Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Roster: Duncan, Ginobili

In the lead up to the NBA season, I'm taking the time to slowly but surely go through every player who is likely to suit up in the silver and black this year and at least give some brief thoughts on their likely contribution. I know some of these players better than others, so some will subsequently receive lengthier consideration, but everybody gets a little attention. Today we finish off the roster with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

Tim Duncan:

The centerpiece of our dynasty, Tim Duncan continues to be the foundation for the Spurs success. The best power forward in the history of the game, he remains one of the best players in the NBA, despite being past his prime. His offensive repertoire is just shy of indefensible: most opposing teams merely hope to limit him rather than stop him. He is obviously best known for his bank shot, although he has a more varied set of moves than is often attributed to him. He has been able to sustain such a high level of play because he does not rely on his athleticism. He secures rebounds mostly by being in position. He puts the ball through the hoop with infallible mechanics. Eventually his game will deteriorate, but for now he will remain a force to be reckoned with.

Blessed with a combination of intelligence and character, Duncan's level of play is infectious. He understands Popovich's system and style in its entirety and therefore is as prepared as anyone to impart wisdom to his fellow teammates. But unlike many superstars, he addresses them with a mutual respect that ensures that they are listening.

Duncan's most underrated virtue may be his clutch shooting. If one takes a look back at his career, there are numerous instances in which he has nailed do-or-die shots from any number of spots on the floor. His 3-pointer in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs this year comes to mind, but actually, he has an even more incredible shot that goes unnoticed. During the 2004 playoffs, he nailed a 20-foot jumper to put the Spurs up by 1 against the Lakers in game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals despite being excellently defended by Shaquille O'Neal. Few people focus on that shot, as Derek Fisher hit an even more miraculous shot as time expired moments later. Had Fisher missed, Duncan's shot would be a staple of playoff of lore.

Manu Ginobili:

Sixth Man of the Year and the Spurs' leading scorer last season, Ginobili has surpassed his role as "firestarter" and now is amongst the top shooting guards in the league. He is an excellent outside shooter, as well as an inventive and deadly finisher at the basket. He is strongest with his left hand, although his quick first step allows him to jet past defenders in either direction.

Ginobili very well may be the most competitive Spur on the roster, which is saying something given the number of rings the team collectively owns. He does not understand how to take plays off or give less than 100%, making him both an inspiration to those around him and an exciting player to watch. His style is more dynamic than most men on the roster, as he can genuinely score from anywhere on the floor and is more likely to gamble on the defensive end of the ball.

Ginobili currently has an injury to his left ankle that will keep him out until December of this season. His presence will be missed, but won't be crushing. The team is too balanced and too disciplined to allow the absence of any one player to effect its standings dramatically (consider how well the team played while Duncan was sidelined last season). More important than he come back soon is that he come back completely healthy. In this past season's playoffs he played on the same hurt ankle, and it affected his style of play dramatically. In particular he was unable to drive to the lane with the frequency and intensity with which he normally does. Were he to return at full strength, it would go a long way towards putting this team back into championship contention.

San Antonio Spurs Media Day Photos

The thing about Media Day photos is that they are always awkward. And I don't just mean the forced, 3rd grade yearbook photo smiles. I mean, those are awkward, and make them almost difficult to look at. But on top of that you have the ridiculous poses. If anything, the Spurs poses this year are rather tame (which should really not be surprising whatsoever). The arms outstretched, and Mahinmi palming a ball. That's nothing compared to the idiotic poses some of the other players strike. Check out Upside and Motor for further evidence. And supposedly there are pictures out there off Pop sporting a full on beard but I haven't wandered across them yet. I'll definitely post those if I find them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Roster: Parker, Mason, The D-Leaguers

In the lead up to the NBA season, I'm taking the time to slowly but surely go through every player who is likely to suit up in the silver and black this year and at least give some brief thoughts on their likely contribution. I know some of these players better than others, so some will subsequently receive lengthier consideration, but everybody gets a little attention. Today: Tony Parker, Roger Mason, and an assortment of D-League hopefuls.

Tony Parker:

2007 Finals MVP and smoother operator Tony Parker is the only member of the big three who very well may have his best basketball in front of him. Although Tim Duncan remains the foundation for success, Parker has genuinely assumed the mantle of "floor-general." Under the tutelage of Popovich and Duncan, Parker has become one of the premier point guards in the league.

Parker is blessed with blinding quickness, as well as a preternatural sense of pace that allows him to catch defenders off guard. It's not so much that Parker is shockingly fast as it is that he can go from 0 to 60 and back to 0 in no time flat. He uses this ability to score effectively on the fast break as well as in half-court settings. At this point, Parker's ability to attack the basket may be the Spurs' most potent/feared offensive weapon. Although Duncan's bank shot and Ginobili's ability to finish receive much attention, Parker's ability to get into the lane is increasingly becoming the number one priority for opposing defenses.

Parker has worked tirelessly to improve his jump shot, even going through the rigorous process of changing his actual mechanics. He was unable to develop a consistent three-point shot, and subsequently has stopped taking so many outside shots. He easily gets mid-range looks because defenders are so concerned about him beating them off the dribble. If he ever develops a consistent mid-range shot, he will be a very difficult man to defend effectively.

Roger Mason:

Brought in to replace the loss of Brent Barry, Mason is a classic Spurs small forward: Solid defender, solid outside shooter, capable point-forward if need be (in fact, ESPN lists him as a PG). Last season, Mason averaged 9.1 points per game while shooting 39% from beyond the 3-point line. As best I can tell he can be counted on for a similar amount of production this season. Aside from reliable outside shooting, a staple of any Spurs role player, Mason adds a little bit of youth and athleticism to our aging roster. Brent Barry will always have a special place in my heart, but he's 36, while Mason is only 28. It's a meaningful step forward for a front office that almost seems to hold a grudge against anybody under 30. Until the season gets going, I probably won't have much more to say about Mason, as he seems to fit into the Spurs system in obvious ways.

The D-Leaguers:

Aside from the usual gang, a bevy of development league players will be trying to earn a spot during training camp. The most likely to end up in a Spurs uniform next season are Ian Mahinmi, Anthony Tolliver, and Desmon Farmer. Darryl Watkins and Devon Green will also be trying to earn a spot on the roster. Mahinmi has been a successful member of the Austin Toros, the Spurs D-League affiliate, and is perennially on the cusp of earning a permanent spot on the roster. Tolliver played for the Iowa Energy where he averaged 11.6 points and 6.4 rebounds last season. I actually haven't seen much of Desmon Farmer, but Matt Moore has a good breakdown of Farmer's potential over at Ridiculous Upside that I recommend taking a look at. As far Watkins and Green go, I assume they know the rules of basketball, but beyond that your guess is as good as mine.

Absolutely Not

According to the New York Daily News, via SLAM, the Spurs may be taking an interest in Stephon Marbury:
The Spurs might not see Manu Ginobili until late December as he recovers from foot surgery, so if Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich think they can get Marbury to buy into their system, San Antonio is a possible destination.
Just to preface my remarks, that article is mindless speculation that lacks even the legitimacy of the title "rumor." But, for some reason, I'm addressing it anyways.

It would be an absolutely terrible idea to sign Marbury, for more reasons than I can count. We don't have the money. He won't be happy playing second fiddle to Parker. He is a defensive liability. This list could go on for a while. But really I want to focus on a distinction: The distinction between "crazy" and "egomaniac crazy."

Despite being well known for our collective sanity, the Spurs have flirted with the idea of bringing in a few nutcases now and then if we thought it could help put us over the top. Obviously, everybody remembers the failed Rodman experiment, but more recently the Spurs have expressed serious interest in guys like Ron Artest and J.R. Smith, who are not exactly well known for their calming presence. We also were an essential part of getting Stephen Jackson back on track.

But Marbury is a whole different kind of crazy. His insanity bleeds onto the court in a way that even Artest's instability doesn't. By this I mean, Artest still knows how to play within a system, how to conceive of himself as part of a larger unit, something that is absolutely fundamental if you are going to suit up in the silver and black. Marbury's egomania makes this level of self-awareness almost impossible. Marbury believes he should be the franchise player wherever he goes. That is not going to fly on a squad where several of the players are more talented than you.

The fact of the matter is, the Spurs believe that character and conscience are fundamental not just off the court but on it. We believe that the bonds built between men of decency manifest themselves in an increased level of trust, and subsequently success, on the floor. That's why guys like Jackson, and even Artest, worked or could work on the Spurs. They may be a little crazy, but they have a level of selflessness and loyalty that allows them to co-exist with the Spurs team-centric ethos. Marbury fundamentally lacks these qualities. Not all types of crazy are the same.

I'm not really to worried about this, as I actually have a lot of faith in Buford and Popovich, but I just felt like addressing why Marbury would be a uniquely bad addition to the Spurs roster.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Roster: Finley, Bowen, Stoudamire

In the lead up to the NBA season, I'm taking the time to slowly but surely go through every player who is likely to suit up in the silver and black this year and at least give some brief thoughts on their likely contribution. I know some of these players better than others, so some will subsequently receive lengthier consideration, but everybody gets a little attention. Today: Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Salim Stoudamire.

Michael Finley:

At 35 years old, Finley is no longer the amped gunner we once knew, but his stroke remains pure, his competitiveness alive and well. His shooting percentage slipped a tad last season, enough so that his position on the starting five needs to be seriously considered. To be honest, I don't know where Popovich is at regarding Finley's place in the rotation. With the additions of Stoudamire and Mason, we have two new outside shooters who may be more consistent than Finley at this point. But hell or high water, Popovich likes who he likes (see Robert Horry for further evidence), and Finley remains solidly on Pop's good side, which means #4 could be seeing more minutes than is probably appropriate.

Finley does have one characteristic which, at least for me, makes him a valuable member of this team: He takes things personally. In particular, he takes offensive failure personally. There is nothing I love more than when Finley gets pissed. Somewhere in that long and lean body of his is the memory of a man who could score in bunches. And oftentimes, when the shots just aren't dropping, it's Finley who nails a couple to get things back on track. It's difficult to quantify this type of contribution, but if you watch closely, you can see it. I don't think Finley deserves the minutes he's had in the past,but I am happy that he will likely end his career as a Spur (the number of times I am going to type that during this roster breakdown is absurd).

Bruce Bowen:

The most controversial member of the current Spurs roster (and honestly, probably ever), Bowen is well known for his lock-down defense and even better known for his somewhat unorthodox tactics. He's undoubtedly lost a step or two over the years, but still has the potential to entirely negate an opposing player's presence on the floor (see his defense on Peja Stojakovic during the Western Conference Semi-Finals for further details). That being said, like Finley, Bowen's position as a starter needs to be reconsidered. And again, like Finley, Bowen is a Popovich favorite and will in all likelihood start 82 games. Just for the record, I am more comfortable with Bowen starting than Finley. As I noted a moment ago, He doesn't have the lateral quickness he used to but he will still be an All-NBA defensive player.

I wouldn't exactly call Bowen an "offensive liability" as he shoots 40% from beyond the arc, but he only does so from his signature spot in the corner. He also only does so when he is completely open, which is the unidentified shortcoming of Bowen's limited offense: most other "sharpshooters" would have inflated shooting percentages if they only took the uncontested looks Bowen is getting. That being said, I do salute him for having the maturity to mostly play within his ability (when Bowen infrequently puts the ball on the floor it gives me a small heart attack).

In regards to Bowen's reputation for being a dirty player, I actually penned a reasonably lengthy defense of his style of play back in May. Take a look, as I continue to stand by what I wrote on the matter.

Salim Stoudamire:

The newest addition to the Spurs roster, Stoudamire was brought in to help the bench provide some sorely needed offensive production. I'm not sure whether this will come to pass or not, as I will openly admit I have only watched Salim play a couple of times, but Ziller seems confident, and that's good enough for me. In theory, his preference for the long ball should fit perfectly into the Spurs offensive scheme.

I'll take this opportunity to say that, whether or not Salim is successful as a Spur, this is a step in the right direction. We need to get younger, and we need to unashamedly go after guys who can score (At points I almost feel Popovich is trying to field an offensively inept team out of spite). I lost countless hours of sleep mulling over how professional basketball players could possibly have such a difficult time scoring for such unbearably long stretches during a game. I don't know if I've ever seen a "contender" flatline offensively the way the Spurs were prone to do last season.

Other People: David Robinson Gets His Due

Basketbawful: "[Robinson] led the league in scoring in 1993-94 and is one of only five players to have ever scored more than 70 points in a single game (with 71 points against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 24, 1994). He is one of only four players to have recorded a quadruple-double (with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 blocks against the Detroit Pistons on February 17, 1994). In 1991-92, he became just the third player to have ever ranked among the league's top 10 in five statistical categories, joining Cliff Hagan (1959-60) and Larry Bird (1985-86) -- Robinson was seventh in scoring (23.2 ppg), fourth in rebounding (12.2 rpg), first in blocks (4.49 per game), fifth in steals (2.32 per game) and seventh in field-goal percentage (.551). That achievement also made him the first player to ever rank among the top five in rebounding, blocks and steals in a single season. And finally, he's also the only player in NBA history to win the Rebounding, Blocked Shots, and Scoring Titles and Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Other People: 9/25/08

Ziller, NBA Fanhouse: "For a few easily ascertained reasons, Manu Ginobili almost never gets mentioned in the same breath as the league's top two-guards. He gets ignored in favor of fellows like Michael Redd and, prior to last season, Ray Allen. Manu gets respect -- don't get that twisted. But it's always as a sixth man, as a firestarter and not as one of the best in the NBA, no qualifiers necessary. His role and style are so different from Kobe and Wade and Redd and Iverson that it knocks him out of the conversation, which is unfair to all of us."

FD Guest Lecture by Atticus Van Zandt
: "A bad NBA player with a large contract is basically bad debt. It's an asset that's worth significantly less on the open market that what you paid for, and it sits on the books restricting your ability to manage your organization. Zach Randolph is, essentially, an illiquid asset, and there’s not much that separates NBA franchises from investment banks. During the past decade, the NBA saw an explosion of bad debt. The arms race of contracts made the competition for free agents explode and suddenly even mediocre players were getting contracts far greater than their actual worth. While such contracts had always been present in the system, during this time, they threatened to overwhelm it."

SLAM Online
: "You have to love the irony of this signing. Last year’s Knicks were mostly comprised of healthy, but constantly out of shape underachievers. Now, a 37-year-old Allan Houston is making a come back despite having serious knee injuries in the past."*

Deadspin: "After putting his motorcycle in a ditch, Robles recovered from a broken right kneecap, a dislocated right elbow, and a broken right forearm. But the one thing he couldn't recover from was gnarly road rash on his pinkie finger that wouldn't heal and threatened to stall his boxing career. Since he didn't have insurance for a medical amputation, he did what any one else would do. He grabbed a chisel, a 15-pound weight and ... you probably know the rest."

Faith and Fear in Flushing
: "Sometimes in the winter I'll be doing some household chore and I'll realize that for the last five or 10 minutes I've been brooding about a moment from the Mets' past, turning it over and over in my mind and wondering how everything could have gone so wrong. Sometimes I even catch myself muttering imprecations, with whatever I've been doing sidetracked by sour anger and regret."

* There is nothing I love more than making fun of the current state of the New York Knicks. This team is a living breathing manifestation of the Hindenburg. I derive so much Schadenfreude from this organization. But once upon a time, I was a Knicks fan, so I have a hard time enjoying this particular ridiculous move. As a kid I really loved Houston, and there's a part of me that wishes my idyllic memories of that time didn't have to be corrupted by watching a shell of his former self struggle to get up and down the floor.

The Roster: Udoka, Hill, Oberto

In the lead up to the NBA season, I'm taking the time to slowly but surely go through every player who is likely to suit up in the silver and black this season and at least give some brief thoughts on their likely contribution. I know some of these players better than others, so some will subsequently receive lengthier consideration, but everybody gets a little attention. Today: Ime Udoka, George Hill, Fabricio Oberto.

Ime Udoka:

Anybody who read this blog during the season knows I am an unashamed cheerleader for Udoka. A savvy journeyman who played increasing minutes over the course of last season, I think he will be a productive member of this squad for several years. He is thought of as the heir apparent to Bruce Bowen, and in some ways this is true but in some ways he is likely to be a much more versatile member of this team.

Udoka is a lock-down perimeter defender in the mold of Bowen (he did an excellent job covering Odom during the Western Conference Finals-check out Odom's stats from the second half of game 1, when Udoka was glued to him), but he has the strength and fearlessness to bang in the post. He is only 6-6, but he plays above his height. Also like Bowen, he is an effective outside shooter (37% from beyond the arc last season), although he is comfortable letting it fly from spots other than the corner.

Unlike Bowen, he can make effective decisions off the dribble. He's not some miraculous ball-handler, but the man can find the space to get a good mid-range look or to hit the cutter. I don't have some misguided dream that one day Udoka will be a primary scorer on this squad, or even a starter. But as far as our role players go, he probably inspires the most confidence in me. I would also like to note that the man is a complete bad-ass.

George Hill:

Hill was our first-round pick in this year's draft, and I'd be lying if I didn't say there isn't a number of other players who were available at the time I wish we would have taken. That being said, I think he potentially could be a valuable member of this squad. According to Jeff over at Project Spurs, Hill is already a bust, but I'm willing to give the man a chance. I guess Hill was chosen because Popovich believed he was that special combination of tenacious defender/selfless player that the Spurs crave. But during summer league play, he proved surprisingly inept on the offensive end of the ball. Nonetheless, I can still see him challenging Vaughn for the backup spot at the point. If he can prove to be a responsible ball-handler and an aggressive defender, there is no reason he couldn't be a regular contributor to the second squad. Sadly, I don't hope for much more out of this guy.

Fabricio Oberto:

Oberto, Manu's shaggy headed compatriot and our starting center, was a valued member of our 2007 championship squad and will remain a reliable however limited member of our starting 5 this year. I think he is a decent defender (given the caliber of player he is often asked to cover), and a surprisingly creative passer for a post-player. His primary offensive contribution comes in the form of garbage buckets, but he and Manu also run the pick and roll quite effectively. At this point, Oberto's likely contribution seems self-evident: He's been a 5 and 5 player for a couple of years and is likely to remain so. At the end of the day, he is a hard worker and competent companion to Duncan in the frontcourt.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Roster: Bonner, Vaughn, Thomas

Although I will be a part of a couple of season preview projects, including Spurs previews for both Celtics blog and Hardwood Paroxysm, I wanted to take the time and do an extended breakdown of the roster the Spurs have assembled heading into this upcoming season. I've watched some of these players countless times, others I came to know better this past season, still others I've mostly just read their scouting reports. So I'm not going to act as if I know all these players inside and out, but I will give each at least a brief moment of attention. Today we'll begin with Matt Bonner, Jacques Vaughn and Kurt Thomas.

Matt Bonner:

Bonner is at best a peripheral figure on the Spurs roster. Everybody has a soft spot in their heart for "human victory cigar" type players, so obviously I don't harbor any ill will when it comes to Bonner, but there is no reason to act like he will be anything more than a pale-faced blur at the end of the bench. For a 12th man, he is a decent defender, and has a charmingly irrelevant proclivity for shooting from beyond the arc. But you have to actually spend time on the court to affect the outcome of games, something Bonner just won't do unless the outcome has long before been decided.

Jacques Vaughn:

Vaughn is the backup point guard to Tony Parker, although his job may be in jeopardy now that we have drafted George Hill. Popovich has said explicitly that the backup job at the point is up for grabs. Vaughn is a limited player, but plays relatively mistake free ball (.7 Turnovers/15 minutes per game) , which is fundamentally what the Spurs want out of him. Whether Parker or Vaughn, we don't rely on our point guards to be too inventive in terms of ball distribution. In fact, Ginobili (and Barry) probably brought the ball up as often if not more than Vaughn this past season. Obviously Hill is a massive x-factor, but between Parker, Hill, Ginobili and Mason (whom Popovich likely plans on playing at the point forward) I expect Vaughn to become an increasingly irrelevant member of the roster.

Kurt Thomas:

In the winter of his NBA career, Thomas is likely to retire as a Spur. He was acquired from the recently deceased Supersonics during last season to help counterbalance against the increasingly loaded front-courts of the Western Conference (Shaq/Amare; Gasol/Bynum/Odom). Despite his age he remains a solid post defender. He lacks lateral quickness but makes up for it with savvy. He isn't a prolific scorer, but has a good sense of his own limitations on that half of the floor. His preferred shot is a straight on 8 to 10 footer from the top of the paint, and he will only take that if genuinely open. Although I would have preferred that Buford and Popovich had used this off-season for a bit of youthful rejuvenation, I fundamentally trust Kurt's decision making when on the court, and am content to see him in the silver and black for a couple more seasons.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Other People: Salim Stoudamire

So the Spurs' acquisition of Salim Stoudamire has generated a little bit of buzz around the interwebs, which is a testament to how absolutely little NBA news there is right now (actually between the Knicks waiving Marbury and Shareef Abdur-Rahim's retirement this has been a pretty busy 48 hours, comparatively). Either way I figured I'd give a quick breakdown of other people's reactions.

Tom Ziller, NBA Fanhouse
: "The one constant with Stoudamire: dude can shoot. Let's ignore last season, when he only totaled 400 minutes. Look at all seasons, college and pro, when he actually got a shot. Here are his three-point shooting percentages: 45% as a college freshman, 44% as a sophomore, 42% as a junior, 50% as a senior, 38% as a rookie, 36% as a second-year player. The league average is 36%, and the Spurs are accustomed to shooting slightly higher. Salim helps that, yes?"

Pounding The Rock: "Apparently, Damon Stoudamire's stint with the Spurs was not painful enough. Now we get another vertically challenged ball hog to sit at the end of our bench. Woo hoo!! This has been the best off season ever!"

Rob Mahoney, in brief: "For the record, I don't think Salim Stoudamire will be a good fit in San Antonio."

Salim Stoudamire (as interpreted by Trey Kerby): "The first thing I want to say is, I'm open. All the time. I'm open right now, in fact. Even though sometimes it might look like I'm guarded, trust me -- I'm open. I don't know how it always happens, but for whatever reason, I'm always open. I wake up in the morning -- open. I get up in the middle of the night to pee -- open. I'm driving down the block with my Low End Theory tape in -- open. So basically, just get me the rock."

The actual Salim Stoudamire: "This is definitely my second chance and it might be my last chance. But I know how to turn negatives into a positive. After these three years in Atlanta I can say that I’ve finally become a man. Being in a situation where I wasn’t playing, it humbled me. It made me appreciate just being in the NBA a lot more. It made me work a lot harder and realize that this is a blessing. There are only 400 and something guys in the NBA and billions of people in the world. So once you take that into account, your focus is there, your clarity is there and you can move forward."

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Late Off-Season Addition

According to the Arizona Daily Star (via Slam via Ziller), Salim Stoudamire is now a Spur. Which is fine. Stoudamire seems to fit the mold as far as Spurs role players go, i.e. he shoots the three ball. Ziller noted that Salim shot anywhere from 42 to 50% from outside while in college, while his percentage as a pro sits somewhere in the high 30's. Given the Spurs penchant for smart, solid ball movement, it's very possible his 3-point percentage could hit 40 (for instance, were he required to take anything other than wide open looks from the corner, Bowen wouldn't be a 40% outside shooter). Stoudamire may be able to rely on The Big Three's ability to collapse the defense and utilize the subsequently created space on the perimeter.

Does this actually solve our offensive woes? No, not at all. But it leaves me intrigued to see if the newly assembled long ball core of Mason/Stoudamire/Udoka can prove to be as reliable as the older versions were (prediction: they won't be).

I would like to note that Salim is a vegan, and that leaves me with mixed emotions.

N.B. Trey has me a little worried.

UPDATE: In other roster related news, the Wizards signed DerMarr Johnson, so he won't be in the neighborhood this upcoming season. Obviously this is a pretty minor development, but as long as we are on the topic of insignificant off-season moves that affect the Spurs, I figured I'd bring it up.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Other People: 9/18/08

I honestly have nothing to say about basketball right now. My ability to think lucidly about sports has been paralyzed by the anger and confusion I feel in regards to the current state of the general election, and more broadly the nature of media in the United States. But, alas, other people still find the strength to put pen to paper. Here is some stuff I think you should read:

Recluse brings the hammer down on Mike Fisher for his absurd criticisms of Josh Howard. One of my favorite things about Free Darko is the subtlety with which they are able to address the intersection race and sports, as well as the strength of their moral clarity.

While we're on the subject of race, check out Ta-Nehisi Coates and some of his thoughts on the notion of "black leadership."

Deadspin gives us a brief excerpt from Jeff Pearlman's new book Boys Will Be Boys, an account of the early 90's Cowboys that is packed to the brim with debauchery and absurdity. This book just shot to the top of my reading list.

This is from a couple of days ago but it's still worth reading why Ziller thinks Tony Parker is amongst the top 25 players in the league (number 25 to be exact).

This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen.
David Sparks' column at Hardwood Paroxysm continues to revolutionize my understanding of the potential of statistics in basketball.

David Weiner is pushing the envelope with this one, but I like it.

The gentlemen over at SlamOnline offer some commandments for aspiring basketball writers.

Robert McChesney gives an interesting account of the history of the media reform movement in the United States.

Straight Bangin' wandered across a pretty on-point poster.

Josh Coleman of 3 Shades of Blue stopped by HP and offered a sober assessment of the amount of responsibility that athletes have to be role models.

Moe, with the usual combination of indignation and insight that causes me to love her so, answers some frequently asked questions about the awful state of the economy and provides some links to help us figure out what the hell is going on.

And lastly, swing by the CHIRP (Chicago Independent Radio Project) and support localism, diversity and independence in broadcasting.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

HustleJunkie: Wallace Revisited

Yesterday I briefly addressed the death of David Foster Wallace, but I couldn't stop thinking about the article he wrote for the the New York Times Sports Magazine and the ramifications of his insights regarding aesthetics and sports. Subsequently, I wrote this. In some ways it is an extension of this piece, but it addresses the topic from some angles I haven't previously explored. I'm intrigued to hear people's reaction.

N.B. If you get a chance swing by Trey's neck of the woods and check out all the lovely presents we're giving Rasheed Wallace for his birthday. I chipped in and got him that little something special that you never think to give but can always be put to good use: A bullhorn.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

David Foster Wallace: 1962-2008

As many of you may already know, David Foster Wallace passed away this past weekend in tragic fashion. He was a brilliant novelist as well as an insightful cultural critic. He also was an accomplished tennis player and an avid fan of the game.

Although an NBA blog, I have always tried to recognize great sportswriting wherever it may arise. And Wallace's was excellent. His piece for the New York Times Sports Magazine, Roger Federer as Religious Experience, is one of the best reflections on a pro-athlete I have ever read. Wallace understands the aesthetic potential of sports in a way few writers do. I'll let his words speak for themselves:
Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.

The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.

Ball Don't Lie Spreads the Love

If you haven't been checking out Ball Don't Lie's Blog Association posts, you really should. I consider myself reasonably well-versed when it comes to the NBA blogosphere but Dwyer, as he goes through naming the top three team blogs for every team in the Association, has introduced me to some sites I will definitely be swinging by this upcoming season. I am writing this now because your humble author had the honor of being named the #2 Spurs blogger out there on the interwebs.

Coming in at number one is Pounding The Rock, which is how it should be. I started out reading Pounding the Rock and actually wrote my first blog post ever for PTR, when I recapped a Spurs-Bulls game for them late this last season. I take a very different tone than the boys over at PTR (you might say they are more acerbic than I like to be) but few people I know have more consistently insightful thoughts on the silver and black that Matthew Powell and Aaron Stampler.

Either way, it's a real honor to be included on this list. I started this thing back in April after watching the Bulls lose to Miami, and I needed to vent. I didn't intend for it to be a Spurs blog, but I'm doing this for the love, not the money, so I found myself discussing SA more often than not. I figured this would exist in moderate obscurity for sometime, I never imagined I would have the readership or the support that I have currently.

In conclusion, I want to send some love directly to Skeets and Dwyer over at BDL. The Basketball Jones was one of my first excursions beyond ESPN into the wild world of democratized sports journalism, and his inclusion of my writing in his "the internets are alive" posts has been critical to any success I have had so far. Also, if you don't read Dwyer's Behind the Boxscore posts, why the hell don't you? They are a must-read.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

NBA Stadium Blog Day: Phoenix at San Antonio, December 17th, 2007

Jones on the NBA, an excellent basketball blog authored by Nates Jones, is hosting "NBA Stadium Blog Day" tomorrow, during which a number of excellent writers will discuss their favorite NBA stadium experiences. This is my contribution:

I have many memorable trips to NBA arenas across the country so it was difficult to choose, but I settled on when I saw the Phoenix Suns play the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio on December 17th, 2007.

I was living in New York at the time but was in Austin visiting friends and family when I realized Phoenix was coming to town. This was the first meeting between the two squads since the 2007 Western Conference Semi-Finals. Won in 6 by the Spurs on their route to a 4th NBA Championship, the series had become infamous because of the final minutes of game 4, in which Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the scorer's table, and the subsequent suspensions that followed. Most notable was the suspension of Amare Stoudemire, who was not directly involved in the fray but left the bench area during the altercation. Needless to say, there was little love to be found between the two squads, although a surprising and laudable amount of mutual respect.

I have been to several regular season games as well as multiple playoff games and it is no secret that the latter often have considerably more exciting atmospheres. I have never been to a regular season game that had the intensity and electricity of a playoff game the way this game did. For the Suns this game was about revenge, and during a post-game interview Stoudemire made that clear. This was about rivalry and bragging rights and all the narrative elements that keep games engaging when few long-term outcomes are on the line.

Sensing the importance of the game to the two teams, the fans were volcanic. From 12:00 in the 1st to 00:00 in the 4th, they were loud and proud. Again, Amare in his post-game interview noted this, equating it to a playoff atmosphere as I did earlier. It made me proud to be a Spurs fan as well as thankful to be a fan of the NBA at a time when the level of play is genuinely very high.

Like many Suns-Spurs meetings, the game was close. The Suns led by 1 at half, but there were multiple lead changes. Eventually, after a missed Bruce Bowen 3-pointer to tie with around 30 seconds left in the game, the Spurs were forced to foul and eventually lost by 5. It is no secret that I despise the Phoenix Suns, so it may seem odd that I have chosen a game in which my beloved Spurs lost to them. But honestly, the game was amazing. The fans were energetic, the teams focused and aggressive.

As my friend Nick and I drove back to Austin, I called my girlfriend at the time. She eagerly asked who won and I gave her a brief rundown of the game. She sounded surprised, not at the outcome so much as at my tone: I was cheery and relaxed. People who know me can tell you that after a tough Spurs loss "cheery and relaxed" are the last words you would use to describe me. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but be happy. I haven't lived in Austin since 2003, and have only lived in towns with Eastern Conference teams, so the silver and black stop by pretty infrequently. But I got to see my team play one of our great rivals and the game was competitive from buzzer to buzzer. It was a good day.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Odom Realized

Holly MacKenzie and I were discussing Lamar Odom earlier today and a couple of ideas that have been circulating around in my head bubbled to the surface.

Odom's struggles on the court are well documented. He has been chronically misunderstood as a player, oftentimes relegated to the post when he is more naturally suited to perimeter play. His size was perennially misinterpreted to mean he would be most effective on the block. And last season, after the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, I joined the sizeable chorus of commentators who praised Jackson for finally utilizing Odom from the spot where he is most comfortable: The 3. Aside from his struggles in the NBA Finals, there seems to be a general consensus that Odom has found his rhythm and role in a way that had eluded him up to this point.

Although happy to see him develop as both a person and a player over the last season, I think that the notion that he has once and for all escaped the label of "underachieving enigma" has been too quickly applied. Odom needs a subtle combination of freedom and support from the Lakers organization that just may not be available. During the Finals, the old Kobe reared his ugly head, and if unselfish Kobe eventually turns out to have been a passing fad, there is a decent chance that Odom could find himself lost again on a team that lacks the necessary chemistry to really bring home another championship. I may be imposing this on him, but in some ways Odom strikes me as one of the NBA players whose confidence, if shaken, most directly affects his productivity. Something about the guy just seems sensitive.

So Holly and I are riffing back and forth on Odom, and she notes how she thinks he may be better suited for a more laid back franchise, like Miami. This reminded me of a feeling I have had for sometime: Michael Beasley will be Lamar Odom, fully realized.

I have always thought that Beasley and Odom were similar players: Muscular, long wingmen who could bang on the inside but were genuinely more dynamic when given some room on the perimeter to let their athleticism come a little loose. I think Beasley has a better outside shot, and in general is just a tab bit more likely to be in the "elite player" category than Odom ever has been. The other similarity is their personalities: both have a very casual style, as well as a playfully healthy sense of their youth (although Odom has always had a more tragic air about him then Beasley likely ever will).

But, unlike Odom, Beasley is already in Miami. Now maybe I am falsely imposing the culture of south Florida on the Heat, but it just seems inevitable that Beasley's casual style will be given more room to breath on South Beach. The positional mistakes surrounding Odom also strike me as less likely to be repeated with B-easy (not to say the threat isn't still there). I like Lamar Odom, and hope that during the next few seasons we see him permanently blossom into the player we hoped he would be. But I think it is much more likely we will look back a few years from now and find our aspirations for Lamar definitively realized by Beasley.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Movies About Basketball Considered by Me, Cody, for Graydon: Semi-Pro

Cody Adams is the author of The Erection of Disbelief and the resident film critic here at 48 Minutes of Hell. This week he applies his keen eye and sharp wit to the cinematic catastrophe, Semi-Pro.

Director: Kent Alterman
Year: 2008
Leads: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin
Classification: Sports Comedy
Rating: *1/2

Let’s now move away briefly from the musty locker room of classic basketball dramas for a moment, to the milk-sour locker room of underwhelming basketball comedies. Where better to start than Will Farrell’s recent yuck-fest Semi-Pro? Actually, there are probably over a dozen better places to start, but I saw Semi-Pro recently.

You can tell this movie came into being in a studio pitch meeting that was four words long: Will Ferrell. Basketball. [Contemplative pause. Chin stroking.] Sold! I mean, Kicking and Screaming, Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory are all classics, right? (Answer: Only Talladega Nights is a classic.)

And they just kind of went from there. Semi-Pro is centered around one of Will Ferrell’s dubiously patented man-child characters, this time named Jackie Moon. Now, I’m not one to hate on Will Ferrell. The man is a natural. Unfortunately his recent success has slotted him into mostly uninspired, lazy, PG-13 material, and Semi-Pro is maybe his most perfunctory vehicle yet.

Jackie Moon is the owner, coach, and power forward of the Flint Tropics, a bottom-barrel ABA team in the dying days of the league. The bad news comes down the pipe that the NBA is taking over, and only the four best ABA teams will make the cut. So the Tropics have to somehow overcome the odds and make it from the last ranked team to at least the fourth. (I did appreciate this slight inversion of the formula; 4th place is the ultimate victory.) And that’s pretty much it. The rest of the movie droops into its barely-trying, utterly predictable sports comedy coffin.

Which isn’t necessarily an insult. What worthwhile sports comedy didn’t have an insulting, bullshit plot trajectory? Semi-Pro still could have been funny. Unfortunately Ferrell’s Jacki Moon character is an uncomfortable, unfocused amalgamation of his characters from every 2nd-tier SNL sketch you can barely remember. Jackie Moon acts kind of cocky sometimes, gets sort of angry, almost sleazy, mildly infantilized. Ferrell works best at (occasionally simultaneous) extremes, when you can’t resist his sheer crazed audacity. His work in Semi-Pro is lethargic and unoriginal, and lacks the consistency of even his lesser roles in movies like Step Brothers or Stranger Than Fiction.

There is one shockingly funny scene early on. Though Semi-Pro has a bevy of talented, or at least recognizable comedians, in its cast, they have almost nothing to do. Except during one extended late night poker game that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. I won’t go into details, except that it involves GOB from Arrested Development taking absurd offense to a mild insult, an ambiguously loaded gun, and Tim Meadows in an arm cast. The scene feels like it was forced into the movie by the actors, who wanted to at least try to do something interesting for five minutes.

Say, this is a basketball blog! So how’s the basketball? Boring. Semi-Pro doesn’t really bother doing much of anything on the court until the very end, with the too-far-out-there Deus ex Machina invention of the ally-oop. It doesn’t even provide the usual wacky locker room hijinx you expect from a sport comedy. Most of the basketball plot proper is lumped onto Woody Harrelson’s worn-out ex-NBA player, but he’s too old to really get anything done, or care. The rest of the screen time is generally devoted to Ferrell’s mild antics surrounding unorthodox basketball promotions. Like wrestling a bear! That sounds funny, right? Yeah? Whatever, it’s going in the commercial.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

HustleJunkie: Moral Grandstanding and Other Off-Season Pursuits

My HustleJunkie column is up over at HP. I guess it's meant to be a wide indictment of American health and physical culture, and yet somehow I still manage to fit in Baudelaire, Aristotle, and Jesus. Anyways, if you're particularly in the mood to hear somebody hop up on their soapbox, check it out. The petition to start a one-on-one tournament at the All-Star game remains alive and well. If you haven't signed up, please do. If you haven't read the piece that gave birth to the idea, go back to the source. And expect some more writing here at 48 Minutes of Hell this week from yours truly, including a new segment that will run every Friday.

N.B. I completely forget to mention that there is actually something mildly basketball related coming up on 48 Minutes of Hell. This Monday I'm taking part in Jones on the NBA's NBA Stadium Blog Day. To be honest, I am not sure which arena experience I am gonna write about. I've been to 5 NBA arenas in my life: The Alamadome, the AT&T Center, the American Airlines Arena, the United Center, and Madison Square Garden. All have been fun (yes, despite my boorish criticisms, I really enjoy going to NBA games live), but I'll have to decide which I enjoyed the most.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Movies About Basketball Considered by Me, Cody, for Graydon: Blue Chips

Cody Adams is the author of The Erection of Disbelief and the resident film critic here at 48 Minutes of Hell. This week he applies his keen eye and sharp wit to that unassailable hoops masterpiece, Blue Chips.

Director: William Firedkin
Year: 1994
Leads: NICK NOLTE, Mary McDonnell, Shaq
Classification: Sports Drama
Rating: ***½

“It sure as hell ain’t much about basketball. It’s about money. God damned money.”

Now that sounds like a basketball film I can get down with. In fact, throughout the entire running time of Blue Chips, basketball only occurs twice. Heck, I think there were more basketball scenes in Along Came Polly! As such I am predisposed to like Chips, not only because of the refreshingly lack of the sport in question, but because Nick Nolte is a glorious tank-engine of an actor, and carries the entire enterprise on his weathered back.

Blue Chips doesn’t exactly fit into the two sports film categories I established in my Hoosiers review, the small time grudge match (Beer League) or the big stakes pro game (Space Jam). Instead, it takes place in the sordid world of big time college athletics, where boys are made into mini celebrities and coaches are made into six-figure pimps. Big colleges are where, uh, healthy small-town boosterism mix with the shady goings on of big-ticket financial bottom lines, to the ethical detriment of everyone involved.

Nick Nolte starts out as an old school bread and butter basketball coach who heads one of the cleanest programs in the country. He wins games but also makes sure his players pass their classes and graduate, the ostensible purpose of college. But after his first losing season at Western University, the man who can’t stand to lose begins to lose the wholesome background that defines his existence. The alumni want a winning team, and the organic talent of the team just isn’t enough anymore against the big boys.

The majority of the film follows Nolte’s tormented descent into the dirty game of star player recruitment, where well-financed programs grease the wheels with ridiculous perks for wunderkind high school ballers. In this day and age any outstanding athlete knows his worth to a prestige legacy program, and demand illegal under-the-table signing bonuses like luxury cars, gym bags full of laundered cash, and even illicit house loans for family members. They are brazen enough to stroll into Nolte’s coaching headquarters to discuss ‘business.’ This disgusts Nolte, but he decides he has no choice but to ‘play ball.’

Nolte’s character, a hot-tempered purist basketball fanatic, who no one would ever want as a dad, begins to come apart at the seams once he falls down the rabbit hole of corrupt college athleticism. His new team, bought and paid for, is phenomenal, but utterly counterfeit. More than being about basketball, Blue Chips tells the cautionary tale of taking that first step out onto the slippery slope of moral compromise.

The atmosphere of the film astutely mirrors the thematic progression. What starts out as a fairly standard depiction of rah-rah West Coast sportiness gradually becomes an oppressive prison-like perspective on the mercenary financial and political pressure of top-tier sports programs. Western University’s ubiquitous pale blue colors, which are worn in nearly every scene by Nolte, effectively become the hues of a prison uniform. His form melds with the daunting institutional concrete as he loses the core of his being. The locker room becomes claustrophobic, and the squeaky echoes of the court are nefarious reminders of the terrible compromises made, jarring madly against the man’s constitution.

I’ve perhaps never seen a sports film where the initial losing game is indescribably more honorable than the turkey shoot Big Game at the end. Every shot scored by Western in the final match stabs Nolte to the quick. The game is soulless, rigged, tortured, unembellished by the usual up-and-down dramatic musical beats. As usual, the game comes down to a photo finish, and as usual ‘our’ team wins. In a crushing defeat of all Nolte stands for. (He deserves major acting props for pulling off the least enthusiastic sitting crowd surf in sports movie history.)

Blue Chips ends with a crushing press conference by Nolte about just how low the state of college sports have gotten. And really, what are college sports about? They’re not local enthusiasm targets for bored domestics, like high school sports. Nor are they true national brands like NBA teams. Instead they are a morass of mixed intent, misappropriation of youth, and ruthless cash-generation. A mini-NBA where the stars shine far less bright and the nature of the attention far more ambiguous and potentially damaging to education. Nolte just loves the sport, and breaks his own heart by cheating on it. But the benefits game doesn’t change. Teenagers around the country are still driving mystery gift cars to and from the locker room. In the end Blue Chips is the story of money extinguishing the fire of a pure heart.

(I would have given the movie four stars, but unfortunately it follows Nolte’s piercing press-conference with him strolling past an inner-city kids basketball game and getting involved. You know, reminding him what he really loved about basketball in the first place. This is followed by text overlays unnecessarily letting us know what happens to the main characters in the fictitious future. Bad form.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

It Feels Like Tuesday...

This is only my second day at work. HustleJunkie is up over at HP. Everything would seem to suggest today is Tuesday. But it's Wednesday, which is completely awesome.

Anyways, if you get a chance, swing over to the Paroxysm and give my column a read. This week I take a look at the American athletic landscape as a whole, and discuss baseball, football, and basketball as they relate to our national culture and character.

Also, if you didn't get a chance to read last week's column, please do. The petition to add a one-on-one tournament to the All-Star Weekend festivities can be signed here. So far we have 57 signatories, but I am confident we can get many more. Sign up and support the movement.