Dancing With Noah

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Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #13

Last week I wrote some brief thoughts on the bomb LeBron James dropped on the basketball world and while I wouldn’t stay I’m still reeling from it, there are aftershocks rumbling under my feet all the way out in Seattle. All day Friday I was unable to do anything but consider the choice a man from Akron, Ohio made which is an odd circumstance at which to arrive to say the least, but Bron’s done nothing if not become a sculptor, shaping the lives of millions and I was just one more being surreally affected by his decisions. For as big as LeBron has become (and it’s frightening how big he is), the rest of the basketball world is still orbiting around the sun, trying to do whatever it takes to achieve a hundred thousand different goals:

Carmelo Anthony re-signed with the Knicks and even penned his own letter a la LeBron which he posted on his site (that most people likely have never heard of): www.thisismelo.com. It’s unfair to compare Melo’s situation and letter with LeBron’s, but it’s hard to not compare them. They came into the league together, possess world class talents, play the same positions, have won Olympic medals together, and now explained their free agency decisions in remarkably similar fashions. All week leading up to LeBron’s announcement, we had heard speculation that he would tell us through his Samsung app or on his own website. All along though, it was Melo working behind the scenes on his own brief explanation and website release. It arrived with little fanfare, a New York wave in LeBron’s tsunami, great in his own right and sought after by all, but continually eclipsed by the King.

Melo's letter

By returning to Cleveland, LeBron removed the massive roadblock that had created a Chinese National Highway-like traffic jam for free agents. And it resulted into a scrambling dash by front offices and agents to jockey for space and players, some of which leaked through to Twitter which made for a most exciting Friday. Beyond Bron, teammate Chris Bosh held the most intrigue as Houston GM Daryl Morey (of Sam Presti fleecing fame) rolled the dice with a whole lot on the line. At risk were trades of previous poison pill contract players and neglected humans, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, the Rockets 2015 first round pick, a future second round pick, and the choice of whether or not to sign the versatile and eminently handsome, but suddenly expensive Chandler Parsons (Parsons’s price tag went from a team option of $960,000 in 2014-15 to three years for $46M after Dallas signed him to an offer sheet).

After Morey had made the trades, cleared away depth and assets to bring on Bosh, the 6’11” native Texan surprised us all, and no doubt Morey the most, by re-signing with Miami. Houston then declined to bring back Parsons back with Morey predictably criticizing the deal by describing it as “one of the most untradeable (contract) structures I’ve ever seen.” Maybe it’s an untradeable deal or maybe Morey’s got sour grapes. Whatever the case, it took about 24 hours for the Rockets to go from Bosh and Parsons alongside Dwight and Harden to Trevor Ariza (signed to replace Parsons) and that can’t be spun as a positive.

Get your requiems ready because in addition to watching Derek Fisher make the transition from crustily grizzled veteran to head coach of the Knicks, we may soon be waving hasta la vista to Jermaine O’Neal and Ray Allen who are both considering retirement. But for those of you who have a soft spot for shiny-headed power forwards who have penchants for bullying European players and cursing to themselves, fear not because Kevin Garnett is reportedly “excited” to play with the Nets – and likely excited to make the $12M that’s owed to him for playing 20-25 minutes/game.

From the unrestricted batch of remaining free agents, the last big name without a home is playoff problem child, Lance Stephenson who, like so many before him, had to learn the hard way that you don’t tug on Super LeBron’s cape, you don’t blow into his ear, you don’t pull the headband off the King, and you don’t mess around in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jim Croce paraphrasing aside, Stephenson was one of just four players to average at least 13ppg, 7rpg, and 4apg in 2013-14. He’s only 23 and aside from the aforementioned ass-hattery of the ECF, he’s a terrific, if immature, player who can play either wing spot and whether he returns to Indiana or signs elsewhere he’ll continue his evolution in 2015.

The summer league circuit is well underway and Las Vegas has been overrun with scribes wielding pens and voice recorders and polo shirts and new Cavs Coach David Blatt coaching in jeans. I tuned in for the Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins extravaganza on Saturday when the weather in Seattle was hot enough that my living room felt like the inside of a convection oven, but it wasn’t so scorching for me to miss out on these rookies. Wiggins showed flashes of otherworldly athleticism while for Parker it looked just like another game at Cameron Indoor with a variety of slashing drives, strong finished, and a mix of well-developed jumpers. More so than the top-two picks in the draft were the contributions of last year’s number one pick, Anthony Bennett and Bucks’ cult favorite, the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. (This is where I break the hearts of my few readers by admitting that this was the first time I’d undistractedly watched Antetokounmpo.) Bennett’s shed baby fat and looks like he could be ready to step into a contributing role off the Cavs bench, assuming he can set a screen without being whistled for a foul – he had eight in the game. Antetokounmpo was most impressive with his self-confidence on the long ball. At 6’11”, or however tall he is, his combination of shooting range and athleticism are worth getting excited about. It’s ok to be late for the train as long as you arrive.

Summer league: More than comfy shorts

Southern Methodist University, currently coached by basketball nomad Larry Brown, just lost a recruit named Emmanuel Mudiay who’s taking his talents across the pond to play pro ball. The 6’5” guard out of Texas wasn’t just some random player with marginal talents, but rather a top-five nationally ranked player good enough to be projected as the number-three overall pick on Draft Express’s 2015 mock. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story:

“This is not an academic issue, since he has been admitted to SMU, but rather a hardship issue,” Brown said in a statement.

Nevertheless, little evidence supports the Hall of Fame coach’s assertion on Mudiay’s reason for leaving SMU.

Mudiay had conversations with Brown and university officials about his ability to become academically eligible and withstand NCAA scrutiny into his amateur status to play his freshman year, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Mudiay becomes the latest in a list that includes Brandon Jennings, Jeremy Tyler, and Latavious Williams as players who have, for varying reasons, bypassed college for either the D-League or international leagues. While I’m fundamentally opposed to any NBA age limits, as long as one exists, the league would do well to present the D-League as a better alternative to international pro leagues. The success of players like Glen Rice Jr. and PJ Hairston will continue advancing the league’s profile, but it would’ve been a coup for them to get a talent like Mudiay, but if money is even an iota of a consideration for the young man, then Europe or China or wherever he lands makes logical sense.

Nothing much else happened this week except for the latest great white hype Doug McDermott scored 31 points on 12 shots in Vegas on Sunday.

 

Time Traveling with Carmelo Anthony

Now that Carmelo Anthony is officially opting out of his contract and, for the first time in his pro career becoming a free agent, the possible destinations for his scoring prowess is narrowing by the day. The Bulls and Rockets appear to be at the front of the pack and while it’s a fun game to wonder where oh where would Melo fit, it’s even more fun to ponder the impossible: historically speaking, what are some of the top mutually beneficial teams for which Melo could’ve played?

2003-04 Detroit Pistons:

We’re all familiar with the Pistons’ legendary misstep taking Darko Milicic over Melo, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. Any one of those players would’ve made a great addition to a talented and mature Pistons team that would go on to win the 03-04 title, but a 19-year-old Melo would’ve come in and immediately been the best offensive player on the roster. Whether the Pistons would’ve brought him off the bench behind Tayshaun Prince or started him doesn’t matter, the only man who could’ve stopped him from scoring 20/night would’ve been coach Larry Brown. Just as importantly as his on-court production is that he would’ve been on a rookie deal lasting through at least 2007. From 2004 to 2008, this Melo-less Pistons group made the Eastern Conference finals every season and reached the finals twice. Do they tack on another title with the ultra-talented Melo? Does Melo find winning ways in the pros and create a legacy to match his other 2003 draft counterparts? Thanks to Joe Dumars and the Pistons brass, we’ll never know.

1996-97 Utah Jazz:

Karl Malone’s best Jazz teams never could overcome MJ’s Bulls. Maybe it was Malone’s clutch woes or just the indomitability of Jordan and Scottie. Whatever the case, let’s re-imagine the methodically pick and rolling Jazz with the 6’8”, 230lbs Melo at small forward in place of 6’7”, 225lbs Bryon Russell. While Russell was absolutely a better defensive player than Melo, comparing their offensive games is like comparing a beautifully crafted club sandwich with Boar’s Head turkey, thick slabs of bacon, a little avocado, a slice of Swiss cheese on gourmet toasted bread to a butter sandwich made out of two dried out heels. Is Melo’s offense enough to extend Pip on defense and give Malone more room to operate? Does the presence of Melo in the pick and roll game add enough variation to an already excellent offense that it breaks the Bulls defense? I don’t know and I have my doubts, but me and Karl Malone and Bob Costas would like to see this.

1990-91 Golden State Warriors:

First thing’s first: There’s no way Golden State could’ve afforded Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Melo, but we’re going all in. The ever-imaginative Warriors Head Coach Don Nelson loved to tinker with a lineup and having a three-point shooting Melo at the four alongside an already potent offensive group would’ve delivered enough options to satisfy Nelson’s always-curious mind. Would Melo have been chewed up and spit out by the Mailman and Charles Barkley? Of course, but can you imagine those same guys attempting to defend Melo as he shoots 40% on threes and attacks slow-footed defenders with an array of moves that rivals the best players in the game. The net gain for adding Melo to Run-TMC is likely minimal, but inasmuch as we love Herm Edwards and his “You play to win the game” attitude, we yearn to be entertained.

1987-88 Detroit Pistons

For a team that won back-to-back NBA championships and made it to three straight finals and five straight EC finals, it’s hard to ask for more, but if we replace Adrian Dantley or Mark Aguirre with Melo, the offensive gains outweigh the defensive losses. Aguirre and Dantley both made individual sacrifices for team success and without the pressure of being the leader, I like to imagine Melo’s capable of doing the same. Assimilating into a Bad Boy culture of family and hard-nosed loyalty could’ve been the best thing to ever happen to Melo and maybe would’ve lifted Detroit into the stratosphere occupied by Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, and Jordan’s Bulls. Also, Melo vs. Dominique, Bird, Pippen, and other 80s stalwart SFs would’ve been a joy to behold.

1988-89 Cleveland Cavs:

Everyone remembers MJ’s game-winner over an outstretched and overmatched Craig Ehlo and the Cavs in game five of the 1989 first round, but less people remember this Cavs team was one of the top-three teams in the league that year. With a starting five that featured healthy seasons from Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and Ron Harper, plus Larry Nance and Mike Sanders, this team was on par with the eventual champion Pistons and Magic’s Lakers group. If we swap out the perennial role player Sanders with the perennial all-star Melo, we have a team of all pros and all-stars too good for MJ to overcome on his own. Melo gives them four players capable of scoring 20+ any night and a group that finished second in the league in defensive rating and third in opponents points/game. Maybe it’s enough to get Cleveland a title and revamp the entire future psyche of a long-fucked fan base. And maybe we’re even talking about Mayor Anthony.

1974-75 Washington Bullets:

There’s a good chance that you, like me, weren’t alive when the Washington Bullets were one of the league’s most successful franchises in the 1970s. They went to four NBA Finals and won one in 1978 with possibly one of the worst titlist teams of all time (they won 44 games in the regular season). That title team was far from their best. In 1975 the Bullets won 60 games and tied for the best record in the league. They had the best defensive team, the highest margin of victory, and kicked much ass with a front line that included all-stars Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. The weakest spot on the roster was at small forward where the blue collar Mike Riordan teamed with Nick Weatherspoon to hold it down with some sense of regularity. These Bullets were destroyed in the finals by the Rick Barry-led Golden State Warriors in a series where Warriors coach Al Attles was ejected in game four for storming the court and fighting with the aforementioned Riordan. Mixing in the 6’8” Melo alongside the Hall of Famers Unseld and Hayes gives the Bullets two of the top players in the league. Chemistry questions will always arise, particularly with high usage guys like Melo, but how he would’ve blended with Hayes, a player whose presence was once compared to “Chinese water torture … it’s just a drop at a time, nothing big, but in the end, he’s driven you crazy,” is the ultimate question.

1958-59 St. Louis Hawks:

Were it not for Bill Russell and the Celtics’ dominating run in the 50s and 60s, Wilt Chamberlain would likely have numerous championships and a different reputation among basketball historians. Another team and player that nearly suffocated under the Boston success is the St. Louis Hawks and Bob Pettit who faced the Celtics four times in the finals, lost thrice, and went to game seven twice. The Hawks started 6’4” Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan at the SF slot, but the 1959 version of Hagan is simply outmatched by 2014 Melo and that’s the version we’d transport back in time. Melo’s combination of quickness, strength and legitimate jump shot would be indefensible by 1959 standards. Different challenges such as racism, dirty fouls, and uncomfortable shorts would replace modern obstacles, but for a team that spent five years on the cusp of all-time greatness, Melo would’ve gleefully pushed them over the top and instead of having a Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP, perhaps we’d have the Carmelo Anthony NBA Finals MVP award … chew on that. [Side note: In the 1957-58 finals, the one St. Louis won, Bob Pettit scored 50 points in a series-clinching game six win.]

 

 

 

Unencumbered by Accolades: Carmelo Anthony circa 2014

It only seems appropriate that in Carmelo Anthony’s greatest individual season he’d be snubbed by the major awards, but of course, this is what happened on June 4th when the All-NBA teams were announced and Melo found himself out in the cold while forwards with better stats, more wins, and probably more welcoming narratives (or reputations) were treated to the glory (and possibly financial bonuses) that come along with such accolades. 15 total players (six forwards) made the three All-NBA teams and #16, based on voting, was Anthony so it’s not like the voters forgot about him, they just deemed other forwards more deserving.

http://sinbapointforward.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/melo-getty.jpg?w=600&h=410

Given how well Melo played in this otherwise depressingly barren Knicks season, I found myself wondering how many other guys have played this well and been overlooked by the voting press? I chose a couple of his top stats to get an encompassing view of Melo’s 2013-14 season: 27ppg, +20 PER, and +10 win shares (for the first time in his career – surprising given how many +45-win teams he was on in Denver where he [equally surprisingly] only led the team in win shares once). Applying this criteria across league history gives us a decent look at players who have shouldered their team’s scoring load while contributing significantly to team success. It also removes anyone who scored under 27ppg, so guys like Chris Paul, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Dwight Howard are residing in the blind spot of this filtration.

Looking all the way back into the league’s annals, we see 43 players have accomplished the 27ppg/20 PER/10 WS trifecta a total of 136 times. Michael Jordan did it whopping 11 times while LeBron James just joined some elite company in Oscar Robertson and Karl Malone as the only players to accomplish it eight times. The rest of the list is made up of exactly the kind of Hall of Famers you’d expect to see – Wilt, Bird, Kareem, Shaq, Jerry West, Kobe, etc. Feel free to make your Mt. Rushmores or $15 rosters out of this bunch. Melo’s made it just once.

Since George Yardley made the All-NBA first team back in 1958 with the Detroit Pistons, the 27/20/10 has been a pretty safe way to ensure making one of the All-NBA teams. Of the 136 times players have achieved this mostly random set of statistical measures, 126 of those resulted in first, second, or third All-NBA inclusion – or roughly 93% of the time it’s an indicator a player will be tabbed for award-winning success.

06-05-14 - Melo & All NBA

The 1988-89 season was the first year the league added the All-NBA 3rd team. Since then, the 27/20/10 line has become an almost lock to get the attention of voters and be honored as one of the best in the league. It’s been reached 60 different times since 1989 and of that 60, just two players (~3%) have failed to achieve the nod: Clyde Drexler in 1989 and Melo this year which means the success rate with three All-NBA teams in place is 97%.

Melo didn’t make the playoffs, but then again neither did Kevin Love. Love may not have achieved the completely arbitrary 27/20/10 line, but he did have a higher WS, was a dominant rebounder, better passer and led his team to 40 wins in a meat grinder of a Western Conference while Melo’s Knicks struggled to get to 37 in a lackluster East.

Love aside, if we stick with our pre-existing criteria, we see 21 of the 136 occurrences did not make the post-season. Of those 21, six (or ~29% of the non-playoff players) weren’t selected to any All-NBA teams so while it does raise the rate significantly from 7% overall, it’s still a relatively low number.

Then there’s the occasional outlier like Walt Bellamy (two appearances on the list) who had the misfortune of coming along at the same time as Chamberlain and Russell when the league had just two All-NBA teams. From 1960 to 1968, Russell and Chamberlain won every first and second All-NBA honor. Meanwhile, Bellamy struggled to find team success, but put up a ho-hum 24ppg and 15rpg over that same stretch. Or how about Adrian Dantley who reached the rare line five times in his career, but missed out on All-NBA teams three of those seasons. The forward position in the early-to-mid 80s included Bird, Dr. J, Bernard King, Alex English, and eventually Dominique Wilkins and Barkley. With mixed results as the Utah Jazz’s go-to guy and a reputation for having a difficult attitude, Dantley’s individual success didn’t always translate into award-based recognition.

Bellamy and Dantley alone combine for half of all players to miss out on All-NBA teams with the impressive 27/20/10, but it’s in shades of both players where we find the likely reasons behind Melo missing out.

Like Bellamy stuck behind Wilt and Russell, LeBron and Durant have a stranglehold on the two forward spots on the first team (James and Durant have owned first team for the past four seasons). That leaves four spots available and Melo, despite his individual dominance this year, is the oldest of the bunch. Love’s stats are video gamishly eye popping and his cohort on the second team was Blake Griffin who earned the award for the third straight season and appears to be entrenching himself as a first or second team candidate for the foreseeable future. So now we’re onto the volatility of the third team where Melo lost out to Paul George and LaMarcus Aldridge. As my dear mom is fond of saying, it’s six of one, half a dozen of another (I think my mom said that). In 2012, I wrote a piece about Melo that emphasized his lack of winning ways. At the beginning of the 2013-14 season, I aggressively criticized Melo for comments about his desire to become a free agent. If I’ve committed my unpaid time to exploring the frustrations of his narrative, I have to ask if voters are burned out by his broken record of a narrative. Has the media soured on Melo or is he just a victim of circumstance like Dantley going against Bird and Dr. J and company?

06-05-14 - Melo

If I had a vote, it likely would’ve gone to Melo instead of LaMarcus Aldridge, but when the crop of forwards in the league is as deep and creative as it is in 13-14 and a team like the Knicks (who it has to be acknowledged that Melo asked to be here) underachieve and elicit ill-intentioned (or creatively apathetic) responses from their fans, then it’s not a surprise that voters may side with the non-Melo option. The irony here is that for all of Melo’s individual success and accolades, the team-based holy grail of a title has escaped him, but now, when his game has matured to its most refined levels, all that individual attention has become fatigued, unable to rationalize his elite-level performance with his mediocre team results. His fans are still legion, but in the fallible eyes of the cognoscenti, he’s just another very good player among many. That he would grab hold of his singular potential when surrounded by clowns and incompetents is a sadly fitting piece of this curious narrative still waiting for its triumphant redemption.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #12

After all the speculation and consternation of watching 30 teams war it out in great big shiny arenas across North America, we’re finally down to just two teams: El Heat y Los Spurs. I doubt this series will have any impact on President Obama’s meager attempts immigration reform, but let’s be real, we recognize the presence of our neighbors to the south be they Central Americans or Caribbean islanders (at least from a marketing perspective we recognize them), but yet our government continues the odd obsession with removing them at record numbers. Alas, for all the NBA’s inclusiveness, Latin America will be represented by just Brazil (Tiago Splitter) and Argentina (Manu Ginobili) while El Heat remain as American as apple pie. Enough with the geo-national conversation and on with the week that was:

Power be to Russell Westbrook: Sure, the Thunder’s season is over, but who are we to just forget about Westbrook like he was a six-game long fling? It was less than a week ago that Russ reminded us why he’s the most interesting, electric, cannonballing, nuclear, natural hurricane on legs with fingers for guns driven driven driven between the lines by madness that adhere to no ideas of yours or mine. So if our minds of full function, function beyond that of the incapacitated Donald Sterling, then let us remember Westbrook’s 40-point, 10-assist, 5-steal, 5-rebound as one of the most singular unique games in playoff or league history. Only Michael Jordan has accomplished the feat in the playoffs and only four other players have accomplished the feat since 1985. Praise the violent, virulent, vitriolic, vindictive Westbrook and his sweetly hypnotizing anarchic leanings.

More on Robert Swift: Speaking of players drafted by the Sonics, Seattleites have taken surprising umbrage to a Seattle Times piece that posted a little over a week ago about former Sonic struggler, Robert Swift. The cacophony from the Emerald City chorus accused author Jayson Jenks and the newspaper of intentionally humiliating the giant young redhead. The uproar was loud enough that Sports Editor Don Shelton felt compelled to write a blog post explaining why the Times posted it on the front page of the Sunday edition. The over-protective reaction from Times readers came out of nowhere. Reading Jenks’s original piece, it’s difficult to be viewed as a hatchet job. As Shelton writes, the piece is made up of interviews with over 20 people who were closely associated with Swift and at times even portrays the troubled big man in a sympathetic light. Clearly though, it’s a story in which the reading public is still highly vested in and which people are still processing their feelings.

The $2-billion Man: Steve Ballmer of Microsoft fame (also known for overzealous outburst, profuse sweating, and using honey as a vocal lubricant) purchased the Los Angeles Clippers from Shelly Sterling (of Sterling family infamy) for a record-breaking $2-billion. The purchase was quickly followed up by a Twitter-reported play-by-play meltdown occurring at the Sterling compound. The Los Angeles Times’ Andrea Chang was on the scene and reported on the spectacle here. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne continued to give us all the details we desperately needed including the ever-dramatic determination that Sterling was ruled mentally incapacitated – to the surprise of no one. A day later, again to no one’s surprise, we learned Donald would sue the NBA for an arbitrary amount of $1-billion. Of other interest is the league’s insistence back in 2011 that owners were losing money. Three years later and the going rate for teams is over half-a-billion dollars which should set us up for an inevitable showdown after the 2017 season when the players (or owners) have the chance to opt-out of the current deal which is certainly owner-friendly. And lastly, up north in Seattle, Sonics fans who saw Ballmer as a linchpin to a Sonics return have spent the weekend mortified, but still able to enjoy the gorgeous weather – so not too mortified.

Marvin Clark and amateur basketball bullshit: Brad Wolverton of The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote what has become an almost trope in the world of college recruiting: Underprivileged kid is steered by “handlers” who initially have the kid’s best intentions in mind, kid comes into contact with high profile college athletics where hard sells come in more intensely than your greaziest and sleaziest used car salesman, kid is torn between pleasing everyone (a trait that is played on by handlers, family, colleges), etc. While these pieces have become rote, the story is no less frustrating. This time the subject is Marvin Clark, a 6’7” lefty combo forward with a nice shot from the Kansas City area. Wolverton delivers a linear biography mixed with semi-revealing comments from Clark. It’s a portrait that is at times painful, but more often irritating and upsetting as we see colleges run hot and cold like bi-polar love interests. If that weren’t enough, his handlers inject themselves into the process in ways that are questionable at best. Reading through the intensity of the recruiting process, one can’t help but question the NCAA’s played out talking points about student athletes and amateurs. There’s nothing amateur about building trust with a teenager and then cutting contact because you don’t receive enough attention from him. While it may be immature, it’s certainly not amateur. Fortunately young Clark lands at Michigan State in the hands of what we hope is a stable situation with a coach committed to both on and off court development. With any hope, the hard part of Clark’s story is behind him.

The most confusing awards: All Defensive Teams always seem to result in some level of dissatisfaction. We’re not too concerned about assessing defensive players here which isn’t to say that we don’t value defense, just that we’re not breaking out the razor blades and splitting little hairs on the topic. The votes are in and history will remember Joakim Noah, Paul George, Chris Paul, Serge Ibaka, and Andre Iguodala as all NBA first team defenders. Apply the meaning of all defensive teams to players and the league as you see fit.

In other news, the NBA Finals start on Thursday in San Antonio and best of seven series goes the distance, we’ll wrap up on Friday, June 20th – nearly three weeks from today. If that seems long to you, you’re not alone, but the NBA’s nothing if not cognizant of its product’s ability to keep a view hooked – no matter that there’s a 20-day window between the end of the Western Conference Finals and the potential game seven of the Finals. We’ll see you on the other side.

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #10

Looking over notes of the past week I see a flood of coaching news. Keeping up with who is coming and going is the work of organized or paid – or just a cataloguing blogger. Right alongside draft combines, coaching changes, and more Donald Sterling, is the penultimate series’ of the year: the Conference Finals where get the top-two seeds from each conference and four of the top-five records in the league (sorry, Clippers). With this rising tide of league wide activity threatening to roll over our collective comprehension, let’s get on with it:

  • Speaking of hired coaches, the Detroit Pistons have officially stepped away from the Dumars era and have a new Godfather of Basketball Operations. Yes, Stan Van Gundy, of Van Gundy fame, will be taking over as president of basketball operations and head coach of this flailing, yet talented franchise. Most noteworthy for this writer were Van Gundy’s comments on Brandon Jennings:

The questions are his decision-making ability — not so much that he’s a high-turnover guy, but it’s his shooting percentage you get concerned about. One of the things I like to do with guys in terms of shooting percentage is ask them why. Why 37 percent? I want to hear the answer on that. But I know he’s a very, very talented guy.

I’m sure the conversation will go great with a lot honeymoon-ish nodding and agreeing and same paging, but let’s see if SVG’s got the magic touch or if Jennings reverts to his sub-38% shooting ways.

Detroit’s Godfather of Basketball Operations, aka Stan Van Gundy, brother of Jeff

  • Probably the most interesting thing I read last week was this thoroughly researched and referenced Deadspin piece written by Dave McKenna on the overall griminess of Sacramento Kings savior/“Little Barack”/current Sterling crusader/Sacramento Mayor, Kevin Johnson. I consider myself up-to-date (as much I’m dependent on mainstream and independent media to help me stay that way) when it comes to the comings and goings of the NBA’s on and off court smarm, but the scope and depth of this piece took me by surprise in the sense that it was so deep, but had received so little play over the years. The story as laid out on Deadspin reveals Johnson, or KJ as we’ve been lulled into calling him over the years in a sense of false familiarity, to be an ambitious, corner-cutting, entitled “hands on” man in the most inappropriate and sexual ways. At the center of numerous allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct involving minors and misuse of government funds is the allegation that in 1995, a 29-year-old Johnson had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl. A Phoenix New Times piece published in May of 1997 lays out the disturbing case in great detail and is worth reading to gain a fuller picture of Johnson and the earliest documented allegations against him. That similar allegations popped up again in 2008 at the St. HOPE Academy which were serious enough that two staffers left the academy is even further worrisome. If the NBA is willing to exile an owner for racist comments caught on tape, what of a former player and well-connected league partner who has been repeatedly accused of improper sexual conduct and where evidence exists of a grossly inappropriate conversation with a minor? Since Johnson has no official standing with the league of which I’m aware, it seems the league would be wise, from a financial, moral and brand-based consideration, to distance its relationship from this Johnson.

Detectives of SVU after reading Dave McKenna’s Deadspin piece

  • The Milwaukee Bucks were sold by long-time Senator Herb Kohl last week to a pair wealthy New York-based investors named Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens for $550-million. Worth noting that Forbes’ latest valuation of the team is dead last in the NBA at $405-million While the Bucks are as due for change as any team in the league, the new owners are only part of the story here. Both Kohl and Lasry/Edens have committed $100-million towards a new arena in Milwaukee. Additionally, there’s a buyback provision in the sale where the “league will buy back the team for $575-million if construction of a new arena is not underway by 2017.” The clock is ticking and it will be interesting to see how and where financing for a new arena (beyond the $200-million committed by Kohl and Lasry/Edens) comes from. Taxpayers again? Also, this seems like a win-win for the league. Either someone figures out the arena situation in Milwaukee or the league gets the team at which time it’s wholly conceivable that the market rate for the Bucks will exceed the $575-million they’d spend buying it back.

 

  • While we’re talking about team structures, the D-League continues to evolve. If you land on the D-League site, you’re quickly told that “149 current NBA players have D-League Experience.” (For those not doing the math, that’s 33% of the league.) As the D continues to develop, that number will grow. Most recently though, we’ve seen three new NBA-D-League affiliations: the Iowa Energy are now aligned with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Erie BayHawks with Orlando, and the Bakersfield Jam with the Suns. When I wrote the following piece in January, there were 17 D-League franchises and 14 of those teams had a one-to-one relationship with NBA franchises. Just four months later and there are 18 D-League teams with 16 one-to-one relationships. Growth is happening and the league is rightfully touting it. With Adam Silver continuing to use the bully pulpit to increase the age limit of NBA players, the need to have a Development system to catch kids like Glen Rice Jr and PJ Hairston should only increase. And of course, the prospect of a full-fledged minor league system is a hope which I can cling to … for some odd reason.

  • The Draft Lottery is hours away which means fates hang on weighted chances, supposedly determining futures from something as silly as a bouncing ball. Remember earlier this year when this class of pro declarations was supposed to be franchise shaping? In Mark Heisler’s latest for Forbes, we’re told that’s no longer the case, first by Jerry West: “Everyone is talking about a great draft class this year. I think it’s just the opposite. I think it’s a poor one, myself.” Then by Danny Ainge, “It’s not even close to one of the best draft classes in the last 10 years.” Heisler also makes the case that by skipping the annual pre-draft combine in Chicago, players, via the power of their all-knowing, all-manipulating agents, are changing the power of the draft. By not participating, a player with an injury like Joel Embiid can pick and choose which teams he works out for and with whom he shares his medical records. This is his right, but if the Bucks win the top spot and Embiid doesn’t share his medical records, does Milwaukee really want to roll the dice with a guy they haven’t worked out or checked out? Of course, this wouldn’t set any precedent as Steve Francis and Kobe Bryant (among others and in other sports) have manufactured their ways to preferable climes, but for a process that’s supposed to help the have nots become haves, it becomes an exercise in market inequality.

 

Kareem_Abdul_Jabbar-I_can_fly

Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #9

Another week saturated with Donald Sterling coverage, the NFL draft, Spurs domination, humans taking strong political/social stands on issues that are easy to support (Nigeria kidnapping, Sterling racism, Michael Sam), and likely some other things. But you didn’t come here for social commentary or the news, you’re likely here because, like me, you want the basketball. So let’s get us the basketball:

  • Inevitably, Donald Sterling refuses to go away. Sterling is a powerful example of problems with our legal system: If you have the resources, you can take any fight to the courts. Sterling took to CNN to chat with that soft-hitting journalist/TV personality Anderson Cooper in what turned out to be a predictably self-absorbed interview (if you want to call it that). In the interview, he takes a dig at Magic Johnson, lays it on thick with self-pity, and simultaneously asks for forgiveness while rationalizing his comments. If there’s a way to come across as an entitled billionaire asshole, then Sterling gets a gold star. To paraphrase the legendary Dennis Green: He is who we thought he was.

  • While husband Donald was chatting with Cooper, wife Shelly Sterling was sitting across from Barbara Walters doing her part to keep the team in the family. Shelly’s attorneys are already making statements and her conversation with Walters looks and feels like nothing more than an extension of the public relations damage control her estranged husband is putting forth. There’s more self-pity and attempts at manipulation, but with a funneled message driving towards one Sterling or another retaining ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. While it’s important to acknowledge that Donald and Shelly Sterling are humans made of the same flesh and stardust that comprise you and I, prone to the same mistakes we are, it’s equally important call out the attempts to manipulate, both public perception and the courts, and avoid accountability in a self-serving fashion.

 

  • Sticking with the Sterling shit storm saga; while Commissioner Adam Silver has been applauded for his zero tolerance stance on Sterling and LeBron James has been one of the most outspoken players on the topic, let’s acknowledge there was no other alternative here. Silver and James have nothing to lose by attempting to toss Sterling out of the league. From Silver’s perspective, it behooves the league to do everything it can to oust an owner who is a threat to the league’s brand and jeopardizes relationships with league sponsors. In taking the nuclear route of a lifetime banishment, Silver accomplishes several things:
    • He responds to pressure from his players and sponsors
    • He anticipates Sterling’s legal maneuvering
    • He shifts the decision making process to two places: the league’s owners (Which of these owners wants to be known as billionaire that supported racist Donald Sterling? It’s not simple, but that’d be the interpretation.) and likely the courts. If Sterling can find a way to retain the team through one of those avenues, then it’s no fault of Silver’s, rather he’s the enforcer, it’s out of his hands.
    • He’s doing what feels right.
    • He avoided a potential player protest which would’ve created a terribly awkward public exchange between the league and its players.

 

      • More from the world of stupid: You may remember former Ole Miss shooting guard, loose cannon, shot chucker, and sometimes attention-glutton, Marshall Henderson, as a March Madness storyline from 2013. Henderson has weaseled his way back into headlines for tweeting this about Michael Sam’s on-air kiss with his boyfriend after being drafted: “Boycotting sportscenter til this Michael sam nasty ass shit is off …. My brothers are 7 and 11 and saw that!!!! #SICKENING.” This tweet was followed up with Henderson clarifying that he was tweeting those hateful views on behalf of a gay friend who asked him to do so to gauge public reaction. There’s no acknowledgement that Henderson or his friend could’ve just as easily searched Twitter to get a decent gauge of public opinion – from non-athletes/prominent individuals, or from athletes like the Miami Dolphins’ Don Jones. Also, this type of “experiment” is apparently referred to as “psychology.”

  • It’s not all racist and homophobic doom and gloom in the basketball world. Chris Paul, brother of Cliff Paul and State Farm pitchman, showed the world why he’s the consummate point guard a week ago when he scored 32 points on 12-14 shooting, dished out 10 assists, and had two turnovers in 28 minutes of play. Paul became the first player in playoff history to accomplish the highly efficient feat and did so against the electrifying Russell Westbrook.

Clippers Thunder Bask_Holt.jpg

  • Speaking of Westbrook, in game two against the Clippers, Russ bounced back to get his third triple double of the playoffs: a 31-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist gem where six of his rebounds were offensive. For those keeping score at home, nine times in the playoffs this season we’ve seen Game Scores greater than 30. In the aforementioned Paul game, his was 31.4 and Westbrook’s game-two score was 30.2. (For those of you still expanding your basketball knowledge [such as myself], Game Score was created by former ESPN stat head and current Memphis Grizzlies GM John Hollinger. The complex formula that can be found here. Basketball-Reference tells us 10 is about average while 40 is pretty damn amazing.)

 

 

  • Nothing much else happened this weekend except the return of Roy Hibbert (19ppg, 7rpg, 2bpg and overall great defense in three straight Pacer wins) and the Thunder blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead to those Chris Paul-led Clippers. Oh, and San Antonio is up three games to none over the Blazers with an average margin of victory over 18-points per game. By this time next week, the Blazers will have likely conducted exit interviews.

Happy days are … here again?

Papier-mâché Muscles and Bones like Popsicle Sticks

Nothing like lusting over things that cannot ever be. The Blazers can’t redraft Kevin Durant over Greg Oden. Len Bias will never check into a game for Larry Bird or Kevin McHale. And a prime Michael Jordan will only face a prime Kobe Bryant on NBA 2k. Just because it can’t be doesn’t mean we can’t spend a few of our idle moments wondering if the basketball gods (if they truly do exist) or the genetic qualities of Brook Lopez, Al Horford, or Andrew Bogut may have reshaped the 2014 playoffs. It’s not just that they’re maybe, possibly, kind of injury prone, but that their injuries have bled over into potential playoff-limiting impacts which have (maybe) gotten a coach fired, (maybe) saved a number-one seed from first round elimination, and (maybe) destroyed any possibility of the Heat not making it to a fourth straight Finals.

While far from the injury-ravaged careers of Greg Oden or Brandon Roy, the three guys above have missed an average of 38 to 44 games over the past three regular seasons – the number rises into the 40s and 50s if playoffs are added.

Games Missed

Of the three, there’s a pair of all-stars and a former number-pick. Each of these players fills a massive, outcome-altering void on their respective teams.

As the Nets battle a Heat team susceptible to Roy Hibbert (of all people – of course, it was the old, pre-crumbled Hibbert), the giant Lopez would be a welcome asset. Instead he’s been laid up with a broken right foot (fifth metatarsal for those who were wondering) since December. He’s slow, somewhat lumbering, and clearly injury-prone, but he’s also the only seven-footer in the league not named Dirk or Andrea Bargnani to average more than 20ppg since he came into the league in 2008. Unfortunately, this isn’t the big Californian’s first go-round with right foot injuries. Back in 2011 when labor wars struck, Lopez broke the same foot in a pre-season game, missed 32 games, then sprained his right ankle and was shut down for the year. For any of us, feet take a beating, but for the center with existing foot injuries, constant pounding via running and jumping (basketball’s alternate sport name), feet can quickly become a merciless kryptonite.

brook hurt

Horford is the greatest wild card of this group. The Gator big man was the cornerstone of Coach Budenholzer’s team for 29 games before he tore his right pectoral muscle into bits like wet tissue paper. Prior to that, Horford was having a career season and Atlanta was winning 55% of their games. If that win rate holds up, they never play Indiana in the first round and maybe big Roy Hibbert isn’t skewered in the same savage fashion he was done in by Pero Antic’s long range antics (I meant tactics). Sadly, this isn’t Horford’s first go-round with torn pectorals. In January of 2012 he went down with a torn left pectoral muscle. It’s an odd coincidence that this random freak injury has struck twice. As an aside, Horford’s 2012 injury occurred while battling the aforementioned Hibbert for a rebound.

horford hurt

DeAndre Jordan just spent seven games kicking the crap out of Golden State’s collection of bigs who more resembled the cast of Night of the Living Dead than challengers worthy of Jordan. I love Jermaine O’Neal, and Mareese Speights at least attended the games, but let’s stop being polite and start getting real. The Warriors missed the hell out Andrew Bogut who was unable to play due to a fractured right rib positioned so closely to his lung that he ran the risk of puncturing it if he played. The big Aussie appeared in 67 games this season and led the Warriors in defensive rating (96) and defensive win shares (4.1). He was the team’s best rebounder and shot blocker and did all those grimy things O’Neal’s not capable of and Speights is unwilling to do. Things like going nose-to-nose with Jordan, being a reliable rim protector, and challenging the Griffin/Jordan duo on the glass. Alas, Bogut was in absentia with yet another freak injury. In 2010 it was a hideous wrist/hand/elbow injury that I’d advise you to avoid witnessing. January of 2012, when Horford was dinged up with a torn pectoral and Lopez was having screws inserted into his right foot, Bogut fractured his left ankle. Like a man who offended the wrong basketball deity, Bogut is clearly cursed.

bogut hurt

Freak and chronic injuries, broken bones and torn muscles. The impermanent fragility of these flawed frames reroutes history like a flood washing away the only road home. Since we’re not indestructible beings, I could write a form of this post every year from now until my knuckles are gnarled, immobile joints, until my sight fades, until my voice is lost to mercilessness of time. Injuries will always be a part of this game like death is a part of life. So enjoy the moments you have with your favorite players while you have them because tomorrow they might just be DNPs.

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.

 

 

 

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