Daryl Morey thinks of himself as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

At first glance, this tweet is merely amusing in its sentiment and delivery. Daryl Morey likes a popular song! A song with rap! And cursing!

OK. I can admit it. I love this music video from Macklemore youtube.com/watch?v=QK8mJJ… — “Ice on the fringe, it’s so damn frosty!” #NSFW

— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) January 9, 2013

Sorry for stereotyping, but the reserved Romney-funding Morey would not seem to be the demographic for “Thrift Shop.” He even tweets it as some kind of confessional, almost as though he’s embarrassed to like what he does. There’s more here, though, in my opinion. The lyric Morey tweets says a lot about why the song might appeal to the NBA’s Moneyball representative: ”Ice on the fringe, it’s so damn frosty!”

The song, if you haven’t heard it, is about Macklemore’s predilection for finding and flaunting the coolest clothes at a discount. The idea is that, even though these accoutrements got discarded by society, they still possess the ability to dazzle in the right setting.

Macklemore also finger wags at the people who mindlessly blow their money on brand name items like a Gucci shirt:

“I call that getting tricked by a business That shirt’s hella dough And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t”

In essence, it’s a song about bargain hunting, a theme with obvious resonance for a bargain hunting NBA General Manger like Daryl Morey. I think that’s an over simplification, though.

The song exults in the face of group think. To outshine your peers by using perceived trash, you must be embracing a message more subversive than merely “bargain hunting is good.” You have to believe that your peers make dumb decisions based on the arbitrary whims of conventional wisdom and its labels.

Macklemore and Morey

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Daryl Morey and Houston’s Big Freed Three

I can’t remember another NBA moment where a team added three players whose contracts were so openly questioned. Jeremy Lin? A flash in the pan that reflected brighter under those New York lights. Omer Asik? You’re entrusting $25 million to a guy who can’t catch a basketball? Are you an idiot or just stupid? And James Harden, man, I don’t know about him. He just doesn’t strike ya as ya know, a number one guy. An Alpha Dog. The MAN. If he’s your No. 1, you’re never winning anything. You’re seriously going to max out a reserve?

In paying all three, Daryl Morey trusted something quite simple; He trusted what they did. Because, James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik were tangibly good when they played. These guys were doing decent work out in public. It was just a matter of someone trusting that public track record. We’re only three games in, but it would appear, at the very least, that Daryl Morey wasn’t a complete fool for going this route.

It would be ironic if stats-conscious Morey found value in ignoring small sample size concerns. Jeremy Lin’s critics fairly cite his too-brief track record, though some of them will ironically harp on Lin’s one Miami game as more meaningful than the body of work. It is difficult to know just how good Jeremy Lin will be, but we would do well to remember that his late winter success was the result of basketball skill, and not some fairy godmother’s wand wave. Just because “Linsanity!” felt magical, doesn’t mean it was magic. This was just a productive collegian, running a mean pick and roll at the next level.

Players like Lin are always battling against another statistical term–confirmation bias. If  a guy goes undrafted, we keep looking for

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Tuck us in and read us a bedtime narrative

We need closers. We need young guys stepping up in the clutch. We need guys dashing their criticisms and shortcomings aside in the name of winning big games. We need potential to be realized quickly and right before our very eyes.

As fans in the digital age, our sense of patience has been eroded as 24-hour news cycles become 48-hour news cycles and waiting for a Twitter update causes our skin to crawl in anticipation. We need narratives and we need them to fit in with every myth and morsel of folklore we’ve ever concocted. We need individuals to shine and not detract from the team at the same time.

For a brief moment in time, the Thunder fit into our narratives in a dramatic way. Kevin Durant was supposed to be clutch and yet he was struggling at the end of games. In 2009-10 (counting playoffs), Kevin Durant shot just 8/31 (25.8% FG, 27.4% eFG) in the last two minutes of games with a chance to tie or take the lead.  In 2010-11, Durant barely improved, shooting 10/34 (29.4% FG, 32.4% eFG) in those same situations. He couldn’t get himself free from strong defenders and had to catch the ball 30 feet away from the hoop.

There was Russell Westbrook, taking games far too personally and ruining the offensive flow. He was stealing shots from Kevin Durant and putting the team on his back in a way that rubbed many of us the wrong way. He was a potential malcontent, struggling for the spotlight on a team that was being run through, and rightfully so, Kevin Durant.

And there was also James Harden. In the 2009-10 rookie season, he was finding his way with a team growing before our very eyes. He was a role player and asked to be the eventual spark off the bench. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal but he had been grabbed third in the 2009 draft and guys like Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry were shining brightly on terrible teams out West. Harden was being catalogued as a mistake pick – someone who couldn’t possibly live up to his selection and those taken after him.  Continue reading “Tuck us in and read us a bedtime narrative” »

Did James Harden travel?

Screen shot 2012-05-30 at 4.43.42 AM

The play is now of little consequence, but it seemed important at the time. OKC was making a run, and this could have been the difference between three points and a turnover. James Harden got the ball at the top of the arc and blurred a zig-zag around Tiago Splitter–like a Road Runner animation. Harden ended his journey on Matt Bonner’s shoulder, laying the ball in while looking to be a shuttle attachment to the red rocket below. And one.

Steve Kerr was initially impressed by James Harden’s slaloming foray to the rim, but he noted that, upon replay, a travel call probably should have taken away that which took his breath.

Was Kerr right? I’ll admit that I do not have the answer to this question, though the question may well have an objective answer. My uncertainty stems from this: At what point does a man pick up his dribble?

The easy answer to this question is, “When he stops dribbling.” But the quick transition from “dribbling” to “holding” cannot always be perceived as it happens. And that transition comprises a grey area between “dribbling” and “holding,” where it’s not quite one and not quite the other. James Harden certainly does not make it easy on referees, as he dribbles deep into his armpit, a cradle from which the ball probably emerges gasping for air, desperate for an action-interrupting travel call.

In the meantime, foot falls are occurring a few feet below this action. A lot can happen during a fraction of a “drold” (invented term). LeBron James manages three steps between bounces on this zooming breakaway dunk. Below, I snapped some freeze fames of the Harden transition that took a fraction of a second.

In the first frame, Harden appears to be in mid-dribble.

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San Antonio makes the foulable James Harden fallible

There is a sense of inevitability-steeped dread to playing James Harden. You know he loves going left and you will plan accordingly. You know he’ll manage to go left anyway, and you will foul him.

But the Spurs pulled off the spectacular in not ceding a single free throw to the flopper savant in Game 1. I don’t mean “flopper,” in the denigrative sense. I am in awe of James Harden’s ability to frame opponents through a sleight of hand and a self-imposed whiplash that points his beard at the accused like a quivering courtroom index finger. To evade Harden’s flop space is to be magnificent, and the Spurs are magnificent space evaders. Popovich’s teams have been among the least-fouling for years and they were especially keyed on the awkward lefty’s mission.

To over-simplify, San Antonio forced Harden to make the drive of least resistance. On the right side of the floor, they enticed him right. On the left side of the floor, Harden’s man guided him left. This latter strategy may have been a bit counterintuitive, because, as previously mentioned, he loves to go left. But this at least meant JH couldn’t draw a foul in the way he loves to: By bumping into a drive-blocking defender.

Suddenly, Harden was unhindered, but he didn’t entirely know how to capitalize. The Spurs knew exactly what to do, sending help over and jumping straight up, palms to the heavens. This is a beautiful, underrated element of Spurs basketball. They make a big show of just how disinterested they are in fouling. Defenders somehow contest shots while making the universal “I surrender!” battlefield gesticulation.

When Harden predictably slashed towards his open strong-side lane, he was easy to time-up, easy to thwart. When Harden attempted to go against the grain on

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Lake of Fire brings questions instead of revelations

Has there been a more dramatic five-game, best-of-seven series in recent memory?

There were so many bizarre storylines going on during the Thunder-Lakers series and all of them seemed to be independent of each other. Every event inside this series was mutually exclusive.

Aside from a demonstrative Game 1 performance from OKC and the series closeout quarter during the fourth period of Game 5, this was a tightly contested set of games. In fact, it was simultaneously one of the closest series of the playoffs and a complete domination from the Thunder whenever these two teams stood toe-to-toe. What the Lakers showed us in being able to hang onto the ledge for an absurd amount of time, the Thunder doubled as a wrecking ball of athleticism when the game was up for grabs.  Continue reading “Lake of Fire brings questions instead of revelations” »

Ron Artest says sucks to your assmar

I miss Phil Jackson’s mind games.

Growing up in Sacramento, I was front and center with the Kings-Lakers rivalry in the early 2000s. Most of my friends were Kings fans and it caused me to really dislike the team (probably because I’m a terrible friend or something). I wanted them to lose and I wanted them to lose badly for childish bragging rights that had nothing to do with my team. When the Lakers were bullying them around and then fighting for their lives to outlast a team that was possibly better than them, I was rooting for Shaq and Kobe to move on to the NBA Finals.

Because of this cheering by proxy mentality, I loved every second of the mind games Phil Jackson tried to play with the city of Sacramento and the Kings through the media. He’d throw out a verbal barb of some kind, Arco Arena would make his eardrums pay for it the next game, and the level of excitement and entertainment was beyond palpable. It was a cycle of pure enjoyment.

World Peace has not spoken to Harden since elbowing him in the second quarter of the Lakers 114-106 double-overtime victory April 22.

He didn’t expect to greet him before the game.

“He doesn’t start. I only fist-bump the starting five,” World Peace said. “I don’t fist-bump subs.”

When Ron Artest (I’m not calling him that) recently said he wouldn’t fist-bump James Harden because he only does that to starters, it seemed like everybody briefly lost their excrement.  Continue reading “Ron Artest says sucks to your assmar” »

Dirk and JET run the two man game to perfection

Monday night’s thrilling triple OT slugfest between the Mavericks and Jazz didn’t go Dallas’s way, but lordy did they show why they’ll be a tough out come playoff time at the end of the first overtime.

Rob Mahoney named his excellent Mavericks blog The Two Man Game for a very, very good reason. At the end of games, few teams can go to an offensive tactic as reliable and deadly as Dirk Nowtizki and Jason Terry with a side of the court to themselves.

Take a look:

Scene 1

21.3 seconds left, first OT. Vince Carter sets the stage by racing along the baseline to clear out the left wing. Terry comes up off a Dirk screen and because he is such a good shooter with a reputation for late game heroics, his defender trails tightly instead of going under the hand off/screen. As Terry turns the corner, Dirk’s defender is loath to help and leave Nowitzki isolated in space or against a smaller defender. Thus Terry gets a free run at the basket where he expertly absorbs the contact from Al Jefferson and curls the ball in.

Watch how these two take their time on the exchange. Terry is careful to make sure his man cannot sneak between he and Nowtizki, that’s more important than going full speed. Once he is satisfied with the separation, he races around the corner before Millsap can help.

Scene 2

13.4 seconds left, first OT. This time Brian Cardinal, Jason Kidd and Vince Carter align themselves along the perimeter on the left side, leaving the right side of the court to Terry and Nowtizki. In this exchange, we see why Dirk is truly a unique talent in the NBA. Not only can he shoot like no 7-footer ever, he can run

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Thunder Pick-And-Roll sputters as stars settle for jumpers

The Thunder’s 5-2 start and third ranked offense belies glaring issues with Oklahoma City’s scoring attack. Though the Thunder are finding success, stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are playing extremely inefficiently out of the pick-and-roll. In fact the Thunder stars’ questionable decision-making has been masked by above average shooting – something the law of averages tells us won’t last.

Oklahoma City is currently attempting 20 shots per game at the rim according to Hoopdata – down from 25 attempts per game last season. Furthermore, they’re attempting a greater number of three-pointers, but unlike last year, they are currently well above the league average for scoring efficiency here. Though James Harden and Daquan Cook provide a welcome boost here, there’s reason to doubt that the Thunder’s degree of cumulative long-range success will continue.

The Thunder won’t rely on 3’s all season, but they will lean heavily on their pick-and-roll attack, a play-type that has dramatically declined in efficiency. After ranking in the top ten in the NBA in efficiency in this play-type last year, the Thunder are 29th thus far, scoring at an atrocious .61 points per possession on a league-worst 24% shooting, according to Synergy Sports. How does this happen with the defending scoring champion and one of the game’s most explosive point guards sharing the court?

Durant and Westbrook are both settling – a lot.

The all-star duo is responsible for 62% of the Thunder’s pick-and-roll possessions, so generally speaking, the pick-and-roll game goes as these two go. Through the first seven games of the season, Durant is settling for a jumper 69% of the time when dribbling off a screen, up from 60% last year while Westbrook’s pull-up jumper rates have jumped from 55% to 75% while his shooting percentage has dropped from 38% to

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The Next Thunder: Rankings

Oklahoma City handed the NBA a blueprint, should GMs choose to copy it: Strip your team down to nothing, reap high lottery picks, play those youngsters.

Simple enough, right? Luck is needed for this to be replicable, but providence isn’t to blame for why we so rarely see an OKC plan executed. The problem is that losing in the short term goes against instinct. Winning is a tonic, it’s addictive, you need it. And like any addiction, the compulsion to win now makes a man lose perspective. Coaches bench rookies in pursuit of short term ends, sacrificing youth development to the altar of a “10th seed” season. Sacrificing youth development is bad enough, but a higher win total usually means a lower draft choice–so now the coach is sabotaging the future on two fronts. Those bastards.

But perhaps OKC’s success will usher in a new era of strategic tanking. The NBA certainly heralded as much with their Hornets house cleaning. Organic, restrained, League Pass friendly growth might just be in these days.

So with a bulging eye towards the future, I rank my Thunder Potential teams for 2012. These are currently bad squads, primed to grow splendidly if they can ward off a coach’s short term compulsion.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (Cumulonimbus) There was much garments-rending over how LeBron left Cleveland in rancid shambles, but few noted the bizarre NBA paradox: Rancid shambles = where you want to be in this league. Rank failure is rewarded, and handsomely so. The upstart Cavs now sport the first and fourth picks from 2011. With Baron Davis amnestied, and Antawn Jamison expiring, Cleveland will have ample financial room going forward.

Despite widespread assertions to the contrary, I believe that Kyrie Irving has superstar potential. Tristan Thompson looks like he could become a valuable

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