At the behest of those who enjoy watching beautiful people doing beautiful things, Ben Wallace has announced he will retire at the end of this season. One of the hungriest underdogs to ever play basketball, Wallace hammered himself into a niche with unprecedented brute force, becoming known for much, much more than a scraggly afro.
He was respected, beloved, and, to some degree, feared. Wallace was a rare breed: SO good as a rebounding defensive presence and SO bad as an offensive threat. In his honor, I’ve decided to rank all the modern day one-dimensional players, with Ben Wallace in mind as the Godfather of them all. The league has very few players who’re equally effective on offense as they are on defense, but one doesn’t have to overshadow the other (for example, the 2008 Kevin Garnett tilted the entire league with his defensive intensity—it became apart of his identity as he forced the Celtics to keep up on their way to a championship—but it wasn’t like he struggled on offense); this list highlights 14 guys who excel on one end of the floor while leaving much to be desired on the other. Read more…
If your enjoyment of basketball as a game runs deep into the whys and hows which explain the tendencies of every player, then you probably love advanced statistics. They exist to explain what’s unexplainable (at first) to the naked eye. They’re both fun to pour over when you’re bored and crucial instruments in deciding the limits of million dollar contract extensions.
The statistic being put under the microscope right now is one rarely—if ever—mentioned on television broadcasts or highlight reels. It’s awkward from the tongue and slightly confusing as to what it specifically constitutes, being that it’s so based on the subjective, but “percent of field goals assisted” (%ast) is underrated in its importance. Read more…
In the grand scheme of what’s altruistically important in life, I believe it’s fair to suggest all teachers, doctors, surgeons, and members of the armed forces should be given financial compensation of equal or greater value to that of which is awarded professional athletes. Their actual impact on human life is indisputably greater, more important, and further reaching. Of course, they don’t (and never will) because the businesses they’re in don’t create the billions upon billions of dollars in gross revenue that the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL produce on an annual basis. They also have an uncountable number of members in their labor force, making each worker’s slice of pie much smaller than that of the athlete. Call it sad. Call it unfair. Call it horribly disproportionate. Call it the real world. Read more…
Each year in the NBA, roughly 2,542* basketball games are played before the Finals arrive. For the most part these games are forgotten—not too many people are able to recount where they were in 2004 when Utah defeated Los Angeles 115-107, snapping their nine game losing streak. The fabric of each season consists of such inconsequential hardwood squabbles, but much like a 128 minute movie that’s more remembered for its special ending, the mental imprint that’s carved in our heads for each season is defined by whatever occurs in the final series. Read more…
Back when I was in high school, at least twice a month I elected to get my hair cut at a communal barbershop located just outside Cambridge’s Central Square. Each time I visited I was greeted with vivacious conversation surrounding one of three topics: Basketball, boxing, and African-American artistry. The discussions were almost ceremonious in their consistency; questions were posed, debated, and ultimately resolved by whoever happened to be holding the long, potentially threatening, wooden broom. Men of wide ranging knowledge such as Henry Louis Gates Jr. were regular participants, and the chatter which made the shop palatial would put any talking head program airing on popular television today to permanent shame. Read more…
If you saw last night’s special on TNT, you witnessed an all-time intense All-Star debate between Kenny Smith and Chris Webber. The subject, more or less, was this: Much like the annual MVP debate—what specific criteria makes one player more valuable than another—it seems people are having a difficult time describing what constitutes an All-Star. Smith is on the side of rewarding good players who contribute on winning teams, while Webber and Charles Barkley believe All-Star games are made to showcase the best players, and the best way to gauge that is by looking at individual statistics. Neither side is right nor wrong. All-Star invitations should be made on a case by case, player by player basis; when you surround an argument with hypothetical points you’re going to run in circles more times than not. ”Does Lamar Odom deserve to make the team because he’s the third best player on a championship contender?” is a debatable question. “Would Odom lead the league in double doubles if he played for a losing team like Minnesota?” is not. Yes, it’s true that players on poor teams have more opportunities to dabble with impressive statistics than those who compete within the framework of teamwork and sacrifice, but as goes the case by case, player by player motto, just look at Kevin Love’s numbers! You’d have to be crazy not to vote for him. I’m talking John Malkovich “In the Line of Fire” crazy. It just seems incomprehensible how someone who dominates one of the most important aspects of his sport can’t be an All-Star. Now without further ado, here’s who I believe are the Western Conference All-Star reserves.
First Guard: Manu Ginobili. At 39-7, the Spurs have not only paced the entire league through their first 46 games, but their rejuvenated, up tempo offensive philosophy (up to third in offensive rating from last season’s ninth) has been the biggest surprise. And the number one reason for it is a healthy Manu Ginobili. He leads the team in points (18.7), three pointers (just over two a game—he also leads the league in attempts with 280), free throw attempts (just under six), and steals (just under two). If there were a section in the Hall of Fame devoted to the craftiest players in league history, Ginobili’s bust would greet visitors at the door. The way he maneuvers into the lane with such ease is almost cheating, like a caged mouse who somehow got his hands on the maze’s blueprint. Ginobili is a perfect example of a player whose stats could be borderline astronomical if he were a dim light on a crummy team, but instead he understands the importance of the extra pass. After all this time, and all the mileage on his thought to be busted ankles, Manu Ginobili is averaging more minutes per game than he ever has in his career. That’s why he’s worthy.
Second Guard: Deron Williams. Utah is falling apart. It’s clear, it’s obvious, it’s sad. A recent article by John Hollinger cites their point guard as being far from why. Williams is slowly becoming one of those players who fans take for granted, yet right now he’s on pace to average career highs in points, minutes played, and shots taken. Thanks to Al Jefferson’s fitting into Utah’s offense like Keith Olbermann at a Tea Party rally, Williams has had more responsibility placed on his shoulders than ever before. (He’s led his team in scoring just once in his career, two years ago when Carlos Boozer only played in 37 games due to injury; this year will be the second.) Or, to make an open and shut case, you can just say Williams is averaging 22 points and nine assists per game.
First Forward: Dirk Nowitzki. Before he had that awkward leg injury, Dirk was the hands down leading MVP candidate—the team is 28-8 in games he’s played in. Nowitzki is a high volume jump shooter who is shooting a ridiculous 51 percent from the field, which happens to be a career best. I’ve never been a huge Nowitzki fan, but I will admit his career has either been transcendental or one in a billion. Those are both meant as compliments. I don’t know what else to say except he’s been an All-Star every season since 2002, and right now he’s shooting as well as ever.
Second Forward: Kevin Love. We covered him a little bit at the top. For whatever reason he’s one of the most controversial All-Star choices in recent memory. No offense to NBA fans across the country, but how on earth did Luis Scola get more votes than this guy? He leads the NBA in offensive, defensive, and total rebounds (15.7 per game!). He’s averaging 45 percent from beyond the arc while making exactly three a game. He’s had eight games with 20 or more rebounds and 29 of his 45 starts have resulted in at least 15. He already has 40 double doubles and is a 20 point per game scorer. Yes, his team has 10 wins but no, Love isn’t to blame—he’s fourth in the entire league in win shares, which estimates the number of wins contributed by a player. I’ve been a little back and forth on this over the past several weeks, but as of now my opinion is etched in cement: If Love isn’t an All-Star, nobody is.
Center: Pau Gasol. He’s placed here despite being listed as a forward on the ballot because every other option at center (besides maybe Nene) is a complete and utter joke. At the age of 30 and in his prime, Gasol is having a typical season for him: 19 points, 11 boards, two blocks. And with a 33-13 record and league leading offensive rating, so are the Lakers. Gasol is second in the league in win shares; he leads L.A. in blocks per game, minutes (37), and rebounds. With the incredible options we have at the forward position out west this year, Gasol fitting in at center will help assuage a few of the arguments.
First Wild Card: Blake Griffin. If you had to say, as a casual basketball fan, who the most exciting player in the NBA was, a highlight reel of Blake Griffin elevating over the New York Knicks in an earth shattering 44 point performance would pop into your head. Hands down, man down. Griffin is averaging 23 points (on 52 percent shooting) and 13 rebounds a night, while registering a jaw dropping 392 free throw attempts through the first 45 games of his career. That’s more than LeBron and Wade. The league didn’t have time to put Griffin on their radar; from day one they were in his bomb shelter. As long as he stays healthy, the guaranteed Rookie of the Year will see the All-Star game his entire career.
Second Wild Card: Monta Ellis. Without a doubt the most vexing choice I’ve made so far, but hear it out. Monta Ellis has played over 40 minutes 29 times this season (he leads the league in minutes), and in his 45 starts—with more bumps and bruises than the average prolific scorer—he’s posted at least 20 points 35 times. If being an All-Star is all about individual success, how can a case be made against Ellis? He’s tied with LeBron James at 25.8 points per game for third in the league (more than Dwyane Wade), he’s made 32 more shots than Kobe Bryant, and he’s third in steals while defending a bigger two guard each and every night. On top of all these numbers, the 6’3″ Ellis is one of the most effortless scorers in the league. He gets into the lane with an uncanny ease—he attempts five shots at the rim per game, tied for second among shooting guards—and to top it all off, Ellis is really fun to watch. Doesn’t that count for something?
“All teams go through tough times. We’re going to grow from this. At the end we’ll be the last team standing.”
This was Jason Terry, in an exuberant post-game interview, after downing the Lakers 109-100 last night. The game was played in Dallas, Andrew Bynum (more on him in a special guest post later) left early with a hyper-extended right elbow, and, for one night, Jason Kidd looked like an insulted and vengeful Larry Bird from behind the arc—he made five three-pointers. Basically, the statement made by Terry was a slight embellishment of reality. Given his team’s poor play as of late—they’d lost six straight heading into the game—and the Caron Butler injury/championship chances death blow which was announced a few weeks ago, the proclamation came off more like a threat than a prediction.
As I type this, the Mavericks are done. Flat-lining. Toast. The Charlotte Bobcats. Deceased. Buried under ground. No longer with us. They’re a veteran team with an MVP candidate, a Hall of Fame point guard, height, and a deep bench, so obviously they should and will make the playoffs. But are they elite? Can they win a championship? Not with these players; largely the same group that was easily eliminated by San Antonio in last season’s first round.
What Dallas needs, in no small order, is a resurrection. They need help. With Dirk an old 32, Butler done for the season, Kidd an ancient 37, and Shawn Marion having his least productive season in 10 years, the Mavericks are arguably more desperate to make a move than any team in the league.
I’m not talking about irrevocably altering human life as we know it with a Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter, and Mickael Pietrus for Earl Clark, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu type deal, but I am talking big names and big consequences. Should they roll the dice on the future with plans for today? I say yes. The Mavericks were built for the present ever since the Devin Harris deal was made, but while rumors of bringing the All-Star back into the fold are persistent, he isn’t the answer. Neither is Kevin Martin, Andre Iguodala, Antawn Jamison (who, if dealt, would officially become the league’s least excitable former All-Star mercenary), or Peja Stojakovic.
The answer to all their problems—a hybrid mix of guardian angel and heart defibulator—is, dare I utter thou’s name less I shudder furthermore; the one, the only, Carmelo Anthony. Dallas could throw together the incredibly juicy package of Rodrigue Beaubois (a 22-year-old Frenchman who’s drawn comparison to Rajon Rondo and is currently signed to a peanut butter and jelly cheap contract through 2014), the expiring contracts of Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson, and a 2011 first round draft pick. The deal makes too much sense for both sides. Despite already having Ty Lawson as a possible point guard of the future, Beaubois remains one of the league’s best kept secrets. His best case scenario: Tony Parker a la Rondo. The expiring deals of Chandler and Stevenson are a plus for obvious reasons, and so is the draft pick. Even if Anthony isn’t willing to sign an extension to stay in Dallas (which he could easily be talked into doing if he leads the Mavericks to a championship), the team would be a legitimate contender once again, if not a drastically improved, talk-of-the-league, offensively soul-crushing squad. Sure they’d lose a little size and some defensive intangibles with Chandler’s departure, but I’m sure the Mavericks could swing another deal for a big man before the deadline passes. They can’t worry too much about that component in a blockbuster season saving trade like this one. Pairing Carmelo Anthony with Dirk Nowitzki would be an unspeakable horror for everyone in the league except Jason Kidd. Defensively they’ll leave much to desire, but if I’m Mark Cuban, I cross that bridge when I get there.
As Jason Terry clearly stated, don’t count his guys out. When it’s all said and done they’ll be the last team standing. May I briefly interject with a few words of advice. Grab Anthony, then you’ll have the NBA by the throat