Tag Archives: Josh Smith

Hi! How Was Your Summer: Detroit Pistons

Photo Credit: Juliana/Flickr

2012-’13 Record: 29-53

New Faces: Maurice Cheeks (Head Coach), Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups,  Luigi Datome

New Places: Lawrence Frank (Now Brooklyn assistant coach), Jose Calderon (Dallas), Brandon Knight (Milwaukee), Viktor Kravstov (Milwaukee), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee), Jason Maxiell (Orlando)

Draft: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8), Tony Mitchell (37), Peyton Siva (56)

The Detroit Pistons definitely did something this offseason. No one knows for sure exactly just what they did yet, but depending on how you see the glass, it’s either half-empty or half-full. General manager Joe Dumars told Grantland’s Zach Lowe that he feels as if they’ve added talent, which he isn’t necessarily wrong about, but there are legitimate questions about the fit among the team’s additions and their young players. I mean, there’s definitely a glass here; you just have to turn your head to the side and squint a bit to see if it’s half-full or half-empty.

First, they added forward Josh Smith to a frontcourt that already includes Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith is infamously a poor shooter from distance, but Monroe shot .486 from the field on the season, which is below average for a center. However, the two big men were both above average at the rim, .771 for Smith and .614 for Monroe, but that presents a potential spacing problem. Same goes for Drummond who attempted just 63 shots from further than 10-feet from the basket, in which he made just 15 of those attempts. Dumars, in the same Grantland interview, mentioned that their basketball IQ’s and ability to make plays for others will mitigate some of these negative effects. Which really has to happen if Detroit hopes to return to the playoffs along Smith, Monroe, and Drummond being able to play together.

There other big move was, of course, dealing Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Victor Kravstov for the Bucks’ Brandon Jennings. Which, again, doesn’t improve a team that was 18th in three point percentage last season, nor does it help their probable spacing issues. Jennings, like Knight before him, also struggles as a shooter, even finishing below the league average of .608 percent for point guards at the rim having shot .492 percent last season. Sure, Jennings can make plays for others, but who is he passing to? Austin Daye, Jose Calderon and Tayshaun Prince — their top three players in three-point percentage last season — are all gone. The return of Chauncey Billups won’t help this, either, being an average shooter at best last season. Same goes for rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who may go on to be more than an average shooter from distance, but that likely won’t happen this year.

Dumars did succeed in upgrading his roster from a sheer talent perspective but there are legitimate questions about how well these pieces fit together and if you can have success in the NBA today without being able to stretch the floor. Yes, talent and smart players do tend to figure it out, but usually that’s when they’re surround by other pieces that complement their strengths. We’ll find out if these Pistons have that ability or not.

Statistical support provided by Basketball-Reference.com and Hoopdata.com

 

A New Era in Atlanta

Photo Credit: Andrea Guandalini/Flickr

The writing had been on the wall for some time for the Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith. As a part of a strong frontcourt tandem, Smith and Al Horford put the Hawks into playoff contention year after year. Yet, the Hawks closed the book on that era and ushered in the beginning of a new one with the signing of the Utah Jazz’s Paul Millsap for 2 years and $19 million, far less than what Utah had been offering. After allowing Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson to walk, it was wondered if the Hawks were rebuilding, but adding Millsap gives this more of a reloading feel than anything.

The change in direction is understandable. After years of fielding good-but-not-great playoff teams, the Hawks may have felt like they were spinning their wheels; and with Smith’s looming free agency, the team may not have felt that paying him the money he wanted long-term was the solution to that problem. Sure enough, Atlanta was able to get Millsap for some $6 million less per year on a shorter deal, saving the team’s cap space to continue to re-position the franchise.

Millsap may not be the defender that Smith is, but he will present defenses with a different look on offense than in recent years. Atlanta will now be able to run more post-up plays for Millsap than they could with Smith, freeing up Horford (who is a more proficient midrange shooter than Millsap) to stretch the defense, giving them a strong inside-outside game just in the post. According to MySynergySports.com, Millsap should be able to improve the areas on offense in which Smith was most strong — scoring in transition and offensive rebounds — while also not giving them a steep drop-off in areas such as cutting plays.

While Millsap may not be regarded as elite in the pick ‘n roll, Horford makes up for that, having posted a slightly above average 1.01 points per possession in such areas. With the variance in the games of Horford and Millsap, and Horford being more capable of stretching the floor and Millsap being personally strongest within three feet of the rim, the Hawks likely haven’t added a player whose skill set will duplicate that of their star player. Additionally, Horford and Millsap should be a formidable rebounding tandem, and Millsap will have to work much less on defense playing next to Horford instead of Al Jefferson.

The deal for the both parties make sense financially: the Hawks get to maintain longterm cap flexibility and Millsap will still be in his prime in two years when his deal expires, leaving it up to him to return to Atlanta or finish out his career elsewhere.

The Life and Death of Potential

Every year, when the season begins anew, we think maybe, just maybe, this is the year the player that has, for so long infuriated us with his inability to harness his potential, teased us with a double-double one night and a no-show the next, gets it. This is the year Anthony Randolph becomes a quicker Lamar Odom in his prime. This is the year Evan Turner blossoms into a bigger Brandon Roy. They just needed a new coach, a new city, a new situation. Hope, that pesky creature, persists.

Until that inevitable point in every underachieving player’s career, the one in which “what could be” becomes “what could have been,” and we’re left angered and confused as to why it wasn’t. A Randolph line of 16 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and two blocks, once inspiring, now invokes sighs and utterances of wasted potential. Michael Beasley’s Per 36 numbers of 17 points and 6.6 rebounds would have been encouraging his rookie year, igniting arguments of how many championships he and Dwyane Wade would win together. Then we look and see those numbers are worse than those of his rookie campaign, and all we can do is hang our heads.  Hope, that fickle creature, dies.

The time at which a player reaches this point varies, as does the reason.

For some, injuries hamper development or rob them of what made them so special. Rodrique Beaubois showed flashes of promise, but always seemed to sustain an injury just before we could determine if it was more than a mere hot streak. Still, those flashes were enough for the Mavericks to demand a first round pick in any trade scenario that involved Beaubois.

Also hindering development is the situation into which a player enters. The Philadelphia 76ers selected Evan Turner second, despite the fact that ne not only played the same position as Andre Iguodala, but also played it in nearly identical fashion.

Too high of a draft position can saddle a player with too-lofty expectations, especially in a weak draft. A player’s production in college may be less a sign of his potential in the NBA and more a signal of the plateau of his abilities. The Timberwolves waived Wesley Johnson just two years after selecting him fourth overall in the 2010 draft, his expected instant production never coming to pass.

Whatever the reason, the once-anointed franchise cornerstone becomes a pariah, his every appearance on the court a reminder of what isn’t. The tools were there, but the will, either of mind or body, wasn’t.

That’s not say there’s no middle ground between those who realized their potential and those who squandered it; there certainly is. In fact, it could be argued these sorts of players comprise the majority of the league, and Josh Smith is their Patron Saint.

It seems odd to point to a perennial contender for a spot on the All-Defense team as a player that hasn’t fully realized his potential, but few players leave us with such hollow want as Smith. His propensity to shoot long two-pointers is equally maddening and bewildering. It’s unclear whether he hoists them out of belief in his ability to make the shot, or defiance of everyone telling him he can’t.

The numbers are right there in front of us, staring, mocking. They show us both the Josh Smith that could be, the one that shoots 71% at the rim, and the Josh Smith that is, the one that’s launched 186 three-pointers and made only 57 of them. Synergy tells of a player that is among the best and most versatile in the league, yet also ranks below average in his most-used areas of offense.

Fast approaching this sainthood is DeMarcus Cousins. The word “if” has quickly become attached to nearly any sentence concerning the mercurial forward’s future: If he can control his emotions, if he can be in a stable environment, if he can get a coach that understands him. The problem here is that it’s a slippery slope from “if” to “if only,” indicating the past tense. If only he could have controlled his emotions, if only he could have been in a stable environment, and so forth. Should we come to speak of Cousins in this sense, it won’t necessarily mean he joined the ranks of Beasley or Randolph, as he’s already had a more successful career. Rather, it would mean the hope we once had for him to shed his immaturity no longer remains.

Reports surfaced throughout this season of Greg Oden’s possible return to the league. Once simultaneously considered the heir to Bill Russell’s throne and the savior of basketball in Portland, Oden only played a total of 82 games in his five seasons in Portland, due to a myriad of injuries, including three microfracture surgeries. Despite these clear red flags, Oden continues to draw interest from teams including the Heat and the Cavaliers. He is the definition of low-risk, high-reward. In some ways, Oden is the exception to the above “what if” cases, as it’s never felt as if we’ve truly given up on him.

Perhaps it’s because he never forsook his abilities, he just never had the chance to fully harness them. And when he did step on the court, he produced. In 21 games in 2009-10, Oden’s per 36 line read like the beginnings of a dominant center: 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.4 blocks while shooting 60% from the field. Or maybe it’s that the injuries didn’t so much hinder his development as they did prevent it from ever beginning. Oden spent so much time hurt and recovering from those injuries that he rarely had time to work on his game. Then again, maybe it’s just because there’s nothing quite so compelling as redemption.

He’s spent the past two seasons rehabbing, preparing his body to handle the rigors of an entire NBA season for the first time. The tools are there, and clearly so too is the will. He’ll likely never be the once-in-a-generation center we predicted, but it’s possible he can be a valuable contributor off the bench. Hope springs eternal.

Statistical Anomaly: Sixers at Hawks

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Hawks’ win over the Sixers.

The Atlanta Hawks dominated early and coasted late on their way to a 107-96 victory over the visiting Philadelphia 76ers. The final difference of 11 points was rather predictable, as the Hawks had one day to prepare and the 76ers played the night before. For the season, Atlanta averages 98.9 points in games played after one rest day and 100.2 points at home. Philadelphia, on the other hand, averages 89.4 points (the second lowest output in the NBA) on the second night of a back to back and 90.2 points on the road. By averaging out typical production for rest and location, the numbers would have projected a 99.6-89.8 Hawks win.

Over their last 49 games, the Hawks are undefeated when Jeff Teague records double digit assists at home. They are 20-22 in all other games over that stretch. Atlanta is full of inconsistent offensive threats, making Teague’s job as a distributor much more difficult than a team that has a “go-to” option. Teague has grown to not only accept this role, but thrive in it, as his decision  making has improved with experience. His assists have increased every season and his assist to turnover ratio is currently at an all time high. Decision making from a point guard also includes knowing when to be aggressive, and Teague has done just that by averaging more points with each passing season as well.

Kyle Korver made three two point field goals, his third straight game with at least three buckets from inside the arc. The last time he strung three such games together was the first week in December … of 2010. We are less than a week into March, but Korver is already one two point basket away from matching his February number of two pointers made in games in which he makes more two’s than three’s (11). Korver is clearly on the floor for one reason (two if you include “ability to make free throws”), and the Hawks ability to win games goes up when he sticks to the game plan. Atlanta was won 53.8% of the games this season when he makes at least as many deuces as treys as compared to 66.7% of games in which he makes more threes than twos. Here’s a breakdown of his baskets by month thus far in the 2012-2013 season:

Korver 3PM

A quick glance at the Hawks box score and it would be tempting to assume that Atlanta won in spite of a 1/6 performance at the free throw line by Josh Smith. But upon further review, the Hawks are as good as ever when their top player can’t cash in from the stripe. Since April 2009, Atlanta has won eight of nine regular season games when J-Smoove misses at least five free throws. Smith is not a great career free throw shooter (65.7%) so my theory on the Hawks succeeding when he misses 5+ free throws is simple: he is attacking the basket and looking to make plays. Even if he is fouled, he is playing a “Josh Smith brand” of basketball, a style in which he will help the team the most. I follow a similar train of thought with Ricky Rubio’s turnover issues; you need to live with the bad to get the great.

When watching in a game in Atlanta, you’ve got to be aware of some of the Hawk greats that have played there in the past. That being said, the 76ers Damien Wilkins did something last night that another D. Wilkins never did in Atlanta. Damien, in his ninth NBA season, scored 244% more points than his career average of 6.1. His uncle Dominique’s career high of 57 points was a mere 130% over his scoring average. Another fun stat for “the other D. Wilkins” is the fact that he hasn’t shot under 50% from the field and scored double digits in the same game since January 18, 2010.

Philly’s woes were another part of last night’s story. Evan Turner struggled to find any sort of open look against the athletic Hawks, making only one of his seven field goal attempts. Turner, a 42.3% shooter for the season (entering last night’s action) hasn’t shot 42.3% or better in a road game since the first of the year (11 games). Philadelphia has dropped all 11 of those games and will continue to struggle on the road if Turner doesn’t begin to take better shots. He plays a loaded position in the NBA (SF), but he needs to improve at reading defenses and not predetermining his plan of attack. Turner isn’t a part of the 1% of the league that can let their natural ability take over, so he needs to become more cerebral than ever before if he wants to become the team’s number one scoring option.

Balanced production for the starters is crucial if a team with a below average offense wants to win today’s high scoring NBA. The 76ers four starters not including their SF (Thad Young) shot a woeful 7/29 from field and scored only 21 points. On the flip side, the Hawks four starters not including their SF (DeShawn Stevenson) combined to make 29/53 shots from field for 67 points. Not only did Atlanta’s set of four starters make as many field goals as their counterparts attempted, Jeff Teague and Al Horford made more FG’s and scored at least as many points individually as 80% of the 76ers starting unit did as a whole. Philadelphia gets 52% of its scoring on a nightly basis from three starters under the age of 25, and unless you are the Thunder, that is tough to count on night in an night out. The 76ers are a solid team with plenty of upside, but until their young players gain consistency, they will be a fringe  playoff team at best.

Welcome to Atlanta, where we got options

rofltosh (Flickr)

rofltosh (Flickr)

The Hawks didn’t trade Josh Smith on Thursday. This was the closest thing to a blockbuster that could have feasibly happened before the deadline, and Danny Ferry opted to ride out the final year of Smith’s contract. This isn’t an ideal scenario for the Hawks, but it’s not a disaster, and in some ways could work to their advantage this summer.

Smith seems pretty unhappy in Atlanta, and Ferry is understandably not thrilled about giving him the five-year max it will probably take to keep him. The best solution for both sides would appear to be a fresh start, but there is one scenario in which bringing him back makes sense. The Hawks’ ultimate play, ever since Ferry unloaded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, has been the free agency of Dwight Howard. I’m not one to believe Howard, especially in light of his recent back and shoulder issues, will walk away from the extra year and $20 million he could get by staying with the Lakers, as miserable as he is wearing purple and gold. But if he does decide to leave, the Hawks have three things working in their favor. Dwight is from Atlanta, but who knows how much that will factor in. They have Al Horford on a phenomenal value contract that could make the Lakers extremely amenable to a sign-and-trade if it’s clear Howard wants out. And they have Smith, with whom Howard is notoriously tight. If it’s what it takes to get Howard to Atlanta, it would be difficult for Ferry to justify not maxing Smith out.

But let’s say Howard is staying in LA, the most realistic outcome. The Hawks still control Smith’s bird rights, which could be beneficial for both parties. Teams were unwilling to give up valuable players and picks for Smith before the deadline, because they had no guarantee that he would re-sign. Anyone negotiating a sign-and-trade with the Hawks this summer is doing so with the knowledge that he wants to be there long-term. This will open Smith’s options up beyond just teams with cap room, because the Hawks can take on salary in a S&T if it makes sense to do so. Their roster is undefined because they did not make a trade, but their options are not limited by it.

After the Howard pursuit, Ferry’s next-highest priority is Jeff Teague. Unless they have an opportunity to sign-and-trade Teague for Chris Paul (and it’s even less likely that CP3 would leave the Clippers than that Howard will leave the Lakers), they’re not going to do better on the market. The value for young, athletic point guards was more or less set in the $40-48 million range with last fall’s extensions for Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Stephen Curry. If Teague gets an offer in that range, matching it should be a no-brainer for Ferry.

From there, if they miss out on all of the big-name free agents, the Hawks’ best bet may be to simply rent their cap space, taking on short-term salary through free-agent deals or unbalanced trades, preferably while collecting picks and other assets, and gear up for the 2014 free-agent class. Ferry’s eagerness to dump Johnson and Williams makes one think this is his approach, but he needs to be careful not to screw it up by giving out another crippling long-term deal to a player who doesn’t move the needle. Not trading Josh Smith on Thursday doesn’t forward that plan, but it doesn’t necessarily hinder it, either.

12/14/12 Mail Bag Round Table: MBRTOE, y’all

It’s time for another edition of the Mail Bag Round Table. This is a tradition that goes far back in time, to an age where knights gathered around their round tables and read emails, tweets, and Facebook posts from fans of jousting and drawing/quartering. Back then, though, they’d have to post their responses on wooden posts after writing them with quill. Sometimes, if they were lucky, the town crier would shout the responses into the markets. But people would be so annoyed at him that he’d get drawn and quartered. Lucky for you guys, you can just read the responses on this here blog post. Sean, JaredParoxyInternJordan, and Noam: take it away.

1) @TheNoizmaker on Twitter: Will Josh Smith be an all star?

Sean: I have no idea. Averaging 17 and 8 on the third-best team in the East could give him a boost, since per-game numbers and team record still factor heavily into coaches’ votes. His efficiency hasn’t been great, though. It’ll be pretty annoying if he gets the nod over Anderson Varejao.

Jared: Not if he keeps up his .307 eFG% on jumpers. I don’t care how good his defense is, you can’t be an All-Star with that kind of shooting. Not if I have anything to say about it, at least. (Note: I don’t have anything to say about it. This is a fictional All-Star vote in a mailbag on a blog).

ParoxyIntern: Yes, he will.

Jordan: I don’t see it happening. Though Smith is a highlight waiting to happen, his numbers are down nearly across the board this year, except for his three point shooting, which doesn’t seem sustainable. The greater obstacle, however, is the sheer number of quality front court players in the East: Melo, LeBron, KG, Noah, Varejao, and Bargnani (I kid, I kid). I’d even argue David West is more deserving than Smith of a spot on the East’s roster.

Noam: Never. The coaches hate him too much and the fans don’t recognize Atlanta’s existence. MOAR JOE JOHNSON

2) via my Canadian beer aficionado friends @BrewBrahs: What do you think about Mark Cuban’s stance on the NHL lockout?

Sean: I don’t know because I’ve actively avoided reading anything about the NHL lockout. Any mention of the phrases “revenue split,” “system issues,” and “decertification” trigger my PTSD from Fall of 2011.

Jared: Let’s just move half the teams to Canada. They like hockey more there anyway, and there shouldn’t be hockey teams in Miami or Phoenix. It’s ridiculous. Then we can give the Rangers all the good players so they can win the Cup again. Problems solved.

ParoxyIntern: Gotta love Mark Cuban. I watch him on Shark Tank every Friday night on ABC, so I pretty much I respect everything that he does.

Jordan: Cuban is a fantastic business and entrepreneurial mind. As an owner of an NBA team and having gone through a lockout recently himself, it’s not surprising he sides with his owner brethren. (OK, I realize I didn’t really answer the question, but I don’t watch hockey, so I don’t know enough about the situation to have an opinion on Cuban’s opinion).

Noam: I’m vehemently opposed to it. I couldn’t care less about the NHL and haven’t even read Cuban’s stance, but after Cubes and his homies nearly ruined a perfectly good basketball season, any time a sports owner talks about a labor situation I am on the other side.

3) @robsaunders1 on Twitter: We need to PROPERLY understand why the Knicks have become credible contenders and how the Lakers have not this season.

Sean: The Knicks have Sheed. The Lakers have found a way to put Pau Gasol in the doghouse.

Jared: Easy. Mike Woodson hides wizards in his goatee and the Lakers employ Chris Duhon.

ParoxyIntern: The Knicks play as a team. They also have much more balance than the Lakers with a scorer in Carmelo, a rebounder in Chandler, and 3 point shooters in Novak, Smith, and Wallace.

Jordan: The Lakers situation is pretty simple: they’re awful defensively. For the Knicks, it’s a combination of Carmelo Anthony embracing his world-destroying ability as a four, excellent spacing, Raymond Felton not being the Raymond Felton of last year, and Jason Kidd’s VETERAN LEADERSHIP.

Noam: The Knicks are making all of the threes forever and ever and ever. The Lakers have 4 good players on the roster, two of them aren’t playing, and the other two aren’t playing defense.

4) From Kirk: What’s your stance on sweater vests?

Sean: Anti.

Jared: No.

ParoxyIntern: I’ll wear them to school once a year. That is pretty much all I have to say.

Jordan: Either you can pull it off, or you absolutely can’t. There is no in-between.

Noam: I’m not opposed, but it’s hard for me to root for a sweater when it’s not a Mr. Rogers sweater. RIP.

5) @jasonhindle on Twitter: Why hasn’t Brian Colangelo been fired yet?

Sean: Because God hates Toronto. Hopefully Rush’s belated induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will start to turn their luck.

Jared: Somebody has to be around to keep the Joe Dumars’ name out of this question.

ParoxyIntern: I think the Raptors are going to wait until the end of the season to make a move like that.

Jordan: Though GM’s are responsible for assembling a team, they also have the greatest ability to deflect blame. They can point to the coach, who is failing to get the team to perform up to their potential. They can blame the players for not living up to expectations, or for being hurt, or for a multitude of other reasons. The last person they blame is themselves. Bryan Colangelo continues to use these excuses to cover his own mis-steps, though one has to think that that strategy can only hold up for so long.

Noam: At this point, firing him is pointless – he’s in the last year of his deal and just isn’t worth bothering with. As to why he wasn’t hired after the Hedo debacle, I have no clue.

6) Chris on Facebook: Is Andrew Nicholson not the greatest? DAT FOOTWORK!

Sean: Andrew Nicholson is, in fact, the greatest.

Jared: Sean wrote an excellent article about Andrew Nicholson. He apparently only takes corner 3s and layups, which is cool. When I watch the Magic, all I do is imagine JJ Redick on playoff teams and try to concoct trades in my head.

ParoxyIntern: Of course he is the greatest!

Jordan: *nods*

Noam: He most certainly is the greatest. Orlando’s rooks have been so much fun – Moe Harkless is a new-age cop who beats to his own drum, and Andrew Nicholson just wants to make his mid-range jumpers, get to the rim, and go home to his wife.

7) From Jordan: What will we do without PER Diem?

Sean: Lobby ESPN to adopt Netw3rk’s P.O.O.P.S. system instead.

Jared: Tony Allen and JR Smith are still on Twitter, right? Okay. The republic will survive.

ParoxyIntern: I’m not sure. Someone else is going to have to step up to the plate. I would like to congratulate Hollinger on the Grizzlies job, though.

Jordan: I’m devastated. PER Diem was my gateway drug for advanced metrics. Hollinger is not only a great basketball mind, but a great writer, with a superb ability to break down complex statistics in a way even the most casual of NBA fans can understand. His snarkasm has second to none. It’s a devastating loss or ESPN and those who enjoyed reading him, but it’s a tremendous pick up for the Grizzlies, a team that has publicly stated their desire to beef up their analytics department.

Noam: It’s definitely looking bleak. My only hope is that Hollinger starts a new blog under a pseudonym, where he constantly rips the Grizzlies front office, only to triumphantly reveal himself when new Memphis acquisition DeMar DeRozan lifts the Larry O’Brien trophy over his head.

NBA Playoffs Bucks Hawks Game 2: Let Josh Smith Show You A Magic Trick

Having Andrew Bogut around would have helped. It really would have. There’s just so much that happens where the Bucks need someone who’s not just big, but smart enough to suss out things and put certain plays to rest like little children being put down for a nap.

This is such a play.

The Hawks create a cluster here by essentially double screening Ilasova. First Salmons’ man comes through to the other side, shielding his back from Smith who’s just kind of getting excited. Frankensova’s trying to watch Joe Johnson to make sure he doesn’t take Delfino to the rack. Which is good. As we saw with the Mavs. You should probably be ready to help your man. Unfortunately for him, he goes a little too far. He’s now parallel to Smith’s flightpath. Here’s the really dirty part. You’ll notice Bibby sneaking up the bottom side of the play, nudging Salmons’ man to squeeze through, and leaving Brandon Jennings wondering what the hell is going on.

Now on the release, Smith starts galloping towards the rim like Gryphon, Salmons is still chasing his man who’s going baseline, and then bam! (/Madden’d) Bibby screens Ilyasova hard, jarring him and preventing him from even starting to reverse course to cut off Smith at the baseline. Meanwhile, Jennings starts to go after Bibby, realizes what’s happening, and jerks back to try and prevent that which he cannot. You can actually see him go one way, then realize it and back up too late.

See, I included their heights so you would understand why it was such a bad idea. But give the kid credit. He had every intention of going for a pass that he would need to jump off the back of an elephant to catch. Meanwhile, Ilyasova is STILL being cut off by Bibby, which means that even if he misses, the Hawks are going to have a size advantage on the boards. Of course, Smith is eight inches taller, so he’s not going to miss.

It’s easy to say Bogut would have made an impact, but how? Ilyasova still likely would have been on Smith, making the same kinds of mistakes. But you do have to figure Bogut would sniff out what was going on and at least be in a little better position. As is, the Bucks are toast before the pass even gets there.

Dang, Brandon. Dang.

TA-DAAA!

Human Dynamite Stick Goes Ka-Plooey

I was always fascinated with dynamite as a kid.

It wasn’t in the “I played with a magnifying death ray burning ants on the sidewalk, hope to find a friend with an illegal firework so I can play Russian roulette with my hand” sort of fascinated with dynamite way. It was totally legit. Whenever the coyote was chasing the roadrunner and had a trap set with some good ‘ole ACME TNT, I waited for the explosion and the colored stars to go pulsating through the screen without really caring about the end result.

What can I say? Explosions easily amused me as a child (and probably still am).

Well, when the Human Dynamite Stick, Josh Smith, threw down the TNT plunger with the walk-off tip dunk against the Orlando Magic Wednesday night, it had roughly the same affect on me. I didn’t necessarily care about the carnage it may have caused or left behind.

Take a look at it.

The shot goes up from Joe Johnson. Dwight Howard was left in No Man’s Land defensively as he can’t really get over to challenge the shot but also has to provide the threat of a hovering missile defense system in order to deter Joe from waltzing into the lane. This leaves the rebounding job up to Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis who are averaging 7.4 rebounds per game between them. Considering one of those guys is a Keith Closs blowout away from being seven feet tall that seems kind of like a paltry number.

This is the point in the cartoon in which you realize the dynamite isn’t working with the coyote. Even though it appears to be complying throughout the entire process, it’s going to end up exploding in the face of the coyote when it’s least expected.

Josh Smith had been hanging around the perimeter on this final play. He wanted the ball. He was just sitting out there, praying for a kick-out pass that would be entrusted to him to save the day. The pass never came. As internet sensation and two-time TrueHoop Network blogger, Sebastian Pruiti, pointed out, “he calls for the ball at the three-point line and doesn’t get it… last year he pouts and doesn’t go for the board.”

Josh Smith is out at the three-point line and normally would just sulk his way into overtime. It appears the dynamite is working with the coyote. But the dynamite doesn’t work the way you have always expected it to. Instead, the Human Dynamite Stick goes flying into the paint unabated. He rises up into the air (pulls the detonating plunger up into the air), catches the ball on his wrist and brings down the hammer (thrusts the plunger downward to ignite the explosion) as the buzzer sounds.

The result is pulsating stars filling your television screen. Ka-plooey.

Normally, I’d smile at the screen, wait for the credits to roll and move onto the next show. But this time I’m interested in the carnage and aftermath.

The Atlanta Hawks don’t matchup well with the Orlando Magic. In the past three seasons (including this current one), the Hawks are just 4-8 against the Magic. They can’t seem to handle Dwight Howard on the inside or the jump-shooting goodness on the outside. The styles don’t mesh.

But eventually, all that can change with one big catalyst. It’s funny how one buzzer-beating tip dunk can erase an entire mentality of being owned by another team. You forget that you don’t match up well with them. You forget that you struggled profusely on offense and could only manage 84 points in the first 47:59 of this game. It doesn’t matter. The dynamite exploded and the Orlando Magic have to wear it.

Now the Hawks are feeling good about themselves and the Magic are dealing with defeat. Might I add that they’re dealing poorly with the loss?

According to Brian Schmitz from the Orlando Sentinel, Rashard Lewis and Matt Barnes are not happy with coach Stan Van Gundy:

Lewis privately muttered something about Van Gundy’s offense on a night he was 2-of-9 for six points. Matt Barnes was seething at the coach, too.

Van Gundy took out defensive specialist Barnes for a long stretch in the fourth period, trying to get the Magic back in the game with shooters, and Barnes took it as a personal affront.

“He obviously doesn’t trust me down the stretch,” Barnes huffed.

I find it hilarious that the 6’10” forward with the $18 million price tag is blaming the coach for not getting him enough shots when a clearly missed box out of the second most dynamic athlete on the court is the reason the Hawks walked away with the home win. Throw a body on Josh Smith and keep him from getting to that board and you leave Flip Murray Mario West (I’ve had Flip on the brain lately) trying a desperation tip with Jameer Nelson all over him. Seems like a lot more of a low percentage shot than Josh Smith converting an unmolested tip dunk.

If Lewis boxes out Smith, the carom goes harmlessly off to the side and the players get ready for the overtime period. In this period, Matt Barnes gets a chance to make a difference and Rashard Lewis probably gets four or five more shot attempts to botch to satisfy his ego. The Magic go into their normal wing-clipping mode against the Hawks, pull out the tough road victory and head home with a season sweep of Atlanta.

Instead, Lewis got lazy, the rebound got crammed home and the Hawks now have a little swagger against Orlando that was previously nonexistent. Orlando now has to face internal issues that are being immaturely aired out in the media.

You can thank the uncooperative Human Dynamite Stick for that.

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBA All-Star Game: Are We Sure Players Were Snubbed?

Popularity and personal taste are odd things.

I remember the first two All-Star Games that I REALLY watched (with an eye on basketball rather than just a casual fan) were the 1992 and 1993 All-Star Games. I was an NBA obsessive 10 and 11-yr old back then just trying to find any reason not to believe Michael Jordan wasn’t the best player in the NBA.

I didn’t have really anything against Michael Jordan. I’ve just been playing Devil’s Advocate in obvious arguments since I realized that you could have some fun with that sort of mental exercise. And I wasn’t really willing to accept that MJ was the best player (possibly ever) at the time because I wanted to find holes in his game. Confoundingly (is that a word?), I tried to convince myself that his dribbling ability and three-point shooting were weak enough that there could be an argument against his hands-down greatness.

Sure it was completely moronic and stupid but I was 10 years old. Aren’t all 10-year old kids moronic and stupid? Naturally, this made me gravitate towards players that hand amazing dribbling abilities and deep range on their jumpers. Guys like Kenny Anderson, Muggsy Bogues and Tim Hardaway dazzled me with their handles. Chris Mullin, Ricky Pierce and Dan Majerle bewildered me with their clichéd but accurate “in-the-gym range” on their jumpers.

Whenever I caught a glimpse of Dan Majerle, I was particularly enamored. He would spot up five to eight feet behind the three-point line and drill it. It seemed so effortless. It seemed so natural. If he was on NBC on the weekend, I was going to watch. Well, I was going to watch regardless but I was going to focus on him during the game. I just wanted to see the shooting stunts he would attempt each game. So when I buckled down with my “wealth of basketball knowledge” at the age of 10 and watched the 1992 All-Star Game from Orlando, I was thrilled that I was going to get to see one of my favorite players giving it a go in his first All-Star Game.

He didn’t do much. Made a couple of baskets, missed a couple of threes and was one of many players lost in the celebration of Magic Johnson as he dazzled the court that day, stopped Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan on the last two defensive possessions of his hey-day and made that improbable three-pointer to cap off an incredible display of respect and love for the recently retired legend.

However, the next year in Salt Lake City, Dan Majerle shined a bit brighter. He made three long-range shots. He finished all over the court and ended up with 18 points off the bench in 26 minutes. He even blocked a couple shots and grabbed some boards. It was a nice showing.

So what’s the point of all this Dan Majerle rehashing?

Well, Dan Majerle probably never really deserved to be an All-Star. He made the ASG three times in his career. And he was a fine player. He was a really good player in face and a game changer quite often. But was he actually an All-Star? Does it even matter? His best pre-All Star break numbers in a season were the ’94-’95 campaign in which he averaged 17.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists while shooting 44% from the field and 38% from three. He did it as the main guy for the Suns while Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson battled the injury bug.

Here’s the crazy thing about this All-Star appearance though – he came off the bench for the Suns during most of that first half. He only started 46 games that season and 21 of them came before the All-Star break. He was voted into the All-Star Game by the fans becoming the first bench player to ever be voted to start an All-Star Game. And where do you think the All-Star Game was?

Phoenix, Arizona!

Dan Majerle was a really good role player throughout his career. And for a four-year stretch, he was arguably the best role player in the NBA. But was he ever truly an All-Star? What does All-Star even mean? Are we sure he was one of the 24 best players in the NBA those three years? Was he just voted into his third ASG as a starter because of some hometown cooking? Does it matter?

I had an epiphany last night. I was thinking about the All-Star Game and what it meant. Even though we all regard it as a meaningless exhibition, the majority of us still hold it in high regard. You can tell we hold it in high regard because we’re outraged that Allen Iverson is starting the All-Star Game despite the fact that he received over one million votes.

Should we really be outraged though? What is the All-Star Game? It’s a celebration of basketball, right? Maybe it used to be the 24 best players from that year showing up to play a spirited exhibition at the mid-ish point of the season but it hasn’t necessarily been that for some time now. Players no longer take it seriously unless they’re trying to win the MVP award for that game (see: Kobe, LeBron, Iverson).

Everyone gets mad at the fan voting system (myself included) because it often puts one or two guys into the starting lineup and therefore the game itself when they might not be completely “deserving.” Does this upset us because it’s a basketball injustice or because we keep confusing the term “All-Star” with “All-NBA?”

The All-NBA teams are meant to tell us who the best players in the NBA are for that particular season. The All-Star teams are supposed to tell us who the stars of each conference are. That’s a huge difference. In fact, those are two different worlds altogether. With the starting lineups in the ASG format, there are already HUGE flaws for determining if these 10 players are deserving, most popular or a combo of the two.

The All-Star ballots are put together before the season starts and voting begins about two weeks after the start of the regular season. Why would you have voting two weeks into a 25-week excursion if it was supposed to truly reward the 24 best players of the first half of that season? With All-Star voting, it’s never been about who is having the best season. It’s always been about popularity. And after this epiphany last night, I don’t really have a problem with it. We’re mixing popularity with this celebration of the game. So why do we get bent out of shape about “All-Star Snubs?”

Does anyone honestly think that David Lee is one of the 24 best players in the NBA this season? Sure, he puts up some fantastic numbers and is one of the few bright spots on the Knicks this year but he doesn’t play a lick of defense and I’m not sure I’d have him in my Top Ten Forwards in the East list. Are we SURE that Josh Smith’s snubbing is a bad thing? Matt Moore perfectly articulated what this could mean for his career by taking this personally. Well, isn’t that more important to the game of basketball than giving him 18 minutes of play against the Western Conference this year?

You want your guy there because you want recognition for your team/player. People want to ignore the fact that Monta Ellis has more turnovers than a breakfast buffet or makes Troy Hudson look like Gary Payton on the defensive end of the court. It’s the reason that Chris Kaman is a snub. It’s the reason that Marc Gasol is a snub. It’s the reason that Andrew Bynum is a snub. It’s the reason that Derrick Rose making the All-Star Game in the East this year is “absurd.”

Is it really that absurd? Between Derrick Rose and David Lee, who would be more fun to watch in an All-Star Game? It’s Derrick Rose and it’s not even close. Now, with Josh Smith you have a better argument. Josh Smith is one of the five players I make sure to watch every night. He always does some otherworldly ish on the basketball court.

So if we’re celebrating the game of basketball this Valentine’s Day weekend, maybe we DO need him in Dallas. Maybe Kevin Garnett will not want to risk further injuring himself in the All-Star exhibition and sit out, thus opening the door for Josh Smith to show his stuff.

Whatever happens, just know that it’s a game we put too much thought into. We should be much more concerned with the All-NBA teams and the All-Defensive teams at the end of the season. This game is about fun and it will be fun for the most part. The pace will be fast, the shots will be plentiful and we’re all going to get to see some amazing feats of basketball.

It’s not about who the best is. It’s not about who the most deserving is. It’s about giving those 10-yr old fans something they’re going to remember.

Now enjoy your weekend with some Dan Majerle highlights:

NBA All-Star Game: Why It’s Good Josh Smith Wasn’t Selected

Oh, no, not because he didn’t deserve it. Heavens, no. You see, I, unlike the coaches, apparently, have some notion of common sense. So I’m aware that he should be starting at All-Star Weekend.

But the denial of Smith could lead to better things for his career, and the avoidance of things which have doomed others that have come before him.

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When we talk about motivation, we talk about leadership, determination, heart, all those things. You know what’s underrated? Spite. And I’m not talking venemous, “screw you, you don’t think I can? I’ll destroy you!” spite, or as I like to call it, “being Michael Jordan.” A simple point at which people tell you you can’t do something, and it brings reflection. That self-examination that’s often missing, especially from athletes. You draw up into yourself. And the things that you find there are what’s important. Most likely, Smith’s evolution as one of the most dominant forces in the game (and if you don’t think that’s true, you’re not paying close enough attention, but we’ll get there) has come without any such self-examination, simply through coaching and maturity. But it certainly seems like part of his identity. After all, all the things that have happened for him this season have come not from him opening up, but bottling up. Ducking his head down and driving to the post, using his body to hit layups off the glass instead of settling for jumpers. And, one of the funnest memes of the season, his avoidance of the three point shot. You have to be self-aware to make those adjustments to your game.

Being denied the All-Star game, especially when his partner in time, Al Horford, is going, is a pretty big slap in the face. All his hard work has been invalidated, because apparently Paul Pierce limping around the floor or Derrick Rose drifting 18 footers is more important for the spirit of the game. (No offense to Rose, from a “keeping the positions equal distribution” standpoint he’s a great pick.) I blame the coaches on this one. Should AI be playing? No. We all know that. Some are more okay with him playing than others. But that’s what happens when you have a system that gives the fans power like that, which is fine. The coaches should know better. Regardless, how Smith handles this could end up being a defining moment in a defining season for him.

He could respond to this denial with indifference. Keep his nose to the grindstone, his man boxed out, and his game simple, aggressive, and patient. Or he could respond with spite, in a bad way. He could say “You know what? I did everything they said I should do, and I’m still not getting credit. Screw it. BOMBS AWAY!” He could revert back to old habits, lose his defensive focus, drift away from the tough spots, and take his game back a notch. But from all indications, that’s not what’s going to be happening. Instead, he’ll respond with the positive spite. “I know what I’m doing is what I should be doing, but they haven’t noticed. So I guess I’m going to have to show everyone that they were wrong.”

This is kin to Jordan, but not quite the same, because there’s not the obsessive venom that follows Jordan. I’m not sure if Smith’s personality, from what we know about him, lends itself to that approach. But history is filled with people overcoming adversity based simply on a desire to prove people wrong. Smith has an opportunity to take his game a step further without damaging the relatively fragile makeup of the Hawks’ offense, and by extension, be the singular player that takes them further than they’ve managed to do before.

There’s a perfect storm shaping up on the horizon. Boston’s up tonight, likely cranky and motivated after a last second loss to the Magic last night. The Celtics are vulnerable, tonight and this season. Even if the Hawks can’t overcome the C’s based on their frustration, the Hawks have already run out three wins on them. The Hawks know, 100% that they can beat this team in the playoffs. They know it. You can sense that when they’re on the floor. When they met two years ago, it was a “Hey, let’s see what happens” feeling. Now there’s a confidence that they’re simply more athletic, faster, younger, and better. The Magic have dominated Atlanta this season and the Cavs have squeaked by them, but I don’t think you can look at either team as a paragon of invincibility. There’s room in the playoffs for the Hawks to do damage. Screw up the entire system. But Smith’s going to have to be the difference maker. Not free-agent-to-be Joe Johnson, as much as I love the guy. Smith. It’s Smith’s play that inspires the Hawks, now. He’s the one chasing down rebounds, throwing the outlet pass and finishing on the break. He’s the one making smart defensive plays to go along with the 12-foot-jump blocks. It’s Josh Smith and his spite of showing everyone why they were wrong about him being an All-Star that could make the Hawks a force in the Eastern Conference and force what would be our fifth realignment of power structure in as many years.

“Told ya’ so” is a powerful weapon. Here’s hoping Josh Smith is smart enough to know how to use it.

UPDATE: Coco in the comments points out that Smith’s said on his blog: “This WILL be my motivation for the rest of the season.” So Smith, or at least his handlers, seem to be in line with this thinking.

*Props to Corn for the video suggestion