Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Inevitable Outcome

Here we are. I didn't write much this season. It all seemed so inevitable at the start of the season that we would end up with a Warriors Cavaliers final and sure enough it came to fruition. Was the season boring? Certainly if knowing the end of a story ahead of time bothers you. Some shows or stories surprise you and that's great and other stories are just great stories told well regardless of whether they are predictable. Which kind of story was this season? There were about 25 minutes this season in which a third straight finals between Golden State and Cleveland was in question. And then Zaza Pachulia's big foot and questionable tactics put any chance of a team stopping the Warriors in the rear view mirror. Was it a dirty play by Zaza? Definitely. Does that make him a dirty player? Not necessarily. I don't think he had any intention of hurting Kawhi but the move he made to slide under him on that jump shot was totally excessive. Was this payback for years of Bruce Bowen's questionable defense?
If there was any doubt how good a player Kawhi is then those doubts were clearly put to rest. The Spurs were probably not going to win that series anyway, but they went into that series with a plan and they executed that plan and when Kawhi went down for good their entire team was deflated and exposed for their lack of talent. I love Jonathon Simmons but when he's your best player you're in a lot of trouble. When David Lee getting hurt matters you've got a major talent deficit. For the future of the Spurs I am hoping that Aldridge was nursing some sort of injury because not only did he look old and slow but his mid-range jump shot, once one of the most effective shots in the game, never felt like it was going to go in the basket.
I happen to love basketball so I still enjoyed the season, but it is not a good thing when you cannot picture a scenario that doesn't end in a repeat finals. Yes, the Warriors are great and greatness should be celebrated but it kind of sucks that a team can have the greatest regular season in history and then add the second best player in the game to their roster. Not only did this stack the deck for Golden State but it eliminated the team that was their greatest rival to make the finals from contention. Teams not named Cleveland and Golden State need to start thinking long term. I know things can change fast in sports due to injury and salary caps but the Warriors have a bunch more prime basketball years in them.
This brings me to my prediction. I will be very surprised if Golden State doesn't win in five games or so. I don't really see anything but Mike Brown coming between them and the championship but really this team doesn't need that much coaching at this point. I wouldn't be totally shocked if Cleveland pulled off an upset though. They do have Lebron James who is still clearly the best player in the world. Kyrie looks like he is potentially poised to make the leap and Kevin Love is finally looking like the Kevin Love of Minnesota that Cleveland thought they were getting. But unless those two play out of their minds and all the various role players step up and play well (Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson etc...) Golden State is just overwhelmingly talented. Cleveland had to get a bit lucky last year in order to win and even so it was so close a series. And then you throw Kevin Durant in the mix and it just seems preordained. Let's hope for an upset and settle for a competitive series but I'm afraid this series may be neither.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

First thoughts on the NBA in 2017


     I haven’t written a thing so far this NBA season.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I wrote most of an extensive pre-season preview but I didn’t post it right away.   When Trump won the election writing about basketball and digging into the day by day of the NBA season seemed even stupider and more absurd then usual.  The shock of Trump’s election win made it very hard to be overly concerned with the minutia of a season which feels like it is inexorably marching towards the 3rd meeting of The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals.  Following the daily absurdity of Trump’s win and his ludicrous cabinet picks and his moronic tweets consumed most of my limited online time.  Given the state of the world, basketball, and sports in general, seem even smaller and more limited in scope then usual.  At this point though, as Trump actually becomes president, I’ve finally decided that escaping into the comforting confines of a world in which Derek Rose being MIA for an evening, or George Karl’s cranky old white man rants about former players (and even more strangely current players who never played for him) constitutes controversy might actually be cathartic. 

     This NBA season has flown by very quickly thus far.  We are already approaching the halfway point and the all-star game.  The all-star game itself holds little to no interest for me but it’s vaguely interesting to think about who is deserving of being named to the team.  At this point I figured I would babble a bit about the state of the season thus far: who has over and under achieved both as individuals and on the team level. 

     I’ve noticed that as I’m going through the games at the end of the night (I’m usually working when the games are live) I gravitate towards watching certain players and certain teams.  Because I love the sport of basketball I generally gravitate quickly towards Spurs games.  Kawhi Leonard is probably my favorite player in the league.  There’s no bullshit to him.  He plays hard and smart and he’s always improving and he doesn’t talk a lot of shit and over-celebrate.  He’s become a great shooter and his handle is constantly getting better.  I love how he went from a defense only player to a good stand still shooter and then gradually honed his one on one skills.  Nothing he does is spectacular.  He’s not a great leaper, which we often confusingly equate directly with athleticism, but his hands and wingspan are incredible.  It drives me crazy when stars are mediocre to poor defensively.  It’s such an integral part of the game and so often we just laud and praise the dudes that are great on the offensive end and completely dismiss the importance of what players do on the defensive end.  A great deal of that probably arises because much of offense is quantifiable while defense is not.  The Spurs as a group play some of the purest basketball in the league.  They move the ball.  Tony Parker has lost a great deal to age but he’s still able to get in the lane and much of their offense depends on him doing so and kicking the ball and they quickly swing it until they have an open shot.  They’re almost at the bottom of the league in 3 attempts but they’re right at the top in 3-point percentage made.  I love that Popovich is not afraid to buck trends.  Just because Golden State wins going small does not mean that every team must follow suit.  The best chance against the Warriors is to pound them inside.  Playing their game isn’t going to work.   They’re just better at it.  In any case, The Spurs are my favorite team because they play my favorite brand of basketball and they have my favorite player and my favorite coach.  I thought perhaps they would take a step back this year but they are clearly in the same league as Golden State and Cleveland.  Having said that, their talent is a bit lacking and I feel like they’re maxed out in the way they play during the regular season so when the playoffs come they don’t have another gear to go to.  They already play as hard as they can play which makes them great for the regular season but not as great in the post season.  Also, and this will come up with some of my other positive picks, there are not as many good teams as there were last season.  The top of the league is a little lonelier and the mediocre middle is a little bigger so thus, the numbers of the pretty good teams (see San Antonio and Houston and Toronto) are going to be slightly inflated.

     I hate to say this (for a number of reasons) but the team I’m gravitating towards in the league pass viewing after the Spurs is the Boston Celtics.  I’m from NYC so it doesn’t feel right saying this.  Mostly I’ll start the Celtics games in the 4th quarter to watch Isiah Thomas do his thing.  It bothers me that he barely plays defense but it’s just so incredible what he is able to do at his height (5’9”? It’s always hard to know for sure the height of NBA players as the official numbers are rarely accurate.  Having said that Thomas looks like a little kid out there on the court).  It’s hard to understand how he gets his shot off so easily.  Right now Thomas going off is one of the most incredible spectacles I’ve ever seen on a basketball court.  In addition, he’s doing it in crunch time when it really matters.  How can a guy that tiny be leading the league in 4th quarter points?  It’s just fun to watch and he seems like a good person to boot.  The Celtics are well coached and they need to be as beyond Thomas there’s not really any one capable of consistently creating their own shot. 

     There were definitely teams I was initially excited to watch and for now that ardor has waned.  I really thought Minnesota would be better under Thibadeaux.  For first halves they’ve been great but they consistently stink in the 2nd half of games.  One can’t lose sight of the fact that this team is very dependent on 21 year olds and it’s probably going to be a few more years until they’re any good.  Their defense is terrible and somewhere Sam Mitchell is screaming I told you it wasn’t just me at the top of his lungs.  As long as Minnesota stays relaxed and thinks long term and doesn’t make panic moves they’re going to be an excellent team soon.  Their talent is just too overwhelming.  But I worry that Thibadeaux is not a patient man and tends to get overly frustrated and whiny on the sidelines.  This is an interesting experiment because a GM would normally be capable of telling the coach to think long term but since there is a trend of coach GMs I can see it being too tempting for the coach to get frustrated and start making poor moves which sacrifice the future for immediate short term gains.  It should be interesting to see what unfolds in Minnesota (and in Detroit where the situation is similar minus the overwhelming talent).

     I was curious about the Knicks but it quickly became apparent that the only interesting thing about them would be the various stupid controversies surrounding Melo and Phil Jackson and Derrick Rose.  Noah is very close to washed up but in an entirely uninteresting way.  He still has moments of being competent.  It’s just tough being reliant on a player that is astoundingly unable to score and is no longer a dominant defensive force.  In today’s NBA if you’re bad on offense you’d better be great on defense.  In fact, it’s really not good enough to be a great defensive player.  A big man like that who is unable to shoot had better be able to slash and score on the pick and roll.  Noah’s passing is good but not so helpful when his man can leave him entirely open even when he has the ball at the elbow and be unconcerned that he will score.  Once again the Knicks are a complete mess.  I suppose the only real interesting thing is how long Phil Jackson stays involved with this leaking ship.

     The Rockets have been an interesting story and I’ll tend to flip on their games.  In the past I’ve found Harden difficult to watch but making him the point guard and surrounding him with shooters was a brilliant move.  There are actually possessions in which Harden will throw a quick pass and thus there are less possessions that involve him pounding the rock for 20 seconds and then parading to the foul line.  Part of that is D'Antoni empowering Harden to run the offense as the point guard and part of that is simply no longer having Howard clog the lane demanding post up opportunities.  I always felt that OKC missed an incredible opportunity not only in trading away Harden but also by not making Westbrook the off guard and starting Harden at the point.  He was an excellent passer when he would come off the bench for OKC and run the show for brief periods of time.  It doesn’t seem like it now because each player dominates the ball but I really think that had they developed Harden and Westbrook properly OKC could have had one of the greatest backcourt tandems in the history of the NBA.  I won’t harp on it anymore but that team blew a chance to win multiple championships.  As a basketball fan it makes me feel sad for the missed opportunity but for the people of Seattle it makes me feel happy.  In any case, the Rockets have been fun to watch and I’m happy for D’Antoni just because I’m sometimes nostalgic for those Phoenix teams.  The Rockets have played well but their numbers are a little inflated because they’re a good team in a league that is full of mediocre teams.  On any given night they’re extremely dangerous but they just don’t have enough talent to beat the Warriors 4 out of 7.

    I’ve started to watch Philadelphia games not because they are very good but because Embiid is fascinating.  He’s gigantic and he moves so well and has so many potential skills.  He already has an incredible affect on the game and yet he has no idea what he’s doing out there.  His talent and enthusiasm are so overwhelming that they can overcome his extremely limited knowledge of what he should be doing on either end of the court.  He’s definitely got superstar potential, which I suppose was the whole point of the process.  If only all of Daryl Morey’s picks had been as courageous the Sixers could now have a really interesting team.  Taking Okafor over Porzingis was unforgiveable.  Also, Noel was perhaps a more understandably bad pick but imagine if they had taken a chance on Giannis or even just hit a single by picking McCollum or Schroeder or even Steven Adams.  The problem Philly ran into was not the concept of the process but the execution.  You can’t just take a bunch of dudes that all play the same position.  You’ve got to think about the team to some extent.  Not simply as far as winning games but also to generate future assets.  You can’t even really trade Okafor or Noel at this point because they barely play.  Especially in Okafor’s case he just doesn’t make sense on a team with Embiid and with every game he loses value across the league.  It’s ok to have young players and lose games but they need to be in an environment in which they can develop and get better else there’s no point.  Much of that environment involves putting players on the court with other players that complement them in some way and allow them to improve.  In any case, though the Sixers are still a disgusting mess, they play hard and Embiid’s talent is so undeniably overwhelming that they’re now worth watching (although I skip any moment of their games in which Embiid is on the bench).

     Lastly, for now, I’m drawn in league pass towards the Bucks because the tandem of Giannis and Jabari Parker is looking like the basis for a team that could at some point challenge the Cavaliers for Eastern supremacy.  There’s not much I need to say here about the Greek freak.  If you can’t recognize how astoundingly talented he is then you’d better get your eyes checked.  On a nightly basis he does things that just don’t seem possible.  It’s Parker that I find so sneakily intriguing.  He’s much better and bigger and quicker then I thought he would be and his talents complement Giannis extremely well.  He’s still incredibly inconsistent but he seems to be rapidly improving.  If Middleton is able to come back from Injury and get back to what he was before being injured the Bucks will have 3 players that are not only extremely talented but whose skill sets compliment each other perfectly.  That’s really the underrated part of team building.  It’s not that hard to get 3 good players to build your team around but it’s hard to get them to all have talents that don’t get in each other’s way.  The Bucks are missing the shooting and the defense of Middleton but when they get that back they are going to be very dangerous.  Their biggest mistake though was signing Greg Monroe to a big contract.  He’s too conventional of a big man and he doesn’t protect the rim or play much defense at all and he’s not a good enough shooter to spread the floor.   His post game, which presumably is his best skill, is not quite good enough to warrant slowing down the game for.  Imagine if they had saved that cap space or signed another long athletic player that fits into the concept of being able to switch at will on defense without exposing weakness.  The only positive here is that Monroe’s contract will be up in a couple years as the Bucks are getting good and hopefully they’ll use that space to lock up their own players and make good future free agent signings.  If the Bucks make the right moves over the next few years and continue to develop the players they already have they might soon be championship contenders…

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Olympics

     You know you have got a serious problem when you find yourself glued to France vs. Australia in the opening game of the Olympics.  Either I was desperate to procrastinate or I am obsessed with basketball.  I’ll stop and watch a street ball game in order to see who can play and who can’t.  France was embarrassing.  I have rarely seen such poor defense.  Australia back cut them to death.  The French players showed all their limitations.  Parker played very well in the first half but looked tired and slow in the second half and didn’t play very much.  He is hitting that wall that presents itself to players as they age.  In very small spurts he will show flashes of the dominant player he used to be but he can’t sustain it over the entirety of a game.  He has always been dependent on his quickness and the relentless pressure he was able to put on a defense.  He’s lost a step and unfortunately, though his shot has improved over the years, he is not a good enough shooter to make up for his decrease in foot speed.  
     Batum is a nice player but Charlotte will soon be regretting the massive deal they signed with him.  He’s naturally passive which is fine for your fifth best player on the court but given his natural abilities he should be a much better.  He has all the tools.  He’s got length and he can shoot and pass and put the ball on the floor.  Mentally I just don’t believe in him.  His natural state is to stand around and spot up and he seems almost reluctant to impose his will on a possession.  That’s fine when you’re making role player money but not when you’re getting paid like a star.  
     Diaw did what he does.  I love him.  He seems to live life the right way (Were I a professional basketball player I too would keep an espresso machine in my locker).  As a basketball player though perhaps at this stage of his career a diet might make sense.  Would I bother though if I could live his life the way he seems to be able to get away living it?  Probably not.  
     Nando De Colo showed why he was never able to stick in the NBA.  He’s a nice player who can’t do anything really well.  The backup point guard Huertel seemed similar.  He was solid with the ball (he had the classic couple fancy dribble moves bringing the ball up court that look good but don’t really get a dude anywhere they couldn’t get otherwise) and could shoot pretty well but both players are the prototypical European basketball player.  Neither is strong enough or athletic enough for the NBA and neither has a skill quite good enough to over that lack of athleticism and more then anything they don’t play tough defense.  Comparing them to Dellavedova is interesting because they’ve got to look at Delly and wonder why he was playing basketball on a championship team in the NBA and they’re not (that’s actually not a bad question).  The difference is that though Dellavedova is pretty much a spaz, he plays hard and gets shit done out on the court.  He’s aggressive and rarely passive and he gets under people’s skin and though everything he does looks terrible he is surprisingly good at getting to his spots.  De Colo and Huertel are those guys on the court that everyone is impressed by because they can dribble fancy and have a nice looking shot but they’ll consistently get manhandled and neither will understand why they’re waiting for next.

     Bogut looked great but some of that was because France was mysteriously letting anyone on Australia back cut for a dunk or layup anytime they wanted.  Patty Mills was aggressive and played well.  He’s a great backup in the NBA.  He’s a classic shooting guard in a point guard’s body, which works great off the bench when your 2nd unit needs some scoring.  Actually he’s a little undersized even for a point guard.  If he was a better passer and was more aggressive at getting to the rack he might be able to earn a bigger role on San Antonio but I think that at this point he is what he is.  Put him out there and have him be aggressive and put up shots in volume and if it’s working you ride him a bit more and if it’s not you take him out.  Baines played well.  He did what he does which, much like Dellavedova, is to be aggressive and play a bit ugly but be effective.  Beyond that all the role players on Australia looked good because of France’s lack of defensive desire.  France will probably still advance because they’re much better then China or Venezuela but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if they crapped the bed and got eliminated before the knock out round…

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Basketball end of times...

     Everybody loves drama.  We are all drawn to the doomsday scenario.  Every summer blockbuster movie needs to up the stakes until the destruction of the world is not only constantly threatened but often partially initiated.  The Durant signing seems to have fed into the tragic horror of most sports fans.  Let’s skip the season!  The system is broken and we need a hard cap and we need to eliminate max salaries!  How can the league survive with just a few super teams!  What’s the point of watching basketball or even bothering to play out the season!  Now there absolutely will have to be a lockout!  I probably should have written all those statements in capitals as well as with exclamation points.
     It would probably be wise for everyone to wake up today, the day after 4th of July, and take some long, slow, deep breaths and chill the fuck out.  I’ll admit that my initial reaction bordered a bit on sadness.  Golden State will be a lot of fun next year but I had kind of enjoyed briefly wondering who might win the NBA championship next year.  Strangely, if I were a betting man, I would have put my money on Oklahoma City.  I thought they were the best team in the playoffs.  Their regular season wasn’t great but I thought Steven Adams made a huge leap and the whole team found an identity and there was really no excuse for losing 3 in a row to what appeared to be an inferior Golden State team.  Two historic level collapses, first by the Thunder and then by Golden State themselves had to occur in order to get where we are today on July 5th.  Had The Thunder closed out their series against Golden State, had Klay Thompson not had one of the greatest shooting nights in NBA history in game 6, the Thunder would have made it to the NBA finals and would probably have been favorites to win.  Had they won last year would Durant be on The Warriors today?  Similarly, had Draymond not lost his mind and punched LeBron in the nuts and had Curry not forgotten that it’s possible to drive past Kevin Love the Warriors would probably not have lost to the Cavs in one of the historically shocking finals collapses ever and Durant would probably not have considered joining the reining 2 time NBA champs.  The unprecedented rise in cap money also had to happen just as one of the very best players in the game became a free agent in a year when the other free agents were frankly not top echelon players.  I’m trying to make the point here that a lot of variables had to unfold in very specific ways for Durant to end up on Golden State. 
     I’m going to try and avoid doing too much arm chair psychology concerning Durant’s state of mind, but I think clearly, had he really enjoyed playing with Russell Westbrook, he would not have left Oklahoma City.  I’m not saying they do not like each other and all that kind of stuff.  I’m simply saying that if he wanted his career to stay linked with Westbrook why would he leave.  OKC would probably have had just as good odds of winning it all next year as Golden State had he stayed.  On some level, style of basketball must have meant something to Durant.  It doesn’t hurt that Durant leaving both makes Golden State better but also greatly diminishes their biggest rival (I just don’t think they fear San Antonio the same way they did OKC).  Having said all that perhaps Durant simply didn’t like the schools in his school district or he just wanted to be on the west coast.  There are a million factors going into where each one of us considers living.

     For me what is so fascinating is how insane it is that Cleveland won the NBA championship.  LeBron seemed to will the Cavs to the finish line.  I did not think it was possible for any team in the NBA to beat Golden State three times in a row.  Yes, Draymond had to get suspended and Bogut hurt and Iguodala hurt (and possibly Curry was hurt as well) but still, I didn’t see the Cavs shutting down Golden State’s offense.  LeBron proved he is far and away the best player on the planet in just about every facet of the game (except shooting.  He better get a shooting coach before his body deteriorates if he wants his career to last beyond the point at which he is the most physically dominant basketball player in the world).  If Lebron weren’t so good Durant would probably still be on OKC, or maybe not.  The important thing to remember here is these are very young men playing a game and we should all relax a bit.  It seems like Golden State is going to win it all next year but then again it seemed that way last year as well.  You never know.  Sports are unpredictable and life can still be entertaining even if the existence of the world isn’t at stake. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Durant...

    I’ve found myself getting caught up in the Durant nonsense and checking constantly to see what choice he’s made.  Is he going to pick a new team?  Is he going back to the Thunder?  For how many years?  This is completely absurd.  I was having a conversation with a friend of mine today about Derrick Rose and I was saying that I really like him as a player and he seems like a good guy and then I remembered he’s facing gang rape charges. 

     I make a concerted effort not to make any judgments about something in the news until there are actual facts out there to be read and digested.  Virtually nothing has been leaked about the Derek Rose case so far.  It’s purely a TMZ type thing and reputable news outlets have released very little information.  Thus, I feel it’s stupid for me to make any kind of assessment of what I think may or may not have happened.  Why should I take any side when I don’t have any actual facts about the case and I don’t know any of the involved parties?  I try to keep an open mind until there is more information out there.  Recently, Michael Gira of the Swans was accused by Larkin Grimm of rape.  There was an instant uproar and all across the Internet and people took sides.  Most of what I read in that case involved believing the accuser.  When these things become news we know very little initially and it seems like in that case a rape most likely did not occur.  But it’s important to remember that I don’t know either the accused or the accuser and I am not a policeman and I cannot possibly have all the relevant facts in the case and thus I truly cannot even fathom what actually happened between these two (to me) strangers.  There are plenty of other examples where things go the opposite way, where the consensus does not believe the woman who is rightfully making an accusation (see Cosby, Bill).  
     Coming back to Rose this means, that for me, I can’t possibly know what to think about what happened with a woman he knew in a hotel room and what was consensual and what was not.  I choose to keep an open mind and I’m rooting for the guy from a basketball standpoint but I’m prepared that at any point I could find that I was rooting for a bad person.  I work in a bar in NYC and I can truly say that you can never know another person completely.  You might think someone is totally cool and then you discover they’ve been stealing or you might think someone sucks and then you find out there a kind intelligent human being.  People are a constant surprise.  
     So back to Durant, he’ll sign with a team any moment now and it really won’t affect my life anymore right now then it will in a few days when there is more information out there about what he was thinking and why.  The real rush is artificially created by news outlets which all want to have the hottest and fastest take on everything.  They want you to get caught up and to make judgments and predictions before anyone else does.  Everyone wants to be the first to break a news story but this really makes no sense to me.  I’ll patiently read someone who has some interesting and well thought out things to say about facts he or she has taken the time to gather thank you… Oh and by the way let's remember that we're all anticipating the decision of a very young man who is determining where he is going to spend the next years (year?) with his family.  It ain't life or death and it's his right to live and work anywhere he wants.