Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

81% of Anthony Davis looks like this

After 2014-15, Anthony Davis’s pro hoop trajectory climbed into rare company. His traditional big man stats (points, rebounds, blocks) gained him admittance into a stratosphere known to few at the pro level: +24ppg, +10rpg, +2.5bpg. Only Shaquille O’Neal accomplished the same as a 21-year-old. For players 25 or younger, only Shaq, David Robinson, and Bob McAdoo pulled it off. If we expand the list to remove any age constraints, the list is still less than 30 total seasons and just eight players in league history. Anthony Davis won’t turn 23 until March of 2016 and yet, as some critics take aim at Michael Jordan’s career, I too have a prickle of concern in my gut about the durability of young Mr. Davis.

It’s not hyperbolic exaggeration to say Davis’s early career has the markings of an inevitable first-ballot Hall of Famer. His first three seasons have been that good. But somewhere in that mixing pot of historical greatness is the mildly concerning truth that Davis has yet to exceed 70 games in a single season. He’s never encountered the catastrophic injuries that wracked Greg Oden or Joel Embiid. Rather, he’s been sidelined by one little injury after another.

If we consider the players in the 24/10/2.5 club as some sort of bright and shiny baseline to compare against Davis from a purely durability view, we get the following breakout across each player’s first three seasons:

Anthony Davis and shiny baselines - stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com

Anthony Davis and shiny baselines – stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com


It is certainly isn’t an apples to apples comparison, particularly since primary data linking the players (24/10/2.5) occurred for most guys at a different point in their careers. The other difference is player age though there’s not much we can do about that. Of the eight players on the list, David Robinson (26) was the oldest after three years while Davis (21) is the youngest. And given Davis’s lithe frame (particularly as a 19-year-old rookie), it’s fair to wonder if age and physical maturation have factored into his semi-fragility.

Olajuwon (knee injury in 1986) and Robinson (thumb surgery in 1992) both had 68-game seasons in their first three years, but Hakeem appeared in all 82 his first year while the Admiral hadn’t missed a game in nearly three full seasons. Ewing only appeared in 50 games as a rookie, then 63 his second season before finally finding health (82 games) via a significant reduction in minutes – less than four minutes played per game in his third season. Sticking with Ewing, the bulk of his 32 games missed as a rookie were the result of a shutdown in March after he re-aggravated a season-long knee injury.

As we look at Davis’s spate of missed games over his first three seasons, we’ll see the shutdown factor slightly skew his number of games played as well. Over his first two years in the league, Davis was shut down with three games to go as a rookie due to a sprained MCL and bone bruise, then five more as in year two due to back spasms. Those eight games combine for 17% of the total missed games in his career – small volume, but it’s fair to wonder whether he may have played through injury had the playoffs been a possibility.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise, but New Orleans is a significantly better team with Davis on the court. For his career, when Davis plays, the Pelicans’ winning percentage climbs nearly 14% — from ~32% to ~46%. While the team’s winning percentage has grown each season he’s been on the team (with or without Davis), the disparity between with and without Davis has never been greater than it was in 2014-15 when their winning percentage climbed 14.5% when Davis played. This shouldn’t shock anyone, but rather continue to highlight how critical a healthy Davis is to any New Orleans success.

10-26-15 - with or without anthony

Beyond just winning and losing, there’s the impact of continuity. How well did the Pelicans play in games following a Davis injury? Looking at his first two seasons, the games immediately following his injuries were miserable. There’s a lot of noise when drawing these attribution statements such as opponents, New Orleans personnel, and other injuries, but at its base level, the message is clear that New Orleans repeatedly struggled to re-integrate Davis into their schemes following injuries in years one and two:

  • 2012-13 (rookie year): Davis missed 11 straight games from 11/20 – 12/8 and upon return, the team struggled losing 11 of 13 games (won 15% of games)
  • 2012-13: Davis missed back-to-back games and upon his return, the team dropped seven of eight (13%)
  • 2013-14: Davis missed seven straight and when he came back they lost 12 of 16 (25%)

Aside from being small sample sizes, the stretches above are directional indicators that New Orleans took time to rediscover their pre-Davis-injury winning rate. In each of those three stretches the team performed worse off than even without Davis in the lineup.

Year three revealed a different trend that should alleviate some of the uncertainty around the direction of the Pelicans:

  • 2014-15: Davis misses three straight games and upon return, the Pelicans win four of five (80%)
  • 2014-15: Davis misses five straight games, but when he returns the team wins five of seven (71%)

As the team and Davis have both evolved, New Orleans has improved; learning to live better without their star while simultaneously establishing a system stable enough to provide some level of continuity with or without him. Replacing former coach Monty Williams with veteran Alvin Gentry isn’t likely to disrupt too much as off-season changes left the team about as intact as any other in the league.

(As an aside, for all the teeth gnashing about how basketball is a team game, pro basketball with its radiant stars is hugely dependent on their in-game availability and ability to excel. Players like Davis that impact both offensively and defensively are capable of reshaping history singlehandedly.)

Finally, there are types of injuries. Davis hasn’t sustained a trademark injury like Steph Curry’s ankles, Derrick Rose’s knees or Steve Nash’s back. Since his rookie season, his injuries stretched from head to toe ranging from a concussion to a sprained toe. He’s sprained both shoulders, fractured his fifth metacarpal, experienced back spasms, sprained his MCL among various other dings picked up in nightly battle sessions. As someone without a background in sports health or injuries, it’s difficult for me to say if it’s a good or bad thing that Davis’s injuries are completely random instead of identifiable. I don’t know if it matters that his label is injury prone or just plagued with a bit of bad luck.

It doesn’t take intellectual curiosity to realize less Anthony Davis is bad for the Pelicans. But despite the obviousness of it, Davis has still missed 18, 15, and 14 games in each of his first three seasons as a pro basketball player and his team suffers mightily without him. The injuries are just random and fluky enough to think luck has played a role, but just recurrent enough to make me, you, and Dell Demps wonder. Winning 42% of their games without him is strong year-over-year improvement, but with Davis out for any extended period of time Pelican playoff dreams are crushed like a bag of Doritos in the mitts of Omer Asik. But maybe it’s all nothing more than a human impulse to search for the little blemish in perceived perfection. On the eve of a new season where someone somewhere is ready and willing to anoint Davis the next great thing, let’s bow our heads and clasp our hands and cry out to the Pagan gods of Walton and Ming that we’re dealing with another Ewing and not a Ralph Sampson.


Summer League Scouting Grab Bag

young & smartMore so than the college game with its mini-three point line and suspect officiating, summer league offers a chance for a first look at some of the league’s best and youngest players playing what is mostly an NBA game – right down to the annoying cutaways to Secaucus for summer reviews. (Also, double OT is sudden death – to my knowledge, a wrinkle players will find nowhere else on the planet.)

After catching a couple games on a lazy post 4th of July afternoon, a handful of players stood out to me for various reasons and I wanted to share these first (and second) impressions for posterity:

Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia:

  • I don’t know who informed me (Twitter or NBA TV), but people are calling him “Jaws.” I give the nickname a C-.
  • The big man from Duke is as-advertised with terrific footwork and hands.
  • He doesn’t lumber or labor up and down the floor despite weighing 270lbs or more. That being said, my buddy Bug accurately compared his physique to Jared Sullinger and that’s not a good thing.
  • He ran the floor and hit the boards with effort.
  • His sense of space around the hoop is advanced for kid that’s just 19.
  • This is completely personal, but there’s something vacant in his eyes and missing in his body language. Is he interested? Is he entitled? Bored? Is summer league just another opportunity for him to bully opponents like he’s done his entire life? Is he just an even keel dude? I don’t know, but I’d like to.
  • The combination of size and skill is already good enough put up 15+ points-per-game against pros.
  • Okafor has an advanced handle for his size, but maybe that’s to his detriment as he instinctually put the ball on the floor and occasionally tried to dribble out of double teams which may work in summer league but could be a costly habit against NBA regulars.
  • Insists on taking his man one-on-one or creating his own looks.
  • I wasn’t paying attention to him too much on defense so I can’t speak to the deluge of criticisms there.
  • Free throws are an adventure.
  • His massive hands are a great asset for ball control and rebounding.
  • Post spin move already on par with the best post players in the league.
  • Like watching a great wave roll in.

TJ McConnell, Philadelphia:

  • McConell’s the Arizona point guard that kind of looks like Aaron Craft, but doesn’t play like him.
  • As the conductor of the Philly offense he fed Okfaor, kept him locked in, pushed when the opportunity was available, and finished well around the rim.
  • I have no idea if/how his game translates against the deepest position in the league, but after seeing him for a game and a half, I was surprised and impressed.
  • Struggled to stay in front of Terry Rozier.
  • Already reads and executes well on the pick and roll.
  • Poised.

Marcus Smart, Boston:

  • #36 is the second year point guard for Boston with an Earl Campbell-esque build. In summer league with guys that can’t legally drink, but can smoke all the cigarettes they want, this is even more pronounced.
  • Ridiculously physical for the position, nothing has changed here.
  • Owned Jazz defenders with his strength, but used change of pace and timing to penetrate and draw fouls over and over.
  • Still showing signs of lacking mental toughness. Got caught on a screen from beefy Jazz big man Jack Cooley and wound up with a flagrant foul. He’s feisty and irritable which is a dangerous combination for a guy with his strength.
  • Shot miserably from the field (2-10 from three), but made up for it with great shooting from the line (12-13).
  • He’s a man against boys in this league.
  • Sat out Boston’s second game on Tuesday.

RJ Hunter, Boston:

  • It’s one game, but watched him repeatedly bounce off bigger, stronger bodies.

Dante Exum, Utah:

  • What a feel for the game.
  • This is not the skinny kid I saw a handful of times last year.
  • He’s put on some much-needed pounds since last season and it shows in improved balance and body control, particularly when getting into the paint and getting his shot.
  • Used strength and feel to get 10 free throw attempts. Of note: I think it was @Ben_Dowsett who hipped me to this on Twitter, but Exum only shot 32 free throws in all 82 games last year. Wow.
  • Even more so than Smart, he stood out as the best player on the floor. The fluidity, the grace, my word.

Jack Cooley, Utah:

  • Who is this beefy Luke Harangody clone?
  • Well, @deehaze24 enlightened me:
  • Former Notre Dame player from Glenview, IL, played in the D-League last year and had a 29-rebound game.
  • On Monday against Boston, he repeatedly used a combination of his wide body, strength, and craftiness to suck in rebounds. He ended up with 13 boards in 16 minutes – seven of those were offensive.
  • On the flip side, he picked up six fouls in those 16 minutes. Not certain, but I’m guessing some were the result of Smart breaking down the defense.

Orlando, Orlando:

  • Get a real arena or find a way to deliver a higher vantage point for the camera. Frank Kaminsky on the camera-side of the court looked like a balletic Gheorghe Muresan.
  • Salt Lake City is the superior viewing experience.

2015 Dancing with Noah … Unprofessional Mock Draft

This draft, more so than most drafts in recent memory (I can only recall last year’s draft with any ease, and also the 1984 draft which is more something I know about and the 2003 draft), has great thorough talent lying the top eight players. It’s a remarkably deep group percolating with all kinds of global basketball goodness. We’ve got hyphens (Karl-Anthony, Cauley-Stein, Hollis-Jefferson), Euros (Kristaps, Hezonja), mano a mano positional intrigue (Towns vs. Okafor, Mudiay vs. Russell, Hezonja vs. Justise), and a pair of storied franchises (Lakers and Knicks) that could throw the whole thing out a whack with their maverick decision making ways. There’s Morey and Hinkie, the fence swinger and extra long looking visionary.

What’s best as a fan though is that there’s excitement. Everything I listed above is tossed into a big ass draft mixing bowl and stirred up into prognosticatory basketball goodness. And Adam Silver and ESPN’s talking heads will serve it up to all of us over the course of three to four hours (or however long the draft is these days) on a random Thursday night in high summer.

Below is the second annual Dancing with Noah mock. It’s weird and unsophisticated, but sprinkled with tasty little surprises throughout. This wasn’t a one-man show. My friends Rex Tredway, Hamilton, Bug, and Maahs joined for the bulk of it. And a couple Twitter personalities repped their teams below so special thanks to Justin Faudree and Jacob Greenberg.

Now let’s draft ……..

1. Minnesota Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns as drafted by Rex Tredway

It’s not a done deal yet, but Karl-Anthony Towns seems to be ahead by a nose in the two horse race to become the first to cross the stage on June 25th. The T-wolves have the luxury of deciding which big man to build the franchise around, but with this decision comes pressure. Flip Saunders has been touting Jahlil Okafor since well before his team secured a victory in the lottery, but the T-wolves’ front office seems set on Towns. Is Towns the best fit? Is he the best compliment to Nikola Pekovic in the frontcourt? Or is he just the safest pick? When you hold the first pick you dream of Lebron, Duncan, and Ewing, but what keeps you up at night is Joe Smith, Kwame Brown, and Greg Oden. Get some rest, Flip.

Tony Towns

2. Los Angeles Lakers, Jahlil Okafor as drafted by Bug

It’s been 10 years since the Lakers struck gold with a quality big man in the draft when they selected the eclectic Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick in 2005. It didn’t last long, but they have two titles to show for it. With Jahlil Okafor the Lakers get back to their roots with a dominant low post force. Some like to critique his defensive presence and motor, but are the Lakers really going to roll with the Ed Davis/Robert Sacre/Jordan Hill poop sandwich for another season? Even Jim Buss can’t fuck this pick up.

jahlil okafor

3. Philadelphia 76ers, Emmanuel Mudiay as drafted by Hamilton

In the last two drafts the Sixers have acquired players who ended their collegiate seasons in travel gear. This time why not go with a guy who didn’t play college ball? Emmanuel Mudiay spent the year in China with the Guangdong Southern Tigers where he put up roughly 18, 6, 6. All I know about Chinese basketball is this happened, but I’m guessing Mudiay’s numbers were a bit inflated by the comp. In any case, he did travel a nation playing basketball for money and – what’s that? D’Angelo Russell did too? Oh … well, good on ya, D! But did you play with a 24 second shot clock? No? Okay, that seals the deal for Philly. Mudiay is the guy.

Emmanuel Mudiay

4. New York Knicks, D’Angelo Russell as drafted by Fendo

While the ghost of Isiah Thomas haunts the hallways of MSG, Phil Jackson’s chilling in Montana no doubt smoking peyote and tweeting three-point philosophies and Jimmy Dolan’s subconsciously scheming new and diabolical ways to break the hearts of loyal Knick fans. But even ghosts, hallucinogens, and incompetents aren’t enough to convince the Knickerbockers to pick Trey Lyles. The decision comes from above and when it reaches the ears of Derek Fisher, he’s giddier than he was that time Billy Hunter was ousted: D’Angelo Russell is the choice and maybe the best player in the entire draft. Only thing is, Phil, Dolan, Melo, and Isiah were bickering over the pick on an MSG conference line when it was mysteriously delivered to Adam Silver. Jonathan Abrams is hatching the oral history as we mock.

d'angelo r

5. Orlando Magic, Kristaps Porzingis as drafted by Maahs

After an amazing showing in Las Vegas against Antoine Tyler, Kristaps Porzingis rose towards the top of every team’s draft board. All joking aside there’s a lot to like about the 19-year-old Latvian prospect and his draft workout. “The Zinger” has the rare combination of mobility, shooting touch, and size (7’1″ with a 7’6″ wingspan to be exact) that has tantalized scouts for years. With a ceiling of a Dirk/Kirilenko/Schrempf and a floor of Tskitishvili/Vesely, Porzingis’ fate will be determined by his growth under Scott Skiles. Yikes. Hopefully Skiles and Co. have a plan in place to develop young Porzingis on and off the floor – different than Skiles’ usual plan of having his team hate the coach after three years.


6. Sacramento Kings, Willie Cauley-Stein as drafted by Maahs

He’s the next Tyson Chandler, we know, we know. Every mocker has endlessly compared Willie Trill Cauley-Stein to Tyson Chandler, but WTCS’ ability to defend on the perimeter is what will eventually set him apart from Chandler. And while it took seven years for Tyson Chandler to become Tyson Chandler, WTCS will be able to make an immediate impact on the defensive end. Like most Kentucky guys in the draft (not named Harrison), he has some offensive skills that weren’t on display during last season’s undefeated run. Getting a Kentucky running mate and finally some front court help should provide for a less cantankerous version of Boogie in the 2015-16 season (assuming he’s still on the team and that’s even a possibility under Coach Karl).

cauley stein

7. Denver Nuggets, Mario Hezonja as drafted by Fendo with input from Justin Faudree

I crept into the bowels of my Twitter contacts to speak with noted Europhile and Denver Nuggets guru, Justin Faudree. We weren’t able to go as deep into the conversation as I had hoped, but what became clear was Mario Hezonja’s uniqueness and the intertwining of his place in this draft relative to Justise Winslow. The Nuggets are filled with fresh new faces all eager to make a splash. Playing it safe (Winslow) isn’t winning the hearts and minds of the Nuggets faithful, but going in on a Croatian shooter/athlete with major Chase Budinger potential is the kind of balls to the wall move the people of Denver demand. Who needs defense when you’ve got the Rooster, Mario, and stay high Ty Lawson?


8. Detroit Pistons, Justise Winslow as drafted by Hamilton

You don’t hear Winslow’s name mentioned with Detroit at #8 too often because he’s not expected to be sitting there when Stan Van makes his choice. There’s not a team in the NBA that wouldn’t benefit from his defensive willingness and attack-the-basket mentality. As good as he was for Duke last year, he’s damn young and may just be scratching the surface of what he can become. The Harden comparisons are too easy (left handed, uses a Euro step on the drive, gets to the line) and totally neglect the possibility of him being an elite wing defender. The knocks on him are shooting ability and focus. Both those things can improve with time in the NBA and SVG won’t accept anything less.

justise winslow

9. Charlotte Hornets, Trey Lyles as drafted by Bug

Jordan’s Hornets are on the clock, and there isn’t enough space allowable to mention all of the holes on this roster of ragamuffins. MJ was hoping for Cauley-Stein to fall to them to be their defensive anchor after Big Al skips town in a year (or sooner), but he is long gone. As Golden State showed with their championship run, versatility can be a major advantage. With that thought fresh in the minds of all NBA executives, the Hornets go with one of the most versatile players in the draft, Trey Lyles. Lyles came to Kentucky penciled in to play backup PF/C behind lottery picks Towns and Cauley-Stein, but injury forced him into action as a SF playing out of position. Lyles took the position change in stride, and steadily improved as the season progressed. At 6-10, 240, Lyles has the ability to play SF with a big lineup, or slide over center with a small ball lineup. Lyles isn’t great at any one skill, but he can do a bit of everything very well.

t lyles

10. Miami Heat, Stanley Johnson as drafted by Rex

There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to drafting. You either select the “best” player: the guy at the top of your draft board. Or, you draft to fill a need: the guy who fits the best. If you’re the guy who can check both those boxes with one pick, well, you might be Pat Riley. With the selection of Stanley Johnson you get a wing with tremendous upside. An elite athlete who already plays solid D, which seems to be much harder to teach in today’s NBA then developing a 3-point shot (37% at Arizona) and also hits the boards (6.5 RPG). Aside from the upside of Johnson on the court they also draft their way into leverage over both Wade and Deng’s player options.

stan johnson

11. Indiana Pacers, Cameron Payne as drafted by Rex

Roy Hibbert is headed out the door and David West turns 35 this year so the Pacers have to take a big man right? A seven-footer from Texas? The pick has to be Myles Turner right? Not in this mock my friends. The Pacers have plenty of holes to fill on a roster that was completely exposed in a season largely without Paul George. A playmaking PG who averaged 20 and 6 could be just what the Pacers are looking for this upcoming season. I mean, they’ve talked about a more up-tempo style next year and is Rodney Stucky (if he re-signs) really the guy who you want running the show?


12. Utah Jazz, Myles Turner as drafted by Bug

Once the Jazz decided to ship Enes Kanter out of town, they drastically improved into one of the best defenses in the league down the stretch. Utah’s glaring need is an upgrade in the shooting department (Burks, Burke and Dante Exum shoot at an insanely terrible clip), but the departure of Kanter last season leaves them a bit thin on the front line. With this pick, the Jazz select Myles Turner out of Texas. The 6-11 Turner provides reinforcements for both needs. Don’t let Turner’s size and position fool you, he sported an 84% stroke from the charity stripe and is capable of knocking down the deep ball. The big payoff for Utah will be Turner’s defensive presence. Averaging 2.6 bpg in only 22mpg at Texas, the young big man will fit right in with the defensive tone established by Gobert and Favors late in the 2014-2015 season.

myles turner

13. Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker as drafted by Hamilton

Devin Booker has a clear NBA level skill in his shot. Despite being picked after 3 of his UK teammates in this draft, there were several games during the 14-15 season in which he was their best player. Dude came up with timely 3s when his offensively-challenged team needed them. I clearly remember when his pops played for Mizzou and it makes me feel old as hell. But I digress. Like most NBA teams nowadays, the Suns want to spread the floor. This pick gets at that desire. Shooting ability isn’t just about making them – the threat is often enough to make an impact on games. Booker’s called light in the frame and below average athletically, but this is a make or miss league with a premium on the 3 pointer. When a guy can make ‘em like he does there’s a place for that late in the lottery.

devin booker

14. Oklahoma City Thunder, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as drafted by Fendo

At this point the draft has drifted into some sort of quality-driven fourth tier of player and with a new coach in place, an elite team that was damned by injuries in 2015, and Sam Presti’s model that may or may not have plateaued, OKC’s in a queer spot. Who’s calling the shots and does it even matter? What do you give the team that already has everything? We guess depth and a future and by we I mean me, Billy D, and Presti. In our dreamy imaginary war room with me dialing in from Seattle and representing the spirit that allowed this franchise to come into existence, our selection is narrowed down to three: Cam Payne, Kelly Oubre, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. We agree Oubre’s ceiling is the highest, Payne is the best player today, and Hollis-Jefferson the most complementary player to the Thunder’s present day roster. Offense just isn’t a problem with this collection of talent and Presti’s keen on Donovan replicating the Kerr/Blatt first year successes. Fellow Seattleites shun me for canoodling with the OKC brass, but mock draft duty calls and I reject their jeers and criticisms. Give us the hyphen, the defense, the Hollis-Jefferson. [After the fact, it becomes clear to me that Cam Payne was already off the board for this pick. Thus I wasted imaginary conversation time stressing about whether he’d be a good fit or if he’d just end up putting OKC in a tight situation like Harden and Reggie Jackson. Presti should’ve told me.]

rondae hollis

15. Atlanta Hawks, Bobby Portis as drafted by Maahs

After all the warm and fuzzy feelings of the regular season were gone, the injury bug and lack of depth ultimately doomed the Atlanta Hawks during the post season. With Paul Millsap and Demarre Carroll hitting free agency the Hawks are in desperate need of wing and post help. Portis, a lean 6’11”, provides immediate depth and his ability to hit the mid-range jumper will fit nicely into Coach Bud’s pace and space philosophy. With an offensive game similar to Chris Bosh, Portis will eventually be able extend is range to the 3 point line.

bobby portis

16. Boston Celtics, Kelly Oubre as drafted by Maahs

At 6’7” Oubre has the length, fluidity, athleticism, and look of your prototypical NBA small forward. A streaky shooter, Obure had a tendency to get lost on offense in his lone year at KU. And while he doesn’t yet excel at one specific thing, he projects to be at least a solid player in the league. Being a solid NBA player isn’t a bad thing, the Celtics current roster is full of them. Danny Ainge adds another high ceiling glue guy in the hopes of landing a max player or using them as future trade assets.

kelly oubre

17. Milwaukee Bucks, Frank Kaminsky as drafted by Fendo

Frank the Tank or whatever they’re calling this mass of American-born Diaw-styled basketball goodness is the perfect fit in the rapidly developing cerebral nerve center of these Milwaukee Bucks. Coach Jason Kidd and GM John Hammond are high fiving in the Bucks war room as visions of Kaminsky occupying high posts and running weird pick & rolls with Giannis and Jabari and Khris dance in their heads. The League Pass darlings of 2015 look poised to carry the momentum forward in ways the Suns only wish they could’ve done the year before.


18. Houston Rockets, Jerian Grant as drafted by Hamilton

Houston rolled into the WCF with Jason Terry’s corpse starting at PG. There are few nights off in the NBA and even fewer at PG in the West. Whether the Rockets bring Jet back (they shouldn’t bother) they need younger legs behind Pat Beverley (assuming they retain his services). Jerian Grant’s the answer at #18. He’s got good size (6’4, 200), can shoot it, and played in an up-tempo offense at Notre Dame. That size coupled with defensive quickness gives him a shot to contribute in his first year. That’s what a team like Houston needs. As the son of former NBAer Harvey Grant and brother of Sixer SF Jerami, he knows what life in the league is all about. That matters too.

jerian grant

19. Washington Wizards, Montrezl Harrell as drafted by Bug

The Wiz have their backcourt locked down for the foreseeable future, but their frontline is a little long in the tooth. Nene, Gortat, and Humpries are all in their 30s now, and Nene will soon be a free agent. Washington came roaring out of the gates early in the season, but they hit a wall and one has to think that old legs was a factor. Although a bit undersized, Harrell is one of the strongest and most athletic players in this draft. He should provide some toughness on the frontline and bring a ton of energy to a team that seemed to fade down the stretch last season. Montrezl has an improving jumper and will need to continue improving in that area to make a name for himself, but there is always a spot in the league for an athletic big man that plays his ass off every night.


20. Toronto Raptors, Sam Dekker as drafted by Bug

Masai Ujiri and crew were pleasantly surprised to have Sam Dekker fall in their laps at #20. Coming off of an electric tournament run, Dekker had scouts buzzing and being a lottery pick seemed to be a lock. The Raptors are in need of more production from both forward spots and Dekker is the top player left on their board. He gives the Raps some versatility with the ability to play both forward spots and even provide some mismatches at the four like he did at Wisconsin. Enough about Sam though…is anyone else rooting for his girlfriend to be in the green room with him?


21. Dallas Mavs, RJ Hunter as drafted by Hamilton

The Mavs (or Macs as the autocorrect on my phone prefers to call them) need a starting PG. They won’t find one here, but will be in the mix for every free agent like they are each summer. What they can find here is some shooting on the wing. Despite an odd release on his shot, at 6’5” RJ Hunter should be able to get clean looks and spread the floor when placed with the right (star) players – players Mark Cuban is certain to throw big money at in a post-Dirk world. Dallas will find itself in transition soon and having a specialist like Hunter under rookie contract during a retool makes sense from where I sit.

RJ Hunter

22. Chicago Bulls, Christian Wood as drafted by Bug

The Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg as their new coach to help open up the offense a bit and to unleash the Bulls deep talent. Unless a trade goes down, the Bulls don’t have many spots open in the rotation. There isn’t anyone left at this point in the draft that will contribute right away, so the Bulls decide to go with a developmental pick and take Christian Wood out of UNLV. Wood is high-energy forward that can run the floor like a gazelle. He also puts his length to good use on the defensive end where he averaged 2.6 blocks per game in his sophomore season for the Rebels. Wood has good mechanics on his jumper (73% FT) which has many GMs believing he can develop into a solid stretch four in the pros. The Bulls have the luxury of letting Wood develop his rail thin 6-10, 215 frame while he learns from watching Pau and Noah for his first couple years. He enrolled at UNLV at only 17-years of age, so Christian is one of the younger players in the draft at 19. Wood himself likens his game and skill set to Giannis Antekounmpo, and the Bulls are happy to allow him the opportunity to meet that potential.

christian wood

23. Portland Trailblazers, Justin Anderson as drafted by Hamilton

Portland has the worst luck when it comes to injuries. Or maybe they’re cursed. Who can tell for sure? You’re well aware of the injuries so it’d be a waste of my precious time to list them. If you’ve noticed a theme in my picks, it’s because there is one for the most part – wing players who can shoot. A basketball team can never have too many guys who can shoot from the outside. That’s never been truer than it is in today’s NBA. Portland has gotten squat from its bench in the last couple years which makes their injury situation impossible to mitigate. In Justin Anderson Portland gets everything it wants: a young athletic shooter capable on both ends who also missed games due to injury. A perfect fit indeed.

justin anderson

24. Cleveland Cavaliers, Rashad Vaughn as drafted by Fendo

Everything floating in LeBron’s powerful orbit screams NOW NOW NOW. But David Griffin (with the approval of D. Gilbert) has to at least acknowledge that a future exists, that tomorrow is right around the corner and what was NOW has become then. With that layman’s barstool philosophy driving him forward, he recognizes the need for someone who can be cultivated, developed, groomed into a legit pro. “Aim high, Griffin” is what he says as a stares intently into his own eyes in the mirror, sure to remind himself that, “You brought LeBron James back and now you’re drafting the next Bradley Beal. You’re the toast of Cleveland, Mr. Griffin.” Is it still a lie if it’s the truth in your reality?

rashad vaughn

25. Memphis Grizzlies, Tyus Jones as drafted by Maahs

With some of the top wing players already gone, the Grizzlies select the best player on their board in Tyus Jones. Injuries to Mike Conley are mounting each year, and the Grizz could use depth at PG beyond the 1-2 punch that is Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih. What Jones lacks in size or athleticism he makes up with poise, leadership and clutch shooting. Joining a franchise that values “playing the right way” over wingspans (drink) and athleticism, Jones will do just fine.

tyus jones

26. San Antonio Spurs, Kevon Looney as drafted by Maahs

With no viable Euro options on the board, the Spurs are forced to select a stateside player in the first round for the second consecutive year. A classic stretch four, with the ability to play some SF, Looney works hard on the glass and is a good decision maker on offense. Smart player, hard worker, good shooter…GO SPURS.

kevon looney

27. Los Angeles Lakers, Terry Rozier as drafted by Fendo

The Lakers have long treated the draft the way frivolous people treat lightly used, but still valuable goods — easily discardable. Meanwhile, thrifty NBA teams are using the draft the way savvy shoppers use garage sales and coupons. But these Lakers have been embarrassed into figuring out the new world of fiscal politics. But it’s weird because Kobe’s the last holdover to the good old days when the sex appeal of LA and the purple and gold was enough to finangle Pau Gasols and Chris Pauls (never forget). With a nod to their frivoulous past as Jerry Buss speaks sweet whispers into the thick El Segundo air, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss are inexplicably compelled to hand over the keys to #27 to the Mamba who promptly picks the kid most frequently labeled “fearless” in this draft: Terry Rozier. Never one to shy away from self-congratulations, Kobe makes his pick, then proceeds to tweet out a string of hardcore hashtags #ThisisNOW #LetitFly #CompetitionisEverything #LittleMamba #DwightisSoft #MambaMambaMambaMambaMamba…

terry rozier

28. Boston Celtics, Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez as drafted by Hamilton

Boston went with wing player in KU swingman Kelly Oubre earlier in this round. For this pick they’re going big and Euro. Guillermo Hernangomez might never come over to the NBA. If he does, he’ll be big and strong and Spanish. With multiple picks in the next two drafts Boston doesn’t have much risk in this pick and may be able to move his rights as part of a trade in the future. That, my friends, is value right there.


29. Brooklyn Nets, Delon Wright as drafted by Bug

Still reeling from the KG/Paul Pierce trade that backfired, the beleaguered Nets are stuck in the shadows of luxury tax hell. Deron and Joe Johnson appear to be a shell of their former selves and the team depth is gutted from the over-inflated salaries of their fading stars. Based on Paul Pierce’s interview back in April, the Nets need an influx of players that give a damn. The best guard on Billy King’s (yes, he still has a GM job somehow) board is Delon Wright out of Utah. Delon is the younger brother of NBA veteran, Dorrell Wright, so he has an idea of what it takes to make it in the league. He was the engine behind the Utes surprising Sweet 16 run this past season. He has great size for a PG at 6-5, and he uses his length to cause havoc on the defensive end (2.1 spg). If Delon can get some more consistency with his outside jumper, he could end up being one of the steals in this draft.

delon wright

30. Golden State Warriors, George de Paula as drafted by special guest Jacob Greenberg

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors aren’t super attached to the 30th pick — what with winning the NBA championship and all — and most reports suggest that they’d happily give this pick away in a David Lee-centric trade in order to obtain some salary cap relief. But the Warriors have had some luck at #30 in recent years (Festus Ezeli went 30th in 2012), and other championship teams have found value at the end of the first round. If they do keep the pick, they may go with George de Paula, a 6’6” point guard out of Brazil. The last combo guard the Dubs drafted didn’t work out — rest in power, Nemanja Nedovic — and the Warriors already are pretty loaded at the guard spot. That said, the Warriors aren’t exactly thirsting for depth at the moment; he could go to the Santa Cruz Warriors to develop, or he could be stashed overseas until needed. And if Barbosa sticks around another year, those two could become the focal point of a potentially entertaining (and marketable) Brazilian cohort. But again, I’ll be very surprised if the Warriors have this pick (and David Lee; godspeed you loaf of Wonder Bread) by the end of the day on Thursday.

george de paula

The Turnover King

The turnover king, the turnover king,
Let’s not say long live the turnover king
He’s fallen in a heap of basketballs made of butter that don’t bounce but splat with buttery densities
His pockets picked clean like the dreams of a drunk passed out on the BART with destination of summer
The turnover king, you turnover king
Thirteen times you gave it away
Those 27 points that were nothing but average all year long
were unattainable,
A single point over half of average which is 14 total which is underwhelming when cities and states depend on you
Average was out of reach like the extra virgin olive oil-covered leather ball that betrayed you on a Wednesday night in May
Those seven assists you casually deliver with just a hair more than the effort I put into catching my morning bus or walking my morning dog
Were as fleeting as an acceptable assist-to-turnover ratio:
Yours was 1 to 2.1666666666667 tonight
(or something, could be there are too many or too few sixes)
But it doesn’t matter
The great turnover king, the turnover king
Exists in multispheres like this:
In my eye as a fan of trivial NBA history
In his eye as a human being trying to achieve something – such as a completed pass to a teammate
In the eyes of his opponents as a brown skinned equation that is a basketball version of the unsolvable, yet only if said equation collapsed on itself leaving mathematician
basketball opponents like, “Oh shit, the math did itself”
Historically bad is still historical you gnarled sweating
Turnover king
I swear to god if this was 1215 instead of 2015, probably the bards and songwriters would write about the turnover king with the amount of sadness on par with the amount of joy they write about the
Three point king or reverence with which they write about the regular king
Unnaturally bearded children would bury their heads in the bosoms of consoling mothers
While sober former players would chalk it up a bad game, shaking their heads shrugging massive suit-covered shoulders and reminisce on their own pimple covered failures in uglier-than-reality embellished memories
And in the sphere of emotional existence, do we not recall our scars as much if not more than our jubilations?
Oh you fucking immortal turnover king with all those errant passes and over dribbles
Are you mad man?
We know you’re not, you filthy turnover king
You just had a bad day like that time I stepped in dog shit with no shoes on before high school and nasty stuff in my toe nails and cuticles
Or that time I forgot my laptop even though my entire existence as a professional hinges to varying degrees around my laptop
Turnover king, I’ve never coughed up 13 turnovers, but I feel you
Or not, you know?
Dear turnover king, like that section in the US Weekly magazines my wife reads, I know you’re a star but you’re just like us – you have bad days
I know this because you had the worst fucking day possible short of a game-flushing timeout called when you didn’t have any timeouts like Chris Webber way back in the day
And I (and the people I know) have had shitty days
Oh sloppy turnover king, were you unfocused, distracted? Did you forget yourself?
I doubt it.
My friend thought you looked like Sidney Dean throwing that game in Watts with Billy Hoyle and who am I to argue even if I don’t agree
I don’t believe you threw the game but if you’d been wearing that Colnago cap with the bill flipped, then maybe
Suffice to say, not even turnover kings are immune to storylines and narrative
Someday turnover king, someday when you’re vanquishing the physical foes of the present, they’ll bring this up in the same way
Gatorade and Adidas and their chummy ad agencies with their truckloads of demographic audience data build storylines around bouncing back and overcoming failure
There’s no good that will come out of this, you gone fishing turnover king, but in our endless quest to attach meaning to every inconceivable
Mishap that befalls us, someone, perhaps you yourself, will invent the silver lining to create achievement out of failure
Like a technicolor flower sprouting out of the ugliness of a desolate wasteland
Whatever turnover king, just let’s take better care of that which we covet next time

A Fan’s Notes on Paul Pierce

As a kid in junior high and high school, I was a basketball fanatic. College, pros, high school, didn’t matter. Late summers and early falls were for consuming glossy-covered pre-season hoop publications like Athlon and Lindy’s, and less aesthetically attractive magazine covers like Sporting News and Sports Illustrated, I was source agnostic. Growing up in the not-so-fertile basketball world of Des Moines, Iowa, I was partial towards the hoop prospects my state produced and none had me as giddy as Raef LaFrentz. A 6’11” knee-knocked kid from some foreign outpost of school called MFL Monona-Marmac. The first I’d heard of Raef was in the Des Moines Register when he was named to the all-state team as a junior after averaging 36-points, 16-rebounds, and six blocks. His senior year was waylaid by a bout with mono, but seeing him at the State Tournament that year, I knew he’d be legit, unlike his fellow big man from the class of ’95, Iowa-commit Greg Helmers.

So it was that in 1996, I was riding a wave of anticipation when my parents picked up tickets to see LaFrentz’s Jayhawks in Ames, Iowa against Iowa State. After all, Kansas wasn’t just LaFrentz. There was Scot Pollard and Jerod Haase, Jacque Vaughn and Billy Thomas, and a talented freshman from Inglewood named Paul Pierce.

At the time I was a skinny fifteen year-old freshman with a full head of short brown hair and round glasses. During a grab ass game of gym class basketball I managed to break my arm and leg, a hideous and painful calamity of injuries that landed me in the hospital hopped up on drugs, constipated and completely incapable of attending of a college basketball game. My buddy Hamilton ended up with the tickets and took another high school buddy of ours, and meanwhile I was bed ridden and crippled, unable and uninterested in some basketball game.

Young Paul Pierce in a giant t-shirt


Back then Pierce was a curiosity. My affinity for the Jayhawks started with LaFrentz and ended with the team. The other guys were supporting characters, but characters nonetheless with their own stories on the periphery of my own basketball experience. For me Pierce maintained this role for much of his career before evolving into a hated villain when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in Boston.

It’s weird, but before KG and Ray showed up, my most memorable Truth-related tale was his brush with death in a scary off-court stabbing in 2000. I was a college sophomore at the time and too busy being a 19-year-old idiot to fixate on the day-to-day comings and goings of the league, but even though the game was less of a priority, Pierce’s stabbing rose above the socio-academic cacophony. Looking back over the story, he “was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck, and back.” In some versions of the story the only reason he survived was the thick leather coat he wore at the time. Something about that always stuck with me and probably always will. He probably should’ve died, he probably should’ve been a tragic story in the wrong place at the wrong time, but instead this leather coat was his body armor and saved his life.

Then there was the oddball improbable chase for the finals with Antoine Walker and Coach Jim O’Brien in 2002. These Celtics won 49 games and had a 2-1 lead over the Jason Kidd/Kenyon Martin Nets in the conference finals before the Nets won three straight. Even though Boston lost, game three was another in a career of big Paul Pierce moments. The Celtics, down 19 points heading into the fourth, outscored New Jersey 41-16. Of course, the big game bonafides which were so clearly on display in 2015 against the Hawks had already begun taking shape: Pierce keyed that comeback by scoring 19 points in the final frame. And with a hint towards what would grow into a legendary swagger, after the game Pierce had this to say:

If I was on the other end of this, I would be hurting right now. I think this is a chance for us to gain momentum and take control of the series and not look back.

In a diluted, post-Jordan/pre-LeBron east, I thought the Pierce/Walker Celtics were maybe, possibly onto something following that conference finals appearance. It’s also possible my basketball analysis was rudimentary or confused. But whatever my shortcomings as a prognosticator, the ensuing five seasons were lean with Boston missing the playoffs twice and winning a total of seven playoff games in five years. With the Bron/Wade/Melo group emerging as torch bearers for a new generation, Pierce receded further away from the NBA’s mainstream superstardom. From 2002 until 2007, he continued his elite, if unspectacular role as an NBA all-star, but struggled to compete with the better players and storylines of his contemporaries like Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, KG, Dirk, Iverson, and Nash. He was likely overlooked and underappreciated, but fair or not, indicative of individual ability or not, the NBA has historically reserved its ink and camera time for winners, good guys, and players who score 81 points in a game. Pierce wasn’t as good as Kobe, didn’t win like Duncan, wasn’t a media darling like Nash, and didn’t have the culture-challenging chops of Iverson.

After all those years with Boston, the patience finally paid off in the summer of 2007 when Garnett and Allen joined the 30-year-old Pierce and second-year wunderkind Rajon Rondo. Pierce didn’t become a different person with his new team, but rather the cameras and mainstream just started paying closer attention and captured something of a Barkley-lite charisma. Great Celtic teams pull in the media like flies to shit and this was no different. Beyond the feel good story of these three first-ballot Hall-of-Famers finally rendezvousing, a narrative of villainy and bullying accompanied them. What made it all even more compelling was a reborn east with good teams and rivalry. The Celtics, with Pierce and KG as their joint mouthpiece, were front runners. Kendrick Perkins was perfectly cast as an enforcer, KG as the bully known for targeting European-born players and youngsters, and Pierce, the old school crusty veteran chomping at the bit to prove he was every bit the class of LeBron and Kobe.

I hated these Celtics. It wasn’t just because I’m a Laker fan. The best teams are often the easiest to dislike and these Celtics were no different. In retrospect, this was likely the best group in the league for a two-to-four year span and it’s surprising they only squeezed out a single title. Pierce had always been some sort of modern madcap iteration of Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley, a great player outshined by better peers. Like Chuck and Clyde, his emergence onto center stage brought with it ample opportunity to re-assess his place in my fandom and whether it was easier to lump him into the unlikable whole that was the Celtics or maybe just the ridiculous, if overblown, wheelchair incident, I loathed this new Paul Pierce. But the wheelchair thing didn’t help and it was less about Pierce than the hero narrative the media or Mike Tirico attached to it. With Pierce going down and returning, the theater of the game and the Pierce narrative along with it grew out of control like an ugly media-created Frankenstein. On one hand, Tirico (or a Tirico-type) lionized the event. Meanwhile the public was right to troll it. The disparity between the two views was drastic and while my disdain should’ve been reserved for the media, Pierce was an easier target at whom I could direct my venoms.

From 2007 to 2011 or 2012, the Celtics were my least favorite team in the league. It’s more than likely a telling trait of my personality, but the players I loathe the most are the ones for whom I reserve much of my time. There’s a dark intimacy to embracing the characters you hate. In the same way I looked forward to Joffrey’s death in Game of Thrones, I relish the defeat of my least favorite teams in any sport. This deep loathing lives somewhere in my bones and in the pit of my guts and has been with me since the Pistons were walloping Michael Jordan back in the late 80s. What’s twisted about this relationship is the need for villain to be not just talented, but to be dominant. In order for any level of sustained sporting hatred to develop into anything worth remembering, the opponent needs to leave you salty, almost rub your face in all the things you can’t stand about them. At this point, the fan (me) can start seeing beyond actions and into intentions. Whether real or perceived, the fan who gets his or her money’s worth will have their suspicions validated by facial expressions imagined as arrogance, bumps misconstrued as flagrant shoves, injuries as fakery. I remember these teams and players as well as I remember my favorites over the years. Jordan’s Bulls aren’t Jordan’s Bulls without those Pistons, the Patrick Ewing Knicks, or even the Malone/Stockton Jazz. The Fab Five wasn’t as interesting without Duke as a contrasting foil – and I hated some Duke. For Pierce, with KG by his side, to attain this level after years of middling existence in my fan world is no small feat and for those four or five years he was at the top, I despised him.

But like everything else, nothing lasts forever and with the decline of the Celtics, the most beautiful part of fandom occurred for me: the great thaw. For most (all?) players I’ve despised, after a time, when they are no longer a threat to my team or my existence, the dark frost melts away from me and I can embrace the player with a sense of respect and appreciation. It’s almost sad to see an old foe no longer capable of eliciting the same anger in you, but unless you’re truly hardcore it’s simply not possible.

Before he was even traded to Brooklyn, Pierce was transitioning into this phase for me, but it was the most unfortunate part of the phase, the one where the former foe is an empty shell like Ewing in Seattle or Ewing in Orlando. In Brooklyn, it was boring with LeBron trouncing his old enemies in five games like an in-prime Larry Holmes pounding an outclassed Muhammad Ali into the canvas and that was that. It’s easy to forget and let memories go with a whimper or a fizzle, a something to a nothing without much reason to pause and reminisce.

Cue 2015 and the playoffs. Cue a throwback Paul Pierce, still rocking that pearish-shaped body, but now making appearances at the power forward spot in Randy Wittman’s offense. And suddenly Pierce wasn’t just an old man, but a queer specimen of the Hollywood variety. Our own Crash Davis as a colorfully crustified veteran oozing with savvy and audacity. He shot 52% from three over ten playoff games and that was while taking over six threes per game. As the Wiz scrapped and clawed through their series with Atlanta, a series they would lose in six games, it wasn’t Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer or even game five hero Al Horford that would be deemed “winner of the series” (assuming such an award existed), but it was Pierce. With his game three buzzer beater for the win, his wide open game four miss, his game five clutch three that should’ve won, and his game six three that was late by the slightest of milliseconds, Pierce breathed life back into the character he’s always played, the character he’s always been and in the strangest of plot twists managed to temporarily snatch the spotlight from young bucks 10-15 years his junior. I watched all four of those final games and for the first time in my relationship with Pierce, I rooted for his slow-mo form to be perfect and on point, I sat at home trying to will his shots into the hoop and experience the other side of watching Paul Pierce.

It feels strange that my consciousness has known the human called Paul Pierce for nearly twenty years. The Pierce I missed out on in Ames back in 1996 is fundamentally the same person I hated for five years in Boston and the same guy I cheered for a week ago. Circumstance thrust him in and out of various roles and he’s the rare character fully capable of existing as her or heel. With his one ring and incomplete splotchy facial hair, he’ll never be Kobe or Duncan, just an infinitely more colorful character who calls his own shots and hits them.

What a long strange trip it’s been

The 2014-15 regular season is receding from view with haste. The playoffs and awards season are upon us like locusts, but before we’re enveloped in the madness of “Hero Ball,” let us remember what a long, strange trip it’s been in the form of 29 completely random stats that remind us we’re nothing if not anchored to the outliers of numerical histories.

  1. 2,000 points: James Harden was the only player in the league to hit the 2k tally, an otherwise arbitrary number dependent on a combination of scoring prowess and relative durability. With the exception of a bizarre 2003-04 season when no one scored 2,000 points (the only time in league history short of lockout seasons), this was the first time just one player has reached the plateau since the halcyon days of 1958-59 when LSU’s favorite son Bob Pettit stood alone on a mountain of points.
  2. 82 games: Despite all the high-profile injuries that left portions of this season and chunks of entire teams in tatters, 28 players appeared in the full 82 games.
  3. 3,000 minutes: No one appeared in 3k minutes this season. This is the first time since 1958-59 when NBA teams only played 72 regular season games that we’ve had no one cross the threshold.
  4. 1.7 steals/game: Nerlens Noel became the third player in league history 6’11” or taller to average at least 1.7 steals/game. The other two? David Robinson (twice) and Hakeem Olajuwon (nine times). Noel is three years younger than Olajuwon was when he accomplished it for the first time.
  5. 40% free throws: For players who have qualified for the free throw percentage leaderboard, only two have ever shot below 40% for a season: Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68 when he shot 38% and now DeAndre Jordan at 39.7%.
  6. 32% defensive rebounds: The most motley crew I could’ve possibly assembled is the list of recent players who’ve grabbed at least 32% of available defensive rebounds while qualifying for the rebounds/game leaderboard:  Joel Pryzbilla and Troy Murphy in 2009, Kevin Love and Kris Humphries in 2011, Dwight Howard and Marcus Camby in 2012, Reggie Evans in 2013, and now DeAndre in 2015. Also, Ben Wallace, Dennis Rodman, Swen Nater, and Bill Walton achieved the feat in earlier seasons. How about a free throw contest with this crew?
  7. 250 threes made: Prior to 2013, only three players had made 250 threes in a season: Dennis Scott and George McCloud in the 1996 three point-line shortened season, and Ray Allen in 2006. Steph Curry past three seasons:
    • 2013: 272 threes made (league record)
    • 2014: 261 threes made
    • 2015: 286 threes made (league record)
  8. 55-90-60-25 club: What the hell kind of club is this? 55% eFG, 90% FT, 60% TS, and 25% usage. This exclusive club includes Larry Bird (twice, in 87 and 88), Kevin Durant (2013), and now Curry.
  9. Four turnovers/game: DeMarcus Cousins joined 1978 Artis Gilmore as the only two centers in league history to average over four turnovers/game. Cousins averaged 4.3 while Gilmore was at 4.5. Disturbingly (or amazingly, depending on your view), Cousins had a higher TOV% as a rookie (18.5% in 2011 compared to 16.3 this season).
  10. 34% Usage: Probably not a huge surprise that Cousins averaged over four TOs/game given that he had the highest usage percentage of any center in Basketball-Reference’s database which dates back to 1977-78 for usage: 34.1%. Shaq is next on the list with a 32.9% usage in 1998. Somewhat surprisingly, number 20 and 22 on the all-time list are occupied by Rik Smits.
  11. 267 free throw attempts: the number of free throw attempts the Kings had more than the next closest team in the league, the Rockets. Sacramento shot 2,400 to Houston’s 2,133. 385 teams in league history have attempted more free throws in a season than Sacramento this year.
  12. 658th: that’s where the league’s leader in personal fouls committed ranks all time. The Denver Nuggets committed 1,882 personal fouls this season which doesn’t make a pimple on the ass of all time foul ranks.
  13. 8.6 assists/game: by Russell Westbrook this season; the most assists/game for a league-leading scorer since 1973 when Tiny Archibald led the league with 34points/game while averaging 11.4 assists/game and playing in a ligament-popping 46 minutes/game.
  14. 32.7 minutes/game: Steph Curry hasn’t even appeared in 33 minutes/game this season because Golden State simply hasn’t needed him to. It’s looking and feeling like he’s our 2015 MVP and if that’s the case, he will have appeared in the least MPG ever for an MVP, just edging out 1978 MVP Bill Walton who appeared in 33.3 MPG. Despite the low minutes, he’ll have the most threes made and highest three-point percentage of any MVP.
  15. 27-7-16 club: That’s 27pts, seven assists, and 16 or more WinShares; a new club previously inhabited by LeBron James (three times), Air Jordan (once), and Oscar Robertson (five times). And now those illustrious NBA Champions are joined by the bearded one, James Harden.
  16. 19.7 points/game: Completely random, but that’s the number of PPG both Anthony Davis and James Harden currently average for their careers.
  17. 30 PER: Anthony Davis just recorded the 18th +30 PER in league history with a 30.8 – the youngest player in league history to do it. Of the 18 occasions on which it’s occurred, 14 players made it out of the second round, three were eliminated in the first round, and once a player scored a +30 PER and didn’t make the playoffs although that was back in 1963 when just six teams qualified for the post-season.
  18. 66 games/season: Anthony Davis’s current career average.
  19. .399 eFG%: For any player in NBA history who has started at least 180 games in their career, Ricky Rubio is dead last in career eFG% with the aforementioned .399.
  20. 1.1 FTA/game: Rajon Rondo averaged 1.1 FTA/game while appearing in nearly 30 minutes/night. The only player who made less trips to the line while appearing in as many minutes was JR Smith – a player whose game is predicated on shooting at least six threes/game.
  21. 10-2.5-50 club: Another oddball club? Of course, this one is Chris Paul’s own special, nut-punching, insurance-slanging, point guarding club. In back-to-back seasons he’s the only player in league history to average at least 10 assists, less than 2.5 turnovers while shooting over 50% eFG.
  22. 22 PER: Tim Duncan joined John Stockton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players aged 38 (by February 1st) to reach the 22 PER milestone. Duncan’s was 22.6, Stockton’s 22.3, Jabbar’s 22.7.
  23. Rudy Gobert: Only player in the league to average over two blocks with over nine win shares, and a Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) greater than five. Worth noting that he’s the youngest player in league history (22) to accomplish this and just the seventh player to put this line together. His illustrious fellow defensive stalwarts include Duncan (once), Kevin Garnett (once), Dwight Howard (once), Dikembe Mutombo (once), Olajuwon (twice), David Robinson (once), and Ben Wallace (four times).
  24. 32 FGA/100 possessions: Westbrook’s 32 FGA/100 were three more FGA than number two – Dwyane Wade. List surprises:
  25. 6.2/16.4 3p/3pa/100: No one shot or made more threes per 100 possessions than … wait for it …. Charlie Villanueva.
  26. Dollars/minute:
  27. 1 steal, 1 block, 5 DWS: Only 14 times in league history have players 6’7” or shorter accomplished a steal and block per game with a DWS of 5 or higher. Draymond Green (1.3bpg, 1.6spg, 5.2 DWS) joined the club this season. Others inductees include: Gerald Wallace, Shawn Marion (king of the club with six appearances), Paul Pierce, Air Jordan (twice), Charles Barkley, and Dr. J (twice).
  28. 18/11/10: Prior to this season only Robert Parish (1989) and Wilt Chamberlain (1971) had reached at least 18ppg, 11rpg, and 10+ WS. Pau Gasol, the nicest man in the league, joined that fine company this season with the Bulls.
  29. 25/6/6: Every season since his rookie year, LeBron James has averaged at least 25ppg, 6rpg, and 6apg. In that time, Russell Westbrook (2015) is the only other player to accomplish the feat. Prior to LeBron pulling it off in 2005, the last players to do it were Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan in 1992. This is ridiculous.

What a long strange trip it’s been


Young assailants seizing the Spring

Maybe it’€™s happened before like back in the weird forgotten 1970s of America, but rarely have we seen a batch of rookies arrive with such an emphasis on their hair: Nerlens Noel‘s brick top flat top, Elfrid Payton‘s Edward Scissorhands angles, Nikola Mirotic‘s light-swallowing beard. And there’€™s also Andrew Wiggins. If the NBA is a league for its radiant styles, it’s all predicated on deep substance and now that spring is upon us, the aforementioned rookies have combined their obvious talents with money-winning consistency.

The number one pick and boringly-styled hair-having Wiggins hasn’€™t required the same type of learning curve as his cohorts. His monthly splits look like a pyramid of sorts with a steady climb through the holiday season and a peak in January. It’s not that he’€™s fallen off, just that his January with nearly 20-points/game, a 55% TS, 109 O-Rating, and nearly a three/game was better than anything else he’s done this year.

Data from Basketball-Reference. Layout from Tableau.

Data from Basketball-Reference. Layout from Tableau.


It’s beyond the stats though. A couple nights ago the young Wiggins (just turned 20 in February –€“ to be young again) delivered one of the dunks of the year when he used every bit of his 40+ inch vertical and smash slammed on everyone’€™s favorite French basketball player, Rudy Gobert:

But Wiggins is the exception and not the rule. Unlike his elaborately-coiffed rookie counterparts, Wiggins’€™s excellence is already old hat (we’€™re in hyper time). Noel, Payton, and Mirotic have needed a combination of time and opportunity to replicate their previous successes at the NBA level.

Take Payton, the 6’4″€ Louisianan point guard who’€™s about a year to the day older than Wiggins. Payton was Orlando’™s opening night starter, but lost his spot about halfway through November when he his TS was in the low 40s and his Ortg was in the high 80s. Then March rolled around and maybe it was the All-Star break (which he participated in) or turning 21 and finally being able to drink or who knows, but things have come easier including back-to-back triple doubles in March and a seven-game stretch where he averaged 14-pts, 9.5-asts, nearly eight rebounds and a pair of steals while shooting 50% from the field. Orlando only won a single game in that stretch, but … well, let’™s not focus on that.

all the rookies

Mirotic is a bit different and not just regarding ethnicity or age. Mirotic’s rookie season has existed at the mercy of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau who patrols the sideline with his Cookie Monster voice and stubborn rotations. Only an intervention brought on by injuries have unshackled the Montenegrin Maestro. From October to February he averaged below 20 minutes/game despite the Bulls going 12-2 in games where he played over 25 minutes. March has been something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mirotic as his numbers cranked up in a way that would demand PED testing in baseball. His scoring has gone from under six points/game in February to over 20/night in 15 March games. His usage rating was up over 30% for the month which if pushed out across a season would put him in the top-ten in the league. Despite the increased usage and minutes (over 30minutes/game in March), his TS is still a close to 58% on the strength of shooting nearly 84% from the line on over seven free throw attempts/game. It’s almost like the increased reps and opportunity have resulted in Mirotic having even greater confidence and comfort exploring the range of his offensive talents.

And then there’s Nerlens. I’€™m writing about him last because he’s the most titillating of the bunch which isn’t to say he’s the best because I don’t know or care to know who’€™s best. It’€™s just that Noel, with his flat top and baseline-to-baseline high-energy act of harassing opponents like a never-ending human basketball Exxon Valdez disaster covering the opposition in some thick suffocating existence is my favorite. In as much as each of these players has grown and developed from the fall to the spring, Nerlens’€™ growth is the most striking. The increase in on-court opportunity has been light as he’€™s hovered around 30 minutes/game all season, but meanwhile his game has come together in a way that one hopes breathes hope into the fledgling Philadelphian fan base. Noel hasn’t even turned 21 yet, but if we believe in the guy we’ve seen in March, then we’re looking at a kid capable of averaging in the teens in points while grabbing double digit rebounds, getting over two steals and two blocks each night. He’€™s the rare big man with elite agility, quickness, and length that allows him to completely disrupt the other team’s offense. Again, if we have trust that his March numbers aren’t some funky aberration then we’re looking at a kid capable of defensively impacting the game similar to David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and now Anthony Davis. (Off topic, my phantasmagorical mind can’t help but root for a New Orleans frontline anchored by the Brow and Noel.)

Month over month progress for the ever-rising, ever-evolving human oil spill (that's a compliment!), Nerlens  Noel

Month over month progress for the ever-rising, ever-evolving human oil spill (that’s a compliment!), Nerlens Noel

Spring will soon be over and with the exception of Mirotic, these rookie years will end with the regular season. After all, we can only be rookies once and while people are lining church pews to celebrate Easter Sunday with Jesus and adults in snow white rabbit costumes gnaw on oversized carrots while doling out Cadbury eggs and listening to biblical tales of resurrection, these rookies will be transitioning into summers of work and expectations. With our favorite rookies, we’ll sleep through sunny summers and wake up sunburnt and confused at the falling leaves of Halloween with the presumption that Marches and Aprils are signs of things to come. Okafors and Mudiays will be the new kids, but for our four rookies above, the leeway that comes with being a first timer is forever out the window. It only gets harder from here.

From Zaza to MJ across a bridge of Oakley

Overtime is the realm of the weird in the NBA. Michael Jordan scored 69 against the Cavs in a single OT, it took two OTs for his historic 63 in the Boston Garden, and what has been referred to as “the greatest game ever played” between the Celtics and Suns at the 1976 Finals took three OTs before Boston finally pulled away. And after the Nets-Bucks went to war for three extra periods recently we can add Zaza Pachulia to the list of brain-scrambling beneficiaries of the triple OT.

Pachulia, by some act of effort or opponent ineptitude, accumulated 18 offensive rebounds. The obviously rhetorical and trendy question is: Who does that? The literal answer is that since the 1985-86 season (which is the first season Basketball-Reference provides full box scores), just two other NBA players have achieved the Full Pachulia: eccentric friend of Kim Jong-Un, Dennis Rodman in 1992 and legendary tough guy Charles Oakley in 1986.

For a sucker like me who’s prone to slipping and falling down rabbit holes with an Alice-like expertise, this was all too much to resist. Oakley’s game wasn’t just unique for the 18 offensive rebounds. Instead of resting on the laurels of setting a record, he mercilessly battered a Milwaukee Bucks frontline for 35 points, 26 rebounds, and seven assists with three steals for good measure. It was good enough for Oak’s career high points and second best rebound game. He grabbed 38% of his team’s own misses and 37% of all misses. Comparatively speaking, Zaza was at 37.7% OReb and Rodman was 38.5% — and the Worm also had a ho-hum 34 boards that night.

The Oakley game took place in mid-March of 1986 when a young Michael Jordan was coming back from an early season broken foot and there at the bottom of the box score, playing just 13 minutes in a bench role was Jordan. A bit further digging revealed this was MJ’s first game back after sitting out the majority of the season. Maybe Oak was trying to let his running mate know he had his back or maybe he saw it as his one of his last chances to fire up shots without conscience (indeed, he never got close to the 27 field goal attempts he had that night) or maybe one of the Bucks had the audacity to challenge his Oakhood. Whatever the case, he was more attack-minded than any other game in his career.

Over the course of digging to confirm this was MJ’s first game back, I scrolled through a few games before and after Oakley’s 35-26 performance on the 15th of March. On the 17th, the Bulls traveled to Atlanta where a superior Hawks squad beat them by 10. The outcome didn’t do much for me until I saw MJ, again in a bench role, had a DRtg of 67 – in a losing effort. He only played 14 minutes, but was apparently covering the court like a pack of virulent demons (or maybe just an Alvin Robertson on speed acid) for that 14 minutes where his usage rating was 58.7% and he tallied seven steals. The seven steals in 14 minutes is the least amount of time a player’s ever needed to reach that completely random achievement. (To continue would be too much of an affront to even these statistical non-sequiturs, but it’s worth calling out that Marcus Banks had seven steals with the Celtics in 17 minutes in 2004 and Doc Rivers had nine steals in 18 minutes while with the Clippers in 1991.)

But whatever, maybe weird graphical representations are a better way to get these points across:

03-23-15 - Zaza, Oak and MJ

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.”



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