On the Basketball Season Thus Far

Trouble in Lakerland, plus a few other early-season NBA observations from Ike.

dwight-howard-los-angeles-lakers-2012

Seeing Kobe pissed off is just great. But as much as I detest the Lakers, even I was taken aback by their not hiring Phil Jackson. It just seemed like the inevitable, preordained conclusion to both the Mike Brown saga and their coaching search. Phil heads back to LA! Everything naturally comes together for the Lakers again. Ike then feels like killing himself. Guess not. (Hooray!) And I get it; maybe the triangle wouldn’t “fit” with their personnel, as people have suggested. But neither does D’Antoni’s system. They don’t have shooters and have two post-oriented bigs.

Going back to the triangle: on the one hand, Nash would have grasped it “in 30 seconds” as Steve Kerr told Bill Simmons. On the other, Kidd, another pure point guard and offensive savant, once had to play in the triangle (in Dallas), and having exciting fast-break lead guards like him or Nash just standing around in the halfcourt filling spots on the floor (as the triangle requires) is both depressing and does not play into their strengths. And Phil never had an elite point guard playing in the triangle for him. (Gary Payton was basically washed up in 2004, which makes the closest thing Phil ever had to an elite PG… B.J. Armstrong in 1994! He started in the All-Star Game that year. Seriously. Let’s just credit Scottie Pippen’s brilliance for that one, then forget I ever wrote “B.J. Armstrong” in the same sentence as “elite PG.”) So aside from the aforementioned Kidd experiment (which was done under Jim Cleamons and not the Zen Master himself) we have no idea what it would have looked like.

But here’s why I ultimately think they should have gone with Phil: yes, Nash is a phenomenal pick-and-roll player, and Howard a good roll man (more on this below), but this is Kobe’s team! Nash is old! Meanwhile, Kobe’s still playing at a top-10 level. As happy as I am with what’s happened, I can’t believe people are agreeing with this position that D’Antoni’s system was the better choice because it works better for Nash and Howard. Who cares. We’re talking about Kobe, Phil, and Pau getting back together here. They’re the ones who won the Lakers two championships! And Kobe and Phil won three more before that. Oh, and on top of all that, they suck right now with D’Antoni at the helm. His press conference interviews look like carbon copies of the ones he was giving in his last days as New York’s head coach. (I remember watching one in which he sang the praises of Jared Jeffries. That actually happened.) And we all know how that ended. I’m giddy. Wait, but if they fire D’Antoni or he resigns, maybe they will bring Phil back. Fuck. Never mind. Lakers, do better, but not too much better.

Speaking of playing better, I’ve been hearing talk about how much of the Lakers’ poor play has to do with Howard failing to assert himself more. Yeah, that might be true, but only to a degree. For one thing, he looks like he has a bad back. He’s not moving around as actively as he used to, and doesn’t look as quick or athletic as he was when we last saw him (pre-injury) in a Magic uniform. But second, and more importantly, it’s not really in his game to assert himself and control a game offensively. Tuesday night, after the Lakers lost to the Cavs (Kobe had 42 and Howard had 19 and 20), Tim Legler said on SportsCenter that this is the first time in Dwight’s career that he is not the focal point of his team’s offense, and that it’s thrown him off. Last week on TNT, Shaq did a segment aimed at Howard where he provided a formula for how to get 30+ a night. Kenny Smith agreed with Shaq’s proposed methodology (consisting of getting a certain number of post-ups/put-backs per quarter/game) but Barkley didn’t, saying that Howard just isn’t a 30-point player. Thank you Charles. Unlike Professor Shaq was in his day, D12 is a pick-and-roll player. He is undoubtedly a very strong defender — it’s been shown statistically over the years — although I do think he occasionally makes dumb decisions (resulting in fouls) and swats the ball out of bounds too much. But in Orlando he was not the focal point of the offense. All he did was set a ton of screens for Jameer Nelson and Hedo, shoot less than 15 shots a night, almost never touch the ball in the fourth quarter, and mostly get easy buckets by rolling hard and playing off of the legion of 3-point shooters he had around him. And that just ain’t happening with this Laker team: they are missing their pure point guard, their offense has been controlled for a decade by a ball-dominant 2-guard who does a significant amount of his scoring in the post, and they don’t have the appropriate personnel (shooters) in general to recreate what Howard had going on offensively in Orlando.

Here’s another Laker-related thought: I am an enormous Steve Nash lover and this is just sad. He’s out at least another two weeks with this freak shin injury. Although maybe this is a sign that the basketball gods are punishing him for having joined the enemy, which is both great (because the Lakers are sucking) and awful (because I love watching Nash play). In any case, we’ll see what happens when he comes back. Maybe he will be able to right the ship. But things aren’t looking too good right now.

Finally, if you’re a Laker fan, here’s one positive despite all of this: your Lakers are still pretty damn lucky. Think about it. You unloaded Bynum at the exact right time. He miraculously played all of last season without any injuries, starting in the All-Star Game and upping his trade value even though pretty much everyone had a feeling last year was a fluke and that he was headed for more injuries. And yet you were still able to trade him and get the best center in the league in return. (And now Bynum is embroiled in an ugly legal battle with his former neighbors, injured himself bowling, and looks homeless.) So yeah, damn the Lakers and their fans. As a Warriors fan, I say deal with it. Suck for a while.

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Hey, speaking of the Warriors, I want to see Andrew Bogut play in a blue and gold uniform. Is that really too much to ask? And screw the Golden State management for purposely neglecting to disclose the severity of his injury. Really. Just shameful.

However, thank you Golden State management for having plans to build an awesome-ass arena on the water in SF! Also, the Warriors are 15-7!

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Those Anthony Davis NBA on ESPN ads are hilarious. As are Blake Griffin’s Kia commercials, but that’s nothing new.

By the way, Eric Gordon has still only played nine games — total — for New Orleans. No one is talking about this. Yeesh.

And, seriously, let them be the New Orleans Jazz. Come on. It’s the right thing to do. Utah can be the Utah Mormons, Utah Black Diamonds, Utah Alta, Utah Skis, Utah Peaks, Utah Salt Lakers, something.

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Watching Brook Lopez play makes me really uncomfortable. Sadly, he is now injured and his awkwardness has been taken away from us.

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What if Varejao gets traded to a contender??

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I love that Rasheed Wallace is back in the league. It warms my heart. He’s getting ejected for screaming his tagline and even playing in the post sometimes, which is just incredible to see. I hadn’t seen that from him since… 2005?

A very related anecdote from our very own Avinash Chak: “I was at the Knicks game against the Heat at MSG and it was absurd how much love Rasheed got. People were chanting his name on and off the whole game, and when he finally got minutes in garbage time, MSG exploded with ‘Sheeeeeeeeed!’ cries every time he touched the ball and especially when he hit a 3.” You have to hand it to Knicks fans; they knew to glorify Sheed from the get-go. And I fully support it. I don’t care how terrible he was as a Celtic and I don’t understand how and why people hate the guy; just read this and watch this! (And for the record, we here at SlackPost fully intend to write much, much more about him. Stay tuned.)

Meanwhile, in the last six weeks I’ve seen more “KNICKS!!” Facebook statuses from my New York friends than I ever saw in the last three years combined. Take it easy, guys.

Also: MELO, BABY!!

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Forget Durant. Who knew Mike Conley would end up being a way better pro than Greg Oden? Conley had been playing with Oden since they were teenagers, and throughout their days at Lawrence North and OSU Conley was always kind of an afterthought. But I remember watching one of their nationally televised high school games, being impressed when Conley single-handedly broke a very good press several possessions in a row, and thinking, “Hey, I wonder if that dude will play in the league too?” Then he turned into the overrated freshman who happened to play well in the tournament and was inexplicably getting picked fourth in the draft. After that, he became the still-too-skinny point guard who got an astoundingly dumb extension. But since then? Over the last three years he’s gradually become underpaid. So to my 2006 self, yes, the dude can play in the NBA. Meanwhile, Oden is out of the league. Sad.

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Hey remember that video from last summer in which Kobe and Kyrie Irving engage in some playful trash talk? You know, from the USAB training camp where Irving destroyed everyone. Anyway, here it is. It’s generally forgettable, yet inexplicably has over 4 million views. The only interesting part, however, comes when Kobe accuses Irving of essentially being a high school kid. Well, OK Kobe, at the time he was only two years removed from high school. But so what?! And so what if he only played “two games” at Duke? Here’s what Irving should have said in response: “Yeah, well, since then I was the number one overall pick and Rookie of the Year, two things that you weren’t, so I’d say I’m doing pretty well. Suck it, Kobe.”

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Will Eric Bledsoe end up being a better pro than his Kentucky backcourt mate John Wall? Is that in play? OK, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. But hey, learning from and playing behind CP3 is certainly paying its dividends for Bledsoe, right? He plays 20 minutes a game and is totally disruptive and effective when he’s in. And I’m saying this even without having looked up his stats. He’s going to make some money when his current contract is up.

Something people don’t talk enough about when they’re discussing Chris Paul: he’s one of the last players in the league (especially PGs) who don’t need ball screens all the damn time. I know that the NBA’s thriving and all, but I’m getting a little tired of how the entire league revolves around ball screens now. Watch a game from just the early 2000s (not even that long ago) at some point; it’s an entirely different game. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Paul waive off teammates as the shot clock nears zero to go one on one. Without help. By the way, it should be noted that his teammate Jamal Crawford remains a master of the isolation.

In other Lob City news, Lamar Odom is now completely useless.

And finally, DeAndre Jordan kicked the net on a dunk! He touched the net with his toes, Macklemore, not his fingers.

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Dwyane Wade is a shell of his former self. This started to become apparent last year, but now Charles Barkley is openly talking about it on the air and criticizing Wade for not having developed an MJ or Kobe-like post game and shooting touch, even though Chuck and Wade are boys. Well, at least I think they are; those old T-Mobile ads sure convinced me. (Eat the head!)

I know Durant has improved, but LBJ is the best player in the world, although I still find his game to be… ugly. But it’s just so damn effective.

The Heat are semi-coasting right now, acting like they’ll be able to flip the switch on when they need to, a la 2001-04 Lakers (successful switching it on when they felt like it) or 2005-08 Pistons (unsuccessful). It remains to be seen whether they’re the Lakers or the Pistons in this situation.

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Dirk, please come back. At the very least, start broadcasting games from the bench again.

Hey, look at you, O.J. Mayo! You’re actually playing at an All-Star level finally! Just like all those “experts” said you would when they were hyping you incessantly in high school. Which reminds me, the two best high school players in the country right now are Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Jabari is getting a lot of press for being Mormon and playing at Simeon Career Academy (where Nick Anderson, Derrick Rose, Bobby Simmons, and Benji Wilson went), resulting in interviews with Katie Couric and a Sports Illustrated cover story. But from what I’ve seen, Wiggins is far more impressive. Just my two cents.

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I’m rooting for the Spurs. Last year they should have made the Finals, but thanks to two anomalies (Sefolosha’s fluke big game, Ibaka’s fluke perfect shooting performance), Harden’s ballsy-ass clutch 3 over Leonard, and the Thunder’s miraculous four-game transformation into a team that actually knew how to both share the ball and defend (two things they abandoned big time in the Finals), the Spurs bowed out prematurely. I’m also a Duncan fan. On top of that, what David Stern did to them last month was just ridiculous. So yeah, there’s more reason to (finally) be on their side. And now there’s this Halloween pic floating around, which begs the question: could this spell another $250,000 fine? Anything is in play with David Stern now, right?

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Bonus NCAA observation! As effective as he is, Cody Zeller’s moves are so awkward and Zeller-y (kudos to my pal Brett for coining that term). Not as bad as Hansbrough’s or Brook Lopez’s, but still, ugh. Also, as ripped as he already is (and he is without a doubt one of the most ripped pale-as-Jim-Gaffigan dudes ever), Zeller is going to need to bulk up more (particularly his lower body) if he wants to one day justify his inevitably high NBA draft position. In the Georgetown game earlier this year, he was having trouble getting defensive rebounds on free throws against the likes of 6-8 Otto Porter, who’s not even that athletic. That said, I love IU’s team. One of the most enjoyable things about watching their games? Other than when Jordan Hulls drains 30-footers? When white dude Will Sheehey randomly dunks (kind of on someone) during halfcourt possessions. It seems to happen every time I watch Indiana play. It’s awesome.

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