Tag Archives: Stan Van Gundy

Death Sets a Thing Significant

Stan Van Gundy was a bracing presence at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Neither a naysayer like ex-Toronto Maple Leafs GM and human Pluggers comic Brian Burke nor a fanatic booster intent on pushing process over results, Van Gundy offered something more than a counter-perspective to the advanced stats revolution: a humanist angle. Speaking at the Basketball Analytics panel, he reminded the audience that a coach is more than a conduit for an approach, whether analytical or not. He began by expanding on the way he treated 2-for-1 situations at the end of quarters while with the Heat and Magic:

I know that’s something that, by the numbers, we should do and we didn’t do it. And you can argue with this, but there’s another side to this that you have to at least consider. Whether you agree with 2-for-1 or not, [when] a guy races the ball up the floor and jacks up some horseshit shot, look at the other four guys on the floor. They don’t run back as hard. And now when you start the fourth quarter and a guy just did that in the third quarter, now the next guy gets the ball and says, “I’m jacking up the next one.” One of the things in coaching is you’re trying to create a style of play and a culture that this is how we play the game. Every time you make an exception to that and say, “This is how we play the game but not in this case: you’re allowed to throw up whatever crap you want,” then you’re breaking down your system a little bit.

It was an effective way to make the point that just because a coach has a set of data, and even a way to use that data effectively on the court, that coach is leading a team composed of individual players, all with their own approaches and ideas and prejudices and misunderstandings. Getting an entire team to buy into a philosophy takes more than strong support by data. It takes more than being right.

Coaches are, after all, professionals who have made their reputations by successfully getting diverse groups of people to buy into their idea about how to play the game, even when many of those people see it differently. You can’t tell me, for example, that the same approach to explaining analytics—or anything—is going to work equally well with Andrei Kirilenko and J.J. Barea. In a way, truth doesn’t enter into it. It’s about belief.

But things got a little strawman-ish when he veered deeper into the territory of working with a team:

There are coaches that are stuck on their system and there are people who are stuck on their way of doing things like, “It’s all gotta fit my analytics” more than they are on winning games. And the mark of a coach is not understanding the analytics. That may help you. As a coach, you’ve got to be able to go out and get a team to perform, OK? I know how important it is as a coach—and probably there are several coaches that do—that we limit layup attempts, that we limit free throw attempts, that we limit 3-point attempts. But some coaches can get their guys to actually do that and others can sit here like you guys and play it like a video game, but can’t actually get people to perform. The goal is to win, OK? We’re not playing video games here.

He was actually circling back to an earlier point he made about the audience (“A lot of you analytics people think that the game is a video game and so players will always react as your models say they will react”). I find his use of video games as an example both fascinating and a little off.

He’s clearly using “video games” as shorthand for something simplified, basic, dumb—a thing that makes you feel superpowered when in fact you’re just some drooling teenager on a beanbag chair. People, he’s saying, aren’t pixels or polygons.

I have no idea exactly what kind of experience Van Gundy has with video games—whether he’s talking about Double Dribble or Blazers vs. Bulls or NBA 2K13 (he’s not talking about NBA 2K13)—but there’s something to it, if not quite what he intends.

There are plenty of players who are great in video games, yet somehow less than great in the real NBA: Michael Beasley, Jamal Crawford, Anthony Randolph (he once won MVP of the Finals in a simmed Association I ran), Nick Young, and the list goes on. What they all have in common is that when you, the player, get to make decisions for them, their considerable physical skills seem to magically fall into place. For example, Beasley stops eating up isos on the left wing with endless head fakes and jab steps before taking fadeaway jumpers. Instead, he’s balancing his jumpshots with drives to the hoop and using his length to become a shutdown defender.

On the flip side, video games can’t quite seem to figure out what to make of a player like Andrei Kirilenko because so much of what makes him great comes from his creativity and trickiness off the ball. The artificial intelligence—even recent games like NBA 2K13—isn’t sophisticated enough to make Kirilenko take advantage of cuts along the baseline unless the play is being called for him. Simply put, making players in these games act human is a huge challenge. In some cases, it makes your job as the player easier. In others, tougher.

So Van Gundy’s right: video games can make it seem like players are just sets of ratings instead of living, breathing, often problematic human beings. But it’s important to realize that the shortcomings of sports video games are a failing, not a feature. With every passing year, the simulation aspect of video game basketball gets better and better. For a taste of that, look at this video explaining the way NBA 2K13 deals with the Horns set, layering options on top of options in an effort to replicate the kinds of read and react plays that are a hallmark of offenses like Rick Adelman’s corner and the triangle. Yes: you can just ramp the difficulty down and go nuts with Jamal Crawford if you so choose, but more and more, video games are striving to involve us in the complexity of the sport, not dumb it down.

It’s not quite the same in non-sports video games, though.

As the video game industry has gone more and more mainstream, there’s been a trend towards trimming back the unyielding difficulty of early games. Back before games could effectively tell a story, the primary appeal of them was ever-escalating difficulty. They were challenges to be overcome. But as the medium grew more concerned with story, with player experience, there’s been a rise in tutorials, in hand-holding, in ways to manipulate the game world without moral judgment.

You used to have to cheat to get 30 lives in Contra (say it with me) and then you were a cheater. But these days, the very idea of “lives” has been jettisoned from nearly every game. Designers want you to experience the whole game and studios invest millions of dollars in games that gamers want value from; the surest path to these results is to make sure gamers stick with the game all the way through.

In that sense, Van Gundy is dead on. As video games have increasingly focused on immersion, on experience, they have downplayed difficulty and consequences. Except for Dark Souls.

At first glance, Dark Souls might seem like a typical hack-and-slash fantasy adventure, but you don’t have to get further than the box to get the sense that there’s something different about it. In great big letters, it tells you: PREPARE TO DIE. And oh God will you die. Having just recently started it, I expected a certain amount of difficulty up front that would fall away as I gained the requisite experience and power.

Nope. Your character moves clumsily, especially if you weigh him or her down with the heaviest armor you can find, which won’t even be all that heavy to begin with. The swords take forever to swing; the bows are weak and ineffectual, good only for drawing the attention and ire of undead soldiers and skeletons. And if you don’t face down each one of those enemies like they’re a serious threat, they’re going to kill you. Repeatedly. The screen doesn’t simply fade to black, but nor are your myriad deaths overly cinematic. They are, however, unfailingly accompanied by deep red text rising on the screen and proclaiming YOU DIED.

And every time you die, the enemies come back. Hell, every time you even rest at a bonfire—the game’s shorthand for a save point—they come back. There’s not even any pretension to a full or thorough explanation of how this is possible within the game’s world. It’s just how it is, and you have to deal with it.

So what you learn from Dark Souls isn’t that someone has spent lots of money on this lavish game world for you to enjoy, has carefully crafted a story to make you feel heroic. It teaches you that all there is is the grind. Over at The Classical, Yago Colas penned a tremendous ode to the repetition that goes into making a shooter like Ray Allen great. That willingness to do things again and again is the writ-large version of the microwork of Dark Souls.

If you rush things, if you try to go through shortcuts, if your attention slips and you don’t treat every challenge with the gravity it demands, Dark Souls is going to kill you again and again and again. It can be immensely frustrating if you’re used to having the experience spoonfed to you, but if you adjust, you begin to find pleasure in the simplest things: you learn where your enemies lurk, you value the easy fights, like that dumb skeleton with the crossbow at the top of the tower with terrible aim. You learn that the dying is not something to avoid, but to embrace. You learn from a good death.

I know, I know. It’s kind of silly to liken the years of dedication and work that players and coaches in the NBA put into their careers to a frustrating video game, but I can’t help thinking that Stan Van Gundy might like Dark Souls. I think he could appreciate the way it refuses to concede to the prevailing trend in game design, but rather defines its own culture, creates its own style of play, and says, “This is how we play the game.”

Hey, Be Nice

 

A Mother Now via flickr

A Mother Now via flickr

As much as we want athletes to be pillars of humanity, we too often forget that being human means not being perfect. In our fervent fandom, at times worship (other times disdain), of these athletes, we for some reason expect them to automatically be more mature. Stan Van Gundy and John Buccigross, in the panel “Break-Ups in Sports,” bemoaned the fact that we frequently deride 20 year old athletes for simply acting their age. Van Gundy specifically cited Lamar Odom when he arrived with the Heat, saying the forward had a reputation for missing class and perhaps indulging in the occasional joint, to which Van Gundy added, “If not going to class and smoking pot made you a bad person, half of (the audience) wouldn’t be here.” The former Magic coach also thought Dwight Howard received too much criticism last year, saying we need to stop constantly expecting 20 year old athletes to act like they’re fifty.

By no means does this mean athletes should be excused from criticism, nor do I think it was the panelists’ aim to do so. They were simply reminding us that these seemingly larger-than-life beings are, at their core, human, and deserve to be treated as such.

In the episode “Inauguration: Over There” of the West Wing, CJ Cregg and Toby Ziegler argue on the use of force to stop the atrocities in the fictional country Kuhndu:

CJ: “The guy across the street is beating up a pregnant woman. You don’t go over there and try and stop it?” 

TOBY: “The guy across the street is beating up anybody, I like to think I go over and try and stop it. But we aren’t talking about the President going to Asia or the President going to Rwanda or the President going to Qumar. We’re talking about the President sending other people’s kids to do that.” 

CJ: “That’s always what we’re talking about and in addition to being somebody’s kids they’re soldier’s and sailors, and if we’re about freedom from tyranny then we’re about freedom from tyranny and if we’re not we should shut up.” 

JOSH: “Yes,” 

TOBY: “…On Sunday he’s taking an oath to ensure domestic tranquility,”

CJ: “And to establish justice and promote the general welfare. Stand by while atrocities are taking place and you’re an accomplice.” 

TOBY: “…Why are you sending your kids across the street?” 

CJ: “‘Cause those are somebody’s kids, too.”

While criticizing Dwight Howard’s immaturity or childish antics doesn’t compare to the consideration of sending of one’s child to war to defend another’s child, it is somewhat fitting in this context. Dwight Howard, Lamar Odom, J.R. Smith are all someone’s children too, something we would do well to remember when we toe the line between criticism and hatred.

SHOT FICTION: Dwight Howard Plays Charades

We’re a little worried about this lockout. We want basketball. But in case we don’t get basketball, we’re going to give ourselves a season.

The following is a work of fiction and no one was harmed in the writing of this story. These works will be based on how we think the 2011-12 season would play out if the lockout ended and the NBA is able to play all 82 games. Did you get a chance to read the first installment: Ray Allen’s Last Shot? As with that piece of fiction, we hope the lockout will be over soon and this piece of fiction will be the last.

LOS ANGELES Dec. 11 – It was a typical late-autumn Sunday morning in the Westwood area of Los Angeles. To visitors, the air was crisp and cool. To Los Angelenos, it was cold. The early morning mist from the Pacific still hung in the air, but the late-morning sun had started to burn through. It looked as if it were going to be a day worth enjoying. Many would go for a jog or enjoy brunch al fresco with friends. The most sensible people would sit back and let the day unfold, unplanned, before them. The people gathered here at Pauley Pavilion on UCLA’s campus were not sensible people.

We are sportswriters.

We were at Pauley for the Orlando Magic shootaround, which had been moved there because the NBA was staging one of those Clippers-Lakers day-night Sunday doubleheaders at STAPLES Center that try to make people in Los Angeles forget they don’t have an NFL team. The people who care about that sort of thing, that is.

Reporters from Orlando, Los Angeles and a couple of national scribes milled around, chatting and waiting for the Magic to finish going over defensive assignments to cover the Lakers’ new, non-triangle offense. The writers talked with the faint sound of bouncing basketballs, squeaking sneakers and the tornado-siren-like voice of Stan Van Gundy in the background. The audible activity on the court was muffled by a curtain which kept the observers separate from the performers.

Many of the writers hadn’t seen each other in a while. The complimented each other on each others’ recent articles, asked about each others’ families back home, mentioned Marriott points and reviewed Los Angeles restaurants. Having been in Utah and Phoenix, one Orlando writer said he was glad to be in L.A. so he could have his first decent meal of the trip.

“Where’d you go?” one writer asked.

“In-N-Out,” the Magic reporter said with a smile and both men nodded their heads.

Of course, this revelation initiated a discussion about the merits of In-N-Out vs. Five Guys, which had just opened its first franchise in Central Florida earlier this year. The conversation had just started to get good when a Magic PR flack poked his head around the curtain and motioned the media toward the court.

“To be continued …” one national writer said over his shoulder as the media marched in.

On first glance, what they saw was typical post-shootaround disorganization. A few players worked on free throws. End-of-the-bench big men worked on post moves with assistant coaches. Trainers wrapped knees in ice. The most curious sight, though, was Magic center Dwight Howard, sitting courtside with a towel wrapped around his neck and tucked into his long-sleeved shooting shirt. He was pointing at his throat, mouthing the word “No” and shaking his head whe Magic PR asked him a question.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, the coaching lifer, stood on the sideline at midcourt, with a bottle of water, half-gone, in his right hand. Van Gundy, whose salt-and-pepper mustache makes him look far more comic and far less glum than his brother, ESPN NBA analyst Jeff, prepared himself for the media crush. He folded his arms across his chest as if he were a disapproving father waiting at the door to greet the boy coming over to take out daddy’s little girl.

Van Gundy played the part perfectly. He harrumphed and scolded his way through his press conference as only he could. SVG knew why everyone in L.A. was rubbernecking his team. It wasn’t the Magic’s 9-10 record. This was the L.A. media’s first chance to ask about Howard, who has a player option at the end of the season. All signs point to Howard opting out of his deal and seeking employment elsewhere. One of those elsewheres could be with the Lakers, the Magic’s opponent that evening. Would the Magic trade Dwight, as the Nuggets did Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks the year before, to the Lakers in order to get something, anything in return for the three-time defending Defensive Player of the Year? It was only December and nearly every article about the Magic wondered whether Howard wasn’t long for Central Florida.

“Look, we haven’t had discussions about trading Dwight,” Van Gundy said, and reiterated many times during the 10-minute session. “We don’t want to trade Dwight. I know everyone would love to have Dwight on their team. But he plays for the Orlando Magic and as long as I’m coach of the Magic, I want Dwight Howard on our side.

“You can’t replace what he does for us. You just can’t. Why do you think everyone wants him on their team? He’s a unique talent in this league.”

Van Gundy wiped a bead of sweat with the back of his sleeve.

“You guys are the ones speculating in every article,” Van Gundy said as he looked down and shook his head. He shifted his weight from his right foot to his left and then back again as if he were playing defense. “‘Where’s he gonna go?’ ‘Who will we get in return.’”

One Los Angeles writer asked Van Gundy if he and Howard had conversations about Howard wanting out of Orlando.

“We … we don’t talk about that kind of stuff,” Van Gundy said. “I know a lot of you L.A. guys would like Dwight to play for the Lakers. He’s great to coach and fun to cover and he’s good for a good sound bite and a laugh, but he’s with us and will be with us hopefully for a long time.

“I know you have jobs to do and that’s the nature of the business these days is the business of basketball. You guys can have fun with that. You can play your games on TV and in the papers and on the blogs, Twitter or whatever.”

Van Gundy paused, then delivered the blow.

“Hell, you have to have something to write about or else you’d actually have to write about basketball.”

That comment stopped everything cold. The Magic beat writers were accustomed to such barbs about their knowledge of the game itself. They shook it off. But a couple of L.A. writers looked stunned as if Van Gundy reached out and smacked them across the face. One even ran his tongue gingerly over his lip as if he was searching for blood.

It was then a Magic media relations person stepped in. He had some news, bad news for the media. He said Howard wouldn’t speak at shootaround or before the game. Howard had, the PR guy offered, laryngitis.

The media looked at Van Gundy as if he needed to give an explanation. Layrngitis? Van Gundy looked back and shrugged his shoulders.

“All right,” Van Gundy sighed. “Anything else, guys?”

No one had anything else for Van Gundy, but Howard hadn’t moved from his spot on the sideline across the court. To his right, sat Magic point guard and friend, Jameer Nelson. On Howard’s left, another member of the Magic PR department. One brave media member started to make his way across the court. The rest of us followed and Nelson, Howard and the PR flack all looked at the mass moving toward them. The media manager’s eyes narrowed as if he were in a showdown on a dusty Western outpost and he was already at 10 paces. He started to rise off his seat, but Howard reached over and gently patted his arm. Howard nodded and Nelson covered his mouth to stifle a laugh.

“Uh, Dwight …” said the pioneer who started the media migration toward the Magic center.

Howard smiled, pointed to the towel around his neck and threw his hands, palms up, in a silent apology. The media guy glared.

We stood silently, uncomfortably in front of them. Then, Howard held up a finger and asked us for a moment. He leaned over and whispered something to Nelson, who shook his head yes.

“If you want to ask questions,” Nelson offered, “Dwight will answer, and I’ll translate.”

So this was a game. One Orlando writer rolled his eyes. One L.A. writer grunted. Were we game? Seems as if one of us was.

“Will you play tonight?”

Howard nodded his head. “Yes,” Nelson cheerfully responded.

“Are you disappointed with how the season has started for you guys?” was the question.

Howard pouted. Nelson said, “He’s sad.”

“Does it make you want to leave Orlando?”

Howard put two hands over his heart and swooned.

“He loves Orlando,” Nelson said. “Plus, he’d hate leaving me. We were rookies together.”

“How are you and Stan getting along?”

Howard gave two thumbs up and smiled. “Great!” Nelson chirped.

“Have you asked for a trade?”

Howard tilted his head and furrowed his brow.

“C’mon, man,” Nelson said in a tone that implied that not only was Howard not going to dignify the answer with a response, but that it was a stupid question.

Howard then held up two fingers. Nelson said, “Two words.” Howard tugged at Nelson’s sleeve and glared, but smiled while he did it.

“Sorry,” Nelson said. “Two questions.”

“If the Magic continues to slide this season, will you ask for a trade?”

Howard scowled and shook his head. He flexed his biceps and then held out his hand like a traffic cop.

“We’re not going to keep losing,” Nelson said as Howard’s proxy. “We’re going to get it together. I’m going to stay strong and stop this nonsense.”

Howard held up one finger and then made the cut sign. It’s lucky that he did. The last questioner seemed emboldened by the finality of the media session. The last question was a doozy.

“Are you worried that if you come to the Lakers, you’ll be compared to Shaquille O’Neal, that you’ll be following in his footsteps and that you could be seen as being in his shadow if you don’t win a title here? Shaq has been highly critical of you in the past.”

Howard’s jaw dropped and his smile faded. Nelson started to speak, but Howard clamped his hand around Nelson’s wrist. He turned and put up both hands as if to say, “I got this.” Howard cleared his throat and spoke his only words of the interview.

“I’m not answering the L.A. question,” Howard mumbled, “but I love Shaq.”

Moments after the Magic suffered a 110-104 loss to the Lakers — Howard had 21 points, 14 boards and five blocked shots — to drop their record to 9-11, the whole Howard pre-game interview (he did not speak postgame) ran on NBA TV. Shaq, who was making a rare Sunday night appearance in the studio, was asked to comment.

“He doesn’t even mumble as good as me,” Shaq mumbled.

Scouting Report: Stan Van Gundy

[flash http://vimeo.com/27253705]

(via The Basketball Jones)

Stan Van Gundy
Born in Indio, California
Position: PG
Height: 5’8″
Weight: A lot?
School: SUNY-Brockport

NBA Comparison:  A 5’8″ Antoine Walker (with better leadership skills)

Strengths: A proven leader. “Fiery” is a great word to describe him. Extremely vocal. Willing to defend and protect all of his teammates. Loves directing traffic both on offense and defense. It’s as though he were a coach on the floor. Looks can be deceiving — despite his stocky frame, Van Gundy possesses a lightning quick first step. Very good ball handler, has a full repertoire of crossovers and spin moves. An (extremely) willing shooter who has supreme confidence in his three-point jumper. Terrific form on his jump shot.

Weaknesses:  Conditioning can be an issue. Needs to lose weight if he wants to compete at the NBA level. While players like J.J. Barea have proven that short players can excel in this league, Van Gundy isn’t quite at that level of fitness (he’s fairly fat). Can be “fiery” to a fault. Has a short temper, and must learn to control his actions. Will be among the league leaders in technical fouls the minute he steps on the court. A lack of upside could be an issue, as he would be the oldest player in NBA history at 51 years of age.

Notes: Avid turtleneck wearer, submarine sandwich eater, and King of Queens viewer. Nicknames include “Van Frumpy”, “Van Grumpy”, “Run ‘N Gundy.”

Hardwood Paroxysm’s Incomplete 2010-2011 NBA Previews: Orlando Magic

Yeah, yeah, we didn’t do one for every team. Not like you all won’t get your fair shake around here, for better or worse. Trust me, if you’re some of the teams out there, you don’t want to hear us talk about you.

But, with a little less than 48 hours to go before the season opener in Miami,we’re going to throw up some stuff discussing the upcoming season. And for starters, we bring you the Magic.

GUEST LECTURE

Today’s guest lecture comes from Eddy Rivera of MagicBasketball.Net. Eddy is a graduate student at Northwestern University and likes woolen socks.-Ed.


It’s championship or bust for the Orlando Magic. Like last year. But this year feels a little different. Yes, the Miami Heat are the proverbial elephant in the room and with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh forming like Voltron, they will be the standard bearer in the Eastern Conference much to head coach Stan Van Gundy’s chagrin. Yes, the Boston Celtics remain the litmus test for the Magic, in the sense that the C’s will continue to be a difficult matchup with their personnel. The Celtics seemingly endless supply of big men, which begins with Kendrick Perkins (when healthy), Jermaine O’Neal, and ends with Shaquille O’Neal, will push the limits with Howard when the two conference rivals face off against each other.

Kanye West once said, “no one man should have all that power.”

However, there’s one player for Orlando that has the power to change everything that happens in the East and that’s Dwight Howard.

Since the Magic christened themselves as title contenders en route to their NBA Finals appearance in 2009, Howard has always had the power to determine his team’s road to a championship yet he’s come up short.

That’s why Howard is kicking things up a notch.

During the off-season, Howard spent a week in Houston working out with Hakeem Olajuwon and improving his low-post game. When video chronicling their training sessions surfaced on YouTube, the internet was abuzz. And when Orlando kicked off their preseason against — ironically — the Houston Rockets, the NBA was put on notice after Howard put on an offensive display against Yao Ming, blitzing him for 10 points in the first quarter when they were matched up head-to-head. Not just with hook shots, mind you, but with mid-range jumpers and spin moves. Granted, it was one game and Yao is not in tip-top form right now, but Howard doesn’t care (he pulled the same shenanigans against Emeka Okafor). Did I mention that Howard also sought out the wisdom of Karl Malone and another player that he would not name?

Howard is a man on a mission.

Correction. Howard is a serious man on a mission. No more goofing around. All the antics that people have been accustomed to seeing from Howard for the past six years when he’s on the court? No longer happening.

Losing sucks. Having the Heat take all the attention away from the Magic in the state of Florida, in the same conference, in the same division. That sucks, too. Those are some of the reasons why Howard has changed. Or if you take Howard’s word for it, he’s different because he “got older.”

Whatever the case may be, things have never been more interesting with Howard than they are right now. That’s precisely why Howard is one of the key players to watch in the league this season. For years, people have been waiting for Howard to fully evolve into a dominating two-way player.

Well, the wait might be over this year.

PLAYFUL TUNES:

PLAYER WHO COULD BE AN IMPACT GUY BUT PROBABLY WON’T BE:

Ryan Anderson. Why? Because I don’t trust SVG. That’s why. “Oh, he’s going to play Rashard more at the three.” “Oh, no, he’s not going to stick to a pure 4-out-1-in.” “Oh, he really believes in Anderson.” Don’t buy it. He’s a swindling mustachioed conniver trying to swindle me out of hope. That sonofagundy is giong to try and get me to buy into his mishmash nonsense of changing his ways, but I know better. Oh, Ryan will get minutes to start out. And he’ll play well. But then SVG will scream at him over some blown rotation where the other team doesn’t even score or for not being in position when Vince breaks the play anyway. And he’ll be back, buried, giving the sad panda face and trying not to cry on national television. I’m too smart for you, SVG. I’m not falling for your little nonsense anymore. I’m an adult now. An adults know: coaches don’t change.

(Possible exceptions: Larry Brown, Rick Carlisle, Rick Adelman, pretty much every coach ever.)

YOU SHOULD TOTALLY WATCH BECAUSE:

Good Goddamn can this team play basketball-o. Fast, strong, athletic, talented, skilled, versatile, efficient, dedicated, you got a superlative that’s good, they’ve got it. This is an incredibly good team on paper, and it translates on the floor for almost all the time. Boson detonating them like blowing up one of the legs of an underwater structure and watching the rigs fall into the ocean while the fish panic wasn’t them getting exposed, it was Boston getting revealed as one of the more dominant focus-level teams of the decade. The Magic shoot threes, dunk the ball, dribble-drive, play in transition, and defend like mad. There’s almost nothing to not like about this team.

YOU SHOULD TOTALLY HATE THIS TEAM BECAUSE:

They expose the true folly of underdogs in the NBA. Even when you’re the favorite, you’re not the favorite. That’s all I got. Oh,and they have this guy.

Ryan Anderson The Latest Victim Of Orlando’s Bench Sloth

Overall, Anderson showed flashes of brilliance, and I mean that. He scored in double-figures in 5 of his 6 starts, with the lone exception being a major outlier of a game in which he missed 10 of his 11 three-point attempts. And in back-to-back games in March, he scored 38 points in 43 minutes on 13-of-24 shooting. If he trims his usage a bit, improves his passing, and tightens up defensively, he could be a fringe All-Star within a few more years. Remember, he’s only 22, and has plenty of time to improve.

My worry is that he might not get that opportunity in Orlando, which owes Lewis more than $60 million over the next three seasons. Sure, Anderson can count on an uptick in playing time as Lewis ages, but he won’t crack 18 minutes per game. Will the Magic have the patience to stick with Anderson? Or will the long-term commitment to Lewis make Anderson expendable? I certainly hope, for the Magic’s sake, that they take the former approach. Anderson’s a rare talent. Big men who can shoot the three and rebound are valuable commodities in this league, especially surrounding a guy like Howard, who needs some space to work inside. Anderson’s the youngest of the players who fit that profile. I mean, compare some of his stats this year to those of Lewis’ All-Star campaign last year. Then consider his age. Then try to tell yourself that Anderson doesn’t belong.

via Evaluating Ryan Anderson – Orlando Pinstriped Post.

SVG is a tremendous coach. For all the ridiculous talk about panicking, the man simply wins, and does so while developing young talent. He hasn’t shown a reliance on any one particular facet (veterans being the common one), and has shown an ability to make adjustments when he needs to. He’s been bested because the other team was better. Not because he was somehow a failure. That said, his reluctance to rely on unproven players killed him this year just like it kills so many coaches.

I pondered this over at PBT only to watch it occur. I like to think Stan read my piece, realized the folly of his ways, and turned to J.J.

Or, you know, not.

Either way, he never did turn to Anderson. The struggle is this. You’re down 3-0. The Celtics have tossed you around the room like you’re a ragdoll and they’re some sort of demented toddler hellbent on destruction (or as I like to call him, “Big Baby Davis”). Nothing you have done has worked and you’re in desperate need of a stretch four that can knock down threes and rebound. “Oh, hey Ryan Anderson, sorry, didn’t mean to step on your foot… Anyway, WHERE COULD WE FIND SUCH A MAN?!”

Anderson’s production has been there. He’s a terrific asset, and he looks like the piece New Jersey shouldn’t have surrendered. That he’s now trapped three deep on Orlando is a shame. He’s capable of so much more, and if the Magic don’t want to use him, that’s fine, but let’s go see what he can do elsewhere. Trapping him long term in Orlando is a waste of his potential. If you’re not going to use him anyway, go get a Collins brother or someone else equally useless. Don’t pen up the kid that can shoot.

The small market teams should be making eyes at Orlando, offering to take Carter off their hands if they throw Ryan Anderson in. Getting a versatile perimeter forward with size, good health, and who’s young while tagging Carter for some cap space in order to better prepare yourself for the new CBA would be a pretty wise move. Either way, Anderson’s gotta get sunlight.

The Big Ol’ Honkin’ Celtics-Magic Post

That was ugly. After starting strong in the first quarter and building a 16 point lead, the Celtics let the Magic back in the game and just didn’t have enough energy to hold them off in the 4th. Sheed’s airball as time expired was an absolutely fitting finish to that game (and the uncontested layup just before that was even worse). Just ugly.

via CelticsBlog – A Boston Celtics Blog: 17 Banners and Counting.

For a game that was pretty sloppy and illustrated mostly weaknesses on both sides (yes, I’m linking Hollinger, give me a minute), there’s a ton to come away with from the game.

Hmmm…Magic, Celtics, Magic, Celtics…winner?

SCHADENFREUDE!

I don’t know if I just get weepy when I see the usually strong Garnett get blown by on a drive to the basket- or if I just can’t stand watching him hobble through a whole quarter of basketball and claim it had nothing to do with his knee. Whatever it is, Garnett and Allen are making me feel pretty low. I remember watching Larry Bird retire and not understanding why he would ever stop playing (okay I was six, leave me alone). The Celtics were a “young team” for so long that I haven’t gotten used to the thought of any of my beloved players hanging it up. Most of my favorite Celtics over the last ten years have been role players that more of less stopped getting phone calls- Walter McCarty, Eric Williams- so their exodus was much easier to take/ gloss over.

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are not done yet, but their days as elite players are numbered. Call it naivete, call it denial- call it blatant homerism if you want, but I didn’t think this day would come this year. Unfortunately, I can see Garnett and Allen declining sharply this season and into next season.

Someone, anyone, leave me some words of encouragement.

via Is Ray Allen Back? Is KG Still Hurt? Do They Make Horse Socks? » Boston Celtics Basketball – Celtics news, rumors and analysis – CelticsHub.com.

The big debate today is whether this means that KG is old and “done” or just had a bad game, which is what he’s saying. It would be one thing if his fadeaway wasn’t falling (he had a bad shooting night but made a biggie down the stretch and drew a foul on Lewis on another fake-to-the-up-and-under). But the problems are painfully obviously physical. When you don’t finish an alley oop at his height, standing under the basket? DANGER, DOC RIVERS, DANGER.

I don’t think when I watch the replay that Garnett physically couldn’t get his body over to close off the baseline. He made that same adjustment five times in the third quarter that I noted and was his usual awesome self. From what it looked to me, the wear and tear of the game wore on his focus, and enabled the slightest slip in his reflex  to not be able to recover from the swing right.  That’s something that he can overcome with a few days of rest in April and then go out and blow doors off hinges in the first round of the playoffs, provided they don’t get a tough opponent. Then again, we’ve said that the last two years and those series have both gone seven games. Garnett may be able to knock down doors int he first round, but will the rest of his team? It’s not so much a matter of winning the first round, because I think they’ll do that, it’s the wear and tear of it. What if they get the Bobcats? That’s at least six games of “Dear God, quit throwing yourselves at us” basketball. That team is relentless. And that wear and tear will lead into the second round, where, you know, they’re likely to meet a team that has beaten them.  It’s not one flaw, one achilles, that will doom this team, it’s the collective attrition of the same thing they were built for, the playoffs.

The only problem is, even machines’ get old. Machines wear down and cease to function as they once did. This may be why Ray Allen can’t (or won’t) admit what is really going on with his shot lately (save for last night). He might not be able to tell you. A car’s check engine light doesn’t tell you what’s wrong with it, it tells you to go see someone and find out. I don’t know about you, but I’m dying to find out.

A broken clock is right twice a day- which means Ray Allen will have games like the one he had last night again- but until I see him perform the way he did last night on a consistent basis, I will not say he is back. I can not say he’s back because he is not. 20 points on 8-12 is a great performance and exactly what the C’s needed from Ray last night. The problem lies in the fact that 20 points on 8-12 shooting should be the normal production the Celtics see from Ray Allen. Those numbers should be expected.

via Is Ray Allen Back? Is KG Still Hurt? Do They Make Horse Socks? » Boston Celtics Basketball – Celtics news, rumors and analysis – CelticsHub.com.

Holy CRAP, what happened to Ray Allen? Seriously, can someone tell me what happened to Ray Allen? Yes, I realize he got old. I understand that. But I mean, we’re not talking “lost a step or two.” We’re talking “lost a step or two, and then fell off the cliff into a revene and then the train fell off the revene and landed on top of him and then a bird pooped on the remains.” His PER is sub 15, kids. He’s shooting 35% from the arc. Even as he gets older, he should still be draining threes off curl screens. Last year, I would have been terrified on that last possession the Celtics had. But then I saw Allen, and I realized I was only afraid of it because of what he was, not what he is. I’m no longer terrified of rooting for the other team when Ray Allen has the ball on a last possession. He may make it. But it’s no longer a guaranteed dagger into your throat and then throw you out the window deal.

3) Hollinger is spot on about Rasheed Wallace’s help defense. During the live chat of Boston’s first game of the season, David Thorpe pointed out how slowly Sheed was rotating to provide weak side help. He said it would be something to watch all season.

He was right. I watch it every game. There is no way to generalize about Sheed’s help defense, except to say that it is inconsistent and that he is the worst help defender among Boston’s big guys. (Which really isn’t saying much—this team rotates like mad).

In big spots, it has to be better.

via More on KG and the Shard Shot » Boston Celtics Basketball – Celtics news, rumors and analysis – CelticsHub.com.

I’d blame Sheed for last night’s loss, but not for the airball. Everyone’s talking about him not rotating.  Including, yes, John Hollinger:

Of course, Lewis’ drive wouldn’t have succeeded except that no help defense came from behind Garnett, despite having had ample time to do so. The closest defender, Wallace, inexplicably stayed next to Dwight Howard at the opposite block rather than rotating down to the baseline to stop Lewis’ drive.

via Daily Dime – ESPN.

For me it wasn’t even the slow rotation. Celtic commenters have pointed out that if Sheed leaves Dwight, that’s an alley-oop Dwight Howard dunk. What does bug me is that Sheed still had a play on Lewis. Not on the ball. But on Lewis. Isn’t that a staple of good defense? No layups allowed? Not habitually, and not constantly. But in that situation, you can let Lewis go, or you can put him on his back and make sure he has to hit free throws to win the game. Is it likely he’ll miss? No. But it’s more likely than Rashard Lewis missing a layup.  I’m not saying Sheed should have punched him in the neck, but the Celtics’ entire defensive strategy is built on three things: 1. Communication, 2. Dedication, and 3. Bullying. They failed on all three on that possession and it cost them a big game last night.

On to the Magic:

I took four pages of notes during last night’s Celtics loss to the Magic. Mostly it’s really boring stuff. But there’s one thing in all caps, and underlined: VINCE CARTER SUCKS.

I’m not talking about the man. I have met him, and found him to be amazingly nice. I have talked to his mom, his high school coach and all kinds of other people. Nothing wrong with that guy.

I’m talking about his play last night. He almost killed the Magic single-handedly. It’s hard to remember any player have a worse game.

via TrueHoop Blog – ESPN.

AMEN!

Now, I’ve always been against VC. I understand teammates love him. I hear he’s very nice. He does a ton of charity stuff. And if I covered him day in and day out, I’d probably get to like him and defend him. I don’t. And so I can tell you that he sucks worse than anyone else alive at the art of being alive. The sooner Vince Carter is gone from the public space to the private life (where I hope he lives very long and happily), the better this world will be. I can’t prove that Vince Cater is responsible for the recession but I can’t prove he’s innocent of it, either.

That said, I tried desperately to put that aside. This had the makeup of the “maligned scorer goes to a winner, puts in his best season and becomes a difference maker.”  The Magic thought enough of him to dump Turkoglu and add him. And many a pundit screamed about Hedo’s aging body and limited skillset and applauded the Magic for adding a weapon like this. So I tried to buy in.

Vince Carter is THE problem with the Orlando Magic. Not kidding. He’s the root. He instills a shoot-first-pass-only-if-necessary approach that the Magic have caught like VD. His defensive effort is lacking, to the point that I actually started to notice last night that the Magic as a team worked harder at running off threes (like they did against Boston in the playoffs) when he wasn’t on the floor than when he was on. He still acts like every incident of contact is a devastating blow to his physical well-being (leading to the House three last night), leaving his teammates to walk the plank. And he has no concept (neither does SVG apparently) that this is Dwight Howard’s team. Yeah, his offensive repertoire might not be as diverse as VC’s. But you know what? He’s still a freak of nature, a leader of men, and a dominating basketball player. And Vince Carter is a washed up gunner who has failed three different franchises.

Howard was superb down the stretch, showing leadership and poise, and taking the Celtics’ much balleyhooed “Perkins canah totahly shot dawn DHo wan on wan!” and smashing it into a million pieces. If the Magic get Howard the ball, good things happen. The Celtics have neither the size nor speed, nor recognition to handle him. And that reality was a cold splash of water last night.

Jameer Nelson’s step back can be covered. They have Anthony Johnson who never gets playing time yet always plays well when called upon. Heck, they have Redick, who ran that offense better last night than Jason Williams did. This team’s greatest success has come on the back of nontraditional ballhandlers. Last year it was Turkoglu. So why is this team burying Pietrus, occasionally Redick, and keeping the ball away from Lewis in order to watch VC use the same tired tricks he’s been using for two seasons unsuccessfully?

Hedo Turkoglu is having a terrible season. It’s true. And many of the reservations people have about him are completely accurate. But his ability to work with this team was a large part they went to the Finals. SVG needs to wake up and realize that he has one of the most loaded teams in the league, but he’s got to be willing to use them in ways which do not fit his model. Adapt or perish.

Orlando’s defense looked good tonight, too. Poor rotations and pick-and-roll defense helped the Celtics reverse the ball to an open three-point shooter in the first half, but for much of the second, that pick-and-roll defense tightened up. And the “roll”? Boston could forget about it. As Tom Haberstroh of Hoopdata.com pointed out on Twitter, the Celtics missed 12 of their 20 shots at the rim tonight, bumping their season total to 30 misses in 50 rim attempts versus the Magic. Nothing easy inside for the Celtics, due in large part to Howard and Gortat, who combined to tally 7 blocked shots.

For the rest of the season, I doubt we see Howard and Gortat play together very often, or Lewis at small forward. But those rotational tweaks worked tonight, a credit to Van Gundy and the players. For me, though, the biggest wrinkle tonight was Howard’s ability to finish difficult shots against the stout Perkins. If the Magic can begin counting on Howard to create for himself down low, against elite defenders like Perkins, then they’ll be in excellent shape for the next decade. Nevermind the rest of the season. With apologies to Lewis, Howard gets the game-ball tonight, with Gortat also earning kudos for playing Garnett, a future Hall-of-Famer, to a virtual draw.

via Orlando Magic 96, Boston Celtics 94- Orlando Pinstriped Post

The Magic are capable of being so good, if they get beyond their idea of what would make them great, and focus on what’s actually happening. Performance, not ideal. Function, not concept.

SVG Gets To Scream At Himself For His Shooting Performance At All-Star Weekend

Van Gundy, whose three-point shot resembles that of a young Craig Hodges, was announced today as one of six Three-Point contestants during a press conference in Dallas. Van Gundy will be joined by defending champion Daequan Cook(notes) of the Heat, rookie Brandon Jennings(notes) of the Bucks, Matt Bonner(notes) of the Spurs, Anthony Morrow(notes) of the Warriors and Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro — if he isn’t fired by then.

via Stan Van Gundy to get shot at 3-point contest trophy – Ball Don’t Lie – NBA Blog – Yahoo! Sports.

Morrow. Let’s just get that out of the way. I get that Daequan shot well. I do. But it’s Morrow. In fact, I’d put money on it. Why am I so sure? TO HOOPDATA, my friends!

Morrow has the highest eFG% of all guards, playing at least 20 minutes per game, having played at least ten games, at 65%. He makes the fourth most three pointers per 40 of that set, so he’s not only a high percentage shooter, but a high volume, high percentage shooter. Have I mentioned again how angry I am that he’s stuck on the Warriors? Chris Paul is better from 3pt land, but he’s not in the contest, now is he?

As for Van Gundy, I think it’s awesome that he’s doing it and willing to be a part of the fun. I just hope he makes it to the Final.

Big Baby Jesus Would Like You To Kindly Step Off But He Still Loves You

A lot was made the last couple of days about the talk me and Coach Van Gundy had. He came to me and asked why I thought we were struggling with our energy and lacking some enthusiasm. I tried to keep it real and be as honest as I could. I just told him it was tough dealing with the expectations and all the injuries that we’ve had with him being so negative to us all the time.

He asked me what my opinion was and it wasn’t like I went in there complaining to him. I know that coach wants the nothing but the best for us, but he does kind of bash us at times and it hurts the team, I think.

Stan is a great guy and he’s going to continue to stay on us and I don’t want him to stop that. I just told him that as a team we have a lot of new guys who aren’t used to the way that he coaches and sometimes it’s just a matter of how you deal with them. I can take somebody talking bad to me and him yelling at me or whatever, but you have to deal with certain people different ways. Some of the new guys just aren’t used to having a coach as active as Stan.

via Keeping it real and honest!!! « The Official Dwight Howard Blog.

Howard talks about Stan and the relationship between the two, leading to Stan coming to Howard last week. I like that SVG was open with the media and said that he came to Howard. To me that’s him trying to make sure people don’t think it’s Howard complaining. I don’t think SVG is worried about people thinking he’s weak. He seems to kind of just assume no one’s going to like him anyway.

Howard’s likely going to have other coaches in his career, and the next one will probably get more out of him and he’ll talk about how great it is to not have someone so negative around all the time. But Howard would not be where he is today without SVG. Make all the panic comments you want or question his coaching, but SVG has helped bring that kid from potential to star.

Interesting note from Nate Jones on Twitter via Orlando Magic Daily, C’s shot .298 (.394 in the paint) with Dwight Howard in the game. Without Howard? .500 and .667 in the paint. So yeah, for all the talk about the C’s knowing how to “handle” Howard? It looks like Howard knows how to handle the C’s.