Sunday, August 31, 2008

International/Domestic, what do you think?



In a rather exciting development, the Dominican Republic has advanced far enough in the Centrobasket tournament to qualify for next year's Tournament of the Americas. This news is particularly exciting because if they perform well in the Tournament of the Americas, the Dominicans would qualify for the FIBA World Basketball Championships in Turkey in 2010. While old powers are always fun to watch, I find it exciting to see new teams in the top world competitions, so this is a big development.

The Dominican Republic this year is led by two NBA players, Francisco Garcia and Al Horford. Garcia is a pretty good player, and Horford is a future all-star, so it's not a huge shock that the Dominicans are succeeding in Centrobasket. What caught my eye about the story, though, is this throwaway line: "Of course, there has been talk Horford could be asked to get his American passport and join Team USA, in which case the Dominican's advancements would be for naught." Now, Al Horford has every right to play for whatever country he wants to, and he's certainly a good enough player to play on top teams including the United States. But as a fan, I find myself getting more excited about greater competition and cheering for smaller countries that are led by familiar NBA stars.

So, what do you think? If the player himself were happy to play for either team, would you rather see one or two dominant teams rolling over the competition, or would you like to see players such as Horford (or Hakeem Olajuwon back in the day) lead smaller countries to competitiveness and possible upsets?

Another hoops victory over the forces of evil


This is a followup to a previous post. A few days after that was written, the paperwork went through and Hamed Haddadi was allowed to begin negotiating with NBA teams.

Now, we hear that Hadadi (Yahoo seems to insist that his name is Ehadadi, but I'll go with the spelling on the Grizzlies website for now) has signed with the Memphis Grizzlies. Terms of the deal are unknown for now, although rumored to be similar to deals for late first-round draft picks.

First off, congratulations to Haddadi for making it into the NBA. It's unclear what sort of role he'll play off the bat -- he'll be joining Darko Milicic (Serbia), Marc Gasol (Spain), Hakim Warrick (U.S. of A.), and Darrell Arthur in the frontcourt. Still, making it to the league is a huge accomplishment, and a nice first step in hopefully a solid NBA career.

More importantly, let's hear it for IRAN! Hadadi is the first Iranian player ever to sign in the NBA. Are the Grizzlies blazing a trail towards better future diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran? I sure hope so. OBAMA + HADADI '08! SHOOT BASKETS, NOT PEOPLE!

A couple of things that didn't fit anywhere else

I thought these were important:

1) Kobe Bryant has a reality show in China. Here's a promo (via FanHouse):



2) Who wants to sex Mutumbo? He parties at Cream (found by CanisHoopus):

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fowles and Parker: Give them the damn ball (in the right places)

It struck me while watching the Chicago Sky take on the New York Liberty on Thursday that the Sky offense looked a bit off whenever Sylvia Fowles was in the game. This is to be expected, since she was injured for most of the season, and then spent the last month playing in Beijing while the rest of her teammates were on vacation. Still, it was frustrating. In the post, Liberty defenders sagged off the perimeter and, if Fowles did happen to receive and entry pass, collapsed on her. During the second and third quarters, Fowles ended up quite often setting screens at the top of the key in what seemed like a waste of her talents - not unlike seeing Ben Wallace setting screens 20 feet away from the basket. She's the biggest player on the floor, and the most athletic, and she should be receiving the ball near the basket.

(Janel McCarville did do a solid job of defending Fowles when she did get the ball).

For a while, Fowles mostly made her presence felt on the defensive end, by getting rebounds. Then, as the game went on, the Sky cleaned up their transition game a bit and started to find Fowles under the basket early in the shot clock, before the defense had had a chance to set up. Fowles responded by scoring easily. She ended with an ok 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 turnovers in 28 minutes of play. It seemed like she could have done a lot more if the Sky had been able to get her the ball earlier in the game, but it seemed to work out by the end. (I didn't see their next game, but according to the box score Fowles had an excellent game, scoring 20 points on 10 shots, so perhaps the chemistry is starting to develop).

[Complete sidenote: Jia Perkins played a great game]

Now, Candace Parker is a very different player from Sylvia Fowles, but I noticed on Saturday night that, beyond both being top rookies who played in the Olympics this year, Fowles and Parker also share a somewhat similar situation in terms of still struggling to find their role offensively on their respective teams. In Saturday's game between the Sparks and the San Antonio Silver Stars, the Sparks struggled getting the ball into the post early, in large part due to the Silver Stars' collapsing defense. Both defenses were playing really well, and neither team was shooting that well, so the Sparks stayed in it despite a flurry of turnovers. By the second quarter, Parker began turning her defensive rebounds into instant points by turning around and pushing the ball up herself, and isolating herself on the wing and easily dribbling past her defender before the rest of the Silver Stars had had a chance to set up (sound familiar?). Fowles doesn't have the ability to bring the ball up the court in transition like that, but the theme of getting these players the ball in the right places early in the shot clock is important.

It's also worth pointing out that, despite all of the ballhandling she was doing, Parker didn't register a single turnover during the entire game.

In the first half, the Sparks' were only able to stay in the game because of their dominant offensive rebounding, and Parker's ability to create transition offense (she scored close ot half of the entire team's total points during the first half).

In the second half Los Angeles was able to find more ways to feed Parker, specifically using Lisa Leslie and Delisha Milton-Jones at the high post. L.A.'s guards aren't quite tall enough to make the lob passes that are made available by the agressive post-denial defense that San Antonio was playing. However, both Leslie and Milton-Jones are threats to score from the perimeter, so the Sparks were able to have either one of them initiate the offense from the top of the key, leading to some effective lobs into Parker. This strategy isn't perfect -- Leslie and Milton-Jones ended up with 4 turnovers each on the night -- but it did lead to a lot of easy scores for Parker, as well as opened up the perimeter for the Sparks other scorers.

The Sparks ended up winning in large part thanks to Leslie and Shannon Bobbit making some huge plays down the stretch. But they wouldn't have been in a position to win at all if they hadn't been able to open up the offense by effectively getting the ball in low to Candace Parker in the second half.

[Sidenote: Becky Hammon is one of my favorite players to watch. She played a great game.]

The WNBA playoffs are just around the corner, and I hope that both the Sky and the Sparks will be part of them (the Sky are currently two games back of Indiana for the last spot in the East). Hopefully, both teams will find ways to get their star rookies the ball in effective positions.

On an unrelated note: in the Silver Stars game, Candace Parker played 39 minutes. She was great, but she did look a little tired at times, and she did just play in the Olympics while most of her opponents were vacationing. Not to mention, she's been playing non-stop basketball since the beginning of last year's NCAA season, so close to a full calendar year. The Sparks are in a battle for playoff position, but Parker definitely will need some rest at some point . . ..

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Real Reason McCain Picked Palin


It's been pointed out in these pages before that Obama is the choice of basketball. It similarly seems obvious that, thus far, McCain is the football candidate.


Now, I enjoy football as much as anyone, but let's be honest: football is about militancy and conformity. Football is Bill Bellicheck and some old guy in Pennsylvania, and some kind of tradition in the deep south and Friday Night Lights and an addiction to painkillers. And non-guaranteed contracts, and not being able to walk after you retire, and having concussions every other week. Basketball is Dr. J and slam dunk contests and Phil Jackson smoking a peace pipe and not settling for outdated and racist school nicknames. Basketball is all about clean water in Sierra Leone and 81 point games and Dr. Dunkenstein and World B Free and Planet Lovetron and sleeping with 10,000 women and behind the back passes and the Harlem Globetrotters. As much as we might enjoy football, basketball is what this country needs.

And when it comes to hoops, Obama's got the credentials. Barack Obama is the candidate of Charles Barkley:



Meanwhile, even when he does get a basketball vote, McCain comes out losing. McCain is the candidate of Spencer Hawes:



Football has, for a while now, been the more popular sport among Americans. This much is clear from a cursory glance at television ratings. In fact, football may have cost John Kerry the most recent election.

However, McCain astutely realized that Obama, though the basketball candidate, wouldn't so easily concede the football vote:


If McCain were to rest on his laurels, expecting the football vote to push him into the White House, he might be left out alone on the field.

This is in addition to the fact that, while football still holds sway domestically, basketball, like Obama, is much more popular throughout the rest of the world, as seen in Obama's recent international trip and in the strength of the international hoops teams in the Olympics. Obama's ability to hold his own on the issue of football while dominating the basketball vote was clearly a problem for McCain. Why else would he pick as his VP Sarah Palin? Check it out:

According to Wikipedia, she was "the point guard and captain of the school's basketball team. She helped the team win the Alaska small-school basketball championship in 1982, hitting a critical free throw in the last seconds of the game, despite having an ankle stress fracture at the time."

At this point, Palin may even have the wherewithal to unite the sports, and offer a united front against Obama:

With all that's going on, I feel it important to bring you this special McFruity Presidential Endorsement. I am glad that basketball is finally a central issue. However, the candidates are NOT equally hoops-qualified. DON'T BE FOOLED. OBAMA IS THE ONLY TRUE BASKETBALL CANDIDATE. This November, please vote for the only real basketball president.




Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Heartache and Melancholy of Temporality


More than any other team in this summer's olympics, I was interested in watching the Spanish team. Yeah, they had that tacky slanty eyes ad and all, but there was something exciting about the individuals on the team and the way they fit together.


Watching the team, I wasn't disappointed. They had flash with substance, Jose Calderon bounce passes, Rudy Fernandez dunks, Pau Gasol post moves and face ups and fast break dunks, Marc Gasol looking surprisingly mobile while guarding the pick-and-roll on the perimeter (a la Kendrick Perkins last year), and a remarkably poised 17-year-old Ricky Rubio playing solid defense against some of the best guards in the world. And their last game against the U.S. was just lovely to watch.

But there was also a weird twinge of sadness to the whole affair, resulting from looking ahead too much. I imagine most of the significant contributors to this team will be back in 2010 for the World Championships in Turkey (I wonder about Garbajosa's health though . . .), but this particular manifestation of the team will be gone. The younger players on the team (such as Marc Gasol, Rubio, and Fernandez) will likely have larger roles as the program transitions from the slightly older generation, and perhaps a couple of new young exciting players will have joined the mix. Perhaps more relevantly, the mystery of Marc, Ricky, and Rudy will be gone as I'll have had a year or two to watch them in the NBA.

There will be other exciting teams, and new storylines, but getting focused on the winning and losing just takes away from the uniqueness of the present. There will be other teams, and other players, but they won't be these players.


This is kind of more about life than it is about basketball. But bear with me: one of the things we live with as sports fans is how quickly things change. Careers are short, and what with salary caps and such players don't stick around together for long anyways. It's weird to talk about how quickly things change when the NBA has such a grueling schedule coupled with a seemingly endless playoffs, but, as in life, each moment is its own lifetime. And sometimes, in the moment, it's easy to take for granted the presentness of what is happening, to remember that afterwards, all that will be left are memories, themselves fading.

We have, in the aftermath, numbers to keep us company. I can tell you how many points Wilt Chamberlain scored, or how many rebounds Dennis Rodman got. These are pale reflections, the sporting equivalent of faded photos.

It's the "how" that's missing. Earl Monroe's career statistics aren't often presented in italics, they don't look any smoother or flashier than anyone else's.

Even watching old game film is a different experience. It was one thing to watch Shawn Kemp in the early 90's, his every move an undreamed of rebellion against physics. It's quite another to witness those same moves in hindsight, with vision clouded by a knowledge of players such as Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard. That revelatory feeling is gone.


Growing up, I spent most of my summer vacations in India, visiting family and making new friends out of the neighbors. Each summer I had three months to develop these bonds, with the knowledge all along that at the end of the three months that life would come to an end when I stepped on the plane to return home. The next year I would go back, but everything would be different -- neighbors had moved away, friends had grown up, and so forth.

Right now, the Portland Trailblazers are (rightfully) the next big thing. They're stocked with extremely talented young players and it's fun to imagine how they'll play together, what sort of excitement they'll generate. The fact that the results are completely unknown only makes it more fun. But a few years from now the Blazers will be, at best, the status quo. Fans will have moved on to the Grizzlies or the Oklahoma City Whatevertheyare (probably the Thunder) or whoever else happens to be the up-and-comer of the moment. But the tremors right now of tentative expectation and the anticipation of uncertain dominance, they'll be gone and forgotten. And that's a much longer moment than the post-Steven Jackson trade Warriors, who had a few months of glory before shipping off Jason Richardson and then watching Baron Davis leave a year later. They'll be a new and exciting team with all of their talented young players, but that doesn't lessen how exciting those couple of months were.

It's with these thoughts in mind that I recently read Tom Ziller's post on Gerald Wallace. Wallace has, for the last couple of years at least, been the only reason I tune in for Bobcats games. On the court he's volatile, with occasional completely unpredictable explosions. Even his flaws make him more watchable. But his style is also a paragon of unsustainability, built as it is on headfirst forays into the hoop and hardnosed defense against much larger opponents. He's been averaging what seems like a concussion a year for a while now, and that statistic is much more befitting of a football player than it is of a headband-clad basketballer.

Wallace is still young, even in NBA years, and Ziller seems to think that recent changes in his playing style are more due to incompetent coaching than to an age- and concussion-related mellowing, but I can't help but wonder if his days of demolition derby-style are over.

Wallace is one illustration of that fact that it's not just retirement that pushes player-moments back into the graveyard of memory, but also stylistic changes brought on by age (for instance, dominant Shaq vs. decoy Shaq), injury (Antonio McDyess before and after knee surgery), or the pragmatics of the win-column (pre- and post-Hubie Brown versions of Jason Williams). This isn't to deny recognition of what a huge accomplishment it is for a player to successfully change styles mid-career and continue to be able to compete at a high level. One of the most remarkable things about Kobe Bryant's career so far, for example, has been his ability keeping changing and adding to his game as he's gotten older and the players around him have changed, all the while never once stumbling in terms of efficiency. Since 1999, his points produced per 100 possessions have never dipped below 110 (and has been increasing as he approaches 30), while he's consistently used well over 26% of possessions. This is while gaining and then losing 20 or 30 pounds, undergoing multiple knee surgeries, improving his three-point shot, adding a fadeaway and a drop-step and improving his mid-range game and losing Shaq and gaining Gasol and so on and so forth.

While it's easy to begin to take Kobe's adaptability for granted, it's just as easy to underrate the highest moments in the careers of players like Steve Francis, who was brilliant early on but didn't really develop his game and saw his effectiveness leave him when his knees went out. What happened later in his career, though, shouldn't affect the memories of these moments:





Magic
Magic Johnson was absolutely brilliant for an entire decade, and not just because of the success his teams had, but because no one had ever seen a player like him, and it was always exciting to see what he was going to do next. His game hadn't dropped off at all yet when he announced that he had contracted HIV. He talked about continuing his career (and indeed has remained in good health since then), but Karl Malone said some ignorant stuff and Magic stayed retired. Over a decade later, Malone joined the Lakers trying to win a ring, took Magic's jersey number (which was un-retired just for Malone), got injured in the playoffs and played ineffectively while the Pistons demolished the Lakers in the playoffs. Malone hung around L.A. for a while longer in order to hit on Kobe's wife a few months into the next season. (In retrospect, Karl Malone is like that complete jerk in the office who you invite over for dinner because you're trying to be the bigger person, only when he arrives he refuses to take his shoes off in your house, complains about the food, tries to bang your wife, and then leaves with your crock-pot, claiming he brought it with him to keep the nacho cheese that he brought warm -- and everyone at the dinner party clearly remembers that his nacho cheese was not only not warm, but required a can-opener before consumption). A year or so ago, Nate Jones wrote about what might have been. Personally, I quite enjoyed the post-Magic pre-Shaq Lakers teams, but that doesn't take away from acknowledging that parts of Magic's game never came to light, and how important it was to enjoy what he did offer while he was around.

When Lamar Odom came into the league and everyone thought he was going to be the next Magic Johnson, I kept thinking about how I hadn't gotten enough of the original version . . ..


The Rise of 2.0

A main storyline of this year's U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball Team was the resurgence of Dwyane Wade. He'd been injured for so long, it almost seemed like his career was going to join Penny Hardaway's, Darius Miles', and so forth in that graveyard of vague memory. And then, out of nowhere, he showed up huge for the Americans, not just playing well, but finishing windmill alley-oops and showing off his increased strength. In interviews, he talked about adjusting his game so that he can lengthen his career while still being effective for 82 games and the playoffs every year. And he's being called Wade 2.0.

Last season, Amare Stoudemire added a mid-range jumpshot to his game, and thus was able to remain offensively dominant despite multiple knee surgeries. He had become Amare 2.0, a new more mature player.

I'm happy for both of these guys, that they've been able, so far, to be resilient and adapt to the whims of injury fortune. But I'm not under any illusions that Wade is or will be the same guy who would beat 5 defenders on the way to the hoop during the 2006 finals. Nor that Stoudemire will be the same player who was jumping over and through Tim Duncan in the 2005 Western Semifinals. In a way, their being forced to adapt makes their ongoing success all the more impressive, but still, the excitement and novelty of what they did before is hard to communicate or recreate. The memory of their performances is still vivid, but the memory of my own awe has more or less faded completely.

Monta's Injury
And so, in a related note, we hear the Monta Ellis will miss at least a month of the upcoming season, and it just so happens that this particular season is one that I've been very curious about. Not that there's ever a good time to have a serious injury, but it seems like the worst possible time for this -- already expected to change his game significantly in the upcoming season, how will he adjust when he's inevitably slowed as he works himself back into shape, trying simultaneously to learn a brand new role in an offense that will surely look quite different without Baron Davis? Sure, this is a time to contemplate whether Marcus Williams and C.J. Watson can handle the point guard spot, whether it might be a good time to take a flier on Shaun Livingston, and so forth. But it'd be nice also to pause and remember that, regardless of how the team adjusts, this is going to be a hugely difficult time for Monta . . ..

Even less related notes
I think it's important to pay respects to Kevin Duckworth and Wayman Tisdale. Duckworth passed away, and Tisdale has had part of his leg amputated due to cancer. So, RIP Duck, and get well soon Tisdale . . ..

And Finally
I think this is worth a read. I hope you'll take the time to do so, here on the eve of Gustav. Really, this is probably the most important part of this whole post, so it's a shame it's down here at the bottom, but I hope you do make time to check out that link.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vote for Turiaf . . .


I mean, if you're bored or whatever. As of right now, Ronny Turiaf is behind Shane Battier in a completely meaningless tournament. Vote Ronny!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rudy!






Great great game between Spain and the U.S. Rudy Fernandez will be amazingly fun to watch in Portland next year. Marc Gasol grabs his crotch with his left hand before every free throw he shoots -- watch for this next year in Memphis. Did I mention Rudy Fernandez was superb? So superb, that perhaps the play of the game for the U.S. was Kobe Bryant drawing a foul on Rudy and fouling him out.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Revelations


Some really quick thoughts before the main story:

Both the men's and women's gold medal games are this weekend. I don't particularly care who wins, but as an NBA/WNBA fan, here's the players I'll have an eye on: Sylvia Fowles, Tully Bevilaqua, Lauren Jackson, Rudy Fernandez (yes, still!), Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol. Ok, we get to see Lauren Jackson play all the time, but I'll enjoy watching her match up with Lisa Leslie. on the topic of Spain, I hope the best for the families of those who were aboard Spanair Flight 5022.

A hearty congratulations to Darius Miles for signing with Boston. It's not guaranteed, and he still may never appear in an NBA game again, but I'm holding out hope because I still remember how much I enjoyed watching him play with the wacky Clippers several years ago.

Ok. Now on to the important stuff: Kobe Bryant is a big nerdy comic book fan (via freedarko):

Kobe happily replied, "I'm into that dark shit. I've got a 13-hour flight to China and need something good to read." Immediately I recommended my favorite author Garth Ennis and “Preacher” to him, explaining the intricacies of the faithless Reverend Custer, his assassin girlfriend Tulip, best-friend/Irish Vampire Cassidy, and his quest to make God pay for abandoning humanity. Kobe's eyes lit up as I told him the tale of Jesse and the reasons why Preacher would change his view on comics forever.


Yeah, I know Kobe has made clear that he identifies with Batman, and John Rosenberg has pointed out in conversation that Kobe and Batman share traits of extreme sociopathy, loneliness, and, for an outsider, sadness:

Batman's hella depressing, that dude was born rich and could spend all day buying coke and hookers and instead he hides in a cave and dresses up in tights to fight with a guy in clown makeup named Joker. That's like Kobe . . . Kobe probably has a dark room set up in his house where he sits by himself every night, reading stories that say negative things about him and seething with anger.


So we already knew Kobe = Batman. But there are a couple of newsworthy items here. First of all, we never know anything of Kobe's taste. His clothes are picked out by other people, he claimed to be a fan of Harry Potter, Nutella, and various other bland things (if we did try to read into things, the love of Harry Potter might fit with Kobe's persona of aloofness -- off in the corner, dreaming of dragons and magic schools, while Dwyane Wade dreams of being wooed by Mr. Darcy). But recently, his armor has shown little cracks. First, we found out that he's a master of jeet kune do:





Now, we're finding out he's into "that dark shit." This is no innocent love of Harry
Potter and other children's fantasy fare. For instance, the story claims he is an "avid fan" of 100 bullets. From Wikipedia:

The initial plot of 100 Bullets hinges on the question of whether people would take the chance to get away with revenge. Occasionally in a given story arc, the mysterious Agent Graves approaches someone who has been the victim of a terrible wrong, and gives them the chance to set things right in the form of a nondescript attaché case containing a handgun, 100 bullets, a photograph of a person, and irrefutable evidence that this person is primarily responsible for their woes. He informs the candidate that the bullets are completely untraceable: any police investigation that uncovers one of them will stop.

Is Kobe sitting in his batcave, packing a suitcase full of ammo and muttering to himself, "Oh yeah Shaq? Let's see how your ass tastes when it's filled with lead . . ."






That's perhaps not giving him enough credit. I mean, reading a dark comic book doesn't make a person a homicidal sociopath, right? But what else can we gather about Kobe's personality?



These comics are pretty intricately crafted, the result of long and solitary hours of work and meticulous attention to detail, much like Kobe's game, so maybe he's just recognizing a kindred spirit. Or perhaps, as a perpetual outsider (a black American in Italy, an Italian soccer fan in Philly, a teenage rookie on an adult Laker team), he's just identifying with the alienation inherent in dark comics. It's enough to make me wonder whether Kobe might also be a Kafka enthusiast (Kobe has also once said "I wouldn't mind being Jewish," perhaps to have more in common with his favorite author?), and what are Kobe's thoughts on Kafka's taste in porn, which has also been described as "quite dark."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Awkward Moments, Olympics Edition

(please note the offensive rebounding post below)




Offensive Rebounding, Part I


Offensive rebounds are an important factor in offensive success, yet often get swallowed up in the general category of "rebounds." Further, when commentators do talk about offensive rebounds, they often compare raw totals for teams, so it always ends up looking like the team that shot worse was a better offensive rebounding team, when in fact they just had way more opportunities. Finally, moreso than a lot of other aspects of the game, offensive rebounding at the team level can be greatly affected by an individual player -- for instance, last year the Knicks regularly threw out a lineup of David Lee and a bunch of schmoes and still ended up 10th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. Or, for another example, Utah grabbed a full 5.3% more of its offensive rebounding opportunities when Paul Millsap was playing than they did when he wasn't.

More generally, here's a study that shows that offensive rebounding is much more of a product of team strategy than many other aspects of the game -- meaning that a team's success in grabbing offensive rebounds is largely dependent on whether they themselves choose whether to crash the boards or get back on defense. And here's a study showing that an individual player who is a good offensive rebounder can have quite a significant effect on the team's offensive rebounding, as seen in the Knicks and Jazz examples above.

How valuable is it, then, to have a great offensive rebounder on a team? The Knicks example showed us that a team can still suck even if they are competent offensive rebounders. And choosing to have your offense crash the boards might leave the team vulnerable to leak outs and fastbreaks at the other end (the Bucks, for instance, were the 3rd best offensive rebounding team in the league last year, but were by far the worst defensive team in the league. About 37% of their opponent's shot attempts occurred in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, and they were the 4th most dunked on team in the league last year). On the other hand, offensively, every extra opportunity to score is a huge advantage. The question I'm curious about here, though, is about whether offensive rebounds give the offense any extra advantage beyond the extra scoring chance.

In Chatper 6 of the book Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver writes:

On the offensive end, a rebounder has to find space to get around defenses and get close to the basket, where he is frequently poorly guarded due to defensive confusion and inside position. That makes an offensive rebounder a potentially very efficient scorer. John Maxwell, public relations director of the Charlotte Sting, did a study on WNBA offensive rebounds supporting this assertion. He found that offensive rebounders improve their field goal percentage from about 41 percent to 48 percent and their points per play from about 0.80 to about 0.94. That improved the team's points per play from about 0.80 to 0.90. That kind of difference is huge! Not only does an offensive rebound preserve a possession, it really does provide an easier opportunity to score.


In the past, when I've discussed offensive rebounding at this site, I've treated the issue independently, only considering the extra scoring opportunity created without any regard to the quality of said scoring opportunity. So, do offensive rebounds lead to better shot attempts?

One way to look at this question is to see whether teams shot better in games where they got more offensive rebounds. If those rebounds are leading to open shots right underneath the basket, that should show up in the FG%.

Over the last three years, 3,690 games have been played in the NBA, giving us 7,380 observations (one for each team for each game). So I got cracking. First I compared offensive rebounding percentage to effective field goal percentage.

[Recall: Offensive rebounding percentage is the percentage of available offensive rebounds that a team retrieves. If a team misses 10 shots and gets 4 offensive rebounds, then the have an OReb% of 40%. If a team misses 20 shots and gets 6 offensive rebounds, their OReb% is only 30%, even though they got more rebounds. Effective field goal percentage is normal field goal percentage adjusted for the fact that three-pointers are worth an extra point].


The results were somewhat unexpected. I looked at correlations team by team -- the reasoning being that better shooting teams will often tend to have lower offensive rebounding percentages, because they'll be de-emphasizing that strategy in favor of getting back on defense if they expect their shots to go in. Looking at the team by team results, there were a handful of teams, notably including Detroit and Utah, which displayed the expected positive correlation between OReb% and eFG%, but there were many more teams who had a negative correlation -- that is, they shot lower percentages in games where they had a higher OReb%.

Not quite satisfied, I made a few tweaks to the study. First of all, instead of looking at eFG%, I decided to look at True Shooting Percentage. True Shooting Percentage (TS%) looks at not only 2- and 3-point shots, but also at free throws, to give an indication of scoring efficiency on all scoring attempts. The thinking here was that a lot of the benefits of offensive rebounds might have been hidden in the previous study because they were being realized at the free throw line -- it is quite common, after all, to see a big secure an offensive rebound and get fouled before he can go back up for a shot.

The second tweak was to look at teams year by year, since some teams will undergo drastic changes in personnel and coaching strategy between seasons.

Still, after the changes, only about 36% of all team-seasons exhibited a positive correlation between offensive rebounding percentage and true shooting percentage. I'm not completely prepared to drop the idea that offensive rebounds can lead to better shot attempts, though -- it's quite possible that the cause-effect is being muddled here. For instance, in a game where a team is shooting well, it would be reasonable for them not to concentrate on offensive rebounds, and so the OReb% might be lower for that reason. The answer, then, is to look at plays within games that occurred immediately after offensive rebounds, to see if they were more successful than other plays. That will be presented in Part II.

While inconclusive, there is still something to be gained from looking at the extremes from the results of this study. The team that showed the greatest correlation between OReb% and TS% was the Utah Jazz of 2006-2007. In that season, Utah led the league in Offensive Rebounding Percentage and, on average, for every extra offensive rebound they retrieved, their TS% was about .7% higher (which translated to a little under .7 points a game for them). That was the year Utah returned to relevancy, winning the Northwest division and making it to the Western Conference Finals after missing the playoffs for three straight years. That year was also Paul Millsap's first year in the league, and he was the most prolific offensive rebounder and had the third highest True Shooting Percentage on the Jazz. Meanwhile, Carlos Boozer was the second most prolific offensive rebounder on the team and had the highest True Shooting Percentage on the team. That year, the two of them appeared to be able to efficiently turn their offensive rebounds into points.

Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets of 2007-2008 showed the least ability to turn good offensive rebounding games into good shooting performances. That year, their leading offensive rebounder was Marcus Camby, who played his first healthy season in years and set a career high in minutes played. However, Camby has never been a particularly efficient scorer for a center (he had one or two good offensive years with the Knicks), and had the lowest True Shooting Percentage (49.8%) of all of the regular rotation players on the Nuggets. Unlike Boozer and Millsap, he didn't turn his offensive rebounds into points very efficiently.

The other curious result that popped out at me was the story of the Clippers the last three years. In both 05-06 and 06-07, they had the lowest correlation in the league of OReb% to TS%, and then jumped to 8th highest in the league last year (07-08). The most notable difference in the Clippers last year was the absence of Elton Brand, who missed most of the year with a ruptured achilles tendon. Elton Brand was the Clippers' best offensive rebounder in both 05-06 and 06-07, but he was (and is) an efficient scorer, shooting around 58% in TS% in both years. I'm not sure how to explain what happened. One possible explanation is Chris Kaman's renaissance year last year. After being misdiagnosed with ADD at the age of 2, Kaman had been taking unnecessary medications throughout his life until the 07-08 season. A new doctor took him off the medications and Kaman had a breakout season, improving his TS% from 50.2% to 53.8%. In the absence of Brand, he also increased his offensive rebounding to compensate. Does Kaman's improvement counterbalance the absence of Brand? I'm not really sure. It should be interesting to see what happens with Brand in Philadelphia next year -- last year's 76ers were the best offensive rebounding team in the league, led by Sam Dalembert, Reggie Evans, and Thaddeus Young. Furthermore, Dalembert and Young had the team's highest True Shooting Percentage, but Young will be moving from the 4 to the 3 to make room for Brand. While exciting and athletic, Thaddeus Young has a ways to go in terms of shooting and ballhandling ability, so it's possible we'll see a decrease in his TS% next year.

In any case, in Part II I'll take a look at what happened immediately following offensive rebounds. Hopefully that will provide more clarity as to the true value of the offensive rebound.


BONUS: Charles Oakley was mentioned in the comments to a previous post (sidenote: who didn't love Charles Oakley? I miss him enough (except for the post-Knick years, which I didn't particularly care about) that I'd watch his celebrity cooking show). I don't have much to add, but figured it might be fun to take a look at how the Knicks did with him in the lineup. The Knicks' best year with him was probably the 93-94 season, when they made it to the finals against Houston. That year, Oakley led the team in offensive rebounding (and was fifth in the entire league in total rebound percentage), as well as made the first team all-defensive team and the All-Star team in the East. He led the Knicks to be one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the league that year (with a 34.4% OReb%) -- this is significant because those Knicks teams under Riley were all about defense. In 93-94, offensive rebounding was the only offensive facet of the game in which the Knicks were above average. Oakley's contributions at the defensive end are well-chronicled, but it might be that he also contributed just enough offensively to make the Knicks an elite team that year. Hooray Oakley!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's already happened

About 10 days ago, upon seeing Ricky Rubio in a game situation for the first time, I wrote, "Ricky Rubio looks kind of like Pete Maravich." I didn't mean it as a comparison of their games, I was just pointing out that they looked alike. Well, earlier this week the San Francisco Chronicle caught on to the same similarity, and used it as a jumping off point to compare the two as players. First noting the physical similarities:

Maybe Rubio is the reincarnation of Pistol Pete. Same long (Maravich was 6-foot-5, Rubio 6-4), skinny, loose-jointed frame; same slouchy, lazy-shuffle walk; same dark, mop-top hair, same prominent nose.

Most jarring of all - same eyes. Maravich had large, dark eyes, turned down at the corners. The eyes were sad, but penetrating and wary. Pistol had the eyes of a gunslinger walking into a saloon, expecting trouble.


The story goes on to examine the respective games, concluding:

First impression, La Pistola is no Pistol. Rubio doesn't have Maravich's scoring ability or range, almost certainly never will. Maravich could get off a shot against anyone, any time.

Rubio plays more defense than Maravich did, though it's a scrambling, gambling defense.

Similarities:

Love of the dramatic pass. To Maravich, the crazy, showy pass had a purpose - light up the crowd, fire up his teammates. Rubio, who is shielded from interviews, is quoted as saying, "If I can do some magic (with a pass), I do it."


It seems kind of arbitrary to base a basketball analysis on the physical similarities between two players and their coincidental sharing of a nickname (Rubio is known in Spain as La Pistola). But the comparison seems pretty common, and Rubio's penchant for awe-inspiring passes and his skilled ballhandling don't do much to stop it. What gets me, though, is that it sometimes feels like writers are missing something right under their noses when they try to find similarities between Maravich and Rubio. Here are some phrases used to describe Maravich in the article:

  • "an unrepentant showman in an era when hotdogging was considered a sin"
  • "a selfish gunner, but nobody before or since passed the basketball with such dazzling creativity"
  • "could get off a shot against anyone, any time"
  • "large, dark eyes"
  • In a comment response to the story by reader "eddieflorida": "Maravich was the quintessential playground rat who did well in the pros. Most of that type player can't translate their game to the NBA, but by dint of his sheer talent he did. He was a ball hog, gunner, passer, shooter from anywhere."
Don't those words sound like they describe someone who's already in the league?

Another vote for NBA-ism


In my previous post, I described writers and commentators who don't watch enough NBA basketball to be able to say anything intelligent on the subject "clinging to the ideology that the NBA has become an inferior brand of basketball, an ideology that has reached a widespread enough status that it has its own momentum and (apparently) need not be backed up with any evidence." It looks like Britt Robson agrees with me -- in responding to a writer who wrote of Team USA, "They are playing a brand of ball far more entertaining than most NBA games," he responds:

Yeah, I know, she said "most" NBA games. But it still amounts to "Olympics are better hoops than the NBA," and is part of what has become stupid conventional wisdom among the general public over the past 20 years. It happens to the NBA far more than other team sports. How many times have we all heard--"I don't watch the NBA until--insert either "second half," "fourth quarter," or "final few minutes" here--because that's when they really start trying." That's like me saying I don't watch baseball until the 9th inning because that's when the teams insert their best pitchers, or I don't watch football until the final few minutes because that's when teams really start trying to score with long passes and less time between plays.

I'm not trying to be overly defensive or sensitive about my appreciation for the NBA, but I do feel it's worth pointing out from time to time the bullshit involved when writers complain about games they don't watch. There are often criticisms that come from people who actually watch the games, and these are worth paying attention to, but the whole "I don't watch the NBA anymore because the quality is way down" comment is played out, paradoxical, and somewhat stupid. Coming from a journalist, it's lazy and irresponsible. That's nothing new, though -- it's pretty common to find newspaper stories about scientific discoveries where the writer hasn't taken the time to understand the original research and subsequently misrepresents it (for instance, here or here). Much more dangerously, we saw the American press repeat White House assertions in the runup to the Iraq War rather than independently investigating them. In the scheme of things, then, uninformed complaining about basketball isn't that huge of a deal, but it's probably good practice being critical when reading the sports pages, just to be in the habit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Requiem for Dirk


Weekend losses to China and the U.S. ended the Olympic dream for Dirk Nowitzki, but before we forget about the German team completely I wanted say a few words about Dirk Nowitzki, who has been remarkable over the last couple of months in dragging the overmatched German team into the Olympics and trying to keep them competitive.

As mostly an NBA fan, I'm conditioned to think of international basketball as an inconsequential summer diversion, so I don't always fully appreciate the enthusiasm with which international players such as Nowtzki, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Yao Ming, Jorge Garbajosa, etc. approach international competitions. But watching Dirk Nowitzki recently, it's obvious how important these games are to him, and seeing him struggle through double and triple-teams and still perform admirably was both wonderful and frustrating -- the frustrating part was seeing his mostly overmatched teammates bumble away easy opportunities created by Dirk's presence (Chris Kaman had some nice games, but also some completely boneheaded stretches. Meanwhile, Demond Greene mostly played quite well but his influence is limited).

I'm not really into "who's the best player in the world" conversations, but I do find it disappointing that Dirk Nowizki's name is never even mentioned -- not only is he not considered for that particular title, but instead every tall European player with a jumpshot who comes along is compared, prematurely, to Dirk (I'm looking at you, Bargnani and Gallinari). The truth is, finding the next Nowitzki is just as futile as finding the next Kevin Garnett, and we really ought to enjoy his prime without trying to compare him to anyone who's come before (he's not Larry Bird, he's not Glenn Robinson) or compare young players to him (the probability that Kevin Durant or Bargnani or Gallinari will do what Dirk's done are slim). Despite the fact that he's a European player, we need to be able to just enjoy that he's utterly unique, both in the NBA and internationally, and appreciate what he brings to the game.

Because of the whole Euro thing and the back-to-back playoff losses to Miami and Golden State, it's been easy recently to criticize Nowitzki as being soft or unable to come through in big moments. I don't want to comment on those particular criticisms, they might well be valid, but it's worth pointing out how well Nowitzki's performed in these international competitions that are extremely important to him, even as the team he's played on has been unable and unequipped to play at the level necessary to win.

Nowitzki's signature shot has been the mid-range fade-away, and, metaphorically and aesthetically, this seems damning -- is there anything less agressive than a 7-footer fading away from the basket? In fact, over the last three years Dirk has taken almost twice as many fade-aways as any other player in the league (he has taken 454, no one else has taken more than 250). However, in that same time period, he's made almost 59% of those fade-away shots, which is about what Dwight Howard, a very agressive offensive player, makes of all of his shot attempts. The fade-away may look less agressive, but in terms of efficiency Nowitzki is not losing anything by taking that shot, and his slightly mechanical herky-jerky approach to it has its own beauty if we care to pay attention.


Other Olympic notes:

There's a two part preview of the men's quarterfinals at The Painted Area. Link to Part I and Part II.

I just noticed these diaries by Lisa Leslie. I found them to be entertaining reads. For instance, you find out there that Diana Taurasi is a great badminton player, and then there's this:

(Carlos) Boozer doesn't get in the game a lot, but I like him, he's cool. I just met his wife yesterday, you know we're all staying at the same hotel. She had to use my hot curlers because hers blew because she didn't have the right adapter. So I let her use mine, she brought them back and mine were blown. But I'm not going to tell anybody - though she does owe me another set of hot curlers.


Also, I've been noticing that when watching international basketball, I find myself rooting for my favorite league more than I do any particular country. So I found this post to be pretty well put together. Here's a taste:

Seeing Dwyane Wade throw off-balance alley-oops to Kobe, or watching LeBron conquer a gauntlet of defenders for a layup, or looking on as Chris Paul has made it impossible to put the ball on the floor near him has exclusively appealed to my pride as an NBA citizen. Unlike my national ambivalence, I experience no pangs of loathing or deep resentment when I consider the NBA. Instead, I have affectionately looked on as the only team comprised solely of NBA personnel has dominated by playing the NBA brand of basketball, our brand. For a league that has often endured reputational punishments that exceed the severity of its crimes—with international basketball often serving as a catalyst for the excessive consternation—this has, thus far, been sweet vindication.


I don't completely agree with the fully formed NBA-ism espoused there, but I think it's fair to say that any problems I might have with the league from time to time are internal and not external (ie, they do not come from a comparison to another league that seems to be better), and arise from an investment in the league that I'm not willing to let go. In this interview, Jim Lampley tells Lebron James and Kobe Bryant that the style of play of Team USA is "greatly at odds with the one-on-one isolations or the constant pick-and-roll that we see in the NBA." He goes on to ask, "Is there a lesson here for what could happen [in the NBA]?" Mostly, this sounds like it's coming from someone who hasn't paid attention to the NBA in several years and also hasn't been watching the other national teams in the international competitions (Greece, for instance, is a pick-and-roll team). I think, though, that the comment is also the opposite of what I've described -- it's a clinging to the ideology that the NBA has become an inferior brand of basketball, an ideology that has reached a widespread enough status that it has its own momentum and (apparently) need not be backed up with any evidence.

Finally, I was out of town for the last few days, but I'm back now, and I'll do my best to post regularly now that I'm around.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Warmongers 1, Basketball 0


The basketball president wouldn't let it be like this.

As interest has grown in the NBA over signing 7-foot-2 Iranian Olympian Hamed Ehadadi, the league office has sent a letter to its 30 teams instructing that they are forbidden to even discuss a contract with Ehadadi, Yahoo! Sports has learned.

In the letter, which was sent Friday, NBA legal counsel wrote: “It has come to our attention that representatives of Hamed Ehadadi, an Iranian basketball player, may be contacting NBA teams to discuss the possibility of signing Mr. Ehadadi to an NBA player contract.

“We have been advised that a federal statue prohibits a person or organization in the United States from engaging in business dealings with Iranian nationals.”


Iranian officials seem interested in having Ehadadi play in the NBA, even if NBA people consider him not much more than the latest big stiff. Remember when the NBA had that trend of signing really tall African dudes who didn't have much skill aside from being tall? Why shouldn't Ehadadi have the same opportunity (watching him at the Olympics, it actually looks like he does have some skill . . .). Besides, "Axis of Evil" sounds like an awesome basketball nickname, especially for a 7'2" center. "Amare Stoudemire has his dunk attempt blocked by the Axis!"

Thursday, August 14, 2008

League Styles and the move toward standardization



When thinking about basketball, I tend to think of style as being tri-layered. Specifically, style presents itself in terms of League Style, Team Style, and Player Style.

Each type of style evolves in and of itself as well as evolving as a response to a set of constraints. Also, the styles all interact with one another -- so league style necessitates or at least encourages certain team styles, team styles sometimes require particular player styles to fulfill certain roles, and player styles may force a league to adjust its own rules and style (for instance, in baseball, dominant pitchers in the late '60's causing the league to lower the pitcher's mound).

League Style

This is the style nurtured by league-wide trends and rules, and Writers often describe basketball as though it is monolithic, that it is one game invented by Naismith and played ever since then by people around the world. In fact, though, it has grown and branched over the years. The branching of the sport has given us a variety of versions of basketball that are similar in some ways but also notably different from each other, hence the various styles in the NBA, the WNBA, the NCAA, FIBA, etc. (the sports media seems to have accepted that AL and NL baseball are very different because of the presence/lack of the designated hitter, but seem less willing to admit that different basketball leagues play very different types of basketball). The Olympics right now have given NBA fans a chance to see what international style basketball looks like. The most notable aspects of the international game that are different from the NBA are:

  • Defensive 3 seconds rule. In the NBA, a shotblocker can't just sit in front of the basket like a soccer goalkeeper throughout the game, whereas that is exactly what is allowed in the international game (in the international game, there is no defensive 3 seconds rule). A style-effect of this is decreased scoring in the paint in the halfcourt offense and an increase in mid- and long-range shooting ability, even for frontcourt players.
  • The trapezoid key: in the NBA, they painted area on the floor (the key) is a rectangle. Since offensive players are not allowed to be in the key for more than three seconds at a time, the shape of the NBA key allows post players to hold a position much closer to the basket on offense (near the basket just outside the key -- when the key is a trapezoid this area is included in the key). Because of this, back-to-the-basket low-post skills are emphasized and encouraged in the NBA game while in the international game frontcourt players are pushed a little farther from the basket. We often see the result of this in the NBA, where European bigmen seem more comfortable facing up and driving/shooting from the high-post and beyond than working from the low post (side note: the trapezoid key also seems to give the offense a better chance to retrieve rebounds off of missed free throws).
  • 3-point line distance. The 3-point line in the international game is drastically shorter than the NBA 3-point line. Among other things, the NBA distance creates much more space on the court, again providing an environment where low-post skills provide an advantage (less space between the passer and passee makes entry-passes more risky, and also makes it easier for the perimeter defender to double-team a post-player without giving up a potential open shot on the perimeter.

Team Style


This post is eventually going to be about the League Style question, but just for completeness I'll describe what I mean by team and player styles. Team style is often dictated by a coaching philosophy, and constrained by the ability of the players on the roster. Dribble penetration, motion offense, pick & roll vs. low post scoring, defending the basket or playing the passing lanes, these decisions all come together to create a coherent style that a team plays.

Player Style


What a player does, whether he shoots or passes, where he shoots from, and so forth, is very much dependent on his role on the team, making all of that a part of Team Style. However, how a player accomplishes his role is generally an expression of his own ability and aesthetics. Bank shot or not? Bounce pass or jump pass? Turnaround or Hook shot?

Anyways, the reason I'm talking about style is that I saw this -- apparently FIBA (governing body of international basketball) is changing its rules to make it more similar to the NBA:

FIBA is changing their rules to have:

- a rectangular lane of the same dimensions as the NBA's
- a 3pt line at 22'2"
- a charge circle like the NBA's

I feel a little bit disappointed by these changes. Part of the joy of watching different leagues is seeing the various skills and playing styles around the world. On the other hand, a bridging of the differences between FIBA and NBA basketball might lead to a decrease in domestic basketball xenophobia, so that could be good I suppose. What do you think? Good idea or not?

The basketball president

Oh, yeah, ok


Well,

This wouldn't be worth posting, but my previous post called out the Guardian UK for being lazy and sensationalistic. So it's only fair to point out that Mark Heisler at the LA Times said what I said, only with fewer words and without the high-handedness. (Note: the Heisler link quotes Pau Gasol giving the always-cheap "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" non-apology, but these Yahoo and NYTimes links quote him a little more extensively).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Updates

These posts on the Olympics will be mainly to look at NBA- and WNBA-related storylines. If you're looking for analysis of the games themselves and the tournaments, there are plenty of places who are covering things quite thoroughly. I've found that for the men's games, The Painted Area is a good place to look, while Ball In Europe covers a lot of the related storylines. For the women's games, Rethinking Basketball and StormTracker seem to have occasional coverage -- I'll post any links that are more in depth. And finally, for all-around behind-the-scenes Olympic coverage, Dan Steinberg at the Washington Post has been doing an amazing (and often hilarious) job with stories and interviews that won't be printed in newspapers, but are super-entertaining. In general, many of the links you see to the right will have Olympics-related coverage.

Anyways, I recently caught a couple of games -- Greece-Germany and China-Spain.

Greece-Germany
Greece looked really good in this game. The big guy, Sofoklis Schorstanitis, shaved his head, which I thought worth mentioning. On offense, Greece did a great job passing the ball and getting penetration. They ran a few really nice sets off of out-of-bounds plays to get themselves easy layups, and relied on the pick-and-roll in the halfcourt. On defense, they doubled Nowitzki every time he got the ball, and the rest of the German team didn't really make them pay, for the most part. The huge takeaway from this game was just how atrociously Chris Kaman played. He was lousy at defending the paint when guards penetrated off of the pick and roll, and on offense he had much more trouble finishing around the basket than he did against the much smaller Angolan defenders. Most noticeably bad, though, were his attempts at ballhandling. On a couple of plays he turned and tried to face his opponent from the elbow, where the defender easily poked the ball away for a turnover. Then, on two or three occasions, Kaman actually tried to lead the fast break, resulting consistently in turnovers and easy Greek baskets (and angry looks from Nowitzki). That's the catch with Chris Kaman in general, I think: you'll see him in some games -- such as the one in Angola, where, granted, the level of competition was much lower, but not enough to explain away how alternately dominant and then out of sorts Kaman was -- and he looks like a wonderful player, and then you'll see him a day later and his head is just not there, or he's trying to make a behind-the-back pass on a fastbreak as though he's Shaquille O'Neal at the all-star game. I hope he figures out how to be the former player, the one who scores with a variety of moves around the basket and knows his limitations, because it is satisfying to see him succeed.

And that brings up another note about Chris Kaman on this German team: there is something inexpressibly sad about him. I can't quite explain it, I noticed it even in victory in the Angola game -- he wears this vacant and lonely look all the time. I started to project a little, imagining he felt not a part of the rest of the team, but then I read this quote from an interview with him:

You know, I got the Rosetta Stone language learning thing, so I'm working on it. It bugs me, but everybody on my team speaks English, that's their second language....And I'm just like 'Yo what the heck is going on, like, can you guys PLEASE just speak English,' and they still speak German on the bus. So I just put my headphones in and go to sleep or just relax.


So I'm thinking my instincts were correct, and that sadness is real. Not to mention the patheticness of Kaman's own father rooting against him.



China-Spain
That China stayed so close before losing this game in overtime was a bit of a shocker. However, Spain seems to be fidgeting a bit with its lineups -- in this game Pau Gasol started (though he didn't start the first game) while Jose Calderon found himself on the bench at the beginning of this one, despite being the best point guard on the team. My theory is that the Spanish coaches are trying out various lineups in pool play to allow their players to rest a little and to be ready for more situations (as well as get more high-level experience for younger team members such as Ricky Rubio), and that things will stabilize in the next round. As for NBA takeaways:

Pau Gasol was brilliant, and watching him made me glad he's a Laker. One thing it's easy to take for granted is just how well he runs the floor at his size -- he looks like just another shooting guard out there but he can catch passes on the run that no one else can because of his height and length and his hands. Yao was playing hard, but in transition Pau regularly left him in the dust.

Yao Ming has been playing his ass off in both games so far.

I thought Rudy Fernandez looked pretty good in the first game, but this is the game that really got me believing he'll be successful in the NBA. He played the passing lanes well on defense and got a few steals, and on offense he was quick and got to the basket with and without the ball, finishing strong either way. Best of all, he completely took over in the fourth when the Spanish made their comeback. For a four or five minute stretch, he made every big play on both sides of the ball, and was everywhere. For more on Fernandez, you can check out Blazers Edge, where they're doing a recap of each of his games throughout the tournament.

Watching Yi Jianlian, I got some idea of how it is so easy for scouts to fall in love with him. He moves so fluidly and gracefully, that it's hard to believe that he's really 6'11", but he makes strong moves to the basket and can finish. Sadly, he seems to drift in and out of games, playing well for stretches and then suddenly disappearing.


Sun Yue is not an NBA guard right now. He's big, he seems like he can defend at times, and he can handle the ball a little bit. But his handles aren't strong enough to be the primary ball-handler, while his shot isn't currently good enough to play the 2. Obviously, he'll have plenty of opportunities to grow and improve, and I believe he will, but for this year he'll be in the D-League full-time, I'm sure. Still, it's exciting to imagine what he might be capable of with some skill development.


Ricky Rubio is a bit of a smartass sometimes. On defense, he uses his long arms well to defend opposing ballhandlers and poke the ball away, but his constant gambling and poking will leave him out of position against better point guards. Against China, he was able to recover quickly and get into the passing lanes, but it'll be interesting to see how he holds up against better opposition. On offense, he has good control of the ball, so that's good. He also made one really silly but pretty play, grabbing an offensive rebound and then lulling the defense to sleep by turning his back to the basket and dribbling out as though he were resetting the offense, and then out of nowhere dropping a behind the back bounce pass to a wide open Pau Gasol under the basket for a dunk.

Wang ZhiZhi isn't in the NBA anymore, but I just wanted to point out that he had a wonderful game.

One thing that was noticeable about Spain was how susceptible they were to transition offense. China made it a point to get out and run off of defensive rebounds, and the got a lot of easy baskets that way. The U.S. scores most of its points in transition, so it's hard not to see U.S.A. vs. Spain as a horrible matchup for Spain . . ..

Side note / rant:
The China-Spain game was also intriguing for a completely gossipy reason, as a couple of days ago this picture surfaced in the Guardian UK:


The picture, without any context looks stupid/insensitive enough, but I didn't comment on it at all at the time because I didn't know any of the backstory. I thought the Guardian story that accompanied it, though, by saying nothing about the picture but instead devoting most of the words to examples of racism in Spanish sports, was sort of sensationalistic and uninformative.

I'm not sure about how it is in Spain or other places, but in the U.S., our historic and ongoing inability to face race has led to all discussions of race being treated with absurdly restrictive binaries. The logic regarding this picture tends to run like so: the picture is not P.C.. Racism is not P.C.. Therefore, the picture is racist. Therefore, the people in the picture are racist. [Optional: Therefore, all Spanish people are racist]. This logic is encouraged by the story presented in the Guardian.

There are a number of problems with this thinking, but I'll keep it to the relevant points. First of all, the term "racism" as a conversation-stopper has been bandied about until it's lost most of it's meaning. It's a blanket term to cover everything from slavery to unequal housing and education opportunities to television shows that feature only white characters, generally applied to prove something inherently wrong or evil about each. It's clearly too blunt of an instrument to really uncover anything useful about a situation. In any case, some issues: the idea of P.C. is a little muddy when you try to apply it to different contexts -- the picture above is surely insensitive in some way (and in the U.S., we expect people to find it rude and unacceptable) but at the same time, it's not a picture of the Spanish team murdering Chinese babies, either (should we complain when people in other countries are seen wearing white after labor day?). What is Spain's history and relationship with its Asian population? (From a U.S. perspective, think of similarly insensitive images that get ignored for the most part, for instance the Washington REDSKINS or the Cleveland INDIANS). None of this is really explored in the Guardian story. Secondly, un-P.C. is not the same thing as "racist." As described above, it's unclear at this point what using the term "racist" even means in a lot of contexts, other than providing an easy way to gain satisfaction by acting offended. There's not a lot of harm in these steps, but the last step ("these people are racist") is both the most insidiuous and the most applicable to sports.



The idea that a moment, taken out of context (in this case, captured on film), is an indicator of some underlying and fixed aspect of a person's character, is just too lazy. And it's so easy to move from verb to verber, that sometimes we can't resist. Bill Clinton lied about who he slept with, making him a liar, meaning we can not trust anything he ever says about anything. That's easy, but lazy, and just generally bad logic.

The reason I'm dwelling on this issue is the relevance of this sort of dispositionalism to the analysis of basketball. Basketball is a beautiful game -- that's why we watch it -- and yet there is so much pressure to hammer the context out of everything and flatten everything into dead but pat generalizations. A nice example is Allen Iverson -- for several years with the 76ers, he would average over 25 shots a game. Combined with his average to below-average efficiency, he got characterized as an inefficient chucker, or, by basketball moralists, "selfish." Besides completely overlooking the aesthetic reasons to admire Iverson (the quickness, the crossover, the creative finishes in the paint, the toughness, etc.), this is a complete denial of context.

Last year, in his first full season in Denver alongside another skilled offensive player, Iverson lowered his usage rate (to a career low) and increased his efficiency (to a career high, and among the best in the league for non role-players). In fact, in terms of offensive efficiency, Iverson last year had a season very similar to Manu Ginobili, a player who is never accused of being selfish. Iverson was 32 years old last year -- it makes much more sense to attribute this change in his efficiency to the dramatic change in context he experienced than it does to imagine he had some sort of personal transformation.

But looking at context isn't easy. It's much easier, and apparently more preferable, to stick to frozen characterizations of players (as well as the accompanying moral absolutes). Do assists signify a player's role in an offense and his ability to fulfill that role well, or are they some inherent quality belonging to a player and indicative of his general goodness? When Jason Kidd beat his wife, did it hurt less because he is such a good passer?

Anyways, back to the picture of the Spanish team. In the comments to a follow-up story at Ball In Europe, someone posted a link to this picture of members of the Lithuanian team dressed up as Spanish bullfighters. Is it offensive?

On a completely unrelated sidenote, I found this to be a good read.