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Essay: Meet The Las Vegas Ponies

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The construction of all these ridiculous super teams has got me thinking: Can a team constructed entirely of players who have never made an All-Star team win a championship? Last night’s Heat-Knicks game featured six players who’ve danced the All-Star jig at least five times in their careers, and out of all of them only two rings were won (and two Finals MVPs). The rules in making my made up team (we’ll call them the Las Vegas Ponies) were simple: salaries are taken into account, so as not to have a ridiculously high or low payroll; chemistry and defense would also be noted, along with an ability to fit into a certain role, championship experience, and leadership qualities; and, as previously mentioned, no player on the team can have ever been selected to an All-Star team. That isn’t to say they aren’t talented enough to someday make one in the future, as a few guys on this list are arguably in the top 24 players in the league category today, but for whatever reason they failed to make the mid-season exhibition this year. That being said, this isn’t strictly an All-Star team of guys who’ve never been All-Stars—no Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Jamal Crawford—but more of a collective unit which I believe could cohesively win ball games, most notably come playoff time.

Here’s the starting five:

Point Guard: Andre Miller ($7.3 million). One of the most underrated players the NBA has ever had, Miller is a seamless fit, here. He’s spent a career bouncing around from city to city, stabilizing offenses, methodically schooling the athletically superior on a nightly basis, and then vanishing without a trace once his enigmatic personality wears out its welcome. Miller is a pro’s pro; the last of a dying breed basketball player who takes no nonsense and is pound for pound one of the tougher guys on the court. In his 11 year career with five different teams (after leading the league in assists at the age of 25, Miller was traded from Cleveland to the Clippers for Miles, Darius and Jamison, Harold) he’s never missed more than two games in a season, which, obviously, is incredible. I like Miller because of how he beats players with his mind. There’s such a cool patience to his game that has resulted in unbelievable consistency and pretty efficient play. He doesn’t take threes and is one of those players who could dominate any era without anyone noticing. While I’m not sure what that means, exactly, I know it when I see it. As the Ponies floor general, Miller would set the tone by establishing himself as the perfect point guard to take on the grind it out, wear you down style the NBA playoffs embody. On that note, defense could be another story.

Shooting Guard: Monta Ellis ($11). Speaking of defense, this backcourt doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opposing guards—unlike the name of this team—but Ellis isn’t as atrocious on the defensive end as his reputation allows. He’s undersized, which sucks, but is just as good a ballhawk as Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul. I know this because he steals balls with the same frequency. This isn’t what he’s known for, of course. What Ellis does do is score. A lot. He leads the league in both minutes and shot attempts and this season he’s made more baskets than Kevin Durant.  In my opinion he should’ve been an All-Star, but alas, he wasn’t (thankfully for this team). What Ellis provides is a scoring punch; the ability to take over games offensively for stretches at a time and disallow his team from having a drought of any kind.

Small Forward: Carl Landry ($3). The Keith Bogans of this starting lineup, and I say that gently. Landry is a much more reliable/talented/better player than Bogans, especially on the offensive end, but scoring isn’t what this team will need. An ability to crash the boards and defend some of the league’s more talented players is the task at hand, and whether or not not Landry would be up to it is the $3 million question.

Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge ($10.7). The breakout player of 2011. With all the talent this team has, Aldridge stands head and shoulders above everyone else. Him being on this team probably isn’t fair, as he would’ve been an All-Star this season had he played in the Eastern Conference, and his consistent domination in a front court loaded West has been overtly impressive.  Aldridge made a full five point per game improvement over last season, doubled his blocks, and is second in the league in minutes played.  In short, he’s an MVP candidate and would be the Las Vegas Ponies franchise player. What Aldridge also does is provide length on the defensive end and he can run the floor as smoothly as any big man in the league.

Center: Roy Hibbert ($1.7). To complement Aldridge in the Ponies front court is one of the most aesthetically gifted seven footers in the league. Since being drafted out of Georgetown three years ago, Hibbert has shown significant improvement in both rebounding, minutes, blocks, and scoring. It’s looking like he’s never going to be a franchise caliber big man, but as a complimentary starter with offensive talents like Aldridge, Ellis, and Miller surrounding him, Hibbert can snatch rebounds, whip his wrists for long outlets, and get the fast break going. Defensively, Hibbert will have his work cut out for him, mostly covering for the mistakes of his back court teammates who have been known to show the occasional lapse.

Bench

Stephen Curry: ($2.9). We finally get to covering one of this team’s bigger issues, and that’s the lack of three-point shooting. Curry, who shoots 42 percent from beyond the arc, would fill that hole like tar in a pot-hole. We’ve seen and heard about the defensive issues Golden State is presented playing Curry and Ellis together, but I’m convinced they’d be greatly benefited with Hibbert, Aldridge, and Noah behind them. He’s a starter in this league and might get some time there, but Curry’s playmaking abilities would likely take a backseat to his sharpshooting and floor leadership abilities.

Paul Millsap: ($6.2). One of my favorite players in the league, Millsap was born to come in off the bench and dominate second units with sheer energy and hustle.  That’s not a knock on his offensive skill set—this season he’s taking 13 shots a game to last season’s 8.7, and his field goal percentage only dropped from 54 to 53 percent—and Millsap is quietly putting together one of the more impressive seasons that nobody’s talking about. His 17.3 points and eight rebounds a game are exactly the workman like consistency any basketball team in the league could use.  Perfect Pony fit.  When the team has to go big, Millsap could seamlessly fill in for Landry with the starters and put out one of the most difficult lineups to defend against in the league.

Joakim Noah: ($3.1). The energy guy. The man in the middle who knows his role and can fit in on any basketball team in the league. What really makes him attractive for the Ponies, though, is his size.  As much as the league has changed its rules to cater to guards (much like the NFL did to help wide receivers and help the passing game flourish), basketball is still decided by the big man; it likely always will be.  They protect the basket and can dictate pace with offensive rebounds and methodical post play.  Noah has yet to establish himself as a go-to guy down low, but what he does with tip-ins and his defense of the pick and roll is vital to a team’s success.

Anthony Morrow: ($4). Another player who has no trouble mistaking what his role is.  Morrow shoots threes and shoots them well.  He takes about five of them per 36 minutes and makes 44 percent. Not shabby.  Stuck in New Jersey and playing in one of the leagues most obscure locations, hardly  noticed for any on-the-court activity, Morrow is slowly establishing himself as one of the league’s better long range marksmen and would be a splendid fit hanging out in the corner, stretching the floor, and helping prevent any annoying double teams from crashing down on all the bigs.

DeMar DeRozan: ($2.4). To be honest I’m not sure how well DeRozan fits here. He’s an extremely athletic swingman who was indeed robbed in front of his hometown at the Slam Dunk contest, but apart from averaging double digit points and efficiently getting it done from the field, I’m not sure what he can supply.  This season he’s scored 20 or more points in a third of Toronto’s games which is nice, but not otherworldly. Coming off the Ponies bench, DeRozan would likely be asked to do what he does best, and that’s please the crowd.

 

So there you have it; that’s my team. I realize that by making these players Ponies, we’re removing them from their current teams, thus depleting those organizations of significant talent (see: Golden State/Portland), but for all hypothetical purposes, let’s pretend a really sophisticated cloning machine has been developed and that these players can play on two teams at once. Great. Now that that’s settled, does anyone think this team as constituted can compete with the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Bulls, Heat, Thunder, or whoever else might be a spring time competitor? Remember, none of these guys have ever made an All-Star team—not that they’re terrible—and pretty much every champion in league history had at least one, predominantly two All-NBA superstars anchoring their franchise.  I guess the point of compiling this team is slightly antagonistic, but more to play the contrarian role. Super teams are cool and seem to be the “in” thing, but building a competitive team through the draft, in a small market city, is equally possible if you’re smart and lucky. The Knicks have a history of not being smart, neither does Cleveland or Toronto. The Cavs and Raptors can still turn things around, though, all they need is a little bit of time.


Shook Ankles: The Playoff Rematch Everyone Wants To See

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

While LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (two superstars with no room for excuses) want to talk about the older brother bully on the block, OKC find themselves in a more similar situation with those late 80′s Chicago squads.  With the addition of Perk and Donkey, a rematch of last season’s surprisingly competitive six game slugfest between L.A. and the Thunder could easily decide which team represents the Western Conference.

Commentary: Green Get Greener

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Of the 68 trades that went down yesterday, none reverberated more around the league than the one sending Boston Celtics defensive staple Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to the midwest for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, and a top-10 protected 2012 first rounder. A first look at the deal had fans in Boston pulling their hair and gouging their eyes. Perkins personified the hard working, defensive oriented, overachieving image that Boston has summoned since winning a championship. While he isn’t in the top half of offensive threats at his position, Perkins is tough; one of the few true enforcers in a league where that’s become a rarity.

Here’s Kelly Dwyer from Ball Don’t Lie’s take:

On an open roster, we don’t know where Jeff Green plays. He’s a poor rebounder, an awful defender at the power-forward slot, and he doesn’t do enough offensively to warrant a look at small forward. And yet, this doesn’t stop him from shooting nearly four 3-pointers a game, despite making only 30 percent of his looks from out there. His shot selection has been an issue since his rookie year, and it’s still hard to tell, exactly, where he fits in this league. Other than a guy that seems to luck into getting big minutes and plenty of shot opportunities.

It’s truly hard to see what Danny Ainge sees in these moves. Perkins has missed most of the year after recovering from surgery on his right knee, and he was going to be out for a spell with a sprained knee, but all indications had him at full strength for the playoffs.

But first place teams steamrolling their way towards a third NBA Finals appearance in four years don’t make deadline deals for the hell of it.  By losing Perkins, the number one problem in the eyes of many fans comes in answering the question “who guards Dwight Howard?”. To those asking that question, have you seen Orlando lately? The Magic are fading quicker than anyone thought possible. They’ll be lucky to get out of the first round and simply aren’t a serious threat anymore. What Boston needs to make a run through the Eastern Conference is athleticism at the three spot. Now they’ve found it.  There’s a method to Danny Ainge’s madness, and Zach Lowe of SI’s Point Forward does his best to get to the bottom of it:

I’m not saying I love the trade for Boston, or even like it. But you can understand it. Ainge has done something risky here: He’s looking to the future while doing his best to maintain the present. He always said the Celtics of the late 1980s blew it by not addressing the future as aggressively as they should have when their key guys were in decline. He is doing his best to avoid that mistake while keeping the championship in play.

There is unease today in Boston. But don’t make declarations yet about this team torpedoing its title chances.

Ever since his days in D.C., I’ve liked Jeff Green.  He’s an old school, no nonsense glue guy who can defend multiple positions. Various reports say he’s overrated, but I don’t quite agree. He’s versatile, tough, and should produce more value off the bench in Boston than as a starter in Oklahoma City. Most important, he’s 24; young. It’s a rare grab for the Celtics in recent years, and even with all the success, a sight for sore eyes. And don’t count out the draft picks. Today may end up being looked at as the day Danny Ainge set out on his path towards a sign and trade for Dwight Howard. A fan base can only dream.

While it’s sad for Boston to see Kendrick Perkins leave (bad shoulders/knees and all), optimism abounds with what Boston received in the deal.

Except for this:

Shook Ankles: Tony Allen Looks Drunk

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Tony Allen. What a solid defender you are used to be. The title of this post was written as a slight joke/tip of the cap towards Deron Williams’ handle, but maybe Tony really did have one too many sips of the sauce after the first quarter.  I wouldn’t put it past him.

Shook Ankles: Blink And You’re Kevin McHale

February 24, 2011 1 comment

This is one of the quicker crossovers you’ll ever see; Jordan doesn’t even give Mr. McHale enough time to fall over.

Recommended Reading: Where The No. 7 Jersey Is Already Sold Out

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

1) This would only be shocking if you were back in August 2010 and someone from the future came back to whisper it in your ear. And by shocking, I mean incredibly creepy.

2) Carmelo Anthony will wear No. 7 with the Knicks, which means living up to Al Harrington’s legacy is now his hardest task. It also means all the Modells in Manhattan aren’t prepared.

3) Buzz Bissinger might not be racist, but…actually, yes. He’s definitely racist.

4) A wonderful profile on Blazers’ point guard Patty Mills, and the incredible social injustice he and his family have gone through.

5) Note to the ladies of Denver: Watch out.

Categories: Recommended

Shook Ankles: Vince Carter’s Redemption

February 23, 2011 1 comment

Due to the wee bit of guilt I felt posting Carmelo Anthony’s destruction of Vince Carter yesterday, I’ve decided to make up for it. With the post you’re about to see, Vince Carter absolutely wrecks the Charlotte Bobcats. He crosses up all five defenders at once then goes over to their bench, crosses up all the reserves, Jordan sitting courtside, the official scorerers, the local radio play-by-play team, the…

Wait, none of that actually happened.

Sorry buddy.

Categories: Shook Ankles Tags:

Essay: Who Is Paul George?

February 22, 2011 2 comments

There isn’t much we know about Paul George. He’s yet to create any ridiculous Sportscenter highlights (Blake Griffin), bring an unprecedented level of hype in his back pocket (John Wall), or have his story told on the nation’s stage (Gordon Hayward). He’s played in less games than fellow rookies Derrick Caracter and Quincy Pondexter and logged fewer minutes than Trevor Booker. (I tip my cap if without googling their names you can say which teams those last three play for.) Granted for the first half of the season he was stuck behind Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Brandon Rush (…) on Jim O’Brien’s bench, but since Frank Vogel took over—making the offense more comprehensible and reenergizing the team—George has started to see the floor a little more. Even in his small sample size, he could easily end up as one of the better players selected in last year’s draft. One of the most intriguing/mysterious/unknown players in the league, it’s now time to piece together all we know about Mr. Paul George with our good friend intuition.

* Based on his contract, Danny Granger is the Pacers’ franchise player. But franchise players normally aren’t borderline All-Stars who take 61 percent of their shots from 16 feet and out. For this reason, Granger has had his name entrenched in trade rumors for the past couple of years. He’s a very, very talented scorer who can score 20 points in his sleep, but he isn’t at such an elite level where Indiana can use his shoulders as a championship contending foundation.  Larry Bird respects Granger as both a player and person, but on some level, drafting George instead of better known, less Danger Granger clone-like prospects such as Ed Davis or Xavier Henry (Granger and George both played collegiate basketball below the national radar) could mean Bird is thinking of George as a possible replacement.

* Two weeks ago, in a game against the Pacers, Dwyane Wade went off on a first quarter scoring stretch to end all scoring stretches.  He scored some 18 points in 17 seconds, sending Mike Dunleavy Jr. to the bench and bringing Paul George in to stop the bleeding.  Instead of shying away, George did an admirable job, doing his part to help Indiana climb back into the game. In fact, he was one of Indiana’s major bright spots. On one play in the third quarter, George drove baseline only to have the ball knocked off his foot and loose in front of him. Now in the opposite corner from where he started, instead of giving up on the play by passing it out or settling for a jumper, George aggressively split Chris Bosh and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and finished strong at the rim. On the next possession he banged a three pointer in Wade’s eye to cut Miami’s one time insurmountable lead down to three.  Something unexplainable about this sequence was special.

* Larry Bird likes drafting players who are humble; who don’t seek the highlights and are perfectly content playing in a small media market with little national exposure.  He doesn’t want basketball players who are in the league to film commercials, get shoe contracts, or make rap albums (even though the first two go hand in hand with supreme talent and success). He wants the tough, nose-to-the-grind type of player whose first and only love is the game. Danny Granger defines this, along with Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert. Coming from Fresno, being the least popular top 10 pick, Paul George looks to be this type of player, too. Just look at his reaction after this play:

* Apart from skill, natural talent, brains, good work ethic, and a fair balance of selfish and selflessness, all great players were born fearless. They aren’t afraid to guard the opponent’s best player, take the final shot, or draw a charge on a player twice their size barreling full speed down the lane.  Watching George play for a few minutes you get the sense he’s a professional.  A man at his job who’s trying his best to work harder than all the other employees; trying to get a leg up on the competition.  He plays with a for-the-moment calmness and focus; his facial expression doesn’t change during games, much like Wilson Chandler, and George’s teammates—most of them right around his age—seem to feed off this. His willingness to adapt to whatever role his team needs him to assume in order to win is just a sliver of that peculiar “It” factor, and George seems to have it.

* Throughout basketball history, many great players have had last names that could also pass as first names: Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Chris Paul, and Serge Ibaka to name a few. Is Paul George next?

* At Basketball-Reference.com, a website that has pretty much every basketball related statistic ever recorded, each player’s page can be sponsored for a comparative nominal fee. The price arc goes by the estimated number of views the player would  likely see—Michael Jordan’s page goes for much, much more than Jeff Hornacek’s. Choosing which page to sponsor is a lot like buying low on a sexy stock and watching your investment spurn benefits. Something tells me selecting Paul George’s page is the basketball-reference.com equivalent to insider trading.

* This year’s truly great—probably the most notable since LeBron—rookie season belongs to Blake Griffin. But as astonishing as Griffin has been, where does he go from here. He hasn’t peaked as a basketball player, but he might have as an entertainer. As a crowd pleasing man-beast.  What else can he do? He can get better defensively, develop a mid-range jumper, and learn to pass out of the double team, but what else? It’s clear by now that Griffin is the franchise player. Clippers management, if they’re smart, will only sign players to complement him in his development. They’ll grab knock down shooters, great passers, and strong, enforcer type big men to have his back when things get a little rough (not that he needs it).  But statistically, has he reached his peek? I mean, how high could he go? 30, 15, and 8?  This right here is why Griffin isn’t the most interesting rookie right now. The most interesting rookie needs speculation in his corner; he needs room to grow and space to progress. Paul George fits the mold, and discovering who he will be is one of many reasons why this league is so great.

Categories: Essays Tags: ,

Commentary: The Knicks Got Carmelo Anthony…Now What?

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

As you are likely well aware, the New York Knicks now have Carmelo Anthony in their possession.  In bigger and more meaningful news, Isiah Thomas is once again their general manager. What does this all mean? For the Knicks? For the league? For Donnie Walsh’s health insurance?

Let’s start with the obvious: New York received one of the 10 best players in the league.  How much they gave up in order to get him has unflatteringly been compared to Minnesota’s Herschel Walker deal. While that may be a slight exaggeration, the Knicks decision to give up two quality NBA players, a 22-year-old wild card who could someday be an All-Star, three draft picks, Anthony Randolph, three million dollars, and Timofey Mozgov (I guess we’ll throw in Eddy Curry’s expiring contract/dead body for technical reasons) for Carmelo, Corey Brewer, a one-legged Chauncey Billups, and three dead bodies is damn near highway robbery.

What else do we know? That whole thing about no team in recent memory winning a title with their best two players masquerading as defensive underachievers should ring a bell. While I personally don’t believe Carmelo deserves the amount of slack he receives for his lack of defensive ability and effort, Amar’e Stoudemire is a completely different beast. When you factor in his knees being one unlucky landing away from certain death, the Knicks aren’t quite ready to battle for a championship.  And without Chris Paul or Deron Williams, it isn’t likely they could ever get past Miami, Chicago, or Boston in the next five years. See, the CBA’s future is a tricky thing. Right now nobody knows if there will be franchise tags (think angry NFL stars), the mid-level exception (the general manager’s best friend), if the salary cap could turn hard or how low it’ll drop. Isiah might think he has it figured out, but he doesn’t. As Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward points out, working Carmelo, Amar’e, and a top three point guard into New York could be a financial impossibility:

With about $40 million tied up annually in just two players (Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire), the Knicks have taken themselves out of the Howard/Paul/Williams 2012 free-agent derby.

Perhaps that’s true. We don’t know what the salary cap will be in 2012 (though it figures to be lower), and we don’t know what the sign-and-trade possibilities will be for New York in July 2012 — or whether trade rules will be broadened so that incoming and outgoing salaries won’t have to match quite as closely. The Knicks have certainly made the pursuit of those players more difficult today, but who knows what the CBA will look like in a year or whether any of those players will want to come to New York.

More input on the Knicks getting hosed and their tragic managerial situation, by way of New York Magazine’s Will Leitch:

But the Knicks never needed to trade Gallinari, or Mozgov. If the Knicks would have held their ground, would Chandler/Felton/first-rounder/Curry for Carmelo/Billups worked? (With some salary cap flotsam here or there.) At first blush, you’d say, “Oh, the Nuggets wouldn’t go for that,” but why? What choice did they have? The only reason the Knicks offer looked uncompetitive was because the Nets—knowing Anthony likely would never agree to an extension to make the trade happen—could “offer” to give away Derrick Favors and Devin Harris and four (four!) first-round picks for Carmelo. The Knicks’ side of the trade only looks meager compared to the Nets’ imaginary scenarios. Compared to what teams usually get when their backs are against the wall, when they have to trade a superstar or risk receiving nothing at all, that initial Knicks haul seems low, but not shockingly so. Maybe Walsh blinks and gives up Mozgov then, as a final “Okay, let’s make it happen.” But Gallinari was never supposed to be in this in the first place. It wasn’t Walsh who made Gallinari a part of this: It was Dolan. When you don’t know how to negotiate, you lose ground you never realized you were ceding. When you toss out Gallinari when you absolutely do not have to, it’s just a tiny step to, “Well, you’re not gonna let Mozgov stand in the way of this trade, are you?” At that point, you’ve already lost.

And on the other end of the spectrum, the Denver Nuggets are the ones who find themselves with fixed financial flexibility and optimism: Chris Broussard recently tweeted this about some possible Gallinari movement, and Raymond Felton’s arrival in Denver looks to be a mysterious one, but they got something for nothing; that’s what matters. This from “All Things Nuggets”, The Denver Post’s NBA blog:

In mid-January, Nuggets coach George Karl opened up about Lawson’s growth: “Ty is doing a good job, but Ty’s got to mature too. He has a laid-back mentality that drives me a little crazy at times. My big belief and approach to leadership is that you lead by example, you lead by attitude and you lead by approach. You don’t lead by words. And his laid-back attitude probably stops him from being the leader I’d personally like him to be right now. But I think we can change that.”

And privately, Karl is pretty excited about his point guard situation. Karl is a proud North Carolina alum – he even went back to Chapel Hill during the all-star break – and both Lawson and Felton are Tar Heel point guards. In fact, both won the national title.

“Ray was my tour guide when I visited there,” Lawson said. “He took me around the city, showed me a good time. It will be a little weird being on the same NBA team.”

The ripples of this deal will be known in hindsight, but based on snap judgments, New York remains slightly above average and still won’t get past the first round, and the Nuggets are bunkering down into a smart rebuilding strategy. Time will tell how this one turns out. Maybe, in an ultimate turn of irony, Deron Williams chooses Denver and Chris Paul goes to Phoenix. Wouldn’t that be something.

Shook Ankles: You Want Carmelo? You Got Carmelo

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

It finally happened. Carmelo Anthony was traded to New York last night for 75 percent of the Knicks’ contributors. Donnie Walsh Isiah Thomas made a move that reeks of panic and hardly leaves the team with any young pieces to build around Stoudemire and Anthony. I like that they managed to keep Landry Fields, but moving Gallinari and Chandler and Felton severely hurts the team’s chances this year and next. Also, good luck signing either Chris Paul or Deron Williams under the diminished salary cap.

Regarding this crossover here, Vince Carter literally looks Isiah Thomas delusional. Like if he keeps running towards the basket, Anthony will too.

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