Predicting the results for an upcoming NBA season, and then blogging about them, can be both pointless and embarrassing. Despite it also being super fun, I’m switching up the normal “Shaky Ankles NBA Preview” style by leaning less on fortune telling and more towards things I’m expecting to excite/intrigue/depress me throughout the next eight months of watching basketball.
Over the past couple weeks I’ve subliminally let my thoughts on MVP and Rookie of the Year known, and since the other major awards that matter are boring and predictable (Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard/Sixth Man of the Year: James Harden/Most Improved Player: Darko Milicic) I’ve decided to go a different route. Read more…
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…
That’s a tough question to answer. Really, really tough. To be nice, Martin dooooes look quick…
(We’ll leave it at that.)
It’s probable that in its beginning stages of existence, the crossover was designed as a blow by maneuver, designed to either open up the floor for a player’s teammates or result in a high percentage shot at the rim. But in today’s game of impenetrable, multi-layered defensive schemes, the most confident players use it to create space for a wide-open jumper of their choosing; most famously seen in Allen Iverson’s all-time juke of Michael Jordan (to which Iverson later admitted despite showing Jordan his best trick in a bag full of them, the shot was still nearly blocked).
This in and out, between the legs step back that Tyreke Evans puts on a determined Kevin Martin is a pure thing of beauty. Evans knows ahead of time that, bad foot and all, he wants no part in driving towards a Luis Scola/Chuck Hayes sandwich, so he “settles” for a wide open jumper. Some would say this isn’t a great shot—a long range two-pointer—but if Tyreke Evans is ever going to become the type of perennial All-Star he at one point looked on his way to becoming, he needs something like this in his arsenal. When healthy he can drive to the hoop as good, if not better, than everyone in the league. This clip can be seen as proof that his sophomore (injury induced) slump will, in the long run, make him a better, more complete offensive player—when he absolutely needs a basket, Evans knows how to get it.
At 6’6″ and 220 pounds, the 21-year-old has no reason to fear resistance on his fierce drives to the hoop, but should he need a breather, going to the well and discovering a move as dynamic as this one shouldn’t be a frowned upon option.
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.
So, this isn’t what you’d call a top of the line ankle breaker, but boy oh boy is it effective. Kevin Martin (more to come on him later) has a lion’s heart. He has more free throws than anyone in the league this season and weighs about 165 pounds. Why doesn’t he get the love he deserves? Is it the funky shot? The perpetual playing for non-playoff contenders? The one dimensional reputation? What? What else can he possibly do for you? While I calm myself down, hopefully this clip catches your attention; maybe even turning you into a Kevin Martin believer. Rumble young man, rumble.