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Shook Ankles: Just How Amazing Is Kevin Durant’s Crossover?

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Which part of Kevin Durant’s game is the most hellish for a hopeful defender? He can kill in a variety of diabolical ways, but it’s safe to say none would even be close to inflicting the same amount of pain if it weren’t for that sweet, nightmarish jump shot. Trying to stop it must feel like hiding on a golf course. It can come from any direction, at any distance; never accompanied with a warning.

Thanks to that shot—part beauty, part carnivor—Durant’s offensive repertoire is too much to handle, like water seeping through porcelain tiles beside an overflowing bathtub.

A few days ago, Truth About It’s John Converse Townsend dragged Durant’s crossover into the light:

But where Durant really raised eyebrows was with his dizzying display of crossovers — executed with more precision and purpose than his Melo League counterparts, Chris Paul included — and a deceivingly quick burst to the hoop. Possession after possession, Durant left defenders off balance, outwitted and out of the picture before scoring with his choice of clever kisses off the backboard or inimitable two-handed jams over traffic.

The one we’re most accustomed to seeing (in the NBA) isn’t too flashy, but it’s effective, usually resulting in a path to the basket and frosty dunk to ice off the play. With one of the longest strides in the league, once he gets that sliver of room and takes off for the hoop, it’s at least two points for Oklahoma City.

The first two aren’t crossovers, but when his quick feet are combined with blatantly overlooked handle that defies physical laws, Durant shows off why at 22-years-old, he’s already the most unstoppable offensive player in the world.

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Essay: A Battle For Best Player Alive

May 23, 2011 3 comments

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…

Essay: Basketball’s Controversial Rip Move

March 30, 2011 7 comments

Last night the Thunder and Warriors played in one of the more exciting games we’ve seen since the All-Star break. Down six with less than 15 seconds to play, Reggie Williams knocked in a long ball to cut Golden State’s deficit to three, and on the ensuing inbound pass, Daequan Cook threw the ball to Monta Ellis who, of course, drained a game tying three-pointer. It was a miraculous comeback in a sea of regular season muck, but as the narrative tends to lean in basketball games played in Oklahoma City, the Thunder managed to pull things out in the extra period, winning the game 115-114 after Monta Ellis missed what would have been a game winning jumper as time expired. Read more…

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Recommended: Where There Won’t Be Any “Decisions” In 2011 Free Agency

March 25, 2011 Leave a comment

1) If you haven’t already seen it, one of my favorite writers, Bethlehem Shoals, took on the upcoming cycle’s least important free agents. It’s neither a sanguine nor pretty open market out there.

2) Last night David West suffered what might be a career shifting knee injury. In recent weeks he’s been quite talkative about his upcoming free agency; rightfully optimistic, sounding like a player who’s ready to reap the benefits of all the hard work put forth towards his profession. The primal screams that can be heard from the video linked above are as difficult to hear as anything in the sport, and I can only hope a good guy like West comes back stronger than before. On the long list of Things That Aren’t Fair In This World, a dedicated athlete tearing an ACL is definitely up there.

3) Not to be a selfish Sally, but if Kevin Love’s really out the rest of the year with a groin injury, my fantasy basketball team can kiss its championship chances goodbye.

4) Video evidence that the game’s most intense man is for real.

5) I like StatsCube. You should too. Here it takes a look at who should win the Most Improved Player award.

6) Great article on the staying in school vs. leaving early argument.

7) Hardwood Paroxysm’s wonderful look at the pressures Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant have ahead of them, and how they could shape the two youngsters.

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.

Shook Ankles: Pay This Man His Money

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

What’s to make of Aaron Brooks? He doesn’t, and never will, bring the same consistent level of playmaking as a Paul, Williams, Rondo, or Rose, but he’s quick enough to take over any game in stretches. Due to the pending CBA issue, Houston isn’t offering Brooks an extension, which obviously has him fuming. (This season he’s making less than Jordan Hill, Chuck Hayes, and Terrence Williams.) But if someone can either match Brooks up with a pass first point guard or bring him off the bench in a Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford capacity, his production and value would soar. Much like a rocket.

Essay: The Curse of Potential

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

“As long as people believed in him, McGinnis could do almost anything but, as time went by, people stopped believing in him and began believing in his potential. And that was impossible to live up to.”


In 1975, a 24-year-old ABA superstar named George McGinnis averaged 30 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists a game; he’d go on to share league MVP honors with Julius Erving. McGinnis wasn’t the best player in professional basketball, but you only needed one hand to count the few who were better.

The next three years of his career were spent in the NBA, on some moderately successful, and aesthetically pleasing, Philadelphia teams. His second season as a 76er, with Dr. J aboard as a teammate, McGinnis made his only NBA finals appearance, staking a two game lead on Bill Walton’s Trailblazers before crumbling in six. That season, statistically, McGinnis was just as integral a piece to one of the league’s most talented teams as Erving. The two both averaged around 20 points a game (with McGinnis taking a couple more shots) and four assists, but McGinnis was the better rebounder, grabbing 11.5 a night to Erving’s 8.5. Both players were 26-years-old.

The season before the Finals loss, things were set up for George to be Philadelphia basketball. It was his team, like Kareem had the Lakers, Cowens had the Celtics, and Walt Frazier had New York. As detailed in a superb SI profile, it was right around this time that McGinnis looked to be a lock for the Hall of Fame. He carved defenders up with ease and made opposing game plans useless. But after Dr. J came aboard, skepticism began to creep in between McGinnis’ ears. Erving went on to become the face of Philadelphia, and after a disappointing Eastern Conference loss to Washington one year later, McGinnis was shipped to Denver. His career would never recover.

A lot of people have myriad opinions as to why McGinnis fell from the sky. They range from lazy work habits and smoking cigarettes during games to Blazer great Maurice Lucas saying, “George wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he got moved around the league a lot and then it began to crop up that George maybe wasn’t as good as he was made out to be…if you’re George McGinnis and you’ve heard this a bunch of times, you might believe it.”

What McGinnis really suffered from, though, was the mental dilemma of expectation.  Too much weight on one man’s shoulders, too much burden.  1976 was his year to change the Sixers’ culture. Their general manager, Pat Williams, thought McGinnis would carry his team just as he had done for the ABA’s Indiana Pacers.  Instead, he had a poor playoff performance resulting in a first round exit.  The result, just five years later, at the age of 31, was a man who psyched himself out of basketball. Here’s an excerpt from Sports Illustrated:

It’s obvious that the Pacers don’t believe in McGinnis—not this McGinnis—and earlier this season they tried to persuade him to retire. McGinnis says he thought about retiring for a while, then decided that he didn’t want to go out with his head down, not at close to $500,000 a season. “I still feel I can make a contribution,” he says, “but it’s tough for me to have a normal game now. They expect so much.” Pacer Coach Jack McKinney concedes he may have given up on McGinnis too quickly when he got off to a poor start this season. “He doesn’t have that ability that used to make him so awesome,” McKinney says. “Some of the things he could do when he got his 30 points a night aren’t there anymore, but he compensates in some pretty nice ways. I didn’t give him enough encouragement. A good player doesn’t go sour at once without a loss of confidence.”

To say he didn’t pan out in a Sebastian Telfair kind of way would be both unfair and untrue, but George was supposed to be one of the greats; his highlights were supposed to be sealed in a vault somewhere; his name was supposed to be regularly dropped on national telecasts where color commentators would laugh and admonish their play-by-play partners for casually comparing George McGinnis to the players of modern day. But, alas, he never accomplished what he was born to do. His skills were left on the table and his abilities were squandered—like a 1970′s version of Shawn Kemp.

When discussing the league’s all-time great physical marvels, seldom does McGinnis’ name get picked from the hat. For a three year period he was as awesome a player as basketball has ever had, with a rare talent to effortlessly dominate the court. If Kobe is Michael, Durant is McAdoo with a higher ceiling, and Lebron is an Erving/Magic hybrid, then Blake Griffin would be George McGinnis. Griffin has already created more highlights than the average career can hold.  He’s double-teamed on a regular basis—there are, maybe, five players in the league who can guard him one on one—and tends to shred opposing front lines nightly. (He gets to the free throw line more often than everybody but LeBron and Dwight Howard.) Only 21, Griffin has quite the future ahead of him. Or so one should expect. Another player currently shoveling cement into a brilliant foundation is Kevin Love. Love has 51 double doubles right now, the highest pre-All-Star break total in league history. At the age of 22, he’s far and away the league’s premier rebounder. What these two share, along with youth, amazing consistency, and eye popping talent, are great expectations. The morning after Kevin Love’s double-double streak breaks, someone somewhere will ask what’s wrong with him. Should Love tally back to back seven rebound performances? Consider him washed up. For the rest of his 20s, if Love doesn’t lead the league in rebounding it’ll be the height of disappointment.  The same can be said about Kevin Durant (and his scoring), Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose (for their unparalleled floor leadership), and a number of other young superstars ready to grab the flame. To predict one, or all, of them to someday be inducted into Springfield isn’t completely insane. Based on the remarkable consistency they’re displaying so far, it’s entirely possible. Then again, that’s what they said about Mr. McGinnis.

Shook Ankles: Poor Andre Miller

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Since he entered the league over a decade ago, who has had a more underrated go than Andre Miller? Seriously, who? Apart from inconsistent defense late in his career, a sometime questionable shot selection, and a reclusive personality, what isn’t to like? He’s the type of point guard the league will seriously miss. The Tim Duncan of point guards; a solid, dying breed collection of fundamentals. I searched far and wide (for about 83 seconds) to find an Andre Miller crossover. He’s now played for five—soon to be six—teams, yet a quick “Andre Miller crossover” Google search doesn’t do him well. In all cases he’s the poor old victim, either falling over or looking like a statue. Someday, Shaky Ankles will post a positive Andre Miller clip. Somed…wait a second, we found one!

 

Ouch. Never mind.

 

 

Essay: The Game Within The Game

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Great individual match-ups in the NBA are a lot like Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: plays within a play.  Not often are we blessed with two person battles that nearly separate themselves from the game in which they’re participants.  Some nights it seems the stage is set solely for two special combatants; even though the score reads some large number like 112-108, the only digits fans take away are the impressive lone point totals tallied by two great rivals.  Sometimes the numbers don’t matter, and it’s just a good fight each time down the court. Last night, in the Rockets-Lakers game, with the scoreboard teetering back and forth in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant began to abuse Kevin Martin. There was jab step followed by ball fake followed by a pull-up swish right in Martin’s eye, and a baseline blow-by or two that made the Rockets defender look powerless. It didn’t seem fair.  Then a Houston time out was called and Shane Battier was inserted to defend Bryant, who all of a sudden had to work for his two points a whole lot harder than he wanted to.  With the score tied and four seconds remaining in regulation, the Lakers set up a play to free Kobe where he’d come off a Gasol pin down screen, catch a pass from Odom and hit the game winning shot somewhere around the edge of the key.  But Battier bulldozed the pick by Gasol, who crashed into Bryant as he tried to curl the pick, forcing a last second miss from Odom.  Even though this play involved several players, it helps capture the determination one player has in stopping another from completing his job. The individual battle.

Today, most of the great clashes come not at the center, forward, or swingman positions, but at the point. It’s far and away the most backloaded, overflowing-with-talent spot in the league; to be the best, you must beat the best, and if you’re a floor general chances are you’ll have a confidence boosting opportunity every other night. While beautiful point guard play is likely spearheading the game—in its on-court essence—into such a prosperous era, it’s partially responsible for the suffocation of great one on one performances.  In Oklahoma City there’s Westbrook with the ball in his hands more than Durant; Boston has Rondo orchestrating four future Hall of Fame inductees like a conductor; and in Utah and Chicago, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose have their team’s offenses run through them.  Overall, point guard isn’t a position designed to attack an individual opponent. It’s not the job description.  This isn’t to say I’m championing isolation play, but there’s a definite draw in watching two Goliaths pick their spots and blindly collide with each other once in a while. Throughout Sunday’s Heat-Thunder game, it seemed whenever LeBron chose to check Durant, he dominated. Balls were slapped out of Durant’s hands and a rhythm didn’t look to be found. Even though I sat with the majority of viewers rooting for OKC, to watch James certify his status as the game’s best player was great theatre.

But the individual match-up isn’t always for two Goliaths.  Sometimes David sticks his nose into the fray and the drama’s gravitational pull brings you to your seat’s edge just the same.  This brings me to Ariza, the league’s Icarus who has all but disappeared from the public spotlight down in New Orleans. He’s started every game this season, but is putting up the worst rebounding, assists, field goal percentage, and points per 36 minute numbers since his rookie season. (Right now, you could say he’s playing the role of David.) Tonight, on national television, the Hornets face off against Durant’s Thunder. The last time these two squared off, Ariza held Durant to his only scoreless fourth quarter of the season.  As the Oklahoman article suggests, much of the pregame hype will surround point guards Westbrook and Paul, but if you keep your eyes on Ariza each and every time he confronts Durant, there’s a good chance that individual match-up will overshadow the undivided game.

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