TrueHoop: Devin Harris

Atlanta's O after Iso-Joe

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
2:03
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
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Jeff Teague
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesJeff Teague will be the driving force in Atlanta's new offense.
Months before dramatically re-shuffling their roster, the Atlanta Hawks had a real shot at the Eastern Conference finals. But in their tight, injury-riddled opening-round series against the Boston Celtics, the Hawks' offense seemed a team of two minds.

Ever since Joe Johnson arrived in Atlanta in 2005, the big scoring guard defined the Hawks’ tempo and style of play. Though Johnson himself was a reasonably efficient scorer in Atlanta’s isolation-heavy attack, the Hawks’ offense was usually in the middle of the pack during his tenure. In the Hawks' series with Boston, a team whose defense is specifically designed to counter isolation scorers, he managed just 37 percent shooting and was unable to get into the paint off the dribble -- he hoisted six 3-pointers per game.

Then there was the other side of the Hawks’ playoff offense, one fueled by high pick-and-rolls between Jeff Teague and Josh Smith. While Teague was, at times, sloppy with the ball, the explosive point guard routinely raced around the edges of the Celtics’ help defense, carving tunnels into the center of Boston’s second-ranked defense.

The two styles weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but certainly Teague’s fantastic athleticism would lend itself to a faster pace than the more controlled, measured isolation-focused offense.

But after trading Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, it appears the Hawks have decided to give Teague the keys to the offense. Instead of wing isolations, the new Hawks roster is well-equipped to adopt an up-tempo, spread pick-and-roll attack more along the lines of Steve Nash’s old Suns than anything we’ve seen from Atlanta in the last five years. Expect the Hawks to incur some dings and scratches early on, but this offense has the potential to be one of the most efficient and prolific in the East.

Here’s how it could work:

The system
The fundamental purpose of a spread pick-and-roll offense is to open up the middle of the court. That’s the space that is the most difficult for help defenses to account for, which partly explains why Dirk Nowitzki’s high-post game was so devastating in Dallas’ 2011 championship run.

Typically, two or three shooters align themselves along the 3-point line (often in the corners, to make helping off even harder) while the point guard and big man run a pick-and-roll in the middle of the court. As the screener rolls to the rim, the other big man (assuming he isn’t a Ryan Anderson-type that can camp out on the perimeter) flashes up from the baseline to the top of the key.

While there are countless permutations, the essential goal is to create a 2-on-1 in the middle of the court between the point guard and the big man rolling to the rim. When a defender rotates off a shooter to help down low, the point guard must find the open man.

The engine
Though he doesn’t have to be Atlanta’s best offensive player, Teague, who is 24 years old and coming into his fourth NBA season, would be the most important piece in a pick-and-roll based offense. A passable 3-point shooter, Teague has a burst to the bucket that rivals elite athletes like John Wall and Derrick Rose. Because it takes only a sliver of daylight for Teague to end up with two points at the rim, his explosiveness puts real pressure on the entire defense. When defenses play soft, he can counter with a nice little floater. For a guard still considered somewhat raw, Teague is an adroit pick-and-roll scorer.

That helps, because though Teague reads the floor well, he isn’t an especially creative passer like Rajon Rondo. Still, Teague seems to regard himself as a more traditional point guard than a super-scorer like Russell Westbrook. Teague's 4.9 assists per game in 2011-12 are a bit underwhelming, but it’s not bad considering how much Johnson and even Smith dominated the ball in the half court. But even in his hybrid role last year, Teague showed good feel for knowing how to occupy the defense’s attention then pass off the dribble.

That’s going to come in handy this season, when he’s surrounded by a full stable of shooters.

The second (and third) gunman
A spread pick-and-roll is only as effective if the shooters pose a real threat to the defense. Enter lights-out gunners Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and rookie John Jenkins. Heck, even Devin Harris, who will likely share the backcourt with Teague in a two point-guard lineup along the lines of the Andre Miller-Ty Lawson pairing in Denver, shot 39 percent on spot-up 3-pointers last season.

HoopSpeak's Brett Koremenos has a theory I really like called “The Rule of Three,” which boils down to the idea that it’s much easier to have a really efficient NBA offense if at least three shooters are on the court at once. That doesn’t mean 3-point shooters, necessarily, which means Al Horford’s reliable long-2 game counts. Zaza Pachulia is decent from there, as well. After general manager Danny Ferry’s run on 3-point bombers, the Hawks have enough shooting depth to keep the corner-3 battlements manned at all times.

High on the High-Low
Al Horford and Josh Smith might be a little undersized for a starting front court, but they complement each other wonderfully in a pick-and-roll offense. Criticisms about Smith’s shot selection are deserved, but there’s no doubt he is one of the elite finishers in the NBA. Even though he’s listed at 6-foot-9, Smith stretches the floor vertically in a manner similar to 7-footers like Tyson Chandler. The threat of Smith catching on the move, whether it’s a lob or a bounce pass en route to the rim, can cause defenses to sink into the paint even before the ball is passed his way.

Meanwhile, Horford (a skilled finisher himself) is a deadly pick-and-pop player who can command attention even 18 feet from the rim, not unlike what Chris Bosh often does for Miami in secondary pick-and-roll actions. What’s more, both bigs are good passers and ball handlers that can be trusted to find cutters and shooters as the defense scrambles.

Filling the void
Stat guru Bradford Doolittle projects Atlanta to come in second in the East next year in large part because Johnson’s long jump shots will be replaced by more efficient shots like free throws and 3-pointers. Of course, Doolittle also expects Atlanta to win fewer games than they did last year (by percentage), perhaps because, despite getting Horford back, there are serious questions about whether this team can again be a top-10 defensive outfit.

But the departure of Joe Johnson is also a fresh opportunity for Atlanta’s team offense -- and especially Jeff Teague. If Atlanta’s personnel moves are an indication of the team’s on-court philosophy, we will see the 2012-13 Hawks evolve toward a more exciting and efficient style of offense.

Nuggets, Nets and Cavs discussed Melo

January, 6, 2011
1/06/11
7:42
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Broussard By Chris Broussard
ESPN.com
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It's looking more and more like Carmelo Anthony will remain in Denver until the Feb. 24 trade deadline, and after all this time, the New Jersey Nets remain the Nuggets' preferred trading partner.

The Nets and Nuggets have discussed various trade scenarios, and just before Christmas they nearly worked out a three-team deal involving the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to league sources.

The Nets have a standing offer of rookie Derrick Favors, two first-round draft picks and Troy Murphy on the table, but last month, sources said the Nuggets aren't interested in Murphy because they would inherit the remaining $8 million on his expiring contract. So the Nets brought in Cleveland and its $14.5 million trade exception.

Denver would have received Favors, Devin Harris and three first-round picks. Cleveland would have received Murphy and one or two first-round picks, and the Nets would have received Anthony, Al Harrington and the Cavaliers' trade exception, the sources said.

Beyond the sticking point of Anthony’s accepting or refusing to sign the long-term extension with New Jersey, the deal fell apart because both Denver and Cleveland wanted the 2012 first-round pick the Nets got from Golden State in the Marcus Williams trade. That pick is protected through the first seven slots.

While Denver never asked for the Nets' five first-round picks, New Jersey might have wound up sending those five picks to the Nuggets and the Cavs. Losing all those first-rounders makes the Nets squeamish, as does not getting back a point guard if they have to give up Harris.

Because it has Ty Lawson, Denver doesn't have much need for Harris. But the Nuggets were hoping they might be able to send Harris, whom Portland covets, to the Trail Blazers for Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum, according to sources. It was likely wishful thinking because Portland has no intention of moving Batum.

While Chauncey Billups' name has been mentioned with Anthony's in trade rumors, Billups' desire is to remain in Denver, which is his hometown.

There's some feeling throughout the league that the Nuggets' lack of interest in Murphy will subside by the trade deadline because by then, he'll be owed only about $3.5 million this season.

While the Nets remain enamored with Anthony, there are some within the organization who wonder if the club might be better off keeping Favors and its five first-round picks and building through the draft. In the end, however, if the Nets can get Anthony, they'll pull the trigger.

New York still in Melo hunt

The Knicks remain Anthony's preferred destination, but the superstar forward also wants that three-year, $64.4 million contract extension. Leon Rose, Anthony's agent, has discussed trade scenarios with the Knicks and Nets, and the Knicks have tried to use the probable lockout to their advantage.

With the owners hoping to make current contracts fit within the confines of the upcoming collective bargaining agreement, the Knicks are telling Rose that Anthony's $64.4 million extension may not be worth that much anyway, that it may get slashed once the new CBA is in place. So, of course, why not just wait and sign with the Knicks as a free agent, or so New York's argument goes.

Around the league, executives are skeptical about the Knicks' chances of trading for Anthony. Denver remains cold toward a Knicks offer, and while New York insists it can get a first-round pick (most likely for Anthony Randolph), rival executives are saying, "Why haven't they gotten the pick yet?''

Phil and Ron

People close to Ron Artest say his confrontation with coach Phil Jackson during a Lakers practice a week-and-a-half ago stemmed from Artest's sincere belief that if Jackson is going to call him out publicly, he should also call other players out publicly.

Everyone in Lakers Nation knew Jackson was holding his tongue in regards to Kobe Bryant's one-on-one play, so Artest figured Jackson should have held his tongue about him as well, at least publicly.

Artest let Jackson know as much when they met privately after the confrontation, and perhaps that's why Jackson made his Kobe "screwed up the game'' comments a few days later.

While the confrontation made huge news, neither Artest, Jackson nor the rest of the organization viewed it as being a big deal.

Friday Bullets

March, 19, 2010
3/19/10
3:50
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • LeBron James shoots 76.9 percent from the stripe. How much better would the Cavs be if he could get his free-throw shooting up to an 85 percent clip?
  • Ben Q. Rock of Orlando Pinstriped Post on Dwyane Wade's performance against the Magic last night: "And Wade? Stop it. He continued his mastery of the Magic. Let's run through those numbers again: 36 points on 59.2% True Shooting, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and just 1 turnover in 45 minutes, dominating the ball on every possession. He's unreal. Fortunately for Orlando, Van Gundy's decision to double-team him throughout the overtime period -- a look Van Gundy will try against scorching hot perimeter players with the game on the line--paid off. He scored just 2 points in the period, with Beasley and O'Neal ending 2 possessions apiece, with mixed results."
  • A bright spot for a Celtics team that's starting to play a little better: Doc Rivers has been able to pace his starters, keeping their minutes in check as the postseason approaches.
  • Andrew R. Tonry of Portland Roundball Society: "I miss Gilbert Arenas. I miss his awesome nicknames and yelling Hibachi! after every shot. I miss his blog, where he once even talked about driving home and passing by a bridge, and his thought that, for no real reason at all, he could just drive off and end it all. Another great one: 'Everyone is having sex until they fall in love. When you fall in love, then it’s making love.' Gilbert found commonality in the human experience -- thoughts we all have, but few of us, especially professional athletes, are gutsy enough to share."
  • A lot of athletes deny scoreboard-watching -- not Stephen Jackson: "If anybody’s not paying attention they really don’t care about making the playoffs. I know I ask. As soon as we take care of business, I try to find out from somebody around the organization to see if they have any scores.” (Hat Tip: Sports Radio Interviews)
  • Want an illustration of how bad the Wizards' offense has been? Check out the trend line on Mike Prada's graph.
  • Mark Ginocchio of Nets are Scorching: "[Devin] Harris is a talented player, and you certainly don’t want to lose him for a song -- if he becomes trade bait this summer he has to bring back another building block for a move to be considered, not more expiring contracts. But Harris is also unreliable, and you cannot build around the unreliable."
  • Arron Afflalo's favorite things to do in Denver: "I'm downtown a lot, just getting something to eat. Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang's, you can catch me there. Banana spring rolls -- I'm going straight for dessert, and maybe some shrimp fried rice."
  • Among the many things that excite Jon Brockman? Swedish hatchbacks.
  • At one point or another, we've all been where this guy was during Texas' meltdown last night. (PG-13)
  • If you're a writer with an interest in the Dallas Mavericks, make some magic with Rob Mahoney.
  • Collegiate player I'll be watching today: Oklahoma State's James Anderson, a big guard who knows how to find a shot. He can stroke the ball from the perimeter and draw contact off the dribble. Efficiency Machine.

Wednesday Bullets

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
2:10
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

The Nets on a decade-long spin cycle

January, 28, 2010
1/28/10
3:15
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive

Photos by Elsa and Ron Turenne via NBAE/Getty Images.
As high-scoring leader of a bad Nets team, Devin Harris walks in Stephon Marbury's footsteps.

A decade ago, the Nets were sad, divided and disappointed.

They had an alpha-dog point guard who had arrived from a better team, ready to show what he could really do. They had a coach who was really smart and friendly but maybe a tad too soft-spoken and thoughtful to take command of the situation. They had a big man, drafted high, who went long periods without touching the ball.

Which is all true today.

Back then, the leading characters were Stephon Marbury, Don Casey and Keith Van Horn.

Now it's Devin Harris, Kiki Vandeweghe and your choice of Brook Lopez or Yi Jianlian.

I hear you Devin Harris fans. You're saying: How dare you compare this talented young player to the icon of self-centered gunners?

By now it's well accepted that Marbury was more or less a bust just about everywhere he went -- the kind of super-talent who could always get his but never cared much about the rest of his team, and as a result did a heck of a lot of losing.

Harris is a long way from that. But maybe not as far as you might think.

Did you notice that the Nets had their best game of the season on Wednesday, when Harris sat out with a sprained wrist?

That got me thinking more about the idea that Harris might have a little Marbury in him, exactly a decade later. Some things I have learned:
  • The Nets have been shockingly bad when Harris is on the court. When Harris plays, the team scores about 100 points per 100 possessions, and gives up more than 116 -- a devastating number. When his replacement Keyon Dooling is in, according to basketballvalue.com, the numbers are dramatically better: The Nets score about two fewer points per 100 possessions, but instead of giving up 116, they give up just 101. 15 points better on defense! Wow. (There are lots of reasons to take this analysis with a grain of salt. Harris generally plays with and against starters, while Dooling plays with and against backups. However, adjusted plus/minus, which attempts to account for those differences, ranks Harris as percentage points from being this season's worst Net.)
  • Dooling ran the show last night, and keyed the win. In the game-deciding fourth quarter run, Dooling had two buckets, two assists and a steal. He made all five of his shots in the fourth quarter. Notable was that not only did Dooling play well, but he also got several Nets in the mix. Terrence Williams, Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, Chris Douglas-Roberts ... there have not been a lot of Harris-led games with so many Nets shining.
  • You who say Harris is not nearly as selfish as Marbury, let's compare. A decade ago, yes Marbury used more possessions than Harris does now: 28.2% compared to 24.9 for Harris. And Marbury shot more about 20% more per minute. But he also shot more accurately (53% true shooting percentage compared to 49%), and most importantly passed the ball far more. Marbury had an assist rate of .39, while Harris is just .32. Harris is 14th in usage rate among point guards, but his assist rate is way down the list at 39th. What's more, Harris has a PER of 14.9 this year, while Marbury was at 20.7 a decade ago. Also worth noting: Harris is 26. Marbury, then, was just 22.

You could keep going on with the comparisons between the teams. Harris had played with an MVP big man in Dirk Nowitzki before coming to the Nets. Marbury had played with Kevin Garnett. Kerry Kittles -- an athletic "D and 3s" guy is not dissimilar from Courtney Lee.

And there's one last similarity. Today's Nets are essentially praying for a savior from out of town who will show up, change the culture, and lead them to the Finals immediately. LeBron James, perhaps. It might seem like a crazy gambit. But stranger things have happened. Jason Kidd arrived in the summer of 2001, and that very next year those same players who had been so miserable for so long were in the Finals.

Wayne Winston is a professor at Indiana University and for the last nine years he has been Mark Cuban's stat guru for the Dallas Mavericks. Winston's recently published book "Mathletics," explains much of his work -- complete with formulas and spreadsheets. This is the first in a series of TrueHoop posts in which Winston explains the surprising things he has learned about what works and what doesn't in the NBA.

Imagine you live on an island, with 13 people, and one of them is murdered.

Murderers are usually found (or not) by assembling all the available clues and seeing if they point to anybody. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.

Ben Gordon
"Letting [Ben Gordon] go is just beyond stupid. It's ridiculous," says Winston. "And who'd they pick up to replace him? Jannero Pargo?"
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Another way to look at this one, however, would be to say, look, we know one of these 12 people did this thing. Let's try to find out what everybody was doing at the time of the murder, and then we can start making smart guesses at who was responsible.

This is a messy analogy for the state of basketball statistics.

A team loses a game. That's your murder.

The box score is the trail of clues. John Hollinger's PER is the embodiment of what can be learned from that. 

But there are some cases where PER doesn't tell it all -- maybe you have no suspect! We all know that some chunk of what matters in basketball doesn't make it into the box score. 

So there are people like Winston who instead favor saying we know all the players from both who were on the court while the loss occurred. Let's try to break the game apart, into little pieces, to see who gets the blame.

The result is adjusted plus/minus. Winston is one of many -- others include Dan Rosenbaum, Aaron Barzilai, Stephen Ilardi -- who basically look at the scores of games, and then use complex formulas to assign credit and blame for that happened to individual players.

It's often derided as an imprecise process, but it's worth noting that Winston, Barzilai and Rosenbaum all work for NBA teams. Winston has his detractors, but he's adamant, and often convincing, that such work can yield fascinating results:

The many new kinds of basketball statistics tend to fall into two groups. There are things that we can, with certainty, ascribe to individual players. Those things are mostly in the box score, or PER. But you put them all together, and a chunk of the game is missing. Then there's stuff we know the team does -- the final score, and the increments of it we see in +/- and adjusted +/-. The trouble there is that it's hard to know how to assign what the team does to an individual player. It's murky in both camps. But you're an adjusted +/- guy, right? Why?
Basketball is half offense and half defense. I don't think I have to prove that mathematically. It's got to be true. The box score is not half offense and half defense. I think that's where the box score breaks down.

The nice thing about adjusted +/- is that it's half offense and half defense. I think if we can estimate offense accurately, and most of the adjusted +/- stuff that is out there for offense agrees with the rest of the world.

It's on the defensive ratings I think that we disagree with whatever people think. And defense is half the game, I would argue even more, because you're only as strong as your weakest link. If you've got a guy who can't guard somebody, they'll just go at him all night long. In that sense, defense may be more important than offense.

We're trying to measure how you help a team win. There is noise in that system. But during the season, you can't change your roster very easily.

Devin Harris
Winston's insight in action, against the Spurs in 2006: "Devin Harris had a great rating against the Spurs, and Tony Parker had a lousy rating ... So they started Devin Harris in Game 2 and won by 20."
(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

But I have an infinite number of stories about lineups and how it can help you.

The best example is about the Spurs/Mavericks series. Del Harris came to me before Game 2 (of the 2006 Spurs vs. Mavericks series). I love him to death, he's a wonderful person.

Boy, he's a genius. When he was working with the Mavericks, he'd always ask me questions. He always knew the right question to ask. The numbers, by themselves, mean nothing.

In the regular season, Adrian Griffin was terrible against the Spurs. They had a terrible offensive rating, which means they couldn't score when he was in.

So Devin Harris had a great rating against the Spurs, and Tony Parker had a lousy rating in those games. The coaches sort of knew that Devin Harris could handle Tony Parker, but this gave them a metric to prove that.

So they started Devin Harris in Game 2 and they won by 20. 

Then we can do head-to-head -- when one guy is on the court against another guy. When Marquis Daniels was on the court against Manu Ginobili, the Mavericks lost by a point a minute. So in Game 7, they didn't play Daniels. Del Harris told me "we don't know why this happens, but since you tell me Marquis Daniels is getting creamed, we didn't play him."

This is where there's a really old debate with scouts and the data people, that's in Moneyball and everything else.

I don't think either person is right, by themselves. Well, the data is one factor that you should look at.

The flaw with adjusted +/- is that there's noise in the system. But there are flaws in any system. Red Auerbach said K.C. Jones' team won every scrimmage. His PER sucks. There has got to be something missing.

Kevin Martin always has a fantastic PER meanwhile, but every year his defense is terrible. 

So, I don't mind looking at PER. If we mess up, PER would probably get it. But PER messes up a lot because it just doesn't do defense.

So we're saying if you're talking box score based stats, you're going to miss defense ...
A lot of it. Not all of it, a lot of it. You're also missing things like taking the charge. Saving the ball going out of bounds, the pass that leads to the assist. Nobody knows what percentage of basketball is not in the box score, but that determines which side of the debate you're on.

But looking at the lineups, you can see a lot.

J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen
"In every playoff series," says Winston "there's what I call the team's kryptonite. For the Mavericks against Denver last year, it was Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith."
(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

For instance, in every playoff series, there's what I call the team's kryptonite. There's two or three players on the
court that the other team can't handle.

For the Mavericks against Denver last year, it was Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith. When those two were on the court, the Mavericks got killed.

So what we do is we play detective. We look at every minute those guys are on the court. What worked? 

That's the type of stuff that we do. 

My prediction is that the Bulls are going to stink this year. Ben Gordon and Brad Miller were their best players. They let Ben Gordon go to the team they need to beat for the playoffs? Why'd they do that?

He wanted a lot of money.
Well, he's worth it.

Letting him go is just beyond stupid. It's ridiculous. And who'd they pick up to replace him? Jannero Pargo? I looked at their lineups, and I guess that they're expecting that Luol Deng can play his position. If he's healthy -- and I don't know if he's healthy.

You gotta mine the data. Because sometimes you're helpless. Denver -- I knew that would be bad for the Mavericks last year.

And Golden State [when the top-ranked Mavericks famously lost to the upstart Warriors, in 2007], I knew that would be bad for the Mavericks. The only hope the Mavericks had was to go small, and they did in Game 1 and lost that game. They got a lot of heat for that, but it was probably the best thing they could do.

Dampier is on the team so you can beat the Spurs and you can beat Shaq. And they beat the Spurs really easily. They had no trouble. But against the Warriors, small was better.

Did you advise the Mavericks to go small against the Warriors?
I show the numbers to the coach and they make the decision.

Against the Hornets, I would have certainly gone small. Against Golden State I would have gone small.

In Game 1 they just came out flat. Baron Davis hit like two half-court shots in that series. The Mavericks played horrible. And that series ... I do think it had a long-term effect, the hangover from that. The team didn't go back to being as good as it used to be.

How can you possibly fix something like that?
You can't. That's the whole thing. One of the holy grails of stats is predicting how well a player will do next year.

More from Winston on TrueHoop tomorrow.

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

It's not unusual for struggling franchises to use elite visiting teams as vehicles to get bodies inside the building. Fans of the Clippers, Hawks, Sixers have all seen splashy ads in the daily sports section trumpeting a multi-game package that will offer them glimpses of LeBron, Kobe, KG, D-Wade, and 'Melo. 

The New Jersey Nets have taken that model to new heights for the upcoming season. The team is advertising a promotion where the purchase of a 10-game package gets you five reversable jerseys, i.e. Devin Harris on the inside, Dwyane Wade on the outside. Nets Are Scorching explains that this is hardly a new phenomenon ... though this one has a whiff of abject desperation to it: 

I remember when I first started following the Nets in the SportsChannel days, I would seethe when Spencer Ross and Bill Raferty would promote upcoming games by saying "come see Michael Jordan and the Bulls” or "Clyde Drexler and the Trailblazers.” Because going to see Drazen Petovic and Sam Bowie wasn't enough.

I guess the bright side of this jersey promotion is they haven't paired any Nets with an Eddy Curry Knicks jersey.

The Nets promotional office isn't composed of dummies. The five jerseys in question represent the No. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 teams in road attendance for 2008-09, and No. 7 Orlando is almost certain to climb above Phoenix and Detroit in 2009-10. 

How is Josh Howard like global warming? How is Devin Harris like a Béla Lugosi flick? How is J.J. Hickson like Joe Smith? You'll find the answers, like it or not, at the TrueHoop Network:

Josh HowardRob Mahoney of The Two Man Game: "On the court, Josh Howard lives and dies by his emotions.  That much is certain.  His highest peaks are brimming with confidence and joy, and his lowest valleys are shadowed by self-doubt and disinterest.  It's an influence that goes beyond momentum; Howard's emotions inevitably force him into a series of positive feedback loops, self-sustaining spirals that intensify and reinforce themselves over time...

His early career was characterized by nightly demonstrations of athleticism, hustle, and energy, a culmination of the rage of a man denied what he deemed rightfully his: a spot in the 2003 Draft lottery.  It should come as no surprise that Howard's determined play earned him consistent minutes and a concrete role on the team, which only fueled his confidence and provided him a bigger soapbox to voice the world's transgressions against him.  Howard thrived and, in turn, the Mavericks thrived.

Of course, that couldn't last forever.  Howard had earned a reputation as a premier defender, but that status faded as he became more of an offensive threat.  Defense is the work of peasants, and obviously something that emerging stars simply cannot be bothered with.  Next came the jumpshots: Crossover pull-ups, turnaround fadeaways, and contested jumpers in transition.  Becoming an All-Star talent meant taking All-Star shots, degree of difficulty be damned.  Lovely.

All of that was manageable, but then a mini-slump was amplified by the death of Josh Howard's mentor/father-figure and college coach at Wake Forest, Skip Prosser, his god-grandmother, and his great-grandmother.  Then, with the grieving Howard at his most vulnerable, the Mavs traded his closest friend on the team (Devin Harris) to the New Jersey Nets.  So much for support structure.

The 2008 calendar year was about injuries and bad press for Howard.  His on-court troubles were trumped by his inability to keep his name out of the headlines, but injuries hobbled the Mavericks' 'most important player' and rendered him almost completely ineffective as he struggled to return to form.

Enter 2009, where a rejuvenated Josh Howard is finally finding himself.  Howard's recovery from his various ailments still had Howard tentative in his approach, an issue that wasn't resolved until…the Mavericks brought on Darrell Armstrong as an assistant coach.  Does it make a lot of sense?  No, not really, but maybe all Howard needed was a familiar face and veteran influence to adjust his basketball compass...

It's strange that Howard's rise and fall are due to events that have very little to do with basketball: His own reputation, deaths to those closest to him, the distancing of a good friend, and reuniting with an old mentor.  Upon further inspection, though, should it really surprise us that an emotional, sensitive, and aware player is so affected by events outside his control?"

Tim DuncanTimothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell: "Duncan is out of tonight's contest with right quad tendonosis...This is the sort of injury that requires time to heal. Duncan and the Spurs are not helped by rushing him back. They need to give him as much time as he needs to get back to full strength, a difficult task this time of year.  But rest and relaxation may only go so far. One cannot turn back the clock just by spending a week on the dole...

Tim Duncan is getting old. This is a degenerative wear and tear injury. This is something his body is not able to make right.

Couple this with Manu's ankle struggles this season and the Spurs have yet more incentive to get on with the youth movement. They've added a few younger pieces this year, and they would do well to go into the offseason with a mind toward adding one or two more young bodies. In addition to getting younger, I prefer Popovich's minutes management program, up to and including letting his stars forego the rigors of back to back contests.  Let the league whine. The games don't count until May and June, anyway."

Devin Harris

Matt McHale of By the Horns: "[T]his loss was like watching one of those cheesy 1930s era horror movies where the monster keeps coming back to life over and over. Only in those flicks, a scientist either figured out the monster's fatal weakness or a mob of angry villagers burned down the mansion/laboratory/windmill it was hiding in. But Vinny doesn't do science and the Bulls players were all out of pitchforks and torches, so [Devin] Harris had his way during the Fourth Quarter of Doom...

And if I sound even remotely bitter, it's because I am. Harris was burning Derrick Rose, so Vinny Del Negro resorted to what's become his favorite 'trick' as of late: He benched Derrick for the final 4:52 of the fourth quarter. Before hitting the pine, Rose had attempted only one shot in the quarter. Vinny, of course, wanted to put a better defender on the court. But here's the problem: Devin scored 9 points while Derrick was in and then 10 points after Vinny replaced him with Kirk Hinrich."

THE FINAL WORD
Hoopinion & Roundball Mining Company: Two savvy perspectives on last night's Hawks-Nuggets game.
Celtics Hub: Is there such a thing as a "fair" trade involving an NBA superstar?
Cavs the Blog: J.J. Hickson will be a contributor down the stretch.  

(Photos by Kent Horner, Rocky Widner, Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Shootaround

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
11:26
AM ET

The Hawks can't switch on defense to save themselves. Let's switch up the playoff format.  Switch Brian Scalabrine for Kevin Garnett to no ill-effect?!  Flip the switch at the TrueHoop Network:   

Mike BibbyBret LaGree of Hoopinion: "...Mike Woodson seriously diminished the Hawks' chances of winning in Utah when he decided that, defensively, this team would spend the season switching on every screen. It's a functional strategy against teams with a limited number of offensive options and/or little off-the-ball movement. Against Utah it essentially rendered the Atlanta defenders stationary, calling out switches but never moving their feet as the Jazz players ran their offense without interference.

It's an odd, passive choice for a team that has an admitted problem with playing hard. Certainly, in general, some ground must be ceded in deference to Bibby's defensive limitations in order to reap the benefit of his offensive talents. I don't believe this to be any sort of platonic ideal of a defensive basketball team but they haven't been challenged to become a better defensive team. In the terrible home loss to the Clippers, Acie Law IV got chewed out by Woodson and Marvin Williams for screwing up a defensive possession by having the temerity to try and fight through a ball screen. A blown assignment? Yes. An example of a young player trying to earn more playing time by giving extra effort? Yes, also, but his effort was viewed primarily as disruptive rather than positive. A small moment, to be sure, but one that has obviously stayed with me for more than two weeks."

Patrick Ewing

Mike Kurylo of Knickerblogger: "This week marks the 5th anniversary of KnickerBlogger. When I started this venture, I didn't imagine it would last this long. Five years ago, blogging was still in its infancy. There were less than 2 million blogs when KnickerBlogger came into existence. Just six months after, the number of blogs had doubled. Today it's unknown how many blogs there are. One estimate is 200 million. Many of them are powered by individuals like myself.

More important than the number of blogs is the role they perform. Once derided by the mainstream media, just about every newspaper, magazine, and network hosts their own blog. They are now an essential part of the world's information and entertainment. Blogs fill an important niche in the world. Previously the only avenue for the common man to voice his opinion was through those who held the keys to kingdom. Often his voice was not heard by the public. Blogs have taken the words of the everyman and projected them from the world's tallest soap box.

Five years ago my goal with KnickerBlogger was to create a platform for those who felt their opinion was not represented in the mainstream. Judging by the other readers who come here to share their thoughts and my affiliation with True Hoop Network that allows me to bring these voices to the mainstream, it seems that I have succeeded. I can only wonder what KnickerBlogger will be in five more years."

BracketsMatt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "The eighth spot in the East should be a tournament. It would be a three-day tournament held the week before the playoffs. The runner-up gets an extra 4% in the lottery. And it would be some of the absolute best basketball you're going to see this season. I don't envy the college game for the randomness of March Madness, I love the assuredness of the Association's championship system. There's no doubt at the end of the season that the champion has earned it and deserved it. You can debate a team was better but the sample size is sufficient to provide legitimacy. But for the East's eight spot? Who cares about legitimacy? We're all aware that no team is surviving playing three days in a row, then having to turn around and travel for a seven game series against the best team in the East. But it would be terrific ball. Derrick Rose versus Deven Harris. Villanueva versus Harrington. The Raptors bizarre mutation versus the composite Bobcats.

This is logistically impossible, and impractical to the nth degree. But I say it because you should know that under your nose, as the rest of the League rots in the downturn, carrying out the same pattern that's been set, there is a shimmering pool of imperfect, incredible basketball happening underneath your local stations."

THE FINAL WORD
Hornets247: Welcome back, Tyson Chandler.
Celtics Hub: No KG, No problem.
Roundball Mining Company: The Nuggets are looking weary.

(Photos by Gary Dineen, Fernando Medina, Ray Amati/NBAE via Getty Images)

Last night the Meadowlands hosted just about as exciting a game as you could possibly imagine. Two teams fighting each other for their playoff lives, ending in a marvelous, contested, half-court, buzzer-beating game-winner.

If there is a reason to have a basketball team in New Jersey, this moment is it.

I don't live too far from East Rutherford, where the Nets play, so it's not surprising that a couple of years ago my local newspaper -- The New York Times -- would have honored such an achievement with a massive picture of Devin Harris's shining moment on the cover of the sports section. (The Times, for instance, has a regional section called "New Jersey" on the weekends. This is a market they cater to, in other words.)

But today? Well, first of all, there no longer is a cover of the sports section. To save money, sports have been relegated to the non-business end of the business pages. 

And on top of that? There is nobody from the Times covering the Nets. So the sports story of the day, in the version that landed on my doorstep, is about three paragraphs of AP copy a dozen or so pages into the last section in the paper. (There's a slightly longer version of the story online.) I opened the paper looking for the story of that shot, and rifled through the pages without seeing anything at all. The story was so tiny -- merely a part of the roundup of non-local games -- that it was easy to miss.

Hard to get excited about it like that! I think about growing up, and getting the newspaper in the morning. I'd read all the Blazer news in the Oregonian, and have the feeling that I was one of hundreds of thousands living and dying together with the fortunes of the Blazers. On a day a meaningful game ended like this, the paper of my youth would have had team coverage.

And maybe there's nothing to this. Maybe all this means is that if you're a kid hooked on the Nets you bug your parents to get the Newark Star-Ledger (or to read ESPN.com) instead. I don't know who's to blame for this exactly. There are those who say it's us internet people (the blogs! always blame the blogs!), or the cost of paper, the availablility of faster delivery channels, the changing expectations of readers ...

But I'll tell you this -- as much as I see the sports media as a way to relay the exciting things that happen in sports, I know teams see the sports media as a way to create the hype, awareness, and narrative that make sports exciting and profitable.

There's a chicken and egg thing that happens. And last night, Devin Harris was certainly no chicken -- but the newspaper laid an egg.

The result: A great moment of sports inspires fewer people than it might.

I'm readier than ever to believe Mark Cuban when he says that pro sports teams need the newspaper business.

All-Star Game Live Blog

February, 15, 2009
2/15/09
7:42
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Welcome to the post-kryptonite world.  The arena is buzzier tonight.  Security is more officious.  In the media workroom, the tube is tuned to 48 Hours as the press corps warms up their laptops.  As of 5:30 MST, Allen Iverson has lost 20 pounds of hair.  Amare Stoudemire is still starting for the Western Conference All-Stars. And the U.S. Airways Arena facilities staff is collecting cardboard boxes from concessions and setting them outside Terry Porter's office. 

We're ready for the main event -- the 58th NBA All-Star Game.  

Follow along, won't you...

Welcome

Gheorghe Muresan has just paid his respects to press row.  It's Maryland Nighthawks Appreciation Night at US Airways Arena

The All-Stars have taken the floor...they then begin to hurl plastic mini-basketballs into the crowd.  I think Paul Pierce knocked a 7 year old in Section 113 unconscious

For what it's worth, Michael Rappaport is wearing a very cool Tribe-Low End Theory tee.  

Okay.  The Matchup... Looking strictly at depth, the West has the advantage...

But if you consider an 8-man rotation and the lineups that would be on the court in crunch time of a meaningful game, the East has the slight edge.

As we wait, let's pose another question:  Forget the voters.  You're the coach handed this collection of talent for the respective squads:  Who do you start?

EAST:  PG -- Harris...SG -- Wade...SF -- James...PF...Garnett...C...Howard.   Objections?

WEST:  PG -- Paul...Wings .... Roy and Bryant....PF: Duncan...C: Ming.

Re: Dirk at the 3.  I love it offensively.  But we've seen far too many blow-bys in the past 10 years when he's been assigned to quicker wings, haven't we.  In the context of this game, can you see Dirk on LeBron

The Big Phantom!

Incredible comic choreography

Sort of like the opening credits to Season 2 of Cosby, with each character doing interpretive dance.

West:  Much more sober. [exception: Shaq].

James/Stoudemire most intriguing matchup

Also, very complimentary centers.  Yao has a well-drawn game on the low block while Howard, though certainly a more refined post player than his early days, relies on athleticism and less on footwork and fundamentals.

Bloggers jinx

Yao can change a shot better than any center in the league.

STAT defends.

Kobe didn't chase DWade back along the baseline.  Probably a bad idea.

Paul can find anyone anywhere at any time.  

Paul Pierce is delivering a constant play-by-play.  

Pierce about to check in.  

East going small

New fun matchup:  Dirk/Pierce

That is the first and only time you'll hear the shot clock buzzer tonight.

East got the switch they wanted.  Pierce bricks

Kobe was *not* letting Johnson penetrate past the arc on that last possession.

Not sure that 'Shard/O'Neal matchup is going to work for East

Johnson and Kobe are playing an entirely different game than everyone else, intensity-wise.  There's something there.

Nice little 13-0 run there for Westerners

22-3!  

O'Neal , as a matter of principle, is not going to chase Lewis to the arc.

Joe Torre  in the building.  Arena goes mute.  

Kobe's 10 shot attempts were 2 off the record for a quarter.

Scottie Pippen just introduced.  Arena officials pass the hat around the lower bowl.

Will we see Allen-Garnett-Pierce on the floor together?

Eric Snow makes the kiss-cam -- his first make in 5 years.

Gasol gets a piece!  Quick close!

BRoy is the quickest guy of average speed on earth

Pierce didn't defend that poorly.  But then that's Dirk.  

Granger sighting!

Rashard Lewis, Center

KG holding court.  Has the attention of the entire East bench.

Lots of Yeah, Mo!!!  from the East bench.  The shamockery narrative has life in the East.

Ever notice that Pierce rarely gets crossed over?

David West in the game.  Is he the least deserving invitee?

Kevin Pelton's Advanced statistics have his Offensive rating at 105.8.  His defensive rating at 105.4

What this means is that a lineup composed of 5 Davis Wests would score 105.8, and would give up 105.4

Which essentially means that Team David West this season is a scant over .500

Craig Sager is wearing Ruby Red Gator Shoes.

And just took a lot of grief for them from the East bench.

Interesting...The west *is* playing a fairly accurate rendition of the Triangle

You got Gasol there in the pinch post.

I mean, it's certainly more iso-heavy, but in terms of spacing, that's what they're up to.

Pierce has emerged as the Alpha dog of this unit.

It's the Drive-n-Kick, starring Rashard Lewis as your ballhandler.  I love all-star games.

It would be really, really nice for Danny Granger to get some legitimate touches tonight.  

Rashard at the 4.  Order restored.

Can you imagine a team with Wade and Granger on the wings?

Nice...crabdribble from Mo

A vintage CP3 sequence.  Plays the passing lane to perfection, runs the break, finds his trailer, saves the world.

Classy, classy touch.  KG-Pierce-Allen just wheeled over a huge Green 75th bday cake to Bill Russell.  

The cake will now be fedexed to Eddy Curry and Jerome James in New York.

LeBron apparently has the green light.  Echhh

Tim Duncan with patience...even in an AS Game

Nice D, BRoy!

Roy absorbs the bumps, keeps his feet light.  Some nights, I feel like he's a stellar defender, other nights he turns his head and gives up one step too many.

His Defensive Rtg [and we're using Basketball Prospectus/Pelton again]:  A very pedestrian 106.2, second least impressive on West [Parker]

A matchup I've been dying to see: Howard/Duncan.  

Alright...Early, premature, MVP-handicapping...

*If West Wins: Kobe Bryant leads West with 13, but he's done it on a less-than-impressive 6-13 FG.  Of the 8 Westerners with 4 or more FGAs, he's the only one shooting below 50%.

The most eyepopping stat on the page is Paul's 8 assists...but he has 2 points on 1-5 from the field.    

Roy has a nice, if non-MVPish line: 8 pts, 4 boards, 2 dimes, 0 turnovers in 16 minutes.  

Gasol: A quiet 10 pts in 7 mins

The East is tougher.  Pierce leads all scores with 14 points and has been the go-to guy when he's been in the game, for better or worse.

Kevin Johnson making the rounds.  Imagine the irony if Sacramento loses its franchise while it has a former NBA standout in the mayor's office.

Commenter XBox Tim:  The Nets would *love* to move Carter if they got the right package, but won't give him away for nothing.  Per Hollinger.

T.O. in his Lakers long-sleeve Tee

Spike Lee having a conversation with the McCains

West:  Into Yao in the post first two possessions.  Interesting.

I think if the East is serious, they need to work the LeBron-Stat matchup to deat
h.

Wade's gamble doesn't pay off.

Yao 1-3 to start 2nd half.  They're feeding him.

So the West is working low.  

I'm not sure you want to give LeBron that screen and get him Duncan on the switch.  I'd rather him work 1-on-1 against Stat

Iverson:  ALL BALL!

LeBron is the ticket back for the East...the matchup is there.  

Watching these NBA All Stars do the love songs.  Shaq doing Billy Ocean is stellar.  This league is going to miss O'Neal when he's gone.  They'll try with Howard and James, but O'Neal is righteously unique.  

Jay-Z on the Kiss Cam.  

Kobe wants baseline.  Kobe gets baseline. that won't be the last.

O'Neal starts his drive from 25.  Beaut.  

The give-n-go O'Neal/Paul.  Clearly the halfcourt highlight of the night.  ONeal auditioning for wing duty.

Granger wanted none of that.

Shaq:  A +19, leads the game

O'Neal with the clear inside track for MVP now.

So long as Lewis is the Eastern 5, I think there's a path of little resistance.

The prominent storylines that are emerging:  (1) The Kobe-Shaq interplay.

(2) The east has absolutely no one to man the post defensively except Howard.  And the problem is complicated because he and KG -- the only other candidate -- were placed alongside each other in the starting lineup, leaving Rashard Lewis with center duty.  

(3) Kobe takes 19 shots in 15 minutes.  

Dirk back in with a suave +19 on the night.

Iverson is the first recipient of the icepacks on knees.  Was complaining about his knees to trainer.

That's something to watch.

Just guessing here, but I'd say he's unlikely to return.

Barring a late surge by the East or Amare, the MVP race is now down to Kobe and Shaq

The sagacious Kevin Pelton: These roster problems for the East wouldn't exist if David Stern had named a big man to replace Bosh instead of Mo Williams.

Shard continues his torrid shooting from last night.

After 3 Quarters, Points in Paint: West 72, East 42

Uhh...make that 74

Cant' keep my eyes off of Billups' gold kicks.

Nice side to side by East.  Williams miss notwithstanding.

LeBron and Howard about to check in for last stand.

I love watching Gasol pass the ball with his back to the basket over his shoulder.

You could hear a pin drop in this arena.

Harris maintains his handle through traffic as well as anyone not named Chris Paul.

Nice McGrady attempt by LBJ

Did you see how far Pau played off LBJ?

Commenter SDBUCK760:  Kobe/Shaq co-MVPs.  

Would be a great story with legs into next week.

Wade should really stop gambling.

Howard from 21.  Send in the Clowns.  

How great are the last 5 minutes of an All-Star blowout?  We get Kobe/Howard matchup on both ends...to unspeakable results.  Still...

The voters on press row are debating.  

The double PG attack for the final 2:00

That was one of the best drags of the night: Roy/Stat

Not Paul's finest moment.

Virtually better than anything we saw last night.

I went to an All-Star Game and a Slam Dunk Contest broke out.

LeBron's clearly got a yen for the 2010 SDC. 

Co-MVPs -- SDBUCK760 calls it!

I think the enduring storyline of Shaq/Kobe will make this memorable, though I don't know if possession-by-possession this was all that notable a game.

32 combined turnovers is actually relatively low for an ASG, so you can't really call it a sloppy game.

If you want to pick it apart from an analytic standpoint, I think Kevin P. is correct.  Size killed the East.  The got mauled on the glass [51-38]

Points in the paint 96-58.

Rather than Mo, had the East chosen a big to replace Bosh, they might have been able to stem that third quarter collapse.  

Though I haven't heard a report, I get the sense that KG was cleared to play no more than 20, which compounded the problem.

In any case, this is an ASG and I don't know if it warrant a further examination than that.

Thanks everyone for joining us.

Saturday Night Live-Blogging

February, 14, 2009
2/14/09
7:41
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Welcome to All-Star Saturday night. 

Since my spirit is dampened by the exclusion of Steve Novak from the Three-Point Shootout, and I've never forgiven the judges for robbing Dominique Wilkins of the 1988 Slam Dunk crown, I thought it would be a good idea to bring in some help for tonight.

Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game and John Krolik of Cavs the Blog will be joining me for the evening's festivities. 

Since Rob "refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Shooting Stars competition," we're going to start our coverage with the Skills Competition. 

Follow along, won't you...

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Welcome...

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: So I just got back from the 3D studio in the bowels of the arena which, I have to say, makes this competition a lot more interesting

JOHN KROLIK: End of shooting stars...well, Detroit's season hasn't gone the way they wanted it to, but I'm sure the fans are just as happy with this.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Also visited the practice court where the 3PT participants were warming up.  Bibby looks strong

JOHN KROLIK: I've got Kapono. Until proven otherwise.

JOHN KROLIK: I like Parker, then Mo in the Skills comp. It's all about that mid-range J. If Rose hits it, it's his.

ROB MAHONEY: My heart says Roger Mason, but my brain just beat up my heart and told me to pick Kapono.  Seems like a no-brainer.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: I like Harris in Skillz..Mason in 3P...but, as I said, Bibby was stroking it on the practice court 10 mins ago

JOHN KROLIK: Mason will win if it comes down to the last shot. Dude's an assassin, right down to the name.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Minus the little swastika on his forehead, natch.

JOHN KROLIK: Playlist so far: Brittney Spears, John Legend. I'm intrigued for the night.

ROB MAHONEY: I once heard that Roger Mason killed a man.  No - AN ARMY OF MEN.  Ruthless, truly. 

JOHN KROLIK: I'm still steamed my boy OJ didn't take HORSE home. Dude hit some sick shots.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Just to review Rob's skills reforms.: Could they block two shots at the same time? Who could steal it from Chris Paul first? If all players were given a ball and a finite space, who would be the last man standing with an active dribble? Could they block a shot launched out of a machine like a clay pigeon?

ROB MAHONEY: I actually missed HORSE entirely.  I heard it was kinda lame.  Any consensus?

JOHN KROLIK: Could Rudy surprise us in the Dunk Contest tonight?

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Rudy is my bottom-dweller for the sole reason that he played THU nite in Oakland, Last night in the Rook/Soph game....So he's on a back-to-back-to-back [hat tip: Henry]

JOHN KROLIK: HORSE-Nobody was hitting at first, then guys hit some 40-footers, Rick Barry Free Throws, backwards, OJ went from the stands, but then Durant closed it out by just raining threes, which was a bit anti-climactic. Still liked it overall.

JOHN KROLIK: My bottom-dweller is Nate-I just don't think he's got 3 contests worth of dunks in him.

ROB MAHONEY: Rudy will disappoint only because no one expected anything from him, the rumors of awesome soccer-inspired dunks surfaced and got all of our hopes up, and then we'll inevitably be disappointed because well, he's Rudy.

JOHN KROLIK: Harris is going too slow around the guys.

ROB MAHONEY: Devin Harris has to slow down for the cameras to capture him.  It's all part of the plan, John.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: A Sham-mockery

JOHN KROLIK: The difference is effort, Mo.

ROB MAHONEY: The real reason Mo Williams wanted to be in Phoenix for this weekend: SKILLS CHALLENGE, YO.

JOHN KROLIK: BALLBOYGATE! The NBA All-Star conspiracy against Mo Williams continues.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: Vintage Rose.  Perfect, except for a missed J. 

ROB MAHONEY: LeBron will now carry out his vendetta against ball boys everywhere.

ROB MAHONEY: How does Derrick Rose coast through the challenge and still smoke everyone?

JOHN KROLIK: And goodbye, Tony Parker.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: The PHX fans are pleased

ROB MAHONEY: We'll just forget that I picked Tony to win.  Cool?

JOHN KROLIK: My friend put 20 bucks on TP and 10 on Mo. He is displeased right now.

JOHN KROLIK: Not really playoff intensity in the 1st round of the skills challenge.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: The problem with this event is that all the elasticity is in the jump shot...[and, to a lesser extent the passing].  So it's really a foul shot shooting contest.

ROB MAHONEY: When is the Gerald Wallace/Josh Smith/Andrei Kirilenko skills challenge?  I'm ready to have my world turned upside down.

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: 1st Place:  $35,000
2nd Place:        $22,500
3rd Place:          $9,000
4th Place:          $9,000

JOHN KROLIK: You Gotta Get Anthony Randolph and Julian Wright in there too.

ROB MAHONEY: Derrick Rose was HUNGRY for that Skills Challenge title.  Finished it nicely with a sweet dunk -- the best thing I've seen in the last two hours.

(Read full post)

The Shootaround

January, 29, 2009
1/29/09
12:36
PM ET

Is Manu Ginobili past his prime? Is Josh Smith a prime time contributor?  The TrueHoop Network pursues some prime targets: 

Manu Ginobili

Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "All season long Spurs fans have been dealing with the anxiety-inducing idea that Manu Ginobili may no longer be, well, Manu Ginobili. That some nefarious combination of injury and age has left him in a place where we will never see the same intense and productive play night-in-night-out. These concerns have continually floated to the surface in comment threads here at 48 Minutes of Hell but we have yet to directly address the issue.

So first and foremost, has Manu lost a step? Well, yes and no. In some ways he may never be as recklessly physical as he once was. His deceptive explosiveness will never be at 2005 levels. Even last year, his craftiness increasingly supplanted what his underappreciated athleticism had previously provided.

But, I don't believe Manu is yet at 100%. My primary reason for this is the limited minutes he is still seeing, even at this stage in the season. While Duncan, Mason, Bonner, and Parker are consistently seeing 30+ minute nights, Manu remains squarely in the 20-25 minute range (upper 20s when the game is really tight). His being a sixth man has never stopped him from having starter minutes; we all know he isn't just any old bench player. So if someone looks at how Manu has played so far this season and earnestly says "he's lost a step,” in some sense they are wrong. Manu will be playing at a higher level come April and May.

Still, if Manu is truly past his prime, is it time to consider involving him a blockbuster trade (although not an illegitimate question, the mere mention of the idea seems almost heretical)? He is the most moveable member of the big three and could be the key to adding a currently unidentified building block for a new generation of title-contending teams."

Nate RobinsonBret LaGree of Hoopinion: "Josh Smith gave us the full spectrum last night: 12 rebounds (5 offensive), 4 steals, 2 blocks, 26 points, and some terrible decisions. Smith opened the night by making three of five jump shots in the first 6:13. Rather than count his blessings that his poor shot selection didn't hurt the team, Smith took five more jump shots before the game ended, making just one more. In terms of field goal percentage, that's an above average jump shooting night for Josh Smith. That he took ten jump shots on a night when he was primarily guarded by Al Harrington is troubling. That he continued to take and miss jump shots on a night he was also missing 8 of 10 free throw attempts stretches one's credulity. Though not as much as his now-constant whining. One of Nate Robinson's fourth quarter threes came as a direct result of nine out of ten players on the court continuing to play basketball while Josh Smith chose to spend the possession in the backcourt telling an official he thought Al Harrington traveled while corralling a defensive rebound. The Hawks couldn't guard the Knicks in the second half when they were five-on-five. That four-on-five possession transformed the situation from incompetence to negligence."

Jose CalderonArsenalist of Raptors Republic: "Devin Harris' questionable decision to let the clock run down so he could take the final shot of the game worked in our favor. When he broke Joey Graham to create 8 feet of shooting space and rose for that jumper a feeling of nausea came over me. At that moment the only thing to be grateful for was that it wasn't Vince taking the shot because you know he would've drained it. Time expired as Harris missed and the prevalent feeling amongst every Raptor fan wasn't of joy but of relief. The Nets went on a 16-5 run to end the game as the Raptors saw their well-deserved 11 point lead whittled down to one thanks to some very shaky offense late in the fourth. In the end the Raptors' blistering 56% shooting and Jose Calderon's intelligent PG play was too much to overcome for the defensively listless Nets. The Raptors weren't much better, we allowed enough drive 'n kick scores to make your stomach queasy but when you shot that high of a percentage, basketball becomes a forgiving game."

THE FINAL WORD
Valley of the Suns: Bring back Iavaroni.
Hardwood Paroxysm: In Memoriam, John Updike.
Forum Blue & Gold: The Lakers-Bobcats finish, revisited. 

(Photos by Ronald Martinez, David Dow, Jeff Zelevansky/NBAE via Getty Images)

Friday Bullets

January, 2, 2009
1/02/09
5:51
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • Kurt from Forum Blue & Gold will have his eye on Jazz rookie Kosta Koufos during tonight's Lakers-Jazz game.  Kurt cites David Thorpe's description of Koufos' arsenal: "Want to get an idea of how diversified Koufos' offensive game is? Here's how he scored his buckets in the Jazz's big win over Dallas: Offensive-rebound putback, layup off a dive in low-high action, step-through off a loose ball, race to the rim from the left-hand side, left-hand dribble and right-hand layup over Erick Dampier, rim-to-rim sprint and dunk, pick-and-roll left-hand finish, dive-to-the-rim dunk in low-high action, right-hand hook (and 1!) off a pick-and-roll."
  • In response to Bill Simmons' claim that Steve Nash's numbers were inflated under Mike D'Antoni, Michael Schwartz from Valley of the Suns counters: "[W]hy is Nash averaging just 14.8 ppg and 8.3 apg this season after his stellar four-year run under D'Antoni? Simmons makes the point that those numbers are in line with what Nash averaged in his final season in Dallas. And although they're down from what he's done in Phoenix, who can complain about the 34-year-old Nash's numbers being in line with his 29-year-old self? Sure, I'd attribute some of the decrease to Nash getting up there in age and fighting injury issues such as the back spasms that have kept him out of most of the past two games. But also the Suns just don't need him to be the same kind of point guard he was under D'Antoni. Nash used to be the engine that made the system go, a vital cog that would result in the entire system blowing when he's not around. Now he's more of a propeller, as the Suns still need him to run their best, but they have a Diesel to carry the load if need be."
  • Sorting through his mailbag, Dave D'Alessandro defends Nets coach Lawrence Frank against the pitchfork people in New Jersey: "[I]t's pretty clear that this coach has a) devised a pretty potent offense for the talent they've assembled; b) inspired terrific starts from his two best players; c) is right on schedule in developing one of their rookies into a top-10 center; and d) used the role players as well as anyone could (possible exception: Najera), given their glaring limitations. Maybe he's made mistakes, but that's just a second-guess - he had seven new guys he is still learning about. If they get out of this month with anything close to a .500 record, he should be a COY candidate."
  • Aron Phillips at Dime wonders, "Will there ever be another team with so many NBA coaches" produced from its ranks as the 1985-86 Boston Celtics? 
  • The new-look Bobcats are 4-5 since the big trade.  Queen City Hoops says that Boris Diaw deserves some of the credit, but that much of the progress can be chalked up to the upward trajectory of Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace since the deal: "Since Boris' arrival, Gerald has been unreal - 20.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks...With Boris around, Okafor has gone off to the tune of 17.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game."
  • Raja Bell will be out of action again tonight.  Rufus on Fire doesn't like Larry Brown's depth chart behind Bell: "Matt Carroll, inexplicably, gets another start in Raja Bell's absence. Morrison's a wreck right now, Carroll's just as bad, and starting two point guards is a recipe for rejuvenating Michael Redd. How badly does Shannon Brown have to practice before Larry Brown realizes he has a perfectly capable stopgap solution already on the roster?"
  • Micah Hart has some New Years resolutions for the Atlanta Hawks.  Compensating for Mike Bibby's defense at the point is among them: "One of the main reasons New Jersey swept the Hawks back in November was the performance of Nets' PG Devin Harris, who used his quickness to get into the lane as he torched Atlanta for 63 points in two games. Other quick point guards have done very well against the Hawks also, and defending their penetration has really been the biggest achilles heel for the Hawks D. We all know Mike Bibby won't be making any All-Defensive teams anytime soon, but knowing his shortcomings on the defensive end...the Hawks are going to have to figure out other ways of clogging the lane to keep the Harrises and Roses of the world from forming a lay-up line."
  • Kelly Dwyer notes that it's a great night for League Pass subscribers, because every team in the NBA is in action.  Even lonely ol' Channel 764 will have a broadcast.
  • On the docket is a Magic-Heat contest.  Third Quarter Collapse isn't buying that "it's just another game": "Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy has said countless times that playing the Miami Heat is just another game .. but everyone knows, including the Magic players, that he delights in beating his former team. "
  • Peter Robert Casey's examination of the descriptive verbs highlighting each one of NJIT basketball's 40 losses will remind Infinite Jest fans of Jim Troeltsch's hijinks as the in-house sportscaster at Enfield Tennis Academy: " I decided to riffle through the archives see exactly how the SID went about this challenge over the last, say, 40 losses. After being topped, toppled, carried, stopped, propelled, held off, beaten, edged, thwarted, pulled away, upended, defeated, chilled, worn down, lifted, fallen, and lost multiple times, it doesn't surprise me that Casciano had to take a T.O. for health reasons."

It looks worse than it really is.

Some little white dude, Stuart Tanner, in a v-neck sweater managed to get himself on the court against the Nets' point guard, Devin Harris, for a brief game of one-on-one.

The video tells a tough story. Harris got the ball first, out of bounds, and missed a long jumper. Then Tanner nailed a tough fallaway, and then put on a little dribbling show before putting the ball through Harris' legs on his way to a layup and the shutout win.

The word is that the guy in the v-neck is actually a legend of London streetball, to the extent there are such things.

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