Stephen Curry can save you

New York: Steph Curry’s body is possessed by the holy basketball spirit.

Some people mark the beginning of ancient Rome’s decline with the assassination of charismatic generalissimo Julius Caesar. But Caesar’s death is just a handy catchall for 100 years of internal strife and civil war that precipitated the downfall of the day’s greatest empire. I’ve been listening to historian Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts on the subject (highly recommended — get your Genghis Khan knowledge up!), and there are more than a few theories about how everything fell apart.

One is that the financial system became too byzantine and complex; another that Rome’s government relied on outmoded political conventions designed to govern cities not empires. Others blame the accumulation of vast wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. There’s still another theory that the young of Rome were made cynical by the ignoble power struggles that bloodied the floors of the Forum and, occasionally, turned the Tiber red. Rome and The Republic could not endure without the Myth of Rome.

I bring this up because, listening to Carlin wrap up at the end of nearly 10 hours of material, it was hard not connect these fatal syndromes of empire with events and trends in current day America — the financial system in need of regulation and overhaul, the political stalemate that retards all reform processes, the privatization of military defense. You’ve probably heard statistics indicating that the American middle class is not exactly swelling with optimism. It’s not swelling at all; it’s shrinking as money finds its way to fewer and fewer super-wealthy people, often with the aid of an incomprehensibly opaque financial and political systems.

People get salty and cynical in the face of conditions that do not inspire optimism for future generations, yet

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HoopSpeak Network

Don’t try this at home: The weird Warriors offense

[Note: This is Kevin Draper's first post at HoopSpeak, and it's a dandy. Draper's work has also appeared at Wages of Wins and you can regularly find his work on The Diss. Follow him on Twitter here. -- Ed.] 

The two words you’ll hear associated with any good NBA offense are spacing and efficiency. As in: an offense that builds effective spacing can dictate which defensive mismatch they attack, creating efficient shot attempt. Many smart teams attempt to create better spacing and efficiency by shooting tons of corner 3-pointers. Some teams utilize a stretch four—players like Ryan Anderson and Kevin Love—to pull defenders out of their natural defensive position in the paint, while others have slashing players attack the rim (think Russell Westbrook or James Harden) forcing the defense to collapse upon them.

The Golden State Warriors do none of these things.

Though the Golden State Warriors have an above average offense, it isn’t immediately apparent why. They take an average amount of 3-pointers but a below average amount from the corners. While David Lee and Carl Landry have good jumpers, they’re not the stretchiest fours. The Warriors have no slasher that is particularly adept at breaking down defenses. They even have the longest average distance from the rim on their two-point jumpers in the league (per NBAwowy.com)!

Furthermore, the Warriors don’t execute their key offensive concepts with noteworthy precision. They turn the ball over more than almost any other team, they don’t get to the free throw line frequently and are a slightly below average offensive rebounding team. Their two centers don’t have a single useful offensive skill between them, three rookies are among their top eight players in minutes played and Andrew Bogut and Brandon Rush have combined to play fewer than 100 minutes this season.

But there

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Things looking up for Golden State

The Lakers acquired aging stars. The Rockets snagged the Knicks wunderkind. The Nets spent lavishly to ensure a competitive first season in their new digs. While most of the NBA ripped up and rebuilt their rosters this offseason, the Warriors have remained relatively quiet. In fact, Golden State’s biggest acquisition was Jarrett Jack, who arrives in the Bay Area as a footnote in a multi-team deal.

The Jack trade stands in stark contrast to ones that went down in March when the Warriors controversially ended any hopes of a competitive campaign by sending Monta Ellis out of town for Andrew Bogut, then injured. In combination with another moved that saddled them with Richard Jefferson’s bloated contract, the team opened itself to a healthy barrage of criticism.

The Bogut deal, however, was the initial move toward assembling a squad that may be capable of upsetting the established hierarchy in the Western Conference. That possible outcome exists not because of a sudden influx of outrageous talent, but because the front office adhered to the most underappreciated rule of NBA roster construction — fit.

As Dallas proved in 2011, a collection of complementary skill-sets around one driving force can allow a team to compete, and win, against a collection of superstars. Golden State is in the midst of building a roster that will operate much like those Mavericks.  If questions about health and coaching are answered, the Warriors will enter the upper realm of the West by coalescing to become more than the sum of their parts.

It all centers around the oft-injured Bogut. Throughout his career, Bogut has been typecast as the traditional low post center. A plodding big man meant to control games by playing with his back to the basket.

Ironically, that is the most inefficient part of

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Monta Ellis on the island of misfit toys

Without passing judgment as to what degree he helps his team wins, let’s agree that Monta Ellis is a special player. Even from a historical standpoint, Monta matters. Of the 10 guards not named Kobe who’ve entered the league straight out of high school, he is easily the most successful.

It takes about .3 seconds to notice Monta Ellis is on the court. His speed and control in top gear pull pupils like a $300,000 sports car weaving in and out of lumbering SUVs on a 6 lane superhighway. But for all Ellis does to stand out, no one seems sure of where he fits in.

Advanced statistics open (and shut) a debate about one-way players like Ellis, who has the distinction of being one of the very worst defenders on one of the very worst defenses in the NBA. He’s an electric, prolific scorer with mediocre efficiency. As a result, his team’s offense plays fast, but doesn’t score faster than enough teams to be successful. He’s a casual fan favorite who’s status doesn’t always stand up to rigorous examination.

Monta also has the bad fortune of being paired with Stephen Curry, who, aside from a nasty turnover habit, plays the game with uncommonly precise efficiency. His grace and effortlessness douses the fitful bottle rocket bursts that make Monta so alluring.

Like Ellis, Curry struggles defensively, creating a “one must go” situation in the East Bay. The issue is compounded by the fact that Curry, who may be the next Steve Nash, doesn’t play as well when he shares the court with his high scoring accomplice. So Monta must go.

And yet, all that talent.

It’s impossible to imagine there isn’t a team for which Monta makes a winning impact, a home where someone is around the sweep

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Technique of the Week: Creasing the ball screen

Technique of the Week is a HoopSpeak feature that highlights the technical nuances that makes great players special and role players meaningful

Technique: Creasing the ball screen

Why it’s important:

Despite all the advancements in the bodies and abilities of NBA players, one thing has remained constant: nothing beats a good old fashioned pick-and-roll. Well, nothing except the advanced pick-and-roll techniques being taught in the NBA today. The pick-and-roll is the quintessential basketball play because it involves two only two people, but the potential permutations of each instance extend infinitely. Stan Van Gundy is said to have a top secret notebook devoted to the many, many ways to pick-and-roll. It’s hundreds of pages long and written in Jameer Nelson’s blood. There’s probably a few pages in that tome devoted to creasing the screen, which the most creative and crafty pick-and-roll practitioners will do to make this simple action even more difficult to defend. (Hat tip to Brett Koremenos for passing this terminology on to me. He claims to have heard it from an NBA player development trainer).

Some guards like Russell Westbrook and Ty Lawson would likely prefer to get a running start at the rim instead of curling laterally across the court, but depending on the defensive scheme, that sideways motion may be the best way to find breathing room. Today’s defense isn’t just about guarding people, but space. On pick-and-rolls, typically the defenders want to corral the dribbler and, generally speaking, the big man wants to slow the ballhandler enough to allow the ballhandler’s man to recover while rotations in the back of the defense momentarily cover the rolling big man.

But creasing upsets that plan by, in effect, twice screening the on-ball defender. It creates space where there was none, in a soft pocket of

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The Draft is Always “Weak”

It’s a putrid excuse for a draft, avert your rods and cones. There are no superstars, no sure things, no clarity. It’s like trying to find a needle in a landfill that’s enveloped in puke-green fog. Just start the lockout already and let’s be done with this national embarrassment. 

Except, it’s always a weak draft. Every year. Ever notice that? 2008 was supposed to be mediocre after the first two picks. Turns out Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Eric Gordon were much better than people thought (R.I.P Anthony Randolph). Gallinari and the Lopez twins have also had moments.

2009 was supposed to be a miserable affront to pro basketball–after Blake Griffin at No. 1. The draft was thought to be so rancid, that pundits burbled praise when the Wizards foolishly swapped their 5th pick for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. The “bad draft” trope also likely helped justify a miserable Hasheem Thabeet selection, as so many shrugged and muttered, “Might as well.” But in the 09’-10’ season, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, and Tyreke Evans impressed early. Lately, James Harden and Jrue Holiday surged. If this draft was “weak,” then our standards are unrealistic.

2010 was again, another “weak draft.” It very well could be, but we’ll have to wait and see. John Wall is as promised and Greg Monroe lapped all expectations. Cousins remains an apoplectic enigma and Evan Turner sputtered. These careers are embryonic and the trajectories are subject to constant reevaluation. But it seems clear that at least Wall, Cousins, and Monroe have All Star talent.

And here we are again, carping over yet another awful, no-hope draft. Why does this keep happening, why do our expectations keep losing?

Theory 1: We have more information

In the past, you could dream on a flawed player based

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A balancing beard

In every group of friends, there’s essentially a leader.

Whether they want to be the leader or not, it usually just happens without a lot of people noticing it. They organize the get-togethers. They pass information along within the group. They’re always in contact with every one of the friends. This person has a lot of responsibility and importance. It doesn’t even have to be a domineering personality that makes this happen. It’s just someone who naturally gets everybody on the same page.

In the Oklahoma City Thunder group of friends, there is seemingly a guy who does the same thing. Maybe he’s not the vocal leader and maybe he’s not the leader by example. But he tends to balance everything out and make things happen when they need to happen. The funny thing is it’s not the NBA’s leading scorer with a fiery touch, and it isn’t even the young point guard who has had one of the fastest tracks from tweener to near-stardom that I can remember.

It happens to be James Harden, the bearded volcano who comes off the bench for Scott Brooks’ squad.

Three months ago, you were probably in the same boat as a lot of people. You thought the Thunder screwed up the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. They left Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry on the board for other teams to snatch up. They had incendiary baby steps into the league while James Harden was trying to find his footing on a young team making a big leap.

Tyreke Evans was chasing down 20-5-5 to be Ringo to the John-Paul-George of Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James trio. Stephen Curry was breaking ankles, reinventing the pure jump shot and being compared to Steve Nash. And James Harden… well… he

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2011 NBA All-Deceptive Teams

My high school basketball coach, John Wiley, used to tell us that on the basketball court, “you should be lying constantly.” He wanted us to understand that by constantly feinting and faking, you can put your opponent out of position, gain an advantage and achieve success. Whether it’s getting open, getting to the basket or even something as fundamental as setting a screen, deceptive action is key to every aspect of the game.

Sometimes a deceptive move is a simple as a quick change of speed and change of direction (think Derrick Rose). Or deception can come in attention to detail: making sure a shot fake perfectly mimics one’s shooting motion, or raising a hand before both setting and slipping screens. That’s the kind of deception being rewarded in this post. Not Shane Battier’s deceptively important defense, or Kendrick Perkins deceptively low Adjusted Plus Minus.

In short, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about:

For the purposes of this award, I focused almost exclusively on offense. Thus, there are more well-rounded and important players who did not make this specific list (notably Deron Williams, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant). However these teams were named using an excessively scientific process; doubt the results at your own peril.

Without further ado, allow me to unveil the first ever NBA All-Deceptive Teams:

1st team

PG- Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

Rondo’s quickness of foot and mind allows him to control the game and his opponents like few other players. Though he’s not an explosive leaper, he manages to finish a high percentage of shots around the hoop because he uses fakes and footwork to create good angles. Articulating precisely what Rondo does is beyond my capacities, so suffice to say he gets the 1st Team honor ahead of some

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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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