Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stephen Curry v. Monta Ellis

Here's a comment attached to a Sporting News story on the uncertain NBA potential of Stephen Curry and Tyler Hansbrough:
    it's tiresome to hear announcers always making comments about how so and so will do at the next level. i don't care! i am a college basketball fan, if i want to hear about the nba then i will listen to and watch the league, which probably won't happen anytime soon.

    there is a passion in college basketball that will never exist at the pro level. plus, most of these players have much better technique than the 'nba stars' of today, most of whom who were college stars, forgot the basics of the game once they put on an nba jersey.
I know, it's uninformed and probably not worth a response. I pulled it out because I thought it was indicative of what I hear anecdotally *a lot*, esp. this time of year, of course: I like college basketball and I refuse to watch NBA basketball, and I have lots of reasons why the NBA is unwatchable even though I don't actually watch myself.

As much as I wish I could back up Tom Ziller in his Ballhype back-and-forth with Dan Shanoff, it's hard for me to argue with Shanoff that the NBA is indeed becoming a niche sport.

This Harris Interactive poll (hat tip: "PurpleEagle") offers a basic measure in simply tracking which sport Americans call their favorite through the years. Pro basketball has dropped like a stone from 13% and third place in 1998 to 4% and a tie for sixth place in 2008.

Now, we're pretty clearly on the record here in believing that the NBA is a vastly superior product to watch than NCAA basketball, even at tournament time. That said, we love and respect the game on all levels - we watched some NBA, some NCAA D-1, some NCAA D-3 this weekend and appreciated pieces of all of it.

What befuddles me is how so many basketball fans out there - on a 0-100 scale of watchability - fervently believe NCAA hoops is a full 100 and the NBA is an unquestioned 0, and it damn near cracks me up how so many seem to willfully ignore spectacular NBA basketball.

It's at times like these, after the Lakers-Warriors home-and-home shootouts (among several other great NBA games in the last week), that I just need to ask: How can you be a basketball fan and not like this? How? I acknowledge that it is so, but I just don't understand.

My favorite example is the LeBron 47-12-10 vs. D-Wade 44-8-9 all-time classic (Watch the last quarter+) which did not even register a blip in the national media because it was held a few hours before the 2006 Final Four (Florida-George Mason, UCLA-LSU), which, we might add, was thoroughly unwatchable.

I've got a milder example for you from this weekend: Stephen Curry was fantastic and is justly being celebrated for leading Davidson to two upsets with 70 total points. I fully respect the young fella's accomplishments.

I just find it amusing that Curry is the absolute toast of the Western world right now, on the tip of the tongue of every American sports fan, yet here's what Monta Ellis (just two years older than Curry), for an example, totaled on Sunday and Monday in a home-and-home vs. the Lakers: 49 pts., 16 reb., 14 ast.

I know, it's a different situation - Monta was just one of many stars (Kobe, Baron, Stack Jack, Odom) in the Lakers-Warriors double-dip, the games weren't on national TV, it's still not the big stage of the postseason, and it's not like that was even close to Monta's best basketball after his otherworldly February (26 ppg on 60% FG).

My point is just that Monta Ellis seems to move up my chart of favorite players to watch every day - he is a wildly exhilarating young player to watch, with the way he somehow both glides and explodes at the basket, and he just scores so efficiently.

I loved, during Marc Stein's appearance on the Bill Simmons podcast, how he muttered "God, I love Monta Ellis" under his breath for no particular reason when his name came up. Exactly! I invariably find myself muttering variations of the same thing when I watch the Warriors. How can you be a basketball fan and *not* feel that way about watching a guy like Monta!

And I guess that's my point: I can appreciate what Curry's doing, but I don't understand how you *can't* appreciate what someone like Ellis is doing, simply because you've decided that you love college basketball unconditionally and you abhor the NBA. Yet today, every casual sports fan knows who Curry is and there's a palpable buzz around what he's done; none know who Ellis is and that sound you hear around him would be crickets.

Again, I'm really only using Monta as an example - crikey dick, a good chunk of casual fans probably still don't even know who Chris Paul is. He's only three years older than Curry and all he's doing is playing the point guard position damn near as well as it's ever been played.

Oh by the way, total score of the Lakers-Warriors two-game home-and-home, in case you didn't notice: 238-238. Damn fun basketball all the way around, lots of spectacular plays, great back-and-forth at the end, even if Bob "Bobby Covert" Delaney screwed up the end of Monday's game with a UCLA-like gift of a call for L.A.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"He's Too High! He's Too High!"

Thanks for the memories, C-Webb.

More Barbershop: Sisters love C-Webb... and you gotta love "The Big Payback" from the G.F.O.S. (R.I.P.).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hoop Musings & Observations

Let's empty the proverbial notebook with some thoughts we've compiled over the last week or so in hoop world.

While most American sports fans were enraptured by the Tournament on Thursday, the biggest basketball story of the year was coming into focus over on TNT's doubleheader: we gonna have ourselves a Celtics-Lakers Finals, folks.

It's not just because John Hollinger's numbers are saying it is so, I saw it with mine own eyes. To see the Celtics fight off the Mavs to close out the Texas Triangle sweep followed by the Gasol-less Lakers breaking the Utah home winning streak in convincing fashion... well, I just think the C's have too much mental toughness for Detroit, and L.A. has too much talent (and teamwork) for the West.

As much as I'm a fairly neutral observer, and as much I dig the way the Spurs go about their business, and as much as I love watching guys like CP3 and Nashy and LeBron, I have to admit: Boston-L.A. come June would be a pretty damn cool thing.

Is it just me, or is that crazy professor in the high chair on the L.A. sideline actually going a little under the radar this year? I think Phil's done a quietly masterful job with the way he steered through the utter chaos of the early season, and orchestrated the gorgeous team basketball that his guys play when they are on.

Speaking of Thursday's game... we think Johnny Ludden has been a fine addition to the Yahoo! crew, but we can't agree with this observation he made after the Celtics-Mavs game:
    [T]he Mavericks are limited with what they can run until [Kidd] gets more familiar with the offense.... Only time will cure that, and the Mavericks don't have much of it. A guess: They will look smarter next season for making this trade.
We've said it before, but it's worth repeating.... This is the big problem with the Kidd trade for Dallas: they have to win it all this year because this trade only gets worse with time. Kidd turned 35 on Sunday. He only gets older and more expensive, while Devin Harris gets better and more relatively inexpensive. Knowing the offense doesn't stop the march of time.

I don't care how much of a colossal disaster Isiah has been, or how disagreeable a person he might be, it's still not cool for Donnie Walsh to be interviewing for a job which is not vacant, as appears to have been the case, and he shouldn't get a free pass for it.

Same goes to the "sources close to Jerry West" who were kindly suggesting to the New York papers that the Logo wouldn't mind being courted for said (occupied) job.

If you want to replace Isiah, then fire him and hire someone else. It's not a bad time to fire a GM, frankly, to give yourself plenty of time to prep for the draft. But don't do it like this. It smells like Dolan wants to try to humiliate Zeke into giving back some of his guaranteed money. What a terrible owner.

All that said, isn't is still fun to hear George Karl say the word "jerk"?

Seattleites won't be able to claim East Coast bias much longer if the NY Times keeps publishing stories like the one it ran on Sunday about the increasing quality of ballplayers coming out of the Seattle area (Hat tip to "PurpleEagle"):

I must see it's been a blast to watch the level of talent in the high school hoop ranks in town over the past decade - with more coming straight ahead in the pipeline - and it's pretty cool to get a national spotlight.

Since we prattled on about our alma mater winning the D3 National Championship last year, it's only fair that we offer hearty congratulations to Washington University of St. Louis for decisively denying our attempt to repeat in the national championship game on Saturday, to take home this year's D3 crown. At least we beat Brandeis. And Williams still sucks.

A special hat tip to Troy Ruths, Wash. U's 6-6 center who is deservedly the Division III Player of the Year, and was un-freaking-stoppable in the Final Four with 30 in the semis and 33 in the finals. Dude is an NCAA poster boy with a 4.0 GPA in computer science, to boot.

More on Wash U and Ruths:
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Bears bask in the afterglow
- This time around, Ruths is a champion

Just trying to recognize game at all levels here at TPA, folks. Speaking of which, thanks to for their tireless coverage all season long, capped off by live online video of the Final Four.

I gotta admit: part of me would love to see Bill Simmons get the Bucks G.M. job just to see how he fared when he compiled a team of college stars and NCAA Tournament heroes.

The Realests compiled some of Simmons' greatest draft hits last year and a personal favorite of mine was the recent suggestion that the Blazers should trade LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez and a No. 1 for Mike Conley, Mike Miller and a no. 2.

Listen, we certainly don't get em all right here at The Painted Area. My amusement with Simmons stems mainly from how he portrays himself as the omniscient arbiter of all things basketball, working on a higher level than the rest of us... and then his player evaluation skills fall into the basic traps which snare every casual fan: overestimate college stars (increasingly dangerous in the talent-stripped NCAA game) and underestimate guys he hasn't seen, whether they are international or (before the age-limit increase) high schoolers.

Read Draft Express, people.

Speaking of the draft, 2008 certainly seems to be shaping up as a fairly weak draft class (see Draft Express link above for a 2008 mock). After the clear-cut top 2 of Beasley and Rose, it seems like there are a lot of undersized two guards and big men with significant question marks (though I do think there is good PG depth with Rose, Augustin, Lawson), plus it's not much of a year for international players. Even Beasley and Rose, whom I like a lot, do not necessarily strike me as perennial All-Stars.

So I got to wondering about the Blazers' additions of Greg Oden and (presumably) Rudy Fernandez, and where they would slot in, in this year's draft. Oden would still be a clear No. 1 pick, even though Beasley has had a Durant-like college season.

That didn't surprise me, but then when I thought about Rudy, it was more of a "holy crap!" moment, as I realized that he would probably be around the No. 4 or 5 pick in this year's draft.

He was only picked No. 24 last year, but that was in part because of contract issues (he would not be available until 2008-09 and is still a mild question mark because European teams can vastly outbid his NBA rookie deal) - he probably would have gone in the late lottery based on talent.

Of course, that was a much deeper draft, and since then, Rudy has established himself as clearly the best player in the Spanish ACB (the best domestic league other than the NBA), a higher level of competition than NCAA basketball, and he's still only 23 (as of Apr. 5). I can't imagine too many others than Oden, Beasley and Rose going ahead of him this year, though the age difference might give guys like Bayless, Mayo or B. Lopez an edge.

So, as we see it, Portland is conceivably adding a guy who could go No. 1 and a guy who could go No. 5ish, in addition to what will likely be the No. 13 pick. Look out 2010s, here comes Lakers v. Blazers.

Let me turn into cranky guy for a minute with this pet peeve, in Hubie-style second person: if you are taking the ball out under your own basket, trailing by a bucket with 3 seconds or less, will you please throw the ball the length of the court!

It's the old story, if you inbound the ball in your backcourt, you will end up with a wild heave that has almost no shot of going in.

If you throw it deep, you just have to make the catch and then there is a decent chance you will end up with a good look. That is a common thread in buzzer-beaters by Laettner, George, Drew: they all had good looks!

It just seems like the odds are incomparably higher to throw it deep and hope for a catch in shooting range, as opposed to throwing it short and hoping for a 50+-footer to fall. Drives me nuts.

Today's installment of "Ain't That Western Conference Crazy?!"....

Here are the Western Conference standings as of this hour:
1. LAL 49-22
2. NOH 47-21
3. HOU 48-23
4. UTH 46-25
5. PHO 47-23

Now, earlier this evening, the Pistons beat the Suns in OT, and then the Lakers held off the Warriors in OT. If Phoenix could have held on to a 5-point lead late in regulation, and if Golden State had done the same with a 4-point edge in OT, and you flip those results, here's what you've got:

1. NOH 47-21
2. PHO 48-22
3. HOU 48-23
4. UTH 46-25
5. LAL 48-23

I'm guessing that you could play this little game every night for the rest of the season, but it just seemed rather striking that the results of two narrow games on a Monday night were the difference between 1 and 5 for the Lakers and 2 and 5 for the Suns.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bibliotech: Basketball

Thanks to the good folks at Ballhype for inviting us to participate in their Bibliotech series on sports books. We contributed a piece on five upcoming 2008 sports books that we're looking forward to, and five more sports-book topics that we'd like to see.

As a complement to that article, back here on the roundball terra firma of The Painted Area, we offer a sampling on ten basketball books that we'd like to see, starting with the one hoop topic that was part of our Ballhype story:

Larry, Magic and David
There aren't really any definitive biographies of Larry Bird or Magic Johnson out there. Of course, the two are inextricably entwined, so why not combine them into one, and throw in a profile of David Stern to boot, and make it a full-scale look at the NBA's rise from the ashes, focused on the time period between the players' storybook 1979 college seasons and the ultimate triumph for all parties at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. A no-brainer.

The Steve Kerr Memoirs
Obviously, this one would have to wait a little bit, until Kerr's tour of duty as the Phoenix Suns GM is over (which may be sooner rather than later after the Shaq trade, of course).

But the guy is like the Forrest Gump of basketball, an unrecruited kid out of Pacific Palisades who suffered the tragedy of his father being assassinated in Beirut when he was a freshman at Arizona. Steve also recovered from a blown-out knee to experience a storybook career at Arizona which climaxed in a Final Four run.

Then, in the pros, he was everywhere over the course of an improbable 15-year career. He was in Orlando during Shaq's rookie year. The heart of his career was of course in Chicago during the second threepeat, highlighted by his championship-winning shot in 1997. For good measure, he pocketed two more rings with the Spurs, finishing his career in style, coming out of nowhere off the bench as a washed-up 37-year-old with a staggering fourth-quarter shooting display that finished off the Mavs in Western Conference Finals.

In terms of a book, the quality of his observations along the way are as least as important as the measure of his experiences. He was always an accommodating go-to guy for the media during his playing days, and immediately became one of the top TV analysts when he took his seat next to Marv.

On top of all that, the crazy thing is that, during Kerr's stint as an analyst for Yahoo! Sports, we learned that the dude can really write. His Yahoo! stuff wasn't ghosted, and one would imagine his book wouldn't need to be, either.

On the Road with Brent Barry
Whether you think they're deathly boring or paragons of team basketball, the San Antonio Spurs are four-time champions and I really feel like we need a book which somehow captures an element of this team for the historical record, sales potential be damned.

In our piece on the new golden age of basketball books last summer, we noted that this 1999 piece from the old Sport magazine -- The Psychoanalysis of Tim Duncan, by Tim Duncan -- offered evidence that there's a fascinating guy underneath the vanilla facade of the Spurs superstar, and that people might be somewhat blown away if he actually let us in.

Considering that that might be unlikely, I'm going to suggest another approach now that Brent Barry is back in San Antonio. I'd be more than satisfied with a season diary with Bones. He's always been full of wit and wisdom as a media go-to guy like Kerr. I'm sure he'd have plenty of observations on life in the craziness that is the modern league, and I really think he'd offer an insightful window into the champion Spurs, which really is an interesting -- and unorthodox, by NBA standard -- collection of characters in terms of both coach and players.

2 S's, 2 L's: The Sam Cassell Story
A guilty pleasure. Turn on the tape recorder, let the man go with 15 seasons full of stories, it writes itself. I find that any newspaper story full of Sam Cassell quotes brightens my day. And the beauty is that you never really know what's going to come out.

My favorite Sam quote from this year was when someone asked something about whether the Clippers were in a hole that they weren't going to be able to get out of, and his response was something to the effect of: "A hole? A hole is something in Chris Kaman's head." True dat.

Around the World with Rod Benson
I think that all of us in this here blog game are rooting for Yahoo! blogger Benson to make it in the league, and I'm certainly a card-carrying member of the Boom Tho! movement.

But that said, from a selfish standpoint, I wouldn't mind if Benson did a stint in Spain or Italy before sticking in the league. He has a great sense of his surroundings, and I think a Boom Tho! book on living and hooping around the world would be a fun ride -- dude just has so much more joie de vivre than sulky smarter-than-thou Paul Shirley.

The 1993 Playoffs
The absolute pinnacle of an NBA golden era, with Jordan, Barkley, Ewing, Olajuwon, Pippen all near their primes and competing in quite possibly the greatest NBA Playoffs ever.

Here are some of the things that happened in the 1993 playoffs:
- Barkley and the Suns, with the best record in the league, lose their first two games at home, before rallying to hold off the 8-seed Lakers, with their valiant championship veterans, in OT in a decisive Game 5.
- Reggie Lewis collapses on court in the Celtics-Hornets series, his last moments as a player, and a scary precursor to tragedy in the summer.
- Alonzo Mourning closes out that series with a wild buzzer-beater.
- Three other first-round series go the full five games.
- In the second round, MJ torments the Cavs anew by finishing off a sweep with The Shot II, and Charles ends the Suns-Spurs series with a buzzer-beater of his own. Meanwhile, the Sonics-Rockets series goes to a Game 7 OT.
- In the conference finals, the Bulls beat the Knicks 4-2 in one of the most compelling series ever played, and the Suns beat the Sonics in seven as, um, the Chuckster shoots a LOT of free throws in Game 7.
- The whole thing culminates with one of the most appealing NBA Finals ever: Air Jordan vs the Round Mound of Rebound, a very good series that ends on John Paxson's championship-winning three.

At the heart of this whole thing is Money. Black Cat. MJ. 1993 is my favorite time in the Jordan narrative because it's the one time in the championship era when he had to rally after being counted out. Barkley had won the MVP over him and the consensus at the start of the postseason was that New York and Phoenix would meet in the Finals.

When the Knicks took a 2-0 lead, most thought Chicago was done, esp. after the story about MJ's all-night Atlantic City journey broke. Of course, he rallied and answered the call, with Game 5 in the Garden - the "Charles Smith game" - being the decisive contest in the series.

A whole book could probably be written on that Bulls-Knicks series -- I don't know that any series has ever had that many storylines: the teams were bitter rivals meeting the playoffs for the third straight series; coaching titans Riley and Jackson were sniping in the press; there was the Starks dunk, the Charles Smith sequence, Pippen fighting back from the brutish play against him to close out the series in Game 6. And again, most of all there was Michael Jordan, in one of the great moments of his career, leading his team back before the craziness of it all drove him to a brief exile.

The Dream Team
This one seemed like as much of a no-brainer as the Larry/Magic/David book: a look back at the greatest basketball team that's ever been assembled, the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, with behind-the-scenes insight into the squad from conception to fulfillment in Barcelona.

However, after a little search... well, I'll be damned as I didn't realize that one already exists -- an out-of-print book called Golden Boys, by Cameron Stauth, who also wrote an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the Bad Boy Pistons called The Franchise.

I need to work the out-of-print wires to check out Golden Boys, as I wonder if Stauth's Pistons connections gave him a direct or indirect pipeline to coach Chuck Daly. Anyone out there read this one?

Still doesn't mean this topic couldn't use a fresh take -- seems like it's right in Jack McCallum's wheelhouse, as that era was his prime as SI's NBA ace.

The UCLA Dynasty
Here's another one that I think could stand for a fresh take. Just seems like tremendous subject matter, with the sweep of time of UCLA's championship era from 1964-75, anchored by three utterly compelling, contrasting characters: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the intellectual giant who dominated the college game from 1967-69 as Lew Alcindor; Bill Walton, the crazy-ass Deadhead who led UCLA to 88 straight wins in the 70s; and of course, John Wooden, the pious Midwestern wizard at the heart of it all.

The definitive take so far is The Wizard of Westwood, a 1973 book by Dwight Chapin and Jeff Prugh. Obviously, that doesn't quite cover the entire UCLA era, and it's been 35 years, but I would satisfied simply with a re-release of the out-of-print Chapin/Prugh book.

1985 in the Big East
Again I'm culling from HBO documentaries of recent years, but the 1984-85 college basketball season in the Big East is just tailor-made for a book, focusing on the three teams which made the Final Four: Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova.

Of course, the whole thing builds up to one of the classic stories in American sports: the Cinderella run of the Villanova Wildcats, and the perfect game they pitched in the national championship game, with the heavily favored Georgetown Hoyas in the villain's role.

So many compelling characters, with John Thompson, the dictatorial Georgetown father figure who was one of the most polarizing sports figures of the 80s; Gary McLain, the 'Nova floor leader who played the national semifinal while high on cocaine; and a whole fleet of oddballs on that lovable band of Johnnies: Louie Carnesecca, with his garish sweaters and recruiting budget comprised of subway tokens; Chris Mullin, the Brooklyn gym rat who seemed an unlikely All-American; streetwise Mark Jackson; Walter Berry, with his unorthodox array of lefty moves in the post. There's a good tale to be spun here.

Hollinger and Harvey
This one is more of a format plea than a content request. Two of my favorite NBA annuals are John Hollinger's player-and-team preview compendium, the artist formerly known as Pro Basketball Forecast, and Harvey Pollack's NBA Statistical Yearbook, that exhaustive and slightly bizarre annual chock full of fascinating NBA numbers and tidbits.

Still love Hollinger's work as part of ESPN's preview coverage. I wish it were ideally still available as a book, but that's unlikely, so I'd settle for a PDF -- I just want to be able to access all the material in one place.

Harvey's book *is* available as a downloadable PDF through the Sixers site, but I'm sorry, I want it all. I really miss having that damn thing in convenient book form, as an eternal record. It's just not the same to call it up on my laptop.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Looking for the D3 Repeat

Longtime readers of The Painted Area know that we are not only big fans of Division III hoops, but looking for a repeat title after our alma mater captured the national championship last season.

Well, the D3 tourney is back and gets under way Thursday and Friday on small-college campuses around the country. is the online bible.

Here's this year's bracket (pdf). The midwestern section of the bracket is brutal as usual, with No. 1 Hope, No. 2 UW-Whitewater and No. 4 Centre all in that corner. Hope could conceivably have to go through teams ranked No. 2, 3, 4, and 6 on its potential road to the title.

Surprisingly, the northeastern bracket is much tougher than usual, with three of the top seven ranked teams - Amherst, Brandeis and Plattsburgh State - all packed together. A potential Amherst-Plattsburgh State matchup in the quarters would be a massive collision of Painted Area worlds.

The national championship will be held once again in Salem, Va., at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 22. Last year's championship game was carried live on CSTV and

In the Pick 'Em bracket game, our overall philosophy remains the same:
1. Consult the computerized Massey Ratings religiously.
2. Pick alma mater to win it all even if it defies all logic (which it actually hasn't recently, as we've made three of the last four Final Fours in addition to winning it all in '07).
3. When in doubt, pick the team from Wisconsin (Wisc. teams have won seven of the last 19 titles [past champions], and play in the toughest conferences in the country).

For my Final Four, I've got Amherst (alma mater of Ken "The White Shadow" Howard), Rochester, UW-Whitewater and Guilford (alma mater of M.L. Carr and World B. Free).

I'm taking Amherst over Rochester, and UW-Whitewater over Guilford... and then I'm going with a back-to-back title for Amherst. They're gonna be rockin-and-rollin on the Amherst Town Common, bay-bee!