Monthly Archives: December 2010

Have Ball, Will Travel: Deron Williams

In this installment of Have Ball, Will Travel, we’ll take a closer look at Deron Williams’ half-court heave from last night’s game between the Jazz and Blazers, and wreck some dreams long the way. Roll the tape:

Sadly, Deron William’s buzzer-beater seems to be a clear-cut travel. He establishes his right foot as a pivot foot, pivots through two defenders, and then lifts his pivot foot to give him an illegal step-through. What’s odd is that the rulebook doesn’t explicitly say that this is a violation. Here’s the relevant passage:

If a player, with the ball in his possession, raises his pivot foot off the floor, he must pass or shoot before his pivot foot returns to the floor.

Deron technically shoots before his pivot returns to the floor, considering he’s stepping out of his pivot rather than jumping off of it. There really isn’t any clear language in the rulebook on this type of step-through, which takes us on a fun trip down the way of writer’s intent. Reading a rulebook shouldn’t be like constitutional law, but in this case, we have little choice. Technically, a player could go up for a jumper out of a pivot, and come back down with the ball so long as he lands on his non-pivot foot. However, such a play is — and should be — an obvious travel. It’s just not specifically outlined in the rulebook, and the wording used doesn’t expressly forbid it.

However, given the nature of this play and the specific advantage Deron gained by lifting his pivot and taking an additional step (Ed. note: gained advantage is how the rulebook determines traveling in other cases), it’s a violation of the intent of the rule, if not the rule itself.

EDIT: The esteemed John Schuhmann of NBA.com disagrees wholeheartedly with my assessment. If for some reason you’re not already following him on Twitter, you can read his comments @johnschuhmann (search @robmahoney for comments specific to this call). Schuhmann definitely has a valid point, but I still have a hard time letting go of this as walk. Let’s open the phones; I’m sticking by this one as a travel, but what do you think?

Podcast Paroxysm 12.22.10: MERRY CHRISTMAS, THE KINGS COMPLETELY SUCK

In this vacant, wandering edition of Podcast Paroxysm, Zach and I discuss coaches who actually develop talent, get into the KG-Amar’re debate AGAIN, and make more inappropriate jokes. It is 2 hours long, because it is Christmas and you need something to get you through the long nights of loneliness as you watch the hours of your life tick by towards a sad pitiful ending. ENJOY! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

[display_podcast]

Have Ball, Will Travel: Hedo Turkoglu

In this installment of Have Ball, Will Travel, we’ll re-run a play that wasn’t whistled for a violation during last night’s game between the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks.

It’s common — in social circles consisting of entirely 10 year-olds, anyway — to insist that in the dictionary next to the definition for whatever negative word is most fitting lies a picture of so-and-so. Zing. But seriously: in the NBA’s rulebook under how not to execute a jump stop at the end of a dribble is a video of Hedo Turkoglu. This is pretty much Hedo’s move, and it’s 100% travel.

As far as I can tell, Turkoglu doesn’t really understand the concept of a jump stop. Most notably, he pivots and steps-through following his stop with no regard for traveling rules, and in far too many cases, he gets away with it. The jump stop is among the most poorly officiated areas of the modern NBA game, and Turk is but one player that gets away with violations on jump stops regularly.

H/T to @Smooth_Operatah for the play selection.

Have Ball, Will Travel: Kobe Bryant

In today’s edition of Have Ball, Will Travel, we’ll take a look at one of Kobe Bryant’s highlight-reel plays from yesterday’s game between the Lakers and Raptors:

I don’t know that there’s too much to say here other than that this kind of stuff happens all the time. This exact traveling sequence — the pivot step-back — has been a point of emphasis for officials over the last few seasons, but they can’t catch them all. The shift is too subtle, the players too quick, and the movement too natural. Dig through top play countdowns and game recap videos and you’re sure to find plenty of plays just like this one, fallen through the cracks of the officiating system and yet commemorated as if it were completely legal.

The Magic Trade Codex: Gambit Queen

Image via Nestor Galina on Flickr

When I play chess, I don’t play to win. I love the game, but while the tactics required, the psychology employed, and theoretics make it my favorite game to play outside of poker, I’m not very good. Even in times when I’ve played quite a bit I’m never really that good at it. I could throw some sort of claptrap about my short attention span but in all honesty, it’s that I tend to play with people who are smarter and better than me.

But when I do play, I sacrifice my queen for theirs first. Generally, speaking. As I’m usually playing a smart player, that player is generally strong in logic and understands that his queen is his or her second most powerful piece on the board. So I sacrifice mine, recklessly, in the pursuit of killing theirs. It’s always fascinating, because in making the queen vulnerable, these players are almost never able to resist taking it, even though it means losing theirs (generally I never leave it as an option anyway). This does not increase my chances of winning. In my attempt to extract their queen, I almost always lose multiple pieces, and even if I don’t, I’m left to try and win with my knights, which I suck at. The reason I take this approach is in conjunction with the remainder of my strategy. I don’t try and play to any particular strategy, I just try and counter whatever it is my opponent does. When you think about it, chess is remarkably similar to playoff basketball. Both sides are really only trying to counter their opponent in the interest of establishing their own approach.  If you focus your whole approach around countering what your opponent is trying to do, you increase your odds of a stalemate. You decrease the odds of a victory, but I think those odds are pretty well.

Any above average chess player is going to whomp me, by the way.  I play people smarter than me. I didn’t say I played smart people. Not like I’m playing ranked players or anything.

What’s the point?

Otis Smith just decided to go sacrifice his queen for theirs.

(NOTE: Please spare me any joke that involves the “queen” bit. We’re neither thirteen nor Shaquille O’Neal.)

At first I was baffled by the trades. Not that they didn’t make sense. They do. You don’t have to have a grinch-like face towards Vince Carter like I do to recognize that he wasn’t good for the Magic. Call it whatever you want, but they brought in Carter, they regressed, and they never hit the high gear with him. That destruction in the first two rounds they unleashed last season? Not driven by Carter, simply the predictable result of inferior competition crossed with experienced execution. But my confusion over the trades was this: do they make Orlando a team that can beat Boston?

Of course not.

Not if we consider convention.

They didn’t acquire a fleet of bigs to throw at Garnett and Perkins and Shaq and JO for the forty five seconds he’s available, and the drunken seal. They didn’t bring in a lockdown wing defender to keep Pierce away from that God-forsaken elbow shot which he plunges into your heart over and over and over again. They didn’t bring in a top flight point guard to make Rondo’s life difficult or a perimeter defensive expert to neutralize Allen or a superstar to throw at them. They didn’t get tougher, didn’t get slower, didn’t get more defensive. If Boston plays the way it does and Orlando tries to play the way Boston does, Boston wins. It’s that simple.

But this?

There’s an alternative.

SVG has to let them go.

They have to go full-tilt offensive firepower.  Their greatest success was 2009, that has to be the model to some significant degree. Yes, Garnett was absent. No, he won’t be this time. But if you aren’t willing to accept that you’re screwed, which you can’t be, the answer is not to try and fight on their turf, it’s to fight on yours. Instead of trying to adapt for Garnett, you ignore the big husked screaming elephant in the room and you fire, and you fire, and you fire again. And if that’s your approach this is a pretty good deal.

Richardson is the big gun here. Lost in the Arenas dramatics and the Turkoglu jokes is the fact that Jason Richardson is the best part of this deal. Richardson can take over a game. He’s one of those players who can run up in transition, nail a three, and you don’t wind up pondering how marvelously stupid that decision was. You can find him on a backdoor cut and the ball’s going down through the hoop with a particular velocity. He’ll share the ball, work in the offense,and he’ll fill it up.

But Arenas could help. I mean, he sucks now. The gamble is on him, specifically. Turkoglu’s marginal. If he does anything it’s gravy. But Arenas still has the ability to raise that percentage back up to 45% and 37% from three and in doing so, he can raise their ceiling. And that’s all you’re talking about. The objective is to take the game out of the Celtics’ comfort zone and put it into Orlando’s for long stretches. Attrition is not a war they can win, but quick firefights with intense artillery is how they took 2009. (Again, without Garnett.)

The defense doesn’t have to improve. They’re fourth in defensive efficiency. It’s not better than Boston. Guess what?  It’s not going to be.  Nothing Orlando does will make them better than the Boston Celtics at defense. So the only way they get past it is to gun. I’ve written about how Boston struggles with teams that push the pace. Orlando does not. Not yet. But they can. They’ve got two guys that can get up and down the floor, Nelson can do it if you take the leash off of him. Dwight’s there if you want to slow it down. It’s true that Howard’s gotten better in terms of what he’s able to do. But the trick with Howard should be to get him fewer touches, and have him be more efficient, not the opposite. If they have weapons filling it up and then nail them with Howard? That’s their peak. That’s how they won in 2009 (again, without Garnett).

This plan may not work. It has a very low percentage shot at working. But the goal isn’t to win. It’s to force a stalemate. Because in basketball, when that happens, it all just comes down to who the shot is falling for.

It’s not a great plan. It’s just a gambit. It’s what they’ve got.

HP Big Man Eulogy #2: Yao Ming a threat no more

Why do we always have to meet this way?

Yao Ming has a stress fracture in his ankle. That means he’s out for the month/year/career/millennium/Willennium/whatever.

And another absurdly talented and young big man goes down. Yao Ming is a veteran by NBA standards but he’s only 30 years old. Even though 30 is when you start getting up there in NBA years, it’s still young enough to matter on a grand scale in the NBA – especially when you’re 7’6” with one of the best touches around the basket these eyes have seen.

We all thought he was going to be a stiff. He was a slow, lumbering, Chinese freak coming into a league of quicker, more athletic American born players that were going to eat him alive. Charles Barkley was going to kiss Kenny Smith’s donkey (still amazing Kenny Smith has a donkey, even if only for a studio show stunt) if he ever scored 19 points in a game. He did and Chuck did.

In fact, over the first five years of Yao’s career, he improved in a way none of us really expected. I never thought he was going to be bad, but I also never thought he was going to be a guy I thought could lead his team to a title. But as he turned 26 years old and showed so much improvement in every aspect of his game, I was convinced that he and Tracy McGrady could get it done in some way. But injuries happened to T-Mac and even worse happened to Yao too.

In the first three seasons of Yao’s stay in the NBA, he played two full seasons and missed just two games in the other season. The next three seasons Yao missed 86 of the 246 regular season games. And so his career went.

Tons of potential. Immeasurable skill that could dominate basketball games. Brittle extremities that kept him from being truly great.

He’s not the only one. I gushed and eulogized over Greg Oden over the last two years. Zyndrunas Ilgauskas had similar problems. Danny Manning’s body failed him constantly. Sam Bowie became a running joke. Ralph Sampson never got to be Ralph Sampson. Bill Walton is a fused together, walking tragedy of basketball proportions. This happens to big men. It happens to everyone really. Injuries are a part of sports. Sometimes the great ones can’t stay on the court and get a chance to prove just how great they are.

But Yao sort of teased us too. That’s the really hard thing about his story. Greg Oden just hasn’t been able to stay on the court. He had a couple of nice glimpses in which he showed a world of potential. Yao Ming showed us glimpses of substance, then was too injured to stay on the court, then came back for (in retrospect) one last hurrah.

In the 2008-09 season, he played 77 games. And it wasn’t like the experiment of this season in which they limited his minutes and shut him down on back-to-backs. He played 77 games and averaged 33.6 minutes per game that season. And he posed as a big threat to the Lakers’ big title hopes in the second round.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Rockets win that second round series against the Lakers if Yao his healthy for seven games instead of just the three he played. The series went seven because the Lakers could coast and still come out the victor. But the threat was there and most god-fearing, non-Kobe slurping Laker fans over the age of 17 know this to be true.

Unfortunately, that’s all Yao has ever been: a threat. He threatened to be a force in this league. He threatened to be a franchise player. He threatened to be the best center in the NBA.

Now he’s out for the rest of probably this year, next year and the rest of the years. He hasn’t necessarily moved on. He’s just in another holding pattern we’re all used to seeing with him. He’s been neutralized by his bad wheels once again.

In his own words, “I haven’t died. Right now I’m drinking a beer and eating fried chicken. What were you expecting, a funeral?”

Let’s hope he can be a threat to NBA frontcourts again, instead of just a threat to Buffalo Wild Wings.

Have Ball, Will Travel: Manu Ginobili

In today’s Have Ball, Will Travel, we’ll take a closer look at a pretty controversial play: Manu Ginobili’s game-winning jumper from Wednesday night’s game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Strange things are afoot at the AT&T Center. Ginobili has always had a certain awkwardness to his game, and his unorthodox style is part of what makes him such a difficult cover. It also has led to more than a few missed calls and false traveling positives; Ginobili’s bizarre rhythm makes him a referee’s worst nightmare.

Understandably, this particular play led to widespread declarations across the Twitterverse that Ginobili had duped the officiating crew, committed what many considered to be an obvious traveling violation, and stolen a win in the process. Among them was Brett Pollakoff of NBA FanHouse:

As Ginobili drove left — which he always does, you know, considering the fact he’s left-handed — he planted both feet, then lifted both feet to step back to take the game-winning jumper, and landed before elevating to do so. There’s no way that isn’t a travel.

At first glance, I agreed with Brett. Ginobili seems to take two steps before going into his  jump stop, which would certainly constitute a travel. However, a closer look at the clip reveals that Manu’s play was actually a completely legal maneuver.

The errors in judgment primarily seem to stem from a plant of Ginobili’s right foot just prior to his step-back and jump stop. While viewing the play from the original broadcast angle at full speed, it indeed appears that Ginobili picks up his dribble before planting that right foot. But if we view the play from another angle, it’s clear that when Manu plants his right foot in what many are counting as his “first” step, the ball isn’t even in his hand. This step isn’t a step at all, at least not for the purposes of any kind of violation. Instead, Ginobili’s step count triggers as soon as he’s gathered and gained control of the ball, which occurs after the right foot has already been planted.

According to the NBA Rulebook, “The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after gaining control of the ball.” Thus, Ginobili’s step-back (with his left foot, prior to the jump stop) is his actual first step. The rulebook also states that “a progressing player who jumps off one foot on the first step may land with both feet simultaneously for the second step.” Ginobili does just that, and gives us a fine example of a perfectly legal jump stop. He jumps immediately afterward to fire up the game-winner, which means for those counting at home, the entire sequence consisted of a rulebook-entitled two steps.

The NBA Alphabetical: December 13th, 2010

Rohan is the author of At The Hive. He’ll be contributing this column on the NBA Alphabetical swindled from Swindle from time to time. -Ed.

Sometimes, innovation is cool. Other times, it’s better to steal ideas. This is an “other time.” The NBA Alphabetical is based on Orson Swindle’s consistently amazing College Football Alphabetical and reviews 26 recent NBA stories.

A is for Artest

Ron Artest has been making the rounds this year, providing us all with some much welcomed lols. There was, of course, his imitation of Luis Scola (where he essentially didn’t change his voice at all and still easily fooled the radio station he called into). This week, he claimed a dual enjoyment of both veganism and pork chops and miraculously made a Rick Reilly column vaguely readable.

But Laker fans can’t be laughing (or grinning, smiling, cackling, etc) at his on-court antics. An underwhelming offensive campaign in 2009-2010 was largely forgotten in the euphoria induced by Game 7 of the Finals. This year, those problems seem to have been compounded. His field goal percentage (37.6%) is in the toilet, he rarely gets to the line (1.5 FTA per 36 minutes versus a 4.6 career rate), his rebounding and assist figures are down a tick, and he’s been largely ineffective on the defensive end as well.

Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes have played some excellent ball this year, but there’s a chance the Lakers will have to negotiate new deals with both guys in the summer.

B is for Bird

If you missed it, Bill Simmons supplied some commentary for Friday night’s Warriors-HEAT game (more on Billy later). He largely stayed away from making any Celtics/Clippers references, but he did make one- calling Bird the greatest passing forward of all time.

I’m part of the generation of fans that completely missed Larry Bird’s career. Old, grainy footage and Basketball Reference can only take you so far. So when Simmons claimed Bird was a better passer than LeBron James, I loudly guffawed. Two seconds later, ESPN showed a Bird montage containing three of the most ridiculous passes I’ve ever seen. YouTube agrees; holy s%& could Bird pass the ball.

Having watched that? Forget best passing forward; Bird has to be in the conversation for the best passer at any position, ever. (For those that were lucky enough to see Bird when he played, take it easy on me. Larry Bird was amazing. I stand corrected).

C is for Cancer, Karl, and KG

A few weeks after the whole Charlie Villanueva dust up, Kevin Garnett sought out cancer survivor and Nuggets head coach George Karl to apparently apologize to him. Or defend himself. Or tell him that he actually told Charlie V that he “was a cancer to his team and to the league,” and not “haha you have cancer.”

In any case, perhaps that finally closes the book on this story.

D is for Damn

Via SBNation:

E is for Eh?

The Raptors came back from a ridiculous 25 point deficit in the 3rd quarter on Saturday to (rather comfortably) pick up the road victory. Toronto and Detroit played each other close in the opening quarters of the first and second halves (combined 2 point differential), but the Pistons destroyed the Raptors in the second quarter (+18), only to give it all back in the fourth (-20).

Overall, Toronto has played some efficient offense. Last year, they quietly produced one of the league’s best offenses north of the border, fueled by the scoring of Chris Bosh, the offensive rebounding of Amir Johnson, the long range shooting of Andrea Bargnani, and the passing of Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack. This year, Bosh is gone, but the Raptors rank just behind  teams like the Thunder and Mavericks in overall offensive efficiency.

F is for Forbes’ List

A couple times each year, Forbes Magazine comes out with some sort of NBA monetization list. It’s normally franchise value or owner value or some such; this time, it’s player value.

This is a subject that has been tackled before. Tom Haberstroh- now at ESPN- took on the issue at this very site. While Haberstroh used Basketball Prospectus’ WARP system, Forbes’ list employs David Berri’s Wages of Wins model.

The Forbes list can generate some interesting discussion. They call LeBron James the most underpaid player in the league, the same conclusion I reached when I analyzed player market value in July, using yet another metric- Basketball Reference’s Win Shares. And ultimately, while these are great conversation starters, it all ultimately boils down to what statistical methodology you subscribe too (assuming you believe player value can be reasonably quantified at all).

G is for Greg Oden, Free Agent

Mark Deeks, editor/owner/viceroy of ShamSports, had a terrific take on Greg Oden’s impending free agency this week. Deeks figured that Oden’s options boil down to the following:

1) Re-sign with Portland for the value of his qualifying offer,

2) Re-sign with Portland for between one to six years, and to an amount that begins between the minimum salary and the maximum salary for a four year veteran (the amounts of which will not be known until the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified, but which for reference were set at $915,852 and $13,520,500 for this season),

3) Sign an offer sheet with another team within the same financial parameters, yet which is for between two and five years in length,

4) Get signed and traded somewhere (to a deal between three and six years in length, but in which only the first season must be guaranteed),

5) Sign a contract with a non-N.B.A. team

6) Retire from the game and run a country pub.

To me, Oden’s immediate future is one of the more intriguing stories in years. Maybe Oden is completely, totally done at this point. But there’s a chance he’s not. As Deeks wonders, how does one quantify that probability? A healthy, two-kneed Greg Oden is an absolute game changer on the glass and on the defensive end.

21 years ago, Sam Bowie missed 44 and 77 games in consecutive seasons for the Blazers. Portland ended up moving him and a draft pick during the ensuing offseason to New Jersey for Buck Williams. In that case, both teams benefitted. Bowie enjoyed four decent years with the Nets, New Jersey drafted Mookie Blaylock with the pick, and Williams played 557 games for Portland over the next seven seasons.

Here’s how I look at it with regard to Oden. Let’s say Portland does determine a specific value (or range of values, etc) for Oden. Let’s arbitrarily say they decide a healthy Oden is worth ‘10’ of some arbitrary stat. Let’s call this arbitrary stat a LaMichael. 10 LaMichaels (Go Ducks).

Let’s also say that their doctors tell them there’s a 50% chance Oden will be fully healthy again (ignoring the grey areas of partial health). So in that case, Portland would value Oden’s future worth to them at 5 LaMichaels. There’s a chance he could be worth 10 LaMichaels, but there’s also a 50% chance he could be worth 0 LaMichaels.

Finally, imagine that there’s a willing trade partner out there- say, Philadelphia. Let’s assume Portland’s front office values Andre Iguodala as equivalent to the maybe injured, maybe not Oden- 5 LaMichaels. If Rich Cho makes that trade, he gets back an “equal” player, but he cuts out the risk involved. This process is somewhat iterative in nature in that Oden’s health (and the market perception of his health) determines what an “equal” player truly is. But I think the analogy also illustrates the fact that as Portland gets a better idea of Oden’s health and future prospects, they absolutely have to consider the trade angle. It could be the best way to capitalize on the Oden asset while minimizing risk.

H is for Heisley’s Perplexed

Quoth Michael Heisley this week: “I don’t know what’s happening. We’re having a difficult time, and I don’t know what the reason for it is. I started the season with high hopes for the team. It’s not living up to what I’d hope. I don’t know what else to say. I’ve racked my brain trying to figure it out.”

Oh, really?

I is for Instant Replay, D-Fish Style

This is pretty cool.

J is for Jerryd

We all knew Jerryd Bayless could ball. The question was always “when?”, and increasingly, the answer is “now.”

Through 10 games in Tdot, Bayless is enjoying career best rates of getting to the line, shooting from the floor, turning the ball over, defensive and offensive rebounding, and overall offensive efficiency. He absolutely tore up Detroit down the stretch on Saturday, and he looked exceptionally comfortable doing it.

I’ll point out that some of his production is unsustainable. He’s currently shooting over 50% from deep (33% career), and snagging 18% of all available defensive rebounds (10% career). But the main thing with Bayless is he may finally have found a coach and team who let him play his style. The Raptors are permitting him to hoist more shots per minute than he ever has before, and he never found his current level of offensive freedom in either Portland or New Orleans.

K is for Knicks Ahead of Schedule

This summer, conventional wisdom dictated that the Knicks should grab at least one marquee FA, toil through the season, and snag Carmelo Anthony on the other end. Recently though, the Knicks have been doing far more winning than struggling.

This is easily the most efficient offense of the D’Antonio-New York era, and it’s largely due to the play of the team’s two biggest additions- Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton. Despite a high turnover rate, Felton has been a borderline All Star in the Eastern Conference, setting up teammates for shots more frequently than he ever did in Charlotte. And Amar’e has rapidly proved that he can excel without Steve Nash by his side.

The main questions for the Knicks still lie on the defensive side of things. That said, they’ve managed to be around league average there. If they can sustain their current record, they obviously become an even more desirable destination (if that’s even possible) for Melo.

L is for Love’s Short Film

Via Pro Basketball Talk:

M is for Mayo’s Demotion

O.J. Mayo lost his starting job about three weeks ago. As many have pointed out, he’s struggled to adapt to his new role. His shooting has been off, his foul drawing has been off, and he’s simply looked out of sorts (not that he was having a fantastic year as a starter either).

Mayo was a can’t-miss superstar type player when he was being recruited (/paid) to attend USC. His exploits were legendary in the states of West Virginia and Kentucky. Though he didn’t dominate college the way some predicted, he still turned in a very decent freshman year at SC. Now? Unless he can change some fundamental aspect of his game, he’s potentially looking at career of bench-warming. More than anything, I think the case of Mayo highlights how difficult it is to be a truly great NBA player.

N is for Nuggets Extension

For a while, it sounded like the extension offer to Carmelo Anthony was purely perfunctory. Of course the Nuggets would leave the offer on the table because it’d look terrible to take it off… but of course Melo was never going to give it a second glance.

But early in the past week, Melo told CBSSports, “I met with [the front office] last week and I told them I’d think about it.” Was this just more posturing? Or did it partially validate Masai Ujiri’s (once desperate sounding) belief that Carmelo might consider signing the extension?

If Carmelo’s latest comments- that he’d only approve an extension for a trade to New York- are true, the answer is no. As much as the Nuggets would love to move him to the highest bidder, the contents of each bid will vary drastically with Melo’s contract status. For New York, this is the best of both worlds. They don’t have to offer too much to Denver because there won’t be  many teams lining up bids for a non-extended Melo. At worst, they nab him next summer, and for now, they’re playing great basketball even without him.

O is for Orlando’s Offensive Woes

Sure, there was the whole “everybody has caught the flu, oh no” thing. The recent schedule hasn’t exactly been forgiving either- four back to backs and six of eight games on the road in the past one and a half weeks. But the Magic have to be at least slightly concerned about their offense at this point. After finishing with the NBA’s fourth most efficient offense a year ago, Orlando is sputtering along at league average in 2010-2011.

The three point shooting has been down a touch. The Magic shot 37.5% from beyond the arc last year, compared to just 35.9% this season. Vince Carter, Quentin Richardson, and J.J. Reddick are each shooting below their career averages from deep (something one would expect to even out over the long run). I don’t think there are too many red flags with regards to their long-range shooting. The team is attempting about as many threes per possession as last year (0.31 vs. 0.35), and 86% of their made three pointers are assisted (compared to 84% last year). The peripheral three point numbers have all held steady, a great sign for Magic fans. Additionally, the Magic still rank in the league’s top five in overall floor percentage (eFG%).

The primary culprits have actually been an increased tendency to turn the ball over and the slightly lower frequency with which they’ve gotten to the line. So far this year, the Magic have turned the ball over on 15.3% of their possessions, which is the second worst mark in the East and third in the league. And while Jameer Nelson has been turning it over a touch more than we’re used to, the real issue is the ball handling of Chris Duhon. Duhon has turned it over almost once every three possessions; toss in the fact that he’s playing more than 20 minutes a night, and the impact is readily noticeable. Of his 37 turnovers, 26 have come via stolen or bad passes.

Parenting 101

Q is for Quiescence

Okay, yeah, that’s just a fancy word that means quiet.

In any case, this refers to what Manu Ginobili probably should have exhibited after “seeing” a “UFO.” Unless he actually saw one, in which case, hooray for his lack of… quiescence.

R is for Relative Parity (Maybe)

For a few seasons now, the disparity in talent level between the Western and Eastern Conferences has been a little unsettling (especially for those 45+ win teams that miss the playoffs in the West). But at long last, we may finally have taken a step towards league parity.

Consider: the top four defenses in the NBA (Orlando, Boston, Milwaukee, Miami) all play in the East. With the decline of teams like Portland, Houston, and Phoenix and the inability of teams like Memphis and Golden State to step up, it’s quite possible that the West’s 8th seed could hover closer to .500 than in recent years. And with perennial doormats like the Knicks turning things around in the early going, the battle for 7th and 8th in the East may not be quite as ugly as we presumed. If Chicago can develop into a legitimate challenger for Miami/Orlando/Boston with the continued integration of Carlos Boozer into the lineup?

The depth of the West is still unmatched at this point. But the SA/DAL/LAL/UTA foursome out West isn’t that different from the BOS/MIA/ORL/CHI foursome that leads the East. The East’s sixth ranked team (New York) just dumped the West’s sixth ranked team (New Orleans) last week too.

There probably will be a couple of undeserving teams in the Eastern playoffs, but we’re far closer to parity than one might imagine.

S is for Spin Cycle

T is for The Streak is Over

I’m not entirely sure what Blake Griffin did to get Andre Miller so riled up. I am sure that Miller deserved his one game suspension, ending his NBA-leading consecutive games played streak.

Miller’s suspension moves Derek Fisher into the top spot, with Jarrett Jack right behind him.

U is for Unnecessary?

Nah, any free throw line dunk attempt is inherently awesome, regardless of outcome.

V is for Very Unfunny

I wasn’t planning on watching the Warriors-Heat game on Friday night. When I heard Bill Simmons would be commentating, I dropped my other plans, convinced a friend to watch with me, and waited till an ungodly hour to consume dinner.

It definitely wasn’t worth it. The best parts of the evening were Mark Jackson’s vaguely confrontational exchanges with Simmons, but Simmons largely stayed away from firing barbs at any player or team, veiled or otherwise. The only thing that came close to being a “jab” was his comment about Erick Dampier, and even that came about a possession or two after Dampier botched a layup. Maybe Simmons was on a leash, maybe he’s not that funny on the fly, or maybe it was a combination of the two. Either way, it was mildly disappointing.

W is for Workmanlike

I like to dedicate at least one letter of the alphabet to a less heralded player that’s producing. For this Alphabetical, it’s Kris Humphries.

Consider the following: his defensive rebound rate (almost 30%) ranks 6th in the NBA. His total rebound rate (almost 21%) ranks 5th. His 122 points produced per 100 possessions ranks him above players like Manu Ginobili, Paul Millsap, Steve Nash, and ranks 16th in the league among players that have played at least 400 minutes. He’s scoring well from all over the court- shooting 66% at the rim, 54% inside 10 feet, and 46% from 10 to 15 feet.

Kris Humphries is quietly putting together a remarkably efficient season.

X is for Xenocracy

Or “ruled by outsiders,” as it were.

The fate of the Hornets franchise could radically alter the current course of the NBA, and that’s only mild hyperbole when you consider the facts. The NBA’s ownership of the Hornets does provide them some leverage in the ongoing CBA negotiations, but it also puts David Stern in between a rock and a hard place. Or multiple rocks and hard places.

Rock and Hard Place #1:

The Hornets are struggling right now. GM Dell Demps has been swinging trades and working the phone lines like crazy. It’s almost inevitable that Demps will try and cook up another deal if this current slump continues. He still has multiple expiring deals, the sparingly used Marcus Thornton, and a $9 million trade exception on his hands.

But what if the trade he wants to execute takes the Hornets over the luxury level? Keep in mind that the other 29 NBA teams currently own the Hornets. By giving the thumbs up to such a deal, not only would they be enabling a competitor to improve, they’d be paying for it out of their own pockets. If Stern vetoes such a deal, Hornets fans will complain that the NBA doesn’t want the team to stay in New Orleans. If Stern approves such a deal, fans of other teams will (rightly) bemoan the fact that the Hornets are getting a sort of blank check after years of incompetent ownership.

Rock and Hard Place #2

Basketball can succeed in New Orleans. Maybe. But basketball is much, much more likely to succeed in a number of other locations. Chicago, Louisville, Kansas City, and Anaheim are just some of the names we’ve heard.

For the NBA, it comes down to the PR hit they think they’d sustain. David Stern announced his intention to keep basketball in New Orleans during the league’s explanatory conference call. But Stern also mentioned his desire to transform the Hornets into a profitable franchise (something they are decidedly not, right now). If the city meets the attendance benchmark, would Stern be willing to deal with the negative publicity that would accompany relocation? Will the backlash generated by the Seattle/Oklahoma City move play any role in the league’s New Orleans decision?

Rock and Hard Place #3

The attendance benchmark could pose some serious issues of its own. The Hornets are short of the mark right now, but as the New Orleans Saints’ season winds down, as residents become more aware of the team and arena situation, and as some marquee teams roll through town (the Lakers, Jazz, Magic all stop by in December), there’s a chance that the benchmark could still be met.

Let’s say David Stern and Co haven’t found a New Orleans owner as Free Agency ’11 draws near and that the benchmark has been met. What happens then? Does the NBA hold on to the team? If it does, the issues concerning the salary cap and luxury tax will be compounded exponentially. David West (currently on a heavily frontloaded deal) could opt out. Who makes the decision as to how much the team can pay him? Who makes the decision as to what the Hornets are allowed to do with their cap space?

As much as Stern emphasized the lack of a timetable during his conference call, we could be just a few months away from a very sticky situation.

Y is for You’ve Got to be Kidding Me

Via Gian Casimiro of Posting and Toasting comes this amazing video of Rony Turiaf reacting to a call.

I’ve taken the liberty of providing you with a full transcript of the event in question:

“NO WAY”

“OH MY GOD”

“oh my god”

“AHHHH”

In related news, did you know Turiaf’s first professional contract (the Lakers voided his deal after drafting him) was paid for by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. For reals.

Z is for Zero Tolerance

Via Jodie Valade at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, we learned this week that Byron Scott fined his players for being late… during a snowstorm. Moreover, downtown Cleveland was stuck in gridlock traffic for the four hours preceding game time, and multiple players abandoned their cars and ran the final few blocks to the arena. I always felt the Jason Kidd-led “mutiny” against Scott in New Jersey was probably (a) a little overstated, or (b) pretty malicious if true. Now? I’m not so sure.

Regarding Moses

Photo courtesy of Vedia on Flickr

I’m fixated on Moses Malone. That’s a more academic way of saying I’m slightly obsessed. Last summer I was killing offseason time working on a PBT piece about Yao Ming. The idea was to compare Ming solely within the context of the Rockets. The Rockets have a long history with championships and great players but aren’t inundated with great players which relegate great players to “pretty good” status like the Big 2 do. My expectation was to find The Dream with a healthy level of domination and Moses somewhere on the list with someone I didn’t expect mixed in and Yao drifting along.

Instead?

Moses. Sitting there, staring at me and laughing at the fact that I know nothing about him other than “he was great at basketball.” How great?

To pound out numbers in the context of great players usually means they get lost in the middle. Wilt’s numbers obliterate everything without context. Russell obliterates everything with, and Jordan is Jordan and Shaq Shaq and the beat goes on. So instead, try and get outside the fences of whatever logo-laden pasture of fandom you happen to inhabit and let’s just look at what these numbers mean.

In 1981-1982, Moses Malone secured his second MVP with the Houston Rockets. He averaged 31 points per game. In the annals of NBA history that’s not elite. Well, okay, it’s pretty elite when you consider the vast number of players who have ever played in the NBA and that Moses ranks 36th all time in that category. Top 40 for single season scoring won’t get you talked about in the top five talks but it’s not exactly a slouch thing to score over 30 points per game. But what’s stunning is that he did it while averaging 14.7 rebounds per game. 31 points, 15 boards. There have been two players since 1980 to average 30 points with a double double. Karl Malone averaged 11 rebounds in 89-90, and we’re all very happy for him. Malone was the other.  Now a days if someone logs 15 boards we throw a little party for them (making Kevin Love that much more impressive). Moses logged that many (rounded!) over a season, and dropped in 30 points per game at the same time. 30 points per game. I don’t know how better to describe dominance than in those figures, except to note that while Moses was not flashy in his approach, watching him constantly out-wit, out-muscle, out-effort, and out-produce everyone else on the bevy of video available on the series of tubes does a pretty good job as well.

Diversion.

**********************************************************************

There’s a certain familiarity with Blake Griffin, except not at all. The effort’s there, but Griffin has charisma, flash, style. He doesn’t ask to be seen, just like Moses did not, but when the light flashes upon him, Griffin smiles, and shows why someone will eventually give him an obscene amount of money to smile that same smile while holding a product. Griffin is 21 years old averaging 20 points and 11.7 rebounds. When Moses was 21 he was averaging 13.5 points and 13.4 rebounds (15.6 and 15.4 per 36 it should be noted). So Griffin is simultaneously not the beast on the glass Moses was (who has ever been?), but is more of the scorer, already.

And that’s pretty terrifying.

This isn’t to compare the two in any meaningful way. From background to personality, to game, there are no similarities. In reality I’m simply looking for someone new to dominate the game the way Moses did. But when examined, Moses isn’t considered to have dominated, even when he dominated. In that way, maybe he’s closer to a grumpy Dwight Howard. But it’s not what’s said about Moses that bugs me. It’s that Blake Griffin could very well have a book written about him within three years.

That same book has never been written about Moses Malone.

Resume.

***********************************************************************

image by Sheyenne Rad

From the 1982 Sports Illustrated profile of Moses Malone by Anthony Cotton:

“I can do so many things that people don’t recognize yet,” Malone says. “If people want to find something bad about Moses this year, they won’t be able to find it. I’m not gonna fool anybody, not gonna promote myself to people. I just want them to respect me.”

via Moses Malone is aiming to earn his $13.2 million by – 11.01.82 – SI Vault.

This from an MVP who just switched teams in order to try and win a championship next to Doctor J, Bobby Jones, and Mo Cheeks (say hey, Marc Iavaroni).  This from a man that should have been the simple idol of every big man worldwide. Instead the league was in full Lakers-Celtics obsession. Moses wasn’t sexy. He wasn’t infectious with Magic’s ability to disarm people, draw them in, make everyone feel like they were part of the party with him. Nor was he outwardly obsessive like Bird, driven to some sort of psychotic need to reach the end of the question “How good can I be?”

Moses instead knew he was pretty good. He liked being good. He played a lot of basketball and enjoyed his money and played ball for a good long time (20 FREAKING SEASONS), and then he went back to Sugarland, Texas and hung out. That’s it.

But in 1982, he was the MVP, joining a team with a legend, and it would be he who would let Doc walk out with the requisite ring for inclusion in The Club.

Cotton’s piece is insightful, even if it’s your basic profile, and just as obtuse as any feature on Moses (and they’re all obtuse).

“I don’t wanna be the best player; there are better players on the team than me. They win 55, 60 games every year. I just want to help them win a few more.”

via Moses Malone is aiming to earn his $13.2 million by – 11.01.82 – SI Vault.

Again, that kind of honesty, that kind of humility, that kind of workman’s ethic, even if he was just spouting off cliches to a reporter? You don’t see that anymore. And you certainly don’t see it from MVPs. Steve Nash was too cerebral, Dirk Nowitzki was too self-unaware, and Kobe and LeBron would never admit anyone was ever better than them at anything (and in doing so would be simultaneously loved and hated). Moses? Just thought he was pretty good at what he did.

Diversion.

************************************************************

In the Cotton piece, Moses shows up at a local wing joint for lunch in his $50,000 Mercedes (in 82!), and has “strawberry soda pop” with lunch. For some reason I consider this to be my favorite piece of information regarding Moses I’ve found. The MVP drinking strawberry soda pop. I love strawberry soda pop. On a hot day it’s one of those things that simultaneously is so sweet you can’t understand how anyone could drink it and yet is so satisfying you want to go swimming in it. (That would be sticky.)

You can’t imagine LeBron drinking strawberry soda pop. You can’t imagine Kobe drinking it unless someone bet him he wouldn’t and the only thing he would taste is the crushing defeat of those who doubted he would drink said strawberry soda pop. You can imagine Dwight Howard drinking it, but it would be intentional, part of his long-tenured media buy and he may have abandoned that perception in favor of this new “the kidding is over” nonsense. Kevin Durant? Yeah, Kevin Durant would have strawberry soda pop,but even then you’d have to wonder if he was doing it just to pursue this same Mickey Mouse set of public ears he’s had on for so long.

But Moses? Strawberry soda pop.

In August I went to Memphis with a group of friends from high school. From an era I very much want to forget, these friends remain ideal in the fact that I find their company both entertaining and their grown personalities interesting. One of the things we did was visit Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. The wait was long, and the ceiling fans did not do the job in stifling the oppressive heat. But good God. Memphis fried chicken with an ice cold ICB Root Beer? Nothin’ better. It wasn’t the finest beverage I could have, it wasn’t edgy or hipsterish. But in the name of all that is holy, it was just really, really good.

Moses.

Resume.

************************************************************

Again, from the Cotton piece, this time the words of Julius Erving:

“Mo has been one of the fellas from the first day of camp. He said, ‘Don’t worry about getting the ball to me, I’ll just go to the offensive boards and get in shape.’ Now that might not be as newsworthy, but the team will be successful.”

Imagine that. The MVP joins a great player on a great team and there’s no posturing or struggle with minutes or shots because one guy simply says “I’ll go do the dirty work and we’ll win a bunch of games.”

Not to hate on a generation that is decidedly more mine than “Mo’s” (which I am loathe to do because I already feel this era is preemptively underrated in comparison to prior ones), but how much further can Amar’e Stoudemire, or Chris Bosh, or Dwight Howard, or Andrew Bynum get from what Moses was? And while being that way, he was still the best. Even if it was only for a very select series of years as Simmons states in his book, being the best, being a winner, and not disrupting a great team while you do it?

I am jealous of that era for having Moses. Transcendent point forward who can play center or whip out assists in transition? I’ve got my own, even if he isn’t as good. I’ve got that, even if it’s a watered down, hard to swallow version. Transcendent shooting guard who can fill up the point sheet and nail clutch jumper after clutch jumper because he simply wants it more? Yeah, I’ve got one of those too. Great point guards with expert vision, dominant big men who are more physically gifted than others, intense defensive-minded power forwards, I’ve got ‘em.

We don’t have a Moses.

But then, no one has a Moses. None of us ever did.

*****************************************************

The crux of this entire thing is that there’s no book on Moses.

Not one. No cheap portfolio written by someone who managed to cobble together quotes from former, lesser teammates or middle-school friends. No personal statement written to promote religious beliefs or some self-help guide. No “Moses Malone Teaches All-Star Rebounding!” or personal tear-jerker about his personal life. Nothing. Moses is mentioned in Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball on 31 pages, 11 references in the index, and five pages dedicated to him in the Pantheon setting. He shows up periodically throughout the great works, in Breaks of the Game and The Punch, in Tip Off and anything that goes in depth on Charles Barkley or Hakeem Olajuwon. Why? Because this supposedly inarticulate man was the best professional mentor for those two.

Moses Malone mentored Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. That’s the kind of impact he had. He validated Doctor J’s career. He was a thee-time MVP, an NBA champion, an 11-time All-Star, a Finals MVP, a two-time member of the All-Defensive team, an eight-time All-NBA team member, and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

No book.

Not a single tome.

I’m not saying it would be easy. Moses is legend for being imperceptible. Simmons mentioned this Frank Deford piece from ’79 in the Book of Basketball:

Malone is not particularly articulate about all this. Indeed, in his heavy bass voice, speaking in the argot of his impoverished Southern subculture, he sometimes seems obtuse. He grew up in a tumbledown frame house with only his mother, who had left school after the fifth grade; the only literature on the premises was a worn Bible and, later, newspaper clippings of his exploits. But syntax and structure are not everything; young Moses Malone has always had the most express vision of these two places: the rack and the future. And that, for him, has been quite enough.

via Moses Malone jumped from high school to the pros, where – 02.19.79 – SI Vault.

And that’s who he’s been. Fourteen years later this is what we get from a piece on Moses teaching Shawn Bradley:

At first glance, he seems miscast as a tutor. He is often gruff, with a low rumble of a voice that comes across like distant thunder and makes much of what he says sound like “hrrumph.” The police should put out an APB on his smile.

via Moses Malone – 11.08.93 – SI Vault.

So I’m not unaware that coaxing the story of Moses Malone out would be difficult, even as it seems that the people and careers that his life and game touched seem abundantly prepared to open up about him. But the attempt should be made. That Moses isn’t running head-first into the folds of attention and publicity makes it all the more important that now, in the era of TV specials for free agency declarations and press conference tweaking of officials and coaches is the norm, that we recognize Moses. Moses, who didn’t need to beat us over the head with his personality, nor tell us how good he was.

From Deford:

“There are no tricks to the way he plays it. “Basically, I just goes to the rack,” he says.

Rack is a rather obscure colloquialism, meaning the rim of the basket, but the way Malone gives voice to it, the rack takes on the aspect of a specific territory, demarcated as surely as the lane or the crease or the mezzanine or the city limits; you’ll know just where to find him.”

A player that simply used his game to back up his game. Ain’t that something.

We live in an era where Bil Walton is revered as the next coming who never came. Shaq is the biggest legend you can find. Books on players from this era will pile up and pile up. Somewhere, somehow, we are missing out on an opportunity to appreciate the free standing greatness of Moses Malone. Getting the right book on Moses Malone may be difficult. So was going to the rack.

Conclude.

*************************************************

Moses wasn’t a saint. He’s not a sublime ambassador of the game that’s looked over like David Robinson is. He was a surly dude that had no time nor patience for reporters, publicity, or really, anyone. He did what he wanted and he switched teams time and time again. He didn’t belong to the Rockets fans or the Sixers fans or really anyone. But he’s part of our lore, and as all of us are keepers of the game, we owe it to ourselves and those that come after to try and remember him before he’s gone.

You think about that while you watch Tim Duncan this season. Just keep it in mind.