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Posts Tagged ‘Kobe Bryant’

Shook Ankles: Aged Does Battle With Elderly

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

How Kobe Bryant does this season, coming off offseason knee surgery—that, like Peyton Manning, would be receiving much more attention if it weren’t for a threatening labor stoppage—is one of the more interesting subplots heading into next year. It’s a powerful variable that could help determine a whole bunch of important stuff. If the Lakers are able to bounce back with Mike Brown as their head coach and Kobe is able to remain relatively healthy heading into the spring (not to use an excuse here, but the Kobe Bryant we saw in last year’s playoffs wasn’t exactly robust) then Los Angeles’ search for three titles in four years could thwart the likes of Miami and Oklahoma City—they’ll be flying under the radar even more so than last season and should (one would think) be as motivated as anyone after their perplexing playoff performance. By any and all means, I’m not a fan of Kobe Bryant, but I do recognize his greatness, and as he begins the inevitable fade towards representing a shadow of his former self, it’d be better for us all, as basketball fans, if we could catch one last season of relevant, transformational basketball from a player with unmatched drive and unparalleled credentials.

 

Categories: Shook Ankles Tags: ,

Essay: Breaking Down The Crossover, Part I

A few days ago, Rahat Huq, creator of the True Hoop Network’s Houston Rockets blog, Red94, approached me about my willingness to participate in a one on one discussion regarding the crossover dribble. I, of course, agreed. What follows is the first part of what I fear may be a never ending, life consuming conversation.

Rahat:  The crossover dribble move has long been my favorite “thing” in sports.  From dunks, to touchdowns, to offspeed sliders, there is a lot to be fascinated by in the world of athletic entertainment.  But to me, nothing quite holds the intrigue of the crossover dribble.  There is the obvious aesthetic appeal, yes, but the move represents so much more than that at a social level; it might be the greatest innovation in the game’s history.

When I found your blog I was excited.  So I must ask, what inspired its creation? Read more…

Essay: An Ode To Defense

May 16, 2011 2 comments

Here’s my ode to defense. A collection of scattered, partially contradicting thoughts that come in response to the recently announced NBA All-Defensive team. As these playoffs near an end, with each possession being valued like a rare jewel, watching defense is as equally stirring as offense. Kendrick Perkins banging on the block with Chandler and Haywood, maybe even stepping out to try his luck guarding Dirk and the Mavericks’ previously unsolvable pick and roll; wondering if after chasing Ray Allen for five games in the second round whether Dwyane Wade will have enough energy to not only counter Derrick Rose’s relentless scoring, but directly keep him from doing so; Dallas deciding who they’ll stick on Kevin Durant. All these subplots are fascinating and bring an added layer to the game’s narrative. Because of this and so much more, I decided to give this thankless duty a salute. It’s too important not to. Read more…

Essay: The First Round’s All-Disappointment Team

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

In the NBA playoffs, basketball heroes are given brand new birth certificates. It’s a two month period where lives change: Money is earned or lost, reputations are rearranged or firmly etched in stone, and legacies become real, almost tangible things. It’s where games matter. Where rookies like Paul George and Gary Neal can poke their heads through the soil, take a look around, and realize they belong. Where those who thought they were in the league’s mythical Supreme Court of lifetime membership are first humbled, then relegated. In the playoffs, great players don’t always come through with special performances; big shots are missed—or worse, passed up—and perceptions take 180 degree turns on a night to night basis. Here’s a group of guys from the first round who most likely wish they had a redo.

Read more…

Shook Ankles: Chris Paul Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

So far these playoffs have been a wild animal filled with unexpected bite. Untamed, undisciplined, unwilling to follow the suggested narrative. Chris Paul is that animal’s rabid child. Here he bites Andrew Bynum and won’t let go. Why the Lakers insist on switching on pick and rolls after Game 1′s debacle of defensive containment continues to befuddle both their fans and viewers. Maybe throw Artest on Paul? Match crazy with crazy?

Also, here’s Kobe Bryant showing the world why high tops are necessary on a basketball court.

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.

Essay: The NBA All-Star Game Re-Cap of Re-Caps

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

About 20 minutes before the opening tip to last night’s All-Star game, the beautiful Maria Menounos held an interview wth Diddy on TNT’s Magenta Carpet. After a few moments of captivating conversation involving which team Diddy roots for—he was born and raised in New York City, but owns “houses” in L.A., so his heart’s all torn up—the rapper/actor/producer/printer-of-money made a public gaffe by saying he wished Blake Griffin was playing in the night’s game. Griffin, of course, was selected weeks ago as a reserve and ended up scoring eight points in 15 crowd pleasing minutes. The fact that Diddy, who was either sitting courtside or damn near it on Saturday night, didn’t know Blake Griffin, the talk of the weekend, was playing in the actual All-Star game reaffirmed how little of an attraction it is compared to the entire “weekend” as an entity.  Last night’s exhibition wasn’t the best All-Star game of all time and it wasn’t the worst, but once again it sat in the background.

What ended up elevating the night was the duel-until-their-holsters-were-empty performances by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the two best players in the world. As the typical All-Star game goes in the first few quarter, both teams were crazy focused on putting on a show and entertaining what turned out to be a whole bunch of people. By the end, when LeBron got angry and discovered despite the fact it was an All-Star game he was still a man among boys, things got a little more competitive, but it wasn’t a memorable back and forth battle. Kevin Durant made sure of that.

Apart from Chris Bosh’s put back, Kobe’s baseline 180, LeBron’s vicious end to end tomahawk, Blake Griffin’s sidespin give and go alley-oop with Deron Williams, and Kobe, once again, sneaking a two handed stuff by LeBron, the game’s dunks weren’t anything special. Some players kept deferring while others couldn’t wait to shoot. But nobody in the latter category could dare hold a flame to Mr. Bryant, who while crowded by four (FOUR) Eastern All-Stars on one possession still managed to get a shot up*. (He drew a foul). It seemed like a majority of guys needed at least a quarter of play under their belts to find their rhythm and feel comfortable. Some guys settled down to open up their bag of tricks—Ray Allen air balled a three-pointer for the first time in 17 years, but followed it up with this ridiculous move later on—while others just couldn’t get it together. Namely Dwight Howard, who looked disinterested; Carmelo Anthony, who looked tired; Rajon Rondo, who played like someone was chasing him (not a compliment); Al Horford, who looked overmatched; and Dwyane Wade, who posted a plus/minus of -15, badly rolled his ankle, and was drunk.

MVP Observation:

If the game hadn’t been played in Los Angeles, no voters had access to a box score, and Kevin Durant twisted his ankle midway through the fourth quarter, a serious dark horse for MVP would have been Chris Paul. With his name’s sudden disappearance from “league’s best point guard” discussion, nobody came into the game with more of a chip on their shoulder than him, and it certainly showed. Paul dictated the All-Star game’s pace and tempo in a retro dominant way, much like Jason Kidd used to do. He broke down Rondo and Rose on several occasions—blowing by the two young guns like it was nothing—stole the ball five times, and hit shots when he was open. With his performance, Chris Paul reminded everyone who the league’s best point guard truly is, and when you factor in what he’s working with (rookie head coach, uncertain future, slew of below average teammates besides David West) all with two unhealthy ankles? It’s astonishing his name doesn’t come up in league-wide MVP debates more often.

Random But Interesting Facts:

Rondo had the second most assists in the game (eight), which is shocking when you consider how poorly he played.

Kevin Garnett was the only player to log less than 10 minutes of action. Probably a coincidence.

Amare Stoudemire grabbed three defensive rebounds in 28 minutes of play. In 11 minutes, Kevin Love had four.

The Western Conference sported three 7-footers: Dirk, Duncan, and Gasol. None of them technically centers.

In almost 11 less minutes of action, Deron Williams had the same amount of assists (seven) as Chris Paul.

The game’s only lead change came on a Carmelo Anthony lay-up just three minutes into the first quarter.

Under The Cover Observations:

LaMarcus Aldridge might be a better overall basketball player than Kevin Love right now, but he can’t change the game’s momentum with the flick of his wrists. Not knocking Aldridge, because only one player can do this, but Kevin Love’s ability to throw a Tom Brady outlet pass should make him a prerequisite lock for the next six All-Star games. Let’s briefly walk through his end of the first half bomb to Chris Paul, aka the game’s most overlooked stroke of genius.  With 1.4 seconds left on the clock and Love set to inbound from the baseline, he two hand overhead lobbed a beautifully placed ball into the hands of a running Chris Paul right at the opposite free throw line. The pass is an incredible one not because of its silly distance or pin point accuracy, but when it happened; its context. I know it’s an All-Star game and nobody plays defense in All-Star games, but to throw a pass over Rajon Rondo, one of the game’s best ball hawks, when he should be expecting the long outlet, is very, very impressive. Love had three or four passes like this in the game, but none more impressive than the buzzer beater to end the first half. 

Slightly less impessive was LeBron’s decision to have Chris Bosh turn the game’s most important three ball into a misguided scud missile, passing up a wide open shot for himself in the process.

The Halftime Show:

Nothing much to say about the Halftime Show, except it was 6785142 times better than the Super Bowl’s and made every man who chose to watch it with his wife/girlfriend feel incredibly uncomfortable. The NBA would be foolish not to include an annual Rihanna performance into the “Guaranteed Invitation For Kevin Love’s Outlet Pass” contract.

This also dropped over the weekend…

*This quote from Stoudemire, capturing the Black Mamba in a nutshell: “You could tell he started out from the start, he wanted to get the MVP…He was not passing the ball, at all. But that’s Kobe.”

Shook Ankles: Beno Udrih Proves He’s Better Than Kobe Bryant

February 11, 2011 2 comments

Or something like that. Today brings two, maybe three Beno Udrih crossovers. Why? Well, first of all, despite his name and haircut, Beno Udrih is actually a pretty cool player. It’s almost like he sneaks up on unsuspecting opponents who stand around and sneer while everyone’s awaiting the opening tip.  But then, when he gets that ball in his left hand and quickly darts on by, leaving a helpless defender rear ended, reading the “Udrih” on his Kings jersey, the jig is up Paul Newman style. Beno can ball.

Categories: Shook Ankles Tags: ,

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.

Commentary: Hating On A 41-Point Outing

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Let me begin by saying, in full disclosure, that I dislike Kobe Bryant.  I’ve never enjoyed his on and off the court ego driven antics, admired the way he treats people, or thought this was cool.  What is indisputable about the man, however, is his uncanny offensive ability.  Kobe Bryant will go down as either the greatest or second greatest player of the past decade. The evolvement of his game is comparable to Jordan, in the way he’s made us think transforming your offensive strategy to accommodate your body’s limitations is easy, is beyond impressive.  He’s a tireless worker, top 10 all-time competitor, and virtually complete scoring talent, but does his offensive monopolization really help? One significant criticism that’s followed him throughout his career (specifically the post-Shaq, pre-Gasol years) is the way he holds onto the ball with a black hole level of self-seeking dominance. A microcosm of how spectacular and mind blowing his skills are can be encapsulated on January 22, 2006, when Bryant dropped an unforgettable 81 points on Toronto.

Equally astounding about this performance is the two assist tally.  Two. Assists.  In his 48 starts this season he’s recorded four or fewer assists 26 times, including yesterday’s 0 assist, 41 point performance in a loss to Boston. While nobody in Laker purple dared chastise Bryant publicly after the game for his blatant lack of recognizing he has four teammates on the court with him at all times, don’t let the game’s basic principles fall on deaf ears.  Basketball is a team game that values passing as much as shooting. Comparing Bryant’s performance to Paul Pierce (who finished with 32 points on 11 fewer shots), one’s brilliance came naturally within the flow of the game while the other’s looked like a chunk of metal being forced down a garbage disposal. Pierce got his looks several different ways: back cutting Luke Walton for an easy layup, playing the inside outside game with Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett for wide open three pointers, and when isolated with Ron Artest, making quick one or two dribble moves before getting his shot off.  To contrast, Kobe would bring the ball up the court, drive into the teeth of Boston’s defense on an isolation play, and either make an extremely difficult shot look easy, or make an extremely difficult shot look extremely difficult.  There was never involvement of any teammates (Kobe once took 15 straight shots during a late game stretch) and as the Celtics started to pull away, all Bryant could do was go one on five while every other Laker stood by, out of rhythm, and incapable of contributing.

Here, courtesy of Rob Mahoney at Off The Dribble, is a clip of what I’m talking about:

Here’s J.A. Adande’s take:

The new standard the Celtics have established that the Lakers haven’t reached is in the decidedly less physical but more aesthetically pleasing category of teamwork.

“When we play together as a team,” said Paul Pierce, who led the Celtics with 32 points, “we’re tough to beat.”

There was none of that from the Lakers, with Kobe Bryant taking as many shots as the Lakers’ entire starting frontcourt. Even though Bryant was more efficient than usual — he made 11 of his first 18 shots and 16 of 29 on his way to 41 points — the Lakers still couldn’t hang with Boston. Bryant’s offensive outburst caused his teammates to check out and stop participating in their sets.

On one first-half play, Lamar Odom remained in the corner while Bryant brought the ball upcourt, Odom not bothering to prepare for a pass he knew would never come (it didn’t). On a second-half set, with Bryant on the wing and a low-post spot there for the taking, neither Odom nor Pau Gasol bothered to occupy it, as they both stood near the top of the key.

While this performance isn’t a surprise to anybody who’s followed Kobe’s career, it still never seises to amaze how someone so unstoppable can be a detriment to their team’s chances of victory. This isn’t to say something ridiculous like L.A. is better without him, or to completely overreact at yesterday’s 0 assist game (Kobe’s first of the year), but to watch a player who can do whatever he wants on a basketball court decide passing the ball isn’t necessary—in one of the season’s biggest games—is perplexing.

Categories: Commentary Tags: ,
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