The science of movement

In the waning moments of a Sweet Sixteen game this past March, Butler big man Andrew Smith received an inbounds pass and immediately scanned the court, desperate to make a play. As the seconds melted off the clock, Smith took a hard dribble to his right only to find his teammate blanketed by an opposing defender. With nowhere to go with the ball, Smith slowed his momentum in a vain attempt to change course, the weight from his 6’10 frame awkwardly collecting on his right foot, which somehow held firm, barely avoiding a travel. Stuck in this unwieldy position and out of options, Smith flung an off-balance shot toward the basket that didn’t even draw iron.

Smith’s college career ended with the same type of not-so-graceful movement that inspires doubt over his chances of a professional career, on this continent, at least. But the shifting economics of the NBA, along with crucial advancements in the science of movement, could actually make players like Smith an important resource to NBA teams.

As the new Collective Bargaining Agreement tightens it’s financial grip, franchises around the league are doing everything they can to employ capable, blue-collar role players on the cheap. Finding someone to do the dirty jobs in the NBA — like rebounding, setting screens, running the floor and generally bringing consistent energy over an 82-game season — is hard enough to find when teams have stacks of cash to throw around. But most teams spend that money where they need it most, acquiring big-time talent, while using exceptions and the veterans minimum to bring in whatever veteran journeyman is left floating around. It’s those spots that someone like Smith, who possesses some NBA-level skills, could capably fill with a little help.

“If I’m

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The ongoing disaster in the desert

After firing head coach Alvin Gentry, little but the prized training staff remains of the once proud Suns. Then 13-28, the Gentry’s Suns were suffering not from poor coaching but nearly a decade of self-sabotage from the organization’s leadership. Then, in choosing an interim head coach, GM Lance Blanks bypassed longtime assistants Dan Majerle and Elston Turner in favor of Player Development Coordinator Lindsay Hunter, who has no coaching experience at any level. Majerle was so incensed that he quit, and Turner hasn’t attended Suns practices or games since. To bring this time of ignominy to a close, Jermaine O’Neal reportedly got into a “heated verbal argument” with Blanks though both have downplayed the issue.

The juggernaut that was the Seven Seconds or Less Suns has finally succumbed to the harsh desert conditions. It is convenient to point to 2008, when D’Antoni left to Coach the Knicks, as the beginning of the end, but that ignores the fact that they went to the Western Conference Finals in 2010 under Alvin Gentry. It is convenient to point to 2012, when Steve Nash was at last traded to the Lakers, as the beginning of the end, but that ignores the two playoff-missing seasons before he was traded. No, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we can see that the Suns have been in retrograde ever since 2004.

A look at the wins and losses would suggest the Phoenix Suns are a well-run organization. Since Robert Sarver bought full control of the team in 2004, they’ve done won 61% of their games, advance to three Western Conference Finals and propagate the most well-known offense the league has seen since the Triangle. But the examining process, not just results, reveals that, under Sarver’s tenure, the Suns have run the cheapest and most

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Kendall Marshall: A different kind of freak athlete

Marshall chest-passed his way to an incredible career.

If extreme is your thing, this year’s NBA Draft was an introduction to all manner of future delights. From the length and athleticism of Anthony Davis, to the brute force of Jared Sullinger; the relentless ferocity of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the beautifully robotic three-point stroke of John Jenkins, this year’s draft class is wealthy with physical features and skill sets that make their homes just beyond the outer reaches of normal.

Each of those extremes are things which strike in a single occurrence. You don’t need to watch the particular way Davis rises up and swats a shot more than once to know you are witnessing an entirely unique basketball act that. However, the most severe basketball variation from this year’s draft is not something than can be spotted in a single play. It is something that can only be sussed out through careful observation of a career. A fringe that is revealed by pattern, not outlandishness; this extreme is wrapped in a much more subtle package. This aberration in sheep’s clothing is the newest Phoenix Sun, former North Carolina Tar Heel, Kendall Marshall.

Marshall had more assists than turnovers this past season, not surprising for a top-flight collegiate point guard. He also had more assists than rebounds. And steals. And blocks. And personal fouls. And field goal attempts, three-point attempts, free throw attempts and points.

Of all the basketball statistics which are counted, Kendall Marshall did nothing quite so often as pass the ball to a teammate who scored. Marshall averaged 10.7 assists per 40 minutes, pace adjusted this past season. In the last 11 seasons no collegiate player has entered the NBA with a higher assist average. Marshall averaged 1.56 assists for every field goal attempt this past

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Steve Nash to the Lakers, Suns to the bargain bin

Steve Nash is going to the Lakers. This is going to hurt the Suns and help his new team.

I know that’s stunning analysis but seeing this deal just shows how different the two franchises are. Their paths are headed in opposite directions, not because one is rebuilding and the other is reloading, but because they’re operating on two entirely different planes of existence.

The Los Angeles Lakers are vultures. I mean that as a compliment. The Lakers know their market and know their strengths as a destination. You can talk about the market and claim that’s the reason for their success, and to a degree I can’t disagree. But when you look at the Clippers in the same market and without the same success, you have to look deeper into what the Lakers are good at doing.  Continue reading “Steve Nash to the Lakers, Suns to the bargain bin” »

Can we stop spending Steve Nash’s money?

Steve Nash is coming to save your franchise. I know your team is over the cap, but he’ll take the mini-mid level exception. Why? Because money doesn’t matter to Steve. Because Steve’s the easy-going dad who trundles down the Whole Foods aisle with a bag full of red quinoa. Because Steve likes Radiohead, and you like Radiohead. Because winning a title obviously means more than anything in the universe to Steve Nash, loyal soldier of Sarver misfortune.

Not so fast!

Steve Nash is still killing it, and could get upwards of $10 million per year for a short term deal on the open market. Teams like the Knicks and Heat would need Nash to take a contract in the three million per year range, per the mini mid-level. So Nash-hopeful fans are assuming he’ll give up, say, seven million dollars of his money, per year to a private, cold-hearted business. Would you be shocked if Portland offered Nash to three years, $35 million? Then don’t be shocked if he rejects three years, nine million from Team Dolan.

It’s just so much fun to imagine, though. Editors have certainly pushed the Nash-to-big-market storyline on me, and I’ve buckled. Such Nash wishing unfortunately makes little sense in the actual world. The idea of “giving up money” is largely abstract to us, and it’s conveniently not our money. The statement, “All he has to do is give up some money” rarely comes with any acknowledgement that some dollar amounts are larger than others. Ya, I could see a player giving up a million or so to play where he wants. But $20 million? Who does that?

My best guess is that the “Who does that?” question can be answered, “Probably not Steve Nash.” Remember, this is someone who left his good

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Watching Steve Nash

Steve Nash is 38, skinny, slow, white, and has terrible hair. His eyes are so wide set that people have theorized they may actually increase incredible peripheral vision thus aiding his legendary passing. Two or three times a game, Nash will curl off a high screen to the free throw line and, without breaking stride, elevate about nine inches off the ground and shoot and often swish the kind of runner that would get 99.2% of the league benched for the rest of the game. He also has this weird ability to shoot an almost flat-footed yet fading away seven-footer with the exact same form he uses on pull-up 27-footers.

It goes without saying that he’s an incredibly weird player. This is part of the entertainment factor.

As I often do whenever I watch Nash — now or 10 years ago– I react to these kind of plays like someone reading a Snapple “real fact.” I’m pretty sure you can’t power a bullet train with its passengers’ brain waves…then again Steve Nash did just bank-swish a running left-handed hook shot over Tim Duncan.

Yes, I was watching the Suns, who should really be an out-and-out terrible team, hang with Duncan’s (now Tony Parker’s) Spurs. Somehow, it was another classic; these teams continue to hold significance for one another that is belied by their respective places in the league.

From 2004-2010, the Nash-lead Phoenix Suns and Duncan-dominated San Antonio Spurs had the best rivalry in the NBA. They were almost poetic in their diametric opposition. Duncan and the Spurs: so successful but so difficult to enjoy (for many); Nash and the Suns: unable to take the final step but widely regarded as the most entertaining team in the NBA.

Duncan had all the physical tools. He was the ACC pedigree

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Should Phoenix really trade Steve Nash?

For a guy who’s earned more than $107 million before turning 40, dances on stage at awesome concerts and plays soccer with international legends, Steve Nash elicits an impressive amount of sympathy.

The reason, of course, is that he plays an supremely charming style of basketball yet appears destined to languish in the Phoenix desert– sand choking his final gasps (he’d probably use that breathe to praise and thank the Suns faithful, his teammates and trainers, and even give a shoutout to some towel boy, then do it again in Spanish).

It’s hard to watch such brilliance go begging for a ring each year and the future blackens by the moment. For half a decade, his franchise has failed to pay or draft anyone worthwhile.

In that time, Nash’s skipping, slithering style patched over a ragged roster, but now the team wallows in “NBA purgatory” (new cliché of the summer!). You know, that place so the Pacers have been keeping cozy for the past seven seasons; not good enough to win in the playoffs, not bad enough to get franchise-altering lottery pick.

So moving Nash seems like a happy marriage of both individual and corporate interest. As ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh lays it out, trading Nash gives the Suns a chance to bottom out and Nash the opportunity to compete for a ring with a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Haberstroh lists some intriguing talents that Phoenix could possibly receive from a team looking to “win now.” Big time players like Tony Parker (with Tiago Splitter) and James Harden (with Serge Ibaka) are mentioned as possible prizes.

The problem there is that moving Nash for younger talent amounts to swapping out an older, borderline elite player, for a younger one on a team that still needs to be

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Basketball Culture 101: The Last Season that wasn’t and The Revolution that never came

[Editor’s note: John Krolik owns and operates the excellent Cavaliers-themed TrueHoop Network site Cavs: The Blog. Here, Krolik takes a smart look at Phil Jackson’s book about the 2003-4 Lakers titled The Last Season. The title and tone of Jackson’s work suggest finality, but seven years later, time has undone elements of the book’s intended impact. As Krolik explains, instead of a future dominated by players and ideas on the rise in 2004, in the intervening years Jackson’s ideology, and team, have invalidated the “last season” historical paradigm.—Beckley]

Phil Jackson’s The Last Season, a published form of the diary Jackson supposedly writes each season he coaches, is an exceptionally odd read seven years later. The book was written after the 2003-04 season, which was allegedly the last season of the Laker dynasty.

The 2003-04 Lakers had four future Hall-of-Famers — Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and new additions Gary Payton and Karl Malone. The team had fallen to San Antonio in the conference finals the year before, but were unquestionably the most buzzed-about team in the league coming into the season.

It didn’t take long for the Lakers to start running into problems both on and off the court. On July 2nd, 2003, Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault. While the case was ultimately dismissed in September of 2004, controversy hovered around the team all season, Bryant was forced to fly back and forth between trial hearings and games, and he “only” managed to score 24.0 points per game that season, his lowest scoring average since the 1999-2000 season. Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone’s age finally began to catch up to them, and both of them missed time with injuries and saw their scoring averages drop precipitously. A clearly past-his-prime Payton never understood his role in the Triangle Offense.

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What’s in a market?

(This post is meant to accompany this data!)

The term “big market” gets tossed around a lot this time of year as NBA front offices negotiate and jockey for a chance to improve their team. It’s a common perception that larger media markets, because they generally earn more money from local TV deals and non-shared revenue like team store gear, have an increased ability to spend on free agents. In the view of many, this means that big market teams have an unfair edge when it comes to signing the most coveted players available. These advantages in resources tear top talents from cities nestled in the peaceful Mountain Time Zones like Utah, Phoenix and Denver, and deposit them under brighter lights in bigger cities.

But then how do we explain Miami or Portland, two cities that have been active and aggressive in acquiring talent over the past few seasons? Portland is in only the 22nd largest media market and Miami the 17th (neck and neck with LeBron’s old home market of Cleveland-Akron). To start, the two teams have the first and third wealthiest owners in the NBA, respectively. What’s more, Paul Allen and Micky Arison have both shown they are willing to shell out cash to pull in players, despite their relatively small-time locales.

Or consider the dichotomy between the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers. The two teams play in the same building, but does anyone think of the Clippers as a big market team? Probably not, because it has historically been a cut-rate organization that could never develop the assets or cultural cache of the Lakers due to awful ownership and perhaps a bit of bad karma.

The 76ers play in the league’s sixth largest media market, but Philadelphia is so focused on football and baseball that seats

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Hs Weekly Exclusive!: Steve Nash’s Sunken Court-Ship

The following is a HoopSpeak Weekly exclusive!

Sources tell HoopSpeak that Steve Nash (36) is starting to unravel without his longtime pick and roll partner Amar’e Stoudemire (28) by his side. According to a friend close of the Canadian, Nash, who famously underwent a special diet in hopes that it would keep Stoudemire interested, says he feels “empty,” “abandoned,” and that he has “no one to pass to.”

Now, industry insiders are starting to wonder whether Nash will ever find someone who can give him a ring.

Image by Anthony Bain

Making matters worse for the aging megastar is that Stoudemire has happily moved on, hooking up repeatedly with Raymond “Ray” Felton (26) in plain view of thousands as the star of the popular Off Broadway revival, Knickerbockers.

Though Amar’e has acknowledged he sometimes misses playing with a point guard who can consistently score off the dribble, a representative from Stoudemire’s camp said the power forward “loves Raymond’s crisp bounce passes,” and that being in New York “just feels right.” Even after Felton tackily bricked three attempts in the waning moments of a nail biter against the Oklahoma City Thunder over last weekend, Amar’e said he’s “never been happier.”

Nash picking up the pieces

Meanwhile, Nash has seemed distraught and distracted. The slender guard has never been one for cleaning the glass, but there’s new chatter about how poorly he’s rebounded from Stoudemire’s departure, even making Derrick Rose cast-off Hakim Warrick (28) his new pick and roll partner. “Look, Hakim is a great guy, and he’s got some limited moves around the basket” said a source in Nash’s entourage, “but at the end of the day can, he step out and hit a fifteen footer? Can he support Steve in clutch situations the way STAT did?”

Despite his

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