Monthly Archives: February 2011

Podcast Paroxysm: Double Feature

Hey, a double feature! Because after last Thursday, NO ONE IS WHERE THEY USED TO BE. It took me three hours of podcasts to figure all of it out.

First up, Noam Schiller and I have a conversation about the trades. The sound quality is low. Give him a break. He’s in Israel for crying out loud. That’s like, really far.

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And then Harper and I talk about the trades. Kind of. I guess. I don’t know, there’s a lot of confused giggling. It was late. Forgive me. Slightly NSFW

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Winners Prosper: The Case For Manu

Photo via Macchese on Flickr

The shocking exclusion of Reggie Miller from the forthcoming 2011 Hall of Fame ballot left us with a flurry of questions – not the least of which being, in what twisted narrative is Mark Jackson placed on the ballot over Miller? But like so many perplexing turns of plot I was left contemplating the fates of players whose final chapters are still being written.

We know Kobe Bryant will be forever immortalized in Springfield one day, it’s simply a matter of how large his legacy will loom over the game. Should the Lakers win another championship this summer, Bryant’s sixth, some will at least entertain the idea of placing the Black Mamba among the five greatest to ever play the game. Whether or not you agree with that sentiment, the argument at least has legs, due in no small part to the sheer amount of titles he has accumulated in his illustrious career. That’s the thing about the NBA , save for quarterbacks, no other team-sport athletes are subjected to the kind of personal scrutiny related to winning that basketball players are. A surplus of championships can elevate an individual beyond his numbers, while a lack thereof can severely diminish his place in history.

Perhaps then, no player stands to gain more in the remaining months of this season than Manu Ginobili.

In his purest form Ginobili is one of the best all-around players in the league at his position, possibly the biggest steal in draft history and among the craftiest players of his generation. But beyond that basic façade stands one of the more underrated NBA personalities in the last 20 years. While even now he deserves to be mentioned in the pantheon of big game guards who never quite earned their due ala Sam Jones, Dennis Johnson and Joe Dumars, Ginobili has been granted an opportunity many greats never receive: the chance to be the leader of a team. Jones and Johnson were role players on stellar Celtics teams and Dumars was a sidekick to the Isaiah Thomas glory years. After years of filling every role from sixth man, to defensive stalwart and crunch time closer, the Spurs now belong to Ginobili.

Is the torrid start to San Antonio’s season purely the fruit of the 33-year-old’s labor? Of course not, but in a year where the storyline could just as easily be the slow decline of Tim Duncan, it has been on the resurgence of a franchise thought to be too old to compete at this level anymore. The Spurs are on pace for 67 wins, they’re a legitimate contender and Ginobili is their best player. If San Antonio wins it all this year – certainly a major if – how can he not be viewed in the scope of the hall of famer discussion?

He’s been a vital component to three championship teams, arguably the x-factor in two of them. He’s been a tremendous big game player, continuously rising to the occasion when the lights are the brightest. But most importantly, he’s been a winner, whether in a supporting role or the lead character. Much like Scottie Pippen wasn’t fully appreciated until he carried the Bulls in 1994, Ginobili’s true greatness is fully manifesting itself now that he has assumed the alpha dog role for San Antonio.

Naysayers will point to his accomplishments within the context of the elite players in the NBA. No, he’s never been one of the five best guards in the NBA. At most you can possibly argue he’s been a top ten player once (2007-08) and last weekend was just his second appearance in an All-Star game. The basic statistics he’s ever been among the elite in has been steals and free throw shooting percentage.  Even when factoring in his championships, this hardly seems the profile of a player deserving of being in the hall of fame picture. To gain a full understanding of his place in history one needs to go beyond the basics though.

Ginobili ranks in the top 35 all time in player efficiency rating and his reputation as an elite defender is further reinforced by the 28th best defensive rating in NBA history. For those who favor even more advanced statistics, consider that the Spurs guard is 10th all time in win shares per 48 minutes. Of the nine players ahead of him on this list, all are already in the hall of fame save for teammate Tim Duncan and Lebron James, both virtual locks to be enshrined one day. His career regular season and playoff numbers compare favorably to the aforementioned greats like Johnson, Dumars and Jones – so maybe much as was the case with these three, he won’t fully be appreciated in historical context until long after his career has ended.

So what would happen if San Antonio went all the way this year? It would concurrently be the most surprising team development the NBA has seen in years and completely reshape the public perception of Ginobili’s legacy. Do I think he is a hall of famer right now? No, in the discussion absolutely, but ultimately he is on the outside looking in. But we’ve seen how quickly and drastically a championship can alter and reshape a player’s lasting footprint. Kobe’s first title sans Shaq got the monkey off his back. A second suddenly vaulted him into top ten consideration. Another title for Ginobili means he was the first, second or third best player on four championship teams, leaves him as one of the elite winners of his generation and firmly puts him into the hall of fame discussion.

That is, unless the committee opts to put Bruce Bowen on the ballot instead.

Mirage in a Menagerie

Screen shot 2011-02-15 at 11.15.45 PM

The long and winding N.B.A. season creates more than its fair share of mirages. With so many games and an infinite number of ways in which to split and separate data, there always exists the potential to mistake some fleeting streak for a meaningful assertion. A majority of games will fall somewhere near the mean; there are only so many “statement games” and “turning points” to go around, which makes the mass of the regular season schedule an exercise in affirmation. They’ll surge and fall back, but for the most part, N.B.A. teams hover around the same anchoring marks they established earlier in the season.

With that in mind, it now appears that – perhaps out of desire to find Blake Griffin a suitable throne – some may have rushed to their conclusion that the Clippers were immediately on the up-and-up. Los Angeles is a talented team and has a bright future, but let’s not forget: young teams that suddenly vault their way into the playoffs are the exception, not the rule.

Griffin’s Clippers went 9-4 to finish out the month of January, which is quite a bit better than their .364 season win percentage. Plus, despite scoring dynamo Eric Gordon being sidelined for the final four games of that stretch, the Clippers still won a pair of home games to close out their January schedule. Griffin amazes nightly, but his team’s performance last month was about as remarkable as any of his highlight-reel slams. That the underdeveloped and undermanned Clips managed such a record over a 13-game stretch (which included wins over the Heat, Lakers, Nuggets, and Pacers) is nothing short of astonishing.

Los Angeles then played four consecutive games against Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, and Orlando, and promptly fell back down to Earth. That much is to be expected; all of those teams are substantially better than the Clippers, which means that four consecutive losses merely represent the most probable outcome.

What’s a bit more disconcerting is the next stretch of games. After a solid win against the Knicks, the Clippers rattled off a series of embarrassing losses, each demoralizing in their own way. First, the Clips had the decency to be the Cavaliers’ first win in 27 games. Two days later, they could barely score against the Raptors, who have the second-worst defense in the entire league. L.A. managed just 97.9 points per 100 possessions in that game; for comparison’s sake, the Bucks are the league’s worst offensive team, and average 98.2 points per 100 possessions.

Most recently, the Clips extended their trip through the gutter by notching a 24-point loss to the Bucks on Monday night. That stagnant Milwaukee offense, which so conveniently served as a benchmark for ineptitude? It managed 114.6 points per 100 possessions against Los Angeles.

The Clippers played well for a time, and that performance received deserved notoriety. Now things have swung to the other extreme, and though Eric Gordon’s absence admittedly serves as a significant caveat to any honest assessment of Los Angeles’ current performance, there’s no use trying to explain away those three heinous losses. One dropped game to the Cavs would be an understandable slip, and two straight losses a bad weekend. But to lose three in a row in such humbling fashion speaks to the considerable limitations of this team. The elastic regular season was bound to swing the other way, as L.A.’s previous triumphs were anything but sustainable.

Peaks, valleys, and all, this isn’t a team that’s ready to make the jump into playoff contention, even with Gordon fully healthy. The Clippers still have a ways to go before reaching solvency. The scoring – outside of Gordon and Griffin – will have to come from somewhere, and do so reliably. The defense will need to improve in every possible dimension. Right now, individual elements are in place, but there’s no collective foundation.

Consider it this way: that 9-4 stretch which so briefly ignited the Clippers’ long-shot playoff hopes showed what this team is capable of as currently constructed, rather than show the anchor from which the team’s performance could be stabilized. Their actual baseline isn’t quite so high. Take a look at the team’s performance over the course of the season by efficiency differential:

clippersfinal

The red line represents the Clippers’ season average in efficiency differential, a pretty crummy -4.1 points per 100 possessions. Were the Clippers markedly better than that average over those 13 glorious games (as noted by the blue highlighted portion of the graph)? Of course. However, this sample is most accurately assessed as a counterbalance for the Clips’ early season struggles (seen in the red highlighted portion) rather than some season-saving improvement. Los Angeles wasn’t gaining momentum during their hot streak, merely evening out the scales.

As is usually the case, the real measure of the Clippers’ performance lies somewhere in the middle; that -4.1 efficiency differential might be a bit depressed by the team’s recent struggles (which can be linked, though not wholly attributed, to Gordon’s absence), but it’s a fairly accurate indicator of how the Clippers have performed this season on the whole.

N.B.A. teams are erratic. Even the most consistent clubs jump in efficiency from game to game and week to week, and though the Clippers seem to have these isolated runs of success and failure, they’re merely making their way through an arduous N.B.A. season just like every other team in the league.

Discernible Truths Of An Indefinable Player

Photo via Stuck In Commons on Flickr

One of the frustrating truths of the NBA is the incessant need to draw parallels to preexisting archetypes. Kobe is Jordanesque. Lebron has run the gambit from Magic to Oscar. Even the Blakeocalypse isn’t free from this gratuitous treatment, existing in many a mind’s eye as an amalgam of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Dominique Wilkins. To be sure it’s a necessary evil to many, allowing us to identify the traits and strengths of today’s players in an effort to understand why certain individuals and teams rise above the fray. Even just the simple act of identifying players’ specific strengths makes their place easier to define in the context of the team and the game itself.

Consider the Clippers. Blake Griffin is the interior presence, a blossoming, dominant low-post scorer with the necessary strength, athleticism and smarts to obliterate defenders near the basket and control the glass. Eric Gordon is the explosive backcourt scorer, difficult to defend off the dribble, a significant perimeter shooting threat and a guard who can create when he wants to do so. In the eyes of most, these two represent the future of the “other” Los Angeles franchise, the sun, the moon and the stars. It’s an easy argument to make, surely one that is difficult to refute in almost any scope.  But neither player holds the key to the Clippers future as that all important x-factor.

Enter DeAndre Jordan – a player lacking any discernable, consistent strength, yet the key to it all.

First we need to consider Jordan’s game as it stands: raw, developing, a growing anthology of explosive potential and jaw dropping highlights, but without a definable quality. In many ways the budding 7-footer’s role on offense is akin to that of an overgrown wide receiver, toss it up and go get it big fella. Not that this style of play hasn’t been without its benefits to the Clippers and created nightmarish scenarios for opposing defenses. Jordan’s length and athleticism has made him the 6th most effective pick and roll finisher in the NBA at 1.38 points per possession according to Synergy Sports. Using this same metric he ranks in the top 50 in transition finishes. This doesn’t even take into account the other 50% of his offense which is built around hitting the offensive glass and moving without the basketball – both areas that he has shown marked improvement from a season ago.

Yet despite existing in the realm of the Clippers offense as an explosive ball of matter, devoid of any distinct form, Jordan’s ever present potential for the amazing is what makes him such a vital part of the offense. In short, he is a distraction to defenses. Double team Blake Griffin and the rookie is savvy enough to get the ball to his frontcourt compatriot for a dynamic finish. It’s a telling sign that for a player of Griffin’s ilk, Synergy Sports shows he is faced with a hard double team on only 5% of his post-up possessions. As much potential as Jordan shows for the future, right now for all intents and purposes he serves as the NBA’s biggest prop.

It would seem defense is an apparent strong point for Jordan – clearly it shows in his monstrous blocks – but even here the big man remains far from a guarantee from night to night. The proclivity to undergo mental lapses proves a pestilent characteristic in his ability to dominate this side of the floor, something he clearly has the ability to do. The fact that Jordan maintains a total rebound rate of 16 – well above average – while playing alongside Griffin is a testament to his glass cleaning abilities. Furthermore, while the third-year pro serves as a means for making offense easier on the growing star, he helps divert attention from the fact that he has thus far proved to be a mediocre defender. For all of his still frustrating inconsistencies, Jordan is a disruptive force of a defender, holding opponents to .8 points per possession.

So where does this athletic mass of arms and potential fit? Why is he so vital to the future of the Clipper franchise? Because much like a budding tomato plant, Los Angeles can guide the growth of one of their most valuable assets to meet their needs. His morphing, moldable talents and abilities provide a litany of possibilities at both ends of the floor without forcing his team to accommodate, but rather plug him in when needed. Subpar athleticism in the frontcourt yields a slew of pick and roll finishes at the basket. Gordon and Davis feeling the need to put up shots from the outside, send Jordan to the glass to clean up around the rim.

Defensively there have been flashes of smothering the low post and harassing stretch fours, so the roll adapts on a game by game basis in way that no one else on the Clippers roster can possibly duplicate. What isn’t up for debate is his current and future status as the anchor of this unit, an anchor that will only become further entrenched as he becomes a more cerebral player.

The ultimate irony of Jordan’s presence and development lies in that he exists as one of the Clippers most valuable commodities lacks a defined role in a game that for so long has placed a premium on defining roles. As early as midway through his freshman season at Texas A&M he was labeled as quite possibly the biggest high risk, high reward player in his draft class and it would appear Los Angeles has broken the bank with this reward. The only question now remains, which archetype will we be drawing on to properly label Jordan in the not too distant future?

Unhinged: The Russell Westbrook Story

Photo by /amf on Flickr

By tapping into chaos, Westbrook has risen to the top of his profession. He has more games of 30+ points and 10+ assists than any other player this season. He also has more games with seven or more turnovers than anyone in the league, but that’s just part of the package for a player this talented and this bullish. It’s a credit to Scott Brooks and his staff that they haven’t tried to turn Westbrook into something he’s not. Other point guards might shift away from such a forceful approach, but Westbrook’s way forward doesn’t lie in concession.

Unlike his point guard colleagues, Westbrook will find no elevation in control. He’ll continue to improve only as he better understands his own strengths (many of which are derivative of or rooted in his unruly style), improves some technical aspects of his game, and better unleashes himself on opponents. Westbrook forged his stardom with his own fire, and though he occasionally burns himself and his team, there’s simply no substitute for the ferocity of a creative hearth.

via Westbrook’s Stylistic Blessing and Curse – NYTimes.com.

Try and calculate how many times your average NBA internet pundit hears the phrase “when he learns” during the average course of a season. It is the fan’s greatest hope. Rajon Rondo is 25 and we’re still discussing “when he adds a mid-range jumper.” With Derrick Rose it’s his mid-range or his defense. With John Wall it’s health and the jumper. The list goes on and on, nowhere more pointedly than in the never-ending stream of conversations about the elite class of point guards we watch every night.

Which is probably why Westbrook’s my favorite of all them. Not the best. My favorite.

Because as Mahoney touches the nerve on, I don’t think Westbrook considers his game. He just plays. It’s instinctive. With Rose, there’s a high level of calculation going on, even if the math itself isn’t all that complex. He’s precise, borderline OCD about how he springs off that screen. He’s not perfect and he knows it, wants to improve. And that’s really admirable. It’s a great quality to have in your young beast. The best, really.

But there’s something about Westbrook’s attitude. It’s borderline “F*c% it, I’m going deep.” Openings in the lane are not opportunities to be seized on like a vulnerable commodity in a high-equity market, they’re not the flat bars in Tetris, to be used eagerly to clean out that row. No, it’s stumbling upon free drinks at a bar, an open cashier at the market, the opening in traffic for a chance to open up the engine. You don’t consider the consequences. You push the little red button. That’s Westbrook’s whole approach. Push the little red button.

Westbrook takes what’s his. It’s honestly the biggest difference between he and KD. Durant is always judging himself, the shot, the defense, the game, trying to find that equilibrium that allows him to do amazing things. He’s a kid searching through radio stations for that song he heard once. If he finds the right frequency, everything falls into place. Westbrook on the other hand is just going to run in and jump on the bed until it breaks and then run downstairs for his pudding pop. It’s not the best thing. But it’s the thing which hits you in the seratonin spots like chocolate.

Part of the draw is of course, the violence.

Westbrook sees no need to go for the body shot. He just swings for the head. Swing away.

That’s pretty much Westbrook, only without the goofiness of “Signs” (although I’ll also readily admit “Signs” is my favorite Shyamalan flick). He’s not conniving, in such that you don’t think the hawk that snatches the snake out of the grass is conniving. It saw a snake, it was hungry, it killed the hell out of it and went on its way. That’s Westbrook. You’re in need of a few players on any good team who simply exist in that “no-mind” state. Odom is that for the Lakers, Rondo would likely be that for the Celtics had he not been brainwashed into hyper-effectiveness.

It’s honestly James’ biggest problems, to continually bring him back into things. He’s an instinctive player who’s not sadistic. Westbrook, on the other hand, gets his greatest sense of satisfaction on the floor in demolishing you. He’s got a mean streak, and it shows. It’s not just the dunks. That mid-range middle-key pull-up of his is basically him saying “Take that. Leave me open.” The looping left-baseline righty layup might as well be followed by “Oh, I’m sorry, were you gonna guard that baseline, eventually?” Westbrook is the one who irritates opponents and their fans, not Durant. Durant you respect, you fear, but you don’t really get irritated by him. Westbrook however is always trying to cut you in the fight and you’re constantly frustrated with the small cuts he elicits.

Like all reckless players, you wonder if eventually it’ll take its toll on Westbrook, if he’ll stop being fearless and have to hold himself back. Until then, we’re just waiting for Westbrook’s next opportunity to get off the leash.

The Rattle and Hum


“Just because we’ve got the best record doesn’t mean we have the best team,” Popovich said. “To be that, we definitely have to get better defensively.”

Each of the past four NBA champions has finished the season ranked in the top six in field-goal percentage defense. The Spurs are 12th, allowing 45.2 percent.

If the purpose of the rodeo trip is to forge a defensive identity that could carry the Spurs to a fifth title, they’ve received mixed marks so far.

In the two games that opened the eastern leg of this trip, the Spurs played two quarters of defense at Detroit and one at Toronto, which turned out to be enough.

“We can’t be satisfied,” point guard Tony Parker said. “You want to improve. That’s the goal every night. We don’t want to waste this record.”

Tonight, as the Spurs face a sub-.500 76ers team that always has been a bad athletic matchup for them and always has given them trouble in Philadelphia, defense again will be the focus.

“Usually, we’re moaning and groaning about offense,” Popovich said. “Now we’re moaning and groaning about defense. It’s been a schizophrenic season in that sense.”

via Spurs Nation » At 44-8, Spurs won’t settle for just winning.

Popovich knows. I’m not convinced the players do. I’m sure Duncan does. Ginobili and Parker may. But the rest of them are too young to really know. McDyess probably knows but he’s basically a Sphinx anyway. The defense isn’t there.

The question with San Antonio is if Pop will be able to replicate the offensive success from the regular season while somehow hitting the “switch” on defense. They can’t just be better. They have to become elite, instantly. With the style of play they’ve adopted, I have questions as to whether that’s possible. San Antonio is middle of the pack in pace, but they also do push the ball. They’re constantly pushing, but also aren’t forcing the issue. If they burst to halfcourt and you’re back, they won’t engage you on your terms, they’ll reset and engage you on theirs. Very Spurs like, only hyper-efficient.

But that kind of up-and-down game doesn’t create knock down drag-out basketball, the hallmark of “playoff basketball.” So the Spurs will have to go through a dramatic reimagining once the second season starts. How many times have you seen that be effective as a strategy for the post-season? You can be a different team in terms of effort. But you are who you are. The regular season doesn’t tell us how good you are, but it does tell your style. And the Spur’s style is offensively aggressive at the cost of its defense.

How many Gs can they pull on the turn once the playoffs begin towards a defensively stout team if they haven’t held that style the whole year? It’s not that they’re not a good defensive team. They’re seventh in the league. Thats’ a good team. But what makes them great is their offense. And as we’ve learned, that formula doesn’t work in the postseason, especially against teams with physical advantages, like lost of really tall people in the case of Los Angeles.

The point is not to say that San Antonio can’t adjust. They can. They have the personnel, and they have the coach. What’s interesting here instead is that Popovich has to be driven a bit mad by his own success. What kind of a point can he make to his team when they keep winning games? What kind of adjustments can he hope to impart when they’re on a historic pace? His own success is working against him, because he’s aware that something has to change over the second half of the season, but he’s got no way of forcing that message on a team that has to feel pretty good about itself. Reading the quotes, you get that sense. It’s not overconfident by any means, it’s simply content. They’re happy with how they’re playing. They’ll give the same quotes about improving, but there’s a difference between that and being driven to improve.

Maybe worst is the timing. This is the worst time to be at your best. It means that eventually you’ll regress a bit, which means you’ll have to hit an even higher gear once the playoffs start. The more you think about it, the phenomenal record, the record pace, the impressive dominance, it’s all a bit of a burden, and one that doesn’t even come with much of a reward.

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For the first time after reading this, particularly this bit:

As this season has ventured into special territory — only six other NBA teams have gone at least 44-8 after 52 games, and all of them went on to win a championship — the Spurs have become less concerned with winning in and of itself, and more interested in how they arrive at the “W.”

via Spurs Nation » At 44-8, Spurs won’t settle for just winning.

I started to consider “What if the Spurs actually won the whole damn thing?” It would simultaneously be the most stunning development in recent NBA history outside of “The Decision” and yet completely fitting. The Spurs ruin the party for the Big Bad Markets and win with terrifying consistency and team-centric play. Only one All-Star. No big flashy personalities. Just sharing the ball, getting buckets, and racking up wins. How perfect would that be for a Popovich close? It’s so perfect, I don’t even want him to wait to retire.

I would honestly want him to take the microphone on stage on ABC live around the world and say “I’M DONE NOW. GOODNIGHT,” drop the mic, and walk off. It would be the best ending to any story, ever. It would be the NBA equivalent to Wesley riding off on the gigantic horse in “The Princess Bride.”

So we’ve got two inescapable truths slamming towards one another. The Lakers or Celtics will win the NBA title and the Spurs are headed for one of those seasons in a walk-off. I’ve been beaten down by the past three years into believing Celtics-Lakers in unavoidable (28% FG%! Catch the Drama!), but there’s a part of me that wonders if the grizzled old son of a bitch has one more run in him, one more way to defy the narrative set forth by the league.

Then I remember Richard Jefferson starts for this team and is a major role player.

Then I throw up for a while.

A Feel For The Situation Versus An Understanding Of The Phenomenon

Photo by Seph Swain on Flickr

If somebody had their life on the line, and they’ve got their options on who they want to save their life – tell me who you’re going to pick? You’re going to look at the stats first? – Kobe Bryant

via If somebody had their life on the line, and… – Got ‘Em Coach.

At this point I’m beyond exhausted with the clutch discussion. It’s become like politics or religion. That’s how much Kobe Bryant is a polarizing figure in sports commentary. You feel how you feel about him and you’ve either defended or criticized him enough by now to be so firmly entrenched in your position that you’ll never be able to see anything different. Granted, the positional rug has been slid towards his supporters as the rings ratchet up and since he started trying to be a team player from time to time starting in 2008. But in general, as Abbott has no doubt found by now, trying to have a rational conversation about this is like walking into a clash between pro-choice and pro-life protester and saying “Hey, so, what do you guys think of God?” You won’t learn anything and you’ll wish you were wearing a raincoat.

But what the quote above does strike in me is a peculiar element to the whole clutch nonsense. What Bryant’s actually talking about, beyond his own chosen jumpshot/fadeaway jumpshot/leaning fadeaway baseline jumpshot/leaning fadeaway 35-foot jumpshot early in the shot clock with Pau Gasol desperately screaming for the ball with a small forward guarding him, is the gap between a person’s conception of what is correct and what “feels” right.

Bryant’s not arguing that the stats support him. He’s saying, point blank, that him shooting “feels right” to you based off of what you know, and therefore that’s what you should trust. It’s essentially an argument for ignoring scientific exploration. There’s no point in testing a hypothesis that Bryant is in fact, not clutch, because you already know the answer. The question of clutch isn’t actually anything tangible, it’s simply self evident.

Which sounds insane because really, these are physical events. Bryant shooting jumpshots in a basketball game in which one team is ahead or behind by less than five points with five minutes remaining is a set of tangible, physical elements which can be studied, examined, and placed within mathematic probabilities. The actual shooting is not voodoo. Sure, the attitude, the concept, the “feeling” of clutch is ephemeral. In short, you could “feel clutch” and not be clutch or “be clutch” and not feel clutch and it wouldn’t really change anything. Bryant’s quote is an inadvertent advocation for faith.

The alternative, naturally, is to rely on a set of principles which have been proven in the past to predict the future. But then comes the feeling aspect into play. Bryant has hit roughly one out of every three shots with less than five minutes remaining when his team has been within five points of the other. But do you need to know that fact to determine whether he will hit the next one? Will it impact it? According to science, yes. But Bryant’s not playing by those rules, so to speak. Instead his quote suggests that we should simply abandon our reason and trust our instincts. And this, despite sounding like total crap, is actually pretty insightful.

After all, I know Bryant’s actually not likely to nail that game winner down 1 with 10 seconds left. I know that he’s only got really a 1 in 3 shot at it based on prior events. But I still feel genuine terror with the ball in his hand and some poor struggling near-playoff team aching for a home win. I’m genuinely afraid of his ability. It’s not based on knowledge, it’s based on feeling. Just as with a Lakers fan, their confidence in him, in reality, doesn’t spring from them having seen him hit the shot every time, because we know they haven’t. It’s from their faith in him based on how they feel about him after all the times he has. When he misses, they feel nothing.

In a way, this is akin to saying “God works in mysterious ways” when a flood or Earthquake or IRS audit happens. It wouldn’t really do to look at our faith and say, based on previous data, God doesn’t love me. Instead, we feel happy when we are blessed because God loves us, because it feels like it.

Guess what? Those who back “advanced” stats like clutch stats are still going to claim Bryant is what the data says he is, and those who think you can’t define clutch with silly stats will continue to make jokes about it. We’re never going to learn anything from one another, we’re just going to argue about whether faith or science is more important. And that’s not an argument you’re ever going to win.

Think of it another way. I follow the Memphis Grizzlies. Knowing that they are a horrific ball movement team with limited spot-up shooting ability, I whole heartedly hope for a Rudy Gay pull-up jumper to win a game. That’s the best chance to win based off of what I know about the team. But there’s still a part of me that feels like anything could happen there. I’m not confident in RG’s ability, despite his having demonstrated said ability in the past. That’s because RG’s not “clutch.”

Basically, sports has become some sort of weird mesh of mythology, religion, and scientific experimentation, only it’s played out and redefined on a nightly basis. And yes, I suppose, in a way here, Kobe is God. So Laker fans have that going for them.

For Crying Out Loud, DeMarcus, Chill Out.

Photo by Aislinn Ritchie on Flickr

After the buzzer, Cousins let his opinion be known to Greene as he blew by him in the tunnel leading into the locker room. According to the sources, Greene and Cousins began exchanging words inside the locker room. The situation then escalated when Cousins accused Greene of being too “scared” of making what Cousins thought was the right play and with both players taking swings at each other before they were separated.

Petrie, according to the sources, made the decision to remove Cousins from the plane and decided to wait until Sunday to determine how to proceed. It was a decision that was not popular with at least one member of the team, as one of the sources said veteran swingman Francisco Garcia argued vehemently for Cousins to remain on the plane before relenting when he was told his fight was futile.

via Kings Remove DeMarcus Cousins From Team Plane Following Altercation — NBA FanHouse.

I refuse to believe Cousins is not salvageable.

There’s simply no reason to suggest that’s the case.  I’m significantly concerned about the assumptions made by people about Cousins. That because he argues with his coach that he’s a troublemaker. That because he fights with teammates that he must have off-the-court-issues. That because he gets technicals that he must be a bad seed, whatever that is. There’s a huge gap between being unable or unwilling to control your behavior in relation to basketball, and having issues with authority, discipline, or social behavior. Cousins is an angry, emotional, immature brat. There’s no pretense of crime, there. The similarities to Sheed are frightening, but he doesn’t have Sheed’s outright disrespect of social structure. There’s no reason to suspect he’ll get busted for pot, or guns, or any other nonsense. There’s nothing to suggest he won’t either, since those problems, if you consider them problems, aren’t exactly accompanied by some sort of tattoo. But the point is simply that Cousins isn’t a bad kid. He’s just not. He’s just really, really immature and very, very stupid.

That said, there’s an issue here. Let’s begin in the most reasonable place, with Zill.

I’ll say this about Cousins, in addition to the thoughts above: you ever have a fire — on your barbecue grill, in your flambe pan, when you’re camping, in the fireplace — that refuses to go out? No amount of water or dirt or blowing will put it out. The attempts to put it out, in fact, make it stronger. That’s DeMarcus. All this discipline this year … it hasn’t done one little thing to put out that fire. It’s burning hotter than ever. That fire can rip through the Kings and destroy the team. Or it can be focused on the opponent, and it can scorch a path to glory for Sacramento. Which will it be?

via DeMarcus Cousins Suspended After Reported Fisticuffs With Donte Greene – Sactown Royalty.

My big concern? The Kings have not established a hierarchy. There’s not a ladder. There’s no “this is Reke’s team.” If they have, Cousins has failed to accept that, and if so, the structure may not be in place to contain him. Cousins has to consider whatever his role on the team is to be an immutable law, like gravity, or the continuing existence of daytime soap operas. You don’t question where or when “Days of Our Lives” starts or ends. You just pick up in the middle and go. That’s what Cousins needs, to know without a doubt that he is either first and foremost or second fiddle. Right now, he obviously believes he is first and foremost, and that Evans is not inherently his superior in terms of floor dominance. If you give Cousins such a vacuum, he’s going to fill it. It’s inevitable, like death or a Ryan Adams’ B-Side collection.

I’m not saying that the two can’t reconcile, nor that they can’t share the spotlight. It’s wholly possible for them to have a bonding moment over the summer and grow into one another. Teammates will eventually stop hating Cousins because most of them won’t be around in Sacramento as long as Cousins. No offense, but only Reke and Cousins really matter on that team. They’re the only elements in play. So if the rest of the team thinks Cousins is an entitled, bratty jackass that needs to shut up, it doesn’t really matter. If Cousins thinks Evans is an overrated thorn in his side, however, that’s a problem. It takes two for the Coexistence Tango, and should Cousins keep up this path of demanding to be No.1 in all situations, the result will be disastrous should the Kings side with Evans. That’s an untenable scenario.

The other issue in play is pretty simple. You can’t trade a player who could be a franchise cornerstone and who would be a ROY candidate in the absence of the Blakocalypse and who also just got into a fistfight with a teammate and had to be removed from the team plane. You’re pretty much Andy to the other team’s Dwight in that situation. It’s one thing with Rip Hamilton, since the Pistons don’t care about equal value. But they can’t give away Cousins without getting massive return. A trade is simply not an option, I don’t care how obnoxious he is.

Fans of teams like Philly and Minnesota will be smug in saying how they dodged a bullet with Cousins. But there’s no way of knowing if under more structure in Philadelphia, he would have thrived, or as the sole superstar in Minnesota (which would of course meant burying Love resulting an early season trade making everyone happier, by the way) he wouldn’t be more comfortable. The Kings were in the best position to draft Cousins, but were also in the worst position to draft Cousins.

This should serve as yet another sign that perhaps we should regard the draft less as an exercise in talent discernment and more as the very hand of fate, screwing with us.

DRUNKEN SEAL: ACTIVATING DRUNKEN SEALITY. DRUNKEN SEALITY, ACTIVATED.

Big Baby #FAIL You know, in all seriousness,… – Got Em Coach.

I have reached my wit’s end with trying to understand the Drunken Seal, Glen Davis. Is he a superior role player? The Sixth Man of the Year? Is he simply the ultimate shamrock, a nexus of all the Celtics’ good fortune manifested in a being who should never, ever be able to hit that reverse, yet who does it time and time again? Is he the most nimble fat guy in the league? Is he the luckiest sumbitch in the Association?

What is he?!

At this point Davis is like some sort of remainder that keeps coming up when I try and do long division with the elements of the league. I can understand why Boston and L.A. will always be powers and the teams in between them geographically which are not Chicago or in Texas are simply pogs getting swapped. I can understand why playoff basketball wins every time, despite its core foundation essentially being a resolution to foul continuously and trust the officials to allow it under the pretense of “good hard playoff basketball.” I can even understand that J.R. Smith has his role in this bizarre manifestation of sport.

But Davis? Davis is like the spleen of the NBA. You feel like you could remove it, but if you try and just yank it out, you’ll bleed to death and that’s no fun. He’s very literally a huge key to the Celtics’ championship run this season. That midrange jumper that never drops back-to-bottom but always rattles down like a pinball. The leaning reverse that results in him falling down approximately 3 out of 5 attempts, yet him hitting it 4 out of 5. The charges drawn despite the sheer impossibility of an object with that mass stopping on a dime in front of another object in high velocity’s path. It all makes zero sense when you try and break it down, but in reality, it’s not to be understood. It just is.

I watched a fairly terrible movie called “The Time Traveler’s Wife” with Paroxi-Wife this weekend, and while the plot, characters, and physics were of course totally ridiculous (it’s a chick flick film about time travel for God’s sake, don’t watch it if you don’t expect it to be silly), the fact that so many people had issues with the seemingly nonsensical chronology baffled me. You can’t try and find a beginning and end to the plot. It simply exists. Moment by moment, individually resultant in its own perplexing reality. It’s not because of anything, not dependent upon probabilities or decision making. The plot line simply occurs. The scenes just “are.”

And that’s a lot like Glen Davis, the Drunken Seal.

(Side note: Eric Bana actually had to grow his hair back out after “Star Trek” to do re-shoots on “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” Which means that he had to endure an interval in between producing films which central premise involves time travel. It’s like the creative version of being stuck between time,similar to Hell in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Adventure.” Well, not really, but I thought it was notable.)

Davis isn’t meant to be understood. He’s like the combination of two separate role players, complete with their heroics and nonsense, exaggerated and contorted, of course. He just is. But at this point it’s time to stop wondering when he’s going to fail. He’s not going to. He’s a legit NBA player, and a good one at that.

But Good God, he’s such a Drunken Seal.