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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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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.”