Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #8

Where to begin on the first Monday of May? Five game sevens? The Pacers gasping for, and finding, that final breath? What’s David Stern up to these days? Damian Lillard? Are we all just over-obsessed with this game? Well, let’s leave that last question alone lest we start questioning our time management, meaning, existence, and the rest because if True Detective taught us anything, it’s that “It’s all one ghetto man, a giant gutter in outer space.”

• Is it a myth that the greatest two words in sports are “Game Seven?” I mean, we can debate the greatness of words all day long, but given what led up to this past weekend’s bonanza of game sevens, Saturday and Sunday felt like letdowns of sorts. This little tiny space I’m filling with words isn’t appropriate for the exploration of such a topic, but nonetheless, our five games had an average point differential of 10.4. And if we take out the two outliers (San Antonio’s 23-point victory and the Nets one-point squeaker), it drops to 9.3 – not exactly the type of edge of your seat drama it was billed to be (or hoped to be – is the billing nothing more than the ceiling we all hope for?). The closest of the games, Brooklyn’s road win in Toronto, was dramatic, but sloppily so with missed free throws, Kyle Lowry bowling into opponents, and the exhibition of Paul Pierce’s baby vertical leap to “block” a shot and secure the victory. Just typing that out and reliving the moment, I’m disappointed.

• Maybe everything in life seemed dull after the Rockets-Blazers game six on Friday night. Maybe that’s why the game sevens were the basketball equivalent to a meal comprised of saltine crackers – filling, but unsatisfying. Maybe it’s all Damian Lillard’s fault. My brother arrived in Seattle on Thursday morning. He came from Des Moines, Iowa and showed up in his Iowa Hawkeyes visor and t-shirt, repping to the fullest. He cares not for pro sports, but rather embraces the notion that college athletes do it for a true love of the game. While we disagree on these romantic notions, we can still find common ground on the same couch – which we did on Friday night, with bellies full of sushi and eyes fixed on the TV, we watched the Blazers and Rockets unfold, NBA style. Even my brother, the NCAA-loving, college football craving, anti-pro athlete Midwesterner, was locked in. And how could he not be? I could’ve swapped out my brother with a seal and the hungry creature would’ve likely been just as rapt at the battle of two foes so equally matched that only two points separated them despite playing six games and hoisting up over a thousand combined shots (Blazers 670, Rockets 672). I sank when Harden missed that shifty little pull-up as Dwight cleared out the entire Blazers frontline, leaving a clear path for the sneaky, slithering Chandler Parsons to glide in and score the go-ahead bucket – with .9 seconds left! So we sat through the timeout, expectations low, odds fully understood. And we screamed and bonded and scared the shit out of my dog when Lillard busted free and buried a shot that caused Portland tremors to be felt all the way up in Seattle. Holy shit, I’m high just thinking about it. We talked about the shot on Saturday and were still shaking our heads about it on Sunday and I still have goose bumps when I re-watch the highlights. So if anyone’s to blame for the unrealized promise of weekend hoops, let’s blame Lillard, for it was he who rose the bar too high.

• Back in March, I wrote about the Elias Sports Bureau’s stranglehold on stats records. I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing, I just wish us normal humans had access to the same volumes of data. Alas, we don’t, so we depend on Elias to tell us just how rare are the performances we witness. This week, in a Zbo-less game seven, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone on the planet how deliciously destructive he can be when he went nuclear for 27pts, 16asts, and 10rebs, the kind of fantastic triple double that has only been accomplished three other times in playoff history: twice by Oscar Robertson and once by Chris Paul. Worth noting that the great Magic Johnson accomplished this feat eight times in his career – all in the regular season.

• Speaking of Magic Johnson, it was somewhat tacky to hear his unfiltered thoughts on Mike D’Antoni’s departure last week. While Magic’s delivery is certainly up for debate, his sentiment is likely felt by most Laker fans. D’Antoni was caught in a tough spot with an aging and injured roster, but didn’t do himself many favors and failed to garner the front office’s support. As is so frequently the case with Lakers rumors, every coach that has even a slight luster attached to his name is being targeted for the position. One half expects to hear rumors that Bill Sharman will be resurrected, but only to compete with Pat Riley for the job. If that last line reads like utter nonsense, it’s because it’s the Lakers and where the rest of us are grounded in cold reality, they’re living in a sun splashed fantasy where dreams can be bought and made.

• As I was half watching the Spurs pound nails in the Mavs coffin yesterday, I was regularly hypnotized (Biggie Biggie Biggie, can’t you see?) by Manu Ginobili. I’ve never doubted the man’s ability, but as a Lakers fan in the early 2000s, my Spurs distaste stood in the way of my objectivity and I refused to fully embrace the joie de vivre of his uniqueness. It’s only been in these past couple of years that I’ve given up the bitterness of my competitive youth and fully appreciate my Manu with the Spurs on the side. More so than any other player of the past 10-20 years, Ginobili scares the shit out of me. It doesn’t matter what he actually does, what he could do is frightening. While last year’s Finals appeared to mark the final descent of Ginobili’s innate feel and Bruce Lee-like reflexes, this year is back to the Manu of old. He’s attacking, playing with feeling, in tune with loose balls, and doing all those little winning things that make Manu Manu. There are certain people in this world you trust with precious items, certain people who can handle your Faberge Egg while riding a dirt bike across the Grand Canyon in a meteor shower. Manu Ginobili is one of those people. Enjoy his game while you still can.

A/The Face of Basketball

• More from the good number crunchers at Elias: How good has DeAndre Jordan been? If we handed out MVP’s for each series, he’d get my vote for the Golden State-LAC series. The Warriors were criminally outsized and the young Jordan did everything in his copious powers to exploit that. How about 12ppg, 15rpg, 4bpg while shooting 75% from the field and 50% from the line? Elias tells us that Jordan is just the second player in league history to grab 100 rebounds and block 25 shots in a playoff series (blocks weren’t recorded until 1974). The other was Tim Duncan who had 102 rebounds and 32 blocks in 2003 against the Nets. Duncan did it in six games – 17rpg and 5.3bpg!

• Not much else happened last week except for Adam Silver giving racist owner Donald Sterling the heave ho. Any racist owners that remain in the league are firmly in the closet with the door shut extra tightly.

The work of Walt Handelsman

The work of Walt Handelsman

Three Year Anniversary: the State of Dancing with Noah

It was three years ago on this date that Dancing with Noah (DWN) snuck in through the backdoor of the basketball blogging world while everyone else was asleep — or just doing their own thing. Three years ago I wrote this about the Spurs vs. Grizzlies opening round series – sounding a death knoll for the Spurs that was never heard, and probably only somewhat read.

Now in 2014, the Spurs are still winning 60+ games, still struggling in the first round, and I’m still writing about basketball without any end game in mind. The circularity of it is a coincidence and probably not some sort of narrative completion. If there was any narrative arc to this blog it’d be punctuated by typical human highs and human lows, but there aren’t any discernible mile markers that stand out. My life has changed since 2011, the game has slightly changed, but as it pertains to this blog, the posts keep spinning in slow motion like Curly Neal spinning a ball on his finger at the bottom of the ocean.

In case you didn’t know, in addition to DWN, I write regularly at The Diss, occasionally at Hickory-High, and a couple times at Hoop76. Over the past three years, my engagement with the basketball blog world has created both feelings of great accomplishment and powerful self-doubt and frustration. One hopes and assumes they’re not alone in these feelings, but at times, it certainly seems that we are alone – or perhaps that’s just the mind playing its little assumptive tricks. It was around this time last year when I was ready to throw in the blogging towel and leave an untethered DWN out there as one more dusty archive in an infinite internet library of stories. My frustrations at my own motivations (retweets, page views, appearances on the 10-Man Rotation or Court Vision – really) rose to self-defeating levels and I took a blogging sabbatical (yeah right) this past summer before the inevitability of a desire to write and communicate resurfaced.

So I made the decision to return without any real clues about my purpose or goals. The fall and winter, DWN struggled to find a place in my routine or any consistency. Halfway pieces and ideas made their way into the ether … biographical sketches acted as an exploratory outlet while The Diss’s weekly Diss Guy Miss Guy feature offered a structured routine and format I didn’t realize I’d been missing.

Curiously, in the three years I’ve been writing DWN, there had never been any cadence to posting. I posted what I wanted when I wanted. Probably partially out of laziness, partially out of intent, but whatever the purpose, it led to a floating of sorts. Floating ideas, floating motivations, passing work. Writing DGMG for The Diss has only helped DWN in the sense that I’m better able to structure a weekly feature, Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball, while also tapping into a format friendly to my strengths and which I enjoy writing. At this point, I can’t help but shrug my shoulders at the stubborn resistance to routine, but I know enough to know we learn what we learn when we learn it and not before.

As I thought about the direction of this one-man parade, this somewhat solitary endeavor that is DWN, I was compelled to explore the state of this blog – as much for myself as for my occasional and sporadic readers. While more people have read and commented in the past, I’m at a more sustainable place with DWN today, and as a writer, than I was 12-18 months ago. I absolutely still get frustrated as a writer. It’s a demoralizing feeling to push through a piece in which you take pride and then get no response meanwhile a flippant tweet you offhandedly posted gets a round of applause. But where this frustration acted as a law officer applying a paralyzing taser to my ego a year ago, today it’s merely a detour.

For DWN, concepts of goals and purpose are asides that may make it into the footnotes, but only at the subservience to the exploratory nature of basketball history and prose, goofy stats and personal essays. It’s fitting I suppose because while we likely do play to win the game, it’s never been a premise of this blog. The path of the game, of a writer is constantly moving – oftentimes in unknown directions (but meet me there, by all means). So three years in, we’re still here, still writing, still grinding, still (occasionally) hating (Dwight, Hibbert, etc), still learning, and uncovering half-truths, but definitely here.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #7

This week I greet you from the warmer-than-expected climes of sunny Seattle where my family’s visiting at full throttle with pints to be drunk and football matches to be seen. It’s acting as a welcome distraction from the Donald Sterling scandal which has cast a pall over what have otherwise been the best playoffs in recent memory. As my family sits in the sun, join me as I sip this soft Stella Artois and let’s get to the bullets:

  • Yesterday we said goodbye to one of my favorite NBA personalities of all time: Dr. Jack Ramsay. The legendary coach, teacher, TV and radio announcer, and NBA champion passed away at 89. He was like a Herman Hesse of the basketball world imparting his wisdom to different generations of fans and players and coaches and all while rocking plaid pants without any of that shitbag irony to which all of us have become so accustomed. Ramsay won his title with that Blazers group of 76-77 and was immortalized in the written words of David Halberstam’s masterful Breaks of the Game. By the time I came of age, Dr. Jack had coached his last NBA game and was comfortable courtside calling games for TV and radio. I have a fond memory of a boring late spring drive from Omaha to Des Moines with Ramsay making me forget the monotony of windshield time as he expertly called a Mavs playoff game. 89 is a long, full life, but I’ll still miss seeing Ramsay’s face courtside and hearing his unmistakable voice through staticky AM radio frequencies.

  • On a lighter note, today saw the final game of the Charlotte Bobcats. Beginning next season, the team reverts to the classic Hornets moniker which had been borrowed by the New Orleans franchise for the past several seasons. The Bobcats always seemed like an uncreative mascot with an oddball color scheme – second only to the bleh dullness of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Bobcats years have been largely fruitless and forgettable. Here’s to hoping the new Hornets can bring the buzz back to Charlotte. (I couldn’t resist, although the idea of a swarm of hornets attacking is more frightening than any other NBA team name I can think of with the exception of the Raptors.)

 

  • It’s been a Déjà vu of sorts watching this Oklahoma City team struggle to diversify its offensive attack. I’m having flashbacks to 2011 when their offense collapsed into an empty two-pronged Westbrook/Durant stabbing of sorts. Then there’s the Thunder’s third wheel, the enigmatic Serge Ibaka. How Ibaka fits into this Thunder offense is still a mystery to me, but what was recently stumbled upon is Ibaka’s rare 200 blocks/20 3s season. Ibaka has accomplished the feat twice and joins four other players who have pulled it off a combined ten times. The club includes versatile inside-out oddballs Andrei Kirlenko (twice), Josh Smith (thrice), Manute Bol (once), and Raef LaFrentz (twice). Comparatively speaking, Ibaka resembles none of the other players on that list. Still known as a great shot blocker, I don’t think Scotty Brooks has the slightest clue how to assimilate Ibaka’s full arsenal with that of Durant and Westbrook.

  • Lost in all this Memphian gritting and grinding fun has been the case of Grizzlies’ guard, Nick Calathes who was suspended 20 games for testing positive for the banned substance tamoxifin. Calathes, the former Florida playmaker who spent time in Europe before latching on with the Grizz, is going bald and I was going to make some poor snarky joke about it until I found this story pointing out that tamoxifin is found in Rogaine and speculating that Calathes was taking something to combat his baldness. Whatever the reason the substance turned up in his system, he claims it wasn’t using to gain a competitive advantage. In Major League Baseball, there’s an appeal process whereby a player can continue playing while suspension is reviewed. The NBA has no such policy and I’m not proposing they add one. What would be nice to see is a more collaborative partnership between the league’s drug testing wing and team doctors and/or players with the Player’s Union involved. If Calathes was using for hair loss, then prior to getting the prescription he works with a team doctor who works with the league to ensure requirements of the anti-doping policy are being met. There are numerous logistical requirements to consider including privacy, timelines, disagreements between doctors, and more, but if nothing else, this process would ideally limit the current Calathes scenario where a player’s attempt to make a case for usage in the court of public opinion.

 

  • A few days ago was the 20-year anniversary of David Robinson’s 71-point league-scoring-title-securing performance. (Robinson edged out Shaquille O’Neal by a few tenths of a percentage point: 29.79 to 29.35.) In a league so addicted to numbers and their meaning (this writer is fully aware of his tendency to create flimsy meanings where they may not otherwise exist) that history has seen the natural trajectory of games redirected in favor of individual accomplishment, Robinson’s 71-point game was a joke of sorts. In a meaningless last game of the season that the Spurs beat the Clippers by 20, Robinson played 44 minutes while just one other player in the game played over 30. Then-coach John Lucas was so hell bent on building a scoring shrine to Robinson that he instructed his players to intentionally foul late in the game to ensure his center had more scoring opportunities. It’s a quirky element of sports that we have suspect records (like Michael Strahan’s infamous “sack” of Brett Favre to get the NFL’s single-season record), but whether you apply an asterisk to the Admiral’s game or not, it’ll still be there in the record books, above Jordan’s greatest scoring feat and below Kobe’s for all NBA time. Also, some fun quotes included in Tim Griffin’s recounting of the game:

They said it, part V: “We certainly wanted Shaquille to win the title. But we didn’t make a mockery of the game like they did in Los Angeles.” Orlando coach Brian Hill to the St. Petersburg Times on Lucas’ late strategy, compared to his own for O’Neal.

They said it, part VI: “I heard they ran every play to (Robinson). If that would happened down here, I would have 70 points, too. I didn’t care,” O’Neal to the AP on the Spurs’ methods to enable Robinson to win the scoring title.

They said it, part VII: “I’m really fortunate to have scored over 70 points.   I don’t really have that many opportunities to dosomething like this.  It was fun.  I had a great time,” Robinson to the Orange County Register on his big game.

They said it, part VIII: “Those guys were cursing me out on the floor and saying, ‘You’re not going to get it. You’ll never get it.’ If I’ve got to apologize for playing like that, there’s something wrong,” Robinson, to the AP about if his scoring title was tainted.

 

 

Nothing else is really happening in the league unless you consider one of the most competitive first rounds in memory unfolding before our enraptured eyes – much to the delight of league sponsors and network heads. The Pacers lost again on Monday and Roy Hibbert grabbed zero rebounds to accompany his zero points.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #6

The playoffs are here, landed on our front doorstep or stoop or at the foot of a hut – wherever you live, the playoffs are there too like a jokester turned suddenly serious. The seamless transition from NCAA Tournament to NBA playoffs seems an act of cool cohesion from seasoned partners and with Commissioner Adam Silver’s recent proclamation that, yes, raising the league’s age limit is of paramount need for the long-term security of the league. Wait … perhaps I’m mixing my NSA/CIA talking points, but with Silver’s non-stop stream of post-takeover proclamations, please forgive me if confusion occurs. Silver timelines, aside, let’s get to the bullets:

  • If you consider yourself a fan of coaching stability, then this first bullet is not for you. This morning, before I even arrived at the office, Minnesota Coach Rick Adelman had retired and Knicks Coach Mike Woodson was fired. I’ll always remember Adelman for his time spent coaching the Drexler Blazers and Webber Kings. Somewhere in between he also coached the Warriors, but I have absolutely no recollection of this and it’s likely Adelman doesn’t either as his record over two seasons in Oakland was 66-98. Adelman also authored a book, The Long, Hot Winter: A Year in the Life of the Portland Trail Blazers – fun, but a little drab when I think back. Woodson, on the other hand, is not gone for good and will likely be back on the sideline in some paid capacity soon. He has a viscously vicious goatee that looks like it could swallow insects or rodents.

 

  • If people are already talking about the mysterious 3×1 Club, then they’re people I don’t know. The 3×1 is the rare occurrence when a player averages at least one steal, one block and on three-pointer per game over the course of a season. When you think of 3×1 guys, think of your versatile forwards. They’re likely lengthy men with shooting range. The pioneering members were Robert Horry, Scottie Pippen, and Clifford “Uncle Cliffy” Robinson back in 1994-95. Since then, it’s been achieved a total of 39 times with Paul Millsap being the only player to achieve the threshold this season. Shawn Marion has accomplished the feat six times followed by Uncle Cliffy with five, then LeBron, Dirk and Rasheed Wallace with four each.

 

Any questions on versatility should be directed to the 3×1 Club’s latest member, Paul Millsap c/o the Atlanta Hawks

  • As long as we’re talking about statistical oddities, let’s take a look at the bearded rebounding and outlet-passing sage, Kevin Love and his recent 40-14-9 line. If the 3×1 club is made up of a relatively small, yet similarly physically dimensioned group of players, then the 40-14-9 group is much more exclusive. Since 1985-86, only Vince Carter and Larry Bird (twice) have thrown up games like Love’s. While Vince’s game is probably the most impressive since he’s merely a small forward and was playing against a former college teammate (Antawn Jamison – he really stuck it to old Twan, didn’t he?) Bird’s 47-14-11 line against the Blazers on Valentine’s Day 1986 takes the cake and reminds us, once again, that nobody beats the Bird – not even you Kevin Love.

 

  • Watching one of the Blazers last games of the season, Antoine Walker was referenced for some reason. Walker’s legacy as a player is unfortunately enmeshed with his life off the court where he’s lost money in all sorts of endeavors and been accused of being a slumlord, which is a downright dirty and despicable label. If we’re able to separate the off-court issues, there’s still another hurdle to Walker’s legacy: His stubborn insistence on jacking threes even though he was a below average three point shooter. For his career, nearly 30% of his shots came from behind the line while he shot below 33% from deep. Even with a three point insistence that borderlines on the compulsivity of addiction, Walker is one of a handful of players in league history to retire with career averages of 17ppg, 7rpg, and over 3apg. He was supremely talented and versatile, but his junky-like commitment to bad on-the-court decisions resulted in too many failures. Of the long list of Hall of Famers on that 17-7-3 list, Walker is dead last in any measure of Win Shares with less than half the total number of WS than the penultimate player, Chris Webber. I wanted to find some positivity in Walker’s legacy, but instead this little excursion was like climbing into the attic and finding a bunch of pictures that just bring up bad memories, better forgotten.

 

Walker 3s

    • Last night, we were treated to a beautifully played, but horrifically officiated game one of the Blazers vs. Rockets series. In a game composed of memorable little moments and tide turning details, LaMarcus Aldridge was a Usain Bolt of sorts on a court full of Carl Lewis’s. Before fouling out, Aldridge compiled 46 points and 18 rebounds. In five games against Houston this year, Aldridge is now averaging 30-pts and 16-rebs. I’m happy to borrow from the research of others to further articulate the historical ass whipping he applied:

 

 

  • While we’re at it, watching the Rockets and James Harden and Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons last night, one feels forced to revisit the Harden trade. Sure, we can stick our heads in the sand and say what’s done is done (because it is done), but every day that passes, as Harden’s beard gets fuller, OKC GM Sam Presti looks more and more like a sucker (for the Harden deal, not in general). The problem isn’t that Harden was moved or that Kevin Martin and some picks were part of the deal. The egregiousness of it all and the reason Presti deserves criticism is that he was unable to do one of two things: 1. See the talent in Chandler Parsons and/or Terrence Jones and 2. Pry one or both of those players from Houston.

Glasses might make us look smart, but that doesn’t mean they make us smart

 

  • TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager has leukemia and that sucks. Beyond the vibrant Technicolor and richly textured suits Sager is so famous for, he’s a damn good reporter and is synonymous with the NBA Playoffs. The games will go on, because that’s what distracts us from cold reality and keeps the bills being paid for a lot of people, but the landscape is strangely incomplete.

 

  • Road teams went 5-3 in opening games.

 

Jerry Colangelo: One of the most powerful men in the basketball world?

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #5

Holiest of holies, we’ve somehow made it through another NBA regular season. What started way way way back in 2013 with Derrick Rose’s return and tank talk galore is here, two days away from the regular season’s ending. The NCAA Tournament is behind us (Congrats UCONN), the Masters is done (won by a man named Bubba), and baseball is in the earliest stages of its own annual marathon. The sports stage is set for the two-month long drama of the NBA Playoffs to commence uninterrupted … unless of course you consider the NFL draft or ESPN’s obsession with all things NFL (we see you and your bomb threats, Aldon Smith – because it was a headline on ESPN.com). But that’s another gripe for another day, today is for reflection:

  • Rest in Peace, Lou Hudson. The 6’5” shooting guard from North Carolina joined the never ending pickup game in the sky on April 11th. There’s no way this space or this weekly format is enough to cover the career of one of the great two guards the NBA has seen. Over a peak that lasted seven seasons, Hudson, a long-time Atlanta Hawk, averaged 25ppg in 465 games and was named to six straight All-Star games. Were he a player in today’s game, he’d likely be a better shooting, less handle-savvy version of Brandon Roy with a shoe contract and legions of fans. Learning the history of this great game allows us to better understand, through context, the ability of our players today. More history, less mock drafts, please.
Hudson wearing #23 on the right with unknown associates

Hudson wearing #23 on the right with unknown associates

  • On the same day we lost “Sweet” Lou, Joakim Noah put up an oddball stat line that had me seeking out the wise data repository of Basketball-Reference’s Player Index. The line in question: 6 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists. I asked the simple, yet sophisticated tool who else had the well-rounded game to touch the ball enough to pick up 10+ assists, but fail to score more than six points. Not surprisingly were Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Darrell Walker. The name that stood out was Charles Oakley. On December 27th, 1986, while playing for the Bulls, Oakley grabbed 13 rebounds and dished 15 assists while scoring three points in a 105-93 victory over the visiting Pacers. Oakley’s better-known and better looking teammate, Michael Jordan, scored 44 on 20-29 shooting so it’s no wonder Oakley the Enforcer only took two FGAs. A very brief perusal through across the interwebs reveals a Chicago Tribune write up of the game by one Bob Sakamoto where we learn that Jordan was fighting off the flu and still hung 44 on Indiana (the Original Flu Game). Sakamoto describes MJ as “drawn-looking” and refers to him as “The Franchise.” With Jordan hogging all the ink, all we learn of Oakley’s contribution is that he threw a “perfect feed” to Jordan on a backdoor dunk and had “several rebounds and outlet passes.” Thus we learn that even on historical nights where power forwards set career highs, that MJ stories are still the best.

 

  • Splits: How about that Russell Westbrook? After a Russell-Interrupted season of niggling injuries, Westbrook has been reborn in April where he’s sporting a 38.8% usage rate and putting up 27ppg in just 31 minutes/night. Of course it’s a teeny tiny five-game sample size, but if you’re OKC, this is the trending you want to see, that you need to see. OKC is 3-2 in April, but let’s be real road losses to Indiana and Phoenix aren’t cause for concern.

 

  • While Chaos reigns in Brian Shaw’s Denver (wherefore art thou George Karl, Masai Ujiri, JaVale McGee? [um, never mind that last one]), Randy Foye, aka the other Villanova guard, has found in April friendly rims and abundant opportunity. After spending October thru March hovering around 40% from three, Foye’s caught April fire shooting nearly 49% from deep with scoring season-highs 19.5ppg, 4.8rpg, and 6.8apg. I don’t know much about Denver except that they have too many guards and too many injuries and that apparently Randy Foye at $3mill/year is a steal.

 

  • I wrote about Brandon Jennings over at The Diss, but once you’ve got a man down, it’s best to keep on kicking. Out of players who have qualified for FG% leaders, here’s how Jennings ranks over the past few seasons:
    • 2013-14: 125th out of 125
    • 2012-13: 122nd out of 123
    • 2011-12: 94th out of 113
    • 2010-11: 118th out of 119
    • 2009-10: 119th out of 119

 

  • In news that may or may not be related, Pistons GM Joe Dumars is out. Dumars acquired Jennings before the season started and the move, along with his Josh Smith signing, has not yielded success…any success.

Would they be so happy if the knew they what they know now? Or better yet, what do they know now?

  • I’m a grown man, but still I like to play imaginary games like “What if UCONN would’ve had Andre Drummond and Kentucky Anthony Davis?” Fantasies aside, Davis is on the shelf for the remainder of the year and after two pro seasons he’s missed 33 games and appeared in less than 80% of possible contests. I love you, Anthony, but I want you to get well. Drummond can’t shoot free throws to save his life (career 40% from the line – this is a liability!), but can rebound well enough to save us all. He leads the league in offensive and total rebound percentage and is just the 30th player since 1971 to grab at least 22% of all possible rebounds. Of course he’s also the youngest player to accomplish this feat. For Dumars’s ability to hit homeruns with draft picks like Greg Monroe and Drummond, his bad signings (the aforementioned Jennings and Smith, and Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva) were the stuff of desperation or stupidity or a toxic combination of the two.

 

  • The Race for 8th in the East was supposed to be all about the Knicks. Phil Jackson, Melo, JR Smith, Mike Woodson’s goatee, the Mecca. But the Knicks failed miserably to hold up their end of the bargain and meanwhile, the Hawks of Atlanta, a team I’ve unfairly ignored and neglected, clinched the final playoff spot and have done so with a 5-2 April and an unexpected commitment to defense. Their five April victories have included wins in Indiana and Brooklyn and a home win over Miami. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap are playing their best ball of the season and while everyone knows how hard I hate on these Pacers, it’s worth noting that Atlanta split the season series with Indiana and center Pero Antic has owned Roy Hibbert in two games:

 

Small sample size for large men

Small sample size for large men

  • Memphis is a full game ahead of the Suns in the playoff race and guess who’s visiting Phoenix tonight? If you can pick up on blatant clues, then you guessed the Grizzlies who are 3-0 against the Suns this year. But none of those previous games have had the pressure of tonight’s game. Tell your friends and family you’re busy, clothes the curtains, get a bowl of something you like to consume and a beverage to wash it down and cross your fingers that we get the competitive game we’re all hoping for.

 

  • Not much happened yesterday except the Pacers grinding out a home win against OKC, Lance Stephenson triple doubling and Steph Curry going for 47 in an OT loss to Portland.

Remember when this guy vetoed that Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade? Never Forget.

 

 

 

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #4

The playoff race is all the way heated up and ready for our frying pans to be filled with trivial thoughts and genius suggestions about How to Fix the Playoffs! – egad. The NCAA Championship will be decided tonight and no doubt, one half of Kentucky’s dynastic/dynamic/dy-Nasty duo of Harrison twins will once again reign three-point fire from deep behind the kiddie pool depth of the NCAA’s three point line and save the day for the legionnaires from Lexington … unless Shabazz Napier and his mysterious NBA prospects have something to do or say about it. Viva la amateurism! … particularly when they’re generating gaggles of money for head coaches and University ADs, Presidents, and stretch Cadillacs full of other greedy capitalists making money of the one-percenter talent of college football and basketball.

  • How could I start anywhere other than the Pacers of Indiana? As Wu-Tang likes to remind us, “The saga continues.” The latest debacle took place in the Indianapolis arena formerly known as Conseco Fieldhouse. It was a night when the playoff-indifferent Atlanta Hawks came to town to face this floundering Pacers group that had won two of their previous eight games. And? And? Frank Vogel’s team scored 23 points in the first half. Twenty-three! This wasn’t some odd homage to the great Michael Jordan, it was offensive putridity as the team made a whopping seven of 35 shots and overpaid center and Lord of the Rule of Verticality, aka Roy Hibbert, was benched for fatigue: “He looks to me to be worn down” said Coach Frank Vogel. With four games remaining, the Pacers still have ample opportunity to rediscover whatever was lost over these past six weeks: at Milwaukee, at Miami, OKC at home, before wrapping the season in Orlando. The Pacers need not worry though, as Tony Parker reassures us all: “It’s hard to explain. Everybody goes through this. I’m not worried about them. They’ll still make it to the Eastern Conference finals and they’ll still play Miami.” 

    Tony Parker, soothsayer

  • Andris Biedrins was waived by the Utah Jazz on Saturday which marks an ending of sorts for the big man from Latvia. In case you don’t recall, Biedrins averaged close a double double for Golden State as a 21-year-old way back in 2008. The Warriors rewarded their future cornerstone with five-year/$54-million deal. Andris and his well-styled hair paid immediate dividends the following season as he went for 12pts and 11rebs/game, but then it all fell apart like a paper bag stuffed with heavy groceries stuck in a torrential downpour and you’re having to walk home with this soaking wet bag that’s barely holding together – yes, Golden State was the poor bastard carrying that bag, but no one ever considers the feeling of the bag, in this case represented by Biedrins. What happened? Well, he spent much of 2009-10 dealing with injuries and never regained whatever propelled him to double double heights. Biedrins and his huge contract are now a thing of the past. It shuts the door on one of the sadder, stranger descents in recent NBA history – possibly stranger than this year’s Pacers team. What happened to you, Andris? 
  • To play off that sadly catchy “hide your kids, hide your wife” meme, when prospective NBA owner Chris Hansen starts talking, it’s best for NBA cities to hide your franchise (and maybe your wife too). If you recall, Hansen is the Seattle native who offered $625-million for the Kings last year and clearly operates off of Ted DiBiase’s motto: “Everybody’s got a price.” Unlike DiBiase, who was merely a character drawn up for pro wrestling, Hansen is a real person with real money. He made it into the Seattle Times last week for donating some of the space earmarked for a new Seattle arena to a nonprofit youth program. However, Hansen also used the opportunity remind us of the inevitability of Seattle getting an NBA franchise:

Does anybody really think that Seattle is not going to have an NBA team at some point in the future?” Hansen said. “I think everybody can get really impatient when things don’t happen on their own agenda. It’s inevitable Seattle will have a basketball team. It’s just a question of when.

Just a guy casually leaning on a light pole

  • Larry Sanders joined Arnett Moultrie in being suspended for a third positive test for reefer usage. There is a lot to discuss with Sanders’s statement, the league’s and NBPA’s stance on marijuana, and how their joint policies are both independent of and dependent on public perception, progressive policies, and the needs of league sponsors. This is not the forum for that discussion so I’ll leave it to Sanders who chose to defend his usage:

I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.

File:PeterTosh-LegalizeIt.jpg

  • From the random ass Did You Know file cabinet (which is conveniently stored in my head and accessed at random intervals), Al Horford has appeared in 114 of a possible 230 games since the 2011-12 season – that’s less than 50%! The source of these missed games has been tears to both the left and right pectoral muscles. Are these freak injuries or is there a little mutation in Horford’s DNA that leaves him prone to pectoral muscle tears? And does Danny Ferry plan to do anything about this? Horford’s under contract for $12-mill/year for the next two seasons and given Ferry’s present dismissive attitude about the playoffs, the Hawks are likely better off choosing to ride or die with the big man a couple more seasons. 
  • How about that JR Smith? Over his last seven games, Smith has taken a whopping 12.7 3PAs/game and is hitting at a 46% clip. Bananas you say? Well, to put it in perspective, the league record for 3PA/game is 8.7 by the ever-chucking Baron Davis back in 2004. Of course, of course, of course Smith’s little seven-game flourish is less than a tenth of season, but damn, when we talk about prolific, JR’s unconscious ability to gun from deep is in a special class of its own. Yesterday against the Heat he set the league record for 3PAs in a single game with 22 and before you roll your eyes and decry Smith’s outlandish chucking, know that it was the only way the overmatched Knicks were able to keep the game somewhat competitive. Ahhh, we can all roll our collective eyes and sigh and shake our heads at Smith’s selfish antics, but let’s at least all agree that JR Smith is that unknown variable equally capable of lifting us out of our Sunday slumbers and making us doubt our own hopes in this great game called basketball. JR Smith, comedian indeed. 

    Choices, by JR Smith

    Choices, by JR Smith

  • Finally, the Spurs lost to Oklahoma City, thus ending their streak at 19 games. I’ve heard Popovich promptly celebrated with Manu over a couple bottles of Argentina’s finest Malbec. 
  • The Bulls have won five games in a row and Joakim Noah’s dream season continues. His 12ppg, 11rpg, 5apg, 1spg and 1bpg put him in the rare company of Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley and Kareem. What a polarizing group! 
  • If a little blood and crushed hopes isn’t your thing, then stay away from the Western Conference playoff race where (realistically) three teams are battling for two spots: Dallas, Phoenix, and Memphis. The Mavs has to play both Phoenix and Memphis and the Suns/Grizzlies will also get a chance to face off next Monday. Supposedly TNT is where drama happens so let’s hope some of these games get national TV attention … after all, I think we can agree that there have been more than enough Laker games on ABC, ESPN and TNT.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #3

Week #3 and the NCAA Tournament is still going wacky and wild. We know for sure now that Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Ennis, Zach LaVine (UCLA), and Kyle Anderson (UCLA) will all be joining the greatest pro basketball league in the known universe and we know they need to bulk up like most 18 and 19-year-olds who wish to duke it out with grown ass men like Blake Griffin and LeBron James. But the pros are still pro-ing it up, so enough with the talkin and let’s get on with the fightin!

  • On Saturday night, the league worst 26-game Philadelphia losing streak went by the wayside as they handed the hapless Pistons a Philadelphia thrashing. Elton John must’ve been proud because as we all know so well, Saturday night’s alright for fighting and something something Philadelphia freedom. Well, the Sixers have unshackled themselves of something though I’m uncertain of what or how long. As coach Brett Brown reminded us after the game: “Our judgment day isn’t today, and it won’t be tomorrow. We are on a three-to-five year plan.” There was something of a comical spectacle to this losing streak, but now that it’s over, it’s just a pathetic blight.
  • Despite Philadelphia’s handcrafted sculpture constructed of the finest feces and the shiniest garbage, the Bucks of Milwaukee still languish behind in the standings winning just 19% of their games. The Bucks are a franchise lost at sea on planet made of water with GM John Hammond peering through the wrong end of a telescope desperately hoping for sight of land. Zaza’s cooking in the galley and Larry Sanders is trying to organize a mutiny, but in the end no one really cares so they eat and sail. There’s no message, no bottle and besides, no one but the sharks to read it. Anyways, while that clump of 26 losses caught all of our attentions with its concentration, the Bucks are still the most destitute with no semblance of a future plan. This is what suckitude looks like and the only positive I can take away is the fans voting with their wallets and shunning these terrifically crusty franchises:
Rank out of 30 Py-wins Win% Margin Victory Simple Rating ORtg DRtg Off. eFG% Def. eFG% Attendance
Milwaukee rank 29 30 29 29 26 30 26 29 29
Philadelphia rank 30 29 30 30 30 25 29 30 27

 

    • Enough with pointing judgmental fingers. The writers and poets have poured enough digital ink in the name of Kevin Durant like he’s an advanced analytics good guy god-guy accepted by most. Royce Young shows us just how great this young scorer is:

Does it matter that his opponents were the lowly Jazz and lowlier Kings (or does it matter that perhaps the Jazz are the lowlier?)? If we want to qualify and contextualize it sure, but 60 points in 58 minutes while shooting 75% from the field is admirable regardless of the opposition. So unless you’re a bitter Sonics fan or prone to spiteful hating of anyone better than you, join me in a shared appreciation of Durant. After all, he may be the only thing keeping us all together.

 

  • The buddy flick is its own sub-genre, but a sub-genre of the buddy flick is the interracial buddy flick where we’ve got a black guy and a white teaming up to win our affections, going on a rollicking rip-roarious adventure that leaves awkward white guy high-fiving and smooth black guy handshaking which of course encapsulates racial differences. Yes, there’s a lot of stereotypes and generalizations to the interracial buddy flick and because we’re nothing if not the obviousness of our skin colors, I’m clamoring for the evolution of the Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe relationship. Based on large sample size and statistical lift above the average, both Dragic and Bledsoe appear in the Suns’ best five-man combination. But it’s likely that’s not enough to sate the appetite because the cultural (Dragic the Slovenian-born 27-year-old and Bledsoe the 24-year-old Birmingham native) and racial dissimilarities are too powerful for a mind like mine that’s been saturated by Hollywood tales of buddies overcoming racial and cultural differences to achieve mutually beneficial goals. I’m talking Crockett & Tubbs (Miami Vice), Sidney Dean and Billy Hoyle (White Men Can’t Jump), and Murtaugh & Riggs (Lethal Weapon). For a further, more serious reading on the topic of the interracial buddy flick, check out Melvin Donaldson’s book Masculinity in the Interracial Buddy Film and a corresponding list that someone has created on Amazon.

  • A few more blurbs:
    • Arnett Moultrie (Philly second-year player who’s been unable to crack this miserable rotation) was suspended five games for violating the league’s drug policy. Five games is the penalty for a third positive test for the herbs. Still waiting to see if and how the league updates its drug policies to reflect the progressive decriminalization and legalization in Washington and Colorado.
    • Chris Kaman’s on a playing time roller coaster in Los Angeles and Mike D’Antoni’s the mad hatter who won’t let Kaman off … no matter how much the giant expresses his nausea at the twisted never ending ride. Kaman played six minutes on Friday followed by a 28 and 17 performance on Sunday which was followed by strange comments from Mustachioed Mike about “It’s tough because Robert Sacre plays.” Ok, sure. I’ll be over here with my PCP trying to make sense of it all.
    • As prognosticated here last week, the Kings did not re-sign Royce White.
    • Don’t look now, but Amare Stoudemire’s scored in double digits in 14 straight games with three double doubles. In that time, the Knicks are 9-5 and in 9th place, just a game behind the free-falling Tom Petty and the Atlanta Hawks. Not to get all weird and headline grabby, but what if we ended up with a Knicks-Pacers first round?
    • Speaking of the Pacers, their post All-Star break swoon continues as a victory over the Heat was sandwiched on one side by a pair of double digit losses to Memphis and Chicago and on the other side with double digit defeats to the Wizards and Cavs. Their post All-Star splits are real shitty. I wouldn’t start using that $120 Paul George jersey to clean up baby slobber, but maybe take a breath, build a little shrine dedicated to Chuck Person, Vern Fleming, and LaSalle Thompson and dabble in some of those medibles your buddy gave you.
    • Patrick Beverly was out with a meniscus tear, but now it sounds like he won’t require surgery and will return this season. Can’t say I’m surprised given his guttery griminess. I could see him having an ear hanging off the side of his head from a freak run-in with David West and Beverly going all Ronnie Lott, demanding that the trainer cut it off. Digressions aside, I hope this doesn’t have a lasting impact. I’m not a Beverly fan, but I’d encourage all players sacrifice one today for a thousand tomorrows.
  • Finally, the Spurs are on that, “And we won’t stop, cause we can’t stop” like Diddy. This past week saw wins over Philly (22pts), Denver (5pts), Denver again (31pts), and New Orleans (16pts). As if a 17-game win streak wasn’t enough to make a statement, San Antonio’s leading scorers ran the gamut from the recently acquired and still malnourished Austin Daye to all-timer Tim Duncan to Italian Stallion Marco Belinelli (2x). The Spurs genuinely don’t seem to care what happens in that 48 minutes as long as they walk out with the victory. This week the schedule makers are throwing some major obstacles in their way: at Indiana tonight, Golden State on Wednesday, at OKC on Thursday and at home Sunday against the Grizzlies. If I’m still writing about this streak next Monday, then we should all be very afraid … well, that’s probably excessive, but let’s just agree they’ve got their work cut out for themselves this week. (Side idea, Popovich seems like he’d throw a game just to keep his group grounded. After all, I’m guessing he has little use for frivolous distractions that come along with a 17-game win streak.)

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #2

Week number two of the Sunday to Monday notes and the NCAA marches through its first week of mediocre, but riveting basketball. The NBA knows no breaks, unless you’re suffering through the spring swoons of Indiana (7-6 in March) and Miami (6-7). So while the “amateur” darlings (Jabari, Wiggins, Smart, McDermott) take March Madness dives, the NBA’s not ready to go fishing just yet.

  • The triple double was immortalized by Magic or Oscar or maybe Ice Cube. LeBron’s the youngest to triple double, Karl Malone’s the oldest. Wilt had triple doubles in nine straight games once and is the only player to ever get a triple double with at least 20 of each category – 22 points, 25 rebounds, 21 assists. The Big O averaged a triple double for an entire season and had 41 triple doubles in the same year. Grant Hill finished his career with 29 triple doubles, 10th most all time. For all the triple doubles the league has seen (a little over 34/season for the past 20+ years), Isaiah Thomas, the 5’9” Tacoma-born dynamo and starting PG for the Kings, became the shortest man in league history to record one on March 18th when he went for 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists against the Wizards. Just another example that this young man, the last pick of the 2011 draft, is here to stay.
  • Following up on Pearl Washington after last week’s Requiem for a League on the Big East is a story about the former Syracuse great written in-time (1990) when Pearl was an overweight point guard in the CBA. Hat tip to my buddy Bug for the link there which tells us that basically Pearl was prone to weight-gain and couldn’t find a good fit in his three-year NBA career.
  • Jason Collins has now appeared in 11 games for the Nets so he’s not qualifying for any rate stats this season and that’s probably a good thing, because his area of excellence is committing fouls. Over this short sample size, he’s prolifically fouling people: 8.0 fouls/36-min. That’s a foul about every 4:30 and would have him fouling out in about 27-minutes, but we don’t have to worry about that going down since no one in their right or wrong mind would consider keeping him on the court that long. That 8 fouls/36 is impressive, but it pales in comparison to 6’7”, weight unknown, Danny Fortson of Sonics and Warriors infamy/fame (depending on who you ask). It’s entirely likely that Fortson’s tracking Collins’s fouling frequency and laughing while double fisting club sandwiches and sliders. In his heyday, Fortson had a four-year stretch where he committed 8.5, 9.1, 9.9, and 8.7 fouls/36-min. Step up your game, Collins.
  • Al Jefferson’s been a viceroy of the post recently. His ppg is up nearly 20% since the All-Star break and it’s shown up in the win column as the Bobcats have won 65% of their post-AS break games compared to 43% before the break. To dig deeper into Charlotte’s dependency on the big man from Mississippi, he averages 25.3ppg with a 32.8% usage rate and a 95 DRtg in wins against 17.8ppg with 27% usage rate and 107 DRtg in losses. In short, as Al goes, the Bobcats go. SI’s Lee Jenkins profiled Big Al in the latest Sports Illustrated and as has become commonplace, Jenkins did a masterful job. But amid all this rich Jefferson content, one anecdote stood out:

Jefferson was the Celtics teenager who asked Gary Payton why Lakers banners hung in the Clippers’ arena — “You really don’t know they play in the same place!” Payton howled.

  • Anthony Davis’s torrid play continues to amaze much more than his non-conformist unibrow. Elias Sports Bureau tells us that he’s just the third player to average over 32 and 13 in an eight-game span since 1994-95. The other two are Kevin Love and Shaq. But that’s not enough. He’s the youngest player in league history to average at least 21, 10 and 2.5 blocks and in the spirit of the NCAA Tournament, Davis would be a junior this year:

Anthony Davis

Davis’s true shooting is ~59% which places him just outside of the league’s top-20. I wanted to compare his shooting range to other players on that 21-10-2.5 list, but the only comparable player whose shooting stats were available on BBR was Tim Duncan. I looked at Duncan’s career distance shooting and where Duncan, with all his touch, has shot ~83% of his FGAs since 2000-01 between 0-16 feet, just 15% have come beyond that range – with a significant uptick in his later years. Davis, in his 2nd year in the league, is shooting ~20% of his shots from 16-ft or deeper, but is shooting ~38% this season compared to Duncan’s career mark of ~41%. In addition to his around the rim savvy, Davis has a range that even in this era of stretch fours is enviable. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson … we greet you at the beginning of a great career …..

  • I’m highly partial to geographic loyalties. I’m from Iowa and live in Seattle and sometimes fail to keep my biases out of my fandom and writing. Sometimes though, the truth is impossible to ignore and I’m wondering if that’s what is happening with Harrison Barnes. The 6’8” swingman has a body that was sculpted to play basketball. He’s a graduate of Ames High School in Ames, Iowa and was teammates with Creighton’s Doug McDermott. His post-high school hype was unfair and he fell below pre-season All-American expectations as a freshman. It’s fair to say Barnes has been falling below expectations ever since and whether or not that’s his fault or just poor scouting is another topic. But we’re not 148 games into Barnes’s pro career and my I can’t figure out if I’m looking at a plateau or a slight decline. I’m uncertain what’s happening to be honest. We expect to see improvement from our second-year players, but Barnes is backsliding. His March splits have descended into an East Bay abyss and it’s gotten to the point the passionate Warriors fans on Twitter would swap him for another dance with Anthony Randolph …. Ok, it’s not that bad, but what’s up, Barnes? (Before tossing him limb by limb into a pack of snarling wolves, let’s remember Barnes is just 21 and would be a senior at UNC this year.)

Blame Harrison, blame the scouts, blame yourself … just exercise your right to blame.

  • While we’re talking about Ames, former Iowa State Cyclone, Royce White, made his first and second appearances for the Kings this week. They were rather uneventful from a statistical point of view, but the act of appearing is more than a lot of folks thought we’d see. On 3/18, Sacramento signed him to a second 10-day contract. The league allows teams to sign the same player to a pair of 10-day contracts and after that, they have to sign him for the rest of the season if they want to keep him. White’s deal wraps up on Friday, March 28th and the Kings play at home on Wednesday, then in Oklahoma City on Friday. If I was a gambling man, I’d guess they don’t extend him the remainder of the season based on the novelty minutes he’s been afforded so far. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

  • The Spurs have now won 13 straight and while cultural debates still rage around asinine statements like, “If you don’t like the Spurs, you don’t basketball,” the most discussed Spurs topic is Pop’s behavior during in-game interviews. (Worth noting that by keeping the focus on himself, Pop keeps the emphasis off his players which is probably part of some grand strategy that he devised over bottles from his own winery.) However you feel about this group from San Antonio, just know that in some form, it’s likely that their far-reaching tentacles have tickled or touched your own squad as evidenced by the Illuminati-like reaches of Spurs personnel throughout the league. If Malcolm Gladwell really wants to blow my mind, tell me how the fuck the Spurs have become the most successful franchise in American sports and give me more than Tim Duncan + Popovich = greatness. This week’s games include Philly (see more below), Denver, @ Denver, and New Orleans. Circle that game in Denver on Friday night. Home and aways often end in splits – I have no data to back up that statement.
  • Speaking of the Spurs reach, Philly’s coach Brett Brown is a Popovich acolyte, but apparently he didn’t pack up success when he left the Lone Star state. Philly’s now lost 24 games in a row. They won’t end up with the worst record in league history and while there have been lesser teams, something stinks about GM Sam Hinkie’s master planning. I’m excited about their future, but it feels like they’re making a deal with the devil to get there – perhaps this is just me moralizing on ugliness of scraping rock bottom to reach the top. Or maybe it’s just me directing my dislike of Daryl Morey on Hinkie. Whatever the case, losing 24 games in a row sucks and instead of pointing fingers at Brown and Philly’s semi-pro team, any criticisms need to be send to the Philly front office, C/O: Sam Hinkie.
    • More random tidbits from intelligent people:

DeAndre Kane is the 24-year-old Mr. Do it All for the Iowa State Cyclones. He also happens to be older than 5-year pro James Harden:

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball

I’ve never had any regular segments on DWN and 2/3 of the way through the NBA season during a week when the crown jewel of NCAA basketball season kicks off is probably the worst time to try something new, but here we are with a weekly look at comings and goings, statistical achievements, half thoughts, observations, and an indication in written form that basketball is likely taking up a wee bit too much of my life.

  • Sunday night against the Celtics of Boston, 21-year-old wunderkind Anthony Davis put on a performance the likes of which hasn’t been seen since before he was born:
    • 40 points, 21 rebounds, 12-12 from the free throw line with three blocks
    • Individual career highs in points and rebounds
    • Youngest player since Shaq in 1993 to go for 40/20
    • Joined Larry Bird and Moses Malone as only players to go for 40/20 while shooting perfect from the free throw line
    • Cautionary note for all the teams striving to rebuild through a lottery pick: New Orleans had the fourth best odds to win the 2012 lottery and Anthony Davis.

anthony davis gamebook

  • Royce White was signed to a 10-day contract with the Kings on March 6th. The contract ended Sunday night which coincided with the end of Sacramento’s seven-game road trip. Over four games with the Kings’ D-League team, the Reno Bighorns, White played 25minutes/game, shot 37% from the field, and went for roughly 9pts, 4rebs and 3asts/game. With the Kings set to be home from March 17th thru March 27th, it’s fair to assume any audition with the big club is going to take place in the next week and a half. At this point, I get the feeling there’s general fatigue with White’s story/saga, but there’s still relevance to his story. ESPN’s Amin Alhassan had some insightful comments on the Kings plans with White.
    • Watching ESPN’s 30 for 30, Requiem for the Big East, I had no idea how good of a player Pearl Washington (Syracuse) was. He was before my time and since he didn’t have an impact as a pro, I never read up on his game. By all accounts here, he was a legend in New York before Syracuse and the game film shows a herky jerky, occasionally unstoppable guard that calls to mind another Pearl, that of Monroe – hence the nickname? Dude looks like he could dribble through a minefield, come out unscathed, then flip a little lay-in between the outstretched, broom wielding arms of Ewing, Mutombo, and Mourning. That he struggled as a pro doesn’t seem to impact how he’s remembered. Maybe it’s because I primarily follow the pro game, but it’d be cool if more players were remembered for their successes at any level than ripped apart for their failures or struggles.

  • Drew Gooden and Chris Andersen: Saturday night I was watching the Brooklyn/Washington game and saw Drew Gooden in a Wizards jersey with his head cleanly shaved, a headband on, no wild facial hair or ducktail. Just Drew, wearing #90, getting shit done. Before Washington signed him in late February, he hadn’t played an NBA game since April of last season with the Bucks and now, on Saturday night, he’s in the nation’s capital pumping mid-range jumpers, getting fourth quarter minutes, and generally contributing positivity to the Wiz. On Sunday, it was Chris Andersen giving Miami the same type of effort and energy that he’s been giving since they signed him to his first 10-day contract last January. The question I keep coming back to: How were these guys available? I get that players need to be able to blend in with existing philosophies and personalities and maybe other teams didn’t see the same opportunity, but it’s difficult to watch Birdman and Gooden thriving in supporting roles and wonder why it took so long for them to find employment. Then I wonder how many other potentially impactful players are out there waiting for a phone call.

 

By Month

GP

MIN

OR

DR

REB

Per36

October

1

37

2

11

13

12.6

November

15

35.8

2

4.3

5.8

5.8

December

16

36.3

1

5.1

6.4

6.3

January

14

35.1

1

5.9

7.3

7.5

February

12

35.8

1

4.9

5.7

5.7

March

8

38.3

3

11

13

12.5

 

But how? His career average is 4.8. His season average is 7.2, yet eight games into March and he’s rebounding like a French Dennis Rodman (sure, that’s excessive and a frightening amalgamation to boot, but you get me). Last he grabbed 14 more against Golden State.

  • The Spurs are on a 10-game win streak which has included wins against Dallas, Miami and Portland at home, and the Bulls on the road. Their next three games are on the road for a California swing against the Lakers, Kings, and Warriors. They were an impressive 38-15 before the break, but with a healthy post-All Star group, they’ve gone 13-1.

 

 

  • Writer Derek Bodner put things into perspective when he tweeted:  “The Seattle Seahawks have won more recently than the Philadelphia 76ers. We’re in mid-March. 20 in a row.” That was after Saturday night’s 26-point loss to Memphis which, as Derek points out, was Philly’s 20th straight loss. The margin of defeat over this terrible streak of failure has stretched from 5 points (Jazz) all the way on up to 45 points (Clips). The games aren’t even close and the schedule is not kind. Upcoming games: @ Indiana, Chicago, New York, @ Chicago, @ San Antonio, @ Houston, Detroit. Oh, it can get worse this deconstructed bunch. But save your pity for someone who’s trying.

 

  • Margin of victory is typically a good indicator of where a team falls in the league’s good-to-bad hierarchy. Unless you’re the Minnesota Timberwolves. Record-wise, the Wolves are the 16th best team in the league with a 33-32 record. Based on margin of victory, they’re 9th overall with a +3.6 which places them ahead of Dallas, Memphis, and Phoenix – three teams that enjoy a significant lead over Minnesota in the standings. You can look back through each year dating back to the 2001-02 season and you won’t find a team with a differential as high as Minnesota’s that missed the playoffs. There were only a handful of teams with a positive differential that managed to miss and none were near +3.6. Their 32 losses are by an average of ~8 points while 33 wins are by ~15 points. And in games decided by 5 points or less, they’re unbearably bad at 3-13.

 

  • Finally … Kyrie Irving may be out for the season with a biceps injury. If that’s the case, he’ll wrap up his 3rd season in the league having played in 174 of a possible 230 games – or roughly 75% of all possible games.

The Lost Years of Magic Johnson

You can lose all sorts of things. There’s Nas’s “Lost Tapes,” the Lost Boys and the Lost Boyz. People lose themselves, lose their keys, lose games. Lost lives, lost loves. You can lose anything tangible or intangible. Then there’s the four-plus seasons Magic Johnson lost to a lack of understanding around the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Losing a few seasons wasn’t life or death, it exceeded basketball in the sense that it challenged misconceptions around HIV/AIDS and continues to do so today – over 22 years later. When I write about “lost years” here, I’m referring specifically to an on-court context as Magic’s contracting HIV had a broader, further reach than anything he could’ve done a on basketball court. To that point, the power of Magic’s very public relationship with HIV has been covered more in depth and with more consideration than I can hope to, but what I remain curious about is what would’ve happened from 1991 to 1996 when a post-prime Magic still would’ve been gliding up the court, knees braced, fingers wrapped in tape, freezing indecisive defenders will telegenic lookaways, gold jersey with big purple 3-2 shadowed in white, pumping out stats so rare that he has no statistical comparison. What would’ve been?

It was last week I stumbled across a piece on Deadspin titled “The Beautiful Infographics of Ted Williams’s The Science of Hitting.” I emailed the story to a couple friends and we exchanged a few back and forths about Teddy Ballgame and the three seasons he lost in his prime to WWII service. Williams somehow won the Triple Crown both before and after his military sabbatical and, like Magic, doesn’t need any extra stats to pad his legendary résumé, but you still wonder about those three seasons and 450+ games he missed out on.

After referencing Magic in one of my email exchanges, I meandered over to Magic’s basketball-reference page and took a look at his outputs during his short return to the Lakers as a 36-year-old PF/PG: 14.6ppg, 5.7rpg and 6.9apg. The numbers on their own aren’t eye-poppingly revolutionary. 67 other times, NBA players have accomplished this line or better, but no player 36 or older has ever done it and no one else who’s posted these numbers did it while playing under 30-minutes/game like Magic did. It took most players at least 36-minutes/night to generate these well-balanced numbers.

I reached out to some of the stat guys at Hickory-High and chatted with Jacob Frankel about age-based regression statistics. Jacob explained to me that “players generally decline in everything except shooting and rebounding after 28,” but also cautioned that Magic might be a completely different animal. He offered to crunch the numbers for me using his own methodology and I was kind of excited when I heard back from Jacob a day later with the following: “I think Magic breaks the system … the system is based on similar players and Magic was so unique that it’s misfiring.”

I’m tempted to write something silly like “Magic breaks math,” but he’s just so much different from any other player that it’s difficult to systematically project his impact during those lost years. Where just a handful of players have been able to put up at least 14, 5 and 6.5 over the course of a season, Magic did it in every one of his 13 NBA seasons and the last one in 1995-96 was done after spending four full seasons away from the game and playing a career-low in minutes. His per-36 minutes that final season showed a slight decline against his career averages which is to be expected when comparing a 36-year-old with rust to a 31-year-old All-NBA first teamer who carried his team to the finals in 1991. Some other things to keep in mind: Magic split time between power forward and point guard on Del Harris’s 95-96 team. Despite playing in an unfamiliar position, he still exceeded his career average usage rate with 22.7%.

When I finally arrived at some oddball projections that wouldn’t pass muster in an elementary stats class, I found myself sort of empty. The numbers decline uniformly because my regressions are unimaginative, but the sum of what we missed out on amounts to a couple thousand rebounds, a few thousand more assists (he’d still be behind John Stockton), almost 5,000 points and a little over 10,000 more minutes. There would’ve been more memories and intrigues, battles with MJ and playoff triple doubles, but the extra codas these years would’ve added to his narrative are so significantly outweighed by his response to his own reality that I walk away from this piece with both a sense of failure at articulating any statistical intrigue and a greater sense of appreciation for the impact of the post-HIV Magic.   

 Magic

[POSTSCRIPT: It was eye-opening that as I sat down to write this, what is intentionally a piece focused on stats, I quickly became aware of how miniscule these thoughts are in relation to the impact of Magic’s announcement 22 years ago. What happened since then has been nothing short of world changing. In terms of bringing HIV/AIDS awareness to a mass audience and challenging stereotypes, Magic’s story is profoundly positive. In addition, his bottomless vaults of money and resources, his access to the best doctors and drugs, have cast a different-shaded light on what should be a problematic question of access and affordability of life-saving drugs. What I will continue to take away from Magic Johnson and HIV is that basketball created a platform with a massive, but relatively (on a global scale) limited audience. HIV offered a direct connection to millions of people in the same way cancer allowed Lance Armstrong to connect with people who never gave a damn about the Tour de France.

No matter how big they are, Magic’s trophy cases are overflowing with the awards and accomplishments from a life on the court. He’s on imaginary Mount Rushmores, is considered the greatest point guard to ever play the game, has the stats and hardware to back it all up. And no matter how great he was on the court, his impact off it has been infinitely more valuable to our species. Everything above, as curiosity-piquing as it may sometimes seem, is little droplets of salt water in the sprawling ocean of Magic’s life.]

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