Category Archives: NBA

NBA Playoffs 2011: Derrick Rose

It’s no secret I’m not a big NBA fan. One reason is I have no favorite team. I’ve lived in New York all my life but have no allegiance to the Knicks. Certain players draw me to certain teams—Jordan to the Bulls, Duncan to the Spurs—but I don’t root for one exclusively. I think that makes it harder to be a fan.

Another reason is I like college hoops a lot more. Nobody sat me down at a young age and made me choose between the two, but I think it’s very difficult to be a dedicated fan of both college and pro basketball (that is, and maintain any sort of life outside of watching basketball). They play on the same nights during the same months. (I prefer college football over the NFL, too, but the Saturday/Sunday games make it far easier to follow both.)

I have a few friends who enjoy the NBA, including a college friend named Larson who is always questioning my disinterest with the league. He, like many others, tells me the NBA is a collection of the greatest basketball talent in the world, as if I didn’t realize this.

What’s interesting is how people like Larson constantly sell the NBA. At first, people are curious, wondering if not being a fan is against my religion or something. Then, they feel bad for me, because I am missing out on great entertainment. Usually, they get angry, frustrated that I don’t get it.

On one hand, it’s admirable, and their passion shows how great these people think the NBA is. The problem is, that passion can’t be transferred from one person to another.

The other interesting part is that I never do this with non-college hoops fans. I realize there are a lot of schools, and December games may not intrigue you, and the quality of play can’t compete with the NBA. Especially if you didn’t attend a school with some hardwood tradition, I can easily see why you wouldn’t be too interested. But for whatever reason I never feel the need to sell the game. It’s incredibly entertaining—nothing beats March Madness, I say—and if you’re not paying attention it’s your loss. Maybe I’m a bad friend for not pushing it more. Or maybe I’ve realized that for those who don’t care, it’s a lost cause. That being said…

I watched a fair amount of the action this past weekend, including all of the Chicago Bulls-Indiana Pacers game. The Bulls posted the NBA’s best record; Indiana was eight games under .500, though they played better since firing their coach in late January. Most figured the Bulls would coast to the second round, needing only four or five games to do it. That’s still very possible, but the favorites trailed by 10 with 3:30 to play in Game One.

That’s when Chicago point guard Derrick Rose, who had been awesome all game, took his play to an even higher level. In consecutive possessions, he fired a missile to Joakim Noah on a fast break for a dunk to cut the lead to four, converted an and-one basket, knocked down a jumper to tie the game, then drew multiple defenders and kicked out to an open Kyle Korver for a go-ahead three with 48 seconds left, Chicago’s first lead.

Anyone who has seen Rose play (at any stage of his playing career) knew before Saturday that he was a stud. He’ll likely win the MVP award this season, his third in the league (at 22, it would make him the youngest MVP in NBA history). Had voting occurred after the playoff’s opening weekend, Rose may have been a unanimous winner.

That jersey number seems awfully appropriate. (Credit: Keith Allison)

I’ve written before about athletes who are worth the price of admission, and while the bar rises with ticket prices, Rose definitely belongs in that category. As my friend Griffin says, Rose is like LeBron, just a few inches shorter (6’3). In other words, he’s a physical freak who can blow past the defender and challenge two more at the hoop, twisting around one and taking contact from another, all while switching the ball from one hand to the other in mid-air and making the basket.

In Saturday’s game alone it was amazing to see how many times an Indiana defender set up for a charge only to discover Rose had managed to avert contact altogether. His body control is equaled by few, and his ability to take contact (especially impressive considering he’s only 190 pounds) and still finish also puts him among the league’s elite.

Rose’s outside shot became more reliable this season (his three-point percentage was a respectable 33 percent; last year it was a dismal 20). His free throw shooting jumped nearly 10 percentage points, up to 85 percent, important considering he has the ball in his hands in key moments and repeatedly draws fouls (Rose was 19-of-21 from the line on Saturday). Defenders will still sometimes play off him, and if he’s not feeling confident in his shot, his amazing quickness allows him to drive past them anyway.

The only player to rank in the top 10 in both scoring in assists this season, Rose is an eye-popping talent that even casual pro basketball fans will certainly enjoy watching. I know I have.

NOTE: The NBA needs to change its playoff scheduling format. I understand money drives all decisions, but the non-travel off days and extended layoffs for travel are ridiculous. Every series in this opening round takes at least one day off between every game. All but three have two days off between Games One and Two.

Major League Baseball is just as greedy as the other professional leagues, but it realized (I imagine) that fans lost interest as the off days piled up. There should be no days off when the teams are staying in the same city, and one day for travel when the series shifts to the other arena. That is what MLB did this past postseason, and it helped the playoffs sustain their momentum. Hopefully the NBA will follow suit next year, if there is a season next year.

Isiah Thomas to Return to New York Knicks?

The NBA offseason has been highlighted by really stupid decisions: Chris Paul considering LeBron’s marketing team, the Hawks making Joe Johnson the highest-paid free agent of the year, and of course, The Decision.

But when it comes to unwise basketball decisions, how could the New York Knicks not be involved? To get into the act, the Knicks are trying to re-hire Isiah Thomas.

Yes, the Knicks’ former president and coach, the man responsible for crippling the organization for years, is in line for a consulting job with the team.

Let’s start with what should be obvious: This would be a min-boggling hire. Unless he finds a time machine and puts on a jersey, Thomas should not be allowed anywhere near a basketball program. The Indiana Pacers can attest to this. The CBA can attest to this. Florida International will soon be able to attest to this. And surely, no doubt about it, (how is this not painfully apparent?!) the New York Knicks can attest to this.

Or not. Knicks owner James Dolan must have a very short memory. That or his inner voice is awfully similar to Chris Paul’s. You know, the one that said, “Hey, I liked the way LeBron handled this whole free agency thing. I should hire his marketing people.”

The Knicks’ personnel decisions are not my concern though. What’s most troubling to me is that the NCAA and NBA would allow this. There are reports that David Stern and the league are reviewing the legality of having a college coach take a job with an NBA team. They should rule against it, though I can see why they wouldn’t be overly concerned with it.

You don’t want this man working for your basketball team in any capacity. (Credit: Keith Allison)

It’s the NCAA that should certainly be stepping in here, yet they’ve remained silent on the issue. How can they allow a college coach to advise an NBA team? How was there not a rule already in place to prevent this?

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was wrong about expansion, but he’s on the mark regarding Isiah. “It seems like a conflict,” he told the media yesterday. “You’re coaching kids and recommending them to pro guys. Well, if a pro guy comes in and asks about a kid and you’re a consultant to a different team, you wouldn’t be able to do that. You wouldn’t be able to help that kid.” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke out against it as well.

The NCAA can’t afford to allow this to happen. With big-time college athletics already having so many problems, the organization’s best bet is probably to rip up the rule book and start fresh. For now though, the course of action should be to ban Thomas, or anyone else in his position, from taking a job with an NBA team.

Two things are clear: The Knicks shouldn’t consider hiring Thomas, and such a move should not be allowed. The former is another poor decision by a misguided franchise. The latter has consequences for all of basketball.

Update, 8/12/10: Thomas has withdrawn his name from consideration for the Knicks consultant’s job. “After speaking with Commissioner [David] Stern and Knicks executives, it has become apparent that my new agreement violates certain NBA bylaws,” Thomas said in a statement. Thumbs up for the NBA; thumbs down for the NCAA.

Basketball at the Park

Ten middle school kids go to the park after school to play basketball. Like any group of children, some are better than others. Lucas and Devin are two of the best players in the neighborhood. Charlie is a notch below those two, but still a starter on the school team. The other seven kids vary in ability but none are standouts.

They shoot around for 10 or 15 minutes, chatting about TV shows, girls, and video games, before Lucas finally says, “Let’s start. I’ll make teams: Me, Devin, Charlie, Marcus, and Patrick.” Marcus and Patrick look at each other and smile. The five who were not called look at each other also, equally surprised but far less excited.

“Sounds good to me,” Devin says. “Me too,” adds Charlie.

Lucas says “ball in” and the game begins. His team dominates, as expected, but they don’t make new teams for the next game, or the one after that. Some other local kids show up and challenge the winners. On this beautiful spring afternoon, they play for hours.

Over the course of the day, the Lucas-Devin-Charlie trio wins more than it loses, but does lose a few. After the losses, the feelings are obvious: Lucas and his teammates are in shock, while the opposing players slap hands in celebration, discussing in detail specific plays that led to the victory.

After the wins though, the reactions are far less telling. The losing team certainly wishes it had won, but there’s no bickering among the teammates. But how does Lucas’s squad feel? It’s impossible for an outsider to know. You’d have to ask them.

LeBron James Free Agent Announcement

The face. The game. The seven-year NBA career. These things sometimes make you forget that LeBron James is only 25 years old.

And while some of his antics this past year would be considered immature even for a 25-year-old, it’s probably not fair to hold James to the same standard as your average 20-something. When you’re one of the best at what you do there is going to be extra scrutiny and a large number of people who don’t like you. And come Thursday night, the fans of all but one NBA team will have another reason to dislike James, all claiming they were spurned by “The King.”

Thursday is when James will announce which team he’ll be signing with, doing so during a one-hour television special that he is calling “The Decision.” While my eyes are rolling, everyone else’s will be watching ESPN tomorrow night. All eyes on LeBron — just how he wants it.

Some have suggested that James’s free agency circus stems from his decision to skip college and go directly to the NBA. He missed out on the recruiting process then, so he’s making up for it now. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he lined up the hats of the six teams courting him, much like many high school athletes now do when announcing their college choice.

Of course, for the high schoolers, the ordeal ends when they choose a school. We can only hope that James’s “look at me” behavior will end after he announces his decision. And, given his age, it’s reasonable to expect that he will mature in the next few years. (Let’s ignore the fact that Alex Rodriguez will be 35 in a couple of weeks.)

After all, it’s not entirely James’ fault. He sneezes, and every major sports news website has a new headline. Sometimes I wonder whether the interest warrants all the coverage, or if the market is so saturated that people have no choice but to become interested. Regardless, James lives in a world with a 24/7 news cycle where nothing goes unreported.

But he loves it. He craves the attention and tomorrow’s TV event is further proof. Can we all contemplate how absurd this is? I feel like this is a joke that’s coming true: Hey, LeBron should turn his announcement into an hour-long television special! It’s laughable, and only confirms the thoughts of those who feel James’ ego is out of control.

At least the advertising money from the program is going to charity. I’ll consider that James’s first step towards adulthood.

John Wall: The Best Freshman in College Basketball History?

It is perhaps the ultimate compliment to say that an athlete is “worth the price of admission.” It can get thrown around too often, but with certain players it is true: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Johan Santana, Adrian Peterson. There are others, of course; they are usually professional athletes. John Wall, however, is a 19-year-old college freshman. But if you don’t think Wall’s worth the price of admission, you haven’t seen him play.

Simply put, Wall is too good for college basketball. He knew it, NBA scouts knew it, and John Calipari knew it when he offered him a scholarship, first at Memphis and then once he was hired at Kentucky. But the NBA’s age requirement prevented Wall from making the leap from high school to the pros that James, Bryant, and so many others have done. Folks, we are seeing what LeBron James would have been like in college.

Despite his ball-handling, passing, and shooting skills, James has the body of a power forward, which allows him to dominate the game in an unprecedented way. But offensively, Wall can take over just the same, even though he is only 6’4 and 195 pounds. His speed with the ball in his hands has drawn comparisons to Ty Lawson, yet Wall has five inches on the former North Carolina point guard.

Wall hasn’t even played 10 college games yet, but is it wrong to say he’s the best freshman in the last 20 years? Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant were both spectacular in their one (and only) year in college, no question. Perhaps the player most similar to Wall is Derrick Rose, who also played for Calipari just two seasons ago. Rose was selected first overall in last year’s NBA draft and won the Rookie of the Year award.

Dan Wolken is in his third year covering Memphis basketball for The Commercial Appeal, so he witnessed Rose’s lone college season up close. He also saw Wall play several times in the AAU circuit two summers ago. “My basic impression of (Wall) at that time was that he had the chance to be better than Rose because he’s bigger and is probably quicker end-to-end,” Wolken wrote in an e-mail last week. “The only question was the intangibles. Rose’s teams always won, and Wall didn’t have that same kind of success in AAU or in high school. But Wall has pretty quickly answered the questions about his intangibles, so there’s no reason he can’t be better in college.”

Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader has covered Kentucky basketball for nearly 30 years, so it means something when he declares, “I can’t think of another college basketball player to get off to the start John Wall has,” as he did via e-mail last week. I found it a bit surprising that he made such strong comparisons to a Kentucky player who spent two seasons with the Wildcats before leaving in 2006: Rajon Rondo. I guess Tipton saw what many NBA scouts didn’t: Rondo was a great talent who deserved to be selected higher than 21st in the draft.

Tipton reminds us of the time when freshmen were ineligible, so dominant forces like Lew Alcindor (as he was known then) didn’t get a chance to showcase their skills right away. While Tipton would not say Wall is the greatest freshman of all time — he’d have a hard time overlooking Anthony, Shaquille O’Neal, and Chris Jackson, among others — just considering a player only nine games into his career speaks to Wall’s impact. “If Wall keeps making pull-up jump shots, he’s unguardable,” wrote Tipton.

Regardless of where you might rank Wall amongst the all-time greats or amongst all freshman, you’d have no chance of convincing me he isn’t the most exciting and entertaining player in college basketball. Nobody is more fun to watch than Wall when he’s got the ball. He is a “don’t blink” guy. He is a “change to the channel he’s on” guy. He’s been hyped up and talked about so much — but he has delivered.

Players like Wall are the reason I’m against the NBA’s age requirement. Sure, for every player like James, Bryant, or Kevin Garnett there are a handful like Lenny Cooke (who?), but I think it’s best to let these players and their families make the decisions. But that is a different argument for another day. For now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy watching Wall, one of the greatest college players I’ve ever seen.

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LeBron James Gets Dunked On: How to Mishandle a Story

Don Canham, the University of Michigan’s Athletic Director from 1968-1988, once told sportswriter John U. Bacon, “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story.”

It’s doubtful that LeBron James, Lynn Merritt, or anyone advising the Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar had ever heard that phrase. Had they been familiar with Canham’s words, countless radio shows, television programs, and internet articles wouldn’t still be focusing on the story.

The story, of course, is that James got dunked on at his own camp by Xavier University’s Jordan Crawford. The moment was caught on film by a credentialed freelance journalist. However—and here’s where it gets interesting—the tape was confiscated by Merritt, a Nike Basketball senior director, and has yet to be released to the public (the whereabouts of the tape are unknown).

Even though the video would have lived forever on the internet, I can’t imagine that had the footage been released it would’ve been more than a one-day story. The dunk most likely would’ve been shown on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” and maybe some bloggers would’ve covered it.

But would the King’s legacy have been tarnished?

Would people stop buying Nike basketball shoes?

Would anyone—yet alone the national media—still be talking about it a week after the fact?

I highly doubt it. After all, one could compose a video that made Michael Jordan look like the worst dunker in NBA history (in fact, search “Michael Jordan bloopers” on YouTube and you’ll find that someone has done just that). It’s not like LeBron hasn’t been dunked on before; every NBA player has at some point.

In other words, nobody would have thought less of LeBron if the video was released.

But people will think less of him since it wasn’t.

After he stormed off the court without shaking hands or speaking to the media following the Cavs’ elimination from the Eastern Conference Finals, this incident will only strengthen the argument that LeBron is a sore loser.

LeBron and his advisers have already mishandled this and allowed a one-day story to turn into a one-week story. I still think it would be wise to release the tape if it still exists—better later than never, right?

But make no mistake, this has hurt LeBron’s image (and perhaps Nike’s, too). This is proof that even something as commonplace as the video of a dunk can turn into a media frenzy if not handled properly.

Update, July 23: The video has surfaced! Watch it on ebaum’s, not TMZ, as that is the far superior video as far as quality. As expected, the dunk was nothing special, proving that had it been released immediately nobody would’ve cared.