Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Tag Archives: NBA

NBA Biographical Sketch #11: Lindsey Hunter

Lindsey Hunter spent his off-seasons boxing and was a prolific scorer at Jackson St in the early 90s. The Pistons drafted the lean, but strong 6’2” combo guard from Mississippi with the 10th overall pick in the 1993 draft then took Allan Houston as his running mate, probably with some hopeful notions that the wiry Hunter and sweet-shooting Houston could/would catch the torch being arthritically handed off from Joe Dumars and Isiah.

Hunter was a part of one of my first real draft lotteries where I comprehended what the hell was going on. Before that, it’s impossible to know where my thoughts were placed or what they were incapable of grasping, but once I could associate college players with basketball cards and a televised event, it all came together so symbiotically. [Side note, the 1993 draft can be found in its mostly entire form on Youtube, but inexplicably the footage skips from Vin Baker at eight to Doug Edwards at 15, skipping all the way over Hunter and Houston and the new Detroit narrative.]

Hunter though, was an OK NBA player with a career that stretched nearly 1,000 games (937 to be honest, good enough for second most games out of his class). He gave capable effort on defense, handled the ball well, and was a volume three-point shooter before it became the lynchpin of the game that we know it to be today.

To my mind, he’ll always be a Piston (12 of his 17 seasons were spent in Detroit), but sandwiched between spells in the Motor City was a title-winning season with the Lakers in 2002, the same year Robert Horry hit the immaculate Divac tip out to complete a comeback against the Kings. Two years later, back in Detroit, he played a supporting role in helping the Pistons beat those same Lakers in the finals.

Two-time titlist, long-term pro, NBA lifer …. Oh Lindsey Hunter we can live without you, but your consistent professional presence over the years has added quality to our collective experience and we didn’t even realize it.

Jump to 1:43 to see a young Lindsey toss an iconic alley-oop to Mr. Grant Hill:

NBA Biographical Sketch #10: Jahidi White

Where oh where have the biographical sketches gone? If a man could tell you, that man would be me, but since I don’t have the answer, we’ll turn to that whale of a man known as Jahidi White.

Reaching into the recesses of my mental filing cabinet, I see the ominously large White during his Georgetown Hoya days as a 6’9”, 290lbs (listed) tank with a shaved head and maybe a barely-menacing goatee. He played alongside the great Allen Iverson at G-Town, but was more bodyguard than sidekick.

White was blessed enough to get seven seasons out of the NBA which is more than most of us could even dream. His time there is best remembered as a member of the Wizards and his best season in 2001 when I was a 20-year-old sophomore in college. That year White gave the Wizards a productive 8.5ppg, 7.7rpg, and 1.6bpg – all in under 24mpg. But it was all for naught or at least all for very little as the Wiz won just 19 games.

Over his seven seasons, White never sniffed the playoffs and never played on a winning team. He played alongside an over-the-hill Michael Jordan, shared a front court with Kwame Brown, spent a few games with the Bobcats and Suns, and retired with over $25-million made as a pro basketball player.

I don’t remember much about Jahidi White, but here’s a clip where someone says “He puts the fear of God in the opposition.”

Knicks by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

“I got it sellin’ nickel bags … bitch.” With that, we’re on the hook with Freddie Gibbs’ track “Knicks” off the Piñata album he released with Madlib earlier this year.

The only reason I’m writing about the track is the basketball overlap and the double meaning usage of “Knicks” and “nickel bags.” Gibbs kicks it off:

Pimpin on lil’ sis/

I’m watching Jordan drop a double nickel on the Knicks/

That was ’95, couple of us ain’t live til’ ‘96

(The first line also sounds awfully similar to “Pippen on the assist,” but doesn’t make as much sense with the following verse.)

With that opening we’re transported back to 1995 when MJ had just come back from his baseball sabbatical and was delivering up and down performances for 20-some odd games. In the middle of all, his Royal Baldness returned to the Mecca where he eviscerated the Knicks for 55.

While the rest of us were doing whatever it was we were doing (I was a freshman in high school recovering from a hideous basketball injury where I broke my arm and leg at the same time), Freddie Gibbs was “fresh up out a school bus fighting up at Pulaski.” The MJ game for him, like sporting events are for so many of us, acted as a mile marker on the highway of time. And while the Knicks mark one experience for Gibbs, selling nickel bags marks another.

If life is an endless stream of “same shits, different days,” Gibbs shows the continuity of it all 20 years later as marked by the Knicks and a basketball court and the cyclically painful familiarity of violence:

Chilling with a bitch/

Watching LeBron put up a 56 on the Knicks/

In 2005, police killed my n***a in 2006

While LeBron didn’t ever put up 56 on the Knicks (he put up 56 on Toronto on March 20th, 2005 and 50 in MSG on March 5th, 2008 and 52 in February of 2009), for the continuity of the cyclical nature of the song, it makes sense. In some ways too, the foggy memory more accurately resembles the way many of us end up sorting recollections in occasionally convenient sequences. After all these years though, for Gibbs, the best players in the game are still dropping 50-spots in the Garden and Freddie’s still encountering the same shit: women, friends dying, and nickel bags. I can relate in the sense that I’m still watching basketball, still trying to find a pickup game, and still kicking it with some of the same guys I was hanging out with back in 1995. 33-year-old me is a million miles from 14-year-old me, but there are quite a few things I’ve kept close all the way across these years and evolutions of self.

But as Jordan turns into LeBron and as Freddie Gibbs goes from a “middle school fool” to an emcee signed to a major label, collaborating with a legend like Madlib, we’re reminded that change still occurs within any season.

For Gibbs, both the change and cycle can be traced to the literal and metaphorical nickel bags. Towards the end of the track as he’s shouting out Melo and MJ’s fade away, he’s painting the conflicting dualities of slanging dope in the most Nino Brown style: highlighting the connection between his charitable side (giving out turkeys, building basketball courts) and the source of his charity: selling nickel bags.

I’m not out here selling nickel bags, but I can still tell you where I was when Mark McGwire beat Roger Maris’s homerun record. With clarity, I still remember John Paxson’s game-winning three over the Suns in 1993. Sports stick with us over times and call to mind the events that floated within our orbit for a given time and Freddie Gibbs captured that here in “Knicks” in his own uniquely American manner.

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.

 

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

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 #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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