Tag Archives: Vince Carter

Statiscal Anomaly: Mavericks @ Pistons

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 Mavericks win over the Pistons.

 

Jae Crowder matched a career high by handing out five assists as he is possibly carving a niche for himself as more of a big guard than a small forward. Already in March Crowder has two zero rebound games, something he didn’t do once in all of February. He has also had four consecutive games in which his assist total at least matches his rebound total, setting a career high for such games in a month. His playing time figures to fluctuate as the Mavericks have been outscored when he is on the court in three of their last four wins (including a -16 point difference against Detroit).

OJ Mayo is generally thought of a pure scorer, but until last night, his best scoring nights included a handful of assists. By scoring 20+ points and dishing out only three assists, Mayo ruined a nearly three month long streak of handing out more than three assists in every game in which he scored 20+ points. The explosive shooting guard has already recorded a season high in assists (268), but he is also scoring at the most efficient rate of his career. At 25 years old, the free-agent to be has got to be enticing to teams with franchise point guards who are looking for a back-court mate (76ers, Cavaliers, and to some extent the Wizards). Here’s a look at Mayo’s improvement in terms of shooting percentage and points per shot (PPS).

HP1

HP2

Vince Carter managed to tally seven rebounds against the Pistons without recording a single assist. He had gone 144 straight regular season games sense the last time he had as many as seven rebounds with no assists. It has been 536 regular season games sense he had more than seven rebounds but no assists. The rebounds these days are grabbed below the rim, but Carter has shown to be graceful when it comes to aging. He is 36 years old, but unlike some great players, he has adapted his game to his physical limitations, making him capable of helping a playoff team for the next season or two.

Jose Calderon may have changed jerseys this year, but his game has not transformed a bit. He registered his seventh game this season with at least seven assists and no turnovers, and has done so in 21.9% of his last 32 games. That is more often than LeBron James drops double digits dimes (18.3%) or Kevin Durant takes 22+ shots from the field (21.0%). His ability to create for his teammates has allowed Brandon Knight to establish himself as a scoring two guard that can pass when needed as opposed to an offense initiating point guard who was asked to keep his teammates involved. The Pistons are full of youth and potential, making Calderon the perfect man to run the show.

Kevin Garnett had choice words for Charlie Villanueva back in the day, and while I trust KG’s basketball intelligence, I highly doubt he used the word “marksman” when describing the Pistons big man. But the eighth year pro out of UConn has earned that title this year, connecting on multiple trey’s in 45.3% of his games this year despite averaging only 16.9 minutes. Kobe Bryant, who averages nearly 11 more points than Villanueva does minutes this season, makes two or more three pointers every other game. Villanueva is currently averaging about three more points per 48 minutes than another 6’11” shooter that played for Detroit (Rasheed Wallace) who always got considerably more press. He’s got one season left on his current deal and he should find himself on a contender before long.

Will Bynum plays on the same team as Calderon, but that is about the only comparison to be drawn. Bynum passed the ball to the wrong team four more times, giving him 54 turnovers in 44 days (not 44 games, 44 days) despite playing only 20.4 minutes per game. For reference, Ty Lawson has turned the ball over 43 times in that same time frame while averaging 36.9 minutes. On a team full of young guards (three that are 26 years of age or younger), Bynum may very well find himself looking for work in the near future.

In a game featuring two teams that will combine for 93-100 losses, I find it interesting that they have pieces that would be of interest to contending teams. Role players are difficult to find, and I believe both of these teams have assets that could be dealt in order to help them accelerate their rebuilding phrase. That being said, f the Mavericks think they can get another few solid years from Nowitzki, would it be unreasonable for them to bring in Calderon next season? They don’t seem to have a ton of faith in Darren Collison, and if Dallas is working in a small frame in trying to build a winner around Nowitzki, Calderon’s age shouldn’t be an issue. Neither one of these teams is headed to the playoffs this season, but who do you like to make a playoff run first: the very young Pistons or the aging Mavericks? Tweet me @unSOPable23 your responses, I’m curious what the public thinks.

Bigger Than Life

Photo by clappstar on Flickr

Photo by clappstar on Flickr

Right now, there’s an endlessly repeating GIF of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist detonating a small thermonuclear device over the peaceful town of Greg Monroe in one of my browser tabs. I recommend you go watch it run through a couple times. I’ll wait.

Done? Good. Here’s the beauty of a GIF: you can save it, open it up in Photoshop, and then look at each individual frame. After careful study, I’ve determined that the entire key to this dunk is contained in two frames.

MKG_dunk_prevframe

In this frame, Kidd-Gilchrist is caught in a swirl of motion blur that blends him into the background: the ball is a hazy orange dot; the “CATS” logo on his chest is just a random collection of vertical lines; his front foot is still close enough to the ground that he might be shooting a hook shot. Frankly, it’s a mess.

Then there’s the very next frame.

MKG_dunk

The dunk has crystallized. Even though he is in full flight at this moment, you can see the lines on the basketball. The aforementioned logo has come into focus. Kidd-Gilchrist stands out from the background, frozen in that instant with his arm still slightly cocked, thrumming with murderous intent. His jersey looks extra white.

I’m pointing to this as a way to say that great dunks are not strictly physical acts carried out in three-dimensional space before disappearing into an unrediscoverable past. They are not simply performed, but witnessed, recorded, replayed, ingrained in our memories. They are spontaneously generated, but not out of the void, not from nothingness. They instead occur where the ley lines of practice, talent, chance, the known and the unknown converge to create something larger than life.

In this way, they are less part of a game and more akin to musical improvisation.

The big lie about the great improvisers is that they are music’s intrepid explorers, blazing trails into the tonal wilds. In reality, they’re more like the Night’s Watch, standing guard at edges of the known world. The overwhelming mass of improvisations from blues to jazz to rock to freestyle rap are composed of repurposed and rebuilt fragments. Rarely is someone out there on stage doing something they’ve genuinely never done before for the simple reason that it’s hard to tell what’s going to work before you’ve tried it.

This is not a knock on improvisors: music, like any language, is not not only about expression but about reception. Every speaker needs a listener, every player needs an audience. Understanding can only grow from common ground, from a shared vocabulary. Let’s put it this way: the riffs, the licks, the whole tone diminished scale, the understanding of chords voiced in fourths—they’re not the end products of creativity but instead the tools that take you nine-tenths of the way there.

So the improviser begins with a set of tools that together form an approach. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins, for example, builds his solos almost entirely from the melody of the piece he’s improvising on. He alludes to it, darts around it—cracks jokes, even—as he teases out the line and finds new ways through it. Coltrane, by way of contrast, was more concerned with the possibilities locked within the chords of a song, frequently abandoning attachment to the initial melody quickly in favor of scaling the extensions and implied modes of the progression.

In either case, they’re building a scaffolding out of what they have at hand towards something beyond their reach. Many nights, they don’t make it. Most of them, even. On a few, they do. But on a lot of them, even if they’re still comfortably within the boundaries of their known world, they manage to push the audience to someplace new, to some new height or understanding.

But here’s the twist: it actually matter little in terms of the end product whether they’re genuinely innovating or simply ably generating the excitement that goes along with the thrill of the new. At the apex of an improvisation, when the gravity of the thing takes on a life of its own and everything around you, the listener, starts sparking and spitting, what you’re witnessing is sleight of hand. It’s not absolute creativity, but rather the collision of talent, practice, chance, the known and the unknown.

When it bears up under repeated listening, when it keeps revealing itself in new ways, a truly great improvised solo becomes a kind of vivisection, a study in how the human mind adapts, reacts and explores using the tools it has at hand.

In this way, it’s not so different from a great slam dunk.

How much of Michael Jordan’s free throw line dunk is contained in his extended tongue? How much in the way he draws the ball back for an instant before extending for the slam? How much of Vince Carter’s reverse 360 windmill is in the long, loping strides he takes to the basket, in the way he bounces when he lands, spinning a half-circle in the opposite direction as if the dunk had overwound him? How much in the yell he gives? When he caught Tracy McGrady’s bounced pass and put it between his legs, he landed and pointed skywards like he was drawing a bow before walking away, scissoring his hands in front of him and mouthing to the camera that it was over. It absolutely was.

People bemoan the missed attempts at the dunk contest, but the majesty of Carter’s between-the-legs alley-oop started to build with his first false start. Sure, if it had taken him five tries, it would have sucked the air out of the room, but once it became apparent that something awesome was about to happen, the anticipation was palpable. Look at Jason Kidd’s face as he awaits it:

Kidd

Look at Steve Francis, who was a competitor in the dunk contest that year:

Francis

That’s the look of an already-defeated man.

These tiny things, these little, texture-giving things are not just for dunk contest dunks. How much of Shawn Kemp’s dunk on Alton Lister is in the finger guns? How much of Blake Griffin’s comprehensive remodeling of Kendrick Perkins is in the way Griffin hits Perkins then keeps going up and up until he somehow turns at the apex and delivers?

In-game dunks and dunk contest dunks are two different kinds of animals. The former erupts from the framework of the game, distorting everything around it while still only showing up as two points in the box score. The latter occur within a space custom-made for them, which is part of the problem, but I’m here to say that the problem doesn’t lay with: a failure of imagination; a lack of preparation; too many props; not enough props; the limits of physics; the format; the fact that stars are loathe to compete these days; the insistence on pushing marketing opportunities such as All-Star Weekend branded balls that have a different feel than the regulation NBA balls—a move which may have doomed James White this year.

No. The main failure of dunk contests rests with our own inability to accept the sleight of hand, to understand that great dunks don’t transcend the limits of physics but toy with them in a way that make us believe. We place value on the novel, on the never-seen-before, and it sends dunkers down paths that lead to failed dunks and gimmickry, rather than focusing on the performance itself.

For my money, the very first dunk of this year’s slam dunk contest was the best one, an alley-oop off the side of the backboard to Gerald Green:

He nailed it on the first try, almost nonchalantly, yet it contained that explosion of force that separates the genuinely nasty dunks from the merely competent. In real time, you can tell there’s something more than meets the eye, but it’s only when you see it through the lens of the NBA’s Phantom Camera that it truly blooms:

Green brings the ball down ridiculously far, plus holds it there for longer than seems possible as he reaches the peak of his jump but keeps traveling laterally through the air. Just as he starts to descend, he snaps the ball back up, which further extends our perception of his vertical. And the ball spins slowly backward after grazing the bottom of the backboard as the net flips.

Yes, the Phantom Camera exaggerates everything about this dunk. But when you speed it back up, it’s all still in there, uncoiling with blinding speed. And that’s what’s so particularly thrilling about this dunk. Not that we’d never seen it before or that it had a great prop or that it had no prop.

Like a great improvisation, it was something created in a flash out of the performer’s toolbox, but hardly unplanned. When you slow it way down, you can see the craft, and marvel at how quickly and assuredly it all came together. When you speed it back up, it regains its force and power. I’d take a dunk contest composed completely of dunks like this over one replete with multiple failed attempts and a garage full of stuff to jump over.

Dunks live and die in a moment, but the best ones are born out of a confluence of circumstance and design that transcends our idea of physical limitations. Dunks don’t care if they beat the buzzer (they rarely do); they don’t care if it’s the first quarter or the fourth quarter, if it’s preseason or the playoffs or the dunk contest. Dunks need to be understood on their own terms and when they are, that’s when they become bigger than life.

Stinkface Chronicles: Griffin and the Greats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amar’e Stoudemire on Michael Olowokandi

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

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

Dwyane Wade on Kendrick Perkins

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

Now, this is a dunk on Kendrick Perkins.

John Starks on Michael Jordan*

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

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

Dominique Wilkins on Larry Bird

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

Bird looks like he was shot out of the sky.

Baron Davis on Andrei Kirilenko

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

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

Tom Chambers on Mark Jackson

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

This dunk has the Chris Webber seal of approval.

Shawn Kemp on the Knicks

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

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

Julius Erving on Michael Cooper

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

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

Vince Carter on Alonzo Mourning

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

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

Michael Jordan on Patrick Ewing

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

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

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

Return of the Mac

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uB1D9wWxd2w

The Heat and Thunder have two things in common: they’re largely favored to win their respective conferences, and they both entered the day undefeated on the year.

They both lost tonight, these whippersnappers getting whupped by veteran savvy. Vince Carter finished the day against the Thunder with 14 points and 3 assists in 24 minutes at +4. And Tracy McGrady, with a vintage performance (16-7-4, 3/3 3p, +7, 26min), knocked down some big 3s in the 4th quarter against the Heat.

I know one HP writer is particularly happy today.

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/CardboardGerald/status/154032296830316544"]

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/shighkinNBA/status/154028890967388160"]

 

 

 

 

In Praise Of Vince Carter In Dallas

Photo by add1sun on Flickr

 

Guess who’s (reportedly) joining the champs!

The Dallas Mavericks are closing in on reuniting Vince Carter with his former New Jersey teammate Jason Kidd, according to sources with knowledge of the deal.

The full financial terms of the agreement weren’t immediately known, but sources said Dallas was discussing a multiyear contract with Carter and hoped to have him signed by Saturday.

Via Sources: Vince Carter, Mavs Close, 12/9/11

I like it. Stop laughing.

I know I’m not really supposed to write anything pro-Vince here at HP, but seriously, he’ll help. And I’ve an inkling they’ll get him at way better value than, say, Caron Butler. If and when this becomes official, Carter will essentially do the things that Butler did in a Mavs uniform — shoot, slash, and handle the ball. He’s a much inferior defender, but he’s a better passer and he can play in the post, too. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Carter in the 1/2 pick and roll with Jason Kidd. This worked pretty damn beautifully in New Jersey and, even though they’ve both deteriorated significantly since then, it could still be effective every once in a while when Dirk can’t get open. For all the jokes that will be made at Carter’s expense, the Mavs’ offense should benefit from Vince’s multitude of skills.

The problem is that those skills aren’t anywhere near what they used to be. With Phoenix, his efficiency dropped to its lowest level since that time he forced his way out of Toronto. He very occasionally looked like the Vince we fondly remember, but his inconsistency and his apparent lack of effort on the defensive end last season are not what the Mavs are looking for. They’re hoping that the change in scenery will bring out the best in him. He’s in a supporting role, with a veteran team that just won a championship by sharing the ball, holding each other accountable, and communicating on D. Even without Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, and J.J. Barea, Dallas sees itself as a title contender again. An optimist would say Vince should play with that purpose in mind. I’m not saying that Carter is going to return to relevance next season, but if it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s in Dallas.

Of course, the Mavs are taking a chance. Maybe there’s no saving Vince at this point in his career. But with all sorts of bodies at the 2 and 3 spots — Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Rudy Fernandez, Rodrigue Beaubois, Corey Brewer, and Dominique Jones — it wouldn’t be a disaster if the Carter experiment failed. You’d hope all the competition would motivate him, but if it doesn’t, you just move on. Quality low-risk move here by a team not looking to sacrifice future flexibility.

What Could Have Been? More Dunks And Stuff, At The Very Least

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJZsflunHYQ w=640 h=360]

Here in Toronto, having Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Charles Oakley on a talk show to reminisce about playing together was a big deal. I wish it had been an hour-long special so they could have gone into a bit more depth, but it was still a fascinating watch for those who remember the days when the Raptors were relevant.

The most noteworthy part of the show, to me, was McGrady saying “there’s no question” that they would have advanced to the Finals in 2001 if he’d stayed. He called it “the perfect situation” with “the perfect chemistry,” breaking host Michael Landsberg’s heart as he looked back on watching Game 7 of the Philly series with his son. It kind of broke my heart, too — even though I wouldn’t call myself a “fan” of the Raptors or any one NBA team at this point, I was DEFINITELY a fan in every sense of the word back then. When Carter missed that corner three in Philly, I was beyond crushed. And at that point, I hated McGrady for leaving. I was 13 when T-Mac chose Orlando, but I’d seen every game of his career and could sense that perfect chemistry. It was obvious he was headed toward stardom and I saw no good reason why couldn’t continue his ascent here with his cousin. In my mind, they could have developed into of the best wing tandems ever and, with the proper talent around them, led a championship-winning team. I thought it was stupid that he left and I thought he duped the franchise by making them think they had a shot to keep him when he’d already made his mind up.

Here’s the thing: 13-year-old fans aren’t likely to see the whole picture. McGrady was just 21 and he wanted to play at home. He wanted the warm weather. Yeah, he’d be leaving his star cousin, but he’d be (theoretically) playing with superduperstar Grant Hill. I questioned his loyalty, but I’m not sure how loyal I’d be if I was just a couple of seasons removed from playing for a coach who belittled me and told the media I’d be out of the league in three years. On top of that, the coach who had given McGrady his chance had just been ousted, after an impressive display of self-destruction where he lashed out at ownership, sued an opposing player in the middle of a playoff series, and asked for the title of GM during his year-end evaluation. Going to Orlando wasn’t crazy and as a free agent he didn’t owe the Raptors anything.

Even now, I get embarrassingly nostalgic when watching old Raptors highlights. I’m thankful to have grown up with the franchise — my family moved here a few months before its first game — and it was amazing to see these two young talents up close when they were developing. It was gratifying when the city fell in love with Vince and basketball started gathering momentum. It was downright painful when the team fell apart and Toronto and Vince, uh, broke up. Even if T-Mac wouldn’t say he regretted going to Orlando, hearing both of them say they think about what it would have been like here almost made me scream. As Carter said, there are no guarantees, but we could have seen a few more years of something pretty special. We could have seen two of the most talented, athletic wing players on the planet throwing each other more alley-oops. With today’s perspective, it’s naive as hell to say that they would have won championships, but man, those two in their primes? It would have been fun.

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.

We’re Assuming The Situation He’s Referring To Is “Having Vince Carter On Your Team”

“It’s definitely in it,” Carter said. “It’s now or never. This is a very painful position to be in, being that this team is very capable.

via Vince Carter: “This is a very painful position to be in” – Orlando Magic BasketBlog – Orlando Sentinel.

Vince Carter Went NOVA… /sigh

You don’t expect things like this – at least you don’t expect them anymore. You especially don’t expect them after the season we’ve seen from Vince Carter.

There are two different directions I wanted to take this piece as I discuss the night Vince Carter turned back the clock/heart and decided to go Nova (hence the photo above). I’m conflicted on what I saw because we all have the same perception of Vince Carter. He’s the definition of potential. He’s also the definition of wasted potential. I was never of the mindset that Vince could be the new Jordan. There were many things about him that seemed to be lacking. But he had more ability in him than most could ever imagine so when we saw him sputter after nights in which he would excel, we became frustrated and resentful that he would refuse to do the things we wanted to do.

With Vince it was always “if only he would…” because we hoped he would one day grasp his potential, hold onto it like a golden ticket and prance through the streets of the basketball world as he sings, “I’ve got the gollllllden tiiiiiicket!”

But we never really got that from him past the first couple of seasons. Vince was a guy that just didn’t want it and with his tumultuous time in Toronto, we gave him the benefit of the doubt until we were so insulted by his lack of heart that we wanted to destroy him for it. When he moved to New Jersey, we were hopeful a change of scenery would bring out the best in him. And it did on occasion. However, Vince still didn’t want to be that guy. He was content going out there, playing basketball a certain way and collecting his paycheck.

Now that he’s on Orlando (a team that retooled in a risky way after making the NBA Finals last year), we’ve been waiting for him to give this kind of effort. He’s been all over the map for the Magic this season as they’ve waited for him to bring the thunder consistently. Nobody really expects him to do it flair-filled style of dunks and scores around the basket. We’ve accepted the fact that he attacks the basket with three-pointers and long-range shots over high-flying acts of absurdity. But what you’ve wanted out of him is the effort to take this team to the next level, even if it’s just by being a competent basketball player that doesn’t hijack possessions and alienate his teammates with the way he affects games (positively or negatively).

When he scores 48 points during a nationally televised game on just 27 shot attempts, you start to hope that maybe this is it. Maybe this is when he gets locked in with his Magic teammates and finds the extra gear to put them back into the Finals and in a better position to win the whole damn thing. After all, that’s why they brought him in there and let Hedo walk for maple syrup covered pizza.

Part of you is watching and thinking, “yep, this is exactly what this team needs right now.“ They need a go-to guy that can turn a good half into a half that makes you consider forgiving the past decade of malaise. And hopefully in a couple of games, you won’t feel sheepish and naïve for thinking these kinds of thoughts.

Historically, Vince will make you reconsider your hope – which brings me to the other angle of this 48-point performance. Vince flat out knows how to depress a basketball nerd like myself.

As I watched Vince lead the Magic from a 17-point deficit to a six-point win, I couldn’t help but resent him for this performance. To me, Andre Miller’s 52-point outburst the other day was far more probable than this 48-point game from Vince. Not because I think Andre Miller is a better basketball player or a better scorer. I would never be so obtuse to think something like that to be true. But it seemed more probable to me because I didn’t think Vince Carter had the effort left in him.  To score 34 points in the second half of a ball game when his team REALLY needed it seemed so far-fetched to me that a player in the year 2010 who can’t move laterally, can’t shoot threes and basically throws up a 1954-style set shot was more likely to drop around 50 points in a ball game.

This depresses you because of the way he did it. He wasn’t just hoisting up threes and long twos because he was afraid to make contact. He attacked the basket and attacked it often. By my count, he attempted a shot around the basket or in the key 12 times and made 10 of them against the Hornets (he had attempted five shots around the basket more than five times in a game just nine times this season). Granted, he was being guarded by Morris Peterson. I didn’t remember that Mo Pete was even in the NBA up until a week ago and basketball is practically a religion to me. Yet, he still did it.

And it’s not like he was soaring through the air. His steps on the court are the NBA equivalent of intensive labor. He looks out of shape and out of breath most of the time. He moves like one of the old guys at your local gym or YMCA. All of this makes it even more frustrating that he was able to put up a game like this. I was resigned to the fact that Vince Carter simply didn’t have it anymore and didn’t want to have it. I was actually okay with that. Instead, he tried and he tried hard and it worked to the tune of 48 dramatically efficient points. How does that happen?

Ultimately, I still feel cheated by Vince Carter and his career with nights like this reminding me just of that when I thought it was behind me. Did Vince owe the fans and me a different story arc to his career? Not really. Maybe you could argue he owed it to himself but if he’s happy fading into “what could have been” obscurity then that’s on him.

I just could have done without the diabolical casualness of his career. And I could have done without the 48-point reminder that he was an Allen Iverson heart away from burning this place to the ground.

I just didn’t expect this tonight.

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.