Archive for February, 2009

Recap: Don’t Call It A Bounce-Back

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

 

Overview: In a mettle-testing game the night after an embarrassing loss to Houston, the Cavaliers went to San Antonio and delivered a convincing rout of the Spurs, who were without Ginobili and Duncan.

 

Cavs-Related Bullets:

This wasn’t a must-win by any means, but the Cavs were sent reeling after losing so convincingly to a non-powerhouse. Add that with the start of a four-game road swing and the first game without Ben Wallace, and the Cavs had something to prove tonight. Well, they proved it.

The first quarter could have not have looked more different from the first quarter from yesterday’s game. Here were the differences I saw: 

It started at the defensive end, and while I hate to bring out these tropes generally, there was definitely more of a sense of energy and purpose, not to mention that San Antonio was missing their two biggest playmakers. The lineup they sent out was essentially Parker, a limited playmaker in his own right, and four spot-up shooters, and the Cavs were able to jump on that and get turnovers. 

The turnovers led to some fast-break points via LeBron in the first half , including some crushing jams. That was really just what the doctor ordered for LeBron and the team in general; it got LeBron easy baskets, energized the team, and opened up the driving lanes and cracks in the Spurs’ defense. 

LeBron also started off by hitting two deep jumpers in rythym, another huge thing for him.

From there, it was really all gravy. LeBron was feeling good from inside and out, didn’t force anything, and showed an extremely smooth stroke (6-13 from outside the paint, with three threes), and took the lanes when they were there for 30 points on only 23 shots and 3 free throws. Normally you want to see more free throws than that, but tonight that’s just a reflection of how open the seams and how easily it was for LeBron to be getting points. 

The four assists look low, too, but nobody really brought their outside shot; LeBron was getting lower catches, getting on the blocks and post+kicking, and keeping everybody involved tonight. And the 14 rebounds just go to show how much of a mission LeBron was on tonight. 

Delonte brought his game as well, and if two of the Cavs’ three playmakers are on their game, the Cavs are really tough to beat, especially if they’re on the kind of defensive mission they were tonight. 

We’re going to need better than 25 points on 27 shots from our bench if we’re going to roll with Ben out. 

Andy’s numbers weren’t there tonight, but his energy was and his +30 doesn’t lie. 

Bullets of Randomness:

It’s 3:30 on a Friday night. Those are your bullets of randomness. We bottled up Tony Parker all game because George Hill wasn’t making enough plays to take pressure off. There. Coraline in 3D=awesome.

Recap: Is This How We Make Other Teams Feel?

Friday, February 27th, 2009

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

Overview:

In their worst offensive performance of the year, the Cavs were manhandled on both sides of the floor and were beaten handily by the Rockets as LeBron James was rendered ineffective.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

First off, sorry for the lateness. Catastrophic technical difficulties last night. 

I think that was the best I’ve ever seen LeBron James defended. He’s certainly had worse games, and 21 points on 21 shots isn’t terrifyingly bad, but he was playing into the Rockets’ hands from the opening whistle on. The Rockets kept him out of the lane by forcing LeBron directly into their helpers, Yao Ming did a great job of protecting the rim, Artest stayed physical with LeBron, and Battier really did always seem to be one move ahead. At one point, I looked over to make sure Michael Lewis wasn’t telling LeBron what to be doing out there.

LeBron’s had horrendous shooting nights before, but even then his impact is generally undeniable-he’s getting teammates involved, he’s forcing the defense to come to him and adjust, he’s freeing up a side of the floor, he’s scrapping and getting extra chances, he’s everywhere at once. In this one, the Rockets were able to render him so ineffective and frustrated when he went to the basket that they actually turned him into a jump shooter, the mythical holy grail of defending LeBron. They were also able to perfectly control his catches so that he never got the ball anywhere near the scoring area. 

LeBron spent much of the night catching and shooting directly, and while that allowed him to shoot decently (6-14 eFG% on jumpers, better than his season average of 41%), it took him away from what he’s best at, which is getting other teammates involved. Basically, he was playing like a poor man’s Mo Williams, which is not something someone with his gifts should be doing. 8 long twos out of 21 shots is not a repeatable plan of action. The worst part was when he made the move to make twice in a row in the second quarter, getting past the first defender and pulling up for an on-balance jumper just past the elbow, only to miss it twice in a row. 

I tip my cap in a massive way to Houston’s defense tonight-we knew their perimeter defense was going to be absolutely insane with Artest and Battier healthy, and that’s what we saw tonight.

Delonte was also a major culprit tonight, as he’s someone that gets looked towards in a major way to get the ball moving when LeBron’s loaded up on and get motion on that weak side, but Artest and Battier were doing so well without needing doubles that Delonte didn’t have openings, but he was still completely ineffective.

As is usually the case when we play a team that’s got us figured out defensively, Mo’s long jumpers off the dribble were the best thing going for our offense.  

I don’t even want to talk about Ben’s injury right now. I guess if any starter has to go down, he’s the best one? Bargaining, I know.

Didn’t LeBron used to love being on national TV?

Bullets of Randomness:

On the other side of the ball, Yao Ming just killed us. He’s really, really good. 

I feel like this team is better off without the most overrated player in basketball. Although to be quite honest, Shane Battier could take McGrady’s title in the forseeable future. 

The Baron von Wafer absolutely killed us as well. That man is a microwave. Could we switch Boobie for him before and see who notices? They both like to shoot and have stupid hair!

Kyle Lowry is an absolute money player. Lowry/Mayo is a very good backcourt for the next half-decade. STOP THINKING THAT GUARDS WHO AREN’T GOOD SHOOTERS CAN’T BE REALLY GOOD. I always drooled when he’d be rumored to be coming here in a Mike Miller deal. 

The good news is that we get to play the Spurs right away and try to right the ship. I sincerely mean that.

PS-I changed the box because light-on-dark text makes me crazy-Agree? Disagree? Better the other way? I’m the world’s worst web designer, so I need feedback on these things. 

Oh, and go check out Arnovitz’s writeup of this game. It’s tremendous.

Off-Day Blog Chumming: Post-Deadline Moves

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Sometimes, the one you think is too young is the best overall. (PS, my dad, unedited, on this movie-"My sister went to Dalton. You think I want some 40-year old dude sniffing around her? To hell with that noise. I don't care how well this crap is photographed.")

 

To be clear: I don’t really enjoy writing about rumors, because I feel like I’m using up words on things that aren’t going to happen and fighting these great moot battles. However, I will spit out a couple graphs here just to provide a quick baseline on a couple of the rumors flying about and things to clear up.

On Steph Marbury and Mikki Moore going to the Celtics: I really don’t forsee either of those moves as being this year’s version of the P.J. Brown acquisition. I don’t see Marbury as being a rotation-quality player on a championship team, and see him mucking up chemistry and holding the ball more than anything. And even going past chemistry, Sam Cassell is such a good locker room guy he went straight from being a player to being an assistant coach, but he nearly killed the Celtics in the playoffs because he’s completely washed up but only knows how to function as a guy with the ball in his hands. Steph’s going to be the same way. He’s not a spot-up guy, defensive specialist, or a crafty guy. At his best, he was a guy who made plays. I don’t see his skills translating when he’s at 20% of his abilities.  And I like Steph.

Is Mikki Moore better than Leon Powe or Big Baby Davis? Are we sure about that? He’s a replacement-quality big. Again, really not an impact move. The only guys with that marginal of a talent level who can help out are guys who give you rebounding and post defense at an elite level, which Mikki doesn’t.  Then again, after P.J. Brown’s pulling a Kenard in game 7 last year, anything’s possible. 

I’d love it if Joe Smith was bought out and came here. In our series with the Celtics, the three guys who came out as absolute keepers were LBJ, Lonts, and Joe. They were the guys clearly helping the team every game. Obviously, we had to give him up to essentially steal Mo Williams, but Joe is absolutely a guy you’d call playoff-approved: he brings a ton of stuff to the table, plays calm, and doesn’t mess anything up on the court. I miss Joe dearly, I’d love him back.
Outside of Joe Smith, I’m having trouble comprehending why there’s been so much clamoring for a league-average big. Ben Wallace is a solid starter now that his energy’s back and is playing like a DPOY when he’s on the court. Andy’s fallen off since the beginning of the year, but clearly he’s one of the best backup bigs in the league. Past that, LeBron is ludicrously effective when he plays the four-spot in limited minutes, putting up a PER of 39.4 (!) currently at the four, which he plays about half as much as he plays the wing.

And JJ Hickson is an absolute monster who’s the best young player other than LeBron in the LeBron era, will be starting at the four-spot in 2010, and already does some things better than any other big on the Cavs, like finish off LeBron’s penetration and leap to block shots. And his physical tools are in the 95th percentile at the four-spot. He’s already playing well, and he’s only getting better. That he makes mistakes doesn’t mean he can’t be trusted, and just because Mikki Moore or Robert Horry would play “mistake-free” ball doesn’t mean they won’t be hurting the team by being a step slow on defense or unable to unclump the lane on offense or not being able to get up for rebounds. Subtle things go both ways, and a lack of energy can doom a team just as fast as rookie overeagerness. JJ’s going to make a positive impact in these playoffs. I’d already take him for a game played tomorrow over a guy like Big Baby Davis, and I certainly don’t think it’s worth undermining his confidence to roll the dice on the chance Robert Horry isn’t completely done, which he probably is. JJ is a rotation player. Get this fact into your minds. 

One thing I would’ve liked to see is us get an extra wing to free up more possibilities for LBJ at the four small-ball, but with Kinsey and Pavlovic unable to crack the rotation at the same time as it is, I don’t worry too much. This team is deep. It’s always good to find an upgrade, but getting depth for depth’s sake isn’t the move right now. Adjust to the fact that the Newble/Marshall era is over-everyone in the rotation is a rotation-quality player.

PS-If we’re going to add anyone, I want James White, who’s actually tearing up the D-League right now. Him and LBJ on the fast-break would destroy smaller universes.

Recap: Cavs Get Win, Think About More Important Errands To Be Done Later

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

 

Happy Fat Tuesday!

 

Overview: With the Grizzlies’ offense absolutely stifled by the Cavaliers for 48 minutes, the Cavs were able to cruise to an easy win despite no starter having a particularly notable offensive performance. Daniel Gibson went for a team-high 19 as LeBron James sat the entire fourth quarter for the second game in a row. Delonte West did not play.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

Well, when your defense is this good, sometimes your offense can get away with taking the night off. I’ve been running around all day, so I wasn’t able to really study this one hard enough to find storylines jumping out at me, so just bear with my observations on this one.

LeBron was again able to lock it into cruise control for most of the night and find seams and play under control rather than having to lock it into overdrive and relentlessly attack or force jumpers-he only made one jump shot tonight. Again, he looked to set up his teammates more than not, finishing with 8 assists against only 10 shots from the field. 

Mo Williams was feeling it too, looking to either make plays or knock down shots when he was able to get his feet set, and the result was a very nice little line even with his mid-range game not working. 

Delonte missing a game with wrist soreness and the declaration that this might go on for a while was definitely more disturbing than not, but we did get to see some of Tarence Kinsey’s energy, off-ball cuts, and defense in action. Today’s “Tarence Kinsey doing Tarence Kinsey things” moment was definitely his dive cut to set up a LeBron jump-stop dunk. I miss Lonts, though. 

Hey, we got some Boobie! He was in balance, in rythym, and didn’t hesitate to launch, and even hit some heat-check type 20-footers he shouldn’t be taking. The spin was nice, but because Boobie’s a guy who dribbles with his head down, I get worried when he gets successful returns on his drives. Let’s carry this over, Boobie. We’re going to need you in the playoffs.

I WANT JJ HICKSON PLAYING MORE, NOT ROBERT HORRY’S CORPSE. He was active on absolutely every loose ball and grabbed 9 boards, 3 offensive, sprung up to absolutely destroy two shots(one was called back on a goaltend), and is absolutely exploding towards that cup.

Andy didn’t have the best game, but he did have my favorite play of the night when he cut from the weak-side to get a layup behind a LeBron post-up. Good things happen with LeBron in the post.

Wally: 1-5, 2 points. It’s going to be a roller coaster ride, folks. The 6 assists were nice.

 

Bullets of Randomness:

Yeah, nobody on Memphis looked really that good at all tonight, although Mike Conley is seriously fast and even hit 3-5 from deep tonight. What it comes down to with these little guards is if they can finish at the rim at the NBA level, and Conley hasn’t shown that he can yet, as he’s under 50% on his shots at the rim this year.

THERE WILL BE NOTHING BAD SAID ON THIS SITE ABOUT OJ MAYO, WHO IS A GOD AMONG MEN.

Actually, Warrick looked nice, although somebody please tell these guys that shooting college threes in the NBA doesn’t get you anywhere-either learn to take it behind the line or move your game into true mid-range.

Yes, I did write a complimentary essay about Rajon Rondo on FreeDarko today, although I believe Mo Williams is even more effective while being less unique. Remember, I did it because I hate Cleveland, and Henry linked to it because we’re complicit a conspiracy to get the Cavs moved to Bristol and for LeBron to go to the Knicks and host a variety show with Scott Van Pelt.  

Thing of the Game:

“Ecstacy of Gold Remix” by Nas over a Derrick Rose highlight clip. If you weren’t scintillated by this game, here’s a hearty dose of amazing on every level. Enjoy.

Recap: We’re Back In Business.

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

 

Overview: 

With a lineup at full strength for the first time in months, the Cavaliers absolutely blew the Pistons off the floor with a dominating performance that resembled the blowouts of the early season. Delonte West went for a game-high 25 in his return.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

Oh, good lord that was fun. This team at full strength is something to behold. Delonte is so vitally important to this team. Of course hitting all five of your threes is a very, very good thing, but Delonte is so much more than a shooter-it’s the way he knows how to get himself set up for those triples, the way he moves the ball from side-to-side, how the ball never stops, everything. Delonte’s just great to have back. 

When you have three playmakers (and Ben moves the ball, too), and that many shooters and add it to guys who can drive, all of a sudden you have a dynamic offense that can make a play from anywhere on the floor and the defense can’t load a side up. That extra playmaker to start plays and shooter to finish them can make all the difference, and Delonte fills both sides of that equation. No deadline acquisition would have been better for this team than Delonte coming back is. 

LeBron played a completely different game than he did in his 55-point game. He was getting the ball later in the shot clock and moving without the ball, was a link in plays instead of doing it all himself, was patient and only took the seam when it was there, and was able to put in more energy on the defensive end and was able to get in the full-court more because of it, and took advantage of the fact that he had more options with the ball with movement and spacing to rack up 9 assists. He completely left his jumper at home (of course), going 1-7 from outside the paint, and forced a few shots in the waning minutes of the third quarter to keep his shooting efficiency for the game from being stellar.

But when the game was in the first half, this was a beautifully economic and efficient performance from LeBron that, in a lot of ways, I enjoyed watching more than his 55-point barrage. And as he always seems to do in national games, he made a few plays that nobody else can, like his continuation from the three-point line, his stuff of Iverson, and his wrists-only feed to Ben Wallace. I can’t remember the last guy who could come up with tough assists not just because of court vision but because he’s actually better at the physical act of passing, i.e. being able to make a basketball go fast and accurate because of his arm strength. 

Profiles in things that made me giggle: At one point, the announcer predicted that LeBron might go for assists and, in his words, “Try and do something freaky with the helpers.” Should Steve Blake’s 14-assist quarter tonight be characterized as “pulling a Thomas Jefferson?” Actually, we’re using that from now on at this blog. 

Ben might have been itching to get some against his former team, but 7 shots is at least 5 too many for him. Settle down there, Ben. 

Not a lot of ball for Mo tonight with LeBron and Lonts both on their game, but he had an economic 4 assists and 11 points on 9 shots on the plays he made. 

I’m a little bummed that Delonte’s return seems to have pushed our young and athletic contingent of Tarence Kinsey and JJ Hickson into garbage time, because I think they could soon develop into our best bench wing and big and the people over them (Gibson and Andy), weren’t setting the world on fire in their minutes tonight, especially Gibson, who’s become a ball stopper offensively who’s not hitting his shots. 

I really like Wally as a microwave scorer who doesn’t have to apologize for firing shots when he comes in, and this was the first time we got to see how he plays since he found his stroke in January and we’re at full strength. The result was 15 points on 8 shots. 

Bullets of Randomness:

This rivalry has already kinda lost its luster, huh?

Stuckey looks like a typical “looking at a plateau and seeing a mountain” young player to me. 

Keeping it short because the Oscars are on. Go Mickey Rourke!

 

Thing of the Game:

“Second Coming.” We’re back. Also, try not getting pumped when you listen to this. Try.

Recap: A Supposedly Great Game I Never Want To See Again

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

 

Overview: The Cavs overcame an extremely sloppy first half and weak defensive outing against a hungry Bucks team behind 23 points from Mo Williams and an absolute deluge from LeBron James, who scored 55, one shy of his career high, while setting his career high for three-pointers with eight. 

Cavs-Related Bullets:

Holy freaking crap. LeBron. First and foremost, that was absolutely insane. If anyone can remember the last time that many shots with that degree of difficulty were hit in a similar time-frame, please let me know. I’d say maybe Pistol Pete might’ve done it back when he was with the Jazz or the Hawks. That would honestly be my best guess. There is no shot LeBron James cannot make. Period. One of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life. Absolutely phenominal. And on a night where every one of the 55 and 9 assists was needed. 

I have been saying in the last few recaps on this blog how LeBron’s stroke looks worlds improved in recent games, and he could be close to having a major breakthrough as far as how well he starts shooting from the outside. 

This has absolutely nothing to do with that. None. He was showing great balance, a controlled jump, and assured finish on all of his shots, his form much closer to textbook than it’s looked to me in a while. 

Tonight had nothing to do with textbook. These were 30-foot fadeaway bankers. Pull-up 27-footers still going forward. All off the dribble, none set up with the drive. Just pure, unadalterated impossible shots that he continued to make. I really don’t want to take away from that. 

Is this what LeBron James with a perimeter game looks like? Is this the blueprint for LeBron finally turning the corner and adding an outside game to his unparallelled ability to take the ball to the hole? Because I don’t think that LeBron taking contested, off-the-bounce 27-footers is something defenses are going to give up the lane to defend. Ever. And if you’re going to follow up hitting tough outside shots by taking tougher outside shots, how is that opening anything in your game up?

Two other quick contrarian points:

-Part of this stems from the fact that any other player taking one of those shots would be immediately benched. I’d love to say LeBron’s the only one capable of making those shots, but NBA players can do insane things with a basketball. Given the chance, who knows who else could do it?

-It’s not like this was a spontaneous event-LeBron hitting a three, hitting a tough three, and trying an absolutely absurd three is a fairly commonplace occurance, and usually what happens is he bricks a 32-footer catistrophically. This was something that was very much attempted before. 

Great as this was, it is a one-time event. This is not a blueprint. It is something to be amazed at, wonder. You may not see anything like this ever again. 

I feel bad saying anything bad about this performance. From the bottom of my heart, I really do. I was holding my head in disbelief along with everybody else and jumping around the room. But what I ultimately watch for with LeBron is steps that point him towards the greatest player of all time. The missing piece is an elite perimeter game. When you drive as well as LeBron does, that means easy shots-post-up layups and turnarounds, pull-up jumpers in between the first and second man, flare cuts out for open catch-and-shoot threes on balance, stutter-step set up jumpers with created space. Watching Mo pour in his carefully orchestrated and repeatable beautiful on-balance perimeter jumpers that he’s worked on and implemented in his dual scoring explosions this year was far more enjoyable to me than this outside barrage, and I like LeBron a lot more than I like Mo as a player. 

Spectacular plays on the drive to get to the hoop are my favorite thing in basketball and what makes LeBron LeBron, my favorite player to watch. But their form follows their function-they create a higher-percentage attempt for LeBron, and ultimately make him better than other players because he can make that extra split or explosion or hang in the air for longer to get a layup or dunk. With these shots, form came first. There were, without question, better attempts he passed up in order to take these shots, and doing that leaves a creeping feeling in the back of my stomach even as I go insane. Please, don’t think I’m trying to get comments or come up with a different angle on this. This stuff keeps me up at night. 

And I’d be remiss to go this entire recap without talking about the sky-hook. That is just such a typically LeBron solution it’s amazing. He’s had trouble finding a move that works for him after he drives past the first defender but can’t get all the way to the hole. Does he post up or go to a pull-up? Nah. That’s the easy way out. I think I’ll use an unblockable, gorgeous shot with an off-the-charts degree of difficulty that I somehow make look easy. Much better than an 8-foot banker or floater. 

Going 8-11 from deep, 6-15 from midrange, and 15-22 from the line is just LeBron. He had 60 if he was hitting the free throws. Hitting a 27-footer, hitting a 26-footer, missing two free throws, and immediately hitting two more 26-footers is the most hilarious thing ever. 

Mo Williams will have absolutely nothing written about him for this game, but I absolutely loved the way he played-he was attacking the whole way through and looking to get layups or make plays and was only looking for the deep jumper when LeBron was off the court or he was set up with a catch-and-shoot opportunity. 

Other than that, Z had 11 and those are your double-digit scorers. He played fantastic, but wasn’t all that involved offensively.

Andy’s energy is absolutely back-he looks revitalized out there and is all over every board. 5 fouls kept him off the floor and is an unfortunate byproduct. 

Hickson: 4 points (on a beautiful turnaround J and finish off a LeBron drive), 3 rebounds, 11 minutes. His time to daydreams ratio is ridiculously high. 

Boobie: 30 minutes, 0-3 from the field, 0 points. At this point, I would cut off my own wrist and give it to Delonte if it would get him back a day sooner. 

Similar note: Wally -12 in 20 minutes and 3-7 from the field. Saddle up for a finals run, Wally. 

Kinsey the starter: somewhat less of a man-crush than I have on Kinsey the energy reserve, but he’s still awesome, getting out there and playing defense beautifully and making a gorgeous cut for a hoop when LeBron was posting at the top of the key, and he even banged a three! Good times! However, maybe my favorite things about him is how much of a full-court dynamo he is, and that doesn’t shine through when he’s with Z on the first unit. 

Defense really not a strength tonight, with Skiles’ offense working really nicely as cutter after cutter flew into the lane and got gritty buckets inside. Charlie V being hot only made matters worse.

Bullets of Randomness:

Fight stuff-nothing really to add. I don’t think Charlie V. will be suspended, and don’t really think he should be, seeing as Andy was up and grinning like 30 seconds later. Love Z stepping in, very much an earned techical. You go to war with Big Z.

Mbah a Moute really is that good defensively-LeBron, hot as he was, tried to punk him a few times and the rook was having exactly none of it. He’ll be in this league a long time. 

LBJ’s defense seriously rattled Richard Jefferson.

That’s it. I’m at 1250 words. It’s 3:15 in the morning. I’m drained, guys. Have a good weekend.

You Can’t Always Blame Your Problems On DMZ

Friday, February 20th, 2009

halloween[1]

In case you’re confused as to why this is here: sometimes I write essays that just don’t have a good place to go. Now I have a home for them. Enjoy. 

The effects of Michael Lewis’ article have been wide-ranging, and certainly seems to have more sticking power than when +/- articles started getting run back in 2005 with Jason Collins as the posterchild of defense-we can at least accept Shane Battier as a good basketball player. More than anything, a lot of us in the blogosphere have been putting some serious thought down as to just what it is a role player does and what they make. (Aside: I’m really glad that article used things that make actual sense instead of take a similar player, like James Posey, get a story of him shooting early in practice and telling Melvin Ely about how to shuffle his feet, and concluded that James Posey possesses a magical two-toned mouthguard of intangibles and his teams win because his warrior soul blinds less-worthy 1st-round picks in crunch time, and in fact Zach Randolph reported a sharp burning in his hand when he touched his skin.)
“Lego player” is a term used in the article that’s been thrown around a little bit since this happened, which is different from the already-existing term “glue player,” somehow. “Glue” seems to fit what Battier does, as he provides a ceasing of chaos on the court-he completes plays by getting in position for, and making, open shots, he makes smart drives and moves the ball, all that happy stuff, and defensively his job as a stopper is to more or less stop chaos from taking place. (Do not be misled by the article’s descriptions of Battier’s defensive effectiveness being a byproduct of his ability to disrupt the world of Kobe. Every word of that is true, but Kobe is a special case; few players can rain sulfur and destruction from the perimeter without requiring to cut deep into the defense and impart destruction from the key as the defense panics. Upswing: For those not scoring savants like Kobe is, havoc benefits offense.) 
Certainly the abilities of players like Battier are valuable to filling the gaps caused by the penetration of someone who cannot finish for himself, or a shooter who needs a spot opened up for him, or to hinder an offensive player looking to drive and pillage at the rim. But if we’re focusing on the subtle things players do to improve their teams, where is the mention of the players who go beyond glue and become expansive polymers, gloriously incomplete in their skills but blessed with explosive ability and length and a desire to become all things at all times, filling cracks that they create themselves on offense and defense and delighting in making new possibilities with or without the ball, on both ends, for every second they’re on the floor? Battier, and the players we have traditionally thought of as role players, solve puzzles. Spot-up shooters finish plays that create the opportunity. Rebounders finish a successful defensive sequence. Defensive rotators plug up a leak. 
While these players were and are integral to success, there is another breed that has arisen. The expansive polymers-those picked up in the great high-school inspired Quest For Length and left behind and made to forage their own way through sheer ingenuity and athletic ability, do not solve puzzles laid out to them but find previously-unseen connections in a field of chaos and dismay, or find paradoxes within the mundane. Simply put, they do not tie up but turn the chaos on its own head and find something only they can make order out of. 
Odom would have to be considered the patron saint of these types of players, turning a rebound into an instant fast-break, a post-up into a position to wheel and deal, a ball coming to an opposing center with position into a loose ball he will surely snatch up, a cut-off lane into something to stretch his arms around, a spot-up shot into a weak-side cut for a score. He thrives not by putting himself in the right position, but by making his opponents’ “right” positions into his own playground. And guess who leads the Lakers in +/-? (I AM AWARE THAT +/- IS NOT PERFECT. THAT DOES NOT MAKE THIS LESS COOL.)
In fact, guess who had the highest single-game +/- scores on their respective teams in tonight’s Laker-Warriors game? By far, Odom and Anthony Randolph, who was an absolutely glorious vision of expanding polymer tonight-stripping players bringing the ball up court, trying to jump straight over rotating players and reach over their heads, jumping on backs to try and get rebounds, filling lanes and flipping himself into bizzare spots and angles to find the basket and the ball again and again. There’s Josh Smith, who helps his team offensively with pure fury and is quietly a defensive ace. In fact, Hakim Warrick, Josh Smith, Andray Blatche, Russell Westbrook(who doesn’t quite fit the model but is very, very, intriguing) , Jemario Moon, and Odom all have higher +/- ratings that Battier. Now, most of them are on worse teams and it doesn’t make them better, but there are more ways to contribute beyond the stat sheet than quiet dignity; sometimes subtlety can wield a blazing hammer. 
Important distinction here-the Radioactive Mutants of Subtlety are, in fact, different from the “energy bigs” in that they create perpetual possibility within the cracks of plays; energy bigs find rotations and track down rebounds and snatch loose balls, but they rarely create turnovers with their defense and the ball in their hands often stagnates plays, and they don’t fly in between the seams to make sub-plays but exist in a realm outside the play, looking for scraps. The energy big/wings combine the ball-hawking with a sense of purpose and ball-handling/vision to see a new play before it happens, making the moment when they get the ball a link in a previously unseen chain. And perimeter players like Baron Davis create chaos, but it’s chaos they orchestrate and in some level is an offshoot of an island they create for themselves. This is making sense and crafting a coherent narrative out of a completely unseen and unintended tributary of the play that was already forming. Hopefully that’s clear. 
Some players are great for making things tidy and cleaning up the chaos that destroys a team, and it’s often that rather than the flashy crossover or step-back that proves the true difference in a game. But sometimes it’s the ultra-talented players who seemingly ooze unlived potential that are working behind the scenes and benefiting their teams by finding new and undiscovered paths that exist outside the scope of the game as we see it, on the court or in our minds when we seek to classify. 

Post-Mortem On The Trade Deadline

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

So the trade deadline has come and gone, and we’ve stood pat. I won’t lie, I’m a little disappointed. For years now I’ve harbored dreams of that fat expiring contract bringing in Gilbert Arenas or Amare Stoudemire and adding that second bona-fide all-star with LeBron James, or another huge name. But it wasn’t meant o be. Let’s take a peek at why. 

 

-As it turns out, Amare and Bosh weren’t really all that available after all. I’m sure Amare would want to be here, but at some point the Phoenix brass looked at each other and realized that if you’re going to try and re-tool, starting things off with a great big man in his mid-20s who still has upside left isn’t the worst idea, and they appear to have gone back to damning the torpedoes, which means I don’t have to hear about the “New Phoenix” anymore. Done and done.

-We know Danny Ferry is not a risk-taker. Since he took over, he has not traded anyone who was not immediately replaceable in the rotation with a player we were getting (with the exception of Joe Smith), or had any remaining upside (Shannon Brown and Ced Simmons had pretty much had their chances.) He’s going to sit back and wait for the home runs, and those weren’t available at this deadline, seeing as how the economic crisis and the Summer Of Doom are looming over everybody’s heads.

-It would appear that the deal-breaker in almost every one of our trade talks (other than Amare) was JJ Hickson. I think the move was keeping him. Brad Miller was going to be our backup four for a year. Camby was going to play a backup role. JJ is playing very well in that backup role as it is now, and I think the brass sees him as the long-term option at the starting four. From what I’ve seen, he’s the most talented offensive big man to play with LeBron James, especially off the pick-and-roll, where he replaces Andy’s awkward fumblings around the basket and Z’s tidy pick-and-pop jumpers with furious slams at the basket. I think we would’ve regretted trading Hickson for anyone we don’t see as a long-term starter. He’s going to be our Bynum. I can feel it. I could be wrong, and did once say I wouldn’t be able to pull the trigger on Boobie for Mike Bibby, but I think JJ is going to be part of the core here for a long time. Everything seems to point to the deals with Washington, LAC, and Sacramento falling through because they wanted to get JJ and we wanted to force them into a straight salary dump. So that’s pretty much that.

-Not only do I have no problem with JJ sticking in the rotation as a backup 4 because of his ability and potential, some of our best lineups come with LeBron at the four. I really thought the Miller and Camby deals were barely worth the cost of paying them. I would’ve liked to see a VC, Richard Jefferson, or Salmons added to give us a wing option off the bench that could free up LeBron to play about 15-20 minutes per game at the four, but none of them were for sale. And if you read this blog, you know I’m harboring hope that Tarence Kinsey could be that missing wing. 

-Antawn Jamison-very good. Great offensive weapon off the bench. Definitely an upgrade over Wally. But his natural position is the three, and if he’s playing the four you’re going to lose some rebounding and defense. And he’s making 10+ million through 2012. Is Jamison good enough to say we can stand pat for the next four years? Not for me. 

-Shaq-Shaq would’ve been very interesting. His low-post presence and passing ability coupled with LeBron would’ve been pretty scary. But that seemed more a crackpot rumor than anything else, and the deal was never really going to get done. And I don’t know how him and Z on the same team works-you’re costing yourself a lot in terms of defensive rotations.

Assorted thoughts:

-Larry Hughes to the Knicks: Inevitable, hilarious. And Tim Thomas returns to the Bulls.

-I’m covering the Hornets@Lakers this Friday-I’m excited to see the awkwardness in that locker room.

-Alston to the Magic could keep them as contenders-that was a good move. And why has nobody mentioned that the Magic gave away Trevor Ariza for Maurice Evans last year?

-Drew Gooden: Back in the Bay Area. People of Chicago: Your long nightmare is over. I think Gooden and Hughes are just going to have a running bet on which one’s going to stay with a team past next year’s deadline.

-This is the team that’s saddling up for a finals run. Learn to love it. It’s as good as we’ve seen.

Recap: Back To Work

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

 

Overview:

The Cavs’ post All-Star break funk didn’t even last a full quarter, as the Cavs overcame a sluggish start to take control of the game and calmly pick apart the Bosh-less Raptors. 

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-LeBron had a very workman-like 20/9/9 on 9-17 shooting tonight: he didn’t try to force any drives and basically took what was there the entire game. I really liked how he played after starting the game off 0-4 from the field, turning his attention to trying to get his teammates set up and respecting Z’s hot hand on his favorite jumpers, as well as patiently waiting for seams and open jumpers. 8 of his assists came in the first half, as did most of his rebounds, and I’m actually kind of heartened that he didn’t gun for the triple-double, although it’s possible he’s protesting them after the New York fiasco. Also, his first make of the game came when he caught it in the midpost, backed down Shawn Marion effortlessly into the charge circle, made a quick fake and gather, and scooped in a layup while Marion stood rooted to the floor. That was his last post-up. LeBron’s sticking with an improved form on the jumper, but he’s missing a few badly, a sign that he’s in the process of changing it. 

-This should be further down the list, but TARENCE KINSEY IS BACK!!! YES YES YES!!! He started the game tonight and immediately started doing Tarence Kinsey things, like making weak-side cuts instead of watching the action on the strong-side, running the floor, and…here, I’ll just sum up Tarence with this sequence.

-Tarence catches the ball on the wing and slashes into the paint, moving the ball laterally. Nobody cuts with him for counter-motion.

-Tarence makes the questionable decision to pull up and shoots an awkward leaner flying through the paint. He misses.

-Instead of running back under the Cavs’ basket after his miss, Tarence strips the ball from Anthony Parker before he can get out of his own backcourt and throws it off of Parker after he fails to control the ball in-bounds. Cavs ball.

-On the ensuing possession, while Z is posting up, Tarence makes a weak-side cut, finds the seam, and pops a balanced bunny jumper for 2. 

-TARENCE KINSEY IS THE MAN. Tonight wasn’t his best game and he’s still getting his sea legs and isn’t a starter-quality player, but he just does so many positive things out there. 

-The All-Star Break was great for resting all of our bigs. Z was back in the flow of everything and couldn’t miss an open jumper and was great in the low post, working the low post, drawing the double team, and making some great passes, including a beautiful lob to LeBron for an absolutely thunderous stuff. There was more of an impact on that dunk than most hockey games. It’s funny because it’s Canada. 

-Andy pulled in 14 boards, was active all night on defense, got 3 blocks and a steal, and didn’t do one stupid thing offensively. That’s all we ask. 

-JJ Hickson looking strong, putting a beautiful step-through move together for a hoop and finishing off a LeBron penetration for a 4-5 night with 8 boards in only 23 minutes.

-In fact, opposing GMs, Wally Szczerbiak went 4-4 from the field tonight, with 4 boards and an assist to boot! If this was Wally’s last game as a Cavalier, which is unlikely, it was a good one. Wally, we’re prepared to stick with you and your goofy mask for the forseeable future. Not tingling with excitement, but prepared with a steely resolve, splash of cold water, and last vestige of cautious optimism. This is probably how I would have felt had McCain won the election. 

Mo Williams: 7-11, 17 points, 4 assists. All points on mid-range jumpers. A strikingly average game. 

To clarify, the All-Star game was good for all our big men who didn’t jam their arm through a glass window playing pickup football. Although I’m sure Ben would point out htat while he’s just cut, the window is shattered. It didn’t do much for Darnell Jackson either-I think the window may have won a fight with Darnell Jackson. Darnell officially has “why do we pay him money instead of James White?” status. THERE IS NO WAY SOMEONE THAT AWESOME CAN’T BE GOOD ENOUGH FOR AN NBA ROSTER. And him and LeBron’s post-practice dunk contests would be the stuff of legend. Here, just watch this video 30 times.

And we’re back. Boobie Gibson also played terribly.

Bullets of Randomness:

Without Bosh, this is a truly bad team.

Who told Jason Kapono it was a good idea to take 6 shots that weren’t threes?

After Roko Ukic’s breakout 22-point performance against the Spurs, Roko broke right back in with a 3-point barrage. The era of Roko is not yet upon us. He’ll probably be able to swing one GM confusing him for Beno Udrih into at least a 12-million dollar 2nd contract.

When did Jose Calderon miss a free throw? I WAS NOT INFORMED OF THIS. When he rolled in two FTs tonight, my heart was in my throat until I looked it up to see what the streak was at. 

Shawn Marion’s offensive game is under the category of “hilarious.” He’s clearly trying to show how effective he can be with the ball in his hands, so he drives and then, instead of pulling up or turning the corner, he just takes a 10-footer while still going at full speed with a defender on his hip. I’m sure there’s a worse way to try and score, but I don’t know what it is. 6 assists is nice, though. And when your broadcasters’ main response to criticism of the trade is “Marion is definitely better than Jemario Moon,” without mentioning Jermaine O’Neal, you’re probably a salary dumpee. 

Raptors starters: 23-62 from the field. Not a recipe for victory. 

Thing of The Game:

“Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” Radiohead. We’re less than 24 hours from the passing of the trade deadline and knowing more or less what this team will look like for the two most important runs at a championship in its history. Sleep well and pray.

Possible Halftime Activity: Vote For Me in Debate

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Hey all, hope you’re watching the game, but at 9PM EST (6PT) I signed up to be in a live-debate over at sports2debate.com. It’ll pull me away from the game for a little while, unfortunately, but I’ll catch what I missed from the arcives and it should be fun. I’m up against You Got Dunked On, and I’m afraid he’ll bring fans, so go over there, watch me try to think on my metaphorical feet, and give a vote if you’re so inclined. Here the link. See you at 6, hopefully.