TrueHoop: John Wall

Swing 'mate

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
11:42
AM ET
By Conor Dirks
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Trevor ArizaRocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesJohn Wall and Brad Beal bring the star power, but the Wizards don't go up 2-0 without Trevor Ariza.
The big stage has been kind to Bradley Beal. Just 20 years old and in his second professional season, Beal took the reins in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Chicago Bulls, scoring 26 points and pulling down seven rebounds to lift the Washington Wizards to an overtime win and a 2-0 lead.

After an inconsistent and often inefficient season, it wasn't evident that Beal was ready to be a featured playoff scorer. Two magnified games later, it’s clear why the Wizards believe he will be exactly that.

Beal joins first-time All-Star John Wall in a guard duo so potential-laden and presently exciting that the public can no longer dismiss Washington’s backcourt as something merely of the future. Potential’s recognition, though, is as much about observing what a player lacks as it is about hoping he’ll become something greater than his current incarnation. While Wall and Beal grease the cogs of their own development with increasingly zealous performances, it is left to one of Washington’s unsung heroes to ease the inevitable growing pains of rapidly maturing talent.

Enter Trevor Ariza. When D.C.’s guards struggled from the field in the opener against the Bulls, Ariza became the efficient scorer (18 points on just eight shots) the team needed by knocking down uncontested 3-point attempts and scoring at the rim. When Beal picked up the scoring slack in Game 2, Ariza seamlessly transitioned to a facilitative role, tying for the team lead in both rebounds (eight) and assists (seven). Looking closer still, Ariza led the team in "free throw assists" (passes that end in free throw attempts for a teammate) and hockey assists.

When Wall couldn’t stay in front of a frenzied D.J. Augustin (25 points), Ariza asked for the assignment. From the time the 6-foot-8 swingman switched onto Augustin, with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter until the end of overtime, the Bulls point guard missed all of his shots, including an attempt with 15 seconds remaining in regulation that would have put the Bulls up two.

For the Wizards, this is nothing new. While Wall and Beal remain the focal points of the franchise, Ariza, the only player on the Wizards' roster with a championship ring, has quietly become essential. The net value of his presence on the court, measured by on-court/off-court differential, was plus-6.3 points, which ranks behind only Marcin Gortat and Wall in Washington.

Ariza was slotted as the backup to Martell Webster coming into the season, and by many he was seen as eventual trade bait. His contract expires at the end of this season and he was a clear roster redundancy after the Wizards re-signed Webster for four years, $22 million and drafted Otto Porter Jr. third overall.

Now it’s hard to imagine this incarnation of the Wizards without him.

The "glue player" demarcation is overapplied, reached for when other easy definitions fail, and an easy definition would not be fair to the dynamic (contract) season Ariza has had. Or how resourceful he has been; during the regular season, Ariza was the biggest beneficiary of Wall's predilection for producing corner 3-pointers. The combination was so prolific that it made Ariza the league leader (78) in the category. In D.C., the early-season complaint about Ariza starting over Webster emerged from its cocoon at the All-Star break as panicked handwringing about an offseason price tag. With the Wizards, Ariza has found the niche that eluded him as he over-dribbled his way out of less productive stints in Houston and New Orleans.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Ariza
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTrevor Ariza has been the extra edge the Wizards have needed.
Lost in the dusty annals of NBA history, alongside the scroll authored in the pyrite age of Wizards basketball by Ted Leonsis that contemplated Javale McGee’s erudition, is record of Ariza’s first four seasons, in which he took a combined 43 3-pointers. Compare that number to the 442 he attempted this season. Don’t rush to understand, because Ariza surely doesn’t. Asked about going 5-for-5 on 3-pointers against the Orlando Magic in February, Ariza smiled, scratched his head self-effacingly and said, "I guess I'm living right."

In the postgame locker room, Ariza is bright, insightful and hilariously candid about not remembering what has transpired during any given game. Part amnesiac, part basketball intellectual, all California chillwave. From the first to the last game of the season, Ariza disregarded highs and lows alike, never seeming to break an emotional sweat. Which made it all the more surprising, and delightful, when he finally broke character.

With the Wizards down 69-61 to the Bulls in Game 1, Ariza found himself unable to shake off Jimmy Butler. After a momentary handoff to Nene, Ariza tried again, driving around Carlos Boozer and right at Joakim Noah. Noah, the defensive player of the year, shot a hand straight up, but couldn't account for what is so typical of Ariza's layups, a somehow languorous contortion that hooks close around defenders like hookah smoke before finishing awkwardly through the only window available.

It was then, running up the court after a layup, in the third quarter of his team's first playoff game since 2008, that Ariza finally reacted. His fists clenched before his face changed unrecognizably into a scowl as he threw both arms down and belted out an atypically impassioned “LET'S GO!”

And then, as if he was afraid it didn't take, another one. Nene, running beside him, enthusiastically joined the out-of-character rallying cry. In a game where Charles Barkley observed that the Wizards seemed as though they didn't fully realize they were in the playoffs until late, it may have been Ariza who again gave his team what they badly needed. This time it was fire.

Wiz kids' rise up the chain of command

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
10:00
AM ET
By Conor Dirks
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
John WallSam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Wizards met their preseason goal of making their first postseason since 2008. ... Now what?
Before the 2013-14 season began, owner Ted Leonsis made his goal awfully conspicuous: “I think that all of our focus, all of our attention, is to make the playoffs this year.”

Laboring under the weight of this mandate, the Washington Wizards have put together a qualifying season, albeit in an Eastern Conference notorious for its frailty and with Washington clinging distrustfully to the least challenging schedule in the NBA. The playoff-bound Wizards have already achieved everything they set out to do, but the way they reached this unassuming goal has at times been as disappointing as it has been gratifying.

Asked whether the Wizards had met his preseason expectations, stately sophomore shooting guard Bradley Beal offered this specter of insight into the nature of Washington’s modest ambitions: “We knew we could be an above-.500 team, and we knew we could be a playoff team, and we accomplished those two goals. Now it's up to us to just finish out this regular season, keep our sixth seed, and move on into the playoffs.”

Said fourth-year player Kevin Seraphin: “We was just trying to get to the playoffs, whether we was a seven, eight, five. It didn’t matter.”

[+] EnlargeWizards
AP Photo/Alex BrandonThe Wizards are in! But do they have the goods to go any farther? The Chicago Bulls await in Round 1.
Can you blame these Wizards, long below sea level within the league’s topography, for not aiming higher?

The six seasons since their last playoff berth have not always neatly traced Leonsis’ 10-point plan for professional sports teams. Point No. 5, for example, is headlined by Leonsis’ commitment to being patient with young players. In practice, not all young players were found worthy of that patience, and Leonsis’ one-time “New Big Three” concept disappeared rapidly -- along with the amnesty money Leonsis is still wiring to Andray Blatche -- into a void previously inhabited by organizational optimism.

JaVale McGee was traded for Nene, Nick Young was traded for Brian Cook and a second-round draft pick, and Jordan Crawford was traded for a few games of Jason Collins and an injured Leandro Barbosa. Most recently, 23-year-old Jan Vesely -- the sixth overall pick the season after John Wall was drafted first overall -- was traded for 38-year-old Andre Miller. The argument has been made that all of these maneuvers, each in its own pocket-sized vacuum, were necessary. But considered together, each transaction is another verse in a lament for player development that plays on loop for those who follow the team.

On the eve of the playoffs, there is a contingent of Wizards fans, disenchanted with the direction of the rebuild, who would welcome a swift playoff exit were it to serve as the denouement of team president Ernie Grunfeld’s 10-year tenure, and as the last gasp of Randy Wittman’s term as head coach. This internal conflict, far too deeply rooted in D.C. to be excised by the embryonic hope afforded by one playoff appearance, is integral to understanding why The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg felt compelled to host a roundtable discussion asking the question, “Why aren’t people excited about the Wizards?”

It comes down to expectations. People don’t draw joy from basketball, from competition, in the same way an unrepentant completionist takes satisfaction from checking a necessary goal off of a reasonable checklist. Joy, pain and, to a similar extent, interest, are all generated by teams that brazenly disregard goals on their way to the sublime or into the abyss.

While other teams have adjusted and outstripped their initial expectations, the Wizards have done little more than meet them. Gifted every opportunity for success, the team has found unique ways to instead orbit mediocrity.

Tied with Miami and Toronto for the best road record in the Eastern Conference (22-19), Washington ended the season with the worst home record (also 22-19) of any playoff team.

At 9-9 in December, the Wizards briefly held the third seed in the East. Over the course of the season, the team stepped ponderously down the standings with the grim determination of a precompressed helical spring (er, a Slinky), but not because their play deteriorated. On the contrary, it showed gradual, if unexceptional, improvement.

The problem, then, was everyone else. While the Wizards mostly upheld the status quo, the Bulls obscured the loss of Derrick Rose and the trade of Luol Deng by rallying behind a galvanized Joakim Noah, the Nets dug themselves out of an ironclad coffin 60 feet under before kindly resting their aged roster, and the Raptors clawed callously at every well-meaning prognostication on their way to an identity and the third seed.

There are other, more nuanced concerns. Washington’s scoring strategy involves a prodigal amount of 15- to 19-foot shots, one of the least efficient shot types. The Wizards take the second most of these shots, but are the seventh worst at converting them. Without the 3-pointer (the Wizards are the NBA’s fifth best team from deep), Washington’s offense might be fairly abominable.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
AP Photo/Alex BrandonA first-round flop wouldn't be the worst thing if it led to big-time shakeups in the Wizards organization.
And then there’s young Otto Porter, Jr., third overall pick in 2013. The hushed, desperate and not-at-all-ironic chants for Porter have begun to seep over Wittman’s shoulder at Verizon Center in the waning moments of games no longer in question. As William Carlos Williams wrote in "The Descent," Otto’s “descent made up of despairs and without accomplishment realizes a new awakening: which is a reversal of despair.” At least, that’s the hope for an unready rookie who was touted as one of the more NBA-ready prospects in his draft class.

This is just to say that success, in this case, isn’t completely unburdened by disappointment. Losses to Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston, and various other non-playoff teams at home; eight overtime losses (the most of any team); and the inability to fully capitalize on the easiest schedule in the league are all bound up in an essential truth: These Wizards could have accomplished more.

They still might. The playoffs start now, and with nothing better to do, the Wizards will attempt to win as many games as they can. When “Uncle” Al Harrington was asked whether his younger counterparts were mentally prepared for what was to come, he simply replied: “We better be.”

Now the Wizards will check the postseason off their conservative list and cut their teeth on the playoff pavement. For Washington’s brilliant but unpracticed young backcourt of Wall and Beal, it could prove to be a necessary step. But while the team’s veterans hold the window open for the uninitiated to take in the playoff view, one has to figure that next season, the bar will be adjustable.

It's all on Wall to bring Wizards into new era

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
11:58
AM ET
By Kevin Draper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
John WallGeoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsDid the Wizards rush their rebuild? It won't matter if John Wall continues his rise in Washington.
The nadir of the modern Washington Wizards lasted for two brutal months across the winter of 2009–10, but it was a long time coming. The once-entertaining core of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison aged into an injured and overpaid mess, and instead of injecting the team with youth, management traded away a top-five draft pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. A month into the season, beloved owner Abe Pollin died, and on Christmas Eve, Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton pulled guns on each other in the locker room. The fallout led to Arenas pleading guilty to a felony, but not before staging a horrifically ill-conceived pregame huddle.

There is no playbook for dealing with that kind of turmoil, but the Wizards eventually followed the game plan of the early-aughts Portland “Jail Blazers” and "Malice at the Palace" Indiana Pacers: clean house. The locker room full of players whose character was described as “questionable” -- Arenas, Crittenton, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Nick Young -- has been disbanded, Blatche the last to go when he was amnestied in the summer of 2012. Less than four years after that fateful Christmas Eve, John Wall and Bradley Beal are firmly situated in the backcourt as new franchise cornerstones. As their rate of maturation accelerates, the playoffs are not a mere hope but an expectation.

[+] EnlargeGilbert Arenas
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty ImagesGilbert Arenas' 50-game suspension in 2009-10 led to a whole new era for the Wizards franchise.
Given this lofty promise, the start of the season hasn’t been very encouraging for the 5-8 Wizards. They have already conducted the dreaded "players-only" meeting, and veteran Nene publicly called out the team’s young players. While locker room misbehavior has generally given way to veteran accountability -- the team is 3-1 since the players talked things out -- this isn't exactly what the Wizards had in mind for their new era. And things will only get more thorny in the immediate future with Beal set to miss at least two weeks with a stress injury in his right leg.

The team does seem to be improving, though, and the catalyst for that turnaround is the scintillating play of Wall. In the Wizards' 98-89 win over the New York Knicks on Saturday night, there were two max players on the court, and one of them was decisively better. It wasn’t Carmelo Anthony.

When Wall has his midrange game working, he is nearly impossible to guard. Crouching in the triple-threat position, there’s nary a defender in the league quick enough to stick with him on his drives, let alone contest jumpers. It now seems likely Wall, who is averaging 18.6 points and 8.9 assists per game with a 19.96 PER, will justify the maximum extension he signed during the offseason.

Wall may be making a lot of noise on his rise to the league's upper echelon, but it doesn't sound like the fan base is listening, at least not yet. Washington is a basketball city, home to more than 10 current NBA players and the celebrated Goodman League. Two major college basketball programs, the Maryland Terrapins and Georgetown Hoyas, are also local. But in the ranks of the city's professional teams, the Wizards are a distant third -- fourth on days when Stephen Strasburg is pitching.

Saturday night’s game against a high-profile and hated opponent drew 18,089 fans, the best total of the young season but still 2,000 short of the Verizon Center’s capacity. Worse yet, it seemed like half of them were Knicks fans.

In Wall (23 years old) and Beal (20) the Wizards seem to have the type of young, dynamic talents needed to keep the team competitive well into the future and, ultimately, make the city care. But Washington hasn't had much had much luck with first-rounders otherwise -- Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker have been busts. Sensing a need to surround Wall with the talent they couldn't find in the draft, Wizards management has made a series of short-term moves, taking on long-term money and giving away draft picks in order to build a roster that will probably top out with a first-round playoff loss this season.

Ultimately, the bifurcated and sloppy development model the Wizards have pursued over the past four years may not matter. The old adage is that the NBA is a stars league, and Wall is brightening into a shiny one. The Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat models are rendered irrelevant if Kevin Durant doesn’t develop or LeBron James suffers a devastating injury. The important moves aren’t the shuffling of players on the periphery but acquiring and developing top-10 players.

The cherry on top of Wall’s 31-point and seven-assist decimation of the Knicks came with 30 seconds left, as Iman Shumpert drove for a consolation bucket. Wall soared in from the weak side, and making full use of his 6-foot-4 frame he audibly spiked the ball into the stands. Postgame he was asked if it was a statement block. "Nah," he said, "we’ve seen the team score the ball at the end of the game on us before, and we didn't like it, we didn't want to give nobody an easy basket to end the game."

It was the safe answer -- the point guard’s locker room persona is as quietly confident as his play on the court is in your face -- but if the Wizards are to overcome a bumpy rebuild, Wall will have to submit statement plays every night.

What is Las Vegas Summer League?

July, 11, 2013
7/11/13
10:43
PM ET
By Daniel Nowell
ESPN.com
Archive

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesLas Vegas Summer League: The world's first glimpse at future stars in their NBA uniforms.
It seems impossible that we need more basketball.

The NBA Finals ended less than a month ago, and for the past several years it has become common among smart observers to debate whether the NBA is already playing too long a season. For players, coaches and executives -- and for many fans -- 82 games followed by a two-month postseason is already a grind. And yet, just three weeks after the lights go down each season, the basketball world congregates in Las Vegas to endure 120-degree heat and nine-hour days of games between young and little-known players who have no demonstrable bearing on the NBA power structure.

This is the Las Vegas Summer League, and it has somehow become one of the most important weeks on the basketball calendar.

Often, even the most die-hard fans have only a perfunctory awareness of what goes on in Vegas. Lottery picks' point totals are bandied about among the faithful as reasons for concern or celebration. Occasionally, a previously unheralded player grabs headlines with an explosive performance.

But the true function of the Summer League goes much deeper than the highlights. In a way that no other event can match, Las Vegas Summer League is a conclave for the luminaries of the NBA world; scouts, executives, players and power brokers all find their way to the desert in July. Why this is so, and how it came to be, is something of an untold story.

Albert Hall, officially, is the vice president of business operations at VSL Properties, the venture that started and owns the Las Vegas Summer League. Along with NBA agent Warren LeGarie, Hall is one of a handful of people who might be referred to as The Man at summer league. Las Vegas Summer League was hatched in 2004; today, if something needs doing in Vegas, Hall is likely to be doing it.

Before Vegas, summer league had existed in several forms. There were leagues at Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount, two colleges in Los Angeles. But attendance was always shifting, and the leagues hadn't managed to evolve into the fixture Vegas has become. LeGarie and Hall saw an opportunity: the allure of Las Vegas, a stable opportunity for teams to scout and develop players, and a summer event to help the NBA rival what Hall refers to as the NFL's "365 media presence." And so, in 2004, LeGarie and Hall launched Las Vegas Summer League. It was an instant success.

"After the first game, we probably had 98 emails," Hall said. Fans were complaining they weren't keeping box scores. League officials took notice. Six teams participated in the 2004 league. Fifteen came in 2005. And by 2008, LVSL had a solid NBA majority with 22 teams.

The built-in advantages of Las Vegas didn't hurt, Hall said. But Vegas became the summer destination of choice for the league with a little luck. He cites a few instances in which the branding power of LVSL was put on full display, chief among them the Portland Trail Blazers' 2006 team. Having drafted Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland was showing off a roster that would help them turn the corner from the "Jail Blazers" era.

"That was a turning point," Hall said. "It became a way for teams to reinvent themselves a little bit."

The potent draw of Vegas was now interwoven with a built-in offseason branding opportunity for teams, and that combination turned summer league into a nexus of league business.

Vegas became the basketball analog to baseball's hot stove league, the offseason crucible of deal-making that shapes the coming season. In fact, Hall courted the comparison as NBA execs as high up as David Stern came to use the analogy.

"We love that," Hall said. "It's where deals are done."

In LVSL's early days, Hall said, free agents could be seen talking to GMs right in the stands. But in a very real sense, Vegas has something that baseball's offseason can't match: the players driving the interest are on the court in front of scouts and executives every day. There's no winter baseball, but summer basketball turns a hot stove into a feeding frenzy for scouts, coaches and peripheral NBA talent. It's this unique mixture that has led ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz to refer to Vegas as the "Sundance Film Festival of the NBA." Hall prefers to call it the league's "American Idol," and said his partner LeGarie embraces the benign anarchy to call Vegas the NBA's Burning Man.

In that frenzy, most agree, are a few tiers of players: There are recently drafted picks -- newly minted first and second-rounders -- who are guaranteed a long leash and a green light for the league. There are young veterans who have carved out an NBA niche but may not have one for very long. And at the fringes, there are unsigned, unheralded players who are, as Hall terms it, "playing for food" when they take the court. This is the class of players looking to snare a contract playing in Europe, the D-League or wherever else might bring a steady check.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Randolph
Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesAnthony Randolph is a Vegas Summer League legend.
In some sense, the disparate talent levels and differing objectives among the players on the court serve to foster a chaotic environment. Athletes are a touch less explosive than in the NBA, and defenders accustomed to college zone defenses are often a step slower. Thus Vegas action is ripe for the occasional Anthony Randolph explosion -- instances when players who may not be real NBA starters seem to overwhelm their surroundings with their talent. For this reason, it has become common for some NBA wonks to dismiss summer league as somewhat worthless, more a self-contained oddity than a genuinely useful organizational tool.

ESPN's David Thorpe vehemently disagrees with that idea: "When you say, 'I dismiss the whole brand of summer league,' you're saying 'I don't understand NBA basketball.'" For Thorpe, the summer league offers developmental opportunities that neither smart players nor smart teams can afford to turn down.

For players, summer league represents the perfect compromise between their competitive instincts and lowered stakes that allow them to experiment. The games are games, after all, but their improvisational nature allows players to develop weaknesses and play in ways they might not during the season. A common example is LeBron James playing point guard for most of his first two summer leagues.

Players in Vegas have an opportunity to assess their shortcomings outside the pressure cooker of the regular season. Wing players who can't shoot have the opportunity to hoist with their revamped motion. Post players known for clumsy feet may get to unveil a newly crafted up-and-under move.

What's more, said Thorpe, "The games can be a big reference point for what a player needs to work on the rest of the summer." Rookies, unsigned free agents and other young players who've had to carve out a spot on an NBA bench rarely get full-speed repetitions to gauge the state of their games. What the summer league provides is an opportunity to expand their horizons and see what areas they need to shore up. For Thorpe, "knowledge gained from the failure" of summer league experimentation is of immeasurable value for players who aren't guaranteed starring roles.

On the team side of things, Vegas represents an opportunity to bring players into an organizational culture, to reduce what Thorpe calls their "idle time." Players new to the league or floating between contracts benefit enormously from time spent playing within a team's system, interacting with coaches and scouts and simply staying in mental basketball shape. So valuable is this time to teams and so beneficial for the developmental feedback players receive, Thorpe said, that "the only thing that really doesn't matter about summer league is the score."

At the end of the day, what is perhaps most beguiling for fans is summer league's capacity for happy chaos. With so many unformed and unknown talents, summer league is the perfect petri dish for rare strains of basketball beauty. Summer league performance can be a footnote on an otherwise pedestrian career -- see Jerryd Bayless capturing the 2008 Vegas MVP -- or it can build a career. In Hall's mind, the legend of Jeremy Lin actually began at summer league, when Lin keyed in for a matchup with John Wall and "fed him his lunch." "It was like, 'Wow -- this guy can play.'"

Lin's parable isn't the only one that validates Vegas as a proving ground for talent. Players such as Gary Neal, Brian Roberts, Danny Green, Shannon Brown and J.J. Barea all gained some legitimacy as NBA prospects at summer league. Thorpe agrees with Hall that summer league performances, no matter how unrepresentative or forgettable fans may see them as, can often keep players employed even when their chips are down. Those Vegas successes, he said, linger in the minds of front office execs years later. The assistant GMs and assistant coaches in Vegas become full-fledged GMs and coaches, and may return to the players who made the most of their time. "You're always auditioning for 30 teams," Thorpe said.

Summer league, then, is an utter rarity in the basketball world: An environment in which stakes are modest enough that players can stretch their games, but high enough to inspire players seeking a basketball livelihood to play their hardest. It is a time when league executives and power brokers, unencumbered by scheduling quirks or the demands of the season, can gather to fill a few rooms with insider smoke. A festival, a feeding frenzy, whatever. As Hall puts it: "If you're in the basketball business, you need to be at the summer league."

Who is the fastest player with the ball?

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
3:19
PM ET
By Mark Haubner
ESPN.com
Archive

Getty ImagesSkills, scmills. Who's the fastest guy with the ball?
Mark Haubner is the founder of The Painted Area TrueHoop Network Blog. Here's his HoopIdea to make All-Star weekend more exciting.

Are you excited for the NBA Skills Challenge coming up on Saturday night?

Of course you’re not.

Watching point guards dribble around an obstacle course at half-speed, occasionally stopping to pinpoint a rudimentary chest or bounce pass, is a pointless exercise worthy of fast-forward treatment on your DVR.

Ten editions of the Skills Challenge have proved that the event not only provides minimal entertainment value but also is irrelevant to the conversation of sports fans. Though intended to showcase the fruits of passionate, dedicated training, if anything the Skills Challenge conveys a sense of apathy, with players going through the motions in an event in which they are required to participate.

It’s time for a change.

It’s time for the Fastest Man With The Ball competition to replace the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday.

(Note: the idea was first floated in this corner of the internet by John Krolik of Cavs: The Blog as part of a 2009 TrueHoop Network roundtable on improving All-Star Weekend, and deserves a re-airing in the HoopIdea era.)

“Who is the fastest man with the ball?” is a question that you’ll periodically hear on NBA broadcasts. It’s a topic that’s fun for fans to debate, and it’s a crown that players might actually aspire to compete for and hold.

The specifics of the rules can be up for debate. Let’s say players start on the baseline and go down and back the full court, needing to make a layup each time, before finishing with a sprint back to half court, for a total of about 70 meters with the ball. Perhaps two baskets could be set up at each end of the court for some head-to-head competition. There might need to be something like a minimum number of dribbles to prevent players from simply throwing the ball ahead and sprinting after it.

Feel free to tweak away at these ideas all you like. I’m sure we can come up with something reasonable. The key is agreeing on the premise of finding a way to measure top speed with the ball, something that would resonate with fans from casual to hard-core much more than navigating the Skills Challenge labyrinth.

Who would win the 2013 Fastest Man With The Ball competition? My guess is that the odds-on favorites would be John Wall and Ty Lawson.

Who else would be in my ideal eight-man field? Well, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo would be no-brainers if they weren’t injured. Without them, I’ll put Tony Parker, Monta Ellis, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison on my list as definites, and I have Eric Bledsoe just edging out Nate Robinson in the freak-of-nature category.

And yeah, I’m saving one last spot for LeBron James, just because I’d love to see what would happen.

Here's the best part: While the Skills Challenge doesn't really tell us who the most skilled player in the NBA is, the Fastest Man With The Ball would result in a meaningful title that could be debated and discussed all season.

I know I’d be eager to watch and see the results, and that’s a lot more than I can say about the Skills Challenge. It’s time to try something different.

Wizards 'breaking' through with Wall

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
9:19
AM ET
By Rachel Stern
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive

Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThe return of John Wall has the Wizards playing more efficiently on both ends of the floor.
After missing the first 33 games with a knee injury, John Wall made his season debut Jan. 12 -- and since then things have been much different for the Washington Wizards. They are 8-7 since Wall’s return – three more wins than they had without him (5-28) – including wins against the Hawks, Nuggets, Bulls, Clippers and most recently, the Knicks.

So how has the former No. 1 draft pick helped change the Wizards? They’re shooting better from the floor, scoring more, allowing fewer points and sharing the ball more with Wall on the court.

The Wizards’ offensive efficiency, or points per 100 possessions, is 99.8 in the 15 games with Wall, compared to 93.1 in the 33 games without him. Their defensive efficiency, or points allowed per 100 possessions, is also down considerably since Wall’s return (see chart).

In the 33 games without Wall, the Wizards spent 12.5 percent of their plays in transition and averaged 15.6 transition points per game. Since Wall’s return, the team is in transition on 16.6 percent of their plays, averaging 18.6 points per game.

Though Wall is averaging about two fewer points this season than in his first two seasons in the league, he is sharing the ball more. Wall has assisted on 42.4 percent of his teammates’ field goals when he is on the court. That assist percentage is the highest of his career, and is the fifth highest percentage this season among players who have logged at least 250 minutes.

Can we expect more of the same on Friday? The numbers say yes. Wall has scored in double figures in four of five career meetings against the Nets and Brooklyn ranks in the bottom half of the league in both opponent field goal percentage (56.7) and points per game allowed (15.8) in transition this season.

--Statistical support for this story from NBA.com--

The cult of Eric Bledsoe

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
9:45
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Eric Bledsoe: Out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

Watching Eric Bledsoe warm up on the Staples Center floor an hour before tipoff is an underwhelming experience. Bledsoe isn’t phoning it in or disengaged as he’s fed pass after pass to launch shot after shot from midrange. It’s just that the exercise is so repetitive and orderly, he might as well be icing a hundred cupcakes.

The full effect of Bledsoe can be experienced only when the clock’s running, because Bledsoe is fueled by live basketball -- the super-animated stuff we see in the NBA. Most players expend energy when they’re asked to chase people around and sprint the floor and collide with enormous bodies and leap every five seconds for one reason or another and occasionally land awkwardly on thick wood or men holding large cameras, but not Bledsoe. He actually gets stronger, faster and more lethal as he chews up the court at warp speed.

As a result of this peculiar immunity, Bledsoe has become the NBA’s newest cult hero, the kind of player who causes viewers to talk at their LCDs and to insist that non-fans in the house come into the room to witness this pure testimony to basketball.

Bledsoe didn’t come into the league with much fanfare. He was the other guard on Kentucky’s young, talented 2009-10 squad led by John Wall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, and faced a familiar rap -- not pointy enough to succeed at the 1, but without the shot or size to play the 2. Off the floor, Bledsoe had little of Wall’s charisma and what’s called “makeup” in draftspeak.

On draft night, Bledsoe was plucked at No. 18, just behind Luke Babbitt and Kevin Seraphin. Clippers management, preparing for life after Baron Davis, ranked Bledsoe in their top 10, and dealt a protected future first-round pick to Oklahoma City for Bledsoe’s rights. That pick was conveyed to Boston last June and became Fab Melo at No. 22.

Bledsoe was raw during his first season, and injured for a good portion of his second. When he saw floor time, Bledsoe was a frenetic blur and his ball hawking showed up in the Clippers’ numbers, where a below-average defensive team was 8.5 points stingier per 100 possessions with Bledsoe on the court.

For many, the introduction to Bledsoe came during the Clippers’ first-round playoff series with Memphis last spring. Stuff like this is routine for Bledsoe now, but the Memphis series was the first time most NBA fans saw a 6-foot-1 guard block a 6-foot-10 big man at the rim. Bledsoe also tortured Mike Conley, who posted a plus-48 with Bledsoe on the bench, but a minus-34 when Bledsoe was on the court over the seven games.

There are few better ways to obtain cult status than to be denied rightful playing time. The #Free hashtag begins to surface before a player’s name, as it did in that series for Bledsoe, who played seven and six minutes respectively in the Clippers’ Game 2 and Game 5 losses. With Randy Foye struggling on both ends and Bledsoe’s influence obvious, what started out as a clarion call became a full-fledged campaign for Bledsoe among fans as well as management, which fed the coaching staff the numbers.

Seven months later, Bledsoe has a devoted, even fanatical following. He’s the rare NBA player who is a darling to both statheads who value data and basketball mystics who live for the improbable. The overlap between “daredevilish” and “efficient” in the NBA Venn Diagram is a small space, but Bledsoe resides there -- and his niche appeal is becoming something much larger.

Teammates nicknamed Bledsoe "Mini LeBron" and Chris Paul’s father calls him "Little Hercules," though the best prototype for Bledsoe might be Dwyane Wade, a relentless, slashing attacker who leverages his strength to exploit his quickness, and vice versa.

Like Wade, Bledsoe takes a ton of chances on both ends of the floor, but has both the instincts and athleticism to offset that risk. Gamble in the passing lane, but come up empty? No worries, because Bledsoe can recover, even if it means absorbing a bump or three in traffic as he races to catch up with his man at the rack. If Bledsoe’s bet is successful -- and nobody in the NBA has had more success this season -- then it pays out.

Fans love risk-takers because risk produces uncertainty, and uncertainty produces suspense and suspense is why we tune in to games, follow a good drama series and tolerate electoral politics.

But NBA coaches aren’t fans. They’re men who want to know what they’re going to get from a ballplayer, and they’re slow to trust someone whose game precipitates unpredictability. If a coach has conventional sensibilities about the NBA game, then he probably wants his perimeter players to be able to stretch the floor with the threat of a long-range shot.

Bledsoe offers Vinny Del Negro -- or any coach he plays for -- none of that comfort. As part of a backcourt already populated by Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Chauncey Billups (when healthy) and Willie Green (when Billups isn’t), Bledsoe is averaging only 18.6 minutes per game, despite excelling in whatever metric you want to look at -- basic per minutes stats, Player Efficiency Rating (PER), plus-minus, offensive and defensive rating per 100 possessions, win shares per 48 minutes, etc.

Del Negro has a lot of mouths to feed on the league’s deepest roster, and it’s not as if the current rotation isn’t working. The Clippers enter Tuesday night’s game at Chicago at 14-6, and rarely field a lineup that's given up more points than it has allowed this season. Increasingly over the past week, the starters have played as an intact unit, as have the reserves, including Bledsoe. There’s a certain symmetry to the substitution patterns, which is probably helpful in a locker room where individual expectations with regard to minutes have to be tempered.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and a .700 winning percentage tends to solidify patterns, not upend them. The Clippers are going to win a lot of games this season whether Bledsoe plays 14, 18, 24 or 30 minutes. Del Negro isn’t looking for excuses to take minutes away from a veteran and hand them to Bledsoe. But if Del Negro wants a reason, sliding some of Green’s minutes to Bledsoe would undoubtedly improve the Clippers’ woeful rebounding numbers. Bledsoe ranks second to only Kyle Lowry in rebounding rate among point guards (and would actually place in the top 5 among regulars at the shooting guard position, where you can find Green in the bottom quarter).

Maybe one day, an uncertain situation will call for an unknown quantity. In the meantime, Bledsoe presides as the NBA’s most exciting novelty act. The scarcity of his court time lends even more appeal to his pursuit of thievery, mid-air suspension, driving jams and the chaos that invariably triggers those outbursts of spontaneity -- moments more conducive to risk than control.

Friday Bullets

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
4:15
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Love, Nowitzki, Rose will be missed

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
6:09
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman & Justin Page, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Several star players could miss the start of the season with injuries. Let's take a look at why each player's team will miss them and why they won't miss them.

KOBE BRYANT

Why they will: The Lakers played 981 minutes without Kobe on the floor last season and saw a five-point swing in the wrong direction per 48 minutes while he was on the bench.

Why they won’t: Bryant has missed 103 regular-season games in his career. The Lakers have a .621 win percentage in those games, including 5-3 last season.

DERRICK ROSE

Why they will: Last season, with Rose in the lineup, the Bulls went 32-7. They scored 100.4 points per 48 minutes with Rose on the court compared to just 92.2 with him off the floor.

Why they won’t: Chicago went 18-9 (.667 win pct) in games Rose missed during the 2011-12 regular season. Excluding the Bulls, the Heat were the only team in the Eastern Conference that had a better win percentage than .667 last season.

KEVIN LOVE

Why they will: The Timberwolves are 5-38 without Love since he entered the league, including 2-18 in the last two seasons.

Why they won’t: They will. Last season per 48 minutes, the Timberwolves scored more points, shot better, had a better assist-to-turnover ratio, and had a +9.0 swing in rebound margin with Love on the court than they did with him off the court.

DIRK NOWITZKI

Why they will: Last season, the Mavs outscored opponents by 6.0 points per 48 minutes with Dirk on the court but were outscored by 8.4 points per 48 minutes with him off the court.

Why they won’t: The two key returning Mavs players, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, both averaged more points per game in the four games Nowitzki missed last season than they did in the games he played.

AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE

Why they will: In 2010-11, Stoudemire averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and two assists per game with a 50 field-goal percentage, something that has been done 68 times in history. Assuming Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal will be Hall of Famers, 66 of the other 67 seasons were by Hall of Famers.

Why they won’t: The Knicks were 14-5 in games without Stoudemire last season but just 22-25 with him. They scored more points and allowed fewer points per game without Stoudemire.

ANDREW BYNUM

Why they will: Andrew Bynum averaged more than 18 points and 11 rebounds per game last season. The 76ers haven't had a player with those averages in a season since Charles Barkley more than 20 years ago.

Why they won’t: Each of the 76ers' first 12 games are against teams that won fewer than 40 games last season. Seven of those games are against teams that finished below .500 last season.

RICKY RUBIO

Why they will: When Ricky Rubio tore his ACL on March 9, the Timberwolves were the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with a 21-20 record. But after he went down, the Timberwolves lost 20 of their final 25 games and finished 12th in the West.

Why they won’t: Rubio was very inefficient creating his own offense last season. He averaged just 0.74 points per play, the fewest among the 176 players with at least 500 plays.

JOHN WALL

Why they will: John Wall is one of three players in history to average at least 16 points, eight assists and four rebounds per game in each of his first two seasons. The others? Oscar Robertson and Damon Stoudamire.

Why they won’t: Wall was not efficient as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season. Among the 41 players to run at least 200 pick-and-roll plays, Wall averaged the fewest points per play (0.69).

MANU GINOBILI

Why they will: The Spurs went 28-6 (.824 win pct) and averaged 108.3 points per game with Ginobili in the lineup last season. Without him, their win percentage dropped to .688 and they averaged nearly 10 fewer points per game.

Why they won’t: The Spurs outscored opponents by 9.7 points per 48 minutes last postseason with Ginobili on the bench. With him on the court, that margin shrunk to +3.2.


Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Bobcats are not at odds with NBA lottery

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
5:54
PM ET
By Alok Pattani, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
With the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery on Wednesday (8 ET on ESPN), each non-playoff team’s fans are hoping that the ping-pong balls come out in their favor, giving them the No. 1 overall pick and a chance to select likely top choice, Anthony Davis.

Given each team's probability of winning the top pick in the lottery, here is a similar event related to that team that has approximately the same frequency.

Charlotte Bobcats (25.0 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Bobcats losing a game last season by at least 25 points. In 2011-12, the Bobcats lost 16 of 66 games (24.2 percent) of their games by at least 25 points.

Washington Wizards (19.9 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: John Wall scoring at least 24 points in a game last season.

New Orleans Hornets (14.8 percent, includes their own pick and the Timberwolves' pick)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Hornets winning a game by at least eight points last season.

Cleveland Cavaliers (13.8 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Kyrie Irving scoring more than 10 points in the fourth quarter of a game.

Sacramento Kings (7.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins combining for 50 points in a game last season.

Brooklyn Nets (7.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Deron Williams scoring at least 25 points and also having 10 assists in a game last season.

Golden State Warriors (3.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Stephen Curry scoring at least 25 points and also having 10 assists in a game last season.

Toronto Raptors (3.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Andrea Bargnani scoring at least 35 points in a game in 2011-12.

Detroit Pistons (1.7 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Greg Monroe having a 30-point, 15-rebound game last season.

Portland Trail Blazers (0.8 pecent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a half last season.

Milwaukee Bucks (0.7 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Brandon Jennings making five 3-point field goals in a half in 2011-12.

Phoenix Suns (0.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Steve Nash making 50 straight free throws during his career.

Houston Rockets (0.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: NBA team finishing two to four games above .500 and missing playoffs in three straight seasons (which the Rockets have, in fact, done the last three seasons).

Kobe and Rondo shine on Sunday

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
11:47
PM ET
By Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Kobe Bryant
Bryant
Sunday was a day in which Kobe Bryant made like Magic Johnson and Rajon Rondo made like both Johnson and Larry Bird.

In the afternoon’s first game, Bryant hit the game-winning shot with 4.2 seconds remaining to give the Los Angeles Lakers a 94-92 win over the Toronto Raptors.

It was the 16th time that Bryant hit a game-winning shot in the final five seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime, since his career began in 1996-1997. That’s the most in the NBA in that span- two more than Carmelo Antony.

Rondo raised his game a level in a 95-91 win over the Chicago Bulls, with 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. A check of Basketball-Reference.com shows that he’s the fifth player with a 30-15-10 game since 1990, the other four being Johnson, Jason Kidd, Baron Davis, and LeBron James.

The last Celtic with a 30-15-10 game was Bird against the then-Washington Bullets in April, 1987.

The Boston Celtics have now allowed fewer than 100 points in 25 straight games. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that’s the longest single-season streak by any team since the 2004-05 Bulls (26 straight) and the seventh-longest streak in the shot-clock era, which dates to the 1954-55 season.

The NBA record is 36 straight games, set by the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons.

Elsewhere around the league the Miami Heat blew out the Atlanta Hawks, marking the sixth time this season, the Heat won by at least 20 points. Only the Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers have more blowout wins than Miami. However, the Sixers have been the on the receiving end of two of the Heat's routs.

LeBron James finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds and six assists for his 106th career-game with 20-10-5. Since 2003, his rookie season, James has the second-most such games behind Kevin Garnett.

Plus-Minus Note of the Night
Washington Wizards guard John Wall finished a +28 in a 98-77 win over the Detroit Pistons. It was the best plus-minus for Wall in his 97-game NBA career.
On Monday, Ricky Rubio had eight assists in a win over the Sacramento Kings. Rubio now has 108 assists in 13 games, tied for the sixth-most assists all-time in the first 13 games of a player's career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Rubio doesn't always start, but he certainly does finish. He came off the bench the first 10 games but has started the last three games. Rubio is at his best down the stretch. Not only does he lead the NBA in 4th-quarter minutes but Rubio also leads the NBA in fourth-quarter assists this season (30).

John Wall had 38 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals for the Washington Wizards in a loss to the New York Knicks on Monday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wall is only the second Wizards/Bullets player ever to put up those numbers in a game. The only other player with at least 38 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals in a game in the team's franchise history was Gilbert Arenas, who had 38 points, eight assists, eight rebounds and four steals in a win over the Boston Celtics in April 2006.

Ryan Anderson had a career-high 30 points, including seven 3-pointers, and seven rebounds on Monday in a win over the Knicks. Anderson is the first Orlando Magic player since Tracy McGrady in March 2003 with at least 30 points, seven 3-pointers and seven rebounds in a game. McGrady had 37 points, including seven 3-pointers, and seven rebounds in a win over the Heat.

Anderson is one of the main reasons the Magic are 9-3 this season. Anderson, who averaged 10.6 points per game this season, is scoring 18.3 points per game this season. The Magic are 7-1 this season when Anderson scores at least 15 points, 5-1 when he shoots at least 50 percent from the field, 9-1 when he makes at least two 3-pointers, and 6-0 when he shoots better than 50 percent from 3-point range.

The Philadelphia 76ers are off to a remarkable 10-3 start this season and have a four-game lead in the Atlantic Division. Their average margin of victory in their 10 wins is 20.7 points. It's the Sixers' best start since the 2000-01 season, when they advanced to the NBA Finals.

What's the recipe for success for the Sixers? Defense. They have held their opponents to 93 or fewer points in each of their 10 wins. More specifically, it's their 3-point defense which has carried the Sixers. In each of their 10 wins, their opponent has made four or fewer 3-pointers and shot less than 31 percent from 3-point range. In each of their three losses, their opponent has made at least six 3-pointers.

The Sixers, who are 9-1 in their last 10 games, have held opponents to 31 percent or less from 3-point range in 10 straight games. Since 1988-89, only one team -- the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons (12 games), who went on to win the NBA Championship -- has had a longer single-season streak of holding opponents to under 31 percent on 3-point attempts.

Wednesday Bullets

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
4:23
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Whither the franchise tag -- or designated player -- that was one of the major talking points last summer when a discussion of the next collective bargaining agreement was just getting underway? Zach Lowe of Point Forward revisits the idea, and looks at the repercussions of such a rule.

    My general feeling is that, no matter how much you incentivize a player to stay put with his existing team, it's still inordinately difficult to convince a guy to stay in a place he deems undesirable. As Lowe points out, eliminating the sign-and-trade and extend-and-trade will prevent suitors from manipulating the system so that they can offer a defector more money and more years, but it's still hard to imagine a world where Top 20 players stick around for a extra dollars and an extra year. Regarding the latter, locking in an extra season isn't all that compelling to a young superstar. In many cases, he's likely to score a heftier salary in the first year of his next deal (To wit, look at how many superstars are negotiating opt-outs after the third year of lengthier deals). And as Miami's superstars proved last summer, superstars are willing to take less money in a more desirable locale.
  • Given how well Lamar Odom played during his stint with Team USA, Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times says Odom would be wise to look overseas during the lockout.
  • Charles Barkley takes a victory lap for his clairvoyance (at 1:21:40 mark of interview with ESPN Chicago): "Oh I was the first one. If you go back and look, I remember I was on a TV show last year when the season was going on; they asked me about next year, and I said ‘dude, I don’t think there’s going to be a season at all next year.’ And everybody looked at me like ‘that dude’s crazy.’ What I always knew was the owners were going to get the deal they wanted or they were not going to play."
  • Politicians, restaurant owners and a vodka company's CEO will issue demands to the Knicks that the team has already granted -- full refunds with interest for season ticket holders.
  • Did Tyson Chandler's injury history coupled with his free agent status inform his decision to reportedly turn down an offer from the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions?
  • I was supposed to be at the Wizards-Celtics game in Washington last night. Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus continues his Sim Season series and tells us that I didn't miss anything, apart from a 3-for-14 night from John Wall. Doolittle's simulation doesn't track the keystone cop moments JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche had on defensive rotations along the back line, but the 108-94 final score in Boston's favor suggests they were plentiful.
  • Twenty-eight years ago tonight, the Trail Blazers beat the Nuggets 156-116. After the game, Nuggets head coach Doug Moe confessed that, once the rout was on, he told his team to let the Trail Blazers score. Via the Oregonian: "'Our defense was getting so tenacious, I was afraid they (the Blazers) wouldn’t get to 150,' Moe said in laughing off his actions afterward. 'And they (the Portland fans) wanted it bad. I just told the team to back off and let them have it. I said, "Part the seas."'"
  • Luol Deng is loving Arsenal veteran Alex Song.
  • Metta World Peace: Courting danger on the dance floor.
  • Life after the Association for Lamond Murray.

Friday Bullets

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
1:02
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • From a discussion at Wages of Win about the salaries and earnings of NBA players: "That’s right; the lottery [not the NBA draft lottery] has produced almost twice as many millionaires in the last year as the NBA has in the last twenty years!"
  • Zach Lowe of The Point Forward on the union's disclosure of some vivid details of Thursday's negotiations: "It was an extraordinary public accounting of a private negotiation, one clearly fueled by anger over the alleged misrepresentations Silver and Holt gave reporters a few minutes earlier. We have seen nothing quite like it so far in these talks. It is discouraging. And the anger matters. The two sides need to cool off now, and it is unclear when they will meet next."
  • Belgrade is a basketball hotbed. When Serbia took on France in EuroBasket 2011, you could hear hoots, hollers and moans emanating from alleyways in the Serbian capital. Acie Law has joined Partizan Belgrade and has been blown away by fan passion: "I've never seen anything like it, you don't see fans like that in the United States."
  • A nice story in the Sporting News about SEEDS Academy, Amadou Gallo Fall's basketball school in Senegal. The piece includes a clip of a documentary, "Elevate," by filmmaker Anne Buford -- San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford's sister.
  • Rex Chapman on owner-player vengeance: "League owners possess much resolve. They've vowed athlete-payback 4ever. Branded into memory are their yrs of daily P.E. dodgeball beatings."
  • One ancillary benefit of the lockout? Stars like Stephen Curry who traditionally deliver boilerplate quotes are now expressing their sincere opinions.
  • Raja Bell to Dan Le Batard and Stugotz on 790 AM in Miami: "I feel like that is their target to shoot just below the bar, so it looks like they are negotiating and in fact there is not a real attempt to negotiate.”
  • If you didn't catch HoopSpeak Live yesterday, you missed some compelling stuff from Bomani Jones and Larry Coon. Jones speaks about how $5 million players have $5 million dollar bills, while Coon revisits the contentious issues that are dividing the camps in the labor negotiations. Equally as entertaining, with a whole lot of whimsy, is Zach Harper, who stops by 48 Minutes of Hell's 4-Down Podcast.
  • John Wall in a Dougie-off at a Reebok promotional event.
  • LeBron James gets zinged on twentysomething dramedy "Happy Endings." (Hat Tip: Ball Don't Lie & Your Man Devine)
  • Magic big man Brandon Bass tells Zach McCann that he's spending his time in Orlando working out with Jameer Nelson, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson. On his to-do list? Extending his range beyond 18-20 feet.
  • J.J. Hickson makes aliyah, as he signs with B'nai Hasharon in Israel, replacing Trevor Booker on the roster.
  • Can you name all the D-League teams? You've got four minutes on the clock. Go.
  • Metta World Peace would like some company. Via his Twitter feed: "It's not a weird question to ask where the fellas at. I can't entertain 100's of ladies alone. My party yesterday was all girls."

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