Hart in the Paint #01

Greetings … All-Stars … Lakers or Flakers?

By H. Hart, Editor-at-large

01/13/2018

“Hart in the Paint” is a weekly to bi-monthly column that examines, critiques, and celebrates the NBA, college basketball (periodically), and significant/interesting happenings in the basketball universe–Intersections with fashion, pop culture, and the internet are never ignored when relevant.

Greetings & Salutations

Hello Informed Spectators!

I am very proud to put in the effort to bring you this project; I look forward (at the moment anyway) to seeing these collected ruminations age, and I’m excited at the prospect of generating some responses and discussion. I have never written a column before, so I’ll be exploring new waters with you, but I still anticipate helping lead the #InformedMovement, and it will be fun to see what comes from this experiment. I ain’t gon’ rook ya.

Basketball and the NBA are sacred American institutions, or at least I ask everyone to accept that as a fact. If nothing else, they have provided me with countless hours of happiness (and occasionally sadness and/or pain); I have grown to love the NBA and I have a few friends whose passions for the game I’m eternally grateful for having encountered–one of those wonderful people is The Informed Spectator’s resident basketball guru, Jay Patrick. And to that point, I look forward to this column’s juxtaposition against JP’s. And beyond! It is my hope that this column will serve as a useful source of information, and, at times, as a thoughtful counterpoint to mainstream punditry.

Post up! These are free points.

2017-18 NBA All-Star Selections

nba-all-star-2018-cnnph

If you haven’t seen/read it yet, J. Patrick’s newest column for The Informed Spectator lays out a solid set of points in advocating for a thoughtful redesign of the NBA’s annual All-Star Game. He organizes his argument by discussing basic selection criteria, the voting/team selection process, and alterations to the structure of the game itself. He also provided his selections for this season’s All-Star squads.

And to set a precedent, moving forward, it’s only fair we provide the good people–our informed big ballers–out there with the Informed Editor’s 2018 All-Star selections.

I am already amped to talk about the selections and the suggestions made by Jay in his All-Star reform argument on the next episode of The Dish, the NBA-specific podcast for The Informed Spectator and the Informed Movement. And without further ado:

Squad A

Coach: Brad Stevens

Position

Name

G

Stephen Curry

G

Kyrie Irving

F

Kevin Durant

F

LeBron James
C

Karl Anthony-Towns

G (2nd unit)

Bradley Beal
G (2nd unit)

CJ McCollum

F (2nd unit)

DeMar DeRozan
F (2nd unit)

LaMarcus Aldridge

B (2nd unit)

Joel Embiid
Reserve

Devin Booker

Reserve

Clint Capela
Reserve

Dennis Smith Jr.

Squad B

Coach: Steve Kerr

Position

Name

G

Russell Westbrook

G

James Harden*

F

Giannis Antetokounmpo
F

Anthony Davis

C

“Boogie” Cousins
G (2nd unit)

Klay Thompson

G (2nd unit)

Lou Williams
F (2nd unit)

Jimmy Butler

F (2nd unit)

Kristaps Porzingis
B (2nd unit)

Nikola Jokic

Reserve

Kyle Lowry
Reserve

Ben Simmons

Reserve

Dwight Howard

*James Harden is currently injured, but could be ready to go by the all star game. If he is ready to go, he’s 100% deserving of a spot.

Lake Show or Flake Show?

lakersbasicswide_ap_getty_ringer

As were many others, I was at least a little surprised when LaVar Ball was certified to have been correct all along in his pre-draft assertions that Lonzo would for sure be a Laker; the only way for LaVar to shock me now would be for the Lakers to make him right again.

If you need to be caught up, the basic situation is as follows:

  • In early December 2017, the Lakers, growing weary from self-inflicted LaVar-itis, instituted the “LaVar Ball Rule”–a previously non-existant “policy that bars media from conducting interviews in a section of the Staples Center where guests of players, including parents, gather after games” (CNN). No surprise to anyone not born yesterday, LaVar Ball has consistently sidestepped media restrictions, breaking some sort of promise or compromise made between him, Magic, and Pelinka after some early outbursts and criticisms of the squad–in November, he threw some eye-popping and eye-rolling shade at Luke Walton.

  • He pulled his youngest children from school to play professional ball in Lithuania, and from the other side of the world, LaVar found some ESPN reporters and fired off some scathing criticism of Luke Walton, saying, “You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more. Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.” LaVar went on to argue that “Nobody wants to play for him. I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young. He’s too young. … He ain’t connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player, he’s not connecting with not one player” (NY Post).

Fast forward back to the present moment.

There was an awkward radio silence from Magic, Pelinka, and the Lakers organization, although a few of the players made comments to the media that ranged from somewhat insulting (Lonzo) to strongly supportive (Kuzma). The Kooz stepped up admirably for his coach, saying, “Luke is my guy. … I love playing for him. I’m sure most of us love playing for him, too. …” (LA Times). By contrast, Lonzo Ball, son of LaVar, responded to the issue by saying, “I’ll play for anybody” (CBS Sports). I may be in the minority, but, in your correspondent’s humble opinion, this rates insanely close to insulting. At the very least, it’s thoughtless in way that could endanger a relationship.–Consider, if you will, how your significant other would feel if, when asked whether you’d enjoy their company doing something specific, you responded with, “Sure, I’ll do X-thing with anybody.”

Overall, I am not concerned about Lonzo developing into a good-to-great player with a funky yet functional shot. However, at the moment, I have a serious concern about his future in the NBA. Hoops analyst Andrew Sharp made a great point (in my opinion), on his co-hosted Open Floor podcast for Sports Illustrated, when he suggested that there may not be a better equipped organization to handle the LaVar Ball cloud of shit that will come with Lonzo–maybe Boston or San Antonio or Dallas–and it seems weirdly possible that Lonzo’s professional future could see strain through no fault of his own.

It must be said that despite my feelings about his response, Lonzo is certainly in a tricky situation, and to now, he’s worked hard to fly as far under the radar as he can when he isn’t on the basketball court. In fact, some element of his response to the issue at hand can be chalked up to this effort to please the rock and the hard place. And remember: he’s only 19 years old. The pressure to act in a way in which the media doesn’t pit him as against his father must be immense. And none of that changes the fact that his response in support of Luke was weak, thoughtless, and perhaps insulting. Some relief came on January 8th, when Luke joked with reporters that he took Lonzo out of the game early because “his dad was talking shit.”

In that same presser, Luke stated that he felt the Lakers organization was fully supportive, and yet, the Lakers’ organization remained quiet in the wake of the elder Ball’s comments. And then, on January 12th, a report emerged that suggested the Lakers might abandon the young Luke Walton for another coach I love, David Fizdale. And as much as I love Fiz, I don’t want to see Walton get rooked either–Fiz should know how that feels, having been a scapegoat that got the axe from Memphis earlier this season. And that’s exactly what would be happening here if Walton is shown the door. The problems Los Angeles is having are or seem to be generally  unrelated to coaching; arguably, Walton hasn’t been the coach long enough to get any legitimate sense that he shouldn’t be there. And luckily, finally, today, Luke received some support from Jeanie Buss which was said to be “a firm response to the Fizdale buzz, which reportedly originated outside the organization.” It doesn’t feel as strong as at least I would have liked it to be, and it doesn’t fully quiet the concern for Walton–in my experience, sometimes people firmly reassert things to be one way despite knowing or suddenly finding a situation where they act contrary to that prior assertion. It’s hard to know which this is: Did LaVar Ball sniff out a real problem with a generally very likable guy? Or, is the Lakers front office  just exercising the silent treatment with the Biggest Baller?

And perhaps the most complex (and concerning) issue seems to be that as frustrating as LaVar Ball is, the Lakers kind of need him right now–take him away, and what have you got? You have a young team that isn’t very good, and that likely doesn’t have a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. From this perspective, anything that takes the focus off of that–off of things like taking Lonzo Ball instead of Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Dennis Smith Jr, or Frank Ntilikina, for example. And all of this comes from someone who isn’t exactly sure how to deal with LaVar Ball’s antics in a way that isn’t just some form of wishing you hadn’t hitched your wagon to his star.

This is me at least hoping the Lakers don’t flake on Walton. #LukesMyGuy. What is supremely clear is that ignoring LaVar isn’t going to keep him from making waves in the kiddie pool.

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Open Floor #07

Make the All-Star Game Great Again

By J. Patrick

01/07/2017

“Open Floor” is a week-to-week column that examines the events from the past week in the NBA world, and other things loosely related to it. Sometimes we may examine games, plays, players, injuries, contracts, fights, social media, whatever. It’s an open-ended column, so, as Kevin Garnett would say, “anything is possibllllllllleee!”

nba-all-star-2018-cnnph

Let’s face it, the NBA All Star voting system is a complete joke, and you know it.

Some say the All-Star Game itself is a joke. While I believe that some of the other festivities during the All-Star weekend (like the 3-point shootout, the Rising Stars Challenge, and obviously the dunk competition) are much more entertaining, I also believe the ASG could become one of the most entertaining games of the NBA season.

Well, voting season is here, and it’s crucial that we make all the right decisions this year (even though we won’t). So, how do we fix the ASG? Let’s explore some solutions:

There’s a whole host of issues that are wrong with the voting process already. In fact, before we talk about what we should do differently, let’s talk for a moment about what we shouldn’t be doing:

  • My first suggestion for reformation is changing the way in which fans can vote.

    Right now, fans make up 50% of the voting process for the starting five. Fans only vote for who they believe should start the game, and coaches from each conference vote for the reserves. Scrap that.
  • Let the fans vote for the starters and the reserves. After all, the skill level in these games are so high that the coaches can deal with whoever they get. It’s not like their jobs are on the line or that anything is actually at stake in this game.
  • To solve the issue of dealing with the overwhelming amount of voting, there will be three rounds of voting. The first round of voting will decide who starts the game, the second round will decide the second unit, and the third round will determine who the last three players to make each roster are.

In order to ensure that the right players are being chosen, and that we don’t have some of the issues associated with fans being given full control over the vote (like voting in veterans that are no longer at the top of their game, but are still extremely popular with the fans– someone like Kobe a few years ago), the following basic rules should  

  • First, in order to become eligible, a player must average at least 25 minutes. There’s never been an all star voted in who played less than 25 minutes a game.
  • Secondly, no injured players can get voted in. Sorry, even if they’ve earned the right to be voted in, an injured player isn’t going to play anyway, so they can’t be voted in (like Blake Griffin and Kobe Bryant–both were selected three and four years ago, despite both only playing 35 games that season).

    Both of these qualifiers would negate any veterans that may have an established fanbase that will vote for them no matter what, and keep rookies away that may not have earned their stripes yet.

Giving the fans more control over the voting process is important (and potentially awful), but if it is carried out the right way, only the truly deserving players get in, the fans will be happy (and tune in), and the game would be that much more fun. Of course, players and media members will still have their option to vote, but there will be some constraints. Last season, players were given the option to choose all-stars themselves, as well as the fans and media members. Fans determined 50% of the vote, and players and media members comprised 25% each. I don’t think those percentages should change, but who players and the media are voting for should be tweaked slightly. For example, some of the players made a complete joke out of the voting process by voting for themselves, even if they hadn’t played a minute all season long. That’s an issue.

And even though I like the idea of players and media members voting, they shouldn’t be allowed to vote for whoever they want. Players and media members should be given a list of the top-40 or top-50 vote-getters, as chosen by the fan vote, and from that list, the players and media will choose who they think is most deserving.

Oh yeah–we’ll be eliminating the conference  from the voting process. East vs West is such a “90’s beef,” lets bring change in 2018. Only the best players get voted in. Period.

While we’re at it, we should also change the positions that can being voted on.

  • In the current voting system, you can vote for two guards, and three forwards. First and foremost, that’s unacceptable. Further, it’s disrespectful toward the centers of the league.
  • In the rules rebuild, you’ll have to vote for at least one center for each team–so, two total.
  • In the first round, fans will vote on a maximum of ten players–four guards, four forwards, and two centers–all of whom would be their choice to start the game. (Yes, there will be a center starting the game.)

    After that, in the second and third round formats will be a little different:

    • In the second round, fans will vote for two guards, two forwards, and one big–which can be a power forward or center; just a big man.
    • In the third round, the three most deserving players will be voted on, regardless of position.

Alright. So, now that we have the rules for selected players, how do you divy up the talent? This is where we will borrow an idea that the NFL has tried for the last few years: The two all-star coaches (as voted by the players) will have a “draft” to pick who they want on their team. They will also have to take at least one center to start the game, and pick one big for their second unit. The order in which they pick these players obviously doesn’t matter.

Before we get into what should be done to change the format and/or rules of the actual game itself, I think it’s only fair we provide the good people out there with J. Patrick’s 2018 All-Star selections for The Informed Spectator and the Informed Movement:

Squad A

Coach: Steve Kerr

Position

Name

G

Kyrie Irving

G

James Harden*

F

Kevin Durant

F

Anthony Davis

C

Karl Anthony-Townes

G (2nd unit)

Damian Lillard

G (2nd unit)

Devin Booker

F (2nd unit)

DeMar DeRozan

F (2nd unit)

Jimmy Butler

B (2nd unit)

Joel Embiid

Reserve

Victor Oladipo

Reserve

Draymond Green

Reserve

Andre Drummond

*James Harden is currently injured, but could be ready to go by the all star game. If he is ready to go, he’s 100% deserving of a spot.

Squad B

Coach: Brad Stephens

Position

Name

G

Stephen Curry

G

Russell Westbrook

F

LeBron James
F

Giannis Antetokounpo

C

Demarcus Cousins
G (2nd unit)

Bradley Beal

G (2nd unit)

Kemba Walker
F (2nd unit)

Kristaps Porzingis

F (2nd unit)

Kevin Love

B (2nd unit)

Lamarcus Aldridge

Reserve

CJ McCollum

Reserve

Ben Simmons

Reserve

Klay Thompson


Like my All-star teams or not, the point is that this would be the basic look/format for choosing the rosters of the teams that would play.

And now that we’ve overhauled the voting system and construction of the rosters, let’s look at some rule changes that could make the game more interesting.

  1. Create several 4-point “zones” on the floor: Sort of like the Big3 does it, we would make a four point zone to further encourage the game’s best shooters to air it out. Below is an example of how it might look.

    big3court
  2. Institute a 5-point area: The five-point area would be inside the inner circle of half court, on whichever side of the court the team is playing offense on. Let’s be real, a four-point area is cool and all, but guys like Steph and Harden hit those shots with regularity, so let’s make it even more entertaining. We may just end up working our way into some incredible moment–like the half court shootout between Gilbert Arenas and T-Mac some years back, in a Hurricane Katrina relief game. I mean, I could argue the defensive intensity is basically the same already.
  3. Layups are worth 1 point: nobody wants to see layups in an all star game, so it would be advisable to minimize them.
  4. Alley-oops are worth 3 points: More ridiculous long range shooting, more Allies, please and thanks.
  5. Any dunk that gets an ooo or ahh, or that just generates a favorable reaction from the crowd is worth 3 points: This may seem like a bit much, but if the crowd reacts favorably to a dunk, chances are the fans at home will too. Plus, the subjective nature of the play and the game would generate more replays and discussion after the game.
  6. Throughout the night, the fans will vote (by app, maybe) on the best play of the game, and the team who gets it, gets 5 points: Preliminarily, we could say that plays occuring in the last five minutes of the game can’t be voted on, but fans can still vote on plays that happened throughout the rest of the game, in the last five minutes. Perhaps some app will be created for this purpose.
  7.  
    1. If there is a tie, there will be a 3-point shootout to determine the winner: Both teams can choose one player to rebound the ball, and the rest of the team splits up into two groups of six on each wing, on opposite sides of the court. Whoever the winner is from this wins the game. This is sort of like a shootout in Soccer or Hockey. Each team will have a 90 seconds to hit as many 3’s as possible.
    2. If there is a tie in the 3-point shootout, a 4-point shootout will decide the winner: Both teams shoot the same amount of the 3’s? No problem, let’s see if they can shoot the same amount of four pointers. The only difference is both teams will choose three players to go to each of the three 4-point spots on each side of the floor, and the other four players for each team will be rebounders. Each team will have 90 seconds to hit as many four-pointers as possible.
    3. If there is another tie, then there will be a 5-point shootout or a “Golden Goal” period, where the first to make it wins the game: In the event that there are two ties and we go into triple OT territory, there will be some options: Either the teams have a five-point shootout or play a “Golden Goal” period, first to make the shot wins. A coin toss will decide who gets the first shot, but after that, it’s do or die for both teams.

You may be wondering why there are different formats for each overtime period, and the answer is simple. Do you remember the 2002-03 all star game that went into double OT? Yeh, probably not, because like most other fans, you turned it off after the first OT period. Let’s be honest, nobody wants overtime in an all star game. It gets repetitive and boring. It’s different from a regular season game, or a playoff game, because the stakes are different. Let’s shake it up!

All of these rule changes are gimmicky, for sure, but what alternatives do we have? The reason that these same guys get voted as all stars in the first place is that they’re extraordinary players. When you create entire teams of extraordinary players, it can be hard for them to distinguish themselves and their skill sets from each other, especially when the rules under which they play are the same as when they play in any other game during the season. If we truly wish to change the nature of the all star game. We must change the structure of the game.

Two of the most compelling components of basketball have always been long-range shooting and sophisticated, spectacular dunks. My proposal to Make the All-Star Game Great Again, MASGGA, addresses those two needs, and would bring more spontaneity, excitement, and unpredictability to the game. Overhauling the current system will change the way in which we vote for all stars, and will ultimately change the way in which the games are remembered. We usually use All-Star appearances as part of the formula for assessing a players overall career, and that can be fair or unfair, depending on the player, but ultimately it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. If this is the case, and these games don’t contribute in larger part to a player’s legacy, then why does it matter?

The answer, unfortunately, is that it’s never really mattered, to be honest. It’s all a hoax, an attempt to gain more publicity and fans for the NBA, and the game of basketball. It isn’t evil; it’s just that there are generally two different perspectives. You have the hardcore hoop junkies who have come to respect an all-star appearance as a badge of honor, while simultaneously knowing the actual all-star game doesn’t actually mean anything. Then you have the non-NBA and casual-NBA fans, who just want to see entertainment from highly skilled, professional athletes. My proposal would create an ASG structure that would elevate the legacy and purpose of the event, adding to the entertainment quality and intensity of All-Star Weekend.

The All-star system needs a major overhaul, and while it may seem that my proposal is making the voting guidelines too strict, and is making the game itself a joke, what other options are left? And which of those have the same goals as this proposal? The current voting system is a joke; the game itself is too focused on the legacy aspect. It’s time we re-engineered the system for an NBA All Star game that is a more fun and consumable product for fans at every level.

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

New Year, New Moves

01/04/18

Dearest Spectators,

We made it! It’s finally a new year. It’s a new us, and hopefully we can put as much of 2017 to bed as we can. It was a long and difficult year for many of us–worse, still, it was likely only the first of several years to be marked by social strife, but as dark as some things were, we were often reminded that there are many good souls out there fighting, and we cannot let them labor in vain; America is only at/near the apex of greatness when it functions in ways that are good for all Americans, no asterisk.

But I don’t mean or intend to dwell negatively on 2017, particularly while we’re all trying to get 2018 started off on the good foot–I only mean to point out that we all had a rougher than normal year, yet we still managed to do some important things and make some pretty serious moves. Despite the often surreal and very dangerous socio-political climate, we’ve had to press on; we’ve had to fight (or learn to fight), and we’ve had to do our best to get informed; and, at times, we’ve needed good distractions from all that is serious and threatening. As a growing media collective, we have stepped forward to help provide serious, useful information amid the storm of “fake news” that edged in and has settled over American culture like an unexpected cold front. It is important to nurture effective and interesting voices that are rooted in compassion, reason, and fact, and we are happy and energized by the thought of becoming a widely-read and considered a trustworthy source for smart reporting, critique, and opinion.

In this endeavor, despite some of the year’s frustration, 2017 was a big year for us at The Informed Spectator–in many ways, it was essentially Year Zero. There were a few pieces at the end of 2016, but the concept and progression of TIS largely took place last year. We started 2017 saying we hoped to write at least one piece per month. So Jay and I set ourselves to the tasks of being more detail-oriented, more focused on consistent, high-quality content production, and in doing so, we successfully created nearly forty well-written (and generally semi-lengthy) pieces of writing.

We wrote about the the 2016 World Series, reviewed the NBA mid-season, covered the NCAA championship, and the NBA playoffs; we gave arguments and accolades for the NBA season, covered the NBA draft and Summer League basketball, and wrote some miscellaneous pieces (like our writer’s report from the Coca-Cola 600). We’ve covered trades, wrote obliquely about the 2017 World Series, and we rolled out a weekly/bi-monthly basketball column (Open Floor with J. Patrick), and we have plans to roll out another this month (Hart in the Paint). This year we intend to expand our staff and expand our coverage of topics.

In addition to writing, last year, we got around to creating two podcasts (the Most Valuable Podcast and The Dish) along with a podcast network that will expand in the near-future. What’s more? We have done all of this while working out a structure that can easily expand into a larger, well-formed media organization as people begin to work with us in different, professional capacities–something we are not only interested in accomplishing, we already have some plans to get started. We successfully purchased a domain for our brand, and this year will see us expand our site in a more professional fashion.

The efforts we have put in so far have been fun and personally beneficial, and we’re amped to keep working on this project. We are not setting down any specific resolution for this year except our promise that we will be even better as we grow. It is our distinct honor to be at the head of what we call “The Informed Movement” and we hope it’s clear how hard we’re working to make things easier, more understandable, and more interesting.

Sincerest thanks for making us better. We hope you stick with us through 2018–we’re heading to the top, and we can’t do it without you.

Cheers to a new year and a new you!

Harold Hart
Editor-at-large

Open Floor #06

A Glimpse Into the Future & Uncomfortable Returns

By J. Patrick

12/22/2017

“Open Floor” is a week-to-week column that examines the events from the past week in the NBA world, and other things loosely related to it. Sometimes we may examine games, plays, players, injuries, contracts, fights, social media, whatever. It’s an open-ended column, so, as Kevin Garnett would say, “anything is possibllllllllleee!”

Is KAT v. Embiid the Next Great Battle of the Bigs?

matchup-sixers-pics-embiid-towns

Centers are a dying breed–slowly becoming extinct in today’s NBA.

That statement has a shred of truth to it, but it doesn’t quite capture the full scope of the current crop of centers. So far as I can tell, the statement is missing one key word: traditional. The traditional center is a dying breed.

Traditional centers are becoming extinct. This isn’t to say that guys like Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan are becoming less effective. It’s that centers who can protect the rim, play decent perimeter defense, and shoot from three point range are becoming more prominent, and this plays tricks on the minds of scouts and fans. Through a kind of negation, power star centers, like those I just mentioned, while not less effective, are being increasingly seen as having a more limited upside. And that is why this past week’s battle between two of the games best young bigs, Karl Anthony-Towns and Joel Embiid, was so important. It marked the beginning  (hopefully) of a new rivalry, between two of the league’s best young players; but more importantly, these two players are also the league’s best, young centers.

Why is it more important that the rivalry be between bigs? For the simple reason that the best rivalries of all time have been between big men. Yes, one could argue that Magic v. Bird was the best rivalry in NBA history, but I would argue that that particular rivalry was really just the tip of the larger rivalry that was Lakers v. Celtics. Further, I’d also argue that because Magic and Bird did not play the same position, they didn’t spend a lot of time going one-on-one, and as such it doesn’t quite fit the criteria to actually a rivalry. The corollary to this line of thinking is that, over the course of time, the Magic v. Bird story has grown into the kind of epic rivalry legend that we want out of our competitions and competitors when looking back into the history and lore of the league.

The great center debate stems from the old Bill Russell v. Wilt Chamberlain debate. I would never even dream of comparing that rivalry to the current subjects that prompt the discussion because I’m not a crazy person. But let me point out that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that this could become one of the best rivalries, in the most millennial sense, of the NBA’s new era–wherein bigs are asked to play more like guards, and asked to do more than they’ve ever been asked to do. That’s why both Towns and Embiid are perfect to carry on this legacy: both can do things that most other centers cannot, and both are transcendent talents for the new generation of professional ballers. Towns and Embiid are now leading the way to reshape the image of the modern NBA center.

The most recent extensions of the great center debate were probably the last that involved traditional centers. Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum were at the center of the debate between the 2008 and 2012 seasons. Although the argument ended up getting cut extremely short because of injuries to Bynum, this was one of the funnest battles in the league, during that time period. Both played important roles as well: Howard was the dynamo, the one who utterly dominated his opponents in flashy, eye catching ways, while Bynum was seen as the hard-working, blue-collar guy who just got it done and knew how to win.

Which roles do Embiid and Towns play in this newest edition of the debate? Embiid seems like the gritty, win at all costs type, while Towns seems like the I’m-salivating-from-the-amount-of-talent type, but that’s also (interestingly) been contradicted by the way they carry themselves off the court. Outside the lines, Embiid is the one stirring the pot, while Towns is the one moving in silence. (Although, that wasn’t quite the case, recently, when we saw KAT’s response to Embiid’s post after the 76er’s beat the T-Wolves this past week.)

Social media battles aside, Tuesday’s matchup between Embiid’s Sixers and Towns’ T-Wolves was an incredible game, and possibly, it offered an insight into the future’s best NBA rivalry, for years to come. Both centers seemed to switch roles for the night, as Embiid dominated on the offensive end, scoring 28 points and dishing out 8 assists, while Towns seemed to make his mark on the defensive end, registering 16 rebounds while swatting away three shots and stealing the ball 4 more times. Both played well enough to keep their teams in the game until the very end, where the game went into overtime, and the 76’ers finally broke through to prevail. It was an amazing game for true hoops fans, as we saw two teams bear the ripening fruits of their consistent losing.

The one key ingredient that both teams have been missing since both players entered the league is winning. This is the first time in a long time, for both teams, that winning seems somewhat sustainable. If we, as the viewing public (and those vested in these young guns as well), are lucky enough, we’ll get to see many more battles, like the one we saw Tuesday, between these two young titans of the game. And maybe, just maybe, if we’re just fortunate enough, we’ll see them on the biggest stage possible. It’s all any basketball fan could hope for–to witness legend and lore in the making, and to know, in the moment, that it will become legendary.

That’s why we need “The Process” and KAT to take center-stage and be the next wave of the NBA’s historically great bigs.

PG-13 & Melo Run Into Exes The Same Week

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It almost seems like something you’d see on reality television.

Two stars forced their way out of a relationship they weren’t truly happy in, even though it’s arguable that they, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, were perhaps the root of their issue(s). But faults aside, both are now in a new relationship with a different team, and the results haven’t been any better. In fact, their ex-teams seem to be doing okay, if not better, without them. It’s a harsh breakup to work through, and it’s possible that despite more attention and focus, their new relationships still aren’t really the best situation for them.

This past week the Thunder played both the Pacers and the Knicks, on the road. Both players had to be in the same room with their former teammates and fans, and both had to man up and try and act like they were much happier in their new situation. While the backstory for both players’ exit from their former team is essentially the same, the return and the reaction from the fans were almost completely opposite. The results of the games also turned out differently in Indiana than when they played in the Big Apple.

On Wednesday the 15th, Paul George and the Thunder went up against the Pacers. The funny thing about this game was that it wasn’t solely a return game for PG-13–it was also a revenge game for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis (who were part of the trade with Indy that sent Paul George to OkC) in their new home. Surprisingly enough, the Pacers’ record up to December 15th last year was 13-14. This year, the Pacers were 16-11 entering their matchup against the Thunder. Victor Oladipo, who played at the University of Indiana, has already stepped up to become the team’s star player, and he has also ingratiated himself (although it wasn’t that hard, due to his former status as a Hoosier) to the Indy fan base. Domantas Sabonis has also become a vastly improved player this season, being allowed to work on the low blocks and work out of pick and rolls instead of hopelessly waiting on the wing for a pass from Westbrook.

Despite both players playing far above expectations and their team being in much better shape and position than expected, the whole state of Indiana, I’m sure, still has a bitter taste from George’s departure. I’m sure they still feel like they were left out to dry. Let’s not forget that just three or four months ago this Pacers team was expected to win less than 40 games; they were lottery bound. Not enough time has passed to allow the resentment, frustration, and embarrassment to subside.

Paul George was the man in Indiana. If I had to guess, the short list of most famous people in the state would be: Larry Bird, Andrew Luck, and Paul George. PG-13 was drafted by Larry Bird when Bird was still the GM of the team–he was Larry’s guy. The Pacers fanbase got to witness his ascension to stardom, firsthand. They were there for him a couple years ago when he suffered through a horrendous broken leg at team USA practice. He was  part of those super gritty Pacers teams that challenged LeBron’s Heat in the Eastern Conference playoffs four and five years ago. And all of this made his departure this summer (on the back of public reassurances of his devotion to the team) that much more humiliating. He’ll probably receive hate tweets and boos (esp. in and around Farmhouse Arena) even five or six years from now. His return was meager, at best. PG-13 put up 12 points, five rebounds, and two rebounds across 33 minutes of play. At least the Thunder got the win. That would have only added insult.

It’s strange to me that, in his return to Indiana, Paul George was booed every time he touched the ball, entered the game, and exited the game. I say that because George’s time as a Pacer was far more productive than Melo’s time with the Knicks. Yet it was Melo who received a video tribute as he was introduced to applause and cheering from the New York fans.

A couple quick stats from Melo’s time in New York:

  • He played in 412 total games across six seasons;
  • The Knicks posted a 221-283 record with him;
  • He played with 84 teammates and 5 head coaches;
  • He took the Knicks to the second round once–never past it.

So, tell me again what he’s done to deserve the love and adoration that George did not receive from Pacers fans? My only guess is that a major market like New York has seen and experienced greatness, and because it’s seen its fair share of stars, perhaps it’s just easier to let go of the past and look forward to building something great and new. It’s immediately unclear, aside from the fans falling in love with personalities over their home team(s)–and we’re all perhaps a little guilty of that from time to time. Nevertheless, the tired OkC Thunder couldn’t find a way to win against the Knicks on the second night of a double header, following a triple-overtime game against Philly the night before. In fact, that previous night, all five of the Thunder’s starting five played over 40 minutes, with Westbrook and Adams leading the way with 52 and 51 minutes, respectively, in their 3OT win over the 76’ers.  

Either way, I’m sure it was an awkward week for the Thunder. Sort of like when you realize the person you’re dating has a lot of baggage when you go out in public and randomly run into one of their exes (or if this happens to one of the homies) while the whole squad’s cold chilling. 

Open Floor #05

Rookie Leaderboard & Jah Is Free At Last

By J. Patrick

12/10/2017

“Open Floor” is a week-to-week column that examines the events from the past week in the NBA world, and other things loosely related to it. Sometimes we may examine games, plays, players, injuries, contracts, fights, social media, whatever. It’s an open-ended column, so, as Kevin Garnett would say, “anything is possibllllllllleee!”

Checking in on the Rooks, and the Race for ROY

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My oh my, what a difference a year makes. At this time last year, we were all bitter that Ben Simmons, last year’s number one overall pick, had been lost for the year before he ever stepped on the court. We were upset because we knew that Brandon Ingram, the number two overall pick, would take a while to develop, and that his rookie season wouldn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Those of us who even knew who he was, knew that the number three overall pick, Dragan Bender, would take even longer to develop.

The two best rookies from last years class ended up being an unheralded 2nd round pick (though to be fair, my colleague, Austin, thought before the season even started that he’d be a good NBA player), and a draft-and-stashed Croatian from 2014. Needless to say, last years rookie class was highly disappointing. While they still have potential, as all young players do, they never even came close to this one. Ben Simmons would’ve been a boost to the 2016 class if he had played last year.

To give some context of how bad last years class was, let’s compare last years Rookie of the Year award winner–Milwaukee PG Malcolm Brogdon–to the 9th or 10th best rookie this year: Sacramento Guard De’Aaron Fox.

Malcolm Brogdon only averaged 10.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, and 4.2 apg across 26.4 minutes per game. By comparison, De’Aaron Fox, whose had a very quiet rookie season so far, has averaged 10.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, and 4.1 apg, across 26.2 minutes per game this year. De’Aaron Fox is currently ranked 9th amongst rookies for scoring, tied 3rd in assists, and 15th in rebounding.

If Brogdon (last season’s RoY) were part of this class, he would be the afterthought of the afterthought.

And this isn’t meant to take anything away from what Brogdon did last season because a 2nd round pick having the impact he had on the Bucks last year was truly special; it’s only to say that if it happened this year, it wouldn’t mean hardly anything. The top eight or nine guys from this year would’ve won the ROY award last year in a landslide. So which rookies are balling out of control this year? Let’s take a look.

Honorable Mentions:

Lonzo Ball: Zo has the worst shooting percentage, at 31.9%, out the top 40 rookies of this class. Despite that, he is averaging 8.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 7.1 apg, 1.2 spg, and 1.0 bpg. Still a pretty impressive statline despite the inefficiency.  

Lauri Markkanen: Probably the 2nd most surprising rookie out of the bunch (Mike James of the Suns may be the most surprising), Markkanen has shown he has the grit and wits to play in the league. He’s currently 5th amongst all rookies in scoring, averaging 14.3 ppg, 2nd in rpg averaging 7.9, and 4th in FT% at 82.5%. There’s a case to be made that he’s in the top 5, but I’d have to say that playing on the 3-20 Bulls, the worst team in the league, eliminates you from that conversation.

John Collins: Collins is basically in the same boat as Markkanen, playing for the Hawks, the 2nd worst team in the league. Despite that, Collins is an electric player around the rim, and has the tenacity of a bulldog. If he develops properly, he could be a top 5 player from this class. He’s currently ranked 7th in scoring at 11.5 ppg, 1st in FG% at 59.2%, 8th in FT% at 76.8%, 3rd in RPG at 7.1, and 5th in BPG at .87. If you look at his PER 36 numbers, you’ll see that the only thing holding Collins back is minutes. He only gets 23 minutes per game. If he got 28-30 minutes per game like some his counterparts, he’d be a lock for the top five in his class.

5. Kyle Kuzma (“The Kooz”)

Kuzma has been a revelation in Lakerland. If it wasn’t for Kuzma’s stellar play so far this season, Lonzo Ball would surely be taking more heat than he already is for his sub par shooting. Kuzma has a great stroke from deep, and has a knack for attacking the basket with gusto, but what really makes him special is the intangible qualities he possesses.

Often, you’ll see Kuzma making timely cuts to the basket, or choosing his drives to the basket very carefully. He has an uncanny ability to finish with either hand and twist his body around the basket in order to convert shots at the rim. He takes roughly 65% of his field goal attempts from within two feet of the basket. Within 3 feet of the basket he converts his shot attempts at a 61.7% rate. Kuzma averages 16.2 ppg while shooting 49.0% from the field across 30.2 minutes per game. He never seems to force anything, and always takes whatever is given to him on the offensive end. He’s one of those guys that steadily scores throughout a game, never exploding with 10-12 point outbursts, but rarely ever going cold either. As his game grows, it wouldn’t be out be out of the question for him to become a 20+ points per night scorer, and his shooting percentages should only go up as he gains more skill.

One of his best traits though, is his confidence. It’s easy to lose your confidence or your edge as a rookie, especially when you realize that your guarding the likes of LBJ, KD, or Anthony Davis on any given night, but Kuzma isn’t phased by this at all. The best players in the world believe in themselves above all else, and Kuzma is definitely in that category. He believes in himself, and we here, at TIS, believe in Kuzma as well.

4. Dennis Smith Jr. (Barely)

I’ll go ahead and say this now: the only reason I gave the 4th spot to Dennis Smith Jr. over Kuzma, the reigning western conference rookie of the month for November, is because he’s started every game he’s played in this year. Starting a game doesn’t necessarily mean your a better player, but it does mean that more is asked of you, more is expected of you, and your generally facing tougher competition than the person who plays against back ups.

DSJ has started all 24 games he’s played in for the Mavs this year, and along the way has put averages of 14.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, and 4.0 apg across 28.1 minutes per game this season. Smith isn’t the most efficient player in the league, only shooting at 39.5% from the field, but he looks damn good doing it. The only thing holding him back from being more efficient or putting higher assist numbers is a lack of talent around him. Outside of Harrison Barnes, who isn’t the best sharpshooter in the league, and Wesley Matthews, who is the only player on the team that shoots over 40% and also attempts more than two 3 pointers per game.

We all know about the hops that he possesses, but in general, he’s great at finishing around the rim. His mid range numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re not great either. Once he starts hitting mid range shots at a higher rate, and can hit spot up 3’s, he’ll be an unstoppable scorer. Until then, he needs to develop his pick and roll skills and learn to facilitate the offense. As raw as he is, he should finish this season as one of the top rookies.

3. Jayson Tatum

There’s an argument to made that Tatum is the best rookie from this class. It doesn’t have to do with his basic stat lines of 14.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, and 1.3 apg. The reason he could be the best rookie in the class is because of his efficiency. He shoots 51.0% from the field, 51.9% from 3 point range, and 83.8% from the charity stripe. As we’ve noted on our NBA specific pod, The Dish, Tatum could become the first rookie ever to join the 50/40/90 club if he can get his free throw percentage up.

On top of the efficiency, he can get his shot off from just about any spot on the floor, in just about any way he wants to. Of course, it does help that he plays for the Celtics, who employ a multifaceted offense that utilizes all kinds of skill sets. That’s is why I would argue that Tatum isn’t the best player in this class. At this point, Tatum is only the fourth or fifth best player on this team, so he has the luxury of deferring, or the luxury of having other threats on the court that most other rookies don’t have. The best example is the one above: Dennis Smith Jr.

Still, Tatum has been one of the most impressive rookies thus far.

2. Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell is something else. I can’t quite place my finger on what it is, but there’s something about this guy that is both mesmerizing at times and tantalizing. Mitchell has insane athleticism and length that allows him to make thunderous dunks and, at times, look like a spider on the court (almost like KD, “the Durantula,” looked at times as a young player). Then there are times when it’s obvious he isn’t the go to scorer on every possession, and he can get caught sleeping on defense.

Despite his shortcomings, Mitchell has exceeded all expectations for him coming into the season. That’s impressive when you consider that he was projected to be one of the best players in this class if all worked out well for him. He can score in a multitude of ways, averaging 17.3 ppg from the field. He shoots 37.4% from deep, which isn’t bad for a rookie, although he is better with the ball in his hands. This is evidenced by the fact that only 20.6% of his shots inside the 3 point line come off of assists. What makes him a menace in the paint, outside of his length and athleticism, is his ability to work out of the pick and roll. He attempts roughly 45% of his shots inside the arc out of the pick and roll. It helps to have Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors setting those screens, but still these numbers far exceed what was expected of Mitchell coming out of the draft. He also flashes the ability to be a primary and secondary ball handler at times to, posting 3.2 apg, and assisting on 19.2% of his touches.

Just as it was coming out of college, the sky’s the limit for Donovan Mitchell. He has all of the rough tools to be a superstar in this league, but is still a little rough around the edges. When he has the ball in his hands, he’s locked in and nearly unstoppable. However, when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, or he’s playing off ball defense, he get’s caught not paying attention, and can be beaten for easy buckets. Worst Case scenario: he stays just the way he is, and is a great 2nd option for a winning team, and one of the leagues better on ball defenders. Best case scenario: he becomes a better version of Gordon Hayward and makes Utah’s offense lethal, and becomes a dominant ball stopper on defense.

1. Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons is without a shadow of a doubt, the best rookie in this year’s class. Yes, it may not be fair to label him a rookie since he was drafted last year, but if he can’t labeled a rookie this year, then he never will be. What he’s done this year is incredible. Better yet, what he’s doing this year is otherworldly, unprecedented, and historical.

This season he’s averaging 17.6 ppg (1st among all rookies), 9.3 rpg (1st among all rookies), 7.6 apg (1st among all rookies), 2.7 spg (1st among all rookies), and has the most double-doubles (14) among all rookies. For good measure, it should be mentioned that he has the most triple-doubles among all rookies as well, with three. Here’s another mind blowing stat for you: Simmons three triple-doubles is tied with MJ, David Robinson, Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson, and Lamar Odom for 2nd most by a rookie all time, and only trails Jason Kidd (4), and Alvin Adams (5), all time, and we’re only 24 games into the season. That record is Simmons for the taking.

I’m not sure if the fact that he’s taken eight 3’s on the year, and hasn’t made any of them, makes what he’s doing that much more impressive, or if it’s concerning. Either way, Simmons has been the best rookie out of this entire class, and it’s not even close. Simmons is on his way to possibly being the best play in the league in the next few years.

The 2nd and 3rd Picks of the 2015 Draft Join Forces

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I’m not sure how they did it, but the Nets now have a stable of nice young players. Through taking on salary dumps from other teams, the Nets were able to get the scraps left over from other rebuilding teams, or teams with too much talent at other positions. Last year the Nets acquired Caris LeVert as a part of the deal that sent Thad Young to the Pacers. This summer they took on Allen Crabbe, who the team attempted to sign two summers ago. In the most recent draft, the team selected Jarrett Allen, the 19 year old center out of Texas, with its first actual draft pick in the last three years (it still wasn’t their own pick. It was Boston’s first round pick, which was swapped for their own first rounder as part of the KG/Paul Pierce trade).

The best, and smartest moves that the Nets have made so far is getting D’angelo Russell from the Lakers, and Jahlil Okafor from the 76ers. Both of them were pretty much exiled and ousted by their former teams for other players (Lonzo Ball and Joel Embiid) who the respective organizations thought were the better long term options. While they may be correct (or not, we don’t know yet), it’s safe to say that both were scrap prospects, meaning that they seemed inferior to others, hence why they were being replaced, and weren’t all that valuable in the trade market. That’s the brilliance of these moves. Yes, the Nets could’ve ended up with Kyle Kuzma, who the Lakers took with the 27th overall pick that they acquired from Brooklyn, but we all know that the lower the pick, the less of a guarantee you’re getting.

The Okafor trade turned out even better, in my opinion. They traded Trevor Booker for Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and a 2nd round pick in this years draft. For what it’s worth, Booker is a good player, and his being traded should illuminate that, but he is far from a long term piece of any rebuilding franchise. Instead, the Nets get Okafor, the 3rd overall pick of 2015, the 8th overall pick from the 2014 draft in Stauskas, and a 2nd round pick in this years draft. While Stauskas has also largely been a bust so far in his career, he has shown flashes that made him a top ten pick 3 years ago. He’s played better when he gets a higher volume of minutes.

Sean Marks, the Nets GM since 2016, has done a phenomenal job taking a chicken shit of a situation and turning it into a chicken salad type situation. At least for the next two seasons, this team will have two top three draft picks from the 2015 draft class. Both have a ton of potential, and could create an incredibly dynamic offensive tandem. Don’t forget that Jah averaged 17.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, and 1.2 bpg across 30.2 minutes per game as a rookie. The emergence of Joel Embiid last year severely reduced the impact that Okafor had on the team. He went from 49 starts his rookie year (he only played 53 total games due to injury) to 33 starts last year (and he only got those starts late in the season because Embiid tore his meniscus and was out for the remainder of the season). Given the opportunity to start and eat up big minutes, look for Embiid to bounce back to at least his rookie form. He’s also lost some weight, looks more sculpted, and looks lighter on his feet, so he could make an even bigger impact moving forward.

Then there’s Russell. We all know the backstory for Russell and his infamous snapchatting fiasco in La-La-Land. His fresh start in Brooklyn has already proved to do wonders for him. He’s in the best shape of career, and averaging career highs across the board in almost every statistical category. While he’ll be out for an undisclosed amount of time following arthroscopic knee surgery, he’ll still offer the Nets a bonafide guard moving forward.

The kicker in all this is that Russell is only 21, and Okafor is only 22. Both have a lot of basketball left to play, and a lot left to prove too. Brooklyn is now a fun team to watch, as they actually have decent prospects moving forward. It wouldn’t be out of the question for the Nets to be “The Process 2.0,” next season when they actually get their own draft picks back. Fun times are ahead in Brooklyn.

Open Floor #04

The Best Player-to-Broadcaster Transitions, and Why Stats For Screens Should Be Kept

By J. Patrick

12/01/2017

“Open Floor” is a week-to-week column that examines the events from the past week in the NBA world, and other things loosely related to it. Sometimes we may examine games, plays, players, injuries, contracts, fights, social media, whatever. It’s an open-ended column, so, as Kevin Garnett would say, “anything is possibllllllllleee!”

My Top Five Players-to-Broadcasters in Basketball

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One of the most entertaining parts of sport spectatorship is listening to the voices that call the game. Some of them nearly immortalize sports with their linguistic abilities. A lot of the legends in the booth, like Marv Albert, Kevin Harlan, and Brent Musburger (called NBA games in the 70’s and 80’s), are usually play-by-play guys. Usually it’s the voice; sometimes it’s a certain catch phrase, or perhaps colorful language, that is used to describe plays on the court. My favorite commentators, though, are the color commentators, and, usually they usually turn out to be former players.

A color commentator’s job is to “fill in the blanks” between the play-by-play calls. When they’re good, they really help an audience make sense of what’s happening on the court. And because former players are able to understand and articulate what is going on on the court or in the players minds, they’re perfect for the job.

There are some recognizable names and voices that call games on ESPN and TNT: Reggie Miller and Chris Weber are the first two that come to mind. Then there are players turned coaches, or even just coaches, like Doug Collins and Jeff Van Gundy.

It’s unfortunate, but some of the best players turned broadcasters are on local stations, and can only be viewed by local, regional, or league pass viewing audiences. So, without further ado, here’s my top-5 list–from good to great–of former players who moved from taking the lane to take the booth (and to whom you should really listen if you ever have the chance).

Honorable Mentions:

Chris Webber (TNT), Reggie Miller (TNT), Dell Curry (Hornets), Kevin McHale (TNT),

5. Clyde Drexler (via the Houston Rockets)

There’s just something about the way Clyde calls Rockets games. His commentating skills are very similar to his style of play back in his day. He talks very smoothly, and with a very even demeanor, but has just enough enthusiasm to get you all jazzed up for the game at hand. He’ll make some incredibly beautiful plays (or calls), but is never too flashy or eye catching. He never gets too hyped for a bad call, but also never falls asleep behind the mic.

He’s very consistent with his calls. He never has truly great ones, but he also never has any really bad ones. It’s really the tone; it feels friendly. There’s just a really calming effect to his commentating that’s really hard to replicate. No catch phrases, no accent, no frills–Clyde Drexler is all business, and that’s what makes him a great broadcaster.

4. Dominique Wilkins (via the Atlanta Hawks)

‘Nique was an incredibly dynamic and explosive player, so it would stand to reason that his broadcasting would be the same, right? But, surprisingly, that energy doesn’t translate that same way in the booth. This isn’t to say Wilkins is boring, because he’s not. It’s probably pretty difficult to go from literally dunking on the best in the league for 16 years to linguistically dunking on commentators, audience members, and modern basketball with the same intensity. It’s probably a good thing that The Human Highlight Film, as he was dubbed in his playing days, isn’t the Human Highlight Broadcaster Film, otherwise he might distract from the Hawks’ on-court play–though, that may not be the best thing for the Hawks, given the current state of the franchise.

Regardless, Wilkins has a very even-keeled approach to broadcasting. He does a really good job of calling out match ups and potential things for either team to exploit from their opponent. He’s sort of comparable to Tony Romo, who now comments on NFL games. He isn’t quite the breath of fresh air for NBA casts as Tony is for the NFL (the NBA has done a better job of recruiting former players to broadcasts games), but in the groove, he’s just as good.

3. Mark Jackson (via ESPN/ABC/Golden State)

Unlike Clyde and ‘Nique, Mark Jackson has a pretty distinctive voice, and an even more distinctive catch phrase. His iconic shoutout, “Mama, there goes that man!,” is timeless. It’s so brilliantly simple and powerful that it could and should stand the test of time. It feels almost mystic when it’s employed, simply due to the nature and context in which it’s used. Nobody gets a, “Mama, there goes that man!” when they get crossed over or when they make a free throw. This phrase is usually deployed when a player dunks on another player’s head, or if a player makes an ice cold, clutch shot, or if a player’s makes an incredible block or steal on a high profile opponent. This is what your typical, “Mama, there goes that man!” play would look like.

What’s better? That’s not even the only catch phrase in his arsenal. Jackson is also notorious for saying, “Hand down, man down!,” when a player shoots and hits a 3 pointer. It looks like this. Yo, Mark Jackson is so nice he pulled a double whammy in this clip and used both, “hand down, man down,” and, “mama, there goes that man.” When someone has two signature catch phrases and can use them both in the same segment, that person is a legend.

2. Tommy Heinsohn (via the Boston Celtics)

Almost all of the players from those old 50’s and 60’s Celtics teams had opportunities as broadcasters. Bob Cousy was somewhat of a disaster behind the mic because of his thick French accent. Bill Russell was very well spoken, but his stoic demeanor wasn’t meant to be captivating for the watching and listening audiences at home. Tommy Heinsohn, in contrast to both of these greats, is the perfect storm of commentating abilities.

First, he does a good job of giving the viewer insight into the players’ minds, which is always a huge plus. Second, he spent time as a coach after his playing career as well, so he constantly talks about the time management aspect and possible play designs that the Celtics may run. Probably his best quality, though, is his Boston accent. Hondo, by contrast, sounds like a mob boss sitting in a warmly-lit Italian restaurant somewhere, talking about whacking someone.

The only criticism I might offer is that he’s insanely biased towards the Celtics in his broadcasts. You can’t really hold it against him, though, as most local broadcasters are homers–it may even be in the contract(s). I would note, however, that it also makes him seem more human, with imperfections and biases, which most announcers try and avoid. He’s also notorious for saying extremely strange and humorous things, like this, where it is unclear whether he’s talking about Aaron Baynes penis size, or just his physical stature. When you begin a statement with, “I took a look at so-and-so in the shower,” there’s a good chance the next couple lines following that are going to be about someone’s manhood. This isn’t to say “dick talk” is to be rewarded, but it’s the sort of grab-bag that comes with people who grew up in much looser and, in many cases, more oppressive times. Heinsohn is just easing into rambly commentator waters, where much farther out you can find Bill Walton, probably talking about mermaids and somehow also Woodstock.

Either way, if you get the chance to listen to a Boston Celtics local broadcast, you should do it. You’ll hear a Boston legend representing his city in the most accurate way possible.

1. The Best in the Business: Walt Frazier

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Walt Frazier is by far and away the best broadcaster in the game. This is a definitive fact. Walt “Clyde” Frazier the broadcaster is a lot like Walt “Clyde” Frazier the baller: stylish, unique, quirky, captivating, consistent, and sharp. Not only is he really good at pointing out the nuances of a play or a move that may or may not be working for a player, he’s also consistently making sense of the bigger picture coming together within a game. His use of basic terms and explanations makes the game understandable for even the most casual fan. He also has a really good gauge of the mood of the game on any given night.

The best trait Frazier has in his tool bag is his use of assonance. It’s a completely unique thing that he, and he alone, does. Some basic examples would look like this: “There’s Frank wheelin’ and dealin’ along the baseline!,” or “Porzingis is showing is hustling and bustling on the defensive end on that play.” By this point in his broadcasting, I expect him to do it, but I’m still caught off guard every single time. It’s so unexpected, and so unique to him that it occupies its own space in the broadcasting realm. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a nerd. Either way, Walt Frazier is an absolute treasure in the booth. Let’s do a top 5 favorite list of Walt Frazier’s use of assonance.

  1. Rising and Surprising
  • This is used when describing a player that is dunking. Usually the player is     getting some nice elevation, hence the “rising” aspect of it. Normally the dunk is a thunderous one, which brings in the surprising element of it.
  1. Banking and Thanking
  • This is one of the newer phrases in his repertoire. This is employed when a player banks in a shot, usually not on purpose. The player is thankful that the shot banked in.  
  1. Posting and Toasting
  • I love this one, if not only because I appreciate good post play. A player posts up an opponent, and burns them with a nice move.
  1. Styling and Profiling
  • This one’s a little more tricky. First you have the “styling” part, which means a player, usually handling the ball, is doing some really flashy stuff, like continuous dribbles between the legs, crossovers, hesitations, etc. As far as the profiling aspect, this refers to what the ball handler is doing to the opponent. Basically your sizing up your opponent and trying to figure out if they measure up to you or not.
  1. Hocus Pocus
  • I first heard this back in 2012 when Frazier was calling an Orlando Summer League game. I had recorded the game the previous night and was watching it the next morning while I drank my coffee (some really nerdy basketball shit, I know). I nearly spit my coffee out when he said, “and there he goes with a little hocus pocus in the lane to finish at the rim.” That’s when I knew Walt Frazier was the best commentator I’d ever heard. Hocus Pocus refers to a player’s ability to create something out of nothing, exactly like a magician. Usually a player that navigates through traffic to finish impossible layups (think of someone like Kyrie) merits a “hocus pocus.”

Screen Stats should be Categorized and Recorded

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Source: Uproxx

Since I’m a bigger guy, and always have been, when growing up and going through the basketball ranks, I played center. Being a big, there are a few imperative skills that you must learn, no matter the level that you play at. Those skills are boxing out, help defense without fouling, and setting screens.

Setting screens is one of the building blocks of running an effective and efficient offense. Sure, you can have dribble penetration or iso plays drawn up, but the best teams usually always find ways to utilize screens in creative ways. However, just merely setting a screen isn’t always enough (unless you’re playing a pick up game, then a run of the mill pick and roll/pop normally works best because there isn’t a lot of chemistry and prior experience with the rest of your team. Ball handlers and shooters love a good pick and roll guy in a pickup game). Sometimes, a screen is equivalent to an assist; sometimes, the threat of the roll guy in a P&R pulls other defenders away from shooters; sometimes, a double screen or an off ball screen can free up cutters and passing lanes.

Screens are such a vital piece of the game of basketball. In an era where it seems like everything is seen through the scope of advanced metrics stats, why isn’t there advanced stats for setting screens? [To be fair, there are a couple basic screen stats out there. On the NBA’s website they keep track of “Players Hustle” which keeps track of a variety of things, one being screen assists.]

Screen assists are essentially screens that directly led to a basket from the ball handler. The top five Screen assisters in the league this year are: 1. Tie between Andre Drummond and Marcin Gortat, 2. Rudy Gobert, 3. Tie between Alex Len and Nikola Vucevic. There’s another pretty cool article from a couple years ago that breaks down shooting percentages from different areas of the floor that result from pick and rolls. These aren’t enough, though. There are plenty of ways to use screen stats to judge how effective a player is, and how to approach certain players or teams.

Believe it or not, screen stats would probably be of more use when trying to figure out how to defend players. For example, if you had stats that would show Lamarcus Aldridge’s favorite and most efficient shooting spots working out of pick and pops, you could more effectively disrupt the play before it begins, making it harder for him to get to his spots, or stop the ball from getting to him period. The quickest way to knock a team out of rhythm is to get them into areas they don’t feel comfortable in, and to force them to improvise on some of their set plays. Wouldn’t you like to look at an aesthetically pleasing chart or table that shows you where, how, when, and what type of screen is being deployed? There are stats that show you how well ball handlers shoot off of pick and roll plays, but that doesn’t change how you actually approach the pick and roll.

If you knew that 40% of Derozan’s shots came from the top of the key, coming off a screen from the right, then you could effectively game plan for that if you knew who usually sets those types of screens, and where exactly the screen is set. By knowing where the screen is set, you could pin the center down, not allow him to get to his spot to set the screen, or make him go away from the spot, and once that starts to happen the on ball defender could adjust accordingly, or get the help they need.

The only issue with game planning against specific players and the way they use screens is that there is an endless amount of options when employing a pick and roll. Just because a player usually sets a solid screen and then rolls to the basket doesn’t mean that they may occasionally choose to pop or fade after setting the screen. The ball handler has a plethora of options as well. A lot of players are starting to use slip screens, which is where the screen setter sets up to screen a defender and right before the ball handler runs his defender into the screener, the screener slips between his defender and the on ball defender to either roll hard to the basket or to pop out for an open jumper. These are particularly effective, due to the subtly that they provide. Also, if they’re done properly, there’s a good chance the two defenders will screen each other off. Usually the better shooter the big is, the more likely they are to slip out of a screen instead of actually setting one.

So, should we keep track of players setting slip screens? Should we record the frequency with which a player uses them, how often they shoot out of them, how often they roll off of them, or how often the ball handler shoots or passes out of them? Should we record the distance from the basket that a team initiates a P&R? Should we record the direction, speed, and efficiency created from a screen? Should we record the quality, quantity, and effectiveness of an individual player’s ability to screen? What about off ball activity occurring while P&R’s are being carried out?

As prominent and important to the game as screens are, it’s almost mind boggling that there hasn’t been more of an attempt to measure and evaluate them. Doing this would also draw more attention and praise to players whose effectiveness is tied to their ability to set screens and work out of them. Maybe someone like Zaza Pachulia would be viewed in a more positive light (but probably not). If I had it my way, there would be an entire system and metric category for assessing screens and how they’re used. With the growing number and types of metrics and analytics being developed, don’t be surprised if creative screen stats are developed in the near future.

Open Floor #03

The Elephant in the Room

By J. Patrick | 11/04/17

Territorial Picks

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There used to be this thing in the NBA, from 1950-1966, called “territorial draft picks.” Essentially, a team would forfeit its first-round pick in the draft, and instead, they would draft a player who played college or high school ball within a 50 mile radius of the franchise.

Why the f*ck would the NBA do something like this, you ask? Basically, it was a means to garner support for the league, which was still in its infancy at the time. The whole idea was that a team could garner local fan interest if they drafted guys who played nearby and already had the support of the community.

Some of the territorial picks were amazing, and some of them, I’m sure, severely f*cked over some franchises. Look at the MLB farm system or where there are developmental/minor league NBA franchises–for sometimes financial, cultural, and geographic reasons, some places tend to produce better players and fans than do others.

Coincidentally, some of the all time greats were territorial picks: Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Tommy “Hondo” Heinsohn, Jerry Lucas, Dave Debusschere, Gail Goodrich, and Paul Arizin.

It got me thinking: What if we still had that rule/allowance today? What would some of the teams look like?

Ben Simmons might play for New Orleans (he played college ball at LSU); Steph might actually be playing for the Hornets; Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Jrue Holiday, and Jaylen brown might play for either the Clippers or Lakers (they played at U of Cal and UCLA); D’angelo Russell might play for the Cavs (played at Ohio State); Myles Turner might play for Houston (played at U of Texas).

And these are only a few guys that could be/have been repositioned. Hell, the whole league would look different if this were the case. Think about what your squad would look like if teams could still do this.

The Backbone of a Potential Rivalry

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The only thing that makes basketball–any sport, really–better is a bit of rivalry. We, here at The Informed Spectator, love basketball, and we love a good rivalry. And we’re happy to follow the rivalries around the league–real or only wishful thinking.

The only thing D’Angelo Russell (former PG for the L.A. Lakers) and Lonzo Ball (the current PG for the Lakers) have in common is the position that they play, and the position in which they were both drafted (2nd overall). Everything else about these guys is completely different. Russell is a score-first, bucket getting guard, while Lonzo is a pass-first, do-it-all type guard. They even play on opposite sides of the country, now.

It is odd to think that, just one year ago, D’Angelo Russell was supposed to be the point guard of the future for the “Lakeshow.” Now, things are completely different. After that whole recording-Nick Young-in-the-locker-room ordeal, Russell was ostracized among his Lakers cohort, and he had/kept few friends in the organization. His up and down play, and up and down health, didn’t help his case either. So when Lonzo Ball started to solidify his position as a top prospect in this past year’s draft (2017), conspiracies that new Lakers GM Magic Johnson wanted to “move on” from the problematic Russell began to surface.

The whole thing felt strange, but also sorta right: Russell fell victim to a strange conundrum that hasn’t plagued anyone else in the entire NBA (and would likely never plague anyone that didn’t dress out in purple and gold).

The issue for Russell coming into the league was that he showed enough zeal in his passing ability that wishful thinking that he might mimic Magic to a certain extent was there, but he was also too much of a pure scorer NOT to bear Kobe comparisons. Regardless of likeness, he was the supposed torch-bearer after Kobe, if only by virtue of the timing of his coming into the league during Kobe’s exit from it. In other words, he was expected to be like Magic, Kobe, or some combination of the two. To that point: I don’t think we’ll ever see someone live up to that hype, or draw those same parallels to arguably the two best Lakers of all time.

Lonzo, on the other hand, had a completely different entrance into the league. His smooth, seamless team style of play at UCLA was so unique that it was hard to draw solid comparisons to him. Sure, there were the Magic comps that we all knew didn’t really fit. But there were also Jason Kidd comps, which again, didn’t necessarily feel like the best fit (Jason Kidd was an athletic freak and a defensive stopper, Lonzo isn’t those things).

Regardless of comparison for or expectation of Lonzo, the steadying factors that have either intensified or diminished the burden placed on him to be the next great Lakers guard are two-fold:

  1. Lavar Ball. His father is essentially like Roger Goodell in that he is the face of the machine known as Lonzo Ball, and his sole purpose is to make money for his son–and to take the heat off of him, to help him perform at his highest levels.

  2. A full on rebuild. Russell didn’t have that luxury when he joined forces with Kobe and the Lakers. We all know that, regardless of age or ability, any Kobe led team isn’t trying to tank or “develop talent.” Those are foreign phrases to a man, who over the course of his entire career (when playing 50+ games (this is to take out the years he was injured)), only missed the playoffs twice. Could you imagine the pressure placed on a guy like Russell, who was not only expected to supplant Kobe, but also play alongside him for a season? I don’t think Kobe “Brett Favre’d” him (as Favre did to Aaron Rodgers during his rookie year), but I still don’t see that as an easy thing for a 19 year old to accomplish.

    Lonzo has none of these expectations placed on him. In addition to that, Magic Johnson seems to be understanding and content with the fact that Lonzo may have an up and down rookie season. He understands that Lonzo may take two or three seasons to fully establish himself and find out where he stands in the NBA landscape. He is also playing with a bunch of guys his own age, so they are all expected to take their lumps together, and to progress as a group.

With all of this in place, and all of the history and awkwardness in place, tonight’s game between the Lakers and Nets in Staples Center should be great. The atmosphere should be electric. The air should be heavy, and nerves should be running high.

As cool as Lonzo likes to appear at times, this is really his first statement game of the year. Coming off a night (11/02) where he scored zero points, he needs to bounce back in a major way, and with D’Angelo Russell likely gunning for him, he’ll need to be aggressive early, and he’ll have to keep attacking Russell all night. He’ll need to run off screens harder than ever, and he’ll need to push himself as hard as he can, because I know D-Lo has this game circled on his calendar.

If there is one intangible trait similar to Kobe that Russell has, it’s the ice in his veins, and the mentality that he must destroy any and every opponent in sight. He knows he has to go into Staples Center and show the Lakers crowd exactly what it was that they gave up. He wants to make them miserable. He wants Magic Johnson, Lonzo, and Lavar Ball to have to answer questions about how great he was, and he couldn’t be guarded tonight.

Russell knows this is a statement game, and he knows what’s on the line. Several questions come to mind–be on the lookout for answers:

  1. Does Lonzo view this as a rivalry? And if he does, can he handle the pressure?

  2. If Russell comes out guns ablazing, can Lonzo fight through the adversity?

  3. Will Russell be too amped up for this game? What will that look like?

  4. What will be said if D-Lo can’t show out? Or worse–somehow gets punked on court?

A lot of questions pervade this evening in anticipation of tonight’s matchup, but the biggest one is really as simple as which guard will come out as the top dog?