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Commentary: How A Lockout Can Keep Players From Improving

June 29, 2011 1 comment

By the time a preternaturally talented basketball player graduates from high school and fights his way through the college ranks, it’s safe to assume that if drafted into the NBA, his intense work ethic and continual motivation will keep the sport he’s now paid to play at the top of his priorities list. Read more…

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Commentary: Rich Cho Can Be My GM Anyday

May 25, 2011 1 comment

When the May 2011 Vanity Fair was delivered to my front door about a month ago, I was a smidge disgusted. Not with the shirtless, devilishly handsome Rob Lowe puffing his biceps out in a desperate attempt at affect, but the scandalous headline just above the masthead. It read: Bill Gates Tried to Screw Me Out of Billions! By Paul Allen. The same Paul Allen who’s worth roughly $14 billion and doesn’t come off playing the role of victim with a natural flair. I mean, the guy has his big toe dipped into three separate professional sports leagues as an owner, and boasts two of the 100 largest yachts in the world. Nobody need feel bad for something that (supposedly) took place over 30 years ago. To write the book was petty, but it pails in comparison to an inconceivable act two days ago. The sightless firing of his general manager, Rich Cho, not only makes him look bad, it embarrasses one of the league’s proudest organizations and could eventually restrict an all-time great fan base from expanding. Read more…

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Commentary: Atlanta’s Secret Weapon?

In an all-time, symposium inducing trade deadline to trump every trade deadline that ever was—two franchise players were dealt, resulting in a seismic, anti-exploratory geographic shift from west to east,and a top flight championship contender traded its starter who most embodies said team’s tried and true, gritty identity—he’s been called the most treasured piece acquired. Not Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Kendrick Perkins, or even Jeff Green, but Kirk Hinrich. A solid, unspectacular point guard who’s limited athletically and wears funny goggles. This was, in one coach’s eyes, the most prized possession; the difference maker capable of partially leading the hapless Hawks past the first round and into uncharted waters.

And now, just as the Hawks finally defeated their personal Dwight Howard/Goliath, Hinrich’s done, hampered by an ill-timed hamstring injury. Normally the loss of a proven defensively adept guard would be a death blow for any team facing a point guard able to wreak as much havoc as Derrick Rose, but what if this injury turns into a blessing for Atlanta? An injury to Hinrich opens up the door for two possibilities: 1) Second year pro Jeff Teague gets the nod as a starter, is thrown into the playoff’s already burning fire, and is held partially responsible for defending Rose, or 2) The Hawks first round leading scorer, Jamal Crawford, is thrust into the starting lineup for the first time all season, seeing more minutes, more shots, and sticking Teague into the role of dynamic bench scorer. Either way the Hawks have an unknown entity on their hands which isn’t exactly what they’d like heading into the Semifinals, but it shouldn’t put a smile on Thibodeau’s face either. This from the league’s Coach of the Year in a recent AP piece looking at Atlanta’s second round chances:

“They have quality depth,” he said. “Crawford has played a lot of minutes. Teague has played extremely well when he’s been in their rotation. He’s a guy that you can’t overlook. Joe Johnson has the ability to handle the ball. They’ve got a lot of depth in their backcourt. Their perimeter guys are really skilled.”

There’s a good chance that on the defensive end Atlanta deploys a hefty dose of the longer Joe Johnson on Rose, but this strategy can’t be a four quarter solution or Johnson will likely see himself get in a wee bit of foul trouble. But on the offensive end, maybe this turns into the most pleasant of surprises for Atlanta. Maybe Teague’s speed and athleticism give Derrick Rose and his not so great perimeter defense an unexpected headache. Maybe he’s able to push the envelope and force Rose to the bench with his own foul trouble quicker than the Bulls would like.

The Bulls can’t win a championship unless Rose averages 35 points a game. This hypothetical theory is of my own creation thanks to Boozer’s expected forfeiture of offensive responsibility (his splits against Atlanta this year are an unmemorable 8.5 points and five rebounds, his lowest scoring total against all teams) and the Bulls’ brittle reliance on Rose to take over in the fourth quarter. I’m not saying Atlanta will win this series, but with Teague they have somewhat of a secret weapon. A player with blazing speed, great handle, and an aggressive attack the basket mentality. The series will more likely come down to how well Josh Smith and Al Horford can handle Joakim Noah and Boozer, but today’s game ends in the backcourt. Ironically, given Hinrich’s injury, it’s where the Hawks could have the unexpected advantage.

Commentary: Jason Kidd’s Amorphous Contribution

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Since entering the league over 15 years ago, Jason Kidd has always been able to identify his team’s needs and fill them to the best of his 6’4″, 200 pound body’s ability. Through and through he’s grabbed necessary rebounds, fed his team’s hot hand in the right place at the right time, and dictated tempo with unparalleled decision making prowess. In these playoffs he’s decided to play the role of secondary scorer, an identity he’s rarely assumed since beginning his second stint as a Maverick, and the jury remains out on whether it’s a good move or not. Kidd leads all playoff competitors in three point attempts with 29, and he has one more rebound than assist—rare for every other point guard apart from Kidd and maybe Rajon Rondo. A few days ago the Wall Street Journal posted some interesting statistics dealing with Kidd and how much he’s relied on the three-point shot this season.  Read more…

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Commentary: The Tears Of A Fallen Star

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The most appropriate word to describe Brandon Roy’s all-too-sudden career free fall is tragic. The sadness of a perennial All-Star, possible future member of the Hall of Fame, player having all that he’s suffered for through the years be unconscionably ripped away with no reason or explanatory card in the mail to assuage the pain is more than discomforting. It’s dreadful. In these playoffs, the situation has stumbled to an even lower depth. After the Game 2 loss in Dallas, a frustrated Roy told reporters that as he looked on from the bench and watched guys who couldn’t hold a candle to his flame receive higher status on the rotation’s totem pole, the thought of crying crossed his mind. The inner pain of being looked over and knowing his coach had lost both the faith and trust he once had was too much to bear. Roy needed to vent, but was he right to do so?

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Commentary: Selecting From The Worthy

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

My parade of season ending award delivery will mercifully run its course soon enough, but first let’s take a look at one of the more overlooked yet genuinely important honors: Coach of the Year. Has there ever been a more wide open race than the one we’re currently in midst of? Doc Rivers is dealing with ridiculous pressure in Boston, Tom Thibodeau is making one hell of a first impression leading one of the league’s best teams in Chicago, George Karl (coming back from cancer) had to deal with the trading of his franchise player and magically turned it into one of the league’s happier stories, and Doug Collins started 3-13 but has since made Philadelphia a sexy sleeper pick.

But nobody, in my humble opinion, deserves the honor more than the Hornets head man, Monty Williams.

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Commentary: Miami’s Jump Shooting Savior

April 4, 2011 1 comment

Forget about statistics for just a moment and go with your gut to answer the following question: Which player, when the ball leaves his fingertips—mid-range jumper, maybe 10 feet to the three-point line—do you envision the shot slipping through the net every single time. No questions asked, and no need even watching the ball cut through the gym’s humidity, this jump shot is finding the rim’s square center. For this hypothetical, throw pressure situations out the window; it isn’t to win a game or put a team up one with 30 seconds left. This shot comes with 5:38 left in the second quarter down eight or with 8:21 left in the fourth up 14. This is the overlooked; the forgetful.

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Commentary: Anthony Randolph Finds Joy

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

A few years ago I purchased a white t-shirt with a picture of Len Bias emblazoned across its front. The photo used is an iconic one; Bias on draft night in his loose Celtics baseball hat, slightly tilted to the side. The limitless potential seeps from his all knowing, boyish smile; there is no color on the shirt except for the bright green hat. On the back there’s nothing but a fine-print sentence tattooed up by the neck. In light green type, it reads: The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. For a countless number of reasons, I love this shirt.  It’s devastating, mortal, a life lesson, and half-sentimental (I was born the year after Bias’ death) all rolled up in Medium sized 100 percent cotton.

(Before beginning, I’m not entirely sure how to seamlessly segue—if possible—from the catastrophic culture altering event that was Len Bias’ untimely death to Anthony Randolph being on the cusp of cracking the chains of “potential” and “undeveloped” that have been tightly wrapped around his ankles since entering the league, but here’s my starless shot in the dark.)

 

There’s a tragic quality in watching any person—whether it be by cocaine overdose, or the less serious disdain of elbow grease—fail to achieve what it seems they were put on Earth to do. This season Anthony Ranolph is averaging 19.3 points and 10 rebounds in three games as a starter. In the first two of those games (road battles in Dallas and Oklahoma City) Randolph scored 55 points and grabbed 22 rebounds. Admittedly, that sample size is way too small, so let’s look at his entire career. In 33 games as a starter since entering the league in 2008, Randolph’s averages look like this: 48% from the field, 11.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists. Nothing crazy but pretty decent numbers considering 30 of those games were amassed before he turned 21. At 6’11″ he has the type of body that frequently pops into the dreams of general managers, and was once described by DraftExpress as possessing “a pterodactyl wingspan and freakish athleticism.”

This from Hoopsworld:

“You have a tall, long, athletic and versatile player who fits in who fits into the system that we run here and playing in the spots on the floor that we want our bigs to play in,” says Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis, who started Randolph in place of the injured Kevin Love on Thursday. “I think it’s a natural fit for him. He’s still not real secure in what we do here on either end of the floor. He’s still learning, and there’s probably not enough time left in the season for him to ever get to that comfort level, but we see his ability to run the floor, his athleticism, his ability to shoot the basketball, and we envision him being a type of player who can guard certain players, maybe two, three or even four positions, not only on-ball, but also he’s a good weak-side help defender, as well.”

“I think he has a lot of upside and a lot of talent,” says Timberwolves swingman Wesley Johnson. “He can put the ball on the floor and really stretch the defense out. He’s really athletic, too, so he can really cause problems for our opponents. He can also block and alter shots, so he’s going to help us get up and down and be an up-tempo team.”

For Randolph, it’s just a chance to play…finally, to play.

I like watching players like Randolph grow, and seeing that progress stunted, to me, is as equally sad as a season ending knee injury (except in the case of Shaun Livingston, of course). To watch Randolph finally sniff the success so many saw in his future is a wonderful thing. As mentioned earlier, it’s only been two games so there’s nothing to get overly excited about, but when you tally a career high 31 points in your first start of the season, heads need spin. Yes, last night he scored just three points in 16 minutes, but there’s more to analyze in his positive performances than the loss against Boston; he was going up against an especially angry and motivated Kevin Garnett. Anthony Randolph has all the tools to succeed, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does now that they’ll likely be on full display for the rest of the regular season. Root for him. He deserves it.

 

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Commentary: The League’s Most Underrated Backcourt

March 22, 2011 2 comments

Kyle Lowry: Currently Basking In the Brief Glow Of Underrated (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

To be underrated in the NBA is the ultimate form of short term acknowledgment. As noted by several league observers, a player can only be underrated for so long before his increased exposure magically catapults him to the opposite end of the spectrum, overrated. (Paul Millsap, Kendrick Perkins, and David West are great examples to this rule.) Right now, as Houston finds themselves fighting to squeeze into the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, two of the league’s perpetually unnoticed players are beginning to form one of the most formidable and consistently dangerous backcourts in the NBA: Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin. The two are under contract to play alongside one another until at least 2013 (with Lowry locked down an extra year) and both define being underrated. From earlier this week on True Hoop:

Kevin Martin scored 34 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 110-108 win over the Utah Jazz, moving them within two-and-a-half games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Martin was 18-for-18 from the free-throw line, the most free throws without a miss by a Rockets player in the past 25 seasons. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the eighth time in Martin’s career that he shot 15-for-15 or better from the foul line, tying Dolph Schayes for the second-most such games in NBA history. Oscar Robertson did it 11 times. Martin’s teammate Kyle Lowry chipped in 28 points, a career-high 11 rebounds, and 10 assists for his first career triple-double. It’s the fifth-highest point total in a triple-double in the NBA this season.

With Lowry proving game after game he’s more than capable of leading a team as its starting point guard, and a healthy Martin putting together yet another elite scoring season that’s all but ignored by the national stage, the Rockets are set at two very important positions. Championships can be won with this backcourt. Martin is ninth in the league in usage percentage which might be one of the reasons why Houston isn’t a better team. Not to knock him, but with their foundation set in their starting rotation’s backcourt, all the Rockets need to compete for a legitimate championship is an All-Star caliber frontcourt presence. I realize this solution sounds elementary—like a Bulls fan saying “wait a minute, all we need is Dwyane Wade to take Bogans’ place, and we’re unbeatable!”—but more of it is realizing that whenever Houston chooses to quit treading water and swing a multiple assets for impact player type deal, they’ll be right there at the top.

Kyle Lowry: Thought to have a suitable career backup ceiling, a door opened for Lowry when Aaron Brooks went down with an injury early in the year. Opportunity presented itself and Lowry has more than taken advantage. Coming off the first triple double of his career, he was recently named the Western Conference Player of the Week, and his growing ability as a crunch time scorer (anybody who saw the loss to Phoenix last week knows what I’m talking about) has really raised his profile.  According to 82games.com, this season the Rockets have scored 5.6 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, tallying a net total of +382 points. Going back to his days at Villanova, I’ve always liked Lowry for his pugnacious style of play. He doesn’t back down from anybody, he attacks the basket (three shots at the rim per game) while still being able to create his own three-point shooting opportunities (37.5% of his three-pointers are unassisted), and he’s improving. His win shares, assist percentage, assists per game, effective field goal percentage, points per game, and three point percentage, are all career bests. I unfortunately was never able to watch Calvin Murphy play, but from what I’ve read and heard, Kyle Lowry might be a poor man’s Calvin Murphy. Certainly not an insult.

Kevin Martin: Kevin Martin’s career defines underrated. As mentioned in my brief blurb underneath his Grant Hill crossover clip, Martin leads the NBA in free throws made; he’s taken 27 fewer attempts than Blake Griffin yet has converted on over 100 more. He’s both attempted and made the fourth most three-pointers in the league and rarely has off shooting nights. He’s scored nine or fewer points in just three games this season, and in the eight games where he’s scored 33 or more points, the Rockets have won seven of them.

Taking a quick look at the league’s probable playoff teams, how many backcourts could you exchange Houston’s with and hardly skip a beat? By my count there are 11: Denver, Portland, Dallas, New York, Indiana, Philadelphia, Orlando, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, and Memphis. Boston, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and a Derrick Rose heavy Chicago are the only playoff ready teams who would see a drop off with Lowry and Martin replacing their starting ones and twos. No disrespect to Luis Scola, yet another underrated Rocket, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Morey can swing some sort of deal to bring in a legitimate front court dominator once the CBA situation clears itself up. Someone along the lines of a LaMarcus Aldridge would be nice…if you like science fiction. Dwight Howard is more realistic although not likely; maybe Brook Lopez is a suitable solution. Whatever Houston does to improve their team, breaking up the league’s most underrated backcourt shouldn’t be part of the solution.

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Commentary: The JaValevator Needs To Pump Its Brakes

March 16, 2011 3 comments

To say JaVale McGee’s arms are long doesn’t do them justice. Broom sticks are long. The crossbar on a soccer goal, also long. But the two spokes dangling from JaVale McGee’s shoulders? They’re more like those never ending guard rails hugging the sides of a highway. The moment you fly by one at 60 mph another sidles up beside you. Now pretend that you driving your car is actually an NBA guard driving into the lane, ball in hand, ready for liftoff.  Those guardrails are instead the league’s freakiest appendages. (If they could jump 40 inches off the ground or spin around and wipe a few dozen passing cars off the road whenever they felt like it.) This is the almighty power they hold and the limitless potential they allow.

After leading the league in block percentage last year, McGee’s currently tied in first with Darko Milicic; despite his inconsistent offensive play this season, his offensive rebounding percentage is higher than Pau Gasol’s. Signs of a game changing big man glow from his 7’1” frame. Raw and upside are both adjectives commonly used to describe basketball players born with the rare physical gifts it takes to play the game at a professional level. JaVale McGee has those gifts. At 23 and almost through his third year in the league, he’s still rawer, with more upside, than just about every prospect looking to enter the 2011 draft (save Perry Jones III). There’s his wherewithal to leap over or through almost every defender in the league and as we saw in the dunk contest, McGee can do things literally nobody else can even dream about. See this: 

Now here comes the lead, buried deep beneath JaVale McGee’s dignity. As you probably know by now, a certain Washington Wizards big man recorded a triple double last night; 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 blocks (!) in 39 minutes of play. Despite this valiant effort the Wiz lost by 19 points. Last night we were witness to the undeveloped side that comes with unlimited potential. In McGee’s case, as is the situation with most who never fully tap into their inner capabilities, the problem lies between his ears.

Courtesy of The Washington Post’s Michael Lee:

Coach Flip Saunders called four consecutive plays for McGee to reach the milestone. McGee first got the ball near the foul line and badly missed a runner off the backboard. He then got the ball on the left side of the block, turned around and shot an air ball about three feet over the rim. He got the ball near the foul line again, but in an effort to dribble around Thomas, McGee lost the ball out of bounds. His teammates kept looking for him, and John Wall eventually helped him reach his goal. With the Wizards trailing by 20 points in the final 30 seconds, Wall dove to the floor for a loose ball and turned around to place the ball in McGee’s hands. McGee drove inside for what he called “a dunk of relief” but accentuated it with a chin-up on the rim, collecting a technical foul as he nearly kicked the bottom of the rim. “We knew he was pressing,” said Wall, who had a triple-double in his sixth career game. “I heard him just calling my name when I picked it up, I gave it to him and I turned around, threw it to him, cleared the lane for him.”

Forget the intense overreaction to scoring his ninth point in a blowout loss, and a few minutes later, the technical foul for kicking the ball four rows deep and doing a pull up on the rim. I’m all for a player having a statistically impressive performance in a losing effort. It happens. But the way McGee went about obtaining his is wrong. All wrong. Going down the stretch it was clunky, embarrassing, falsely ordained basketball. The type of basketball which devalues exactly what makes the triple double such a hallowed benchmark. Reaching double digits in three different statistical categories is to be achieved organically as you scrape and claw towards a well deserved victory. By forcing a round ball through a square peg—exactly what JaVale’s last four possessions looked like—the performance goes for naught and will be remembered more for the ugly way in which it was achieved, if it’s remembered at all, than the impressive numbers in the box score. What’s the point of acquiring something when you depreciate its value in your process of securing it?

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