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Archive for the ‘Amare Stoudemire’ Category

Spotes Notes, 2.25.08: First Your Rights, Then Your Children; Speaking of the NFL Combine; A Clemens “Misremembered” Quickie; IU-Kelvin Sampson Affair – Bob Knight Lurks?; How ‘Bout Those Phoenix Suns?!

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sheed.jpgFirst your rights, then your children

ESPN Radio’s Eric Kuselias says there’s an HGH epidemic. This morning on Mike and Mike in the Morning Kuselias said HGH use has reached epidemic proportions and therefore professional athletes players should give up their rights of privacy and submit to blood tests. Kuselias says he understands the “right to privacy constitutional” side of the argument but when “there’s an epidemic wouldn’t you give up your rights” for a little safety. Further, he said that taking a blood test is a “little thing to ask” for the “privilege to make millions of dollars.”

Co-host Mike Golic indicated that if the owners chose, they could tune the issue into a public relations issue by letting it be known that Gene Upshaw and Donald Fehr, the NFL and MLB union reps “negotiated away” the ability to treat the epidemic.

This hellish conversation is just the sort of talk those who would want to do away with our constitutional rights completely want to hear.

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For Phoenix, 30 Games Until the Truth Is Told

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shaqpau.jpgThe Los Angeles Lakers were in an unenviable position last night in Phoenix. Win against and you’re supposed to because the Suns are getting acclimated to the Big Philanderer, Shaquille O’Neal. Lose, and Phoenix becomes an instant NBA media darling with O’Neal as a conquering hero.

Fortunately LA won, 130-124, led by Kobe Bryant’s 41 points. And fortunately Shaq’s biggest effect was on the back of Raja Bell’s – a perpetual-motion hack machine – head with a little less than three minutes remaining in the game. (Now for my NBA officiating crew rant…)

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Spotes Notes, 2.14.08: Barry, Roger, Congress, BALCO; Kelvin; KG, Big Baby; LeBron, J-Kidd; Kobe, Pau; Shaq, Amare, Boris, Matrix Nash

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monta1.jpg

Kidd Trade Update: Devean George is steadfast in his refusal to be traded. Dallas cannot just throw in more players, the Nets already have too many. Dallas does not have another player with the contract to match George’s. So, for the moment, the trade is stalled. And if everyone is not very careful, it might not happen at all.

If it doesn’t happen, I wonder how the Dallas players will react the rest of the season. This could spell the end of the Mavericks chance at a Western Conference crown for 2007-08.

By the way, George shot 0-11 tonight. Who says there’s no such thing as karma?

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Los Angeles Lakers-Phoenix Suns: A Christmas Gift (Grant Hill Gets “Gifted” by Trevor Ariza)

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You can’t go under a screen on Steve Nash. You can’t turn your back on the man with the ball in the triangle. Christmas has given us the gift of the attacking style of the Phoenix Suns versus the triangle offense of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Brian Skinner was brought to the Suns to replace Kurt Thomas’ toughness. Grant Hill was brought in to add leadership and scoring off the bench. While both premises are true, Mike D’Antoni’s secretly hoped the addition of these two veterans would also bring added defensive toughness to his team. However, after the Lakers torched the Suns for 62 in the first half of their Christmas Day meeting, we’re still left to wonder whether the few defensive possessions Phoenix does clamp down on its opposition is enough to get them over the hump and into the NBA Finals.

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Va. Tech Steal a Loss from BC; Little Stevie Fingertips Has a Weakness; Pitching Wins for the Red Sox

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schilling.jpgI’m watching three sports at once, so I’ll give my impressions of each in real time…

What do USC, Cal, and South Florida all have in common this season? They all lost as number two-ranked teams. Boston College is trying to avoid that curse – now.

(4:42 remaining in the 4th quarter) Location, weather and a fast defense are conspiring to make this game tough on Boston College’s hopes of participating in the BCS Championship game. The Eagles, after one month of playing non-conference teams, began their stretch run to the ACC championship game with the Hokies.

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The NBA According to TSF: the Top Fiddy Players in the Lig; Numbers 11-20

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arenas.jpgDamn, this is tough! I though 1-10 might get me some kudos for insight, but instead I got drilled! Right off the bat there was the Kobe-Duncan debate and it didn’t stop all the way through to number 10. I’m sure 11-20 will be just as ugly —– at least for me.

But hey, it’s just one person’s opinion – mine. I’m trying to avoid stats as much as possible because they can be so misleading. For instance, if you look at 82games.com and their most proficient playoff players, Antonio Daniels is #6 and Darko is #7. Ummmmm, okay, I sure believe that one.

My criteria for the rankings (which I should have stated before I began with my Top 10 – my apologies) are different from what you might commonly think. I look at position and what is normally expected from the quintessential player of that position.

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The Point Guard: Away From the Land of Fairy-Tale Lies, Into the Valley of the Sun

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Bob Cousy, Steve Nash.

While on one of my usual late-night Internet sports news trolling adventures I ran across a post that represented a departure in subject matter for an always insightful site I read nearly every day (sorry Jonathan, I space every once in awhile) – Sports Media Review (SMR).

The subject of the post is the point guard. The context, in this case for point guards, is growing point per game averages and diminishing assist per game averages. To discuss this matter, SMR points out a New York Times article by Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel titled, “Lately, Guards Are Just unable to Get the Point.”

This is a subject-topic I often discuss with other hoops heads. Like Evans and Thamel, I too lament what I consider the devolution of the position. At this point and for the bulk of the Time piece, my path of reasoning diverges from that of the two authors.

Evans and Thamel, backed by NBA scouts and coaches single out one player for the downfall of the point guard – Allen Iverson:

Coaches, N.B.A. scouts and talent evaluators say there are a variety of reasons why the pass-first point guard seems to have gone missing. But the primary reason they point to is that a generation of players weaned on Allen Iverson crossovers does not value passing as an art.

Allen Iverson was a scoring point guard in John Thompson’s Georgetown Hoyas offense out of necessity. The Hoyas were scoring-challenged and Iverson, with his unique ability to break down opposing defenses at will and his fearlessness in driving the lane, was perfect for Georgetown.

When Iverson entered the NBA a revolution was already underway. No longer were point guards the prime movers of the NBA offense. Fewer and fewer teams relied on the point to handle basketball for the majority of the shot clock. There was a growing paucity of dominant centers. Because of the dearth of big-time big men, the emphasis of offenses shifted. The hub of offensive trips up the floor shifted from the low post to the perimeter.

If there was one player who was responsible for the devolution of the point guard it was —– Michael Jordan. With Jordan’s arrival point guards no longer fed the low post, swing men almost exclusively took over that task. Swingmen handled the ball late at crucial moments late in the shot clock. And swingmen began to drive the lane and dish to open players whose defenders had rotated to help stop the hybrid guard-forward’s forays to the basket. Allen Iverson certainly influenced the style of the game. But the manner in which the plays are run? That cannot be pinned on AI.

But to emphasize the point (no pun intended) about Iverson, Evans and Thamel get another person to go on record about AI:

The Utah Jazz scout Troy Weaver, a former Syracuse University assistant, said the definition of a point guard for younger players had been clouded by those who looked to score first.

“I think Allen Iverson messed up the game,” Weaver said in a telephone interview. “All these little guys dribble around instead of passing the ball.”

In response to this ludicrous statement, SMR provides this retort:

It’s no surprise really that Iverson’s name would appear here – he’s single-handedly responsible for so much of what is wrong with America today, so why not blame the entire way basketball is played on him, too.

Maybe it’s true that there has been an increase in selfishness among point guards because of Allen Iverson and that is messing up the game. Or, maybe, this is a paper thin argument, so consistent with the prevailing zeitgeist that the authors barely considered challenging their own pre-conceived notions (as an aside, there’s probably no sports journalist I have more regard for than Pete Thamel).

Weaver’s statement, as is Evans and Thamel’s failure to examine the worth of his statement, is incredibly irresponsible. Even when there is a player like Jordan to point to as the person who is the progenitor for a paradigm shift in the game, there are other factors that when brought forth can be understood as the foundational aspects – “shoulders” – on which MJ’s importance, and other players like him since, stand.

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From the 1947 inception of the NBA to 1989, dominant centers have been a staple of championship teams. In that fated year of 1989 the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship without a true center. The player masquerading as a center was Bill Laimbeer who was more comfortable shooting jumpers from the elbow to the top of the key than he was on the low block. The player running the team, though, was point guard Isiah Thomas.

When the 24-second clock was in its last 10 seconds Isiah had the ball. When the game was on the line, Isiah had the ball. When the Pistons needed a basket, Isiah was option number one. This would be the last time a team with a dominant point guard played in the Finals until 2004 when another Piston, Chauncey Billups ruled the playoffs – and the Finals.

What happened to the NBA between 1988-89 and 1990-91 when the Chicago Bulls won their first of three straight championships? Tex Winter, Phil Jackson and the perfection of the triangle offense happened. The triangle has roots as old as the NBA and was derived as the ultimate zone-busting offense; egalitarian in its principles, needing a center who can pass out of and make jump shots from the high post.

The egalitarianism that is the triangle allows every player to touch the ball and for every player to be open for shots from various ranges at any given point in time. The offense does not lend itself to a point guard for whom controlling the basketball is as essential to their spirit as water is to their body; Gary Payton failed miserably in the triangle; Stephon Marbury would as soon ride the pine as take a chance on passing the basketball and never receiving it again in a 24-second span; Steve Nash would exacerbate his chronic back injuries chasing after the ball as it is being passed away from him.

But for Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, both of whom can make nearly any shot from any spot in the forecourt, for Stacey King, Horace Grant, and Luc Longley, all of whom can make the elbow jumper and score from the low post, for point guards like Ron Harper and B. J. Armstrong who weren’t ball-dependent, and for spot-up shooters like John Paxson and Steve Kerr, the triangle was heaven.

The triangle and Jordan and the other Bulls forced teams to alter their rosters or perish. Just ask the New York Knicks or the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Portland Trailblazers or the Seattle Supersonics. Each of those teams had reliable centers who could score close to the basket and away from it. But each team’s center was a liability defending the Bulls center away from the basket and each failed to usurp the Bulls run. Even the 1993-94 Bulls without Jordan were one bad call from making a fourth straight appearance in the Finals. Such is the power of the triangle.

Few NBA coaches were willing to invest the time in learning the intricacies of the triangle to the point of using it as their offense. But by the time the Bulls finished their second consecutive run to the Finals with Jordan, GMs, head coaches, and scouts around the League began searching in earnest for the next Jordan, or at least a swing player who could score from multiple spots on the floor and assume spot point guard duties in a pinch. 6’5″ to 6’7″ multiple threat shooting guard/small forwards began to spring up like dandelions on college campuses and in high school gyms. Younger children prayed they would grow to 6’6″ with the ability to leap small cars in a single bound.

Point guard? You mean like B. J. Armstrong or Ron Harper? Like Terry Porter or Kevin Johnson? Or Mark Price and even John Stockton? They played through the era of short-shorts before the League was perceived as overrun by fundamentally unsound players better known for their “potential” than their contributions to their teams.

Sure, there was Earvin “Magic” Johnson, but he was a 6’9″ aberration who could play any position. Yes, there was Michael Ray Richardson, but his magic was a blip on the radar screen, made invisible by a 6’5″ mountain of the finest Studio 54 cocaine.

The quintessential “old school” point guards made little impression on the general basketball landscape – particularly in the depths of the urban imagination. They were fighting for minds and hearts made privy to the inner-workings of the reverse slam by repeated slo-mo feature showings accompanied by the “Wooooos” and “Wows” of ESPN sportscasters; perceived by young players whose basketball consciousness was formed and enraptured by the “Fab Five.” They yearned to be John Starks and, not Chris Webber, but the newly supernaturalized “C-Webb” dunking on heads with Spike Lee and 19,000 more MSG cognesceti cheering their super deeds. The point guards, with their expressionless and subdued style were a necessary evil and the position was played as a last resort; I can’t be MJ? Starks? C-Webb? Oh well, I’ll play the point – whatever.

What then was the point guard’s response? From New York, where the pass-first point guard was invented, to California and beyond the answer was to play like a mini-Mike. Suddenly high-flying little men were everywhere. Little men with unlimited shooting range who could get their shot off amongst the trees, and yes, make the no-look pass if necessary, became the norm.

Allen Iverson was not the first guard to emulate Jordan; he was the best at emulating Jordan. Not only did he mimic Jordan, he invented ways to break MJ’s ankles, and as soon as he got the opportunity to embarrass his and everybody else’s hero, he did. Then. In one magical top of the key crossover dribble leaving Jordan in need of a new ankle tape job as he rose to splash a mid-range jumper, Allen Iverson, a natural two guard, became every point guard’s hero. Suddenly on the playground conversations between kids playing one-on-one sounded like this:

“I’m MJ.”

“Yeah. You can be Jordan – but I’m Iverson. And I’m a break your ankles MJ. Ball out.”

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Back we go forward again to today. The favorite NBA flavor is vanilla. And vanilla is Steve Nash. Anyone and everyone who doesn’t play in the League says he might just be the greatest point guard of all time; if not the greatest, certainly one of the greatest. He has won the most valuable player award in consecutive years and this season is gunning for a third in a row.

The style of offense in which he plies his craft is made for the old school, coach on the floor, on-court quarterback. Teammates are spread just so; the lane is almost always open for Nash to embark on missions ending in a layin by Nash, a kick out pass to an open three-point shooter or a dunk for Amare Stoudemire as he follow Nash down the lane. Nash controls the basketball between 65-70% of every Phoenix Suns possession, which surely must elicit envy from fellow point guards like Marbury, Payton, Deron Williams of Utah, and other ‘I need the basketball to be successful’ PGs.

Yet because of the success of Mike D’Antoni’s Euro-offense, other teams around the NBA have borrowed elements of the Phoenix up-tempo attack; Memphis, Toronto, Seattle, Chicago to name four. And all of these offenses, including D’Antoni’s, evolved from the Boston Celtics offense from the late 1950s through the 1960s.

The Celtics point guard who set the standard for the wide open, everyone run at the behest of the PG as triggerman was Nash’s hoops grandfather, Bob Cousy. Those Boston teams featured an athletic shot blocker who, like the Suns Amare Stoudemire, could grab a defensive rebound, get the outlet pass up the court to Cousy and get into the play fast enough to receive the fast break finishing pass from Cousy. He was Bill Russell. Cousy, like Nash, was surrounded by shooters; Bill Sharman played the role of progenitor of Phoenix’s Shawn Marion; John Havlichek, who ran the floor faster and more relentlessly than any other player of his time could spell either Cousy or Sharman, just as Leandro Barbosa does now for D’Antoni. And after Cousy retired. another vanilla PG was waiting in the wings in the form of Russell’s University of San Francisco running mate, K.C. Jones.

Oh, and that “vanilla” thing? It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with style. For all of Cousy’s and Nash’s purported flash, there is an almost autistic sameness to their games; much more savant than idiot, much more CYO than Iverson.

What makes today’s Cousy and K. C. Jones, Nash, so spectacular is that he is an extra-normally sound basketball player. Nash is ambidextrous as a point guard and any player, for that matter, should be. Nash is one of the top three mid-range jump shooters in the NBA, a shot thought to be on the verge of extinction. And most importantly, Nash sees the floor as Salvador Dali sees a blank canvas; matte and court filled with representations of time and space bent, stretched, and compressed at will.

The point guard of the past is now the point guard of the future. And today the point guard dominating the future past that is tonight’s game, one in a seemingly endless string of 82, wears a blue space suit labeled – “Suns.”

NBA Thoughts: a Liz Robbins-fest; Sports Media Watch Lays the NBA Bare; Cubes Speaks; Skip Bayless Goes Nazi

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Freedom!

Damn Liz Robbins of the New York Times went slam off this week and wrote like 4500 words! Well, looking around the blogsphere at some websites, 4500 ain’t that much for a week, but when you’re attempting to free Darko (all puns intended as a nod to Shoals & the fellas) in mainstream print and riding on the “White Chocolate Thunder Love Plane” (complete with extra-long flexi-straws so a writer can continue sucking from their home office) with the Phoenix Suns, you are puttin’ in work (as a garden tool with clear heels?).

But the question is, what did she really say? Robbins asks the question of the year of any athlete who hasn’t reached his/her potential, but is full of it – ummm, potential, that is:

“But what kind of responsibility does Milicic take for his career?”

I’m ready to read Darko’s deepest thoughts from the darko corners of his Serbia-informed mind. Instead, this is what we get for an answer:

“Everybody wants Darko to be very good,” Magic General Manager Otis Smith said in a telephone interview this week. “But Darko will only be as good as he wants to be.”

No no no !!! That quote wasn’t there. After that question?! Was it – really and truly?! Yes, sadly it was. Maybe she was thinking more about the potential for debauchery, Victoria Island style. So, let’s track the Phoenix articles and get the real scoop (oops “scoop” equals Jackson to NBA bloggers – if my blog gets hacked, blame it on Yay Sports! – just jibin’).

The only item of sorta-interest from the Milicic piece was the following:

If Milicic was once the target of laughter, he now displays the ability to have people laugh with him. Ask him for an impression of another outsider, albeit a fictional one, and he will hilariously mimic Borat, the Sacha Baron Cohen character in a popular movie.

“He is a great guy, a fun person to be around, keeps us laughing,” Howard said. “He’s always looking to clown around. Once he gets his confidence, the sky’s the limit for him.”

Darko gives good Borat and the sky’s the limit for him. Thanks Liz.

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Russ rules over this

The paragraph following her lead to the article, Suns Work Hard to Make Their Games Look That Fun hints at the bias of the piece to follow:

They are this decade’s incarnation of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Showtime, averaging a crowd-pleasing, league-high 111.9 points per game, connecting on more 3-pointers than any team in the league and leaving opponents breathless while they have extended their winning streak to a league-best 14 games.

Slurp, slurp. Robbins did not cover the 1980s Lakers, and I’m unsure whether or not she watched them that closely. The Suns’ interchangeable parts (other than Amare) and lack of overall size remind me of the films I’ve seen of the late 1950s, early 1960s Boston Celtics with Bob Cousy and Bill Russell as Steve Nash’s and Amare Stoudamire’s granddaddies. Seriously. The 80s Lakes, with their ability to play grind it out half court ball whenever they wanted and run whenever they needed, were a different beast altogether.

So, we’re off to a less-than auspicious start.

Let’s see, the Suns like to run (yawn) Steve Nash, at 33, shows no signs of slowing down (except when his back blows up later in the season and into the playoffs), and Amare makes the Suns a better team. Illuminating. Oh oh, I forgot to add that Robbins informs us that not all of Phoenix’s players are as fast as Leandro Barbosa and Stoudemire:

“We have two of the fastest guys in the league in Marion and L. B.,” D’Antoni said of Shawn Marion and the sixth man, guard Leandro Barbosa.

“Amare, he’s probably the fastest five and most powerful on the move. Steve is an Energizer bunny and Raja, too,” D’Antoni added. “They’re not extra fast but going and going and going. And that makes us tough to handle. And Boris, he hides his speed. He has the best vertical jump on the team.”

But Liz does get one good quote – from Gilbert Arenas:

“That’s the type of basketball I like, up and down, no rules to the game, you need that once in a while,” the Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas said before the game. “When you see them on TV, you want to watch them, you want to watch Nash dribble around and see what passes he can make.”

Her article, titled, For Nash, 3M.V.P.’s Can’t Take Place of Title, is the best of her third week in January NBA triumvirate.

I’ve been a critic of “Little Stevie Wonder-Nash.” Naw, that’s not even fair. I’ve slammed Nash. Ciphered his stats into oblivion. Got in cross-country pissing contests with NBA-only bloggers about B.C.’s second most wanted import. Attributed his two MVP awards to white mainstream media bias (which I maintain is most def’, in part, true).

But.

I’ll step off Mr. Nash as a baller. I’m almost always one to take the word on an insider, a coach, an athlete or ex-athlete, or GM, over the word of me, another blogger, or the most-respected sportswriter in the country. And I will do the same now. Check out what Russ, that is Bill Russell, had to say about the man I will henceforth refer to as, “Mr. Nash” or “Mr. Steve Nash” or “Little Stevie Fingertips” (for his role in getting the Sam’s Microfiber Club Quasi-Euro-Ball” banished to appearances on NBA and NBA-related commercials filmed prior to the start of the season):

“I think, on the world stage, he’s one of our great athletes in all sports,” Russell said last night by telephone. “I’m a big fan. The two M.V.P.’s he got, he deserved. Part of the reason that he’s so good and so effective is that the guys like playing with him. He creates an atmosphere where they win games.”

Unfortunately, “Mr. Salty,” Isiah Thomas, who still isn’t given his due as one of the three best PGs ever (Magic and Clyde being one and two, Isiah three, Couz and Mr. Nash tied for fourth) chimed in with just a bit more than a touch of bitterness:

And yet, when asked if Nash needed to win an N.B.A. title to be considered great, Thomas said that the M.V.P. award used to have different criteria.

“When I came in, you had to win; that was the bar that the media set,” Thomas said last night before Nash had 22 points and 14 assists. “It was always to me — what Cousy won. Till you win, you can’t be talked about in the same breath as Cousy.”

Then Russ comes back with the comeback:

Russell won 6 of his 11 titles with Bob Cousy at point guard, including in 1956-57, the only season Cousy won his M.V.P. award. Russell said that Thomas’s argument was legitimate, but that Nash’s lack of a title did not diminish his accolades.

“I think that the M.V.P. is for the regular season,” Russell said. “I will say this — first of all, his career is not over. A lot of guys that won championships, they won it after their prime.

And a lot of guys did not win it at all, he added. “Do you consider Charles Barkley great?” said Russell, 72, who was also the M.V.P. in 1957-58 and 1964-65. “You have to consider the body of their work. I’ve been watching the N.B.A. since 1950. And so I’ve known what I was watching, and Steve Nash is one of the guys that stands out over that period.”

Russell went on to provide me, at least, with the ultimate insider quote on the criteria set for dispensing MVP awards:

Russell said he was curious to see how the rest of the season unfolds for Nash and the Suns. In New York to attend a board meeting of his foundation, the National Mentoring Partnership, Russell dismissed talk of Nash’s suspect defense. It is not as if Nash is the only superstar whose defense has been questioned.

“Get in line,” Russell said.

Finally, Mr. Russell inadvertently backed up my earlier statement about the nature of the Suns and what team they are most like:

Asked if Russell would have loved to have played with Nash, he answered with a chuckle. “I played with a guy just like that — and it was fun,” Russell said.

Bob Cousy had something, however, that Nash does not have, Russell added: “He had me.”

Hope ya heard your graddaddy, Amare.

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IMHO, Every true NBA head should read Sports Media Watch’s two-part series on the demise of the NBA: The ABCs of ruining the NBA, Part 1 and Part 2.

They expose the Disney-owned ABC-ESPN production for the sham that is. The two-parter begins with a series of body blows:

On June 12, 2002, the NBA died. That was the night of Game 4 of the 2002 NBA Finals, when the Los Angeles Lakers finished off the overmatched New Jersey Nets. That was also the last night that NBC Sports aired an NBA game.

Since that night, NBA ratings have plummeted. The amount of games on network television have done the same. Only six NBA games since that night have averaged a rating of 10 or higher, and no games have had a rating higher than 13.8.

and…

9 million viewers is the high watermark for ABC (outside of the NBA Finals). It has only been reached once (the second most viewed non-Finals game on ABC was Cavs/Pistons Game 7 last year, with 8.8 million viewers). NBC had at least 9 million viewers nine times in 2002.

Damn.

But Part 2 comes with a sweet jab, jab, overhand right combination that sends David Stern’s decision to air NBA games on anything ABC or ESPN-related spinning. and a sweeping left hook sends the Stern decision to the canvas for the duration.

Jab one:

In the immediate aftermath of a big shot, ABC always cuts away to a player on the bench, one of the coaches, or a group of fans — usually so quickly that it doesn’t allow for the viewer at home to even sink in what just happened on the court. It was especially bad during the 2006 NBA Finals, when several clutch shots were followed by an abrupt split screen between Avery Johnson and Pat Riley, the respective coaches. Those shots interrupt the flow of the game telecast, not that this matters to ABC.

Reaction shots don’t just come after big plays. ABC routinely cut to attractive women in the stands in its early years of covering the NBA; during the 2003 NBA Playoffs, it was almost guaranteed that when any player hit any type of shot, the viewer was about to be treated to a pair of breasts attached to some woman in the stands.

Jab two:

Do The Pussycat Dolls mean NBA basketball? Do The Pussycat Dolls watch NBA basketball? Likely not; one of their members wears an outdated #8 Kobe Bryant jersey in their NBA on ABC music video. Who is ABC targeting with The Pussycat Dolls? Their music does not resonate with most sports fans. One would assume that the network is once again attempting to draw the casual fan.

ABC attempted to draw casual fans in 2004, when the network hired Justin Timberlake to sing “Can’t Get Enough” as the theme song for NBA telecasts. ABC did it again later that year, with The Black Eyed Peas. And again in 2005 with Destiny’s Child and Rob Thomas. And yet again in 2006 with Tom Petty.

These musical selections were not made for NBA fans. Only The Black Eyed Peas have any true appeal to the 18-34 male demographic that watches the NBA. Just as ABC’s camera shots marginalize the game itself, the network’s music choices marginalize the game’s hardcore fans — alienating them in the hopes that some twelve year old girl will hear music she likes and stick around to watch the rest of the game.

Overhand right:

So maybe Floorcam and The Pussycat Dolls aren’t to blame. Maybe it has more to do with a general philosophy at ESPN and ABC, one that seems to designate that the NBA is simply not a big deal. The epitome of that belief was Al Michaels, who broadcast the 2004 and 2005 NBA Finals for the network.

Al Michaels deemed the NBA so important that he decided to roll out of bed six times a year during the regular season. Not only that, but of the thirteen total regular season games he broadcast, eleven of them were in Los Angeles or Sacramento. Michaels lives in LA. One would suppose then that the NBA and ABC were scheduling games around Michaels’ living conditions; in 2005, when the Lakers were out of contention, ABC didn’t bother to drop any of the team’s games, even one against the Kings — when both teams were doing terribly. To pay the NBA and ABC back for their kindness, Michaels apparently decided to sleep in on the day of Game 1 of the 2005 Western Conference Finals, which was on ABC’s air.

Michaels was the voice of the NBA, and his decision making made it clear to America how much he valued the league. America returned the sentiment in kind, as only 8.2 percent of the viewing public tuned into the 2005 NBA Finals — the last that Michaels broadcast.

And the left hook:

Constant change means bad decision making. And bad decision making means that the people in charge of the NBA on ABC don’t know what they are doing in the first place. Mike Pearl, the man in charge of the NBA on ABC, somehow managed to help craft the gold standard over at TNT. Unfortunately for NBA fans, he has not had the same success at ABC….

Considering how awful a job the network has done with the NBA, one tends to wonder if this isn’t just some sort of massive conspiracy to take down the league; no network can be so horrible by accident.

Stern is down! Stern is Down! Stern is down!

And so too will be his product if he continues with his present course of actions.

Oh Yeah: I know it’s everywhere, but it’s worth repeating:

“David Stern is the NBA. … There’s a lot of things he’s just amazing at, he’s great at, and then there’s certain areas where I think he sucks. … I’m sure he feels the same way about me.”

— Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, on NBA Commissioner David Stern (Jim Rome Is Burning,” ESPN, 1/25).

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The Nazi.

Finally, on a Skp Bayless, “First and Ten” note, quote:

“I think all professional athletes should give up their right to provacy and take a drug test once a week.”

Sieg Heil, Bayless, you bitch.

 

 

 

 

 

A Dominant Center Equals an NBA Championship

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It is said by nearly every NBA writer and commentator that the game has changed for good. No longer are dominant centers necessary to win championships. After all, didn’t Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teams prove that point? Just look at the Phoenix Suns 2005-06 season, as they played the overwhelming majority of the year without Amare Stoudemire.

Today the game is dominated by point guards like Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker. It is ruled by versatile swing men like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Tracy McGrady. Perimeter scorers lead teams – as they go, the team goes. Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Gilbert Arenas, and Richard Hamilton rule the roost in the 21st century NBA. Yet, for all the highlights these and other players like them provide, in the end they do not win championships.

Teams with dominant centers win championships.

These are not the ravings of a mad basketball purist. Saying dominant centers win championships doesn’t banish me from ever typing another word on hoops. It doesn’t mean I wish for “days of yore” or Daisy Dukes on men wearing Chuck Taylor’s while the fans – after games, many of the players, too – smoke in NBA arenas. I am a purist in this respect: I believe that the key to an NBA dynasty is the ability of a team to keep its stars, the ability for a coach to establish a flexible hierarchy within the team’s structure, that a team must have a true center – a big man capable of scoring when necessary and defensively capable of, not necessarily blocking shots, but altering shots in the lane. I contend that in the modern history of the NBA (from 1957-present), with the exception of four years, and two of the four should have asterisks next to them, each NBA champion had a, or a combination of centers that were competent on both ends of the floor.

The names of dominant centers are by now legendary: Bill Russell, Bob Pettit-Ed McCauley, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, Bill Walton, Elvin Hayes-Mitch Kupchak, Jack Sikma, Robert Parish, Moses Malone, Bill Laimbeer, Scott Williams-Bill Cartwright-Will Perdue-Stacey King, Hakeem Olajuwon, Luc Longley-Bill Wennington-James Edwards, Luc Longley-Bill Wennington-Bison Dele-Robert Parish, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan. These are the centers or center combinations of all but four of the championship teams in the past 50 years, or 92% of all the winning teams.

Of all the championship teams of the past 50 years, only nine, or 18%, were not multiple winners. However, only two of those teams had no dominant big man or men, which brings the percentage down to 16%. Additionally, if we discount the 1958 St. Louis Hawks and the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers because of the Boston Celtics dynasty (we can eliminate that Sixers team because Wilt Chamberlain also won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972, making Wilt a multiple winner), the 1972 L.A. Lakers because Wilt won previously with the Sixers and because the New York Knicks won multiple championships during that period, the Portland Trailblazers because of injuries to Bill Walton, and the 1983 76ers, as the Celtics and the Lakers were dominant then, we are left with only four teams, the 1978 Washington Bullets, the 1979 Seattle Supersonics, the 1998 Chicago Bulls , and the 2004 Detroit Pistons who won championships without someone dominant in the middle. And even then, we are left to wonder if the 1977 Bill Walton-led Portland Trailblazers would have won in 1978 and 1979 had Walton been healthy.

All-in-all, discounting Walton’s balky feet, 92% of all NBA champions of the past 50 years were able to control, if not dominate the paint. If you include the injuries to Big Red, the only other season a teams left are Chicago and Detroit – 48 out of 50 NBA champions.

The 1998 Bulls triumvirate of Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, and Joe Kleine together averaged 16.9 ppg, 8.2 assists per contest, and 1.3 blocks per game. These aren’t shabby numbers, by the way. But what excludes then from dominance is their poor performance in the playoffs. By this time Kleine was on IR, so the Bulls were left with only Longley and Wennington. The two centers averaged a paltry 10.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, and 2.8 bpg.

I excluded Wallace purely because of his lack of offensive production. However, he the was runner-up to Ron Artest for defensive player of the year, had the second-best rebounds per game average (Kevin Garnett was first and Wallace was tied with Tim Duncan) and was second to Theo Ratliff in blocks per game. Had Wallace averaged six more points per game (15.5 rather than 9.5) he too would have qualified as an overall dominant center.

That the Jordan-Scottie Pippen combination was the sole reason for the run of the Bulls is a misnomer. Taking, for instance the 1993 four-headed center combination of Scott Williams, Bill Cartwright, Will Perdue, and Stacey King (I know he also played some forward) we have the following per game averages: 21.6 ppg, 14.7 rpg, and 2.1 bpg. In the playoffs that season the four combined to average 17.8 ppg, 14.7 rpg, and 4.2 bpg. Those are, by any measure, dominant statistics for the center position.

Now let’s move ahead and look at the 1997 Bulls center combo on Longley, Wennington, Robert Parish, and Bison Dele. These four averaged 23.4 ppg 13.5 rpg, and 2.3 bpg during the first 82. In the playoffs with only Longley and Dele, the two came out with solid numbers: 12.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, and 3.9bpg. The overall season effort was easily enough to qualify them as more than competent on both ends of the floor. Looked at from this angle, the question becomes, without solid-to-dominant inside play, how many rings would the Jordan-Pippen have today?

Taking a cursory glance at “deep statistics,” if we exclude a seven-year run by Jordan, 75% of the players with the season-high Player Efficiency Rating (PER) were centers.

All of this leaves us with the very high probability of being able to discount any team without a center capable of dominating, at least for long stretches of games, both ends of the floor from winning the 2006-07 NBA crown. So, take a close look at your favorite team or your preseason prediction.

There aren’t but a select few squads that will be holding the Larry O’Brien in June.

(If any heads out there have further evidence to support or refute this post, please do comment. I’d love to be able to write an update that includes your knowledge of the game.)

Grill Watch: Flip Saunders; Microfracture Surgery Claims Another Victim; O.J. Mayo Heads to Southern Cal

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Grill Watch: Detroit Pistons head coach Flip Saunders is looking more and more like chestnt roastin’ on an open grill. After a hugely disappointing postseason, the Pistons are presently limping along with a 3-5 record. It’s bad enough to open the season with a loss at home to Milwaukee, but after wins against hapless Boston and Pau-less Memphis, De Trois went on the road and dropped three of four games. then as if to say, hey, we can top that, Saunders’ crew slithered home and lost last night to New Orleans.

When you coach says stuff like, “I told our guys, ‘We’re probably not as good as we played on Friday, (referring to the team’s 97-83 win over the Lakers) and we’re probably not as bad as we played on Saturday,” trouble is lurking right around the corner.

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Kenyon Martin like Amare Stoudemire before him is undergoing surgery on his previously healthy right knee after having microfracture surgery on his left knee. The resultant problems after microfracture surgery injury ruined the career of Penny Hardaway and Allan Houston. Though Jason Kidd and Gary Peyton have had success after this procedure, it seems like taller players are having a more difficult time rehabbing from this surgery.

Perhaps it’s time to take another look at the nature of miscrfractures, how and why they occur, and their effects on humans of varying heights and weights.

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High school baller O.J Mayo, widely regarded as the top prep player in the U.S., is headed to USC to play for Tim Floyd. Floyd’s recruiting claim to fame is, hold the laughter, Marcus Fizer – okay, now you can laugh (actually Floyd also coached the Mayor, Fred Hoiberg and Kelvin Cato). Mayo is a two-time Ohio Mr. Basketball, which begs to question why he isn’t attending a Big Ten school, like Ohio State where center Greg Odem is presently in attandance.

On ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (PTI) this afternoon it was rumored that Mayo wanted to play college ball in an NBA city and do for the USC program like Patrick Ewing did for Georgetown in the early eighties.

I don’t believe that for a second. Mayo’s legacy is to made in the pros where he gets to measure his skills against Bron Bron, so he’s one and done at USC. It is and may remain a mystery as to how Floyd pulled this coup.

All in all, I smell a Mike Garrett-sized rat. Perhaps the Southern Cal A.D. is playing moneyball – not Billy Beane style, but with Billy Beane dollars.

Written by dwil

November 16, 2006 at 11:43 pm