Dwight Howard is still my favorite

I am tired of reading about Dwight Howard. It’s a fair bet that you are, too, but it’s also a fair bet that we’re tired for different reasons. Very likely you’re tired of his relentless boorishness, tone-deaf self-aggrandizement, and constant waffling. That’s your prerogative. But me, I’m tired of reading about Dwight Howard because it seems like every person I read complaining about Howard has forgotten that he is awesome.

More to the point: it seems to me that the past year and change has made the majority of fans forget that Dwight did this:

Or this:

It is worth mentioning that the second clip there—Howard hanging more than 40 and 20 on the Warriors while wearing Orlando pinstripes—happened last calendar year. I found those highlights by typing in “Dwight Howard highlights” to YouTube, and while I grant that Howard is a uniquely annoying off-court presence, my response is basically to point to those YouTube results and say “scoreboard.”

Here is a small collection of things that Dwight does in those two videos:

At 3:48 in the first clip, from game 6 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Dwight backs his man down with the third quarter coming to an end. Three defenders are in the paint, alternately crowding him and stepping into potential passing lanes for Orlando’s shooters on the perimeter. With the entire defense keyed on Dwight, Rafer Alston runs unguarded to the rim, where Dwight finds him for an impossibly wide open bucket.

At 4:50 in the same clip, Howard faces up Anderson Varejao in the fourth quarter. He takes two dribbles to his right, pivots, and spins back left, leaving Varejao three feet to his right. He finishes by dunking, one-handed, with his right hand, against

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HoopSpeak Network

Andre Drummond is on the march

When Greg Monroe jokingly suggested that Andre Drummond’s nickname should be “Big Penguin,” he certainly wasn’t taking into account Drummond’s enormous wingspan and habit of flying through the air to snatch his meals high above the rim.

And as Drummond entered the 2012 Draft, that he possessed these physical abilities seemed to be the only givens about his game. Questions were everywhere: Would he be in shape? Did he love basketball enough to improve some of his glaring weaknesses (he is only shooting 40 percent from the free throw line)? Was he Kwame Brown or Dwight Howard?

For now, stop looking for the nuances and artistry traditionally associated with franchise big men. Here’s what counts: Andre Drummond can dunk and rebound at the highest level in the NBA.

Look at this comparison to Team USA starting center Tyson Chandler’s numbers this year, focusing on per/36 numbers and advanced stats. (Click image to enlarge.)

The two big men have identical PERs and Drummond is already a better rebounder and shot blocker, while fouling and turning the ball over at virtually the same rate.  Basically, many advanced stats suggest at 19 years old, Drummond is a consistent free throw shot away from mimicking Chandler’s production.

Of course, Drummond is still a long, long ways from understanding team defensive concepts well enough to improve consistently defensive patch holes left by his weaker teammates the way Chandler does. Sure Drummond blocks and alters shots — sometimes from out of nowhere like a shark exploding out of the ocean with a seal in its jaws — however the Pistons don’t play better defense with him on the court.

But no one should expect 18 year olds to deliver on defense. Even a player like Kevin Garnett, who will likely be remembered as

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Mama There Goes That Meme: Lakers Hang a Banner in August

Beckley: No small market pity party here, this was an awesome moment for the NBA. The Nuggets, Lakers and 76ers all get more interesting, Andre Iguodala finally gets out of Philadelphia and we get to stop caring about what happens in Orlando. Whoohoo!

Now on to Showtime. The Lakers now have two former MVPs, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and a seven-foot Spaniard with the skill of a guard and deft touch of a spinal surgeon.

Aside from the age of the parts, what strikes me about this roster is how seemingly conventional it is.

Steve Nash is pointiest guard of the last decade. Defenses must now duck for dunking PGs, but it’s flightless Nash, not Derrick Rose, who defined the position within the modern NBA offense because of how adroitly he ran the pick-and-roll.

Kobe is the team’s and league’s shooting guard. He took more shots than anyone in the NBA last year … SHOOTING IS RIGHT IN THE JOB DESCRIPTION.

At Pau-er Forward (wince), Gasol! He’s excellent around the rim and can make midrange shots. He’s not a stretch four, he’s just a tall 1990s power forward.

And in the middle, Howard is a proto-futuristic defender and an effective blunt-force weapon on offense.

Where’s the weird small lineup? The non-traditional positionality?

This isn’t what great NBA teams in 2012 look like, is it?

No explanation. (By @AnthonyBain)

Ethan: Traditionnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. Tradition! Tevye approves of this Lakers roster, as it conforms to a century of what we thought ideal basketball should be. He’s further enthused that the trade makes life difficult for the NBA’s Russian-owned franchise.

I sense that the Twittering classes are overreacting to this deal a bit. Is it probably awesome for the Lakers? Duh. Does it make Los Angeles a prohibitive favorite? Unjerk that

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Sonnet No. 12

The scribe at work

As you have likely heard, Dwight Howard has been traded to the Lakers. Surely whole screens full of pixels will be spilled analyzing the trade, but I stumbled across this earlier and I thought it would add a new, more sensitive dimension to the ongoing saga. Possibly inspired by Ethan and Beckley’s Shakespeare twitter-riffing, Dwight took to the private Livejournal he shares with me and a select few other bloggers to post a sonnet memorializing the past few months and his trade. For Dwight–and I think, really, for all of us–this has been an unforgettable ride, and it culminated in a trade that will endure forever:

Shall I compare thee to a decent trade? Thou art more complex and more ludicrous; Rough winds do shake small market teams today, And Howard’s lease hath all too short a date; Sometime too hot the eye of Houston shines, And often are picks a fickle guarantee; And every Brooklyn effort sometime declines, By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d; But this eternal summer shall not fade, Indeed, conjecture unabated grow’st; Nor shall Bryant brag thou wander’st in his shade, When lacking reason contested shots he throw’st: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. Tweet

Dwight’s game is fine, it just looks terrible

Basketball is the most beautiful game I’ve seen yet, but it’s so often analyzed in terms of functionality. “Who is the best?” matters more to fans than “Who plays beautifully?” What works often corresponds with beauty, as it’s transfixing to watch success at the highest level. The correlation isn’t perfect, though, which itself can lead to some faulty analysis.

If our underlying assumption is that beauty equals success, then it is easy to confuse the former for the latter. As I watch replays of Dwight Howard’s best on court performances, I become increasingly convinced that his play is nearly unimpeachable, in terms of what works. There is wisdom to his approach, he did not become the game’s best center simply due to physical prowess. We play this cruel joke on big men where everything they accomplish is either attributed to their height or strength. Bigs are never allowed to fulfill their potential. The game is rigged so that potential is always beating them.

Throughout the week, I do these short radio interviews with hosts in cities like Huntsville, Alabama and Waco, Texas. Sports talk plays to a general audience, so these guys aren’t so immersed in just why Dwight Howard is better than Andrew Bynum. In a recent such interview, the host emphatically stated his preference for the latter. He’s a smart enough guy, certainly not one to toss out opinions just for the reaction. Andrew Bynum simply fit his notion of a center a little bit better. There is nothing notable about this story, save for how awkwardly I handled his position.

What can you say? D12′s just statistically better, and that’s even before you account for the wide gulf between the two in terms of defense. I fumbled between condescending to the man and listening to his

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Why Ray Allen might not care about Boston fans

Many are shocked that Ray Allen would “betray” his Boston fans. “Judas Shuttlesworth,” they call him. That’s a clever jab, one that’s also funny because it places the stereotypical Massachusetts sports lover at the Last Supper table, serene expression, open palm protruding out of his beer-stained Sawx jersey.

Steve Nash left for the Lakers, the archetypal hated team to those Nash-loving Phoenix fans. Dwight Howard probably uses a metaphorical Magic fan voodoo doll as an insole.

The aftermath of fan slight prompts punditry on how athletes just don’t get how much we love them, or about how they just don’t love us like we love them. I disagree with both notions. My guess is that pro athletes understand the depths to which we love them, but also perceive that the love as false, or worse, unsettling.

Think about it from their perspective. In the absence of knowing someone, how much should your affection matter to that person? And if you don’t know that person, then what is that love? It can be obsession. It can be misplaced narcissism. Fans are body snatchers, living vicariously through these men until the bodies break. At that point, the vessel is discarded, exchanged for a newer, springier avatar by which to romp around your TV screen in.

Ricky Rubio’s draft night was an informative, formative experience for me. The two of us experienced it together, though Ricky probably doesn’t remember my name. I was his draft escort, the PR sherpa who was charged with dragging him through hours of repetitive English interviews. His hatred of that night was palpable. Perhaps he sees my stupid, sweating face in his nightmares. I have an inkling as to what else Ricky might also glimpse in those dark dreams.

It’s a vision that still haunts me.

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The big trade that makes too much sense

The Lakers and Magic need to make a trade. No, not the one you’ve heard so much about, the one that swaps Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. This one actually makes sense. Perhaps … too much sense.

Pau Gasol for Ryan Anderson (sign and trade) and JJ Redick.

What? A non-star in exchange Pau Gasol?!

Relax.

See, the issue with the Lakers isn’t exactly that they aren’t good enough as the team currently constituted, it’s that they can’t afford this team or any team that includes three max contract players. That’s because, unlike every other team in the NBA, one of those max players, a mister Kobe Bryant, is due to collect $83 million over the next three seasons.

Unless the Lakers want to find themselves deep, deep in the luxury tax imposed by the new CBA (to the tune of say $30 million) they need to find a way to win with two max contract stars. That’s why any deal for Pau, who appears to be the odd man out, will necessarily bring back either a short term contract or a few smaller contracts.

So now the Lakers thinking should be: what kind of player do we need to pair with Bryant and especially Bynum, who is 24, so that over the length of their careers we can be as awesome as possible. Well both those guys play in the post, neither shoots 3’s particularly well and if we’ve learned one thing from the past few years, it’s that a stretch four who can shoot 3’s and rebound almost always has an awesome plus/minus. Ryan Anderson checks all those boxes in a double permanent no erasies way, plus he’s a competent defender and because he came into the league at age 20, he also is only 24.

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M. Dwight Shyamalan


Note: This post was also on Magic Basketball while HoopSpeak was in ICU yesterday.

I get it, I really do.

Dwight Howard doesn’t want to be the next LeBron James and that’s totally admirable. He sees how everything went down with LeBron getting his jersey burned, getting booed in every city, and having unreasonable (and yet probably warranted) criticism and scrutiny strapped to his every missed shot and pass in crunch time.

It makes sense to not want to do that, especially when you see where requesting a trade has gotten Carmelo Anthony. He has essentially run a coach out of the biggest city in the NBA and the new team has been a complete catastrophe since he arrived. Dwight doesn’t want the same fate as Carmelo. If anything, he’d love the Chris Paul scenario of revitalizing a big market and getting all the joy and love of doing so.

And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to work in a new city and around new people. Yes, he has a good setup in Orlando and he gets to be the face of a franchise there. He gets to try to do what Shaquille O’Neal never would do, which is stay for the long haul and bring a title to the DeVos family. He also could go become the face of Brooklyn and help corner the biggest market in the NBA. Continue reading “M. Dwight Shyamalan” »

The Dream Nets Scenario

Chance is a huge element in any poker game, but metaphorical poker conveys no such sense. Poker-as-metaphor is about people reading each other, not about having such reads rendered irrelevant by sheer dumb luck. So when I say that Orlando is playing Dwight Howard poker, I mean it in both senses of the game. The Magic might read the situation correctly, understand that Howard will likely re-sign with them, and have all that washed away by bad luck in May. I’m talking specifically about Lottery Selection Night, an evening where ping pong balls could bounce against Orlando–a non lottery team.

If the Magic hold tight and don’t trade Dwight by the March 13th deadline, they are relying on being the best among free agent suitors. If the Nets luck into their (roughly, probably) one-in-ten shot at a number one pick, I doubt that Orlando is top suitor.

This opens the door for a Davis-Howard-Williams team. The Nets may be an ignominious fail pile today, but face cards can change your franchise at the speed of Wi-Fi.  To the casual NBA fan, Davis appears fuzzy, far off in the distance. This will not be the case by Summer, when draft hype elevates the undisputed number one pick to name brand status. In short, he will be a face card, one who lacks the power to simply leave the Nets on a whim.

As for those who can spurn the Nets on a whim: Well, do Deron and Dwight really have better options? Can Mark Cuban compete with this by flaunting Dirk Nowitzki at age 34? Provided BrookJersey clears some cap space (not a difficult task with 37 million in committed cash), they would present Dwight and Deron the most enticing proposition by a large margin. And the Nets could

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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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