When Blake Griffin throws down

The first time Dwight Howard did it, it was a rejection of the dunk. He did it in costume, as if to say he was the sole earthly descendent of a race that had advanced beyond the dunk. It was the statement, when married to the act of throwing the ball downward into the hoop, that made Howard’s nondunk so mesmerizing. I remember him, hips above the rim (they weren’t) and cape billowing (it wasn’t), frozen in a pose that said that the old notion of the dunk was literally beneath him. 

Howard’s dunk, sadly, has another legacy: the first of the prop dunks. We’re coming up on its six-year anniversary, and in the time since, we’ve seen a teddy bear grabbed off the rim by Serge Ibaka’s teeth, various former players jumped over, and a farce of corporate synergy when Blake Griffin vaulted a Kia to invigorate an otherwise nondescript dunk. Last year, Jeremy Evans brought the dunk contest to its hilarious Inception-meets-Surrealism moment when he dunked over a portrait of himself dunking over a portrait of himself dunking. The dunk—the performed dunk, at least, in the contest—had been ushered into the world in which the rest of us live and have grown weary. It had been made inseparable from the associations that were crowding its expressive purity.

It seems to me most fans now favor the in-game posterization as the pinnacle of dunking. After the wizardry of Vince Carter and Jason Richardson, it became perhaps too daunting to keep finding ways reinvigorate the physics, though Andre Iguodala’s slam from behind the backboard is a latter-day masterpiece of the form.  But dunking on a defender during live action retains the old visceral thrill, removed from the excess of the ceremony. It’s the difference between

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HoopSpeak Network

The real embarrassment of last night

Blake Griffin embarrassed Pau Gasol.

I mean Pau should have been blushing something fierce from the shame of being dunked on as badly as he was. It was one of those moments in which your manhood is question, your rigidity is nonexistent and you can’t be considered a great basketball player because your softness makes Charmin look like blood diamonds. Not only did it happen right away to start off the game and set the tone for the evening, but it also happened again later as well.  Continue reading “The real embarrassment of last night” »

Meet the new Blake Griffin?

I hate nicknames.

I mean I really dislike them. For the most part, I find nicknames to be contrived and forced. When they’re used in the hopes of just making it more efficient to type about a player’s name, I tend to be more understanding. I’m a pretty lazy person in many respects, so I definitely don’t mind something being streamlined for me by any means. But often times it seems as soon as a player gains some traction in the NBA, people are instantly trying to come up with a nickname for a guy, even if his name is fairly unique.

What should Kyrie Irving’s nickname be?

Is Kevin Love worthy of having a nickname?

What should we call Danilo Gallinari?

When a person already has a unique name, why wouldn’t you just call them by their unique name? It’s not like if you say “Love” or “Kyrie” or “Danilo” that anybody is going to confuse them with Joe Smith, Charles Shackleford or Jerry Stackhouse (I have no idea why I’m only naming former 76ers right now).

There is one nickname though that I’m having a hard time hating right now and it belongs to Kenneth Faried.

Manimal.  Continue reading “Meet the new Blake Griffin?” »

Boo the Clippers

Please excuse me while I remove my journo-blogger vintage sport coat and hat. Now just give me a second to change into my replica and not at all childish home-alternate Shawn Kemp jersey. It’s going to be difficult typing the rest of this with a foam finger on my hand, but bear with me—it’s fan time.

A caveat: this post has nothing to do with how good this team is, or can be. This post couldn’t care less about efficient scoring and can’t even spell utilitarenism. This post is about one thing: why I can’t stand the Clippers.

Let’s start back in December. Like everyone else on planet basketball, I was thrilled when Chris Paul was assigned by David Stern to play for the Los Angeles Clippers. Lob City, baby! A Slamstravaganza the likes of which we’ve never seen!

What could be better than the guard I find most aesthetically pleasing wielding implements as potent and dunky as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? It was going to be magic, it was going to be the feel good story of the year. (We didn’t know who Jeremy Lin was, or if we did we didn’t care.) Chris Paul would be on national TV all year, Blake Griffin would take that next step forward under Paul’s wing (I even predicted Blake would get more MVP votes than Kevin Durant…) and The Gentleman Chauncey would round out a cast of guys we like to root for.

But like a big piece Double Bubble, the Clippers’ initial sweetness soon departed and for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to pretend that I enjoy the basketball version of chewing on a flavorless wad of gum that any second threatens to choke me on my own saliva.

It starts with you, Blake Griffin.

Here’s

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Virility in its singular form

“I wonder what it is about dunks. Why did I yell really, really [expletive] loud when that happened? It was involuntary, too.” – Ethan Sherwood Strauss

“It’s a sexual feeling. It’s primitive and virile. It’s not sex sexual. But it’s an explosion of emotions and feelings.” – Me

“I would agree. It’s sort of a metaphor for human sacrifice, which is awesome.” – ESS

Why do we love these dunks so much? Is Ethan right when he says it’s a human sacrifice? Offer up this poorly rotating from the weak side soul to the eyes of the masses. They will revel in his public destruction, like sacrificing a helpless animal in the hopes of a bountiful harvest next spring.

This dunk doesn’t make Blake Griffin a better player in the refractory stages of such a moment. He didn’t all of a sudden get better because he decided to give birth to Kendrick Perkins’ demise. And Kendrick Perkins being a step too slow doesn’t make him less of a defender. He’s helped anchor a title win before. We can often give too much thought to these eruptions of splendor.

People are already ranking their top dunks ever. They’re discounting this one and praising the feats of higher jumping genetic cyborgs. They’re comparing and contrasting. They’re spitting into the face of this moment and trying to find a way to show how many dunks they’ve seen and remember. And that’s all fine. It’s okay to try to keep things in perspective once we’ve calmed down a bit from our paroxysm of validated anticipation.

Me personally? I just want to enjoy the moment. I was left speechless for the better part of an hour after Blake Griffin sparked the eulogizing of Kendrick Perkins’ manhood. That’s not exactly a good thing when

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Stretching the four

Image by Anthony Bain

Stan Van Gundy’s coaching is one of the most faithful guides to NBA basketball. By taking note of the way his team plays, we can learn what principles work in today’s league. He is one of the coaches who can be said to have a system for on-court success, a philosophy of fundamental truths about playing winning basketball that flows beneath and nourishes Dwight Howard’s oaken presence and the unexpected blossoming of Ryan Anderson.

Anderson, just 23 and starting for the first time in his career, came to the Magic to be Rashard Lewis’s understudy and is making a name for himself reprising and expanding Lewis’s famous role—the stretch four marksmen. Van Gundy’s offense, like so many in the NBA, seeks to spread the floor around a rotating pick-and-roll attack designed to punish defenses for deploying extra defenders to address the primary pick-and-roll action. It fixes the defense on the torturer’s rack, pulling it apart until it eventually breaks and surrenders an open shot.

Of course, allocating extra bodies to slowdown ball screen attacks is far from a sin, it is the basic mission of the most sophisticated defenses in the league. The strong-side zone pressure philosophy best articulated in the strangling, expansive defenses of Tom Thibodeau were unleashed by rule changes that allow for defenders to guard spaces rather than players. While the rule changes allow defenses to better thwart isolation attacks, a secondary effect of zone-and-rotate defenses is that an offensive player will be left open, at least for a moment or two, while the defense rotates. The smart defenses rotate to open players by the level of threat they present—if your name is Reggie Evans, expect to be the last man covered.

There are all sorts of ways to defend the

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Blake Griffin can’t reach his defensive potential

Is it okay to impose a limit on a player with seemingly limitless potential? People don’t react well to negative predictions, it seems on the verge of wishing ill. For the sake of honesty, I’m imposing one: Blake Griffin will never be a great defender. Perhaps good, perhaps passable, but more likely the latter than the former. I would even say “bad” has better odds than “good.” While we’re quick to dream upon Blake Griffin’s physical prowess, few speak to his one physical limitation. You see, the issue is that Griffin has stubby arms–for a power forward. While his 8′ 9″ standing reach is massive for a regular human, it is quite measly for his position.

Below, I’ve listed all the starting power forwards who’ve had their standing reaches recorded (I’ve added wingspans after the comma). The numbers probably shade even shorter than they should. Many of the larger, older PFs–guys who still play well in part due to their length–are from an era where reaches and wingspans were never measured. KG, Pau, and Dirk are drawn Stretch Armlongs whom we’ll never know the true measure of.

Reaches and Wing Spans of Starting PFs

Channing Frye: 9′ 2.5″, 7′ 2.5″

Chris Kaman: 9′ 2.5″, 6′ 11.75″

LaMarcus Aldridge: 9′ 2″, 7′ 4.75″

Elton Brand: 9′ 2″, 7′ 5.5″

Andrea Bargnani: 9′ 2″

Nene Hilario: 9′ 1″, 7′ 4.5″

Chris Bosh: 9′ 1″, 7′ 3.5″

Ersan Ilyasova: 9′ 1.5″, 7′ 1.25″

Carlos Boozer: 9′ 0.5, 7′ 2.25″

Amare Stoudemire: 9′ 0.5″, 7′ 1.75″

Josh Smith: 8′ 10.5″, 7′ 0″

David Lee 8′ 10.5″, 7′ 0″

Kris Humpries: 8′ 10.5″, 7′ 0.5″

Tyler Hansbourough: 8′ 10″, 6′ 11.5″

Trevor Booker: 8′ 10″, 6′ 9.75″

Kevin Love: 8′ 10″, 6′ 11.25″

Paul Millsap: 8′ 9.5″, 7′ 1.5″

Blake Griffin: 8′ 9″,

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Clippers should rejuvenate Chris Paul

Chris Paul is a Los Angeles Clipper. Suddenly, the Clippers relevant, exciting, and a potential threat to win the Western Conference. Pretty much everyone believes Chris Paul is and will be fantastic. Still, some wonder if he’s already on the gradual down slope of his career.  But Clippers fans should take heart: the numbers suggest Paul is headed for a big year.

The 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons are the finest of Paul’s career to date– virtuoso performances that stack up with the best by a point guard in the last 25 years. So why the downward trend in the year since? Well, besides an injury riddled 2009-10 season, a change in personnel – including losing Tyson Chandler – significantly impacted Paul’s game.

Chandler, at the time, was the perfect running mate for Paul, his Amar’e to Paul’s Steve Nash.

According to HoopData, in the ’08 and ’09 seasons (when he led the NBA in assist percentage at well over 50%), Paul was dolling out approximately 4.5 assists per-40 minutes that led to points at the rim. In the years since Chandler’s departure, those marks have dropped to 3.5, while the number of assists leading to mid-range jumpers has climbed significantly.

None of this should be surprising given that the Hornets replaced a 7-foot pick-and-roll nightmare with Emeka Okafur and used David West primarily as a pick-and-pop target.

Last year, the Hornets ranked 29th in the NBA in shot attempts at the rim and shot 64% on those opportunities. The Clippers, on the other hand, attempted the 4th most shots at the rim and made greater than 65% of these–all with Baron Davis and Mo Williams running the show.

Another reason for the tangible and perceived drop-off in Paul’s production has to do with how the burden to create

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David Stern Drives the Tank

Well, the ends probably didn’t justify the means, but at least the ends finally ended. And at least “Chris Paul to Blake Griffin” makes for ends so substantial they might be transcendent.

The general consensus is that the NBAleans HornSterns got a better deal in their second go-round, and I won’t disagree. But I find the why quite fascinating here.

Much of the appeal in this Clippers-Hornets trade is derived from how it makes the Hornets immediately, well, bad. John Schuhmann’s NOH depth chart analysis reveals a squad so deep at bottom that home games might well be played before those hideous sea creatures whose eyes eventually fall off from lack of light. If the fish aren’t blind already, pupils will melt from watching Jarett Jack as starting point guard, or Al-Farouq Aminu as a misplaced power forward.

Obviously, Eric Gordon is a key get, but few observers believe he’ll take New Orleans to next year’s playoffs. And that’s the point. The Hornets will receive a high lottery selection to pair with Minnesota’s 2011 draft pick. A gutted team plus lotto hope makes for a more enticing situation than the playoff contention troika of Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, and Kevin Martin.

By shepherding this particular trade through, the commissioner is tacitly–maybe even overtly–singing a grand, bellowing ode to the glories of tanking. And he is quite correct, because ping pong balls determine so much.

Quoting Tom Haberstroh’s piece on drafting and parity:

“Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by the Mavericks (in a draft-day trade). Tim Duncan was drafted by the Spurs. Kobe Bryant was drafted by the Lakers (in a draft-day trade). Michael Jordan was drafted by the Bulls. Dwyane Wade and the Heat, Hakeem and the Rockets, so on and so forth.“

The Hornets could be the next

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Zach Attacks: How to Succeed in Los Angeles Without Really Trying


From December 12th to opening night, I’ll be releasing a random essay on each team in the league. This post is about the Los Angeles Clippers. You can follow the series with the “2011-12 Team Previews” and “Zach Attacks” tags at the bottom of the page.

When I was eight years old, my parents dragged me to my first live musical. For the record, I hate musicals. I just don’t understand them at all.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy individual musicals here and there. I thought Chicago was a pretty good movie, Little Shop of Horrors is one of my favorite movies of all time, and just a couple of weeks ago my lady friend and our friends went to see a dinner theater production of Hairspray, which I thought was pretty good.

For the most part, they just grate on my ears like nails to a chalkboard or Kelly Clarkson to a microphone. They seem completely illogical to me. I’ve never thought of singing out an argument with my friends. I’ve never decided to join a gang so I can crouch over and snap my fingers as we approach a rival syndicate. I know that the point of musicals is to replace normal dialogue with witty and whimsical songs, but it’s usually too much of a stretch for me to get into it. After the third song, I just want to scream at the people to speed this along. Continue reading “Zach Attacks: How to Succeed in Los Angeles Without Really Trying” »

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