Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

November Observations: I’ll be watching you, Newton

We’re not even a full month into the season, so it’s not like there’s this deep well of meaningful observations on this toddler of a season, but given that I’ve spent so much time watching games in standard definition, questioning how League Pass chooses which games are shown in HD, watching multiple games on League Pass Broadband and reading/posting nonsensical NBA observations on Twitter, I decided to meditate on things I’ve actually seen or noticed. The following list isn’t in any order of significance, just some cold November observations of teams and players I’ve watched at some point this month:

  • Tim Duncan as Kareem. He’s 36 now and will be 37 by the end of the season and he’s plugging away with his best per/36 numbers since … since he was 28. I’m not naïve or knee-jerk enough to even halfway believe that 16% of a season (13 games out of 82) constitutes sustainability, but Duncan’s putting up a career highs in PER and win shares per 48 minutes. Despite his longevity, people still, after all these years, love to sleep on Duncan and the Spurs for being boring. Duncan fans respond with their own brand of godly hyperbole, but wherever you fall on the Timmy spectrum, do yourself a favor, put your prejudices aside and spend a couple hours one night just watching Duncan; he’s still (somehow, even at 36) an underappreciated NBA treasure and the best shot blocker/shot alterer I’ve ever seen.
  • The (re) emergence of Jamal Crawford. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Big JC and it makes sense since we have so much in common: We’re both 32, he’s from Seattle while I live in Seattle, we both went to Big 10 schools and both of us can play each guard position. Commonalities aside, Crawford’s always been a free-form, improvisationalizing chucker and it’s refreshing to see his game out-perform his reputation. Like Duncan, he’s easily putting up career bests in PER, TS% and eFG% and like Duncan, it’s likely unsustainable. But while it lasts, there’s not much more entertaining than putting on a late night Clips game and seeing JC’s silly putty limbs stretched to their limit with the ball and his defender at his mercy; a shake of the hips, his elastic joints casting spells and oops, there’s the quick-release jumper splashing through the net and of course, no follow-through. If a Keith Haring painting or drawing came to life as a basketball player, it would be Jamal Crawford.
  • Hair. The second Free Darko book had an appropriately random section dedicated to the league’s eternal fascination with follicle fashions. And while they focused primarily on the 70s, just watching a month into the 2012-13 season, I’m like: DAMN, the hair game is back! Just a few guys who are uniquely expressing themselves through hair styles:
  • Spencer Hawes: Steady rocking the mullet in Philly.
  • Andrew Bynum: Hasn’t even played a game for the Sixers, but he’s already becoming notorious with a series of hairstyles we’ve never seen grace an NBA player’s head.
  • Kosta Koufos: Male pattern baldness isn’t anything to joke about; rather it’s something to make money off. Jokes aside, Koufos is just 23-years-old and getting pretty thin on top. The common solution for this is to snag the clippers and just take it off, but not Kosta. Nope, he grows it out and combs it forward. We’re not fooled though.
  • Anthony Davis & James Harden: The Brow and the Beard … these are kind of losing their intrigue.
  • Deron Williams: He’s been rocking the same look his entire career and it hasn’t gotten any better. Maybe shave that shit?

  • Harrison Barnes: No, I’m not including Barnes next just because his name is phonetically made up of “hair.” I’m including him because in just a few short weeks, he’s already shown more athleticism and aggression than he did in two years at Chapel Hill. Instead of settling for jab steps and jumpers, he’s attacking the rim with and without the ball. Oh, and in 14 games as a pro, he already has more double digit rebound games (three) than he did in his final year as a Tar Heel (two).
  • The Battle for Los Angeles is Real: It’s kind of an incestuous rivalry since Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes have been on both sides, but these teams don’t like each other and follow the lead of their uber-intense competitors: Kobe and CP3. Everyone keeps singing the same refrain about the Lakers: It’ll take time to gel (especially given the coaching change and Steve Nash missing in action), but meanwhile the Clippers are reveling in depth and developing their own chemistry. Despite a recent three-game losing streak, the Clips have improved from last year thanks to the development of Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan, the addition of Barnes, Crawford and (maybe) Odom. And they’re still waiting on the returns of vets Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill who may not have much left in terms of athleticism, but can definitely help LAC win free throw contests or knockout tournaments. While I’m part of the Lakers chorus, I’m also seeing a Clips team that can match up with the Lakers superstars and go a lot deeper than LAL. As for the coaching advantage? The jury’s still out for D’Antoni and Del Negro. Can we just have Kobe and CP3 as player/coaches?
  • Plateaus: DeMarcus Cousins, Javale McGee, Evan Turner (maybe not as much here), Blake Griffin, Ty Lawson. With the exception of Javale, I don’t believe these other kids have reached their ceilings, but in terms of the eye-test, none of these guys appear to have improved from last year. The stats (per game, per 36, and advanced) show declines for Cousins, McGee, Lawson and Blake (Blake’s statistical declines look like a result of the Clippers diversifying their attack, but that’s an investigation for another post). Just because the sun comes up every morning doesn’t mean it’s always going to be a beautiful day.
**As a sidebar, can you imagine how frustrating it would be to regress? Let’s say you work for a Senator or you’re a manager or you’re a salesperson, a teacher, a statistician, a firefighter, a writer, anything and all of your colleagues are high on you because you have a proven record of performance and then one day you show up and you’re unable to do your job as well as you’re used to.   Maybe there’s some external life events getting in the way or perhaps you’re just struggling to focus, but you know that everyone’s watching and wondering what happened. If you exponentially multiply the intensity of that lens, then you’ll start to have an idea of the struggles faced by the players listed here.
  • Falling Down: Josh Smith, Andrea Bargnani, Lamar Odom, Washington Wizards. Every time I’ve watched the aforementioned, I’ve ended up shaking my head in disappointment. Mid-range jumpers are to Smith what heroin was to William S. Burroughs—irresistible, enchanting, holding so much possibility. Bargnani and Odom are exceeding optimal weight limits and it’s preventing them from fulfilling roles their teams need. And the Wizards … oh, the poor, poor Wizards are the league’s only winless team at 0-11. I’m a John Wall fan, but in cleaning house of the Arenas-era characters, the Wiz have built a strange, slow-to-form supporting cast around their franchise player. If these downward trends continue, I’m going to start new series titled Essays in Exploration: Identifying the Early Signs of Decay.
  • Princes of the Fall: Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker: In the three-plus years I’ve been watching Jennings in the NBA, his biggest asset has consistently been his speed. So far in 2012, it looks like he’s found ways to harness said speed on the defensive end where he leads the league with an Alvin Robertsonian 3.5 steals/game … and yet Milwaukee didn’t extend him before the October 31st deadline. DeRozan, by contrast, was extended by the Raptors. It was kind of strange since he’s appeared to be a mostly one-dimensional scoring slasher without a reliable jumper, but in the Sunday day games and random weeknight games I’ve seen him in, he’s more aggressive, more confident, more purposeful. Whether it’s the addition of Kyle Lowry or the struggles of Bargnani, DeRozan’s a better, more mature player this year. Maybe I’m still on a high from seeing Parsons light up the Knicks the other night, but the Rockets are rewarding his versatility and he’s playing over 37 minutes/night and thriving as their starting small forward. After seeing him at Florida, I knew the kid was a strong ball handler and playmaker, especially for his size, but I didn’t believe it’d transfer over to the pro level. (I’m fairly confident this isn’t unique to me, but American-born white college players are difficult to project as pros … or maybe the smaller number of these players just makes it seem like they’re more difficult to project.) Anyhow, Damian Lillard’s not white. He’s a black point guard from Weber State who apparently learned the fine arts of the pick and roll during his undergrad studies and arrived in Portland with nothing more than basketball gear, online devices and gym clothes. He lives at the Blazers practice facility and is as NBA-ready as any point guard since … well … I guess Kyrie Irving.

Of course there are other observations from November, but these were top of mind. I haven’t seen all 30 teams and I’ve seen some teams I wish I hadn’t. We’ve already been subjected to surprises, pleasantries and disappointments and if this first month is any indication, we’ll be happily swimming a pool of confusion wondering how we got there come Christmas.

One response to “November Observations: I’ll be watching you, Newton

  1. Pingback: Court Vision: New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets | The Point Forward - SI.com

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