Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Ugly Eyebrows of John Wall's Jump Shot

When I was a kid, from the time I was about 7 until I was maybe 12, like a lot of us, I played in a Saturday morning municipal basketball league. The teams were terrible and I loved it. We played two 12 minute halves and the final score would usually be something like 19-17.
The defining characteristic of those games were these long, breathless stretches of frenetic activity: Kids running faster than they could dribble, ripping passes towards no one in particular, a clusterfuck of turnovers without either team breaking the threshold of penetrating the 3-point line. It was awful, wonderful mayhem.
In NBA terms, that’s roughly how I imagine last night’s Wizards-Nuggets looked.
The Wizards, a pretty wretched 8-29 squad, beat a good Nuggets team (which has been a murderous 15-2 at home entering last night) in Denver. Here’s how it seems it happened.
·         John Wall posted a crooked stat line. John Wall crushed the Nuggets last night. Coming off the bench in his second game of the season, the dude logged a +15 for the Wiz in 26 minutes. No surprise, given that he scored 14 points on 9 shots, dropped 12 dimes, and did funky little things like register two blocks and make all six of his free throws.

John Wall is the biggest “but her face” player in the NBA. Looking at John Wall’s jump shot is like seeing a Victoria’s Secret model with Eugene Levy’s eyebrows: you just can’t get past his one flaw. Because, it’s soooo nasty. As John Hollinger describes: “There are bad jump-shooters, and then there is John Wall. Last season he shot 3-for-42 on 3-pointers. That is not a typo. He also shot 29.7 percent on 2-pointers beyond 10 feet, which might not have been so bad if he hadn't taken three hundred and seventy of them in an abbreviated season.”

A week ago, without John Wall, there is NO CHANCE the Wizards win in Denver. He totally changes the complexion of any game he plays in. But until he gets those eyebrows under control, too many nights will still be ugly.

·         Bradley Beal. In January, he’s made 26 out of 43 threes. He’s going for 19 a night over his last ten games, and chipping in 4 boards from the 2 guard spot. Now he’s got the freak phenomenon known as “John Wall pushing the ball upcourt” creating crazy amount of transition looks for him. Last night, he scored 23 on 8 of 13 from the floor and 4 of 7 from 3.

·         Nobody on the Nuggets logged 8 rebounds. That’s not good. That’s how you lose at home to a 7-29 team.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Can't Hardly Wait (Ben McLemore & The Fast Break Dunk That Blew My Mind)

You’ve seen Can’t Hardly Wait, right? If you have (and you’re a twenty-something reading a comedy-oriented basketball blog, so I suspect you have), then you probably remember the flashback scene. You know, the scene where innocent, boobalicious transfer student Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) saunters into Preston's (Whoever Plays Prestons's) freshman home room? The scene that makes his brain explode? The scene that  changes the way he looks at all women? That scene?

Well, as a basketball fan, that’s how I felt when I saw this.


People who have never played basketball may look at this video and think, “I don't get it? These guys dunk all the time, right?” BUT, if you have any sense whatsoever of what that took, at this point, you’re only hoping that you’ll eventually be able to remove your jaw from the floor. It's like Jennifer Love Hewitt just walked into your home room, right??
Now, before we talk about grace and beauty and all that nonsense, let me be clear: Ben McLemore puts up numbers. Great numbers, actually. More-than-16-points-a-night-on-barely-ten-shots kinds of numbers. 50/43/87-shooting-splits kinds of numbers. Two-missed-free-throws-shy-of-going-50/40/90-at-age-19 kinds of numbers. And the numbers don't come close to doing him justice.
Because, with Ben McLemore, it really is about the grace and the beauty and all that nonsense.

What happens between the :02 and :04 mark of this clip is as athletic an action as any human can produce in a two second span. In 9,999 out of 10,000 instances, this play turns out different. It turns out to be two dribbles and a foul. Or it turns out to be finger roll. Or it turns out that they fall over their own two feet. BUT IT DOESN'T TURN OUT A DUNK!

For Ben, it does. Because 6'5" Ben, in a gazelle-like sprint, snatches the ball off his rear knee. Because Ben never so much as hints at a broken stride. Because he takes two giant, effortless hops, and explodes off the gym floor like the hardwood is his own private Cape Canaveral. Because he can stretch the ball out in his right hand to preview his kill, find a second engine to heighten his launch, then hammer home a two-handed dunk.

Shoulder shrug. Retreat back on D. No big deal.

If tonight was Melissa Joan Hart's graduation party, I would tell Ben how I feel. But, for now, I’m just gonna go watch that clip 1,000 more times. Can't hardly wait.

Friday, January 11, 2013

J.R. Smith and his Infinite Id

This past fall, Seth Meyers delivered a Weekend Update joke that I loved. It was the week following Obama’s disastrous performance in the first debate, and a few days ahead of Biden’s suddenly pivotal showdown with Paul Ryan. On the topic, Meyers said something like the following: “That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the moment he’s always been waiting for: the fate of the election now rests on Joe Biden’s shoulders! Joe’s gonna prepare by ripping off his shirt, shotgunning Red Bulls and watching Yosemite Sam cartoons.”

I thought of this when I looked at the box score from last night’s Knicks-Pacers game, which the Knicks lost by 5. The loss itself makes sense. The Pacers are better than decent and the Knicks were playing without Carmelo Anthony, who was suspended for stalking Kevin Garnett after their bout with the Celtics on Tuesday (earning him a collective high five from the other 328 NBA players).
However, one number in the box score immediately popped off the page: J.R. Smith took 29 shots! 29 shots!! 29!!! Because, like his political soul mate Joe Biden, when his moment came (the second Carmelo’s suspension was handed down), I’m absolutely certain J.R. ripped off his shirt and went into full Red Bull/Yosemite Sam mode. HE’S GOT THIS DAWG! DON’T EVEN WORRY ABOUT IT!

This is why, as fans, we love J.R. He’s pure basketball id. His on court psychology is just a straight-from-the-balls, let’s-see-how-cool-this-dunk-feels pursuit of pleasure. We mere humans only wish we had the physical gifts to channel that attitude. For J.R., reality (coaches, defenders, playbooks, alternative scoring options, getting benched) is simply an interference, an unfortunate fact that he can’t entirely accept. I think we all feel that a little. 
So, on the rare occasions when J.R.’s id and his reality find common ground – like Carmelo getting suspended for a night – and his personal pursuit of pleasure becomes aligned with his team’s pursuit of victory, magic happens. Or, better put, 29 shots in 40 minutes happens.

All the predictable results occurred. J.R. made only 10 of those 29 shots, totaling just 25 points. And the team struggled offensively. They scored only 76 points and lost. J.R. joined some pretty shitty statistical clubs along the way. According to Elias Sports Bureau, no non-starting player [J.R. technically still came off the bench] had produced 25 or more points for a team that scored fewer than 80 points since 2009. He came, he shot, they lost. Stupid reality.
This is J.R. Smith though. By NBA standards he is not a great player. Not even close. Never was, never will be. But, if I woke up tomorrow, and I had one day as basketball’s Cindarella, to be 6’6”, with a wet jumper and hops through a roof, I wouldn’t mind spending it as him. Reality is overrated anyways.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

More Boylan, More of the Same

Considering that they are mostly intelligent, highly resourced people, sports executives' ability – almost pathology – to repeat each other’s mistakes never ceases to amaze me. The groupthink of a network of professionals who are paid ungodly sums of money to differentiate their product is a sad testament to the supremacy of fear over imagination in the human psyche. And thus, for those reasons precisely, Scott Skiles has been fired as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and Jim Boylan elevated to replace him.
If this seems oddly like déjà vu, it’s because it is: Nearly five years ago exactly, Scott Skiles was fired as coach of the Chicago Bulls, and Jim Boylan was elevated to replace him.

You know the book on Skiles: Great coach, brilliant tactician, kind of a dick, builds his players up, wears them down, exhausts his welcome, gets fired. If you’ve got a young roster that needs a “defend or D-League” mandate, he’s your guy, and he’ll be some other team’s soon.

And Jim Boylan, I’m sure, is a competent basketball coach. But why – WHY? – make him your replacement for Skiles? Skiles was fired in Chicago with a 9-16 team. Under Boylan, they then proceeded to go 24-32. When you  fire somebody and then promote their most loyal lieutenant, this is what you get: more of the same.
I recognize that Boylan is an  interim solution. I understand that he’ll be gone at the end of the season, and, like the last go around, will follow Skiles wherever he lands next. And I recognize that, financially, the Bucks have little reason to go add payroll and hire a coach for half a season. But still, if you’re going to concede the year, try something new. Brandon Jennings even admitted he called Boylan "Scott" during yesterday's practice. You know how Freud defined insanity, right?

Anyways, the Bucks did manage to win their first game for Boylan last night, beating the lowly Suns by 9. Here are some box score thoughts:

·     Markieff Morris has to stop shooting 3s. He took and missed three last night. He's taking more than two a night and shooting 31% on them. Somebody in the Suns organization absolutely must explain to Markieff that the 3s he made in college are now long 2s, and that the reason he can’t make 3s anymore is because he doesn’t have “NBA 3-point range” but rather, “NBA long 2-point range.” This conversation should have happened 18 months and more than 120 missed 3s ago.

·     Michael Beasley logged a DNP – Coach’s Decision. As it turns out, it’s the first of his career. Boy, was I wrong about that guy.

·     Every other GM in the league is cursing John Henson’s name. They all wanted him to be bad. If he was bad, then, next time a John Henson-type appears (and one will very soon) they don’t have to think twice about passing on him. You know the type. The “rail-thin, can’t-bench-press-the-bar-but-bounces-off-the-floor” power forward? The athletic 6’10” guy with no offensive skills but runs like a deer and blocks shots? That’s the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t guy that gets you fired. If all those guys busted, GMs wouldn’t have to worry about taking them. But then John Henson has to go get 11 boards in 19 minutes. Damn it, John Henson.

·     Mike Dunleavy, Jr. had 9 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. See my last post.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Does Mike Dunleavy, Jr. Matter?

Question: If a small forward spends 11 years averaging 12 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists a night for a series of Lottery teams, then falls in a forest, does anybody hear him? Or, to put it differently: Does Mike Dunleavy, Jr. matter?
This question occurred to me this past Monday when I was clicking through the previous night’s box scores. That night, Dunleavy logged 28 minutes for the Milwaukee Bucks in a two point loss to the Pistons. He took seven shots, made three of them, and totaled nine points, two rebounds and a turnover. It was an unremarkable game for an unremarkable player on an unremarkable team. This exact thing could be said about the vast, vast majority of Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s 426 NBA games. So, what do we make of his career?
Let's start with a statistical perspective. John Hollinger’s PER is calculated so that 15.00 is the median score among the NBA’s roughly 320 qualifying players each year: Dunleavy presently has a career 14.67 mark.
Not only is Dunleavy average for his career on as a whole, he’s been average in a stunningly consistent manner. According to PER analysis, over his 11 respective seasons, he has ranked as the 183rd, 119th, 151st, 203rd 156th, 67th, 149th, 189th, 147th, 93rd, and 105th best player in the league in his respective seasons.  He's never truly threatened to get much better or worse.

To add some qualitative flavor to those numbers, on, his scouting report reads: “Good fundamentals... Decent shooter and good passer... Nice ballhandling skills for his size... Plays smart... A little bit too slow... Pretty soft... Gets overpowered.” Whoever wrote this could have just as easily typed… “Eh? He’s fine, I guess…” without losing much. Because, as an NBA player, that’s who Mike Dunleavy is: He’s fine, I guess.

All of this raises two questions for me.

First, the NBA is the hardest league in the world to enter. The college and overseas ranks are filled with “high upside” projects. So, in a world where “fine, I guess” usually comes with a ticket to the Israeli League, how has Mike Dunleavy – who has never been better than “fine, I guess” – managed to stick around for 11 years and counting?

Second, not only has Dunleavy been consistently and enduringly average, but he's done it in a vacuum. In 10 full seasons, he’s played in one playoff series, a  2010-11 Indiana Pacers 4-1 loss to the Bulls. So, my question is, if Mike Dunleavy has done little in his career aside from produce meaningless statistics for meaningless teams, is there anything inherently meaningful about his career? Can you be greater than the sum of your parts, if the sum of your parts is nothing?

Here’s what I think.
First, as to why no front office has seemed to ask itself, “Hey, is it just us, or is Mike not very good?” then dumped him in favor of a second round European they have stashed away overseas. To be honest, I have no clue. Here are a few possible theories.

·         Dunleavy was the 3rd overall pick, and top 5 picks who aren’t total busts have their value permanently artificially inflated. I think there are some people out there who assume he’s still about to break out. He's 31.

·         Dunleavy’s unique brand of mediocrity requires little coaching. If you have a young roster, or a bunch of knuckleheads, Dunleavy is probably a bit of relief. I don’t imagine that Scott Skiles & staff devote much of their Bucks practice time to working one on one with Dunleavy. Possibly as result of being a coach’s kid (I use the term “coach” generously as pertaining to Mike Dunleavy, Sr.), my guess is that when the coaching staff talks about their system, etc… Mike generally gets what they’re saying. He’s like the quiet, obedient kid in Cheaper By the Dozen: he may not be important to the story, but all 12 kids can't be making noise. In that case, “fine…I guess” is good enough.

·         He’s not trying to be a stud. Mike Dunleavy is a testament to the pragmatic spirit of the Beta Male. To his credit, he has never had a period where he tried to make himself a star or land himself a mega contract. Even in those rare moments when he appeared to be an above average player (like when he averaged 19.1 ppg for the 2007-08 Pacers), he’s never taken more than 13 shots a game. It's easy to shoot yourself out of the league, and he hasn't.

·         He’s a huge locker room guy. This is the explanation I’m least willing to accept. Mike Dunleavy has been a fringe public figure for almost 15 years (since he began at Duke) and in that time, I’ve never seen a shred of personality from him. I’m not even sure I’ve ever heard him talk. No way this guy is a dominant force in an NBA locker room.

Second, is Mike Dunleavy ultimately more important than the sum of his 11 mediocre seasons? I’m torn on this, because intuitively I feel like there’s some value in longevity. But, I say no because, to this point, Dunleavy’s career doesn’t tell us anything at all about the sport, or the league. It's completely non instructive. He doesn’t correspond to any archetype. He’s not a reference point or“that kind of guy.” Here’s what I mean.
Based on Basketball Reference, the ten players who have had the most similar impact, in terms of Win Share, to Mike Dunleavy through ten years of a career are as follows: Jeff Foster, Jerome Williams, Jim Washington, Kyle Korver, Bill Bradley, Kurt Thomas, Robert Reid, Tom Gugliotta, Caron Butler, Orlando Woolridge.
Let’s take Washington, Bradley and Reid out of the discussion, since they played in too different an era for comparison. That leaves us with seven points of reference: Foster, Williams, Korver, Thomas, Gugliotta, Butler, and Woolridge.  
Butler and Gugliotta have both been All-Stars, and Woolridge averaged 20+ points on 4 occasions, so I’m eliminating them as points of comparison because their mediocre careers didn’t persist on a mediocre arc. That leaves us four comparisons for Dunleavy: Foster, Williams, Korver, and Thomas.
But each of these players is memorable because they connect us to well-known NBA archetypes: the “junkyard dog” (Jerome Williams, Kurt Thomas), the “goofy 7-foot white center” (Jeff Foster), and, “the three-point shooter” (Kyle Korver). These archetypes are an important mechanism for how we understand the game. When we talk about how average players can outlive expectations in the league, we know "these kinds of guys" fit the bill.  There's a sense of posterity to all of it.They're our reference point. But who is Mike Dunleavy? What does he represent? Who came before him? What do we look for in what will come after? What does his career say about what it takes to make it a decade in the NBA? Not much. Not much at all.

Friday, December 28, 2012

MATT BARNES FOR 3!! (or How The Celtics Lost by 29 Points Last Night)

The Celtics lost to the Clippers (in LA) by 29 points lastnight. The truth is this isn’t as newsworthy as we want it to be. The Celtics are a .500 team with a slightly worse than middling offense (18th in Hollinger’s PER), a slightly better than middling defense (11th in Hollinger’s PER), and a “can I get that sandwich without rebounds?” aversion to rebounds (29th in Rebound Rate, better than only Dirk-less Dallas to this point). To make mediocre worse, last night’s game followed a cross-country flight on the day after Christmas, a holiday in which Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce competed to out-spoil their grandchildren. Not a winning recipe.

On the flip side, the Clippers are 16 games over .500 (now winners of 15 in a row) with a demonstrably excellent offense (4th in Hollinger’s PER), an even more excellent defense (2nd in Hollinger’s PER), and a “can I get that sandwich with a side of dunks?” love of dunks (2 of the NBA’s top 5 dunkers). Plus, this game was at home two days after Christmas, which the team celebrated by wrapping and unwrapping Chris Paul to endless delight. Good times all around in Clipper Land.

Still, let’s see what the box score tells us about this not-surprising, still-kinda-surprising beat down.

1.       The Clippers are Straight Up Deep: You can point to the fact that Matt Barnes and Willie Green combined to go 8 of 13 on threes, but those guys are good three point shooters. You can point to the fact that Lamar Odom grabbed 13 boards, dropped 5 dimes, and logged 4 blocks in 29 minutes, but when Lamar Odom isn’t fat and lives near the ocean, that’s the kind of thing he does. You can even point to Eric Bledsoe going Danny Ocean with 6 steals in 19 minutes, but Eric Bledsoe is really, really good at stealing basketballs, so….the Clippers are just deep.

2.      Poor Sully: Jared, I love ya. You’re an Ohio guy and all Buckeye, all the way. But last night was a nightmare matchup for you and it showed. Fouling out in 18 minutes?? C’mon bro. I know Blake, DeAndre and Lamar present “athletic challenges” for you on defense, but it sounds to me like every time they ran away from you, you wrapped your arms around them and held on for dear life. This portends bad things for your future.

3.      The Unique Terribleness of Jason Collins: Mark Titus has popularized the notion of the Club Trillion stat line: 1 minute played, no other stats registered (12 zeroes behind the one). This has become the height of basketball irrelevance. But, last night, Jason Collins introduced us to something much worse: The 17,000,001,000,003 Club! You read that right, folks! Last night, Jason Collins played 17 minutes of an NBA basketball game, failed to take a shot, dish an assist, grab a steal, or, for that matter, do anything of statistical note, aside from stumbling into a single measly rebound and clumsily handing out three fouls. Congratulations, Jason, you are the worst!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Box Score Review: OKC-Chicago (11-8-12)

On Thursday, I watched zero minutes of the OKC-Chicago game. I did, however, take four minutes to look through its box score. My thoughts…
Oklahoma City won this game 97-91 in Chicago. The Bulls are obviously limited offensively without DRose, but as long as the core of one of only two defenses in the NBA that gave up less than a point per possession last year is still in place, oppossing players will still circle their United Center trips as prime nights to come down with “sudden intestinal viruses.” Nobody likes having Joakim Noah rub around on them for 2 hours. Here’s a couple thoughts from the box score:

·         Nate Robinson played 12 minutes. In that time, he took 6 shots, made 1, and the Bulls were beaten by 9 points. According to Basketball Prospectus, “Robinson’s contract reportedly isn’t fully guaranteed until Jan. 2, so if he wants to stick on the cap-strapped Bulls, he’ll have to accept whatever role coach Tom Thibodeau hands him.” Something tells me that role is not, “guy who enters the game and treats it like a nationally televised Dave & Buster’s Pop-A-Shot contest.” The point guard market may get a little more crowded before the new year...

·         Kevin Martin got 15 points on 5 shots. I don’t know what to say about this, but it’s impressive.

·         Look at these +/- numbers: +10, +13, +10, +15, +5. In a big OKC road win, those have to belong to Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka, and Perk, right? NOPE! How about Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefalosha, Kevin Martin, Nick Collison, Hasheem Thabeet, respectively. In a very solid win,  it’s pretty clear that OKC's Olympians were watching the difference-making stretch. However, the second unit's success might or might not havebeen  at least partially enabled by….

·         Nazr Mohammed and Vladmimir Radmonivich! Nazr logged a -5 in 2 minutes and Vlad registered the nearly impossible -4 in “0” minutes of playing time (less than 1). These are stunning levels of ineffectiveness! It’s like those two hit the floor and Scott Brooks started screaming “NOW! NOW!” at his team like they were a military SWAT unit pouncing on a suddenly vulnerable enemy hideout after weeks of patient observation.

·         In case you missed it earlier, HASHEEM THABEET HELPED WIN THIS GAME FOR THE THUNDER! Never stop believing, folks.