Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Honestly Think I Have Magical Powers

As you probably don't know unless you've slogged through 20 minutes of Vick coverage, 2 hours of college football preview shows (Even though they essentially perform fellatio on my school, I am ridiculously sick of them. We have nine running backs. I get it. That's a lot.), and a half-hour of baseball pennant race coverage every night, team USA basketball is absolutely rolling right now. They are completely destroying their opponents, and playing the best basketball the world has seen since the fateful summer of 1992.

Freed from the shackles of oppressive double-teams, the stars on the teams are free to let their strengths run wild in this tournament; Kobe is shutting down opponents on defense and playing his beautiful offensive slash-and shoot game to perfection; Carmelo is playing a Bernard King-like pure scoring role, getting to the line and using the shorter 3-point line to make his mid-range shot into a deadly long-range shot; Dwight Howard is finding opportunities to catch and throw down inside like early Shaq; Michael Redd and Mike Miller have been letting fly from 3; and Jason Kidd is making the whole thing run smooth as butter, the true point guard past USA teams lacked.

Most impressively, however, my favorite athlete, LeBron James, has been playing almost literally perfect basketball.

Here are the raw numbers: he's averaging the second-highest total on the team, despite having less attempts than 4 or 5 other team members. He's 3 assists away from being tied for the team lead with Jason Kidd and Deron Williams, two top-5 point guards. And that's not even the impressive part. He's shooting 79.7% from the field, 70.0% from 3, and 72.7% from the line. He's taken 59 shots and taken 11 free throws, which means that we should add 5 more "attempts" from the line, bringing the total up to 64. If LeBron had dunked every one of his attempts and was yet to miss a shot in the tournament, he would have 128 points; as it stands now, he has 115. I can't give you a "true shooting"%, because the computer I'm posting from doesn't have a calculator feature.(This ain't exactly the New York Times.)

Aesthetically, LeBron's game has been even more impressive than the numbers would suggest; simply put, his own unparalleled skills have been perfectly highlighted by those around him, allowing him to play the game to perfection. With Redd, 'Melo, Miller, and Kobe spacing the floor, defenses have been unable to stack against him, enabling him to drive the hole with absolute impunity. With Kidd pushing the tempo, he's been able to get into the open floor, where his speed, strength and leaping ability make him the closest thing basketball has ever seen to an unstoppable weapon. With Kobe and 'Melo slashing to the basket, LeBron has even gotten to take his breathtaking passing game off of mothballs, dropping no-look dimes for layups like he was back when we first saw him against Oak Hill academy.

Perhaps most importantly, his jumper actually seems to be coming around; not only has he been making his 3s at a ridiculous clip (Carmelo, Kobe, Mike Miller, and Chauncey Billups have all taken more 3s than James, but none of them have hit as many as he has; Michael Redd has hit 6 more 3s, but he needed 29 more shots to do it), but his form actually seems to be better- he has stopped his maddening practice of jerking back his arms instead of following through, and his balance seems to be vastly improved.

He's even gained 10 more pounds of pure muscle without losing any speed whatsoever, and earlier in the tournament seemed to be working on adding actual post moves to his bag of tricks, which would make it literally impossible for any small forward not named Ron Artest to guard him on the low block. (Although this tournament doesn't seem to be the best place to practice them-the high level of team USA's collective skill has rendered extensive one-on-one maneuvers, such as mid-range jumpers or extended post-ups, moves designed to handle a defender's pressure, moot-this team is able to simply drive and kick at will, discarding the defenders completely.)

And as a quick aside, I realize the competition is weak, but keep in mind that team USA struggled with these teams only recently. More importantly, LeBron's play would be amazing in a Rucker-league game; perfection as he is approaching now exists in a vacuum. Also, open looks and a shorter 3-point line don't explain why LBJ is shooting the ball much better than players who are supposedly much better shooters than him.

There are two explanations for LeBron's domination of this tournament. One involves magic, so I'll save that one for last.

The first is that while LeBron's killer instinct has been a subject of much scrutiny over his relatively short career, he has always delighted in systematically destroying any criticism of him that manages to bubble up to the mainstream. "Overhyped, and unable to be an impact player right away." How about the best rookie season of the past decade, as well as the best season of all time by an 18-year old? "Very promising, but still a work in progress, especially with his jump shot, and not a superstar yet." How about a dramatic jump shot improvement, a step up to MVP candidacy, and leading his team to within 1 game of the playoffs, followed the next year by a 50-win year, 30 ppg, a playoff birth, and 2nd place in MVP voting? "Not clutch." A couple of last-minute heroics against the Wizards seemed to quiet those whispers, as did nearly taking down the Pistons by himself. "Lost his passion, regressed as a player, no killer instinct, and not clutch." Game 5.

After the Spurs series, the criticism became that while he may be the most singularly talented player in the league, his game remained woefully incomplete, and especially lacked a solid jump shot. Normally, LeBron would have to wait a full year for redemption in the finals; instead, he has found a way to expedite his revenge on those who doubt him by shoving a newfound Kobe-like offensive precision squarely up two continents' assholes. For all the talk about Woods, Jordan, Arenas and Wade's need for criticism in order to let loose their inner brooding killer, the man who gleefully does a number as Bobby Brown continues to systematically silence those who dare challenge his greatness.

Then, of course, there's the supernatural reason why LeBron is doing so well right now. Several months ago, after the All-Star break, LeBron went on an absolute tear through the league for no apparent reason, then went back to a state of semi-ennui just as inexplicably. When I looked back at it, I realized that LeBron's tear had bizarrely coincided almost perfectly with my short-lived relationship, and posted about it here. That was weird, but I shrugged it off.

The next time I got any play was May 26. (I remember it because it was the day before graduation-it's not like I keep a journal of this crap.) Anyways, LeBron had been relatively unspectacular up to that point in the playoffs, and the Cavs were down 0-2 to the Pistons. Starting on May 27, the Cavs won 4 games in a row, fueled by late-game heroics by LeBron in games 3, 4, and especially 5, the best game of his career. I didn't post about it at the time because I was wary of jinxing anything, but I thought that it was a fun little coincidence, and I would definitely have mentioned it if I hadn't been so desperately afraid of doing anything to screw up the Cavs at that pivotal point in the season.

After a celibate summer (I went to boarding school, so there wasn't a real possibility of summer-league action), I ended up participating in a random, drunken hookup at a party my 2nd day here. (That was also the night I met O.J. Mayo-I thought it was a fun twist that a star athlete caught a blogger in an embarrassing situation.) Anyways, that was last Thursday, August 23, and after an 11-point showing on August 22, LeBron has been on a legendary tear.

So the logical conclusion here is that the fate of LeBron seems to be tied to my ability to get ass. This is a monumental responsibility, and a challenge I frankly don't know if I'm up to(maybe the fact that I'm 18 and made a Bernard King reference tipped you off, but I'm not the biggest player at USC. But I'll keep trying, because that's the kind of team player I am-if I get lucky on Saturday night, maybe the Bibby trade will get done.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Just know I'm still thinking about you guys

I've been at college for two full days-as much fun as I've had in 18 years. I'll start posting again on Monday when classes start and I'll have to be on the computer anyways, but this is the first time I've looked at a computer or TV since Tuesday night, apart from the 2nd quarter of the USA game.
Real quickly:

-I have met O.J. Mayo.
-I have seen a football scrimmage.
-again, college rules.

Details on those things and more on Monday-come back then.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

We Interrupt This Blog With My Life

Well, I only started this blog a couple of weeks ago, but I've already become attached to it; it feels great having my own corner of the internet, and seeing that little link on TrueHoop a few weeks back was definitely one of the coolest feelings I've ever had-thank you so much for making that possible for me. Basically, I'm loving this, and am committed to making this blog a great place to read quality sports analysis on a regular basis. (By the way: how does everyone feel about the new name and look of the blog? Leave your comments.)

However, posts may become sparse in the next couple of weeks, because on Tuesday, I'm going to start college. I am both excited and terrified to go to USC and meet a few thousand new people for a number of reasons, but let's get to the important question: what will college mean for the blog?

  • Until I get "settled in," I'm not going to feel comfortable holing up in my room for a few hours and firing out an essay on Kevin Garnett, because I'll feel like too much of a loser. Hence, there will be a downturn in posts for a little bit.
  • However, once I do get comfortable, my room pretty much has a fridge, a microwave, a little TV, and my computer. That means I'll be watching a lot of sports and hopefully drumming out a few posts a week.
  • I'll be at the center of the college sports universe; hence, expect some posts about USC football, SC basketball, and specifically O.J. Mayo.
So that's it for now, and maybe for a little bit; wish me luck in this new chapter of my life, and thanks again for reading!


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

More Thoughts on Head Cases: What's the difference between Rasheed Wallace and Michael Jordan?

After posting my original piece on head cases, I was disturbed by just how little difference there seemed to be between in the mental states of many of the NBA's best players and the NBA's biggest liabilities.

After all, many of the legends surrounding none other than Michael Jordan highlight just how well he fit into the description of a "Sprewell"; he played every scrimmage like his life was on the line, he got his first coaches fired, psychologically destroyed Kwame Brown, and he spent much of his time in Chicago in an open vendetta with the team's GM, Jerry Krause. He thirsted to make the game personal, and would take anything resembling a slight against him and turn it into an unforgivable challenge to his abilities, which he would always subsequently avenge. His pathological competitiveness has carried over to his personal life, and he has what many would call a serious addiction to gambling.

And yet for all Michael Jordan's flaws, we hold him up as the perfect example of how an athlete should think and act. Tiger Woods currently holds Jordan's old position as America's most revered athlete. (Quick note: I didn't need "Who's Now?" to figure that out. As a sports blogger, I am officially required to take at least one cheap shot at "Who's Now?" I will now return to the post.) Anyways, by all accounts, Tiger has Jordan's personality; as has been discussed this week, he plays with religious zeal when anyone makes any sort of comment about his possible lack of greatness, and he works ceaselessly out of a pure need to win. And if you don't think Tiger's a little high-strung, read about what happens when a camera goes off during his swing.

Hyper-competitiveness is often what breeds greatness; of today's NBA superstars, I would say that KG, Kobe, Gilbert Arenas, and AI are all nuts; what's more, most fans wish that their best players thought like those guys do.

However, it's that same all-encompassing drive and insecurity that defines many of the NBA's biggest "team cancers": Rasheed Wallace, Latrell Sprewell, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, et cetera.-their inability to be laid-back about the game leads to trade demands, technical fouls, and off-court incidents.

So what is the difference between the great and the cancers? I would contend that it's not as big as people think. I think that the Kobes of the world and the Artests of the world are wired more or less the same; the difference is that without superstar talent, superstar drive can be destructive.

Nobody driven like the people mentioned in this article is able to cope with the fact that they are anything but great; they work tirelessly to become so, and effectively invest all of themselves into being great.

For guys like Tiger, MJ, and Kobe, that's not a huge problem, since their work pays off, and helps to make them among the best athletes in the world. But what happens to people who don't become the best? Quite simply, they create an alternate reality where they are as great as they demand themselves to be, and it is in that alternate reality that problems occur.

In order to square up what people like Rasheed Wallace need to be true (that they're the best) with what often occurs in real life (losing games), they create excuses, and focus their competitive energy on blaming everyone else; coaches, referees, teammates, the league, anybody. This leads to friction, and makes them a bona fide Sprewell head case. Thank you and good night.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

How can a player be overvalued and underrated at the same time?

This off-season, amid the Garnett trade, Jermaine O'Neal rumors, the summer of Kobe's discontent, and Reggie Miller considering whether or not to step out of the broadcast booth and onto the court, the defending Eastern Conference champions have yet to re-sign their starting shooting guard and their 6th man, are actively shopping their starting power forward, and are essentially holding an open audition for their point guard spot. Since it's the Cavaliers, nobody cares all that much, but the Cavaliers' situation with their power forward platoon is really quite interesting.

First, the facts: Anderson Varejao, the floppy-haired wonder from Brazil, is a restricted free agent this summer. He has not been able to come to terms with the Cavs, as his agent, Dan Fegan, believes that he should be making starter money (About $8 million per year), while the Cavaliers believe that as he currently comes off the bench, he should be making bench player money (around $5 million a year). Meanwhile, the Cavs' starting power forward, Mr. Drew Gooden, is currently being actively shopped, and has been for the last several years. The most recent serious rumor involving Drew had him going to the Kings for Mike Bibby, the established point guard the Cavs have craved for so long.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, Anderson Varejao knows that he's worth more than $5 million a year, and the league knows that Drew Gooden isn't the kind of commodity that can land a quality point guard. In the eyes of a GM, Anderson is much more valuable than Drew, despite Danny Ferry's efforts to convince them otherwise. However, in the eyes of a coach, Drew is the more valuable player-he played 56% of the minutes for the Cavaliers last year, while Mr. Varejao only played 49%. Oh, and age isn't a big factor; Drew is only 1 year older than Anderson, which makes this different from a simple "veteran production vs. young potential" question.

However, the truly interesting thing is that even though Drew is treated as the starter in Cleveland, it is a near-indisputable fact that the Cavaliers play better when Varejao is on the floor-Varejao and Drew play almost the same amount of minutes, and generally come in for each other, but the Cavs are 4.5 points better per 100 possessions when Varejao is on the floor than when he is off of it, and a stunning 8.5 points per 100 possessions worse when Gooden is on the floor than they are when he is on the bench.

To recap: the conventional wisdom of NBA brain trust believes that Drew Gooden is a better player than Anderson Varejao now, but Varejao is worth more due to his long-term "potential." In reality, Varejao is a better player than Gooden right now, but will probably not get much better over the course of his career than he is right now, while Drew will continue to produce more than many players considered more valuable assets than he is.

In short, Anderson Varejao is underrated but overvalued, while Drew Gooden is overrated but undervalued. How does that work? Keep reading.

Drew Gooden:

The top 10 of the 2002 NBA draft has to be one of the worst of all time. There were 2 bona fide NBA all-stars (Yao Ming and Amare Stoudamire, at #1 and #9), 4 players who are no longer with their original team (Gooden, Dunleavy, Caron Butler, and Chris Wilcox), and 3 players who are essentially done with NBA basketball (Jay Williams, Nickoloz Tskitishvili, and Dajuan Wagner.)

Drew went #4 in that draft. His first 3 years in the league, he averaged about 12 points and 7 rebounds in 27 mpg, shooting at a 46% clip. That was good enough to get him shipped off to Cleveland, along with Anderson Varejao, for Tony Battie and two 2nd-round draft picks. Meanwhile, in Golden State, the #3 pick in the draft, Mike Dunleavy, averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds in 31 mpg, shooting at a 45% clip, over his 2nd and 3rd years in the league. That was good enough to get him a 5-year contract worth $55 million. Nene, the #7 pick in the draft, averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds in 27 mpg, shooting at a 50% clip, over his first three years in the league. He was rewarded with a 6-year contract worth $60 million.

Here's a quick recap of what that looks like:

Drew: 12/7/46%
Dunleavy: 12/5.5/45%
Nene: 10/6/50%

Three forwards, drafted in the same year, putting up extremely similar numbers. Two get monster extensions after their first three years, while the other gets traded for Tony Battie.

Why is Drew Gooden so undervalued? Because the things he does well are skills that NBA teams assume can be easily acquired, and the ones he lacks are ones thought to be innate.

Drew Gooden is a very, very good rebounder; however, NBA teams do not consider it prudent to spend money on rebounders, as they assume that big men become better rebounders as their careers go on, although there is no evidence to support this. Here is a list of the league's best rebounders per 48 minutes, from the top down: Reggie Evans, Dikembe Mutumbo, Tyson Chandler, Jeff Foster, David Lee, Justin Williams, and Marcus Camby. Not a lot of trade value on that list-the only two guys seen as valuable are Lee and Chandler, and Chandler was essentially run out of town last off-season, while the Blazers nixed a trade that would have given the Knicks Darius Miles for David Lee.

Drew Gooden is also a quality midrange shooter, and gets many of his points on 15-foot jumpers from the wings. Again, this is not a skill that excites NBA General Managers, as they assume that a midrange game is something that can be developed.

Additionally, Drew Gooden is an intelligent scorer, and can use pump-fakes, jab-steps and two dribble-drives to get his shots; he also knows where to go on a pick-and-pop in order to get his shots. Again, NBA teams consider this an unexciting skill; what professional basketball player shouldn't be able to execute a "show-and-go?" It's not brain surgery.

Those are the things that Drew does well: Hits midrange jumpers, hustles for rebounds, and knows how to get himself looks on offense. All of those are good things, but NBA GMs believe that they can be easily taught.

The things he does badly, on the other hand, seem to be unsolvable:

  • He's a mediocre athlete. He can't run the floor or throw it down like Amare.
  • While he can score in a variety of ways around the basket, he's not strong enough to get deep post position, and thus does not appear to have upside as a back-to-basket scorer.
  • He doesn't shoot 3s. While GMs believe that "touch" is something that can be taught, "range" is innate-you're born with 3-point range or you're not. Drew doesn't attempt 3s now, so it is assumed that he will never be a 3-point threat.
Those are the reasons that Drew Gooden is undervalued. However-and this is where things get a little tricky-many of those same qualities make him overrated, and allow him to get floor time that he does not deserve.

While Drew's rebounding prowess is underrated on its own, combined with a hefty amount of minutes and Drew's affinity for taking shots, he switches from a "good rebounder" to being a "double-double machine." The double-double is intriguing in that it is essentially a worthless stat(If a player is averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds in 40 minutes a game, is he having a good year?) Yet the list of double-double leaders is populated with the best players in the league-Garnett, Howard, Duncan, Amare. By rebounding well, playing a lot of minutes, and taking a healthy amount of shots, Gooden has earned a reputation as being similar to that elite group of players, when in reality he is nowhere near the caliber of player as the rest of the double-double leaders.

Also, while Drew's midrange game would appear to be a good thing, the midrange shot is actually the most counterproductive shot in the NBA. I would need a separate post to fully describe why I so abhor the midrange game, but basically it's so much easier to score at the rim or draw a foul nowadays than it is to hit a jumper that the 3-point shot is the only efficient way to shoot a jumper. (Refrain from commenting on that for now-I will have that separate essay up sometime soon.)

Additionally, Drew is good at creating shots for himself, but he's a low-percentage shooter, especially for a power forward. Those 14 points he's good for are often coming at the expense of shots by more efficient shooters, such as LeBron James.

Drew gets his numbers out there on the floor, which makes him appear valuable, but as we see when we look at Anderson Varejao, numbers often don't tell the whole story.

Anderson Varejao:

Anderson, referred to affectionately as "Andy" in Cleveland, came over in the trade with Gooden as a 2nd-round pick who had gotten absolutely zero chances to prove himself. With playing time, he quickly became a productive player and fan favorite in Cleveland. As it would happen, while Andy doesn't score or rebound as much as Drew, he is more coveted by NBA GMs, although not for the reasons he is actually more productive than Drew now. In fact, the main reason that general managers want Andy is that he can be productive while still being extremely unskilled.

Andy is 6 foot 11, and an incredible athlete; he can run the floor in the blink of an eye, and has an extremely quick jump. To the naked eye, those are essentially his only skills, but the fact that he is such a blank slate allows NBA brass to imagine about his future in a way they can't imagine Drew's.

  • Anderson might be the worst shooter in the NBA-his eFG% on jump shots was .200 last season. (.500 is good, .400 is acceptable.) Jump shooting is something that can improve with repetition; NBA GMs imagine him being able to shoot a jumper.
  • Andy has little to no back-to-basket game; that, too, can ostensibly be taught.
  • As he showed in the last play in game three of the NBA Finals, he often has no idea what he's doing offensively; of course he can learn how to fit in an offensive set!
  • He struggles mightily to create his own shot, another thing that NBA teams assume players can learn.
  • He has a thin frame-get him some burgers and he's a low-post terror.
My god! In a couple of years, Varejao is going to be the Brazilian Amare Stoudamire! All he needs is a few of those David Thorpe workouts, and he'll be dropping 25-15s in no time! In reality, Andy probably won't show up one fall with a deft handle, sweet stroke, and Duncan-like post game on a bulked-up frame, but when scouts see a raw athlete like Varejao, all they can see is the best possible scenario. By refining his game as much as he can, Drew has destroyed our ability to imagine what he could become, and subsequently hurt his value. (In a related note, this is also why it's never a good idea for potential top-10 picks to stay in college another year-NBA teams expect them to improve after they draft them.)

In reality, Andy probably won't get much better than he is now. But wait! That's not such a bad thing! Why? Because Andy's underrated! (I really hope that this is starting to make sense.)

Many of the valuable things that Andy does aren't considered "skills" by the people who decide which basketball players are good and which aren't; as fate would have it, Drew Gooden is extremely bad at many of those subtle things that Andy excels at.

As with Drew, Andy is an excellent rebounder; just like with Drew, this makes him underrated, especially since he doesn't throw up double-doubles like Drew does.

As I mentioned, Drew has a much more refined offensive game than Andy does; however, the Cavs score 3.5 more points per 100 possessions when Varejao is on the floor, and 1.5 points per 100 possessions less when Drew is on the floor. There are several reasons for this.

First and foremost, neither Anderson or Drew is a very good shooter from the field-Anderson's eFG% is .476, and Drew's is .474. The average "true shooting" % of an NBA team is about 55%, so both of them are bad options to be taking shots on offense. Subsequently, a big reason that Anderson is a better offensive player than Drew is that he shoots the ball less-when he's not shooting, someone like LeBron is shooting, which is a better situation for the Cavaliers.

The other thing that makes Anderson a more effective offensive player than Drew is that he gets to the line about twice as much. Andy's lack of a midrange game forces him to crash the rim often, while Drew's reliance on his midrange shot and finesse game means he doesn't get to the line very much. I believe that we undervalue drawing fouls for the same reason we undervalue drawing walks in baseball; we instinctively judge scorers by their ability to score, much as we judge hitters by their ability to hit. (I believe that the days of disrespecting drawing contact are coming to an end-as Barry Bonds alerted us to the power of the walk, Dwayne Wade is fast acclimating us to the power of the free throw.)

Finally, Anderson's defense is extremely underrated. He doesn't block shots, and he is far too skinny to stop many of the league's larger forwards from shoving him around on the low block. In fact, his man-to-man defense isn't all that good-his opponent PER is actually higher than Drew Gooden's.

However, while Drew is an absolutely abysmal help-side defender, Andy is one of the league's best, despite his inability to block shots. Andy is extremely quick and always active on the defensive end, which allows him to contest shots. Additionally, he is one of the league's best at drawing the charge, which is actually more effective than a block(the offense never gets it back after an offensive foul), and very seldom fouls. For all these reasons, the Cavaliers are much, much better with Varejao on the floor than they are with Gooden.

So, in conclusion, the conventional wisdom is correct; Varejao is much more valuable than Gooden. Deep down, while they may attempt to play dumb, the Cavaliers know that; so does the rest of the league. They're right, but for the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Three Types of NBA Head Cases

There really is no particular impetus for this post, but it's one of my favorite theories about the NBA, so I've decided to write it out for you, the reading public. Often times, during the NBA draft or during the season, a player will be referred to as a "head case," or will be described as having "poor intangibles." When he plays badly and finds himself on the bench or trading block, the announcers will say "Nobody doubts his talent, but..." You all know what I'm referring to.

However, when we say a player is a "head case," we could be talking about one of any number of things. In my travels, I have found that NBA head cases fall into three broad categories, which I have named after former Golden State Warriors: The Mike Dunleavy head case, The Erick Dampier head case, and the Latrell Sprewell head case. Without further ado, let's break down the differences:

The Mike Dunleavy Head Case:

In 2002, my beloved Golden State Warriors had the worst record in the NBA. The top 2 choices in the draft would have yielded Yao Ming or Jay Williams, the best point guard and center prospects in years. We got the #3 choice, and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. Mike was supposed to be the jack-of-all trades, a worthy consolation prize. He was athletic, had a silky-smooth stroke, was 6-9, and had fantastic "intangibles." (Translation: he played for a successful college program. Also, he was white.) Of course, in the pros, Mike sucked. He had a few horrible years, but managed to flash enough potential to net himself a $55 million dollar contract in 2005. (In a fair world, when Mike Dunleavy came into Mullin's office to sign that contract, Chris Hansen would have shown up.) After 3 and a half years of watching Mike Dunleavy, I will say that he has talent. He has a beautiful shooting stroke, is surprisingly athletic for a guy his size, moves gracefully, and has great court vision.

But, lest we forget, he sucks at basketball. Why? Because he's afraid. He would lose confidence in his shot and go on prolonged shooting slumps. He would often take himself out of games by refusing to go to the hole, finishing with 3 shots in 35 minutes. To succeed in the NBA, confidence is necessary; the Mike Dunleavys of the world don't have enough.

How to spot a Dunleavy:
  • Getting the ball and passing it immediately 9 out of 10 times
  • Only shooting when wide-open, and often missing even then
  • Following up a 30-point game with a 5-point game
  • Eyes down, ashamed body language
  • Missing free throws
Current Dunleavys:
  • Kwame Brown
  • Keith Van Horn
  • Gerald Green
  • Sebastian Telfair
  • Michael Olowakandi
  • Dorell Wright
  • Darko Milicic
  • 90% of all players from Europe
  • Joey Harrington (Not technically a basketball player, but he's a Dunleavy all right.)
The Erick Dampier Head Case:

I'm actually grouping two types of head cases here, but they both fall under the same basic umbrella: players who don't give a crap. Erick Dampier, whose parents apparently couldn't decide if they wanted to spell Eric with a C or a K, is a fantastically talented basketball player. He's a legit 7 feet, athletic, a great rebounder, has soft hands, and a decent shooting touch. He was the #10 overall pick when he was drafted. His first seven years in the league, he disappointed, averaging about 7 points and 7 rebounds a game. Then, in the 02-03 season, he averaged 12.3 points and 12 rebounds per game. That was his contract year. After he got a fat contract from the Mavericks (he got Steve Nash's money-nice call, Mark), his averages promptly dropped to about 8 and 8. Erick Dampier doesn't give a crap-he's just looking to get paid.

There is another group of players I put under the Dampier label-the shooting guard/swingman types who care enough to get themselves involved in the game, but seek only to make themselves look good. These guys shoot lots of 3s rather than drive to the hole, score a lot of points with a low percentage, pass the ball rarely, and cannot be bothered to work on defense-the bane of the stuffy white sportswriter's existence. While these players differ stylistically from the Dampier types, they have the same basic problem: they lack the all-consuming desire to win, or "Jordan Gene" which we believe should be inherent in all athletes. (I don't believe this as strongly as most, but that's a whole other essay.)

How to Spot a Dampier:
  • Low rebound totals
  • Lack of hustle
  • Showing up to camp fat
  • Unwillingness to go to the hole
  • Too many 3s
  • Poor defense
  • General disinterest
Current Dampiers:
  • Michael Pietrus
  • Ricky Davis
  • Darius Miles
  • Steve Francis
  • Stephon Marbury
  • Eddie Curry
  • Now that I think about it, pretty much everyone on the Knicks not named Renaldo
  • Boris Diaw
  • Vince Carter
  • Stromile Swift
The Latrell Sprewell Head Case:

Ahh, Latrell. We loved Latrell. He went all-out every night. He drove to the hole with reckless abandon. He could D up with the best of them. He could shoot 3s. He was the bright spot of a very poor Warrior team. Of course, he was completely insane, and one day he choked P.J. Carlesimo, leading to him having to leave the team and be suspended from the NBA for a year. The sad fact is this: the drive that makes NBA players great on the court often renders them insane off of it. Although the Sprewell head case will play as well, if not better than, a player with no "character issues", GMs are scared to death of them, because when things go wrong with a Sprewell, they simply can't stay on the team.

How to Spot a Sprewell:

  • All-consuming desire to win
  • Maximum defensive effort
  • Takes an inordinate amount of shots(not out of a desire to pad stats, but out of the belief that he alone has the power to decide the game for his team; head-casery is a subtle science.)
  • Speaks out against the coach
  • Demands trades
  • "Off-court incidents"
Current Sprewells:
  • Ron Artest
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Allen Iverson
  • Stephen Jackson
  • Gilbert Arenas (Left the Warriors because he believed having Earl Boykins play 4th quarters was an insult to his abilities, and because the Warriors picked him with the 31st pick instead of the 16th. Trust me, he's nuts.)
  • Bonzi Wells
  • Rasheed Wallace
My Final Thoughts on Head-Cases:
My thoughts differ from most on head-cases. Most would tell you that of these three, the Dunleavy is the least dangerous, the Dampier is the 2nd-worst, and the Sprewell is unbearable. I flip it around-I'd rather have a Sprewell than a Dampier or a Dunleavy, and a Dampier more than a Dunleavy. Call me short-sighted, but I believe in putting the best basketball players on the floor and letting everything else work itself out; for this reason, I do not fear the Sprewells. Dampiers often find passion at some point in their careers, but once a player's confidence is gone, it will probably never come back.

Consider my beloved Warriors. The bane of our existance, Adonal Foyle, is one of the nicest, most intelligent men in the NBA, if not the planet. At the middle of the season, we traded Mike Dunleavy himself for a bona fide Sprewell: Stephen Jackson. What happened? Baron Davis, who had been one of the league's biggest Dampiers, found his passion. We started playing defense. We started pushing the pace. We started drawing fouls and scrapping. And during that Mavericks series, whenever we needed a 3, Stephen Jackson would step up and drill a 3 with a hand in his face. Why? Because Stephen Jackson has WATERMELON BALLS. Dunleavy would have passed 10 times out of 10 in that situation. To be the Mavericks, we needed confidence. We needed someone who had no fear. That someone turned out to be Stephen Jackson. To succeed in the NBA, sometimes you need to be a little crazy.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Adventures of Mike and Flip

I've already sort of written this and put it on RCF, but I feel badly about not having a new post up yet(coming tomorrow), so I decided I'd put this up for you guys. Anyways, I was thinking about our needs this offseason and had a revelation:

1. Mike Brown is, as we all know, offensively challenged, and needs an assistant who can put in a better offense.

2. We need to improve our offense while remaining a slow-it-down, half-court team so that we can keep our defense intact, since it wins championships and all those things.

3. Flip Saunders is the best half-court offensive mind in the league.

4. Flip Saunders might not have a job next year, thanks to LeBron pulling 29 straight points out of thin air. If he misses just one more of those impossible shots, Flip probably would still have his job. I'm sure he'll never think about that again.

I was just getting into my daydream of the improbable-but-still cool mix of Mike (defensive master) Brown and Flip (offensive genius) Saunders when I realized that Mike Brown and Flip Saunders would be the most hilarious coaching tandem of all time. If we did end up with the Brown/Saunders tandem coaching us, we would also have to hire a 3rd coach, who would be a guy named Rick or Joe who would have the following qualifications: He watches basketball and is not a complete idiot. Seeing as to how both Flip and Brown are basketball's answer to Rain Man, this position would be crucial for in-game decision-making. Without a common sense coach, here's how I would imagine this marriage going:

(Game 5, NBA Finals. Thanks to Flip's brilliant offensive sets and Mike's defensive rotations, the Cavs are tied 2-2 with the Spurs, and the score lies at 96-96 heading into the final minute. Mike Brown calls 1 of the Cavs' remaining 2 timeouts.)

Mike: Okay, the game is tied. If we win this, we probably win the championship. This is an important time-out. In fact, I better make it a double. (goes over to official, takes last remaining time-out.)

LeBron: That was our last time-out. Now we can't set up a play for the rest of the game.

Mike: (grimaces)

Flip: I notice they've been loading up the strong side on LeBron. (looks up at clock, notices it's crunch-time.) Oh Jesus, I can't fail again. Please god, help me this one time.

Mike: It's okay, I've got some plays in my "motion" offense to deal with that. LeBron, catch the ball 30 feet away from the basket on the strong side, and hold it there. The defense will set up a double-team. When they do that, fire a skip pass to Z, who will be 20 feet away from the basket on the other side. When the defense rotates over to Z, he'll hand it to Eric Snow, who's been hiding behind Z-we'll take them by suprise. From there, he'll pump-fake and have a wide-open 22-footer with a hand in his face. Any questions?

Larry Hughes: I have a better play. When LeBron gets doubled, I'll stand 10 feet away from him at the 3-point line, pump-fake once, and get a contested 20-footer.

Mike: That is a great play.

LeBron: When was the last time you made that shot?

Larry: March 8, 2007.

Danny Ferry(wearing a T-shirt that says "I COULDN'T OFFER MICHAEL REDD OR RAY ALLEN MAX MONEY" on one side and "WE DID NOT HAVE THE ASSETS TO COMPLETE A SIGN-AND-TRADE FOR JOE JOHNSON"): Please, just sit down.

LeBron: Let's keep thinking.

Flip(chewing on own arm): If we use shooters to space the floor, it should give LeBron enough room to operate on a pick-and-roll and get to the hoop.

LeBron: That sounds good. Let's go out there with me, Donyell, Pavlovic, Boobie, and Andy.

Flip(pacing nervously): Wait...that's exactly who they'd EXPECT us to send out in this situation.

Mike: My thoughts exactly. Let's send out Zydrunas, Snow, Hughes, LeBron, and David Wesley. That's some good defense right there. God, I love defense. (Orgasmic Grimace)

Flip: When they get the ball, we should switch to zone. The zone is money. When I inherited the best defensive team in the NBA, I put in a lot of zone defenses. We might have given up more points, but they were the right kind of points-zone points. Also, we should put Marshall in to play defense on Duncan.

Mike: That makes no sense at all. I like it. How did you decide your rotations in Detroit?

Flip: Well, I gave Rasheed 35 minutes a game because he said he'd kill me. Chris Webber was our best scorer, so I didn't play him much. I put in Jason Maxiell a lot-he's only 6-7, but he can defend the paint because he's from Cincinatti. Lindsay Hunter has naked pictures of my wife and Larry Brown, so I give him crunch-time minutes. Chauncey is Mr. Big Shot, so I always play him in the clutch. Carlos Delfino is good, but he has stupid hair. That's why I couldn't take out Tayshaun all series, even though he may or may not have thrown the series. I play McDyess as much as I can, because he's slow. Flip Murray is a solid backup guard, so I don't play him. I'm the only Flip in this town. How dare he take my name? (sighs) My middle name is failure. (goes into fetal position)

Wesley(Coming from broadcast booth): I can defend Tony Parker. He likes to go to his right off a high screen, and I used to shut down Tiny Archibald. Holy christ, I am freaking ancient.

Flip: If I lose this game, my wife is going to make me sleep outside.

Damon Jones: You need shooters? Put Damon Jones in the game? Damon Jones will MAKE IT RAIN! Damon Jones should have won the 3-point contest. Damon Jones might not be in the top 10% in the NBA in 3-pointers made or 3-point percentage, and he might get more open looks than anyone in the league from 3, but that's because Damon Jones is TOO GOOD to make open 3s. But I can't be doin' that anymore. I play with my head. You see me psyche out Chris Webber that one time? He was gettin' ready to shoot a free throw, and Damon Jones put the routine on him, and it was like psychological warfare, like straight-up Hunt For Red October type-shit, and he was all like scared, but he made the free throw 'cause he was lucky, don't nobody make easy free throws when Damon Jones is in the house. Now I'm like a coach. A player-coach. Like Bill Russell up in here, 'cept I'm prettier and funnier. Damon Jones is the man. During halftime, I talked to that one guy from Entourage about gettin' a cameo, like Vince could be walkin' down the street, and I'd just drain a 3 from inside my Escalade, and Turtle would be like "Damn, it's Damon Jones, Player-Coach!", and then I'd go 1-on-1 with Eric, and I'd win, 'cause he's short, and then his girlfriend would be like "Damn, Damon Jones! You is hot!" That last part wouldn't even be in the script, but...(Dwayne Jones picks up Damon Jones, takes him outside of the huddle, and points him towards the water cooler. Damon continues to talk.)

LeBron: Anyways, here's what's going to happen. Andy, you're going to set a pick for me on the strong-side, and then roll hard to the bucket. If they double-trap, you're getting the pass. I NEED YOU TO ROLL HARD! (LeBron puts his finger in Andy's chest for emphasis, leading Andy to instinctively flop over the bench and into the 2nd row of the stands.) Donny, you'll be on the weak side. If I pass it to you, will you hit it?

Donny: Hellllll yes. Donny's always down for a blaze. Normally, I'd wait until the end of the game, or halftime, but I'm down for it during a timeout. Pollard hooked me up with some great stuff.

Drew Gooden: LeBron, more people are named James then are named LeBron. Your last name is more of a first name than your first name. Also, Sasha looks like a vampire.

Mike Brown(Breaks clipboard, puts on red pair of glasses to show anger, grimaces angrily): LISTEN UP! THE GAME IS ON THE LINE! TAKE THE GAME! We need a plan! Now, we can't just go out there, space the floor with shooters, and give the ball to LeBron!

Flip: (weeps softly)

LeBron: Wait, why don't we just do that?

(huddle breaks.)