TrueHoop: Rob Mahoney

Monday Bullets

December, 27, 2010
By Benjamin Polk
  • Those of you who are sick of reading about how good LeBron James is, should definitely not read this fine Hoopspeak post. Although if it means anything to you, it's also about how Ron Artest didn't play so well on Saturday. I'm kidding, of course. Everybody should read it.
  • Right now, all NBA journalism is threatening to devolve into the "did you see what Blake Griffin did yesterday?" show. On a totally different note, did you see what Blake Griffin did yesterday?
  • John Wall is stunningly quick and he can do a wicked Dougie. But last night Tony Parker, like the good Spur that he is, was the one playing the extraordinarily efficient basketball. I'm sure he's also a great dancer.
  • At the Heat Index, Kevin Arnovitz tells us--exactly and exhaustively--what the Heat's defense did to the Lakers on Saturday. As always, it seems, great defense comes down to trust and a "fundamental, almost religious, devotion by the entire team" to the group concept.
  • I'm not what you might call a visual learner. Before I really understand a map or chart I usually have to go through a few rounds of staring, folding, unfolding, wearing it as pants. Nonetheless, the folks at Hoopism made a visual representation of every player on every team ever that is really pretty cool. As a Wolves' fan its hugely rewarding to see the names "Gundars Vetra," "Lance Blanks" and "Charles Shackleford" all in one place.
  • Whenever the Timberwolves win, we at A Wolf Among Wolves have ourselves a party. That this party includes extreme expressions of exasperation at aimless defense and mind-blowing shot selection just comes with the territory. Do we care that two of the Wolves' seven wins have come against the Cavs? We do, sort of.
  • Missing from my discussion of the new Suns was an assessment of the blockbuster trade that brought Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus into the fold. Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns gives us just that. Here's the short term and the long term.
  • At Basketball Prospectus, Sebastian Pruiti tells us that although Derrick Rose has indeed added the three to his arsenal, his midrange shooting has actually gotten worse. Just another example of the disappointing fact that, although Rose does almost everything beautifully, he doesn't always do it effectively.
  • Aggressively hedging screens is a great way to deter a dynamic ballhandler like Rose. But NBA Playbook tells us that if you do it too early, you could be cooked. Yes, I just made two separate Sebastian Pruiti links. It's because he's awfully smart.
  • Brian Robb of CelticsHub talks to Celtics' radio play-by-play man Sean Grande. It will make you want to listen to Celtics' games on the radio. Most interesting, I thought, was their discussion of the effect of Rajon Rondo's absence on the C's offense.
  • On the New York Times's Off the Dribble blog, Rob Mahoney describes the ebb and flow of the Thunder's fortunes as a "Spursian rhythm," which sounds awesome. He also provides a really nice chart that I had to stare at for a while. Regardless, says Mahoney, you should get ready for OKC to surge. You should also read Rob Mahoney whenever you can.
  • Please watch Kurtis Blow rap about basketball. Hear him say that "basketball is my favorite sport/I like the way they dribble up and down the court." See the strange way he stares at the camera as he lip-syncs. Notice that the players in the video seem to be playing on a six-foot hoop. Then watch Master P's (slightly PG-13) "Make 'em Say Ugh." Notice that there is a gold tank on the floor and a gorilla playing for a team called "The Hustlers." Then wonder about our weird culture.
  • Whenever someone tells me that Pau Gasol is "soft" I disagree, and reply that he's actually just "not strong." But now even Phil Jackson is getting in on it. What does it mean when your coach says that a player is "not shooting the ball with a base, he’s kind of just lollygagging, putting a soft kind of release on his shot."? That sounds like a bad thing.
  • Apparently, LeBron James literally does not know the meaning of the word "contraction." Yet another example of why I'm really glad I'm not a famous person.
  • Bethlehem Shoals gives us the final word on Kobe and LeBron (kidding again): "Not only will we never see the question of 'who's better' satisfactorily resolved," says Shoals, "what keeps it going is that, at bottom, the two represent two very different approaches to the game. It's the impossibility of one ever really surpassing the other that keeps this debate going."
  • A sad looking, 33-year-old Steve Francis has been cut from his Chinese professional team. After four games. Think about that and then think about this (check the 1:50 mark).

The Mavericks recently acquired two players, Shawn Marion and Tim Thomas, that Maverick fans once loathed.

Of course, they will be heartily welcomed by fans in the big D, right? So what was that hatred about? Uniforms? Did the players actually stand for something bad (and if so, has anything changed), or were they just cursed at because of their uniforms?

Rob Mahoney of TheTwoManGame digs in:

I'm always curious -- and this is where you guys come in -- as to when those cheers stop. If not for Thomas, the man who smooched in the face of Maverick pride, then for whom?

Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are two top-level talents that come to mind, but their skills are gaudy enough to turn haters into true believers with a mere change of zip code. The desire to field an incredible basketball team would supercede any hurt feelings MFFLs might still harbor, and Kobe or Wade would be welcomed with open arms. Hugs and kisses, fruit baskets and Jell-O casseroles.

But there is a player out there on the free agent market that would truly test the limits of fan commitment. He's one of the league's universal villains, the fruit of the loins of a conference rival, and a personal thorn in the side of Mavs' fans in particular. In this world, he goes by the name of Bruce Bowen, although many are convinced that his on-court persona is in congress with The Dark Lord himself.

There's no speculation that the Mavs are interested in Bowen, and I'm not even suggesting that they should be. But I am floating out this scenario to muck things up a bit. Which players, despite their contributions either real or theoretical (Bowen, model citizen though he may be, is hardly the defender he once was), are beyond the pale?

Personally, I'm not so sure the pale exists.

Anyone who has read Rob Mahoney's work at Upside & Motor and Hardwood Paroxysm knows Rob as one of the blogosphere's best young basketball writers. He makes the analytical creative, and the abstract accessible. His new Mavs blog, The Two Man Game, is an example of both. Also: Confessions of a 6-4 Geisha.  

What are you doing with a sports blog?
Doing something I love, and sharing it with everyone who will put up with me.  I've loved both basketball and writing since I was a wee lad, and blogging is the most natural amalgamation of the two. 
Beyond that, having your own blog is the best way to fully develop your own perspective.  I'm of the opinion that you don't really know how you feel about something until you're forced to defend it.  Do you really think this trade worked out well for Team X?  Prove it.  Do you really think that this certain aspect of Player Y's game has improved this season?  Convince me.  The blogging game is a series of challenges, whether self-imposed or reader-instigated.  We bloggers are constantly in a world that goes beyond show-and-tell; it's more show-and-prove.  Whether I'm trying to convince the reader or myself is irrelevant, because in the process I'm learning and, hopefully, teaching a thing or two about the Mavs and the league from my side of the world.  I'm not trying to write about the divine truths of the game of basketball in an irrefutable way.  I'm here to present facts, engage in discussion, and cause reflection on my end and yours.  As I mentioned before, it's all about perspective.  If you've read my writing and feel like I still need to explain exactly what that perspective entails, then I'm probably not doing my job right.

Dallas MavericksWhat, to you, is the point of a sports blog?
The beauty and the curse of the medium is that it's open to anything.  Personally, I think that blogging is a prime platform for in-depth analysis.  Beat writers have their place in the sports world, and television/radio analysts have theirs; each provides information and insight in their own way.  But how much analysis can one really cram into a 20-second broadcast blurb or a newspaper sidebar?  In blogging, 99% of the restraints are internal.  There isn't a producer or editor-in-chief telling you to slice your prized feature piece in half or "wrap it up" so they can cut to commercial.  That opens the floodgates for ridiculous amounts of information, and provides a new avenue to take advantage of all kinds of multimedia (video, audio, etc.).  Could any other format fully utilize diagrams, advanced statistics, and video in the same way?  Of course on the flip-side, that question can be rephrased as 'Could any other format fully utilize pictures of scantily clad women, top 10 lists for everything, and video of Michael Phelps and a bong?'  To each their own, I suppose, but I intend to use my powers for good.
The latent effect is open discourse.  Whereas your television analyst of choice may be inaccessible, most bloggers have made themselves available and easily reachable.  Most answer the e-mails and comments of their readers in a way that encourages blogger-reader interaction, and blogs become communities for kindred spirits to swap ideas, bring new perspectives (there's that buzz-word again), and challenge/make fun of each other.

Image courtesy of Rob Mahoney You're a major contributor to Hardwood Paroxysm, had a superb NBA blog called Upside & Motor, then started the Mavs-specific "Two Man Game."  How's the transition going from NBA generalist to team-specific blogger?

Team blogging has an entirely different dynamic than blogging about the league in general.  For generalists, there's just so much information to consume and only so much time to write.  If you get caught up trying to make a story out of every DUI and every losing streak, you're going to drive yourself nuts.  As a result, I think my approach with Upside and Motor as well as with Hardwood Paroxysm emphasizes shorter, reactionary posts to major events and longform pieces addressing league-wide observations and players/teams under the microscope.
With team blogging, the temptation is to focus too intensely on the details.  The natural audience of team blogs is the hardcore fanbase, and so you look long and hard at player tendencies, individual play breakdowns, and patterns in on-court chemistry and production.  Coming from my blogging background, I'm always trying to incorporate elements of both approaches.  It's important to talk shop and really break down the tape, but it's crucial that we as writers (and fans) remember that every play, every game, every hot streak, and even postgame quote is a piece of a larger, comprehensive whole.  It doesn't matter if it's within the framework of previews/recaps or in a flat-out "State of the Team" address, but determining where your team is and where they're going is more important than understanding how your third-string center defends the side screen and roll.

Before the Olympics last year, you compared a few members of the U.S. team to a piece of advanced American weaponry.  Does this mean Dirk Nowitzki is Big Bertha?
Big Bertha falls right in line with Dirk in a lot of ways, but the metaphor isn't perfect.  Dirk's game is much more subtle than bombardment via artillery shells, and Bertha had many more practical applications on defense.  Of course the way to take down either is to crowd them, and to smother them in a way that negates their range.
An equally imperfect comparison might be to blitzkrieg warfare.  Dirk would never be described as lightning, but the meticulously planned, focused, all-out offensive has me seeing images of off-balance jumpers.  To Dirk's credit, the nature of his skills allows him to do more with less.  He overcomes superior defenses and teams filled with quality players through meticulously planned footwork (even on seemingly improvisational possessions) and a designated point of attack.  He doesn't need a huge frame or ungodly athleticism.  As a seven-foot jump shooter, he took the league entirely by surprise, attacking in a unique way that was equal parts visionary and revolutionary.  If one needs proof that tactical points of attack are more important in basketball than overwhelming force, one needs not look farther than Dirk.  Also, he is particularly effective against Frenchmen.

Speaking of metaphors, you wrote in your Upside & Motor New Jersey Nets preview that Devin Harris is the Jackson Pollack of point guards.   Does it still hurt?  
 It's always going to hurt to lose one of the premier abstract expressionists of the generation.
At the time of the trade, I
was curious as to what the Mavs hoped to accomplish.  Turning the iso-heavy Maverick attack into a motion offense seemed like a pipe dream.  In a perfect world, Jason Kidd would get everybody moving, jack up the pace, and be an All-NBA defender.  In reality, the offense itself would shackle Kidd just as it shackled Harris, and Kidd's defensive prowess escapes him against the league's quicker points.  I've come to appreciate what Kidd can do on the floor.  The real problem is that a lot of what the Kidd-led team does well is only a marginal upgrade over the Mavs' previous production, while Kidd also manages to fall short in several respects (scoring and on-ball defense, for example).  Jason Kidd is a leader and a future HOFer, but he can't single-handedly ignite the offense the way that Devin Harris can.  Rick Carlisle is trying his damnedest, but I don't think it's in the cards for this offense.
Every 'and one,' every step-back jumper, and every completely ridiculous half-court buzzer-beater serves as a constant reminder of what could have been.  I would have loved to see Devin play under Carlisle this season.  He's a great coach and I think that Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard's skill sets are more accommodating to Harris' style than they are to Kidd's.  What's done is done, but that doesn't make the HARRIS jersey in the back of my closet any less lonely.

We almost decided to forego this Q & A altogether and just link to this post by 48 Minutes of Hell principal and your Hardwood Paroxysm colleague, Graydon Gordian.  We won't ask you to tell us why you're eating ice cream without a utensil, but kindly explain why you're dressed as a maiko, replete with kimono, fan, and white makeup?
College is all about experimentation.
Plus, Halloween in Austin is nuts.  When my costume plans fell through at the last minute (I don't recommend shopping on the 30th), I decided to get a little creative and hit up the geisha garb.  For the record, I'm not envious of anyone who has to cake on that much makeup.
The costume was a definite hit, though.  There were a lot of delayed reactions, where people would either stare or break out into giggles when they got close enough to see that I'm actually a guy.  I have to admit: with the wig, makeup, and fake eyelashes to boot, it was a pretty solid costume.  It also marked the first time I've been groped, and the first time that a guy has "danced up on me" at a party.  What exactly a 5-5 dude had in mind dancing up on a 6-4 geisha is an interesting question altogether, but we'll save that for next time.