“Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 6: Durant is MVP Already

“Mama there goes that Meme!” is a weekly HoopSpeak feature in which Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, like curious extraterrestrials, probe, abuse, and ultimately learn from a popular media meme.

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Beckley: This week’s meme makes me wonder if we’re breaking our own rule against player hating. Why can’t we just root for a quiet kid with a great jumper and a smile that makes you want to invite him over for dinner with your grandma?

Well, here’s the rub: I don’t think a single analyst would pick Durant as the best Small Forward in the league, yet 15 out of 25 ESPN experts picked him to win this year’s MVP. Eerily, nearly the same percentage of GM’s (66%) predicted that Durant will hoist the Maurice Podoloff trophy at year’s end. Is it this a dastardly conspiracy bred in the bowels of NBA headquarters to anoint Durant the league’s most shining, unsullied star?! Meh…maybe it just makes sense to pick Durant.

Perhaps more than any player besides Chris Paul or Steve Nash, KD’s team’s fortunes will rest on his jagged shoulders. Without him, do the Thunder even win 30 games? Meanwhile Kobe and LeBron/Wade’s teams look like locks for 55+, and many believe it will take 65+ wins, injury to a key teammate or face-melting stats for either player to win another.

Anyways, what kind of logic can be applied when predicting such an inherently subjective, vague, screaming-match-inducing award? You think it’s Paul’s year, even though we both believe he’s the league’s second best player behind LeBron. In your prediction you mix in a variety of factors external to on court performance, is it possible that ESPN’s experts and NBA GMs are doing the same? Or is it a heaping, steaming pile of Timberwolf that anyone other

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LeBron’s New Commercial: The Power Of A Lay-up

If you have yet to peep this… do it now:

LeBron’s new Nike commercial is destined the be an iconic moment in shoe advertising, player marketing, and probably LeBron’s career. In it he cleverly gives the media, moralistic pundits, Charles Barkley and even Michael Jordan a cheeky one fingered salute– before reminding everyone that he’s about to hit the 2011 season like a twister through a trailer park. While there will be many posts written about the significance of each dig, joke, and statement in the 90 second spot– I thought one of the most clever comes in the last 4 seconds.

Instead of finishing the brilliant montage with his signature, thundering, one-handed odes to power, the commercial ends with a delicate finger roll layup. The statement seems to be that LeBron is not a bull in a PR China store, nor a brute on the court. Yes, he has the physical prowess to do this, but he also has the touch and finesse to pull this (and the commercial) off.

Like Jordan, LeBron is known for his spectacular dunks. But if you watch enough of either, you notice that they are actually both masters of the difficult lay up, of slipping the ball past defenders softly off the backboard and through the net. Because James is so big, strong and fast, the tremendous skill with which he finishes at the rim is often drowned out by the roars that his jackhammer slams evoke. It’s not subtle a re-branding by Nike, but one that skillfully aligns LBJ’s underrated basketball acumen with the commercial’s intelligent, biting humor.

–@BeckleyMason/Beckleym@gmail.com

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What Can Chris Bosh’s Exit Tell Us About Carmelo Anthony’s future?

In a conference call with the TNT commentator crew (Steve Kerr, Kevin McHale, and Reggie Miller) and basketball media outlets from around the country, Steve Kerr was asked to compare the Carmelo Anthony saga to Amar’e’s departure from the Suns this summer. Kerr responded by saying that the circumstances were completely different because Amar’e would have stayed in Phoenix, but the Suns decided not to invest in the hyper-efficient forward’s suspect knees. Carmelo seems far less committal to the Nuggets, who have made it clear they would like to keep Carmelo for another six years.  Instead, Kerr suggested, the way Bosh-Toronto played out might provide a more instructive example.

Darko's place in history: This is the 11th image that a Google Image search for "Carmelo + Bosh" returns

Could Kerr be on to something? After all, the two were selected 3-4 in the 2003 draft after one year of college experience. Both have silky offensive games predicated by excellent first steps and the ability to shoot out of the triple threat. Both are prolific, usually efficient, one-on-one scorers who play mediocre at best defense (each has career 107 DRatings). At 25, it’s becoming clear that neither player can singlehandedly carry a team to playoff glory. And like Bosh six months ago, Carmelo wants off his current team.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, it’s not hard to imagine Carmelo playing out the season in Denver. Once the season gets rolling, especially if the Nuggets are winning, Carmelo’s commitments to his team may inspire him to finish out his Denver contract.

With the blinding excitement that a potentially clever idea instills in me, I decided to ask someone who knows as much as anyone about the Raptors what he thought. Scott Phillips is a member of the Toronto über-blog,

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“Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 5: The Kobe-Jordan Conversation

“Mama there goes that Meme!” is a weekly HoopSpeak feature in which Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, like curious extraterrestrials, probe, abuse, and ultimately learn from a popular media meme.

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Ethan: This meme isn’t the bane of my existence–it’s the bane of existence itself. It’s the enemy of history, of logic, of statistics, truth and morality. And it’s insidious. Once the idea of Kobe as “great” cements into accepted, we’re forced to build on that quicksand foundation. Beckley, the meme hurts. It deep-fries my heart like memories of a long lost lover.

Why does the charade exist? I look to the roots of political opinion. When a large, vocal, motivated group loudly espouses a fallacy–that Kobe Bryant is the greatest player of all time–conventional wisdom trudges towards the falsehood. Kobe’s aesthetically-pleasing game meets a huge LA fanbase, and they beget a roving monster of screeching, fire-breathing, hyperbolic praise. And the monster is scary, so you’d better accept his reality as legitimate–even if you know better.

Opinion arbiters split the difference between shouted myth and quiet truth, so public conception lands somewhere in between. And when that happens, the unabashed sanity-defenders get ridiculed as nuts. It’s why commenters chase after Hollinger with pitchforks and torches. It’s why Pau is called “Robin” to a less-productive Batman, and how DARE you say otherwise. Well I say otherwise, Becks. Pau’s better. Wade’s better. Bron’s better. I’m not a “hater,” I just watch games and see stats–not to mention small fractions like 6/24.That numerator over denominator is indicative of how Bryant is far from dominator. As in: Kobe Bryant is a tiny fraction of what Michael Jordan was.

Beckley: This one’s more slippy than a greased Biedrins, Ethan. Even in our attempt to disprove this perception, our attention legitimizes the

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Steer Clippers to the Eastern Conference

Sometimes, the Clippers play here

Whispered from the eternal dentist visit that is Warriors obsession: I come here not to bury the Clippers–because that would be redundant–like murdering the buried. To say the LAC lack a Lakers pedigree isn’t an understatement worth making. And it obscures the real problem: The Clippers can’t share a division and conference with a favored tenant.

If regionalism is an essential fandom element, then what makes an Angelino Clips-crazed? The Lakers play in the same hut, beam a sepia history, and aren’t the Clippers. Why not go with your town’s team? Who suffers through and with the Clips? It’s analogous to entering a restaurant, turning down fliet mignon in favor of milksteak, then wringing hands at the mess. So, why bless a curse? These are the best reasons that empirical study can’t buy:

1. “I’m an L.A. transplant, and I won’t bring myself to cheer a former enemy. The only solution is to quarter-heartedly root for the red and always blue.” 2. “It’s my ironic, hipster statement.” (Fandom’s mullet) 3. Completely personal reason: “Chris Kaman winked at me while strangling my worst enemy.” 4. “Kevin Arnovitz tricked me into following the Clippers with his wily prose.” 5. “I have Kobe hatred so heated, it hisses like paraded fajitas.”

Some city-share arrangements have meaningful tribal divisions, within the region. And here are the following stereotypes:

The White Sox have a different, grittier, location. They can scoff at the Northside Cubs and their trust fund misery. The Mets are New York’s middle class team–a blue collar squished between Queens and Long Island. The Yanks straddle America’s income gap thanks to a South Bronx home, Upper Eastside homers and history spun from the “House that Ruth Built.” Giants vs. A’s is West Bay vs. East

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NBA Playbook’s Sebastian Pruiti Helps Destroy The Looney Toons

As a new affiliate of the ESPN TrueHoop Network, I’m eager to exploit my membership to tap some of the best basketball noggins around. Last week, I got in touch with the THN’s resident game film guru, Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook to ask him a ridiculous question I hoped would inspire him to reveal some killer plays. He didn’t disappoint. Here are two plays Sebastian would bring with him to the other side of the galaxy:

Beckley: Sebastian, imagine if you will, that the MonStars have returned to Earth in SpaceJam Part Deux: The Bloodening. The recession has reached their home planet, so they are once again hoping to enslave the Looney Toons and the NBA’s greatest player, this time LeBron James. As part of their plan to reverse their previous misfortune at the hands of Jordan and Fudd, they’ve hired you for the price of a majority share in Moron Mountain (which you plan to rename). The diminutive extraterrestrials are counting on you to teach them the very best NBA plays available.

Unfortunately for you, these aliens don’t understand the NBA and team building at all. That’s why the original MonStar lineup was a baffling combination of talents including Mugsy Bogues, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing and Shawn Bradley. They did a little better this time, but not much:

(Cut to MonStars sitting in various NBA arenas, scouting talent)

Announcer’s voices from each arena:

…Yao Ming is simply a giant who rules this land with an iron fist!..

…Dwight Howard is ripping Brian Cardinal limb from limb!…

…Paul Pierce is tossing 17 foot daggers into the heart of this Milwaukee Bucks team!..

…Carmelo Anthony is playing in another time, another space, another dimension, he’s not of this world!…

…Look at Brandon Jennings turn on the hyperjets,

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“Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 4: The Preseason Analyst Blues

“Mama there goes that Meme!” is a weekly HoopSpeak feature in which Beckley and Ethan, like curious extraterrestrials, probe, abuse, and ultimately learn from a popular media meme.

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Beckley: Ethan, despite the delightful bounty that was the first full week of NBA preseason action, this week in NBA news has been slower than George Muresan hedging on a high pick and roll. Writers and fans everywhere are wrestling, often within a single sentence, over whether the NBA Preseason matters. How many preseason-related articles have you seen that don’t caution “keep in mind this is just the preseason” before going on to say “but this piece of analysis matters for the regular season.”

48 Minutes of Hell tried to lay this issue to rest by using actual data to support the thesis that eyesight be damned, the preseason matters! Still, I can’t shed the memory of Deshawn Stevenson, in an obviously personal vendetta, airmailing an early shotclock 3 over Gilbert Arenas with a ridiculous grin on his face– then remaining in the game to get his prescribed run. Yet, while it’s obvious that most players don’t care about these games nearly as much as LeBron James’s Mom, they are still out there “playing.” I have to watch! I must be learning something!

Ethan, can you offer a counterbalance before I fall off the ledge and declare that the Timberwolves are the West’s sneaky sleeper after starting 3-0?

Ethan: Beckley, keep in mind that “keep in mind, this IS Summer League” is King NBA analysis meaning-killer. Nothing has mattered less than Summer League, not even Muresan’s toenail clippings.

(When asked about his Summer League play, Sisyphus replied: “I never existed and I’m a symbol for futility. I just dunked on Brandan Wright”)

Here’s where it gets “meh”ta. I

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Would Michael Jordan Really Score More In 2010?

Last week, Michael Jordan told USA Today that he would wild out even harder in the today’s NBA. Said Jordan, “It’s less physical and the rules have changed, obviously. Based on these rules, if I had to play with my style of play, I’m pretty sure I would have fouled out or I would have been at the free throw line pretty often and I could have scored 100 points.”

I’m not going to dwell on the actual quotation too much. His Airness was giving this interview to promote a video game, after all, and with a little more thought he probably would have concluded that both he and his opponents would modify their play to prevent a foulapalooza. I’m even going to (sort of) look past his depressing need to put down today’s stars in a misguided attempt to pump up his own legacy. Instead, I wondered if the changes in the NBA since the late 80′s and early 90′s, his scoring peak, really would benefit his scoring totals.

Could Jordan score 100 points today? No chance. But could Jordan average 40?

He put up 37.09/gm against supposedly more physical and therefore difficult defenses in 1987, so is it possible that he’d score 10pts more per game than last year’s NBA scoring leader, Kevin Durant? Would his scoring onslaughts be unstoppable because of new rule changes, or would the advances in defensive schemes actually make it more difficult for him to score?

To find out, I compared the NBA in 1989, one of Jordan’s very best statistical seasons (32.5pts, 8.0 asst, 14.2 offensive win shares, 33.7 usage%) to 2010′s NBA. In 1989, the most feared and famous defense was that of the eventual NBA Champion Detroit Pistons. That year, the Bad Boys

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Chris Paul wins the 2011 MVP

Chris Paul is your 2011 MVP because his expectations duck the insurmountable–in fact, they’re highly mountable like a dead horse. And the MVP prediction should be a psychic psychology amalgam: It’s not enough to predict the winning teams, a real MVP prognosticator has to gauge how the media reacts to the winning.

Cue John Hollinger’s paper-sharp axiom:

Media members vote for the best story, not the best player!

Remember this when you read about Kevin Durant’s anointment. For Durant to get this award, his team must exceed expectations. As some bitter Sonics fan the Hoopspeak founder evinced, Oklahoma may be a tad over loved. Prospectus posits 49 wins, which might disappoint a cognescenti so committed to seeing Jeff Green through rose-colored lenses. The question is: If Kevin can’t win big, who can contest his popularity?

LeBron James: There is no history but revisionist history, but there’s a hold on this history book. LeBron resentment–like many debilitating addictions–dulls the senses en route to bad choices. Wait another year for the media to realize they always liked him. Twelve steps, twelve months.

Dwyane Wade: Heat haters are boycotting South Beach bananas, first, second or otherwise. And the remaining Miami acceptors will share a banana-split-vote.

Kobe Bryant: He commands an impassioned army, crazies who hang their self esteem on every Kobe accomplishment. I’m not his biggest fan, but Bryant’s ability to stir religious enthusiasm cannot be dismissed. Except I’m dismissing it. The Lakers lack a great SCHEONE prediction, and Kobe’s stats lack his jumper’s lift.

Dwight Howard: We’ve become a Jordan-obsessed culture of lilliputians. Big men are tied down and interrogated for their lack of something, anything. And if a big man succeeds, “boring” is his byword.

Perhaps Dwight can hear fans thinking: “Why can’t you (fill in the blank)!

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The Space Between: Projections, Perception, and the 2010-11 Thunder

Hollinger's X-Mas office party (not pictured: John Hollinger)

Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder won 50 games and secured the West’s last playoff spot. Last week, John Hollinger and his enslaved army of stat-elves projected the Oklahoma City Thunder to win 49 games, one fewer than last year’s total, and still finish in the top half of the Western Conference (4th). The guys at Basketball Prospectus–whose rankings this year also ask you to forget anything you’ve ever believed to be true about basketball in order to accept that the Warriors should win three more games than the Lakers–predict the Thunder will win only 48. Yet somewhat more subjective (because selecting which stats count and for how much is also a subjective process) ranking systems like Marc Stein’s Preseason Power Rankings or Ric Bucher’s pomade fueled predictions have the Thunder finishing 2nd in the West.

What’s causing this gap between subjective prediction and statistical projection?

One factor is certainly that the West, as a whole, seems to be getting older, slower, and generally stinkier. As the conference’s old guard of Nash, Nowtizki and Duncan decay and Utah and Denver appear to take steps backward, many see a golden opportunity for the Thunder to move up the ranks. Indeed, they may not need to be any better to finish much higher in their conference.

The scintillating play of Kevin Durant in this Summer’s FIBA WBS in Turkey has also no doubt contributed to the hype. What’s odd is that it took Velvet Hoop flamethrowing a bunch of zone defenses manned by “players” who couldn’t make the D-League for some to realize he’s got all-world game.

Was his Turkish delight more impressive than scoring at least 25 points in 29 straight games (more than two months) against real life NBA wingspans?

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