Games of the Week: November 23-29, 2015.

Tuesday’s coming, did you bring your coat?

Tuesday: Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on TNT)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS going for history against everyone’s most divisive nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, if the Warriors win this game, they will move to 16-0, the best start in NBA history. Standing in their way are the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, who have served as informal rivals to the Warriors (hell, to basically everyone) for as long as I can remember. While it is tempting to chalk this one up as a win before it actually happens, beware: the Lakers game always seems like a trap game. Will it actually be? No, not likely. Let’s be honest: it’s the Lakers. Perhaps I just jinxed everything.

Wednesday: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs (8:30 PM EST/5:30 PM PST on League Pass)

“Hey Jacob! 2003 called, they want their marquee game back!” Ha! Ha! Good one, Voice In My Head! But on the real: watch this game! I definitely owe the Mavericks an apology: there are no funeral drums for this team, only garlands of roses and really jaunty back-pats and butt-slaps. They are balling! Everyone on that team is playing well; basking in that palpable Mavericks pride we’ve seen when the odds are seemingly stacked against them. The Mavs are one of the funnest teams in the league to watch when they’re feeling themselves; they fall behind Dirk and Ricky C and just take care of business. Right now, I’m feeling them too, and I’m feeling this Wednesday night game. I’m feeling everything!

Thursday: No Games Scheduled

When your uncle says “The Warriors got lucky last year!” at the Thanksgiving table:

  1. Reach over and take his plate of food in your shaking hand
  2. Throw his plate of food against a nearby wall
  3. Climb atop the table emphatically
  4. Ignore all bewildered looks from your alarmed family
  5. Raise your ring finger
  6. Shout: “COUNT THE RING!”
  7. Bask in the electrically charged silence. This is being alive!

Friday: Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings (10:00 PM EST/7:00 PM PST on League Pass)

We’ll be rounding out the week watching the conundrum that is Sacramento Kings basketball. At the moment, I’m not quite sure what to make of the Kings, whom I am really enjoying watching, but unsure when they’ll start actually winning games. DeMarcus Cousins is the best center in the league, hands down. Rondo is perhaps the most entertaining player not-named Steph Curry to watch at the moment; brandishing ball-fakes, behind the back passes, several triple-doubles and even an improved jump shot. All the other Kings appear to be contributing positively: Kostas Koufos, Marco Belinelli, Darren Collison and Willie Caulie-Stein make up a nice supporting cast. Yet, no wins. Winnable games, but no wins. Curious. This game between the Kings and the still-fighting Timberwolves will provide an interesting look into two rebuilding outfits: one trying to find their way through free agency, and another attempting to construct a winner from the inside-out.

Saturday: Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on League Pass) 

Much like the rest of us, who will be starting to get a little tired of Thanksgiving food come Saturday night, the NBA has decided to empty out all of its leftovers for us this weekend. Maybe adding a little hot sauce will spice up this two-day-old Nuggets/Mavericks game. Perhaps melting some cheese over this Lakers/Blazers game will make it seem more appetizing. I doubt it though. So take my advice, and give Nets/Cavs a look. If nothing else, there should be the potential of a good ol’ fashioned Jarrett Jack revenge game against his old squad. And remember: no one will blame you if you just skip leftovers tonight, and order yourself a damn pizza.

Sunday: Milwaukee Bucks at Charlotte Hornets (2 PM EST/11 AM PST on League Pass) 

Rarely ever am I driven by individual match-ups at this point. That dimension of the game seems to be outmoded; both NBA offenses and defenses have evolved to the point where a single individual shouldn’t be counted on to either carry the load, or stop the individual attempting to carry the load. But old habits are dying hard in this game between the Hornets and Bucks, two so-so teams who are occasionally entertaining as hell to watch, who feature talents at the small forward position that cannot be replicated by any team in the league. In particular, I’m interested in the matchup between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nic Batum. Batum is the Hornets most important player, averaging 17, 6 and 4 for the Hornets. Antetokounmpo looks like an All-Star in these early proceedings; his numbers look very similar to Batum (a few more rebounds and a few less assists), as does his playing style. Also, it’s at 11 am. Everyone loves an early morning NBA game on a long weekend; especially if there is a scintillating duel to give it a bit more juice.

Posted in Games of the Week | 2 Comments

The Ugliness of Being Eaten

The hard data seems to indicate that there has been a competency shift in the NBA; a perceptible alteration in the balance of power between the coasts. Going into Monday, the Eastern conference — long derided for its inadequacy and unreliability — features 11 teams who have won more than half of their games this year. The West, meanwhile, only features five such teams: the Warriors, Spurs, Mavericks (!), Suns, and Thunder. The Jazz, Clippers and Grizzlies all sit indifferently at (or around) .500, working into the season slowly, looking equal parts determined and dying and as they trudge through Novembers of mild discontent. And perhaps most surprisingly, expected contenders like the Rockets and the Pelicans appear to be dead; crammed together in a horrible mess of contorted limbs and tangled hair with other repeat failures like the Timberwolves, Kings, Nuggets and Lakers. While it is very early in the proceedings — not even a quarter of the regular season has elapsed, let alone the lengthy, arduous postseason — the magical idea of “parity” seems to be washing over the NBA landscape, rendering everything (save for the Warriors and the 76ers) roughly equal, with the teams East of the Mississippi looking slightly better off than their peers a few time-zones to the left.

At this moment, determining the who, what, when, where, why, and how of this teeter-totter power dynamic has been an enjoyably open exercise. Several factors are likely playing a role; player movement among the most important to consider. Over the last calendar year, the Eastern conference welcomed several quality players from the West, most of whom are playing beyond even the most favorable projections of their outputs. There is Nic Batum, looking regal in purple-and-teal, transitioning from a third or fourth option in Portland into a primary consideration for a rejuvenated Hornets offense. There is Reggie Jackson and Isaiah Thomas, former backup guards in the West now transformed into offensive anchors for Detroit and Boston, respectively. There is Robin Lopez and Pau Gasol; providing net positive results in the pivot for a strong Bulls team and a Knicks team looking more fortified with each unexpected victory. The same cannot be said for those who have emigrated to the West, who are struggling to stake claims in harsher lands. Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce’s productions have been either uneven or unseen some nights in Staples Center, while Lou Williams, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert produce identically insignificant results for the arena’s other more decorated (and dilapidated) outfit. Rajon Rondo (who arrived in the West last season) performs brilliantly for a Kings team that still struggles to win more than lose, and a imperfect bouquet of former Pistons and Cavaliers yield a wilted output for the Thunder. While the lasting effects of imbalanced player movement are hard to specifically pinpoint, the collective 37-32 record the East holds over the West going into Monday’s game provides hints that things are not what they used to be. And, if trends continue (and we can safely bet that they will) we can infer that, for the current period of time, the East has stolen the West’s smug crown of overall dominance, and will continue to exert themselves over the conference’s surprisingly helpless denizens.

But there is an aesthetic element as well, a dimension beyond numbers; something only informed by the much-maligned “eye test” and an unshakable feeling that the West has lost its soul. For the first time in several seasons, it seems the is East playing free and liberated; using as much space as the court will allow. Eastern guards are populated with ball handlers and shot creators; players like John Wall and Bradley Beal who enjoy free range around the court and a mandate to take whatever shot seems most appropriate. Eastern forwards and centers adhere to principles we are familiar with — footwork, head-fakes, up-and-unders and baby hooks — all the while, keeping the ball moving around the court. On the other hand, the West is playing tight. Guards seem bunched up beyond the three point line, limited to a series of lateral moves before an inevitable three point clank. Forwards and centers tend to join in on the act, either changing their skill-sets to extend their bricks out to the three-point line, or serving chiefly as offensive rebounders and tip-in specialists. In many sets, the centers are relegated to simple screen-setting and ball distribution duty; a noble, but not terribly entertaining sight to see. As the ball soars from 22 or more feet away, clanging high off the rim and into the other team’s possession, followed by a jaunty sprint up the court and an attempt at a similar play, I yawn and groan. In the East, the basketball is presented as entertainment. In the West, the basketball is presented as work.

Unsurprisingly, my analysis (or argument, if you disagree with me) is shielded in the impenetrable armor of the 15-0 Warriors. At this moment, West is in the throes of a familiar crisis: the immediate and persistent threat of a transcendent player. It is not revolutionary to state that all of the celestial bodies of the NBA orbit around its brightest stars; the most luminous emissaries of on-and-off-the-court success. Since 1990, some players have been demonstrably better than the tier of All-Stars below them; the players who become considered among the greatest who have played. Within conferences, and among teams that must face these unassailable stars more often, much of the team building seems oriented towards countering that transcendent player. Certainly this was the case in the East during the reigns of Michael Jordan and his Bulls (1991-1993; 1996-1998) and LeBron James and the Cavaliers and Heat (2007-2013). The West has done this as well; with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant (2000-2003), Hakeem Olajuwon (1994 and 1995) as well as Tim Duncan and his cast of supporters (odd years throughout the 2000′s and 2014). In the absence of a transcendent player, this type of self-conscious team-building does not seem to occur. Instead of yielding to the indefatigable talents of a single man, the various teams double-down on an ethos and playing style, they go all in on who they feel they are. In those years, odd champions arise — the 2004 Pistons, who ruled a conference for half a decade, or the 2011 Mavericks, who played footloose and fearless while winning their unlikely ring. But more often than not, teams are practicing aggressive flattery on the fly; trying to become the transcendent star’s team without having that exquisite player as an anchor.

In the West, where the threat of Stephen Curry and his maxim gun Warriors is more present and prevalent, there are a slew of rattled teams; outfits who not long ago seemed very sure about who they were, and how they were going to succeed. It is unlikely that any of these teams foresaw what Curry and Golden State would become: a team for which conventional wisdom does not apply, and for whom drastic changes must be considered in order to remain competitive. It is not unreasonable to think that the Warriors may hasten the dismantling of a few teams that thought they might have a better chance at it; teams like the Rockets, Clippers and Grizzlies who continue to mash their feet into the gas pedal while their wheels spin helplessly in the mud. Even the San Antonio Spurs are having a hard time integrating LaMarcus Aldridge, their new weapon, into their impressive arsenal. Perhaps this is what is afflicting the West: the directive to change, without any idea where, exactly, they are going, and how, exactly, they are going to get there.

Admittedly, these are the words of a man who has lost all semblance of objectivity; an individual still basking in the afterglow of it all. I’m no longer interested in seeing teams thrive; I want to see them prostrate in front of my squad, begging for mercy and shaking uncontrollably as the end looms large. For me, it is perfectly acceptable to watch the Warriors joyfully lay waste to every opponent that crosses them. In the moments I wish to view the NBA as it was — a teeming ecosystem of player species, alternatively taking turns eating and being eaten — I am happy the East exists; a section of the league that isn’t worried about being something that they’re not. But in the back of my mind — and in corners of my mouth, turned up in a sinister grin — I cannot wait until they, too, are sucked into the abyss, while thousands of tiny voices wonder how the situation became so deeply helpless.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Games of the Week: November 16-23, 2015.

Last week of clean living before holiday eating season begins. Get your reps in before gluttony becomes the master of your domain.

Monday: Indiana Pacers at Chicago Bulls (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

This week I’m stretching the limits of my cosmic knowledge and traveling across time and space to uncharted realms on this astral plane. That’s right: I’m watching the Eastern conference. I’m apparently overdue: with nearly a month of the season behind us, the East currently features 13 viable playoff teams, and collectively are 27-25 against the Western conference. The West, meanwhile, has been bogged down by a few teams undergoing slow starts (the Grizzlies, Rockets, and Pelicans), as well as a few teams slowly lifting off through heavy turbulence (the Kings, to a certain extent, the Spurs), as well as a few teams just sorta milling about, trying to figure out if they’re good or not (the Blazers, Suns, Jazz, Mavericks, Timberwolves…frankly, pretty much everyone not-named the Warriors). So I’m gonna put on some white cotton pants, get in tune with my chakras, and take in some classic Bulls versus Pacers. This is a matchup I would’ve really dug in, say, 1997. But times have changed, and your boy Jacob is changing, too.

Tuesday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on League Pass)

The 5-5 Detroit Pistons have been one of my unexpected early season treats, but it’s hard to know if that’s gonna be the case for much longer. That 5-1 start we were all so excited about last week turned into a stillborn 0-4 week, featuring losses to all four of the professional basketball teams in California. Last night Reggie Jackson (who I have previously called the Most Unwatchable Player in the League) got benched by head coach Stan Van Gundy due to his decision, and the Pistons offense looked pretty anemic during their California shit-trip (92.0 points per game while getting outscored by an average of nine points per contest). For those reasons, I am optimistic about a spirited effort against the defending Eastern conference champions. Look for Drummond to let it all dangle out against Timofey Mozgov and Anderson Varejao, who continue to rehab fairly intrusive injuries while not doing much rim-protecting at all.

Wednesday: Sacramento Kings at Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

While my Sacramento Kings eulogy from last week was drafted in WordPress, ready to tear through the worldwide web like an STD in a public school dormitory, it was never published. I’m feeling good about this, because the Kings spent the weekend coming back from the dead, and it was pretty enjoyable to watch. Boogie was splashing threes and throwing it down. Rajon Rondo was racking up triple doubles and pushing the pace, looking uncannily like the Rondo from the Old Country. Rudy Gay was doing his thing on – gasp! – both ends of the floor. Hired guns Marco Belinelli, Ben McLemore were fraggin’ treys while peering through steadied scopes. And Quincy Acy continued to play like a person who, for whatever reason, decided to model their game against Bo Outlaw. So, 1-7 is now 4-7, and things are looking up. I’ll be ALL IN on this game. But, sadly, I’m not gonna delete that Kings eulogy. There’s still a lot of season left.

Thursday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Milwaukee Bucks (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on TNT)

“What? Not Warriors versus Clippers?” No, not Warriors versus Clippers. Not this week. Main reason is that I’m doing a deep dive on that game for Wednesday, and I’m saving my A-material. So please accept this filler game: Cavs versus Bucks. It’s a national television game, so everyone can watch it, as long as you have cable. Someone will win. A few players will likely have over 20 points. You’ll enjoy the match-up between LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 18 and 8 for a seemingly decent Bucks team. There you go. Thanks for reading The Diss.

Friday: Chicago Bulls at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on League Pass)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS versus the Chicago Bulls, who have always given us a good game, despite the fact our teams don’t cross paths all that often. Last year, both of the Bulls/Warriors games were entertaining as shit. Draymond Green went off on the Bulls for a win on their floor last year (7 threes en route to a 31 and 7 night), and the Bulls returned the favor with a 113-111 overtime win (including a bizarre 30 point, 11 turnover, 1 game-winning shot effort from D-Rose) in Oakland about a month-and-a-half later. I will have watched the Bulls on Monday, and will surely have many questions that I will count on the Warriors to solve. While I haven’t watched a ton of Bulls basketball yet this season, most of the reportage seems to hover around the fact that many of the same problems from last year — effort, execution, chemistry — seem to persist. But a game against the DEFENDING NBA CHAMPIONS seems to bring the best out of everyone. These are my Friday night plans. Hell, the NBA is always my Friday night plans.

Saturday: Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers (5:30 PM EST/2:30 PM PST on League Pass)

Well, I’m still out East, finishing up my one-week League Pass study abroad trip with a game between the first and second best teams in the conference. I’m reasonably excited for this one; a rematch of the Eastern conference finals. Let me just conjure my inner Jeff Van Gundy and present a personal peeve as a league-wide issue: if the conference finals wasn’t competitive at all (which last year’s wasn’t; the Cavs swept the Hawks in convincing fashion) can we really use the “Conference finals rematch!” tagline to get excited about it? It’s the same feeling I get when the Memphis Grizzlies play the Spurs (who swept dem Grizz in 2014), or even when the Rockets play the Warriors (who notched the gentleman’s five-game sweep of the Rockets last year). If the conference finals aren’t competitive, you probably shouldn’t use it to hype up the contest. Wait, what’s that? You say that was the one who used the past match-up for comparison’s sake? This is all an argument of my own making? Listen, I don’t need you to police my behavior, alright?

Sunday: Portland Trailblazers at Los Angeles Lakers (9:30 PM EST/6:30 PM PST on League Pass)

I don’t have any data to back this up, but it seems like the Lakers play nearly every Sunday night, and by and large, that game ends up being fairly entertaining. In those cases, the Lakers serve as a useful metaphor for all of our weekly struggles: one last dying gasp to put things in order before the week resets and we’re back to square none. With that in mind, I will watch this game between two old foes, even though that rivalry has long since faded to black. It doesn’t matter who you root for, in that case: we’re all just in it to get the week over with, and minimize the damage before Monday strikes yet again.

Posted in Games of the Week | 1 Comment

Your Annotated Bathroom Reader for Sunday, November 15th, 2015.

Rejoice: the reader does not need to be read on a smartphone anymore. The location, however, remains non-negotiable.

The Starting Five Ron Artest Interview: I Keep It 100%
Michael Tillery
The Starting Five

We begin the Reader with an interview from over eight years ago: Michael Tillery’s massive question-and-answer session with Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest. Tillery’s interview was conducted while Artest was a Sacramento King, and shortly after Tim Donaghy’s transgressions had been revealed. Even though the interview touches on that event, it more usefully delves into a multitude of topics that, in 2015, are simply are not discussed by either players of media members in any real substantive way. There are several potential reasons why this is the case: David Stern’s post-Detroit brawl NBA has gone to great lengths to mute blackness and racial expression, and most work on the NBA shies away from these topics. But this clearly was not the case in 2007, and Tillery and World Peace/Artest provide the reader with a smart, incisive discussion on how race, class and politics inform the game on and off the court. Perhaps at a later date, I will do a deep dive into this interview, in an effort to illustrate how masterfully Tillery laid out issues actually worth discussing, and how valuable it was that Artest actually kept it 100%, both in this interview, and throughout his vastly underrated career. But what stands out for me, above all, is the quality of the questions Tillery asked, the honesty of answers Artest provided, and the fact that, because of many implicit and explicit factors, we may never, ever, see an NBA interview this illustrative or illuminating again.

Kevin Durant to DC?: Unwrapping One of the NBA’s Most Complicated Storylines
Sean Deveney
Sporting News

Although I did not watch the Thunder versus Wizards game earlier this week, I very much enjoyed this analysis of Kevin Durant’s impending free agency by Sean Deveney. In the piece, Deveney explains the issues central to Durant’s free agency, with a particular focus on fan expectation and behavior. As Deveney writes, there are several factors that make Durant’s presumed free agency decision between Oklahoma City and Washington D.C. unique, including Durant’s upbringing, his professed love of D.C./Baltimore area sports, his disdain for outward displays of affection (from Wizards fans), and the area’s reputation of having famously disinterested fans. Indeed, Deveney is correct: one does not get the overall sense that Durant is seriously considering departing the Thunder, who remain a top team in the league. Nevertheless, his examination into the growing hoopla of “KD to DC” is a useful tool for understanding the various elements of this rather underwhelming saga.

Anthony Davis and the Draft Lottery Winners’ Curse
Dave Berri
VICE Sports

I definitely dug this quick-hitting statistical examination by Dave Berri, focused on why teams that win the overall pick in the lottery don’t seem to improve that much, at least while that top pick is playing for that team. Of course, his piece lingers on the (currently) sad story of Anthony Davis, brilliantly toiling on the 1-8 New Orleans Pelicans. Berri runs through 30 years of top picks, and shows the reader how undeniably good Davis is at basketball, but at the same time, shows how that skill and dynamism doesn’t seem to translate into more wins. Luckily (or unluckily, if you’re a Pels fan), Davis is in excellent company; Berri explains that Davis has joined a rich tradition. Perhaps players like Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Bennett will change this historical trend downwards. Well, maybe not Bennett. That may be a stretch.

The Tragic and Totally Gripping Spectacle That Is End-Stage Kobe Bryant
John Wilmes
VICE Sports

I found myself nodding along sadly to this piece about the end of Kobe Bryant, written elegantly by dear friend of the program John Wilmes. There are several eulogies for the professional career of Kobe starting to emerge, and I think this one is distinctive. What makes it especially good is that it acknowledges that, in our steadfast dogmatism around Kobe, and all that he represented in the post-MJ years, there are lingering feelings about the man, and his team, that inform our observations of him today. On watching Kobe operate in 2015 on a rebuilding, young Lakers team, Wilmes is worth quoting at length:

[T]he Lakers are not an unexciting team. When hyper-intelligent rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell takes the floor with young stallions Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, there is hope, and there is cause for highlight reels. Lakers fans, gluttons for gold after 16 NBA championships, are not used to watching a young core grow up so much as they’re used to seeing big-money players replaced with bigger-money players. The more patient Laker followers must be finding some fun in the new experience of watching something build from the draft board up.

Or they would be, anyway, if not for the 37-year-old man running up and down the court with those electric kids. For 29.2 minutes every game, the Lakers center their offense around a legendary star who is now one of the slowest and least athletic guards in the league, a man who shoots 32 percent from the floor and holds the ball for long periods of time, often before launching into a cringe-inducing series of failed pump fakes, jab steps, and futile pivots before hoisting the ball towards but generally not into the basket. He has the highest usage rate on the team. He is attempting a career-high eight 3-pointers per game—tied for fifth most in the NBA—making just 21 percent of them. By comparison, Steph Curry, the league’s MVP, shoots 10.8 3-pointers per game, but makes 45 percent of them.

This man, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in anyone’s eyes, used to do outstanding things. He thrived on singular one-on-one wizardry and raw, untouchable, self-belief. For more than a decade, he seemed to make every wrong shot he took, and won an MVP trophy, five championships, two Finals MVP awards, and 17 All-Star appearances. Only two men have scored more career points than him. He’s had one of the best careers in the history of the game. But man does Kobe Bryant ever look cooked.

Too true, no? Do give this a read: it is hard to properly encapsulate the end before it actually arrives, but Wilmes does an excellent job illustrating why the decline is almost a more troubling prospect to consider.

The Spectacular Hubris of the Brooklyn Nets
Jack Tien-Dana
Rolling Stone

Although this seems a bit dated considering the Nets played the hell out of my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS last night, I did enjoy this read by Jack Tien-Dana on the Brooklyn Nets, who are reaping what they have sowed since moving from Newark in 2012. At this point, the foibles of the Nets have been well-chronicled, and Tien-Dana does an good job mentioning and explicating all the dirty details. What stood out about Tien-Dana’s piece was his assertion that the Nets are victims of a different sort of NBA ineptitude: trying too hard, as opposed to not trying at all. Tien-Dana asserts that “the Nets’ fall is nobler. Nobler because while some of the NBA resolves to not try at all (hello, Sam Hinkie), the Nets’ sole fault was that they tried too much. And in the end, isn’t ignominy better than anonymity?” It’s a good question. And it’s important not to forget that Jarrett Jack, for all his faults, can keep you in the game some nights. Behold: your 2015 Brooklyn Nets.

Posted in Annotated Bathroom Smartphone Reader | 1 Comment

Games of the Week: November 9-15, 2015.

Maybe it’s all the copycat Warriors stuff I’ve been seeing, but I’ve been falling asleep on the couch a lot this season. Maybe I’ll be more alert this week.

Monday: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on League Pass)

We lead off the week with the Grizzlies, sitting blandly at 3-4, looking nothing like a contender to start of the year. Moreover, and perhaps more troubling, they appear to be a team for whom the game has passed them by: they are 29th in the league in offensive efficiency, and 25th in defensive efficiency. The offensive woes aren’t terribly surprising; Memphis has never been considered to be a scoring juggernaut. But the drop-off in defense is new, and could be seen as a troubling symptom preceding a more dire diagnosis. Clippers versus Grizzlies has been one of the more animated rivalries over the past few seasons, and the recent squabbling between avatars on a social media site may serve as an interesting backdrop to make this contest more restive. And, of course, it’s very early in the season. But for the moment, the Grizzlies look like an antiquated experiment — slow, brick-laying, uninspired — trying to figure out whether it’s worth keeping up the effort, or trying something new in order to stay relevant.

Tuesday: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks (8 PM EST/5 PM PST on League Pass)

This is my first time watching both of these teams this season (I really have to force myself to watch Eastern conference games at this point in my life), and boy, am I excited. It isn’t some sort of elitism that informs my lack of interaction with either of these teams, most of their games just occur while I’m at work or commuting back to the homestead. Whenever I watch two teams, I write down four or five questions to consider as I take in the experience. Here’s my list, for this Tuesday’s game:

  1. Does David Lee still play like a minivan would if a minivan played basketball?
  2. Will I ever love Isaiah Thomas? Or, will I ever stop hating Isaiah Thomas?
  3. How’s the homie Jabari Parker looking? (we are homies this year)
  4. Do I still covet Amir Johnson?
  5. Does the camera still add 10 wins to Brad Stevens?

Yep, ready to go on this one. Can’t wait for Tuesday!

Wednesday: Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks (8 PM EST/5 PM PST on ESPN)

Chug blood and clench your fists with hatred! It’s Revenge Night on ESPN! DeAndre Jordan, who famously hamstrung the Mavericks this past offseason, makes his first trip to Dallas in the first ESPN game, while new Spur LaMarcus Aldridge makes his return to Portland for the first time as a member of the opposite team. Both games should be pretty good, but I’m picking the Clippers vs. Mavs clash on Wednesday. Can’t really say why; I have a hunch that the Mavericks fans will express their displeasure (not just with DeAndre, but with their 3-3 taking-on-water squad) more vociferously. And, additionally, I’m fairly certain that the Clippers are reinforced by attention of any sort; be it positive or negative. That means that their response to the heckling will be more distinct and observable. The Spurs just sorta Spur it up wherever they go; they won’t respond to the bad-Yelp-review-style grumbles of the average Blazers fan. This is pretty good drama for a Wednesday in mid-November.

Thursday: Golden State Warriors at Minnesota Timberwolves (8 PM EST/5 PM PST on TNT)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are solidifying themselves as my second favorite team in the entire league, with third place looking on jealously from a distance. Get this: Thursday’s game will feature two of the three teams who haven’t lost a game on the road yet (Atlanta is the other), as well as the second and fourth best defensive teams in the league (at least in terms of defensive efficiency). Warriors fans gleefully snorting the good stuff from the 7-0 start might be surprised by the arsenal the currently 3-2 Wolves have amassed over the last few seasons: Ricky Rubio is making the leap, Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are going to be in the top five of their positions before very long, and goddammit Kevin Garnett is on the team and playing a role in an elite defense. This is really fun to write, in 2015. But the always-anxious Warriors fan behind the keyboard here clearly remembers the hellish test the Wolves (particularly Wiggins and Zach LaVine) gave his squad last year. This should be a good game, as long as the Warriors take care of their business.

Friday: Philadelphia 76ers at Oklahoma City Thunder (8 PM EST/5 PM PST on League Pass)

I have to do it at some point. I have to watch the Sixers. I have girded myself. I figure this rather meaningless game against the Oklahoma City Thunder are a good chance to take a gander. And let me say, dear reader: I am excited. In the limited (read as: mere seconds) of research I did while preparing this small annotation, I found my feelings about this team — and this game — changing by the moment. I had my ideological holdups about watching the Sixers — fuck The Process; it sounds like a cult mission statement – but they have now amassed the requisite number of (1) players I’m actually interested in watching and (2) spunky, punchy quality that a young team fervently searching for an identity need from me to give them that coveted watch. I’ve heard good things about the Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel combo, and folks seem high on Jerami Grant. I’d take a flyer on Nik Stauskas at shooting guard, I think? I don’t know, I’m just sitting here on the couch. So I’ll watch. But I’ll never trust The Process, Sam Hinkie, you freaky egg-man. I’ll never drink that Kool Aid, bro.

Saturday: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Clippers (3:30 PM EST/12:30 PM PST on League Pass)

I think there’s something wrong with me. This is the third Clippers game I’ve picked this week, and the fifth Clippers game I’ve picked this year. This means that 24% of all of the Game(s) of the Week(s) I’ve selected feature the Clippers, the team I detest the most. What does this say about me? Am I getting soft? Am I losing my edge? Am I slowing down? Are my tastes changing? All of these things are probably true. I’m also just probably wanting to watch Andre Drummond do this thing against DeAndre Jordan (who is averaging 20 and 20, the apocalypse is nigh). All of the above, we’ll say.

Sunday: New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks (12 noon EST/9 am PST on League Pass)

I won’t lie: only reason I’m picking this game is the start time. My love of Sunday Morning Hangover Games have been well-chronicled over the past few years. Though I’ll be honest: I don’t have too many hangovers anymore. At my age, one hangover is the equivalent to ten hangovers; a hangover you buy in bulk at Costco. More often now, I find myself awake at 5 am on weekend mornings, despite the fact I don’t have to get up with an alarm. I should rename this game to the Early Bird Special, or something like that, to reflect current consumer tastes, or something to that effect. Perhaps next week. Anyways, Knicks versus Pelicans: a basketball game in the morning. A game for those with too much on their minds to sleep in on a weekend. Perhaps the Pelicans will win a game before then?

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Sunday, November 8, 2015.

Rain is in the forecast for Northern California this week. May the rain and these excellent pieces help end this terrible drought afflicting the American west.

The Changing Math Behind the Increased Taking of NBA 3-Pointers
Ian Levy

I thought I’d enjoy an NBA where everyone played like the Warriors; screaming “heave, ho!” as they hoist a three with 19 seconds left in the shot clock. Instead, it hasn’t been so nice, both on the eyes, and on the watchability (I feel like I’m turning off more NBA games than last year). Luckily I’ve got Ian Levy to give me some numbers to back up my emotions: a copycat Warriors league is shooting — and missing — more threes than ever before. Levy provides all of the relevant data (it is Ian Levy, after all) to illustrate that a trigger-happy league isn’t necessarily an accurate league. Also, because it is Ian Levy, the piece features lots of really interesting tidbits about the types of threes being shot more, and the consequences of all of the extra brick-laying. I can say, on my part, it has meant that I’m only really watching the team that’s good at trigger happiness: the 2015 DEFENDING NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS. It’s a lifestyle, you know?

The Grandiosity of Steph Curry in Autumn
Kris Fenrich
Dancing With Noah

Yes, Kris is a friend, and yes, Dancing With Noah is The Diss’ informal sister site (even if Kris/Dancing With Noah doesn’t realize it), so this is not the most partial pick. But goddammit, Kris is a damn good writer, who watches the NBA in an instructional way. I definitely don’t mind that he’s talking about my guy Steph Curry, who is playing out of his mind at the moment. Kris does what he does best: provide an entertaining and educational look at a player who is doing something that is worth mentioning, chiefly because historical stats and discourse demand that someone look at it. The introduction of Fenrich’s discussion of Steph is worth quoting at length:

In 2014-15, his first season under the guidance of Steve Kerr, Curry was a joy to behold, roughly achieving the same averages he had in 2013-14 (pts, rebounds, asts, 3s, stls, etc) while appearing in four less minutes per game. Comparing his 2014-15 to 2012-13 is even starker: he played six more minutes per game that year, but his per-game averages were lower as were his shooting percentages. His per-36 numbers from 2014-15 outshone what had already been all-star caliber numbers. Improvement is expected, but as we’ll see, the type of improvement is mostly unprecedented.

I’m going to paraphrase here and most likely screw this up, but there’s a four-quadrant concept that occurs in learning and task mastery:

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know – you’re unconscious
  2. You become aware of the things you don’t know – your consciousness develops so you can at least identify what you want to improve upon
  3. You consciously begin to tackle those things of which you recently became aware
  4. You unconsciously do the things you recently did in a conscious state

If last year’s MVP/NBA champion season was step #4 for Steph where execution became second nature like breathing and sneezing and laughing, then the four games we’ve seen of him in 15-16 are closer to that scene in The Matrix when Neo is all “What are you trying to tell me, I can dodge bullets?” and Morpheus responds, “No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.”

In the words of Neo: “Whoa.”

Where Are All the Black NBA Coaches?
Howard Beck
Bleacher Report

NBA analysts have attempted to figure out whether race plays a role in hiring practices in the league, specifically for head coaching jobs. Several attempts have been made to parse out the effects racial profiling has for black coaches in the league (including two works from Diss editor emeritus Kevin Draper and myself in 2014), but this effort from Howard Beck stands out as the most statistically complete and well-argued article among them all. Beck’s work comes at a moment where black coaches are at their most under-represented level in 16 years, down 50% from three years ago. Beck closely examines 20 years of hiring data (1995-2015) for head coaches across 30 teams, and provides in-depth discussion about both hires and terminations in the league. The article runs through many different hypotheses about why black coaches are under-represented, both at the current moment, and over time. Beck accesses many former coaches, as well as current and former league and team executives, in order to gain understanding about the the tangible effects racial profiling has on the league’s black and white head coaches. Beck’s discussion and research on the topic are going to be a lasting, useful tool for those wishing to better understand how and why race matters and affects hiring (and firing) practices, even among wealthy men in the world’s most lucrative basketball league.

Black Coaches in NBA Have Shorter Tenures
David Leonhardt & Ford Fessenden
The New York Times

I wanted to include Leonhardt and Fessenden’s 2005 piece in The New York Times about race and hiring among NBA head coaches, as it serves as (I think) the earliest attempt to parse out the racial inequities of the position through a mixture of anecdotal and statistical data. For Leonhardt and Fessenden, the data of primary interest was the amount of time white coaches were allowed to hold their jobs, as opposed to their black counterparts. Unsurprisingly, they would that black coaches were given measurably less time on the job than white coaches. Similar to Beck, they noted that the NBA was doing far better in diversity than other leagues; an important qualification. However, like Beck, they highlighted the areas in the data where racial imbalance (to put white supremacy lightly) were apparent. It is an important work; one of the must-reads for any NBA fan who wants to better understand the motivations around understanding the role race plays in hiring in the NBA.

Posted in Annotated Bathroom Smartphone Reader | Leave a comment

Who Killed the Hook Shot? A Roundball Murder Mystery

This whole thing began as an investigation into why, and how, the venerable hook shot had disappeared, seemingly forever, from the collegiate and professional basketball landscape. Because I had done a lot of work on my hook shot against seven- and eight-year-olds at my daughter’s school (and had been borderline unstoppable), I knew I was ready to believe that the hook shot’s revival was inevitable. I also knew that this post-mortem dissection was going to begin with a 1965 New Yorker article by John McPhee about Bill Bradley called A Sense of Where You Are. In McPhee’s article it’s easy to get a sense of where the hook shot was within the world of competitive basketball. It’s also easy to get a little misty about the hook shot because it was clearly revered, effective and commonplace:

“Bradley’s graceful hook shot is a masterpiece of eclecticism. It consists of the high-lifted knee of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Darrall Imhoff, the arms of Bill Russell, of the Boston Celtics, who extends his idle hand far under his shooting arm and thus magically stabilizes the shot, and the general corporeal form of Kentucky’s Cotton Nash, a rookie this year with the Lakers. Bradley carries his analyses of shots further than merely identifying them with pieces of other people. ‘There are five parts to the hook shot,’ he explains to anyone who asks. As he continues, he picks up a ball and stands about eighteen feet  from a basket. ‘Crouch,’ he says, crouching, and goes on to demonstrate the other moves. ‘Turn your head to look for the basket, step, kick, and follow through with your arms.’”


Look for the basket.



Follow through.

There. That’s it. Five simple steps to basketball immortality, available to absolutely anyone who ever has, or ever will, lace ’em up. It worked for Bill Bradley, Collegiate All-American, Olympic gold medalist, and two-time NBA champion with the New York Knicks. It worked for many others who taught themselves how to use it with both the left and the right hands “back in the day.” And of course it worked for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, owner of one of the most hallowed record in all of professional sports: the most points in the history of the National Basketball Association.

And yet, in 1988, before Kareem had even retired, the Los Angeles Times published a wistful farewell (an obituary really) to the hook shot, the time-tested teardrop they called “the prettiest two points you’d ever see.” Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989. By then the hook shot wasn’t just a rapidly aging dinosaur, it was the last of the entire species. More recently there have been a number of articles on the hook shot’s glory days and/or demise. In a 2009 piece for ESPN, “Secrets of the Skyhook,” J.A. Adande goes more or less straight nostalgia, but not without wondering why the hell Kareem’s hook has never been replicated. A 2013 Bleacher Report article gets straight to the point and asks, hopefully it seems, whether or not more current NBA players shouldn’t bring the hook shot back. Another, a 2014 post on TrueHoop’s Bucksketball blog, is incredulous that no one has mastered the most unstoppable shot in the game, comparing the situation to that of a pitcher with an unhittable pitch that nobody else bothers to learn.

In each of these articles there’s an obvious yearning for someone, anyone, to resurrect the hook. The hope is that eventually someone will take the task seriously, seize the mantle as the next great (or maybe just decent) keeper of the flame, but no current player is highlighted as a possible candidate, and best of luck trying to identify which current baller that might be. Ultimately, the conclusion seems to be that the hook shot is indeed dead and has been for some time—the flame has been extinguished.

So who dunnit? Who murdered the hook shot?


Well, that’s kind of complicated. The fact of the matter is that the hook shot is actually still around—sort of. It just doesn’t look anything like the hook shot prevalent back in Bill Bradley’s day (remember, McPhee described Bradley as practicing his hooks from approximately eighteen feet away). It also has almost nothing in common with Abdul-Jabbar’s “skyhook” (a weapon that Kareem liked to use anywhere from eight to fifteen feet from the basket). These days it’s really all about the “baby hook” that’s probably always existed in one form or another, but is generally attributed to Magic Johnson and what he called his “junior, junior sky hook”—the one that famously beat the Celtics in game four of the 1987 NBA Finals. Although lots of guys use baby hooks these days, there’s precious little grace involved and they’re rarely attempted more than six feet from the hoop. And while a few current NBA big men have honed a fairly fluid jump hook (Tim Duncan, the Gasols), other hook shot perpetrators throw up a finesse-free, glorified shot put.

The players with most hook shots made, 2014-2015 NBA season:

1. Nikola Vucevic: 66 of 127 (51.9%).

2. Brook Lopez: 52 of 100 (52.0%).

3. Roy Hibbert: 51 of 92 (55.4%).

4. Greg Monroe: 51 of 119 (42.8%)

5. Donatas Motiejunas: 41 of 68 (60.2%).

6. Andre Drummond: 41 of 87 (47.1%).

7. Josh Smith: 32 of 78 (41.0%).

8. John Henson: 31 of 69 (44.9%).

9. Pau Gasol: 30 of 60 (50.0%).

10. Cole Aldrich: 27 of 68 (39.7%).

11. Kosta Koufos: 26 of 62 (41.9%).

12. Kevin Seraphin: 24 of 43 (55.8%).

13. Al Jefferson: 21 of 52 (40.3%).

14. Tyler Zeller: 20 of 45 (44.4%).

15. Blake Griffin: 19 of 58 (32.7%).

OK, so the hook shot’s not really dead, but it was definitely murdered. Got that?

On the one hand, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could be considered the guilty party. In a sense, he murdered the hook shot by taking it to a place that appears to be, and probably is, unapproachable by any other basketball player currently alive. He set the bar so incredibly high (the sky!) that no future players have even attempted to recreate the type of shot that he’d turned into his own piece of parabolic performance art. He scored so many points (38,387!) that the only hook available to those who followed was a junior jump hook, a baby hook, or no hook at all.

On the other hand, when the casual NBA observer sees a hook these days, he or she is forced to conclude that all the players on the preceding list (and many others whose percentages were too low to get them into the top fifteen) have collectively committed murder. The elegant hook shot of the past was an unwitting victim, dead from blunt force trauma, and every player who has ever hoisted up a hook shot (be it competitively, or in attempt to impress a few seven-year-olds) must be considered an accomplice that helped bury the body.

So it’s weird, then, to realize that 1965 is a full fifty years ago, and that what was once Bill Bradley’s simple, innocent step-by-step guide to the hook shot now reads more like a murder manual:


Look for the basket.



Follow through.

You can almost hear the Orlando Magic’s radio announcer, circa 2011:

Entry pass from Jameer to Howard. Dwight with the ball on the low block. He crouches, looks for the basket, takes a step, kicks, pushes up a shot, follows through… aaaaand it’s off the mark…

And with that kick, and that follow-through, another meaty, ham-handed big man deals another deadly blow to the hook shot. It’s a seemingly victimless crime, but shot by shot, brick by brick, the evidence adds up, and it’s compelling.

Oh sure, there will be more wringing of hands over who might be the next great practitioner of the hook shot. Basketball fans will still wonder when some young prodigy will look into the past and apply its lessons to the present, when some mystical talent will conjure the patience and determination to master a shot that, when done correctly, is the picture of elegance and simplicity, can prolong careers, and might just get you into the Hall of Fame. Also, isn’t it seductive to think that maybe there’s a young gun already in our midst that can raise the hook shot from the dead?!

I mean, c’mon…

Could it be?

Someone must be willing to…

No, that dream is just too distant, too far off, an impossible fantasy. The real mystery is why it had to come to this, why it had to end in… murder.

Wait! What’s that? There’s still four-tenths of a second remaining? Time for a final, desperate shot at reclaiming a relic of the past:


Maybe next season…


Editor’s Note: Peter Sennhauser lives and works in Seattle. This is his first contribution to The Diss.

Posted in General | 5 Comments