Monthly Archives: February 2008

Ball Movement 2.29.08

There are other games you can watch tonight, as always. But honestly? There’s only one you should. And we feel like not giving it extra special attention would be a crime. So we only have one ball movement tonight. You should in no way think this has anything to do with Corn’s girlfriend moving to North Carolina today or the fact that it’s Friday and we don’t give a crap because of all the posting we’ve done this week. See you Monday, kiddos. Sporadic postings this weekend, come by if you get a chance.

REASON TO WATCH UTAH JAZZ AT NEW ORLEANS HORNETS:

If You Want Blood, You Got It: We love teams that hate each other. And the Jazz and Hornets hate each other. We want these two to be in Western Conference Finals for the next five years. Deron Williams loves beating Chris Paul. LOVES IT. It’s like morphine for him. The man goes bezerk when he sees him. Conversely, the Hornets need to put a win streak together in order to get some distance from the pack. Tyson Chandler versus Boozer could get downright nasty. David West presents matchup problems for anybody, but the Jazz can throw some different looks at him. CP3 needs a knockout game tonight, because you know Deron-Run-Run will be en fuego. So settle in, get comfy, grab a beer, turn on the WWL, and witness the Bloodsport. Kinjate!

Utah Jazz at New Orleans Hornets, 8PM EST, ESPN

Great Exercises in Internet NBA-Related Postings 2.29.08

Corn’s Enlightening, Inspired, Completely Unbiased and Magnificent Post of the Day

In case you didn’t know, Greg Popovich instructed Brent Barry to “not pull a Stackhouse” when he got traded last week. And, since the Spurs have one of the smartest front offices in the league, they made sure to keep Barry close to home. They knew Presti (a former Spurs disciple) would buy Barry out — because they told him to. They also asked Brent to pretend like he was interested in joining other teams, all of them of championship caliber. In doing so, they asked him to gradually whittle down his choices until he got to the Spurs and their most hated enemy, the Suns. So, Barry teases the Suns with his possible signing and then decides that his “family” means more to him, so he stays in SA. WHAT A FREAKING SHOCKER!!!! Who did not see this one coming. Anyone who didnt think Barry was going straight back to the Spurs is full of crap. Yet another well timed, smartly played, up-yours gut punch both to Phoenix and the NBA at large. This is why they are champions and also why everyone outside of that useless city hates them. Even Texans don’t like San Antonio. Why should we?

NBA D-League Profile: Blake Ahearn

Blake Ahearn is not tall. He’s not exceptionally fast, nor does he have unbelievable acceleration. He does not have what is commonly referred to as “tremendous upside.” He is not freakishly athletic. He is not naturally gifted. He’s just a very talented basketball player that wakes up every single day and does whatever he can to get better.

Blake didn’t go to a major program. He wasn’t heralded by magazines. He came from St. Louis Missouri, out of DeSmet Jesuit High School. He went to Missouri State University in Springfield, MO. He wasn’t discussed in draft breakdowns, didn’t have a video package on him prepped by ESPN. He was just another college player that graduated. and was expected to disappear. Funny thing, though, Blake Ahearn didn’t plan on disappearing. He planned on doing what he’d always done. Working hard, getting better, succeeding in the face of doubt, and playing in the NBA.

I had no idea who Blake Ahearn was until about a week ago. I went to cover a Toros game for the Austin Chronicle and got the media notes. I noticed that since Ahearn had moved to the starting spot 7 games ago, he was averaging 27 points a game. “That’s a nice little bump,” I thought. “Wonder if the kid’s any good.” Blake turned in 27 points on 53% shooting, with 4 assists and a steal. But numbers can be easy to rack up in the D-League, same as the NBA (hello, Larry Hughes). Blake’s wasn’t a statistical fluke, though. He exhibited poise and versatility, running the offense and showing exceptional decision making for when to slow the game down and when to speed it up. He pushed when they had the break, and pulled up when they needed to reset. And he shot when he knew he had the look. I came away very impressed with him. So I decided to track him down and talk to him.

The thing that surprised me off the bat was Blake’s confidence. This is a rookie, mind you. I’ve found in the D-League that it’s rare to find guys that aren’t on assignment from an NBA club with confidence. They’re either trying to find their footing in the league and constantly weighing whether they’re wasting their time and if they should just go to Europe, or they’re vets that have bounced back and forth and seem weary, just hoping to get some measure of security somewhere. Blake was all guns when I asked him about Europe. Before that, he’d been very casual, talked about how he was trying to open up his point game since he knew he didn’t have the size to play the 2 guard in the NBA. He talked about the game and his feelings on it. When I asked him about how he felt about his chances of being called up, and if he’d be heading overseas anytime soon to take the money (an everyday conundrum for D-League players), though, he centered. He looked me straight in the eye, and said,

“I didn’t grow up as a kid dreaming of playing in Europe. I’m going to play in the NBA.”

One of the reasons Ahearn may have so much determination about himself is that he doesn’t seem to think anyone else has it for him. When I sat down to talk to him over the phone yesterday, I asked him why he doesn’t think he’s been called up yet. His answer was revealing about how he approaches the challenges in front of him.

“You know, that’s a good question. I feel like I can play now. I think it’s just… people are hesitant. Each level I’ve gotten to, people have doubted me. When I was in St. Louis, people said I should play in a small, Division II school. I went to a Division I. Then in college, my coach said if I made a shot, or made a three in the game, that’d be good. I started scoring consistently. I don’t look like a basketball player. People don’t think I can do it. That’s why I work so hard, I want to prove people wrong. “

Blake learned to lean on his talents, on skills, to excel. His game is clearly inspired by Steve Nash, and you can see it with the way he approaches the game, right down to the way he tests the perimeter like Nash. He also has mastered the fundamentals to add the little details to his package. And when I say mastered, I mean mastered.

Turns out Blake Ahearn is a record holder. Blake owns the record for career free throw percentage in the NCAA. He shot 94.6% for his career. Think about that for a tick. That means, if you take 100 of his free throws, he’s probably going to hit 95 of them. He had a down year his senior year, only shooting 92%. Yeah.

Funny thing, guess who’s on top of the D-League for free throw percentage? Yeah, that is funny.

You can tell from talking to him, though, that he doesn’t like to talk about it, for fear of being turned into “the free throw guy.” It’s clear that free throw shooting is just another aspect of his game that Ahearn is trying to make perfect. Each day, with each shot, always pushing, always working. Trying to get better. Trying to make the league. Trying to achieve his dream.

And he’s convincing people. One shot at a time.

Blake Ahearn was kind enough to take some time out of obsessively watching basketball to sit down with me for an interview.

Matt: Do you still hold the record for free throw percentage, that you know of?

Ahearn:Yes I do.

Matt:How do you feel about that?

Ahearn:I don’t talk about it a lot. That’s what people knew me for. But I like to think I do more than just shoot free throws. It’s not something you like to look back on when your playing days are gone.

Matt:You’re also leading the D-League in free throw shooting. That’s a little bit insane. Is that something you keep track of?

Ahearn:Actually I don’t. I haven’t looked at my stats this year. I’m a superstitious guy and I kind of don’t want to know. My cousin calls me all the time and lets me know if I’m doing good or if I need to step it up a little bit. I’ve never been a guy that follows stat. If you get to looking at him and get caught up in them, you should just go out and play, it’ll take care of itself.

Matt:How many free throws do you shoot a day?

Ahearn:During my workout in the offseason, I’ll make 152. during the year, I’ll make 102 a day. In the d-league, with the lack of facilities, we don’t have the gun, so… I’ve made 102, I try and do the same here.

Matt:You told me the other night that you were focusing on becoming more of a combo guard. Can you tell me what that process involves? Is it mostly work on your own, or does the D-league or the individual teams work with you on those things?

Ahearn:When i played the 2, I knew I’d have to learn to play point guard, it’s one of those things where you just kind of have to do it. I obviously watch a lot of basketball. I watch a lot of Steve Nash, he’s similar to me, 6 foot white guy, not a lot of speed. The more i put myself in a point guard situation, the better I can become.

Matt:What do you think is the biggest thing keeping you back from the NBA?

Ahearn:You know, that’s a good question. I feel like I can play now. I think it’s just… people are hesitant. Each level I’ve gotten to, people have doubted me. In the St. Louis division, people said I should play in a small division 1 school. Then in college, my coach said if I made a shot, or made a three, that’d be good. I don’t look like a basketball player. People don’t think I can do it. That’s why I work so hard, I want to prove people wrong.

Matt:What players have you tried to emulate?

Ahearn:Steve Nash is the model. He relies a lot on skill. Passing, dribbling, shooting. My favorite player of all time is Pete Maravich.

Matt:Did you enter the NBA draft?

Ahearn: No, I didn’t. My agent probably put me in. But I couldn’t tell you. It was a hard year. I went to Portsmouth, and didn’t shoot very well. And basically, no one game me a serious look.

Matt:Were you in any of the summer leagues or preseason?

Ahearn: I wasn’t invited to anything. No workouts, no summer camps. Nothing.

Matt:How did you get into the d-league?

Ahearn:I had some offers overseas. My agent said going to the league would be a good resume builder. Obviously you’re seen a lot here. I didn’t work all my life to play in Europe. Now there’s nothing bad about that. But my dream is to play in the NBA. I put my name in the draft, and my agent called all the teams, and I got drafted.

Matt: How much communication, if any, have you had with the league?

Ahearn:Yeah, my agent’s talked to a lot of people, as well as my coach. Some scouts and general managers that are interested and have said some positive things. It’s just a matter of finding the right place at the right time. Like I said before, I’m looking for any opportunity to make the most of.

Matt:What’s your usual day like when you’re not on the road?

Ahearn:Travel days take up our whole day. We’ll get up, have breakfast, do practice around 11, practice about an hour and 15. And then, it’s kind of on your own. Get your extra shots, and work out. Lot of free time. It’s good with the travel wearing you down. It’s a lot. We’re up at 4:30 of 5AM, and it can wear on you a little bit.

Matt:Free Time:

Ahearn: Watch TV, watch a lot of basketball. Being in Bismarck, it’s so cold you don’t even want to leave your apartment. It gets kind of boring here in Bismarck. I love Golf, I watch that a lot.

Matt:Big win last night over Sioux Falls. JC Mathis mentioned that the was tired of playing you guys because you’d played so often. Do you have that same feeling?

Ahearn: Oh yeah. When we showed up, I think it was the fifth time we’ve played in seven games, and it’s one of those things, you want to play someone different. You know all the plays, you know where they’re going. It’s nice to not see them for a while that’s for sure.

Matt:I’ve spoken with some D-League personnel and it seems like the emphasis of the coaches and staff is to develop the players, not necessarily to win games. Is that the attitude in Dakota?

Ahearn:I think it’s both here. Coach Ticknor and assistant Martin, they do a good job of developing your skills. I know scouts don’t want to look at teams that are losers, and the more you win, the more chance you’ll have of people looking at you. Nobody likes losing anyway.

Matt:How much emphasis do the players put on it, knowing they could get called up any minute?

Ahearn: It’s one of the deals with minor league basketball. You re trying to represent yourself and what you can do, but you also want to win games. everybody here in the D-league is used to winning. People are also trying to further their careers. I like to win.

Matt:Would you ever consider doing a blog?

Ahearn:Probably not. I’m not the guy for that. I could probably learn from Rod. I’ve never been into that stuff, I don’t read online and stuff. I don’t get caught up on what people say.

Matt:What’s been the biggest key to Dakota’s success this season?

Ahearn: We haven’t lost anybody. We lost Mo Baker. We lost Baker 10 games or so ago. And we haven’t had a lot of transition. That’s a big deal. And when with so many players coming and going, the chance to play with the same guys consistently helps. Team chemistry.

Matt: What role do you see yourself playing in the league?

Ahearn:
I look around the league, and shooters are so rare nowadays. It’s hard watching games and not being able to do anything about it.

Matt: Thanks for your time, Blake. Good luck with the rest of the season.

Ahearn: Thanks.

We’re Just Saying

We were profoundly moved by the Seattle venting to Bill Simmons. It’s a brave move by Simmons, and something he clearly feels very strongly about. And we’re against the move to OKC. We think a much better option is to move the Hornets. We don’t share some of Seattle’s (and most of ESPN, we might add) snottiness towards OKC. They’re good people who have shown that they can support a team, and we feel they deserve it. But we hate to see people lose their favorite team. It’s terrible, and it’s painful, and we feel for Seattle.

BUUUUUUUUUUT…

There’s a big sentiment in Simmons’ piece, both by himself and in the reader’s emails, that somehow Seattle is better than the other small-market teams. That because they won a championship, this somehow entitles them to more protection.

And that’s weak.

For example,

“Can someone please tell me how basketball teams in Charlotte and Memphis can underachieve and play like (expletive deleted) for their entire franchise careers and still have teams. Meanwhile, New Orleans can’t draw 10,000 fans a game for a team on pace for 55 wins.”

Or how about

“David Stern is the Billy King of commissioners. This millennium he moved the Vancouver Grizzlies (2.2 million population metro area) to Memphis (1.3 mil) … moved the Charlotte Hornets (2.9 mil) to New Orleans (1.3 mil) … expanded to Charlotte (2.1 mil) instead of San Diego (2.9 mil) … might allow a move where Seattle (3.2 mil) goes to Oklahoma City (1.2 mil). This amounts to a total population loss for the NBA of 5.3 million people, which is more than the markets of Memphis, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee combined. It’s like he wiped four NBA teams off the map. I wonder how that plays when negotiating the next TV contract.”

What does that have to do with your team getting f*cked, exactly?

Furthermore, and I’ve said this from the beginning. While I don’t consider this to be the end all be all of the discussion, and it’s worth mentioning that the Key Arena is one of the smaller arenas in the NBA (though that should go into consideration when arguing that Key Arena is “just fine”), I do think this is interesting.

Seattle Supersonics Attendance:
2002-2003: 15, 541 (2oth in the league)
Notable teams with better attendance: New Orleans, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indiana

2003-2004: 15, 255 (23rd in the league)

Notable teams with better attendance: Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indiana,

2004-2005: 16,475 (21st in the league)

Notable teams with better attendance: Memphis, Indiana, Sacramento

2005-2006: 16,198 (23rd in the league)

Notable teams with better attendance: Charlotte, Milwaukee, Sacramento, New Orleans (yeah, guess where they were that season?)

2006-2007: 16, 955 (25th in the league)

Notable teams with better attendance: Minnesota, Milwaukee, Sacramento, New Orleans (again, say hi to the new hosts)

2007-2008: 13,457 (26th in the league)
Notable teams with better attendance: Sacramento, Minnesota, Charlotte

So, according to the gentleman above, the Sonics should stay in Seattle because there are more people there.

Even…though… they’re not…coming?

And don’t give me the “put a winning team on the floor” crap. Sacramento has been wretched in the last few years and they’re still killing them. What, has Milwaukee been lighting up year in and year out? You’re supposed to go to the games, whether they’re winning or not. If you only care when they’re winning, you might as well be Laker fans.

Again, I’m not saying this is a reason to move the team. There’s no reason to move the team. It’s a market that could be better, but it’s still a good basketball town and deserves to keep it’s team. Breaking a fanbase’s heart like that is terrible. Kansas City didn’t give a rat’s ass about the Kings. So it was no big deal. But this isn’t like that.

However, dogging other cities that aren’t on the West Coast and have actually beaten the Sonics in terms of attendance is not the way to go. That’s all I’m saying.

Seattle can rest on it’s history as a franchise all it wants. But lately other fanbases have stepped up and actually bought tickets. And that mean something.

But yeah, Clay Bennett is a douchebag.