A Banner Day

If you’re a returning visitor to HoopSpeak, you may have noticed that something here seems more awesome, more professional (looking), more… duckbilled.

You’re right! We have a slick new banner, care of the talented graphic designer and former All Emerald City League point guard Bridget Meredith. Gone is Cavs era Lebron, replaced by high school LeBron, pouty Pistol Pete and more. I’m thrilled with Bridget’s generous efforts to upgrade the look of our site, and hope that the content can live up to her skillful design!

–@BeckleyMason/Beckleym@gmail.com

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Didn’t You Know? Andre Miller Is Underrated

Trail Blazers are flaming out right and left, and with Brandon Roy slowed for an undetermined amount of the year, it’s once again time for us to loudly declare that Andre Miller is underrated.

To comprehend why Miller’s stock seems to fluctuate wildly within each season, consider the odd mix of talent and shortcomings that have obliged Andre Miller to scuttle under the radar for so long. For one thing, he can’t jump, which is, you know, the best way to tell if a player is any good. Also he can’t shoot from further than 15 feet away and boasts a career Three Point FG% of 20.7, or 4% worse than Rajon Rondo’s career average. Last year, according to Hoopdata.com, the only place on the court  from which Miller shot better than 50% was “at the rim” (60%). Yet he’s probably the only guard with these limitations to put up for 50+ (last year against Dallas) in the modern era. He’s also led the NBA in Assists and ranks as one of the best pure point guards of the 2000s. Does this mean he’s good? It can be difficult to process these conflicting inputs when it is our sports fan instinct to define through dichotomy: good / bad, tough / soft, win / lose.

Just keep in mind that Miller has made every team he’s ever played on (a total of 5) better.

Image by Anthony Bain

Miller is famous for his “old man game,” which is really a seminar in body position, strength, and patience. Dre also has some of the broadest shoulders at his position, allowing him to extend away from the defense for clean layups off his herky-jerky charges to the hoop, not unlike Tyreke Evans or Gilbert Arenas. And against Memphis last Tuesday, Miller

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On Awareness: The Intangible Skill That Makes All The Difference

What makes one NBA player better than another? Why do certain players improve while others falter?

Two of the most worn out phrases to describe young NBA talent are “If he ever figures it out, the sky’s the limit” and “When he put’s it together he’ll really be a force to be reckoned with.” These clichés earned their place in the Trite Hall of Fame for a reason: the list of NBA players who never reached their potential is endless. In many cases, it has little to do with physical skill, and much more to do with “figuring it out.”

But what does “figuring it out” mean?

I recently wrote a one game profile of veteran guard Kirk Hinrich for the venerable Wizards Blog Truthaboutit.net. In it I contrasted Hinrich’s play with that of fellow Wizard Nick Young, someone who is as close to “putting it together” as he is to uniting the Earth’s magnetic poles.

Now Hinrich is, athletically speaking, no slouch. He has good size and long arms coupled with at least average lateral quickness. Skill-wise, Hinrich is right in the middle as well. His shooting percentages, assist rate, and rebound rate are all solid but unspectacular.

Nick Young, on the other hand, has a prototypical NBA shooting guard body. At 6’6’’ he has the athletic ability and potential to become a decent starter. Skill-wise, he’s a pretty good spot up shooter and his handle isn’t awful but he’s never been an effective penetrator because he dribbles so high. And to be fair, Young is a different kind of player than Hinrich, who slides over to the point position when John Wall goes off the court. Young is more of a pure scorer, so he’s never handled the leadership duties that are inherent to Hinrich’s longtime position.

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Bosh and the Media: We are PR Trolls

“We got back to getting after it again; I guess [Spoelstra] felt he was loosening up a little bit too much,” … “He knows he has to meet us halfway. He wants to work; we want to chill.”

And this was controversial? Kevin Arnovitz is right, Chris Bosh committed a Kinsley gaffe–as in, he erred in telling the truth by accident. Unlike Arnovitz, some writers are either ripping the context from this quote, or smugly lecturing Bosh on his guileless honesty.

Today’s jaded political journalist doesn’t assess for veracity, but rather for savvy: The truth is less admirable than good PR. If a politician says something an idiot could misinterpret or froth over, scribes take turns mocking the pol.

(You are AGAINST wearing a flag-pin? Tsk, tsk, this won’t play well with Billy Bucktooth)

What’s awful about this process is that urban political junkies have a tendency to conceive of the country as replete with Billy Bucktooths. Their cultural chauvinism sets a lower bar for acceptable public discourse.

(You can’t talk about the issues, Bucktooth will think that’s effete. You really should be out in the woods, shooting ducks with a machine gun)

Manufactured outrage drives interest, commentary and hits. The media judges the figures most prone to inspire such entertanger on their ability to avoid the storm. There’s simply nothing more admirable than the bland, cynical steering of a brand. And I see sports parallels.

(Yes, LeBron James, you’re correct: Race plays a role in how you’re hated…but don’t SAY that. Not very savvy, King!)

The Heat players are getting judged in this ridiculous political context, every day. Possible Kinsley gaffes lay about them like landmines– the public is primed for outrage. In this particular case, popular resentment of the Heat has created a linguistic frame for

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If Kevin Durant Was A Dolphin…

Yesterday Ethan and I published our most recent meme commentary regarding why and how Chris Bosh has come to be known as a “soft” player to ESPN.com’s Heat Index. We cataloged the somewhat arbitrary reasons players receive “soft” label, one of which is “smiling too much.” Smiling reveals a player’s marshmallow center because if he really cared, if he was truly prepared to destroy, eviscerate, or kill his opponents, he’d wipe that look off his face.

This smiling thread got Ethan going on Kevin Durant’s endearing grin:

“Embarrassing Note No. 47: Kevin Durant smiles like a frolicking dolphin. I want to swim with him, my heart is an ocean.”

You may know that our meme posts are typically accompanied by ludicrous pictures, but ESPN.com’s format doesn’t allow such visuals. However Ethan’s line is so whimsically ridiculous, we wanted to share the following image:

Image by Anthony Bain

Thanks to Anthony Bain, our new illustrator, for his hilarious, borderline-creepy Durant-dolphin hybrid.

–@BeckleyMason

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Heat Index Meme: What makes Chris Bosh soft?

(As posted from The Miami Heat Index)

Mama there goes that Meme!” is a feature in which Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, like curious extraterrestrials, probe, abuse and ultimately learn from a popular media meme. In this special Heat edition, the guys look at what makes Chris Bosh soft.

Beckley: Hey there, Ethan, ever get the feeling that Chris Bosh is a subhuman creature who shouldn’t be allowed to trod the same floorboards as James Jones? I know he averaged 23.3 points and 10.4 rebounds on 50 percent shooting from 2008-10, and that almost everyone viewed him as a max player on the same level as Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. But this year he’s collecting only six boards in 34 minutes per game. After watching 130-pound Rajon Rondo go boom over Bosh’s trembling frame, I’m drawing the following conclusions: Chris Bosh is soft because he likes to shoot jump shots and get dunked on. Also, he should be traded for someone useful, like Kevin Willis or Popeye Jones or the newly Shaped-Up Karl Malone. What’s your take — is this guy any good? Can he anchor the Heat’s front line, or will he simply drag LeBron and Wade’s season into the deep?

Ethan: Bosh has been losing cred since that “soft” label was sewn to his lapel. Or was it his ascot? Look, I don’t know a whole lot about this league, but I know that “soft” is bad. It’s feminine, and feminine is losing. And losing is bad. And feminine. And European.

We all know that Europeans are softies — they lack our hearty American volkgeist, they flop till they drop, they have silly accents. That logic leaks into basketball, where we blame Vlade Divac for inventing a “womanly” foul-faking phenomenon that John Stockton had mastered

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How Ray Allen Torched Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat

Some may point to Ray Allen’s blistering 7-9 three point shooting against the Heat last night and say “well if he doesn’t shoot like that, the Heat probably win—it was just bad luck he was so hot.” And it’s true that a player making his first seven threes has only happened a handful of times in NBA history. But Ray Allen isn’t Latrell Sprewell (who once opened 9-9 before finishing 9-14 from deep), he’s the greatest three point shooter ever. So, you might want to put some pressure on him, something the Heat failed miserably to do last night.

Ray Allen thanks Wade for leaving him wide open

Here’s a breakdown of all seven of Allen’s three point makes:

1st Qtr 11:11 – Rondo, Garnett and Allen in “triangle” formation on the left side. Allen cuts off of a baseline screen from Garnett who then posts, Rondo enters the ball into Garnett. As Garnet spins baseline, Dwayne Wade comes off of Allen to help, Garnett kicks to the weakside corner where Allen is wide open. Splash.

2nd Qtr 5:20- Wade drives past Allen to the basket but can’t convert. D3 hesitates a moment to stink face the officials. Meanwhile Allen makes his way up the left wing as Rondo pushes down the left center. Spotting Allen wide open, Rondo drives in front of Ray and drops off the ball a la Nash to trailing Nowitzki and Ray obliges him with a buttery trey as Wade crosses half court.

2nd Qtr 2:45- Out of a baseline out of bounds set, Rondo catches Wade with his back to the ball and passes to Allen, who is standing in the weakside corner, before the out of bounds play even gets going. Wade has his back to the baseline anticipating Allen’s cut

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“Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 7: Contraction Traction, What’s Your Action?

“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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“I don’t know that there will be contraction, but I just don’t want to say anything that denies that that subject gets raised.”– David Stern

Ethan: Obviously today’s meme is about how crazy that statement is. Right, Beckley? Isn’t that just, totally nuts?

Beckley: Yeah man, I can’t get enough of the Pistons! More teams! Wooo!

Ethan: Uh oh. Dude, you’re not saying that—

Beckley: …Listen we both know there are too many teams. Don’t hang me out to dry now, you’re the one who noted that despite the Pistons’ Pontiac-level suckery, they still get better TV ratings than the Thunder…

Ethan: Dude! Stop! Don’t do it, man! Put DOWN STERN’S LOCKOUT BEARD!

Mark Jackson: Beckley, you’re an amateur bloggah of 8 months, you’re a fan who’s lost his team…YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT!

Beckley: I’m not answering to you, Mark, until you answer the hundreds of tear-stained letters I’ve sent you! (Just want to say I loved you on The B.S. Report… call me!) Ethan: Get a grip, man! We’ve already alienated big market readers with our Kobe-bashing.

Beckley: Okay, Okay, I think it’s possible to semi-rationally discuss the ready benefits of contraction… call it the SternVaders’ Advocate. We’ve already heard why contraction is a bad idea. Now give yourself to the Dark Side, Ethan. It is the only way you can save your League…. Yessss, your thoughts betray you…Your feelings on contraction are strong.

Ethan: You’re advocating for small towners to suffer the sad Sonics fate. Like Blackwater, you’ve become an evil contractor…a monster, a fat cat, an oligarch…

Beckley: I don’t know about that

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Reply All: MLB vs. NBA parity

Every now and again, we’ll steal post an email from a noted sports philosopher. This week, it’s King Kaufman from Salon.com, writing about parity and its discontents.

Re: On parity, sent by King

Baseball doesn’t have parity. There’s obviously a correlation — though hardly 1:1  – between payroll and winning. As you would expect. There’s a correlation between salaries and success in most business, I would gather. Look at the top newspapers, for example. The NY Times pays a lot more than the Oakland Tribune. The problem in baseball is the differing ability of different teams to afford a high payroll over an extended period. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed, but the problem it contributes to — competitive imbalance — is vastly overstated. And it was way, way overstated during the labor wars of the late ’90s early ’00s, when Bud Selig would talk about little else but how unfair baseball’s system was, and the steno pool known as the baseball press dutifully wrote it all down and repeated it. I’m guessing the height of this, around the turn of the century, is roughly when you turned away from baseball because it’s so unfair.

As I showed in this piece, baseball’s competitive balance is roughly on par with the other major sports. Part of that is that the other sports seem more balanced than they are because of the big playoffs. Your team gets a reward fairly often, even if, especially in the NBA, it has virtually no chance of a championship. And what’s funny is the NBA NEVER gets heat about this, the fact that only a small handful of teams, maybe five at the most, have a shot at the championship on opening day, and that pool of teams rarely changes.

Look

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Why There’s No Easy Answer When Defending Rajon Rondo

This ancient Grecian urn depicts the "Rondonian Sphinx Riddle." Does any NBA team have the answer?

How do you defend someone who often has the ball but is rarely looking to score?

That’s the riddle taunting every opponent charged with corralling Rajon Rondo, the quicksilver quarterback of the Boston Celtics. The prevailing wisdom is to defend him in much the same way that teams defend other speed-merchants like Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook. Because Rondo is not a proficient outside scorer, most defenders are content to give him yards of space—heels on the free throw line—to prevent penetration. With many players this amounts to “baiting” the offensive player to shoot. This strategy has worked in the past, as Rondo looked uncomfortable shooting even when he was wide open.

But unlike Derrick Rose, whose scoring role prompted him to launch 31 shots against Oklahoma City, Rondo’s team does not ask him to score. As a result, Rondo is a hyper-disciplined shooter, attempting a whopping 48.84% of field goals “at the rim,” according to Hoopdata.com. Most people would agree that Carmelo Anthony, who attempted 36.23% of his 2010 shots at the rim, is a far “better shooter” than Rajon Rondo, yet Rondo has shot a better percentage from the floor than Carmelo for the last three years because he so rarely shoots outside of his range.

Rondo is also different than typical point guards in that he plays with so many good passers and excels at getting free off the ball for lay ups and scoring off of catch-and-slashes opened up by the C’s smart ball movement. Last season, 32% of Rondo’s rim buckets were assisted by a teammate, compared to 8% for Steve Nash. This is due to Rondo’s exceptional awareness and cutting speed, the design/spacing of the

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