satisfaction. There are sequences like this throughout the game: Cousins makes a layup, gets a steal on the other end and never missing a play, he gets a dunk going back the other way. He’s uplifted, raised to the rafters by a combination of his own energy (barely harnessed) and the sounds of the crowd urging him on, lifting him higher.
Down I-5 in Los Angeles, I focused of my attention on the Cavs-Clips game, Chris Paul vs. Kyrie Irving; which somehow turned into the Dion Waiters show. Point guard and ball handling clinics aside, I kept an eye on Blake Griffin; one of the league’s most recent poster boys. His face is more recognizable than Arian Foster’s, maybe better known than Mitt Romney among the 25-and-under set. And tonight he’s just OK. He catches lobs from CP3 that have a similar impact on the crowd as Cousins’ antics. The big difference is where Cousins wears his heart on his sleeve, unable to contain even the faintest emotion; wearing the worst poker face in the NBA, Blake is cool, expectant, nonchalant. In a deadpan tone, “I ferociously dunked on that man’s face, put him on a poster, got seven million views on YouTube, so what? It’s what I do.” And the crowd reveres him for it—it’s LA, it’s Hollywood, it’s cold, emotionless, unfeeling, sunglasses at midnight—swaggalicious! But it’s not enough tonight, the 20 points, the dunks, the improved post game, the passes, the increased defensive activity; it’s not enough and he ends the game with the poorest plus/minus of any Clippers player. The stat’s not all-indicative or all-encompassing, but it does tell us that the Clips were outscored when Blake was on the court tonight. The above isn’t to say that Griffin is emotionless. Rather, his furies are selective; taken out on rims and refs. A man can’t dunk with the aggression of Griffin without having something built up, pent up, bottled up…waiting to explode.
Griffin’s an embraceable face, a marketable style, a chiseled athlete that Subway and Kia throw wads of cash at in attempts to lure him into promoting their products. He’s rugged and competitive; he’s the perfect athlete to place on a pedestal. But DeMarcus? Last season he demanded a trade and (in a roundabout way) got his coach fired. To casual fans, he’s known as much for his outbursts and tantrums as he is for his dominant play and potential. To the unknowing, he’s the enfant terrible. How much of is this fueled by anger compared to immature indiscretion is impossible to know, but it’s fair to assume both parts sources drive Cousins’ madness.
And of course these two young innocents have exchanged words and occasional elbows on the court. After a physical game last season, Cousins called Griffin an “actor” and said the NBA “babies” him. Griffin responded with some jokes and questioned Cousins’ reputation. It was a nice tit for tat that can link players together through the media while driving them apart as people and potential teammates (all-star games, Olympics).
Despite Griffin developing somewhat of a reputation as being one of the league’s golden children (especially from a marketing and advertising perspective), he’s simultaneously becoming known for his flopping and posturing. He’s prone to the extended stare after a big play, the glare after a hard foul; he can be seen as a tough guy who doesn’t back it up. If you’re a Clippers or Griffin fan, you see him getting under the skin of his opponents, helping his team win while maintaining his cool. His cool is part of his being, part of his on-court persona and skill set. Given his effort and physicality, it’s hard to make a case that his cool results in any on-court detachment. This is where the primary break with DeMarcus occurs. Where Griffin’s immaturity and petulance are merely annoying for fans and opponents, Demarcus’s antics and eruptions are distracting for him and his teammates. He’s battling the refs, battling opponents, battling coaches and worst of all, fighting himself.
At risk of delving into a wormhole of sociological speculation, I’ll only briefly touch on the drastic life differences these two young men endured growing up. Griffin was raised in a two-parent home in Oklahoma; one where he was homeschooled until eighth grade and played for his father in high school. Alternately, Cousins grew up in a single-family household, attended multiple high schools in Alabama and steadfastly refused to take any responsibility for his behavior. A fully fleshed-out essay could easily be built around the differences in their childhoods and the challenges they face today as a result, but other than this brief review, I’d rather stick to the men we’re dealing with today, not yesterday.
Literally speaking of yesterday, I watched Griffin and questioned whether or not he’d actually developed over his first couple seasons. While Cousins’ statistical arrow is pointed straight up, Griffin’s stats have been slightly, but steadily, dipping down. Looking at it from a purely statistical standpoint or even watching the games, you can see Griffin’s impact isn’t what it was when he was a rookie. Meanwhile, Cousins has become the heart, soul, tears and pulse of this Kings team. Instead of looking at this as Griffin already reaching his ceiling, it’s not as simple as that. Both players are filling a void on their respective teams. In Los Angeles, Chris Paul has revised the climate from the Blake Show to a CP3-led, guard-initiated attack. It begins and ends with Paul; an on-the-court general; one of the league’s most intense competitors who’s willing do whatever (ask Julius Hodge) it takes to win. The team (Blake included) has followed his lead. Griffin’s learned to play off of his PG, drifting towards the basket on CP’s defense-collapsing drives, hitting the offensive boards on CP misses or kick out misses, he takes advantage of slower fours by hitting what’s become an improved mid-range jumper. In Sacramento, as Tyreke Evans has either plateaued or regressed, Cousins has taken on the role of catalyst. When Paul Westphal was fired last season, it was evident there was a Westphal-Cousins conflict and new coach Keith Smart was wise to tap into the mercurial big man’s psyche and give him the confidence and latitude to succeed—which he clearly did last year: 4th overall in rebounds/game, only center to finish in the top-20 in steals/game, 3rd in TRB%, led all centers in usage rate. Cousins arrived with heavy footsteps and swinging limbs, announcing his arrival to anyone in earshot or sight.
None of this is to say one player is better than the other, but rather each player’s giving his team exactly what they need. CP3 might be the Clips’ version of Jean-Luc Picard, but Blake is the swag, the electricity, the vitality. And Cousins fulfills both of those roles in Sacramento…because that’s what he has to be for them to have any chance of success. These kids leave everything on the court every time they play. They play, they care, they’re upsettable, excitable, irritable, irrationally talented. And for all their differences (vertical vs. horizontal, NoCal vs. SoCal, one-parent vs. two-parent, stability vs. volatility), they have just as much in common, although both would probably puke if they had to admit it.