Big men typically don’t emerge on this site with ankle breaking crossovers, but this move from Joakim Noah is more than worthy.
Some things should never happen. In the clip above, Joakim Noah looks like he’s trying to execute a simple in and out move to attack the basket, but never has complete control of the ball. The result is a non-move and some quick head-jerking. Meanwhile, his defender’s left foot happens to slip on what MUST be an unfortunately placed wet spot. The result? A truly embarrassing moment in time.
Friday night’s Bulls/Clippers game was quintessential entertainment; why attendance is up and ratings continue to soar. There were lobs and dunks, a regular season point guard duel for the ages, and a playoff similar atmosphere that tricked both head coaches into playing their starters more minutes than they probably would’ve liked. Both teams played with an intense attitude that belied their general reluctance to treat the contest as holding more than 1/66 of value. And both looked as though the realization of meeting each other in the NBA Finals as a realistic possibility was burning behind their eyes.
On this play, the instincts that have made Joakim Noah such an effective defender work against him. Instead of thinking about context, and the average jump shooter threatening with a shot, he sees the up fake and closes out hard. Too hard. A window is flung open, allowing Blake Griffin yet another highlight dunk to place on his already historic personal reel. If we’re tallying the top 10 from this game alone, it’s questionable whether or not this move cracks the bottom 5.
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.
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.