Monthly Archives: September 2011

Drake Has Some Interesting Basketball Opinions

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tevv2eiecCA

To be fair, today’s Miami Heat are probably better than whatever team the guy who keeps talking about Mutombo fingers is picking — 2001 Sixers maybe? 1994 Nuggets? 2003 Nets? — but picking the LeBron James-led Heat is probably the most Drake thing he could have done in a video that doesn’t feature a song where he’s whining about being famous. Of course he’d pick the Heat. It just fits so well.

via Video: Drake picks the worst best team ever

As Trey points out, it’s fitting that Drake would pick the Heat, and not just because he’s reportedly friends with LeBron. They’re both wildly popular and controversial in their respective fields. I wonder if Drake is known for “performing poorly during the last three songs of his album”. What other controversial opinions does Drake have about popular topics? (Important note: I have nothing against Drake.)

The Completely Fake Drake Postulates

1. “Sure, it’s cool that the Bills are 3-0, but the Eagles have a way better nickname.”

 

2. “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Slightly less than a million dollars.”

 

3. “Don’t get me wrong, I like PB&J sandwiches. But do we really need all that jelly?”

 

4. “Oh, the Mavericks are a good basketball team. But can Jason Kidd play above the rim? Can he even dunk? I’m seriously asking. I usually just watch Heat games.”

 

5. “The only thing that matters more than winning is almost winning with more athletic personnel.” 

 

6. “Keep trying to win championships, we’ll take the promotions/Hairlines”.

 

7. “Trying to beat the world, but at least we’re close/Second”. 

 

8. “Team name Heat/Nickname Greatest, but not technically”.

 

*The last few aren’t technically statements, but it seemed like a good time to do an impression of Drake’s rapping.

No, You’re Wrong.

Photo By Seth Johnston

Connor Huchton and Scott Leedy like to argue. Instead of shouting at each other over Twitter, they’ve decided to try something more constructive: An actual, semi-coherent email conversation. What you see below are the results. 

Huchton: So, this lockout sucks.

Leedy: I know. SO MUCH GOOD STUFF TO WRITE ABOUT. I love it.

Huchton: I was interested to see how it would affect people that we know (at least vaguely), the basketball media people and the fans, as it progressed. It feels like a slow-moving plague. Initially there was this foreboding, ominous mood (July-August), and now we’re in the throes of September tension. It feels like October anger is next, and the only thing that can stop that is a deal.

Leedy: I think more than anything it’s the uncertainty and the lack of control that’s so unsettling. As we get closer to losing games it becomes more and more apparent that us fans have almost no power over basically anything that happens. More importantly, even if we do get a season, there’s no J.R. Smith. So it’s kind of like, what’s the point?

Huchton: One of the things I’m worried about is losing the continuation of any sort of storyline from the previous year. Who’s going to remember the Mavericks, Derrick Rose, and Kwame Brown finally having a “breakout year”?? Even if we still have a season, the only thing people will talk about is the lockout and the ensuing flurry of signings. Well, that and the Heat. There won’t be a continuation of questions and debates. It’ll just be “How will this team be affected by the lockout?” I like fresh starts, but this won’t feel fresh. It’ll feel forced.

Leedy: I’m all for forgetting the Mavericks. In fact, let’s just pretend the 2010-11 season didn’t happen. In all seriousness though, I’m perfectly fine with losing some of the narrative. It’s often the most obnoxious part of sports anyway (see the LeBron coverage during this year’s finals). With that said, I still believe some of the more interesting basketball related questions will remain at the forefront. We will still be wondering about the viability of a Durant-Westbrook tandem, and the emergence of James Harden as a potential third star. Both Boston and The Lakers will be the subject of the “Are they finally too old?” discussion, and many (myself included) will be interested to see how everything in New York plays out (Melo-Amare, Mike D’Antoni, and Chauncey Billups continuing to inexplicably be considered a terrific “leader” while hoisting up awful threes in critical situations). The real crime of this lockout will be forcing all of us to watch more college basketball. Hate you so much, NCAA.

Huchton: I don’t really get why NBA people often have this disdain for the NCAA. It can be as fun or exciting as anything else. March Madness is a little over-hyped by some, but it’s still fantastic and unpredictable. It’s going to be interesting to see the ridiculous analysis of future NBA prospects playing the college game if we don’t have a season. “Is Jared Sullinger the next Greg Oden?” No, he’s the next DeJuan Blair (though he’s way better defensively).

Leedy: I can’t speak for everyone, but my disdain for NCAA is two-fold:

1)    I can’t stand the NCAA as an organization (that’s a discussion for another time).

2)    The quality of play is a huge step down, and I don’t think that’s debatable. I understand the lure of March Madness and I get why people love its unpredictable nature, but I prefer a seven-game series and a structure that more effectively determines the best team. Furthermore, while evaluating prospects is both fun and interesting, it’s never grabbed me the same way it has others. I guess it boils down to the ever present fact that none of us really “know” how these prospects will turn out. It’s much more engaging (for me at least) to watch a player develop and grow throughout his NBA career than it is to try and simplify a prospect down to characteristics that make him analogous to a current or former NBA player.

Huchton: This seems like a good time to ask you how you feel about Evan Turner. I feel like he’s really got lost in the shuffle. Jeez, I wouldn’t want to be a #2 pick. That hardly ever turns out well.

Leedy: This is where I could pretend to actually know something or I could just admit that I hardly watched the Sixers play this year. However, as you noted, being a high pick in general can be a curse. Unlike the NFL, there isn’t a giant pile of money waiting for you, and yet expectations remain incredibly high. If you’re anything short of a franchise changing force you’ll most likely be deemed a bust. And who knows? Your wife, ex-girlfriend or hookup might even end up on Basketball Wives.

Huchton: I did have an idea for a Basketball Wives spin-off the other day, if things get too bad. It’s pretty simple, really. It’s called Basketball Dads, and it’s basically exactly the same.

Leedy: I think it’s a rule that once you start discussing theoretical/fake reality show the conversation has come to an end.

Huchton: I think it’s the opposite. Since you’re in the advising mood, give me some advice on how to get though this lockout. Porcelain blankets?

Leedy: I think this lockout is going to take my sobriety. Or kill me. I’m not sure which.

The Other Sides Of The Amnesty Clause

Photo from Mark Strozier via Flickr

The distressing developments and the pessimistic ponderings offered by the lumbering lockout have long passed the alliteration area and are now just annoying. Sure, it’s fun to pretend we have an invested interest in the sheer morality behind this talks – for example, I still fail to see how rollbacks on contracts that were negotiated in good faith is constitutional and/or humanly acceptable – but for the most part, we would all be willing for gruesome travesties to take place if it ensures us actual basketball again.

However, one interesting little curveball that the negotiations have sent us are a new and improved version of the Amnesty Clause. Nicknamed the Allan Houston rule but never actually used on Allan Houston (it was assumed that given the chance to lose luxury tax payments on a single contract, the Knicks would single out the overpaid-washed-up-always-injured-veteran Houston; instead, he retired due to knee problems, thus leaving the payment of his contract to insurance, removing James Dolan’s pressing need to find other ways of not paying him, and prompting the Knicks to use the clause on Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams), this little joker was first introduced to us in 2005 as a magic get-out-of-jail free card for all teams with bad contracts. According to the Oregonian’s John Canzano, it is expected to do the same in 2011 (or 2012. But let’s stay optimistic, shall we?).

Well, not exactly.

The 2005 rule was created with the one and only purpose of saving money. The player designated by a team as an amnesty cut was then still guaranteed every penny of his contract: only luxury tax payments tied to that player’s deal were nullified. So basically, if a team was under the luxury tax, and didn’t plan on exceeding it for the following season – the amnesty clause was just another way of saying “waiving”. It was a gift basket sent only to the heavy spenders, and indeed, not all used it. This version is expected to be very different – players still get paid (enter NBA owners yelling “players always get paid!”), but the expectations are for their salaries to be removed from the entire salary cap. I don’t know if the luxury tax provision remains – mostly because we have no idea if we’ll still have a luxury tax – but all of a sudden, letting bad contracts go becomes everybody’s game, unless you were actually prudent and smart about your money.

But can this still stack up against 2005? I bring you, from the depths of November of 2010, the brilliant Mark Deeks, who completely and totally predicted the amnesty craze that is upon us, in this listing of 2005 casualties:

Boston – Vin Baker

Chicago – Eddie Robinson

Dallas – Michael Finley

Detroit – Derrick Coleman

Houston – Clarence Weatherspoon

Indiana – Reggie Miller

L.A. Lakers – Brian Grant

Memphis – Troy Bell

Miami – Wesley Person

Milwaukee – Calvin Booth

Minnesota – Fred Hoiberg

New Jersey – Ron Mercer

New York – Jerome Williams

Orlando – Doug Christie

Philadelphia – Aaron McKie

Phoenix – Howard Eisley

Portland – Derek Anderson

Toronto – Alonzo Mourning

via The Luke Walton Rule and the N.B.A. Amnesty Clause – NYTimes.com.

Again, it is important to remember that this is a very different amnesty clause in a very different NBA. But still, let us look at these names.

First of all, as Deeks mentions, 8 of the players “waived” here were already away from their respective teams’ rosters. The case of Miller struck me as especially odd in 2005, when it was dubbed as “Reggie’s last gift to the Pacers” even though recently retired sharpshooter’s remaining salary was still going into his bank account and he literally did nothing to assist the team. But even among the still somewhat relevant players, there was very little relevancy. Finley proceeded to play a supporting role with some very good Spurs teams, including the 2007 champions, but other than him the most successful amnesty player was Mourning, who was already on Miami’s roster when Toronto “cut” him so they could pay his buyout from earlier that season (moved from New Jersey to Toronto in the Vince Carter trade, refused to actually report to Toronto and was waived shortly after) tax-free.

Could similar matters happen today? After all, teams hate paying a player who isn’t on their roster, and if you have a guy taking up cap space even though you said goodbye to him a long time ago, one would rather get rid of that cap hold instead of waiving someone who is still productive.

However, in a remarkable turn of events, there are much fewer players who are getting paid by teams they aren’t playing for than in previous years. In fact, now that Jamal Tinsley’s deal finally came off the books for the Indiana Pacers, the only player in the entire league in this situation is Ryan Gomes, who was waived by the Portland Trailblazers last summer but is still on their cap until 2013 for an amount of money that I couldn’t find anywhere but I believe should be around 2.5 million. Deeks even mentions Gomes as a potential amnesty candidate back in November, but given Brandon Roy’s sad fall from max-player status, I doubt Portland waives anybody but him. So basically, unless Portland does do Gomes the honor of waiving him twice within a year, the most common usage of the 2005 amnesty rule will be legally impossible.

Other things that can’t happen, assuming 2005 rules hold, include: waiving a player, then re-signing him under a lowered cap hold; trading for someone amnesty-waivable, then waiving him (if any provisions change, I’d guess it’s this one, since 2005 didn’t have the salary cap rule. These two new aspects of amnesty would create instant expiring contracts, which would be pretty awesome. Not saying it does happen, but a complete shot-in-the-dark guess says it might); or not using your amnesty clause, then using it on a terrible signing that is done later (and you know it’s coming, no matter how much the owners are trying to protect themselves. Tyson Chandler, 4 years, 60 million, from Dallas would be my guess).

Instead, what I expect to see the most is the Michael Finley version: getting rid of a player who used to be extremely productive, perhaps even an all-star, before becoming older, worse, and by extension, extremely overpaid. This hypothetical player would now be free to sign with title contenders, thus completely screwing up the basic idea of creating a new CBA built with parity in mind. Because if anything will get Dan Gilbert to stop blocking labor deals, it’s the knowledge that he’s giving LeBron James a brand new Brendan Haywood, Chris Kaman, Rashard Lewis or Jose Calderon to play with.

Of course, while this is the most morally suspect part of the clause, it is also the most exciting. We hate overpaid players stuck on bad teams, but we love minimum-salary veterans on good ones, even if other teams are still paying those minimum salary veterans by the boatload. Brandon Roy in Portland? Sad. Brandon Roy giving some scoring to a offensively-horrid Bulls bench? Happy! Rashard Lewis taking minutes away from Jan Vesely? Awww. Rashard Lewis making threes off a Dwyane Wade double team? Hurrah! Al Harrington on the Nuggets? Boring. Al Harrington on the Pacers, again? Hilarious! Ron Artest in L.A.? Crazy. Ron Artest in Boston? OHMYGODSOCRAZY!!!!!

The bottom line, however, is still the parity thing. This clause is built exclusively for the rich, in more way than one. Other than veterans who are already getting their money elsewhere and can now choose to play for free in large markets, we must also remember that the money still goes out of owners’ pockets. TheSacramento Kings barely crept above the mandatory salary floor last season. You think they’re paying John Salmons 24 million just so they can clear another 8 million per year that they are forced to spend against their will? Or take the Atlanta Hawks – they’re already paying Joe Johnson more over 6 years than any other player in the NBA to play at a slightly-above-average level for them; is there any way that they’d be willing to pay him the exact same amount just so they can re-sign Jamal Crawford?

The problem with getting out of jail for free is that, unlike monopoly, you don’t go to jail with a bad roll of the dice. Salary cap jail is reserved for those who pushed and elbowed their way in with bad deal after bad deal. Amnesty clauses are a source for quite a lot of fun – Bill Simmons and Jonathan Abrams, for example, had a lot of fun with it, while going over potential cuts – but they aren’t a source for quite as much fairness.

Fun, but unfair towards small markets and/or non-spenders. Hmmmm. Kind of like the NBA. Which I miss. A lot. Get it together, guys.

Video Games, Andrew Bogut, And You

Photo from Michael Mistretta via Flickr

If you wish to create a loud, controversial discussion, you don’t have to fill a room with the Pope, a fundamentalist Muslim, an orthodox Jew, a Buddhist monk, and a short-tempered atheist. All you need to do is place a bored NBA blogger in front of a spreadsheet full of video game rankings. And if you can do so while said blogger’s favorite sports league is locked out and even the slightest misplaced attribute can be cause for extreme displeasure, even better.

So it was with great amusement that I kicked back in my proverbial chair and watch Twitter run amok with frenzied rage over the newly released 2K12 rankings. From contrived arguments such as “Kobe is much better/worse than 3rd in the entire league!” through astonishing fallacies such as “How can Marc Gasol be the 6th best Grizzly?!” and to the inexcusable “Dirk isn’t as good as *random list that includes more than 3-4 NBA players*” . All the while, I tried to treat the entire manner the same way I would act while watching a bunch of world-class astrophysicists fighting over a novelty whiskey bottle: while I harbor great appreciation for both the involved party and the subject of their attention, I fully recognize that this is something to be entertained by, and not infuriated at.

And then this happened.

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/pastapadre/status/118754143065227265"]

Why, you little…. How dare you say … Stephen Jackson isn’t even sa… Brandon Jennings couldn’t run an offense if it crept up behind him and cut his dreads… I can freaking beat him at H-O-R-S-E… I mean, come on, you have to be… AAAAARGH!

Look, I get it. Every single rational explanation that you could possibly toss my way has made its way through my head. Yes, these ratings are nothing more than a numerical representation of the opinions of what are, ultimately, just humans. Absolutely, these ratings have no value in and of themselves, as they are but an aggregate of much more meaningful single-skill attributes that in and of themselves are incredible subjective. And these games are tilted towards guards, because size in and of itself is a huge advantage.

And yes, all things considered, we must never forget that no matter what surrounds you in your world, 2K ratings don’t matter. If you really are that obsessive (and I don’t know about you guys, but I most certainly am), one always reserves the option of wasting both daylight and sleep in order to create rosters to your liking. Believe me, I know – in 2007, I randomly decided to update the rosters in NBA Live 2004 to create a full gaming experience. In a life full of regrets, this is one thing I am proud of.

But somewhere in my mind, something about the digital hierarchy in hypothetical Milwaukee pinched a nerve. And it went beyond the never-ending overrating of an aging volume scorer who, even at his best, was never nearly as good as he thinks he is, or the absurd notion that a player 2 years into his NBA career who can’t top 39% from the field or and still takes 15 shots a game is anything more than a hopeful long term project.

No, what really grinds my gears here isn’t the continued emphasis on certain NBA skills, or how players who fit a certain mold are more likely to be overrated than others. Those are battles that have been lost quite a while back. This random tidbit within a world of 2K related inaccuracies resonated with me personally, because I am absolutely tired of the never-ending casualty with which we ignore Andrew Bogut.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/noamschiller/status/115247755227709440"]

To be fair, it is quite easy to ignore Andrew Bogut. He is so pale that one could probably see right through him if it weren’t for the shaggy hair or the perpetual stubble. The market in which he dwells has largely been an NBA non-entity for the past decade, their sole glimpses of relevance taking the form of first round losses while Bogut was sidelined with a gruesome elbow injury or before he was even drafted (also, the 2006 team who got the 8th seed and lost 4-1 to Detroit in the first round. I didn’t forget you, 2006 Bucks. I’m even going to reference you again later). And even at his best, Bogut lacks any semblance of flair and pizzazz, his offensive game built more around solid fundamental passing from either the high post or the low post than an icy cold fadeaway or a sizzling crossover followed by a tomahawk and-1.

Of course, NBA observers who judge Bogut for his offense aren’t doing their jobs. For it is on the other side of the court where he separates himself from the non-Dwight Howard pack, and it is this side that you are tragically oblivious to if you do not recognize the brilliance from down under.

Bogut’s Synergy numbers are insane. While defending isolation plays, Bogut gave up just 0.6 points per possession and 33% shooting. Do you realize how crazy this is? If you step up against Andrew Bogut, and you want to get your 2 points, you need more than 3 possessions. Among players with 50 defensive possessions defined as isolation, only 9 players were better, and that dropped to 3 once the possession count was raised to 80. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Not good enough for you? How about the way he grabs 27% of all available defensive rebounds, a mark eclipsed only by rebounding specialists Marcus Camby, Kris Humphries, Kevin Love and Reggie Evans, to go with the suspected Dwight and KG (also, incredibly, Marcin Gortat, if you only include his Suns tenure)? Or the way he led the league in blocks per game even though when a guard drives into the paint, more often than not, Bogut is too busy trying (and often succeeding) to draw the charge instead of focusing on the timing needed to pin a layup to a backboard?

Other than the extra-terrestrial presence that is Dwight, nobody in the league can rival this. LeBron and Garnett are perhaps the only players who can even begin to approach Bogut’s defensive omnipresence, but neither of them is nearly the shot-blocker, nearly as unmovable an object. Bogut’s 7 foot, 260 pound frame somehow doesn’t hinder his ability to shadow guards off the pick and roll, but it is a remarkable asset when an opponent’s rear end is trying to back you down. All this, may I remind you, done for an entire year without a functional right arm. How does this guy get just one second-team defense vote?

Merits of all-defensive teams and their brand-based voting process aside, Bogut’s defensive presence is grossly undersold, and I’m not really sure why. It’s not as if we ignore the concept of defense – with the amount of love Tyson Chandler got for the way he transformed the Mavericks’ D, he’s now a near-certainty to be the first terrible contract of the new CBA. We talk about how defense wins championships so much that its sickening. But could it be that if a solid defender is stuck on a team that can’t win championships, we stop caring? Is it only important when little golden shapes are sown on to jerseys? Or is it just too subtle a difference for us to note without the ultimate vindication of rings?

Defensive ability has long been near impossible to quantify. So much is dependent on the system surrounding a player, or the opponent that he happens to meet on a given day, or just plain randomness. One needs look no further than the Chicago Bulls, where only Ronnie Brewer and Joakim Noah were considered elite defenders before the team’s dominant 2010-2011 showing (also, technically, Kurt Thomas, though few were optimistic about his chances of maintaining this at the age of 38).

In post-Thibsy times one can confidently add Luol Deng, Taj Gibson (who was one of the 3 guys better than Bogut in isolation), and Omer Asik to that list, while also acknowledging the leaps made by Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson from awful to average (Carlos Boozer is still the worst). How much of this is systematic? How much is effort? How many of these players have honest-to-goodness improved their defensive abilities? With the exception of Asik, who may have been this good before his only NBA season to date (I haven’t seen nearly enough of the pre-NBA Asik to objectively answer), I doubt there is a singular valid response to these questions.

Here is where I believe Bogut falls through the cracks. When the Bucks scrap and claw and end another opposing possession with a missed shot or a turnover, this will often be credited to the suffocating man coverage of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, or the quick hands of Jennings, or the shot-blocking acumen of Bogut. But more often than not, those who have actually bother to tune into the 75-72 barnburner will hear an impressed play-by-play man saying “you know, Scott Skiles has this team trying so hard”.

This does an incredible disservice to any non-Skiles individuals. It’s so hard to differentiate between the coach and the players on the defensive end, that the well-respected, known entity inevitably gets the benefit of the doubt. In an area where objective data is so scarce and problematic, we can’t help but gravitate towards subjective perceptions, the type which tells us that Skiles was leading elite defensive teams back when Andrew Bogut was sharing a frontcourt with Jamaal Magloire (told you I’d remember them!).

Not only is this wrong, it’s downright lazy. Andrew Bogut may forever be the guy who was taken first in a draft with 2 Hall of Fame point guards, but he isn’t Marvin Williams. The dude is a fantastic basketball player, one who was a third-team All-NBAer in 2010, would definitely have at least one all-star berth if the past two teams were redone, and could absolutely be the defensive anchor for an NBA title team.

Just for the fun involved: My tweet from above comes from a random twitter exercise during a lonely, locked out Saturday midnight stretch, in which I asked the internet congregation how many NBA teams could win a title if Bogut was randomly added to their roster. I suggested at least 10 could achieve this (Hawks, Heat, Celtics, Knicks, Spurs, Grizzlies, Lakers, Blazers, Thunder, and obviously, the already champion Mavs), in addition to 4 more teams who I counted as on the bubble (Magic and Bulls, where Bogut would be helpful but perhaps too redundant to make a game-changing difference, and the Rockets and Sixers, who would bolster fantastic hypothetical rotations, but I still feel would lack defensively and offensively, respectively).

Is this a lot for a single player? Perhaps. I didn’t run this same test with enough NBA players to know if it is indicative of anything at all, and of course, being such a hypothetical test, it’s doomed to both subjectivity and pointlessness. But just take a look around the league at how many teams desperately need a quality center. Look how many misplaced power forwards are just begging for a Bogut. How does Andrea Bargnani look playing the 4 next to an Andrew Bogut? Nice, huh? How about “center” Al Horford? How do Kevin Love/David Lee/Carlos Boozer/Amar’e Stoudemire stack up defensively with such a great second big man erasing their mistakes?

Bogut is not without his flaws. But recognize that all these flaws are pretty much restrained to the offensive end. His health has diminished an already problematic offensive arsenal, albeit one that was improving, but it has done nothing to impend what is one of the best defensive players of our era. And if that statement is too bombastic for your taste, I urge you to knock on David Stern and Billy Hunter’s respective doors, ask them nicely to give us our basketball back, fire up the league pass, tune into the Bucks even if the Heat or Lakers are playing that very night, and tell me what you see. Spoiler alert: the dude misses, and Bogut gets the rebound.

Was It Something He Ate?

Photo from victorkao via Flickr.

“There is no food under heaven that can compare with the Hangzhou cuisine.” – Su Dongpo, Song Dynasty poet

Earl Clark respectfully disagrees, Dongpo.

Well, that’s a bit of an inference. Not sure if bailing (after a month) on his new/former team, the Zhejiang Tigers, willing to pay a year’s worth of guaranteed money on grounds of culinary incompatibility is entirely respectful, though I’m sure there was no malice in the decision. In fact, there are probably legitimate, good-natured intentions behind the departure.

But we were spoiled with the initial headline from HoopChina, with the help of Google Translate, which read: “Not used to Chinese food, Clark left the mansions teams”. 

Of course, the Chinese language is light-years away from English, and there will inevitably be something lost in translation. Perhaps it was a quick and successful snarky bit that us American folk are taking a bit too seriously (and in my case, entirely too seriously). But the troubling/beautiful thing at this juncture is that we may never know. This Earl Clark doesn’t like Chinese food bit has time to brew and mythologize. And I am so ready to add my useless fodder.

If, indeed, Earl Clark didn’t like the food he was getting in the Zhejiang province, here’s a few theories on why not.

1. He doesn’t like bamboo shoots. 

With the fascination many NBA players seemed to have with pandas during this offseason, one might’ve expected more tolerance with consuming the staple of a panda’s diet. Bamboo shoots are generally tender, but are able to withstand heavy braising to infuse both flavor and a certain mouthfeel, which makes it an absolutely vital ingredient in Zhejiang cuisine, which is heavy on braising/stewing. One of the region’s most essential dishes is bamboo shoots braised in soy sauce and sugar. This might not be the culprit, but when experiencing a new culture, you never know what will strike you as off-putting.

2. Earl isn’t much of a seafood guy.

Zhejiang is known (quite literally) as the “land of fish and rice.” Both play such an important role in the routine diets of this particular region. Being on the easternmost coast of China, there is unlimited access to the East China Sea, which houses myriad types of fish, crabs, and shrimp. Common dishes include hairy crab (a signature dish of Hangzhou, Zhejiang’s capital both politically and culinarily) steamed in soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger, andpoached fish in a sweet and sour vinegar sauce. The acidity of the vinegar is used to highlight the freshness of the seafood, which isn’t a foreign concept, but vinegar is never not an overtly pungent culinary weapon.

3. He didn’t like Dongpo Pork. 

This isn’t the reason. Just putting that out there. Dongpo Pork is at the epicenter of what makes Zhejiang cuisine one of the eight great cuisines of China. There’s been a resurgence of interest recently with the use of pork belly in America. I blame/commend the foodies. But there might not be a place in the world that does pork belly better than Hangzhou. The meat is cooked upwards of 5-6 hours in a meticulous process that involves three different methods of cooking. The cubes of park is initially boiled.  The cooked pieces of pork are then allowed to cook in a mixture of aged rice wine, soy sauce, ginger, and sugar until the mixture completely reduces and leaves the pork belly with a dark brown color and a glistening sheen. But that’s not the end of the process. Then the pork is steamed until it’s a tender, unctuous cube of greatness unlike anything else. This isn’t the reason, and if it is, I don’t want to know.

Darko Milicic And A Sea Of Puns

Illustration by Danny Chau

Darko Milicic doesn’t care.

He doesn’t care about your whining. He doesn’t care about the extensive arguments we’ve all had about Kevin Durant’s (prolonged) offseason dominance. He doesn’t care about the disagreements that National Basketball Player’s Association and the NBA owners have had both internally and externally. He just doesn’t care.

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/SportandoBasket/status/118816195892887552"]

(via IamaGM.com)

Because he’d rather be fishing. And he is. Where he’s fishing, there is no David Stern, no BeÅŸiktaÅŸ, no fourth quarter collapse. In a summer that has derailed so many plans, it’s nice to know someone’s still able to live out their dreams.

We’ve known Darko to be an avid fisherman since that one time he told us so early last season. Addressing his early shooting woes (he shot 29% from the field in the first two weeks of the regular season), Milicic noted that the only remedy would be to continue shooting. As he told HoopsWorld:  ”Those are my shots. If I can’t make those shots, then I can go fishing.”

Sure enough, his percentages went up over the course of the season. Unfortunately for him, his percentages were still trash. Milicic, a woefully limited offensive option, averaged 8.4 shots a game — more than 53% of which were in the post…where he managed to convert only 37.6%, according to Synergy Sports Technology. So when Darko uses one of his favorite pastimes as a form of negative reinforcement, what are we supposed to think? I don’t exactly punish myself  with Chick-Fil-A sandwiches… It’s all a bit fishy, is all I’m saying.

Perhaps it’s an acknowledgement of futility. Maybe the abandonment of what little shooting touch he had is real. Maybe Darko is just being a man of his word. He played 69 games and couldn’t make those shots consistently, so he’s fishing. And if he’s acknowledged the inefficiency of his offensive game, there is new hope that he might eschew it all together. Think of how those eight extra possessions could be divvied! The possibilities are truly endless.

As unlikely as it’s seemed for the past few years, Minnesota has given us real reason for optimism this offseason. They not only nabbed the best player available in the draft, but also the best coach available. With the intrigue of Ricky Rubio and a new, sounder offense, the Timberwolves could be an absolute joy to watch. Or it could unravel, and Darko (and the rest of the team) could fall back into old, awful habits. In any case, we’ve fallen for the Wolves, either wisely or blindly, (lefty) hook, line, and sinker.

Like A Dog

Photo by deep ochre via Flickr

Owners have indicated a willingness to drop their insistence on a hard team salary cap in exchange for adjustments to the luxury tax system and key spending exceptions, two people with knowledge of the negotiations told CBSSports.com Tuesday night.

The offer by league negotiators came Tuesday in a brief, two-hour bargaining session that set the stage for what one source described as “an important day” on Wednesday.

“It’s put up or shut up time,” said the person, who is connected to the talks but spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations.

via Sources: Owners drop insistence on hard cap – CBSSports.com.

It’s a scene familiar enough to warrant a Family Guy joke and a Facebook topic page: a dog tied up outside of a convenience store lies down and waits for its owner to finish his or her shopping. Each time the door opens and the annoying little bell dings, the dog leaps to its feet, tail wagging – for a false alarm.

Spin around three times, tuck the tail and lie back down. Rinse and repeat for the kid making the beer run, the underage high schooler carded for cigarettes “going back to the car for my ID,” and the middle-aged woman on her fourth run of scratch-off lottery tickets. Each time the door opens, get excited until the adrenaline wears off and the people walk away. Never get too disappointed – after all, the next time that door opens may be the right time.

This lockout has put NBA fans in the shoes (do Dog Martins exist yet? Get the makers of Kitten Mittens on the phone immediately!) of that tied-up dog. Each bit of good news makes our ears perk up, but we’ve yet to see the labor peace and return to normalcy for which we’re all truly waiting. We’ve received a pat on the head here or there, but most people walking in and out of those doors have treated us with contempt at best – when they’re not disregarding us completely, of course.

The owners are backing down on their insistence on a hard cap? Fantastic. For this beaten dog, any good news is a Shammgodsend, even if it comes from the same drunk patron who once spat on you. But the loss of real NBA games is right around the corner. I sure hope the right owner comes through that door soon.

Lies, Damn Lies, And Statistics

Photo by jmvnoos from Flickr

The ability to score is basketball’s most celebrated and widely discussed skill. At a very base, essential level, a player’s gift for creating points seems to be the default framework from which we judge their relative value. This can even be seen at your local gym, during any given pick-up game. It’s rare that a great interior defender or hustle guy is lauded for his contributions. Instead, we marvel at those who never miss three pointers, or have an uncanny ability to get to and finish difficult shots at the rim.

This seemingly innate obsession with scoring led to an inefficient distribution of wealth amongst NBA teams and players. Volume scoring, was valued at a disproportionate rate. While defense and rebounding were being generally overlooked (at least when it came to player compensation).

What sprung from this utter miscalculation and misinterpretation was an intellectually stimulating, numbers driven approach to evaluating a basketball player’s contribution to winning games. Bill James’ Win Shares, John Hollinger’s PER, advanced +/- stats, and Synergy’s point per possession stats combined with an incredible video library, all serve as invaluable tools for better understanding the complex, multi variable puzzle that is basketball. We have more and more data to either back up or contradict what we witness with our own eyes.

While statistics and numbers are an indespensable tool when evaluating the impetus for team and player success, they also carry with them glaring holes and inconsistencies. Win Shares would have you believe you could win a championship with 5 Ben Wallaces (or even more absurdly that Dennis Rodman was more valuable to the Bulls than Jordan), +/- requires a very large sample size and isn’t entirely reliable, and we are still in the infantile stages of advanced individual defensive metrics. Furthermore, stats aren’t yet sophisticated enough to fully account for the effect a players’ context has on his performance, or how his performance changes the context (positively or negatively) for his teammates. Stats can’t always provide the reason for why certain things occurred, only that they occurred (this is what makes Synergy’s combination of stats and video so incredibly awesome).

As one would expect, volume scorers have been the greatest “victim” of the analytics movement. The numbers have allowed us to see that high point totals are not necessarily indicative of a valuable player. However, it does feel as though, for certain players, the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Where as before we were overvaluing and overpaying elite volume scorers, we are currently ranking any slightly above average defender ahead of a talented bucket getter.

One of the most highly discussed, and fiercely debated topics (at least last summer anyway) is whether or not Carmelo Anthony should be considered an elite player. There is no doubt that throughout his career he has lacked the mental focus and commitment on the defensive side of the ball. No one is disputing this. Still there remains significant questions about whether the man who many call “the most gifted scorer in the league” is actually helping his team on the offensive side of the ball.

Even the most basic of statistics seem to indicate that Melo is little more than average when it comes to scoring at an efficient rate. His TS% has never been particularly high, and most of his career he’s taken far more threes than his conversion rate would dictate he should (though he did shoot 42% from deep after joining the Knicks last season). Furthermore, his assist rate would indicate that Melo lacks the ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates on a regular basis. Thus Anthony seems to fall into the dreaded Iverson category: a phenomenally talented individual who’s popularity was greater than his actual on court contributions. This is where the advanced metrics are failing to capture the entire picture.

While Carmelo may not be directly assisting on teammates baskets, the defensive attention he demands creates rotations issues for the opposition, which in turn allows others to flourish. Many teams have adopted the strategy (including the Lakers in the 2009 WCF) of pre-rotating a big man to Melo’s side when he catches the ball. In 2010, the Jazz where essentially using a 3 man zone to deter Melo from going to the rim. Nate Silver, in a very interesting post over at the New York Times Off The Dribble Blog, pointed out that many players gain a significant boost in TS% when on the floor with Anthony. Watching the Nuggets play over the past couple years would seem to confirm this theory. While Aaron Afflalo is without a doubt a talented shooter, he also benefited greatly from more than a few wide open three-point looks created by the extra attention dedicated to Melo. And Nene was able to obtain such startling levels of efficiency in part due to Anthony’s willingness to carry the brunt of the offensive load. Is Carmelo an elite player overall? Not really. Until he commits himself on defense and shows a greater willingness to pass, it’s impossible to put him the class of Lebron and Wade. Still, Anthony is an elite offensive talent who could serve as the go to scorer on a championship contender.

The debate over Carmelo Anthony highlights an important flaw in the current basketball discourse. Mark Twain once famously said, “ There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” This quote is often misconstrued. It’s not that that Twain hated numbers or had an evil math teacher. Twain was instead referring to the persuasive power that lies within a statistic. Stats and data are often treated as dogma, hailed as infallible truth. You can be characterized as a fool for going against what is declared to be “indisputable evidence”. The fact is that statistics can and will lie to anyone. Furthermore, stats have biases. The designer of the study often brings his own conceptions and prejudices about what should be considered valuable, yet the conclusions are still treated as pure, scientific analysis. The phrase “but the numbers say…” should never be the end-all-be-all to anything as complex and multi-faceted as individual player analysis in basketball. There’s a lot to be gained from statistics. They aren’t in any way ruining the “magic” of sports. But the blind acceptance of statistics is just as obnoxious and dangerous as the “he never played” qualifier.

 

The Lowdown: Don Nelson

Nellie

Photo via Fan Base

“It’s important to start off good, especially in the other guy’s building,” said Boston forward Don Nelson. “We Need to get the momentum going.” Nelson scored the first six points of the game to give the Celtics all the momentum they needed Thursday night…

Via “Celts Lead All The Way To Defeat Knicks, 94 to 84″ by Howard Smith

Years Active: 1963 – 1976

Career Stats: 10.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.4 apg, 48% FG, 76.5% FT

Accolades: 5x Champion (1966, ’68-’69, ’74, ’76 Celtics)

Don Nelson is an integral part of the story of the NBA. In some way, shape or form he’s been in the Association for 5 decades. He’s the unorthodox coach who brought us the 80s Milwaukee Bucks that ran off Central Division title after Central Division title. In the Bay Area, he delivered Run-TMC. (Brusquely ignoring his tenure with the Knicks). He resurrected the moribund Dallas Mavericks into perennial contenders. For a final encore he returned to Oakland and slayed the Mavericks in perhaps the most thrilling upset in playoff history. Finally, his eccentrics just turned into plain crazy, but not before becoming the all-time leader in coaching wins.

However, we’re gathered here today to talk about Don Nelson, one of the most winning players in NBA history. As you can see above, his statistics are not eye-popping. He was never tabbed for an all-star game or received an award. But you’ll notice he was a member of 5 NBA champions. Along with John Havlicek, he’s the only member of the Boston Celtics to transition from the 60s dynasty over to the 70s run of glory.

Now let’s not get mistaken and equate Nelson’s contribution with that of Hondo or Bill Russell or Dave Cowens, but let’s also not get fresh and downplay the role he played. After spending his first three years with the Chicago Zephyrs and then the Los Angeles Lakers, Nelson was signed by the Celtics where he would spend the rest of his career as the team’s go-to super sub as John Havlicek moved out of that role and into the starting lineup.

His playing time rarely exceeded 25 minutes a game for a season, but Nelson made the most of them. He had a knack for scoring in bunches and in the timeliest of manners:

The Pistons took a 13-point lead at 20-7, but a Boston rush late in the quarter gave the Celtics a 33-30 advantage, chiefly on the work of Don Nelson, who scored 10 points. The score was tied at 46-all, 50-all and 57-all. A three-point play by Nelson put the Celtics ahead for good just before the half ended.

If Nelson was timely in the regular season, he was downright clutch and an assassin in the playoffs. Time after time he would check in and revive the stagnant Boston offense in the most critical of moments such as his 26 points and 12 rebounds in Game 5 of the 1968 Finals to give Boston a 3-2 lead in their eventual series victory over the Lakers.

Nelson’s most famous exploit came in the final moments of the Celtics’ 60s dynasty. Nelson had already played an integral role in the 1969 Finals by delivering a Game 6 win for Boston with a team-high 25 points, now he struck in the final moments of the deciding Game 7. His free throw line jumper was the game’s deathblow. The blow was comical however, only falling through after bouncing 5 feet straight into the air after hitting the back iron. It’s good to be good and lucky sometimes.

Transitioning into the 70s, the old guard of Russell, Tom Sanders, Bailey Howell and others retired while Jo Jo White, Paul Silas and Cowens rose to join Hondo and Nelson in a revived era of championship ball for Boston. Nelson, although long in the tooth by the time Boston won the ’74 and ’76 titles, still played an important role. 1976 was his final year and he had been relegated deep into the bench during the regular season. Nelson proved to be as useful as ever during the postseason, though. A bit overweight at this point in his career, Nelson seamlessly delivered yet another crushing blow this time to the Buffalo Braves:

Boston, playing without injured superstar John Havlicek, got tremendous performances from reserves Don Nelson and Steve Kuberski in defeating Buffalo Braves 101-96… Nelson hit for 12 points as Boston took a 28-24 lead in the first period, then finished the game by cashing four crucial free throws in the final 18 seconds.

After defeating Phoenix in six games to win the title, Nelson made good on his January pledge to retire. If the 6th Man of the Year award had been around, Nelson surely would have won a couple, but I’m sure he’s happy with the five rings and having his #19 hanging from the rafters in Boston. His retirement as a player didn’t keep him away from the NBA too long, though. The very next season he was on the sideline in Milwaukee and Nellie was off to the coaching races.