Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Small Forward Puzzle

It has occurred to me that perhaps I have been too hard on Will Graves. Early in the season, I was bewildered as to why Will Graves was starting over John Henson. Then, of course, very recently, I mentioned the relatively poor efficiency of Will Graves and unveiled his eponymous theory. While I did briefly try to give a little credit for Graves free-throw shooting (especially in comparison to the rest of the team), I don't think I've given Will the full benefit of the total comparison.

So, using percentage stats because they control for differing minutes and pace (as opposed to raw totals, or per-36 minutes or anything like that), let's have a side-by-side look at the players who have logged the major minutes so far this season at the small forward position. The two main contenders are Will Graves and John Henson, though at least one (and maybe both? I'm actually not sure if they both play the position or if it's just one of them, and if so, which one. More on this later.) of the Wear twins have put in the minutes here. This is also Marcus Ginyards natural position, but since he's been starting at shooting guard and playing back-up point guard as needed, it looks like he won't be playing much at the small forward. Technically I think Justin Watts or Leslie McDonald might've played a few minutes at this position too, but let's constrain the comparisons to Will Graves, John Henson, David Wear, and Travis Wear. It bears mentioning that since both of the Wears spend time some time at the power forward position, comparing their stats to Graves and Henson won't be as exact, but is worth a look anyway. First we'll look at scoring.

True shooting percentage
Will Graves 50.5%
John Henson 43.4%
David Wear 43.0%
Travis Wear 50.8%

Usage percentage
Will Graves 20.5%
John Henson 17.3%
David Wear 13.1%
Travis Wear 18.6%

As inefficient a scoring option as Will Graves is compared to his starting peers, he's actually a fairly good scorer compared with this motley lot. If you wanted to get points on the board from this position, it seems like Will Graves is a good way to go. Travis Wear actually appears to be a slightly better shooter, but his lower usage than Will Graves makes Graves the better option for putting points on the board.

Speaking of boards, let's look at rebounds:

Offensive rebounding percentage
Will Graves 6.2%
John Henson 8.6%
David Wear 1.4%
Travis Wear 12.8%

Defensive rebounding percentage
Will Graves 12.3%
John Henson 16.7%
David Wear 9.2%
Travis Wear 10.9%

The slight edge in rebounding goes to John Henson who dominates rebounding on the defensive end and has a slight edge over offensive rebounding leader Travis Wear in total rebounding (13.0% to 11.8%). It's useful, I think, to reflect on how impressive this is: a full-time small forward is out-rebounding guys who spend a big chunk of their time as power forwards. Those long, spindly arms know how to corral loose balls, even out on the perimeter. That's not all those long arms are good for either.

Block percentage
Will Graves 0.5%
John Henson 9.5%
David Wear 1.1%
Travis Wear 0.0%

Okay, so you probably already knew that Henson was a superior shot blocker to the other three candidates, but it's worth seeing the magnitude of his greatness. Also, here's another useful figure: 8.3%. What's that? That's monster shot-blocker Ed Davis's shot blocking percentage. Henson, so far this season, is an even better shot blocker than the supremely talented Ed Davis. Impressive, huh? Let's look at some of the more "guard-oriented" stats where we might expect Will Graves to have the edge.

Steal percentage
Will Graves 2.9%
John Henson 2.8%
David Wear 1.3%
Travis Wear 1.3%

Turnover percentage
Will Graves 10.5%
John Henson 11.0%
David Wear 20.2%
Travis Wear 14.9%

Assist percentage
Will Graves 6.2%
John Henson 13.7%
David Wear 9.1%
Travis Wear 1.6%

Looking at these numbers, you can see that Graves and Henson are nearly equal in steals and turning the ball over, though it bears mentioning that Will Graves does have the slightest of edges in both categories. It also bears mentioning that the two are both also amongst the best on the team in stealing and minimizing turnovers. When it comes to assists though, Henson is the clear favorite. He is far and away the best passer amongst all of the Carolina big men (Deon, Ed, and Tyler don't get any higher than Ed Davis's 6.5% assist rate).

So what's the verdict? Well, let's go ahead and disqualify the Wears. Despite Travis Wear's skillful shooting and rebounding, it seems pretty obvious that he does most of his work at the power forward position. Travis gets more offensive rebounds, draws more fouls, and shoots more accurately than David who has shot more threes and has a dramatically higher assist rate. Of the two, it seems more likely that David is playing the small forward more that Travis, who's statistical profile pretty much screams power forward. So if we disqualify Travis for mostly being a power forward and David for just not being better than the others at a single thing (exception: by virtue of his two out of three 3-point shooting, David is technically the best 3-point shooter on the team), we have a two man race between Will Graves and John Henson.

John Henson is a superior passer, rebounder, and shot-blocker. Will Graves is a better scorer. Who do you pick? Well, if you are me, and happen to believe that Will Graves very problem is that he is focused too much on scoring despite being an inefficient option, you might find that John Henson contributes more all around. At this point in his still young college career, Henson seems like the ultimate glue guy, facilitating the offense with his court-vision and great passing, terrorizing the perimeter on defense with his length, quick hands, and knack for shot-blockling, and creating a whole world of match-up Hell that most coaches are going to dread figuring out. He's like a bizzaro Kevin Durant, and I mean that in the best possible way: blessed with the same lanky frame, but instead of being a largely one-dimensional scoring machine, he lacks that polished shot but is a shot-blocking, quick-passing, ball-thief and a long-striding night terror on defense.

If the numbers (or at least my take on them) seem to point to Henson, why does Roy insist on Graves. Well, there are a couple clear reasons that don't show up on the stat sheet. As good as I think Henson looks out there most of the time, it's pretty obvious (and logically sound) that Will Graves simply knows the playbook better. He has a veteran's understanding of the offense and knows how to make his rotations properly on defense. He has experience under the bright lights and he knows Roy well-- this is Will's fourth year with the team. Henson is a freshman. There is a very good chance that these things matter.

Short of someone giving me the plus/minus numbers, I can't really prove one way or another who actually makes the more positive impact on the court. I get why Will Graves starts at small forward, and I think that Roy probably does in fact know what he's doing. I simply wanted to highlight an argument for John Henson getting some more playing time. The dude is genuinely gifted, would make good use of extra minutes, and is only going to get better. I also think that there's a real benefit to making Graves the leader of the second-unit and having him and Zeller provide a potent and balanced one-two punch while letting Henson serve as the glue guy facilitating the already ultra-efficient scoring of the starters. Just my opinion.

All that said, still can't figure a good reason to play the Wears extended minutes at small forward. That shit needs to stop. Numbers don't back support it, and somehow it almost always manages to make for the most cringe-worthy moments of the entire game (assuming Marcus hasn't blown a dunk yet).

The Easy Ones

I want to talk to you about free-throws. Specifically, I want to talk to you about how well the 2009-2010 UNC men's basketball team is shooting them. Last year, a large part of the success and efficiency of the UNC offense had to do with drawing fouls and turning those free throws into points. UNC was one of the very teams at getting to the line and was an excellent free throw shooting team. A lot of this had to do with Tyler Hansbrough, who basically made his living at the free throw line, but it was truly a team effort: Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington were also superb at getting to the line and even better at knocking down free throws. Danny Green shot 85%. As a team, UNC shot over 75%. Unfortunately, those who remained are significantly worse at shooting free throws. Deon, Ed Davis, and Larry Drew were all major liabilities on the line. Danny would often play power forward to finish games to prevent opponents from playing hack-a-Deon in close games.

Now that these three are the core of the team, what's the story? Well, it's a mixed one. Let's see the raw numbers:

Free throw shooting percentages
Travis Wear 87.5%
Deon Thomas 79.2%
Will Graves 75.0%
Tyler Zeller 70.8%
Larry Drew II 68.2%
Ed Davis 63.8%
Marcus Ginyard 57.9%
Dexter Strickland 44.4%
John Henson 41.7%
Justin Watts 40.0%
David Wear 25.0%
Leslie McDonald 16.7%

Team 64.2%

So, the bad news first: This is not a great free-throw shooting team. 64.2% overall is really bad. In particular, our guards and the freshmen are just shooting horribly. Aside from Travis Wear, who has only taken nine free throws so far, no one is shooting over 80%. There are five rotation players who are shooting under 50%. We can talk in greater depth about the bad stuff later, but let's touch on some sunshine first.

Here is the good news: Deon is shooting really well, as in nearly 80% well. I don't know what it is, but he's shooting way better than he did in his first three years where he shot 65% for two of those years and an abysmal 60% for his sophomore year. In fact, ignoring Travis Wear (, he's the best free throw shooter on the team. Would Deon shoot the technicals this year? The same clang-clang-groan-when-he-get's-fouled Deon? Yes. Wow. Great job, Deon.

Some more good news: Larry Drew and Ed Davis, while still not great, are both improving. Larry Drew shot an abysmal, Ben Wallace-like 41.2% last season and has now made an amazing improvement to 68.2%. Now, that's incredible, taken at face value, but a word of caution: Last year's number was based on 17 free throws and this year's number is based on 22. Due to the small sample size, Larry Drew's "actual skill level" could be anywhere in between (and really a good bit higher or lower). So, cautious optimism is the rule for Larry's free throw shooting. Ed Davis's progress looks a little less amazing, but is all the more important and is probably more concrete. Ed Davis shot 57.3% last year and is shooting 63.8% this year. This is nothing but good news. Ed Davis draws fouls at the highest rate of anyone on the team this year and his ability to shoot a higher percentage from the free throw line will turn his already insane scoring efficiency totally nuclear. This is good stuff.

Equally good, Tyler Zeller and Will Graves seem to be shooting pretty well, and this seems to be consistent with their past performance. Good job, guys.

Now, let's talk about the bad stuff: Marcus Ginyard is shooting 57.9%. This is bad, but fortunately, it's not typical. In his previous four years at Carolina, Marcus is a 73.6% free throw shooter. Hopefully, we can expect him to shoot closer to that as the season goes on. Justin Watts (admittedly, on only five shots) is shooting 40%. The bad news is that his first year at Carolina, he shot 42.9%, so don't expect the same upswing that we might expect for Marcus.

Now, Dexter Strickland, John Henson, David Wear, and Leslie McDonald: they need to practice some damn free throws. I get that they are freshmen playing on bigger stages that ever before, but jitters or not, they are all shooting worse than Shaq. Hell, some of them are shooting worse than Ben Wallace. Free throws are really easy to practice and not at all difficult to improve. I am willing to bet, however, that all of these guys usually do shoot a lot better than this, and as the season goes on, these numbers should all steadily climb towards reasonable and respectable values in the 60s-70s range. Likewise, sadly, we probably can't expect Travis Wear to shoot nearly 90% all season. But anyway, for now: Great job, Travis! Practice your free-throws, the rest of the freshmen class!

The message, overall, is a simple one: Yes, this is a bad free-throw shooting team, but so far, there has been improvement, and, fortunately, we can probably count on even more gains in the free-throw department.

Monday, December 7, 2009

An Apology and the Will Graves Theory

Once upon a time, I promised to do recaps of every Carolina basketball game for both the men and women. Clearly, and unfortunately, this hasn't happened. I've really dropped the ball on the women, who are playing really great, and I promise to blog about them and the NBA soon. As for the men, there have been six games since then and nary a recap in sight.

Well, my friends, this is my apology and with a full week of no games, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on what's happened and talk about how things can get better. In the six games the men have played, there have been two great wins, two wins that while not meaningless, were expected, and two losses. What's the key to understanding this? Well, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to The Will Graves Theory.

The Will Graves Theory
Will Graves is the current starting small forward for UNC. Though he starts, he splits his minutes with a lot of other people and is currently averaging only about 19 minutes a game. Will Graves is a great player, a tough rebounder, a hustler, and from time to time, a lights out three point shooter. In more than a few of these games, he's made some really savvy, heads-up plays that have really helped the team.

There is a problem. Despite all the good things he does, Will Graves is not shooting terribly well this season and he's taking a lot of shots, shots that should probably be going to other players. Let's take a look at some numbers,

First, let me back up my assertion that he's not shooting well. Let's look at true shooting percentage, a measure that weights and accounts for the value of three pointers and free-throws.

True shooting percentage
Deon Thompson 59.3%
Ed Davis 69.2%
Ginyard, Marcus 61.6%
Tyler Zeller 60.0%
Larry Drew II 63.2%
Will Graves 50.5%

Very clearly, you can see that of the players who get major minutes, Graves is shooting the poorest. He is still shooting pretty well, but is really way below the other guys getting major minutes in terms of how well he's scoring. If you just saw this chart, and you were planning your offense, it becomes clear that Graves should be taking the fewest shots. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Let's look at usage percentage, "an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor."

Usage percentage
Deon Thompson 28.0%
Ed Davis 20.0%
Ginyard, Marcus 15.6%
Tyler Zeller 25.5%
Larry Drew II 17.6%
Will Graves 20.5%

Aside from the number one scoring option, and understanding that Tyler Zeller is the second-unit's main scoring option, Will Graves is getting the most touches. He is getting more touches than Ed Davis, who is shooting the ball at nearly a 70% true shooting rate! Davis has played 237 minutes so far this season while Graves has played 167. In 70 extra minutes of playing time, Davis has attempted a field goal only three more times than Graves. Now obviously, this is a little unfair. Davis is shooting phenomenally and is not getting nearly enough touches for how well he is scoring. However, my point could be made with any of the other players. Will Graves is an inefficient scoring option and is using possessions at a disproportionate rate.

Is it costing UNC games? It seems like it. In the loss to Kentucky, Graves had ten attempted field goals, good for second most attempts on the team (behind Deon) and tied with Kentucky's superstar phenom John Wall. Should the worst shooting starter on UNC be taking the same number of shots as probable number one NBA draft pick John Wall? Probably not. In the game against Syracuse, Graves led UNC in field goal attempts with twelve. He made two.

It's really hard to win games where your least efficient scoring option is taking the most shots. Carolina's offense is at it's best when the ball is moving freely and patiently. We have time in our half-court set, and we should be trying to get Deon the ball on the block or to Ed by the hoop, or turn a Larry Drew drive into a Marcus Ginyard open three. When other teams stop the ball movement and force Will to be a major component of our offense, we lose. I'm not saying that Will should stop shooting-- I still think he should keep trying to create and definitely do his best to knock down those open threes that we know he can get. I just want him to stop trying to put the team on his back. I want him to consider the extra pass, think about all the ways he can contribute without taking bad shots.

In the game against Michigan State, Will led the team in offensive rebounding. He took two shots, and made them both. It's been our best game of the year so far, and that's no accident.

Will Graves is the key to Carolina's offense: when he lets go and embraces his role with that zen-like shooter's detachment and plays within the flow (Wayne Ellington was the master of this), our offense hums smoothly. When he tries to force things and dominates the ball, our offense grinds to a standstill. The Will Graves Theory. Tell your friends.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Game Recap: UNC vs. Valparaiso

This was a disappointing game. It was an 11 point victory against the over-matched Crusaders, but it was a pretty disappointing game because, in short, Carolina didn't look like a top-flight team. They didn't dominate. Now, I know this sounds unfair, but everyone knows the deal, everyone knows that's expected against a team like Valparaiso. This is the point where everyone starts to get nervous about what happens when Carolina plays a competitive team.

In all fairness, everything went right for the Crusaders, and their game plan went down about as well as could be hoped. That said, Carolina is going to be playing teams that are hot or lucky or a combination of both. We need to be ready. Let's break down the game:

What went right: Deon, Cortez, and Zeller know what's up and are legitimately scary. They are getting their blocks and rebounds easy. They are shooting at a great clip, getting to the line, and shooting free throws well (all over 80%!). Drew II seems to be for real: He's making great plays, shooting well, and taking the big step. Marcus is Marcus and that's great. Defensively, we held them to under 35% from the field and below 30% from the 3-point line.

What went wrong: In the second-half, Valpo shot 53% from the field and 70% from the 3-point line. Our defense couldn't stop anything and all of the second-team outside of Zeller seemed hopeless. We couldn't put them away, we couldn't ice it, we couldn't snap their necks and insult their mommas and make them cry on the bus ride back. We just sort of ran up and down the court until we won, or whatever, just leave me alone okay. In any case, the lack of focus was fairly disturbing.

What we know: We have to turn the ball over less. We have to defend the perimeter better. We have to focus.

What we don't know: How will this team defend against legit big men? Every team, UNC has played so far has tried to play outside of the point to avoid the bigger UNC players by the basket. The post-defense of the UNC frontcourt has yet to really be tested. How well will this team play against top-notch competition? Can this team consistently make use of the three? How good are the new guys on the second unit? What do we really know about Strickland, McDonald, Watts, and the Wears?

When we find out these questions, we'll find out a lot about our team.

On the small forward position: We started Will Graves at this spot, but lots of other people have been getting minutes at this spot. Notably, John Henson, Marcus, and the Wears. Frankly, these minutes should be going to Henson. Will Graves has some veteran experience, but he's just not showed a lot of game so far: He's supposed to be the teams designated 3-point shooter but is hitting under 30%. Right now he's a specialist who is sucking at his specialty. Marcus Ginyard is great, but his ball-handling skills (Yeah, I know he had five turnovers tonight...), defense, and touch on this guard poor team mean that he's going to have to spend most of his time at shooting guard and even point guard. Now, let's talk about the Wears and the one thing that really clearly seems to not be working: They aren't small forwards. They can't guard other small forwards on the perimeter and they sure don't seem comfortable trying to play that position on the offense. They seem real happy playing up in the front court, and I know Roy wants to make full use of the bench, but for the most part, Wears to the front. So by now, I bet you've guessed where I'm going with this right? Well, if you haven't, you ain't been paying attention: Henson. Henson is the answer at small forward, and he should probably start and plays should be run for him. He has a great shooting touch, he plays smart and wily, he blocks like a crazy man, he runs the floor, and has amazing passing. Roy needs to read up on "point forward" and give Henson the minutes. I can't help, but think that Roy is trying to hide him like he tried for Ed last year.

So, long story short: Play Henson more at small forward and we'll know a lot more about this team after this week. Gulp.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Game Recap: UNC vs. North Carolina Central University

Sorry this is late, but here you go:

No one expected this to be a good game, and at 89-42 it really wasn't. There are always a couple like this at the beginning of the year: warm-up games. These are the games where a few lowly teams are led to the slaughter. In the years past, this would be an opportunity for Carolina to put up over 120, pad the stats for the ESPN color guys who love to mention how many 100 point games Carolina has had in a given season. This year it's different. We haven't put up 100 this year at all. No biscuits yet. This is not a cause for alarm.

In years past, we would put up 120 and let them put up 90. Still a 30 point blow-out, but always cause for the finger-wagging sanctimony of the basketball self-righteous, aghast that a team would have so little self-respect as to give up 90 points. Well, this year may be different. This year, I think that if this team gives up 90 points, it will only be in an unwatchable, catastrophic rout. If it happens at all.

This team is really good defensively. I know it's only Central, but wow. We held them to 26% and unleashed a slew of devastatingly demoralizing blocks. This team will make an offense work and outright prevent baskets. Our offense isn't there yet, and we've yet to play a team with traditionally effective post-up big men, but so far, the defense looks good.

First things first: Marcus looked good. He shot the ball well, he ran the offense and defense well. He looked athletic, and on defense did his Shane Battier hand-in-face impression the whole game-- shooters loved it. Zeller looked good. After the Florida International game, I'd pegged New Tyler as the worst defensively of the Carolina big men, as well as maybe the teams worst passer. Now I feel bad about this. Dude had a good game: no turnovers, lots of points on perfect shooting from the field and three blocks! The worst of the main Carolina big men had three blocks. What a good year this will be.

Ed Davis didn't continue his statistical domination as strongly, but the fact remains: He's going to be ridiculously good. His heart-breaking blocks and complete and utter ability to become unstoppable in the low post were a comforting sight. Jon Henson botched a couple of big plays, including a potentially mind blowing reverse ally-oops that my roommate was sure would get him benched for show-boating, but the idea that these astonishing plays could have happened was enough. He handles the ball well, his limbs are long enough to scare people, and he has a deft passing ability I had underestimated. Even if he couldn't get it all together tonight, the potential is there and I can't wait to see it unleashed. He has some great assists.

Drew II is coming along. I'm happy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Game Recap: UNC vs. Florida International University

The first official game of the hundredth year of the University of North Carolina's men's basketball program was perhaps the first real chance to see exactly how this year was going to shape up as well as the first chance to see some weirdo '57 throwback jerseys with red accents. WEIRD. So though the game ended with a decisive victory, 88-72, against Isiah Thomas's Florida International University Golden Panthers, I couldn't help but feel disappointment: This is one of the best basketball teams in the country?

UNC didn't take care of the ball, turning it over 26 times. By contrast, FIU turned it over only 20 times. Routinely, we looked sloppy and careless, making terrible passes and ill-advised plays. Despite having a huge size advantage, we really failed to capitalize and force the issue. Our offense looked confused and aimless. Guys were clearly making mistakes on defense and it was obvious some guys didn't know the system. It looked like a young team. Which it is. So I guess these things are okay. Still, a little disappointing.

But there were good things. Indeed, there were many, many good things. Drew II is much improved from last year and was killing it with a credible Ty Lawson impression: speed, pinpoint passing, and some sweet on-ball moves including a bad-ass cross-over and at least one ankle breaker. Who would have thought that training with Kobe, one of the hardest working and most skilled basketball players ever, in the off-season would pay dividends? By the way, the answer is everyone. "What about idiots?" you ask. The answer to that is "What about them?"

Deon Thompson looked good. He looked like he looked at the beginning of last season when Tyler was out: ready and willing to get in the trenches and do the dirty work and, oh yeah, score. Currently, Deon looks like the best and most consistent option on offense, and thats more than okay.

Ed Davis played well: A double-double and four blocks in twenty-three minutes bodes well for the future, despite one ill-advised attempt to lead a fast break on his own. Marcus Ginyard and Will Graves looked ready to lead this team after their seasons off: both were all over the place on both ends of the floor and seem more than capable. Ginyard had a big dunk that surprised me, considering that when I think of "Marcus Ginyard" and "dunk" the connecting phrase that comes to mind first is "missed another." Propers to Marcus. Will Graves, incidentally, got the start at small forward, which was also a surprise to me.

I thought John Henson, would start at small forward, but everyone's favorite 6'10" freshmen beanpole came off the bench. He looked good tonight, though not extraordinary, didn't get that many minutes and apparently doesn't really yet have the offense running any plays for him. Imagine this: Henson and Ed Davis pick and roll. That is frightening. In any case, the talent seems clearly there, and with that I will clearly inaugurate the John Henson Breakout Watch, wherein I will devote a section of each recap to noting how far along Henson has come in his quest to come to Earth and destroy our conception of what 6'10", 200 lb beanpoles can do.

Everyone else was fine. Zeller, Watts, McDonald, and Strickland were meh and the Wears were a little disappointing, but all in all-- everything was fine. We shoot more threes than I expected in the first half (12), but only shot one in the second so I felt somewhat indicated. The other shift at the half was when we made a real commitment to getting to the line (6 vs. 13 attempts), which seems like a real reliable way to get points, especially if people are going to be consistently good free throw shooters. I was also surprised to see Roy Williams use some brands and blends of zone defense so early in the season. In the past, it seems like we've lived and died by man to man. It was also cool to see Roy test out our full-court press and trapping, but as it stands now, I'm dubious to the efficacy of these when we run it.

In any case: this is a good team, but maybe not deserving of our ranking yet. There's a lot of raw talent to figure out how to use and a lot of practice to be done. Adding the Henson/Davis pick and roll could go a long way towards making up for any offensive short-comings.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where I Have Been and What Is Coming

Do not despair my children, Love in the Time of Lebron is not dead. We are emerging from our cocoon, stronger than ever. The NBA season has started. Tonight, the University of North Carolina Men's Basketball season will begin. On the 13th of November, the University of North Carolina Women's Basketball season will begin. As of now, I want to go ahead and say that I'm going to make a serious commitment to all three of these topics. Here is what you have to look forward to.

1. I'm finishing the Pre-Season Team Previews. I know the season has started Fuck it. Whatever.
2. UNC men and women's team previews. One of these is actually likely to debut before the season starts.
3. Game previews and recaps for the UNC teams (mostly just recaps with the odd preview).
4. All the inessential basketball information your heart desires (Caron Butler's Mountain Dew problem!)
5. More dumb essays.
6. A column about fantasy basketball.

See you soon, wonderfuls.

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009-10 Team Previews: Philadelphia 76ers

Welcome to another special installment in the web's best NBA team previews. So special that you will be filled with specialness and specially special and a special sense of the special. To check out all the entries in the series, you can click here.

Today, we will be discussing the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that is best known for all the great players it used to have. It is currently known for no longer having any of these great players. It also has the distinction of possibly being the team I care least about, a title that I think is going to make the citizens of Sacramento, Memphis, and Milwaukee very jealous.

Team That I Care Least About

Things I Like
Philadelphia is a swell city. I enjoy its patriotic landmarks, cream cheese-spread, and at least one television show set in this fair city. It is my understanding that Will Smith, amongst other fine citizens of the world, was born in Philadelphia. Basketball-wise, Dr. J, Charles Barkley, and Allen Iverson are three of my all-time favorite players. Great guys, I love all of them. Also... cheese steak is delicious?

Look, if pressed, I'd say that Andre Iguodala is a fine player who can change the game. Also, Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights are cult heroes in the making. So there.

Oh and Elton Brand produced Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn. Seriously. So that's rad.

Things I Don't Like
Elton Brand has done nothing the past few years and while I get that he's been injured, I can't fight the feeling that he's overrated. Also, Lou Williams is the starting point guard? Maybe he'll surprise us all, but that's really suspect.

Other than that... Well, it's really hard to actively hate or dislike something you don't care about.

The best case scenario for the Philadelphia 76ers lies in the ability of ghosts to possess and control the actions of living human beings. Specifically, time-traveling ghosts. The only way that the 76ers are going to be compelling is if the ghosts of Allen Iverson, Dr. J, and Charles Barkley possess the bodies of the current players and use some kind of supernatural puppetry to propel them towards great feats. These three were and are legends. Andre Iguodala? I mean, he's a less scintillating Gerald Wallace.

Look, Philadelphia: I want to love you. AI is my favorite player and he spent years pouring all of his blood, sweat, and tears for this team and all you wanted to talk about is practice. Now the best you can hope for is that the time traveling ghost of Allen Iverson possesses Lou Williams and unleashes a reign of terror upon the rest of the league.

The time traveling ghost scenario becomes true and Lou Williams starts breaking down Rajon Rondo on wicked crossovers and pouring in 30 points a game. Unfortunately, in Memphis, a broken shell of a hero takes notice and sees something familiar in the way that Lou Williams calmly steps over Mo Williams. Present-day Allen Iverson hires an old priest and a young priest to come with him to Philadelphia to try to exorcise future-ghost-AI from the tormented and mortal frame of Lou Williams. Its a grisly sight to watch the malevolent spirit rip free of poor Lou Williams flesh and even more shocking to see the spirit seek refuge in the familiar host of the Answer himself. Iverson, now with dueling personas struggling within him along with the unknowable secrets of time and space, turns completely transcendent and wins twelve straight games down the stretch for the Grizzlies. It will be just like Game One of the Finals against the Lakers.

Philadelphia misses the playoffs. Broken, Lou Williams is forced into early retirement.

Relevant Media

Eh. Cross your fingers for the time-traveling ghost scenario and enjoy Iguodala's highlights, but otherwise... eh.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2009-10 Team Previews: Utah Jazz

Welcome to another special installment in the web's best NBA team previews. So special that you will be filled with specialness and specially special and a special sense of the special. To check out all the entries in the series, you can click here.

Today, we will be discussing the Utah Jazz. The Utah Jazz are most notable for being an okay team that does okay and is filled with players who are thoroughly okay. They win some games and lose others. Typically they win more games than they lose, but lost lose the important ones. And that's okay.

Tean I Don't Like With A Few Players I Do Like, I Guess

Things I Like
Deron Williams is a great basketball player. He's easily the second-best point guard in the game today and his duels with Chris Paul are the stuff of legend. He's clearly one of the best overall players in the league and his game is skillful, polished, and athletic. I enjoy the ghost of Andrei Kirilenko who still displays flashes of that multi-talented versatility that used to be so exciting. Paul Millsap should be a starter somewhere and Eric Maynor will always hold a special place in my heart ("IS THIS THE DAGGER?"). Finally, Kyle Korver's corn-eating ways are totally tolerable when teamed with Deron Williams.

Things I Don't Like
Carlos Boozer went to Duke, betrayed Lebron and the Cavaliers, holds back Millsap, and generally causes contract headaches at Utah. He's a skilled enough player, sure, but there is so much that points to pure assholery. In a lot of ways, he's a perfect player for Utah.

Yeah, that's right, I don't like Utah. When I think things like, I don't know basketball and jazz, I don't think of Salt Lake City. I know, I know-- sure. I know all about the great basketball traditions and Stockton and Malone and Jerry Sloan. I know and I don't care. Yes, Stockton and Malone are great players, but is Jerry Sloan a great coach? Oh, he won a lot? I don't care. He is boring. The city is boring. The Utah Jazz are boring. The fact that I can watch them at all is a tribute to how truly great Deron Williams is.

Also Andrei Kirilenko's YouTube highlight reels and mixtapes have the worst soundtracks of any NBA player's. Trust me on this.

There is something truly and horrendously powerful about living in someone's shadow. Here are the facts: Deron Williams is a great point guard. At any other point in history, there is a legitimate case for him being the best point guard in the game (seriously and absolutely). This can't be true in present circumstances, however. Chris Paul is quite simply (if things go according to plan) going to end up being the greatest point guard of all time. Deron Williams may match up with Chris Paul one-on-one, but there are forces of history at work which overwhelm Deron-- he is destined to live in Chris Paul's shadow. Which brings me to the question at hand: Are Deron Williams and Chris Paul the reincarnated forms of Salieri and Mozart?

In several years, Deron Williams will attempt suicide by slitting his own throat while confessing to murdering Chris Paul. He'll be committed to an institution but slowly warm to a young priest who wants to hear the whole and sordid tale of how he and Chris Paul met, and how the horrific plot that led to the murder slowly developed. At the end of the tale, Deron Williams will angrily curse God for making him the "patron saint of mediocrity." As part of this divinely imposed curse, he will be forced to be point guard for the Utah Jazz for longer than John Stockton.

Related Media

Good but not great, and only really interesting along a single dimension: Watch them when they play the Hornets. Watch Deron Williams highlights. Don't bother going out of your way for anything else.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2009-10 Team Previews: Atlanta Hawks

Welcome to another wonderful installment in the web's best NBA team previews. So magical that you will be filled with wonder and astonishment and a mystical sense of the magical and mystical magic that is mystic, yet also magic. To check out all the entries in the series, you can click here.

Today, we will be discussing the Atlanta Hawks, a young talented team that has been young, talented, fun, and bursting with promise for a long time. Now, they are ready to collect on that promise.

Team That I Like

Things I Like
I basically really like every single player on this team. No seriously. The rotation is almost entirely unimpeachable. Of their starters, who are you going to criticize? There is no one. Maybe, Marvin Williams? You might, but I would never. I love Marvin Gaye Williams in all of his resplendent nerdiness and soulfulness. Mike Bibby is a consummate professional who is making precisely the correct amount he should be making. Al Horford is a legitimate and talented young center. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith are supremely gifted basketball players. And then you are bringing Jeff Teague, Mo Evans, and Jamal Crawford off the bench? Seriously? That's just beautiful.

This team is young, talented, and more athletic than just about any team they will ever square off against. They have all been fairly seasoned, they have all tasted the play-offs.

Hell, I even happen to think that "Hawks" is one of the better team names.

Things I Don't Like
Mike Woodson is not the best coach in the world and that statement isn't exactly the slightest of understatements.

Something about Zaza Pachulia's game annoys me. I don't know what. I'm intrigued by him because of his Georgian origin, yet it also gives rise to one of the more uncomfortable hypothetical questions in terms of NBA players: If he were alive today, would Stalin claim Pachulia as his favorite player?

Jamal Crawford is the longest tenured player in the NBA who has never tasted the playoffs. Jamal labored with the Bulls during the dark years of the early part of the decade and then played for the Knicks during the height of the Isiah Thomas era. He managed to join the Knicks this year just in time for the post-Baron Davis disintegration of one of the most exciting teams of the decade. Jamal Crawford is a great player who has been stuck on terrible teams. Is Jamal Crawford cursed? It seems fairly likely. Though a cursory (GET IT?!) examination of Jamal's past turns up no evidence of betraying Roma fortune tellers, uncovering pharaoh tombs, or stealing any sort of Tiki-idols, my investigation has been far from exhaustive. The Hawks front office should investigate this to be sure. If ever a player and team deserves to be free of curses it's Jamal Crawford and the Atlanta Hawks

Marvin Gaye Williams will sing the national anthem and simultaneously solve a Rubix cube.

You will still not know who Joe Johnson is. Josh Smith will dunk the moon.

Related Media

VerdictWatch every game you can and love this team with few reservations. It's okay to cringe when Josh Smith jacks up threes.

2009-10 Team Previews: Minnesota Timberwolves

Welcome to another wonderful installment in the web's best NBA team previews. So magical that you will be filled with wonder and astonishment and a mystical sense of the magical and mystical magic that is mystic, yet also magic. To check out all the entries in the series, you can click here.

Today, we will be discussing the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that basketball people spent a disproportionate time thinking about this summer because of draft day antics and the Saga of Ricky Rubio. It's worth mentioning that the distillation of this entire summer's worth of thought about the Timberolves is contained in this blog post. No, scratch that, I can do better. It is contained within these quotation marks: "You are doing what? Why? Okay... Wait, why? Oh, but you are trying? Okay. But, it's not working is it? Yeah. Wait, what now?"

Team I Don't Like With Lots of Players I Do Like

Things I Like
I like all the new guys in Minnesota: Ramon Sessions is one of the better point guards in the league despite having no outside shot and being banished to playing in the absolute definition of obscurity: second string on the Milwaukee Bucks for years (This is a special purgatory reserved for only the most interesting and exciting point guards-- I'm so sorry Brandon Jennings. The NBA is a cruel mistress). Johnny Flynn is apparently the secret twin brother of Ty Lawson (who, incidentally, the Timberwolves also drafted and then traded to Denver), so I'm obligated by law to like him and his breakneck, free-wheeling ways. Speaking of which, Wayne Ellington, the sweet-shooting Carolina guard, surprisingly-athletic Final Four Most Outstanding Player and all-round nice-guy was also drafted by the Timberwolves.

Kurt Rambis, the new coach, is also, incidentally one of my top five, all-time, NBA fashion icons. I mean look at him:

That is what a man looks like.

Things I Don't Like
David Kahn, president of basketball operations, drafted four point guards in the 2009 draft and then acquired another one in free agency. The one he really wanted, Ricky Rubio, won't even be playing in the NBA this year. But, that's fine, because you might have guessed this, but YOU ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH POINT GUARDS. So, well-played sir. Well fucking played.

The Timberwolves are a terrible organization and I say that, in all fairness, out of personal bitterness. This was the prison that caged the fearsome, freakish fury of Kevin Garnett for so many years. This is the place where Rashad McCants, one of my most favorite sweet-shooting malcontents was trapped and ruined. Because of this, I fear for Ramon Sessions. I fear for Johnny Flynn. I fear for Wayne Ellington.

Also, Ricky Rubio passes really well but as near as I can tell, that is the only thing separating him from a Jonas brother.

Speaking of which, I'd been doing some digging in the Calderon case and I started to notice something suspicious. Look at these highlights of Ricky Rubio playing with the Spanish national team:

Notice something odd? Right. Where's Pau Gasol? He's not in any of the footage. What was Pau Gasol really doing when he was supposed to be playing basketball for Spain? Is he working for Calderon? Is all the drama surrounding Rubio really a smoke screen to cover up an insidious plot by the Spanish mafia? Is Ricky Rubio's excellent passing, singing, and dancing really just a diversion? IS HE FAKING HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH VANESSA HUDGENS? HOW WILL SHE FEEL WHEN SHE FINDS OUT?

I'm sorry, I know this isn't strictly about the Timberwolves, but this is bigger than both of us.

Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that Kevin Love will sort of ditch the over-sized, low-rent Justin Timberlake circa 2005 look? After bonding with Kurt Rambis, is there any doubt that the rebounding wunderkind goes full on and embraces the big dorky retro glasses and embraces the parted hair and Rambis mustache?

No, there is not. Now dream bigger.

DREAM SCENARIO: The entire team adopts the look. Imagine it. Imagine Ramon and Wayne and Al and Corey. Imagine them all. Imagine the pan down the bench. A whole bench filled with glorious Rambises (Wait, third-declension so... Rambes?). Mustaches as far as the eye can see. The shortest shorts in the league. I am picturing it. I am imagining. I am dreaming it. I am willing it.

Related Media

Stay tuned. The Timberwolves are loaded with fun and interesting players who could make this year really entertaining, and it's totally within the realm of possibility that the new coach, new staff, and new players help to create something really great and new (Team of Rambes). On the other hand, it's the Timberwolves: It's probably going to be an unwatchable disaster in spite of everything.

2009-10 Team Previews: New York Knicks

Welcome to another wonderful installment in the web's best NBA team previews. So magical that you will be filled with wonder and astonishment and a mystical sense of the magical and mystical magic that is mystic, yet also magic. To check out all the entries in the series, you can click here.

Today, we will be discussing the New York Knicks, a lousy team plagued by recent troubles, a proud history, and tremendous anxiety about the future.

Team I Don't Like

Things I Like
Coach D'Antoni is easily one of everyone's favorite coaches in the league, and I am no exception. Nate Robinson is a certifiable freak of nature who is endlessly compelling and exciting to watch. His highlight reels are worthy of their own taxonomic category of sheer delight. Why is this? It's the obvious answer: Nate Robinson is 5'9". This is also my height. It's also apparently right at the average height for an American man. Nate Robinson could be the compelling Everyman of the NBA, a comfortable anchor of familiarity and realism in a sport populated by fantastic giants. Instead, he is even more alien, because he is not like us. I am the same height as Nate Robinson. I am 99.9% certain I will never be able to dunk. This is true of most men (the average, Everyman) of this most average height. Nate dunks with ease. Nate dunks brilliantly with ease. He is the defending Slam Dunk Champion. But he is the same height as Johnny On-the-Street. It's in this seeming contradiction that Nate draws a lot of his appeal. If you follow the Knicks or really the NBA at all, you probably already know all this and are wondering why I am dwelling on it. Answer: I am dwelling on this because there ain't a lot of good things about the Knicks to talk about. After Nate, it's a whole lot of clouds and little silver lining.

Other potential silver linings: I find Al Harrington delightful for some inexplicable reason and am optimistically excited about the potential of Toney Douglas, Danilo Gallinari, and yes, Darko Milicic.

Things I Don't Like
Everything else. This team is bad, practically by design. They have refused to acquire any decent players and basically just wrote off last season and this season on the hopes that they win the Lebron James sweepstakes or at least get a consolation Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, or Amare Stoudemire. This sucks and everyone knows it. The Knicks are sucking in the hopes that they will be a viable option to Lebron. They had decided to suck, years before this. This will cost them the entire season with no guaranteed result. This is a gamble and one that should make fans really nervous.

Wilson Chandler is so forcibly bland and nondescript that the actual Wikipedia page "Trivia" section sounds like it was made up as a sort of subtle satire along the same lines as the Blowtorch's facts about Andre Miller. What follows is the actual Wikipedia excerpt, as of posting time:

Chandler's favorite movie is "He Got Game".
During a game against Wake Forest while he was in college, one of his dunks was #3 on SportsCenter's Top Ten Plays.
He did not go to his senior prom.
Before entering the NBA draft, Chandler hired Chris Grier as his agent.
Wilson signed a shoe endorsment with the Pony Brand. 70's high flyer David Thompson and Spud Webb both wore the shoes in games.
Chandler's favorite food is pepperoni pizza

Wilson Chandler is an NBA starter. He plays for the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. He is a millionaire. He did not go to his senior prom. His favorite food is pepperoni pizza. This is the legend of Wilson Chandler

No team is more invested in the idea of prophecy than the New York Knicks. Indeed, it's the only thing that sustains them. They have to believe that this year is meaningless. They have to believe that it doesn't matter if they are last in the NBA, that hell, that might be favorable. "It's always darkest before dawn," they will say with a sincere look in their eye and their heart singing the name of their messiah, the Chosen One. They chose this. They deliberately chose to suffer so that their sins might be redeemed in the Summer of Lebron, that the meek will indeed inherit the earth, and that lo, they might be able to get Chris Bosh too. Knicks fans will look at you knowingly and nod sagely and say, "All this shall come to pass."

If you know anything about irony, you must know that the Knicks, because of their hope, are doomed forever.

Related Media

Only watch them if they are playing a team you would watch anyway. Sorry, Knicks fans: to repeat the familiar refrain, maybe next year.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Follow-Ups

Time for a quick break from the season previews to keep you up to date on two interesting threads.

Master of His Domain
Chris Bosh, the new and social media maven and only member of the Toronto Raptors I really like, won a legal struggle with a cyber-squatter. As a result, Chris Bosh now owns The weird side effect is that now Chris Bosh also owns all the other domains that the cyber-squatter had. Chris Bosh now owns,, and in a weird, Raptory twist, TrueHoop has the story. Chris Bosh now joins the esteemed Brotherhood of Domain Dealers, led by Mark "Mad Dog" Madsen, the proud owner of

The Silence of Gilbert Arenas
I love Gilbert Arenas when he is a swaggering and chattering force of nature. But as I mentioned in the Wizards Team Preview (Cold Fusion Edition), Gilbert has been silent so far this season and had vowed to even stop giving interviews. Well, the NBA wasn't going to let that stand and actually fiend Gilbert and the Wizards some odd thousands of dollars for breaking the media access rules. As a result, Gilbert finally spoke and gave an interview that lasted about a minute and a half and included what I am going to interpret as a cheeky meta-aware allusion to being difficult with the media. Other fun details about that interview include how playful his teammates are with each other and the media. Which brings us to the final point: in light of Gilbert Arenas's radio-(near-)silence, Caron Butler is blogging! Any time and NBA player starts blogging, and more importantly, any time a Wizard starts blogging, there is cause for some joy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2009-10 Team Previews: Portland Trail Blazers

Welcome to another wonderful installment in the web's best NBA team previews. So magical that you will be filled with wonder and astonishment and a magical sense of the magically magic. To check out all the entries in the series, you can click here.

Today, we will be discussing the Portland Trail Blazers, a bright young team with lots of great players, at least one star, and a perennial reputation for being an under-the-radar dark horse. The Portland Trail Blazers are the answer to the question, "How can you be a sleeper if no one is sleeping on you?"

Team I Admire More Than I Like

What I Like
Brandon Roy is the best-kept secret in the NBA who isn't really a secret at all, but who, due to secret media and basketblog edicts must be referred to as some sort of secret or underground figure in every mention of his greatness. The man is a machine, a legitimate superstar, the number one scoring option on a perennial play-off team. Somehow, this is supposedly secret. Brandon Roy is a great player, but let's stop pretending like he's a secret that squares don't know about. I just don't get it: Is it a Portland thing?

Oh also, he's a really swell guy who his teammates deeply admire: "That's a player, that's a team player. That's somebody that I want to go to battle with."

I enjoy Rudy Fernandez, Greg Oden, and Travis Outlaw because if I were writing a movie about basketball and had to come up with punchy names for the talented supporting role players, these are exactly the names I would use. They would also look precisely how they already do, especially Oden.

What I Don't Like
I'd like you to consider some names and think about how they make you feel: Steve Blake. Andre Miller. Joel Pryzbilla. LaMarcus Aldridge. Nicolas Batum.

Okay, so now some self-examination: how do you feel? You feel nothing? You feel numb and empty and devoid of any trace or semblance of feeling? You feel an existential terror at the nothingness that these names evoke? You feel a creeping, persistent, and pernicious ennui? A boredom so deep as to make you wonder if you will ever feel the same now that you have tasted the blankess of the void, a scarring feeling that makes your happiness seem less full, your love for all other things tainted with the cynicism of having felt literally, absolutely nothing? Right. Me too.

In short, a lot of the Trail Blazers leave me so cold, they make me feel dead inside.

The topic at hand is Andre Miller. In light of this numb, hopeless feeling that is feeling my buddy I will direct you to the words of noted Andre Miller expert, Trey Kerby:

1)Some facts about Andre Miller, the most boring player in the NBA.
2) An excerpt from Trey's book. Specifically, a biography about Andre Miller.

God, I feel so cold.

And lo, in the prophecies of our fathers, this was writ of Oden:

"Brandon Roy holds the Gjallarhorn into the air and blows deeply into it, and Oden converses with Olajuwon's head. The world tree, Dikembe Mutombo shudders and groans. The jötunn, Dwight Howard, comes from the east, his shield before him. The Cleavland serpent, Shaquille O'Neal, furiously writhes, causing waves to crash. The Hawks shriek, pale-beaked they tear the corpse of Steve Nash and the ship Naglfar breaks free and sets sail from the east, which Kevin Garnett steers. The fire jötnar inhabitants of Miami come forth. Dwyane Wade advances from the south, his bright sword shining. Lebron James walks the road to Hel and heavens split apart. The gods then do battle with the invaders: Oden dies fighting the wolf, Al Jefferson, causing his wife Frigg her second great sorrow (the first being the death of her son, the god Baldr)."

Oh, Greg Oden! I get confused because of his penchant for always walking around with a raven on each shoulder. Odd, that. Well... Greg Oden will probably get a bunch of double-doubles. All the other stuff is true though.

Related Media

Cheer on Brandon Roy and his supporting cast of skillful and well-named friends as they publicly and plainly "toil in obscurity." Get a Rasheed Wallace Trail Blazers jersey because those things are badass.

2009-10 Team Previews: Washington Wizards

Welcome to another wonderful installment in the web's best NBA team previews. So wonderful that you will be filled with wonder and astonishment and wonderful wonder. To check out all the entries in the series, you can click here.

Today, we will be discussing the Washington Wizards, a really good team that had a really bad season and continue to have some of the most repulsive uniforms in contemporary American sports. They also happen to be pretty ridiculously awesome.

Team That I Adore

What I Like
Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison are University of North Carolina alumni. Caron Butler used to drink massive quantities of Mountain Dew during every game. Javale McGee, Nick Young, and Andray Blatche are easily the funniest, loosest group of young back-ups in the league. DeShawn Stevenson's stupid tattoo's confuse bloggers and sometimes he does the "I can't feel my face" thing, which is pretty awesome. Gilbert Arenas is Gilbert Arenas, and that used to be more than enough for everyone.

What I Don't Like
Brendan Haywood's homophobia is extremely distasteful at best. Caron Butler stopped drinking Mountain Dew. DeShawn Stevenson's tattoos are pretty stupid. Gilbert Arenas has vowed to stop being interesting.

They still all seem to be serious about their rivalry with the Cavs.

All these things point to increased focus and dedication to winning. Unfortunately, I never cared if the Wizards won any games.

Gilbert Arenas is powered by swagger the same way that nuclear power plants are powered by atomic processes. Specifically, for years he operated like a breeder reactor, using his swag to generate heat, energy, toxic mutant mutations, and even more swag than he started out with. This made him one of the best and most interesting players in the NBA and one of the most delightful. He is a starter on the Love in the Time of Lebron All-League Team. Visions of a Satanic backcourt of Gilbert and J. R. Smith, shooting with no remorse and driving with supreme athleticism make the self-proclaimed defenders of the doctrinal purity of "Right Way" basketball wake up in a cold sweat. Gilbert wasn't a true subversive, but his swag was, indeed, phenomenal.

That's why the news of a quiet and focused Gil are so troubling to me. Gil is a good player, and he doesn't need a lot of swagger to be a good basketball player. However, if he wants to reach the transcendent heights he once dared , he needs to turn his swag on (I believe that's how Diogenes phrased it). Gil's internal reactor used to burn hot and messy, leaving a trail of mutant eccentricity and glowing power. This is the problem of fission. So far, Gil has been playing his usual style but with less of what the insufferable fans of basketball call "antics." Does this mean that Gil has learned to play without swag? No, my friends: This merely means that Gilbert Arenas has uncovered the cold fusion version of swagger-- theoretically, always possible, just highly improbable. But then, that's Gilbert Arenas.

Assuming Gil really has found the cold-fusion method of swag processing and generation, the Wizards are poised for a poised season, filled with wins and minus all of the "antics" that gave casual fans pause. On the other hand, Gilbert Arenas is not the most reliable or consistent person on the planet. Odds are that the Wizards will be a few games either above or below .500 and that Gilbert, suddenly, and without explanation resume his former position. On the other hand, this reversion, this lapse, will make me love Gil even more.

Also, Caron Butler resumes his Mountain Dew habit.

Related Media

Watch as much as you can despite the terrible uniforms. Hope that Gilbert acts like old Gilbert. If the team decides to get too focused, drop them.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

2009-10 Team Previews: Los Angeles Clippers

Welcome to another wonderful installment in the web's best NBA team previews. So wonderful that you will be filled with wonder and astonishment and wonderful wonder. To check out all the entries in the series, you can click here.

Today, we will be discussing the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that is best known for being terrible since... well forever, basically. Whether it is some sort of twisted Native American curse or simple ineptitude, these doomed losers deserve a closer look.

Team With Players That I Like and That I Could Grow To Love

What I Like
This team barely won at all last season. Years of sports movie cliches have conditioned me to look at every chronic loser as a plucky underdog deserving of my support. Basically, the Clippers owe a lot of my sympathy to the Rick Moranis film, Little Giants.

Additionaly, this team has a ton of players that I like or that I at least think are interesting. Beyond merely being interesting, they are talented and deep. Maybe most importantly, they got rid of Zach Randolph. Blake Griffin, as you might have heard, is supposedly, not a bad player, and last year, Eric Gordon was lighting it up in relative anonymity. Both are exciting and skilled players. Chris Kaman is endlessly fascinating to me, if only because his love of firearms and explosives leaves me deeply frightened. And then there is Baron Davis.

I love Baron Davis. He's skilled as all hell, plays with a goofy nonchalance, and still manages to burn people with his speed and talent. His swagger is untouchable, his beard, both gentlemanly and scholarly. On the court, he's a terror and he has the potential to be the best player on the floor on almost any given night. Off the court, he's a free-wheeling goofball who spends his spare time making and producing films. Basically, he's what I would want to be like were I a professional basketball player. Some people criticize Baron Davis for his poor decision-making and laziness, and that just makes me relate to the guy more: I too an often taken to task or my bad personal judgment and laziness! He's just like us, ya'll, inconsequential faults and all.

What I Don't Like

The Clippers losing ways go beyond bad luck. Aside from the addition of Blake Griffin and the subtraction of Zach Randolph (not to undersell this giant upgrade), the roster pretty much stayed the same. These are the same Clippers who spent the past season fighting it out for worst team in the league. How is that possible with so many talented players? Terrible coaching, terrible management, terrible chemistry, and a special case of what must be divine spite. This team must be cursed. There is no other explanation for how so many good players can play so poorly together and lose so many games: intense divine disfavor. The Clippers have drawn the ire of the Old Ones and will continue to pay the penalty until all Clippers fans are driven to insanity in face of the terrible, despairing madness they are forced to watch night in and night out. The Clippers aren't plucky underdogs- they are the cursed scions of some fell and eldritch power.

Baron Davis actually does hold the title of Baron in a small section of Flanders. You will notice many of the European players will greet him in a respectful, if somewhat old-fashioned manner. He also, technically, holds the title of Jarl in a region of Sweden near Gothenburg. This mark of honor bestows on him the right to wear a saber denoting his station during NBA games, which he did during a single season at Charlotte. He has since discontinued the practice.

Mike Dunleavy will be driven mad by the unspeakable and terrible truth of the forbidden power of the abominable madness that governs this twisted planet. Baron Davis's fate, for good or for ill, will be tied to the fate of his beard.

Relevant Media

Watch them until it's painful. This team has so much potential and is filled with fun and interesting players. Still, they are the Clippers, so bad to mediocre seems so much more likely

Sunday, October 4, 2009

2009-10 Team Previews: Toronto Raptors

Welcome to another delightful installment in the web's best NBA team previews. So delightful that you will be filled with delight and astonishment and delightful delight. To check out all the entries in the series, you can click here.

Today, we will be discussing the Toronto Raptors, better known by their street name, bestowed upon them by our beloved North American youth, the Torsuckto Sucktors. Ahh, youth.

Team That I Don't Like, Despite A Few Cool Things

What I Like
Chris Bosh is, as you might have heard, a very skilled basketball player and arguably the best young power forward in the game. He also seems like a kind and thoughtful young man. He is also one of the most brilliant and adept adopters of new media; I enjoy his tweeting and youtubing. Marco Belinelli is a sweet-shooting, potentially incendiary young player who is a refugee of the once-valiant and fun Warriors. Hedo Turkoglu is 6'10" freak at "small" forward who, at that position, embodies a host of mismatches and problems that flummoxed other teams all last season when he was on the Magic.

Indeed, with Bargnani and Bosh each playing away from the basket, Hedo causing other mismatches, and Calderon and Belinelli keying a bizarre brand of psuedo-Eurostyle basketball, this team has the potential to be really weird and interesting. That alone is worth celebrating.

What I Don't Like
The Toronto Raptors basketball culture is foul and villainous. The fans, organization, and media of the fine city of Toronto are best known to me for driving away/getting rid of some of the finest players (and some of my favorite players) of the recent era. I am talking here about Vince Carter. I am talking here about Tracy McGrady. These guys were amazing at their peaks. They were on this team at the same time. The Raptors ruined it. Instead of having one of the most dynamic and exciting teams of the early part of this decade they doomed themselves to mediocrity and liberated Mr. Carter and Mr. McGrady. This is worth mentioning because the foul and villainous basketball culture of Toronto is doing the same thing to Chris Bosh. Idiotic calls for him to be traded reaching an insane and inane fevered pitch as the trade deadline approached last season, and unless somehow the Raptors get off to a roaring start, expect the foul and villainous basketball culture to blame their star and try to run him out of town. For shame.

Also, it bears pointing out that when people talk about how the Raptors play with a European style infused into their own, it is not as fun as you might think. You might be thinking, "Oh, like D'Antoni's Suns! Free-wheeling gunning with great ball movement!" but you would be wrong to think that. The Raptors are not like that. They are the opposite side of the D'Antoni Suns coin: All the stupid and tedious things about European basketball that don't really translate well without any of the fun parts. So yes, it's weird and interesting. But, no, it is not fun.

Worth mentioning: The Raptors are one ill-advised Chris Bosh trade away from having a starting five composed solely of Europeans. How mustachioed.

Jose Calderon has a pig farm. If there is any lesson to be learned from Guy Ritchie, it is "Never trust a man who owns a pig farm."

So, this begs the question: Is Jose Calderon keeping a pig farm so that he can more efficiently dispose of bodies accrued during his activities with the Spanish mob? The answer, which I think we must arrive at, is yes. Jose Calderon is disposing of corpses at the behest of the Spanish mob. Now, here is the interesting question: What is the extent of his involvement with organized crime? Does he only get rid of bodies or is he the source of some of the bodies? How high up is he?

From his uncanny aim at the free throw line, I think it's only logical to assume that Calderon is literally a sharp-shooting assassin, responsible for dozens of murders ala Steve Nash, that other famous Canadian killer. He takes down his own targets and disposes of the bodies.

By virtue of his millionaire status, I think it's safe to assume that he's fairly high up, or indeed, at the top and wields some powerful influence as an underworld figure in Spain. Now, I am not being accusatory, but consider this: Who used to be the starting point guard of the Spanish National Team? Jose Calderon. Who is the current starting point guard of the Spanish National Team? Ricky Rubio. Now, I'm not saying that there is a vendetta between the two, but don't you find it suspicious that Ricky Rubio was strangely blocked from entering the NBA by sinister, mysterious international forces? I'm not saying that a Spanish crime syndicate conspired with a clearly terrified for his life David Kahn to prevent Ricky Rubio from entering the NBA. I just want you to consider the facts. (Please don't kill me Mr. Calderon).

Mid-season, the Raptors will trade Chris Bosh to the Orlando Magic for Marcin Gortat and Michael Pietrus. Chris Bosh will average 30/20/3 over the last half of the season. The Raptors will lose all but three of their games over the same stretch. Ricky Rubio, David Kahn, and yours truly will vanish inexplicably. No bodies will be found.

Relevant Media

Watch them on the off-chance that their new look and style is special and intriguing, but feel free to stop-watching their particular brand of European influenced sucking when they inevitably stay the same. Watch Chris Bosh do amazing things until they drive him out of town. Politely applaud Jose Calderon or else.

2009-10 Team Previews: Los Angeles Lakers

After an informal hiatus, Love in the Time Of Lebron is back and totally psyched, you guys, about basketball. The pre-season started on Friday and all the teams are getting warmed up for whats sure to be an exciting season. In the same way, this blog is going to get warme dup with the hoariest of pre-season blog cliches: TEAM PREVIEWS!

Love in the Time of Lebron will be breaking down for you all thirty teams in the League, and telling you whether you should love them or hate them and why. We have opinions so you don't have to.

Team That I Hate and Love

What I Like
"The Lakers are mulling starting a big lineup of Bryant, Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Odom, who regularly came off the bench last season."

That's fucked up in the best possible way. I love it when teams take a risk with a bizarre line-up that will, at the least, make the other team sweat trying to think of a counter. In some ways that was the entire rationale behind the Orlando Magic last season. But, lets contemplate this highly speculative line-up: It is, offensively and defensively as nasty as it gets. The idea of Kobe Bryant guarding point guards alone is one that should make a lot of teams lose a lot of sleep. The odds of the Lakers going to this line-up regularly is slim because of their commitment to sticking with, you know, the strategies that have helped them win so much. Still, the idea of this line up is a big draw to me.

Other reasons to watch and like the Lakers: Lamar Odom is a delightful human being and a freakish basketball player who can change games by doing a million little things at once. Mercurial forward Ron Artest is a chippy badass who makes any game he is in suddenly potentially explosive. Adam Morrison is skeezy in a legendary way. Kobe Bryant is a basketball savant whose dedication to his craft is mesmerizing and impossible not to watch.

What I Don't Like
Kobe Bryant is a ruthless potential sociopath. Kobe, what is best in life? "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women." - Kobe Bryant. That is why you should be scared if your friend tells you that Kobe is their favorite player.

This team is a soulless juggernaut, and the flashes of fire that seem most interesting (notably, mercurial forward Ron Artest) are the things Laker's fans fear most. Pau Gasol is undeniably effective, but I don't think I've ever seen a more empty eyed look from a power forward outside of Tim Duncan. The slack-jawed glazed look couple with the most epic neckbeard in the NBA makes for an undeniably talented face that I don't think even Marc can love. Sasha Vujacic is an easy target, but there's a reason for that; anyone who gives them self the nickname "The Machine" is totally worthy of some scorn. Also, Luke Walton is simply the worst.

Lots of people have discussed the Lamar Odom's love of candy. He's been dubbed by more than one person, "The Candyman." But are we overlooking something obvious?

I'm not making any accusations, but I am urging some careful consideration. Is it possible that the legendary supernatural killer is hiding in the spotlight. Could it be that the Candyman is the Candyman? Is Lamar Odom's aww-shucks attitude and cheerful demeanor a mere act? More importantly: WHO WAS IT WHO SUMMONED HIM?

In January, the Lakers will set a record for greatest use of on-court demonic powers when, simultaneously, Lamar Odom reveals himself as the Candyman, an exorcism (performed by an unknown figure hidden deep within the bowels of the Staples Center) sends a small horde of cacodemons pouring out of Ron Artest's mouth to ravage the specators, and Kobe Bryant kneels down at half-court and completes the final stage of his diabolic pact causing him to sprout horns and leathery wings in hopes of countering Lebron's recent angelic transformation. Also, Walton and Vujacic are revealed as some kind of demons of incompetence and Adam Morrison is revealed as the newest incarnation of the Laker's Skeeze Demon legacy (most famous incarnation: Kurt Rambis).

Relevant Media

Watch them when they play because they are terribly good and wield unholy powers. Hate and fear them for the same reasons. Also, because the triangle offense is boring and Pau Gasol is hard to look at.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saturday Catch-Up: UNC and Michael Jordan.

UNC Alumni Game
Last weekend, the Dean Smith center in Chapel Hill played host to an exhibition game made up of former UNC basketball players. It was, in short ridiculous. Some highlights: Vince Carter dunking off a ball bounced off the backboard (twice). Wayne Ellington dunking on Antawn Jamison. Ty Lawson crossing over Raymond Felton. Danny Green, the surprising high scorer, was draining threes from all over. Everyone was there (except Rasheed Wallace), and it was beautiful. LIKE A DREAM.

Here are some highlights:

Here is the box score.

The others were all there. You'd see them around town all week. It was UNC basketball nirvana. Some bits of related miscellany:

Rashad McCants Still Looking For A Job

I love Rashad. He treats his fans pretty well, despite anything I may have said in the past. How many NBA players give out their Xbox Live handle, their AIM, and their BlackBerry Messenger info in an effort to keep talking and playing with all of his fans? Not too many. He's a good guy and a helluva baller, but his inablity to get a job right now apparently got the Carolina family concerned. This is a nice article about the resulting discussion.

Marvin Williams Middle Name
I love Marvin. I may have, however, unfairly called him a nerd. Why do I now step back from this? His middle name is Gaye. Marvin Gaye Williams. This man can not, by law, be a nerd. Apologies all round.

The Man
Also at the Alumni Game, there was a Man. His name is Michael Jordan. Last night he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Now, thousands of words have already been written about this event and MJ and what he means. I just want to make two points: When people talk about the greatness of Carolina Basketball, they usually link it to Dean Smith, and this is indisputable. The first NCAA Championship that Dean Smith won, however, is owed to Michael Jordan, that final winning shot against Georgetown. Without Jordan, Dean Smith has one championship. A great coach, but not one of the greatest of all time. Carolina Basketball, as an institution, plays down the role of Jordan, instead emphasizing a grand tradition of which Jordan is only a small part. Amazingly though, this is one area in which Jordan maybe doesn't get enough credit. Dean Smith is the Man in Chapel Hill, but what would he have been without Jordan?

The second point I want to emphasize is one about the NBA. The NBA, unlike most other sports leagues, is one where the central driving narrative of the league is easily and readily apparent. The individual struggles of the various cities and teams to win championships is a tiny, minor part of the NBA. If I were trying to explain to a Hollywood studio guy what the NBA is about in terms of it's spine or central story, the answer is easy: Who is the heir of Jordan? Is it Lebron? WILL HE FULFILL THE PROPHECY?

Jordan was the Greatest of All Time (some proof) and anyone who suggests otherwise is flatly wrong. Basketball since his reign, and even during the latter part of it, has been preoccupied with the search for a worthy heir. This is what has been driving the story of the NBA. For a while, we thought it was Kobe, but the sun is setting on him and it looks like he was merely a mirage. Unless he wins the championship every season for the next three seasons, and even if he does, it's hard to credit Kobe as a credible heir.

But what of Lebron, the Chosen One? Well, using some projections, it looks like he's going to have a real chance at surpassing the statistical achievements of Jordan, at least. The guys at Basketball Prospectus break it down here. Will he win six championships though? Much harder to say. But, this, the underlying thought behind this question, is the reason we watch the NBA. The spine, the essence, the main plot of the NBA is whether Lebron will meet expectations and surpass the achievements of Jordan. There are subplots, rivalries, and championships; these are interesting and entertaining details, but they really are just subplots. When boiled down to its bare essence, the question is as simple and elemental as you might imagine: Will anyone ever be as good as Jordan?

This is why we can't take our eyes off the Chosen One. The era of Jordan is officially done. Now, we live in the time of Lebron.

That is all.