Sunday, May 6, 2018

We've all been deluding ourselves

We're at the point in the season when we realize that Golden State is simply head and shoulders above everyone else.  It's clearly going to be Rockets vs. Warriors and I just don't see Houston having a shot.  They're a nice, effective team that does their best to game the system as much as they can but let's be honest, a steady diet of James Harden one on one plays is not gonna scare Golden State.  The Warriors will switch the heart out of Houston and Dramon will snuff out Capella's rolling to the basket much like he is doing to Anthony Davis.  I deeply wish someone would beat the pants off these two teams but I'll have to settle for the half measure of Golden State taking it to the Rockets.  On a personal level, both teams are full of dudes that drive me up a wall.  Harden and Chris Paul's entire careers are dedicated to gaming the system to bait the refs into calling as many fouls on their behalf as possible.  Everyone on Golden State freaks out over every call.  But at least Golden State plays an interesting brand of ball.  Watching Harden dribble for 10 seconds between his legs at the 3 point line before making a move is quickly sapping all my love for the game of basketball. 
     Over in the east, let's face it, unless Brad Stevens is the greatest basketball genius of all time (not entirely impossible) Lebron's gonna will the Cavs to the finals where they will be overwhelmed by the talent of the Warriors.  I hope it doesn't turn out this way, but it's pretty much exactly what I would have told you before the season began.  What was the point?  All the little stories were fun and exciting while they lasted...

Monday, November 6, 2017

what if...

I haven’t had much time to write anything much this season. Most of my time’s been taken up with work and school and music and planning for the future. I wanted to take a second for a quick 'what if' though. Today’s 'what if' involves the process going on down there in Philadelphia. They’ve finally got a team that’s interesting to watch but what if they’d done things just a tiny bit differently. What if they had drafted Porzingis instead of Okafor and Tatum instead of Fultz. The Okafor draft pick never made sense. In a world in which you thought Embiid could some day be healthy there would never be a place on the floor for Okafor. Even in a world in which Embiid never played basketball again I’m not sure there’d be a place for Okafor. He’d just not good enough at a skill that is no longer a high priority in the NBA to justify being anything but a good backup position. Can you even imagine a future frontcourt of Embiid and Porzingis? What a perfect combination. Then you have Simmons running the point. Fultz is still young and may very well figure some stuff out in the not too distant future but Tatum looks like a star already. Fultz and Simmons are never going to be a great fit together. The length and skill level of a starting four of Simmons, Embiid, Porzingis, and Tatum is just amazing to think about on both the offensive and defensive ends. It’s never worth dwelling on this kind of thing too long but I just wanted to take a moment out of the day to imagine how close we could have been to the future best challenge to Golden State for best team in the league.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Thank God for the NBA off-season

     Thank God for the NBA off-season.  Thus far it’s been far more entertaining then the 2016/17 “season of the inevitable Warriors victory.”  At least for a brief time we can ponder the uncertainties of roster moves and promising rookies.  What will the pairings of Paul George with Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul with James Harden look like on the court?  What kind of teams will coalesce around them?  Can Minnesota take the leap with the addition of Jimmy Butler?  How will the Spurs still manage to pull off another 60 win season?  Will the Greek freak make the leap to MVP caliber player?  What is going on with the Clippers?  Will the Western conference dominate the East forever?  Why does the East keep trading their good players for nothing to Western conference teams?  There’s so much hype for this rookie class.  Will any of these guys possibly be as good as they’re supposed to be?  Can the Sixers stay healthy and actually win some NBA games? 

     For a brief few months there is hope once again blossoming all over the league.  Sadly, by a couple months into the next season, outcomes will become predictable, and we will have to look forward to more trades and another crazy offseason.  Without a major injury the Golden State Warriors will easily win the championship again.  Does this matter?  In many ways the league is falling prey to the media fostered angle that championships are everything.  Being good is seen by most NBA writers as a waste of time if there is not a clear path to becoming great.  Is this the proper way to approach team building?  Isn’t there value in putting an entertaining product out on the court?  Let’s take a quick look at the interesting scenario’s unfolding this offseason while we ponder those questions…

     The Clippers: What exactly is going on with this team?  For a moment after Chris Paul forced his way to Houston it seemed like this team might rebuild.  Instead they doubled down.  At first I thought this was a bad move.  Blake Griffin can still be a great player but he seems permanently bitten by the injury bug.  Some of these injuries are of the fluke variety and it is possible that he might stay healthy enough to make the contract he signed worth it.  I wouldn’t bet on that.  I have to say though that I actually like the team they’ve constructed.  Is it possible that Doc is no longer pulling all the strings?  It doesn’t seem like it.  Patrick Beverley is actually a very good NBA player and I’m fascinated to see what Teodosic can be and Gallinari is really good when healthy.  There’s that caveat again though.  If this team is healthy I actually would not be surprised if they are just as good as they were with Chris Paul.  But that’s a very strong “if”.  Griffin might not even start playing until December.  It was definitely time for this team to break things up a bit but I’d still be curious to know the story behind why Paul forced his way out.  Did he not get along with Doc?  Was it Deandre?  Paul definitely seems like the kind of guy that has a shelf life for how long his teammates can deal with him.  He’s constantly freaking out and controls every aspect of a game.  That’s both a great trait and a terrible one.  He’s clearly a great point guard but he has a tendency to pound the ball to death.  At the end of games he sees himself as the architect of everything his teams do and for such a clutch player at the most inopportune times in pressure situations he has consistently melted down in inexplicable ways.  That leads me to the next fascinating scenario I’m excited to see play out…
     The Houston Rockets: Can Chris Paul and James Harden coexist?  They’re both such great players that to some extent the Rockets will be great.  But I’ve got to say I’m not as optimistic about this pairing as some.  I’m not sure how long it will take but eventually these two will drive each other nuts.  Harden’s defense still sucks and it will drive Chris Paul out of his mind at some point.  One of these two is going to have to make a great sacrifice on the offensive end and play off the ball.  Paul will not enjoy standing on the perimeter while Harden does his dance.  Fortunately both players are so good on offense that this experiment can only fail so badly (unless of course they kill each other).  The most fascinating part of this pairing is that it would never have come to pass without the help of Greg Popovich.  Chris Paul does not fit into what the Rockets have been all about over the last few years.  His best attribute is his mid-range game, a shot the Rockets would simply not take in the past.  Popovich exposed this strategy in this year’s playoffs.  The Spurs played virtually no defense between the 3-point line and the paint.  They dared the Rockets to take any other shot on the court.  The Rockets simply could not adjust.  D’Antoni has never been one for adjustments.  His philosophy has always been if we do what we do then the other team will not be able to handle it.  But on the Phoenix teams of D’Antoni’s past plenty of two pointers were taken.  Nash was an unbelievably high percentage shooter and these mid-range shots made sense.  The lane isn’t always open and why not take advantage of the space your own offense has created.  Open shots are always a good idea especially for historically great shooters.  Clearly Morey and D’Antoni looked in the mirror and realized that this 3 pointers and layups only philosophy is untenable in the extreme.  The Rockets will be fascinating but I’m not sure how much better they will be then last year.  Beverley was a perfect complement to Harden.  Paul is clearly an upgrade but how much of one I’m not entirely sure yet.  Rumor says that the Rockets are looking to add Carmelo Anthony to their team.  I don’t understand this rumor at all.  Didn’t Anthony get D’Antoni fired from the Knicks?  Why would he (or D’Antoni for that matter) want to be reunited?  I also don’t see how this happens without the Rockets trading Ryan Anderson.  Hilariously even the Knicks just realized that absorbing that contract would be ludicrously stupid.  The Knicks!  Who else is more gullible then the Knicks?  If Morey can pull off the trading of Anderson then he’s definitely a genius.  Which brings us conveniently to…

     The Knicks: At this point the Knicks might easily be the sorriest franchise in the league.  I cannot believe the tweet Phil Jackson sent of him lounging around at his cabin.  Is he basically admitting that he fleeced Dolan for his money?  It definitely felt like he signed an extension and then said to himself, “what the hell can I possibly do to get fired from this job.”  I was going to keep this list to the teams I’m actually interested in seeing next season but the Knicks are such a shit show that they may actually be fascinating now (at least until actual games occur).  I cannot believe they signed Tim Hardaway Junior to such a massive contract.  Who exactly were they competing against for his services at this price?  Reportedly Atlanta was going to offer him about 20 million less then he got.  It’s hilarious that Steve Mills has not made himself available to the press since this signing.  This is what happens when you have no GM.  Apparently David Griffin withdrew from consideration for the job because he didn’t feel like he’d be able to make his own decisions and use his own personnel to do so.  The Knicks will really be set for the next bunch of years with Hardaway’s terrible contract and Noah’s horrible contract.  What a joke of a franchise.  More then any other team in the league there’s little to nothing to hope for in the foreseeable future other then the sad machinations of the James Dolan coterie.  The only thing that gives Knicks fan’s any strain of hope are things like this:
I don’t have the time to actually watch this stuff but I didn’t notice this dude’s take:
Let’s get off this subject quickly before I turn from titillated by the horror to severely depressed by the horror…

     The Minnesota Timberwolves: This season will be a deeply informative one as far as determining what kind of coach is Tom Thibodeau.  This team has real talent and they’ve been built entirely according to his image.  He’s basically assembled the bulls plus an all world talent in Karl Anthony Towns.  Butler has made himself into a top 10 or 15 talent.  Given proper coaching Andrew Wiggins should be a good player.  I like his game especially if he’s a third option.  A lot of analysts seem to think he’s terrible but I don’t see it that way.  He’s still young and he works hard and with another full year of development I’m convinced he can learn to play good defense again.  If this team can’t play defense and win some games then Thibs is not the coach we believe him to be.  The only move I did not like was the replacing of Rubio with Jeff Teague.  Teague is fools gold at this point in his career.  He’s soft.  He doesn’t play much defense and his offense comes and goes from game to game.  Minnesota, on paper, should win a lot of games and make the playoffs easily.  But then again, they’re the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Either way I can’t wait to watch what happens with them…

     The Milwaukee Bucks:  Giannis Antetokounmpo.  That’s really it.  This dude is going to be the best player in the league at some point.  When exactly that happens is the question.  Can he make a leap this year?  All he needs is a consistent jump shot and he will be unstoppable.  His form looked pretty good last season so I could definitely see his jumper developing soon.  If Giannis takes a step forward and Parker can stay healthy this team could do some serious damage.  I’m worried about Parker’s long-term health though.  It doesn’t seem like his playing style puts too much stress on his body but he just seems brittle.  Hopefully he can put the last couple years behind him.  If the two of those guys can get consistent playing time with Chris Middleton and if Thon Maker and the rest of the supporting cast can develop a bit this team could eventually challenge Cleveland for Eastern supremacy.  I’m a little worried about how lost Maker looked in summer league.  Playing well in summer league doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re any good but playing badly is usually a sign that you are not very good. 

This seems like a good opportunity to take a very short break from teams to talk which players at summer league have intrigued me.  I’m not going to say much because I didn’t watch much college ball and so don’t have much of a sample size for my gut instinct on players.  I was impressed by Jayson Tatum who seemed to have a very polished offensive game.  I would worry a bit that he takes a lot of difficult shots which he barely gets off and against good defenders those shots might not fall for him.  Within the Celtics scheme there should be plenty of open looks and open space to be found though and he will not be expected to go one on one.  I was also impressed by the Mavs pick of Dennis Smith.  Imagine if the Knicks had picked that dude one pick earlier.  Everyone would probably be freaking out in NYC and calling him the second coming and looking at a pairing with Porzingis as the foundation for a future team.  Oh well.  I find Lonzo Ball unbelievably annoying so I’m just going to skip talking about him.  Whatever the Ball family is doing is clearly working though.  From all accounts the crowds at Lakers summer league games has been insane which makes me all the more happy that I did not go this year.  The only thing more annoying then Ball family news is an excited and giddy Laker fan.

The San Antonio Spurs:  I’m always excited to watch the Spurs because they play my favorite basketball and Kawhi is my favorite player.  Every year it seems like the end of a reign and yet somehow they continuously bang out 60 plus wins.  They didn’t do anything this off-season.  They lost Simmons who I loved and gained Rudy Gay who I do not love.  Last year they signed Pau Gasol, which really tested my love of the Spurs. They always seemed like the kind of team that wouldn’t pay washed up players who can’t play defense.  They’ve needed a rim running big man who is athletic and can block shots pretty much since David Robinson retired.  I got briefly intrigued when there was talk of a sign and trade with Phoenix to acquire Tyson Chandler who still fits that bill well but the Spurs apparently decided that his contract was too much for them.  On paper this team should be on the bubble for a place in the playoffs in the ultra competitive Western conference.  But games aren’t played on paper and as far as I can tell the combination of Greg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard can’t help but be among the elite.  The Spurs play beautiful basketball and though it might be help if they had a few more athletes, they’re still always one of my favorite teams to watch…

The Denver Nuggets: will definitely be in my league pass rotation.  The Joker is great fun to watch because his game doesn’t entirely make sense.  Milsap is a nice addition and the Nuggets should be able to run an interesting offense through two great play making big men.  They’ve got a plethora of interesting young players who hopefully make a leap of some kind this season.  I’m not sure what the answer at point guard is, or even if they need one given Milsap and Jokovic’s ability to make plays.

The Philadelphia 76ers:  Can this be the year they finally put an actual NBA team back on the court?  Tearing down a team is always much easier then putting one together.  For the first time in many years Philly fans can be excited and I will actually flip on a 76ers game (truth be told I watched a few last season because Embiid is so fascinating).  On paper they’ve done a great job finding a complementary group of players many of who deserve to be on the court in an NBA basketball game!  Unfortunately there’s a lot that worries me about this team and these worries almost entirely revolve around health.  If  Joel Embiid can stay healthy then this is definitely a playoff team.  That’s a big “if” though.  And it doesn’t seem like a big deal but Markelle Fultz’s injury in summer league is also troublesome.  This guy clearly has talent but his college career is inexplicable to me.  How can someone have number one draft pick talent and yet lose so many games on the collegiate level?  Imagine if  Lebron had played college ball.  Could you imagine any scenario in which his team went 9 and 22?  Absolutely not.  There have to be questions about how good this guy actually is.  Clearly he’s got talent and at this point there is nothing more important then for him then reps.  He needs to play in games and figure things out and get coached.   Initial injuries for guys whose general basketball understanding is lacking can deeply affect their entire year and the 76ers are going to depend on this guy if they hope to make the playoffs.  On the other hand, would it be such a bad thing if they failed to make the playoffs another year and got one more lottery pick?  That’s gonna be a tough road to travel this year as there are going to be quite a few truly terrible teams.  The 76ers are a fascinating example of a team that can finally prove or disprove for us all if there are any basketball gods that exist.  If said gods do indeed exist then the Sixers will be punished for the complete disdain which they showed said gods over the past many years.  If it finally comes together for Philadelphia then all the basketball athiests out there can sleep peacefully for another season…

The New Orleans Pelicans:  The Pelicans are fascinating.  Anthony Davis is an amazing talent whose only weakness appears to be his fragility.  The Pelicans have made truly terrible roster decisions in their attempt to put a team around Davis (see Omer Asik).  There was a moment when Davis was being talked about as the next “best” player in the league much like the Greek Freak is being talked about this off-season.  Now he is a forgotten after thought after toiling away on a crappy team year after year.  There are nights when he brings it and you wonder why every team in the league isn’t planning out a path to acquiring him from the abyss that is Pelican basketball.  Davis is great and clearly the players around him have not been good but, interestingly, this makes me realize how people undervalue someone like Lebron James.  Can you imagine a scenario in which Lebron could not drag a team into the playoffs?  This is why even though we occasionally convince ourselves that player x might be the best in the league, deep down inside we know inside that it’s just not true.  All their terrible roster moves forced the Pelicans to over pay Drew Holiday this year because there was literally no backup plan and they can’t afford to be losers for another year.  He’s a good player when he’s healthy but he can’t stay healthy and he’s definitely not worth the money they paid him even when he is healthy.  Were they bidding against someone?  Couldn’t they have saved some money for the rest of the roster?  They clearly needed to convince Cousins to stick around for another contract (see Rajon Rondo).  Is Cousins any good?  He’s an amazing talent who doesn’t appear to have any weaknesses of the non-mental variety.  These are two big men that should complement each other and should be playable together but it will take some present day out of the box thinking to make this team effective and I just didn’t see much of that last year.  Alvin Gentry seems like a great guy but I’ve never seen him actually do much coaching.  He took over for a Suns team that was already fully functional.  I’ll cut him some slack due to a lack of talent but at no point did I watch a Pelicans game last year and say “ooh, that’s interesting.”  The Pelican franchise is depending on Cousins proving he is a actually as good as his talent, and on Gentry proving he’s a good coach, and on Holiday proving that he can stay healthy.  Should be interesting to watch for a bit but it’s a lot of “ifs” for me…

The Toronto Raptors:  We arrive finally to the Raptors who I think are a truly important team this off-season because they are the perfect example of a team through whom we can decide if basketball is worth playing anymore.  What the Raptors did this season was to resign Lowry and Ibaka and to ensure that they will put a good basketball product out on the hard court this season.  A good team but not a great team and it’s hard to imagine a scenario whereby this team could ever be great.  Their two stars, Lowry and DeRozan, are good players, but they both have flaws and neither one is ever going to be great.  They are the kind of player that inevitably makes slightly more then they are worth in the current NBA scheme.   Good players get rewarded (monetarily) the equivalent of great players.  There are a number of point guards in the league, arguments not withstanding, one would rather have then Lowry but he is good enough to lead a good team to the playoffs and there aren’t that many players better then him.  He just happens to be one tier below the top NBA superstar level.  A guy you’d like to have on your team clearly but at the max and as your best player it means you’re probably not going to win the championship.  Does this matter.  Potential is nice but so is watching your team win games.   The Raptors last year won a lot of games and they did so while being pretty fun to watch.  This was exciting for their fans.  They were in the playoffs and had some fun moments.  If there’s no value in this experience then every team in the league should just tank because, baring an injury related disaster, the Warriors are going to win the championship again.  But who is to say the Warriors won’t fall apart physically.  They’ve had an amazing string of healthy seasons.  It seems a far fetched impossibility, but Lebron could get injured and then the Raptors would be in contention for a spot in the finals and then maybe Durant gets injured and Curry goes down and then the Raptors are NBA champions.  It’s improbably but it’s still possible.  That’s one reason it’s worth being good.  The other reason is simply that perhaps I just like watching good basketball played by good teams in a competitive fashion.  Tanking may always make sense but it sucks to watch and, bottom line, isn’t that really the point.  Winning isn’t everything…

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…