Sunday, November 28, 2010

High Casualty Rate in Boston

The Celtics are playing well so far (save for an odd one-point loss to Toronto), but soon they will fiercely feel the tension of thermodynamics' Second Law. The team is going to suffer with their older roster and their early crush of injuries. It is hard to roll over top-quality basketball players when your squad has the following infirmities:

  • Rajon Rondo is battling plantar fasciitis and a hamstring problem.

  • Jermaine O'Neal has chronic knee tendinitis.

  • Kendrick Perkins is recovering from major surgery to his knee ligaments.

  • Delonte West just broke his wrist.

  • Semih Erden has a nagging shoulder problem that could eventually end his season.

  • Avery Bradley is recovering from a serious ankle injury.

  • Besides their five starters, and the aforementioned injured guys, they have Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, and Luke Harangody. These lads may be spry enough to power the Celtics through wintry challenges that may come, but when the air turns vernal, they will need the bulk of their bigs and the defensive agility of West and Bradley. The Celtics were wise to sign fifteen players for their roster, the maximum allowed under NBA rules. Rather than prizing cost savings, Celtics ownership is showing that the real lucre is its desired catch.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Why Dallas Cannot Win The Championship

    Last night the Mavericks fielded three seven-footers — Haywood, Chandler, Nowitzki — playing 87 combined minutes. The Bulls played only one big man: Joakim Noah, for 41 minutes. If you want to deem Taj Gibson a big man or "power" player, note that he is 6'9" and 225 pounds. Most NBA players of his body type are small forwards. (Gibson's teammate at the 3-spot, Luol Deng, is the same height as Gibson and only five pounds thinner. The Mavericks' small forward, Caron Butler, is a couple pounds heavier than Gibson.) All of the Bulls' bench players were skinny guards.

    Additionally, Dallas boasts at least two players who are billed as unusually good rebounders for their positions, in Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion.

    The Bulls still outrebounded Dallas 59-34 and won the game by five points.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    John Wall's Impact

    The Wizards had 23 fast-break points on November 12th, John Wall's last full game before he injured his ankle.

    Last night, November 17th, without John Wall, the Wizards had 2 fast-break points.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Trials and Tribulations of the Super Friends

    For the zillionth time, it is way too early to begin drafting epitaphs for the Miami Heat Super Friends. LeBron, D-Wade and CB4 may still end up hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy this summer or next. That said, their early troubles reinforce the conventional wisdom about basketball.

    We at JPO are fond of saying that basketball is a team game. The NBA ain’t no fantasy league, son. Just because LeBron and D-Wade averaged near 30 ppg last year, that doesn’t mean they’ll net 60 together.

    Here is one big problem with the Heat’s roster. It’s often said that the two most important positions on any team – and toughest to fill – are point guard and center. A skilled PG (particularly a skilled, pass-first PG) is a rare commodity. So is a skilled, traditional big man (i.e., a back-to-the basket post-up presence à la Tim Duncan; not a face-up Euro Big Man like Dirk Nowitzki or Andrea Bargnani).

    The Super Friends are the Super Swingmen. None of them plays point guard or is a back-to-the-basket big man. Sure, both D-Wade and LeBron are skilled enough to play PG, but that’s not the position at which they are most skilled. Moreover, although Chris Bosh formally plays a big-man position, he is a finesse player – closer to Nowitzki than to Duncan. On a team like the Raptors, where Bosh was the main scoring threat, that’s fine. But on a team with LeBron and D-Wade, you don’t need another finesse scorer. You need a bruiser, a banger – someone to knock the ink off the other teams’ tattoos and get rebounds and cheap buckets down low. If the Super Friends are going to be more than a travelling rodeo show, they will need to either (a) trade Bosh for a premier post-up presence, or (b) go way over the salary cap to bring in an Erick Dampier-type player to spell Bosh during the 4th quarters of real games.

    Both Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony have mused about playing for the Knicks. A team with ‘Melo, CP3 and Amare Stoudemire would be better than the Super Friends. I’m not talking early-season better; I mean playoff-time better. The division of labor on that team would be clear: CP3, the ball-handler; ‘Melo, the swingman; Amare, the big man.

    I’m sure that Pat Riley recognizes this. What I’m not sure is whether Riles has the balls to fix it and to make this trade: Chris Bosh for Paul Millsap or Chris Bosh for Carlos Boozer. Nobody is saying that either Millsap or Boozer is more skilled than Bosh. They aren’t. But either one of them will transform the Heat from Pretender into Contender.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Stay Chilled, Ye Who Would Scorch the Scorchers

    The Miami Heat have struggled against good teams thus far this season. Their interior defense, in particular, needs some work. Perhaps they need to sign Erick Dampier. However, let us not forget that the season is only NINE GAMES OLD. The Heat have until 2014, and perhaps until 2016 if all three of their stars exercise their contract options, to prove the haters wrong. Their talent is too great to continue losing at this pace; I would be extremely surprised if they do not win 50 games. Let us refrain from too much cackling until at least next spring.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    The Punjabis Are Here

    Well, my nearly two-year-old predictions of a Great Punjabi Hope for basketball have finally come true:

    Satnam Singh Bhamara did not grow up dreaming about playing in the NBA -- because he never saw the game. He didn't even know what basketball was.

    He just grew.

    And his dreams were mostly what he read in books, limited to his life in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, a faraway outpost in the state of Punjab, India, close to the Pakistan border, where his father farmed, and he too, expected to farm one day.


    In a country of 1.3 billion people, 7-foot, 250-pound Satnam Singh Bhamar has become a beacon for basketball hope.

    At age 14.

    "Satnam could one day do the same thing for India that Yao Ming did in China -- put the spotlight on basketball through an entire country,'' said Troy Justice, the NBA Director of Basketball Operations in India who has watched him play many times. "It really could be something.''


    Satnam came to the United States for the first time six weeks ago, one of 29 student athletes (both male and female in three different sports) from India who will train at the renowned IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla, as part of a new scholarship program to promote, develop and manage sports and entertainment in that country.

    Although the program was designed to last three months before this group leaves and another arrives, Satnam and his burgeoning skills won't be going home anytime soon. It's like gold has been discovered in the hills, and this diamond in the rough will be carefully polished.

    It is somewhat ironic that the AOL Fanhouse article glowingly compares the 7-foot Bhamara's body type to that of Greg Oden or Andrew Bynum. Of course, we know that both of the latter guys have congenital problems that make high-level, high-impact basketball difficult: Oden has one leg longer than the other, and Bynum has unusually loose knee ligaments. Both of those players have missed roughly half the possible games in their pro careers due to multiple injuries. Additionally, Oden played only one year of college ball and Bynum skipped college; both missed their chance to allow their growing bodies time to slowly adjust to a game played among world-class athletes.

    What will happen if young Satnam Singh Bhamara turns out to be similarly cursed? Many other young athletes around the world have been identified as potential national champions, isolated from their families and peers, and brought to sports incubators (sometimes in the United States) to train. If a tennis prospect flames out, the disappointment foisted on him or her is probably relatively low because tennis-sized athletes are not hard to find. But there are few seven-foot-plussers. If my hypothesis proves correct and the Punjab produces more basketball big men, then perhaps Bhamara can comfortably fail without feeling that he is failing a whole country, as Yao Ming surely has thought at times. We wish Bhamara the best of luck in his journey, but caution observers to reject the "Satnam could one day do the same thing for India that Yao Ming did in China -- put the spotlight on basketball through an entire country" rubric that makes the young man even more freakish than he already is.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    The Last Jewel Tarnished In Detroit

    I have long openly proclaimed my love for the Detroit Pistons, the team that tickled my solipsistic need for local grandeur as a young boy. Detroit won championships in 1989 and 1990, and then did it again in 2004 after I had grown to adulthood. During the recent fat days, I forgot how Detroit fell into a long period of mediocrity after Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer retired in 1994 (and even in the last three years of their careers). Rookie Grant Hill's entry into the Pistons' starting lineup in November 1994 seemed to augur well for their recovery, but Terry Mills and Theo Ratliff were not sufficiently stout big men in the mid-to-late 1990s to help Detroit get past better Eastern teams like Orlando and Atlanta (to say nothing of Jordan's Chicago, Mourning's Heat, and Ewing's Knicks).

    After six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances in the decade just completed, the Pistons are now a team in terminal decline. They still field three-fifths of the starting lineup that won them a championship seven seasons ago (and lost in Game 7 of the Finals six seasons ago), but those men have lost their erstwhile vigor and hops. The team is now 0-5 after losing to Atlanta last night.

    About 24 months ago, when the Piston's recent run of success ended with the trade of Chauncey Billups, I wrongly called team president Joe Dumars a genius. At the time, I thought the trade would allow Detroit's good fortune to endure for a few more seasons, but the team rapidly crashed, falling to the worst Eastern playoff seed in 2009 and missing the playoffs entirely in '10. Unfortunately, Rodney Stuckey just is not as good as Billups performed in his finest days. And the Pistons' recent draft picks have not soared: Jason Maxiell and Austin Daye are either too short or too thin, and Jonas Jerebko just tore his Achilles' tendon. Georgetown center Greg Monroe is yet unproven.

    Somehow I feel a Dylan Thomas interlude would be appropriate here:

    Managing an NBA roster long-term is difficult, for the assets have a unique inverted-U-shaped life cycle. Players tend to peak in about their sixth year, maintain that high for perhaps four years, then begin to slowly decline. At any given time, a roster is probably made up of heterogeneous players at different stages of their careers. If only a couple of your guys are declining, that is fine. If necessary, they can be traded as "expiring contracts" for better, younger players. But the Pistons' top six players during their six-year run of excellence (counting Antonio McDyess, who signed on prior to the 2004-05 season) were all drafted between 1995 and 1999, save for Tayshaun Prince, drafted in 2002. Prince was a four-year college player, so he is about as old as a college freshman drafted in 1999, like Lamar Odom. Thus, the team collectively aged very rapidly. Billups was dumped in 2008, and McDyess and Rasheed Wallace were shown the door in 2009. The remaining guys — Prince, Richard Hamilton, and Ben Wallace — can't do what they used to. I would eat my hat if Prince could replicate his famous block of Reggie Miller today.

    I cannot say with great specificity how Dumars should have managed his team differently. He probably should have traded Prince and Hamilton one or two seasons ago, when they still were good. Dumars also has proven to be a poor judge of young talent, to say the least. Had he drafted Aaron Brooks over Rodney Stuckey in 2007, or Holiday/Lawson/Teague/Maynor/Collison/Douglas over Austin Daye in 2009, the team would have a legitimate point guard now. The team also had no meaningful draft pick in 2006 or 2008, which helped to preserve the roster's age distribution. Perhaps the team needs a 65-loss season to sink lower than their pride would previously allow them to venture, so that they can pick up a real stud through the draft.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Mad Men Is An Apt Descriptor

    Mad may not be the right word, but perhaps daft, silly, or full of hubris might better describe the advertising gurus who thought of the two ads shown below.

    Below is LeBron James's follow-up to his romantic-comedy act from July wherein he entertained various suitors for seven days (after keeping them guessing for the previous two years) and then obnoxiously announced his Decision via a television special. In this new video, James seems to acknowledge that he angered his fans, and provocatively climbs aboard a literal bulldozer to represent what he did to their feelings last summer. So after James inappropriately and narcissistically drew attention to himself four months ago, he... does exactly the same thing, without even apologizing for the earlier behavior!

    Then there is the new set of Adidas ads featuring actor Ken Jeong wearing a gold costume and calling himself "Slim Chin". We are led to believe, in some ironic sleight, that Slim's apparent riches are derived from his unusual fast-ness. Meanwhile, Derrick Rose reveals himself to be far faster than Slim, showing that shoes, in this ironic universe, can top natural talent.

    This is fine as far as it goes, and defenders of the ad might say that everything is tongue-in-cheek, and Jeong's Hollywood reputation is sufficiently established that we can laugh with him, rather than at him. Still, Jeong's ken (pun intended) seems to extend only to roles in which he acts silly and mincing while emphasizing his exotically Asian bloodline. Recall his naked turn in The Hangover. I doubt that enough viewers of this new Adidas ad "get it" to render his minstrelsy innocuous.

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Knicks Need To Get Real

    Tony Parker signed a contract extension with San Antonio yesterday, removing one of the New York Knicks' top targets for next summer's free-agency cycle. Having promised their fans a quick return to glory redolent of Richard Nixon's first term, the Knicks need to get cracking. Unfortunately, posing a serious challenge to the Miami Heat over the next half-decade will require that the Knicks assemble a crew of all-NBA stars of comparable ability to James/Bosh/Wade, and few of those are available. The Knicks could have drafted Brandon Jennings, probably the best young point guard in the league, back in 2009, but instead chose Jordan Hill, who was later dumped in a trade and now rides the bench for Houston. The Knicks have several players with enough raw talent to make All-Star teams, including Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Anthony Randolph, but none have yet blossomed to that extent.

    Many reports indicate that Carmelo Anthony is Manhattan bound, either through a trade this season or as a free agent next summer. Unfortunately, a team featuring Amar'e Stoudemire and Anthony will be offensively potent, but will not have anything close to the defensive ability required to seriously oppose Miami and Orlando. As this article makes clear, James and Wade are wholly dedicated to dominating any team on their defensive end, and are two of the four best offensive players in the league.

    The Knicks probably hope they can somehow acquire Anthony and Chris Paul, who will be a free agent in 2012. But if Paul shows an inclination to sign a contract extension with the Hornets or join some other team, the Knicks might be wiser to look further west: Several 2007 draftees will be available as restricted free agents next July, including, inter alia, Greg Oden, the best two-way young center in the league, when he is healthy. (I am removing 24-year-old Dwight Howard from the "young" category, as he is now in his seventh pro season.) Oden's team chose not to extend his rookie contract, and he will surely be eager to prove himself during the coming season. The Knicks could make a splash by conveying to Oden an offer that Portland cannot fail to refuse.