TrueHoop: New York Knicks
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Woodson’s coaching reputation has swung wildly over the last 26 months. Under Woodson’s direction, the Knicks went 72-34 from when he took over for Mike D’Antoni in March 2012 through the end of the 2012-13 season. It’s not as if Woodson’s name was mud before the Knicks' 100-game hot streak, but his regular-season success in Atlanta -- the team won more games than the year before in five consecutive seasons -- was tainted by Atlanta’s inability to make noise in the playoffs. The Hawks never lost to a lower seed, but they never really looked capable of a deep playoff run, either.
After his time in Atlanta, critics cast Woodson as inflexible and somewhat dreary from a tactical standpoint. Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense repeatedly broke down in the playoffs, and his Hawks never had an effective backup plan.
But after coaching under Mike D’Antoni with the Knicks, Woodson seemed to become a believer in the spread pick-and-roll, and his Knicks rode that action, and a barrage of 3-pointers, to a 54-win season in 2012-13. The conversation around Woodson changed almost overnight: He had won full buy-in from Carmelo Anthony and somehow kept J.R. Smith focused; he modernized his offense and embraced the state of the art in basketball strategy.
The Knicks, for the first time in a long time, exceeded expectations. Was it Woodson? Or were the Knicks just more talented than people realized? Wasn't it Woodson who made Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland useful players?
Before the 2012-13 season, Wages of Wins combination of metrics and analysis predicted the Knicks would be the top seed in the East. The two main reasons were Kidd and Tyson Chandler, the point guard-center battery of the 2011 champion Mavericks. Kidd was old, sure, but he still made his teams better with rebounding, shooting and crisp ball movement. With the Knicks, Kidd’s play became the shared language through which Anthony’s game could communicate with the spread pick-and-roll.
When Kidd retired, the Knicks’ half-court offense descended into Babel. Again, this was partly due to situations outside of Woodson’s control. In the offseason, the Knicks replaced important shooters Novak, Kidd and Copeland with Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani. World Peace was a defensive contributor during a brief period of good health, but otherwise the Knicks essentially scrapped the identity that made them so dangerous -- great ball movement and killer shooting -- in favor of big names.
The same Wages of Wins analysts who picked the Knicks to be very good in 2012-13, then picked the Knicks to finish outside the playoffs, as did the SCHOENE metric developed by ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton.
Whether Woodson ever really believed in the free-wheeling, 3-pointer crazed offense of 2012-13 is an open question. The Knicks abandoned their small-ball strengths at the first sign of trouble in the 2013 playoffs, abdicating their perimeter advantage to wage an unwinnable war inside against the Pacers. And this season, Woodson often professed a desire -- possibly at behest of the front office -- to make the “Big” lineups work, even though playing Bargnani, Anthony and Chandler together had miserable results.
Strategy aside, if you consider the variable roster quality during the last two seasons, it is hard to say whether Woodson is responsible at all for either the good times or the bad ones.
Doubt that those role players the Knicks lost in the offseason really matter enough to so dramatically swing the Knicks' win-loss records? The fact is Carmelo Anthony was actually better this season than he was last season. Logic argues that he wasn't the controlling factor in the Knicks' success.
With Kidd and the shooters gone and Chandler hobbled, the Knicks just didn't have a very good roster -- so they weren't a very good team.
This gets us closer to the truth of Woodson’s value as a coach. Of course his teams in Atlanta got better every year, the roster improved every year, too!
Young stars such as Josh Smith and Al Horford joined the Hawks as rookies and followed a logical trend: They were better at 21 than 20, and better at 24 than 23.
History suggests Woodson does not make his teams better, nor does he really inhibit them. He puts his players in positions to succeed, but he is no Rick Carlisle, masking flaws with smoke and mirrors.
Given the Knicks’ lack of draft picks and tradable assets, the roster probably won't be much stronger next year. If they want a significantly better record, they'll need to find a coach who can win more games than player quality projects.
Woodson will be remembered as a players' coach, one who forged strong bonds with difficult personalities but never found a way to make them much better than they already were.
ESPN Insider David Thorpe has been keeping an eye on the entire rookie class all season. As a learning exercise, he suggests the rooks study some of the top veterans in the NBA. With that in mind, we asked some of the top rookies who they watch in the NBA. Here are their answers:
Quotes were gathered by ESPN.com writers Israel Gutierrez and Michael Wallace, ESPN Dallas contributor Bryan Gutierrez, and TrueHoop Network bloggers Jovan Buha, James Ham, Andy Larsen, Andrew McNeill, Brian Robb and Kyle Weidie.
Hardwood Paroxysm/TrueHoop Network
NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks entered Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on a major roll, having beaten their past eight opponents by an average of 14.3 points per game. When they opened up a 17-point first-half lead over the hapless Cavs -- who were missing their best player, Kyrie Irving, as well as No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett -- it looked like the winning streak was about to hit nine.
And then the early-season Knicks showed back up, the Cavs came storming back and the streak was suddenly over. Apart from the blow it deals to their playoff hopes, that’s the most disconcerting thing about the way the Knicks lost to the Cavaliers -- the fact that all the issues that plagued them down the stretch looked so familiar.
The Knicks blew a fourth-quarter lead, making this the 14th time this season they’ve done so. New York has been a poor fourth-quarter team all season -- the team is now 27th in average fourth-quarter scoring margin, having been outscored by 1.3 points per game in the final period.
The Knicks began that fourth quarter with a questionable player grouping on the floor, once again bringing focus to head coach Mike Woodson’s unusual lineup decisions. Woodson sent Pablo Prigioni, Tim Hardaway Jr., Shannon Brown, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler -- a group that features three or four “minus” defenders and had played just four minutes together prior to this game -- onto the court together to start the quarter, and the results were not good. Cleveland outscored the Knicks by three in the three minutes that unit played together, with Stoudemire picking up a technical foul just before a substitution was made.
After the Cavs scored on their subsequent two possessions, the lead was officially gone. Jarrett Jack scored both of those baskets, and he tallied 31 points in all, making him the 15th player this year to set his season high in points against New York. Jack had 14 points and three assists in the fourth quarter alone, as he victimized New York repeatedly out of the pick-and-roll -- the most basic of NBA actions which the Knicks have struggled to defend all season (the video tracking service mySynergySports pegs the Knicks as the league’s worst team at defending both pick-and-roll ball handlers and roll men) -- as he drained pull-up jumpers, slithered his way into the paint for floaters, and found shooters dotting the arc with pinpoint passes.
Raymond Felton, the man tasked with guarding Jack for most of that fourth quarter, said after the game, “Jack came out and did a good job of just hitting shots. He hit a lot of tough shots contested by me, contested by Tyson. He had a good night.” But it wasn’t really that simple. Jack knew he could either get an open jumper or else engineer a switch whenever he wanted by running Felton into a screen set by Anderson Varejao or Tristan Thompson, which he did repeatedly down the stretch. If the jumper came open, he took it. If it didn’t, he simply drove at Chandler, drew extra help and made the right play.
On the other side of the court, New York’s late-game offense once again devolved into a series of predictable isolations for Carmelo Anthony. Many of New York’s early-season losses in close games featured the Knicks going “iso Melo,” with Felton bringing the ball up the floor and simply tossing it to Anthony between the elbow and the 3-point line while the rest of the Knicks stood around and watched Anthony futilely try to create an open look. With the lead dwindling midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday, the Knicks isolated Anthony on Luol Deng on two out of three possessions, and Anthony came away with only two points. Meanwhile, Cleveland generated five points out of its three trips in that time to take a lead it would never relinquish.
This latest winning streak had many thinking the Knicks had finally turned a corner. Sure, they were playing bad teams -- their opponents during the streak had an average winning percentage of just 36.0 percent, and that includes the 51-19 Indiana Pacers -- but they were taking care of business and blowing them out of the water. But between nearly blowing a big fourth-quarter lead against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night, and actually blowing such a lead against the Cavaliers on Sunday, it’s looking more and more possible that the streak may have just been a fluky stretch of high-quality play in the midst of a bleak season.
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This season has been different, for reasons I hadn’t quite anticipated. Though I’ve watched from the metaphorical nosebleeds -- a second half here, a phone update there -- I’ve been engrossed by the season’s narrative and how it’s resonating in a city like New York at a time as transitional and unpredictable as the present.
The Knicks have performed poorly, sure, but they still garner headlines and fill seats because they tend to fail in a truly engrossing way only the Knicks can: A-plus tweeter @desusnice refers to it, almost affectionately, as “Knicking.”
Defensive blunders, fourth-quarter meltdowns and the coaching equivalent of a crazed partner have added up to not only a difficult season, but also -- in a cathartic, primal-scream kind of way -- must-see TV. The Knicks are ABC’s “Scandal” for basketball fans: a dizzying, at times cringe-worthy guilty pleasure, best experienced with close friends and strong drinks.
The story arc bends wider every week -- Will Mike Woodson go? Will Melo stay? A Heat win? A gun charge? An MSG protest? Phil Jackson?! -- and every game feels like life or death. New Yorkers aren’t known for their sympathy, so it’s easy to imagine a city of the disgruntled throwing up their hands and remotes in exhaustion. But we don’t.
Folks tune in every night and talk, text and tweet through the pain. It’s not only because we know anything is possible and the numbers haven’t doomed them just yet -- as evinced by their current six-game tear -- but also because on some level, this year’s Knicks narrative fits New York’s current moment more accurately than any dramatized TV series ever could.
The Knicks' season has become symbolic of a city that has never been more relevant on the world’s stage and never been more conflicted within its own walls. Its creative output is bleak, compared to the artpop '60s, grainy '70s and experimental '90s. Its economy is one of the county’s most rigidly slanted, with staggering wealth gaps and neighborhood borders in constant flux. Mayor Bill de Blasio feels like the kind of guy who waits until he’s in front of the turnstile to fish out his MetroCard and gets the “PLEASE SWIPE AGAIN” display three times.
We are touted year after year as a city of innovation and creation, rebellion and dissent, revelatory mornings and chaotic, white-knuckle nights, where upstarts and outcasts from all over the world make their pilgrimage to incept their wildest dreams with wilder ones. But we’ve also overbranded and underdeveloped, selling a dream of boundless possibility but offering clear ceilings and shrinking walls to the same rooted communities that give New York its identity. Unlike the Frankensteinian Nets, a freak experiment that’s just feeling its way into the cultural fabric of the city, the Knicks feel more outerborough than ever, embodying the neighborhoods and blocks that also don’t win that often.
Lee’s courtside antics are a part of the show, of course, and the red-lined neighborhoods he highlights in his films and his rants have gone from isolated pockets of New York history to menu items for an increasingly predatory culture of expansion and development. As the “underdog” narrative has gained relevance in real-estate wars across the city, the Knicks can be seen as fighting to defend their legacy as fervently as these neighborhoods defend their facades -- well aware that history suggests their efforts may be in vain.
And then there’s Carmelo Anthony: an undeniable star player who has carried his team and produced record-breaking numbers this season, still left to shoulder the hefty weight of the Knicks’ futility. He plays the ever-tortured protagonist in this comedy of errors, and speaks to the frustration and despair that settles in when you realize, loss after loss, that even being the best in this city still isn’t good enough, as countless natives and transplants alike have learned the hard way. If anything, New York holds such prominence in our nation’s consciousness because it’s the one place you can truly discover your rank in the world, against your smartest, fastest, most capable peers.
When asked how he’d feel to bring a championship to the city, newly named president of basketball operations Phil Jackson said, winking: “You’ve jumped a long ways away. But we hope it’s going to happen” -- all but leaving out “tune in next week, same Knicks channel, same Knicks time.”
It’s the latest plot twist this season, cliffhanging on a vague promise of a “Zen front office” and a “competitive team.”
It isn’t easy to be a Knicks fan, and it isn’t easy to be a New Yorker. But it’s how you handle your big losses that define your stay here, whether for a season, or a lifetime.
“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” Jackson evoked during his introductory news conference. Cliché? Sure. But that’s why it makes for great cable TV.
Matthew Trammell is a writer from Brooklyn. He subtweets and favorites from @trmmll.
Victory in hand, the dominant equation for both became: Big mouth + bigger ego = the verbal victory lap. Any quote book is loaded with Churchill’s high-testosterone patter. Jackson’s latest book, ostensibly about teamwork, has a title that has only to do with Jackson. Michael Jordan didn't win "Eleven Rings." Neither did Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal or Scottie Pippen. Only Phil did.
Jackson is expected to return to the NBA, as a New York Knicks executive, packing not just a lot of the NBA’s gravitas, but the majority of it. Add up all your other coaches, players and experts. If Phil says they’re full of it ... his voice is even money to carry the day.
That has to be a big part of why Jackson could mean so much to a team like the Knicks. The common denominator of their dominant commonness has been bad front-office decision-making, specifically one high-profile overspend after another. There's no arguing James Dolan is an owner without a clue, determined to bludgeon the competition not with his insight, but with his wallet -- a method that, for a bundle of league-wide cap reasons, always makes teams difficult to improve and almost never ends in titles.
The Knicks might already be the world’s most over-loved team. New York hoops fans, those hopeless romantics, have been dashing their hearts on the rocks of false optimism since the days of Patrick Ewing. Remember when Zach Randolph was the revolution? Amar’e Stoudemire? Carmelo Anthony?
Time and again, Dolan has gotten his man. Time and again, like Charlie Brown, the fans have believed. Time and again, the only thing needed to prove Dolan got the wrong man has been time.
Will this time be different?
I’m convinced the answer is no, and not because Jackson’s the wrong guy, but because this is the wrong time.
It’s too late. The league is changing too fast, learning too much, and Jackson, for all the open-mindedness that once led him to the novel and wonderful triangle offense, has been telegraphing his incuriousness for more than a decade.
This is not just basketball’s boom time for analytics, it’s also, as Nate Silver wrote recently in ESPN The Magazine, when analytics become basketball necessities, as opposed to niceties. From the stew of SportVu, Catapult and Vantage comes things that really matter: which pick-and-roll defenses stops which ball handlers, which offenses generate the best-quality looks, who plays good defense, the right number of hours to sleep before a big game and, increasingly, which players need to come out of the game right now before their fatigue-induced injury risk skyrockets.
It’s not that any one person knows ALL the right answers. It’s that no ONE person knows all the right answers. Much of this new stuff will prove to science bunk, but the best of it is exponentially better by the day. The only right answer is to be curious.
And at that, the league has passed Jackson by. All his books, all those interviews, all that insight into his thinking, and has he ever even once told of finding value in insight from a younger generation? Or, indeed, from anyone beyond his chosen short list of apostles?
Jackson spoke at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. As he did, I took notes, but I soon stopped. There was no point. Other than a rude joke about needing a “grain elevator” to weigh Shaq, these were all things told previously. The oft-recited Gospel According to St. Phil. His conversation was a museum piece, the recurring soup of the words “Michael Jordan,” “Kobe Bryant” and “Scottie Pippen” that Jackson has been ladling out forever.
More importantly, Jackson was not at Sloan to learn. Never has been. Tuning people out, and discrediting them even, is also a mainstay of Jackson’s game -- just ask Jerry West, or Jerry Krause.
Jackson’s Lakers never bothered to attend the stat-geek confab, and the Lakers were famously the only NBA team not to have a representative there last year. Jackson’s generic public take on basketball innovation has long been, essentially, that Red Holzman and Tex Winter knew all that stuff.
At Sloan, Jackson bragged of once playing O’Neal 48 minutes per game -- on the same day sport scientist Michael Regan, of Catapult Sports, explained how resting after stints of just eight minutes dramatically improved performance in Australian Rules Football, a league that’s enjoying massive injury reductions league-wide thanks to science-based things we've learned only in the past decade.
It’s not that Jackson can’t make the Knicks winners. He might. Indeed, as the argument goes, at least he has won, unlike everyone else in the building. But he’s sending all the wrong signals if the task is to outclass 29 other teams in a race starting in 2014. That prize will, almost certainly, go to whoever best masters new ideas, about which Phil says, basically: Who needs ‘em?
The cautionary tale here of course is in Charlotte. Michael Jordan also filled the staff with like-minded friends. But, of course, a great executive is far more than a great player who lost his spring or a great coach who tired of travel. Without piling one good decision on top of another, the team is lost. The Bobcats did everything Jordan’s way for a while, until the competitive forces humbled even Jordan, who now listens not just to his gut and his friends, but also to people such as new executive Rich Cho, who is effectively the team’s ambassador from the post-Jordan, Sloan-infused world of hoops insight.
Jackson and the Knicks aren't playing the exact same tune as MJ and the Bobcats -- they have deeper pockets and more intricate team-building experience -- but they’re sounding a lot of the same notes.
Granted, Wade and Crawford light up a lot of teams, but the fact is that, outside of starting 2-guard Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City provides very little resistance in the backcourt. That's why the Thunder were hoping to land Iman Shumpert before last Thursday's trade deadline.
Even after Shumpert suffered a strained left MCL in a Knicks loss last Wednesday, Oklahoma City was willing to part with this season's first-round draft pick to land the Knicks shooting guard, according to sources with knowledge of the trade discussions. The Knicks, however, refused to do the deal because they weren't getting a current player in return who could help them make a push for this season's Eastern Conference playoffs. At the end of the day, they deemed Shumpert more valuable than the 28th pick (or whatever low pick OKC gets) of the draft, sources said.
The Knicks' priority all along in trading Shumpert was to attach Raymond Felton's contract to the deal and get a solid point guard in return. That nearly happened with the Clippers.
While Shumpert's injury did not deter the Thunder, it did kill the Knicks' hopes of sending him to Los Angeles. Clippers coach Doc Rivers really wanted Shumpert, sources say, and Rivers was willing to do a deal that would have sent Darren Collison, Matt Barnes, Byron Mullens and two second-round picks to New York for Shumpert, Felton and Beno Udrih. But Clippers owner Donald Sterling and others within the organization were hesitant to bet on Shumpert after seeing him go down in Wednesday's game at New Orleans, according to sources.
Shumpert's camp was hoping for a trade, but it can rest assured that he'll be back on the market around draft time.
- With the fear of losing out on Kyle Lowry starting to creep in, the Knicks' hunt for a new point guard has brought them to Jeff Teague, sources tell Marc Stein.
- The Nets and Cavs have discussed a swap involving Jason Terry and Jarrett Jack, according to Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc Stein.
- Frank Isola of the Daily News writes that despite the Knicks' interest in upgrading, they may not have the goods to get a deal done.
- The Sixers are open to moving Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. The cost? Future draft picks.
- What will the Raptors, who are currently third in the retched East, do at the deadline? GM Masai Ujiri talked to the Toronto Sun's Mike Ganter.
- The asking price for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is said to be two unprotected first rounders, NBA.com's Sam Smith writes. Rondo has piqued the interest of the Raptors, sources tell Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.
Despite concern among the mustachioed and unmustachioed alike, the NBA's Christmas Day lineup has become a holiday unto itself.
With football occupying a large portion of the viewing public's attention as the calendar year winds down, the first month-plus of the basketball season tends to be more of a warm-up for most. Christmas Day, then, has become something of an unofficial start to the season for late arrivals over the past few years, and the league has welcomed all with open arms by providing a smorgasbord of premier, nationally televised matchups.
To prepare for the full slate at hand, here are 10 things to know about the 10 teams hitting the NBA hardwood on Dec. 25.
1. The Kobe-LeBron rivalry is over before it began
The puppets are always the first to know.
In 2009, just before LeBron James officially established his MVP bona fides and Kobe Bryant proved himself on a championship stage without Shaquille O’Neal, their clash over the same rarefied air space defined the NBA. James’ Cavaliers and Bryant’s Lakers were emerging as the league’s controlling elite, and with the two seeming predestined to meet in the NBA Finals at some point in the near future, if only because we deserved such a matchup from the basketball gods, Nike launched an ad campaign featuring plush likenesses of the All-Star wings sharing the same apartment to capitalize on the momentum.
But arguing over excess chalk dust on their Muppetized loveseat likely will be the only important postseason meeting between the two in their careers. What at one point seemed an unavoidable collision course turned into two highly accessorized ships passing in the night. Their seven-year gap between human and basketball years simply led to unparalleled peaks, and now what we’re left with to show from all the debating, hyping and hoping, besides the residual effects from the careless rearing of poor Lil’ Dez, are two Christmas Day blowouts in favor of James’ team, in 2009 and 2010.
The appetite from the league at large, though, remains unsatisfied. Why else would Heat-Lakers be plopped on the schedule this offseason right in the middle of Bryant’s recovery from an Achilles injury, instead of, say, Heat-Pacers? If market size does indeed matter so much, why not choose the Los Angeles team contending for a title?
Given James and the Heat's otherworldly production and Bryant and the Lakers' current struggles, both physically and personnel-wise, the rivalry that figured to end as an all-timer will never be the same, even if what we got never seemed enough.
Twenty-eight is old in basketball years, but Chris Paul has probably seemed that way for some time now. LeBron James is 28, too, but his mass appeal keeps him at the forefront of the youth culture, even amid all that family-man branding. Blake Griffin (24) and DeAndre Jordan (25) feel like they’re decades apart from their point guard. In his own way, the reserved Kevin Durant (25) does, too. There’s always been an extreme poise emanating from Paul, whether it’s assuming control of the offense by sheer food-chain protocol or wrangling his chubby-cheeked son in the Clippers’ locker room. Even at his flashiest, knifing through lanes with precision dribbling, it’s all about seizing complete control.
Indeed, Paul can dazzle, but he’d rather pull it back and process a situation. While centers stretch out to the arc and coaches push the pace to Ferrari-like speeds, Paul is content in his Volvo, getting exactly where he needs to go without any complications.
But with a roster built to get up and down more so than in his previous two seasons in Los Angeles, Paul has had to soup things up a bit. After playing at the 25th-fastest pace in his first season and the 19th-fastest in his next, Paul’s Clippers now rank eighth, among the Houstons and the Denvers. That plus the added slack taken on after the injuries to J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes have led to a hit in his shooting numbers, which surely nags him, but he’s never been more efficient as a Clipper, and most of his other stats are up (rebounds, assists) or near highs (points) for his stint in L.A., too.
The proliferation and growing public consumption of analytics only deepen the appreciation for the decidedly old-school game manager. The passing data from the SportVU tracking system is a virtual shrine to his mastery of the position: He leads all others in assists per game, total assists, secondary assists (tied), assist opportunities, points created by assists and points created by assists per 48 minutes. There’s only one other category, passes per game, in which he ranks second.
What’s old is new again, or maybe it’s the other way around. But the Clippers are looking forward again after some early hiccups, and Paul is again on track to finally capitalize on the window he has in his prime years, however long it may last.
Each cut to the rim, each stroke on his wizardly mane, each up-and-under move to draw a foul will probably always sting a little back in Oklahoma. There's no replacing a James Harden, even if the kiddies being groomed in the second unit are beginning to look like important pieces in the Thunder's championship quest. But the two dynamic superstars still lurking on the wings certainly haven't slowed down in their sixth season together.
According to our friends at ESPN Stats & Info, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are currently the highest-scoring duo in the NBA for the third consecutive season, with 49.7 points per game between them. Only four other duos in league history have accomplished that for three straight seasons or more, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen the last to do so from 1989 to 1993 with an NBA-record four.
First, a few words from LeBron James on the shimmering, Y2K-influenced sleeved jersey each team will don for Wednesday’s five-game slate, via the Miami Herald’s Joe Goodman:
LeBron said in pregame that the Heat’s shooters “are already upset about” the Christmas jerseys.
LEBRON: "I can’t have my shooters out there worrying about some sleeves and not shooting the ball."
Shooters are a neurotic bunch. Ray Allen, the greatest long-range threat in history, is more programmed than any player at this point: He follows the same warm-up routine, eats the same pregame meal, shaves his head at the same time. He once told Jackie MacMullan that he has “borderline OCD.” Anything that alters that ritual could pose an issue, and imagined or not, those teeny compression sleeves present just enough foreign element to unravel what is largely a life of repetition for the modern pro basketball player.
The Warriors, then, would be among the teams most likely to feel such an effect. Golden State has built its brand around its deep shooting, and currently ranks second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage and among the league leaders in percentage of shots taken from 3.
But after serving as the lab rats for adidas’ grand sleeved experiment last season, the Warriors have sported white, home jerseys with the new look and shown no apparent ill effects from it. In the four games they’ve broken out the sleeves in 2013-14, the Warriors have shot 46.5 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from 3, which is right on par with their season averages of 46.2 and 40.2 (and among the more ridiculous stats ever published).
Brooklyn knew it was operating without a net. You don't hand out draft picks like grocery-store coupons without feeling the pressure, the doubt of it all, even with all those barrels of cash to wipe your brow. And somehow, that self-awareness only makes the crash landing of the Nets' championship hopes, all the way down to fourth from the bottom in the putrid Eastern Conference, that much more gruesome.
Here's a look at all the grim and grisly carnage thus far.
At this point, Kobe Bryant’s snarling underbite is a tradition that ranks right up there with the more menacing characters of Christmas-season story time. The 17-year veteran has played in more Christmas Day games (15) than anyone else in NBA history and has accumulated the most career Christmas points (383). Really, what use is a Christmas ham these days without a dozen contested midrange J's to go with it?
This year, though, your yuletide bombardiering will come not from the itchy trigger finger of Bryant, who is expected to miss five more weeks with a knee fracture, but courtesy of the “Swag Mamba,” Nick Young, who in his first season with his hometown Lakers enters the Christmas spotlight for just the second time.
The cockatooed sixth-year swingman certainly lacks the gravitas Bryant brings these days, but any game that prominently features Young, a smiley SoCal native with the O’Doul's version of Kobe’s skill set, is something of an impromptu field day -- all fun, all the time.
And with Bryant again aching, there’s been more Swag Time than ever: Young, whose shot selection ethos befits an “If it fits, I sits” cat, leads the Lakers in attempts (16.3) and points (21.3) in three games sans Bryant, and has even been given spot duty at the 1 for the point guard-depleted Lakers despite one of the very worst assist ratios among small forwards.
So, another LeBron-Kobe clash may not be in the offing, but these modern-day Lakers are a special kind of “Showtime” with the blissfully oblivious Young as their guiding force. Expect enjoyment, if not fierce competition, to ensue.
Anyone who has ever had to procure a postgame quote from Dwight Howard wouldn’t be surprised that the All-Star big man needed time to do anything, but 20 months and three teams after undergoing back surgery, the now-28-year-old center is beginning to look as close to his heyday as he may ever get.
Smart people across the Interwebs have discussed the progressive tactics the Rockets’ offense has employed to great success, and amid the revolution, the back-to-the-basket big man Daryl Morey nabbed from the Lakers this past summer is having his best month offensively since April 2011, with 21.2 points on 62 percent shooting, 14.5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 60 percent free throw shooting (!) and 100 percent
Outside of PER, virtually all of his advanced numbers on the season are better than they have been since 2010-11, and while he’s no longer the pre-eminent rim protector in the league, he’s become a force again in the paint on both ends of the floor. It seems the four-out, one-in approach on which he thrived in Orlando and now is again (to a certain degree) in Houston is more to his liking than blowing off pick-and-rolls. A happy Dwight is indeed a productive Dwight.
Need another downer while the yuletide joy is flowing?
Facing off against the Nets on Wednesday will be one of the few teams that can feel them in all their catatonic pain, the Chicago Bulls, who have wandered the earth aimlessly after losing Derrick Rose once again.
It’s quite fitting, given this fever dream of a Knicks season, that Carmelo Anthony joins their Magna Carta-length list of question marks with a bum left ankle right before they need him most. The Knicks obviously rely on Anthony and his 26.3 points per game; his 28.9 usage rate is fourth-highest in the league; and he's one of the team's few major contributors with a plus/minus better than minus-1 on the season, per NBA.com/stats.
But while Kevin Durant and the Thunder roll into Christmas Day as the most imposing challenge in the league right now, they present the Knicks with one of their best chances yet of obtaining a first big win of the season -- if Anthony is active.
Despite the Thunder’s dominance of late, in the 12 games Anthony has faced Durant over the past seven years, the elder Melo is 11-1, according to Elias, with the lone loss coming in double overtime when Anthony was still on the Nuggets and the Thunder didn’t yet exist. In those matchups, Anthony, currently the No. 2 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 30.2 points on 50.2 percent shooting, while Durant, currently the No. 1 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 26.8 points on 42.4 percent shooting. It should be noted, though, that Anthony has played Durant just once in the past two seasons.
Of course, all of that may not have mattered even if Melo were the pinnacle of physical health: The Knicks (9-18) are 0-8 against the Western Conference this season; the Thunder (22-5) are 7-1 against the Eastern Conference.
Who said it: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich or Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 rendition of “A Christmas Carol”?
A.) “I want some nasty.”
B.) “You’ll want the whole day off, I suppose.”
C.) “Happy? I don’t know how to judge happy.”
D.) “We didn’t send mariachi bands or birthday cards or breakfast in bed.”
E.) “It’s all humbug, I tell you, humbug.”