- I swear I like fun. RT @SmoothsHoops: If you hate Patrick Beverley, you hate fun. 7 hours ago
- McHale don't wanna hear it. 7 hours ago
- Reflexively smiling at Beverly's shenanigans. 7 hours ago
- Haven't seen much fo Dwight in the 4th. 7 hours ago
- Lot easier for Harden to get a good look when the lil' Fish is on him. Soooo ... Scott Brooks? 7 hours ago
Just messing around, getting triple doubles
Tag Archives: basketball
January 8, 2014Posted by on
I remember a couple things about Michael Cage:
- He was a rebounding king
- He wore a jheri curl
While the former should be the focus of this sketch, I can’t help but consider my memory of Cage’s dark skin glistening with sweat, strong stretching hands corralling yet another rebound, exhaling, sweat flying and that jheri curl resting intact, maybe bouncing ever so slightly as Cage throws an outlet pass and runs the floor. Cage’s best years were with the Clippers and Sonics and he wore the jheri until at least his Sonics days. It was sometime in the 90s that he retired that dying do, exchanging it for a more contemporary, more assimilated low fade. Cage adopted the fade sometime after the jheri was infamously mocked (and likely ruined for many) by Eriq LaSalle’s character in Coming to America.
But Cage was clearly more than a hairstyle. He was a rebounding champion (13rpg in 1988), a 6’9” power forward/center with a classically v-shaped frame prone to casual lefty dunks and an unflashy, functional style of play. The highlight video below is mostly uninspiring by today’s standards—with the exception of the last five seconds. From a purely statistical output perspective, Cage brings to mind Troy Murphy. The comparisons end there though as Murphy was an auburn-haired, pasty-colored distance shooting big while Cage was nicknamed “John Shaft.”
October 27, 2013Posted by on
I’m a Lakers fan. Make no mistake about it. Beneath all my demands for fairness and bridging the rich-poor gap acrimony, I still cheer for the Lakers and their “see money, throw a problem at it” philosophy. So you can imagine my curiosity last year when I’m watching the Lakers slowly implode like a basketball version of an ugly, slow, painful deterioration of something or someone you know. Maybe it’s like when Brittney Spears fell off the rails in public and her fans just sat there and watched and they probably wanted to help her … “If I just had a chance, I could help Britt.” I can see some Lakers fans convinced they had solutions to the incurable problems the team had last season. But not me. I wasn’t one of those fans. I sat back and watched in enraptured entertainment. Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol. So many of us presumed that the star power alone would blind opponents, leaving them defenseless to an onslaught of well-aged skill and Howardian beastliness down low. And when the reality of age and fragility set in and the team underachieved for so many games, those shining stars dimmed to a cynical glow and Lakers fans frowned and grunted through an extended shit show where nothing made sense and everything went wrong.
All the while I sat bewildered, but unexpectedly entertained. In the NBA more so than the NFL or MLB, you can pick a handful of contenders at the beginning of the season and be fairly confident in your assessments. For all of us to whiff so badly last year; including the Kupchaks and Busses of the world … well, it was like watching a Hollywood blockbuster with one of our favorite action heroes as the star, but only the script goes off somewhere. The hero doesn’t fit the prototype we’re trained to recognize. Superman can’t change into his blue spandex in the phone booth let alone fly through the air. The Batmobile catches a flat and Bruce Wayne has to wait for Alfred to show up and change the tire. Meanwhile, Lex Luther and the Joker are taking a big ol’ dump on Metropolis and Gotham. That was the Lakers we saw last season.
Now in the fall of 2013, on the cusp of another NBA season, I’m all settled in, prepared for a crummy Lakers campaign that rivals the miserable outcomes of the post-Shaq Lakers like 2005 when Kobe “led” the team to 34 wins. But the difference is obviously that we’re prepared for it now. That preparation or expectation is the critical piece. When we know what to expect, we can maintain an even keel while still experiencing fluctuations in emotions. It’s the unexpected that challenges our conditioned responses.
You might be wondering why I’m just now drifting back to these Lakers memories. After all, we’re several months removed from the realization that the Lakers were not who we thought they were. A couple of my other favorite teams are presently walking through their own purgatories of expectation and I’m reflexively flashing back:
The current Manchester United team, another team I support (go ahead, make your front-runner jokes, but know I’m a long-suffering Cubs fan as well and experience both sides of the winning/losing of fandom), is enduring a challenging season with their new skipper, David Moyes. Moyes is replacing the living legend, Sir Alex Ferguson, who managed the world’s most recognizable sports franchise for over 26 years. In that span, he etched out a profile for himself that, on a global scale, exceeds that of Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson and all the rest. Ferguson was an anomaly in the English Premier League where clubs cycle through managers more frequently than most of us go through a pair of jeans. United has mostly the same roster they had last year when the dominated the league and secured the title with multiple weeks still to play. It was fantastically anti-climactic and Ferguson left the new manager with a sturdy foundation on which to build a new legacy for himself and his new club. Instead, nine matches into the new season and United has struggled with a miserable defense that is regularly outplayed and compounds their shortcomings with knuckleheaded decision making and lapses in discipline. Yet … as I watch the team, I’m taking a strange satisfaction in the struggle. It’s not a sporting masochism. In the case of United, there’s this part of me that’s enjoying the uphill climb of this underachieving group. Maybe it’s because it’s still early in the season and I have faith that they’ll figure it out, that patience will win the day. Or maybe it’s just the feeling of stepping into a different, less comfortable role. Maybe I feel better being on more relatable terms with my friend who’s a Tottenham supporter? Or maybe I’m just a confused elitist who’s confusing the struggle with a footballing equivalent of slumming. Either way, it’s a more engrossing feeling than the anticlimactic sprint away from a pedestrian pack.
At home, my Seattle Sounders are flailing through the final few weeks of a grueling MLS regular season. Where the team was riding the natural high of an eight-match unbeaten streak that saw them climb to the top of league standings, they’ve now lost four straight matches by a 2-12 deficit. The Sounders haven’t won a match since mid-September. Players are hurt, the defense is in shambles, luck favors their opponents and yet, I find their matches more magnetizing than ever. I tune in or go to matches wondering if this is the game they turn it around. I anticipate the euphoria that must come with a break from these autumnal doldrums. With the MLS playoffs a week away, the Sounders somehow backed into the playoffs, and instead of drinking myself to sleep or crying tears of blue and rave green discontent, I’m cautiously hopeful that things will turn and we’ll look back on this rough stretch as nothing more than a funky smelling aberration. Something to share a beer over and thank the soccer gods it’s passed.
Let’s be real here … maybe I just don’t know how to be a fan. Maybe there’s some twisted gene hiding in my DNA that’s afraid of the pressure that accompanies a winner. Maybe I just don’t get what it means to be a fan, because I’d expect a different reaction. I’d expect to be pissed off or pouty about these things, but I just accept it with curious observation. The 2013 Lakers, Sounders and Man United teams have stumbled into strange playoff positions with dust-covered aging rosters and defenses that can be exploited by younger, less-skilled opponents. And I sit back and take it all in with a chuckle at the unexpected deviation from the narrative and the strange satisfaction I feel from not knowing what’s coming next. The Lakers, Sounders and United … my teams, my disappointments, my entertainments through winning, losing, and all points beyond and between.
May 5, 2013Posted by on
Free Darko gave us the concept of “Spirit Animals” in their first book and five years late I’m still inspired enough to imagine “Spirit Weapons” for the 2013 Playoffs where NBA players are partnered up with ideal weapons that suit their style and personality. Since my own experience with weapons doesn’t extend much beyond handling a machete, using a rake as a staff, and familiarizing myself with the basics of nunchakus in my teenage years; I may not be qualified to make these connections, but we’re wasting time dwelling on it, so let’s get down to the bloody business of weaponry:
Mike Conley: A well-crafted, handmade, pearl-handled switchblade:
When I think about switch-blades, my first thought is greasers with slicked back hair, white t-shirts, leather jackets, cigarettes. I don’t think about Mike Conley. But when I think about a switch-blade, its conveniently compact style able to be tucked discretely in the pocket of your jeans; the easy access and ability to operate with a single hand; I think about economy. Mike Conley is a point guard of economy and efficiency. He’s a law-abiding player, quick to stick to Lionel Hollins’ plays and plans, but like the greaser, he’s a lethal opportunist, happy to heartlessly carve up opponents who discount or disrespect him.
Zach Randolph: Brass knuckles
The man known as Z-Bo is the physical embodiment of brass knuckles. He’s like a human knuckle: Curved, but solid, blunt, powerful, made of raw American brutishness. Z-Bo’s fists do plenty of damage on their own (just ask Ruben Patterson’s orbital bone), but his spirit animal is the loaded fist; a lethal weapon residing in the painted area of basketball courts from Memphis to Los Angeles. When Z-Bo’s around, learn to duck.
Steph Curry: Flame thrower
One thing you’ll notice about all the weapons here is that they’re handheld and no guns or machinery are included. But for Curry, the flamethrower is remarkably appropriate. Opponents feel the intense threatening pressure of his jumpers which come from anywhere at any time. He creates his own shots and dazzles and intimidates with his constant heat checking. For further evidence of this flame throwing point guard, refer to the deep burns left on the 2013 Nuggets.
Russell Westbrook: Wolverine’s adamantium claws and skeleton
I read some comics back in the day, but was never sucked into the sub-culture and have never been to Comic-Con. I know enough to know that Wolverine’s claws and skeleton were made of some imaginary substance called adamantium which is apparently an indestructible metal alloy. Wolverine has super-human healing powers and up until last week, we all thought Westbrook did too. The man hadn’t missed a single basketball game in his entire career: That’s high school, college and five full seasons of NBA brutality. Add in the dichotomies between the on-court/off-court Russell Westbrooks which are akin to the Wolverine/Logan personas and the circle is complete.
New York Knicks: Vega claw
For those of you familiar with Street Fighter II, you’ll remember Vega as the masked matador from Spain who’s equipped with a long metal claw on his left hand. Vega’s claw and speed allow him to excel at long-range attacks, but he’s also one of the weaker characters on the game. Vega is the video game version of the Knicks: A diverse amalgamation of talents (Vega combines Ninjutsu with his bull-fighting skills), finely tuned and highly skilled, but more than susceptible to being popped in the mouth and defeated by opponents of a greater mental fortitude.
Chicago Bulls: Broken beer bottle
This isn’t to say the Bulls are like a gang of marauding drunkards going from bar to bar and smashing beer bottles over the
heads of any man, woman or child crazy enough to incite them. The broken beer bottle in this case symbolizes toughness. I don’t know if the Bulls are being struck with beer bottles or they’re doing the striking, but I feel like you could put this group in any situation and they’d find a way (whether through broken beer bottles or some other non-traditional method) to make their
opponents rue the day they confronted the Bulls.
Paul George: Rattan sticks
Rattan is described on Wikipedia as “hard and durable, yet lightweight.” George’s lean muscle, length and versatility are the basketball-version of a pair of rattan sticks thwacking away at foes too dumb or naïve to challenge George. Imagine his harassing defense as a painful rap across the knuckles; his dunks as a vicious head-body combination. His understated expressiveness wound tightly in the simplicity of these dangerous weapons. Don’t be stupid, avoid the George.
Blake Griffin: War hammer
The most famous and well-known war hammer is probably that of Thor, the comic-book character based on the thunder god of Norse mythology. Thor’s hammer had a name (Mjolnir) and could be picked up only by those who were worthy. This is Blake’s spirit weapon. Others can dunk with violence and aggression, but none approach the dunk shot with the fury of the NBA’s god of dunk, Blake Griffin. And like the war hammer which is used in close combat, the dunk typically occurs in close quarters where giants battle and more often than not, it’s Blake and his war hammer slaying inferiorly talented or poorly-positioned supersized humans.
Jarret Jack: Head
I’m convinced Jarrett Jack’s skull is thick, hard like steel and impervious to pain (this isn’t a euphemism for Jack’s questionable decision-making). Is it possible for your spirit weapon to be part of you? It’s never happened before, but Jack’s the perfect guy to test it out on. Like his game, Jack’s dome is cleanly shaven, suggesting honesty and openness—you know what you’re getting with Jack. He’s strong for a guard, casually shrugging off defenders with his strength and intimidating them with his battering ram-like head. I’ve often wished the Warriors would celebrate wins with Jack ceremoniously crushing a brick with his skull, aka his spirit weapon.
Kevin Durant: Trident & Cast net
I struggled to find the appropriate spirit weapon for Durant and in the end the trident coupled with the cast net seemed to jive best his spiritual basketball self. The trident is described as being “prized for its long reach and ability trap other long-weapons between prongs to disarm their wielder.” The cast net is used in tandem with the trident as a way to trap or ensnare enemies; almost like a massive human web paralyzing prey, leaving them vulnerable to the trident attack. How appropriate is that for Durant? His nickname Durantula is due in part to his spidery-like limbs. Not known for physical strength; his length, skill and deliberateness are complemented by the trident’s long reach and deadly attacks. It’s completely possible Durant carries a net in his post-game backpacks.
Chris Bosh: Bull whip
Many of us were likely introduced to the bull whip through the adventures of Indiana Jones, but unless Bosh is scared of snakes and has a fetish for brown fedoras, the similarities between the two begin and end with the whip. It’s a weapon that requires a high level of skill to best utilize and for all the Bosh-hating that goes on, he’s one of the better-skilled big men in the league. His range brings to mind one of the whip’s most valuable attributes: its length, which allows its user to maintain a safe distance from any assailant. Additionally, Bosh has never had a reputation for bruising and banging.
Tony Parker: Meteor Hammer
Before you shriek out, “Tony Parker? Meteor hammer?” in complete disgust, let me explain. The meteor hammer is a chain with two weights (think steel objects, like steel globes) at either end (see image). The main strength is described as “its sheer speed” and it was named as such because it strikes “as fast as a meteor.” Additional descriptions: “When used by a skilled fighter, its speed, accuracy and unpredictability make it a difficult weapon to defend against.” That’s the perfect description of Tony Parker; a lighting quick guard with abnormal accuracy from the field who uses his head-to-head speed to keep defenders on their heels.
James Harden: Chakram
I had never heard of the chakram prior to writing this story. The chakram is a disk without a center that has razors around its outer edge. It’s used as a throwing tool, but can also be used in up-close combat. The razors on the outside were sharp enough to chop off limbs. Sooooo … we’re talking about a deadly metal Frisbee that can be thrown with accuracy from anywhere between 40 and 100 meters. And if you get close to the chakram master, watch out because he’s likely to use it defensively or to hack off an arm with it. Harden’s not chopping any limbs that we know of, but the combination of his outside shot (finished 6th in the league in threes made) and inside attack (led the league in free throws attempted) are frighteningly chakram-esque.
Dwyane Wade: Macuahuitl
Wade’s always been a physically imposing player. He’s 6’4” and built more like an NFL player than one of the best two guards in the league. In that regard, he’s always been unconventional. The macuahuitl (don’t ask how to pronounce) is similarly unconventional. Consider it as an earlier, more aesthetic version of a baseball bat with barbed wire wrapped around the barrel. The macuahuitl was a wooden club with sharp chunks of obsidian embedded in its sides. The obsidian was sharp enough to decapitate enemies. The blunt force of the club and the shredding capacity of the obsidian cut to the core of Wade’s on-court skills. His strength and speed have delivered two championships, a scoring title and numerous individual accolades. The macuahuitl is a weapon that knows no mercy, just like Wade.
LeBron James: Katana
The Samurai sword, known and revered for its “sharpness and strength” is the perfectly crafted weapon for the perfect warrior our league has. You can make a case that this blade is more suited for Kobe who’s come to define the basketball-playing warrior archetype with his commitment to winning and playing through injury if at all human possible, but for now, LeBron is the katana. The gods gifted him with the perfect physique for the game today. He’s too strong, too fast, too skilled and just too damn good for any of his contemporaries to slow down let alone defeat. Whether or not he follows the Samurai codes of honor is debatable, but it doesn’t change that he’s masterfully suited to be paired with the most resplendent of weapons.
Other players who just missed the cut (no pun): Tim Duncan (hook swords), Ray Allen (cross bow), Rajon Rondo (claws of some sort), Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan (battle axes), Milwaukee Bucks (scissors), Reggie Evans (baseball bat). Weapons that missed out cat o’ nine tails, flash grenade, nunchakus, mace (the spray, not the mallet), chain whip.
Good luck to all the remaining playoff participants and please stay safe. Dancing with Noah doesn’t condone the use of any of the weapons listed above. For more information about local laws, please check your government websites.
April 26, 2013Posted by on
What oh what, have the playoffs become?
No Rose, no Rondo and now no Russ
Kobe’s Achilles, we lost Dr. Buss
D. Lee’s hip and the eggshell pacing Spurs
Tyson Chandler’s neck and Noah’s fascist fascia
Pain, disappointment and injurious-expecting paranoia
We’re lost and wandering in D. Wade’s aching knees,
And the strange Baker’s Cyst of MWP’s
Supporting characters’ ankles so brittle and Meek(s)
Under x-ray machines Steph Curry’s ankle still weak
The Linsane have crumbled under bird-chested contusions
While the unhealthy continue to foster successful allusions
Steve and Steve are baked in sunny LA, we put out a missing person’s report on Stoudemire, Amare
The most shocking of all is the tearing meniscus of a bionic man
Russell Westbrook has fallen; it’s more than we can stand
Reminds me of the woe I felt back in nineteen-and-ninety
When I watched another unbeatable, unbreakable, mythological man
Get pummeled to a pulp, his wobbly legs not allowing him to stand
Mike Tyson, meet Russell, Russ, this is Mike
So different, so same, made of futuristic metals and the like
Yet falling so sadly, the mortal myths settle
The excitement is waning, the birds are chirping
Turn off the TV because the hope has splintered
Let’s go outside because spring is here and it’s been a long winter
April 18, 2013Posted by on
We used to get 20s & 10s more frequently than we do these days. In the 2000s, we’ve seen at least two players average twenty points and ten rebounds in every season until now. We have scorers who are just OK rebounders and rebounders who aren’t so offensively evolved. But I’m not here to deceive you. This isn’t about that 20/10 club, it’s about the 20-rebound/10-assist club that Pau Gasol, (the greatest Spanish-born NBA player in league history) joined on Wednesday night in a critical victory for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Gasol has re-focused himself since his return from injury and is averaging a dynamic 17.5ppg, 12.1rpg and 6.6apg on 51% shooting in eight April games. His performance against the shallow Rockets front court on Wednesday night was just a further reminder of why all of us thought this Lakers team would be so much better than they have been this season.
As is and has so often been the case, a unique performance this season has opened up my eyes to another great performance from days gone by. This time, it was Charles Barkley on April 4th, 1986. Barkley, a 6’4”-ish power forward, went for 27 points, 22 rebounds and 10 assists on 12-18 shooting. I’m not calling this out just because Charles Barkley is a member of the 20/10 club. Certainly Tim Duncan’s 21-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist, 8-block game—in the NBA Finals—is a more dynamic and historical event. What’s more impressive is that it seems like Barkley shows up on every other “Guess I’m Strange” post I do:
- John Henson’s filter: 17pts/20rebs/7blks. Barkley achieved the same feat on November 28th, 1986
- Spencer Hawse’s filter: 18pts/16rebs/8assts/7blks. Yep, Barkley’s same game on 11/28/86: 31pts, 21rebs, 9asts, 7blks
- Reggie Evans’s filter: 16 FTAs/24rebs. On December 9th, 1987, Chuck had 38pts, 24rebs and attempted 21 FTs.
- Pau Gasol’s aforementioned line: 20/10
This post seemed appropriate after Henry Abbott’s interview on TrueHoop TV with Tim Grover where Grover (Michael Jordan’s long-time personal trainer and the current trainer for Kobe and D. Wade) singled out Barkley as the greatest athlete he’s ever worked with. When you think about the size and speed of Barkley (his 76ers fast breaks were frightening) and what he was able to accomplish as a player who measured between 6’4” and 6’6”, it’s hard to fathom. In 1987, he led the league with 14.6rpg. That same season he averaged 23ppg, 4.9apg and 1.8 steals with a TS of 66%. The only other players in league history put up the 23/14/4 are Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Unbelievable, Barkley and unbelievable trails we find ourselves on when we stray just a little bit off the paths that are paved for us.
Now let’s all kick back and soak in the animal style of the one and only, Charles Barkley:
April 14, 2013Posted by on
We started with what could only be described as an audacious idea; a crazy idea that only whackos disconnected from reality, out of touch with the space-time continuum, stuck in a world of imaginary fantasy where Rick Barry can exist in the prime of his basketball heyday not just with a singular existence, but a dual existence right alongside his sons: Two prime Rick Barrys, one prime Jon Barry and one prime Brent Barry. But we somehow pulled it off with dynamic storylines mixing 80 years of combined NBA wisdom with caffeine-fueled fantasies to arrive here, at the Final Four of the NBA Fathers & Sons 2-on-2 tournament. If you’ve been following along since the beginning, we hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. If this is your first exposure to greatest 2-on-2 tournament in Naismith history, I’d suggest reading the initial post which laid out the concept that I was never sure we’d see through to the end.
And I’d be doing my cohorts and myself a disservice if I didn’t thank them for their more-than-generous contributions to this project. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I usually fly solo, a one man parade as James Taylor would say. But with 31 games to cover, it would’ve been like hiking to Mordor by myself with nothing but a staff, a cloak and some corn nuts to get me through. So I solicited the assistance of my trusted friends and colleagues and thoroughly enjoyed the collaborative process of working with Jacob Greenberg from www.TheDissNBA.com (for those who were wondering, Jacob describes his hooping style as an Eric Snow-type of guard who sets sturdy screens and rebounds well for his position) and my old mates Bug and Hamilton (we go all the way back to Monroe-Rice Elementary so if you sense any chemistry, now you know why). But my co-conspirators have lives and careers and child and spouses and pets and partners and Golden State Warriors and seeing how they’d already donated so much of their time, I decided to relinquish them of their vows and finish the tournament on my own. (Logistically speaking, it was also easier to divide three matchups across one writer instead of four.)
I’ve babbled on long enough this Sunday morning. It’s time to stop waxing nostalgic and deliver what I set out to do:
In a matchup of highly-skilled perimeter players, the contrast is one of balance. The Bryants are top-heavy with Kobe being his usual dominant, fearless self and dad Joe acting in various capacities as a catalyst, instigator, button pusher, but most of all: a positive influence. Both Walker and Rose had seasons where they averaged over 20ppg and are the only father/son combination in league history to each score over 10,000 points. Their strength is in their balance, in the capability of each player to score from anywhere on the court or act as a facilitator if the situation demands.
Despite the success of both of these #1 seeds, all is not copacetic on the courts of fathers and sons. Walker and Rose have been able to ignore the massive elephant in the room of their relationship: the fact that there is no relationship. Walker was absent during Jalen’s childhood and as much as the younger Rose wants to believe the relationship can come together through chemistry and cohesion on the basketball court, there’s too much that needs to be healed and as the game warms up, so too does Rose’s resentment of the man who failed to be present so many years ago. As for Joe and Kobe, while Joe’s always been a present and supportive father to Kobe, there’s a low level of resentment building here as well. The lack of symmetry between Joe’s career stats and his actual ability has always been a sore spot for the elder Bryant and playing second fiddle to his own son (regardless of Kobe’s worldly talents) has reopened some of the disappointments from Bryant’s lackluster NBA career.
And so the game begins with both father/son duos existing within friction. Jalen retreats into himself, passing up open shots and firing bullet passes to Jimmy who picks up on what his son is really saying with his passive play: You didn’t need me all those years ago, so now when you really need my help, forget it. On the other side of the ball, Joe’s forcing shots, attacking, not necessarily playing outside of himself, but focusing on proving to everyone, and especially himself, that he’s more than capable of carrying the Bryants when it matters.
The game opens with fits and starts. The crowd surrounding the court in bleacher seating is fidgety, picking up on the tension that’s led to a just a couple buckets in the game’s first several possessions. It’s almost as if there are two separate games going on in within the actual contest that everyone showed up for. Icy stares shoot across the court with more purpose than the shots that keep clanking off the rim. Jimmy’s stung by Jalen’s clear discontent, Jalen’s passive aggressiveness is giving him the attention he never received as a kid, Joe’s trying so hard he’s fumbling passes and missing everything. For once it’s not all about Kobe. He’s the only player on the court who’s focused on winning the game and his awareness of the on-court dynamics at play gives him an opportunity to start dictating and feeding Jellybean Joe the ball in places where he can be most successful. Kobe finds Joe on post-ups and pick-and-rolls; his one-on-one game is so great that even in this two-on-two scenario he draws the off-defender’s help and exploits the help to find Joe again and again. The Bryants are up 13-4 when Jimmy walks off the court.
It’s a painful moment for everyone. The refs don’t bother intervening in family business and stand around talking about Joe Bryant’s gold chain and wondering what the correct call would be if the chain somehow affected play. They come up with no conclusions. Kobe and Joe are nodding at each other with the younger Bryant kidding his old man about the forced start. Joe responds with an embarrassed smile, “Your old man can play. Sometimes I gotta remind folks.” “You ain’t gotta remind me. I saw you put up 50 in Italy. I heard em singing those songs about you. I know!” “That’s right…”
Jalen’s drinking Gatorade with a towel draped around his shoulders. He’s not thinking about the game. He’s not thinking about the Bryants. He’s caught somewhere between hanging onto his anger and/or sadness (he’s not sure) and walking across the court to extend a hand out to Jimmy who’s in in the middle of an impassioned conversation with his friend Dave Bing. Bing is directly honest, “You’re his father, Jimmy. His father. It’s on you man. You brought that boy into this world and never even met him before this tournament and now you the one who gets to be pissed off ‘cause he’s upset? You got some nerve, Jimmy.” Jimmy tries in vain to plead his case, to recite the laundry list of excuses for why it never worked with Jalen, but he doesn’t even believe it himself.
By the time Jimmy makes his olive branch-bearing way across the court, Kobe and Joe are chilling on the bench wrapped up in towels and Dri-Fit shirts provided by Kobe’s generous/capitalist sponsor. Kobe made a move to bitch about the delay, but was quickly hushed by his pops who recognizes “there are more than a few things in this world bigger than a damn basketball game, kid. I thought I raised you better than that.” In moments, Rose and Walker are moist-eyed, the pain of a lifetime of knowing a father through second and third hand accounts streaming down Jalen’s cheeks and a half-a-lifetime of guilt slowly lifting off Jimmy’s shoulders. They’re done, they don’t want or need to play in this 2-on-2 tournament anymore, but Bing and Joe Bryant encourage them to finish up even if it’s just for fun. After a few minutes of pushing, Rose and Walker agree.
The game resumes with the crowd and the refs and even the Bryants (to a very, very, very low degree) rooting for Jalen and Jimmy who seem like a couple that was committed to a painful split, but finally agreed on reconciliation and rejoice in the love they share for each other. The feel good story is good enough for a couple buckets and growing senses of hope to roll through the crowd like gentle waves of euphoria, but the Bryants are comfortable being the big bad favorites. They block out the boos, they block out the emotions and play a clean two-man game with Joe owning the inside and Kobe owning everything else. As much as we love to love and see love, love doesn’t conquer all tonight. The Bryants win an easy, if not emotionally taxing, game 21-13.
If there’s anything that this 2-on-2 tournament has revealed, it’s been the uniquely disagreeable disposition of Rick Barry. This arrogant basketball savant with his pro-basketball playing sons rolling out one-by-one like the Barry family was some sort of pro-basketball-player-producing factory with a trash talking patriarch. The Thompsons aren’t much different with Mychal acting as a strong guiding hand in the life of Klay and the Thompsons producing three basketball-playing sons with two going pro. Between the fathers in this matchup, five of their sons played in the NBA.
Mychal Thompson possesses the size and skill to harass Rick into tough, challenging shots, but Rick doesn’t give a damn about any Bahamian big man. Like any hunter, he knows to attack the weakest link in the Thompson family and physically and psychologically, that’s Klay. He tells Brent before the game: “You’re guarding Mike. He’s bigger, he’s strong and he’s gonna kick your ass, but you won’t feel a thing when we’re in the finals. I’m taking that soft ass Klay. He’s weak. Trust me on this and if you end up on him, beat him up.”
The other pre-game speech is also fatherly dominated with Mychal dictating to Klay exactly how the game’s going to go: “It’s the inside-outside, Klay. They can’t guard me and if they try to go one-on-one, I’m scoring buckets all day. If they even they turn their head on you, I’m kicking it out and you know what happens then: Splash!” Klay nods like he’s been doing since he was a little kid and to some outside observers, it seems like he still is a little kid.
The Thompsons start the game the way they’ve done all tournament long: They put their hands together and chant: “1, 2, 3, Thompsons!” Rick snickers and mumbles something about “fucking pussies.” The game is underway.
The Barrys get the ball first and Rick isn’t surprised to see Mychal guarding him. Brent occupies the high post, catches the first pass and hears his dad’s words ringing through his head: “Beat him up.” It’s not in his nature, but he makes a hard turn to face the hoop and his intentionally extended elbow catches Klay square on the jaw. The refs call the foul, but Rick is pleased. The tone is set, but Brent’s already feeling guilty and extends a hand to help Klay up only to find that hand swatted away by Mychal. “Sorry, Klay,” he says.
The first Thompson possession goes pretty similar to how Mychal described it before the game: Klay checks the ball, dumps it inside to Mychal, but the double team never comes. A pissed off and embarrassed Klay calls for the ball and Mychal kicks it back out to him a couple feet behind the line and where he pulls up in Rick’s smug, doubting face. Splash. Thompsons 3, Barrys 0.
The Barrys answer back with Rick easily beating Mychal for the bucket and telling the big man, “Get used to it.”
And so it goes back and forth with elbows flying, hip shots catching cutters, pushing, shoving, illegal screens, trash talk and hurt feelings. Numerous times the players have to be separated and Jon Barry’s incessant heckling of Klay leads to the refs having him removed from the court. As he’s being carried off by security, he’s yelling at Klay: “Make sure daddy gives you a fair cut of the winnings!”
Rick’s plan to attack the weaker Thompson has fueled the younger man who’s scored 11 of the Thompson’s 15 points and has been the best player on the court. With things all even at 15-apiece, Klay dumps the ball into Mychal who has perfect position on the much smaller Brent. A drop-step dunk later and the Thompsons are up 17-15 with the Barrys on the ropes for the first time all tournament. The Barrys run a pick-and-roll and on Rick’s roll, he sets a clear moving screen on both Thompsons, but the refs ignore the foul and Brent sinks an uncontested go-ahead three: 18-17, Barrys. Another Mychal post-up and Rick a jumper put the score at 20-19, Barrys.
Klay checks the ball and works his ass off to get free of Rick who’s deep in his chest and seems to be a step ahead of every Klay cut or attempt to get free. And this is one of the most frustrating aspects of Rick Barry. For all the trash talk and bullying, he plays hard on both sides of the ball and has consistently been one of the best players in this tournament; his play demanding the respect of his opponents. This Final Four match has been no exception and the defense he’s playing on Klay has the kid pushed out to near half court before he can finally catch his dad’s pass. Klay puts the ball on the floor in an effort to create space, but Rick’s long arms are able to reach in and tap the ball away. Klay recovers, but his confidence in his handle is gone. The last thing he wants to do is turn the ball over to lose the game. Instead he passes off to Mychal who’s at the three point line. And the world stops.
Brent’s mind shoots back to research he had done a few weeks before when he saw the bracket and thought: “Hm, I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up playing the Thompsons.” And he went to Mychal’s basketball-reference.com page and saw the elder Thompson shot 1-12 from three for his career. Brent, in a rare show of the gambler’s mentality steps back, arms wide open, staring Mychal directly in the eye: “You ain’t got shit.” Rick laughs, Klay says nothing as he fears Brent is right: Mychal ain’t got shit from out there.
Mychal can’t resist a chance to be the hero and lets it fly despite having not taken a single three all tournament long. It’s a brick that Brent chases down. The Barrys now have the ball and any bucket will seal the deal. They toss a few passes back and forth, feeling the rhythm of the game. Brent takes the ball at the high post and Rick runs off the screen created by Brent’s position. Klay tries to go over Brent, knowing an open Rick jumper will end it all. Mychal, unable to see if Brent’s handing the ball off or keeping it himself, cheats to help Klay, but little does he know Brent’s keeping it. Both Thompsons are chasing the decoy Rick and Brent turns, takes a single step and elevates for the game-winning dunk: 22-19, Barrys. A few halfhearted “fuck yous” are exchanged, but no one’s really too upset about this game. The Thompsons shake their heads and go get some ice cream.
After that, I could use some ice cream as well. Or maybe a beer. I can’t stress how unplanned these outcomes have been. While it’s not surprising that the two best players in the entire father/son tournament (Rick Barry and Kobe) have made it to the finals, the routes these teams have taken and the unexpected twists, turns and modes of attack have been completely improvised and arrived at organically.
The finals will be covered in the next few days and it’ll be a fun battle between a pair of highly-skilled, versatile father/son combos. In a universe where Kobe’s Achilles is still fully intact, we’ll find out if he can do enough to will the Bryants to father/son glory or if the brash Rick Barry can overcome one of the greatest all-around scorers in league history and what roles will Brent and Jellybean Joe play in the game? Check back in a couple days to find out.
April 11, 2013Posted by on
We started so many spring weeks ago with a list of 52 NBA father/son combinations and through a series of contentiously competitive and occasionally antagonistic two-on-two battles, we’ve arrived here in mid-April with a list of eight families that we’ll be chopped in half by the end of this post. We always knew we’d arrive here, but there’s still a surreal element to it; the Final Four of Fathers & Sons. If this is your first time joining us, we welcome you with the open arms of loving fathers. And if you’ve been following the tournament since day one, welcome back, take a seat, enjoy yourself and let your imagination take you on a journey to neverlands and alternate basketball universes where everyone’s frozen at their peak in a basketball stasis of sorts.
The first matchup today is brought to you by Hamilton (@rh_asme), who was the best man in my wedding and as a 5’11” (maybe 6’0” on a good day) shooting guard dropped nine threes against North High School in his senior year:
Rick/Brent Barry (1-seed) vs. Rick/Jon Barry (2-seed): (total disclosure: in this neverland I described above, Rick Barry can exist on multiple teams at the same time. That’s the beauty of this tournament and universe—we know very few constraints. And as you read this, if you find it difficult to figure out which Rick Barry’s being discussed, just imagine how hard it was for Jon and Brent in the game):
Rick and Jon advanced by beating the 6th seeded Bibbys in round two. They’ve had a better on-court relationship than Rick (we’ll call him Barry, for clarity’s sake) and Brent because Brent wants to get his shine on too, while Jon, always a daddy’s boy, has allowed Rick hog the glory. Brent and Barry got here by defeating Kevin and Stan Love in a fun, insult-laden game that saw Barry go for 19 of 21 points.
The prevailing thought going into this game was that the Jon versus Brent matchup would be crucial. To some extent, the Ricks could cancel each other out. All four players knew some version of this was true.
Just before tip, the teams went over final strategy. “Look,” Barry said to Brent, “you’ve always been my favorite son. Jon … he’s just so damn judgmental. I don’t know where he gets it from … All you gotta do is play Barry ball and we got this game.” Meanwhile on the other side, “Brent’s soft. He might have dunked from the free throw line and won a couple rings, but you!? You’re an asshole and you’re my favorite son. That’s what we do! You follow my lead, and we’re moving on.”
Brent and Barry were awarded the ball first. Rick checked the ball to Barry and said, “You know something, you’re a really pretty guy … Real cute. But you’re not getting a damn thing on me today.” Barry being Rick Barry, had to come back at him, “That’s the thing. I won’t have to. You got the weak link on your team. Everyone knows Brent plays more like me than Jon does. Jon’s a scrub. Drew is better.” Barry passed to Brent and tried to go back door. It failed as Rick was in perfect position to recover and cut off the passing lane. Brent, intent on keeping his dad happy, took a couple dribbles and found Barry for an open jumper. Good. Brent and Barry on the board first.
Brent checked the ball to Jon and gave him a half step of space. He knew if Jon got by him, Barry wouldn’t slide over to help. He’d rather verbally abuse a teammate than help out and risk leaving his man open. Jon tossed the ball to his dad who had gotten good post position on Barry and cut to the basket. Rick dropped a quick bounce pass, but Barry got a hand on it and came away with a steal. It was becoming evident that the Ricks were indeed going to make it hard for each other to get comfortable on offense.
Much to the Rick Barrys disgust, neither one could shake the other. “If you weren’t so damn handsome, I’d put trademarks around your fucking eyes. I’m so tired of seeing you right in front of me every time I get the ball,” Barry remarked to Rick. “I told you a long time ago, fella. I’m the greatest Barry. I’m the one who taught the fish how to swim,” Rick arrogantly replied.
Back and forth the game went for several possessions. This, after all, was a 2-on-2 game that had occurred countless times in the past. Each Barry had a good idea of what the other Barry was thinking, what he might do next, where he liked to shoot from and how his shots would likely come off the rim. Brent was more than a spectator tonight. Following Barry’s jumper to open the game, Brent accounted for 10 of his side’s next 16 points going 2-3 from three and 2-4 on twos. Jon for his part scored 8 early points before a visibly frustrated Rick began to force the issue.
Down 18-14, Rick called for a ball screen. Once Jon was set, Rick took one dribble, stepped back and let fly. All net. Not even Barry could believe that Rick had taken, and made, that shot. The score now was 18-17, Brent and Barry in the lead.
Barry, eager to respond took a pass from Brent and drove to the lane. As Jon collapsed to help, something odd happened. Rick Barry passed the ball in a big moment. A chance to respond to himself, to his own ego, and he passed the ball. From under the rim he found Brent all alone at the top of the key. Brent elevated, his form was true, and so was the shot. Straight cash. Brent and Rick won, 21-17. Barry looked at Rick and shrugged his shoulders, “What did I tell you before the game? Jon isn’t that good. If there was ever a question about which Barry son was better, this settles it.”
Brent and Jon shared a roll of the eyes and gave each other a hug. “You know what?” Brent asked, “They don’t even realize my team won the game because dad got me the ball; let me shoot. It feels better than I imagined it would.”
The final stats: Brent Barry: 2-4, 3-4, 13 Rick Barry: 1-3, 2-4, 8; Jon Barry 3-4, 0-1, 6; Rick Barry 1-4, 3-7, 11
Glory be to the Brent and Rick Barrys; the first Final Four qualifier in the father/son tournament. The next matchup was witnessed (or imagined, I’m not sure) by Bug (@bugfoster515). Bug was a 6’0” wing and the best defender on our 1997-98 high school team that went 23-1 and lost the state championship on a whistle at the buzzer. If it feels like I’m living in the past, then it must be true.
It’s no surprise that the top-seeded Bryants made it to the final game of their own quadrant. It’s been a relatively easy path for them to advance to this point in the tournament. They’ve steamrolled both the Davis duo and the Maravich crew to arrive at a showdown with the Rivers’ with a trip to the Final Four of the Father/Son Tourney on the line. The Rivers’, on the other hand, have had to scrap and claw their way to this point by battling through huge size disadvantages against the Horfords and Ewings.
The Rivers’ know they have a tall order dealing with Kobe, so Doc wants to make sure they get to the game a little early to go over strategy to at least try and slow down Kobe. As they get out of the car to make their way to the courts, they’re so focused on their strategic conversation that they don’t notice the small crowd already surrounding the court. As they get closer, Doc notices that Austin isn’t paying attention to him anymore. Instead he’s watching Kobe, who is already on the court dripping with sweat; the young Rivers has a deer in headlights look on his face. Doc sees what’s going on, and tries to re-focus Austin, but the damage is already done (word quickly spread that Kobe had been there since 6am putting up shots). Austin is shook, and Kobe can sense it.
As the game starts, Kobe is in his zone, right in Austin’s ear from the jump. Joe Bryant mumbles to Doc as he checks the ball “ooh wee, y’all in trouble today.” Not only did Kobe relish the challenge of shutting down the younger Rivers, he completely humiliated the kid and figuratively ripped out his heart (think of that scene in Temple of Doom). With Austin unable to get off against Kobe, the Rivers’ just didn’t have enough scoring punch to keep up. Austin’s confidence was completely shattered early on, and Kobe delivered the death blow by going on a 13-0 run all by himself to close out the game. The Bryants dominated 21-6 with Kobe scoring 19 of the 21 points. Austin, meet Mamba…Mamba, this is Austin.
The next matchup is all mine. In case you’re wondering, I’ve always been an undersized “big” at 6’1”. In translation, that means I was just above average height but highly average skill. My game has often been referred to as “old man” in nature and the older/heavier I’ve become, it’s become an older, more horizontal game.
I don’t know where to begin with this matchup. In boxing, we say styles make fights and if there was ever a stylistic contrast, it was here where the gritty streets of Detroit meet the sprawling sandy beaches of the California coast. The black Walker/Rose vs. the white Waltons. The street game vs. the gym game. Freewheeling Fab Five vs. hyper-structured UCLA. Father/son strife vs. Father/son cohesion. But for all the contrasts between these dads and their sons, the uniting features of both teams are their innate feels for the game. Rose and Luke Walton are, and have always been, tremendous passers with 360 degrees of vision. Walker was a scorer extraordinaire while Walton combined an earthy feel of all things with a scholar’s understanding of the fundamentals and nuance of the game. For all of Jalen’s chatterbox tendencies, he’s locked in and focused from the opening check-ball of this one with Luke guarding him. The Waltons, with John Wooden and Jerry Garcia acting as their spiritual and basketball yogis on the sideline, have decided to take a fully democratic approach to defense and guard whoever’s closest with no static matchups. The quickness, as Wooden discussed with the Waltons beforehand, was going to be a mismatch for father or son so the strategy was to give a slight cushion on 3s, but let Walker/Rose shoot the mid-range jumpers all day.
And it began with the seriousness of a heavyweight fight. The Bryants and Barrys (all four of them) sat in the stands watching while Wooden calmly asked Garcia to stop playing his guitar and “please Jerry, focus on the game.” The teams traded haymakers and blows. With every layup Jalen and Jimmy put in, the Waltons looked inside to Bill whose long red locks bounced with his drop steps and jump hooks, up and unders and lobs. It wasn’t a lack of effort on the defensive end by either team, it was just terrible matchups. Luke was easily the least-talented player in the game, but despite fans heckling him and accusing him of riding his dad’s coattails, he played his secondary role with seriousness and passion, cutting at the right times for easy layups on passes from pops and busted his ass on defense where Walker/Rose continually abused his slow feet.
The fans, even the father/son combos in the stands, were worn out from this marathon matchup that sat at 23-22 in favor of the Waltons (reminder: games are to 21, win by two or first to 25) with the ball in the hands of Walker/Rose. The Waltons knowingly defended the three ball, willing to cede any penetration. Luke was matched up with Jimmy who wasted no time attacking the young Walton with a quick inside-out move that shook Luke off balance and forced Garcia to cringe (“whoa man!”). The lane was wide open for a layup and Bill refused to help off Jalen (this had been Jimmy’s goal), but Jimmy passed on the layup and sprinted out to the far corner (Jalen and Bill were at the top of the key) as Luke chased after him. Bill turned to body Jalen and Jimmy let it fly …
The shot was just long, but Luke was soaring through the air to contest and was out of position for the rebound which fell in Jimmy’s hands. Bill instinctively took a couple steps away from Jalen to help, Wooden squinted nervously at the bit of daylight given to Jalen. Everyone saw it unfolding, the Walker pass zipping through the air, Jalen stepping into his shot just as the ball arrived, Luke swinging his backside into Jimmy in a textbook box out, Bill extending that impossibly long frame, hand and fingers outstretched attempting for all the world to disturb the Jalen’s concentration, a flock of birds flying overhead paused in midflight, hovering over the court to watch Jalen’s lefty release just a tic before Bill’s arrival, Jerry Garcia’s slow disintegration …
And splash … the net caught fire and the Waltons hung their heads. Jimmy and Jalen nodded at each other cooly. The long ice age of their relationship still unthawed. Congratulating each other, Bill embraced Jimmy and whispered in his ear: “You got a good kid there, don’t be afraid to tell him you love him.”
Walker/Rose 25, Waltons 23
The final battle is covered by the west coast’s own Jacob Greenberg (@jacobjbg). I don’t know what Jacob’s basketball game consists of, but I do know he’s one of my favorite bloggers on the planet and is not prone to trite platitudes or thoughts.
For the first time in the tournament, the Schayes were confronted with size to match their skill sets. Both Dolph and Klay are 6’7” combo scorers, while Danny (6’11”) matched up nicely against Mychal (6’10”). As such, the crowd was treated to one of the more balanced and enjoyable 2-on-2 matchups this side of the Mississippi. While the pivot battle between Danny Schayes and Mychal Thompson was entertaining, the real show was Dolph vs Klay. Where Dolph played inside-out — backing up to the basket and stepping back for jumpers, or foot-workin’ for up-and-unders — Klay played outside-in. the teams traded baskets until 20-20. Win by 2! At this point, it was the modern team’s game. After Mychal rebounded a short lefty hook from Danny (who had a respectable game, 9 points and 16 rebounds) and kicked it out to Klay from behind the arc, everyone knew it was over. Silky smooth jumper from Klay ends the instant classic 23-20 in favor of Mychal and Klay.
Man, I feel like I just lived through a war with these matchups. We’re down to a Final Four that consists of all #1 seeds and while the predictability of a top-heavy Final Four would normally cause me some sort of consternation, I’m extremely comfortable that the best teams are here and the matchups have been quality since the opening round. The tournament’s scheduled to wrap up this weekend so let’s all grab a couple beers and ruminate on the battles to come.
April 10, 2013Posted by on
It’s the tail end of the NBA season and we all know what that means: Unpredictable lineups, superstars and future franchise players randomly sitting games because there’s nothing left to play for, tanking accusations and of course, the wide world of bizarre statlines. In a game tonight that had no meaning at all except for developmental reps, possible performance-based incentives and a chance for Orlando to improve their odds at winning the lottery, the Bucks of Milwaukee went down to Orlando to face the Magic. I didn’t watch any of this game until overtime when I realized some variation of the NBA Twilight Zone starring John Henson was unfolding at the Amway Center.
Henson is well known for his lanky frame and Phil Jackson-styled walk which includes a sort of hitch in or around the hip area. I’m no physiotherapist, but Henson’s gait looks like something that will give him trouble in the future. It certainly didn’t give him any trouble tonight as evidence by this tremendously unpredictable line:
It was a game overflowing with unpredictable oddities and copious amounts of rebounds to be had by all. Nikola Vucevic of “Guess I’m Strange” fame recorded his league-leading fourth 20/20 game with 30 points and 20 rebounds (that’s back-to-back 20/20s for Vucevic) and the recent Magic addition Tobias Harris (picked up in a trade with the Bucks in February) had a career night against his former team with 30 points and 19 rebounds including a game-tying three that sent the game in OT. It was an ultimate expression of NBA-condoned vengeance.
But it was Henson who caused destruction with his spindly arms and hands blocking and disrupting shots on his way to that 25-rebound total. His 17-point, 25-rebound, 7-block combination is the only one achieved by a Bucks player since at least 1985-86 (that’s as far as Basketball-reference’s game finder goes back for blocks and boards). That piqued my always-inquisitive mind so I asked the basketball machine who was the last player to beast mode like Henson did tonight. The basketball machine told me:
*Ed’s note on the larger table above: the rebound filter is set to 20. On the second table, the accurate 25-rebound filter is set–which actually puts Henson in a more exclusive group. Also, interesting to see Hakeem’s destruction of Orlando back in 1989 on the list. I explored the conditions of that game in a previous post here.* Lot of great games and names that list, including the most recent by Joakim Noah just over a month ago, but John Henson? This string bean of a basketball player? This long legged leaper in a league full of long legged leapers? 25 boards? We haven’t seen another player this young put up at least 17 and 25 since a 21-year-old Shaquille O’Neal went for 24 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks (while only attempting a single free throw—so strange) back in 1993.
Yes, it’s highly esteemed company that Henson joined tonight, but I don’t have a clue what type of player he is or will become. Even in the dying embers of overtime, Henson’s length and leap timing was an obvious skill, but something (something named Larry Sanders?) has caused Henson’s minutes to decrease over the past few months from 17mpg in January to roughly 10mpg in February and March to just four mpg in four April games. Then there nights like this and nights like November 21st, 2012 when he went for 17pts and 18 boards against the Heat. So who is John Henson and what is he to you?
April 8, 2013Posted by on
In a vacuum, I think all of us can agree that what Kobe Bryant’s doing in his 17th NBA season is mostly ridiculous. With a handful of games remaining this season, Bryant has amassed 1,456 games (playoffs and regular season) and spent 53,897 minutes on the court. To list off his accomplishments, both statistical and of the award variety, would be like reading through a ledger that includes every sin any of us committed. It would go on and on and we’d fall asleep out of monotonous exhaustion and boredom and then we’d wake up and the voice would still be droning on.
For me, and I assume, for many of us, one of the most impressive aspects of Kobe’s long, long run has been remarkable consistency of it. So many games and years later and the man is still performing at a level that exceeds his career averages (his career averages are admittedly tipped by his first three years in the league). His game is as identifiable as any player’s in the league. Just when we think he’s lost a step and is on the decline (2011 appeared this way), he bounces back with Orthonkine therapy and back-to-back 27ppg, +20PER seasons—at ages 33 and 34.
Being the lightning rod he is, Kobe’s accomplishments come hand-in-hand with overreaction from the pro-Kobe and con-Kobe camps which are both bolstered by millions of basketball fans who sit at computers or on smartphones pounding away at the keys and venting through Kobe-based superlative arguments. The objective or indifferent fans marvel at Kobe’s resilience and shot-making ability while shaking their heads at the head-scratchingly bad shots or lackluster defense that we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing.
But as I started this post, I’ll reiterate: In a vacuum … I’m not interested in opening up or hashing out or re-hashing debates that have no ending. After Kobe’s game yesterday, a 14-point loss to the Clippers that gave them a 4-0 sweep in the Battle for Los Angeles; a game in which Kobe played 47 minutes (Mike D’Antoni’s never been shy about running guys into the ground and most elite athletes need someone to force them to rest, so the Kobe/D’Antoni combination is mostly a poor match when it comes to the long-term consideration of Kobe’s physical health), I found myself asking: Who does this? Who plays 47 minutes at 34-years-old? Who’s 34 and putting up 25 points and 10 assists? So I did what I do, I had to answer this question for myself and the answer was interesting enough to share it with you:
I took Kobe’s season-to-date stats (as of 4/8/12) and plugged them into Basketball-Refrerence.com and took a look at how this season compares historically at a couple different levels. First off, I just focused on players who have averaged at least 38 minutes/game at age 34 or older. I don’t know what my hunch was going into this, but as I think more about it, it makes sense that only a few times in league history has circumstance demanded a player of this age pour so much of himself into the game and only so many times has the player actually been able to hold up to the rigorous demands of an NBA schedule for so many minutes every night:
It’s an interesting list. Of the 15 seasons included there, only three players went on to win titles (Jordan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in 1972). With the exception of Lenny Wilkins’ Cavs in 1973 and Anthony Mason’s Bucks in 2002, each player did make the playoffs, although it’s worth noting that several teams were low-seeded playoff teams that needed every ounce of production available from their best players—similar to the Lakers dependency on Bryant this year.
To take it a step further in terms of production at age 34 or older with 38 minutes or more played each night, I layered in points, PER and Usage%. Only a single other player compares favorably to Kobe in these measures:
MJ edged Kobe in PER (25.2 vs. 22.7) and usage rates (33.7% vs. 31.8%), but in both cases, these teams relied on these shooting guards for so so much production. The results were drastically different and the purpose of this post isn’t to delve into that aspect of these post-34 seasons, but to explore the rarity of what an aging Kobe Bryant’s doing this season which is about as rarefied company as you can come across. As an aside, these explorations often reveal some unexpected random piece of information and in this case it’s Karl Malone’s 2001-02 season where he averaged 38mpg as 38-year-old power forward and had a usage rate of 28.8%. For perspective, that 28.8 would rank 8th overall this season and place him ahead of James Harden—and he was 38.
Someday we’ll say goodbye to Kobe, but it appears it’ll be a lot later than a whole gang of people thought…
April 7, 2013Posted by on
As we wind down this 2012-13 season, Dancing with Noah has just a few planned posts remaining. Like the entire “Guess I’m Strange” series, there’s potential for players in the league to deliver these unexpected, incomprehensible performances that kick and push me into exploring said performance in brief write-ups. So while there are just a handful of posts to go, who can say what tomorrow will bring?
Before the season, if someone would’ve put us all in a room: A great big ballroom for basketball fans with chandeliers that have mini basketballs for light bulbs and chairs covered with the worn, dimpled leather of a basketball, and asked us two questions, none of us likely would’ve answered anywhere near correctly for these specific questions:
- Who will lead the league in 20/20 (points and rebounds) games?
- Who will come out on top of the Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum megadeal?
The answer to number two is abstract and can’t be measured today or tomorrow or yesterday, but I can write, with a fair amount of certainty, that Doug Collins is as frustrated with the results of that trade as anyone and that’s saying something given the complete shitshow it’s turned into for the Lakers. The reason for Collins’s frustration can’t be limited to Bynum’s health concerns or Andre Iguodala’s continued consistency in Denver. Nay, it must take into account the accelerated development of the league’s leader in 20/20 games and the answer to question number above: Nikola Vucevic: a 22-year-old listed at 6’10”, 240lbs, but who looks to be a solid 7’0”, 250lbs+ and rebounds with the competency of an all-pro.
Regardless of your fondness or Rob Henningan’s fondness or the fondness of Vucevic’s own parents for his development this season, none of us expected this type of growth and development. Keep in mind, Vucevic, didn’t even arrive in the states until 2007. He averaged 12rpg as a senior in high school and never over 10.3rpg in his three seasons at USC. He showed promise as an NBA rookie averaging 10.9rpg over 36min/game, but nothing, not even his lineage (his dad Borislav was a pro player for 24 years—24!), predicated this season’s rebounding explosion.
So it was that we arrived at the Magic-Cavs game on this Sunday afternoon and saw the developing Vucevic take advantage of a bruised and battered Cavs team to the tune of 21 points and 21 rebounds for his league-leading third 20/20 game of the season.
Nikola Vucevic: Catching NBA fans off guard since 2012.