Tag Archives: Blake Griffin

Sociology Sunday: The Crackpots and These Women

Peter Nijenhuis | Flickr

Ed. note: the title of this post is taken from the title of Season 1, Episode 5 of The West Wing. I hope Aaron Sorkin is cool with it.

Welcome back to another rousing rendition of Sociology Sunday. Writing these columns is bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I get to dig into my academic roots and try to shed some analytical light on events that transpired during the week week. On the other hand, I just wish basketball could be about basketball. But it never is.


Last night, the Indiana Pacers convincingly defeated the Miami Heat to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night. Normally, we’d be bombarded with narratives left and right about “the champs not having it” or “upstart underdogs” or “LeBron carrying too much of a load again.” You know, the narratives we’re used to. Instead, there’s been a lot of focus on Roy Hibbert’s postgame comments where he dropped an F-bomb and a homophobic joke. Jared Wade, of Eight Points Nine Seconds, has a wonderful examination of why Hibbert’s remarks last night were so problematic, yet so seemingly normal and casual.

I don’t know Roy Hibbert, the person….But he seems like a nice enough young man, and I have heard a ton of respected people say a ton of nice things about Roy’s character and values.

I also don’t know know Roy Hibbert’s feelings on homosexuality. If he harbors any negativity towards gay people, he has never made such feelings public, to my knowledge. Roy actually even supported, through a Twitter message, Jason Collins’ recent decision to come out of the closet….To him, it was a playful joke, one that made him giggle probably more for its inappropriateness in that setting than for its actual humor. But to many others, it was an unnecessary reminder that mainstream society in the United States sees being gay as an abnormal, weird, negative characteristic that no man should want to associate himself with.

That is the foundation of “no homo.” It is telling listeners that, “in case you misconstrued what I said there, I just feel the need to point out to you that I am not homosexual, as that would of course be disgusting, and I am a normal, heterosexual man.”

You should definitely head over to 8P9S to read the whole piece because it’s a great analysis of how a seemingly small comment can mean so much. But for myself, I’ve been approaching Hibbert’s comments in three ways:

1) It’s absolutely absurd that he said that. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t necessary. It continues to perpetuate the otherness of LGBT individuals. He apologized for it. He reached out to Jason Collins about it. Athlete Ally issued a statement about it and understands that he’ll move on from here with remorse. But still, there’s no place for it.

2) When you’re a professional male athlete, you undoubtedly move your way up through a system of hyper-masculinity, a system where insulting gays or using one’s sexuality as an insult is commonplace. Society has been moving in a direction where such behavior is becoming less and less acceptable. And even if you know reflexively mumbling something like that is wrong, it’s still reflexive, and old habits are hard to kick. That doesn’t change the fact that the reflexive nature of speaking is almost as hurtful as the phrase itself, but again, there’s something to be said about getting tripped up in your old, stupid habits.

3) Just like Jared Wade, I don’t know the man. I know nothing about him personally except that he sometimes has some funny lines on one of my favorite TV shows and is playing really well against a team that I dislike for personal and narrative-driven reasons. It seems these reasons have turned him into some sort of positive hero in my mind–and I imagine this is similar for some of you–and thus, I keep thinking things like “Wow, Roy. That was dumb, but I’m sure you didn’t mean it.” Or “C’mon Roy, you know that’s messed up. Don’t say crap like that. Apologize and move on.” Why do I give him the benefit of the doubt, though? He’s a nice guy so he must not mean it? I mean, sure, OK. That’s plausible, but should I be treating this situation differently than when Kobe yelled “f****t” during a game and was caught on camera? I was disappointed in Kobe then, and he’s since gone to great lengths to make sure that kind of language isn’t used. But it still affected my view of him. And since both statements were said with post-game-action adrenaline high, and both were said reflexively–they’re part of the vocabulary of hyper-masculinized sports, they’re both not OK, right? Am I treating it differently because Kobe was channeling anger while Hibbert was channeling humor? Both are stupid and shouldn’t be tolerated, but are they the same?

In the end, I think I fall somewhere close to Kevin Arnovitz’s response to Hibbert’s comments, and I think as apologetic as Hibbert may actually be, he’s got a long way to go before he’s fully back in everyone’s good graces:


Apparently, TMZ covers sports sometimes. Also, they like to say and do provocative things for the sake of… journalism, I guess? Anyway, it seems they decided it would be funny to release a video ranking one of their staff members’ top-5 “hottest” NBA players. This particular person picked 5 players who all happen to be white. And yeah, you’re right: who cares which players one particular person happens to think are the hottest? The rest of the video, after the ranking, includes some “humorous” banter with David Lee about how he’s a “minority” in the NBA and how some other inane conversation among the other TMZ staff that straddles the line between racist and race-baiting.

It seems like TMZ has some sort of obsession with talking about the race of NBA players… like that one time where one of their cameramen decided to tell Blake Griffin that he wasn’t black and their staff then all tried to decide if he was or wasn’t black. You know, because it matters. And you know, because freckles and red hair automatically mean you’re white.

Race, as we so often forget, is a dually-loaded term of both internal and external identification. Blake Griffin might have his particular race–whatever it may be–tied to part of his identity. Others who are not Blake Griffin will attribute his actions and physical characteristics to mold him into a prism of race as they see fit–as those in the TMZ studio did. There’s no consideration of history, his personal feelings, or whether or not his race actually matters at all. It’s a tidy compartmentalization mechanism that people will continue to use without any desire to figure out why they want to use it.

And while the importance of race is a larger topic than this portion of this blog post can handle, I’d like to include this passage for anyone who thinks it’s not possible to have red hair and freckles and be black at the same time:

Louise Little, my mother, who was born in Grenada, in the British West Indies, looked like a white woman. Her father was white. She had straight black hair, and her accent did not sound like a Negro’s. Of this white father of hers, I know nothing except her shame about it. I remember hearing her say she was glad that she had never seen him. It was, of course, because of him that I got my reddish-brown “mariny” color of skin, and my hair of the same color. I was the lightest child in our family (Out in the world later on, in Boston and New York, I was among the millions of Negroes who were insane enough to feel that it was some kind of status symbol to be light-complexioned–that one was actually fortunate to be born thus. But, still later, I learned to hate every drop of that white rapist’s blood that is in me.)

–The Autobiography of Malcolm X, pp. 2-3.


It’s become somewhat commonplace for writers (including myself) to complain about the prevalence of lists as part of a normal reading diet. The issue at hand: writers hate writing them because they feel as though their degrees that got them their writing gigs are being wasted, and editors love making writers write them because they brings LOTS of eyeballs to your website. Can you really blame readers for liking them, though? Each part of a list–whether it’s just a count or a rank or whatever–is a short, digestible, forgettable bit of information that entertains you for a split second and allows you to move on with no attachment. You get your endorphine high, and you get to walk away and get back to what you were doing. Basically, reading a list-format post is the same as reading a bunch of tweets in a twitter timeline. They’re short and disconnected, yet they’re connected enough for you, the reader, to make sense of it all for yourself. Then, you can walk away from it happy, and come back for more later. As much as I personally dislike their existence, I read them all the time.

As digital content continues to grow, the reading, writing, and editing parts of the community will have to evolve with them. Unfortunately, one list came out this week that shows that we, as a basketball reading, writing, and editing community, need to do a better job to show that certain types of content are not OK.

Dime Magazine released a list of 20 basketball writers to follow on Twitter. I guess, if it were framed the way I just framed it, this would be a non-issue. However, the actual title of the list is: “20 girls on Twitter who know their basketball (and look great).” In a writing realm as male-dominated as sports, I’m sure there are some people who would welcome having a female perspective or two to read. Why Dime Magazine thought it was necessary to sexualize this list of writers is baffling, though.

Actually, you know what? It’s not baffling. The editorial decisions behind this are simple: mostly males read the site, lots of guys on Twitter would love to follow a good-looking girl who can talk about basketball, and it’s the end of the month, so let’s let anything fly out the door. Kelly Dwyer and Ticktock6 do a great job of explaining why this list was so reprehensible:

And Dime, for what it’s worth, has stood by its publication of this list (a quick sidenote: several listees have asked to be taken off the list and Dime has obliged). Though it did, for some reason, decide it needed to clarify one thing about it:

It is disheartening to see Dime not acknowledge its perpetuation of women as sexualized outsiders to the NBA, despite the fact that there are countless female writers, reporters, and fans all over the world who entered this realm to be closer to a sport they love and not to be judged by their appearance. And it’s a shame that there were so many failures in good judgment along the way that allowed this piece to be published.

As far as we’ve come as a community on sexuality, race, and gender, we still see we have a long way to go.

15-Footer, 4/30/13: HAIKUS FOR TUES(day)

Golden State Warriors vs Denver Nuggets 8 PM TNT

Steph Curry Stephen

Curry Steph Curry Stephen

Curry Steph Curry

 

He is en fuego

Karl sticks Miller

On him. Big mistake

 

Denver returns home

Down three games to one. Will Dubs

Deliver knockout?

 

Memphis Grizzlies vs Los Angeles Clippers 10:30 PM TNT

 

Marc Gasol getting

More aggressive on offense

Is good for Memphis

 

CP3 being

The Point God is good for Clips

And for us at home

 

What’s not good for us?

Blake Griffin’s incessant need to dribble between the legs then pull up for a mid-range jumper that will inevitably clang off the rim. YOU’RE SHOOTING 33% from MID-RANGE AND 51% AT THE RIM. GO STRONG TO THE HOLE BLAKE.

I broke haiku rules.

 

Statistic support

For story provided by

NBA.com

2013 All-Star Profiles: Blake Griffin

Photo from was1 via Flickr

Photo from was1 via Flickr

Here are a few reasons why Blake Griffin is an All-Star starter for the second consecutive year:

I: Outside of maybe JaVale McGee, there isn’t a player in the league whose in-game dunks generate more shock, awe, and bewilderment. Griffin is completely willing to test the limits of his athleticism in both fullcourt and halfcourt situations, which often make his missed dunks more enjoyable than his successful ones. I’ve seen it from near-courtside and from the upper decks; there’s a different tone that resonates after one of Blake’s missed dunks. The reaction lasts longer. Five, ten minutes after, the heavy sighs are still audible. The dunk is no longer a dunk—which kind of goes without saying, since it didn’t successfully happen—but an “if”, a wish you didn’t know you had before it descended upon you. For Griffin, whatever results from his time in midair is a formality. Success or failure, he’s left a dent in your memory.

II: He’s got an unlikeable, “punchable”, face, but he’s also got surefire charisma, and it’s an irresistible combination. While his stoic, condescending face is a bit of a bother at times, I never blamed him for it. I never bought into the “fake tough guy”—one of the worst terms in sports—accusation. I always figured it was his face’s natural predisposition, and I’m still of that opinion. There’s a disconnect between the exhilarating ride he takes us on with every single dunk/failed dunk and his face upon liftoff and landing. It’s not natural, and clearly upsetting to most, but that’s only because we aren’t Blake Griffin. We don’t know what it feels like to propel oneself so violently skyward, only to be ripped down by an opponent because of his fear of embarrassment. Or the crisis of wanting to give a show, but knowing that somehow, that same act of fearsome athleticism will eventually morph into a biting criticism. And for a player who does it night in and night out, we don’t know the mundanity of his exhibition.

He’s smiled more this season, which is fine, but only because it comes from a genuine place—the Clippers are very much a success story this season and he’s playing great basketball. And while we don’t enjoy his blank glares, we really don’t like wide-eyed smiles from fake people. So he has that going for him.

III: He is an incredibly marketable player making great commercials for one of the NBA’s most reliable sponsors. Kia’s Blake Griffin ‘90s Loopercommercials are funny, taking full advantage of Griffin’s well-known deadpan-ity. Griffin’s self-deprecation both affirms and softens the prevailing criticisms of his game (inability to shoot, one-trick dunking pony). It’s a twin-headed joke that gives a nod to those who only know Griffin as a SportsCenter phenomenon and a wink to those who have witnessed his improvements.

IV: And he has improved. His numbers over the last two seasons still don’t match the raw numbers of his rookie year but that’s what happens when you stop playing the entire game and stop being the only player on the team worth a damn. The only real noticeable decline is in his offensive rebounding, which can be attributed to actually running back on defense. He’s improved on that end. He’s showing off a more confident passing game, which we saw glimpses of his rookie season. He’s using turns and spins to both get closer to the basket and to create separation for hook shots that will never look like Kareem’s, but are far more natural than what he’s done in the past. It’s not a drastic yearly ascent like Kevin Durant, but it’s not nothing, either.

The All-Star game is a place where expectations from all aisles coalesce and reduce. Everything about the weekend is all in good fun; nothing more, nothing less. Griffin is encouraged to bring the ball upcourt and execute his crab-legged crossover and spin dribbles and dunk to his heart’s content. It’s what fans want of him, but more importantly, it’s the only thing they expect. To call Griffin a one-trick pony at this point in his career is ignorant, but there was a point when his highlight reel was the only thing that mattered. Not to say it was meant to be a ceiling or limitation to Griffin as a player—he is much, much more than just a dunker—but when the perception of a player shifts so suddenly from medium-defying visual phenomenon to hollow sideshow, being able to enjoy his talents without actively probing for demerits is a welcomed respite. Last year’s All-Star game was enjoyable, but was sullied in the end by LeBron’s failed heroics, providing an opening for the criticism outside of the All-Star capsule to seep in. Maybe Griffin’s supposed shortcomings as a player will one day reach that level of ubiquity, but it’s not there yet. Or maybe Blake is already well on his way to erasing them, straight-faced and plain, as though it was just one big joke of his.

Air Walk With Me: Blake Griffin Touches The Face Of God And Doesn’t Get Called For The Foul

This morning started like any other day in the sleepy seaside town of Los Angeles. But then fisherman and milk enthusiast Pete Martell made a startling discovery:

It was Pau Gasol.

No great mystery here, as a national audience watched Blake Griffin completely end the Spaniard with the Los Angeles Clippers’ first two points of the night:

The uproar and outcry on Twitter was simultaneously jubilant and cranky. A flood of ALL CAPS exclamations was followed by admonishment. Even as they oohed and aahed, people chastised Griffin for what was clearly (at least to them) an over-the-back foul. This led quickly to general questions about Griffin’s character and game: he’s a punk, he’s a whiner, all he does is dunk, he would get dunked on too if he ever tried to play defense. But how can you deny the sheer animal spectacle of that dunk? Man, even Andrew Bynum thought it was nasty:

But the night wasn’t over. Even as people were still raving about Griffin’s first gargantuan slam, even as Agent Cooper was still piecing the whole thing together, Griffin was hatching plans for another grisly execution:

A little less than halfway through the third quarter, Griffin caught Gasol in his death bag again.

And again, out came the boobirds to decry this as an offensive foul for the way Griffin kind of sort of elbowed Gasol in the neck on the way up to the rim. Of special note: the woman who comes out to clean up Gasol’s “chalk-sweat outline” (as netw3rk put it). You can see right here where she wants Sessions to move out of the way, but Sessions is still completely flabbergasted.

So what we all learned last night was that some people hate Blake Griffin, some people hate Pau Gasol, some people hate Andrew Bynum and almost everyone hates either the Lakers or the Clippers. But we all love dunks—some of us just want them to be legal dunks, which is kind of twisted.

This is, after all, an offensive strategy that was banned at the college level from 1967 until 1976—nearly as long as prohibition. It’s the only shot type that can get you a technical foul for doing it for too long. Nobody ever gets charged $100 for holding the follow through on a three. But the very fact that the dunk flirts with illegality is what makes it thrilling. A slam dunk is a big bear with claws and fangs. It’s at the very limit of what is allowable within the bounds of the rules, but that’s exactly why it’s compelling. The limits of the competition are there to be tested; you’re even rewarded in many sports for breaking those boundaries. What is a home run, after all, other than one to four points for losing the ball?

The NCAA banned the dunk because it seemed like cheating (and maybe because Texas Western—with their five black starters—was a threatening champ). But it was too late: the scales had fallen from our eyes. The slam dunk was the dangerous guy, the guy with cigarettes rolled up in his white T-shirt’s sleeve. The guy with the motorcycle. Were either of Blake Griffin’s demonstrations of grievous bodily harm fouls? Maybe, but if they were either clearly outlawed or clearly allowed, the game would be too timid or too lawless. A truly devastating dunk will always seem a little like cheating, and that’s the way it should be.

One Round to Rule Them All

Photo by Nrbelex on Flickr

When the lineup for this year’s Slam Dunk Contest was announced, there was nothing but crickets coming from casual basketball fans. No Blake Griffin? No LeBron James? More dedicated followers of the NBA were maybe less surprised. Defending your dunk title has become a bit passé. And rumors about James’ participation fly every year, but he has little to gain by entering and winning and much more by losing. Getting into the dunk contest and falling to anyone might be a bigger misstep than The Decision.

But even the most enthusiastic basketball fans groaned at the field. Derrick Williams? He’s caught some nice alley-oops from Ricky Rubio, but he strikes me as a game dunker, not a showcase dunker. Paul George had that one great breakaway reverse where he pulled it down between his legs, but that’s about it. Chase Budinger’s dunks would best be described as workmanlike. And lastly, Iman Shumpert (who misses nearly as many dunks as he makes) bowed out to be replaced by the wildly better Jeremy Evans. But Evans is 6’9” and bigger guys get less credit for jumping high. It just doesn’t look as cool. His best dunk so far was called an offensive foul.

So why is there any reason for positivity? For one, the new single round format might actually work. Call me crazy, but the multi-round format of previous years has ruined what could have been some great dunk contests. Take Andre Iguodala’s performance in the 2006 Slam Dunk Contest. His alley-oop from Allen Iverson caught off the back of the backboard was probably the best dunk from that year’s event, but it came in the penultimate round and Iguodala ultimately lost to the diminutive Nate Robinson in a dunk off. Robinson’s dunk over Spud Webb signaled the turn of the contest towards a weirdly meta, prop-based approach to the dunk contest. Plus it took him 14 attempts to put it in. Iguodala was, in short, robbed.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6z9-l4hnMM

Two years later, Dwight Howard took the crown with the most prop-driven performance up until that point, but Gerald Green’s opening round dunk got lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame, because it was slick and creative.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1pXEumOGOU

But in subsequent rounds, Green showed he couldn’t come up with anything to top himself, much less any of the other contestants. The best dunk contest participants, from Michael Jordan to Vince Carter, have shown a sense of showmanship that extends beyond the individual dunks to the arc created over the whole contest. It’s kind of cognitively dissonant with the spirit of dunking in the game, which relies more on chance, timing, and opportunity than advance planning.

So there’s a chance that this single round format will level the field a bit more, resulting in good early dunks carrying more weight. But on the other hand, the NBA ditching the judges and awarding the trophy based solely on fan vote is thoroughly wrongheaded. The judge system has had its own problems (as when Howard’s truly impressive sticker dunk was misunderstood by them in the moment), but it’s impossible to see how a fan vote doesn’t lead to something that values flash or name recognition over an honest appraisal of dunks. On the bright side, no one knows who these contestants are. Seriously, this field’s about as open as the field of Republican presidential candidates last November.

But mixed feelings over the Slam Dunk Contest are nothing new. The truly revelatory performances are almost always surprises, which is perhaps in the dunk’s very nature. Like humor, a good dunk thrives on being unexpected, whether that means breaking out of the flow and rhythm of a regular game or coming up with something that’s never been seen before in the contest. The real key to a great dunk contest performance, though, is not only doing something startlingly new, but rather finding a balance between athleticism, showmanship, and, strangely, comprehensibility. Green’s cupcake dunk, Howard’s sticker dunk, and Javale McGee’s cradle under-the-backboard dunk all suffered for not being as immediately graspable as Dr. J’s free throw line dunk or Vince Carter’s through-the-legs alley-oop. Given the tremendous athleticism of players in the NBA now and the switch to fan-voting, it’s likely that the winning dunk won’t be the most impressive, but rather, the one that communicates the best.

Stinkface Chronicles: Griffin and the Greats

"Where'd you learn to dunk? Finishing school?" via imaginaryyear.com

With the exception of Kobe Bryant’s three-game 40-point run — his middle finger to Father Time — Ricky Rubio going all “Pistolero” on the NBA and The Jeremy Lin Experience (Have you ever really been experienced?), this truncated NBA season hasn’t provided a the range of exquisite flavors an 82-game season does.

As opposed to the grind of a full season (which I don’t mind because it allows players, teams and story lines to develop), this lockout-truncated season has been more meat grinder. It has been more about what’s missing. First, it was the league itself. Now, it’s the players’ health. By the end, it may be their sanity because squeezing 66 games into just under 130 days is plain crazy.

That’s not to say there haven’t been sublime NBA moments this season. Considering these are The Stinkface Chronicles, you’ll note that I take note of those that have been above the rim. Here are the five I’ve enjoyed most so far.

DeAndre Jordan on Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, Dec. 19, 2011

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gDMERiw9Vs

This one happened during the preseason in December, which just goes to show you how weird this season has been. But this flush on the Lakers’ formidable frontline not only provided a glimpse into the denizens of Lob City (ironic, though it was a bounce pass off a pick-and-roll) but also harkened back to another preseason perpetration of Staples-on-Staples crime and the first entry in The Stinkface Chronicles. The Clippers’ bench — and Lakers haters — took great glee in this one, though Lakers’ fans could counter that the Clips should have been whistled for a technical foul for having 12 men on the court after Jordan’s flush.

4. Vince Carter on Emeka Okafor, Jan. 7, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efxVcT7GpDk

It’s vintage Vince, the greatest in-game dunker in NBA history and it’s beautiful. Also, that’s the fastest Brendan Haywood has moved in quite some time, even with Delonte West riding shotgun.

3. Dwyane Wade on Landry Fields, Jan. 27, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEsQm3cxw2A

Wade shows Fields the ball, loops it around Fields’ noggin and then slams said ball on said noggin’. Euro-steppin’.

2. LeBron James on/over John Lucas III, Jan. 29, 2012

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

Here’s a little bit of trivia for you: who was the announcer when Vince Carter unleashed “Le Dunk du Morte“? On the US broadcast, it was Mike Breen, who had a similar reaction to Bron’s dunk as Doug Collins’ did to Vince’s. Breen chuckles a little like Santa Claus — “Hohohoho” — as he should because these two dunks were the best gifts any dunk connoisseur could receive. (An aside, when I saw LeBron’s slam, all I could think of was Collins’ “he jumped over his heeeeaaad” commentary.)

1. Blake Griffin on Kendrick Perkins, Jan. 30, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w_Vy0lDk_A

I rate this slightly ahead of LeBron’s dunk because Lucas didn’t see it coming while Perkins knew full well what he was getting into. Perkins’ act of engagement (and aiding his rise by graciously providing his chest as a step stool) helped make this the dunk* of the season … thus far. So, we thank you, Kendrick.

As for Griffin’s full-fledged assault on Perkins’ puss, we can’t call it the greatest dunk of all-time. That belongs to Vince in 2000. I’ll also argue it doesn’t belong in the Top 10* on two points: One, it had a precedent, specifically Griffin’s throwdown on Timofey Mozgov in the 2010-11 season; and, two: neither were technically dunks as Griffin threw both into the rim instead of grabbing the rim. While I won’t be too much of a Grinch to give the plays their due, I can’t put either into the greatest of all time because of it. What follows is a list of my favorite all-time dunks in an NBA game. Make it yours, because, really, you can’t go wrong when you reference them.

FAVORITE IN-GAME DUNKS OF ALL-TIME (PRE-2011-12 EDITION)

Amar’e Stoudemire on Michael Olowokandi

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mbLdZlQC1U&feature=fvst

This dunk is the genesis of The Stinkface Chronicles. We thank thee, Amar’e and you as well, Starbury. Your expression speaks volumes. (For more Amar’e, check out a similar destruction of Anthony Tolliver.)

Dwyane Wade on Kendrick Perkins

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cYau7gba5Y

Now, this is a dunk on Kendrick Perkins.

John Starks on Michael Jordan*

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCTfxOrX4k8

OK, it technically wasn’t on Jordan, but he was in the picture and I just wanted to remind everyone about that.

Dominique Wilkins on Larry Bird

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ngtWdgOz0o

Bird looks like he was shot out of the sky.

Baron Davis on Andrei Kirilenko

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYpwjB0IzoU

Isn’t it amazing what Baron Davis can do when he’s in shape and interested?

Tom Chambers on Mark Jackson

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7T_Wg5ilo8

This dunk has the Chris Webber seal of approval.

Shawn Kemp on the Knicks

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVm6USjXAzk

While most people will give Kemp props for his destruction of Alton Lister, I prefer this one because of the degree of difficulty. A double-pump reverse on two defenders? Get the hell outta here /NewYorkvoice. (It’s No. 3 in this compilation which includes classics such as Chris Gatling giving the Reignman his props and Kemp putting a knee into Bill Laimbeer’s onions.)

Julius Erving on Michael Cooper

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCT9QyqhkBU

From the cradle to the crowd rising, like the crest of a wave, as Dr. J skims across the Spectrum floor to Chick Hearn’s call of the cradle (“Way … he rocks the baby to sleep…”) to Michael Cooper going into the fetal position to Beard Dude, everything about this is cool.

Vince Carter on Alonzo Mourning

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcU66xdeGck

Carter, the greatest in-game dunker in NBA history, (I need to trademark that), has more than his share of show-stoppers, but Carter goes chest-to-chest with Zo, one of the more feared shotblockers in NBA history, and destroys him. I had this saved on my DVR for more than two years. I wish I still had it.

Michael Jordan on Patrick Ewing

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R015PScpTM

Oh, no, Jordan’s trapped in the corner by two Knicks. Wait, no he isn’t. But, oh no, there’s no way he’s going to the make it to the hoop. Ewing is there to block it … Never mind. A seven-foot obstacle is no impediment. After Jordan stares down Ewing, you can hear Cliff Livingston go, “Wooohoohoo!” as he mock sprints from the scene of the crime. Or, later in the highlight, Walt “Clyde” Frazier noted that Jordan was gyratin’ and vibratin’ and manages to get a Diet Pepsi commercial all in one comment.

This one play may encapsulate Michael Jordan’s gifts better than any play in his career: the improvisation, the athleticism, the competitiveness. Of all the great dunks in Jordan’s career, this one rises above the rest.

Chris Paul Is Finally, Officially, A Los Angeles Clipper

Photo via CNN.tv.

The Los Angeles Clippers have agreed to a deal in principle with the league-owned New Orleans Hornets to acquire guard Chris Paul, according to sources close to the process.

The Clippers, sources said, will send guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 first-round pick to the Hornets for Paul.

via Sources: Clippers, Hornets agree | ESPN.com

And that’s it. The saga only took one week to resolve itself, but it packed enough drama to rival the months-long Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes. In the end, the Hornets got a vastly superior haul for CP3 than they would have in the original Lakers trade: a semi-elite two-guard in Gordon, another young player with significant promise in Aminu, a sizeable expiring contract in Kaman, and Minnesota’s sure-to-be-high-in-the-lottery pick in next year’s stacked draft. It’s as good a starting point for a full rebuild as they could have hoped for, and it makes David Stern’s ridiculous “basketball reasons” explanation for vetoing the Lakers trade seem sort of defensible, even though it isn’t.

On the other side, well, the best teammate Chris Paul has had to date is David West. And now he gets Blake Griffin. And DeAndre Jordan. And his pick of either one of them to throw lobs to every time down the floor if he feels like it. And we get to watch it on League Pass every night if we’re so inclined. And now the Clippers can likely avoid the uncertainty of whether they’ll be able to hang onto Griffin in a year when he’s elegible for an extension. And, assuming they don’t get Dwight Howard, the Lakers may soon become the second-most relevant NBA team in the city of Los Angeles.

All in all, this is a huge win for both teams involved. The Clippers get the best point guard on the planet to team with the most ideal pick-and-roll partner he could ask for, and the Hornets spare themselves a year of drama and get a head start on rebuilding. But most of all, this trade marks a great day for basketball fans everywhere because WE GET TO WATCH CHRIS PAUL AND BLAKE GRIFFIN TOGETHER. EVERY NIGHT.

“What Just Happened?”

Well, I’m glad everyone made it out alive, and I hope everyone realizes what they witnessed.

The 2011 NBA Draft became nothing more than a platform for the Minnesota Timberwolves and their endless volley of draft picks that flew in every direction possible. Confusing doesn’t begin to describe the situation as picks, rights, names, and faces were all shuffled, leaving most of us in a thick cloud of dust not knowing what the hell just happened. But something did happen. Something improbable. Minnesota got better. (Maybe.)

Of course, the bulk of their improvement is due to their uncontroversial selection of Derrick Williams. He was the safe pick, and very well could be the right one. I’ve never been too enamored with his game, and if there’s one thing that defines my perception of him, it’s doubt.

I doubt his position, kind of. I was weary of his ability to play at the small forward spot, but the problem is not nearly as glaring as the situation Marcus Morris put himself in. There are still questions to be answered though. He’s talked about being more comfortable in the perimeter, but does that take away from one of his best qualities (drawing fouls) as a player? Can he be an effective slasher without exceptional footspeed at the NBA level? As a prospect, Blake Griffin was a power forward who could spend time at center. Physically, compared to Griffin, they are remarkably similar. An inch in height and three pounds separate their combine measurements, and both players play with about the same maximum vertical height (taking into consideration height, max vertical, and standing reach).

Both are fantastic athletes, but what sets Griffin apart is the hyper-fluidity of his movements, the extent of which Williams can’t quite match. Williams’ dunks with a running start off two feet are positively Blake-esque, but not so exceptional elsewhere. Granted, his offensive repertoire is more well-rounded at this point in their respective careers, but Williams lacks Griffin’s creativity and prodigy. It’s an unfair comparison, but one to keep in mind. Griffin has maximized his gifts to become a true power forward. With distinct similarities, shouldn’t Williams be doing the same?

Defensively, Griffin hasn’t yet become a plus defender either. However, unlike Williams next season, he has very good weakside help. But he hasn’t spelled out his doom just yet. Williams doesn’t have a freakish wingspan, but it’s above average and when combined with his strength, it should be enough to guard most small forwards in the league. If he proves to be adequate, everything is rosy. His offensive prowess would surely lessen the blow of lackluster defense. But things tend to go wrong in Minnesota. And if Derrick Williams wakes up and sees Michael Beasley staring back at him in the mirror, the Wolves are back to where they started.

For the last few months, I haven’t been able to type his name without checking Google to make sure I didn’t get his last name wrong. It’s a name that just sounds too familiar — the first name shares likeness with one of the biggest superstars in the league today in Derrick Rose, and the last name with Deron Williams, which happens to sound nearly identical to Derrick Williams. What’s in a name? Nothing and everything. But it’s what people hear before they see the skills. It’s the carrier of adoring praise and overwhelming burdens. And I fear that if Derrick Williams isn’t a very good player, I’ll be looking at his name on a statsheet one day wishing he was someone else.

Of course, that was only in the first 20 minutes of the draft. Then over the course of three hours, the Wolves made sure to take as many steps as possible to acquire three future draft picks.  It started with trading formerly coveted guard Jonny Flynn, which came off as a startling admission from GM David Kahn that he is indeed aware of his errors, and not just a man far removed from reality. And that’s a start. It really is.

So Flynn and the No. 20 pick were traded to the Houston Rockets and became Brad Miller, No. 23 and No. 38. Then No. 23 became No. 28 and No. 43. Then No. 28 became No. 31.  No. 31 became cash, and remember No. 38? It changed its mind and limped its way back to Houston.

If that’s too convoluted — and it’s it is entirely too convoluted — the tangible additions to next season’s Wolves are Brad Miller and the No. 43. Brad Miller recently had microfracture surgery and he’s old. As for the No. 43? Well…

After three years of toil in Ben Howland’s system, the chains and shackles are off for Malcolm Lee. In three years at UCLA, Lee watched as the hype turned to scrutiny, which ultimately turned to ambivalence. He went from being a high-flying act in high school to a no-frills off-guard at UCLA. There was nothing spectacular about his college campaign, but what he developed should show immediately during training camp. At 6’5″ and a lean 200 pounds, Lee has enough size to guard both backcourt positions, a noteworthy skill he possessed back in high school that only got better by his junior year. He is an NBA-caliber defender right now with long arms and quick feet. Strength has always been an issue with Lee, but he’s taken a lot of time to tone and build muscle in his upper body, evidenced by his 17 reps in the bench pressing portion of the Pre-Draft Combine — only two less than fellow rookie teammate Derrick Williams, who recorded the highest number of reps in the combine, and easily outweighs Lee by at least 50 pounds.

Offensively at UCLA, Lee scored off the ball on dribble handoffs and diving into the paint. While he still needs to work on his strength to finish near the rim at the NBA level, Lee is extremely athletic and has great body control, which should help with the learning curve. In workout interviews, Lee specifically mentioned his desire to learn the ins and outs of the pick and roll, seeing himself as a point guard. With Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour perfectly capable at the 1, that might not be imperative, but Lee can create for himself and others, something that’s been missing on the roster for years. Most importantly, Lee finds himself transplanted from a slow and methodical UCLA team to one of the fastest teams in the league. But if UCLA teaches anything to its NBA prospects, it’s how to adapt. Though it’s not hard to adapt to an environment that was once your domain.

Is Lee a perfect fit? No, but how many players on the team are? Outside of Rubio and Kevin Love who are the pure in their positions, the Wolves are a band of players who would probably be better off playing a different position.

“I can assure you it won’t fit perfectly.”

- David Kahn saying obvious things during the post-draft press conference

Damn right it won’t. Kahn is heavily banking on the power of versatility, but at some point, some semblance of a hierarchy has to be established. But I guess that’s for another time. There’s no room for negativity killing this post-draft euphoria, and no room for projecting the likelihood of Kahn trading Lee for a veteran just for the sake of getting older. Because as it stands right now, the Minnesota Timberwolves got better after the draft. Of course, on draft night it felt like watching a million torpedoes launching in different directions threatening to destroy everything, but somehow they didn’t. Somehow, in the end, the Timberwolves were unscathed.

…An improvement as only David Kahn could produce.

(Just so it’s clear, I’ve taken the liberty of ignoring the whole ‘Ta(n/r)guy Ngombo is actually a really old dude’ situation. He was never going to step on the court, so I thought of it as an entertaining sideshow/non-event.)

Discernible Truths Of An Indefinable Player

Photo via Stuck In Commons on Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blake Griffin: Army of Great


(Apologies for the lateness. I had a thing.)

We’re doomed. I realize that now.

It was inevitable, really. We all wanted it. That player who would change things. The unstoppable force of nature. The nexus of violence, improvisation, tenacity, fearlessness, and fear-of-God-giving talent. And so we’ve been given him. Which is too bad, because there’s nothing to stop him from reigning fire down upon all of us.

“YOU GET A POSTER! AND YOU GET A POSTER! AND YOU GET A POSTER!”

There’s no stopping him now, of course. Now that he realizes what he can do. Now that he faced down LeBron. Kobe. Think about that. The team’s won 16 freaking games because they’re the GD Clippers and still, their hit list is impressive. Check it out.

Heat. Hornets. Lakers. Bulls. Knicks. Spurs. Suns.

He had eleven points versus the Nets and 24-14-6 against the Heat. The more we throw at him the stronger he becomes.

Moving past the hyperbole, we haven’t seen anything like this in the modern era. It hearkens back to glimpses of what we would have seen in Shaq’s rookie season. Or Kareem’s. No, literally. Except he has none of Shaq’s silly pompousness and need for attention, nor the aloof detachment of Kareem. He dunks on everyone, everyone, everyone, then stares them down. He’s unapologetically awesome, and in doing so, he’s the promise of greatness.

Great.

That word is what we hope for all those misbegotten freakshows who wind up as nothing more than “athletic” rotation guys who never really amount to everything. That they’ll put that athleticism to good use, work on developing some semblance of a repertoire and attack, attack, attack. And in the meantime, Griffin’s doing things which shouldn’t even be physically possible. Exhibit A:

THAT SHOT GOES IN, FOR GOD’S SAKE. What angle is that? Is it possible? Even if it was, how is it possible from a 21-year-old forward out of a post-spin in his first season when the entire defense is trying to stop, specifically him? HOW?

But wait! There’s more!

Again, with the insanity. He’s lifting off for a layup out of a driving post-spin by using Jeff Foster’s face as a launchpad. This isn’t reality. This is Blakeverse. He’s owning all of us. Clippers games are now must-watch. This is the organization employing Baron Davis, run by the worst owner in professional sports history, playing without their starting center, and yet people are staying up just to watch this… thing destroy everything in its path.

Zach touched on this the other day,  but the absurdity of this moment should not pass us by. Which is why I won’t resort to worrying about him breaking something as he goes splaying to the floor for the fortieth time. I’m not going to focus on his defense (which actually isn’t that bad if you trust Synergy Sports- 30% FG% in ISO, but 50% in the post), or his awareness or his jumper (how is he hitting threes with that shot?). I’m just going to enjoy this. And revel in the fear.

This is really too good to be true. And while there is part of me waiting for it to be pulled out from under me and another questioning what set of Basketball Gods would give Donald Sterling this revelation in the draft, it does no good. There’s a chance, no matter how slim, that we’ve stumbled on the next one-man Army of Great, and we’ll have to face that reality.

If you need me, I’ll be in the bunker.