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?

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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
SI.com

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.

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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.’”

Crouch.

Look for the basket.

Step.

Kick.

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:

Crouch.

Look for the basket.

Step.

Kick.

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:

Hmmm.

Maybe next season…

***

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

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Games of the Week: November 2-8, 2015.

I turn 30 on Tuesday. Ty Lawson turns 28 on Tuesday. Coincidence? I think so, probably.

Monday: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on League Pass)

Monday marks my maiden voyage on the USS Knickerbockers, and I am excited for our first date on the balmy seas of casual fanhood. I’ve got nothing against the Knicks; like most honest, hard-working NBA fans, I think the NBA is a better place when the Knicks aren’t straight trash. Now, like the rest of us, I’ve seen my fair share of exciting Knicks starts over the last few seasons — or, at the very least, Knicks starts that don’t immediately smell like an improperly refrigerated cadaver. At the moment, the Knicks sit daintily at 2-1, and look like a precociously competent outfit. Melo is still playing his divisive brand of bully ball, but it looks functional next to his counterparts; an entertaining mix of stout, experienced veterans and spry, chipper young guns. In particular, guard Langston Galloway (13, 5, and 3 per contest) and forward Lance Thomas (11 and 3 off the bench) stand out, looking like bona fide contributors on any NBA team. I’ll be rooting hard for the ‘Bockers in this game: I’ve grown tired of Spurs hero-worship, and I’ll take any loss the East can deal to a top team west of the Rockies.  

Tuesday: Orlando Magic at New Orleans Pelicans (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

With both teams at 0-3, this game is more like the Orlando Tragic versus the New Orleans Pelican’ts. What a bunch of losers. Not a single win between the two of them. That’s what losers are; entities that don’t win, and these aren’t winning entities. That’s too bad, since both of these teams were thirst traps for NBA aficionados wanting to pick an unorthodox team to play the role of spoiler. For both teams, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going wrong. The Pelicans are dealing with all sorts of injuries right now, and seem to be struggling a bit with new coach Alvin Gentry’s new systems. The Magic are right there; they’ve lost all three of their games by an average of 3 points (including a 139-136 double overtime classic to the Thunder late last week). They probably will figure it out; it’s early as shit. Both teams have players I like (the Magic bench, especially, looks pretty fun), and the NBA season is too long to not have some sort of turnaround. And one of them will win on Tuesday. But right now they are LOSERS, unforgivable LOSERS. Win a game, you bottom-feeding cretins.

Wednesday: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on ESPN)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS versus the not-champion Los Angeles Clippers, our ornery, loquacious rivals to the south. I expect this to be NBA Shakespeare, replete with all the regular motifs that carry this drama-filled contest. The players will clutch their breasts, aggrieved and irate; they will stomp and preen in a manner that we’ve grown to recognize and appreciate. The crowd will rise and fall with the action, screaming their praise to their chosen heroes, and throwing epithets at the arbitrary villains. Perhaps this is what has made the Warriors/Clippers rivalry stand out above the rest: while there is certainly a lack of historical substance, there is a preponderance of public disdain, a group of very sensitive men. God bless them all. I will be there, wearing my replica ring, shrieking maniacally with the rest of them.    

Thursday: Miami Heat at Minnesota Timberwolves (8:00 PM PST/5:00 PM EST on League Pass)

Behold the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team laden with heavy hearts yet traveling lightly: zero losses, two wins after one week of play. It’s been dynamic rookie center Karl Anthony-Towns and swashbuckling point guard Ricky Rubio in the lead, flanked ably by a varied cast of supporting contributors. It doesn’t matter what team you prefer to root for: watching Kevin Garnett jump up on the bench, flexing his muscles and howling to the rafters, after Karl Anthony-Towns completes a strong move to the basket, is pure basketball butter melting on perfectly browned toast. I can’t quite recall a team with quite the backdrop as compelling as these Wolves: tasked with nothing more than being slightly better than they were last year, yet now buffeted by a desire to be even better for a coach who would’ve been there with him, were he not, well, dead. It’s those thoughts that just help guide you back to what’s happening on the court; it’s hard to know what is going on in the heads of mourning men.

Friday: Detroit Pistons at Phoenix Suns (9:30 PM PST/6:30 PM EST on League Pass)

There was a lot of bluster this summer directed at Markieff and Marcus Morris — the twin brothers bloggers called “the Morrii” whenever they wanted to hurl moralistic takes on their erratic on and off-court behaviors — and as such, I am interested to watch their reunion this Friday when the Pistons take on the Suns. In the immediate sense, their separation seems to have been good for them: both are producing for their respective teams, and both seem to have realized they can live without the other one. Which is good. At age 26, separation can be hard. I knew they’d be okay.

Saturday: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings (10 PM EST/7 PM PST on League Pass)

Psst. Hey. Can I tell you a secret? Cool. Here it is: the Kings/Warriors rivalry is waaaaaaaay better than the Clippers rivalry. Shut up, you always talk over me. My opinion is correct. Here’s why: the teams are closer together; separated only by about 2 hours of frustrating highway. Warriors versus Kings games have always been chippy; even during the lean years from 2006-2012, unlike the mud-sucking Clippers, who always played nondescript games against the Warriors until very recently. The Kings always play up for the Warriors, and the Warriors typically play down to the Kings (though maybe not anymore, since they are the DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPIONS), so I’m always having a minor temper tantrum while the game goes on. And at the moment, it doesn’t matter which 10 players are on the court: it’s going to be weird, hateful basketball, like it’s always been, forever and always. Now shut up, I’m watching Boogie lose his shit.

Sunday: Los Angeles Lakers at New York Knicks (3:30 PM EST/12:30 PM PST on League Pass)

Alright, yeah. I get it. “Lakers versus Knicks on a Sunday? Who are you, ABC?” Sure. It’s a simpleton’s choice, I know. Low hanging fruit. Lowest common denominator basketball. But goddammit, I’m 30 now. I can still believe that Kobe Bryant will engineer a 50-point classic on the Garden floor. I can still dream that the greatest individual performer since Jordan can get me out of my seat. But fuck, neither me, nor him are getting any younger. And truth be told, most of the other games suck that day.

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Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Sunday, November 1st, 2015.

The Reader is back, to help you and your number two.

Flip Meant Something to Everyone
Zach Bennett
Hardwood Paroxysm

Today marks the one week anniversary of the death of Flip Saunders, the beloved ideologue of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Once the death was announced, I, like many diffuse scribes dotting the landscape, wanted to write something to commemorate the man and his memory, but were unable to, due to either physical or emotional distance from the subject. This is not the case for Zachary Bennett, who provides a very complete and reverential look at the life and times of Phillip “Flip” Saunders. Bennett access both primary and secondary sources to paint a picture of a pure basketball man; a late-comer to Minnesota who fell in love with the life he created for himself in the Upper Midwest. Bennett did an excellent job eulogizing Saunders in this piece, and those interested in reading an encapsulation of a full life cut far too short should give this piece a look.

Love and Basketball
Jeremy Conlin
The Classical

I turn 30 this upcoming week, and this season marks my fifth season “covering” NBA basketball (from the comfort of my couch). I don’t often think wistfully about my early basketblogging days — like 26-year-old Mr. Conlin, I was the same age when I started banging out basketball words on the keyboard — but reading this piece in The Classical did get me thinking about those halcyon days of youth. Conlin presents a 6-part treatise on his affection for the sport. One of the sections definitely jump-started an “early blogging days” montage in my mind. Conlin is worth quoting at length:

Even if basketball has no idea that I exist, it still provides a small modicum of meaning to my life. Being an NBA hyper-fan provides for a sense of camaraderie, on the blogosphere and on Twitter. I can connect with people that share my passion in a way that loyal consumers to other products cannot. If the compulsive part of my brain had become obsessed with the idea of owning a Toyota or eating Frosted Flakes every morning, my life would be very different.

But entertainment is a communal experience. Everybody’s morning bowl of Frosted Flakes is different, as is every commute to work in a Rav-4. But when I watch Game 6 of the NBA Finals, I know that everyone else is watching the same Game 6 of the NBA Finals. I can surrender my agency and let the experience wash over me. So even if basketball doesn’t know that I exist, I know that basketball exists, other people know that basketball exists and, by extensinon, other people are able to know that I exist as a person who loves basketball.

These shared experiences come to define who we are as a community, playoff deciders as well as the regular season minutiae. Sometimes, the latter matters even more: Millions upon millions of people were watching Game 6 of the Finals last year, but how many people watched Russell Westbrook put up a 49-15-10 and lead Oklahoma City to an overtime win on that random Wednesday night in March? The smaller the group gets, the more special those memories feel in retrospect. The more exclusive a group gets, the more significant it becomes to be included.

Though I would not deign to privilege the experiences of this consumer group as opposed to other ones, Conlin’s piece does accurately portray the emotions of the twitterpated NBA fan, losing themselves to the beauty of the product. All of Conlin’s small treatises bear some relevance to all of us NBA fans. It is great that The Classical still exists to feature work like this; sorely missing in the cookie-cutter world of NBA analysis.

NBA Star Thabo Sefolosha Tells His Story of Assault by the NYPD
Nathaniel Penn
GQ.com

I have thoughts, obviously, about Thabo Sefolosha, and about the role police brutality has played in the presentation of the basketball product. Someday, I will compile those thoughts, and offer some sort of argument about how to contextualize the assault of Thabo Sefolosha at the hands of the NYPD. But for now, it is important for us all to read every word of Sefolosha’s account, and take note of three aspects. First, Sefolosha calls the incident “police brutality,” and based upon his words, and the accompanying cell phone videos, he is absolutely correct. Second, we must understand how much trauma and psychological damage the police exacted in this incident, not just on Thabo, but on all parties that night. Finally, we should take note that the National Basketball Players Association — the union that ostensibly protects the lives and livelihoods of the players — is not mentioned once in this piece. I fear attention will turn away from this now that basketball has started again, and Sefolosha is on his way back to playing. But this is hardly over; the police will not ever let it end.

81% of Anthony Davis Looks Like This
Kris Fenrich
Dancing With Noah

Before I begin, let me just say: Kris does the damn work, man. He’s the man who will search through newspaper archives to find secondary sources describing a mid-season knee injury from the 1980s, or will stay up late making tables lining up his analysis subject with other similar specimens. In this way, his work is truly interdisciplinary: it anchors itself with the air-tight specter of statistical analysis, but becomes truly expansive and illustrative through dynamic inner (and external) dialogue and discussion. With that praise in mind, I highly encourage you to read this sort of career check-in with Anthony Davis, who is beginning his fourth season as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. Kris’s nuanced analysis jumps around many different analytical areas, and settles, essentially, on this conclusion: while it is clear that Anthony Davis, statistically speaking, has the chops to mix it up with some of the greatest all-time players, there are still important reservations about a history of ticky-tacky injuries, and a pattern of slow restarts after Davis is re-integrated into a lineup following a moderate absence. Kris is a friend and a colleague, and I’ll never utter an ill word about him or his work. It is truly a pleasure to be doing no-money blogging with Mr. Fenrich; he is truly a Diss Guy.

Thunder vs Magic 
Jonathan Tjarks
Pattern of Basketball

Finally, let’s drop by Pattern of Basketball, to take a look into the brilliant, beautiful mind of Jonathan Tjarks. Though you can get your delicious filling of Mr. Tjarks at several other outlets, my preferred location is Pattern of Basketball, his personal blog. Reading Pattern of Basketball is like looking at the notebook of a basketball scientist; excitedly scribbling down observations, offering potential explanations for the various phenomena under study at that particular moment. Tjarks’ thoughts draw from many different sources and traditions, and as a result, we always are left with a fair, nuanced analysis on whatever basketball event is currently piquing Mr. Tjarks’ attention. These bullet-point thoughts on the Magic versus Thunder early-season classic from earlier this week illustrate the strength of the blog: informed looks at players, sets, rotations and skills, as well as supplementary thoughts on how particular NBA outfits affect the fan experience. I try and check in with The Pattern of Basketball a few times a week; it is a very valuable resource for NBA and basketblogging fans everywhere.

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Assuming the Role.

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Tonight, at around 7:30 PM, at 7000 Coliseum Way in Oakland, California, the Golden State Warriors will receive their championship rings. The rings will be impressive; it is likely that those who own them will cherish them more than many other items, activities, or individuals in their lives. As they consider this fact — yes, for at least one of these players, that ring will mean more than the birth of a child, or the death of a parent — a public address announcer will invite them to raise their heads as a banner is hoisted towards the rafters of Oracle Arena. This, too, will be an exciting moment. For both the ring and the banner carry considerable symbolic power: they allow the Warriors — and all who pledge allegiance to the brand, those who ascribe to whatever definition of fanhood that best suits them — to finally assume the role of reigning champions of the league. When the banner finally reaches the top of the massive concrete structure, all associated parties — thousands of fans, dressed head to toe in regalia only reserved for those who have won the postseason tournament, sweating and cussing and slapping hands with anyone in sight  –  will roar their delight, and scream their approval. It will be a jubilation only felt once; a fleeting sweetness that will stimulate the taste buds of those lucky enough to get a small bite. It is a pleasure that will be distinct, and a flavor that will never be experienced again. 7:30 post-meridian will be delicious in every possible respect.

Because in my mind, and within this diffuse network of individuals connected by their love of professional basketball, the championship ring carries the power to transcend logical analysis; to leapfrog all of our conventional understandings about the sport. For the fanbase lucky enough to claim it, the ring serves as the ultimate trump card, a non-expiring ticket out of hell. With the ring comes a permanent smirk, the corners of one’s mouth turned up sneeringly, eyes forever aflame with contempt for lesser opponents. With the ring comes an ability to sucker punch statistics and shank historical trends with rusty, homemade knives. Well-crafted analyses can be rejected with a simple point to the ring finger – count the ring, bitch! – and even the most docile challenges to authority are soundly quelled. No, there will be no questioning the ring; at least not while the ring holders are within vicinity. It doesn’t matter which team wasn’t played, or which players weren’t playing. All that matters is were the 16 wins from April to June. All that matters is that ring.

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At least, until about 7:43 PM this evening, roughly 13 minutes after the coronation concludes. After that, the experience of getting the ring will only be of importance to the Warriors fans. Once the pyrotechnics are powered down, and the players avert their eyes from the new banner, the athletes will fall into formation, and begin to do what we have counted on them to do for as long as any of us can recall. The players will be busy playing, engaging in all the activities that are associated with playing: dribbling, jumping, passing, leaping, falling, flopping and fouling, all for our enjoyment. The fans, meanwhile, will be busy being fans, and doing all the activities that are associated with being fans: sitting, eating, drinking, staring at screens, going to games, arguing, bickering, tweeting and bleating. Warriors fans, however, will be steadfastly focused on the ring: its shape and weight, its carat and cost, and how to best go about getting as many of them as we can.

At the present moment, the NBA lacks a strong villain, and the Warriors could happily occupy that space. Beneath the Warriors’ sharply adolescent exteriors — baby-faced behemoths with scraggly peach fuzz, looking light and lithe as they play out of position — there has always been a cold cunning; a unique joy in ruining one’s day. It was a role modeled by Mark Jackson and perfected by Steve Kerr, an arc that first took flight when the mighty Mavericks fell in 2007, and gracefully landed as the clock expired in Quicken Loans Arena on that glorious night in mid-June. Long the team most preferred by casual fans due to their freewheeling on-court attitude, their laser-precise shooting and their ubiquitously swift pace, the Warriors have undergone a unique metamorphosis; a team that will slit throats with flair and panache, a team that will entertain your loved ones at your own funeral.

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Championship defenders do not remain crowd favorites. We’ve already started to seen this happen; begun to perceive of the status shift. The populace at large have fallen behind the San Antonio Spurs, and the LeBron James-led Cavaliers — teams who, at times in the modern era, have been labeled as “bad guys.” The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers — frequently mentioned as teams that could’ve unseated the Warriors —  are looked at as legitimate threats to undo what has been done. Even in the hodge-podge Eastern conference, the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat look to be retooled and retrofitted; ready to face the Warriors head on, and challenge their legitimacy. And perhaps they will: perhaps this celebration will be short and stilted, compromised before it even begins.

But those are concerns for others. Tonight — at least until 7:43 post-merdian — our focus is on the ring: what it means, what it bestows, and what it allows us to conceive and behold. Tonight, for a few brilliant moments, the grumbling will cease, and the doubt will fade into the pastel colors of the early evening. The ring will be adorned, and the banner will be raised. And the crowd will roar; they will roar because it is what they have earned, and for at least 13 brilliant minutes, neither person, place nor thing can take that away from them.

And we won’t be giving it up, because in about nine months, we’ll be winning it all again.

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Games of the Week: October 26-November 1, 2015.

Hello. Welcome to Games of the Week for the 2015-2016 NBA season. Dedicated friends of the program (that is, my mom) know that these are my first Games of the Week in 18 months. I don’t quite remember how to do this, and have spent the last four months staggering around the flat lands, celebrating an unlikely championship. I will be playing my way into shape over the course of the next several months. Your patience is appreciated. Thank you in advance.

Monday: No Games Scheduled

In this, the last full day of the offseason, before your loved ones are systematically neglected, and your life goals are left to fend for themselves, I challenge you to try and knock as many items off that prickly to-do list as you can. These tasks have grown important, for tomorrow brings NBA basketball — the great slayer of time, the great destroyer of agency —  and, as in every year prior, most of your dreams will go unrealized because you’ll be watching basketball. You must use Monday for good, not evil. Run 50 miles. Pay off two credit cards. Call your parents. Clean the fridge. Join your alumni association. Do those things, and more. Take those little accomplishments, and hold them aloft for all to see. Because, come Tuesday, you shall be rendered stationary; nothing more than a lump of flesh, a fading blip on the radar.

Tuesday: Detroit Pistons at Atlanta Hawks (8 PM EST/5 PM PST on TNT)

On opening night, the NBA usually gives us a pleasurable kick in the butt with a high profile doubleheader on TNT, featuring well-watched teams and appointment-television players. This year is no different; D-Rose’s Bulls and LeBron’s Cavs lead off the night in the east, while the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans take on Steph and the Warriors in the nightcap. But then there’s also that other game that night, the one that just isn’t cool enough to make it onto the main stage. This game operates like a third eye strangely placed on a forehead, or a bizarre third arm erupting from an otherwise unblemished abdomen: what the hell are we supposed to do with this thing? My friends, we watch this game. We watch it, and by watching it, we love it and provide it with unconditional care. Come in, Pistons versus Hawks. Get in here, Al Horford. You too, Reggie Jackson. You both are welcome in this home. You both get seats at the table.

Wednesday: Denver Nuggets at Houston Rockets (8 PM EST/5 PM PST on League Pass)

Admittedly, I am rather dialed out at the moment, and am only now starting to acquaint myself with some of the newer talents that others have been salivating over for the past few months. Among those new succulent treats is Emmanuel Mudiay, point guard elect for the Denver Nuggets. My only encounter with him thus far has been what I’ve seen in preseason games, and it is clear that he will be very good upon arrival. I am interested to see how Mudiay conducts himself in this contest, as he will be matched up against Ty Lawson, the former Nuggets point guard whose downfall and departure predated — and in many ways, predicted — Mudiay’s arrival and ascendance. It is certainly a compelling contest; a delightful early test in the earliest phase of a career which I will observe with keen, continuous interest. Indeed, my mouth is very moist.

Thursday: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on TNT)

Fair warning: I will be gleefully beating the funeral drum (do they have funeral drums? Please bring drums to my funeral) for the Mavericks all season. I shall be prancing about the aisles, cackling at the weepy mourners, pah-rum-pum-pum-pumming on my bitchin’ funeral drum the entire time. Because, my friends, the Mavericks are dead: it’s an open casket affair, and we’re all invited to take a nice, long look. For the first time this millennium, there is ample doubt that the Mavericks will finish top eight in the west. And while most analysts point to DeAndre Jordan’s spurning of the Mavericks this offseason as the most destructive palpitation, it really has been a slow decline, observable since Mark Cuban tried to nickel-and-dime his way back to the top of the NBA. While the Mavericks have done much to save money over time — including a pay cut for Dirk Nowitzki, who will give that franchise legitimacy and prestige long after he retires — it hasn’t translated to much more than fleeting playoff runs and endless reshuffling of the deck. Now here we stand: Deron Williams looks sad, Chandler Parson looks doughy, Tyson Chandler looks weird in Phoenix purple, and Dirk looks old. Look at death; smell the decomposition. Pa rum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum.

Friday: Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets (9:30 PM EST/6:30 PM PST on League Pass)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS taking on the not-NBA-champion Houston Rockets, who gave the Dubs a hearty effort in the Western conference finals last season. Of course, the normal storylines will prop up this game: whether James Harden deserved to be MVP over Stephen Curry last season, whether the newly fortified Rockets can land the first punch on a clearly confident, but quietly wounded Warriors squad. Truth be told, this is but one grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it game in a firing squad of a first week. The Warriors play the Pelicans on Tuesday, the Rockets on Friday, the Pelicans again on Saturday, and wrap it all up with the Grizzlies on Monday. As soon as the schedule came out, I started going a little verkakte over this first week of stern-ass games. I can’t wait to see what a 2-2 (or, shit, maybe even a 1-3) stretch does for my completely wrecked digestive system. I still have heartburn from the Finals, I keep waiting for it to go away, but it remains, brazenly undeterred.

Saturday: Golden State Warriors versus New Orleans Pelicans (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on NBA TV)

Yes, there is a big, beautiful NBA world out there, but I have been separated from my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS for four months, so you will forgive me for choosing to feature them twice in this lightly-read column. In this secondary Homer Game, the boys meet up — again, for the second time that week — with the Pelicans. Of course, the Warriors already are dealing with perhaps the costliest injury of this early season: head coach Steve Kerr, who continues to recover from back surgery. And, even more of course (of which course, exactly, I am not so sure), the Pelicans are now steered by Alvin Gentry, who served as associate head coach for the Dubs last year, and who was hired as head man in New Orleans just before the NBA Finals started. The indication is that Kerr will not be rushing back any time soon — nor should he, the diagnosis sounds terrible — and that Luke Walton will remain the interim head coach in the meantime. I do love me some Luke Walton, and feel he will become a very excellent head coach over time. But, in this moment of fan vulnerability, I am missing Alvin Gentry far more intensely than I thought I would.

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

I’m not sure what sort of mitzvah I did to deserve this, but we’re getting a Hangover Game in the first week of the NBA season! Alright! For the new readers, the Hangover Game is the Sunday morning game meant to help you detox from whatever dumb shit you did the night before, primarily through intensive basketball background noise therapy. As you lay in bed wondering how many pickle backs you slung back last night, allow the squeaky sneakers of some handsomely-paid basketball men help you fall back into a spinning, deeply morose sleep. Let the droning announcers cradle you lovingly as you dry heave until 3 PM. It doesn’t even really matter who plays in a Hangover Game. It matters even less who wins the Hangover Game. What matters is that it’s there; sugar coated like an Advil, sweet and satisfying like an ice cold Gatorade. Adam Silver’s NBA truly is a Garden of Eden and a glittering land of opportunity to reinforce every single shitty life habit you have cultivated the last 30 years. Don’t worry, I’ve cultivated them as well.

Happy NBA season, everyone.

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