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Category Archives: Eastern Conference
June 12, 2020Posted by on
While reading Rick Barry’s odd and awkward 1972 autobiography Confessions of a Basketball Gypsy, I ran into the story of Wilt Chamberlain being traded by the San Francisco Warriors in 1965 for Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer and cash. It wasn’t just the lopsidedness of the trade that caught my attention, but the thou-doth-protest-too-much explanation from then Warriors-owner and trigger man of the deal, Franklin Mieuli (page 87):
“As great as Wilt Chamberlain was, he wasn’t a big draw. He carried a big contract with him. He forced us to play a great center, Nate Thurmond, at forward. Everyone figured we’d have to sell or trade Thurmond and bid on him. I figured maybe Chamberlain was the man to unload. If we’d have gotten off to a fast start the next season (1964-65) I might have stood pat, but we got off to a terrible start. We lost 17 straight. No one wanted to buy a ticket. The new operation in Philadelphia was willing to take Chamberlain back. I let them have him for Lee Shaffer, Connie Dierking, and Paul Neumann, plus some cash.”
There’s truth and variations, obfuscations, and alternative interpretations of what happened with the Wilt deal and much of it is contradictory to Mieuli’s retelling from 1972. Long-time sporting scribe for the New York Times, Leonard Koppett described the morass as, “Under the surface, moreover, lies such a labyrinth of interlocking interests, motivations and dependencies that even the conscientious basketball follower needs a refresher course to make subsequent conversation possible.” Here are the key characters involved in the deal:
- Wilt Chamberlain – basketball player and author of Wilt: Just like any other 7-foot black millionaire who lives next door
- Franklin Mieuli – San Francisco Warriors owner, purchased team with a Diners Club group in 1962. Sold team in 1986.
- Eddie Gottlieb, aka Gotty – NBA lifer, Philadelphia native, described as being the “shape of a half-keg of beer.” Knew Chamberlain from his teenage playing days in Philly, pressed league hard for territorial draft (teams would get rights to college players in their loosely-defined “territory”) in order to secure the services of Chamberlain and ultimately selected Wilt after his high school graduation. Purchased Philadelphia franchise in 1952 for $25k, sold it in 1962 for $875k.
- Ike Richman – described by Wilt in his autobiography as, “more than a friend and attorney and prospective employer to me; he was like a second father.” Richman purchased the Syracuse Nationals franchise from Danny Biasone (creator of the shot clock) and moved the franchise to Philadelphia.
There are a few themes in the loop of Chamberlain’s journey to San Francisco and back to Philadelphia: Obviously Chamberlain himself, the league’s walking calendar Eddie Gottlieb, and money.
The amount of speculation around why Mieuli dealt the mercurial “Big Musty” is legion. One of my favorites is NBA coach Alex Hannum’s, who says in Barry’s book, “I remember once when we had won the pennant with Wilt, Wilt suggested we be given something unusual like diamond stickpins instead of the usual rings. Mieuli gave rings. Later, Wilt got sick. When he rejoined the team, Mieuli met him at the airport with a diamond stickpin. Wilt looked at it and asked, ‘What’s this piece of ______?’ That’s why Wilt got traded, no other reason. You can win with Wilt. I did. Wilt is unfairly regarded.” (The blank is unclear in Barry’s book, but imagination can certainly be used.)
While Hannum’s explanation is the most colorful, it seems unlikely. Mieuli had killed his center’s trade value by making it clear to everyone at all-star weekend that he was available and while he was insistent on moving Chamberlain, it seems unlikely he was so insistent over a diamond stickpin and Wilt doesn’t mention said stickpin in his book. In his autobiography, Chamberlain, a frequent embellisher, describes Mieuli’s behavior at the 1965 all-star weekend: “when we all went to St. Louis for the January 13 all-star game, Mieuli told him (Hannum), ‘I’m not leaving St. Louis till I get rid of that son-of-a-bitch.’ … Mieuli wound up running around from hotel room to hotel room in St. Louis, trying to swing a deal for me, and he finally made it—at 12:30 in the morning, during the post-all-star-game party, on the winding staircase of Stan Musial’s restaurant. I understand it was one of the least confidential, most slapstick negotiations in NBA history.” This accounting is contrasted by Dave Lewis of the Long Beach Independent who wrote, “Hannum played a vital role in the deal by convincing the Warrior brass they’d be better off in the long run without him.” If there’s any accuracy to Lewis’s statement, it’s two-fold: 1) it makes the diamond stickpin story more of a tool for Hannum to absolve himself of any role in the trade and 2) Hannum had previously coached Shaffer and, according to Chamberlain, believed he could convince the AWOL player to come to San Francisco even though he was already on his way out of pro basketball.
Other explanations seek the conspiracy route and this was a thread that, given the incestuous components of the Philadelphian participants, was somewhat believable but when set alongside Gottlieb’s long-term position in the league, is ultimately unsubstantiated. From The Philadelphia Enquirer’s Fred Byrod on January 19th, 1965 (this link, and others that will appear, require subscription or free trial for access):
“A neat, three-way solution was arrived at, so the story went: San Francisco shipped Chamberlain back to Philadelphia instead of paying Gottlieb. Philadelphia gave the cash it announced it had paid for Wilt to Biasone (former owner of the Syracuse Nationals who sold the franchise to Ike Richman and Irv Kosloff). For his part, Gotty was handed a piece of the 76ers. Depending on your viewpoint, this explanation either contradicts, or agrees with, another rumor widespread ever since Richman and Kosloff brought the Syracuse club to Philadelphia—that they were really just fronting for Gottlieb, then on the coast, rolling in his new wealth, in his new role as GM of the Warriors. After a decent period of waiting on the coast, Gottlieb was supposed to reappear on the Philadelphia front and take over the reins from Richman, his longtime lawyer, and Kosloff, his one-time school pupil in South Philadelphia.”
Byrod then goes on to quote Gottlieb,
“San Francisco paid me half the purchase price ($425k) in the first place. I was to get the rest in four payments over five years, and I’ve received every cent due me thus far. I’m still a stockholder, as well as eastern consultant, for the Warriors. That’s a matter of record. The league wouldn’t let me have interest in two clubs at the same time. I’ve had three or four offers from other clubs, in case I leave the Warriors, in the last year. Don’t you think they would find out about it if I had money in the 76ers? Would they want me then? Get it straight, I never had any money in the 76ers. I don’t have any money in them now. And the way things are, I never expect to have any money in them.”
With the emphatic mic drop, Gottlieb seemed to be telling the truth. With Gotty’s role with the Warriors reduced to the vague “eastern consultant,” and the triangle of relationships (business and personal) between Chamberlain, Gottlieb, and Richman, it’s not a stretch to believe Gotty was angling for a way back in Philadelphia NBA ownership, but if so, it never materialized on paper or in any official legal capacity. He would eventually become a consultant for the league and personally created the schedule by hand up until the late 1970s.
That doesn’t fully address Mieuli’s thought process. After all, business is and always has been built on relationships. So let’s focus on the money. In my readings, it was reported that the money Philadelphia sent to the San Francisco franchise ranged anywhere from $75,000 to $300,000 (per Lewis, Long Beach Independent) and lots of observers had opinions how much money and in whose pockets it landed:
- Theory #1: See above for Fred Byrod’s recapping that suggests the money went to Danny Biasone (former Syracuse owner).
- Theory #2: Abe Saperstein, Harlem Globetrotter founder and one-time associate of Gottlieb, as retold by the San Francisco Examiner’s Prescott Sullivan: “Abe saw the so-called $300k deal as a cashless transaction. ‘I don’t believe any money changed hands. I think what happened was the Warriors gave up Chamberlain so as to square the books with Eddie Gottlieb who, in my opinion, has never been too far away from Philadelphia.’” (Worth noting Gotty and Saperstein, per Sullivan, “have not been on friendly terms for years” and it was speculated that this loss of friendship was a result of Saperstein’s view that Gotty had blocked his entry into NBA ownership.)
- Theory #3: Terry Pluto in Tall Tales: “All that mattered was the bucket of bucks; the other guys were just bodies. The amount was $150k, which doesn’t sound like much now, but you could pay an entire starting team for $150k in 1965. Also the Warriors deducted Chamberlain’s $200k salary from their roster.”
- Theory #4: Wilt Chamberlain, in his autobiography: “It was announced that Philadelphia gave Mieuli $300,000 … for me, but the figure was actually much lower—and most of it went to me, not Mieuli. He was behind in my salary, and suspect that’s another reason I was traded—I kept bugging him for my money.”
The above theories vary in their believability and when you consider Wilt frequently wrote about being paid more than his official salary, (page 172 in his autobiography, “Although I’d been making more than $100,000 for several years by then [1965 when he was traded], this was the first time any clubowner publicly admitted he was paying me that much,” and his disclosure (page 185) that Richman (friend, lawyer and “second father” Richman) “had promised me a piece of the team … Ike promised me half of his half—25 percent,” it’s difficult to sort through the murky waters of self-serving explanations and land on a definitive clarity. It’s fair to speculate that the number was well-under $300k (per Pluto and Wilt). Those funds likely went directly to Mieuli who paid Chamberlain any back payments. This corroborates Wilt’s narrative, and a degree of Pluto’s while discounting Byrod’s retelling of the cynical rumor and Saperstein’s likely uninformed and potentially jaded view (although in the same piece with Saperstein, he claims, “Wilt broke into pro basketball play for me on the Globetrotters. I have been more-or-less his advisor ever since.”).
Money was a real motivator for Mieuli who had experienced a rocky first few years as an NBA owner: the franchise bled money its first season (62-63), made the finals in its second (63-64), and had the worst record in the league its third season while trading the league’s most recognizable player in Chamberlain (64-65). In the New York Times piece linked above, Leonard Koppett wrote that “San Francisco, apparently, was not ready for pro basketball … In 1962-63, the team was a total flop financially.” This is in line with Mieuli’s statement above. The other piece, again from Koppett, that speaks to an unsustainability in the pro basketball model of the 1960s, provides this historical context, “Gottlieb (as owner of the Philadelphia franchise), under present tax laws, could not afford to go on paying Wilt’s salary, since basketball’s gate receipts have a built-in low limit. He tried to sell Wilt to New York, but the Knicks weren’t interested. So he sold the whole franchise, for some $800,000, to San Francisco.”
The notion (from Mieuli) that Wilt wasn’t a draw is likely true, but also likely rooted in the struggle of pro basketball to land in San Francisco in the early 1960s as it wasn’t a topic that I’ve seen in subsequent Chamberlain narratives. Lewis from the Long Beach Independent somewhat contextualized this, “Wilt has always been a good drawing card in his hometown,” but clarifying that, “He (Chamberlain) attracts the biggest crowds on the road and in the NBA the home teams keep the entire gates.” Mieuli took it a step further in a piece written by Roland Lazenby: “the fans in San Francisco never learned to love him. I guess most fans are for the little man and the underdog, and Wilt is neither. He’s easy to hate, and we were the best draw in the NBA on the road, when people came to see him lose.”
Despite the lack of clarity on the details of the deal and the sketchy intrigue of its Philadelphia participants, both of the principals (Mieuli and Chamberlain) agreed it was a sensible deal in spirit and concept that was ultimately a bad dead in its execution:
Wilt: “Trading me really wasn’t such a bad idea for San Francisco. Nate (Thurmond) was 23 then, five years younger than me, with his whole future ahead of him. If the Warriors could get some other good, young players for me, they figured they might have the nucleus of a helluva good team. But Mieuli was so anxious to dump me, he made a lousy deal.”
Mieuli: “I could have gotten a lot more money for Chamberlain, but I wanted the players I got … People forget that Shaffer could have been an all-pro for ten years. But he was a flake. … Shaffer never reported. That alone made it a bad deal. Still, I’d make it again.”
And ultimately, both men landed in better basketball situations. The Warriors picked up Rick Barry in the 1965 draft. Mieuli unceremoniously dumped Hannum after the 1966 season and hired Bill Sharman who pushed a fast team faster (127.4 pace) and helped elevate the young team to the NBA finals. Of the three players in the Chamberlain deal, only Paul Neumann was still with the team. He played 78 games as their point guard before retiring at the end of the season, at 29-years-old. In retrospect in 1967, Jack Kiser of the Philadelphia News wrote of the trade, “Neumann is still playing a lot of guard for the Warriors, but Dierking is playing center for Cincinnati, Shaffer is operating a trucking line in North Carolina and the cash has been spent.”
Chamberlain would be bounced twice more by the Celtics including a game-seven heartbreaker in 1965 after the trade, but he would eventually be reunited with Hannum in 1966 for what turned out to be one of the greatest teams in NBA history. Buying into Hannum’s team-centric approach, Chamberlain helped lead Philly to a then NBA-record 68 wins. They knocked Boston out in five games and in the clincher, Wilt went for 29-points, 36-rebounds, and 13-assists. Beating Boston was a special achievement in itself and made the finals against Mieuli’s Warriors something of a footnote. Philly won the series in six games.
Did some funny business happen to ultimately grease the wheels of Chamberlain’s return to Philadelphia? Between the weak ass return Mieuli got and the tight relationship between the Chamberlain-Gottlieb-Richman triumvirate, the answer is an unconfident, “probably” and that probably watered down by an acknowledgment that, if the chicanery did occur, it was likely a low level infraction at worst. I come away from the whole investigation most interested (or entertained, perhaps) by two components: 1) Alex Hannum’s damn diamond stickpin story. I love it and want it to be true. 2) Lee Shaffer. A fifth overall pick in 1960 out of UNC who was taken ahead of Lenny Wilkens and Satch Sanders, he was a 17-ppg scorer in 196 career games, appeared in zero games in 64-65 when he was traded, and vanished into the North Carolina trucking business like a non-homicidal Keyser Soze shaking off that limp. Lee Shaffer wasn’t likely a ten-year all-pro or good enough to swing the fortunes of the deal for the Warriors, but he was an effective player who retired at 24. Lee, if you’re reading this, I’d love to talk about your decision. I’m guessing it’s a lot simpler than what my imagination makes it out to be.
Epilogue (on Lee Shaffer)
Lee Shaffer did not vanish into thin air. A mild amount of research led me to this Reddit thread on r/VintageNBA which references a no-longer-available piece by basketball historian and deep well of encyclopedic knowledge, Curtis M. Harris. According to the thread, the original Harris piece, and comments on that piece,
“Lee Shaffer wasn’t hired away from the NBA to be a trucker. Lee Shaffer was hired away by Tom Kenan, whom was his college roommate. The Kenans are an old and storied North Carolina family with huge interests in trucking, oil, land and many members of the family are full time philanthropists.
Lee Shaffer retired almost a decade ago as the Chairman of Kenan Advantage Group. His son lettered in football in UNC and is now VP of operations in the trucking branch of Kenan Advantage Group, one of the largest, if not the largest chemical transportation companies in the NA continent. Quitting the NBA to go into business with his college roommate was the right call.”
I won’t presume to creep into the cranium of Shaffer and assess the rightness or wrongness or indifferentness of his decision to leave professional basketball, but I will include some anecdotes from a story by Mike White of the Post Gazette (Pittsburgh) on its unknown homegrown, Shaffer:
- Shaffer on Tom Heinsohn: “We just missed out on playing the Boston Celtics in the playoffs one year and they didn’t have anyone who could guard me, either. They would put Tom Heinsohn on me, but he couldn’t guard his grandmother and you can tell him that.”
- Shaffer scored 41 points in a high school playoff game as a 15-year-old senior.
- Shaffer broke his leg during the 63-64 season which contributed to his premature retirement.
- Shaffer claims, “Bill Russell was the best player there ever was. There can’t be an argument. But Oscar Robertson was the best player I ever saw. There’s a difference.”
September 26, 2019Posted by on
Giannis is the MVP
Praise Greece and Globalissitudes
Giannis is a spider but with two legs and two arms
He is an insect, an alien, a Kevin Durant with brick walls for shoulders
There are foremost scholars on the topic of Giannis Antetokounmpo
Like probably Kevin Arnovitz and 60 Minutes or Dateline or whatever show he was featured on in 2018
Or 2019 when he was featured on that show
On TV for everyone to see
But us basketball people who spring for league pass and share logins like pieces of popcorn
We’ve been knowing
Among the not-so-close-knit gaggle of NBA Twitter and deeper in side pockets, threads, infinite chains of basketball talkers,
Giannis been a cult unto himself with
Big mitts, big paws and those impossibly long limbs reaching across oceans right into
Basketball souls and lickety split
Tick tick tickling
Something that lies in a collective US, a collective WE(Eeeeeeeee)
Like goochy goochy goo
Eliciting collective community giggles because who bounds 94 feet of basketball court in a
Few effortless strides
Casual like Clay Davis but with Greek accent
Those big long sea crossing strides flipping scripts and
Bounding through time
From 19-year-old rookie to
21-year-old Centerpiece to
Gravitational-pull enticing teams to show affection to young Thanasis and Kostas
In true MAKES THOSE AROUND HIM BETTER fashion to
22-year-old All-star to
Time, that fluid dimension with invisible resistance until we wake up and
Baby faced Giannis is new Shaq dunking 279 dunks in
The faces and egos of the biggest and the baddest
He’s a baby. He’s a fucking baby!
About a fellow giant after slaying him, him being Ben, slaying him like he was Bambi’s mama,
A hardwood homicide of the ego,
He outlasted the beard, captured the hearts and minds, bullied the bullies,
And for all that, was rightly and justly honored as the
Most Valuable Player
For the 2018-2019 NBA season,
Giannis is the MVP
October 8, 2018Posted by on
**This is the first in series of 10 poems and art pieces leading into the 2018-19 NBA season. All art in this series is done by friend of blog, Andrew Maahs whose portfolio can be found at http://www.Basemintdesign.com. The poem below should be read to the tune of Lionel Richie’s 1984 hit song, Hello. A brief, entertaining background on the video of the song from Wikipedia:**
The music video, directed by Bob Giraldi, features the story of Richie as a theater and acting teacher having a seemingly unrequited love for a blind student (Laura Carrington) until he discovers she shares the feeling as demonstrated by the discovery that she is sculpting a likeness of his head. The bust used in the video, which bears little resemblance to Richie, has been parodied in popular culture. Richie himself complained to the video’s director, Bob Giraldi, that the bust did not look like him. Director Giraldi’s response was “Lionel, she’s blind…”
We’ve been alone with you inside our mind
And in our dreams we’ve won with you a thousand times
We sometimes see you pass the ball to Kyle
Kawhi! we think we even miss your smile … ?
We can see it in your eyes
We can hear it in your laugh
You’re all we’ve ever wanted, since we traded for you in the draft
‘Cause you knew what not to say
And you knew what not to do
And we want to tell you so much, we miss you
We long to see the bright lights in your rows
See you dab the sweat upon your nose
Sometimes we feel our team will crumble down
Kawhi! You really left us in a lurch
‘Cause we know just where you are
And we know just what you do
We know you’re feeling lonely, we know Masai is loving you
We don’t want to win your heart
‘Cause it’s unhealthy and unsmart
But let us start by saying, we never knew you
Kawhi! Do you know what you’re looking for?
‘Cause we wonder who you are
And we wonder who got to you
Are you somewhere feeling sated, or did someone hypnotize you?
Tell us who drove a wedge between our hearts
For we haven’t got a clue
But let us start by saying we miss you
Kawhi! Was it Tony or Uncle Dennis?
Does it even matter now?
We’d never blame Pop or RC anyhow
Like Toronto, this world’s so cold and so untrue
It’s the ones you love who end up leaving you
We hope your new friends keep you warm all through the night
Canada’s pretty damn cold, you know that right?
Kawhi! Dejounte tore his ACL
But you can’t hear us any more
The distance is oh so far
July 18, 2016Posted by on
We were all so much more innocent back on April 13th, 2016. A historic NBA season was coming to a close with dual games competing for the main stage of national TV hoop audiences: In one corner, the final game of Kobe Bryant’s illustrious 20-year-career. In the other, Kobe’s antithesis, the record-setting, fun-loving, three-point-chucking Warriors of Golden State questing for their record-setting 73rd win. That sweet night back in spring may have been the end of the 2015-16 NBA regular season, but it was just the beginning of a 90-day stretch that has laid waste to forward and backward views of the NBA and culminated on July 11th with Tim Duncan’s retirement acting as an appropriate bookend to what Kobe started back in April.
It’s not a knock on Golden State that Kobe stole the show on that Wednesday night. The Warriors hosted a short-handed Memphis team they’d already whooped up on three times. The Grizz were without Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, etc. The game was a formality, a 48-minute procession that lead to crowning the Warriors as the greatest regular season team of all time. It was anti-climactic, but not without massive historical significance.
If Golden State embodied audacity in their pursuit of 73 wins, Kobe’s been radiating his own stubborn brand of nerve dating back to the first references to him in the history books as a competitive savant of sorts playing against grown men in Italy. That brashness is why people tuned in, hoping to get one last memory from Kobe – either something to solidify their notion of his greatness, reaffirm that he’s a ball hogging diva, or just say goodbye to an icon. In his most polarizing approach, he delivered to everyone.
In 25 years of watching basketball, Bryant’s final game with 60 points on 50 shots and 21 three point attempts; with his 37-year-old body gasping for air, visibly fatigued, committed to squeezing in as many shots as possible will always sit near the top of my memories. It was by turns hilarious and awe inspiring, predictable and incomprehensible. I don’t imagine I’ll ever see a player drop 60 in his last game, deliver what felt like a pre-planned speech, and un-ironically wrap it up with, “Mamba out,” but that’s what happened and it should’ve been a reminder to us all that this game, in all its beautiful bouncing and human fragility, is unpredictable.
A few weeks the collective NBA world had shifted focus to the Western Conference Finals. Some people expected Oklahoma City to beat Golden State and maybe the events of May 24th aligned with their thoughts, but I think most of us were surprised to see OKC run the Warriors off the floor in game four: 118-94 to go up 3-1. OKC was faster, stronger, longer, more confident, tougher, better. Something like 10 teams had come back from 3-1 deficits, but OKC had just won back-to-back games by a combined 52 points.
If Kobe’s last game is a shiny performance that demands a place in memory, Klay Thompson’s game six against OKC was probably more impressive given the context. Down eight heading into the fourth, a historic season on the line in a hostile environment, the future of rival Kevin Durant at stake, and Klay comes out gunning with three threes and all nine of GSW’s points to open the period. He would end up scoring 19 in the quarter, 41 for the game. These weren’t just spot up threes or blown defensive assignments, but hair trigger releases against great defense and bombs from 30 feet.
Despite Klay’s classic game, it’s fair to look back at the game six and the subsequent GSW win in game seven as critical dominoes in the Durant sweepstakes. It’s not likely anyone will ever know what KD would’ve decided had OKC won the west, but they didn’t and before game summary stories had been filed, the KD exodus rumors were already trickling out.
About a week-and-a-half after GSW had given Durant an up-close look at what he was missing out on, they took their own 3-1 lead over the Cavs in the Finals.
I don’t know if it’s the omnipresence of connected media and the Twittersphere or the sheer improbability of it all that etched it in my mind so clearly, but the Cavs comeback feels like something that’s been drilled into my memories: the Draymo suspension, Bron/Kryie going batshit crazy in game five, Bron going HAM in game six, and the unceasing rising tension of the 89-89 tie punctured and punctuated by a cascade of hugely historic moments: the block, Kevin Love’s defense on Steph, Kyrie’s shot, Bron trying to jackhammer home the final nail in GSW’s coffin by dunking on Draymo but getting fouled and maybe, possibly hurting his wrist. It’s all there, so clear and incredible, so historic and memorable, but so so foreboding as evidenced by GSW’s owner Joe Lacob’s, “All I can say is I will be very aggressive (in the off-season)” post-game comment.
When Cleveland was down 3-1 after having been trounced in game five at home, a comeback felt so out of reach and improbable. The odds were less than GSW’s comeback over OKC. After all, we’d seen the Warriors break teams and were just a couple weeks removed from Klay and Steph’s bombs away act finishing off OKC. Trading Kevin Love was inevitable, and at times Kyrie looked like a great individual talent that just didn’t comprehend the level of effort required at this level. Obituaries were drafted, LeBron’s window slammed shut, Warrior pressers were jokey events offset by obligatory “the series isn’t over” statements. A comeback wasn’t possible until it was and a month later my mind is still blown by it.
Of all these moments, maybe the most seismic was Durant’s July 4th announcement on the Player’s Tribune that he’d be joining Golden State – joining Steph, Klay, Draymo, Iggy. But what, but how? The stories and the analyses flowed out: if OKC beats GSW then he doesn’t leave, if GSW beats the Cavs then he can’t go. It’s what-if conjecture that can’t be solved any better than generational NBA debates.
In our reality, it happened the way it did and now the 6’11”, jump shooting, all-position defending, long-limbed 27-year-old from DC is joining one of the greatest teams of all-time. All the pieces had to fall just right to even allow it and when I write allow, I mean the cap, OKC losing, GSW losing, the conditions being created that made it rational and acceptable to Durant to leave OKC and join its greatest rival. Amid all this great on-court achievement and drama, the possibility that Durant brings to GSW is what makes it the greatest plot twist of all. Who’s the real Keyser Soze here?
So if Durant-to-the-Warriors is the climactic event, it’s Duncan low-key retirement on July 11th that acts as a coda for this dramatic 90 days that shook the NBA. The turnover is radical; from Kobe going out like a roman candle to Duncan fading into the cold quiet darkness of Spurs space. Two all-timers who played with their franchises for the entirety of their careers retiring against the backdrop of one of the most historic Finals and Finals performances, and all while Durant trades in the blue and orange of the Thunder for the blue and gold of the Bay.
How did we get here and where do we go? Our familiar faces are changing places or leaving us altogether. I don’t have a clue what this new NBA looks like, with the exception of a divisive CBA negotiation next summer. It feels like we’re coming out of an exhausting whirlwind, and entering what? I never could’ve expected a 90-day span like what happened from April 13th to July 11th and I don’t know what I expect the ramifications to be. But where I originally tuned in for a game played between lines drawn on a 94×50 hardwood court, I stick around as much now for the drama that unfolds off the court; in its history and operations, in the shaping of histories and futures by actors who are owners, front office officers, coaches, and self-determining players.
January 23, 2016Posted by on
It was a week ago I started writing this about Kevin Love. In a Thursday night TNT game against the Spurs, Love meandered around the perimeter keeping his toes tightly behind the three point arc with an effortless commitment as the Cavs succumbed to the San Antonio machine and in my mind Love’s borderline uselessness began to grow. His on/off stats for the night weren’t as bad as my perception but his game had the appearance of something between apathy and anonymity. Then came the Golden State game that created a rippling kerfuffle across the basketball space as the Cavs were shredded by Golden State’s bullying pick and roll versatility. And suddenly Kevin Love is topic du jour of my text message threads and I’m wondering, who the hell is Kevin Love?
On that Monday night when Love put up his second-lowest game score (2.8) of the season, the microscope was dialed up to its highest intensity and we all went overboard. It’s something that confounds because what we know to be true of Kevin Love: his first six seasons in the NBA portended a highly decorated Hall of Fame career. Love’s statistical accomplishments (19 points/game and 12 rebounds/game) over his first six seasons have been accomplished strictly by Hall of Famers. His 2013-14 masterpiece when he averaged 26.5ppg, 12.5rpg while dishing 4.4 assists/game and making 2.5 threes/game is nigh inimitable. To find another player who’s done the 26-12-4 in a single season we have to travel to pre-modern NBA (pre-1979-80 for this purpose) to 1975-76 when Jimmy Carter was about to snatch a presidency and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was doling out the impossible 27-17-5 with 4.1 blocks/game. Modern players don’t post this varied statistical gaudiness, let alone do it with over two threes/game. From now until the cows come home, we can build out stat comparisons showing how and why Love’s statistical peers are either residing in Springfield, Massachusetts at the Hall of Fame or they just don’t exist. This is the type of company Love keeps which is part of the reason he’s morphed into an enigmatic pro basketball player.
Between his rookie season in 2008-09 and his final season in Minnesota in 13-14, his combined point and rebound average was 31.4/game. In his 157 games in Cleveland, that number’s dropped to 26.2 – a decline of about 16% in production while his assists have been cut in half. This is and isn’t without precedent. Historically, players who score and rebound like Love don’t experience as significant a drop in production unless they’re injured (see messy chart below). But then there’s the Chris Bosh corollary whereby a big man partners with a pair of ball-dominant guards and experiences a mix of decline in raw production and unfair, poorly contextualized criticism with the tradeoff being the obvious and ultimate: realized championship aspirations.
Where Love dropped from 31.4 to 26.2 (rebounds plus points), Bosh dropped from 29.6 in his Toronto days to 26.5 in his first two seasons in Miami – just over a 10% decline in raw production. This is where Love becomes a victim of his own success. The 26-12-4 has already been established, but back when he was a wide-assed 22-year-old, he averaged over 15rpg – the first player to accomplish that since Ben Wallace in 02-03 and before that, it was Dennis Rodman in 93-94. And if we want to go more exclusive, then factor in the 20ppg that accompanied Love’s 15rpg. To find the last guy to do this, we’re hop-skip-jumping back to the Reagan Administration in 82-83 with the dearly departed Moses Malone. Statistically speaking, Love set the bar so ridiculously high that his 16 and 10 with nearly two threes/game from last season feel inadequate even though he’s the only player in league history to do this – three separate times.
And this is exactly what LeBron James and Cleveland sought to embrace when they traded for Love after his historic 26-12 season – a power forward in his prime vying for the crown of best at his position in the league. What Love lacked in Blake Griffin’s athleticism or Anthony Davis’s length, he made up for in rebounding position, elite passing (from the elbow or full court outlet passes), and the ability to stretch the floor in ways only specialists had previously been able to do.
History tells us the Cavs and Minnesota had been kicking around the notion of a deal for Love well before the trade was finally completed. The biggest concern for the Cavs had always been around Love re-signing with the team and they thus strove to make the team compelling enough for either Bron or Love to join and whoever got there first would act as bait. With James on board and Kyrie extended, the team finally had the talent cache to be attractive enough for Love, but Chris Fedor, writing for Cleveland.com conveyed that Bron’s personal recruitment convinced Love to join:
“That (LeBron’s call) had a lot to do with my decision. I knew the Cavaliers had a lot of young pieces in place and a lot of great talent here as well. I knew the city relatively well, but (James’ call) had a lot to do with it.”
Despite all the front office volleys between Cavs General Managers, first Chris Grant, then David Griffin and Flip Saunders, it was James handpicking Love to join him and his merry band of Miami Heat North-Central that cemented the deal. The playbook was laughably transparent with Kyrie playing Wade, Love playing Bosh, and the King staying the King – with obvious individual idiosyncrasies. But whose playbook was it? LeBron’s or Cavs owner Dan Gilbert/Griffin’s? Or does it even matter because everyone was driven towards the same end game: a Cleveland Big Three. LeBron even went as far as bringing along James Gang bandits James Jones and Mike Miller; his fingerprints are everywhere as is often the case. But where the enigmas begin to unravel are all along the road from the summer of 2014 to the present.
Where LeBron’s Miami journey was a unification of super friends all bought into the same end game at similar stages in their careers with a centralized authority in Basketball Godfather Pat Riley, the Cleveland model lacks the basic foundation or spine of Miami. Gilbert appears to be reactionary as an owner while Griffin seems to be serving two masters in James and Gilbert. The new Cavs have achieved nothing but success since 2014. They won 53 games in their formative season, then waltzed through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 12-2 record despite losing Love in the first round. And it’s fairly inconceivable that a Cavs roster without Love or Irving somehow took a 2-1 lead over an obviously superior Warriors team before collapsing to that suffocating, innovating versatility of Golden State and Andre Iguodala’s full realization. In 2015-16, it’s more of the same with Cleveland ascending the top of an improved East and owning the third best record in basketball.
And yet, the past 18-20 months are littered and streaked with negativity and tumult. LeBron and Love have taken pains to awkwardly communicate through the media or social media. I sat 15 rows from the court in Cavs at Blazers last season when LeBron, fed up with perplexing selfish play from teammates, mailed in the second half. It was James at his passive aggressive worst and presaged the eight-game sabbatical he’d take in the middle of the season. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst recently wrote about James giving Love this type of treatment: “Love has learned this and sometimes when there’s a mix-up, James will glare his way and Love will stare at the hardwood so as not to meet James’ eyes.”
[NOTE: As I write this, David Blatt has just been fired which brings its own massive ramifications for Love, LeBron and the entire franchise. Blatt’s final record (playoffs and regular season combined) was 97 wins and 46 losses (68% winning).]
Of all the basketball players on the planet, to have LeBron James personally recruit you to join him is like a kiss of immortality, the ultimate in acceptance and approval. I have no idea if Love needs approval. He was a multi-time All-Star and Olympian. He knew what he was capable of and yet, it’s possible he still strove to please the King. In a piece written by Jason Lloyd in November of 2015, Lloyd alludes not necessarily to insecurity, but perhaps a touch of uncertainty:
James spent years admiring Love. The two stars didn’t know each other well when James was heaping so much praise on Love’s game during the 2012 Olympics that Love initially thought James was just messing with him. [Italics mine]
Later in the piece, Lloyd writes:
James loves talent and he loves playing alongside elite players. Love’s physical condition (at the start of 2014-15) prevented him from being the player James thought he was getting. As a result, James gravitated toward Kyrie Irving and Love never fit well into this system.
Such is the fickle nature of LeBron James. To be accepted, then to be rejected can wreak havoc on anyone’s confidence, let alone when it’s the greatest player on the planet. In that same piece by Lloyd, he references a clearing of the air between James and Love over the summer and we saw a marked improvement in how Love came out to start the season. In October James went as far as saying Love was the “focal point” and the “main focus” of the Cavs offense. Through November, Love lived up to the billing, averaging nearly 20 and 12 compared to 16 and 10 in his first season with Cleveland. Then in December, Love had his worst month shooting the ball since 2013 when he was playing with a broken hand. His TS for the month was 47.4% and his January trends are improving, but still well below his norms. With the recent avalanche of criticism around his inability to defend Golden State (which somehow morphed into a commentary about his overall defense), the shooting struggles, and Windhorst reporting that Cavs players thought the team meeting on Friday was about Love being traded instead of Blatt being fired, it’s fair to wonder how Love or LeBron respond. Does Bron go “sour” on him again? Does, or is, Love’s confidence shake at the prospect of again letting James down? As Love’s shooting accuracy has declined each month, so too have his shooting opportunities – from ~15 FGAs/game to 12 to just over 10 in January which is no doubt a by-product of the reintegration of Irving into the offense. But regardless of cap implications, does a team intentionally limit a player of Love’s offensive caliber to just 10 shots/game?
For a piece where the primary subject is Kevin Love, LeBron James inevitably becomes subject 1a. As I spent these last days rolling this riddle over in my head, it all kept coming back to LeBron; which isn’t to say Love isn’t accountable for his own play. Above, I talked about Bosh being the prime point of comparison for Love and where Bosh experienced a similar decrease in opportunity (5% decline in USG for Bosh going from TOR to MIA compared to 7% for Love), he counterbalanced it by becoming a savant defending the pick and roll and completely embracing that role – while also putting up 18 and 7. Love is not Bosh and shouldn’t strive to be, but whether in mental approach or direct communication (as opposed to talking to LeBron through the media), there are opportunities for change. Neither should James take full accountability for Love’s decline. Between Blatt’s game planning and last season’s fourth quarter benchings, the evolution of Kyrie from ball-dominant point guard on a lottery team to second option a contending team, to the overall synthesizing of Love and James alongside mid-season trades that brought three significant players to the roster, it’s wholly conceivable that there isn’t a single source of Love’s declines.
LeBron’s shadow looms over the entirety of the Cavs organization. There’s a sense, true or not, despite counter-statements from Griffin, that James is somehow involved in all team personnel decisions. At its most cynical, it is as Woj wrote, that he stirred up an open rebellion against Blatt in order to force a coaching change. He played a powerful role in getting Love to Cleveland and was possibly indirectly involved in Tristan Thompson’s contract. When Zach Lowe quotes Griffin on his recent podcast (~8:20 mark) saying the biggest lesson he learned is that you have to be thoughtful in what ball handlers you place alongside LeBron, I hear the description of a shadow, a glove, a blanket, a presence that exists like oil coating every part of the Cavs machine. From the reshaping of the roster to fit Miami to the firing of Blatt to the prominence of Love in the offense, Bron’s been involved. This is Cleveland 2.0 where the front office still appears to kowtow to LeBron. And Kevin Love, existing somewhere between the future Hall of Famer in Minnesota and a good stretch four in Cleveland, is at the King’s mercy like everyone else. But don’t cry for Kevin, this is just one route on the path championship immortality and as Love’s learning and Bosh learned before him, the sacrifice is real and at times painful as his basketball-playing identity contracts and expands through the never-ending media maelstrom that’s become the Cavs.
November 30, 2015Posted by on
Do you remember that stretch of games from Alvin Robertson back in November of 1986? He was a third-year shooting guard for the Spurs out of the University of Arkansas already established as being a tough defender. Hell, he’d already been named to the All-Star team in his second season when he set the NBA record for steals-per-game with 3.7. 29 years ago, starting on November 15th, 1986, Robertson came out with seven steals against the Suns, then followed it up with five more games of six steals or more with a streak-high of ten steals against the Clippers on November 22nd.
In the ensuing 29 years, the longest streak of six steals or more that any player amassed was two games. It’s not easy to do. There’s a knack to steals that’s part anticipation, part gamble, part identifying the sucker at the table. I’ve seen Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul take risks that leave backline defenders painfully naked, caught between speeding point guards on the front and soon-to-be alley oop dunking giants on the back, but hey, it’s taking the risk for an easy bucket and being a thief doesn’t always equate with being a great defender, but getting six or more steals several games in a row means you’re doing at least something right.
So it came as a surprise when the Philadelphia 76ers and their 0-18 roster produced some kind of off-kilter heir to Alvin Robertson in this kid Robert Covington. Covington was born back in 1990, a good four years after Robertson was stalking NBA teams and taking the ball from them with unprejudiced kleptomania. And with all the Stocktons, Jordans, and Pauls that have hunted the ball over the years, it’s the 6’9” 24-year-old from Tennessee State that sniffing around at what hard ass Robertson reached all those years ago.
Unfortunately, the depth of NBA.com’s stats database doesn’t allow us to go back and scout out every one of those Robertson steals, but we can look at all of the Covington thefts over these past three games. Covington’s streak started less than a week ago on November, 25th with six steals against the Celtics. It was in a losing effort like all Philadelphia games this year, but his opportunistic instincts were on display. He was beaten by Jae Crowder on a screen, but used his long arms to poke the ball away from behind and force the TO. He capitalized on a full-court press, played help defense, stripped a defensive rebounder, and made himself a nuisance to the Celtics. Reviewing his six steals against Boston wasn’t overly impressive. He made decent plays, but I needed to see more.
Against Houston when Harden dropped 50 with nine TOs, Brett Brown got creative or desperate or something and slid Covington over to the five. In the end it didn’t make a difference, but again, the long SF/PF/C took full advantage of a Houston team (and Harden) that struggles nearly as bad as Philly does when it comes to taking care of the ball. He was directly responsible for at least four of Harden’s nine turnovers while also seizing upon young Clint Capela like the tiger on the savanna feasting on the naïve goat. Tiger Covington kicked some Rocket ass with 28 points and eight steals and broader defensive array than what I saw against Boston. Reading the passer’s eyes (in a couple cases Harden telegraphing passes) and identifying un-sure-handed opponents (Capela) allowed him to take advantage of their mistakes.
Finally, on the 29th of November, the streak continued in what was, based on the tape, his best effort yet. Instead of being the opportunistic poacher I saw against Boston and Houston, Covington swallowed defenders, poking and prodding at the ball with go-go gadget arms. He picked the pocket of sure-handed Mike Conley twice, stripped Jeff Green, and read passing lanes with eyes attached to a head that is on a constant swivel on defense. Six more steals against the Grizz, but he offset those with an ugly eight turnovers.
That’s six, eight, and six steals in consecutive games paired up with four, four, and eight turnovers for a steal-to-turnover rate of 1.3:1 (21 to 16) which is a suspect ratio for a wing.
Covington is no Alvin Robertson. Robertson averaged 2.7 steals/game for his career and we haven’t seen a guy average 2.7 steals/game for a season since CP3 in 2008-09. Covington, like the rest of these Sixers, is nigh impossible to get a true read on because the circumstances deviate so far from what we’re used to analyzing. I don’t have a clue how or what Covington becomes, but his current stretch in 2015-16 is, in its own compartmentalized way, impressive. In nine games he’s appeared in this season, he’s giving Philly 3.6 steals/night while pulling off a streak we haven’t seen in close to 30 years. On December 1st, the Sixers host the Lakers and all their on and off-court mega-circus act. I don’t have a clue what happens in this game, but it’s likely at least one of Philly’s current streaks will come to an end.
November 5, 2015Posted by on
On November 3rd, Andre Drummond, all of 22-years-old, notched the second 25-25 game of his career with 25 points on 12-17 shooting and 29 rebounds – a career high. In the process he joined Al Jefferson and Dwight Howard as the only three active players in the league with more than one 25-25 game. Guys like Shaq, Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing only achieved the feat once in their storied careers, but at 22 Drummond’s already done it twice.
As I looked over this list in all its randomness dating back to 1985-86 (which is worth noting because Wilt Chamberlain, that giant NBA version of Babe Ruth, had three seasons where he averaged 25-25 and went for 30 and 23 as a career average), a few things stuck out in their oddball numerical beauty:
- Hakeem Olajuwon sits on the modern 25-25 throne with five such games
- One of Olajuwon’s games was a 32-point, 25-rebound, 10-block performance which I’ve previously written about and is one of the more dominant/lopsided individual stat lines I’ve come across.
- The highest game score on the list is a 48.6 from Olajuwon on a night back in 1987 when he stuck it to the Sonics of Seattle for 49 points, 25 boards and six blocks. What the shit kind of night is that?
- Kenneth Faried joined the club last year in a game in which he played just 30 minutes – the least minutes of anyone in the club.
- RIP Lorenzen Wright
- And finally, the similarities between Dwight’s and Drummond’s appearances on this list.
By the time he was 21, Howard had his two 25-25s and I can only assume that most folks suspected these wouldn’t be the last two such games of his career. And given that he’s just turning 30 in a few weeks, it’s possible he tacks on a few more, but since his peak is well in the rearview, it’s unlikely.
25-25s aside, the young Dwight-young Drummond connection comes with intrigue not because of the similarities: they’re both powerfully built centers that use size, skill, and athleticism to dominate and they’ve both been coached by Stan Van Gundy; but the nearer they become statistically the better the future looks for Drummond.
At the end of Howard’s fourth season he was a two-time all-star with appearances on the NBA All-Defensive second team, All-NBA third team and All-NBA first team. He was highly decorated and more than prepared to take the torch as the league’s best big man. Drummond was named to the All-NBA Rookie second team back in the day and that’s it. Despite his size and athleticism and despite numbers that favorably compare to Dwight, he’s been unable to crack the code of the NBA’s off-season awards.
My friend and esteemed basketball writer and thinker Ian Levy just wrote a nice in-depth piece on the dissimilarities between these two that goes well beyond simplifications of them being large athletes that rebound and dunk. And where Dwight’s defense has long been Hall-of-Fame level (he’s the only player since the inception of the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1982-83 to win it three straight seasons), Andre’s merely a good defender. Though we’re looking at significantly different players, there are intersections and overlaps between their first three seasons. Below, in the most unscientific way possible, I’ve attempted to identify these intersections via my own made up statistic that includes traditional big man stats PPG, RPG, BPG combined with PER minus turnovers to arrive at an arbitrary stat for each of Andre and Dwight’s first three years in the league.
The above unscientific approach is interesting because it takes a variety of stats and makes a fat stat patty out of them which, when viewed in their entirety is strikingly similar in terms of progression and production. Additionally, through three seasons, both players were 21 and were just getting to know Van Gundy: he didn’t start coaching Howard until his fourth season and Drummond in his third. None of the above is presented to imply that Drummond = Dwight. Drummond is a much better offensive rebounder and plays more to his own strengths offensively which results in less turnovers. Young Dwight was the superior defender, (somehow) had a broader array of offensive moves, and was able to stay on the court for longer stretches without getting in foul trouble.
And yet, even with those copious variations, the statistical similarities are hard to overlook. If we shift forward with a similar eye and the little four-game sample we have of this season, it doesn’t take ultra-optimism to imagine a 2015-16 season out of Drummond. Dwight made significant leaps in his fourth year with improvements in scoring (ppg and FTA/game), rebounding (total boards and rebounding rate), and offensive and defensive impact (career bests in offensive and defensive win shares and offensive and defensive rating). Four games into 2015-16 is too few to plant any flags in Drummond making a similar leap, but with the paint cleared of former running mate Greg Monroe and a hand-crafted SVG roster that creates greater space for Drummond, the magic eight ball indicates sunny days for the big man. Or, if November 3rd’s ridiculous 25-29 game provides some kind of symbolic indicator of the future, then step to the side, lest you be dunk slammed on by the giant Andre Drummond.
October 29, 2015Posted by on
It’s a new season and that means a first edition of the Guess I’m Strange series wherein I track down some completely random oddball stat line like Ricky Rubio’s opening night 28-point, 14-assist, 1-turnover on 58% shooting and attempt to contextualize the feat form a historical perspective.
It seems fitting that on what is the real deal opening night of the 2015-16 season, our first admission to this longstanding (three years and counting – seems eternal in blog years) feature is from a rookie. But not just any run of the mill, taller-than-average NBA rookie, but a gangly 7’3” 20-year-old from the Baltic coastal country of Latvia, a country with a population a quarter the size of said rookie’s new home in New York City. Kristaps Porzingis, aka the Zinger, all swinging arms, legs, and elongated torso with an Ivan Drago-lite styled haircut arrived and made his debut in Milwaukee of all places; a brew-town in the upper Midwest that bears no resemblance to NYC which makes one wonder how in the hell young Kristaps is processing this all this Americana.
There are sayings about first impressions and maybe someone once tried to sell men’s cologne or deodorant based around the importance of first impressions and how you only get one chance to make one. Attempted truisms as such hold little weight at this blog, but since we’re talking about it, the first NBA action I saw this “precocious neophyte” (all praise due to Walt Frazier) partake in was having a loose ball rebound snatched away from his gangly paws by bearded and weathered semi-vet Greg Monroe. It was like some kind of flag bearing American brute stealing Latvian cupcakes from a skinny baby – a frightening thought for all of us, particularly the skinny baby thing.
First impressions be damned and flushed down toilets with water swirling both clockwise and counterclockwise. In the land of Lew Alcindor (keep in mind, in the Dancing with Noah mock draft, I compared Zinger’s string bean build to a young Alcindor), the lanky Latvian was determined and aggressive in seeking his own shots while donning the flowing New York Knick blue shorts and shirt which gave the appearance of rivers of copious fabric rolling on his lean frame.
The Zinger’s aggressiveness would soon be rewarded by the law; in this case NBA officials. In 24 minutes of play, he went to the line 12 times and made nine. When the final buzzer sounded, his line read 16 points, five rebounds, a plus/minus of plus-one and a Knicks road victory against a playoff team – and least importantly, a spot in DWN folklore for being statistically unique, statistically strange.
- 12 or more free throw attempts
- NBA debut
Once plugging the criteria into Basketball-reference.com’s wonderful game finder database, an astonishingly short list of matches were returned: four players (other than Zinger) since the 1963-64 season have taken 12 free throws in their NBA debuts:
- Billy McKinney: 10/15/78 – 12 FTAs, 23pts
- Isiah Thomas: 10/30/81 – 13 FTAs, 31pts
- David Robinson: 11/4/89 – 14 FTAs, 17rebs, 3blks, 23pts
- Lamar Odom: 11/2/99 – 15 FTAs, 44min, 12rebs, 2stls, 2blks, 30pts
Before we get into the illustrious company the Zinger keeps, how about that debut from Odom? At the time, he was only 19-years-old, making his NBA debut alongside a cast of quixotic characters with the Clippers that far exceeds the Zinger’s experience in weird New York. But to open a career with 30 and 12, 15 trips to the line in a whopping 44 minutes is the stuff greatness is built on. Beyond the Odom gem, how about David Robinson and Isiah Thomas? Please don’t hurt us, Zinger.
This is the ultimate in small sample size theater, but it’s theater nonetheless and the 7’3” debutant playing the four, facing up, getting his jumper at will in a way in Kevin Durant can relate to and of course, working his way to the charity stripe 12 times is beautiful, promising start. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson’s legendary letter to Walt Whitman in which he wrote, “I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” the Zinger similarly received great praise from the face of his own franchise as Melo said, “you couldn’t ask for more than that.”
November 3, 2014Posted by on
Brandon Jennings‘s incomparable Cali-born swagger is part of the reason he’s in the NBA. When we’re finally able to measure player confidence, we’ll find that Jennings’s confidence in Jennings borders on the absurd and so far that’s been enough. Despite miserable shooting that’s followed him from Italy to Milwaukee to Detroit, he keeps finding work as a starter, but how long will it last under the no-nonsense regime of Stan Van Gundy? Just three games into the 2014-15 season and incumbent journeyman point guard/tight beard-line wearing D.J. Augustin is creeping into Jennings’s minutes like a spider nibbling away at his ink-covered skin in the night. And Brandon is not happy! Or is he?
Like point guards passing through an identity crisis-having team, these are the days of Stan Van Gundy’s life. And while I’m certain SVG has the pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses of each point guard narrowed to the granular details, what offers a guide to competition better than boxing’s tried and true Tale of the Tape format? Nothing, so let’s get to the tape and see who’s really the best fit for Detroit’s lead guard spot. To quote the great Liquid Swords, “you don’t understand my words, but you must choose one. So come boy, choose life or death:”
October 6, 2014Posted by on
As part of what’s become a completely random foray into the pre-season here at Dancing with Noah, today we’re exploring some strange comments by Miami Heat lifer, three-time NBA champion, and Li Ning-shoe lover, Dwyane Wade. On the Miami Herald’s Sports Buzz blog, writer Barry Jackson shares Wade’s recent comments:
“I’m not falling in love with the three but [will be] shooting it more than the last couple of years,” he said. “Coach hasn’t told me I could shoot threes the last couple years. So just him saying that is a different mindset.”
In Jackson’s own words, he specifies “corner threes,” which appears to be a league-wide trend and one need not stress too hard to imagine a future where the corner three is as fundamental as the Mikan Drill with pickup ballplayers racing to tight corners in droves while creative coaches strive to create defensive schemes leveraging corner traps.
Awkwardly enough, it was just over a week ago that ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh tweeted out:
As a player with dwindling athleticism due in no small part to a roughshod playing style that has seen him spend a good portion of his career picking himself up off the floor after countless fearless forays to the hoop (Wade’s averaged over eight free throws/game for his career – only three other players in league history who have been 6’4” or shorter have averaged as many FTAs), Wade no longer has the same lateral quickness or straight forward explosiveness that marked his first 500+ games. That he would choose to not work on his long ball is a questionable choice.
But contextually speaking, it could just be Wade was worn out from playing so many high stress minutes over the past four seasons. Maybe he saw LeBron leaving and decided to give himself a break this past summer. For his career, Wade’s three-point shooting has oscillated somewhere between below average (31.7% in 2009) and very bad (17.1% in 2006) with no trends indicating improvement in either volume or rate. If he’s done any work on the long ball in the past, it hasn’t stuck. Whatever the case, his comments that Coach Erik Spoelstra may be open to more Wade threes appears to be a poor idea or unlikely misinformation.
If we drill deeper into Wade’s corner-three ability, we see a player who rarely finds himself in the corners. Corner three attempts make up 1.5% of the total shots he’s taken in his career and over the past three seasons it’s made up less than one percent of his shot volume. And that makes sense because he’s a career 28% from corner threes. To put that in context, no single team has shot below 30% from corner threes in any of the past three seasons. As players are gaining efficiency and shooting more threes (and corner threes), Wade’s shot less of them, but to his credit, has made a few more (10-26 from the corners – over 172 games!). This is a guy who shot less than one three per 100 possessions last season. For more perspective, the only other non-post players who shot threes as infrequently as Wade were Michael Kidd-Gilchrest and Shaun Livingston.
So Dwyane Wade didn’t work on threes this off-season, he’s struggled without the shot for the duration of his career, Miami lost the great LeBron James, Wade’s no longer the same attack threat so it’s less likely he’ll have a big cushion (unless he keeps missing), and yet he may shoot more threes? Welcome to life after LeBron, a place where all options are on the table.