Monthly Archives: October 2012

Opening Night Jottings

CAVALIERS 94, Wizards 84

Kyrie Irving made the All-League Pass Team because of plays like this:

Kyrie

I can’t see too good, is that Kyle Lee Watson?

Cavs fans should feel good about Irving’s big game. (29 points, 6 assists, game-best +23).  They should not feel good about the tie score with the Wizards (missing John Wall and Nene, coached by Randy Wittman) with under 5 minutes to play.

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Opening Night: What to expect

We’ve missed these guys.

[In case you forgot how this is done, a quick how-to, or "what to expect" in tonight's return of regular season basketball on TNT.]

5:30 CST – Leave work, gym, wherever you are. Go home.

5:45 CST – Check fridge, freezer, ensure that there are ample amounts of necessary supplies.

6:00 CST – Grab laptop, flip on TV to NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com, get comfortable.

6:01 CST – See that Shaquille O’Neal is still employed by TNT, feel momentarily upset.

6:02 CST – See that E.J., Kenny and Charles are still employed by TNT, feel less upset.

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NBA Preview: The Awards Ceremony

The National Basketball Association: Cuttin’ that Check to Rasheed Wallace since 1995. (I love this game!)

Okay, folks. With the season about to start and a hurricane about to blow my house down, Andy G and I are doing a rapid-fire INBOX-style NBA Preview wrap-up. We argue about Chris Paul, which teams will rise to the top of each conference, who will win the major awards, and why Rasheed Wallace is currently collecting an NBA paycheck, all below the fold.

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NBA Preseason Stats Musings

I finally took a look at some League-wide preseason stats, trends, and anomalies. Much of the data looks just like we’d expect. But the preseason always produces a few surprises and some good laughs.

A few of the things that stood out to me are below the fold.

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Western Conference Preview: The James Harden Edition

How does James Harden’s departure from Oklahoma City affect the Thunder’s prospects in the West?

So, James Harden. Yep. Gone. OKC is screwed. Or is it? You’ll find out in my Western Conference preview.

But first things first: Why did OKC trade one of its core stars, just before the season starts, and why was it that the Rockets were the ones who outbid the rest for Harden, a pricy commodity in a market that has few quality shooting guards.

The answer to the first is easy: cost. OKC owner Clay Bennett was unwilling to pay it, James Harden was unwilling to take less so he wouldn’t have to, and so a trade had to be made, even if not paying Harden might cost the Thunder an NBA title. This sends a horrible message to fans, and Durant and Westbrook should grab their mates and move the team back to Seattle.

The answer to the second is less clear. But I have a theory. It centers around Kevin McHale, Royce White, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and facial hair.

My theory goes like this: Having drafted point-forward Royce White, and subsequently discovering that Royce won’t be bringing much to the table this season (except increased awareness of the challenges of anxiety disorders), McHale and Daryl Morey concluded that in lieu of on-court competitiveness, they would  rekindle Houston’s rivalry with the up-and-coming Timberwolves.

They would do so by attacking an area of perceived Wolves vulnerability: facial hair.

McHale and Morey figured that after former Wolves beard Brad Miller – a former Rocket – retired, the Wolves’ claim to “Best Team Facial Hair” was up-for-grabs. Why not try to win something this season, and make White useful, all in one go?  By trading for Harden’s beard, and teaming it up with White’s  – White’s nascent beard already could put many Taliban to shame, and they go all-in on beards – in the NBA’s new Beard & Mustache Competition, which will be broadcast live just before the NBA Draft Lottery in the Spring, Houston has begun pursuing that strategy.

But McHale and Morey’s strategy is flawed. It neglects the fact that Kahn has armed the Wolves with a new Secret Weapon – a failsafe - in the form of Louis Amundson’s beard. In fact, RUMINT obtained by punchdrunkwolves.com indicates that Amundson’s beard has never lost in the “Most Pungent” competition in any Beard & Mustache Contest it has participated in.

Facial hair aside, there’s obviously a big story here: when you remove James Harden from the Thunder, it shifts the balance in the West, and also has implications for the Wolves. So what is the fallout? Find the answers to those questions and more in my Western Conference preview, located below the fold.

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Eastern Conference Preview

Joe Johnson took his talents to Brooklyn. How will that affect the Eastern Conference playoff landscape?

8. Milwaukee Bucks: Yeah, I just bounced the 76ers from the playoffs.  I’ve changed my mind on them.  Andrew Bynum just seems off.  He has a grey-haired afro, for one.  His knees hurt again, for another.  Before last season, when Bynum stayed healthy and played 60 out of 66 games, his previous four season totals out of the usual 82 were: 54, 65, 50, 35.  That’s an average of 51 games played and 31 games not played.  With Andre Iguodala in Denver, the Sixers need a production replacement.  Bynum was supposed to be that guy, but he’s out with knee pain and received an injection that was referred to as “routine.”  I’m expecting Bynum to miss at least 30 games of which the Sixers will then lose more than 20.  Doug Collins might get fired, as he tends to do.  Wait a second–I’m supposed to be writing about the Bucks.  The Bucks are what we thought they were: an almost-.500 team that plays beat-em-up halfcourt defense.  I don’t love the Monta trade (why not just let Andrew Bogut get healthy?) but Skiles will at least demand consistent defense from Ellis, which wasn’t happening in Oakland.

Predicted record: 40-42

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“I honestly think he’ll be better than Steve Nash.”

Sports Illustrated runs a cool series called, “Enemy Lines” where they have opposing scouts anonymously assess each NBA team.  In the Timberwolves edition, there was a remark about Ricky Rubio that stood out:

The difference between having Ricky Rubio [who is expected to miss the first two months of the season while recovering from knee surgery] and not having him is huge. Everybody likes Rubio and still I think he’s underrated — he’s that good. I honestly think he’ll be better than Steve Nash.

Obviously, he needs to improve his shooting and some other things, but, man, he can dominate a game and get easy baskets in a way that very few people can. Just dribbling down the floor, if his man is sealed, he makes eye contact with his guy — and if Rubio has any advantage, any angle, he’s able to find the guy and it’s two points. He makes his teammates so much better. You could see it last year, when they were on their way to making the playoffs before he got hurt. If Rubio becomes a good shooter like Nash did, you can forget about it.

Defensively, he’s better than Nash. Even though he gets a lot of steals, it isn’t because he’s gambling. It’s because he’s able to use his length and size and great feet while he’s playing solid defense.

Rubio is one of the few players I would pay to watch play. If he’s able to stay healthy and his shooting improves, [Timberwolves president] David Kahn is going to look like a genius for waiting the two years for him to come over from Europe. We’ve all seen a lot of international guys who were overrated in the draft, but this guy is for real, and in a couple of years they could have a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs because of him and Kevin Love.

Rick Adelman is the right coach for this team and for Rubio in particular. Rick lets his players play and he gives them confidence. He gets them to do it his way and it’s very successful. Maybe Rubio wouldn’t have been as good right away if he’d been in a more structured offense.

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Endangered Species: NBA Center

Could Smits and Ostertag stay on the floor in today’s NBA?

Howard Beck’s headline was “The All-Star Center is Officially Extinct.”  The news was the league’s abolition of the center from the All-Star ballot.  Rather than force fans to choose between hard-foul specialist X or 14 points and 8 rebounds role player Y, the NBA adapted to style changes and acknowledged that no longer are its biggest players worthy of automatic slots amongst the games best and brightest stars.  Instead of a Center box to fill on the ballot, there will be two backcourt and three frontcourt spots.  In other words, more forwards, fewer centers. Continue reading

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SpreadLove for Breast Health Awareness Month

Kevin Love let Larry Fitzgerald shave his head for breast cancer awareness.  He and Fitz are donating $0.25 for every retweet of their youtube clip, so if you’re on Twitter, go do it!

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Wolves Season Preview, Part 2 of 2

Can Andrei Kirilenko really be the key to this year’s team? Who knows! The season hasn’t started yet!

In Part 1 of our Wolves preview, Andy G delved into several issues that will have key implications for the team’s success this season. I come back with my takes on these topics, as well as a few other things he didn’t look at closely.

Find out what below the fold.

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Selling out?

The overarching lesson of the 2011 NBA Lockout was that money talks.  While “system issues” were important to both sides, the overwhelming sticking point was the drastic cut in revenue share that the league owners demanded of the players union.  Grey-haired billionaires were fighting over piles of cash with their young, millionaire employees.  When the two sides fight tooth and nail for every dollar in the pot, it’s natural for both to seek ways together to expand the pot.  An idea floated by Bill Simmons months ago that is now picking up steam is corporate sponsorship of jerseys.  Back in April, Amos Barshad of Simmons’ Grantland site advocated for jersey sponsorship: Continue reading

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Wolves Season Preview, Part 1 (of 2)

The nice thing about preview/prediction posts is that they come at a time when fan interest is high.  No matter if you’re a Heat fan, still relishing last year’s title and looking forward to a possible repeat, or a Hornet supporter eagerly awaiting The ‘Brow, if you’re a fan of an NBA franchise, you’re probably excited for the season to begin next week.  Preview posts whet the appetite by laying out the issues and a framework for a debate.  For talking hoops.

That’s the nice thing about them.  The bad thing about predictions posts is that nobody really cares what I (or most others) expect to happen.  Frankly, I have no idea what the Wolves are going to do this year.  (But please keep reading!)  It’s difficult to predict player improvement or regression.  Aside from having watched a few preseason games, there are questions about new players–how they fit and how much playing time they’ll see.  And most problematic are injuries.  Fortunately for purposes of this post, I waited until the Wolves’ best player broke his hand by punching a wall doing knuckle push-ups. (And that there is the ONLY sentence in which a Wolves fan could possibly combine Love’s injury with the word “fortunately.”)  But despite these huge problems that double as caveats, I’ll give er a go, and make some predictions for how this season will shake out.  This is Part 1.  Part 2 will be Pat’s reaction to mine.  Feel free to chime in with your thoughts after this one, or wait until we’ve both put ourselves on the record.

What happens without Love and Rubio?

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Slater Martin: (1925-2012)

Slater Martin: (1925-2012)

Minnesota lost one of its basketball legends yesterday with the passing of Slater Martin.  He played decades before I was born, but I remember my dad talking a lot about seeing him face off against Bob Cousy, so I emailed him to describe Martin and his Lakers for those of us who don’t know what kind of player he was and what kind of basketball was played in Minneapolis in the 50’s.

What do I remember about Slater “Dugie” Martin? He came from the University of Texas and was a terrific 5’10” guard on four of the five Minneapolis Laker championship teams. He then won a championship with the St. Louis Hawks. My favorite player in the 1950s was fancy Boston Celtics playmaker Bob Cousy. But Martin’s great defense drove Cousy nuts. Martin seemed to hold the edge but both were terrific ball handlers. In about 1959, the Lakers were playing their final season in Minneapolis. The venue was the armory near the Metrodome. I sat in the front row under the basket. Now a Hawk, Martin had lost a step but would slow down an opponent by grabbing his jersey. The game was extremely physical back then. To dunk would risk being undercut.

There seemed to be some negative racial attitudes, as well. The Hawks’ Cliff Hagan, who had played college ball for the all-white Kentucky teams of Coach Rupp, squared off directly in front of me against Laker rookie Elgin Baylor, a black man. I had never witnessed a fist fight in a basketball game. They obviously didn’t like each other. Neither player was ejected. Slater “Dugie” Martin will be remembered as one of the greatest defensive guards in NBA history, winning five NBA championships. With the Lakers, he played with one of the best front courts in basketball history — the greatest player of that half century from DePaul University, George Mikan; “The Kangaroo Kid” from Stanford University, Jim Pollard; and the tenacious defender brought in to protect Mikan, from Hamline University, Vern Mikkelson. With the Hawks, Martin played with wonderful players, as well, including Bob Pettit, former Laker Clyde Lovellette, and Cliff Hagan.

For more, the New York Times ran a nice story about Martin.

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Injury = Opportunity

Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” to win the 1951 National League Pennant is the most famous highlight in baseball history.  But Thomson wasn’t a one-hit wonder.  He was an All-Star outfielder for the New York Giants in 1948, 1949, and 1952.  In 1953, his final season in New York, Thomson hit .288 with 26 homers and 106 RBI’s.  That is why it seemed like terrible news for his new team, the Milwaukee Braves, when he broke his ankle in spring training in March 1954.  The veteran–the known commodity–would be replaced by a skinny 20-year old minor leaguer named Henry Aaron.

Of course, Aaron became an all-time great.  “Hammer” made 21 All-Star Teams, won 3 Gold Gloves, won an MVP and World Series in 1957, and hit more steroid-free home runs than any player in the 100+ year history of the game.  It would be easy to assume that a player this talented would have made it whether Thomson hurt his ankle or not.  But consider that Aaron’s rookie numbers were relatively modest.  He hit a respectable .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI’s in 122 games.  Aaron was worthy of a starting outfield spot, but not exactly making the decision to call him up a “no-brainer.”  It was in his second season that he broke out, hitting .314 with 27 homers and a .540 slugging percentage.  By that time, Hank had arrived and he’d begin that incredibly-long run of All-Star appearances.

It’s impossible to know how his career would’ve played out, had Thomson not been hurt in Spring Training ’54.  An injury creates an opportunity.

 

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Strange Coincidence

Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo were traded for each other on Draft Night 2008. This week, each hurt his hand while away from the office.

One afternoon in college, a teammate of mine showed up at practice with his arm in a sling.  Coach delivered the news that he had slipped on an icy sidewalk.  It would’ve made sense except that I already knew the real story, which involved no ice–perhaps save the cubes keeping his drinks cold on Saturday Night at the bar.  A different teammate, at a different practice, was sidelined with “turf toe.”  Again, this would’ve been plausible (I think?  Can you get “turf toe” from playing basketball?) except that I watched him drunkenly kick a microwave down a flight of dorm stairs.  (BREAKING: College kids do stupid things.)  Well behind Coach’s back, we joked about his “microwave toe” injury.

With this background of experience,  I sent Pat a short email a few days ago with a link from espn.com:

The possibilities for how O.J. seriously cut his hand in Europe are truly endless.

http://espn.go.com/dallas/nba/story/_/id/8504251/oj-mayo-dallas-mavericks-due-cut-shooting-hand

He sent a brief reply:

Hehe, I can only imagine. Story would’ve been better had the accident occurred in AMSTERDAM. Continue reading

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Kevin Love’s Injury: The Implications

Kevin Love is reportedly out 6-8 weeks with a broken hand

Kevin Love reportedly broke his hand today at practice. A quick take on what it means:

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Maccabi Haifa! (WOLVES 114, Haifa, 81)

A mediocre photo of Brandon Roy, taken by me.

In what was either a coincidence or something related to the dismal crowd that showed up to face an Israeli opponent on a Tuesday Night when a 50/50 presidential election had a debate (okay, definitely the latter), I was able to sit close to the floor for the second straight [preseason] game.  This time, that meant seeing star defensive lineman, Kevin Williams, in the beer line.  It meant an up-close look at new Timberwolf Andrei Kirilenko (the guy never stops talking and moving–fun to see in person), and the unexpected meeting of Brandon Roy’s family.  His mom, wife and kids were all cheering for “Bran Bran” which tipped us off quickly who they were.  Super nice people who seem to like Minnesota.

A few things about the game:

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Long-shot MVP? Bet on Ricky.

Ethan Strauss is the best in the [NBA writing/tweeting] business at provoking strong reactions with what can seem like crazy, “contrarian” takes on pro basketball issues. (I say “seem like” because ESS almost always explains what he means with nuance that can elude the more passionate/less detail-oriented readers.  When he’s trashing Kobe Bryant, I sometimes find myself in that camp of spazzes.  When the victim is Rajon Rondo, I happily nod in agreement.)  Today, he posited that the best “long shot” MVP candidate for basketball bettors is Andre Iguodala.  He didn’t say that Iggy will win MVP, or even that he thinks he has a good chance at it or would ever deserve it.  Just that, “[a]mong fool’s bets, Iguodala for MVP is wisest.” The thinking goes something like this: Denver has a chance to win a ton of regular season games (some predict upwards of 60), that MVP voters sometimes use a “This team won more games that they were supposed to, so [Player X] deserves the credit!” logic (Steve Nash cited as an example), and that Iggy should see a scoring/production bump as he transitions from Doug Collins to George Karl, a shift that would be akin to a McDonald’s All-American transferring from Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers to Kentucky or North Carolina.

Still, even if you’re talking long-shots, that’s crazy isn’t it?  I mean, Iggy has played eight years in the NBA, made only one All-Star Team (2011), and made ZERO All-NBA Teams.  The team he joins would’ve been expected to make the playoffs, Iggy or not, and they’ve been universally considered a “team’s team” with more credit going to the coach than any individual player.  Furthermore, Iggy’s points per game (a stat overrated by many, but certainly a factor in a wing player’s MVP candidacy) has dropped in each of the past four seasons, (probably) bottoming out last year at a measly 12.4.  Even assuming a numbers bump in George Karl’s uptempo system, an Iggy MVP seems as unlikely (or even more) than the 125:1 odds that Strauss found when preparing his piece.

But I appreciate the bold proposition, so I’ll see Strauss’s Andre Iggy and raise him one Ricard Rubio.  Continue reading

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Coming into Focus: 5 Things We (Think We) Know about the 2012-13 Timberwolves

What’s in store for the Wolves this season?

Sometimes you just want to know what the future holds. You look into your crystal ball, but all you see is fog, so you ransack your house looking for that Ouija board you got in college. You don’t find it, so you go on a peyote-fueled drive through the deserts of Mexico, looking for that shaman who your buddy says changed his life. You make it back into the States in one piece.

It’s three games into the Wolves preseason, and you’re now wondering if the Wolves are going to be any good this year. “Will they make the playoffs?” “What will Adelman’s rotations look like?” “Will Nikola Pekovic raze a village in frustration after a tough loss and get slapped with a season-long suspension?

At Punch-Drunk Wolves, we have the answers. A few emerging impressions about this year’s team are below the fold.

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Marko’s Return (WOLVES 82, Bulls 75)

A picture of Marko Jaric taken with my iPhone.

An hour before tipoff, a fellow Zumbrotan (where I’m from and my dad drives up from) saw us sitting near the court watching Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah shoot around and offered us an extra pair of tickets in the second row.  Typically we sit in the upper corner of the lower bowl.  Sitting (basically) courtside has its obvious advantages like viewing player-player and player-ref interaction, better “scenery” including what looked to be a Bull’s girlfriend or wife seated next to me, and just being up close for a better view of the crazy athleticism and skill of the players.  But for someone who typically sits further back, I was a little distracted by the foregoing and didn’t digest the hoops action like I normally think I do.  So here’s what I *think* I took away from a preseason game versus the Bulls. Continue reading

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