Monthly Archives: August 2009

David Kahn Will Take The Box! The Box!

I’m reposting this because A. there have been multiple confirmations that Rubio’s not coming and B. come on. It’s UHF. And it’s so, so funny in context.

It’s draft night, 2009. You’re David Kahn. You have the choice of a fine pick in DeRozan, since you have no small guard, Curry, since you have no smaller guard, trading the pick to New York for a bag of gold, or taking what’s in the box.

Let’s see what’s in the box!

NOTHING! ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! STUPID! YOU SO STUPID!

(I know, I know, they’ll get him 2011 when he’s 20 and not so much of a Jonas Brother, but really, these tears today are too delicious to waste on rational thought.)

The Realest Realist

james

I haven’t been hawking my non-stop brand of silliness around the old HP interwebs for a while. To be honest, I have been bottle up in some political workings that haven’t left me sufficient time to comb through the absurdity of the offseason and find some priceless pieces to lampoon.

However, this morning I found an article that hit me hardest where my two allegiances lie: one to the League and one to our Country (I beg pardon with Skeets, Melas, Mackenzie, et. al who are of the Canadian persuasion). Tim James, former NBA forward and one of the best players in University of Miami history, has been the subject of a brief profile on his courageous decision to leave the world of sport and join the front lines of America’s war in Iraq.

Now, regardless of your feelings about the U.S. led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I still find it incredibly brave and selfless to see someone who had made a comfortable living as a professional athlete take a principled stand and listen to a higher calling. His former coaches, teammates and Miami Heat personnel are sending well wishes and gift baskets for Tim and all those in his platoon. It’s times like these when I really respect the community and the closeness these players share with their organizations, fans and colleagues.

So, I encourage all of you to wish Tim James well and see if there is anything we can do, as a blog network, to pay tribute to Mr. James and so many others like him who are undertaking this selfless, dangerous assignment.

Thanks to Matthew Bunch over at our Truehoop Network affiliate Hot Hot Hoops for outlining this story as well. It’s because of folks like Tim James that we can all take the NBA this seriously. Think about that, and be proud.

Off the Iron: The Endurance of MJ’s Perfection

With apologies to Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale, there are two post moves in the history of basketball that reign above all others in the unstoppable category: Kareem’s skyhook and MJ’s fadeaway. With both of those shots, the defender was irrelevant. If Mike missed, it was just cause he happened to miss; it wasn’t because of something the guy guarding him did.

Above, you can watch Mike, even at 46-years-old, toying with a defender on the block, making fadeaway after fadeaway. (via Slam)

While it’s interesting to see that Money’s still got it, the more enduring abstraction that struck me while watching this video is what Mike’s fadeaway represents: A key reason that few people who ever saw Mike play will ever admit that anyone else is better.

I’m not saying anyone is better yet, but someday, somewhere, some kid will come along who is better than Mike. It’s inevitable. Still, 99% of the people who watched Mike play will still say Mike was better. These people will use Mike’s undeniable on-court greatness as evidence. They will list his accomplishments. They will reference all the other NBA players and experts who believe Mike was the best ever.

But all those valid points will not be the ultimate rationale behind why most MJ-era NBA fans will never admit that some new kid is better than Mike. The reason they will not admit that is because Mike had a perfect career trajectory that is (almost certainly) inimitable. And there are two separate, yet equally memory-engraving ways in which Mike’s career trajectory was perfect.

Reason #1 That MJ Had a Perfect Career Trajectory
If Hollywood made “The Michael Jordan Story” into a movie, you would say “This plot is some Mighty Ducks-esque derivative nonsense.”

Here’s the MJ career arc of lore as it’s most widely spun:

  • Mike gets cut from his high-school basketball team.
  • Mike overcomes that adversity to become a high-school star and enroll in one of the biggest college programs in the country, where he hits an NCAA Championship-winning shot as a freshman.
  • Mike becomes the best college basketball player in the country.
  • Mike gets drafted by a middling NBA team that has never won anything and instantly becomes an unstoppable player in the League who is way better than anyone else to the point that Larry Bird (who was either the number 1 or 1A player in the league previously) called him “God disguised as Michael Jordan” — yet many people still see Mike as too flashy and too much of a ball-hog to be considered a true all-time great.
  • Mike elevates his team to contender status but still can never quite oust his arch rival (Chuck Daly’s Pistons).
  • Mike not only defeats his nemesis and then knocks off the best team of the 80s (Magic Johnson’s Lakers) to win his first professional championship, but he goes 15-2 in the Playoffs on his way to the title.
  • Mike never loses again.

Obviously, the last item is excluding the Wizards part of his career (which I think most people don’t consider to be an actual part of the MJ mythos) and the tail end of the 1994-95 season when he came back to the NBA — out-of-shape and out-of-sync —  for 17 regular season games before losing to the Orlando Magic in the second round of the Playoffs (which I think most people also generally disregard).

In short, he rose from nothing (getting cut from Laney High), overcame his biggest hurdle (the Pistons), become the king of basketball and wore the crown with such undisputed supremacy that he eventually decided to relinquish the thrown on his own terms. Every other all-time great in the history of the NBA (and, to my knowledge, every other all-time great in any sport ever minus maybe Rocky Marciano) has ascended to the thrown, worn the crown for a while and then had it taken away from him by a younger up-and-comer. But no one ever took Mike’s crown. He just gave it away, seemingly because he was tired of participating in the ongoing charade that the sport of basketball was even still an exercise in competition.

Mike actually reached the status that Jay-Z once boasted about his crew achieving: “The game is ours, we will never foul out; yall just better hope we gracefully bow out.”

Reason #2 That MJ Had a Perfect Career Trajectory
In the classic film Office Space, Ron Livingston’s character Peter Gibbons details a startling revelation about the depths of his depression to a hypnotherapist. “Ever since I started working,” he says, “every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.”

Mike’s professional career was the exact opposite. Every single day that you saw him, that was on the best day of his life. He got better every day of his career. He may have averaged 37 ppg, 5 apg and 5 rpg in 1987, but he was a better player in 1998. And on the final day you ever saw him in a Bulls uniform — right down to his final 30 seconds ever on the court — he was the best he had ever been. If you don’t remember, just ask Karl Malone and Bryon Russell. The 1987 Mike doesn’t embarrass the third best power forward of all time (or second, depending how you feel about Charles Barkley) by stripping him in the post and then walking down and calmly hitting a jumper 15 seconds later to win the NBA Championship — in front of the hostile Utah fans no less.

His Bulls career trajectory did not follow the path of nearly every other professional athlete we have ever seen. He didn’t improve rapidly in his early years, peak during his prime and then decline until retirement. He may have slowed down athletically, but his abilities never stopped improving. His improvement was steady, upward and seemingly limitless. (At least the perception of his improvement was, and that’s what is really at issue here. Only a few people — Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Doug Collins and Tim Grover likely among them — could really tell you with any semblance of certainty if 1998 Mike was actually better than 1993 Mike.)

Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, McDonald’s and Mike himself have a lot to do with how we view the MJ mythos and how he never stopped improving. One apt example is the Gatorade “You Reach, I Teach” commercial that pits Old Mike vs. Young Mike. In just 60 seconds, we see why Old Mike is better, and the fadeaway is not-so-coincidentally the move he goes to after telling the youngster “I teach.”

An even more illustrative point is made when Old Mike swats a layup attempt from Young Mike. Following the play, Young Mike bombastically shrugs off the block with some slick posturing that alludes to the fact that he wasn’t really trying, a remark to which Old Mike offers the simple, sage advice of a basketball master.

Young Mike: “Coulda dunked.”
Old Mike: “Shoulda dunked.”

The lesson here is that 1987 Mike might have been capable of doing anything on a basketball court, but 1998 Mike was the guy who knew exactly when to do everything. He never failed. He was, for all intents and purposes, an infallible basketball player. He was perfect.

Mike’s fadeaway was the incarnation of this perfection. His at-the-time unparalleled athleticism started to fade in the mid-90s, but the development of that fadeaway (and, more generally, his entire post game) superceded any physical slowdown. His increasingly flawless fadeaway was what made his improvement seem limitless. Honestly, had the whole Wizards thing never happened, the above video would likely prompt many people to think that a 46-year-old MJ could still dominate the NBA today.

The potential of an ever-escalating career trajectory towards perfection is why guys like Bo Jackson have become John Henry-like folk heroes. If not for that career-ending hip injury, he might have continued honing his craft, getting better and better until he morphed into some untackaleable half-Jim Brown/half-Walter Payton hybrid. It’s why when Duke’s Coach K says something like (paraphrasing) “There are two players I’ve seen in the ACC that were clearly better than everyone else: Michael Jordan and Len Bias” it makes people like the Sports Guy wonder whether a Bird/Bias-led Celtics team would have won five straight titles or six.

In the real world, people always decline. They reach a peak and we celebrate them and then we lament their fall. But once we accept it as inevitable, we hope to see some flashes of their previous greatness. It’s why we lionize Jack Nicklaus so greatly for his 1986 Master’s victory. And, conversely, it’s why we don’t criticize Jack Nicholson for messing up The Departed or phoning in The Bucket List.

Mike, of course, clearly declined in the public eye while playing for Washington. But I think his two-year lay-off away from daily scrutiny makes people differentiate the vibrant, Bulls-era, Superman MJ with the aged, Wizards-era, mere mortal Mike to the point that his Washington days are simply an irrelevant epilogue to his career arc.

Mike, the human, declined. But MJ, the immortal, never did.

And, most importantly, never will — regardless of whether or not some young kid drops 63 in a playoff loss against LeBron and the 2017 Cleveland Cavaliers.

That’s Okay, Rod. I’ve Only Mentioned You 70,000 Times

See, the little ESPN thing at the top of my page, Rod? That means I’m big time. You hear that? BIG. TIME. Sure, it’s a vague affiliation, and my only contact with an ESPN entity outside of TrueHoop was limited to that one time I called Simmons a ‘douchenozzle” but still. BIG. TIME.

And hey, it’s cool. I’ve only mentioned you about thirty thousand f’ing times, including every time anyone’s asked me about a D-League call-up.  I started the website Schroeder runs and pushed StackMac in your direction.

Yet, I can’t get a freaking shout-out on the internet basketball blogging rap song? Nothing? No love?

You’re a heartless bastard, Boom Tho.

(Not really, I just needed a humorous way to point you readers in the direction of Benson’s latest ‘jam’ or whatever those damn kids call it. Click the link and listen for name drops of everyone who’s posted about Benson on the internet, ever. Not that I’m bitter.) :oops:

Nichols and Dime: The In-Game Changes of the Philadelphia 76ers’ Shooting Style

I’m going to look at the shooting styles of the Philadelphia 76ers in the same way I examined the Lakers. I chose the Sixers because they are one of the teams at the extreme ends of the spectrum– they attempted the second fewest three-pointers of any team in the league last season and converted those shots at the lowest rate. With the Lakers, we saw that close attempts and three-pointers were much more efficient than midrange shots, despite the latter being attempted the most. Will we find the same results with a team that struggled from long range?

Thanks to the play-by-play data at BasketballValue, here are the Sixers’ shot attempt frequencies on average per game, at the per minute level:

phishotselectionperminute

I made one change from last time. “Close” shots now only include dunks and layups (tipped shots are not included). As we can see from the graph above, there are some substantial differences between the Lakers and the 76ers. Although the overall shot preference order is the same, the Lakers take a lot more three-pointers. In addition, the Sixers take almost as many close shots as they do midrange. However, like the Lakers, their three-point attempts tend to go up as the game progresses at the expense of midrange attempts. Let’s look at the efficiencies of each shot type:

phishotefficiencyperminute

Well, that’s just a mess. There’s a simple solution, though. Instead of doing it per minute, we can break down the data by quarter. Here are the two graphs from above with the data calculated per quarter:

phishotfrequencybyquarter

phishotefficiencyperquarter

Here the data is much clearer. Just like with the Lakers, the most efficient shot for the Sixers is the close attempt. Also, despite a third quarter blip, and even though it is an obvious weakness of theirs, the Sixers are still much more efficient when shooting three-pointers than when shooting from midrange. In fact, in the fourth quarter, the long ball is almost as valuable for them as is the easy bucket around the rim.

So what are the main differences between the Lakers and the 76ers? Basically, Los Angeles is more active and efficient from beyond the three-point line. This should not come as a surprise to many, as this is Philadelphia’s most obvious offensive weakness. However, what is surprising is that the two teams aren’t very different from midrange. Both favor that shot type the most despite it being their least efficient method. The Lakers are slightly more efficient from midrange, but that should come as no surprise considering they feature a dominant post player in Pau Gasol.

As we learned from my last study, there is a correlation between post attempts and three-point efficiency. Philly’s lack of a post presence last year and surrounding three-point marksmen may have been two of the biggest reasons their offense was not as great as the Lakers. With the return of Elton Brand and the arrival of Jason Kapono, things should improve slightly for the Sixers.

But can it really be as simple as just taking more three-pointers? The graphs above suggest this, but the answer remains uncertain for now.

Changes In Attitude, Changes in Lattitude, Changes In Offensively Selfish Small Guards

Because really, when you think Allen Iverson, you think Jimmy Buffett.

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Okay, here’s the deal. I don’t like it anymore than you do. He wasn’t a virus in Denver, because a virus infects slowly overtime. And he wasn’t a timebomb because that’s something that detonates, destroying everything. He was more like some sort of atmospheric shift that caused all the belts to malfunction at once. In Detroit, he wasn’t even destructive, he was just sad. Given that rare combination of players who are dedicated to the team concept, your only goal is to abandon the self in pursuit of the greater good. That’s all you have to do. You don’t even have to be good. But you have to sacrifice. And he couldn’t, he wouldn’t, and therefore he was the final detonation in the Piston implosion sequence. He hasn’t been anything worth having in years, and after all this preening and guffawing over a lack of interest in him, I’d love to blast him for no longer being relevant.

But here’s the thing.

Allen Iverson and the Charlotte Bobcats need each other.

The Cats need a scoring small guard. Not because it’s a roster hole. They can play Raja Bell there. For all his shortcomings, there are worse 2-guards in the league. Not many, but there are some. And worst case scenario they can play Augustin and Felton in a double-combo guard set (which I lovelovelove), feeding off of both player’s abilities. But Iverson is the difference between this team being an also-ran and a playoff contender. They have drive, they have discipline, they have athleticism (well, not as much as they had two months ago, but still). What they don’t have is a scoring component who can just get buckets.

Iverson, on the other hand, needs a locker room he can run, with a coach who he respects and who respects him. Larry Brown is one of five people on the planet to fit this description. Iverson can take up shots, teach the young’ns, hang out in Virginia, and fade out on a positive note. Some guys are meant to capture that ring and ride off into the sunset. Some just slip off unnoticed. And since Iverson’s not going to draw the attention of one of those championship teams at this point, this is as good as anything. Especially with the money.

The Bobcats as a franchise need a star, and even a past-prime Iverson gives them that. They need to sell tickets, jerseys, advertising. Iverson gives them a face to put next to Gerald Wallace. Plus, Augustin-Iverson-Henderson-Diaw-Chandler is something I like very much. It’s a small-small-tiny-ball lineup, but hey, Brown’s a nutjob, he can make it work.

The risk involved is Iverson’s infectious lack of defense and team incoherence. Iverson breeds cliques wherever he goes, and the Bobcats need to maintain some level of closeness to pull off the us-against-them mentality that damn near got them into the playoffs last season. The good news is that Iverson doesn’t have to run point here, but he can control the ball. It’s a perfect set up for him. Wallace operates well off the ball, Diaw can be the lynch-pin, setting and resetting the offense, while Iverson probes for weakness, Henderson wanders in an athletic daze, and Chandler tips things in. Chandler and Iverson give Brown a pair of consistent veterans with that most ridiculous of attributes, “toughness” while Augustin and Henderson provide a nice youth core, and Diaw and Wallace are like some demented pair of bishops.

The Okafor trade was a significant step backwards for this franchise, but the acquisition of Iverson would take the sting off of it and make it make sense. “Tyson Chandler was brought in to supply defensive toughness while A.I. was brought in to light up the offense” makes a lot more sense than “Time Warner Bob decided to cut his losses as much as possible.”

I’ve long argued that the long term goal of this franchise needs to be respectability and repeated playoff berths, not a championship. Those are rare and fleeting and you need to establish, if not a tradition of winning, then a history of competence. Step 1 in pursuit of that goal is getting to a point where you have people the other team is afraid of. And if AI can even scratch the surface of what he is, alongside the new/old Cats, he might get there.

GO TEAM AVERAGE!

Maybe We All Need To Realize That Pointing Out Something Is Not A Big Deal Makes It A Big Deal

And by we, I mean me.

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Saturday night, I’m chilling at home. Paroxi-wife’s had a few glasses of white wine and is headed to dreamland to envision a life where some maniac doesn’t live in her house occasionally screaming ‘WTF do you mean, they traded Okafor for Chandler?!” I’m browsing ye old series of tubes and I notice some blabber about Beasley’s tattoo. I had seen the tweet from him but hadn’t clicked the link. If I spent all my time looking at NBA player twitpics I’d go blind. The blabber mostly passes me by. Then I catch The Peninsula Is Mightier noting the comments on the infamous picture.

Now I’m presented with a quandary. Do I think that Beasley smoking weed is a big deal? No. Not at all. Not even an ounce, so to speak.  Couldn’t care less. Don’t care if he’s stoned off his gourd. I find nothing newsworthy about a 19 year old smoking pot. I find it less newsworthy that there’s a picture of a 19 year old with two bags that might be pot on his coffee table.

But it’s going to be a story. Because it involves an NBA player and drugs. And while it’s none of our business what Beasley does in his own home, getting busted for substance abuse could impact him being suspended, and that does affect NBA fans. Additionally, if I’m the one to write on it, at least it’s one more outlet that’s not focusing on DRUGS BAD without looking at a more complex view of it.

The point I was trying to make was that there was nothing newsworthy about what he did, it’s the fact that he was dumb enough to get caught.  I don’t feel like I did that well.

Additionally, I wanted to be kind of flippant with it, because in reality, we were talking about a pair of f*cking plastic bags. And yet, why did I post on it? Because I knew it would be newsworthy, whether I wanted it to be or not. I’m all for journalistic responsibility or blogger responsibility or some sense of not being a prying dick that mocks the misfortune of others. But the fact is that it was an indication that Beasley was regularly using marijuana, which besides being illegal, is something he can be suspended for by the league. And if he was suspended for missing a team meeting or knocking out Joel Anthony or accidentally setting fire to the arena, it would be news. So I posted on it, and tried to focus on the Twitter angle as much as possible. So that’s kind of how that came about.

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A brief aside to talk about the rehab thing.

Now, all of this was before the rehab news came out. And it makes the whole thing different. It just does. Someone that likes getting high isn’t ‘troubled’ in my opinion. And I definitely never said that in the context of the FH piece. Someone that likes to get high is simply something I’m not. Loaded. I am unable to afford such recreational activities, what with Paroxi-wife’s trips to Half Price Books every day and the fact that if I were to be arrested she would kill me, then follow me to hell, kick my spiritually transcendent scrotum into my non-corporeal  throat and then kill me again. And that’s just not worth it.

But someone in rehab has some problems, particularly since the word ‘depression’ pops up. That’s nothing to mess with, kiddos. I’ve seen depression waylay people that weren’t expecting it. It’s hard enough to cope with it when you know you suffer with the condition. It’s another for it to spring upon you, changing your life, your behavior and how you interact with those around you. I’ve dealt with it, my family’s dealt with it, and I’m not ashamed of it. But it took a long time to come to that conclusion. (NOTE: “long time” = “lot of whiskey”)

So was the story relevant then, in retrospect?

No.

Here’s why I feel kind of ashamed at this point. Before the rehab story, I was cool with mocking Beasley. It’s funny. “Millionaire 19 year old athlete likes to get stoned and has stupid tattoos.” Ha ha ha. Then it turns out he’s in rehab, and I no longer think those jokes are funny. But weren’t the pot jokes just as insensitive to who Beasley is and what he’s going through? Was I less of a d*ckbag just because I knew less about him when I was making jokes?

(It should be noted that I have issues with making light of all things regardless. My friend asked me before a movie last night what happened with Beasley, he heard something but didn’t know what, and I started singing Amy Winehouse. “Pat Riley want him to go to Rehab, he said ‘No, no, no.“)

So at the end of the day, this is another example of what happens when you start thinking about athletes as people. It’s harder to mock them, harder to enjoy their suffering, harder to genuinely hate them (unless they’re Vince Carter).  And it’s why I generally don’t post on arrests anymore, or lawsuits, or those things. Too often if I start to think about how it affects someone as a person, I’m left with the image of what I have of Beasley. A confused kid who was criticized for being emotionally immature without sympathy, and who probably felt on Saturday night like he was completely and totally alone.

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Getting back to the point of this, do you realize how many of us have posted articles on why pot is not a big deal in the last 48 hours? And by us, I mean everyone. ESPN. Sporting News. This is MY SECOND ARTICLE TALKING ABOUT HOW SOMETHING IS NOT WORTH TALKING ABOUT. MY OWN HUBRIS IS NECK PUNCHING ME AND DRY HUMPING ME WITH A SPEAR.

Whenever something like this happens, we rush to point out that it’s not a big deal. The hope (I think, I guess?) is to try and stem the tide of judgment and criticism towards the ‘crime.’ To try and spark a reasonable conversation versus “Damn drug dealing druggies!’” But in the end, all we do is make it a bigger issue. By trying to not make it an issue, we make it an even bigger issue. I AM TRAPPED IN A GLASS ELEVATOR OF WANKERY AND THE ONLY WAY OUT IS A HIGHLIGHT VIDEO.

The only way to really make a stand in saying that it’s not an issue is not to write about it. But if you don’t write about it, someone else will, and it will probably make you so angry with its judgmental attitude that you end up writing about it. Which propels the story.

Do I think it was newsworthy to post? Yes.  Because it impacts Beasley’s ability to play, which impacts sports. But even though I tried very hard to avoid implying Beasley was ‘troubled,’ just by posting on it I probably gave that impression.

The lesson? I need to bring back the ‘WHO WANTS TO SEX‘ posts.