Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Category Archives: Eastern Conference

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.

The Courts are Alive (Playoff Edition)

What a night. What a fucking night for the NBA, for the game of basketball, for Nate Robinson, Steph Curry and Manu Ginobili. What a night for Twitter and the screaming woman at the Spurs game. What didn’t happen? Game ones of the second round: Bulls @ Heat in the early game and Warriors @ Spurs in the later game.

The Heat were 11.5-point favorites and for good reason. Coming into tonight, Miami was 39-4 at home (counting playoffs) and was mostly healthy with the exception of Dwyane Wade’s nagging knee injury. We all know about the Bulls: Kirk Hinrich’s out with a calf injury, Luol Deng’s dealing with fallout from a spinal tap gone wrong and we’re all depleted from the media throwing Derrick Rose on repeat and forcing us to listen over and over. So the Bulls rolled out Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. They did everything. Every damn thing you could ask for from a group of rejects (Robinson and Belinelli), outcasts (Noah), overlooked (Butler) and scorned (Boozer) players.

Down the stretch of this game, with Noah compulsively hustling and diving, scowling at opponents and teammates alike with long tendrils of hair stuck to his sweaty face, the Bulls stared up at a slight fourth quarter deficit of four points; but if felt like a Miami’s game all the way. How many times this season have we seen the Heat cruise through three quarters against lesser-talented teams only to turn up the intensity late in the game and walk away with easy victories. And when Jimmy Butler, all 6’7” and 220lbs of chiseled Jimmy Butler, attempted to wrap up LeBron on a fast break, but was overpowered by Bron’s lefty layup, I was impressed and relaxed, thinking Miami was just closing out another victory against another helpless victim. But I was oh-so-fortunately wrong and had no idea what was about to happen. The Bulls hit three threes (two by Belinelli and one by Butler) in the final five minutes, they shot 9-10 from the line and they frustrated the defending champions into missing all five of their shots in the final 97-seconds of the game. Somehow, the Bulls went down to the hardly hostile American Airlines Arena and beat the Heat 93-86 including a 35-24 fourth quarter.

For all that happened (Nate Robinson) and didn’t happen (Miami scoring points—they had their lowest point total since an 86-67 victory over these same Bulls on 2/21), what stood out most to me was Dwyane Wade’s irrationally selfish decision, coming out of a timeout, to chuck up a contested three at the 1:07 mark of the 4th quarter with his team down two points. On so many levels this was a bad shot. Many of us have become accustomed to the “hero ball” or “toilet bowl” offense where we get Paul Pierce or Kobe or Melo pounding the air out of the ball followed by a contested three. We all know it’s a bad shot, but there’s a level of latitude for the players I just mentioned. And Wade’s earned plenty of latitude in his career as well, but not enough to pull the shit he pulled on Monday night. Miami couldn’t have possibly drawn up the Wade-from-the-top-of-the-key special, could they have? Let’s look at some Dwyane Wade stats:

  • Dwyane Wade shot 25.8% from three this season
  • He was 2-18 from three over his previous 33 games
  • Wade was one of the least accurate three-point shooters in the league; finishing just a few percentage points better than only three other players (Lamar Odom, Reggie Jackson and Kevin Love) who made at least 17-threes this season

 

No Threes Allowed

No Threes Allowed

I’m elated for the Bulls. It feels good and I don’t want to take away from their resilient victory, but I can’t get over Wade’s three; just a baffling, baffling shot.

It took a while to get over that first game. There was a sense of low-level adrenaline running through my body after the Bulls withstood the Heat’s meager comeback attempts. But during the NBA playoffs, there’s no time for dwelling on the past. I opened my celebratory beers and was pleasantly surprised seeing the Warriors confident and comfortable on the Spurs home court. Up four at the half in the AT&T Center? Well yes, yes of course.

All hell broke loose in the third though. Steph Curry started raining fire from the skies like a light-skinned basketball-playing Zeus firing bolts into the round cylinder. The Spurs crowd cringed with every blow, flinched at every shot release. At one point, the camera showed Gregg Popovich standing still, his eyes closed, his head hung down, but far from out. He looked like he was attempting to visualize the solution to this problem and for a split second I imagined Popovich taking the law into his hands Tanya Harding style and whacking Curry’s knee with a baton of sorts. We both snapped out of it though and after a patented succession of Warriors mistakes to end the third quarter, the dust had settled and Curry’s third looked like this:

  • Minutes: 11 minutes, 56 seconds
  • FG/FGA: 9/12
  • 3p/3pa: 4/6
  • Assists: 3
  • Turnovers: 0
  • Points: 22

Golden State 92, San Antonio 80 (end of third)

There was a sense, I think, in many of us who had been here before, who had sat through the Warriors’ near collapse on Thursday night in game six against the Nuggets, that trouble loomed ahead, that all the Curry-fueled momentum in the world wasn’t going to make this any easier. And it wasn’t. The Spurs used every ounce of savvy and veteran poise and whatever other cliché you want to dress them up with to outscore the Warriors 26-14 in the fourth quarter.

The Curry third quarter, the Spurs comeback; it all evolved or devolved into some kind of brilliant basketball game that etched itself deeper into our minds and stomachs, intertwining itself within the gray matter of our brains and the slimy coils of our intestines. Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore, Andrew Bogut, Steph Curry, Jarrett Jack … a professionally-trained youth movement apparently oblivious to the fear that rides shotgun on their road to fate. On the opposite side, it was the familiar faces that have stalked the league so patiently with their secretive wisdom and insider humor: Pop, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and a strange cast of characters that plug into roles that feel tailor made: Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green. They came and they came and they came. The old men with their flu bugs and bald spots and interchangeable pieces; a group of calm Texans embodying the same ethos of the Bulls. And somehow, after being down 18 points in the third quarter, the Spurs won in double overtime. Do you believe in Boris Diaw corner threes or nights where Manu Ginobili shoots 5-20, but hits the one that really matters? Fuck man, I don’t know, but I saw it happen.

Some notable items from this insane game in San Antonio in May:

  • Golden State shot 14-24 (58%) from the free throw line
  • Golden State is a 79% free throw-shooting team on the regular season (good enough for fourth in the league)
  • Boris Diaw: The big Frenchman had a series of big plays that helped this Spurs team achieve victory:
    • He somehow became the only Spurs player able conceive of not leaving his feet to guard Steph Curry. At the 1:22 mark in the fourth quarter, with GSW up five, Curry attempted a little shake move and pull up on Diaw; likely underestimating his defender’s length and discipline. Diaw blocked the shot without leaving the ground.
    • He went to the line and hit a pair of FTs to bring the Spurs to within one late in the 4th.
    • Diaw set the screen to free up Danny Green for the OT-forcing three.
    • He was on the floor for all of both OTs, contributed rebounds, screens and a clutch three.

There were heroes on both teams. Ginobili, Parker and Curry were special tonight, but in the thick history making moments, Diaw’s hand never shook. He played intelligent, confident basketball and is a big reason the Spurs are up 1-0 in this series.  

I’ll close this with a line from Jim Morrison that embodies unknowing excitement of tonight and hopefully the days to come: I don’t know what’s gonna happen man, but I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames…Alright!

what we can't see

Guess John Henson’s Strange

It’s the tail end of the NBA season and we all know what that means: Unpredictable lineups, superstars and future franchise players randomly sitting games because there’s nothing left to play for, tanking accusations and of course, the wide world of bizarre statlines. In a game tonight that had no meaning at all except for developmental reps, possible performance-based incentives and a chance for Orlando to improve their odds at winning the lottery, the Bucks of Milwaukee went down to Orlando to face the Magic. I didn’t watch any of this game until overtime when I realized some variation of the NBA Twilight Zone starring John Henson was unfolding at the Amway Center.

Henson is well known for his lanky frame and Phil Jackson-styled walk which includes a sort of hitch in or around the hip area. I’m no physiotherapist, but Henson’s gait looks like something that will give him trouble in the future. It certainly didn’t give him any trouble tonight as evidence by this tremendously unpredictable line:

Henson. 

It was a game overflowing with unpredictable oddities and copious amounts of rebounds to be had by all. Nikola Vucevic of “Guess I’m Strange” fame recorded his league-leading fourth 20/20 game with 30 points and 20 rebounds (that’s back-to-back 20/20s for Vucevic) and the recent Magic addition Tobias Harris (picked up in a trade with the Bucks in February) had a career night against his former team with 30 points and 19 rebounds including a game-tying three that sent the game in OT. It was an ultimate expression of NBA-condoned vengeance.  

But it was Henson who caused destruction with his spindly arms and hands blocking and disrupting shots on his way to that 25-rebound total. His 17-point, 25-rebound, 7-block combination is the only one achieved by a Bucks player since at least 1985-86 (that’s as far as Basketball-reference’s game finder goes back for blocks and boards). That piqued my always-inquisitive mind so I asked the basketball machine who was the last player to beast mode like Henson did tonight. The basketball machine told me:

John  Henson joins the greats - 04-10-13 

Updated to include 25-rebound filter

Updated to include 25-rebound filter

*Ed’s note on the larger table above: the rebound filter is set to 20. On the second table, the accurate 25-rebound filter is set–which actually puts Henson in a more exclusive group. Also, interesting to see Hakeem’s destruction of Orlando back in 1989 on the list. I explored the conditions of that game in a previous post here.* Lot of great games and names that list, including the most recent by Joakim Noah just over a month ago, but John Henson? This string bean of a basketball player? This long legged leaper in a league full of long legged leapers? 25 boards? We haven’t seen another player this young put up at least 17 and 25 since a 21-year-old Shaquille O’Neal went for 24 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks (while only attempting a single free throw—so strange) back in 1993.

Yes, it’s highly esteemed company that Henson joined tonight, but I don’t have a clue what type of player he is or will become. Even in the dying embers of overtime, Henson’s length and leap timing was an obvious skill, but something (something named Larry Sanders?) has caused Henson’s minutes to decrease over the past few months from 17mpg in January to roughly 10mpg in February and March to just four mpg in four April games. Then there nights like this and nights like November 21st, 2012 when he went for 17pts and 18 boards against the Heat. So who is John Henson and what is he to you?

Who are these men?

Who are these men?

The Ascension of Nikola Vucevic

As we wind down this 2012-13 season, Dancing with Noah has just a few planned posts remaining. Like the entire “Guess I’m Strange” series, there’s potential for players in the league to deliver these unexpected, incomprehensible performances that kick and push me into exploring said performance in brief write-ups. So while there are just a handful of posts to go, who can say what tomorrow will bring?

Before the season, if someone would’ve put us all in a room: A great big ballroom for basketball fans with chandeliers that have mini basketballs for light bulbs and chairs covered with the worn, dimpled leather of a basketball, and asked us two questions, none of us likely would’ve answered anywhere near correctly for these specific questions:

  1.        Who will lead the league in 20/20 (points and rebounds) games?
  2.        Who will come out on top of the Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum megadeal?

The answer to number two is abstract and can’t be measured today or tomorrow or yesterday, but I can write, with a fair amount of certainty, that Doug Collins is as frustrated with the results of that trade as anyone and that’s saying something given the complete shitshow it’s turned into for the Lakers. The reason for Collins’s frustration can’t be limited to Bynum’s health concerns or Andre Iguodala’s continued consistency in Denver. Nay, it must take into account the accelerated development of the league’s leader in 20/20 games and the answer to question number above: Nikola Vucevic: a 22-year-old listed at 6’10”, 240lbs, but who looks to be a solid 7’0”, 250lbs+ and rebounds with the competency of an all-pro.

Regardless of your fondness or Rob Henningan’s fondness or the fondness of Vucevic’s own parents for his development this season, none of us expected this type of growth and development. Keep in mind, Vucevic, didn’t even arrive in the states until 2007. He averaged 12rpg as a senior in high school and never over 10.3rpg in his three seasons at USC. He showed promise as an NBA rookie averaging 10.9rpg over 36min/game, but nothing, not even his lineage (his dad Borislav was a pro player for 24 years—24!), predicated this season’s rebounding explosion.

So it was that we arrived at the Magic-Cavs game on this Sunday afternoon and saw the developing Vucevic take advantage of a bruised and battered Cavs team to the tune of 21 points and 21 rebounds for his league-leading third 20/20 game of the season.

Vucevic - 04-07-13

Nikola Vucevic: Catching NBA fans off guard since 2012.

23 in a Row! (inspired by Shel Silverstein)

23 in a row! Crown the kings! Plan the parade! The season is over!

“It’s only March,” cried the masses, “you front-running posers!”

 

We looked to Riley, pomading his hair. He consulted a calendar, made a few calls.

The season wasn’t done, “Let’s practice, get out the balls!”

 

“Not those balls, Bird!” and the team had a laugh

They played catch for a bit, then sat at the chalkboard and worked on the math

 

“23 wins in 23 games, 100% success, now isn’t that great?”

Asked Juwan and Mike Miller as they calculated the rate

 

“23 is the number that I used to wear,”

Said a goofing LeBron, but nobody cared

 

Spoelstra diagrammed and analyzed equations

While Chalmers and Cole were mesmerized by chalk dust, “amazin’”

 

Meanwhile in China, McGrady poo-poo’d and moaned

Over in Boston, Jet Terry clutched his aching back and groaned

 

Video replay showed the Death Machine flying without wings

Riley used a Chinese calculator to tabulate his rings

 

In the locker room where they filmed the famous Shake

The team gathered around the schedule looking for a mistake

 

Nope, the games were all there, everything was all clear

The Cavs were on Wednesday, there was nothing to fear

 

“Going home, going home where they love and hate me so much”

Sang a balding LeBron while Bosh made up his lunch

 

Then it’s the Pistons, Bobcats and Orlando

“For that last one, I just might go Commando”

 

Said a chucking Birdman while he sketched a new tattoo

And Battier hummed that he was feeling blue

 

About what he wouldn’t say

After all it was Pierce’s copious behind that ended the game the previous day

 

Wilt the Stilt rolled over in his grave

Passing along ill-intentioned curses that the Heat would misbehave

 

Jerry West laughed and said they had a nice run

But he hoped that the boys from Miami could continue their fun

 

If you love them, it was a blast, but if not you hated

And only a Heat loss would leave you satiated

 

Screw off LeBron and you too Dwyane Wade

Superstars or not, you’re both overpaid

 

Why so much anger and blood curdling envy?

They’re just playing and winning and Shane seems so sophisticated and friendly

 

“But what happens if we get to 24, 5 or 6?”

Asked little Chalmers, his face in a twist

 

Everyone hushed and looked on at old Riley who lit up a fat stogie

Stared back at the team and puffed out so slowly

 

“It’s not a title, but it’s more and it’s less

Little Mario Chalmers, consider yourself blessed”

 

23 couplets for 23 wins

It sure is something and no one can say if we’ll see it again

Can I have a talk with you? alternately, The Lost Season: A Tragedy featuring Andrew & Doug

I think it was a couple weeks ago after yet another hopeless Andrew Bynum update that I started ideating about a post chronicling the beginning-to-present saga of Bynum’s disappointing tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers. The comments below were easy enough to compile, but the format proved to be more challenging than I would’ve liked. I tried my hand at Storify, the web-based platform that allows users to aggregate social media and/or content into a single, cohesive story. It’s a beautiful presentation, much prettier than what you’ll find below, but it failed to suit my needs, so I’ve laid out the ongoing dialogue between Bynum, the Sixers organization and the media as it’s played out over the past eight months in the form of quotes, injury updates, speculation and frustration. My comments are included throughout.

*Prior warning: It’s a longish post that at times feels repetitive. I’ve bolded areas that I’ve found amusing, disturbing, intriguing and insightful.

bynum billboard

The trade was finalized on August 10th, 2012 and these are the first comments we get:

Andrew Bynum: “I’m leaning toward making this my home.” – 8/15/2012

Andrew Bynum: “I went through the whole season last year and didn’t have any setbacks…As of right now, my knees feel good.” – 8/16/12

Dancing with Noah (DWN): That comment about his knees seems ominously jinxing. I’m not the superstitious type, but given the benefit of hindsight, Bynum should’ve kept those comments to himself.

Doug Collins (Philly coach): “The day of the press conference we went back and he, I and Jason Richardson spent some time dougcollinstogether along with some of the other people in the organization and I think for Drew, I think a big part of him is he’s excited to be coming home. He was out in LA and I don’t think he ever really fit into the LA scene. I talked to him the other day and he was ready to go over to Germany to have the little procedure, the little injection done in his knee, he’s gotten home in the country here and is excited to be back near his family and everything like that. I think he’s excited that he’s going to be the primary focus of us playing through the post rather than being the third option in LA. He’s a very smart and bright guy, he’s articulate, he knows the game and we talked a little bit about it. Sometimes you say things and I think even he would agree that some of the things that he said came across maybe being a little immature a couple of times. He knows the play on JJ Barea is going to be seen forever and he will always be a part of that but I just feel like he’s in a great place.” – 9/12/12

Doug Collins: “When the opportunity to get an Andrew Bynum came about, you have to obviously do that because you can’t get a low-post center of that magnitude. I think all the things we’ve tried to do we’ve accomplished, but more importantly we did it in a way that going forward this organization is not hamstrung with bad contracts, we have flexibility.” – 9/14/12

Doug Collins: “Andrew is an incredibly well-spoken young guy. He’s articulate, he’s bright, he’s smart and he knows the game. I think he’s happy to be home. He just got a place in the suburbs here and said he loves being here on the East Coast. I think he views this as a great opportunity to be viewed as a central figure on a team every single night that’s going to count on him. I think he views this as a step in his career where he really has a chance to show what he’s all about. He’s got a good sense of humor. I feel really good about him.” – 9/14/12

DWN: At this point, over a month into the Bynum era, everything’s going great. Collins has publicly explained the trade, commented on Bynum’s comfort level, brought up his previous challenges with immaturity as a way of highlighting his current maturity level and even applauded the big man’s sense of humor—presumably this was not a reference to Bynum’s ever-evolving hairstyles.

bynum - 11-25-12

Tom DiLeo (Philly GM): DiLeo: Bynum came back from getting knee injections in Germany last week and “he says he feels very good.” – 9/24/12

Tom DiLeo: “His agent said he wants to come to the surroundings and see the team, see the atmosphere…He’s been very, very happy. His agent said he hasn’t seen him this happy in a long time. I think everything will work out. I think we’ll like Andrew and Andrew will like it here. At the appropriate time, we’ll do the negotiations.” – 9/25/12

DWN: Even if you’re approaching things in late September from a place of cynicism, you have to be feeling semi-good about Bynum in Philadelphia. His few comments have been positive. The coach and GM are thrilled to have the next in a long line of Philly big men that dates back to Wilt, Darryl Dawkins (he was entertaining at least), Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Dikembe Mutombo and now Bynum. Of course the more cynical of you were saying, “It’s Bynum! It’s only a matter of time before he gets hurt!”

John Mitchell (Reporter for Philadelphia Enquirer): Speaking of Bynum, he looks to be in great condition. He’s trim. He’s engaging his teammates and coaches. And if they were playing games right now, Bynum would be out there. – 10/7/12

Andrew Bynum: “I’m not sure, it’s really up to the trainers and the doctors right now, but I think if all the beans were on the table right now I’d be out there. It definitely feels better. A lot of it has to do with my pain threshold. It’s just to the point where I can’t run up and down with the team right now.” – 10/9/12

bynum - 01-17-13DWN: I think this is something, as a fan, journalist or blogger, we’re used to hearing (albeit, in different terms): If it was the playoffs, I’d be playing. Bynum’s “beans on the table” comment is something new and appreciated.

Doug Collins: “I just see he comes in and he’s got the little wrap and the brace on,” said Collins of Bynum’s right knee attire. “He’s out on the floor and he’s spinning and doing some stuff, doing some of the things he couldn’t do before. Plus, I see it in his personality, he’s happier. I think he senses he’s getting closer to play. Anybody that’s ever been injured, especially going to a new team where so much is expected, you want to get out there and play. It’s a downer. He’s worked his tail off. When he’s not watching he’s either doing something on the elliptical or in the weight room working and doing something. You can just sense that he’s feeling better. That’s a positive sign.” – 10/9/12

DWN: Collins continues to remain update and optimistic. After all, it’s still a few weeks from opening tip at this point. As the season goes on, you can feel this hopefulness slipping away not just in Collins’s tone, but also in his empathy towards Bynum.

Doug Collins: “If Andrew misses some games, we’ve got to be prepared to win some games without him,” Collins said prior to Saturday’s game. “Obviously, when he’s out there, our team is going to be a lot different.” – 10/14/12

Doug Collins: “Andrew’s doing well,” Collins said Monday before the Sixers improved their preseason record to 2-1 with a 107-75 victory over Boston at the Wells Fargo Center. “He’s progressing and on track to where I think he hoped he would be at this time. Obviously, the next step for him is getting running and weight-bearing. A lot of that is going to be how he responds to increased activity,” Collins said when asked if Bynum would be ready for the start of the season. “I know how important the home opener is, but we’re not going to do anything silly and have another setback where it costs you and now you have to miss those kinds of games.” – 10/17/12

DWN: I like how Collins is setting and managing expectations regarding Bynum. He’s saying the right things and most importantly, it feels like he’s being honest with the media, fans and himself.

Andrew Bynum: “I think pain and swelling are indications of what’s going on,” Bynum said. “I don’t feel pressure, but psychologically it stinks. It’s tough. I want to come in and help out.” – 10/25/12

Tom DiLeo: “He is improving,” DiLeo said. “It’s nothing new. It’s just not completely healed. It’s our understanding that when this heals, it will be over.” – 10/25/12

Doug Collins: “I have no idea,” Collins said. “It’s all hypothetical. We’re not going to look over at (Bynum as) a lifeline. If this team feels like we can’t win without him, we won’t win.” Collins also said he’s “sure Andrew is incredibly disappointed. When you’re hurt and can’t play, it’s no fun. I’m sure he wants to be out here as much as anybody.” – 10/25/12 doug collins 2

DWN: It’s been a slow progression regarding the comments. Collins had previously communicated that he might miss games and now DiLeo’s including the qualifier, “it’s our understanding” which opens the door for things to change. Collins’s comments on the 25th introduce the possibly of the unknown whereas just eight days previous, it was a different diagnosis.

Tom DiLeo: “He’s improving, but it’s still the same situation…” – 11/6/12

NBA.com: Andrew received a fresh MRI and was seen again by Dr. Altchek this past week on Monday, November 5. At that evaluation, Dr. Altcheck extended Andrew’s return date for a second time by an additional three weeks. – 11/6/12

Brian Windhorst (ESPN): Sixers fear Andrew Bynum has done additional damage to his knees by bowling recently, multiple sources told ESPN. Story link coming. – 11/17/12

Brian Windhorst: Andrew Bynum confirms he hurt his knee bowling. Said it swelled up after he hit lanes. – 11/18/12 (date of bowling incident was 11/10)

DWN: If the mood had been dimming the previous couple weeks, the bowling incident officially cast a pall over the Sixers and Bynum in particular. Up to this point, stories relating to his knee condition(s) were primarily Philadelphia-based sources and were mostly sympathetic to his situation. ESPN gets a hold if this oddball piece that reveals Bynum to be somewhat careless and suddenly it’s not just Philadelphia that has an opinion on him, but sports fans across the country.

bynum bowling - 03-12-13Tom DiLeo: “We have to continue to be patient,” Sixers GM Tony DiLeo told reporters recently. “We want to be cautious. We’re looking long term in this, not short term, and big picture. We’re going to do what’s best for Andrew and what’s best for the organization and try to get him as healthy as he can be and get him back on the court when he is ready.” – 11/21/12

Tom DiLeo: “We’re anticipating he’ll be back at some point,” DiLeo said. “We hope he will be back. We have plans for the future if he is not back with us, but we are anticipating this is a short-term thing. We want to plan on him for the long term.” DiLeo’s primary message during the nine-minute session with the media was to say the Dec. 10 target date for Bynum to return to basketball-related activities is off, he is out “indefinitely” and there is no timetable for Bynum’s return. “We don’t know when he’ll be back,” DiLeo said. “Only Andrew can answer that question.” – 11/25/12

DWN: Within a week of ESPN breaking the bowling story, Bynum’s status has become increasingly bleak. DiLeo’s changed the perspective to “long term” and “big picture” and in the same sentence makes the leap from “anticipating” to “hope.” The cherry on top though is the final comment that “only Andrew” can answer about when he’ll be back. These are statements that, to my untrained public relations eye, are completely misplaced. By putting the responsibility of insight into this mysterious injury on the player, DiLeo is (whether intentionally or not) implying Bynum either knows when he can return (and isn’t sharing) or is able to return and is choosing not to.

Tom DiLeo: “At the time of the trade we had four doctors look at his MRI. We knew it was a calculated risk. We also knew we were getting the second-best center in the league, a franchise type player. We took that risk,” Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo told reporters. “His knees now and the MRIs are not the same. It’s a different type situation. But we are still looking at big picture and long term. We’re hopeful that after this situation heals we can get him back on the court and he’s got a future here.” – 12/6/12

DWN: Neither Collins or Bynum has commented to the media since 10/25/12. DiLeo’s acting as the mouthpiece and attempting to explain that Bynum’s knees have changed since August. A statement that will be reinforced later on in March by Sixers CEO Adam Aron.

Andrew Bynum: “My left knee is still really sore, right knee is actually better, so that’s good,” said Bynum, who last spoke with the media on Nov. 25. “It’s just pain, just by walking around. Worst case scenario it’s another month.” Asked if he was going to get an MRI (or two) at that time, Bynum said: “Probably so, I’m not sure yet but probably. There’s nothing I can really do about it. It’s arthritis in the knees, cartilage is missing so that’s not going to regrow itself. Maybe in the future, in the next 3 to 5 years maybe there’s something out there that really does help, but for right now it’s really just a waiting game. If this was the Finals and it could be potentially the end, I’d be helping this team win because I think that’s a serious time and you want to be a part of that. But other than that I don’t think, especially right now, it would be a good time to risk anything. Why risk it when you have time to come back and be 100 percent? My right knee is feeling really, really good. I would definitely test it on the right side. I think it’s more evidence that my knees weren’t right if they got hurt playing because it’s definitely going to happen if I play basketball [right now].” – 12/10/12

Tom DiLeo: Asked about the progress of Andrew Bynum before the game, Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said there really is no update and that Bynum is progressing from his knee issues. Asked if Bynum was past the first of the six stages of progress toward recovery, DiLeo said yes but was very vague as to what that means. There probably will be an update when the team returns from its road trip next week. – 1/2/13

DWN: We’re into the new year and there aren’t any updates. Bynum’s comments in December referred to arthritis and missing cartilage and speculated on the potential for cartilage regeneration in the future. Then a few weeks later, reporters and DiLeo are discussing “six stages of … recovery” while simultaneously being described as “vague.” There’s a clear frustration on Philadelphia’s part and it’s unclear how much is directed at Bynum and how much is directed at the situation itself. Keep in mind, Bynum’s bowling excursion didn’t help anything and he’s still making statements like “If this was the Finals … “ and implying that he could play. Given that his contract expires at the end of the season, this is a terrible situation for Philly. On the one hand, you want your potential star big man to take his time and not damage his knees further. On the other, you’re looking at a potential scenario where you traded away an All-Star for an injured player who you’re paying $16.5 million this season just to rehab, potentially get healthy and sign with another team the following season.

bynum_notimetable

Andrew Bynum: “It’s definitely moving in a positive direction,” Bynum, who has been out with bone bruises and swelling cartilage, said. “I’m feeling better every day. I’m back to the weights and on the treadmill and I should be running here soon.” – 1/7/13

Andrew Bynum: “I have no idea exactly, I just want to get back,” Bynum said Monday. “I think, I’m hoping around the all-star break. That’s what I’m hoping. I have no idea exactly when I’ll be back. It’s minimal,” Bynum said. “It’s not hurting.” – 1/14/13

Doug Collins: “All you want is a chance, you want hope. You are starting to get hope again.” – 1/18/13

DWN: It’s unclear if Collins’s comments on 1/18/13 are motivated by Bynum’s public (and likely private) comments from a few days previous. But Collins’ use of “hope” feels genuine while Bynum’s use is closer to our daily usage of the word which is more absentminded without actual feeling behind it. As we progress into the spring, you start to wonder about the honesty and intent of Bynum’s comments. Does he really think he’s coming back or is he just trying to please people or even play them? Let’s get going here.

Andrew Bynum: “It’s going pretty good. I shot around at shoot-around (Monday morning) with the guys so I’m getting a bit better on the court. If the treadmill would stop breaking down I would be able to do a little bit more, but I’m going well. It’s like every 3 days or so it needs service, so I don’t know. I’ve been involved a little bit in practice just shooting around with the guys and stuff like that. My knees feel good and I’m not feeling any pain so this is all good and I just want to keep it going.” – 1/21/13

Tom DiLeo: “We’re hoping for the first of February for practice,” DiLeo said. “But we have to just wait and see how it goes. He’s done a lot of work, but he hasn’t had to go hard and stop and start. That will be important.” – 1/29/13

Michael Curry (Philly assistant coach): “It’s exciting. You give up a lot to get him, and when he’s healthy and on the court, he’s one heck of a player,” said associate head coach Michael Curry, who ran practice Sunday in place of an ailing Doug Collins. “The fact that his level of activity has picked up and he’s here working three hours or so, you’re going to get excited. You start to get ready for the next phase, so we know what kind of sets we want to run and what kind of personnel we want on the court with him.” – 1/29/13

DWN: I like Curry’s comments here. He’s articulating something that I imagine the front office, Collins, Sixers players and Philly fans feel, but the difference is that Collins’s and DiLeo’s jobs could be on the line with this. These guys are excited too, but I think they have more riding on Bynum than Curry does. I don’t say this to imply Curry’s just along for the ride in Philadelphia, but rather to point out that any frustration I might be reading into regarding Collins and DiLeo is likely a justified or at least understandable frustration. This can’t be fun …

Andrew Bynum: “February is the target, I guess, My doctor said it’s just a fear of a big bone bruise, so I have to nurse it all the way back up to playable conditions without pain or a setback. They (the injections) didn’t really help that much,” Bynum said. “My right knee feels phenomenal and the left knee still feels some of that stuff a bit. It was an attempt to ease the pain a bit, but nothing has really changed that much.” – 2/4/13

Tom DiLeo: “When he practices, bangs, jumps, moves — that’s really the most critical part,” DiLeo said on the court prior to

Philly GM, Tom DiLeo

Philly GM, Tom DiLeo

Wednesday’s game against the Pacers. “We’ll just have to see how he reacts during that phase.” DiLeo denied that he told reporters he expected Bynum to practice this week and is unsure when Bynum will be able to work out with the team. “I never said he would practice with us the first week of February,” DiLeo said. “I said he would increase his basketball activities the first week of February. I don’t know where that came from.” – 2/7/13

Andrew Bynum: “I’m not really optimistic. When I get on the court, that’s when I’ll be ready. I’m trying as hard as I can. It would suck to play through pain, but sometimes you have to.” – 2/11/13

Dough Collins: “The question’s going to be, at some point and time, of him getting out there. Right now, he has not done anything with contact.” – 2/18/13

Jrue Holiday: “I just want him to come back healthy, whether it’s this year or next year.” – 2/18/13

DWN: I can’t tell if it’s just from me going through this material so many times or if it’s equally evident in the quotes and the repetition, but there’s sadness (Bynum), frustration (DiLeo), helplessness (Collins) and desperation (Holiday) in these words and by mid-February it had only gotten worse. The hope in January and February comes off as nothing but a tease. How could you not presume the worst at this point?

Andrew Bynum: “Yeah, [I’m 100 percent sure I’ll play this year],” Bynum said. “I don’t see any surgeries and no doctor has told me I need them. I think I just have to grind up the cartilage that’s loose and I’ll feel better, so that’s what we’re working on doing. I think it’s just dealing with it, to be honest. Without some type of intervention or surgery it’s just dealing with it.” – 2/19/13

Doug Collins: “He’s really the only one who knows. Everyone else is just speculating,” Collins said. “But I think he’s feeling better and I think he knows that at some point he’s going to play through pain. I talked to him this morning and told him that once you’ve been around the NBA for a while and have had some injuries, very rarely do you feel great. You always have some aches and pains. But I think he can compete and do well.” – 2/19/13

DWN: Those last two comments feel like indirect communication; almost as if Collins and Bynum are sitting a room with a therapist that happens to have a tablet and a Twitter account with millions of followers. Doug and Drew won’t speak directly to each other, but by opening up to the therapist, they open up to the whole world.

Doug Collins: “He looked like a guy who hadn’t played in nine months,” Collins said. “I don’t think any bells and whistles should be sent off that he’s close to playing. Collins said Bynum would inform them of any future updates, as he has during the entire process. You should talk to him,” Collins said. “I don’t want to be the messenger because they shoot messengers.” – 2/24/13

DWN: For starters, Bynum informing the team of updates seems like the wrong direction for the communication to flow, but by allowing Bynum’s personal orthopedic doctor to run the show, the Sixers have somewhat hamstrung themselves. Beyond that, once again we see Philly going out of their way to put the onus on Bynum—not on Bynum’s knee, not on Bynum’s doctor, but directly on him. Money absolutely matters, but all things being equal, I’d guess Bynum will remember the lines the Philadelphia brass has drawn in the sand.

Doug Collins: “He played the five-on-zero Friday,” Collins said. “I saw him yesterday and he still hadn’t been able to do anything yet. I didn’t ask him [about any pain]. I just had a chance to visit with him a little bit. I know it is tough on him. He wants to play. We traded for him to come in here and play and he hasn’t been able to and that is hard. Hard on him and hard on everyone, and so I feel badly. For us, it is a little different. We traded three guys to get a guy who hasn’t played all year,” he said. “The Bulls have a player that is injured, but he has been here the whole time. Our guy came in, so the dynamics are different. We gave up a lot in that trade and that has been tough.” – 2/28/13

Andrew Bynum: That’s true, I don’t want to play in pain,” the Sixers center said. Bynum then reiterated the fact that he doesn’t care about the public perception of that: “I’m 25. It’s my life. They just grew cartilage in a petri dish, science is looking at it,” Bynum stated, possibly alluding to the future creation of cartilage. “Doctors are looking at it, they’re going to come up with something.” – 3/1/13

Andrew Bynum: “Now it’s getting a little late, so I really don’t know,” Bynum said when asked if he were considering sitting out the final two months of the 76ers season. “I played in one scrimmage and [I have] a four- to five-day setback,” Bynum said of his latest setback. Bynum added that he is “just getting treatment and trying to push the fluid out” of his knee. – 3/1/13

DWN: On 2/19, Bynum was 100% sure he’d play this season and over the course of less than two weeks, he’s revisiting his “cartilage in a petri dish” idea, taking a defensive stance (“I’m 25. It’s my life.”), and finally putting it out there that he may not play.

Doug Collins: “During this period of time, he’s not made any progress, and that’s obviously very concerning,” Collins said. “His concern that he was moving forward and he got to a point with the swelling where he’s making no progress.” – 3/1/13

Adam Aron (Philly CEO):This is a move that should have worked,” Aron said. “But, unfortunately, he got an injury in September and it’s been compounded since, post-trade and we haven’t seen a day. The fans hopes were justifiably high that the Sixers had made a move, a bold move, that would catapult us back into the top teams in the NBA. It hasn’t worked. I can’t get into his exact medical condition,” Aron said. “But I can say this, which is obvious to all of us: All season long he’s had bone bruise issues. He’s had cartilage problems. It’s March. He’s still not playing. He hasn’t played basketball since last May. Clearly, Andrew is dealing with some knee problems that have prevented him from playing in the NBA. Aron said “four doctors cleared the trade in August, and six doctors have actively been treating him and examining him all year long.” The Sixers’ CEO insisted that the team, until now, was confident Bynum would play this season.

“We certainly thought he was going to play in August,” Aron said. “That’s why we made the trade. Even in early October, we thought he would play on opening night. Then there was a delay. Then there was [another] delay. Even when we announced that he was out indefinitely, inside the team we thought he would play in January or February. He himself, in February, said he would play in February. But here we are in March and the team is disappointed. Our fan base is disappointed. And that’s the story of the season. Right now, none of us really know where Andrew Bynum will be in four days or four weeks, let alone in four years.” – 3/4/13

Tom DiLeo: “I think we’re all trying to gather information and see what the best course of action is,” DiLeo said Tuesday, before the Sixers hosted the Boston Celtics. “So I’m sure Altchek will have an opinion, our doctors will have an opinion, and Andrew basically will have an opinion. It’s just gathering information. Like I said before, he’ll continue to rehab, see how that goes. There’s an option of washing it, see how that goes.” – 3/6/13

Doc Rivers (Boston Celtics coach): “He’s (Collins) a friend, so I don’t want my friends to do poorly, unless it’s against me,” Rivers said. “It’s very similar situation to one I had with Grant Hill (in Orlando). It’s tough because your guys see him practicing every day. And with Grant, he played seven games that one year (four, in 2000-01). Each game, he was going to play and didn’t play. And this is the week, next week, he’s going to play in. You just felt like you were always caught in limbo. The thing with Doug can be tougher at times because with Grant, we’re small, we’re athletic and we’re going to play the same style. With Andrew, you’re going to change some of the way you play when he comes back. It’s just hard for everyone. We endured it in Orlando, we got through it, but it was no fun.” – 3/6/13

DWN: I was glad to come across that Rivers quote as Grant Hill’s a great example of a worst-case-scenario for Bynum. Hill ended getting huge paydays and is likely set for life in terms of finances, but when Bynum thinks about returning this season to a team that has zero chance of winning the NBA Championship, I wonder how much Grant Hill’s situation or the potential for a Grant Hill situation weighs on his young mind.  

At the time I write this, it’s March 12th, 2013; six days after the latest official update has been released and Bynum has yet to suit up in a Sixers uniform. I feel for both sides here and I get the frustration in as much as I’m able as a third party observer with no skin in this game. I get both sides and believe there’s a conflict of goals here. With the exception of proving he’s healthy and can play, Bynum has little-to-no incentive to return this season and risk further injury prior to entering an off-season without a contract. As I mentioned above, Philadelphia’s in a terrible position. Gone are Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and a future first round pick. In return is nothing but stress and frustration. And throughout this past eight months, even in public comments you can feel the rising and falling emotions, the expectations, confusion and resentment. If this is what’s going on in public, you can fairly easily assume what’s going on behind closed doors—my guess would be the Sixers have at least had discussions around the “injury in September” (Aron, 3/4/13), the potential to get a recoup lost expenses, the bowling incident, the pre-trade MRIs, etc. I don’t see any of the topics coming out of spite (even if it has possibly become personal on some level), but more out of a sense of desperation. You hear this most in DiLeo’s and Aron’s comments.

For the present, there are no winners. Just question marks and an unknown, fearful future for Andrew Bynum, Doug Collins, Tom DiLeo, Jrue Holiday, Michael Curry, Adam Aron and the Philadelphia faithful.

The Dunking on of Brandon Knight by the Giant DeAndre Jordan

The Chorus

The Chorus (all player cutouts were pulled from the original photo found here: http://ow.ly/i/1F3Lo)

The chorus from left to right:

  •          Eric Bledsoe wearing a black suit, his view almost blocked by a teammate. His expression is one of in-the-moment processing mashed up with the first hints that something smells awful.
  •          Ryan Hollins: Hands on head, shock and surprise. Perhaps one of the more excitable players in the league already; this moment will likely be the highlight of his season—even if the Clips win a title.
  •          Trey Thompkins: Fairly certain this is Thompkins and Thompkins has seen the light. He looks like a man seeing the gates of Heaven open before his eyes and he can’t believe he’s worthy of being there.
  •          Jamal Crawford: Arms extended above his head in a classic NBA Dunk Contest pose that simultaneously communicates his rating of a 10 and the ending of the contest (or in this case, the game).
  •          Blake Griffin: A dunker extraordinaire in his own right, Griffin jumped off the bench and can be seen looking to his right where he promptly ran although his destination was undetermined. He eventually had to be restrained by coach Vinny Del Negro.
  •          Maalik Wayns: Just signed to a 10-day contract a couple days ago, Wayns’ reaction was natural, unbridled.
  •          Willie Green: It was almost like Green was being swept away in the reverberations of the dunk and collision. The face stretched with the mouth agape in a stretched out “OOOOOOHHHHHHHHHH” is clearly one of the more natural reactions to aerial collisions that occur with this force.
  •          Joe Resendez: Had to do a big of digging to identify Mr. Resendez who acts as the assistant athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach. He kind of looks like Ben Stiller, but that doesn’t matter much. We expect our coaches and staff members to stay mostly buttoned up, but Resendez looks caught up in the moment. His teeth are clenched, his face masked in aggression. He’s enjoying Brandon Knight’s pain.
  •          Marc Iavaroni: The half of his face that we can see looks a little like a young Brent Musburger. Of all the faces we’ve seen so far, Iavaroni’s is the first that shows an actual concern for Knight.
The Witnesses

The Witnesses

The witnesses from left to right:

  •          Caron Butler: It’s hard to gauge his reaction at this point. On the video clip, we can see him making faces, but in this fresh, post-dunk moment, he seems to be contemplatively pitying Knight.
  •          Charlie Villanueva: Perhaps the most telling reaction of all the players. Villanueva’s is one that expresses to us not just the ill fate of his teammate, but that Knight’s embarrassment is symbolic of Detroit’s night: Far away from home in your opponent’s house without a friend in sight. Not only are you and your mates thrashed by 32 points, but your opponent is humiliating you and enjoying a celebration at your expense. This is a terrible moment for Detroit’s morale.
  •          Lamar Odom: In the video, you can catch Odom yelling enthusiastically, but at this point he seems more interested in the bench’s reaction. He was drifting away from the play after setting a screen on Villanueva and was the player on the court furthest from the epicenter of the carnage.
  •          Greg Monroe: Possibly my favorite reaction. He’s frozen; caught between his natural urge to react similar to the Clippers bench. You can see his lips prepping for the “OOOOOOOHHHHHHHH,” but his self-control is strong enough to maintain his composure. So he stands and stares, paralyzed between his urges and his self-control.
  •          Chris Paul: The archetypal table setter, Paul tossed the lob that led to the thunderous smash and celebrated appropriately.
The Officiant

The Officiant

The Officiant:

  •          Bennett Salvatore: Salvatore is serious, committed to professionalism and has spent decades witnessing up close the athletic feats of NBA players. That being said, there’s a sense of surprise and hints of entertainment hiding in those creases and behind the eyes.
The Combatants

The Combatants

The Combatants, from left to right:

  •          DeAndre Jordan: The destroyer incarnate. A story on NBA.com suggested there’s a 76-pound difference between the 6’11” Jordan (he looks more like 7’0”+) and the 6’3” Knight. In today’s NBA, Jordan’s reaction was completely within the boundaries we’re used to. He had this to say about his dunk: “I didn’t see Brandon until I caught the ball … After that it was just a wrap. Usually, when I get that dunk nobody is right there, but this is the first time somebody tried to block it.”
  •          Brandon Knight: Handling things well:
The Victim

The Victim

And if you’ve made it this far, here’s the dunk in all its glorious violence:

How Reggie Evans referred me to Akeem Olajuwon on December 17th, 1989

Last week I wrote a brief piece on Manu Ginobili’s 15 assists in 23 minutes of play. And previous explorations of statistical oddities have included Al Jefferson playing +50 minutes and attempting zero free throws, Isaiah Thomas scoring 27 points in under 16 minutes and Rajon Rondo’s 3×15 triple double. Through the research of these anomalies, I always learn a little something like Bob Cousy never shot over 40% from the field for his entire career (it was a Jamal Crawford stat that led me there). Last night I was digging through box scores looking for stories I had missed during the evening and despite Deron Williams’s immaculate night from three (11-16 from deep) and Kobe’s much-needed heroics, the oddball line of the night went to the University of Iowa’s own Reggie Evans who got to the line 16 times and grabbed 24 rebounds.

That line put him in the company of some of league’s best and most dominant big men of the past 30 years:

Reggie's company - 03-09-13

It’s no surprise to see Shaq, Dwight, Hakeem or Charles Barkley on this list. Lorenzen Wright and Joe Barry Carroll are more of the Reggie Evans variety, but Wright played 44 minutes and Carroll (aka Joe Barely Cares) played 55 minutes so it’s a bit more of a volume play. Evans played just 32 minutes (the only guy on the list under 40 minutes) and is also the oldest player at nearly 33 years. He grabbed just under 35% of the total possible rebounds while he was on the court. By comparison, Evans leads the league in this stat at 24.9%.

This is where these little weekend posts typically end. I’ll throw a youtube clip on the end of it and put it out into the world for consumption, but not this time. If you look back up at the table above and find #4 on the list: Hakeem Olajuwon’s 32-point, 25-rebound, 20-free throw attempt, 10-block performance against a hapless Magic squad on a chilly Sunday night back in December of 1989. I was nine years old at the time and most likely completely oblivious to The Dream’s ridiculous performance what with my age and the fact that Christmas was a week away.

This game sent me on a bit of search today; a search to have some context and understanding around Olajuwon’s game. The quest took me from the Houston Chronicle’s archives to the Orlando Sentinel’s archives to USA Today’s archives, then the SI Vault, onto reviews of newspaper database sites and finally to what felt like the grail of news of resources: NewsLibrary.com which has an easy-to-use/search database of hundreds of millions of articles and stories. Throughout this search, I was continually appalled by the lack of quality, the lack of results and terrible usability on some of the aforementioned sites. Most notably, the Houston Chronicle and USA Today have truly pathetic archive sections that either don’t work as intended or are impossible to find.

Media critiques aside, what Olajuwon accomplished in Orlando that night hasn’t been done by another player in the league in the 28 years covered by Basketball-reference’s box score database. In digging through the stories and recaps of the game, it’s plain to see the Magic were overmatched from the get go. This was Orlando’s inaugural season in the league and their roster reflected it with a group of pro basketball rejects; unwanted and unloved by the rest of the league’s General Managers. The team featured Scott Skiles, rookie Nick Anderson, Reggie Theus and other guys you likely haven’t heard of unless you’re around my age (32) or older. On the night Olajuwon crushed them, they started Mark Acres at center and Sidney Green at power forward. Missing from the lineup was their scoring leader and rugged PF, Terry Catledge. So it was Acres, Green and rotation guy Jeff Turner (owner of a 6ppg career scoring average). To compare the post mismatch in today’s terms, it’d be like sending Mark Madsen, Shelden Williams and Reggie Evans to war against well … no one in today’s game compares to the 1989 Olajuwon, so just imagine those three guys I just mentioned trying to stop the Dream.

I don’t mean to put down Turner, Acres and Green, but rather to show how outmatched the Magic were. The Orlando Sentinel’s write-up (written by Barry Cooper) praised the bench group (which Turner was a part of) for their hustle while spelling out the facts simply: “…Acres played hard against him (Olajuwon), but most of the rebounds Olajuwon grabbed were nearly uncontested.” As for Green who started in place of the ailing Catledge, “perhaps the Magic’s best post-up defender, didn’t take a shot and had only two rebounds in 10 minutes.”

Here’s the box score where we see Olajuwon had a ridiculous D-Rating of 72 for the game. It was his second triple double of the season and the fifth of his career. The 25 rebounds tied his career-high at that point and the 20 free throw attempts set a new career-high. In calling out that Olajuwon hit just 12 of his 20 FTAs, Houston Chronicle writer Eddie Sefko interestingly wrote “But for a change, not everybody jumped on Olajuwon’s back.” Given that he averaged over 24 points while leading the league in rebounding at 14rpg and blocks at 4.6bpg, played 39mpg while appearing in all 82 Rockets games; it’s intriguing that Sefko mentions this and reminds me of the Olajuwon section in Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball where he references some of the less desirable traits of Olajuwon’s. While Sefko’s message is partly referring to his poor free throw shooting, you can piece together something of a love/hate relationship that existed between Houston fans and Olajuwon during this period.

The Chronicle’s recap also includes a quote from Orlando coach Matt Guokos that was left out of the Sentinel’s home town recap: “The discouraging aspect of going to the basket and getting shot after shot blocked kind of got to us.” Imagine the psychological impact of Olajuwon patrolling the paint that night. Your leading post scorer is out for the game, you’re an expansion team that was thrown together with spare parts. It’s almost Christmas and the excitement of being part of a new franchise has worn away and the reality that you’re playing against the best center in the league is wholly evident. You try to get in the paint for high percentage shots, but every time you turn a corner or beat a defender, there’s Olajuwon, crouched in his defensive position, but he’s a predator, he’s the hunter. He waits and times his jumps perfectly. Sure, he blocks 10 of your shots, but how many does he alter? How many times do you second guess penetrating? And at the end your coach finally admits what you and your exhausted teammates had been feeling all night long: It’s discouraging. He was just too good.

Olajuwon himself acknowledged the mismatch: “In a game like this, they really don’t have a legitimate center in the middle, so we have to take advantage of that.”

The Rockets underachieved in this game and it led to Olajuwon playing big minutes (43) out necessity more than anything else. Despite winning by 15, Houston was up just one point heading into the fourth quarter. By that point, the Magic were done driving into the paint and settled for jumpers which Olajuwon presumably tracked down on his way to the 25 boards. It was the perfect setting for Akeem to have a big game and he took full advantage.

My journey into the rabbit hole of box scores and recaps today is just an extension of the box score readings I used to do when I was a kid. I’d find the Sports section in the Des Moines Register, flip to the back to see the box scores and look for the explosions, the inconsistencies, the triple doubles, the 50-point outbursts and find some sense of satisfaction in the deviations. So many years later and years removed from reading box scores and getting dark ink smudges on my fingertips and thumbs, I’m still intrigued by the abnormal accomplishment and appreciate it for being one of the few things in sports that’s still so unpredictable; just like it’s unpredictable that a Reggie Evans 24-rebound, 15-free throw attempt on a Friday night in March in 2013 would lead me to contemplating Akeem Olajuwon’s relationship with Houston fans in the winter of 1989.

Twin Tower days prior to Olajuwon's obliteration of Orlando

Twin Tower days prior to Olajuwon’s obliteration of Orlando

The Odyssey of Terrence Williams

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time” – Homer, the Odyssey

It only seemed appropriate that I should be traveling on foreign soil and wake up under a Mexican sun when I found out Terrence Williams was being invited back into the NBA; this time signing a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics. This basketball-playing vagabond of sorts with hush hush off-court baggage and the on-court potential of an NBA all-star has been a ship without a port since departing Louisville back in 2009.

A quick review reminds us the Nets grabbed him in the 2009 lottery with the 11th overall pick followed by a demotion to their D-League affiliate where he casually averaged a triple double in three games. The Nets tired of his antics (publicly communicated that he missed practices, but if you’re willing to trade a lottery pick after less than two full seasons, there’s likely more tumult occurring beneath the surface) and shipped him southwest to Houston where he failed to establish himself, so they outright cut the problem child and in the process GM Darryl Morey essentially plagiarized Nets’ GM Billy King’s rationale for dumping the kid:

King in December of 2010: “He’s getting a clean slate in Houston, a new start. He was not going to be a good fit for the future here. The opportunities are better for him in Houston.”

Morey in March of 2012: “We’ve got a very strong wing rotation…and we wanted to give Terrence an opportunity to play somewhere in a contract year.”

Aw, the GMs of this league are a caring bunch, so eager to provide kids with opportunities on the rosters of their opponents. I don’t mind calling bullshit on these quotes and acknowledging that while yes the opportunities are better elsewhere, the real reason is that anything that was going on off the court outweighed the few positives Williams delivered on the court. The coaches and front office in New Jersey were a little more honest in their dealings with the media whereas Houston didn’t even bother.

Like so many Americans before him, it was a westward journey for Williams and he landed in Sacramento last season where he appeared to thrive on the court, but again couldn’t establish himself enough to be offered a contract this past summer. Most official reports out of Sacramento were positive; they appreciated what Williams did in his limited tryout, but when it came time to make a long-term decision on the 6’6”, 220lbs combo guard/forward, they were simply unwilling to commit. Next on the Official Terrence Williams Pro Basketball Tour was an invite to the Pistons training camp. This time around, Williams couldn’t even find a spot on the roster and instead found himself homeless (n the basketball sense) and contract-less to start the season so he did what many before him have done and took his talents to China where he signed on with the Guangdong South Tigers where he played on his first winning team since his Louisville days and helped lead the Tigers to a league-best 27-4 record. 

What a long strange trip it's been

What a long strange trip it’s been

I don’t claim to have the keenest, most well-developed scout’s eye, but I swear talent isn’t the problem with T-Will. And the fact he’s been able to consistently find work despite his miserable shooting and the whispers about his off-court unprofessionalism lead me to believe NBA front offices and scouts see something similar. Fellow Seattleite and Celtic Jason Terry articulates what a lot of fans and scouts see in Williams:

“Playing with him in the summer, playing against him, just seeing him and seeing his work ethic, I know he’s a tremendous talent … A freakish athlete, can handle the ball, and he’s a physical guard. I just can’t wait to see him get an opportunity.”

There it is again; this word “opportunity” follows Williams around like a sad little puppy, or more likely it’s Williams who’s crisscrossing the globe in search of opportunity. His ex-GMs use it as an excuse to dump him (“You’ll be happier without us…”) and his new teammates use it to tout him. Meanwhile, Terrence travels in pursuit of it and along the way encounters unseen sagas and imaginary enemies.

Beyond my wholly fallible eye-assessment, why do I keep getting sucked into this nebulous web of Terrence Williams? I took a look at the scattered sample size that makes up his career and was crestfallen to see how bad things have been. In questing for statistical redemption, I came up mostly (and sadly) empty-handed. I’ve searched the stats of 129 career games that include nothing more than a handful of games where he’s appeared in more than 35 minutes and see he has a total of nine career starts, he’s an above average rebounder for his size and positions, and has a fairly robust usage rate relative to the amount of action he’s seen. His shooting can generously be described as putrid and you can apply that description to nearly any spot on the floor. Unless he’s dunking, he doesn’t have a “sweet spot.” Interestingly enough, a little sliver of light shines through in increased playing time. For Terrence, his efficiency improves as he sees more on-court minutes:

Min Total Min FG%
0-19

665

35.0%

20-39

1846

41.3%

 

Not only do his ratios improve when he sees more floor time, but his per-36 numbers improve almost across the board with the exception of steals and blocks:

t-will per36

 

Williams appears to get better as he gets more opportunity and in-game rhythm. I think a lot of us can relate to this in that the more we do something, the better we are at that task which of course doesn’t make it acceptable to shoot 35% from the field, but at least provides some possible color around his deficiencies. If it feels like I’m grasping at straws of efficiency, then maybe it’s because I am. But this is part of what I wanted to discover in this investigation: Why am I fascinated with Terrence Williams? I can tell you the fascination began back at Louisville when I first witnessed his awesome athleticism, his versatility, his above average court vision and who’s not excited about a 6’6” playmaker?

Sadly though, the numbers hardly validate my fascination in the same way occasional on-screen Hollywood plots put countless obstacles in between two characters that are madly in love with each other despite the obvious hurdles and incompatibilities. Sometimes we just can’t let go even when all the evidence suggests, no, demands we should. To follow and support T-Will is to bet your whole hand on a Joker wilder than JaVale McGee. There’s a reason T-Will’s being offered 10-day contracts while Joel Anthony flaunts his championship ring and it has little to do with actual ability—which isn’t a knock on Anthony. To bet on Terrence, to write this story on vacation with skin burning under the high Cabo sun is to invest in the hope that people can change.

The data above tells me there could be a formulaic element to Williams’s success and it includes steady minutes (20-30/night) on a team where his role is clearly defined; a team that takes advantage of his ball handling and playmaking while encouraging him to scale back his three-point attempts. We’ve never seen Williams on a winning team in the NBA so it’s difficult to assume how he’ll perform with a veteran Celtics squad, but if his previous roles in winning situations are an indicator (at Louisville and Guangdong), he’ll hopefully be able to blend his strengths (rebounding, ball handling, defense) into the existing structure in a supporting role. And this would merely cover the on-court piece of the equation and it appears the off-court stuff has often been a challenging aspect for Williams.

Having undergone a series of changes in my own life since crossing the age-30 threshold, I can only hope that young Terrence (he’s still only 25) can discover his own path towards NBA success; which for him should simply be stability. And if not, perhaps he’ll just become the greatest D-League player of all time.

*I wanted to add a note here that I was and still am unable to resolve about Williams. As an outsider, the only off-court transgressions I have access to are those reported by teams to the media. In Williams’s case, that means a couple run-ins with Avery Johnson during his time in New Jersey and public comments by Williams regarding playing time in Houston. There weren’t any notable issues in Houston or Sacramento, but off-court issues in Sacramento have been alluded to and it’s unlikely the Rockets would outright cut the kid just to give him more opportunity to play in a contract year. I acknowledge that I don’t recall how far out last year’s trade deadline was extended, but it seems the Rockets would’ve at least tried to get something for him in a trade. And lastly, yes his stats leave something to be desired, but there’s something odd about a 25-year-old kid with his unique set of skills who is unable to latch on in the league. It’d be a lot more understandable if there were more published instances of him having run-ins with coaches or getting into trouble with the law, but there are just a handful of documented issues so I/we are forced to speculate on how/why this kid has struggled to latch on somewhere. I tend to believe there’s more going on off-the-court as opposed to teams avoiding him due to his poor shooting.

Ode to LeBron Raymone James

A post-Jordanian titanium mass of a man,

Rings be damned

If he never wins again

What we have is enough

Memories (feats, destructions) to last us a

Million basketball-less summers

Memories aren’t just for the lonely,

But for the longing too

And the longing don’t have to be lonely

The longing and/or lonely don’t

Need rings or royalty

 

Just a man moving through a

Slow-motion world of

Blank-faced helpless defenders,

A screaming freight train barreling towards punctuality

Narrative be damned

His ability exceeds our qualifications and

Accolades,

Definitions and Parameters,

His existence on-court is

Independent of contemporaries and

Forebears

I’ll take a ghetto blaster and destroy the

Trophy cases with heavy bass

I can’t wait to invent a ray gun just to melt the

Infinite statues symbolizing his greatness

I’m resurrecting René Descartes to help imagine a devilish saw and equations that

Undercut the stats and tables we use to articulate greatness

  

What is victory

Without the struggle?

What is war

Without the sacrifice?

What is success

Without the failure?

The anticipation of a hundred thousand years is

Finally over

We made it

We’re here

And free to believe in whatever we please

 

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