Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fortunate Moments for Unfortunate Franchises: The Phoenix Suns and Saint Westphal

Rule no. 5, Section VI, j. Requests for a timeout in excess of the authorized number of combined regular and 20-second timeouts shall be granted and a technical foul shall be assessed. Following the timeout, the ball will be awarded to the opposing team and play shall resume with a throw-in nearest the spot where play was interrupted.

1976 NBA Finals, Game 5

Fact #1: With a few seconds left in regulation, the Celtics' Paul Silas tried calling a timeout. Boston did not have a timeout, and if referee Richie Powers had granted the timeout that he saw Silas attempting to call, Phoenix would have gotten a technical free throw. Richie Powers did not grant the timeout.

Fact #2: Game 5 was the first-ever triple overtime finals game, and only the second-ever triple overtime playoff game.

Fact #3: The Suns out-rebounded the Celtics 62 to 28, yet the Celtics attempted 116 field goals to the Suns 112. I'm not even sure how that is mathematically possible. Equally astounding, in a triple overtime game in which three players played 55+ minutes, the Celtics leading rebounder grabbed five boards.

In any other game one of these facts would be the lead story. Game 5 was not any other game.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"It's better than a Mozgov."

I have been known to be hyperbolic, but my friends, tonight, we saw this:

Yep. We saw the dunk of the decade.

(And this is a Mozgov.)

Good night, world.  Especially you, Perk.  Still impressed by your diet.

Games of the Week: January 30-February 5, 2012.

Busy slate of games this week. A veritable bar fight! Right, KG? Right, Craig? Anyways, let's get right to it.

Monday: Portland Trailblazers at Utah Jazz (6:00 PM PST)

In a night stacked with great games, this Northwest Division showdown stands out above the rest. The Northwest Division is nuts this year. Every team except one is above .500, and that team (the Wolves) are 9-11 (.450), which would be good for eighth seed in the Eastern conference if the playoffs started to day. Wages of Wins recently argued the the Utah Jazz's power forward Paul Milsap is the most productive power forward in the NBA so far in the NBA season, and Utah's 11-7 record speaks to his usefulness. The Millsap-Aldridge matchup will be exciting to watch, as will the Jazz fans' reaction to the return of Wes Matthews. This will be a really fun game, I think.

Fortunate Moments for Unfortunate Franchises: The Orlando Magic and the Summer of 2000.

For an "unfortunate franchise," the Orlando Magic has honestly had a pretty nice run.  Since joining the league as an expansion team in the 1989-1990 season, the Magic have gone 933-854 (.522), and have qualified for the playoffs in 13 of their 23 total seasons.  The team has reached the Eastern Conference Finals four times, and have represented the East in the NBA finals twice; once in 1995 with a young Shaq and Penny, and again in 2008 behind dominant center Dwight Howard and a solid group of outside shooters.  That's really not too shabby, and frankly a track record several other teams would love to have, if they had any say in the matter.  Or, any brains in the first place.  Christ.  I'll stop letting my Warriors fandom show.

But even though the Magic have seen their fair share of the playoffs, and have even sniffed at an NBA championship a couple of times, it's not too much of a stretch to argue that it could have been different.  Really, it could have been much, much different.  Given what the Magic were able to pull off during the summer of 2000, it's nearly inexcusable that there are no banners hanging from the Amway Center.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Discussion: The Demise of Basketball in the Pacific Northwest

Editor's Note: Lately The Diss has been pondering the simultaneous demise of professional basketball in the Pacific Northwest and rise of soccer. We invited two friends of the blog and PNW natives, Michael Barrett and Justin van Dyk, to discuss the phenomenon.

Jacob Greenberg: What's going on here? Is it the fans? The sports themselves? Why has basketball failed, and why has soccer succeeded? Help bring clarity to basketball's death here in the Pac NW by shining some light on the birth of professional soccer.

Franklin Mieuli: Not to derail the debate before it even begins, but something to add is that somewhat the opposite has occurred in the Southwest.

Vancouver moved to Memphis, giving the Southwest Southeast a ton of teams: Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, NO Hornets, Charlotte Bobcats, Memphis Grizzlies, though NO is in some financial straits. At the same time, the only two teams to ever be contracted in the MLS were both in Florida. Despite rapid growth, there seems to be no push to return soccer to the Southwest, leaving the Houston Dynamo and DC United as the closest teams to the Southwest Southeast.

So maybe this is just about the PNW, but maybe about the Southwest. Is this a culture thing? Changing demographics? Is there a thread between this all, or was Vancouver a bad location and the Supersonics had a bad owner/arena? Did the MLS supplant basketball, or can they coexist together?

Fortunate Moments for Unfortunate Franchises: An Introduction.

One of the great buzzwords in all of sports is "parity," which Webster's Dictionary defines as: "equality, as in amount, status, or value."  In terms of sports, parity refers to a state where all teams in a given league are created equal, and accordingly, have an equal chance of succeeding.  Parity is a nice, warm thought for both sports fans and participants alike -- that every team, on any given night, has the opportunity to win the game.  And, if things go right for you -- and you get a little luck, since everything is equal -- you'll just keep winning, until you finally win the championship.

Well, it should come as little surprise that parity is a myth, at least in the NBA.  Parity, as far as I can tell, can only exist in a vacuum.  Since professionalized sports have emerged as a condition of capitalism, the fortunes of the league, as well as the individual teams within the league, are entirely intertwined with exchange and acquisition of capital and assets.  There are always exceptions, of course, but it's no secret that money is the primary factor for sustained "success" in professional sports.  The main difference, of course, is who you're talking to in relation to the game, and how they define "success."  For players and coaches, "success" is winning an championship.  However, for an owner, "success" is turning a profit on an expensive investment.  Often, these two definitions for "success," especially as they relate to parity, collide in very ugly ways.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Week That Was: Jan 23-29, 2012.

On tap for this week: small-market allegiance and/or love of money, burgeoning rivalries, and the NBA season's least surprising development, thus far.  Let's get to it.

1.  A Different Breed of Star(s)? 

Weight-Wallet Size Reversal

January 25, 2012 marked the deadline for teams to offer 2008 draftees extensions, and by and large, the day passed quietly. The big winner of the day was Diss favorite Kevin Love, who secured a 4-year, $62 million dollar deal with the Timberwolves. Assumedly, Love left some money on the table so the Wolves could continue to improve their roster, so this looks like a fairly amicable agreement between front office and player.  Meanwhile, forward Danilo Gallinari, who has averaged 18.7 points per game since being traded to Denver in the Melo blockbuster, signed a 4-year, $42 million dollar extension with the Nuggets.  There was one strange signing -- 3-years, $9 million to Kosta Koufos? -- but nothing that strikes me as extraordinary.  That said, a number of 2008 draftees didn't get paid today.  As a result, there will be a very interesting restricted free agent pool this year.  Brook Lopez, Nicolas Batum, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph are among some of the more likely candidates to get overpaid by someone.  I'm honestly surprised Timberwolves GM David Kahn didn't extend Beasley and Randolph.  The guy's showing some restraint!

What struck me about both these signings and non-signings was the allegiance these players showed to the small-market teams that currently pay for their services. This even goes for those who failed to negotiate an extension.  Both Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook expressed excitement to be remaining in Minneapolis and Oklahoma City, respectively, with Westbrook even saying that OKC was "the spot" for him.  Gallo, whose diverse offensive game would certainly command a hefty salary on the open market, chose to resign with Denver, because the franchise has the "best chance of winning games, which is [his] first priority."  Meanwhile, Brook Lopez expressed unhappiness about not being resigned, as did other talented 2008 draftees like Batum, Hibbert, Anderson, Gordon.  None of these guys play for large market teams, and a few of them (Lopez and Gordon) aren't even on winning teams.  So one has to applaud the class of 2008 for their loyalty to the clubs that they play for, and finishing the jobs they started with their smaller market teams.

That, or for their insatiable love of money.  One or the other.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012 Presidential Candidates: Which NBA Team Are They?

The 2012 United States of America Presidential Race and the 2011-2012 National Basketball Association season. Two lengthy competitions filled with twists and turns, surprises and failures, ups and downs, pretenders and contenders, that don't seem all that similar on the surface...

However, when one digs deeper, some startling parallels between NBA Basketball and the 2012 race start to emerge: Old white men are generally in charge of everything, nobody takes women seriously (except MN - Go Lynx!), and despite many contenders and pretenders, there can only be one champion. Without any further ado, let's arbitrarily assign each Presidential contender their very own representative 2011-2012 NBA Team(s):


Tim Pawlenty: Boring and overwhelmingly white. Seemed destined for an early failure, and dropped out of contention quickly despite his awesome "pregame intro". A Washington Outsider without a compelling narrative and with no realistic shot at the playoffs. Definitely in rebuilding mode. NBA Teams: Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Hornets.

Much like Pawlenty, Paul Westphal has gone fishin'

42 Million Reasons to be Happy

Well, it's official. If Danilo wasn't playing basketball, he'd be in a boy band. Enjoy:

HT: @hoopshype

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wild Speculation and Outlandish Guesses: Knickerbocker Edition

Editor's Note: All responses were written prior to the Knick's Tuesday night thrashing of the Bobcats.

Is the Knicks slump a temporary dip in form or a permanent condition?

Jacob Greenberg: My friends, behold your New York Knicks. What you see with this team is what you get, what you're gonna get, and most importantly, what you got once James Dolan decided to bail on former GM Donnie Walsh's plan, and gut his team of all of their promising young assets, including three starters. Simply put: the Melo trade cost far too much. No one wants to talk about it, but this team's struggles aren't as much about the acquisition of Melo, but rather, the losses of Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danillo Gallinari, and to a much lesser extent, Timofey Mozgov. Though reports at the time sold the trade as completely Walsh's call, giving away all of your assets, all of whom were playing well in the system designed by the high profile coach you went out on a limb to hire just doesn't seem like a Donnie Walsh move.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Games of the Week: January 23-29, 2012.

Well, the Niners lost.  Sonofabitch.  Well, at least I don't have to watch football anymore.  Thanks for getting me through the lockout.

Anyways, we should get to the games of the week for January 23-29, 2012.  Always next year, Alex.

Monday: Sacramento Kings at Portland Trailblazers (7:00 PM PST)

Really?  The Kings?

Sure, why not?  Head coach Keith Smart, who replaced Paul Westphal after a 2-5 start and bizarre spat with DeMarcus Cousins, has gone 5-6 since taking over the job.  I thought Keith Smart did a nice job in Golden State last season, so I'm not surprised that the Kings are showing early signs of improvement under Smart's tutelage. They've gotten wins in Indiana and San Antonio, impressively, both on the road.  In the Blazers, the Kings have a team they hope they can model their development after.  The two teams have similarly built rosters, with good, young power forwards in Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge, and tall, young, high scoring backcourts with Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton for Sacto, and Wes Matthews and Ray Felton for Portland. Furthermore, I'm actually excited to see The Jimmer, who has averaged a respectable eight points per game in about 22 minutes per game. If Sacramento shows up to play, I think this will be a good, competitive game.

Sunday Discussion: #LobCity vs #SobCity

Editor's Note: I had hoped to get this up yesterday, but shit happens.  On Friday night, the Wolves beat the Clippers on Friday after a dramatic last second three pointer from Diss favorite Kevin Love.  The next morning, The Diss' email listserv lit up with thoughts about the crazy finish that the world had seen on ESPN the night before.

Jacob Greenberg: Guys, I can't remember a funner game.  I was rooting for the Wolves so hard.  It felt like an epic game, perhaps a franchise-defining game.  The Wolves made their triumphant return to national television, maybe for the first time since KG got traded in 2007.  And you couldn't have asked for a better game.  The nation learned so much about this team last night.  And really, there are so many storylines to choose from and focus on.

Alex Maki:  Terrific game.  As a Wolves fan I was up until 2:30 am reading all the recaps and blog posts I could get my hands on.  And then I fell asleep, dreaming of playoff relevance.

Jacob Greenberg:  I know that feeling.  So, what is the major storyline of this awesome, awesome game? K-Love's cementation as a top five NBA player?  Ricky Rubio's national debut?  The redemption of Darko Milicic?  Something else?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Week That Was: Jan 16-22, 2012

Editor's Note: Until I come up with a cute title for this feature, we'll just call this "The Week That Was" -- three pieces of NBA knowledge that caught my eye and played a role in the way I watched and wrote about the Association this week.

On tap for this week: pay raises, the 1985-1986 Celtics, and the NBA's take on the Civil Rights era.  Let's get to it.

1. A UCLA Degree (Or, some Coursework) Will Get You Far In Life.

Payday has come for two stalwarts from the much-heralded 2008 draft class.  Eric Freeman of Y!'s NBA blog Ball Don't Lie reports that forward Kevin Love is on his way towards receiving a maximum offer sheet from the Timberwolves that ranges between four years, $61 million and five years, $78 million.  Meanwhile, Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman reports that all-star point guard Russell Westbrook is prepared to sign his name on a five year, $80 million dollar extension to remain in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant for the foreseeable future.  These two players join Derrick Rose in the 2008 Max Contract club, with other 2008 draftees like Roy Hibbert, Ryan Anderson, and Danillo Gallinari also due considerable raises within the next few weeks.

With Westbrook joining Durant and Kendrick Perkins as OKC's "designated" players (the ones getting the biggest paychecks), decision time has come for Sam Presti and his universally praised front office. Serge Ibaka, a burgeoning post defender with crazy hops, is a free agent this season, as is 3-point specialist Daequan Cook.  More importantly, do-it-all combo guard James Harden, the prohibitive sixth man of the year, is due for a considerable pay raise after the 2012-2013 season.  All of these guys are integral pieces for the Thunder's present success, but it seems unlikely that they'll all be around for the future.  It will be interesting to see which players Presti keeps, and which ones are swapped for different assets.

Friday, January 20, 2012

If the Denver Nuggets are the Beatles of Basketball, Does that Mean Andre Miller is John Lennon?

Last weekend I wrote about aesthetics in sports, and why a seemingly ugly and infraction-filled game was quite beautiful to watch. Here at The Diss, however, I’m the resident stat guy, and probably the last one you would expect to write about something as unquantifiable as aesthetics. After all, this is basketball we are talking about, not art history or literature.

And so my involvement in the argument over what constitutes beautiful basketball was over. Nobody has developed a system to “rate” the Mona Lisa higher than The Persistence of Memory, or that War and Peace’s 1,000+ pages means that it is three times better than A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

But basketball is different because it has hundreds of measureable characteristics. Assuming one could develop a consensus definition of beautiful basketball, they could simply measure and define. And so for the last week I have undertaken the Sisyphean task of developing said definition. While I know that there will always be dissidents, after talking with many knowledgeable basketball fans and reading knowledgeable basketball writers, I believe I have developed that definition.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA PIPA Special: The San Antonio Spurs and H-E-B

Long: It is a classic - really killer - combination, but one that most NBA fans have never experienced. The San Antonio Spurs + H-E-B.

If you aren’t from Texas, you’ve probably never heard of H-E-B. It’s the Fred Meyer of the South, the Winn-Dixie of Texas. It’s traded blows with big market giants like Albertsons and Walmart and emerged victorious. If you grocery shop in San Antonio you do it at H-E-B and you love it. And there’s a lot to love: a credit union for employees, 5% of pretax profits to charitable causes, school programs, and community sponsorships. They actually sent me to my first Spurs’ game back in ’94 vs. da Bulls at the Alamodome. The Coyote showed up, mugged for the cameras, and then made it rain tickets. We lost that game but nonetheless, a great experience.

Wednesday Debate: Is Kevin Love a "Max" Player?

Editor's Note: Tuesday morning saw media reports that Timberwolves star forward Kevin Love, a favorite here at The Diss was on the verge of receiving a four year, $60 million dollar extension in order to keep his talents in or around (the) South Beach (of Lake Calhoun).  Looks pretty standard for a franchise player, right?  But, instead, I made the mistake of wondering...

Jacob Greenberg: Guys, should Glen Taylor max out Kevin Love?  By every metric he should be a max player.  He is a bona fide superstar who provides both tangibles and intangibles that few others can.  However, I see max (or close to max contracts) down the road for Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams.  Glen Taylor, one of the stingiest owners in the league, and one of the major hawks during the lockout, certainly doesn't have the funds to max out three players.  It seems that you could max out Love, and risk having Rubio walk later, or attempt to trade Love now, and put better, cheaper system pieces around Rubio.  Am I wrong?

Kevin Draper:  Yes, you're wrong.  You let K-Love walk, and you're guaranteeing a mediocre team, and that in itself will prompt Rubio and D-Will to walk down the road.  Plus, we don't have nearly enough evidence to suggest that D-Will (or Rubio, for that matter, though he resembles more of a finished product) will be worth anything near a max contract four years from now.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Games of the Week: January 16-22, 2012.

Image from savetheskyhook.com

Editor's Note:  Sing the lines below to the tune of "The Addam's Family" theme.

Games of the Week! (snap snap)
Games of the Week! (snap snap)
Games of the Week, Games of the week, Games of the week (snap snap)

Well, that was fun.  For me, at least.  Anyways, let's get to the games of the week for January 14-22, 2012.

Monday: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers (7:30 PM PST)

Tonight sees the return of former Laker swingman, and current reality television star Lamar Kardashian to the Staples Center, this time as a member of the defending champion (in name only) Dallas Mavericks.  Of course, Lamar was a featured piece of the most-famous-trade-that-never-was, which would've sent former New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul to the Lakers, and Odom (among others) to the Hornets.  Odom was so incensed that the Lakers would have the audacity to trade him that he asked, nay, demanded to be...traded.  Seems like a bit of circular logic to me.

But we wish Mr. Kardashian well.  According to Chris Mannix of SI, Odom considered taking time off after a very stressful offseason.  Here's to Odom getting back to basics, both in his personal life, and on the court, where he's struggled to find a rhythm.

Tuesday: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers (4:00 PM PST)

Admittedly a homerific pick, but a compelling matchup nonetheless.  The Cleveland Cavaliers, at 5-6 (currently good for eighth in the East), are showing considerable improvement--and importantly, a new identity--in year 2 ATD (After The Decision) under coach Byron Scott.  Rookie point guard Kyrie Irving, the number one overall pick in last summer's draft, is living up to his billing, averaging 17 points and 5 assists per game on about 50% shooting.  Those would be great numbers for anyone, let alone a rookie.  Furthermore, rookie forward Tristan Thompson, whom I had relatively low expectations for in his rookie campaign, is proving naysayers wrong, averaging 8 points, 6 rebounds, and nearly 2 blocks in only 20 minutes per game.  Veterans Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker and Anderson Varejao clearly have the ears of the young players on the team, and Byron Scott, once again equipped with a top-shelf point guard, is able to run most teams out of their gyms.  This is a fun team to watch (they have the tenth-most prolific offense in the league), and if they remain hot, I wouldn't be surprised to see them as a low seed playoff team.  If that is to happen, however, they must win games like the one they'll play Tuesday night against the Warriors, a 4-8 club that has been disarmed by injuries and twenty years of losing.

Wednesday: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers (4:00 PM PST)

I will actually be at work while this game is happening, and that's a shame, because no one should be terribly surprised if this is an NBA finals preview in this bizarrely abbreviated season.  Both Denver and Philadelphia were well positioned for success after the lockout, with young, motivated rosters that remained largely unchanged, and veteran coaches in George Karl and Doug Collins who clearly have the respect of their players and front offices.  The Sixers, in particular, have been getting unquestioned love from most major media pundits (most notably ESPN's John Hollinger, who has perched Doug Collins' club firmly at the top of his power rankings for the last two weeks) and for good reason.  According to most metrics, the Sixers feature the league's third best offense (at worst), and the league's first best defense.  Denver's not too far behind, at second, and sixth, respectively. Not bad.  This will be a great basketball game.

Thursday: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami (5:00 PM PST)

Kobe versus LeBron.  Need I say more?

Oh I do?  Okay.  Well, this is another potential finals preview, and a marketing dream for David Stern and the NBA. And, luckily for him (and Joe Bernardo) this dream could be a reality if Andrew Bynum continues the tear he's been on since he came back.  He's averaging 17 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, shooting 54%, and most importantly, staying healthy.  When your pivot is providing those numbers (and as efficiently as Bynum is doing so, with a player efficiency rating of nearly 21), you are a championship contender by any metric.  And let's not forget Kobe, who has scored 40 or more points in his last 4 games.  Perhaps he'll break the personal record he set in 2003, when he scored 40 or more points in 9 straight games.  I remember when it happened and it still feels surreal.  Regardless of how you feel about Kobe, we are truly blessed to be able see a player of his caliber in his prime.  There will not be another Kobe.  Fact.

Friday: Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Clippers (5:00 PST)

This matchup features arguably the two best power forwards in the game today in the Clippers' Blake Griffin and the Wolves' Kevin Love (also, the stars of the best lockout-related commercial, ever).  These two players lead exciting young teams that are undergoing huge transformations in terms of on-court play and off-court culture.  Love and Griffin's games are wildly dissimilar.  As Hans Peterson points out, Kevin Love relies on finesse and shooting to get his points, while Blake Griffin just murders people down low.  And, as a bonus, we'll get to see Wolves rookie sensation Ricky Rubio go against CP3 in an amazing matchup of present brilliance versus future greatness.  If you are a basketball aficionado, these are the games you really look forward to.

Saturday: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat (4:30 PM PST) 

These two clubs faced each other in the playoffs last year, where the second-seeded Miami Heat quickly dispatched the Philadelphia 76ers in five games.  Now these two teams will go against each other again, with the 76ers playing excellent ball, and Miami perhaps dealing with the absence of Dwayne Wade, who is out indefinitely with a myriad of nagging injuries.  Notably, these two teams rest on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to team building.  Obviously, the Miami Heat are frontloaded, with superstars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh doing most of the work, and role players providing somewhat inconsistent support.  Meanwhile, one is hard pressed to find a bona fide star on a team as balanced as the Sixers.  For example, Philadelphia's leading scorer is Lou Williams, who is averaging 16.1 points per game...off the bench.  Meanwhile, guards Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday are both averaging 14.3 points per game, Thad Young is averaging 12, and Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes both averaging around 10.  That's remarkable to have six players averaging double digits, and all doing so efficiently.  Jrue Holiday, who has the lowest player efficiency rating of any of the double digit socerers, has a PER of around 15, which is the league average.  These two teams employ completely different philosophies, and I'm interested to see how they compete against each other.

Sunday: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers (3:30 PM PST)

And lo, on the seventh day, the NBA fan rested.  Let's go Niners.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

So, About Thursday Night.

So on Thursday night, there was a Warriors game on, and I watched it.  Big surprise, right?  But here's the thing: this time, something was off.  Something was wrong.

Now, most Warriors games are carbon copies of the game that previously happened.  Obviously, it's not a true carbon copy of the game that preceded it, but there are certain themes that are repeated, game after game, to the point where there's a strange familiarity to the entire proceeding.  If I'm at home in California, I turn on CSNBayArea.  Up here in Seattle, I crank up League Pass (steady employment [at least for the moment] has allowed me to upgrade from Atdhe.tv).  In the olden days, I used to hear this.  Now I hear this.  It doesn't matter, they both suck.  Then Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett come on, and I am treated to two hours of Warriors basketball, grotesque entertainment at its finest.

You see, the Warriors, for as long as I can remember, have had the distinction of being the most entertaining bad team to watch.  It was a hallmark of the Cohan era to construct teams that would (perhaps incidentally, because I'm pretty sure there never was a plan in the Cohan era) put fans into the seats, but fail to put numbers in the win column.  Primarily under Don Nelson, but also under guys like Keith Smart, Mike Montgomery, Eric Musselman, Dave Cowens and even Brian Winters, the Warriors trotted out teams that played high octane offense, constantly pushing the ball and creating fast break situations.  However, these teams rarely played defense, consistently relied on players to play out of position due to injuries or the whimsical musings of a mad scientist coach, and lost.  Just lost a lot of ball games.  And, when something happens a lot, well, you get used to it.

So Warriors games are a familiar thing.  Fitz and Barnett offer a syrupy sweet assessment of the Warriors recent losses (usually there had been a few), and some pathetically optimistic outlooks for the result of the impending contest.  The Warriors take the court against another team, and play Warriors basketball.  Yellow-tressed players charge up and down the court, the ball whipping back and forth, defense nowhere to be seen.  The crowd cheers rabidly for their lovably entertaining team, despite the fact defensive rotations are missed en masse, and rebounds go overwhelmingly to the other team.  It's a great time out for the first three quarters, and Fitz and Barnett heap praise upon a team that has lost far more than its has won over the last twenty years.  But then the fourth quarter arrives.  If it's still close (and it often is, as the Warriors are a fairly decent three-quarter team), the other team seemingly remembers, "oh right, we're playing the Warriors!" and turns it on.  Suddenly, the rebounds are all going the other way, and the Warriors, suddenly laden with the responsibility of playing professional basketball, forget their craft.  Defense disappears.  Rebounding stops.  The other team asserts themselves.  Fitz and Barnett lament that the Warriors are the back end of a back-to-back, or that injuries have beset their beloved club.  But everyone knows what's up.  It's the Warriors, after all.  And then the Warriors lose by about nine.  I cuss at the TV, rage quit, and go on about my night.  Clockwork.

So last night, when the Warriors played the Magic, I wasn't expecting too much different.  And if you look at the box score, you wouldn't think I got anything that different.  Magic 117, Warriors 109.  A score that tells an oft-repeated tale.  High octane offense.  Little defense. Surefire mistakes.  Carbon copy.  Familiar, comfortable.

But Thursday night.  About Thursday night.


Last Thursday night I watched a Warriors game that was unlike any other I had seen before.  I didn't go to my League Pass or ESPN 3 this time.  No, I was back on an illegal streaming site, trying to find a decent feed.  You see, tonight, the Warriors were playing on TNT, and I don't have cable.  The Warriors were getting the national television treatment.  The team's sale to Joe Lacob in 2010, and Mark Jackson's 2011 hire has provided the team with increased visibility, and this marked our third time on national TV since the season started on Christmas day. So, instead of Fitz and Barnett selling us a bag of magic beans, we got some of the greats in all of NBA television analysis: Ernie Johnson, Kenny "the Jet" Smith, and Charles "Weight Watchers" Barkley (Shaq is nowhere near being a "great pundit" yet, and I doubt he ever will be) in the studio, with Kevin Harlan and Steve Kerr calling the game at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

National telecasts are a much different affair than local telecasts.  Local telecasters are usually on the franchise's payroll, so they are often contractually obligated to minimize their critical assessments of the team.  On the other hand, broadcasters on the ESPN and Turner networks are only obligated to their companies (and the NBA), and can say whatever they want about the teams participating in the game that they're calling.  And, since national broadcasters and analysts draw from a more prominent, distinguished pool, the commentary that is offered tends to be on a slightly higher level. And with the trade rumors surrounding Dwight Howard, the commentators were content to spend nearly two hours discussing the present state and future prospects of the Golden State Warriors.

Their thoughts -- especially Kerr's -- were fascinating to hear.  Clearly, unbeknownst to me, the current Warriors present a compelling story to discuss among informed basketball minds.  To Kerr, the Golden State Warriors are a "gold mine."  He mused openly and intelligently about all the major story lines concerning the Dubs, including our new high profile owners, our new inexperienced, yet universally beloved coach, and our young, talented, injured, and most off all, transactionally compelling roster.  To my surprise (or was it my chagrin?) both Kerr and Harlan offered favorable assessments about the Warriors prospects as a major market franchise down the road.  Both obviously recognized and respected what they viewed as a definite change in culture, attitude and atmosphere in and around the Golden State Warriors franchise over the course of a last few months. They applauded the efforts of majority owner Joe Lacob, who has emerged as a consistent player in every potential blockbuster trade that's leaked to the media.  While the Warriors have yet to land that dynamic star, national media pundits recognize their attempts, and credit their efforts in creating a higher profile for a young, struggling team.  And, surprisingly, I agree with them.

As the game progressed, and as I heard these two immediately recognizable guys call the game, the Warriors transformed. Yes, in front of my eyes, the Warriors transmogrified from a low-profile team in a forgotten market, and into a major market team consistently featured on national television.  Hearing Harlan scream "RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES!", his signature line, after Monta drilled a three midway through the fourth quarter, sent chills down my spine, and allowed me to fantasize about a Warriors club that everyone would see, and not just the pathetically loyal faithful who had tuned into this mess year after year after year after year.  It wouldn't just be the Warriors against the Magic, a team that can hope for a middle-of-the-pack finish out East, and perhaps a first round victory against a similarly seeded team.  One could see the Warriors competing against inter-conference contenders, like the Thunder, or the Blazers or Lakers.  What a future; one that, except for a painfully brief period of time from Spring 2007 to Spring 2008, had seemed entirely impossible for the Golden State Warriors.

And on the court, well, we weren't seeing Warriors basketball.  Not one bit.  A lot of that had to do with injuries and the personell available to Mark Jackson -- Steph "Damaged Goods" Curry wasn't playing for the fourth game in a row, and defensive anchor Kwame Brown had just been lost for the season due to a torn pectoral muscle -- but we weren't seeing the fast paced, defenseless brand of Warriors basketball that had garnered a pathetic .406 winning percentage average over the last twenty seasons.  Instead, we were seeing a team that seemingly had a defensive philosophy, and a larger plan for the future.  Gone were the days of Don Nelson helter-skelter defense, with Al Harrington or Corey Maggette attempting to guard guys like Dwight, Amar'e, or even Tim Duncan or KG.  Instead, we had players playing in their intended positions, trying to slow the pace of the game, closing out on their shooters, and most prominently, employing a Hack-a-Dwight strategy (purposely fouling Howard, a poor free throw shooter as a way to keep him from getting easy buckets in the post) as a way to mitigate the size differential between the two teams.  Jackson had the guys playing some gutsy, gritty defense, and for awhile, it kept the much shorter, far more shorthanded Warriors in the game.

Offensively, we were looking dynamic as well.  While elements of the Warriors traditional run-'n'-gun offense remained true to form, we were frustrating the Magic with a number of different offensive sets. The first quarter saw the Warriors establish a fairly competent looking half-court offense, with Monta Ellis and David Lee running a fairly effective pick-and-roll set from the top of the key.  The second quarter featured the dynamic play of newcomer Nate Robinson, our new sixth man, and an undeniable spark plug off the bench.  By the end of the third, and into the fourth, the Warriors were pushing the ball, employing a small ball lineup while playing somewhat small up front.  Gone, seemingly, were the days of "any-damn-shot-in-5-seconds-or-less" basketball.  We looked like a team.  Unbelievable.

But the script is always the same, regardless of the channel the game is on, or the folks calling the plays and providing color commentary.  By the fourth quarter, the Warriors had gone totally cold, and the Magic, a team laden with great outside shooters, had largely silenced the Warriors crowd.  Furthermore, Coach Jackson's "Hack-a-Dwight" strategy had backfired, as the Warriors had run out of big men, and hence fouls to use on the dominant Magic center.  Soon, it was looking an awful lot like Warriors basketball.  After David Lee fouled out with about a minute left in the quarter, and the Warriors down 111-109, Jackson put in journeyman Dominic McGuire (6'9'') to play center, and shifted guard Brandon Rush (6'6'') to the power forward spot.  Now, this is the Warriors basketball I know.  This is the Warriors basketball I wake up next to, and wonder how the hell we got to this point.  You know the rest.  Magic win by 8.  Dwight Howard has an historic night, recording 45 points, 23 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 blocks.  21 of those 45 points came from the free throw line, where Mark Jackson's "Hack-a-Dwight" strategy had sent the big man to the line for 39 attempts.  And, yet again, the Warriors were on the wrong side of history.

When the game ended, I decided not to watch Ernie and the guys on Inside the NBA break down the game.  I wasn't that interested in any of the guys' opinions on the contest, and was pretty sure Shaq's lack of attention to detail and lazy commentary would put me in a funk for the next day.  Furthermore, the illegally downloaded stream had been occasionally choppy, and I needed to get to bed so I could get up for a very early shift the next morning.  But the game remained with me even after I turned off the light.

The result was familiar.  Too familiar.  But the lead up to that result?  That had been different.  The defense.  The offense.  The analysis and discussion.  And that was unsettling to me.  It still sort of is.


I'm writing this up on Saturday. Tonight, there's a Warriors game on.  The 3-7 Warriors will travel to Charlotte to take on the hapless 2-10 Bobcats.  Indeed, the Dubs have a good shot of winning the game, but we all know how these things go.  A loss would leave me unperturbed.  A win would put a smile on my face.

But tonight, while Fitz and Barnett sell me on the positives of 3-7 and the ruination of injuries, and while the team invariably struggles on the road against a team that will be hungry for a win at home against another struggling ball club, I'll think about Thursday night.  It was a loss, but in many ways, unlike any of the losses I've seen in my fifteen-or-so seasons of conscious Warriors fanhood.

Perhaps that was a loss suffered by a truly, finally, rebuilding club.

The Score Didn't Matter

Editor's Note: After last Thursday's Warriors vs Magic contest, The Diss' e-mail list blew up with opinions about the Warriors' Hack-a-Shaq strategy. This article is the first of three originating from that discussion.

Sporting aesthetics exist in the absence of statistically measurable output, which is why soccer is a distinctly aesthetic sport and baseball is not. Basketball exists somewhere in between.

In America we prize winning above all else. After all, you play to win the game. But if that’s the case, why bother watching? Isn’t knowing who won sufficient?

But of course winning isn’t the only thing we pay attention to. We don’t only want to know who won, but how they won. How did it look or feel when they won? We notice the aesthetics of sport.

Among league offices that make up the rules, there seems to be a consensus that fans want to see more offense. In the last ten years we have seen bandbox stadiums built in baseball, breathing on quarterbacks penalized as unnecessary roughness and the elimination of perimeter hand checks. Scoring is the rising tide that lifts attendance and TV ratings. Jack McCallum wrote 07 Seconds or Less about a Phoenix team that never made it to the NBA Finals, and didn’t write about a Detroit team that won a title because his publisher thought “22 Seconds for Rip Hamilton to Curl Around Screens” wouldn't sell.

Like all other art forms, Europeans are far ahead of us in understanding aesthetics. Jose Mourinho’s 2009-10 Inter Milan side was derided for “parking the bus” against Barcelona in the Champion's League Semifinals. Never mind that these “negative tactics” beat the widely acknowledged best team of the last 10-20 years; what he did was an insult to the beautiful game.

I bring this up because, in a bizarre twist, Mark Jackson is basketball’s Jose Mourinho. Two nights ago he decided to employ the Hack-a-Shaq strategy on Dwight Howard. I am not interested in how this was a statistically losing strategy or how he broke Wilt Chamberlain's record for free throws attempted, but how it felt like to experience basketball this way. Did it seem like basketball, or did it evolve into something else around free throw 27? Was it a candidate for most boring game of the year (college ball notwithstanding) or a unique drama? Would you have experienced the game differently if the Warriors had won?

I love how a game of basketball develops a certain pace and rhythm, dictated mainly by the styles of the teams involved but also the referees, fans and arena. Watching the Warriors over the last few years, you only notice defense because of its absence, why is why I was so compelled by Thursday night’s game. For one of the first times I can remember, defense was the most powerful force in a Warriors game. I’ve been to 20 or 30 games at Oracle arena in the last few years, and I cannot even imagine what it felt like to watch Hack-a-Dwight in person.

It’s easy to forget that you belong to the same species as Dwight Howard, but after Thursday night’s game I feel like I can relate to him. All I could think about were his, distinctly human, feelings. Did it hurt for the Warriors to repeatedly pick on his weakness? Is he embarrassed that he is such a bad free throw shooter? Was he anxious every time the Warriors grabbed his arms? Is he a prideful man?

One of the things we like about sports is that they are a confined universe that we can pretend to fully understand. Unlike life, sports are played with a set of fully defined rules, arbitrated by referees to ensure fairness. We describe an entire year’s worth of effort with a couple of numbers. If we are lucky, we get to witness a unique moment or play, but most basketball games are like other basketball games. Thursday’s game was profoundly unique, and for that I thank Mark Jackson.

Friday, January 13, 2012

On Kevin Love

Editor's Note: The Diss is very happy to feature a piece from guest contributor "Butt" Hans Peterson.  Hans and yours truly went to college and played frisbee together. Though very tall (6'5''ish), I never saw him play basketball.  I'm not even sure he can.  Can you, Hans?  Anyways, Hans, a Timberwolves fan, offers us  statistical and historical perspectives on the present peculiarities of Minnesota Timberwolves star power forward Kevin Love.

For the first time in quite some time, there is something exciting happening in Minnesota's Target Center that has nothing to do with monster truck rallies.  And regrettably, despite an enormous increase in fanfare, enthusiasm, and head coaching competence, it is not the competitive viability of the Timberwolves.  Although the Timberwolves have replaced a coach responsible for a truly embarrassing coaching effort in Kurt Rambis, and although they have added what appears to be two legitimate impact NBA players in Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams, they are still two or three quality players away from playoff contention (I'll avoid a diatribe about how two of those players could already be on the roster had Kahn not bungled two lottery picks on Syracuse disappointments Wesley Johnson and Jonny Flynn).

No, the most incredible act in Minneapolis at the moment is that of Kevin Love.  There are no shortage of writers and journalists leaping over each other to heap praise on the new "great white hope" in the NBA.  But my interest is not just limited to Love's rapid and perhaps surprising (at least to me) rise in the NBA's top 20, or perhaps even its top 10.  What I really want to discuss is how incredibly unique Love's talents appear to be.

Perhaps more than any other major US sport, NBA basketball invites comparisons.  It is a particularly stylistic and exposed game.  Players are recognizable not just for their abilities and effectiveness, but for the athletic and stylistic similarities to former greats. Despite the fan's delight in identifying perfect comparisons between past and present athletes, in my 20ish years as an NBA fan, I have seen few players who stand as alone as Love.  Minnesota's prior star was often the subject of similar complements.  Garnett's combination of height, length, athleticism, handles, and mid-range game seemed unusual.  And though he strikes a far more usual silhouette than Garnett (Love = taller Chris Mullin?), Love's statistical impact is even more unprecedented than the Big Ticket's.

Love's rebounding alone puts him in very unique company.  Through eleven games this season, he is continuing his torrid pace from his breakout season, averaging 14.7 rebounds per game (second in the league).  Aside from Dwight Howard (15.2 rpg, good for first), no other player is even in the same discussion as Love in terms of volume of rebounds collected (the third place player is DeMarcus Cousins at 11.0 rpg).  Unusually as Love's rebounding prowess is, it is absolutely historic when combined with his shooting touch from distance.  Currently he is tied for ninth in the NBA with 22 three pointers through eleven games, and is hitting them at a healthy 40% rate.  I'm aware of the misleading nature of small sample sizes, but through the full 2010-2011 season he is ranked 14th among all players with at least 100 attempts in terms of three-point percentage.  The primary difference in his shooting thus far this year is that he's showing signs of evolving from a spot-shooter to a player capable of creating his own space off the dribble.

The best way to emphasize how remarkable Love's simultaneous usefulness as a long-range weaspon and rebounder is is by comparing his performance to his NBA peers.  When he shot 41.7% from three out of 211 attempts last year, Love edged out J.J. Reddick, who shot 39.7% on 219 attempts.  He also had a better percentage than Kyle Korver, Daniel Gibson, Derek Fisher, Steve Nash, and Dirk Nowitzki.  And let's look at the numbers this season.  Love is second in the league in rebounds, sixth in scoring, and eighth in threes made.  If you look down the rebounding list, you have to go all the way down to #25 on the list (a tie between LeBron James and Channing Frye) to find the next best rebounder capable of effective three-point shooting with volume.  That is absolutely astonishing.  Dual threat players almost universally have related threats.  Great passers can supplement their assist numbers with scoring and steals, but they don't grab double digit rebounds.  Likewise, great rebounders can often block shots and score, but they don't stretch defenses with effective long-range shooting.  Kevin Love is elite in two, completely unrelated, even perhaps contradictory skills.  The three point line ranges from 22 to 23.75 feet in the NBA.  I probably don't need to explain that very few rebounds are captured 22+ feet from the rim.  But Kevin Love has, presumably through mysterious devilry, found a way to rank highly in the NBA in threes made while still serving as its leader in overall rebounding, and in the top 5 in terms of offensive rebounding.

My basketball knowledge is far from comprehensive or even elite, but I simply cannot think of a player with a comparable skill set to Kevin Love.  Among current players, Channing Frye, a 6'11'' center, has equivalent abilities as a shooter, but collected fewer than seven rebounds per game last season.  Looking back even further in NBA history, it is difficult to find Love's statistical soulmate.  He's like some sort of freakish Moses Malone double-double machine, but instead of collecting points on dunks and put-backs, he does so with finesse shooting from mid and long range.  And admittedly, instead of displaying superlative defense, he has, historically, defended like Manny Ramirez fields (although this new, skinnier model of Kevin Loves shows increased defensive prowess).

I hesitate to say it, as exasperated by the racially defined comparisons in sports--especially in Basketball (David Lee is much more a sexually active version of A.C. Green than Brad Miller, Jimmer Fredette is much more a poor man's Ben Gordon than a destitute person's Steve Nash), but the shooting and post-game makes me think of Larry Bird.

Relax.  Do not overstate this.  I am not saying Kevin Love is destined to be a top 5 NBA player.  He will almost certainly never develop the supernatural court vision that Bird exhibited (barring some sort of Rubio brain transplant).  He may never have the mid-range game Bird mastered -- although he has a great deal of time to do so.  Bird's superior assist numbers will always have more value than Love's rebounding advantage over Larry Legend.  But the comparison is not as ridiculous as you may think.  There are very few 6'9''+ players in NBA history capable of double-digit rebound averages and 20+ points collected heavily through mid-to-long range shooting, and the only other one that came to my mind was Bird.  The slightly awkward and doughy stature and the underrated athleticism of both Love and Bird only strengthens the link.

But to summarize a very long-winded point, I don't really wish to emphasize Love's comparisons to others, but the lack of an appropriate comparison.  I will leave it up to better basketball minds than mine to assess how valuable his unique skills (and defensive limitations) make him and how he will someday, perhaps, rank among the all-time greats.  But the fact remains that he has given a downtrodden fan base, and basketball connoisseurs everywhere, a reason to care about the Wolves.

Monday, January 9, 2012

We Don't Need No Water

I have a beautiful article written, an article in which I examine the meaning of basketball to the city of Oakland, in which I examine the meaning of Monta Ellis and Steph Curry to the city of Oakland. I look at the history of the Warriors and the history of Oakland athletics, and how this history affects the current team. Through this lens, I conclude that I would rather the Warriors trade Monta Ellis than Steph Curry. This article has been written and rewritten, edited and reedited, every word carefully considered.

The article now sits in my (digital) trashcan. The debate is useless, a false dichotomy. The real dichotomy is between blowing it all up, and endless iterations. In the last year the Warriors have blown up their ownership, front office and coaching staff, and now it is time to light the fuse on the last stick of C-4 and blow this roster up.

Trade for CP3 or D12. Trade for draft picks. Cut David Lee. Let Klay Thompson start every game. Give Biedrins away. Institute a rule that says missed defensive assignment = bench. Try Monta Ellis as a legitimate PG. Let Steph Curry walk. Implement a full court press. Pick your radical change, but it must be implemented.

Blow this whole fucking thing up.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Introducing: @TheDissBlogNBA, now on Twitter.

Hey, former representative Anthony Weiner (D-New York).  Are you an NBA fan?  Maybe the Knicks?

Yeah?  Nice!  Too bad Melo and Amar'e will never learn how to play together.  Anyways, you read stuff on the internet?

Oh, relax, former representative Weiner!  I know you're a modern man.  Well, hey, you oughta read my NBA blog.  It's called The Diss.  It's a bit preachy and a little too esoteric, but hey, we could always use the pageviews.

Oh, you will!  Ah gee, thanks, former representative Weiner!  And say, while you're on the world wide web, you oughta check out our Twitter feed.  Account?  Newsfeed?  Whatever, you should check it.

Former representative Weiner?  Did I say something wrong?

Oh. Right. Look, I didn't mean to offend you.  I'm just saying that --

Oh, you're not mad about me forgetting about...eh...this?

You just expected more topical humor.  Yeah.  That's fair.

Anyways, follow The Diss on Twitter.  TheDissBlogNBA.  Thanks.