Thursday, October 30, 2008
Popovich's comical decision to hack Shaq off the opening tip was a made for television moment. More telling, however, was Popovich's decision to go to actual Hack-a-Shaq tactics at the end of the first half. The opening foul was a gesture of good will. The second series of fouls was a clear signal that the Spurs will employ the strategies they deem necessary to win. In other words, Pop juxtaposed a good-natured "ha, ha, ha" against a to the point "now shut up."
We would be remiss not to point out that the strategy was a modest success. The Spurs cut the lead from 6 to 3 before halftime. Personally, I think such strategies are a mistake and bad for the game. But you can't blame Popovich for using the rules of the league and the laws of mathematics in his coaching deliberations.
The two issues that sank the Spurs were both related to defense. Their offensive game was a little too reliant on Duncan and Parker, but with injuries to Ginobili, Oberto, Hill and Mahinmi, this is to be expected. They scored 98 points, which is plenty. Allowing the Suns to score 103 was the story of the game.
The first defensive woe is related to playing Thomas and Duncan together. Both players are solid defenders, and Duncan is arguably the best post defender in the league. Unfortunately their collective footwork is too slow to play side-by-side for long stretches. The loss of Oberto coupled with the delayed development of Mahinmi hurts the Spurs more here than anywhere else. Put simply, the Spurs do not have the defensive personnel to guard quick power forwards, let alone Amare Stoudemire. The most important plays of the game were both defensive break downs on this front: Thomas' foul that resulted in an "And 1" for Stoudemire and a failed rotation by Duncan on a pick and roll that resulted in a powerful dunk for Amare.
The second problem is related to the first. As Gregg Popovich remarked after the game, "It was the worst transition defense I’ve seen in years. I can’t imagine how bad it was. We didn’t rebound. It was our poorest performance in the preseason up until this time. It was very disappointing.” As a team, the Spurs did not get back. While the first defensive issue is personnel-related and could be an on-going issue, this one will resolve itself in quick order. The Spurs routinely boast the best transition defense in the league, and it's a core principal for Popovich. They'll practice themselves into better form.
On offense, Parker and Duncan were in mid-season stride. I don't think Duncan used the same move twice and he hit from everywhere. In games like this he reminds us why he is such a difficult assignment. But more importantly, Roger Mason played exceptionally well considering this was his first official game in the system. It's worth noting that Mason finished the game on the floor. If you're looking for one reason to be encouraged by this loss, Mason provided it. If you're looking for a second reason, here it is: +13. Ime Udoka led the team in plus/minus.
Mason's good play and the sturdy performance by Udoka ought to be enough to mitigate Finley's minutes in the short term and relegate him to the bench once Ginobili returns. Popovich likes Fin's professionalism, knowledge of the system and ability to hit off the mid-range curl, but Mason is a better player in every respect, especially as a ball handler and defender.
To my mind, this is all secondary. The Spurs storyline of the night occurred in New York and Houston. Many have questioned the Spurs draft selection of George Hill in what was a critical off season for extending their championship window. By selecting Hill, the Spurs passed on Darrell Arthur and Mario Chalmers. Chalmers started at point guard for the Heat, and in a high scoring affair he put up 17, 8, and 7 with only 1 turnover. Arthur came off the bench to provide 11 points, 15 boards and 2 blocks in a loss to Houston. Arthur is also the sort of quick and lean front court body the Spurs could use. George Hill was impressive this preseason, but time will tell whether or not the the front office brass misfired in drafting him. Based on his recent play, I have high expectations of Hill. But it's hard to argue with the numbers of Chalmers and Arthur.
Chad Ford, call your office.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Without Ian Mahinmi, Anthony Tolliver or Oberto, the Spurs are reduced to a front line of Duncan, Thomas and Bonner, using Ime Udoka as a 4 in small ball sets. In light of his recent comments regarding the Spurs employment of Hack-a-Shaq tactics, Shaquille O'Neal has an opportunity at a statement game this evening. Too bad for Shaq that his most notable statements of recent vintage have all come off the court. He's beyond statement games. He's now a guy whose only statements are issued to the media. The only person you're likely to hear talking about Shaquille O'Neal is Shaquille O'Neal. Lots of love in that way.
I say this without any ill towards him. Truth be told, I'm a Shaq fan. I've always admired his game and laughed at his locker room comments. He's funny. But I'm past the point of believing he's a threat to the Spurs, or anyone else for that matter. Tonight I'll watch, but all my attention will be on Amare Stoudemire. Will the Spurs depleted front court be able to hold him at bay? Of the Spurs players, I'm curious to see how comfortable Roger Mason Jr. looks within the system, and if anyone on Phoenix's roster can stay in front of Tony Parker.
All things considered, it's a humdrum opener.
Most of the national press is picking the Spurs to finish in the middle of the playoff pack. You can't blame them. Manu Ginobili's ankle injury, their collective age, and at least 4 (Lakers, Jazz, Hornets, Rockets) legitimate contenders in the West render cocksure projections problematic. There are sober-minded reasons to prefer each of the aforementioned teams. And, yes, Blazers fans, we hear you. Duly noted.
In a conference this tight, middle of the pack is something of an accomplishment for most teams. Too bad for the Spurs, they are not most teams; they are the winningest franchise in sports over the last decade. Getting to the Western Conference Semifinals would be a major feat for, say, Tracy McGrady. But if Tim Duncan goes home after two rounds, members of the press corp take it as a signal to spit shine their shovels. The Lakers, Spurs and Celtics face near impossible expectations coming into the season. Anything less than a championship is underachievement for these three teams and will be described as failure or undeniable decline.
What are we to make of these oft-cited reasons of expected decline?
Before we evaluate these claims, it's important to issue a caveat. Had Manu Ginobili not been injured during the playoffs, the Spurs may well have advanced to the Finals. The Lakers, as we saw, were not invincible, despite their powerhouse line-up and star power. Would-of, could-of, should-of is not sound logic for projecting a season, but it's also not intelligent to say that a team which advanced to the conference finals in spite of a significant injury is in decline. As Mike D'Antoni recently remarked, it's laughable to call such accomplishments "downside."
The Ginobili Injury
Some pundits are trying to pass Manu Ginobili's injury off as a blessing in disguise. "He'll be rested and healthy," they say. This may be true in terms of the team's overall play, but I'm not convinced that his absence will affect the team record either way. Ginobili is due back sometime in December. On the 20th of December, the Spurs begin a six game stretch with 5 at homes. The smart money says Ginobili is re-inserted into the line up during this almost-all-at-home stretch. Ginobili is pushing to come back in November or early December, so this is a conservative guess.
Prior to December 20th the Spurs are slated to compete in 24 contests, 13 of which at the AT&T Center. Their road games include visits to Minnesota, Milwaukee, Sacramento, the Clippers, and Memphis. Over the first 24 games, they play 4 back to backs: Knicks (h)-Bucks (a); Kings (a)-Clippers (a); Grizzlies (h)-Rockets (a); and Dallas (a)-Atlanta (h). Back to backs are an Achilles heel for the Spurs, but that's not a terribly difficult series of tandems. I expect the Ginobili-less Spurs to fight to a 15-9 record (or better) in his absence. In other words, they will still be a position to win home court during at least some of the playoffs.
The Other Injuries
More crucial to the Spurs early season success is the play of their youngsters. Despite commentary to the contrary, the Spurs have plans to push something of a youth movement this season. Newcomer Roger Mason will get plenty of minutes, and he is only 28. Popovich had intended to play George Hill (22) and Ian Mahinmi (21) extensively this preseason, but injuries to each player have limited the coach's best laid plans. George Hill was able to play some, and played well. He'll soon be back from a thumb-sprain and should see 15 minutes a game as Parker's primary back up. What happens with Mahinmi is uncertain. Getting these guys acclimated to the system is high on Popovich's agenda. They may play poorly early on, but Pop will ride the learning curve until they've adjusted.
Last season, Popovich waited until after the rodeo road trip to set a rotation. In fact, he took 60 or more games to do so. He has this luxury because his core knows the system inside and out, and they know one another. Most coaches struggle to build team chemistry, but Pop treats it as an a priori assumption. Because of this he can and will limit the minutes of his veterans until late in the season. Folks who think the Ginobili injury means Pop will overplay Duncan and Parker early haven't been paying attention. Every season he coaches to a crescendo, and he manages minutes along the way so that his best players are healthy and rested come April. There is no reason to doubt him when he claims not to give a rip about home-court advantage.
Young as Dew or Old as Dirt?
Well, okay, They're old.
But the Spurs rotation this season will feature younger players. As Jeff McDonald recently quipped, their main problem may be inexperience. Brent Barry's minutes will be assumed by Ime Udoka, a 5 year age swing and defensive upgrade in the positive direction. Mike Finley's role will diminish as Roger Mason learns the system, an exchange of 7 years worth of youth and talent. George Hill is primed to inherit Jacque Vaughn's role, a staggering 11 year subtraction. Hill is already an NBA-ready defender, and should prove more of an offensive threat than Vaughn, a prediction which, to anyone who knows the NBA, should smack of understatement.
This is counter-balanced by the core being a year older. But the Spurs should be more concerned about guys not knowing the system than about finding the right retirement village. Their age, ironically, is concerning for its wont of experience, not youth. Gray hair alert doomsdayers are trying to convince themselves.
All this without knowing what role, if any, Ian Mahinmi and Anthony Tolliver will play.
The Other Gunslingers
The strength of the West is an inescapable problem for every team without the aide of a little luck. Comparing rosters man for man will not clue us into the fate of the Western conference. Someone of consequence will suffer an injury or some locker room will implode or some team will lose an inordinate number of close games despite strong play. This sort of stuff happens. How the Western conference shapes out will have more to do with these things than team rosters---with so many elite teams in contention the team or two that catches a break will be the team that advances. If you're David Stern these are the variables you love--and you especially love them if the lucky team is from Los Angeles. It's the NBA's turn to catch a ride on the parity wave. Spurs fans should be no less enthusiastic about this season than, say, Hornets or Jazz fans. NBA fans everywhere should rejoice.
Detractors, and the Big Picture
The Spurs season, then, does not hinge on Manu Ginobili's injury or their being too old. Both are marginal considerations, mere footnotes to the first third. The two biggest factors of concern to Spurs fans are whether or not the newcomers can be productive while learning the system and making eyes with Lady Luck.
If the Spurs win more than 50 games, it will be because some combination of George Hill, Roger Mason, Ime Udoka, Anthony Tolliver, Ian Mahinmi, Desmon Farmer and Kurt Thomas play especially well early in the season, and provide increased production over last year's mainstays Jacque Vaughn, Mike Finley and Brent Barry. In reality, the Spurs need two or three of these guys to come through with 15 minutes of solid play per game in order to win a championship. This is entirely plausible.
What those players lack, to use Popovich's expression, is "corporate knowledge." Individually they constitute offensive and defensive upgrades over last year's team. This team has a strong bench. Historically, however, the Spurs system is hard on first year players. Only Udoka and Thomas, and to a lesser degree Toros-groomed Mahinmi, have significant exposure to the system. If you're trying to sing along at home, this is the bouncing ball to follow.
This season, like every other season the last decade, will see the Spurs as a top 3 defensive unit. From a personnel standpoint, they've added offensive-minded free agents and rookies. Hill and Mason, for example, can score and allow Tony Parker to play off the ball, making him more of a threat in certain line ups. Even with the loss of Barry, the Spurs should improve their 3 point percentage and be among the league-leaders in 3 point attempts when adjusted for pace. In short, their offensive efficiency should move from the teens into the top 10.
Compared to last year's squad, this is a better team. Compared to the Western elite, they're one noteworthy member amongst a strong band of contenders.
Beyond this, the Spurs season depends on being dealt the right cards.
At any rate, it should be entertaining to watch.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
To the great consternation of Spurs fans, Malik Hairston received his pink slip last weekend. Malik Hairston? Consternation? Really?
Let me explain.
The Spurs second round draft pick had a good camp, but wasn't so impressive that anyone other than die hard basketball junkies would take notice. Had he made the team, it would have been justifiable. But no more so than Desmon Farmer. They both played well in camp and showed enough to make the Kool-Aid drinking crazies giddy. The faithful are passionate about all 15. Chapter and verse.
Hairston flashed offensive potential, but also showed that he has much more work to do on that front. Defensively, however, Hairston displayed real promise. At 6'6'' and 200 lbs, the sturdy-framed 21 year old could eventually find a niche for himself as a defensive ace in the league. His preseason defense was impressive, including 7 blocks. And while Spurs fans run with the defense-first, I Dream of Bowen crowd, they're also realist. Bowen is 37. Udoka is 31. Finley is 35. The Spurs pipeline is short on young, athletic, defensive-minded wings. Hairston could have helped. In San Antonio, "young 3" is an oxymoron.
No one is foolish enough to expect that Hairston could have helped the Spurs this season, but the thought of creating roster space to sign Hairston and assign him to the Toros was appealing. This is especially true with Ian Mahinmi's NBDL time mostly behind him; the Toros could use a prospect or two to develop. Malik Hairston showed enough potential for the Spurs to groom in Austin, at least on a one year flier.
The beauty of Peter Holt owning a D-League affiliate is the ability it gives the Spurs to convert end of the bench suits into jerseys. The Toros represent the ability to take a chance on a player like Hairston, giving him the coaching and playing time he needs to become a productive NBA player. It's surprising that the Spurs did not make this happen with Hairston.
There is still a chance that Hairston will make his next stop in Austin. If he is agreeable to the D-League, the CBA allows him to be assigned to the Toros. Unfortunately, the Spurs would have no protection against league call-ups. By waiving him, they've lost his rights. Barring a trade, strong play from Hairston will mean they've groomed someone else's player.
Hairston is not this season's Ian Mahinmi. But with a little luck, he could follow the path of Marcus Williams, with better results. Last summer, the Spurs waived second round draft pick Marcus Williams in favor of training camp upstart Darius Washington. This was not surprising. Williams possesses marginal professional talent. In terms of potential and has-it-now skill, Hairston is better on both ends of the court, with a higher ceiling. Nevertheless, Williams lasted through last year's camp until final cuts, much like Hairston.
Rather than signing an international contract, Williams was convinced by the Spurs to sign with the Toros. In a circus of call-ups, he eventually received a couple 10 day contracts before being waived and signed by the Clippers. Marcus Williams is no longer in the league.
The allure of the Toros is not counterfeit. For a player who has been through a Spurs camp, the Toros offer several advantages. First, it's a true part of the Spurs' program. Assistant general manager Dell Demps runs the Toros. His task is to fill the pipeline with a steady flow of players matriculating through summer league, training camp, and the D-League before arriving on the Spurs bench. The Spurs deliberately use the Toros to accelerate the skill set and basketball IQ of first and second year players. Put differently, they use the Toros as a place to develop future bench players.
The Toros are coached by Quin Synder, who runs Popovich's offensive and defensive sets. If a player has just come off a Spurs camp, he should have a leg up on the competition by playing for the Toros. In theory, the ability to diminish the learning curve, and thereby limit in-game mistakes, would make a player more polished and therefore more attractive to other GMs, not just Spurs staffers.
The Spurs are not blind to this sort of sacrifice. Character matters in San Antonio. For a player like Malik Hairston, joining the Toros says something about his character. Rather than storming out of town after being cut, players in his position can say, "I know I didn't make the team my first go-round, but I'm still here and I'm going to give it another go. "
From the sound of things, the Spurs would love Hairston to land in Austin. I suspect more than a few fans would be happy for that too.
The second inducement is an opportunity to ask R.C. Buford a question--somewhere a PR rep is carefully preparing a response that begins, "We're really excited about the possibility of Tiago Splitter..."
If you get a chance swing by and check it out.
Monday, October 27, 2008
The Spurs have trimmed their roster to 15.
Making the cut this season are rookie Anthony Tolliver and last year's NBDL scoring champ, Desmon Farmer.
Tolliver is something of an enigma to Spurs fans. A former full-time low block dunk specialist at Creighton, Tolliver shot the ball remarkably well as a member of the Spurs summer league squad. His 52% 3 point shooting was reciprocated with a quick contract, indicating that the Spurs viewed him as a keeper. The Spurs fondness of Tolliver proved true through out training camp, his shot, however, seems to have gone awol. Tolliver shot an ugly 18-56 from the field and 6-26 from the arc. Mike Budenholzer explained his poor shooting performances this way, "We've noticed that most of his shots are on the back of the rim. He's geeked up." I guess.
It appears as if Popovich plans to use Tolliver to space the floor for his other bigs, assuming defenses think enough of his shot to honor it. But this raises a second question. Isn't Tolliver a Matt Bonner redundant? Is it wise to have two floor spreading 4s on the same roster, especially since neither has shown in adept ability at anything other than heaving the ball toward the rim whenever it rotates into their hands.
Thankfully, it's not simply the Spurs coaching staff that has vouched for Tolliver's shooting. Teammates, such as Tim Duncan, have remarked that Tolliver has shown an ability to knock down shots, so we're left with the feeble hope that he's simply in a slump or "geeked-up" to be a Spur. His summer league efficiency was noteworthy, and it was sustained over several weeks. Tolliver might be a player, but the jury is still out.
Tolliver's minutes and production were similar to Matt Bonner's in the preseason. Bonner played better, but not by leaps and bounds. Tolliver is younger, more athletic, and much less expensive. In other words, Matt Bonner should keep a bag packed.
Desmon Farmer, on the other hand, played extremely well this preseason. Farmer, as Spurs fans have no doubt read by now, is a journey-man scorer in the Stephen Jackson mold. He has a good stroke with range, but he can also get to the rim. He shot nearly 50% on his 3 pt attempts during exhibitions.
Farmer fills an obvious need for the Spurs on both the short and long term ledger. With Manu Ginobili injured, it makes sense that the Spurs would find on a spot on the their bench for a scorer. His ability to knock down shots from deep further mitigates against the loss of Brent Barry. But projecting beyond December, Farmer could stick with the Spurs as an insulate against their oft-encountered offensive droughts. Between, Mason, Hill and Farmer, the Spurs should be an improved offensive team this season. If they get anything worthwhile from Ian Mahinmi or Anthony Tolliver, they'll be among league leaders in offensive efficiency. In fact, becoming more potent offensively appears to be Gregg Popovich's no. 1 objective this off season. Farmer helps in that way.
Farmer is a prototypical Spur in another sense. He's taken his lumps. The Spurs front office has an affinity toward the underdog, they like going to war with guys who have had to battle to make the league. Bruce Bowen, Ime Udoka, Roger Mason and Desmon Farmer are these sort of players. They're tough, and they've had to endure difficulty to make their NBA dream a reality. Anthony Tolliver is not as long in the tooth, but he's cut from this cloth. Ian Mahinmi and George Hill were not listed in the league assembled draft media guide prior to the Spurs surprisingly making them first round selections. By some accounts, they're not even supposed to be here.
Popovich loves art-house movies, and in one sense he's an art-house coach. His teams do not feature primedonna performances; he doesn't thrive on sensationalized story lines. Instead, he prefers an ensemble of unknowns, professional stage veterans and a core of A-listers who feel no need to stand out. Joint contribution to telling the right story is preeminent, and the cast is there to provide nuance, not to steal the show. Desmon Farmer is a likely member of a Popovich-led troupe.
Of course, time will tell if either he or Tolliver have what it takes to stick. The Spurs have expressed great confidence in Tolliver, but if he continues to miss, and miss badly, the Spurs will have to re-evaluate his place on the team. As for Farmer, he's limited by being limited. He's an NBA-level scorer, but his game doesn't have much definition beyond putting points on the board. He'll have to work hard on the defensive end to avoid a permanent place on the bench. If the Spurs were to suffer an injury and were forced to create roster space for another player, Farmer is the first to go. In a similar manner, if their offensive struggles are alleviated by some other combination of players (Mason/Hill) or by an early Ginobili return, Farmer may no longer be needed.
Nevertheless, after a lackluster off season, the Spurs brass has once again made good. George Hill, who I hope to write about in the coming days, is a solid, 8-man rotation point guard. The Spurs spent a little extra money for a quality camp, and in so doing added youth and depth to their bench. In fact, they had such a encouraging camp, they were forced to cut 2nd round draft pick Malik Hairston, whom they see as an NBA player, for lack of roster space.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Matt McHale: Basketbawful
Hoopinion: Peachtree Hoops
BrettL: Queen City Hoops
Darren Heitner: SportsAgentBlog.com
Gregory Broome: The Peninsula is Mightier
Ben: Third Quarter Collapse
Rashad: Hoops Addict
Mike Prada: Bullets Forever
Truth: Truth About It Dot Net
Also see links to all the previews at CelticsBlog.com
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Hardwood Paroxysm 2008-2009 Season Preview: The Utah Jazz.
In Brief: Although not "authored" by me in the traditional sense, this is one of my favorite things I have ever come up with.
Hardwood Paroxysm 2008-2009 Season Preview: The San Antonio Spurs.
In Brief: The Spurs are actually kind of fun to watch and will still win 50+ games this season.
ESPN Daily Dime's San Antonio Spurs Preview: TrueHoop Wants To Know...
In Brief: I finally get a chance to write something for ESPN and instead of responding earnestly my contribution was 80% absurd, 40% irrelevant.
Hardwood Paroxysm 2008-2009 Season Preview: The Washington Wizards.
In Brief: The Wizards are injured.
Hardwood Paroxysm 2008-2009 Season Preview: The Denver Nuggets.
In Brief: The Nuggets don't really understand what to do when they don't have the ball and I think Iverson will get traded to a contender.
Hardwood Paroxysm 2008-2009 Season Preview: The New York Knicks.
In Brief: Eddy Curry is too fat to make it from baseline to half-court in 7 seconds or less.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Jeremy: Pickaxe and Roll
Nick Sclafani: The Nugg Doctor
Derek Hanson & Staff: TWolves Blog
Andrew Thell: Empty the Bench
wyn: Canis Hoopus
Zorgon: Blue Blitz
Royce: The Thunderworld
Portland Trail Blazers
Mookie: ...a stern warning
Benjamin Golliver: Blazers Edge
Coup and SJ: Rip City Project
UtesFan89: The Utah Jazz
Basketball John: SLC Dunk
Also see links to all the previews at CelticsBlog.com
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Nels: Give Me The Rock
Rock: Waiting For Next Year
FTS: Fear The Sword
David Friedman: 20 Second Timeout
Amar Panchmatia: Cavalier Attitude
Brian Spencer: Empty the Bench
Natalie Sitto: Need4Sheed.com
Matt Watson: Detroit Bad Boys
Tom: Indy Cornrows
Jeramey Jannene: The Bratwurst
Frank Madden: BrewHoop
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Jake Kerr: Mavs Moneyball
grungedave and UofTOrange: The Dream Shake
Joshua Coleman: 3 Shades of Blue
New Orleans Hornets
Rohan: At the Hive
ticktock6 & mW: Hornets Hype
Ryan Schwan & Ron Hitley: Hornets247.com
San Antonio Spurs
Read my preview below.
N.B. The NBA has a great blogging community, but the writers who cover the Southwest Division rank amongst the best. I'm probably the newest member of this esteemed group so I feel compelled to acknowledge how excited I am to be listed alongside these other blogs. The Southwest Division is not only the most competitive in the NBA but we've produced some of the best online coverage as well. If you don't consistently read the other blogs mentioned here, you should.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Last Years Record: 56-26
Key Losses: Brent Barry
Key Additions: Roger Mason Jr., Salim Stoudamire, Robert Horry (addition by subtraction)
What significant moves were made during the offseason?
The Spurs made few “significant” moves this offseason, choosing to merely tweak the team’s roster as it has done in previous years. By acquiring Roger Mason Jr. and Salim Stoudamire the Spurs attempted to compensate for the loss of Brent Barry as well as the decreased productivity/consistency of Michael Finley. Fundamentally they continued to follow the formula of surrounding the big three with a bevy of outside shooters.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
The teams biggest strengths remain their stout defense and high basketball I.Q.
Tim Duncan is one of if not the best post defender of his era, while Bruce Bowen, although having lost a step, is still lock down on the perimeter. With the development of Ime Udoka, the mid-season acquisition of Kurt Thomas, and the offseason addition of Mason, this team will without a doubt continue to be one of the top defensive squads in the league.
The Spurs will continue to be one of the smartest teams in the league as well. Obviously the team’s intellectual prowess begins and ends with Popovich’s excellent coaching, but it extends throughout the entire squad. Tim Duncan is as cerebral a player you will find on the floor, and the upside of our much maligned “age” is that we are about as savvy a club as you will come across in the entire association.
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Depth and offensive consistency, which might as well be a single weakness actually. Once you get past the big three, the list of people who are reliable offensive weapons falls off pretty fast. Mason and Stoudamire were brought in to help solve this problem, but much of their anticipated production relies on the idea that our system will give them better opportunities to score from the outside than they had in their previous gigs, which is a reasonable thing to assume. But it is fundamentally that: an assumption. Mason had a solid year with the Wizards last season and Stoudamire’s professional career has been pretty underwhelming. I am not saying they won’t be the right pieces to help stave of those abominable offensive droughts the Spurs were so prone to last season. I am just saying their track records don't prove they are assuredly those pieces either.
What are the goals for this team?
Win a championship. I know many people feel that the Spurs’ championship era has passed us by, but if the team is fundamentally still composed of a core that won a ring two years ago, than a championship still has to be your goal. A team with a lot of problems still made it to the Western Conference finals last season (and was deceptively competitive given the series’ 4-1 outcome). If the team can remain healthy (during the WCF last season our leading scorer was playing on a bad ankle), a fifth banner could be in the cards. Plus it’s an odd year.
Will this finally be the season the Spurs’ age catches up with them?
Matt Moore asked me this same question about a week ago so instead of rephrasing my thoughts I’ll just quote myself directly:
The age old question when it comes to the Spurs is age. When is their highly touted veteran savvy going to give way to dragging feet and sore knees. For some, like Robert Horry, that transition has already come and gone. But what about the others: Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, Tim Duncan. All names we associate with high quality basketball, but we've been making that association for a while now. Many think this is finally the season the team as a whole crosses that threshold. But I wouldn't be so sure.
The truth of the matter is, even in their younger days, few of the Spurs relied heavily on athleticism to get the job done. Their glacial pace of play, Duncan's mechanical bank shot, their penchant for creating wide open outside looks. None of these rely on overwhelming physicality. And few squads play defense as such a cohesive unit, which will at least for now continue to alleviate the symptoms of eroding quickness. With that, alongside the injection of a few younger players, such as Mason, Stoudamire and Ian Mahinmi, I wouldn't expect age alone to sink this Spurs roster. Now, if injury continues to rear its ugly head, which it already has in regards to Manu Ginobili, it may be a different story.
Predicted Record: 54-28
Director: Joe Pytka
Leads: Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc.
Classification: Children’s Sports Comedy
The only apparent reason Space Jam is called Space Jam is because the movie opens to a super-lame hip-hop track of the same title (the music video is available as a bonus feature on the DVD). Next to no jamming occurs, and the climactic basketball match does not take place in space. In fact, only a few minutes in the beginning take place in space. Sure, the bad guys are technically aliens, from space, but they resemble either shrimpy goblins or big goblins, and nothing about them comes off as particularly ‘spacey.’
Most people remember this film through its soundtrack. The year was 1996, and maudlin alt pop music was enjoying a brief resurgence. Space Jam twitters along to such embarrassing hits as “Fly Like an Eagle” by Steve Miller and “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly, along with songs like “Everybody Dance Now” and “Pump up the Jam” that were at the time little better than stock sound effects for bad movies. (Today we have “My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard.”)
Now, I haven’t mentioned the plot yet. Frankly, I barely remember it. I assumed going in that I had just forgotten it since I last saw Space Jam when I was 11, but only a week has passed and I can barely remember anything. Almost nothing happens. Some alien knobs come, try to kidnap the Looney Tunes, get challenged to a game of basketball, and steal the powers of NBA players Charles Barkley, Mugsy Bogues, Patrick Ewing, and the human skeleton Shawn Bradley. This escalation of aggression requires the assistance of Michael Jordan to help the Looney Tunes overcome their seemingly unstoppable foes.
(Interestingly the voices of the aliens change drastically after transforming into their powerful NBA juiced versions; initially all the goblins sound squeaky and white, but once enlarged they have exaggerated ‘black people’ voices. Except for the one who gets Shawn Bradley. He still sounds like a cracker.)
That’s about it. There isn’t much of an arc, and it took me about halfway through the Big Game at the end to realize that it was in fact the Big Game. No one plays basketball beforehand, other than some spastic Tuney drills earlier on a cartoon court. The final battle is mostly predictable, with the Tunes getting bent over for the first half, and then miraculously employing their way-illegal cartoon powers in the second half. At one point Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd appear in Pulp Fiction outfits and shoot one of the Monstars teeth out with .45s. Weird, and out of place. The best part of the entire operation is when Bill Murray shows up, having entered the Looney Tunes world by having a teamster drive him. Aching for a shot at the NBA, Murray steps in at a critical moment to be the 5th man, and is instrumental in a game tying play. (This is on record as Bill Murray’s least favorite film that he’s ever appeared in, outdoing even Operation Dumbo Drop and The Man Who Knew Too Little.)
But the basketball here is something of a red herring. I mean, Space Jam is based on a Nike commercial, what would you expect. As far as I can tell, the movie actually exists to excuse Jordan’s embarrassing turn at minor league baseball. The film starts with him langouring on the diamond and suffering abuse from the sports media. Then Bugs Bunny and the rest of the gang help him remember what it was that he loved about B-ball in the first place. Then, at the end of the movie, we see Jordan triumphantly return to the court. I was dumbfounded. Did this movie just wipe away the entire baseball thing? Was that the actual only real emotional through line? Yup.
Some thoughts on the Looney Tunes themselves: The voices are done terribly, and they all seem like jerked up ADD versions of the old cartoons. Also, they all apparently live in a cartoon town at the center of the Earth, where they act out the old cartoons as their job. The are otherwise friends, and it’s totally cool for Bugs and Elmer Fudd to play on the same basketball team. Also, in the effort to pump every single stable character into the movie, every individual Tune feels more like an extended cameo than anything. Also, disturbingly the animators chose to introduce a completely original Looney Tune, one Lola Bunny. Lola dresses like a whore, speaks in the breathy, pineal language of sex, and is unsettlingly attractive/ an abomination. The last time we see Bugs, Lola is in the process of jumping his bones, and pulls the screen down to allow them the privacy required to fuck like rabbits. Bad form. Bugs should only ever kiss other male characters in a demeaning fashion while wearing a dress. He kisses Michael Jordan early in the film. Right on the lips. This is fine. But then as a parting gift, we are exposed to Bugs' unbridled, genuine sexual appetite. This problematizes everything that has come before it. Everything.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
As far as orders go, I believe only a limited amount will be printed so I suggest you pre-order one if you want a copy. As far as the specifics go, I'll let the man speak for himself:
If you're interested in a copy, Portraits in the Paint is now available to pre-order. I am taking orders until October 26th, at which time I will put in an order to the publisher for the books and head to the print lab to print off the etchings. I will personally sign, number and ship all books once they arrive from the publisher. Your order will be shipped no later than November 14th.If you want to learn more about the book and order a copy, swing by Joel's website and place your order.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Jeff Clark: CelticsBlog.com
Jim Weeks: Green Bandwagon
FLCeltsFan: LOY's Place
John Karalis: Red's Army
Dustin Chapman: Celtics 24/7
New Jersey Nets
Dennis Velasco: About Basketball
New York Knicks
Joey: Straight Bangin'
Seth Rosenthal: Posting and Toasting
Dannie & Pete: Recliner GM
Jon Burkett: Passion and Pride
Ryan McNeill: Hoops Addict
Also see links to all the previews at CelticsBlog.com
Thursday, October 2, 2008
For the remainder of the general election I will be in Michigan serving as a campaign organizer (rather than inject politics into this site, I will not be revealing the candidate I work for). The final 30+ days of the presidential campaign are sure to be long and hard and subsequently I will be unable to update this blog as frequently as I would like. If any readers would like to send me game recaps or commentary during this time, I would be more than happy to post them. Upon the election's conclusion, the frequency of content updates will return to what it has been in the past. If anything, my hope is that during 48 Minutes of Hell's first full season covering the NBA the writing and analysis found here will surpass much of the content from last season. I thank you for your support and assure you that I hungrily await the day when I am once again able to turn my full attention to the sport I love.
N.B. Although the rate of updates here at 48 Minutes of Hell will decrease notably during this time, I will still be contributing to the season previews over at Hardwood Paroxysm. Be sure to stop by and check them out.
I will also still be contributing to the CelticsBlog season previews serie. My Spurs preview will be available on October 10th.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
There won't be a HustleJunkie column for a while, because we are about to a do a pretty involved and inevitably ridiculous series of season previews over at HP. I'll have a small hand in all of them, but I'll be doing more legwork on some than others. Either way, don't miss them.
On a special note, one of my fellow columnists over at HP, David Sparks, is leaving his post to do advanced metrics for an NBA team. Which is amazing for him, but totally sucks for the rest of us because we no longer get to read his mind-blowing stats column. If you never had the pleasure, you must absolutely go back and check out The Arbitrarian, because in a few short months my man David pretty much revolutionized the way I think about statistics.