TrueHoop: Keith Smart
- From Pablo S. Torre's ESPN The Magazine feature on Kyrie Irving, what every eager young basketball player should have in the drawers of his nightstand: pork rinds and Sour Patch Kids.
- At BallerBall, an expanded visual of Russell Westbrook's legs at a 105-degree angle as he launched Oklahoma City's final field goal attempt -- the most controversial shot of Christmas.
- Royce Young of Daily Thunder tackles the prickly question of Kendrick Perkins' usefulness and wonders why Kevin Martin and not Thabo Sefolosha was on the floor for a crucial defensive possession in the game's closing seconds that resulted in an easy bucket for Chris Bosh.
- A video roundup of the notable Christmas Day commercial spots featuring big-name NBA players.
- How many minutes should an NBA coach play a raw, young player? That's one of the most contentious debates in the NBA, and it's one that can drive a wedge between a head coach and management, a fan base and its team, young guys and oldsters in a locker room. Andre Drummond has put up solid numbers per minute in Detroit, but he's not seeing all that many minutes.
- Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting implores Raymond Felton, who has only seven functional fingers, to take a night off: "At last, we may have found the injury threshold at which Raymond achieves self awareness. Yes, Ray. Take the night off. Take a couple if you have to. I don't know why having sore, lifeless hands emboldens Felton to attempt MORE feats of dexterity (now attempting 19 shots per game in December after 14.2 per game in November), but it's really not helping matters."
- Andrew Han of ClipperBlog factored the decision-making judgment of Caron Butler: "Midway through the third quarter, on a secondary break, Caron Butler pulled up for a wide-open 3-pointer. Open as far as the eye can see. So open, in fact, that when he elevated, Iguodala (who was 10 feet away) simply turned around to seek out the impending rebound. But Butler didn’t shoot it. He dished it to an equally wide-open Willie Green for a corner-3, who promptly drained it. I mention it because I wondered why Butler passed on his shot; he’s been an effective 3-point shooter this season. And so I checked the stats: Caron Butler: 37.8% 3PT% from above-the-break-3. Willie Green: 48.3% 3PT% from the corner-3. They were similarly wide open, but Butler understood that the corner-3 is a higher percentage shot, and a much higher one for Willie Green. You play the hand you’re dealt. And while, to others, it seems like you’re on a hot streak, it’s all about counting the odds."
- Jamal Crawford with a move Billy Crystal calls "Shabbat Shalom" ... even on a Tuesday night.
- Keith Smart cast his lot with DeMarcus Cousins last season, a gambit that's become a lot more dicey for the Kings' head coach in his second season with the organization.
- Warriors rookie Draymond Green can't shoot, lacks a natural position even by the more fluid definitions of today's NBA and is putting up some ugly numbers. So how come the Warriors are inordinately better when he's on the floor?
- Something to contemplate as the Hornets get ready for the return of Eric Gordon -- he's a sturdy, efficient defender.
- The Washington Wizards don't do much of anything right, but as Jordan Khan of Bullets Forever illustrates, they sort of know how to press.
- Kendall Marshall celebrates the miracle of touchpads.
I don’t know Warriors coach Keith Smart, and I don’t think he’s doing a good job. But it’s painful to watch him slowly lose what I’m guessing is a dream vocation. Every now and again, I show up to Oracle, volley post-game questions from the folded chairs. After losses, Keith appears close to a crying rage. A losing coach bottles torrents. And I’m this bespectacled dork, bleating into his ears, clawing for some damning quote by which to screw him over.
Smart once approached after a presser, wondering why I had “something against Monta.” He towered over as I tried to say what should have been, “It’s hard to convey nuance when asking brief questions.” Whatever I spoke melted into a mumbled shrug as my eyes ran away from his glare.
(I’m just a nerd, obsessed with efficiency. There is no media agenda here, sir.)
As he walked away, I felt ridiculous. Suddenly, it was embarrassing to be a 5-11 twentysomething with bad facial hair, assessing a basketball coach’s performance--between tweets. I used to only watch these games on the TV, a device that never got mad at me. How had my livelihood become about judging his livelihood? It was similar to the shame I felt after Al Thornton tweeted me, in response to snickering digs. Thornton’s handle says “a driven country guy with an old soul.” He was born and raised in Perry, Georgia, where the population hovers near 10,000. At Florida State, Al slowly worked his way off the bench, finally blooming as an upperclassmen. The improbable NBA journey must have been doubted along the way by unathletic haters like myself. What does he think about the avatar in glasses who dares mock his game?
A few times this season, Smart cited “the tape,” as though obscure snippets of Warriors footage contained what I lacked in maturity and common sense.
“See you look at the stats...I watch the tape.”
To a weary coach, mastery of “the stats” could appear a youthful alchemy obsession--a beginner’s chemistry set. “The tape” may well represent all that escapes outsiders. Sure, I can re-watch Warriors games. But I won’t know the exact offensive sets or defensive schemes. I won’t know who’s hurting, who loafed through practice. “The tape,” is his coaching gravitas, the moat between Smart and marauding critics. With every loss, a little bit of that moat evaporates.
Before games, Keith’s gregarious, quick to smile. It’s easy to see how he held a happy locker room through a losing season slog. Reporters grumble about his vague, meandering quotes, but there’s presence behind the vocalized nothing. When basking in a win, Smart can tease writers into laughter. He’s confident and at ease, like so many former pros are.
But no one thinks he’s staying. The new ownership needed Keith to exceed expectations and he underwhelmed. Matt Steinmetz -- the guy who broke the Sprewell choking incident -- went so far as to call Smart’s ouster what should be a “forgone conclusion.”
So the coach is a dead man walking, except we can’t really say it to his face. He’s bound by a certain etiquette as well. In a home loss against the Mavs, Smart benched Stephen Curry for a crucial crunch time stretch. Curry had been playing poorly, the benching did not spring out of the air like some Nellie flight of whimsy. But, Keith refused to flesh out its logic, stating that the choice just wasn’t a “big deal.” The coach won’t trash his young star, even when the situational politics might call for it.
To reference Steinmetz again, the Curry-Smart relationship is chief among the reasons for this expected firing. There’s something strict and paternal in the way Keith handles his best player. A bad mistake often leads to a quick hook, while veteran Monta Ellis is free to frolic. It’s as though Smart’s trying to hone Curry’s mastery of split-second decisions through punishment. The process looks ridiculous to my eyes, like Keith’s foolishly channeling that Bobby Knight schooling, seeing if he can yell life’s rhythms into submission. I wouldn’t be shocked if Smart cites “the tape” as a rebuke to Curry’s frustrations.
If Stephen Curry played five more minutes per game, I’d hazard that his coach would have a chance. I’d also wager that Golden State would have a few more wins. This is why Smart’s Curry-handling might be an instance of misguided integrity. Keith will sacrifice job security in pursuit of his path. Eventually, “the tape” won’t save him. Eventually, his young star will have a new coach.
"Coach Keith Smart taught me to go through a little routine anytime I'm getting ready to take a big shot or coming out of a timeout and it's a last-second shot," said Clippers guard Baron Davis, who famously led the No. 8 Warriors to their first-round upset of the top-seeded Mavericks three years ago. "And so I use it and it works."
Smart, of course, made the 16-foot jumper with five seconds remaining to win the 1986-87 NCAA championship for Bob Knight at Indiana. He would meet Davis as his assistant coach at Golden State, but Davis is too cutthroat to share the wisdom.
"I can't tell you, man," he said. "It just helps me relax. It's just a little mental thing that I do as I'm coming out onto the floor. I do it especially if I know I'm about to get the last shot. It totally relaxes me and puts me in the mode."
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
- The best pure passer in Las Vegas this week? Try Walker Russell, Jr. from the D-League Select team. Russell lives for threading needles, lobbing alley-oops, dishing on the break, and swinging skip passes to the weak side. He couldn't care less about his own shot. There are 150 players here this week with more electric games than Russell, but few of them are more enjoyable to watch, and none of them are having more fun on the floor than Russell.
- Ahmad Nivins looks like a pro player -- long, muscular, athletic, and coordinated. The but that usually follows this profile is ... lacks fundamentals, or doesn't have a post game. With Nivins, though, that doesn't appear to be the case. He displays good footwork, moves around the floor with purpose, and is a beast on the boards. When you ask folks here why he dropped to No. 56 in the draft, you get a lot of shrugs, followed by a soft endorsement of his skills. He's had a nice week thus far -- 14 points and 6 rebounds per game on 51.6 percent shooting from the field. The only apparent drawback is that he looks waaaay too wound up on the court, and that intensity occasionally works against him.
- Funniest moment of the day came before the first ball was tipped. In the opening introductions of the Timberwolves-D-League Select team, Wayne Ellington was introduced as hailing from Duke. As Ellington trotted onto the floor, he did a double-take -- Whaaa?! -- then cracked a big smile as the public address announcer corrected himself, noting that Ellington went to North Carolina. "That was ridiculous!" Ellington said of the PA's snafu. "I had to go over and say something to the guy."
- Kurt Helin watched the Pistons-Warriors matchup. Looks like Stephen Curry is fitting in just fine with Golden State's system: "[Curry] is a gunner to the point of recklessness - but what fan doesn't want to see that. He has not met a shot he didn't like. Making said shots... well, maybe that will come with time. He was 4 of 14 in his first game, 8 of 22 in his second, 7 of 19 in the third. In case you're not up for the math, that is 34.5%. He's better from three - 39 % - and tends to drain those if you leave him open. Not only do the fans not care, neither do the coaches. 'The shots he's missing now he will make soon, he's learning to make decisions,' said Keith Smart, who coaches the Warriors Summer League team. You can see how Curry could fit well as a point guard - a shoot-first point guard, sure, but he has the ball handling skills and made some good decisions trying to set up teammates. In the third game, with some Warrior regulars around him, Curry was clearly trying to set people up. Of course, then he would jack up a 28-footer."
- Blake Griffin was the story of the evening for the Clippers, but DeAndre Jordan continues to flash glimmers of hmmmmm. He went 8-for-9 from the field against the Lakers in 27 minutes. Jordan was on the receiving end of some alley-oops, but he also worked the post for a few of those buckets, something he had trouble doing effectively last season. It wasn't all pretty for Jordan -- four turnovers, and an 0-for-5 night from the line. But when he slows down and works deliberately (but assertively), his athleticism is a tough matchup for 95% of the bigs in the league.
- David Thorpe had an interesting tweet-servation about Griffin that, at first, seems counter-intuitive, but makes a lot of sense when you watch the rookie up close: "Griffin is a special athlete. Not because of his explosiveness. It's the combination of athleticism, power, balance, and coordination."
- Jerryd Bayless has a Summer League scoring title to defend, and he got 22 points in his first game. His seven assists and eight free throw attempts are probably more important to the Blazers' brain trust.
- Dante Cunningham put on a show for the Trail Blazers faithful (who, needless to say, travel well), from Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "While general manager Kevin Pritchard and coach Nate McMillan scrutinized Bayless from the stands, Cunningham stole a lot of their attention. The second-round pick from Villanova started at power forward and showcased a nice midrange jump shot, a nose for the basketball and sturdy defensive prowess. He finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, making 8 of 17 field goals and 5 of 6 free throws. After the game, he was chosen to man an autograph zone in the lobby of the arena, where he scribbled his name on jerseys, shirts and hats and posed for pictures with fans -- many of whom sported Blazers jerseys. 'If he can knock that (midrange shot) down consistently, he's going to be a player,' McMillan said. 'And I think that's going to come. His rotation and everything is good. He just needs to keep shooting when he's open.'"
- I didn't get a chance to see the Kings-Bucks game, but Tyreke Evans put up eye-popping numbers that had the campus abuzz: 33 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists. What's more? 19 free throw attempts, 17 of them successful. Evans is the most physical guard in Las Vegas this week (with Eric Gordon coming in second).
- The Warriors have Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow mic'd up for Summer League games.