Author Archives: Jovan Buha

#NBArank leads player discussion … which is a good thing

Photo by Blog Gallery from Flickr.

Over the past couple of months ESPN.com released its NBA player rankings, a process in which 91 basketball experts ranked 500 NBA players (including rookies and certain free agents) on a scale of 0 to 10 based off of the player’s current value.

To no surprise, many of the rankings started controversy on Twitter, Facebook and the ESPN comments section. However, a perturbing trend in the fan reaction to the rankings has been the overvaluing of offensive-minded players, an ode to these players’ apparent bond with fans.

Fans and writers alike can discuss and determine player rankings all they want, but for the most part there appears to be a clear-cut hierarchy in the NBA. There are superstars (LeBron James), stars (Amar’e Stoudemire), All-Stars (Kevin Love), sixth men (Lamar Odom), role players (Tyson Chandler), young players with potential (JaVale McGee), journeymen (Matt Barnes), benchwarmers (D.J. Mbenga) and … Mike Bibby.

Certain players don’t have palpable placements, though. Carmelo Anthony seems to border the superstar and star titles. Monta Ellis is a good scorer, but does that alone merit a top-30 rating (I mean, he doesn’t contribute much else)? Where do John Wall and Blake Griffin rank, based off of the fact that they’ve only played one season and still have ostensible flaws?

In the reaction to these player rankings, the public shows what they value most in a basketball player. Is it efficiency? Production? What about the good ole’ eye test? Locker room guys?

The intangibles that factor into player rankings are too difficult to quantify or explain; they’re different for everyone. But the one asset that always seems to factor into most fans’ voting – albeit, a flawed view – is offensive output, particularly scoring.

Look no further than the most controversial reactions to #NBArank. The rankings that caused the most quarrels (other than LeBron at #1) were Kobe Bryant (#7), Derrick Rose (#8), Carmelo Anthony (#11), and Monta Ellis (#41). To most fans – from their Twitter and Facebook reactions – Kobe and Rose should’ve been in the top-5, Anthony should be top-10, and Ellis should be top-30 at the worst.

The four players all ranked in the top eight in scoring and are unquestionably a few of the league’s most exciting players to watch. They warrant much of the opposing defenses’ attention, can create scoring opportunities from almost anywhere on the floor, and are capable of scoring 40 points on any given night. They must be all be underrated, right?

Wrong.

On the surface, these players should rank higher.

Rose was last season’s MVP, and led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals. He has engraved himself in the hearts of Bulls fans and is in the conversation for best point guard in the NBA.

Kobe is arguably a top-10 player of all-time. He’s the best player on the NBA’s most illustrious franchise (yes, even more so than the Heat or the Celtics), is the game’s “clutchest” player (perception-wise), and is arguably the game’s most popular player (along with LeBron).

Anthony is playing in one the league’s biggest markets (with one of its biggest and most loyal fan-bases), is widely considered to be one of — if not the most — complete scorers in the game, has a fan-friendly “thug” perception, and is clearly one of the game’s most popular players.

Ellis is the apple of most Warriors’ fans eyes (except Ethan Sherwood Strauss, and rightfully so), the offensive engine of one the league’s fast-pace, high scoring teams (eh, I’d say it’s more of Stephen Curry, but I’m going with perceptions here), and is an exciting and sometimes dominant scorer.

Honestly, what’s there to complain about?

Well, a lot. All four players have significant flaws that (theoretically) led to their drop in the rankings and coming up shorter than most expected.

Rose isn’t an efficient or effective offensive player, is an average outside shooter, and is an average defender. This was covered extensively during the MVP debates in March and April.

Bryant’s athletically ability and offensive dominance is quickly fading as time ticks away and his knees wear out. He’s still an elite player, but a shell of what he used to be.

Anthony doesn’t play much defense (and no, George Karl wasn’t the first to notice), and doesn’t create well for others (he’s basically above-average in only two categories – scoring and rebounding).

Ellis is one of the game’s least efficient offensive players, doesn’t play much defense, and is out of control (on- and off- the court).

But to fans, none of this matters. Most generic basketball fans only care about two things: winning and scoring.

Fans, naturally, love when their team wins. That’s the main goal in sports, isn’t it? [Insert cliché about how character and values matter.] If the team is winning, all is usually well. But fans also love offense. They love players that can score, especially in creative manners (no matter the inefficiency). They love seeing crossovers, 360 dunks, step-back jumpers and buzzer beaters. If a player can give them exciting, fast-paced, highlight-filled games, they will love him – no matter his weaknesses.

Regardless of what statistics, bar graphs or charts say or tell you, fans have loyalties to the players that excite them, take their breath away, and leave them wanting more. That is why they are so adamant in defending these offensive-minded players; by ranking them lower than where the general fans feels the player should be ranked, a fan takes it as a disrespect to something he or she likes. No one likes to be disrespected.

In this case, Bryant, Rose, Anthony and Ellis are those players. Is there a chance the more analytical, stat-based voters were a little too harsh on low-efficient scorers that sometimes hurt their team’s offense more than they help it?

Sure. There’s always room for error.

But either way, the fans can’t be swayed, as they’ve developed a bond and connection with the players they look up to and hope to emulate. Sometimes it seems most fans use too much emotion to judge players, while analysts stick by the numbers. Is one way better than the other?

At this point in time, it’s unclear. That’s a conversation for another day. I lean towards statistics in my arguments, but that’s just me. Both sides have their advantages. At least these rankings breed discussion, which sparks and maintains fan interest in the sport we all love.

In the time of a lockout, some basketball conversation is better than none.

The Funniest Player In The NBA

With Shaq announcing his retirement in June, the NBA lost not only one of its greatest players, but greatest comedians, jokesters and personalities. Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have allowed players to bond with fans, showing them a different side of the giants that take the court for 82+ games. We’ve learned who’s normal, who’s simple-minded and who’s a little off beat. This begs the question, who is the funniest player in the NBA?

Is it Dwight Howard, who tries so hard to mimic Shaq and his Superman schtick? What about Kevin Love or Blake Griffin, the two young guns who know how to use social media to their advantage? Or how about Ron Artest, who seems crazy enough to do just about anything? Well those guys have their moments, but when it comes down to it, the NBA’s funniest player is … Steve Nash.

Whether it’s post-game interviews, commercials for Toyota or Vitamin Water, being a correspondent at the World Cup, promoting himself for the All-Star Game, playing FIFA or making movies with Baron Davis, Nash has it all covered. HP’s very own Matt Moore originally conceived the idea of debating the NBA’s funniest player when he hinted at Tim Duncan. I beg to differ, calling Nash the funniest player in the game. I’ll let Nash’s top-10 funniest videos/commercials/etc. do the talking.

(Here’s his latest video and the original subject of Matt’s piece):

Without further ado, here are Nash’s top-10 funniest videos/commercials:

10. Steve Nash Is Awesome-ly bad

9. Is That A New York Accent?

8. I Challenge You To A Duel In My Honor!

7. I Take Competition Very Seriously

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXFF5_GIsV0

6. Steve vs. Landon

5. Mr. Infomercial 

4. The Most Ridiculous Man In The World

3. Nash and B.Diddy … Step Brothers?

2. Never Put Phoenix Next To L.A.!

1. I’m Just Like You, But Ten Times Better

Extra credit: How many other NBA players can say they got a lap dance from Nicki Minaj and kept their composure? Only CP3.

A Simple Thank You Would Suffice

Photo by hellojenuine via Flickr

My mind was on winning the whole thing, and we had a chance to get the second spot (in the Eastern Conference), and we ended up getting the fourth spot. I even told (Boston General Manager) Danny Ainge not to do the Kendrick Perkins deal with Oklahoma City. I told them I might not be ready, and I’m definitely not coming back. Those guys did what they’ve got to do. I wasn’t surprised; I’ve seen it before. They say all that blah, blah, but you know it’s always going to be something different.

via Shaquille O’Neal discusses retirement, NBA, future — nola.com

Shaquille O’Neal can never keep quiet can he? Whenever a few weeks, or maybe even a couple of months go by, O’Neal has to insert himself into the NBA conversation with a controversial statement. Whether it’s a team, player, coach, GM or country, O’Neal always has a newsworthy piece of advice for someone else. The list of people he has taken shots at over the years makes (the rapper) Game’s list of victims look miniscule.

Calling out opponents is normal, though; athletes do it all the time. But a weird trend O’Neal has started over the course of his 19-year career is criticizing the former organizations he played for. Orlando? Check. Los Angeles? CHECK (seriously?). Miami? Semi-check. Phoenix? Check (he even stole Steve Nash’s reality TV show idea! STEVE NASH. He is the sweetest guy. Have you ever looked into his eyes? It was like the first time I heard the Beatles.) Cleveland? Eh, check, he’s never said anything too blatant, but he’s hinted at a major disconnect between himself and LeBron.

The Celtics, his most recent team, were the only franchise to have not taken public abuse by the Diesel (or whatever the hell his nickname is these days) thus far, but if you really know Shaq the way I’ve grown to know him, you knew it’d be a matter of weeks or months until he had something to say. First, he unofficially “blamed” Rondo’s postseason (and second half of the regular season) struggles on President Obama’s subliminal verbal-attack of the All-Star point guard. Semi-calling out the president and your former point guard’s mental stability (the president said he can’t shoot, so he sucks it up for the rest of the year? really Rondo?!?!)? Not too bad, right? Well, O’Neal was just getting started.

In a recent interview (at his statue unveiling at LSU no less), he basically questions the credibility of Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge, proclaiming O’Neal told Danny he wasn’t healthy, and that the C’s should keep Perkins (instead of trading him for the washed-up-everywhere-else-except-for-EuroBasket Nenad Krstic and the I-equally-suck-at-every-aspect-of-basketball Jeff Green), yet Ainge refused to listen to Shaq, replying “blah, blah, blah.”

So a championship contending team traded away it’s starting center because it had faith in your body recovering and your drive/motivation/work ethic (Boston’s first and BIGGEST mistake) to win, yet you still take shots at them?

Danny Ainge: “Guys, I know you’re not going to believe this, but we’re putting all of our faith in Shaq and his 7-foot-1, 350 lb. body! Therefore, we’re going to be trading away Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, that young, up-and-coming team that needs a center. In return, we’ll be getting a finesse, past-his-prime center and a jack-of-no-trades forward. How does that sound?!?!” 

A few months later, the Miami Heat dispose of the Celtics 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Another few months go by, and Shaq responds. 

Shaq: “That was a f****** stupid decision. I told you I wasn’t healthy. You should listen to me. I got a PhD from DeVry University. That’s Dr. O’Neal to you Danny Ainge.”

Look, Shaq, you’re a great player. Top-10 in the history of the game. But that doesn’t mean you can metaphorically crap on all of your former teams. Do you really have that many insecurities that you have to belittle anyone and anything you’ve ever been associated with? We get it, you’re great. We get it, you’ve gone to 10 different universities and have a bunch of degrees and occupations. But seriously, show some gratitude for once. It doesn’t always have to be about what you did right, or what you know, or how no one else is on your level (and this is coming from someone who will religiously claim Shaq is their favorite player).

Sometimes, a simple “thank you” would suffice.

Pau Gasol vs. America

Photo by lubright via Flickr

In this talk, I make the case that if you’re looking for value, you could do worse than to look around for players, techniques and skills that don’t fit the bigger and tougher macho mold.

via TrueHoop – The opposite of macho

A few months ago, Henry Abbott discussed the role of machismo in sports, basketball in particular. Instead of looking for the bigger, better, stronger, faster and quicker players, Henry proposed the idea of looking for the players, game plans or techniques that don’t fit the macho stereotype, and are thus likely to be undervalued, cheaper, or more effective. In his presentation at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Henry gave seven different examples of less common, “softer” methods that contravene their testosterone-filled counterparts.

An example he lightly touched upon was foreign players and the superb value they’ve traditionally had because of their perceived softness. Although foreign players generally receive a lot of criticism, European players in particular are usually the butt of NBA-related jokes. The cliché for European players is that they’re soft (hey, there’s that word again!), weak, clumsy, erratic, one-dimensional “shooters/passers/ball-handlers”, and incapable of leading a team. Of course, this stigma couldn’t be further from the truth:

Dirk Nowitzki (MVP and Finals MVP), Pau Gasol (second-best player on two title teams), and Tony Parker (Finals MVP) played major roles on championship squads. Vlade Divac, Arvydas Sabonis, Drazen Petrovic, Detlef Schrempf, Toni Kukoc, Dino Rada (Radja in English) and Rik Smits had successful NBA careers (albeit brief ones for a Petrovic/Rada). Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka (born in Congo but has Spanish citizenship), Marcin Gortat, Danilo Gallinari, Luol Deng (grew up in England, has British citizenship), Omri Casspi and Nicolas Batum are some of the top young players in the league. Hedo Turkoglu, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Jose Calderon, Peja Stojakovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Boris Diaw were once highly productive role players, All-Stars or even franchise cornerstones. Simply put, European players have had, and will continue to have, a lasting impact on the NBA.

From the above list, only Smits, Nowitzki, Gasol, Deng, Gallinari and Rubio were top-10 picks; the rest were either late lottery to late first round, second round, or undrafted. Think about that. Getting Parker with the 28th pick? Snatching Divac with the 26th?  How about Gortat at 57th? That’s great value, which fits seamlessly into Henry’s ideology. GMs, owners, and teams in general tend to shy away from European players because they’re not as masculine as American-born players (in most cases), have less fan appeal, and lack the ability to alter a franchise. This fear allows teams with smarter, riskier management to “steal” these players, improve their franchises and build contenders (you know, the goal of an NBA franchise).

Of course, not every European player is a sensation. There are countless (and I mean countless) examples of European players that never panned out in America. Darko Milicic, Johan Petro, Yaroslav Korolev, Sergei Monia and Nikoloz Tskitishvili are just a few of the higher (selection-wise) European draft picks that never achieved NBA stardom, or even mediocrity. Do these players, among many others, deserve to ruin the perception of European players? No. Should Michael Olowakandi, Kwame Brown, Adam Morrison, Marcus Fizer, and Kendrick Brown ruin American-born players’ credibility? No. There are busts in every draft class, regardless of where they’re from.

The scapegoat for the typical European-style of play over the past few years has been Lakers’ power forward/center Pau Gasol. Despite boasting one of the most versatile skill-sets in NBA history, Gasol is widely unappreciated, undervalued and ridiculed for being a “pansy” (to put it kindly). He’s taken as much ‘heat’ as any other player sans LeBron James. Some of his criticism is well deserved as Gasol struggles against physical post players and tends to randomly disappear at times, most notably in the ’08 Finals against the Boston Celtics and the ’11 Western Conference Semi-finals against the Dallas Mavericks (the only two playoff series the Lakers have lost over the past four years).

But should those weaknesses, combined with a couple of disappointing playoff series, undermine all he has achieved? Gasol’s one of the best rebounding, passing, shot-blocking and free throw shooting big men currently in the game, is effective and efficient, and rarely falters from his role within the Lakers’ offense and defense. He’s won two NBA championships, the Rookie of the Year award, seven European Player of the Year awards, a silver medal at the ’08 Olympics and a gold medal at the ’06 World Championships (including tournament MVP). Throw in All-NBA awards, All-Star appearances and countless other European awards/honors, and Gasol has one of the more decorated basketball résumés of all time.

I’m not here to give Gasol’s Hall-of-Fame speech, I just think he’s on the receiving end of underserved criticism. Criticism that is directly related to his style of play; he’s never going to bulldoze opponents like Shaquille O’Neal, coordinate a defense like Kevin Garnett, or impose his will like Tim Duncan. Gasol will sit back as a second banana, score 18-20 points, grab 9-10 rebounds, dish out 3-4 assists, block 1-2 shots, and shot over 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the charity stripe. Rarely less and rarely more.

The Gasol conundrum is a microcosm of a much larger problem with most American sports fans. At first, no one took European players seriously. “Really? Those guys are going to come here and play an American sport?” Then, behind Divac and Petrovic, people began to realize Europeans could actually play. Euros had yet to seep through to mainstream success, though, so they weren’t a threat and weren’t taken too seriously. But then the 2002 World Championships, 2004 Olympics, and 2006 World Championships happened, and America’s confidence was shattered. The NBA instituted a new “protocol” for their national team, making it a multi-year commitment, ensuring continuity and increasing future output.

Instead of accepting the fact that players from other countries can be just as good, and sometimes even better than American players, there tends to be a reluctance to do so. “He’s really good, but he’s European…” “He’s an All-Star, but he’s soft…” Is this xenophobia? Not necessarily. But it’s something. And whatever it is, it should change. Not just because it’d be the decent, human-like thing to do (that counts too!), but because it’s what’s best for the game. If Gasol and Nowitzki have surpassed Duncan and Garnett as the creme de la creme of NBA power forwards, so be it. Get used to seeing 18-footers, fadeaways, sharp passes and wet, moppy long hair (that’s constantly being combed behind their ears).

Does that mean the game is worse now? No. The NBA, and it’s players, coaches and gameplans/styles, are constantly evolving. There was no 3-point line 35 years ago. There were barely any black players until the 1960s. Heck, European players didn’t start migrating until the late 80s. Things change. There’s always an adjust period to a major innovation, but it seems the development of European players has yet to be accepted by mainstream America. The public has come a long way since the 90s/early 00s, but there’s still a lot of ground to be made up.

It’s not unpatriotic to claim players from other countries are some of the best in the NBA (and better than other American players). If it’s a fact, it’s a fact, whether it’s acknowledged or not. Tony Parker knocked off LeBron James in the ’07 Finals. Pau Gasol helped defeat Dwight Howard (’09) and Kevin Garnett (’10). Dirk Nowitzki downed Miami’s Big 3 this past June. Who cares where they’re from? They’re playing in America, for American teams. Look at the positive; a game created in Springfield, Mass., has spread across the globe, influencing millions of lives outside the United States, and helping create the most competitive basketball league in the world. Europeans may not play the style of basketball American fans are accustomed to or prefer, but a lot of them are damn good ball players.

Pau Gasol is not macho. And that’s why he’s heavily detested, even by Laker fans. Many want him to be the key cog that’s traded, not Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom (two American players with far less skill and talent than Gasol). Basketball pundits know Gasol’s true worth and are in the minority of supporters. But to the casual fan — which there are many of — Gasol is an overrated Euro that can’t handle the moment. Maybe it doesn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things what the general person thinks, but it highlights an American apprehension towards accepting Europeans because of their “differences.”

It’s not that Gasol doesn’t play the right way, it’s that he doesn’t play the American way.

Honoring The Iron Giant

Photo by LUNZERLAND from Flickr

Cleveland Cavaliers are planning to honor Zydrunas Ilgauskas by retiring the player’s jersey. This came to light on Kyrie Irving’s, Cavs number one pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, trip in China, when the guard admitted that he wanted to choose number 11, but was told that the number was going to be retired.

via Cavs to retire Ilgauskas’ jersey – LithuaniaBasketball.com (hat tip to ProBasketballTalk)

O’Neal. Duncan. Garnett. Nowitzki. Ilgauskas.

What do the above names have in common? Not MVPs and championship rings. And no, not the elusive status of “top-20″ players of all-time. The bond these big man share — other than the fact they’re at least a foot taller than the average male — is that they’ll have their jerseys retired sometime in the near future.

O’Neal, Duncan, Garnett and Nowitzki are chronicled legends. They’ve amassed titles, MVPs and All-NBA awards. There’s no need to toot their horn. Ilgauskas, on the other hand, comes as a surprise. On paper, his career wasn’t that impressive. 13.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.6 BPG, .780 FT% and two All-Star appearances. Solid, but nothing spectacular. He’s never won a championship, made an All-NBA team or been considered one of the league’s best big men.

Very rarely are NBA players honored for the type of person they are. There are awards for charity and sportsmanship, but nothing memorable. There’s no recognition on the level of the other prestigious awards (no publicized press conference, interviews, etc.). And that’s fine; most players do good deeds because they want to change lives, not garner praise.

But what if a player dedicated his entire career to pleasing a particular franchise? So much so that one of the interwebs’ best young bloggers, John Krolik, wrote a poem comparing him to the infamous “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. Well, that player would be Zydraunas Ilgauskas. Throughout his 12-year career with Cleveland, Ilgauskas was an iron giant. Even with his numerous foot surgeries (that ended up robbing him of his athleticism and prime), he still managed to play at least 78 games six different times.

When healthy, he gave the Cavaliers one of the most unique skill-sets we had seen from a 7-foot-3 player. Big Z could post up, hit midrange and long-range jumpers with elite accuracy, pass from the high post — they often ran their offense through him, defend the rim with his mammoth-like size (he was an underrated shot-blocker), and grab offensive rebounds at an alarming rate. Yet he meant more than that to them. Ilgauskas gave the Cavs an identity. He was their heart and soul. Most importantly, he was loyal.

When LeBron James was drafted in 2003 and took over as the team’s alpha dog, Big Z was fine with giving James the spotlight. At the heart of the Cavs’ supremacy, in 2009 and 2010, Z was content with giving his minutes to Shaquille O’Neal, Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao. After the Jamison trade, Ilgauskas was released by the Wizards, waited the allotted time period, and came back despite no longer having a role on the team. Yet through all the drama he stayed with the Cavs for 12 years, finally leaving this past offseason for greener pastures in Miami. But even then, he was did Cleveland a service, as they no longer needed him.

In a sport run by greed, money and fame, it’s nice to someone who has compassion and virtues. Even though Ilgauskas wasn’t the best player in Cavalier history, or even among the top-3, he may be the most important. He did everything they wanted their “King” to do. So for that, he deserves all the credit and acclaim he will get, including a retired jersey.

There’s always an exception to the rule.

Idiosyncrasies Make The World Go Round

Photo by sea turtle from Flickr

To decide which players to rank, we started with every player who played in the league last season, and then eliminated players who had signed overseas contracts that made them ineligible for the 2011-12 NBA season. Then we added the 60 members of the 2011 draft class, eliminating those not likely to play in the NBA by 2012. That left 500 players, according to our best information as of August 15.

via ESPN NBA: Ranking every NBA player: 401-500

As I previously mentioned, Twitter basically blew up yesterday, with almost everyone adding in their two cents over where players should be ranked. Well, as a voter (that came off the wrong way), it was tough for me to sort through the garbage players (no offense) and decide who deserved 0s, 1s, 2s and 3s. Some players I hadn’t heard of (some expert, I know), some I didn’t know enough about, and some I thought were plain terrible. That’s were bias (and outside factors) come in.

Everybody has their own personal biases towards players. Zach Harper LOVES Kyle Lowry. Danny Chau is obsessed with Terrico White (and Qyntel Woods). Almost every single Laker fan thinks Kobe Bryant is God (other than the Forum Blue & Gold crew, of course). Idiosyncrasies bring players to life and make them seem cooler, which is why I made a few lists of such, dividing certain players into groups (possibly explaining their high/low ranking). Here we go.

He Has A Cool Name So We’ll Put Him Higher:

#409. Lazar Hayward, #412. Ben Uzoh, #414. Pops Mensah-Bonsu, #416. Alexis Ajinca, #458. E’Twaun Moore (not be confused with Matt), #468. Zabian Dowdell, #474. Magnum Rolle

The Sob Story:

#401. Da’Sean Butler, #402. Sundiata Gaines, #442. Jimmy Butler, #466. Sean Marks (he’s white, always laughs, etc.)

Overweight, Obese or Fat?:

#420. Jarron Collins (a little pudgy), #492. Garrett Siler (listed at 305 lbs.), #493. Eddy Curry (reportedly down to 300 lbs., but was up over 350 lb. for a long period of time)

Half Of The Washington Wizards Team:

#435. Kevin Seraphin, #450. Othyus Jeffers, #469. Shelvin Mack, #482. Larry Owens, #486. Hamady N’Diaye, #496. Lester Hudson

That Guy:

#404. Luke Babbitt, #425. Cole Aldrich, #428. Bobby Simmons, #440. Iman Shumpert, #453. Brian Skinner, #456. Malik Allen, #470. Hassan Whiteside, #471. Andy Rautins, #472. Terrico White, #491. Josh Harellson, #500. Lavoy Allen

Underrated Or Underpaid?:

#405. Manny Harris, #419. Armon Johnson, #449. Brian Scalabrine, #493. Eddy Curry (we split up half of his body into two categories because we couldn’t fit him in one; he’s not this bad)

The Most Overrated Player Thus Far:

#408. Joey Graham — (Are you kidding me? Name me 10 current NBA players he’s better than. You can’t. I didn’t want to have to cross this line, but I’m gonna have to…. He’s Mike Bibby-level bad. There I said it.)

All The Small Things

Photo by donovanbeeson on Flickr

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network are ranking every NBA player — and counting them down on Twitter (@NBAonESPN), from No. 500 to No. 1. As the rankings are announced, you can also find them here on the pages of ESPN.com.

via ESPN NBA: Ranking every NBA player: 401-500

I may be naive, but I honestly thought Twitter was going to blow up yesterday. No, Gilbert Arenas wasn’t giving away 1,000 free pairs of Jordans. And no, LeBron James wasn’t announcing his decision of whether or not to go and play overseas. ESPN.com — you know that site that HP is affiliated to — revealed its upcoming project, a ranking system of the top 500 NBA players (the first — err last — hundred players were announced yesterday). Using the hastag #NBArank, one could follow ESPN NBA’s tweets and join in on the conversation that seemingly took over Twitter.

Naturally, as with any ranking system, everyone had an opinion and no one seemed to agree. Some argued over Jarron and Jason Collins (who originally appeared on the list as Jarron twice). Others debated over why Mike Bibby wasn’t in the bottom 100 (I’m looking at you Adam and Zach). Eddy Curry’s body weight was analyzed (over or under 493?!?!). People even argued over Lavoy Allen (ok, I’m making this up), the 500th ranked player by a decent margin.

But honestly, in the grand scheme of things, we haven’t even gotten to the real meat and guts (the players in the top-100; better known as those who matter). We’re arguing over some players that aren’t even on NBA rosters (hey, at least Maurice Ager can rap!). HoopSpeak’s Beckley Mason best summed it up with this tweet:

Does it really matter where Ike Diogu is ranked? (we’ll get to this later) What about Brian Scalabrine, a fellow Trojan and one of the best towel-wavers in NBA history, being ranked behind players not in the NBA? No, it doesn’t. But that’s the beauty of this basketball community. We care about the little things; they mean something to us. No matter how many “bad” movies Zach Harper tweets about, or how many eccentric ideas Ethan Sherwood Strauss comes up with, we are all bound together by our common passion for this orange (brown?) ball.

Basketball is as intricate and detail-ortiented of a sport as they come, and those who follow the game analyze its every move in the same (outrageous) manner. In the coming weeks (as we near the top-10), I’ll grow apprehensive to check my Twitter page, fearful of the disproportional volatility these rankings will cause. But like any addict, I’ll be coming back for more. And more. That’s the beauty of this game and its patrons; the simple things.

I can’t wait to see how Laker fans react when Kobe isn’t ranked #1.

They All Grow Up At Some Point

Photo by xxmirjanaxx on Flickr

I’ve been continuing a little rehab on my knee and now I’m back working out. I’ve been really working on my mental approach to the game. I’ve done that by watching film, studying myself, and being more analytical, rather than spontaneous, in my everyday life. I must say though, the highlight of my summer has been my wedding!

via Charlotte Observer - Bobcats’ Tyrus Thomas rehabbing his way through lockout

Tyrus Thomas has been one of the poster children for athletic, gifted players who lack the consistency or mental approach to truly succeed in the league. Think Darius Miles, Lamar Odom (to a certain degree), Josh Smith, Stromile Swift, Jonathan Bender, etc. Those long players between 6’8-6’11 that should be dominating at multiple positions, throwing up triple-doubles and altering our perception of a basketball player.

Instead, these players tend to never pan out, or live up to their potential. They have all of the physical tools in the world, just not the mindset to match it or maximize their talents. After their playing days, or towards the backend of their careers, their mindset begins to shift, as their athleticism fades and their skills (and thought process) have to be honed to stay competitive. Once they can’t gracefully move up and down the floor, lay the ball in from the free-throw line, or effortlessly defend players half their size, they have an epiphany of sorts.

Some, such as Odom, find a particular niche and are perfectly fine with their careers. Others, such as Bender, have utter regret about the way their career turned out. Thomas probably finds himself somewhere in the middle. He’s starting to find himself as an athletic game-changer on both ends of the floor, but he probably has higher expectations for himself as a former number four pick. He wants to develop a go-to post move (or maybe one in general).

At 25 (in nine days), Thomas will soon be entering the prime of his career. His averages of 17.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per 36 min. are up there with some of the better power forwards, so if he can stay out of foul trouble (4.7 per 36 min.) and learn to develop a more cohesive offensive game, Thomas can see his average of 21.0 minutes per game increase to upwards of 30.

The biggest takeaway is that Thomas wants to change. He’s watching film, studying his own game, and being analytical, to paraphrase Thomas. Very rarely do players realize what they’re doing wrong in the beginning/middle of their careers. It’s usually at the end, when it’s too late to change things. But Thomas has a chance to make something of himself, to live up to the potential he showed at LSU and in Chicago. Eventually, they all grow up.

Superman Attacks His Fans

Photo by Andre Fran from Flickr

Howard wrote back, “that upsets me cuz I don’t wait till the playoffs to play hard. I give y’all my best everynite. Y becuz some people don’t get a chance to be at everygame. And I want them to always remember the nite they saw me play. So. I play for y’all. I feed off the fans. ESP at home. It’s a different atmosphere in the playoffs at the arena. That same atmosphere should be during the season.”

via Orlando Sentinel – Dwight Howard wants fans to be louder during regular season

Dwight Howard has a problem with Orlando. Not with the roster, although he’s said he needs more help. Not with Stan Van Gundy, even though he’s criticized him for his use of Gilbert Arenas. And not with GM Otis Smith, despite the fact that Howard was upset that he didn’t have much say in the Magic’s recent trades. No, Howard’s problem is much different, and possibly much worse; it’s with the fans.

In at least his third recent remark criticizing the Magic fans and community, Howard took another shot at the citizens that basically help pay his salary. In early June, Howard said:

“And I want the Magic to do whatever they can to make sure that we can get our city behind us. That’s the only thing that I want to happen: just to have the city behind me and the support of our fans.”

via ESPN.com – Dwight Howard: Orlando is first choice

Call me crazy, but that’s a backhanded cheap shot at the fans, basically saying they’re not that supportive of their only sports team. I’m not a Magic fan, and don’t regularly attend or watch games, so I can’t validate whether or not Howard’s claims are true. It appears the luxury and box suites are located close to the court, dulling the fan’s cheering, which could be the source of the problem. Or it could be Howard is taking the easy way out and blaming the fans on his way out.

Whenever there’s a messy breakup in the NBA, it usually has to do with teammates (Kobe vs. Shaq), money (Carlos Boozer), coaching/player differences (John Kuester), or a terrible GM (Isiah Thomas). Rarely, if ever, is it about the team lacking fan support. No one ever blames the fans, at least not continuously. But Howard has, does and will keep doing so.

Howard says the fans support will be a major factor in him returning to the Magic or not. Really? Not the roster, coach or GM? I don’t buy that for a second. It’s a cop out. I understand that a rawdy crowd can help motivate or inspire you to play harder/better, but why should their approval or support be your main motivation? What about beating the Heat or not losing to the Hawks in the first round? What about being a top-10 center of all-time? Winning a championship? Do the fans really have that much sway in your basketball career?

If you want to leave Orlando, do it for greener pastures, not better fans. If the atmosphere is boring, which it may be, do something about it. Figure out a way to increase fan attendance and activity. Make the “D-fence” chants louder. But son’t complain and isolate your customers; especially not now. Howard normally epitomizes his Superman persona to a tee, but publicly criticizing the citizens he serves to protect is far from anything the Man of Steel would do.

Looking In The Wrong Place

Photo by ndunnewind from Flickr

If the Heat cannot sign preferred choices Shane Battier, Grant Hill or Tayshaun Prince postlockout, Miami will consider Michael Redd and Tracy McGrady, among others.

via UM’s Armstrong, Forston, Benjamin trying to take next step – Sports Buzz – MiamiHerald.com.

The Miami Heat were two games (or fourth quarters) away from winning the NBA title. Not bad for a roster assembled right before (and during) the season. Regardless of your feelings towards LeBron & Co., there has to be a sense of admiration for what they achieved. Building a championship-level team isn’t easy, it takes time. More importantly, it takes team chemistry. Talent doesn’t always prevail, despite false perceived notions. The fact that Miami destroyed the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls Keyser Soze-style is praiseworthy; it was truly an amazing sight to see.

When the Heat were at their best, there might have been a more fun team to watch other than … wait for it … the Dallas Mavericks. No, they didn’t match the Celtics’ 2008 success and win it all. But for all of their flaws, which were much more notable than the ’08 Celtics’ squad, they still managed to compete for a title. More importantly, it appears time  is their friend, as they’ll have at least a few years to win multiple championships.

Assuming this lockout eventually ends, there will have to be some sort of free agency period, in which the Heat will try and find their missing piece. As of right now, only James, Wade, Bosh, Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are under contract, a pretty top-heavy roster lacking size and shooting (unless Miller returns to form). Unless Chalmers is their desired PG, which is debatable, the Heat may look for an upgrade their as well. And oh yeah, there’s that missing piece down low, where Anthony has done his best to hold down the fort.

As mentioned in the above quotation, the Heat are looking at the elite wings of this free agent class (Butler and Kirilenko excluded). The logic here is that Miller isn’t that good, so the Heat will need someone who can back up Wade and James for 15-20 minutes a night. In a perfect world it’s Battier or Hill (Prince isn’t likely to. But this isn’t a perfect world. Both will likely command much more lucrative offers, and the Heat will likely not have much more than the veteran’s minimum to offer. Of course, either one could take a massive pay-cut in leu of winning a title, but even joining a star-studded Heat team wouldn’t assure Battier or Hill of their elusive NBA championship.

Sorry to Scott Leedy in advance, but T-Mac and Redd aren’t the answer either. McGrady surpassed expectations last season, but wasn’t that good of a player. He can provide ballhandling and passing, plus an all-around game, but won’t provide the shooting the Heat need to help stretch the floor. At the minimum? Maybe. But anything more? No thanks. Which brings us to Redd, one of the better shooters of the past decade. He’s injury-prone, and probably nothing more than a spot-up shooter at this point.

The Heat, as currently constructed, are fine. Yeah, they have flaws, but they also have two of three best perimeter players and another top-10 big man. Chalmers took major strides last season, looking more and more like a starting PG for years to come. He still has wrinkles he needs to iron out, but he’s a good, cheap option. Haslem and Anthony do adequate jobs as the ‘other’ big, each bringing something different to the table (most notably defense and toughness). Cole has decent potential and will hopefully bring back his awesome flattop. Miller does Miller things; he’s a shooter who dealt with hand and thumb problems all season. Maybe next year he comes back better. Maybe not. Either way, they’re stuck with him.

The point is, the Heat will be contending for the next five seasons whether or not they add another ‘big’ piece. But, if they choose to do so, they must be smart, as one mistake (like Miller, at this point) can completely destroy their cap space. There’s not doubt that the Miller/Jones wing combo off the bench can be improved upon, but going out and spending a lot of money on bench players that play the same position as your two best players isn’t a smart idea. Add size, shooting or athleticism. Go get Sam Dalembert. Go get Raymond Felton (just kidding). If you want to improve, add where you’re weak, not where you’re strong.