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


    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.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Thoughts about the finals before the pivotal game 7:

     First off, I thought this series was over after the first couple games.  Golden State just looked so much better then The Cavaliers.  It was hard to imagine how The Cavs could reconcile the failings of their roster: that they either had defensive players or offensive players on the court and other then Lebron they were rarely encompassed in the same individual.  When Cleveland won game 3 it was still hard to believe The Warriors wouldn’t come back and win the next game.  It seemed like everything turned after game four with the utterance of the word “bitch.”  Since then The Cavaliers have been a different team.  Just some quick thoughts after watching the last few games…

1. Career speaking Lebron James has got to shoot better.  He’s still completely amazing but the biggest change from the beginning of this series to now is that he is both taking open jumpers and making them.  The Warriors have been giving him such a big cushion and packing the paint that it gums up everything the Cavs try and do.  Earlier in the series (and this whole playoffs) Lebron was reluctant to shoot anything beyond a few feet from the basket.  It’s hard to run an offense this way unless he were to turn into a primarily back to the basket player.  By hitting some jumpers so much opens up for the Cavs and becomes easier on the offensive end.  Soon he will no longer be the most dominant physical presence on the court in every game and at that point he’s going to want a reliable jumper.  It just makes everything so much easier for him.  Not that my opinion matters but I strongly recommend he hires a great shot coach over the summer and that he spends less time working out and more time on honing his jumper.  The next few years of his career could go easy or hard for him and I think a reliable jumper will make all the difference…

2. Is something wrong with Curry?  That’s the question everyone is asking.  It’s easy to say he just doesn’t look right.  He’s definitely not moving jitterbug style on the court and his jumper looks way too dependent lately on his arms rather then his legs.  For someone so small and slight even the slightest physical slowing is going to make it hard to get off a shot.  So that would lead me to wonder if he is indeed healthy, but the truth is that no one on the court can be fully healthy at this point in the season.  They’re all tired.  Perhaps the defense in the playoffs is more physical and the traps are harder and defenses are better prepared and health is not really to blame for Curry’s fall off.  He’s still been a very good player in the finals but he has not been the transcendent force in this series or in fact for the whole playoffs that he was in the regular season.  Still, whether he is unstoppable or not, he forces defenses to scramble in ways that virtually no other player does on offense.  Even when he’s not scoring big he’s a huge factor as to the shots his team gets on offense.  I can’t help but feel like when he’s open he’s not guaranteed to make it the way I felt during the season.  Whether that’s due to health issues or because the Cavs are forcing him out of his comfort zone is a fine line that is hard to draw…

3. I’ve been saying for a while that sometimes dudes just miss and sometimes they hit shots and the difference is more often then not in there somewhere rather then in schemes and effort.  As Jeff Van Gundy says, “it’s a make or miss league,” and he’s right.  When shots fall everything becomes easier.  It’s definitely possible to take dudes out of their comfort zone and force more misses but bottom line, there are dudes that will hit shots anyway on any given night.  Irving looks awesome when he’s hitting tough shots and terrible when he’s not but I’m not sure anything is different in how he’s playing other then the ball going in or not.  It helps when he’s more decisive but either way he’s going to take tough shots.  Same goes for Curry or really anyone on the court.  We’ve seen a lot of back and forth blowouts in which a team that was destroyed one day comes back and annihilate the other team the next.  It’s not just a change in effort that differentiates these games or a change in scheme but simply that shots went in one night where they didn’t another night.  It sucks to think it’s that simple sometimes but I’m afraid it often is.  There are little things that occur to put players in and out of comfort along the way but they mean perhaps a little less then we think.

4. Harrison Barnes cannot hit a shot.  I’m not sure much more can be said to elaborate on this subject.  He’s getting plenty of open looks but they’re just not going in.  With every miss his paycheck for next season is most likely diminishing.  He also cannot guard Lebron.  It’s been a tough finals for him…

5. For offensive guards who play only one end has Irving just been much better then Curry?  He doesn’t involve the rest of his team the way Curry does so it’s not just about scoring and making shots.  Even when Curry doesn’t score he opens things up for his teammates in a way that Kyrie does not but bottom line Kyrie has been a much better scorer in the finals then Curry.  Moving forward Kyrie has got to learn to score without possessing the ball so long before his shot.  If he were able to be quicker and more decisive about his actions he’d be so much better.  Some of that is on the system whereby they pretty much give him the ball with no action and need him to get off a shot before the shot clock winds down.  He’s not so gifted in size or athleticism so he has to execute a number of moves to get the separation to get off his shot.  At some point they need to channel his skills into a system that better involves the team a la what Golden State has done with Curry.

6. Curry is committing some terrible fouls.  What exactly is he thinking?  Game 6 I couldn’t see even a questionable foul other then perhaps his fifth.  These are obvious and dumb fouls.  Perhaps his fifth foul was unwarranted but he reached twice in a row.  The first seemed like a foul and the second didn’t but it was close and it’s the kind of possession in a game where you just can’t take the chance when you’re in foul trouble.  Just play positional defense and don’t try for the steal.  It’s just not smart basketball.  It seems to me that the Cavs are being very physical with Curry and he’s trying to be physical back and he’s just not very good at it.  There’s an art to knowing when you can get away with hitting the offensive player and when you can’t.  Curry could have easily been called for a reach on Lebron James at the 7:35 mark at which point he would have fouled out.  This brings up another interesting point.  Lebron is a physical player and even more importantly a physical specimen.  It’s easier to ignore fouls against a dude that other people bounce off of.  Consequently I have rarely seen a team reach as much as the Warriors have against Lebron this series and commit so few fouls.  The Warriors are obviously good at it and they’ve watched a lot of film and are swiping down when Lebron gathers the ball but they’re still hard reaches and have rarely been called fouls in this series. 

7. Injuries.  For the first time in the last couple years the Warriors are dealing with poorly timed injuries.  Iguodala’s back injury was particularly devastating in game 6 especially since Barnes has been unable to match up against James and has played so poorly overall.  Bogut’s injury hurts as well as prolonged small ball is not nearly as effective when it’s not a change of pace.  Golden State misses Bogut’s rim protection.  These kinds of injuries are what every team deals with and it’s important to keep in mind how much luck is involved in winning it all.  The owners of Golden State can praise themselves all they want for their genius but a large part of winning is the luck of being healthy at the right time.  You can help that luck by resting your players and utilizing your bench as the Warriors have done but it’s still luck.

8. James expends so much energy on both ends of the court.  It’s not easy to both play great offense and great defense and be the focal point of everything your team does on offense.  There are a few great two-way players but they don’t shoulder the offensive load generally that Lebron does.  Clay Thompson for instance plays hard on both ends but he rarely plays as many minutes as James and the Golden State offense isn’t dependent on him being involved in every action.  He can get moments of rest here and there on the court when he needs them.  For James, he only rests when Kyrie is cooking and chooses to go one on one.

9. The Warriors may yet win this series but part of their problem has been that they simply do not fear the Cavaliers at all.  Consequently I think they have not taken them very seriously and their effort has not been as good as it could have been.  Without the proper respect of your opponent it can be easy to avoid the desperation it takes to win these kinds of ballgames.  The Cavs are not as talented as Golden State but they are
Desperate to win… and they’ve got Lebron James.  It’s been clear from quotes and body language both before and after the Draymond confrontation that the Warriors do not fear James’ abilities.  That’s problematic.  He’s still the best player on the court in every game and when he hits shots it’s going to be very difficult to beat him.  Golden State has the attitude that they just play their game and they can’t be beat.  In the end they may be right but for a team that freaks out every time they are slighted their arrogance towards other good players is palpable.  Eventually you anger the wrong dude and you miss a few shots and you pay for it.  Draymond plays hard and I respect him for that but he does and says shit that is just crazy.  Screaming in Steven Adam’s face after hitting a shot is all well and good (actually it’s super annoying) but doing the same thing to Lebron is just not smart.  One guy won’t do much to shut you up, the other just might.

10. The last point brings me here: I cannot believe the leeway the refs give to Green.  He complains so vociferously and so emphatically after every call.  He reached twice on Lebron towards the end of the game 6, clearly two fouls in a row, and then freaked out and screamed in the refs face when it was correctly whistled a foul.  How does he not get a technical for this?  I read that at one point during the playoffs DeMarcus Cousins was incredulous that Green didn’t get called for more technicals.  I’m sure he’s watching Golden State and thinking I don’t complain any more then Draymond.  Why is he allowed to get away with it and I am not (Note that I am arguing neither one should be allowed to get away with it). 

11. My favorite thing the Cavs have done in this series is to relentlessly pick on Curry's defense.  The Cavs have treated Curry like the Warriors have treated Love when he's on the court.  Involve him in every play until his defense crumbles.  It's a great old school strategy that both wears Curry down and puts some doubts in his mind.  No one likes knowing that the other team thinks their defense is so terrible that any matchup is a mismatch...

12. On to game 7.  I’m leaning towards the Warriors taking it but for the first time this season the Cavs have made me doubt that Golden State will win it all.  My gut instinct is that the Cavs have put doubt into the Warriors and that they’ll win but I’m still picking Golden State because I still cannot wrap my mind around how the Thunder lost to them.  In that series as well it just seemed like the Thunder were clearly better and had Golden State on the ropes and yet the Warriors pulled out the series.  So until someone actually beats them I’m just going to assume they’re going to win.  I like both teams more or less but for the first time this playoffs I’m rooting hard for the Cavs to pull it out.  Cleveland needs this way more then Silicon Valley needs this…