Author Archives: Rohan Cruyff

The NBA Alphabetical: January 10th, 2011

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

A is for Amar’e’s Return

Steve Nash has watched a torrent of players come and go over the past few years. And Amar’e Stoudemire was clearly the best of the bunch that parted ways with Nash and Phoenix.

For years, fans and analysts had questioned how much of Amar’e’s game was predicated on Nash’s creativity. Through 35 games, we’re rapidly learning the answer- STAT is pretty damn good on his own. Stoudemire’s Offensive Rating (points produced per 100 possessions) has dropped to 109 from the 117 he posted from 2008-2010, but he’s also taken on a larger scoring burden. And even though he’s being assisted on just 49% of his shots this year (61% last year with Nash), he’s managed to keep his eFG% relatively steady.

It’s almost stunning to see the opposite directions Stoudemire and the Suns have gone since parting ways, but maybe this was to be expected.

B is for Booray

This card game has taken the NBA world by storm in recent years, and I’m sure a large number of readers are unacquainted with its rules. Being a booray aficionado myself, I thought I’d explain the rules of the game via a simple flow chart:

PROTIP: The richer you are, the more likely you are to call it “bourré.” (Up until the Ironic Hipster line of course (estimated at $700,000 earnings per calendar year).

C is for Clutch

82games.com released its latest “clutch play” data this week.

As Rob Mahoney wrote for the NYT blog this week, Dirk Nowitzki ranks among the league’s most unguardable players, while some surprises (like Charlotte’s Ty Thomas) make the list.

Derrick Rose’s MVP Prospects

They do not exist, and this Bleacher Report article “Chicago Bulls: Why There NBA Title Hopes Are Legit” is hilarious.

Yeah, yeah, B/R, Lowest Common Denominator, etc. Let me ask you this: you laugh at Reggie Miller, don’t ya? DON’T YA?

E is for Efficiency

There are few players in the NBA as efficient as Kevin Martin. He perennially ranks among the league’s top free throw shooters (including a ridiculous 10.3 FTA per game with Sacramento in 2008-2009).

His game on January 5th against Portland was a case of Martin simply outdoing himself. Martin scored 45 points on just 8 shots, converting 13 of his 15 free throw attempts and knocking down 6 of his 8 threes. Effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage really put it into perspective. Martin posted an 89% eFG percentage and a 91.5% (!!) true shooting percentage and averaged 1.56 points per possession for the game.

F is for FIT

It was FIT week in the NBA these past few days. The new team warmups (FIT emblazoned across the fronts) looked a bit ugly, but obviously, promoting fitness nationally is a great cause. Multiple NBA teams, including Kevin Durant’s Thunder, ran campaigns for kids.

G is for Granger’s Availability

It hasn’t been a great year for Danny Granger. He’s posting career lows in floor percentages, turnover rates, rebound rates, and overall offensive efficiency (ORtg).

This week, Marc Stein reported that Granger is no longer an “untouchable” asset for Indiana. The Pacers are still on pace to make the playoffs in the East, but Granger could have as big an impact on this year’s postseason with another team as Andre Iguodala or Carmelo Anthony. Provided, of course, his lack of form is temporary.

H is for Hideous

Donald Sterling is a hideous human being. This week:

“Players Sam Cassell, Elton Brand, and Corey Maggette complained that [Sterling] would bring women into the locker room after games, while the players were showering, and make comments such as, ‘Look at those beautiful black bodies.’

Just… ugh.

I is for Illusory

The story of Ted Williams is awesome for so many different reasons. The primary one is obviously that a homeless man begging for money on the side of a street could now be an announcer for an NBA team.

For me though, the disconnect between his appearance and his voice is the best part. The first time I saw the video, I could have sworn it was edited. But, obviously, it wasn’t. Williams mentioned in a later interview that he was inspired to develop his voice when, as a kid, he saw how wildly disparate a local radio personality’s voice and appearance were. And that’s so true. Every time I see an announcing duo on the screen on NBA League Pass, it comes as a jolt. “Wait, those were the guys that were talking this whole time?”

So best of luck to Mr. Williams.

J is for Jesus Misses

Ray Allen is as close to automatic as it gets in this league. Sure, he’s missed three or more free throws multiple times in a game before. But you never expect him to miss at the end of the game, let alone miss twice. That’s exactly what happened in Boston’s marquee matchup with the Spurs.

As Glen Davis said after the game, “I would’ve put my whole salary that he made at least one. I would’ve been in trouble.”

K is for Knee Operations

We’ve seen many players flame out with knee conditions recently (and even Kobe Bryant noted this week that his knee was “almost” bone on bone). Brandon Roy, apparently, will be trying a solution no player has attempted yet.

The Portland Tribune reports that Roy will explore the possibility of getting a meniscus transplantation. No active professional player has ever had the procedure, and Roy’s case could be a landmark moment in terms of the way NBA players deal with and recover from knee injuries.

L is for Lockout’s Draft Impact

Andrew Luck passed up a chance to be the NFL’s #1 overall pick on Thursday, opting to return to Stanford. As Tom Ziller wrote for SBNation on Friday, the NBA could very well see a similar scenario unfold.

With a potential lockout looming, any player drafted in the 2011 Draft may have to sit for an entire year before earning a single NBA paycheck. It’s clear why the alternative option- staying in college, remaining in the spotlight, and getting paid MOST DEFINITELY NOT GETTING PAID EVER- is so attractive.

At this point, I’m not sure of what to make of Jared Dudley’s cryptic tweet on Wedensday either.

M is for Mark’s Diss

Mark Cuban’s random insult thrown Phil Jackson’s way (“I love that Jeanie Buss’ boy toy had something to say about us. It’s nice to know she lets him speak in public about other teams”) wasn’t particularly surprising. We’ve seen him be childish and immature in the past, and we’ll see it again the future.

The surprise was the maturity of Jackson’s response- “I love it. I’m a boy toy? That’s terrific.”

N is for Not On My Watch

Carmelo Anthony’s move to the New Jersey Nets appears to get closer by the day. In its latest incarnation, 17 different players would be moving. But one of those players- Chauncey Billups- remains staunchly opposed to going anywhere.

Billups has long maintained that he’d like to be a part of the rebuilding process in Denver and finish his career there. It’s a rare sentiment in this day and age. And it’ll be intriguing indeed if Billups’ refusal to play for the Nets ultimately breaks up the deal as it’s currently constructed.

O is for Odom’s Reality Show

Take it away… Khloe Kardashian.

Ok dolls, it’s official! Lamar and I will soon begin filming our very own show on E! called Khloe & Lamar! WOOOOHOOOOOOOO! How exciting is this?! It’s been an option since we got married, but we wanted to enjoy our first year in private. With Keeping Up with the Kardashians, only a very small part of our life together is shown, but with this show, we’re putting it ALL out there LOL. Rob will play a major role in this too since he lives with us. He’s basically like our son LOL. With the three of us living together, it’s honestly like a sitcom. Trust me, there will be a lot of laughs.

Lamar and I could not be more thrilled about this. It’s show time baby!!!!

Yep. Hope you’re ready. Dolls.

P is for Propitious

Doc Rivers became the 4th all time winningest coach in Boston Celtics history last week. It prompted various Boston journalists to wax poetic about Rivers’ coaching prowess, his legacy, and his Hall of Fame credentials.

And it’s fascinating. In late November of 2004, Rivers was fired as the head coach of Orlando. His team was floundering with just 1 win in eleven games. Though he won Coach of the Year in his first season (1999-2000) by leading a team picked to finish last to a 41-41 record, none of his other seasons were particularly remarkable.

Under Chuck Daly, the Magic were a strong defensive team but a poor offensive one. Over Rivers’ five plus seasons in Orlando, the Magic defense steadily regressed. By the time of his departure, it was clearly an offensive team (that wasn’t very good).

Rivers joined the Celtics in 2004. From 2004-2007, Boston won 45, 33, and 24 games respectively. Rivers wasn’t exactly provided with the league’s best talent, but that doesn’t mean he had no critics either. Of course, that summer, the Big 3 came together. Importantly, Tom Thibodeau joined Rivers’ staff. The Celtics went on to post the league’s strongest defense (never considered one of Rivers’ strong suits throughout his career) and won the NBA Finals.

How much of Boston’s success do we credit to Rivers? There’s really no correct answer. Thibodeau’s impact has to be mentioned, especially since his new team in Chicago is among the NBA’s elite defenses this year. But there’s also something to be said about managing a collection of talent like the one Boston put together. And which coach has ever won without elite talent?

I don’t mean to criticize Rivers as much as I want to point out how circumstantial coaching success can be.

Q is for Quatorvirate

Or a body of four.

Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka, Brandon Jennings, and Javale McGee are the four players that have been named to the dunk contest thus far. Griffin is the presumptive favorite; Ibaka’s dunks are largely of the more-impressive-in-game variety, McGee can get up but may be at a judging disadvantage due to his height, and, as my friend pointed out this week, Brandon Jennings’ shoe commercial has him performing a layup (and he’s coming off injury obviously).

It would have been nice to see LeBron James participate, and perhaps if Griffin wasn’t a part of the field, he would have.

R is for Rising

I was never a fan of Jrue Holiday. I thought he came out too early from college, I didn’t think he was worth the hype, and I didn’t think he’d amount to much.

This year, he’s proving me (and all the doubters) wrong. In outdueling John Wall last week, Holiday merely continued a great sophomore campaign. He’s doubled the rate at which he gets to the free throw line, he’s increased his assist rate by more than 7%, decreased his turnover rate by 5%, and continues to develop into an elite defender at the point guard position. And he doesn’t turn 21 until June.

S is for San Jose?

Larry Ellison confirmed last week that he attempted to buy the New Orleans Hornets but was rebuffed.

Two main takeaways:

(1)  Ellison is clearly undeterred after his failed bid for the Warriors. He’s rich, San Jose is a great market despite the presence of the nearby Warriors, and he mentioned that he’d be willing to pay relocation fees and reimbursement/market encroachment costs to the new Warrior owners. Ellison probably won’t be going away any time soon as a potential NBA owner.

(2)  Marc J. Spears wrote this week that Ellison was willing to meet Hornets owner George Shinn’s demands, but Shinn attempted to negotiate with Gary Chouest (who was offering less) because he was convinced that Ellison would try to move the team away from New Orleans. And thus, the love-hate-(love?)-HATE relationship between Shinn and his two NBA cities continues.

T is for The Showcase

It didn’t technically happen in the last two weeks, but the D-League Showcase begins today.

Each of the 16 D-League teams will play two games over the next four days at the South Padre Island Convention Center in Texas, with numerous NBA scouts expected to be in attendance. NBA teams were recently allowed to begin signing players to 10-day contracts, and as the linked article notes, eight D-League players received call-ups immediately following the 2010 Showcase. Er, sorry. Eight D-League players received GATORADE call-ups.

U is for Unemployment

As Kurt Helin pointed out at NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk this week, a number of players were waived in the past week.

Multiple players were given deals that only became guaranteed in January this year, so in a way, it does make sense. But some of the cut players were either playing with some regularity (Ime Udoka, Rodney Carney) or could definitely have helped their respective teams (Damien Wilkins).

V is for Van Gundy Cries Out!

Last Tuesday was National “I’m Not Going to Take It Any More Day,” and considering the circumstances, that’s quite appropriate.

Stan Van Gundy’s lack of patience with the national media’s insistence on attributing every Dwight Howard shot ever to a few hours spent with Hakeem Olajuwon is understandable. And Van Gundy’s “outburst” is another reminder as to why he’s one of the league’s most entertaining coaches. How many coaches go on the record like that on an issue that doesn’t really matter? Van Gundy wanted to get that off his mind and so he did.

W is for Weathering the Storm

Two weeks ago, the Dallas Mavericks lost Caron Butler for the season. Since losing Dirk Nowitzki for a recent stretch, the Mavs have been in a tailspin, dropping 5 of 7 games.

Many have noted that if any team could weather the loss of second-tier stars (like Butler), it would be Dallas. They’re deep, and they’re disciplined defensively. But that said, if Dallas is indeed going to preserve a high Western Conference seed, they’ll need some of that depth to step up a little bit more. Jose Juan Barea has been shooting awfully from the field. With Tyson Chandler’s promotion to full-time starter, Brendan Haywood has been one of the league’s worst backup bigs. Jason Kidd is posting another bad turnover rate, his worst three point percentage  since 2003, and his worst rebounding season since 1996. Even the reliable Jason Terry has a sub .500 eFG% for the first time in eight years.

Dallas is deep, but that depth exists in theory more than in practice right now.

X is for x

A.k.a. the roman numeral for 10. Billy King had the following to say this week:

“I don’t think Brook is ever going to be a 10-rebound guy. Some guys have a knack for it. Some guys don’t.”

First of all, it’s humorous to me that a GM would measure a player’s rebounding ability by his raw rebounds per game figure. And second, it’s obvious that King isn’t very well versed in Lopez’ background.

As a rookie in 2008-2009, Lopez posted a 10.6% offensive rebound rate, a 21.2% defensive rebound rate, and a 15.8% defensive rebound rate. If he’d gotten the minutes he did in his sophomore year during his rookie season, he’d have finished very close to the 10 boards a night mark. Lopez has regressed badly this year on the glass, but the potential was clearly there. It’s crazy to overlook how good he was on the glass just two years ago (and Lopez wasn’t terrible last year either). King was likely trying to take the pressure off Lopez, but his quote shouldn’t inspire much confidence in Nets fans.

Y is for Yikes

The Cleveland Cavaliers are bad. They shoot terribly, they don’t get to the line, they don’t rebound their own misses. They allow high shooting percentages, and they don’t force turnovers. Overall, they’ve got the league’s second worst offense and its 5th worst defense. It’s clear that their early season start was illusory. With Anderson Varejao ruled out for the season, that start could very well have saved them from “worst team ever” talk.

Z is for Zydrunas’ (and Joel Anthony’s, Juwan Howard’s, etc, etc) Replacement

Udonis Haslem was always going to be a critical component of the Miami Heat championship puzzle. The Heat look to have adequate shooting around their big 3 (especially with the return of Mike Miller), and so their biggest flaw remains their post defense and rebounding.

Haslem could reportedly return as soon as “late March” according to the AP. For anyone that’s seen the Heat play basketball over the past month, that’s scary.

The NBA Alphabetical: December 13th, 2010

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

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

A is for Artest

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

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

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

B is for Bird

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

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

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

C is for Cancer, Karl, and KG

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

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

D is for Damn

Via SBNation:

E is for Eh?

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

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

F is for Forbes’ List

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

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

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

G is for Greg Oden, Free Agent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H is for Heisley’s Perplexed

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

Oh, really?

I is for Instant Replay, D-Fish Style

This is pretty cool.

J is for Jerryd

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

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

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

K is for Knicks Ahead of Schedule

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

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

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

L is for Love’s Short Film

Via Pro Basketball Talk:

M is for Mayo’s Demotion

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

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

N is for Nuggets Extension

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

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

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

O is for Orlando’s Offensive Woes

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

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

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

Parenting 101

Q is for Quiescence

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

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

R is for Relative Parity (Maybe)

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

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

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

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

S is for Spin Cycle

T is for The Streak is Over

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

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

U is for Unnecessary?

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

V is for Very Unfunny

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

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

W is for Workmanlike

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

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

Kris Humphries is quietly putting together a remarkably efficient season.

X is for Xenocracy

Or “ruled by outsiders,” as it were.

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

Rock and Hard Place #1:

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

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

Rock and Hard Place #2

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

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

Rock and Hard Place #3

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

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

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

Y is for You’ve Got to be Kidding Me

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

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

“NO WAY”

“OH MY GOD”

“oh my god”

“AHHHH”

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

Z is for Zero Tolerance

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

The NBA Alphabetical: November 29th, 2010

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

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

A is for Assumptions

Specifically, the assumption that Carmelo Anthony has been “going through the motions.” There’s been talk- spearheaded by Charles Barkley last Thursday on TNT- that Anthony has been half-assing it this year. He’s so good, Barkley says, that only those that “truly know the game” can detect the fact that Melo looks like he’s playing well but isn’t actually doing so hot. This (almost imperceptible!) lack of effort is then linked with the whole “I’m Carmelo, get me out of here” deal.

But it’s entirely inaccurate. Through 15 games, Melo’s posting the highest defensive rebounding rate, steals rate, block rate, total rebounding rate, PER, and overall offensive efficiency of his career. He’s stepped up big time for a largely ineffective Chauncey Billups and an even more useless J.R. Smith. His clutch game winner against the Bulls will likely stem the anti-Melo tide for a bit, but that tide should never really have existed in the first place.

Yeah, he’s probably gone in a few months, but he’s balling for Denver right now.

B is for Bump, The

Are we making too much out of something that was probably entirely accidental? For sure. Does that mitigate its hilariousness? Nope.

This is one that you just can’t rewind enough.

C is for Collison’s Cap Curiosity

That Sam Presti’s a smart one, eh? By frontloading Nick Collison’s contract extension onto a 2010-2011 signing bonus, Oklahoma City opens up a ton of breathing room in terms of negotiating future contracts with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka. (That’s a lot less people than it sounds like, but it’s still a lot of people).

All that said… the Thunder have to be just a tad worried about the decline in Collison’s productivity, right? Collison’s defensive and total rebounding rate dropped for a third straight season in 2009-2010 (and thus far, have dropped for a fourth straight season in 2010-2011). His turnover rates have started to rise since 2008. He’s still an efficient scorer around the hoop, but he’s now on the wrong side of 30 and battling knee problems. Yes, 2.8 million a year is a steal. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t end up quite as awesome in 4 years as it seems right now.

D is for Demoted

Terrence Williams was sent packing this week… to the D-League.

Personally? Not a huge fan of it. From the moment I found out what the D-League was (or “NBADL” back in those days, I suppose), I harbored elaborate dreams of seeing NBA teams creating their own MLB-esque farm systems. And I still hope that one day it will come true- that the D-League will be seen as a legit basketball circuit that NBA teams fully acknowledge and work symbiotically with. Teams “punishing” players by sending them “down” doesn’t help advance the D-League cause at all.

As far as Terrence Williams goes? Man has he been bad this year.

E is for Expirings

The New Orleans Hornets moved one of their primary chips last week when they traded the expiring deal of Peja Stojakovic to facilitate a backup point guard swap. The yield seemed underwhelming to many. More importantly, it highlights the fact that the market for expiring deals may not actually… exist.

The primary culprit? Possibly just the sheer number of expiring deals that are out there. Utah can flip Andrei Kirilenko’s $18 million deal. Jason Richardson and his $14 million expiring could be on the move. The Grizzlies have Zach Randolph’s $18 million deal to play with. Detroit has Tayshaun Prince’s $11.1 while Denver has Kenyon Martin’s $16.5. And those are just some of the bigger ones. All in all, a whopping 15 teams have an expiring contract worth at least $7 million.

Any team that moves a star- Melo, Iggy, etc- will be asking for plenty of return alongside any expiring deal because one too many teams can step up to the plate right now to offer pure cap relief.

F is for False Hope

Also known as The Darko Milicic Chronicles. He’s shooting below his career average (which sucks), he’s getting to the line below his career average (which sucks), he’s rebounding below his career average (which sucks), and he’s turning the ball over more than his career average (which sucks).

We can officially consider him Freed, but that doesn’t mean we can consider him good.

G is for Griff Show

At the beginning of the season, I was absolutely convinced that Blake Griffin would stroll to Rookie of the Year honors. Then I saw John Wall play a few times, and my confidence was slightly shaken. A few John Walls injuries and Blake Griffin dunks later, I’m firmly reattached to the Griffin bandwagon. Emphasis on “dunks.”

H is for Hibbert

I don’t remember if I wrote about Roy Hibbert last time around, but he deserves to be written about again anyway.

He’s such an excellent rebounder, a decently efficient scorer (when you factor in how often he’s fouled), and plays fundamentally sound defense (low fouls, high blocks). But the part I can’t get over is how good a passer he is. The assist rates don’t entirely reflect it, but 16.6% is nothing to sneeze at. Moreover, Indiana consistently runs their plays through him. A guard will bring it up, Hibbert will roll to the top of the post and make the catch there. Then the offensive set will proceed as scheduled with Hibbert scanning the floor and looking for the right pass. It seems unfathomable, but he plays almost a kind of point-center position a number of times each game. And it’s absolutely fascinating to watch.

I is for Impending Doom

Or not, depending on whether you’re a member of the player’s union or an NBA owner.

Based on all the reports floating around out there, I’m of the opinion that a lockout is probable at this point. But “99% sure”, as NBAPA exec. Director Billy Hunter described it as this week? That seems a little silly. As Bill Simmons pointed out this week, the NBAPA is fully aware that a number of its players live paycheck to paycheck and that has to factor into their decision making.

J is for Jarring

As in Elton Brand’s hit on JaVale McGee.

K is for Kobe’s Big Ego

Via SLCDunk, an anti-Kobe sign and Kobe’s pretty cool reaction.

L is for Loyalty?

Sports are a business, that much we know. The number of California Bay Area sports teams that have been rumored to move away from their current cities (to other Bay cities) is rather interesting. First there was the Oakland A’s plotted move to Fremont. Then there was talk that the San Francisco 49ers might move to San Jose.

Now, it’s leaking over to the NBA, where the Golden State Warriors may potentially cross the bay into the City. It’s still ridiculously early, but it’s plausible (just like the A’s and Niners’ moves were).

M is for Mo’s Clutch Revival

There was a time when Mo Williams was famous for hitting big shots at the end of games. Those were simpler days, before he began posing for invisible photographs by a cameraman who happened to be simultaneously rolling invisible bowling balls.

His game winner against the Bucks wasn’t quite his game winner against the Pacers back in the day, but it did provide something of a “coming full circle” feel. Right before, you know, the other coming-full-circle event that will also happen in Cleveland this week.

N is for Nobody Saw This Coming

Ummm. What’s gotten into Shaq? Highest offensive rebound rate since 1998. Highest defensive rebound rate since 1996. Highest total rebound rate since 1992! Highest free throw percentage since 2003. Highest effective field goal percentage since, gulp, ever.

Yeah, maybe it’s all just a small sample size thing, but Shaquille O’Neal looks like a ridiculously rejuvenated player right now.

O is for Oh Really?

Yeah really.

P is for Pedal to the Metal

Raise your hand if you thought the San Antonio Spurs would be faster than the Phoenix Suns this year. (Put your hand down, you lying liar liarer!)

It’s stunning to see a Gregg Popovich team skew offense rather than defense, but that’s exactly what’s happened with the 2010-2011 edition of the Spurs. Gone is the traditional emphasis on forcing low field goal percentages. Opponents shoot better than league average when they face the Spurs. It’s been gradually replaced by a more a turnover-focused brand of defense. San Antonio’s still a solid defensive team, but the way they do their work is no longer so insidious. It pops out right at you not only because steals are more exciting than 24-second violations, but also because once they get the ball, they’re off to the races.

Q is for Que Pasa, Dejuan?

The Spurs’ early season success notwithstanding, DJ Blair has been the anti-Shaq this year. The rebounds, passing, and defense have all stayed relatively constant… but he’s just simply forgotten how to put the ball in the bucket. Overall, his eFG% has declined from a very solid 56% last year to a putrid 39% this year.

So what gives? He’s still shooting just as often as last year (about a shot every 3 minutes). His shot locations haven’t changed much either.

I’m interested to see if this evens out over the long run, or if Blair continues to give away minutes to the Spurs’ other bigs. His rebounding is way too valuable to bench for long stretches, but it may not be worth it if his shooting woes continue.

R is for Richard Jefferson

Okay, three straight Spurs topics because of the whole #1 record thing. It’s only a matter of time before the Heat go roaring by on their way to a 70 win season, after all.

So here’s something interesting. Richard Jefferson’s eFG% by season for the last 5 years:

52%, 50%, 50% 49%, 51%…. 59%

The 59% pertains to 2010-2011. At first glance, that’s wildly unsustainable. Players, especially 30 year old players, don’t just randomly change like that, 10 years into their careers, barring something drastic.

But that’s the thing. You could make a case that a drastic change has occurred. Jefferson’s offense has fundamentally changed this year. He’s shooting more corner threes than ever before. He’s shooting more threes overall than ever before (1 every 9 minutes versus a career rate of 1 every 18 minutes). And he’s shooting all these threes wide open, more or less.

RJ’s 2010-2011 season will be a phenomenal test of the fundamental nature of the three point shot. Specifically: just how much can a player’s “true shooting ability” be hidden or altered by good defense and/or bad shot selection? My gut answer to that question would be: not that much. And I think my gut answer is molded in part by watching guys like Ray Allen or Reggie Miller or Peja Stojakovic stroke triple after triple over any type of defender from anywhere on the floor. But maybe I’m wrong, and RJ can keep this up. We’ll see.

S is for Sliding

Ovington J’Anthony Mayo was benched this week. And for good reason. Through two and change seasons, his ability to get to the foul line has seemingly decreased, and his shooting, passing, and rebounding have all regressed as well.

The Kevin Love-O.J. Mayo trade (and subsequent debates) seem a distant memory now, and it’s pretty clear who got the better player.

Mayo’s probably a guy that Memphis will make available via trade, but I’m not so sure he’s efficient enough offensively to help a legitimate contender off the bench right now.

T is for Triple Threat

Horford, Dumars, and Hardaway: Michigan Wolverines. A pretty cool story.

U is for Undeniable

If I could have picked three things to improve about Russell Westbrook’s game at the end of the last season, I’d have gone with improving his midrange game, lowering his turnovers, and lowering his usage rate (to better coexist with Kevin Durant).

One month into the new season, exactly none of those things have happened. After connecting on just 34% of his looks from 10 to 15 feet last year, he’s converting 29% this year. After turning it over on 17% of his possessions last year, he’s still right around that mark at 16% (neither of these rates is bad in the overall scheme of things, I should mention). And after using 26% of available possessions on the floor last year, he’s jumped to 31% this season.

And yet, Russell Westbrook has been undeniably awesome this year. Top 5 in the NBA awesome.

How? He’s been impossible to keep off of the free throw line. After visiting the stripe once every 7 minutes last season, he’s now heading there once every four minutes. On top of that, he’s hitting 90% of his attempts. I don’t want to say his success has been entirely predicated upon his newfound ability to draw whistles, but substitute last year’s rates, and he hasn’t changed much as a player. He ranks third in the league in free throws attempted, third in free throws made per minute, and first in overall free throws made.

Also worth mentioning? His free throw percentages the last four years:

55% (UCLA), 71% (UCLA), 82% (OKC), 78% (OKC). Let’s file this in the “unsustainable” folder for now.

V is for Voicing Concern

We’ve all heard the outrage about technical foul calls this year. There’s the “over the top” camp and the “respect the game” side.

So I decided to do some research to see just how much the rules have changed.

In 2009-2010, there were 1230 games played  and 741 technical fouls called. That provides a rate of 0.6 per game.

There have been 248 games played in the NBA this year. In those games, there have been 174 technical fouls assessed. That amounts to a rate of 0.7 a game.

Over a full season, that’s a difference of about 123 technical foul calls. If we assume that the average technical free throw shooter hits 85% of his FTs (a reasonable assumption, given that the median value for the top 30 free throw shooters is annually around that mark), we come up with a difference of right around 100 points a season. Distribute those points evenly amongst a full season’s worth of possessions by 30 teams, and that’s an increase of about 0.0004 points a possession.

So it doesn’t really matter who’s on the “right” side of the technical debate. Even if current (outrageously frequent!) form holds, very little has actually changed.

W is for Willie Green

Yeah, I write a Hornets blog, and no, Willie Green has not been one of the top 26 stories of the week.

But the question must be asked: how does a career 42% shooter average nine shots a game for the majority of a decade? How?

X is for Xceptional

No, actually it’s not because that’s dumb. I hate you, X. You’re the worst alphabet ever.

Y is for Yawn

Sorry, that’s not (another) clever lede into an NBA story. It just means I’m sleepy. You know what they say about starting strong and finishing strong? I apparently do not.

Z is for Zebrasses

See, now Z is a letter I can get behind. I could have gone with either zonkey or zebrass for this last one. That’s what I’m talking about.

In any case, a zebrass/zonkey is a cross between a zebra and a donkey. What are Zebrasses in the context of the NBA? Who knows. Perhaps it’s the newest nickname for the Heat. Perhaps it’s a backward reference to all the “Griffin’s a cross between Kemp and Hakeem! No wait, Rodman and Barkley!” In any case, I think you’ll be disappointed to learn that it sounds way cooler than it looks.

The NBA Alphabetical: November 15th, 2010

Rohan is the author of At The Hive. He’ll be contributing this column on the NBA Alphabetical swindled from Swindle from time to time. Treat him like you would your mother, only don’t ask him to make you a sandwich, you ungrateful lout. -Ed.

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

A is for Another Blazer Injury. Portland’s plan for long term success was based on three things- smart drafting, balanced team construction, and the use of Paul Allen’s bank account to acquire and pay extra draft picks. The team drafted terrific talent in Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and Greg Oden. They filled in holes with capable veterans like Andre Miller and Marcus Camby. They were going to be the Next Big Thing.

But then came the great deluge of injuries. Two weeks ago, Greg Oden became the first 1st overall selection since Kwame Brown not to receive an extension an offer. And this week, we learned that Brandon Roy has no meniscus in either knee.

Regardless of team allegiance, it’s tough for any fan of basketball to see what’s happened to the Blazers. A terrific plan of attack and equally good execution and adherence to that plan are being undermined in the most unfortunate of ways.

The fact that the team isn’t built exclusively around one player (Roy) helps a little. The team is plenty balanced, and guys like Miller, Batum, and Aldridge have been stepping up this year. But Roy is still an integral part of the offense; with him in second gear, there’s no way this team reaches the heights many once envisioned.

B is for Boardwork. What Kevin Love did against the Timberwolves was stark raving mad.

Scoring has always been fun to watch, and recently, assists have come into vogue. But I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy a virtuoso rebounding performance as much as I did this one. Watching Kevin Love rebound is just as entertaining as watching Kobe Bryant score or Chris Paul pass.

As so many people have mentioned since his 31-31 against the Knicks, Love doesn’t get his rebounds through athleticism the way a Blake Griffin might. It’s all positioning. Before any shot goes up, he’s fighting for the inside spot. But more importantly, he seems to understand the caroms a basketball will take better than anyone else. In a recent interview, he mentioned that the majority of missed shots bounce to the side away from the shooter. It’s the recognition of such things that makes Love such an incredible rebounder.

Amazingly, Love’s current rebounding pace, if he keeps it up, would only rank him 7th in NBA history behind six seasons from Dennis Rodman (obviously).

C is for Cable. More specifically, “the good cable” the Miami Heat’s starting PF couldn’t get in Toronto. Once upon a time, Chris Bosh seemed like a pretty chill dude. He toiled in obscurity, turned in consistently great performances, and made awkward YouTube videos.

That was before things went awry- before he tweeted asking “where he should go,” soaked in all the adulation that came with being a free agent, then stated after signing that “if it doesn’t happen on national TV, it doesn’t really happen. It’s all about being on TV at the end of the day.” Right.

D is for Duty Calls. Kobe Bryant with a large gun. Cool.

E is for Expected. Allen Iverson finally touched down in Turkey. His reception was perhaps a little surprising, but it’s easy to forget just how iconic Iverson became in the middle of the decade.

But trouble may already be afoot. As ESPN reported on Friday, Iverson declined to play in his first game for Besiktas, saying he “did not feel ready to play.” Iverson is scheduled to play tomorrow night, but again, who knows. Maybe this could all be nothing, and Iverson will go on to have a terrific season in Turkey. I just wouldn’t hold my breath.

F is for Flying Spittle. Darius Songaila’s mouthpiece toss on Wednesday proved to be costly. The NBA fined him $25,000, and a team official was forced to retrieve it from the stands. This is what we call a lose-lose.

G is for Glancing Over His Shoulder. Pat Riley’s too old for this now. Pat Riley’s an architect, no longer a conductor. Pat Riley is confident in his hand-picked successor.

We’ve heard all of these things for months upon months now. And three weeks into the season, we believe them no more than we did in July. Maybe those things are all true, but as long as Miami underwhelms, speculation will not go away. Until Miami starts putting double digit winning streaks together, Pat Riley and his “note writing” will be nationally televised weekly.

H is for Hackery. Terrence Williams strikes me as a no nonsense guy, so it’s not surprising that he’d be the one to knock LeBron James on his backside. Via the NYDN, Williams after the game: “When people are going to the hole and throwing behind-the-back and dunking, you have to do something. It’s nothing against LeBron.” And maybe Williams is being honest- maybe he would have sent any showboating player in the league into the stands.

But Williams’ hard foul on James exemplifies the physicality Miami has dealt with all season. Thus far, the Heat haven’t dealt with it successfully and as Charles Barkley noted, they’ve seemed almost taken aback. Barkley’s quote: “Like dude, when y’all go somewhere, it’s gonna be a big deal. Like dude, let’s get this straight, y’all are the Miami Heat, y’all wanted the Big Three. Every time y’all come to town, y’all better bring you’re A-game.”

Perhaps one too many “like dude”s thrown in there, but he’s exactly right. Miami’s propensity to shift into cruise control coupled with terrific game plans from teams like Boston and New Orleans are what have them fighting to be above .500. Front court and point guard are two issues they’ll need to address for sure, but until they go into “f@#$ it, we’re dominating every possession” mode, they’ll keep having these inexplicable off nights.

I is for International Talent. We learned this week about the 14 year old, 7 foot, 250 pound basketball prospect- Satnam Bhamar- from India.

The Yao Ming comparisons are inevitable- really tall, seemingly skilled, international. We first heard of Yao Ming in 1998 when he attended Michael Jordan’s basketball camp at UC Santa Barbara. Yao was 17 then and 7’4.” Nobody knows how tall Satnam will eventually grow to be, but it’s unlikely he stays at 7’ for the next half decade.

But ultimately it will be his basketball skillset, not height, that determines his long term success.

J is for John Stockton’s Record. John Stockton’s 14.5 assists per game in 1989-1990 always struck me as one of the NBA’s more difficult records to break. For one, team pace was rather fast in that era. Stockton’s Jazz were among the league’s slower teams, yet still used more than 96 possessions a night.

It would take a well-established point guard playing heavy minutes and given the reigns of a fast-ish offense. That automatically rules out some of the league’s best passers- Chris Paul (offense too slow), Deron Williams (not as big a passing role in the offense relative to guys like CP3), and Steve Nash (older, and thus fewer minutes).

But this year, Rajon Rondo almost fits the bill. Doc Rivers has given him control of the Celtics offense, Rondo’s playing a ton of minutes (41+ a night), and he’s a terrific passer. The fact that Boston ranks among the slower teams in the league is the only downside. But so far, Rondo’s averaging 15.1 assists a night, on pace for the record.

Will he keep it up? The odds are against it, but the minutes-role-passing ability trifecta do line up rather well.

K is for KD’s Neighbor. Kevin Durant was positioned as the anti-LeBron by various media and bloggers this summer. Some people rebelled against this, citing the fact that people were ascribing qualities to Durant that he didn’t actually possess, solely based on the fact that he wasn’t LeBron.

But Durant always has been a unique guy. When KD first moved to Seattle, he made friends with his neighbors- 10 year olds kids. That’s awesome. Now, however, the “neighbor” thing has been made viral through a Nike-produced series of ads.

It’s nice to see Durant’s humility get some publicity, but does the fact that it’s happening through a national ad campaign diminish it at all? I don’t have a good answer.

L is for Legal S@#$. Lamar Odom is suing his ex over visitation and child support. Steve Nash is getting a divorce, a day after his kid was born. Do either things mean a whole lot? Probably not.

M is for Monty Williams. Last year, the New Orleans Hornets ranked among the league’s worst defensive teams. They conceded 110.1 points per 100 possessions, the fourth worst mark in the conference. An outrageous 35% of opponent shots came at the rim, where they allowed a 65% (!) conversion rate. Only the Wizards and Timberwolves allowed easier offense around the hoop.

This year? The defense is allowing almost twelve points fewer per 100 possessions. Only 23% of opponent shots have been at the rim. The turnaround has been nothing short of stunning.

The addition of Trevor Ariza and re-addition of Chris Paul have energized the team defensively, but the most important aspect has been the overall defensive system Monty Williams has implemented.

Based on the Spurs’ defenses in the 2000’s, it emphasizes low opponent floor percentages- making offensive players shoot jumpers and closing out on those jumpers. And it emphasizes crashing the defensive glass to collect those misses. So far, it’s worked, and New Orleans sits at 8-0.

N is for Never Out of It. Five straight comebacks, from a combined 88 point deficit. A sweep of the rather stout Southeast Division. What a week it was for the Utah Jazz.

It all started on the 6th when Utah trailed the Clippers by 18 in the first half. Deron Williams eventually carried the team to victory on a game winning layup. Then Paul Millsap destroyed the Miami Heat from all over the court. Enter Deron Williams again to rally the team past Orlando. Then Atlanta. Then Charlotte.

Jerry Sloan’s Jazz pulled off one of the more incredible weeks any team has ever had, and that’s really not hyperbole. And to a player, credit for the comebacks was given to Sloan and the impetus he delivered for the team to fight back in each game. He’s done a superb coaching job to start the season. The longer Utah hangs with the West’s elite, the better Sloan’s odds become for his first Coach of the Year award.

O is for On Fire. Indiana’s third quarter shot chart against Denver:

P is for Post-Hype. Michael Beasley’s departure from the Heat this summer was abrupt but didn’t surprise too many people. This was a #2 overall pick, coming off seasons of 17.2 and 16.1 Player Efficiency Ratings. But the team needed to clear cap space, and the common consensus was that his high usage offense likely wouldn’t fit in with the BIG THREE [Click Here to read the Heat Index, your source for the best in non-stop MIAMI HEAT coverage!!!].

Thus far, he’s gone to Minnesota and done what he’s always done: create shots for himself very effectively. He’s using the bulk of Minny’s possessions when he’s on the floor, getting looks at a high clip (19.6 FGA/36 minutes). Despite the increased role, his efficiency hasn’t really suffered. He’s providing the Timberwolves with a go-to scoring option, something everybody predicted he’d do before he was drafted, but something he never really got a chance to do in 25-30 minutes a night in South Beach.

The cherry on top, of course, is that Beasley is currently 21 years old. For all the flak David Kahn has caught, he went out and got himself a hell of a deal on (potentially) a hell of a player. Props.

Q is for Querulous. Lebron James is, undoubtedly, one of the most unique basketball players we’ve ever seen. He fits into the Shaq-in-his-prime mold of taking punishment from defensive players so easily that defenders hit him harder and more often than they’d hit weaker guys.

So quotes like the one LeBron gave after a loss to the Celtics- “For myself, 44 minutes is too much”- come off as especially strange. Not only is it a weird quote following a loss, LeBron plays as hard as anyone in the league. The words simply don’t match up with the action, but that’s something we’ve seen often from LeBron. His off-court, media game is significantly behind his on-court game, and it doesn’t look like that’ll be changing any time soon.

R is for Racism. At what point can we officially deem someone a self-caricature? In the case of Donald Sterling, I’m going with: now.

His racist, ageist, sexual harassment-filled, bogus philanthropist exploits have been well documented. This week, former Clippers’ GM Elgin Baylor accused Sterling of a “plantation mentality,” attributing the following quote to him: “Personally, I’d like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.” It doesn’t even seem real any more.

S is for… Sort of Racism?. It was inevitable that Jeremy Lin would ascend to cult hero status in Golden State. A graduate of Palo Alto High School in the Bay Area, Lin is the first American player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent in the NBA. Players have made the jump across the Pacific in the past, but Lin came up as a homegrown talent.

And so far, support for Lin has been immense. But some are questioning its timing and motivation. Lin is cheered every time he touches the ball at home, and Warriors’ coach Keith Smart has mentioned that it could be affecting his play. More interesting is the debate about whether Lin’s cheered solely because he’s an Asian-American in a predominantly Asian-American region. Should Warriors’ fans withhold their cheers until Lin actually does something on the floor? Is cheering because a player shares your race, racism?

It’s not an easily answerable question- plenty of Lin’s fans are not Asian, and plenty of his Asian fans cheer for him because they’ve followed him for years. Hopefully Lin’s play can render the point moot.

T is for Taking [One’s] Talents to South Beach. The phrase’s almost instant ubiquity made LeBron’s (already hilarious) utterance even funnier. It became the instant response to anything, anywhere. But it got old fast. Suddenly, your boss was using it once a week. Everywhere you looked, people were staging their progressively god-awful-er Decisions. ‘Dire’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.

So Paul Pierce administering CPR to the phrase this week was a welcome sight indeed.

Awesome.

U is for Underrated. It feels like most underrated players eventually reach a point of no return- fans recognize their worth, begin to inflate their worth, and soon the player is overrated. It happens every year, like clockwork.

Tim Duncan has been the exception to that rule. He’s been dominant for more than a decade, he’s won MVPs, he’s won Finals, and someone mentions how underrated he is at least once a week. And yet, his relative invisibility persists. For whatever reason, even hardcore followers of the game seem to forget him sometimes.

These people are in no way “hardcore followers of the game,” but they really do sum up Timmy’s career well:

(To recap, the answers were “Carmelo Anthony” and… “Parker.”  Yep.)

V is for Vanity. Does anyone else understand what’s going on with Isiah Thomas? A man that not only torpedoed a team (the Knicks, duh) but also an entire league (the CBA) is still theoretically sought by the owner whose team he ran into the ground? What?

Isiah’s perception of his worth as a team executive is comedy gold. In his interview with ESPN, Thomas casually name dropped NBA players he’s still in contact with. He talked of his plans to bring LeBron James to the Knicks in 2014. He mentioned that while with the Knicks, he tried to acquire players LeBron would want to play with. Yes, one of these players was Eddy Curry. The self-delusion on display here is nothing short of stunning.

W is for Waiting. The curious free agent “pursuit” of Erick Dampier continues. Most people assumed he’d sign after training camp, after preseason, maybe a little into the regular season to save his body some wear. I don’t think many expected it to grind to a halt like this.

At such times, it’s nice to break out a little pros and cons chart.

Pros:

-good rebounder
-efficient scorer
-average defender, good size

Cons:

-is old
-is maybe fat
-is Erick Dampier

And for whatever reason, that last con has seemingly held him back as much as anything else. It’s not even a justified negative; Dampier’s reputation has lagged behind his on-court performance for years now.

X is for X=42, Y= 48, X≠Y. Every one in a while, we run across a story that’s just delightful in its silliness. “We played the whole 42 minutes” is one of those stories.

Unfortunately, the coverage of Zach Randolph’s miscue hasn’t been as delightful. We’ve got people citing how many minutes Z-Bo has played over his career as if that somehow enhances the quote’s wrongness. Some dude on About.com writes how this is so funny since Randolph’s “always cared about numbers.”

Really? It was just a guy, probably tired after a game, giving a vaguely funny answer.

Y is for YOUR Ugly. Ah, Joakim Noah. It’s hard not to like this guy. On one hand we’ve got Kevin Garnett backpedaling desperately on vaguely insulting things he probably said. (No, I don’t believe that “you are cancerous to your team and our league” is something any basketball player would ever say). On the other, we’ve got Noah uncorking quotes like this one:

“Garnett’s a very mean guy. Where’s the love? None at all. Ugly, too… Be a little sensitive. Be sweet.”

I’ll take that over “haha you have cancer” every day of the week.

Z is for Zoom. I thought John Wall would be fast. I didn’t think John Wall would be this fast.

Through 8 games, Wall has posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 18.5. He’s been a terror on the defensive end. He creates for teammates with ridiculous ease, never mind the fact that his teammates are the Washington Wizards. And through 8 games, I think I can safely say that John Wall is the fastest player I’ve ever seen.

Some will point to his turnovers; hell, I will point to his turnovers. Wall gives the ball away once every five possessions. That isn’t exactly a great rate, and he’ll need to work on it throughout the season. If Wall wants to become an all-time great, he’ll need to curtail the giveaways.  But three of the best lead guards in NBA history- Magic Johnson, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd- are/were known to turn ball over often (both Nash and Kidd are turning it over once every four trips up the floor this season and Magic’s career rate was exactly equal to Wall’s current one). Wall can still be an extremely valuable guard even if he’s occasionally out of control.