Monday, February 23, 2009

As of right now

Just an observation, through 56 and 54 games respectively, these are this season's stats per 36 minutes for Ramon Sessions and Andre Miller:

Sessions: Age 22, 16.6 pts (on 12.5 shots), 6.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 2.5 turnovers

Miller: Age 32, 16.2 pts (on 12.6 shots), 6.3 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 turnovers

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Get buckets and puntang!"

I'm assuming this is a Wiki falsehood that will be edited out sooner or later. (Click the image to enlarge).

If I'm wrong, and it's real, then huzzah. (The part about the failed between the legs dunk is real -- I was watching that game. The Lakers were not particularly interested in getting back on D on that particular play). 

On some sidenotes: The Thunder are really exciting -- the difference between their run this year and the Trailblazers last year is that Portland had an established fanbase with beat writers and blog writers to draw attention to what they were doing. Hence, Brandon Roy was a (deserved) all-star last year, but Kevin Durant was not this year. How provincial are the Thunder? During their local broadcast of the game against the Warriors this weekend (must-watch TV, by the way), they had a fluff piece on the new mascot, Bison. One of the lines was "Bison even got national attention" and pointed out that he was on ESPN Sportscenter. You're in the NBA now! Come on people! Also, the Lakers are a really smart team. 

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"EURO" is the new "BLACK" All-Star Edition

I'm super late to the party, but these two posts on Rudy Fernandez's dunk contest performance seem thematically relevant to my "'Euro' is the new 'Black'" hypothesis

For what it's worth, I didn't think Fernandez had a chance, but was surprised at how fantastic his dunks were. Really, really, fantastic.

A semi-related topic: perhaps the term "Euro" has more or less aged out of usefulness at this point? Peripheral observers and xenophobes might still lean on it as a crutch, but there's enough non-American players in the league at this point that most NBA observers can probably connect each country represented in the league to a particular style of play. This isn't a brand new thought, freedarko was all over this long ago, but it seems worth pointing out in view of the facts that (a) Spanish style has emerged over the last several years (the Summer Olympics were like the official coming out party for those who don't follow the league as closely) as the most stylish of the Euro hoops styles, and (b) Rudy Fernandez turned his dunk contest invite into a celebration of all things Spain.

Regarding (b) -- Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller seemed confused at Rudy's involving Pau Gasol in his dunk, instead of taking the more traditional approach of using a temmate, but when coupled with the invocation of Fernando Martin in the first dunk, Rudy's moves seemed almost a pre-emptive counter to the (expected) xenophobia that his presence in the competition would provoke. He was throwing up signs -- they just happened to be for Spain.

Taco Break!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Athletes, bodies, women's bodies

This might be semi-coherent -- it's late and I'm intoxicated.

For obvious reasons, the bodies of famous athletes are public in ways that no one else's are. If Olympic coverage was any indication, we apparently care what Michael Phelps eats for breakfast. When our favorite football player strains his groin, we watch the news hour to hour hoping to see some signs of progress, becoming medical experts and talking about ligaments and tendons and muscles and rehab regimens. The recent Alex Rodriguez media-gasm was an unhappy reminder of how much we allegedly care about exactly what it is that athletes put into their bodies, also -- and given that the whole affair was instigated by the illegal release of supposedly private information, it was a reminder of how entitled we feel we are to complete information about athletes' bodies. 
This is only notable because as a culture we've put bodies under the umbrella of privacy. We have rules like HIPAA and Doctor-Patient confidentiality, we have laws against peeping toms, we have these expectations of our rights. Seemingly, only athletes have forsaken these rights, since their bodies are so instrumental to what makes them public figures, I guess. When Darrell Arthur's draft position fell last year amid rumors of an "undisclosed" kidney ailment, it was his kidney that was the story, and not the problematic leak of his personal medical information. 

All of this is some background in order to finally address some of the issues raised after the announcement of Candace Parker's pregnancy, which I linked to at the tumblr site a month ago (sidenote: the father of the child will be Parker's husband Shelden Williams, who just got traded to Minnesota and will hopefully help to shore up the frontline in Al Jefferson's absence). The official reaction from the Sparks and the WNBA has been positive, but I've recently run across some fan opinions lamenting Parker's decision, and that had me a little uncomfortable.

As noted above, as a sports fan, I should have been used to the public-ness of Parker's body, since she is an athlete. But there was something more to it. Even women in the United States who aren't athletes theoretically have some experience with having their bodies made public -- the ongoing Roe v. Wade "debate" has turned not only the female body, conceptually, but also the bodies of individual females into a canvas for public debates about morality and religion as well as a potential outlet for state power. For all the talk of the government not entering into one's home, women live with the threat of the government jumping right inside them. 

I guess what I'm trying to get at, is that this sense that we have any right to debate Parker's decision to have a child seems to fit right in to a culture where we put A-Rod's drug habits up for public discussion. That's why the first analogy that popped into my head was that of Shaquille O'Neal, in 2002, choosing to delay a surgery, saying "I got hurt on company time, so I'll heal on company time." Fans felt betrayed by this decision that O'Neal was making about his own body, and it made perfect sense. 

But that analogy doesn't capture the discomfort I feel in hearing about Parker's pregnancy. It's like being an athlete has only helped to amplify the fact that, as a woman, her body was fair game for public debate to begin with.

I realize I'm oversimplifying. I also realize that the only reasonable response as a fan, is to congratulate the mother-to-be and move on, ignoring the haters.

The thing is, at this point, we can not really discuss the WNBA as a whole without having a discussion about sexism. I'm not starting that discussion here, I'm just acknowledging the fact. So a better analogy might be to race in the NBA in the Iverson era (post-Jordan, pre-Lebron) -- a time in the NBA when we couldn't honestly talk about the league generally without at least acknowledging race in our nation of cowards. So instead of comparing the current story to the Shaq story, here is, I believe, a better analogy: imagine if, in the summer of 2002, right after his MVP year, Allen Iverson had converted to Islam. And further, that the next year Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, happened to occur during the regular season, and Iverson missed 5 games in order to participate in the pilgrimage.

I can already hear the sports-talk radio phones burning up with complaints and soliloquies. The comparisons to Sandy Koufax would have been impossible or shot down as irrelevant, because really the outrage would be not so much about practicing religious freedom (in the face of one's responsibilities to a secular whole), but about the fact that Iverson was touching all of America's most exposed nerves. Some fans might be legimately concerned about the 76ers fortunes without Iverson, but that next level of outrage is one about race, and not about basketball.

So back to Parker. Yes, she's an athlete, and yes, fans of the Sparks (including me!) might be watching when and how her temporary absence will affect the Sparks' upcoming season, not to mention the WNBA as a whole. She's also a woman, making a personal, private choice with her body in a country that continues to fear women controlling their own bodies. It makes me wish that sports fans could step back, this once, and just be better. 

That we could have been better in understanding the Darnellia Russell situation, also. 

And this is all not to mention, of course, that she (and Williams) is a decent human being who is excited to start a family. 

Not that they're reading this, but Candace and Shelden: congratulations. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life after All-Star

Hope everyone is well and had a nice All-Star weekend. As it turns out, a lot happened while I was gone. The main stories, as far as I can tell: (1) The Heat traded Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the Raptors for Jermaine O'neal and Jamario Moon, (2) The Suns fired Terry Porter, (3) The Hornets traded Tyson Chandler to the Thunder for Chris Wilcox, Joe Smith, and the rights to Devon Hardin, (4) Tracy McGrady is getting microfracture surgery and is out for the season (at least), (5) the New York Times Magazine published a basketball statistics story on Shane Battier. Also in the air is more and more talk about the economy and how it will affect various NBA teams over the next year or two. I don't have access to each team's financial statements so I can't reliably comment on who is desparately trying to cut payroll or which teams are most likely to relocate (it seems almost a given at this point that one current NBA city won't be on the NBA map next year), but I recommend this article on the possibility of the salary cap and the luxury tax level decreasing next year.

Heat-Raptors trade
This seems pretty straightforward, and it has been rumored for a while so it didn't come as a surprise. The Raptors save a bunch of money, and in the short term they potentially get the sort of athletic swingman they've wanted in Shawn Marion as well as make room for Andrea Bargnani, who has begun to live up to expectations recently, while the Heat fill a big hole at center. I say potentially because Kevin Pelton demonstrated that Marion is much better as a power forward, where the Raptors are already set with Chris Bosh, but in any case, Marion's contract comes off the books this summer. At that point, the Raptors will have a head start on rebuilding the team around Bosh before he becomes a free agent in 2010. 

Terry Porter
Farewell. What a rough year for coaches. Also -- the Suns are a mess. I realize I'm saying this about a team with three all-stars and is 6 games over .500. Still, they are a mess, and it's not a mess that started when Kerr arrived as GM. Years of thinning out the roster through free agency (Joe Johnson) and sold draft picks were upsetting, but following them with a complete financial reversal of course with the Shaq trade just revealed the franchise to be one with lots of talent but no organizational direction. Kerr's hiring Porter and emphasizing defense seemed like a joke given the personnel, and that's exactly what it's been, as Phoenix is worse defensively than they ever were under D'antoni. And I haven't even mentioned the Jason Richardson trade. This is by no means all Kerr's fault, but it really seems like the various levels of this organization (ownership, GM, coach, players) need to get on the same page about what they're trying to accomplish. I wish Alvin Gentry good luck going forward, but nothing about this team feels good right now. 

Tyson Chandler
This is so huge for the Thunder. They have in place now the groundwork for a phenomenal team, with lots of young talent already on the roster and plenty of draft picks coming up in the next couple of years. This is really a team on the rise. And in terms of having a direction -- Phoenix should maybe learn something from this team. From New Orleans' point of view, this is pure cost-cutting, which is disappointing since they are supposed to be title contenders this year. But, as I mentioned earlier, we don't know how dire the financial situation is for various teams this year, and it's easy to imagine that the Hornets are in a particularly bad situation given the state of New Orleans. Get well soon, New Orleans.

As I'm writing this, there's a story out that the trade is being held up because Chandler didn't pass the physical. More on this later . . ..

How depressing. Hopefully this procedure will help relieve some of his ongoing pain issues, but really this feels a bit like the official beginning of the end of his career. I really hope I'm wrong about that. It's too soon to have a eulogy, I guess, but I would like to remind you that not too long ago, earlier this decade, McGrady was easily the best perimeter player in the league, inspiring one of the better pieces ever published at ESPN. Here's hoping to a full recovery, and not a career story that includes the words "just like Penny Hardaway." As for the Rockets for this year: I have no idea what this means. 

Stats story in the NY Times Magazine
There shouldn't be anything new in that article for readers here, but it's nice to see some of the concepts of plus/minus and efficiency getting some attention. Most of this stuff was written about over a year ago in the Houston Press, and the Houston Chronicle has been running Morey stories all year, but I guess the New York Times magazine will be more widely seen, and it is well-written, so check it out. One worry is that with Morey's propaganda machine (I'm assuming) creating so many of these stories about the Rockets and Battier, that (a) advanced basketball statistics will become so closely tied to the Rockets that the perceived value of them will depend entirely on the Rockets' success, and (b) Shane Battier takes the trek from underrated to overrated while similar players on other teams continue to be ignored. 

And Finally: STARBURY!
This is random, but some dude ran into Stephon Marbury on the street and asked if he would co-star in some short skits. Marbury agreed. Here is the first of the resulting videos, via slamonline:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All Star Break!

Some site news: I'll be travelling until next Wednesday, so there probably won't be any posting around here. If you are still planning to enter the contest, please do so by then -- I'll be picking the winner next week when I get back. You can post your short story in the comments section of the contest post, or in any other accessible location (Google Docs, a separate blog) with a link in the comments section of the contest post.

This is pretty silly.

All-Star Thoughts: I am pretty intrigued by the H-O-R-S-E contest, and I kind of enjoy that it's called G-E-I-C-O. There have been some complaints about the contestants (O.J. Mayo, Kevin Durant, and Joe Johnson), since they're not established superstars, but I like the fact that they all are great shooters who are also creative scorers who happen to have unlimited range on their jumpshots. These seem like the basic skills for HORSE success, don't they? I'd add that, strategically, it seems like the key to winning this contest will be the ability to make other people's trick shots. I guess that's another way of saying "Defense wins HORSE championships!" Also, I am thrilled at the last-minute addition of J.R. Smith to the dunk competition. He's my pick to win it all, in an upset over Dwight Howard.

The Lionel Hollins Era in Memphis: Just some brief thoughts on the Grizzlies under Hollins. He's been the coach officially now for 9 games. It's a small sample, but there have been some noticeable changes. The most glaring difference in the new Grizzlies is their effort to get out in transition. They are by no means, even now, a "run and gun" type of team, but they have shown more of a committment to run off of missed shots and turnovers, and it has resulted in a few extra easy buckets per game, which is nice for this team that struggles sometimes to score in the halfcourt. Of particular value to this strategy is Mike Conley, who seems to be back in the Grizzlies good graces, starting and playing 35 plus minutes. One of his underrated skills is an ability to defensive rebound -- he's currently got the fourth-highest defensive rebound rate in the league among point guards, behind only Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, and Rajon Rondo. We've explored before how valuable a rebounding point guard is to the transition game, so, as Conley becomes more and more comfortable directing the team and pushing the ball, his defensive rebounding ability should become more and more valuable to the team. O.J. Mayo, while still not a great rebounder, has been a little more active in that department lately, as well -- running to the glass after shots whenever he's not closing out and releasing. He still doesn't always box out his own man, so he gives up some offensive rebounds at times -- I'm sure he'll fix this though.

Random Musing: I understand the disappointment with Amar'e Stoudemire's lack of improvement on the defensive end, but given how far his reputation has fallen, doesn't it seem like a good time to acquire him? Deep down, he must at least be as good as he was last year, even if his numbers are down a bit. Why not take a chance, when the price is lowest?

Anyways, have a great Friday the 13th, Valentine's Day, and All-Star weekend.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Who's hot now

You're reading this, so you were aware when, during various stretches early in the season, the Grizzlies, Bucks, and Timberwolves had mini-bursts of strong play. In each case, also, in addition to the usual contributors (Mayo, Gay, Bogut, Redd, Al Jefferson), we saw less heralded names step up to fill in the gap between losing by 5 points and winning by 3. For Memphis, Hakim Warrick started getting more minutes and Darko Milicic really started contributing at the defensive end. In Milwaukee, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute surprised as a rookie. And in Minnesota, Randy Foye took well to a full-time position as the shooting guard while Kevin Love inserted himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation with strong rebounding work and improving offensive skills.

As a sidenote: I second all of these sentiments about Al Jefferson and how disappointing it is that he's out for the season. Get well soon, Big Al.

So, 5/8 of the way into the season, who's hot now?

I'll spare you any Lakers-content here -- they are on top of the world right now but you can read about them in 500 different places. In a similar vein, I'll leave off praising the ever-brilliant Spurs since their victory on Sunday has reminded the national media that they are in fact still good (this is me patting myself on the back for predicting they would win the Southwest Division before the season started).

I'm still waiting for the Pacers to heat up as expected, but between unforgivable defense and recent injuries/re-injuries to Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy, Jr., I'm starting to wonder if that will happen at all. And I should have written more about the Bobcats before Gerald Wallace went down. They are still playing their best basketball all year, but without Wallace they don't have the talent to win any games. Still, they're worth paying attention to for the rest of the season.

So, beyond the obvious, what teams are worth commending for their recent strong play? I'm going with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Thunder are 5-5 in their last 10, but more impressively, they're 10-9 in their last 19. The obvious story is the steady improvement in Kevin Durant's numbers, as he really seems to have figured out where to find his scoring. In 2009 (a total of 18 games to date) he's averaging 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists, along with 1.1 steals and 3.3 turnovers. And the scoring is efficient -- he's shooting a scorching 54.9% eFG% and, because he's getting to the line 8.1 times per game, his true shooting percentage is a remarkable 61.9%. It's impossible to overstate just how great those numbers are -- he's grown in my mind from a poor man's Carmelo Anthony at the beginning of the year to a more efficient Carmelo Anthony with more upside.

Beyond Durant, though, there are huge reasons for optimism as the other two members of the young star core of the Thunder, Russel Westbrook and Jeff Green, have also been playing great. They both have been playing great all-around games, but if we say that Durant's superpower is scoring, then likewise we could say that Westbrook's superpower is rebounding and defending from the guard position, and Green's superpower is shooting the 3 (41% on the season, and he's playing against power forwards).

As for the 76ers, they've won three in a row without Elton Brand (out for the season) and look a lot like they did in the second half of last year, forcing lots of turnovers and getting out and running. I mentioned before the season that they still lacked a consistent outside shooter, and expressed some doubt about whether they'd be able to make up for that with running once Brand was aboard. But I had no idea that they would look so dramatically stuck with Brand, and I still feel like they'll figure out a way to get the pieces to fit when Brand comes back next year. But for now, it's worth enjoying their frantic style and all those points in the paint. Samuel Dalembert has come alive during the winning streak, gathering a total of 41 rebounds in relatively limited minutes over the three games. But mostly I'd like to draw attention to the outstanding defensive play of Andre Iguodala, who continues to be one of the better perimeter defenders in the league -- comparable to Tayshaun Prince or vintage Bruce Bowen but with better rebounding numbers. He doesn't seem to get that much credit for his D, though. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because he scores close to 20 points per game, or because the 76ers don't get much attention as a whole? One thing to keep an eye on: Like Thaddeus Young last year, Marreese Speights has emerged as an outstanding rookie big man for the Sixers, and with Brand down, it's possible he sees more minutes going forward.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fruithoopz Contest!

(Picture via Ball Don't Lie)

This is the sort of image that usually ends up noted on our other location, but it feels like this picture needs some fictional elaboration. So, I'm announcing a fruithoopz contest! Please contribute a fictional story that explains how Baron Davis and Jon Lovitz ended up here together with the as-yet unnamed ladyfriends. I'm not asking for witty one-liners, put-downs, or jokes -- there are various other locations on the web for those contests. I want a well-told story that explains where they are and why they're there, who the unnamed people are, (perhaps) who is taking the picture, what happened afterwards, etc.

Pre-emptive: I realize that the "real" story is probably just that Jon Lovitz and Baron Davis happened to be at the same party, and someone asked if they could take a picture with them, and voila. That is why I asked for a fictional story.

The Dream is Over


Get well soon!