Freaking Millenials

Several years ago, my father had a very mild heart attack. The doctors asked if he had a family history of heart trouble. He replied in the following way, “No, I don’t think so. I mean, my father had a heart attack, but he smoked, and his brother had a heart attack, and his father had a heart attack, and my great-uncle had a heart attack,” and while he was continuing to list every single male family member of his who had, in fact, had a heart attack, the doctors were turning to look at me.

“You’re next,” they said, which was worrisome.

As a result, I have continued to stay…well…passionate isn’t exactly the word…involved in my own health. I go a gym M-F and try to stay active on weekends. My father goes to the same gym – after a triple-bypass, he is likely healthier now than he was before the very mild heart attack.

Anyway, this is a gym at the local university, and it is staffed by both faculty and students. The students are young(er) (than me) which is by itself a criminal act but they are very nice and very helpful and I like going there very much.

Today, I went in wearing an NBA shirt that I happen to own and my student helper asked me, “Hey, are you a Clippers fan?” I said no, but that I loved basketball. “I only asked because I’m from California. I’m a Warriors fan!”

He was understandably very excited about his team. Any Warriors fan should be. The Warriors are great, even if they did blow a 3-1 lead in last year’s NBA Finals. I said as much to him. He said, “We didn’t have much to celebrate before that.”

I said, “Well, that’s true. You did have the Run TMC team, which was one of the all-time great What-If teams, but you’re too young for that, but you also had the Baron Davis Dunk and the Mavericks upset. That must have been pretty cool?”

This is the Baron Davis Dunk:

It is one of the greatest dunks in NBA history. It includes all of the following: an awesome dunk, over an awesome defender, in a playoff environment, in front of what was arguably the most-hyped NBA fanbase ever, with an announcer’s perfect call.

That dunk came after the greatest upset in NBA history.

This one:

Here is more about that upset.

His response to me having cited two of the greatest things about the Golden State Warriors? “Nah man, I don’t really remember any of that.”

So I killed him for being aggressively, unacceptably young.

Two 2nd Round Draft Picks Each Get Historic Triple-Doubles

The rarest players are the ones whose transition to the NBA is a sure thing. Shaquille O’Neal was a sure thing. Tim Duncan was a sure thing. LeBron James was a sure thing. The overwhelming majority of most basketball players are not sure things.

This is part of what makes basketball such an incredible sport. Players who excelled at previous levels can flame out spectacularly at the game’s highest level; players who merely whelmed at previous levels can become literal phoenixes. Within the last week, we have received two remarkable reminders of this second phenomenon.

Draymond Green

Does Green famously kick his opponents in the testicles? Yes. Is Green arguably the most important piece in Golden State’s juggernaut? Also, yes.

But unlike Kevin Durant (2nd overall pick), Steph Curry (7th overall pick), and Klay Thompson (11th overall pick), Green was selected 35th overall. Scouting didn’t see his rise, arguing that he compared favorably to players like Jared Dudley and Luke Harangody. Look at this evaluation of the man:

Weaknesses: One of those great college basketball players that doesn’t excel in any one particular area … Tweener, undersized for a physical forward yet lacks the athleticism of a wing … Lacks explosiveness, agility, elusiveness and quickness off the bounce … Under the rim finisher, which is troublesome when you consider his size … Not a threat to shake his defender off the dribble … Minimal upside … Vulnerable defending quicker guards on the perimeter … Could stand to drop some weight …

Are scouts dumb? No. But they were limited in their ability to imagine what Green might be able to accomplish which, to this point, is an NBA Championship, two All-Star teams, and two runner-ups for the NBA’s Defensive Player Of The Year.

Part of what those scouts were unable to imagine is just how effective a player willing to minimize scoring can actually believe. Green proved the point Friday night, posting the NBA’s first ever triple-double that didn’t involve points. His line – a staggering 4pts/12rbs/10ast/10stl/5blk – is simply unheard of and, to boot, it was one point shy of a 5×5, one of those odd statistical anomalies that only the most multi-tooled players are capable of achieving.

If Green’s triple-double underwhelms, perhaps the only other thing worth noting is this: only one other player has ever gotten double-digits in rebounds and assists and steals, and that player was in the process of producing a quadruple-double. Needless to say, Green’s achievement was exceedingly rare.

Nikola Jokic

Jokic was drafted even later than Green – he was taken 41st overall. Draft experts talked predictably about the Serbian:

 Weaknesses: An average athlete lacking great speed and leaping ability … Foot speed is a big liability. He may struggle to stay in front of NBA athletes at the center position … Needs to improve as a post player, gain strength and develop a repertoire of back to the basket moves … Defense is a real weakness at this point due to lack of lateral speed and lack of strength. His length is a big plus, but he’ll need to continue to work on becoming stronger and learn to anticipate in order to overcome his lack of quickness … Despite being a younger guy, his upside appears limited by his lack of explosiveness and foot speed …

And again, the issue here is imagination, because Jokic achieved his own unheard of triple-double the other night. In an absolute evisceration of, oddly, Green’s Golden State Warriors, Jokic posted 17pts, 21rbs/12ast, making him the only guy who has managed do that. (If you ignore the points, his achievement is still worth celebrating, as he is also the only guy to get 12 or more assists and grab 21 or more rebounds in a single game.) To look more closely at what Jokic achieved, a broadening of the search terms to players who achieved 10pt/20reb/10ast triple-doubles reveals a predictable who’s who of great players: Charles Barkley, Chris Webber, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Garnet, Pau Gasol, Dennis Rodman and (website favorite) Fat Lever.

Conclusion

In both cases, scouts and their teams failed to imagine a player’s maximal possibilities. This is understandable of course, especially considering how many players fail to achieve even a quarter of what Green and Jokic both have. But if their drafts were redone today, and given perfect vision, it seems quite likely that both of these players would have been top-five picks at the minimum, as both of them have proven value well beyond what was originally imagined. They have also each achieved a little bit of something that this post’s first three players never did.

Charles Oakley Banned From MSG, James Dolan Not Banned from MSG

Here is the sum total of everything James Dolan has ever achieved in his life:

Not that such an inconsequential existence would slow the man. He was born into incredible wealth and, because somebody had to inherit all of it when his father died, he finds himself still fabulously wealthy. So he owns the New York Knicks, not because he ever did a goddamned thing to deserve it, but because parents decided to have him.

Dolan assumes that the world owes him respect by virtue of his birth’s happenstance. This probably tends works in his world. There are plenty of shameless suck-ups willing to offer seemingly endless praise to those who have money and Dolan has no doubt surrounded himself with precisely these types of people. Lampreys are generally considered unwelcome parasites; to Dolan’s, they are evidence of the world’s rightness.

But not everybody considers the merest possession of inherited wealth to be evidence of a person’s inherent goodness. One such person is Charles Oakley. Have you heard of Charles Oakley?

Here he is in a preseason game – a preseason game – throwing punches:

Here he is breaking Paul Mokeski’s nose after being fouled:

Here is his throwing a Sam Perkins off of the court after Perkins attempted to intentionally foul him:

It is tempting to look at these videos and draw a conclusion: that Charles Oakley is the NBA’s version of an NHL enforcer. But Oakley is more complicated than that. He was the 9th overall pick in a halfway decent draft. He played in the NBA for 19 seasons. He scored 12,000+ points and grabbed 12,000+ rebounds. The list of NBA players who finished their careers with 12,000+ in both categories is a slight one, and even though Oakley finishes near the bottom of it, there is simply no denying that the man could play the game.

Oakley is a man who spent 10 years playing for the New York Knicks. That is – *quickly does the math* – more than half of his career at Madison Square Garden. He did so at a time when basketball, by virtue of its rules, allowed for a more violent, aggressive version of the game to be played, and because the Knicks perennially lacked the game’s best players (Patrick Ewing was great, but he wasn’t Michael Jordan or Hakeem Olajuwon), they found that the next best thing was dragging the game down into the gutter. Which the team did. Constantly.

Everybody else might have hated the Knicks for it, but the fans loved it, and why not? The team’s ugly, brutal basketball got them as close to a return to a championship as anything had, before or since. Oakley was a big part of that and remains beloved to this day.

But he will forever be the man he was: one who backs down to nobody and nothing. This includes the aforementioned James Dolan, a man whose family once signed contracts with Oakley, and a man whom Oakley loathes, which is just so weird what with how hard-working people usually love the spoiled children of fantastically wealthy families.

Which brings us to last Wednesday. Oakley wanted to see the Knicks play, and apparently got himself a ticket that was not only near the court, but several rows back from Dolan himself. If you’re imagining that things ended up going well, there is some bad news. And some more bad news. And some very funny bad news. And some more bad news. (That Dolan would have the temerity to suggest that Oakley has a drinking problem is, uhhh, rich, all things considered.)

The remarkable thing about all of this is that the Knicks organization (under Dolan’s orders) apparently believes that it can turn the team’s fans against Oakley. “Yes, we banned a player that you love,” the team seems to be saying, “But once we tell you all about the bad things he said to our beloved owner, surely that will have you siding with us!” That only works when teams give their fans anything to believe in, but for the second decade in a row, the Knicks are positively terrible, at 23-33 in a terrible Eastern Conference, ranked 12th out 15 teams, and seemingly getting worse by the day. Adding insult to injury is this year’s team being saddled with incomprehensible contracts, as well as an ongoing dispute with its best player, as well as a steadfast refusal to embrace the team’s future, and a GM whose primary hobby is creating bonfires, so when all of that gets coupled with attacking a beloved legend, this ends up happening:

There is absolutely no way that Knicks fans are going to side with Dolan on this. Frankly, Oakley could have Mokeski’d Dolan’s nose in front of the crowd and not lost their favor. And yet, Dolan continues to comically insist on doubling down, and doubling down, and doubling down. This weekend’s double-down – that former Knicks not named Oakley still love Dolan – was understood immediately be yet another attempt to save face with fans who would rather never see him again.

Even the New York Post, a publication that usually loves to worship at the altars of people like Dolan, knows the score. Here’s a write-up describing Dolan in its second paragraph:

In an attempt to show his strong relationships with Knicks alumni in the wake of the Charles Oakley ban, a desperate Dolan sat between the mercurial Sprewell — with whom he formerly feuded — and Bernard King during Sunday’s 94-90 matinee stunner over the Spurs at the Garden.

Here is an obvious piece of advice for a billionaire who is incapable of listening: Dolan needs to just take the loss already. Doing so shouldn’t even be that hard for Dolan. The team is 595-783 since he took over.

The Wizards Are…Hold On…Good?

Twenty games into their season, the Washington Wizards were sitting at a very Wizardian 7-13. It would have been entirely understandable if the team’s fanbase – comprised entirely of my friend Justin – had abandoned ship. But he stuck it through, mostly because if there is anything that Justin has gotten used to in his time as a fan, it is the Wizards being simultaneously underwhelming and tantalizing.

Since that poor start, the Wizards suddenly rewarded Justin’s fandom with a 22-7 run, pushing their overall record to 29-20, good for 4th in the Eastern Conference and, given the ongoing struggles of the Toronto Raptors, the possibility that the team will climb even higher.

What is going on?

The most obvious place to begin is the team’s health. Previous seasons have seen the team routinely undermined by the fact that its arena and practice facility are built on an abandoned graveyard full of broken mirrors and black cats. But this year’s team is currently healthy. It’s a funny thing but as it turns out, having all of your best players available to actually play in the games turns out to be hugely beneficial. The Wizards have been built around a ferocious backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal – easily a top-five NBA backcourt, and for even more funsies, maybe a top-two NBA backcourt – but the team has rarely been able to put the twosome on the court together, owing to Beal’s body having been built out of balsa wood.

Beal has only missed four games this season* and, after a relatively unimpressive start to his season, one in which he was likely playing himself back into the shape necessary to contribute at a routinely high-level in actual NBA games, Beal has cooking. He is averaging 22pts/3.5ast per game since the start of the new year, and he is looking like every single bit of the player that fans have thought possible.

And then there’s Otto Porter. Long the subject of “What if this guy gets better?” type conversations, the former third pick’s fourth season has seen him getting career highs in points (14.2 per night), rebounds (6.5 per night), and three-point shooting percentage (a staggering .463, up from a previous high of .367). This is the kind of development that gets fanbases excited, especially because he is still relatively young.

Which brings us to perhaps the team’s most important piece: John Wall. Although Colin Cowherd (a bag of utter garbage) would have his listeners believe otherwise, the fact of the matter is that Wall is one of the NBA’s best players and, perhaps more importantly, one of the league’s fastest players. He is, simply put, a blur.

Speed isn’t everything of course – Wall’s shooting is…uhh…well, it could be better, let’s say – but his ability to get to the tin in the blink of an eye makes the missed jumpers slightly more tolerable. Meanwhile, like Beal and Porter before him, Wall’s game is sharper than ever: he’s averaging career highs in points (23), assists (10.3), steals (2.1) while fouling at a career low. Dude is good.

What this means for the Wizards’ outlook is hard to say. This team functions so well when all of its pieces are operating at full pace, but that happens so rarely that it is impossible to imagine the team being able to maintain its momentum if an injury inevitably occurs, especially since we have seen what happens when all of its players aren’t available.

But thinking of the bad is no fun at all. So for the time being, let’s not do that, and let’s instead a Wizards team that finally – FINALLY! – looks like a genuine threat to be as good as the one that we have all imagined for so long.

* -knocks so hard on a piece of wood that it literally turns into sawdust-

For No Reason: Ricky Rubio’s Passing

Although it is absurd to imagine that Ricky Rubio’s career is over – he is 26, only just now approaching the peak of his career – there’s no getting away from the creeping fear that are witnessing a player who will never be all that we imagined that he might be. His problem, in a word, is shooting; it is not simply that he is bad at shooting, but that he is awful at it. Not only has he never shot better than 40 percent, he has only once shot better than 37.5 percent.

His problem, in a word, is shooting; it is not simply that he is bad at shooting, but that he is awful at it. Not only has he never shot better than 40 percent, he has only once shot better than 37.5 percent. He is such a shooting liability that teams are willing to let him shoot from almost anywhere, thus allowing them to focus their defensive efforts elsewhere, thus depressing the Timberwolves offensive output. It is a truly grisly situation.

The truly awful part about all of this is how good Rubio could potentially be. That he still managed 8.1 assists without his defenders having any reason to stay near him is staggering. That he passes into what are essentially five-man defensive front while averaging only 2.2 turnovers is equally impressive. His assist-to-turnover ratio is good for third in the league, lagging behind only Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala. He is among the league’s very best distributors. On top of that, he is also a league-leader in steals, taking the ball away almost as often as he turns it over.

But his shooting undoes him. It always undoes him. If he could crack even 40 pecent, we’re not having this conversation, but he can’t. Sigh.

One possibility for the man’s rebirth is a new team. Although Minnesota hasn’t been able to fix Rubio’s shooting woes, another team elsewhere might be able to.* It is for that reason alone that he remains so tantalizing.

Well, that and getting to watch him distribute the ball:

So here’s hoping that help is on the way, be it epiphany or a new location or, if neither of those, then literally anything that unlocks the man to be the fullest player that he can possibly be.

*That team should be San Antonio. They turned Kawhi Leonard into a sharpshooter. If they can do even half of that for Rubio, he is a brand new player with a brand new career. My fingers are very tightly crossed.

Some Coaches Are Not Good

Steve Masiello is the head-coach of the Manhattan Jaspers. He has a bone to pick with the younger generation. Here is that bone, in full:

We’re a fraudulent society from top to bottom. Our society’s fraudulent. Everything about our society is edited. Everything about our society is prearranged so this generation is a fraudulent generation. And what I mean by that is they put their Instagram picture the way they want. They put their tweet out the way they want. Nothing is interactive. Nothing is real so when things don’t go the way people want them to, people really struggle with if it’s not 75 degrees and sunny and the stars aren’t aligned, if it’s not exactly 4 p.m., they didn’t get exactly eight hours of beauty sleep… young people today struggle with it. Our society struggles with that, and for me–I can’t speak for other coaches–I see it more than ever. When adversity comes in, people struggle. They’re not bad kids. This might be one of my favorite groups I’ve ever had. They struggle with adversity. They struggle with–that’s a byproduct of our society today, so I think we’re a reflection of our culture a little bit, not to get too deep.

Masiello let loose with that after his Jaspers – an oddly-named team that he is paid $237,536 annually to coach – lost a not particularly close game against Siena. The loss dropped the Jaspers to an incredibly unimpressive 7-14 overall, and although one would think this is the sort of record that would reflect poorly on the team’s coach, the issue is actually the coach’s players, at least per the Masiello himself, a man who definitely has no ability whatsoever to influence the situation.

This rant will be coming soon to a Facebook wall near you. It will almost certain be posted by somebody who also firmly believes that the only problem with our society today is the fact that it has young people in it, and that these young people today are much, much worse than young people were before. For those wondering, these rants always involve “before” being implicitly defined as when the ranter himself (or herself) was a younger person.

Masiello is not alone in his fury. Earlier this season, Louisville’s women’s coach Jeff Walz lost his mind along similar lines, insisting that his team’s struggles (the Cardinals were 6-2 at the time, with its only losses coming to top-five teams) were the direct result of young people today being worse than young people were before.

“You’ve got to have a will. You’ve got to have a will. Right now the generation of kids that are coming through, everybody gets a damn trophy, OK? You finish last, you come home with a trophy. You kidding me? I mean, what’s that teaching kids? It’s OK to lose. And unfortunately, it’s our society. It’s what we’re building for. And it’s not just in basketball; it’s in life. You know, everybody thinks they should get a job. Everybody thinks they should get a good job. No, that’s not the way it works. But unfortunately that’s what we are preparing for. Because you finish fifth, you walk home with this nice trophy, parents are all excited.”

Walz, for the record, is paid $775,000 annually for these allegedly penetrating societal critiques. And for coaching a team that is actually pretty good, despite his histrionic meltdowns.

Is it worth noting that both of these men are denigrating not only their own players, but also their own players’ parents? Probably. Is it worth noting that both of these men are each making hundreds of thousands of dollars on the backs of their players’ unpaid labor? Probably. Is it worth noting that both of these men are excusing themselves for having any responsibility whatsoever for how their teams performed, essentially insisting that even though they are literally being paid to coach, the very best metric of their ability should be ignored? Probably.

There are two things absolutely worth spending our time on. The first is that both of these coaches are spectacularly guilty of the things that they are claiming to be so deeply concerned about. Take Masiello’s rant: he insists that his players’ problem is that they are unwilling to work hard enough, in the way that he advises and demands, and that because of this, they are not succeeding at the level that they would be otherwise. But Masiello is doing exactly the same thing. Instead of figuring out how to coach his players – instead of, you know, earning his money – he is demanding that they do whatever he demands, whenever he demands it, and when they do not, he insists that they are ones refusing to work hard enough. It takes unbelievable stones to refuse to do hard work, and then to blame other people for not working hard enough. Walz does it too when he implies that his own coaching is exquisite, and that it is his players who have simply failed him.

To put that in much simpler terms: good coaches figure out ways to get through to their players. These two are insisting that they are in fact obliged to do no such thing, and that their inability to is merely a reflection of a younger generation’s failures, rather than their own inability to do the work necessary to get through to their athletes.

But the second thing to spend our time is perhaps the more important of the two. Masiello’s rant might be a classic, but let’s look at it again. This time, I have highlighted the particularly important passages:

We’re a fraudulent society from top to bottom. Our society’s fraudulent. Everything about our society is edited. Everything about our society is prearranged so this generation is a fraudulent generation. And what I mean by that is they put their Instagram picture the way they want. They put their tweet out the way they want. Nothing is interactive. Nothing is real so when things don’t go the way people want them to, people really struggle with if it’s not 75 degrees and sunny and the stars aren’t aligned, if it’s not exactly 4 p.m., they didn’t get exactly eight hours of beauty sleep… young people today struggle with it. Our society struggles with that, and for me–I can’t speak for other coaches–I see it more than ever. When adversity comes in, people struggle. They’re not bad kids. This might be one of my favorite groups I’ve ever had. They struggle with adversity. They struggle with–that’s a byproduct of our society today, so I think we’re a reflection of our culture a little bit, not to get too deep.

Funny thing about Steve Masiello: he lost his job at the University of South Florida after he was discovered lying about having graduated college. One wonders how many of his “fraudulent” players for whom “nothing is real” who “struggle with adversity” can claim the same.

 

Bad Quadruple-Doubles Keep Happening

Earlier this year, this website tackled bad quadruple-doubles, wherein a player gets double-digits in three of the five positive counting statistics (points/rebounds/assists/steals/blocks) and double-digits in the game’s single negative counting statistic: turnovers.

At the beginning of this season, the league had seen four such performances since 1982: Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Fat Lever, and Jason Kidd had each achieved the feat once (curiously, those players were 3-1 in those games). But now we’re almost three full months into this season, and we’ve seen that total doubled. Between them, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have accounted for an additional four bad quadruple-doubles (those players were 2-2 in those games). That brings the aggregate record of bad quadruple-double getters to 5-3.

Which leads us to a brief, albeit bigger, conversation: are turnovers even that bad? Or at least, are they bad in this case?

It is tempting to believe that turnovers are an enormous deal. “One guy turning it over more than 10 times?” we want to scream. “That’s how you lose basketball games!” The very small sample size says otherwise and there are other confounding factors too. The players who have turned the ball over the most? They happen to be the among the game’s greatest ever players.

But then, it makes perfect sense that the game’s greatest ever players turned it over the most. You have to have the ball to turn it over, and what team anywhere isn’t going to constantly get the ball into the hands of their best players? Harden and Westbrook don’t have four bad quadruple-doubles between them by accident. Both are by far and away the best players on their respective teams and those teams don’t go unless Harden and Westbrook have the ball constantly.

This is reflected in their usage rates, a hugely useful statistic that reflects how often a player has the ball, although it should be noted that there are competing ways to specifically calculate usage rate. But all calculations point to one very obvious thing: Harden and Westbrook have the ball constantly.

It naturally follows then that each of them would have an incredible number of opportunities to turn the ball over and, as expected, both Westbrook and Harden have been aggressively doing so. Westbrook coughs it up 5.5 times a game and Harden is even worse, at 5.7. That’s good for first and second in the league. Their next closest competitor is John Wall, who is losing the ball 4.3 times per game, or more than a full turnover less than Westbrook and Harden. But each of these three are also the league’s leaders in assists-per-game.

What exactly are we seeing? Given the success that both Westbrook and Harden have had (and, frankly, Wall too, given the recent play of the Washinton Wizards), turnovers seem suspiciously meaningless in the grand scheme of things, especially among truly great players. Or, to put that another way, three teams whose best players average the most turnovers-per-game are at a collective 81-50 in league play. All three teams would make the playoffs at this point.

So are there any conclusions to be drawn about bad quadruple-doubles?Well, they are very funny. Turning the ball over 10+ times a game is obviously not great, and it makes for a fun bit of apparent statistical failure. But in the broader scheme of things, they barely seems to matter.

Joel Embiid On Pluses And Minuses

Joel Embiid’s professional career began this year, almost two-and-a-half years after he was drafted. Due to the length of his time away from the game, and due to the reasons why it was exactly that he was away from the game, basketball fans had every single reason to be dubious about Embiid’s ability to substantively contribute to the otherwise moribund 76ers. Sure, he might be a talented big man, we all thought, but he was brittle, and really, how good could a player actually be if he never got onto the floor?

The answer, as it turns out, is really quite good. Embiid’s numbers are not jaw-dropping – he is getting 19.7pts/7.7rbs/2ast/2.4blk per game – and are stunted significantly by how little he is allowed to actually play. He has only been on the floor for 709 of the team’s 1872 total minutes, owing to the 76ers’ very understandable reservations about asking too much of a big man who certainly seems as though he is prone to injury. The team figures that getting anything out of Embiid is vastly superior to getting nothing out of him, and has played him accordingly.

One thing to remember about the 76ers is that it is a comically awful franchise, having gone a staggering 47-199 in the organization’s last three seasons. This was achieved entirely by design after the team’s GM – the utterly bonkers Sam Hinkie – calculated that the team’s best chance for future success was an immediate and prolonged bottoming out. As a result, he stripped the team of all assets as part of a broader plan to lose basketball games, the thought being that the team’s fastest hope for a rebuild was positioning itself to get draft picks. This was how the team ended up with Embiid (and Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel too) as part of its bizarre triumvirate of wildly athletic big men that might not be actually able to play together.

Predictably, this was a plan with problems. For starters, it turns out that fans actually want to see competitive basketball, and the league’s other owners were none-too-pleased by the ticket sales generated whenever the woeful 76ers came to town. The team also did little to actually develop its allegedly prized rookies, choosing to simply hope that those youthful guys would figure it out, rather surrounding them with the sort talented and experienced veterans who could help young players adjust to the league’s professional expectations. Finally, it accounted not at all for what happens when a team loses game after game after game.

Hinkie was eventually dismissed, just as his mad plan appeared to be coming to fruition. The 76ers had most of their Literal Big Three back at the start of the season, and although the returns have been varying – Okafor might not be good and Noel cannot stay healthy – the 76ers are on pace to win a staggering 20+ games. And the reason is almost certainly Embiid.

Again, remember that he has only played 709 of the team’s 1872 minutes. During Embiid’s time on the floor, he is a +48. That means he and his teammates have outscored their opponents by 48 points. His next best teammate, Ersan Ilyasova, is +14. That’s okay. Then comes Chasson Randle. He’s a -4. From there, the numbers are…not good: -11 (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot), -21 (Jeryd Bayless), -43 (Nerlens Noel), -69 (Nik Stauskas) (Nice), -75 (Richaun Holmes), -90 (Hollis Thompson), -109 (T.J. McConnell), -119 (Sergio Rodriguez), -134 (Robert Covington), -135 (Dario Saric), -141 (Gerald Henderson), and -195 (Jahlil Okafor) (Oh My God). Want to see a visual version of this nightmare?

Philadelphia Plus Minus

Have a little respect Jahlil Okafor. Good grief. Anyway, the point is this: if Joel Embiid is actually able to stay healthy, and even though he is surrounded by what appears to be outright detritus, his future is as bright as any that we can possibly imagine. If only he can stay healthy.

Pelicans Win! Knicks Lose Twice! Basketball!

Last night’s Pelicans-Knicks matchup – overshadowed by far bigger sporting events – was nightmarish for three reasons. One, it featured Anthony Davis’s big night being cut short. Two, it featured the Knicks collectively refusing to get the ball to its best player. Three, the absence of the player perceived as the Knicks’ weakest link, Derrick Rose, wasn’t the problem.

Let’s do this!

Anthony Davis Has Big Night Cut Short

This website exists for many reasons – basketball is great! – but one of them is celebrating players who absolutely go off. So when those players are cut-off midstream (as Klay Thompson was after getting to 60 through three quarters), this website recoils in horror. Players going off is cool.

Davis posted his second-straight Anthony Davis last night (his seventh of the season), and in only 29 minutes, he had put up 40pts/18rbs. The game at that point wasn’t particularly close, so he might have only gotten a few more minutes of run, so maybe he posts a 45/23. But New York’s Kyle O’Quinn, having already spent his time on the floor getting abused by Davis, responded with something between a hard foul and an outright cheapshot. The hit sent Davis clattering into the first row, ending his night prematurely. The foul is here:

Whether or not it was dirty is really beside the point. But O’Quinn and the Knicks, who already play borderline unwatchable basketball, took the only interesting part of the game out of it, robbing viewers of the opportunity to see Davis finish his spectacular night.

The Knicks Freeze Out Kristaps Porzingis

One of the Knicks ongoing subplots has been the rise of Kristaps Porzingis. That dude is the team’s future, and by most accounts, he should be its present too. But with bigger names on the team still demanding their slice of the pie – Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose apparently sacrifice shots for no man – Porzingis has constantly had to play third-fiddle.

It’s tempting to reduce the situation to shot attempts. The Knicks are better when Porzingis shoots more; the team is worse when he doesn’t. It seems obvious then that Jeff Hornacek’s dry-erase board should be nothing more than a tally-board of Porzingis’s shot attempts, and whenever that number isn’t high enough, he calls in plays like, “Get Porzingis the goddamned ball so he can shoot it!” and “I swear to god if Porzingis doesn’t shoot it this time, you’re all getting benched!”

Instead, he oversaw a scenario in which two players shot the ball more than Porzingis did. The first one of those players is obvious: Carmelo Anthony. He’s the team’s workhorse, its best-paid player, its alleged everything, even at 32 with his best years almost certainly behind him. But the second of those players is not obvious: Brandon Jennings.

Jennings took 14 shots last night, one more than Porzingis, and it should be noted that he was shooting better than the Latvian. Porzingis only managed 9 points on a paltry 3/13 from the field. He was having an off-night. But Jennings is a bench-player who only got the start because Derrick Rose (we will get to this) disappeared before the game began. As a result, Jennings picked up the spot-start, and apparently concluded almost immediately that he should shoot the ball at least as often as the team’s future. That’s a wild conclusion to draw!

Derrick Rose Disappears

But Jennings was only in there because of Rose. The league’s former-MVP had literally disappeared prior to tip-off, after apparently absconding home to Chicago for reasons that remain unclear. (Update: He claims he was with family.) Critics are predictably furious and the Knicks, in as Knicksian a fashion as is possible, has been fined and reprimanded, which is precisely the thing to do when players disappear just before tip-off. But this tempest in a teapot is missing the bigger point: Rose* isn’t the player he used to be.

He clearly thinks otherwise. He is shooting as much as ever but his assists are down. He is plainly desperate to recapture whatever it was that he had before his knees turned into paper mache, even if that means refusing to get the ball to the Latvian that it ought to be going to. All of this makes a certain sort of sense in the modern NBA. Rose’s shelf life is remarkably limited, and is even moreso after his injuries. His obligation is to maximize his earning potential in the very small window he has for doing so.

But the Knicks obligation is, presumably, not to enable Rose’s wildass delusions of grandeur. Somebody somewhere has to intervene with him to declare that enough is enough when it comes to his voluminous offense and its underwhelming return. He is being paid at least in part to distribute the ball, and if he continues refusing to do so, the team has to deal with that for its own future.

James Harden Goes Supernova

On the one hand, it came against the New York Knicks, an impossibly bad team stuck between an insistence that its current is worth a damn and its potential for future greatness. Teams in that situation tend to dismiss the little things like “defending” “anybody” “at” “all.”

But on the other hand, James Harden’s 53pts/16rbs/17ast is one of the greatest triple-doubles of all time.

Harden’s season has been otherworldly. For the record, he is averaging 28.4 points-per-game (a half point off his career best), 6.9 rebounds-per-game (more than a rebound-and-a-half better than he has ever done before), and a staggering 11.9 assists-per-game (which is, unbelievably, almost 4.5 more assists than he has ever averaged before). His performance Saturday night was merely icing on an already incredible cake. It is, it should be noted, a season that is looking for all the world like that of not only an MVP

And, it should be noted, his performance this season is looking for all the world like that of not only an MVP candidate, but the out-and-out frontrunner for the award. If Harden’s former teammate Russell Westbrook wasn’t averaging* a triple-double in Oklahoma City, the award would be all but sealed up by now given that Houston is sitting at a tidy 27-9 and third overall in the Western Conference.

Part of the explanation for all of this appears to be the symbiotic relationship that has developed between Harden and his new coach, Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni, fresh off of utter nightmares in New York and Los Angeles, came to the Rockets in the offseason looking at what was almost certainly going to be his last substantial coaching opportunity. For whatever the knocks against him in those two major markets, D’Antoni made his mark in Phoenix, where his Suns (led by Steve Nash) proved that his “Seven Seconds Or Less” basketball – fast, aggressive, focused on shooting 3s, less focused on defending – could be competitive with the league’s best teams. His subsequent attempts to implement similar strategies in his next two stops failed, either because the team lacked the players his style needed, or the players refused to buy-in, but NBA watchers saw D’Antoni coming to Houston and wondered if James Harden might not represent somebody who was, functionally speaking, Steve Nash 2.0.

Harden’s and D’Antoni’s relationship is fewer than 40 games old – and it is entirely unclear if this strategy will work in the playoffs – but the early returns have to be beyond encouraging for all involved. Harden has rebounded from last year’s underwhelming performance (his numbers were good, but after the Rockets’ 2014-2015 campaign – which they finished looking like potential darkhorse title contenders – fans expected more, and the Rockets comically underwhelmed instead) and D’Antoni’s magic is working again. In D’Antoni, Harden enjoys a coach who has fully given him the reigns and the responsibility to do the things that he does best. In Harden, D’Antoni has a player whose style perfectly compliments his preferred offense. This came to a head on Saturday night – 53/16/17! – but it seems easy enough to imagine that bigger things lay ahead.

 

*Averaging!