Friday, May 29, 2009

I've Figured Out Shaq and Kobe

When I’m watching these playoff games on DVR, I often fast forward through all of the pre-game, commercials, some free throws, and halftime commentary. But I always stop to watch the LeBron/Kobe puppet commercials—by the way, why didn’t they get Kobe and LeBron to do the voices? Or did they and they just don’t sound like themselves at all? And I love the slow-mo “Where Amazing Happens” commercials. Since they are showing those in slow-mo, I was able to notice something that I hadn’t seen before during the Kobe-to-Shaq alley oop over Portland. It is an iconic play, obviously, or it wouldn’t be a part of this ad campaign. But it’s iconic not only for the play itself, but also for what seems to be a microcosm of Kobe and Shaq’s relationship, of which there are 7 elements:

  1. Both were otherworldly talented
  2. Both played big in big games and big moments
  3. Both needed each other to make big plays and win
  4. Both benefited greatly from having the other on the floor
  5. Shaq needs to be the center of attention
  6. Kobe wanted Shaq to love him and appreciate his greatness
  7. Shaq never gave Kobe his love and appreciation sincerely

Anyone who even passively watched these two play together would agree with numbers 1-4 without too much argument. I had my thoughts about numbers 5-7, but after watching this 30-second clip, I feel like I have my proof. After Shaq dunked, watch what happens as he runs back up the floor. He makes the O face with the huge googley eyes. He screams and points to the crowd. His crowd. He never takes his eyes off his adoring masses. You will see Kobe extend his hand for a high five, even pathetically slapping Shaq’s wrist as Shaq races past him—ignoring him completely. Shaq is too busy reveling in his greatness to extend his hand to the teammate who tossed him a perfect pass which enabled him to make the play that everyone adored him for. This one play, this one sequence, sums up their entire relationship. Great play, by two great players, who never could last long-term because they both need to be loved at the expense of all others.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Weak Draft

I’ve been reading how weak this draft is relative to others, which I thought was interesting because it seems like there are some really quality players who are draft eligible this year. I decided to take a look at the first rounds of the past 9 drafts (2007-1999… I didn’t look at 2008 because it’s too soon, although 2007 probably is also) to put in perspective just how “weak” this current draft class is relative to the last 9 years.
  • 1999: 8 All-Stars out of 29 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Shawn Marion, Ron Artest)
  • 2000: 1 All-Star out of 29 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: None)
  • 2001: 3 All-Stars out of 28 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Pau Gasol, Tony Parker)
  • 2002: 3 All-Stars out of 28 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Yao Ming, Amare Stoudemire)
  • 2003: 6 All-Stars out of 29 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade)
  • 2004: 3 All-Stars out of 29 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Dwight Howard)
  • 2005: 3 All-Stars out of 30 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Deron Williams, Chris Paul)
  • 2006: 1 All-Star out of 30 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Brandon Roy)
  • 2007: 0 All-Stars out of 30 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: None)

Now let’s take a look at some of the names routinely mentioned as first round picks and see where this perceived “weakness” emanates.

  1. Blake Griffin – considered by many (not me) as the no-brainer, best player in the draft.
  2. Ricky Rubio – widely thought to be a fantastic NBA point guard despite slight build and shaky shooting. He’d also be a top 5 pick in any draft the past 10 years.
  3. Hasheem Thabeet – mock drafts have had him ranked high for years. While I believe that he has several shortcomings, would he have ever been considered anything other than a top 10 pick in the last 10 years? Before you answer, take a look at some of these names, all of whom were indeed top 10 picks in the last 10 years: Danillo Gallinari, ’08; Joe Alexander, ’08; Yi Jianlian, ’07; Brandan Wright, ’07; Adam Morrison, ’06; Shelden Williams, ’06; Patrick O’Bryant, ’06; Mohammed Saer Sene, ’06; Martell Webster, ’05; Channing Frye, ’05; Ike Diogu, ’05; Shuan Livingston, ’04; Rafael Araujo, ’04; Luke Jackson, ’04; Darko Milicic, ’03; Mike Sweetney, ’03; Jay Williams, ’02; Mike Dunleavy, ’02; Nikoloz Tskitishvili, ’02; Dajuan Wagner, ’02; Kwame Brown, ’01; Eddy Curry, ’01; Eddie Griffin, ’01; DeSagana Diop, ’01; Rodney White, ’01; Stromile Swift, ’00; Darius Miles, ’00; Marcus Fizer, ’00; DeMarr Johnson, ’00; Chris Mihm, ’00; Jonathan Bender, ’99. That’s what I thought. The answer is no.
  4. Jrue Holiday – Here is where I’ve seen the rumblings that the draft begins to get weak. Holiday is an intriguing player who has high value because he can play PG and good defense. I don’t understand the weak commentary.
  5. Jordan Hill – I like his toughness and size, he has a ceiling to be a Nene-type of player, but he could also bust.
  6. James Harden – I dislike his game. I see him as a definite bust candidate.
  7. Brandon Jennings – I have no idea and neither does anyone else.
  8. Stephen Curry – I love this guy, but he has huge bust potential because he’s so frail and not quick. He definitely could be a better Mike Bibby though.
  9. Tyreke Evans – Not a fan, but he’s got moxie. I don’t see him busting.
  10. Jonny Flynn – nice player who will definitely get a chance because of his speed and strength at his position
  11. DeJuan Blair – he’ll do really well because there are so many finesse big guys in the league and he can push them around.
  12. DeMar DeRozan – one of my favorites in the draft. He’s got something going on.
  13. Jeff Teague – If Wake Forest didn’t get trounced early in the tournament, I might have an opinion on him, but I don’t.
  14. Earl Clark – I don’t like him and see huge bust possibilities. He’s physically extraordinarily talented, but if there are effort concerns about him in college, why wouldn’t he have them once he’s paid? Haven’t we seen this story before? Also, I’m not convinced that he knows what he’s doing on the floor.
  15. James Johnson – see Jeff Teague
  16. Gerald Henderson – role player at best. I don't see it in him.
  17. Eric Maynor – I like him a lot. I see a lot of Andre Miller in him without the ‘tude.
  18. B.J. Mullens – I’ve got four words for you: B. U. S. T. Come on, there’s no chance he plays meaningful minutes ever, right?
  19. Ty Lawson – I like Ty, for the same reasons I like Flynn, only Lawson has a better shot (I’d call it a jumper, but it’s really a set shot)
  20. Tyler Hansbrough – most people think that he’ll fail, so he can’t really bust, can he? I do like his chances more than most, though.
  21. Chase Budinger – he’s been touted as a lottery pick ever since his freshman year. He’ll be fine because of his athleticism and range.
  22. Terrence Williams – I’ve always liked him, but I don’t see him ever developing a reliable jumper. If he shot so poorly from 3pt range in college, how is that going to improve in the NBA when the line is much further back? I think I’ve said before that he just needs to establish a consistent release point, but I don’t know if he’ll ever do that.
  23. Austin Daye – I’ve stated my case against Daye for a long time and I’m very tired of reading how he is one of the most “skilled” guys in the draft. I don’t really get that. I will say that he has a nice looking jumper and can block jump shots, but can he pass? Can he rebound? Can he move? He hasn’t shown any ability whatsoever in college that he can do that. For being so “skilled” he’s painfully slow and has terrible feet. I don’t get him at all.
  24. Nick Calathes – no idea.
  25. Gani Lawal – no idea
  26. DaJuan Summers – no idea
  27. Sam Young – tough player who can play a role, but not much more.
  28. Darren Collison – was formerly thought to be a top 10 pick. I see a lot of Darrell Armstrong in him but with longer arms. That’s not too bad.
  29. Toney Douglas – love him. He’ll be one of the better players in this draft.
  30. Patrick Mills – tough guy who will play some decent minutes for a good team and a lot of minutes for a team that needs a point guard (and many other things)

It looks like there are around 17 guys that I like in this draft and around 6 that look like they have All-Star ability. Does that make it weak? Sure, I suppose so, but it doesn’t make it any weaker than any of the 9 previous years. Even the 2003 draft, widely believed to be one of the all-time best produced only 15 players worth talking about, of course, included in that list of 15 are four super-duper stars: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and four good players: David West, Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa, and Josh Howard, but that year was an aberration. More commonly, the drafts feature players who have similar ability and potential as this year’s class.

The point is, this draft is no weaker than any other year and I’m tired of reading that statement as if it were fact.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

J.R. Smith etc.

I’m with Jeff Van Gundy on this one; I didn’t know that J.R. Smith had this kind of court vision. The guy looked like a great point guard last night and he doesn’t even play the point. Finding an open teammate now and again is one thing, but he kept slipping great pass after great pass by people leading directly to dunks or layins. Now that he’s shown this part of his arsenal, is there any that he can’t do? I even saw him get pissed when there was a breakdown defensively leaving Jordan Farmar with a wide open three (which he missed). I’m baffled by this whole thing. It has become abundantly clear that Smith needed a guy like Chauncey Billups to take the knuckles out of his head. His game is completely different than it has been in years past because he’s now added defense and passing, you know, almost like a complete basketball player.

Is it possible that we’re seeing a superstar in the making? He’s 23 (turns 24 on Sept. 9). He bound by nothing physically because he’s got terrific size for a 1 or a 2 at 6’6 220. He has a beautiful jumpshot with unlimited range. He has good court awareness and a knack for finding open players (which has been apparent in this series). He’s explosive as hell, possessing a preposterous, but believable when you see him jump, 44-inch vert. (I really wish that he would have flushed right on Kobe’s head last night, even if it was a foul). He’s quick and fast. He’s strong. He’s got it all.

So, adding Chauncey Billups to his life has probably added several million dollars to his name because if he continues on this path of becoming a complete guard he will be a wildly valuable asset. Ever since he’s been in the NBA he’s either been first, second, or third team all knucklehead squad. He shot with no conscience and had no idea how to be a team player. Some switch must have been flipped because he doesn’t resemble, at all, the player that he used to be. He looked like the second coming of Larry Hughes. For those of you out there who have never seen Larry Hughes play, believe me, that’s not a compliment.

I’d like to see him become an even better defensive player and there is absolutely no reason why he can’t be because he’s so quick and strong. I’m excited about watching this dude explode. With his size and skills, I could easily see him averaging 25 points 6 assists 4 rebounds 2 steals through the prime of his career.

Oh, and he comes very cheap (relative to production) with a contract that will pay him about $5.5M through 2010-2011.

If Kenyon Martin really has a broken ring finger on his left hand and isn’t even taping it, then he truly is crazy. Right handed players who are shot blockers often block shots with their opposite hand. I have no idea how he’s doing this without writhing in pain. Broken fingers hurt!

Speaking of blocked shots… the Birdman is on a tear. Shannon Brown has got to know better than to throw up that weak mess.

I, like many others, was disappointed in Melo, but I’ll give him a pass if he had a stomach virus and was yakking. Along those lines, shouldn’t he be quarantined? The stomach flu is so incredibly contagious so shouldn’t we expect someone else to start heaving any second? On both teams? When I was in college, we had some crazy strain of stomach flu run through nearly our entire campus, causing people to expel out of the front and the rear. We dubbed it “The Beast.” It was like the movie Outbreak, except with better acting. Also, instead of some exotic monkey who spread the virus, we presumed that it was a friend of ours who was, and still is, shaped like a perfect square, who exposed everyone on campus. He probably picked up the strain at an exotic porn shop. The point is, as soon as one person got it, nearly everyone got it. I’ve got to think that Melo left some the virus all over the locker room and on the court. Someone else is going to come down with it, trust me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t harangue the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the exception of LeBron, whom I love, I hate their team right now. None of them can do anything. I don’t like Big Z, at all. I’d rather see Joe Smith out there. At least he can bend over and pick up a ball and he’s also shooting the ball really well. As opposed to Z who has been hitting some jumpers, but who doesn’t seem the least bit confident. Smith needs more minutes at the expense of Big Z and a guy I’ve already killed—the much despised Varejao. However, I’ve only railed against his personality rather than his ability, of which he has none, aside from being tall. But here’s the deal, he’s an awful player, who occasionally chases down rebounds, fouls people, and annoys the living hell out of the opposition, referees, fans, and probably his teammates. I loved watching him get beat so badly down the court by his man (Odom) who subsequently flushed it on the other end because he runs like he’s dragging 20 lbs of sand tied to each foot.

Additionally, and I’m not stating anything new here, Mo Williams and Delonte West have been atrocious, and that’s putting it mildly. I don’t see how Cleveland wins this series after watching three games. Orlando looks like the far better team, even without Dwight Howard. If they had Marcin Gortat playing instead of Howard, they’d still be in the same position. Dwight is good, but he’s not the difference maker (Gortat is much, much, much better than I realized, but still not “just as athletic” as Dwight Howard as Reggie Miller would have you believe). Rashard Lewis is playing like he’s getting paid insane money (oh wait, he is). Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus are fantastic role players and scorers. I was so wrong about this Cleveland team to the point of embarrassment. LeBron is doing this on his own (his block and alley oop the other night were breathtaking… he was above the square) and it’s really too bad. It’s not as if he’s not passing the ball, he’s doing that with regularity, but his team just keeps missing. Which reminds me, shouldn’t Wally Szerbiak get some run? If there is anything that the guy can do, it’s shoot, and no one else has been able to do it. He needs to play.

I’m fine with LeBron not driving to the hole every single time down the court (although that would be effective, it’s just not possible, he’s be completely spent after 2 quarters of doing that and playing defense). I just ask that when he settles for a jumper that he do so decisively. These jab-step-launching a 20%-chance-of-making-it jumper from 20 feet are not getting it done. It’s times like that when I have to concede to non-NBA fans the following: “Yes, that was a bad shot and makes for bad basketball viewing.”

If they don’t turn it around tonight, it’s curtains and I’m officially bummed about it because I’d like to see him win this year.

My Zimbio
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