Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hoops TV Week: Feb 27-Mar 4

Here's our look at highlights from the next 7 days of basketball on TV. We come at it from the perspective of an NBA fan for the most part - college/high-school listings will focus on top prospects, as well as the biggest games. All times Eastern.

1 p.m.: NBA - Lakers at Bucks (1972), ESPN Classic
Milwaukee ends L.A.'s record 33-game winning streak.

9 p.m.: NBA - Lakers at Nuggets, League Pass
The 1 and 3 teams in the West get together.

1 p.m.: Euroleague - CSKA Moscow at Montepaschi Siena, NBA TV
Two of the top teams in Europe, as CSKA is the defending Euroleague champs, and Siena is an undefeated 19-0 in Italian League play.

7:30 p.m.: NBA - Knicks at Heat, League Pass
Should be much more entertaining than the 72-70 matchups in days of yore.

3:30 p.m.: NBA - Lakers at Suns, ABC
We'll see if Phoenix can rebound at home after their 26-point drubbing on Thursday.

8 p.m.: NBA - Spurs at Blazers, League Pass
Hopefully, Timmy D will be back in action in time for this one.

7:30 p.m.: NBA - Cavs at Heat, League Pass
LeBron v. D-Wade always makes the cut.

5 p.m.: NCAA - Georgetown vs. St. John's (1985 Big East Finals), ESPN Classic
Patrick Ewing vs. Chris Mullin from the year when the Big East ruled college basketball.

7:30 p.m.: NBA - Nuggets at Pistons, League Pass
Chauncey B-b-b-b-b-billups returns to Detroit.

1 p.m.: NCAA - Virginia vs. UNC (1984 Big East Finals), ESPN Classic
As always, Jordan in college makes the cut.

7:30 p.m.: NCAA - Marquette at Pittsburgh, ESPN 2
Two top ten teams - take a look at Pitt's DeJuan Blair and see if you think he can stick in the league as an undersized rebounder a la Paul Millsap.

7:30 p.m.: NBA - Suns at Heat, League Pass
Shaq returns to Miami.

9 p.m.: NBA - Rockets at Jazz, League Pass
These two clubs are quickly climbing the Western Conference standings.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

David Falk: The Bald Truth

Based on our anecdotal perusals of Barnes & Noble and Borders, one of the more notable basketball books of the year can only be found in the business section, rather than in the sports section.

The book is The Bald Truth: Secrets of Success from the Locker Room to the Boardroom by David Falk (Wikipedia bio). During the 1990's, Falk - of course best known as Michael Jordan's agent - was widely considered to not only be the most powerful agent in basketball, but also the second-most-powerful man in basketball overall behind David Stern, with a deep client list which included a generation of stars such as Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Alonzo Mourning, James Worthy, Allen Iverson and John Stockton, plus college coaches John Thompson and Coach K, at one time or another.

Falk still represents a handful of NBA players, including Mike Bibby, Corey Maggette, Jeff Green and Elton Brand, with whom Falk jumped back into headlines last summer, following Brand's contentious breakup with the Clippers and Mike Dunleavy.

We included the Falk book in our preview of '08-09 basketball books last fall, but we were actually a bit reticent to do so. Based on the title and some of the advance information and marketing around The Bald Truth, we were concerned that the book would lean too much in the direction of the self-improvement genre, with a bit too much how-to business mumbo-jumbo for our taste.

So we were pleasantly surprised to discover that - based on the hefty excerpt of Chapter 1 on the Simon & Schuster site, as well as some flipping through in the bookstore - the book reads like a memoir of Falk's 30+-year career as an agent.

The Bald Truth covers all of Falk's most famous NBA deals, from the groundbreaking Air Jordan deal with Nike in '84, to Patrick Ewing's rookie contract with the Knicks in '85, to Danny Ferry's controversial move to shun the Clippers for Italy as the no. 2 pick in '89, to $100M contracts for Zo and (very controversially) Juwan Howard in the mid-'90s, all the way up to the Brand squabbles from last summer. There are indeed business lessons to be learned which are offered up at the end of each chapter, but that kind of stuff really seems to be kept to a minimum.

All in all, The Bald Truth looks like an interesting document of the basketball times, with behind-the-scenes tales from one of the game's most powerful figures, involving negotiations and deals for some of basketball's biggest stars, in an era when sports business and marketing were being revolutionized. Many may be put off because it's really just a bunch of stories about outrageous amounts of money being thrown around. We enjoyed the perspective and observations of an insider. Of course, there's *a lot* of David Falk self-aggrandizement over the course of the telling of tales; it's not at all surprising, just something the reader needs to keep in mind.

I don't know that we'd drop $27 on the hardcover, but The Bald Truth definitely offers a unique enough angle on basketball in the '80s and '90s that we'll be looking to pick up the paperback.

But you can make up your own mind. As we mentioned above, all of Chapter 1, a full 30 pages in the book about lessons Falk learned from John Thompson, is available at the Simon & Schuster site.

Here's a taste of the excerpt, as Falk describes the negotiations of Patrick Ewing's rookie contract with the Knicks in 1984, when he was asking for a 10-year, $30M contract (there was not yet a rookie wage scale in place), a year after Hakeem Olajuwon, by comparison, had gotten a 6-year, $7.2M contract as the no. 1 pick:
    I knew John [Thompson] respected me and what we were trying to do for Patrick, and I understood that the Knicks ownership could not withstand losing the asset value represented by the first lottery pick, a franchise center no less, and coming away with nothing. There was literally no chance the Knicks weren't going to sign Patrick. A tremendous amount of season tickets had been sold and Patrick's picture had been on the cover of the season ticket brochure. What were they going to do, call up all the fans that had already laid out money relying on "Saint Patrick" and tell them they couldn't afford to sign him? They had effectively paid for the contract with the increase in season ticket revenue.

    The summer passed and we remained in a stalemate, a state I've often faced. Though familiar, the situation can test the relationship between the player and agent. I worked for Patrick and he wanted to be updated on the progress of the negotiations. But I knew it was better for him to be unaware of the Knicks position. When the team has made an offer in the neighborhood of $1.2 million a year and I was asking for $3 million, we were more than a tad apart. In fact, we were so far apart that the distance between the two offers was nearly as large as the biggest contract in league history. There are at least two bad outcomes if the client comes to understand the distance between the two sides. One, the client can get extremely nervous that no deal will ever be made. In the player's mind there are only two reasons for such an impasse: either I didn't know what I was doing, or the team didn't believe in the player's value. Two, if the team finally does agree to $3 million and the player knows it really wanted to pay a third of that amount, he's naturally going to think the team was out to cheat him. In that case, the player might get what he wants but the entire relationship starts off on shaky ground.

    This is where the integrity and trust of John Thompson became invaluable. I asked John for his permission, as the parental patriarch, to defer informing Patrick of the details of his own negotiations until we were at least "in the ballpark." I was afraid of the potential ill will implicit in the chasm between our demand for a deal unprecedented in size and scope and the Knicks' desire to "slot" him relative to Olajuwon. For all of John's reputation as a tough guy, he is extremely smart. John understood the wisdom in keeping quiet on the particulars. Without John, I doubt I would have been able to withhold status reports to Patrick, not because he was so demanding but because he was so damn nice.

    I remember the first time Patrick called me at home, soon after I had signed him. He left a message on my answering machine that went something like this: "Good evening Mr. Falk. This is Patrick. I really hate to bother you at home. But I wondered if it was possible for you to give me a buzz back. I just wanted to ask you a question."

    I looked at my wife and said, "Was that a joke? Could that possibly have been Patrick Ewing leaving that message? Could the guy in a hundred years possibly be that polite and that considerate to think he's imposing on my time when he just let me represent the best player in the country?"

    As I came to find out, that was Patrick. To this day he is respectful, thoughtful, considerate, charming, and warm. His personality was at odds with the intensity and power he displayed on the court. It always drove me crazy hearing how fans or writers would refer so negatively to Patrick, and how badly they misunderstood him as a human being. He was more like a big teddy bear, which was exactly how my children and family felt about him.

    True to his kindness, Patrick never pressed me for information on the negotiations. It was John, who finally knew it was time to lay out the cards for Patrick. I told John that we had made some progress and that I was more comfortable briefing Patrick on both parties' position.
Love the Ewing anecdotes there. Falk eventually got Ewing his deal (though he blames his ex-boss/partner Donald Dell for caving on a few issues at the end). But a tale like this sure makes you wonder just how much Elton Brand actually knew about what was happening last summer as things were transpiring, doesn't it?

For more on Falk, we'd say a definitive profile is a NY Times Magazine cover story called "The Big Man Can Deal" from Nov. 17, 1996, when Falk was pretty much at the height of his powers.

Meanwhile, The New Yorker ran a profile of Michael Jordan written by Henry Louis Gates in June, 1998 (available to New Yorker subscribers via the digital reader), which included these notes on Falk's relationship with the key client of his career:
    David Falk, now forty-seven, is tall and bald (albeit not so tall and bald as his most celebrated client), and, with his Zegna suits and StarTac phone, he has become a fixture at the N.B.A.'s draft night, where he gets to exercise his skills at coaxing, cosseting, and cudgeling in rapid succession....

    "Protect your assets" is one of Falk's guiding rules, "assets" being the operative word. For what is perhaps the central relationship in Jordan's career has never been a bond of sentiment. To their credit, the two do not pretend otherwise. Jordan speaks of Falk in terms that are businesslike but not brusque - as someone who can be a son of a bitch ("an a------" is Jordan's precise designation) but his son of a bitch....

    It was in Jordan's rookie year that Falk took his client shoe-shopping. "Instead of asking for offers I asked all the shoe companies to make a presentation to us and explain what they would do to market Michael," Falk recounts. An ailing sneaker company called Nike turned out to be the keenest suitor. "But they still refused to call it the Michael Jordan line," Falk says. "That's when I came up with calling the shoe Air Jordan, as a compromise between Michael Jordan and Nike." The result was then the largest basketball endorsement deal ever - worth about $2.5 million over five years, plus royalties. Falk insisted that the company spend at least a million dollars on promotion, and so guarantee his client that measure of commercial exposure. Nike insisted on an out clause if sales didn;t take off. In fact, Air Jordan revenues reached a hundred and thirty million dollars by the end of the first year, and Nike happily spent several million dollars to promote the line. It was the most successful sneaker launch in history.
Also, Jack McCallum profiled Falk in Sports Illustrated in 1992, in a story called "The Power and the Glory: In representing Michael Jordan and other deities, David Falk has become the scourge of the NBA."

Love him or hate him, David Falk has certainly been one of the most influential figures in basketball over the last generation. On balance, we're happy to have The Bald Truth as his document of the times.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thoughts on the Money(Basket)Ball Rockets

The Michael Lewis piece in New York Times Magazine on how the Rockets organization is attempting to apply the Moneyballmodel of advanced statistical analysis to basketball, personified in the quest to try to quantify the value of Shane Battier, has been the talk of the basketball world for the last few days, and rightly so. It's the brilliant reporting we've come to commonly expect from Lewis, whether he's writing about sports or the meltdown of the economy, and I'm thrilled that he's writing about basketball.

Still, as I worked my way through the piece, I couldn't help but think that the following people were directly or indirectly thrown under the bus by Rockets GM Daryl Morey to make the story happen:

1. Kobe Bryant. It seemed to be quite a gauntlet thrown down by Morey to suggest that, essentially, the Rockets had figured out how to stop Kobe Bryant:
    People often say that Kobe Bryant has no weaknesses to his game, but that’s not really true. Before the game, Battier was given his special package of information. "He’s the only player we give it to," Morey says. "We can give him this fire hose of data and let him sift. Most players are like golfers. You don’t want them swinging while they’re thinking." The data essentially broke down the floor into many discrete zones and calculated the odds of Bryant making shots from different places on the court, under different degrees of defensive pressure, in different relationships to other players — how well he scored off screens, off pick-and-rolls, off catch-and-shoots and so on....

    [Bryant] is better at pretty much everything than everyone else, but there are places on the court, and starting points for his shot, that render him less likely to help his team. When he drives to the basket, he is exactly as likely to go to his left as to his right, but when he goes to his left, he is less effective. When he shoots directly after receiving a pass, he is more efficient than when he shoots after dribbling. He’s deadly if he gets into the lane and also if he gets to the baseline; between the two, less so.... The ideal outcome, from the Rockets’ statistical point of view, is for Bryant to dribble left and pull up for an 18-foot jump shot; force that to happen often enough and you have to be satisfied with your night.... The court doesn’t have little squares all over it to tell him what percentage Bryant is likely to shoot from any given spot, but it might as well.

    The reason the Rockets insist that Battier guard Bryant is his gift for encouraging him into his zones of lowest efficiency. The effect of doing this is astonishing: Bryant doesn’t merely help his team less when Battier guards him than when someone else does. When Bryant is in the game and Battier is on him, the Lakers’ offense is worse than if the N.B.A.’s best player had taken the night off. "The Lakers’ offense should obviously be better with Kobe in," Morey says. "But if Shane is on him, it isn’t." A player whom Morey describes as "a marginal N.B.A. athlete" not only guards one of the greatest — and smartest — offensive threats ever to play the game. He renders him a detriment to his team.
All of this may indeed be true, but something about letting sleeping dogs lie still comes to mind, and seems like it may be a more prudent course of action. We'll see.

Before the January game which was profiled by Lewis, Morey was quoted as follows:
    "I’m certain that Kobe is ready to just destroy Shane," Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ general manager, told me. "Because there’s been story after story about how Shane shut Kobe down the last time." Last time was March 16, 2008, when the Houston Rockets beat the Lakers to win their 22nd game in a row — the second-longest streak in N.B.A. history. The game drew a huge national television audience, which followed Bryant for his 47 miserable minutes: he shot 11 of 33 from the field and scored 24 points. "A lot of people watched," Morey said. "Everyone ­watches Kobe when the Lakers play. And so everyone saw Kobe struggling. And so for the first time they saw what we’d been seeing."
I can only imagine how Kobe is going to feel next time, after this story. Assuming that Phil made his way to the Magazine after he finished the Sunday Times Crossword and perused the op-ed page, I have a feeling that this piece is going to work its way into Mr. Bryant's hands one way or another, and it probably already has. Circle your calendar for Wed., March 11: Lakers at Rockets.

2. Jerry West. The Rockets acquired Battier by trading Stromile Swift and the draft rights to Rudy Gay to Memphis, which was run by Jerry West at the time. Battier is quoted as saying, "From the minute Jerry West got there he was trying to trade me."

An undeniable implication underlying the entire story is that Jerry West didn't comprehend Battier's worth, that he doesn't truly understand how to evaluate players if he can't grasp Battier's worth.

I will note that I've always found Jerry West to be a little overrated as a GM because he had such huge advantages as a Laker. By far and away the most important thing he did is building L.A.'s most recent champions was say "Yes" when Shaquille O'Neal expressed an interest to join the team. (And yes, I know, I know, West picked Kobe Bryant, but don't forget that he was only able to acquire Kobe because he had a huge asset to trade - a skilled 27-year-old 7-footer in Vlade Divac - which became available expressly because of Shaq.)

Still, the universal perception in the basketball world is that Jerry West is the ultimate personnel man, with an unassailable sense of how to put together a team. My point is this: that is another mighty big gauntlet to throw down for a huge, high-profile story to be written that implies Daryl Morey understands player evaluation in a way that Jerry West does not. And I don't care that this is never explicitly stated - it is an undeniable implication of the story.

3. Harvey Pollack. Morey also had this quote in the story: "Someone created the box score and he should be shot." That someone is the great Harvey "Superstat" Pollack, the only person who has been working continuously for the NBA since its inception in 1946, who is known and loved for his delightful annual statistical yearbooks, who took the photo of Wilt holding up the "100" sign, and who is truly an NBA legend in his own way.

Harvey is credited with being the first person to systematically tabulate categories like minutes played, blocked shots, offensive and defensive rebounds, assists, steals and turnovers.

I mean, I know Morey was being flip and I'm really just trying to have fun with this one, but there is still plenty of valuable information that is conveyed in a box score, through stats that were essentially invented by Pollack. I know what Morey was trying to say, and I know he wasn't trying to off Harvey, but the comment came off as disrespectful to someone who has played an important role not just in the NBA as a whole, but also in helping to establish ways to understand basketball quantitatively, even if categories like blocks and steals can be misleading.

4. Jeff Van Gundy. Morey was also quoted as saying "Our last coach dragged [Battier] into a meeting and told him he needed to shoot more. I'm not sure that that ever happened."

Minor one here, but that "last coach" was Jeff Van Gundy. I didn't find anything wrong with this particular quote, but knowing how prickly JVG can be about public comments people make about others in the league, I wonder if he didn't take umbrage with the tone of this statement.

Don't get me wrong, the old Bill James Baseball Abstracts I read as a kid are some of the most influential books I've read in my entire life. I *love* that the Moneyball revolution of advanced statistical analysis has hit basketball. I fully support it and hope that Morey succeeds and becomes a template for what an NBA GM should be, washing away the know-nothing ex-superstars of the Jordan, McHale, Isiah mold, as much entertainment as their personnel misadventures may provide.

That said, one of the main criticisms of Oakland A's GM Billy Beane was the hubris of his apparent eagerness to be so ready, willing and able to be portrayed so heroically by Lewis in Moneyball.

And now I wonder if Morey, a GM who has yet to win as much as an NBA playoff series, isn't walking a similar line at this stage in his career, to be going after NBA legends publicly, even if it's implicit.

On a certain level, I always welcome justified attacks on conventional wisdom and sacred cows, but I just wonder if it might not serve Morey to be a little more circumspect and humble, at least until he gets a team to the second round of the playoffs.


The Lewis piece was an outstanding portrait of how important it is for an NBA team to have acts of unselfishness which don't show up in stats, whether it's Battier boxing out a big man so that some other Rocket can get a rebound, or simply getting a hand in the face to contest a shot.

In addition to this kind of "little-picture" unselfishness, it's crucial to keep "big-picture" unselfishness in mind when building an NBA team as well, the delicate balance of getting guys to accept a team's pecking order.

Our favorite example of this, which we've written about before, is how the Pistons were considering trading Joe Dumars prior to their championship run, possibly for more talent, but owner Bill Davidson persuasively argued against by saying something to the effect of "You'll never find a better player who's willing to sit second chair to Isiah."

It's what we see now in L.A. with Lamar Odom accepting a bench role in a free-agent year. It's what we've seen for years in S.A. with Manu Ginobili accepting fewer minutes even though it keeps his stats low and probably costs him All-Star appearances.

It's what makes me wonder if we'd have a different perception of KG and Kevin McHale and the Minnesota Timberwolves of the last decade if Stephon Marbury had simply been the type of player to accept playing second fiddle.

It's what makes me realize that the Portland Trail Blazers, even with all of their assets, have a big challenge as they make moves going forward, just because they have such a nice ego balance with Roy, Oden, and Aldridge all seemingly to coexist peacefully no matter the relative attention one or the other might get. This especially applies to B-Roy, who handled the initial Oden hoopla so gracefully, even though he had already established himself as a young star.

I think that Travis Outlaw is a promising young player, and, from a Blazers perspective, I don't like the trade rumors I've seen involving him on a talent basis. but I think back to this story from The Oregonian from the summer, with this excerpt, and I understand why he probably needs to go:
    He came to Portland in 2003, right out of Starkville High. That makes him the longest-tenured Blazer, and he notes that he has seen a lot in his time -- from the self-destruction of Bonzi Wells and the trade request of a disgruntled Rasheed Wallace to the franchise's passing fancies that were Sebastian Telfair, Zach Randolph and Darius Miles.

    With that perspective, he ponders his place with the franchise's upswing. He has experienced enough success -- last season hitting game-winning shots at Memphis and Atlanta and finishing ninth in the sixth man of the year voting -- that he thinks he could one day be an All-Star. But he wonders whether that potential will be stifled on a team built around Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden.

    And all of that feeds his apprehension of how the team perceives him as he enters what could be a contract year.

    "We have a really good team," Outlaw says. "But I don't know if they are going to be able to keep us together."

    His mood never dwells on his apprehensions. It seems every time they arise, he gathers in his surroundings, be it listening to the June bugs, taking in the scenery at the secluded pond he fishes, or embracing the comfort of family. It seems to ground him, and he becomes the man that is so familiar in Portland: gentle, respectful and humble.

    "Things come to you in due time," Outlaw says late one night. "If God has it in his will, then that's how it's gonna be."

    So he is content to wait another year, perhaps two, for his personal aspirations to take precedence. But he wants to make one thing clear: He is not content remaining with the status quo of his game.

    "I don't want to be a sixth man forever," Outlaw says.
All of this is to say that I think the irony of this whole Michael Lewis Rockets story is that I don't think there's been a team in the league that's been as out of balance in terms of its pecking order in the last few years as the Rockets have been.

This team should revolve around Yao Ming, with the big fella as the primary option and a free-flowing offense running around him. Instead, all too often, when I've watched the Rockets, I've seen McGrady pound, pound, pound the ball into the hardwood aimlessly, pulling up for some long, contested 2-pointer as his teammates stand by idly.

Of course, Morey inherited this situation, he didn't create it, so I certainly don't blame him. It's why I supported the McGrady for Vince Carter trade rumors for Houston even though Vince is older and has a more onerous contract, and is certainly not an upgrade in mental toughness from T-Mac (though let's make clear we're talking about on-court mental toughness; McGrady's trip to Darfur made it clear that he has about as much real-life mental toughness, for lack of a better term, than anyone in the league). But I think that Vince would accept being the no. 2 guy to Yao at this point in his career in a way that McGrady never would.

Now, with McGrady's microfracture surgery, the Rockets can't acquire Vince, but still have a chance to now reshape their team in the big picture. I found this quote from Battier fascinating:
    Last February, Yao Ming broke his left foot and missed the last 26 games of the season. The Rockets ran off 10 consecutive victories after Yao was hurt, and Battier said the Rockets will adapt easier to McGrady’s absence than they did to Yao’s.

    "When Yao went down, that was devastating," Battier said. "Obviously, Tracy is a great player and he’s a big part of what we did. But Yao, at the time, was our foundation."
I think he understands the big picture and well as the little picture, which is hardly surprising. It's going to be interesting to see where this team goes.


Also on The Painted Area:
Hoops TV Week: Feb. 19-25 - Week's highlights include the double-nickel, real-life Hoosiers, Celtics-Suns and loads of draft prospects.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hoops TV Week: Feb 19-25

Here's our look at highlights from the next 7 days of basketball on TV. We come at it from the perspective of an NBA fan for the most part - college/high-school listings will focus on top prospects, as well as the biggest games. All times Eastern.

The week's highlights include MJ's Double Nickel and his Sick Game, the real-life Hoosiers, Celtics-Suns and loads of draft prospects.

9 p.m.: NBA - Bulls at Knicks (1995), NBA TV
The double-nickel at the Garden.

10:30 p.m.: NBA - Celtics at Jazz, TNT
Charles makes his return to TNT, as well.

11 p.m.: NCAA - Washington at UCLA, FSN
Good matchup of guard prospects with Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison and UW's exciting Isaiah Thomas on the floor.

Midnight: NBA - Bulls at Jazz (1997 NBA Finals, Game 5), NBA TV
The sick game.

9 p.m.: NBA - Thunder at Suns, League Pass
How many can Durant score in this one?

10:30 p.m.: NBA - Hornets at Lakers, ESPN
CP3 and Kobe. Let's see how N.O. can fare vs. L.A. with Smith and Wilcox. Oh wait.

8:30 a.m.: SportsCentury: Oscar Robertson, ESPN Classic

Noon: NCAA - Butler at Davidson, ESPN
Bracket Buster headliner features Stephen Curry.

1 p.m.: Euroleague - Panathinaikos at Lottomatica Roma, NBA TV
Nice matchup of NBA prospects with Minnesota draftee Nikola Pecovic and potential lottery pick Brandon Jennings.

4 p.m.: SportsCentury: Bill Russell, ESPN Classic

9 p.m.: NBA - Hornets at Jazz, League Pass
Can Deron Williams continue his mastery of Chris Paul in head-to-head matchups?

11 a.m.: 1954 Milan Miracle: Milan vs. Muncie, ESPN Classic
The real-life inspiration for Hoosiers.

2:30 p.m.: NBA - Celtics at Suns, ABC
Solid entertaining ABC matchup, as the Suns try to retain their groove.

5:30 p.m.: NBA - Heat at Magic, ESPN
D-Wade, D-12 in the Battle of Stan Van Gundy.

7:45 p.m.: NCAA - Wake Forest at Duke, FSN
10 p.m.: NCAA - Arizona at Arizona St., FSN
Good college doubleheader goes up against the Oscars. Eight potential first-round picks in the two games, with Teague, Aminu, Johnson, Harden, Hill, Budinger, Singler and Henderson.

1 p.m.: NBA - Pistons at Celtics (1987 ECF, Game 7), NBA TV
Game 5 gets all the hype because of Bird's steal, but Game 7 was a better game overall. Classic Boston Garden battle.

7 p.m.: NCAA - Louisville at Georgetown, ESPN
Four potential first-round picks in this one: Greg Monroe, Earl Clark, DaJuan Summers, Terrence Williams.

9 p.m.: NCAA - Kansas at Oklahoma, ESPN
And three more here, highlighted by a matchup of potential no. 1 overall Blake Griffin and Kansas big man Cole Aldrich, plus OU's willie Warren as well. A chance to see the potential top 2 picks in the Draft in Griffin and Monroe in back-to-back games.

9 p.m.: NBA - Celtics at Nuggets, NBA TV
Nuggets still quietly lurking as a potential 2 seed in the West.

8 p.m.: NBA - Lakers at Thunder, League Pass
Kobe vs. KD.

8:30 p.m.: NBA - Blazers at Spurs, League Pass
Solid Western Conference matchup.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quick Fernando Martín Note

Nice post by Tom Ziller at the Sporting Blog on how the Dunk Contest is apparently the last bastion of NBA xenophobia, in terms of how Rudy Fernandez's dunks were underappreciated and undervalued a little on Saturday, as well as how Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith somewhat pathetically denigrated Spain, the reigning basketball world champs and the country which came within a whisker of knocking off Team USA in Beijing even though they started a 17-year-old at the point.

Here are Rudy's two dunks:

In his first dunk, Rudy paid tribute to Fernando Martín, the first Spanish-born player in the NBA, who played briefly with the Blazers in 1986-87, and died in a car accident in 1989. It kind of caught folks off-guard on the TNT broadcast, so in the interest of giving Martín a more proper tribute before the U.S. audience, we point to a 2001 profile of George Karl from Sports Illustrated.

Karl was the head coach of Real Madrid when Martín, who was the team's star, died. In the Frank Deford piece, Karl, who played in the Final Four at North Carolina and coached in the NBA Finals with the Sonics, said that the game following Martín's death "was an incredible moment. There has been nothing like it in my life except the births of my children.":
    A dozen years ago, in December 1989, when Karl was in his first tour with the Real Madrid team, his big star, Fernando Martín, was killed in an automobile accident. Martín hadn't only been the best Spanish player ever. He was also a charismatic figure. "He was like James Dean," Karl recalls. The next evening the body was placed in the arena, and the fans trooped by, late into the night, viewing it. It rained the following day, and the buses carrying the team members and the dignitaries couldn't get through an arch at the cemetery. Everybody had to alight in the cold rain and trudge through the mud to the grave. "It was like a Fellini movie," says Karl.

    Real Madrid had a game that night, and beforehand, at the team dinner, too much red wine was consumed. At the arena Martín's jersey was draped over his chair. Roses were everywhere. Near the top of the stands, looking down, sat the dead man's mother, weeping. Martín's kid brother, Antonio, another player on the team, showed up minutes before tip-off and tearfully assured Karl that he was ready to play. Real Madrid—coach and players and fans-was naked, shivering with sorrow. The team played abysmally.

    Early in the second half, Real Madrid trailed by 19 points. Suddenly Karl's players came alive. There was no rhyme or reason, except that somehow Martín must have been with them. In seven minutes they turned the game around, 38 points' worth. Seven minutes, from 19 down to 19 up. Real Madrid coasted from there.

    Señora Martín was waving from on high, like Evita from the balcony at the Casa Rosada. In unison the stands cried, "Fernando está aquí." Fernando is here. When the buzzer sounded, Karl collapsed in his seat as the players dashed through the crowd to embrace their dead teammate's mother. "Fernando está aquí. Fernando está aquí." Karl cried. "It was an incredible moment," he says. "There has been nothing like it in my life except the births of my children."

    He is sitting in his office, which overlooks the Bucks' practice court. Peering out, he seems instead to be looking back to that court in Madrid. Listening. "Fernando está aquí" Karl says softly, shaking his head, marveling at the memory.
As always, just remember that we're all one big world of ballers. Respect the game.


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Friday, February 13, 2009

2009 NBA All-Stars: Where They From?
What Happened to the NYC Ballplayer?

With All-Star Weekend upon us, we wanted to do some quick, simple analysis on the backgrounds of this year's All-Stars - where they came from, how much college ball they played, when they were drafted, how they got to their current teams. Here we go:

Dwyane WadeChicago, IL35Draft
Allen IversonHampton, VA21Trade
Dwight HowardAtlanta, GA01Draft
LeBron JamesAkron, OH01Draft
Kevin GarnettMauldin, SC05Trade
Paul PierceInglewood, CA (L.A.)310Draft
Chris BoshDallas, TX14Draft
Joe JohnsonLittle Rock, AR210RFA/Trade
Danny GrangerMetairie, LA (New Orleans)417Draft
Devin HarrisMilwaukee, WI35Trade
Rashard LewisHouston, TX032UFA
Jameer NelsonChester, PA (Philly)420Draft
Mo WilliamsJackson, MS247Trade
Ray AllenDalzell, SC35Trade

Chris PaulWinston-Salem, NC24Draft
Kobe BryantLower Merion, PA013Draft
Tim DuncanSt. Croix, US V.I.41Draft
Amar'e StoudemireOrlando, FL09Draft
Yao MingShanghai, China01Draft
Dirk NowitzkiWurzburg, Germany09Draft
Pau GasolBarcelona, Spain03Trade
Chauncey BillupsDenver, CO23Trade
Tony ParkerParis, France028Draft
Brandon RoySeattle, WA46Draft
Shaquille O'NealSan Antonio, TX31Trade
David WestGarner, NC/Teaneck, NJ418Draft

A few thoughts:
- It's striking to see just how high these guys were drafted across the board.

In the East, 8 of 14 were top 5 guys, and then a couple others were projected top 5 by many but slipped on draft night (Pierce, Granger). Even J. Nelson and R. Lewis were considered lottery picks by many but slipped. And the two second-rounders (Lewis/Mo Williams) are considered borderline All-Stars this year.

In the West, 7 of 12 were top 6 picks. Stoudemire slipped on draft night, and Kobe/Dirk surely would have been drafted higher if they hadn't been on the early end of the high school/international invasion. And one of the later picks, D. West, is probably the most borderline Star on the club.

- It's also striking to see, as we inch closer to the vaunted FA Class of 2010, that only 2 of this year's 26 All-Stars were acquired by their current teams via free agency, only 1 via the unrestricted variety.

Of course, all it takes is one or two big names to move - the Lakers' most recent championship era was cemented by unrestricted free-agent Shaquille O'Neal, after all - but it seems like it might be risky to be putting all of one's eggs into hoping for a superstar via free agency, especially since the cap rules give such a huge advantage to the incumbent, as Howard Beck of the NY Times so expertly analyzed recently (and those rules did not exist when Shaq jumped from Orlando to L.A., it should be noted).

- Average college experience - East: 1.9, West: 1.6, Overall: 1.8. We realize that there are a bunch of international players included who bring the number down, but that's part of the point: the best players in the world these days do not play much college basketball, which is why the quality of play is so much lower than it was a generation ago.

We also added a few more players who were cited as guys who should have been All-Stars, from some of our preferred analysts, such as John Hollinger, Kelly Dwyer, Kevin Pelton, Marc Stein and Justin Kubatko.

Rajon RondoLouisville, KY
Vince CarterDaytona Beach, FL
Antawn JamisonCharlotte, NC
Zydrunas IlgauskasKaunas, Lithuania
Carmelo AnthonyBaltimore, MD
Al JeffersonPrentiss, MS
Paul MillsapMonroe, LA
Kevin DurantRockville, MD (D.C.)
Deron WilliamsThe Colony, TX (Dallas)
Steve NashVictoria, BC
NeneSao Carlos, Brazil
Manu GinobiliBahia Blanca, Argentina
Jason KiddOakland, CA

We plotted all of these guys onto a Google map to quickly examine the question: Where do the best basketball players in the world come from? (All-Stars in blue, "near All-Stars" in red)

View Larger Map

Depressed Fan had a neat concept last week in its NBA Hometown Heroes post, in which it created teams of players who hailed from each NBA city.

The findings that surprised us most in our own exercise and in the Depressed Fan work is what a hotbed the Deep South of the U.S. is for producing elite players.

Alex K. of Depressed Fan proclaimed that the Charlotte team of CP3, Ray Allen, Josh Howard, Antawn Jamison, David West and KG would be the champion of these city teams. Then a TrueHoop reader from New Orleans e-mailed Henry to note what strong depth that area's team would have, especially by reaching further into that state and neighboring Mississippi.

All the hype is that big urban areas are the primary breeding grounds for great basketball players, but it seems like mid-sized-to-small cities in the Deep South produce more than their fair share.

Speaking of big urban areas, I guess what's been most striking to us in reading Depressed Fan and slapping this map together is the complete dearth of great players hailing from New York City.

Zoom in on our map, and the only guy in the vicinity is David West, and that's a stretch, not only because he's a borderline All-Star, but also because he's representing Teaneck, New Jersey, and it's somewhat charitable to list him there at that, as he moved away to the Raleigh area for high school.

39 players on that map, and not one from the five boroughs.

If we were to include the next level of players who are All-Star caliber but have been hampered by injuries, we'd have Michael Redd (Columbus, Ohio), Kevin Martin (Zanesville, Ohio), Gilbert Arenas (L.A. area), Carlos Boozer (Juneau, Alaska), Tracy McGrady (Auburndale, FL), and Elton Brand (Peekskill, NY).

So, I suppose NYC can claim Elton Brand as an elite player, but that's increasingly questionable, and really, Brooklyn and Queens, that's what you're reduced to? Claiming guys from Teaneck and Peekskill, (in Westchester County, 40 miles out of the city), as your ballers?

Neither of the two Depressed Fan guys thought NYC worthy of being of Top 5 city (and rightly so). Top ballplayers from the city these days are Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Ben Gordon (we're giving you Mount Vernon here), Stephon Marbury, Rafer Alston and Charlie Villanueva.

I guess what's especially notable is that New York guys have historically been distinctive players in the league, with games that were streetwise and savvy after hours and hours of apprenticeship in pickup games on the city's blacktop courts.

New York has always been the breeding ground for star players, from Bob Cousy and Dolph Schayes to Kareem and Dr. J to Tiny Archibald and Lenny Wilkens to Bernard King and Chris Mullin and beyond, and certainly those types of guys are notably absent from today's game.

Beyond that, though, there's always been a distinctive NYC point guard. These guys knew how to get to the rim (can't develop an outside shot in the elements on the playground so you got to get to the rim, the legend goes), and they knew how to play. Go back to Cooz and Tiny and Lenny and Larry Freaking Brown even. Of more recent vintage were guys like Mark Jackson, Rod Strickland, Kenny Anderson, Kenny Smith.

Now? There is nothing special about the New York point guard. More often than not, they actually *don't* come out of the city fundamentally sound and really knowing how to play, how to run a team, as they historically have.

It's a good time for point guards in the NBA right now. There are several strong ones: Paul, Williams, Nash, Billups, B. Davis, Harris, Calderon, Parker, Rondo, Kidd, Rose. None of those players are New Yorkers.

The most notable New York PGs these days are head cases Marbury and Tinsley, being paid to sit on the sidelines. We actually will give Rafer Alston credit - as we do think he has some savvy to his game, but that's of course after many years of impressive work improving his game while in the league. He came out of NY as a streetball legend with no idea how to play organized ball.

What New York basketball produces more than anything else in this era is hype. Hype, hype, hype. Mega-hype. You've got the Felipe Lopezes, the Lenny Cookes, and you've got (easily) the single most over-hyped high-school player of the last 25 years, Sebastian Telfair, yet another present-day point guard who came out of the city with no real idea how to play or how to run a team.

It is hype built off the past, off of the idea that New York is the ultimate breeding ground for players, a notion which has increasingly little evidence of truth in the present.

New York, where you at? What happened to your ballers? As Queens' own Mark Jackson would say, "You're better than that."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hoops TV Week: Feb 12-18

Here's our look at highlights from the next 7 days of basketball on TV. We come at it from the perspective of an NBA fan for the most part - college/high-school listings will focus on top prospects, as well as the biggest games. All times Eastern.

All All-Star, all the time.

Dunk Contest marathon coming on NBA TV:
2 p.m./8 p.m.: ABA - 1976 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
The original - we've always been big fans of Artis Gilmore's work in this one.
2:15 p.m./8:15 p.m.: NBA - 1984 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Larry Nance v. Dr. J in the NBA original.
2:30 p.m./8:30 p.m.: NBA - 1985 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Nique defeats MJ.
3 p.m./9 p.m.: NBA - 1986 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Spud goes crazy in Dallas.
3:30 p.m./9:30 p.m.: NBA - 1987 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
MJ builds his legend in Seattle.
4 p.m./10:00 p.m.: NBA - 1988 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Jordan gets the homer win over Dominique in Chicago.
4:30 p.m./10:30 p.m.: NBA - 1991 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Dee Brown pumps it up.
5 p.m./11 p.m.: NBA - 2000 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Vince Carter goes bananas in Oakland.
5:30 p.m./11:30 p.m.: NBA - 2003 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Jason Richardson wins his second in a row in Atlanta.
6 p.m./12 a.m.: NBA - 2005 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Josh Smith shows love to Dominique.
6:30 p.m./12:30 a.m.: NBA - 2006 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Nate Robinson may still be attempting dunks as we speak.
7 p.m./1 a.m.: NBA - 2007 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Gerald Green blows out the candle.
7:30 p.m./1:30 a.m.: NBA - 2008 Dunk Contest, NBA TV
Superman takes flight in New Orleans.

9 p.m.: NCAA - UCLA at Arizona State, ESPN
10:30 p.m.: NCAA - USC at Arizona, FSN
Arizona schools vs. the SoCal schools this week in the Pac-10 - a great chance to check out prospects James Harden, Jordan Hill, Demar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Chase Budinger, Darren Collison, Taj Gibson, and Jeff Pendergraph, all of whom could be drafted by the early second round in June.

5 p.m.: NBA - Pistons at Lakers (1988 Finals, Game 6), ESPN Classic
One of the greatest performances in NBA history, as Isiah goes for an amazing 25 points in the third quarter on one leg.

7 p.m.: High School - Lincoln (Brooklyn) vs. St. Patrick's (NJ), ESPN2
Lincoln's Lance Stephenson is a top 10 senior, while St. Patrick's Michael Gilchrist is considered to be one of the two best sophomores.

9 p.m.: NBA- Rookie Challenge, TNT
Rookie vs. Sophs in Phoenix.

1 p.m.: NCAA - UCLA at Arizona, CBS
Looks like just a regional broadcast, unfortunately. And yes, that's a 10 a.m. start on the West Coast for some reason.

4 p.m.: NBDL - All-Star Game, NBA TV
We still like the idea of having the D-Leaguers play the rookies.

5 p.m.: NBA - Inside the NBA including H-O-R-S-E, TNT
Interesting experiment with Durant, Mayo, Joe Johnson contesting in H-O-R-S-E.

6:30 p.m.: NBA - David Stern News Conference, NBA TV
The State of the NBA 2009.

7 p.m.: NBA - Slam Dunk Theater, TNT
From TNT's release: "TNT will present NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Theater which will track the evolution of the Slam Dunk Contest and examine how key factors, such as showmanship, creativity and even props, have become just as important as the dunk itself."

8:30 p.m.: NBA - All-Star Saturday, TNT
Shooting Stars, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout and the Slam Dunk.

All-Star Game marathon on Classic heading into this year's game:
Noon: NBA - 1972 All-Star Game, ESPN Classic
2 p.m.: NBA - 1982 All-Star Game, ESPN Classic
4 p.m.: NBA - 1988 All-Star Game, ESPN Classic
6 p.m.: NBA - 1998 All-Star Game, ESPN Classic

8:30 p.m.: NBA - All-Star Game, TNT
The world's greatest athletes take the stage in Phoenix.

10 p.m.: NCAA - USC at Arizona St., FSN

7 p.m.: NCAA - UConn vs. Pitt, ESPN
Enjoy your NBA offday with this matchup of #1 vs. #4 in college hoops.

8:30 p.m.: NBA - Nets at Rockets, League Pass
If Yi Jianlian plays, you can bet this matchup of Yao v Yi will be the most-watched regular season game of the year overall.

4 p.m.: NBA - Lakers at Warriors (1987 Playoffs), NBA TV
Sleepy Floyd goes off for a playoff record 29 points in a quarter.

8 p.m.: NBA - Magic at Hornets, ESPN
CP3 vs. D-12.

8:30 p.m.: NBA - Nets at Mavericks, League Pass
Devin Harris vs. Jason Kidd in Dallas.

Friday, February 06, 2009

R.I.P., C.B.A.

Basically, the CBA's ship be sunk. And I bet former Albany Patroons player and coach, Micheal Ray Richardson, would echo this sentiment.

The longtime basketball minor league that has always operated on a shoestring budget could be calling it quits for good. The CBA recently announced it cut short the regular season and immediately will proceed to a championship series between its top two teams, Albany & Lawton.

Hard to believe this is just a temporary shutdown similar to the Arena Football league, and it's perhaps been inevitable since the Isiah Thomas ownership debacle that seriously wounded the CBA earlier this decade. The current state of the economy combined with the emergence of the NBDL as the primary minor league could be the final nails in the coffin of the 30-year old league.

The CBA (Continental Basketball Association) grew out of the Eastern Basketball League (est. 1946) and was officially established in 1978. Brought professional basketball to medium-sized cities and outposts like Rockford (Ill.), La Crosse (Wis.), Rapid City, Pensacola, Yakima, and Albany. Like most other minor-league entities, finances were always tight and franchises folding or relocating was common.

We here at The Painted Area were lucky enough to have Albany as our closest CBA outpost, and had the fortune of catching a handful of games in the 1980s. Quite fortunate because we got to see coaches like Phil Jackson, Bill Musselman, and George Karl before they became household names.

All three men roamed the sidelines as head coaches for the Albany Patroons during the 1980s, and usually managed some of the top teams in the league. The Patroons were usually tough at home mostly thanks to the friendly confines (some might say dank & dingy confines) of the Washington Ave. Armory in downtown Albany. Let's just say a 19th-century storage facility for military supplies makes for an odd sporting experience.

Phil led the Patroons to a CBA title in '84. So yes, Phil is quite capable of winning titles without the services of Michael, Scottie, Shaq, or Kobe. He was ably assisted by Charley Rosen, renowned basketball author and current NBA columnist for Charley even published a novel, The Cockroach Basketball League, loosely based on his experiences in the CBA. I believe Phil & Uncle Chucky used to commute from Woodstock while coaching the Patroons, but have no confirmation if they lived on a commune. Charley will sprinkle some colorful anecdotes from his CBA days into his current columns (Rosen's recent ode to the CBA). Jackson and Rosen also discussed their CBA experiences in the book More Than a Game.

The extraordinarily intense Bill Musselman brought a second title to the Capital District in '88 with one of the finest CBA squads of all-time. The '87-'88 Patroons went 48-6 in the regular season, led by the mercurial four-time NBA All-Star Micheal Ray Richardson, plus other NBA players Tony Campbell (averaged 23 ppg for Musselman in Minnesota in '89-90), Scott Brooks (a solid reserve for the '94 champion Rockets), Sidney Lowe, Tod Murphy and the immortal Eric Fernsten. That '88 squad also had the services of current Patroons coach, Derrick Rowland, a Division III legend at Potsdam State, who is the Patroons' all-time leading scorer and was known as "Mr. Patroon" for his longtime service to the team. This was Musselman's 4th consecutive CBA title after winning three championships with the Thrillers franchise that split time between Tampa Bay & Rapid City. Vignettes from Musselman's CBA years are included in the book Timberwolves Stalk the NBA - Obsession: Bill Musselman's Relentless Quest to Beat the Best.

Coach Karl led the '90-91 Patroons to a ridiculous 50-6 regular season record with the aid of players like Mario Elie, Vince Askew and Albert King. But in an eerie foreshadowing of what was to come three years later for George, Albany was shocked in the semis by Wichita Falls. The 1988-89 season of Karl and the Patroons is chronicled in the book Life on the Rim: A Year in the Continental Basketball Associationby David Levine.

Two other familiar coaching names earned their stripes in CBA. Flip Saunders began developing his unique offensive stylings as the head coach of the La Crosse Catbirds, where he won two CBA titles in the early '90s. Former NBA coach & current blogger deluxe Eric Musselman took over the Rapid City Thrillers franchise after his dad left, and had great success throughout the 1990s, ultimately ending his CBA career with a near .700 winning percentage. Could say the Musselmans were the first family of the CBA.

Some familiar names to pass through the CBA were guys like Sam Mitchell, Anthony Mason, Bruce Bowen, John Starks, Raja Bell, Earl Boykins, Jamario Moon, Mike James, Tim Legler and Keith Smart.

Two of the more unique rules found in the CBA were the ranking system and personal foul rule. Simply, there was no disqualification of a player after his sixth foul. The player could stay in the game but if he committed further fouls, the opposing team received an extra free throw.

The CBA would use a 7-point scoring system for each game to ultimately rank teams. Three points were awarded for a win and 1 point awarded for each quarter won. You would have four mini-games within the game. This would often add an interesting dynamic to blowouts, and sometimes force coaches to stick with their starters longer than normal. Can still remember the mini-scoreboards positioned on the baselines that would show the score for the quarter.

The CBA was ahead of the curve on a few things, and the NBA ended up pilfering some of these ideas. The Eastern Basketball League (the CBA precursor) was using a 3-point line since the mid-1960s. The CBA also awarded three free throws on fouled 3-point attempts long before the NBA.

Also, like other minor leagues, the CBA would dabble in creative marketing to spark interest in the community and at the games. One idea that the CBA spawned in the '80s was a variety of million-dollar shot promotions, another idea that was eventually incorporated into the NBA.

So a (likely) final tip of the hat to a league that helped in the development of such players like Anthony Mason, Bruce Bowen, & John Starks. As well the development of such coaches like Flip, George, and the Musselmans. Not to mention helping to spawn one of the best basketball minds of all-time in Big Chief Triangle. Now off to sift thru my closet to find my Patroons t-shirt.

For more info on the history of the league, check out the CBA Museum.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hoops TV Week: Feb 5-11

Here's our look at highlights from the next 7 days of basketball on TV. We come at it from the perspective of an NBA fan for the most part - college/high-school listings will focus on top prospects, as well as the biggest games. All times Eastern.

Lakers-Celtics, Kobe-LeBron, Carolina-Duke. Quite a week.

Noon: NBA - Lakers vs. Celtics (2008 Finals Marathon), NBA TV
From noon-6, all six games of the 2008 Finals are being run in one-hour installments, leading up to tonight's Lakers-Celtics showdown.

6 p.m.: NBA - Lakers vs. Celtics (Christmas 2008), NBA TV
Re-airing of the Christmas Day battle, an outstanding game of regular-season basketball.

8 p.m.: NBA - Lakers at Celtics, TNT
Let's get it on.

10 p.m.: NBA - 1992 All-Star Game, NBA TV
The Magic game.

5 p.m.: NBA - Suns at Warriors (1994 Playoffs), ESPN Classic
Chuck goes for 56 in Game 3 as revenge for the Nike commercial featuring Sprewell and Webber gloating over C-Webb's dunk over Barkley.

8 p.m.: NBA - Blazers at Thunder, League Pass
In last week's installment of Hoops TV Week, we asked how LeBron at the Garden and Kobe at the Garden could possibly not be on national TV. Let's just say we feel justified.

In this week's, we ask a similar question of this game: how can the first game including both Greg Oden and Kevin Durant not be on national TV? Especially when the national game is Nuggets-Wizards?

9:30 p.m.: 60 Minutes/Classic: Magic Johnson/Dikembe Mutombo, ESPN Classic
We don't think one should ever pass up a Dikembe Mutombo interview.

12:30 p.m.: Euroleague - Olympiacos vs. Tau Ceramica, NBA TV
We're just the messenger here - former Texas player Gabe Muoneke, who has played all over the world, says in his HoopsHype blog: "This year's Tau team would make the playoffs in the NBA. If not, they are at worst the best European team I've seen since Manu Ginobili's Bologna team."

7 p.m.: NBA - Heat at Sixers, League Pass
A matchup of two ballclubs that can be pretty entertaining.

9 p.m.: NCAA - Memphis at Gonzaga, ESPN
Includes two talented first-round prospects - Tyreke Evans and Austin Daye.

1 p.m.: NBA - Spurs at Celtics, ABC
3:30 p.m.: NBA - Lakers at Cavaliers, ABC
Now *that's* a doubleheader, baby. Football season is officially over now. Hopefully Pop will actually play his players on Sunday.

3 p.m.: NBA - 1998 All-Star Game, NBA TV
Michael's real last All-Star Game, in New York. That other one in Atlanta where he took 28 attempts at the game-winning shot doesn't count.

1 p.m.: NBA - 2001 All-Star Game, NBA TV
One of our favorites, as Iverson, Mutombo and (yes) Marbury fight back for a ferocious fourth-quarter comeback.

1 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina-Duke (1998), ESPN Classic
3 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina-Duke (1984), ESPN Classic
5 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina-Duke (1984 ACC Tournament), ESPN Classic
Three days of classic Carolina-Duke games headed into this year's edition. Go the Carolina-Duke rivalry page on Wikipedia if you want to know the results. We won't spoil it for you. We will note that the 1984 game were Jordan games.

2 p.m.: NBA - 2004 All-Star Game, NBA TV
Entertaining ballgame in L.A.

1 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina-Duke (1994), ESPN Classic
3 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina-Duke (1992), ESPN Classic
5 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina-Duke (1995), ESPN Classic
1995 was The Capel Shot:

7 p.m.: Who's #1?: Best NBA Teams, ESPN Classic

10:30 p.m.: NBA - Knicks at Warriors, League Pass
10:30 p.m.: NBA - Thunder at Lakers, League Pass
There's nothing like some late-night run-and-gun on the League Pass. NY and GS play first-one-to-150 at Oracle, and KD tries to keep pace with Kobe in LA.

Noon: NBA - 2006 All-Star Game, NBA TV
Close finish in Houston.

1 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina-Duke (2000), ESPN Classic
3 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina-Duke (2004), ESPN Classic
5 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina-Duke (2008), ESPN Classic

8 p.m.: NBA - Celtics at Hornets, League Pass
Check the schedule - there are really oodles of good games on this night. Consider it your last League Pass gorging before the All-Star break.

9 p.m.: NCAA - North Carolina at Duke, ESPN
The renewal of one of the greatest rivalries in sports.

10 p.m.: NBA - Thunder at Blazers, League Pass
Durant and Oden run it back. Yes, that's three Thunder games for the week.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Scouting in Seattle: Demar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Isaiah Thomas, Abdul Gaddy

Whew, it's been quite a whirlwind for The Painted Area the past few weeks, as we've integrated ourselves into the TrueHoop Network. So much so that we've been sitting on this post for a little bit - a couple weeks ago we spent an awful lot of time at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on the campus of the University of Washington, watching some players who may soon be coming to an NBA Draft Lottery near you.

We attended the annual King Holiday Hoopfest of high school games on MLK Day, and then also went to both the USC-UW and UCLA-UW games on the following Thursday and Saturday. Here's our scouting report.

Let's start with the college games first. Heading into UW's games vs. the SoCal schools, the most intriguing players to watch from an NBA perspective were USC's Demar DeRozan and UCLA's Jrue Holiday, both of whom have been projected to be Top 10 picks for most of this season, though they have just recently fallen to 12 and 14, respectively, on Chad Ford's Big Board.

We caught both of these players at the Hoop Summit in Portland in April, and we didn't see a whole lot of progress from then.

Demar DeRozan, USC (6-7/200): DeRozan is an exceptionally gifted athlete who has had trouble putting things together on a consistent basis at USC. Against Washington, he looked good, with 16 pts and 7 reb on 7-11 FG, but had 6 TO. He displayed his athleticism on a beautiful alley-oop finish and showed some nice shotmaking ability in the mid-range game with a variety of moves (though his long-distance game needs work, as he's made just 1-18 3PT on the season).

Through some combination of DeRozan drifting and Tim Floyd's offense being maddeningly egalitarian, DeRozan didn't seem to get the ball nearly enough - it was especially unconscionable when 5-11 Justin Dentmon guarded him on several possessions yet USC didn't try to exploit the matchup. DeRozan clearly has some very impressive tools, but he needs some seasoning in a scenario where he is the man (and, as important, wants to be the man) and the offense runs through him if he's going to be a guy who becomes an impact player in the league instead of just another NBA wing.

Jrue Holiday, UCLA (6-3/180): Holiday is a tough player to evaluate because he is a point guard but he's playing off the ball alongside Darren Collison. I guess the natural comparison is to rookie Russell Westbrook, who was in his shoes to a certain extent last season. Like Westbrook, Holiday can be a long-armed menace on defense, but he is not nearly as explosive of an athlete. Holiday has good playmaking skills, but was just not very impressive in terms of creating offense for himself on a day when UCLA was desperately trying to match baskets with UW. He had 8 pts, 5 reb, 6 ast, 2 TO on just 3-9 FG and 1-4 3PT (he shoots just .323 from 3 on the year).

I guess I was really underwhelmed by both Holiday and Collison as a whole because defense is their calling card and they were absolutely *torched* by the UW guards. UCLA gave up 86 points to UW - they had only allowed more than 70 one other time and that was 74 to Oregon. However, I'm starting to think that all this is maybe telling me more about....

Isaiah Thomas, Washington (5-8/170): DeRozan and Holiday came into the season as the most highly-regarded freshmen in the Pac-10, but 5-8 Isaiah Thomas has easily been more productive.

Here are some season numbers:
- DeRozan: 31 min, 12.4 pts, 5.1 reb, 52% FG
- Holiday: 27 min, 9.9 pts, 4.0 reb, 3.2 ast, 1.5 stl, 50% FG
- Thomas: 28 min, 16.7 pts, 2.9 reb, 2.9 ast, 1.1 stl, 42% FG

Thomas has been especially impressive in Pac-10 play, averaging 19.2 pts, 3.0 reb, 2.7 ast, and perhaps most notably, 8 free-throw attempts per game - a remarkable number for a 5-8 player. (By contrast, DeRozan averages about 3.5 FTA on the season, and Holiday is around 2 FTA.)

Beyond being an exciting player to watch, Thomas is the kind of guy who's fascinating and kind of fun to project in terms of whether he can succeed in the league - he is so unorthodox and has such distinct pros and cons.

Not a terribly consistent shooter (just .312 3PT), Thomas does most of his damage in the lane - he is extremely quick with the ball and has a great bounce which helps make him quite adept at getting his shot off, and also drawing contact, inside.

Thomas' two-game stretch against the SoCal schools was especially impressive. USC has several long athletic bigs who really showed why rugged UW big man Jon Brockman will struggle at the next level - he can't get his shot off against NBA-type bigs. But it was no problem for Thomas, who was unfazed amidst the trees inside - he got to the line 14 times in the game, scoring 17 points on 4-10 FG.

Meanwhile, the main challenge vs. UCLA was beating the excellent perimeter defense. As mentioned, Thomas and friends (Dentmon, Venoy Overton) torched the Bruins guards. Isaiah lit up Collison especially, scoring 24 points while getting to the line 12 times. Good defensive USC bigs, good defensive UCLA guards, didn't matter - I.T. proved he could get to the basket (and the line) at will and score on both.

Rivals had a story in which UW coach Lorenzo Romar compared I.T. to Damon Stoudamire:
    When Washington coach Lorenzo Romar ran into former Arizona guard Damon Stoudamire in Hawaii a couple of summers ago, he decided to let him in on a little secret.

    But the word apparently already was out on Isaiah Thomas.

    "Damon, I've got to tell you something," Romar said. "We've got a guy coming in."

    "From Tacoma?" Stoudamire asked.

    "Yeah," Romar replied.

    "Isaiah Thomas?" Stoudamire asked.

    "Yeah," Romar replied again.

    "You're going to tell me he reminds you of me," Stoudamire said. "You don't know how many people have told me that."


    "Damon shot more from the outside than Isaiah does and Isaiah probably penetrates more, but if you ask me who he reminds me of, I would say that would be the closest guy – Damon Stoudamire," Romar said.
I think that the comparison is valid to a certain extent - both of the sub-6' lefties have a strong ability to score in the lane (and also rebound well for their size), but I do believe that Stoudamire was both a much better outside shooter and a much better point guard in terms of running a team.

Basketball Reference has Stoudamire's college stats. It's hard to compare freshman numbers both because Damon played only 18 minutes per game and because the overall talent level/competition in college basketball was so much higher then. For his college career, Stoudamire averaged 40% from three and 5.4 assists per game, including highs of .465 and 7.3 in the categories as a senior.

Thomas has a long way to go in both areas if he is to become a top NBA prospect. Right now, he is not even really a point guard, as he has poor court vision. He missed open players multiple times in the games I attended, and had just 1 assist, against 5 TOs, in the two games combined.

Still, I think I.T. has a good chance to stick in the league someday in a role like other small men such as Nate Robinson, Spud Webb, Earl Boykins (different types of players, granted) - as a guy who can provide a spark and instant offense off the bench.

I just increasingly believe that Isaiah Thomas can get to the basket and score on anybody, and I do believe he has the hyper-athleticism of a Robinson or a Spud, which is important for those guys in the league - watch this for proof:

I just wanna see little dude dunk on people in a game.

In any event, it's a pretty impressive rise for a guy who did not crack the Top 61 freshman prospects on Draft Express as of Dec. 24. I.T. has clearly outplayed the many Pac-10 freshmen ahead of him on the list at the college level, and he has to at least be on the NBA radar now, even if he still has a lot to prove as a pro prospect. (For the record, I certainly do not expect Thomas to make himself eligible for the draft this season.)

Other random thoughts from Hec Ed:
Detlef Schrempf: We saw Detlef at Hec Ed both on Monday, when he was watching his son play for Bellevue High, and Thursday, when he was in attendance as Brandon Roy's jersey went to the rafters. The latter event made us wonder how on earth Det's #22 hasn't been raised to the UW roof.

The history of the UW hoops program is rather thin - Roy and Hall-of-Famer Bob Houbregs from the '50s are the only players with retired numbers. Schrempf certainly deserves it for leading UW to rare back-to-back Pac-10 championships. He went to high school in Washington state, was an All-Pac-10 player at UW, had a long productive NBA career including several good years in Seattle, and now still lives in the area. It's a no-brainer - get #11 up there!

Will Conroy: Seems like there are several good teams which could use some point guard help, and as such, I'm really surprised that ex-UW PG Conroy hasn't yet gotten a callup from the Albuquerque Thunderbirds. The dude is tearing up the D-League, averaging a league-leading 25.8 pts, plus 4.5 reb and 7.8 ast, though his numbers are inflated by the Herculean 45.1 mpg he's been logging (and his 4.3 TO don't look great, either). Still, I've always thought Conroy would make a solid backup NBA PG once he got a little professional seasoning. At 26, it seems like it might be time, and it seems like he's earned the opportunity to at least get a look.

As always, we try to catch high school players with potential to play in the league someday. Our previous prep scouting efforts the past couple years have examined Kevin Love and Renardo Sidney.

This year's edition of the King Holiday Hoopfest had a particularly strong lineup of games, featuring most of the best teams in the state, plus Dominguez from L.A.

Top players in action included PG Abdul Gaddy (ranked in the 9-16 overall range for seniors, committed to Washington), big man Josh Smith (ranked as the no. 1 junior by Rivals), and guard Tony Wroten (ranked as the no. 1 sophomore by Scout). Unfortunately, Jordan Hamilton of Dominguez, a top 10 senior, did not play due to an eligibility dispute.

We're going to withhold judgment on Smith and Wroten until we get another look or two at them, and focus on Gaddy for today....

Abdul Gaddy, Bellarmine Prep: This was exhibit A in why it can be much tougher to evaluate players in high-school play as opposed to summer-league competition. Gaddy is a 6-3/170 point guard, yet he jumped center and spent his night on D at the back of a 2-3 zone battling with Bellevue High's bigs because the tallest Bellarmine players are a couple of 6-4 guys.

So, it was tough to get a feel for Gaddy's game on D, but we were certainly impressed by what he did on the offensive end. His numbers were unspectacular, just 11 points and 4 assists, but he literally should have had about 7-10 more assists, as he was consistently delivering the ball to players at the rim who were unable to finish.

Gaddy did a fine job of penetrating into the lane against a good point guard, Bellevue's Aaron Bright (a top 100 junior). Gaddy's crossover was a true anklebreaker, and exceptional court vision was probably his most impressive trait. He tried to be too spectacular a couple times, and there were a couple 100-mph passes that were too hard to handle in there, but that stuff can be fixed.

His outside shot was off a little, though his form was sound despite being slightly off-balance here and there. I think my biggest cause for concern is that Gaddy did not seem to finish with authority at the rim - he had a nice floater from mid-range, but he also seems to use something of a floater right at the basket instead of really going up strong.

Still, Gaddy has nice size for a point, seems to have a good head for the game, and should fit in very well with Washington's attacking style from the perimeter. He and Isaiah Thomas should complement each other quite well - and should be (along with Venoy Overton) one of the most entertaining backcourts in all of college basketball next season. And I'll note with provincial pride that that'll be a backcourt with a Seattle kid and two Tacoma kids. From there, we'll see - I don't know that Gaddy is a lottery talent, but he certainly has first-round potential.

Peyton Siva, Franklin: Quick note on Siva, a Louisville recruit who is considered a Top 50 senior (ranked as high as 23, by ESPN/RISE). He's grown on me by now (literally, apparently, as his listed height is up from 5-10 to 6-1). I've always had concerns about his future prospects just because he's so small yet not really a point guard at all. But he's just such an explosive athlete and wreaks so much havoc that I'm starting to believe there can be a place for him in the modern game. Going to be an uphill battle unless he develops some ability to run a team, though. Still, in a game between Franklin and Garfield, the quintessential Seattle prep rivalry, with athletes pressing all over the floor, Siva's exceptional body control clearly stood out from other players. Dude plays hard, too.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

All-Star Weekend Reform

OK, All-Star Weekend reform is the topic of the day. Many thanks to a couple of our colleagues in the TrueHoop Network - Rob Mahoney of Two Man Game for coming up with the idea, and Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm for getting us organized. Rob did a great job of corralling and editing all of the All-Star Weekend reform opinions from us Abbottites in the TrueHoop Network over at Two Man Game - check it out.

We had fun compiling our ideas on the topic, most of which Rob incorporated into the piece - for the record, here are The Painted Area's complete thoughts for our ideal All-Star Weekend program:

Do nothing to the game itself. It's the best All-Star Game in sports. It's three quarters of entertaining highlights, and then, if it's close, an often-exhilarating fourth quarter with all the best players on the floor, as it was last season.

The voting system seems perilously close to disaster, but we don't have any good answers there.

One enduring difficulty with the dunk contest currently is that, at this point, it's hard to top the dunks of the past. To alleviate that pressure, alternate between the "Artistic" competition and the "High Dunk" competition (which we agree with others would be great fun) on an annual basis. We think the every-other-year scarcity would help make both competitions more special.

To reform the "Artistic" competition itself, turn it into more of a figure-skating model (let us explain, please), where the competitors get a certain time period - 2 minutes or 4 minutes or whatever - to put together a program of dunks.

This encourages spectacular attempts because a single miss would be less penalized (and boring makes would not really be useful, as they often are for strategic reasons), yet you couldn't just miss 72 times and still win the competition like Nate Robinson.

Not sure if it should be one round or two rounds, just go from there. I think that bumping the prize money way up to $1M or so would boost interest, as well.

[We also like Paul Forrester's idea of having some ESPY-style awards honoring the best plays of the year - Best Dunk, Best Block, Best Pass, Best Buzzer Beater, Best Circus Shot. Perhaps it's best of the previous calendar year, with "nominations" announced in January, and voted on after the All-Star balloting itself closes.]

No changes needed - straightforward and classic.

Love the idea of replacing the Skills Competition with this, as suggested by Cavs The Blog. How about these rules: Set up 3 baskets across each baseline. Players race to be the first to go down and back 3 times, converting a basket each time. Time penalties for violations. 3 heats of 3 players apiece - top 3 advance to the final.

With or without layups, it's a huge improvement over the current Skills Competition b/c the time record would be much more tangible, and something that young fans could conceivably do to see how they compare to the pros.

And it's just more tangible in general - "Who's the fastest player with the ball?" is a question that is debated, and something that resonates in a way that the Skills Competition simply does not.

Also love the idea of including big men - could have separate competitions by height: 6-4 and under, 6-5 to 6-9, and 6-10 and above. Tell me you wouldn't have wanted to see Shaq, Hakeem and the Admiral compete in this one in their primes.

We doubt this would fly, but we think it would be entertaining to have a quick ballhandling competition as an interlude, similar to the old Nike Freestyle ads ( or And1 mixtapes.

Competition would consist of small teams of non-NBA players who would perhaps qualify by submitting short videos which are voted on online. Might be hard to execute on a bunch of different fronts, might not be that entertaining live, as opposed to something that could be produced, who knows, but most everyone seemed to enjoy that Nike campaign.

As described by Bill Simmons a few years ago: "Two teammates have two minutes to make as many half-court shots as possible. None of them can launch one until the previous shot has hit the rim. Highest total wins."

(Note: We think that H-O-R-S-E and 1-on-1 might be more tedious in reality than they might seem.)

We were about to say "No changes", not b/c we don't think they're needed - this game devolves more than any other event at ASW, in our opinion - but b/c we didn't have any bright ideas. But then we saw Knickerblogger's idea of a Rookie vs. D-League game - wow, fantastic idea. Absolutely no downside. Huge increase in the game's intensity. People get a good look at the rooks, and I don't think they'd miss the sophs (much less of a curiosity factor). Meanwhile, the D-League gets great promotion, and it deserves to be a full-fledged minor league. If any of our cockamamie ideas truly deserve to be instituted, it's this.