Monday, October 25, 2010

FU Resurrected: The Art of Legacy

*blows dust and peels away cobwebs from the blog*

Yeah, yeah. I know. Long time no blog. But I've always made it clear that posts drop as often as I've had time. Frankly, I just haven't had the time. Other things and other opportunities have come about. But now that I'm able to balance all of that--and with the best NBA offseason ever--I'm back and able to philosophize about the game that is Basketball. Been away for months, but things haven't changed. Meet me after the random picture...

There's no need to recap what happened this offseason. It was practically everywhere. No links necessary. And yes, the first article back will be about "The Decision." However, it won't be approving or scolding LeBron for playing for Miami or even the hour-long special itself. Instead, this post will focus on a key point that seems to be the underlying factor for people who were against Lebron's move: legacy.

Most people (including myself, before I really thought about it) felt that Lebron changing teams and teaming with another superstar somehow hurts his legacy long-term. They feel that somehow, Lebron can no longer ascend to that "Chosen One" throne because left Cleveland. To them, Lebron's lost the chance at becoming the best basketball player ever simply by switching jerseys at 25. But is there a concrete definition of "legacy?" Or is there merely a mythological perception of it...

I believe that over time, the Elites of all sports began to share certain characteristics. And I don't just mean Hall of Famers. I'm referring to the legends--the icons that are spoken of with hallowed breaths. These players seem to have similar career paths. They play for one team most (if not all) their careers. They break a few records, pile up gaudy stats, and win multiple rings. The prime example is Jordan, who's so deified that his two years with the Wizards are viewed as though another person was player/executive in D.C. Bird and Magic spent their entire tenures immersed in the NBA's most famous rivalry; and there are certainly other sports that have players that have done the same. They get to the point where imagining them in another uniform becomes a ridiculous notion. Their franchises deem them too valuable to part with, and allow for them to retire with the squad with which they began.

There is one pro athlete who still ascended to consensus greatness despite playing for multiple teams. That is Wayne Gretzky. The Great One was so dominant as a player, that it didn't matter that he played for a few teams. He was just that good. How often Gretzky changed jerseys would have had no bearing on how is career ended because his talent was just that undeniable. Of course, hindsight is 20/20; and he's an exception to that mold that other Elite athletes fit in.

What does Gretzky's hockey greatness have to do with Lebron? Well as I stated, Lebron has been selected--justly or unjustly--as someone that can finish his career as the best to ever hoop. If that wasn't the case, then there wouldn't have been a big deal being made about his move to Miami, nor would there have been ESPN network time for his decision. He would have been a footnote on the bottom line and a brief segment on SportsCenter like, say, Rudy Gay was when he signed. But he wasn't...because he is Lebron. And we recognize the potential awesomeness his talents can reach.

This isn't to say that Lebron will be the GOAT; but we also can't deny that he has the capability to dethrone His Airness. This was to suggest that just because a great player changes teams does not necessarily diminish his career. Let his play on the court and his winning or lack thereof determine where he ranks among the pantheon of Basketball players--not his jersey.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Premature Anointing?

Apologies for the hiatus. Computer monitor issues got in the way of the myriad of ideas for posts that I had in the past two months. Plus, life became really, really busy. Anyway, a lot of things have happened in the Basketball Realm; and the first round is nearly over, save for one game. I thought that a lot of my ideas would be too past-tense to be posted. But alas, the more things change... My next post is still relevant. I know it's been a long time; but yall know what to do. Meet me after the random picture...

About a year ago, I wrote about the mind state that the Elite players in the Association have. They never rattle in nerve-wrecking situations; and rarely make terrible decisions when other, lesser players are panicking. Those role players look to their leader as a calming influence in the most turbulent of game circumstances. Elites provide comfort, whether through words or actions, to his teammates; allowing them to stay in their respective lanes and thrive as complementary pieces. Some, like Kobe and Jordan, lead through fear and lofty expectations. Others, like Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, befriend their teammates and gain loyalty through friendship. Whichever method he chooses, an Elite must be able to respond to his team's distress signal and diffuse all crises, one basket at a time.

Within the branch of the All-Star players in the Basketball Realm, there exists some who have the mentality to be true #1's; and those that only have the game—but not the makeup—to be true Elite players. They're better as very good #2 players, able to be very productive without having to carry a squad. On Twitter, I've made my share of comments about Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter. I'll get to Vinsanity later. But I'm focusing on another two-guard with all the offensive tools. Begrudgingly, this brings me to Joe Johnson...

This is sort of personal, because I had ordained Joe Johnson as an upper-echelon shooting guard. Truth is, he is the third-best at that position. The sadder truth is that the gap between the other two (Kobe & Wade) and himself is wider than the margin of victory Orlando defeated Johnson's Hawks. I used to praise that he embraced anonymity; until he began to frequently fade into said anonymity whenever Atlanta had a tough game. I liked how he let Josh Smith be the marquee player through his highflying dunks and blocks. Until his recent quotations on the sparse fan support at Phillips Arena, I had never heard him speak. It may be a result of his personality; but at some point, while his team was getting manhandled, Johnson should have spoken up. He didn't have to do it publicly, but his play on the court would have been evident that he took the defeats personally. Good luck getting that max contract now.

Joe Johnson's was best suited as the fourth option on the SSOL Suns in the middle of the previous decade. As the only player other than Nash that could create, he had a niche that made those Phoenix teams formidable. Once he took the money and moved to ATL, that spotlight seems to have gotten too bright and he hasn't had the same success as the main threat. Vince Carter can relate. Carter was brought into the Magic Kingdom to be the devastating weapon that Hedo Turkoglu couldn't be last season. Orlando's a better team, but it's not because of him. Jameer Nelson's healthy and playing superbly, allowing Vince to blend in and continue to settle for jumpers. While the Magic were dismantling the Bobcats and Hawks, Carter's subpar shooting went unnoticed. In the eight games Orlando's played, he's 8-32 in three-point field goals—and he made four of those in the closeout game against Atlanta. He's Courtney Lee with a reputation of a sublime scorer, and lives off that rep alone.

Somehow, this brings me to Lebron. I believe that he is the best player on the planet. However, with his most recent game being his worst to date, it's fair to ask if he does have the mentality to carry a franchise. That's a big difference between he and Kobe. Kobe earned his Elite status through sheer determination and will to win. Lebron's godlike status was handed to him; and he has exponentially exceeded everything we had expected him to be. He's brought relevance to a city that wallows in its own futility, carried mediocre players to title contention, and has not once alienated his teammates or coach after series defeats. But, a question that was never thought of has now surfaced. Does Lebron have that Elite makeup? Yes, he's summoned his powers at his whim in the Motor City. But this is different. Now, he's expected to move mountains and reach the highest of heights, excuses and inflamed elbow tendons be damned. So what that Mo Williams isn't very good? Lebron is supposed to win anyway. This is your destiny, whether you chose it or not. Your legacy begins now, Chosen One. Good luck tonight.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

FU Graph: The Role Player X-Y Motion-Dependency Graph

We're graphing again. This time, it's a brief look at the makeup of the role player, using some of the more recognizable secondary players in the Association. Peep it below...
Even though the graph has an "independent" side to the X-axis, every non-star is dependent on something. Whether it's playing against the opponents' second string lineup or the spacing their team's best player provides based on his awesome, role players need some sort of outside help--otherwise, they'd be All-Stars. That previous sentence is why Josh Smith makes this graph. He, like Dwight Howard and Amar'e Stoudemire, is most effective when in constant motion. Offense can't run "through" him yet. He's the true definition of a finisher; and he's beginning to grasp this notion (taken far less threes this year, plays 17 feet and in). Maybe next year, he'll participate in that game in February.

There's no right or wrong role player. Championship teams have had at least one player fall in each of the four quadrants. In my opinion, the most important player is the one that follows in the lower left quadrant, named the "Ginobili" quadrant. That player can come in the game and take over the game offensively because he's more talented than the other team's second-unit. He can carry his team for stretches while star players are in foul trouble or slumping from the field. They're self-reliant yet remain complimentary. This is why Atlanta's a serious threat with Jamal Crawford; and why the Suns haven't been the same without Joe Johnson--and why Johnson's a multi-time All-Star without Nash. But with that said, the contrapositive of the Ginobili quadrant consists of those players that are standstill and dependent. This fourth of the graph is named the "Kerr" quadrant. Normally, being standstill just refers to those players that dwell beyond the arc. But in the case of Zydrunas, for example, he's the premier pick-and-pop big man in the NBA; but rarely takes a three. "Standstill," in my thinking, means a player shoots it where he catches it. It doesn't necessarily mean from distance. If All-Stars were being included, then David West would be the prime choice. There's nothing detrimental about being an accessory to greatness.

This graph was made with Rasheed Wallace and Lamar Odom in mind. These two were acquired by the Celtics and Lakers respectively as valuable pieces to bring championships. Odom, after being invisible against the C's in 2008, showed up and showed out last season. His brief awakening provided LA with indefensible mismatches at the power forward position. It's no secret how much ability he possesses. The inquiry has always been if he can sustain it and not engage in Mamba watching. That's why he has an "invisible" plot and a "visible" one. He literally disappears and reappears by the game. As for Rasheed, his problems have always been psychosomatic. I've spoken my piece on how great I feel 'Sheed should be/have been; but for some reason, he enjoys being anonymous and unselfish. He's still unstoppable in the post, but he'd rather remain floating around 24 feet away from the basket. His skills haven't diminished as much as his play would suggest. He still gives Dwight Howard fits when defending him. For Boston's sake, he captures some semblance of his old form and be what KG, Shuttlesworth, and Pierce thought he would be when they visited him in their successful attempt to recruit him to Beantown. Odom and Wallace come and go as they please.

While researching information for this graph (props to everyone that gave suggestions on Twitter), I found that there are very few players that fall into the standstill and independent quadrant, titled, the "Vinnie Johnson." JR Smith and Jason Terry are players that can dominate the game with their jumpers; yet break offensive sets or have sets run through them to get them open. They're not one-on-one scorers, per se. Yet they seem to have the ball in their hands and given the proverbial green light. Their perimeter games are so reliable, and they play on teams in Denver and Dallas that get little production from the 2-guard spot. They fit perfectly in those schemes.

As with my other graphs, this was just a microcosm of all the role players in the Association. I could do a graph for every team, by conference, or even by position. But I omit things for the sake of debate. And as usual, leave likes and dislikes in the comment box.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Deep Fried Frenz

One of the biggest misconceptions fans make is that Basketball players and other pro athletes don't play hard. Most of them do care about the love of the game; and the ones that don't care (no shots in this post, so don't look for them) speaks to their personalities more than the fact they're professionals. The saying goes, "Money doesn't change you. It makes you more of what you already are." Those players were going to be that way regardless if they were hoopers or CEOs. Anyway, evidence of most professionals giving it 100% isn't in just diving for loose balls, blocking a shot then finishing on the ensuing break, or hanging one's head when a buzzer-beater attempt clangs off the back rim. Some of the better players in the game have shown how much Basketball is ingrained in their souls without a single dribble. More after the random picture...

In any social setting, people gravitate to certain people. Everyone has a crew of friends that will be with them for life. In the NBA, some of the better players have had that one best friend on their team that seems to keep them relatable and sane. Those players, in my opinion, gives them a feeling of normalcy as their teammates depend on their production. They also need those friends to keep them from getting too high from praise or too low from criticism. As a result, negotiations between front office and star tend to indirectly involve that best friend—usually resulting in hindering a trade. In the second pickup game post, I referenced the relationship between Tracy McGrady and Mike Miller. They were close friends, but McGrady scoffed at the idea of parting with his homeboy. Because of it, Orlando (at the time) couldn't move Miller; who was sought-after by a number of teams. Only those GMs know the deals that were possible had McGrady come to grips with the business side of the NBA. Finally, McGrady was dealt to Houston (shouts to Reece Gaines).

The other big name in that deal also had a best friend whom he was reluctant to separate from. Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley were amigos inseparables, as if Mobley was the Paul Bearer to Francis' Undertaker. Once Orlando sent Mobley to the Clippers, Francis' play suffered. He went from perennial All-Star to bench rider with rickety knees. From this, to being just a salary throw-in to complete trades, Raef Lafrentz style. I don't know if Cuttino's departure directly affected the drastic decline in Francis' play, but it certainly is noticeable. And on a personal note, as a Maryland native and resident, it hurts me that his falloff was so swift. It's different from Iverson's because it seems AI has had a "full" career (minus a ring). It's also different from Marbury's because there aren't any public emotional problems. You know, Francis isn't eating Vaseline and crying.

Remember when the Lakers were flirting with a trade for Jason Kidd? Kobe was threatening abandonment, and the front office was getting desperate. But yet, they stood firm. Part of it may be them waiting on Andrew Bynum to develop; but the Lakers are still waiting on that. Let's entertain my "friends" theory. The only teammate that's been with Kobe through all the Lakers' titles this millennium is Derek Fisher; and is probably the only teammate the Mamba doesn't have his guard up when talking to him. Bringing Kidd in would have likely meant Fisher to be dealt or reduced minutes from the bench. Would Kobe's play have suffered? Doubtful, considering it took two fingers, back spasms, and an injured ankle to finally get him not to play Basketball. Still, it's obvious Fisher and Kobe have a different bond than any of the other Lakers—which is saying something considering Artest and Odom are childhood friends.

With Summer 2010 looming, do the superstar players have that friend that will keep them with their home franchises? Do Lebron, Wade, Bosh, and others have a loyalty to their current teams through a teammate? Given the real possibility that the Lakers could repeat, that would mean none of them would win a title; leaving all but Wade without one for yet another year. Camaraderie is important, but the "B" in NBA is more about Business than Basketball. Chemistry and friendship are two different ideals, and I know I'd trade the latter for the former if it meant I'd hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June. "How many of us have them?"


Saturday, January 23, 2010

FU Graph: Perimeter Player Classification

I'm combining my inner nerd again and I have a new graph for my loyal readers. The last one I did was a breakdown of the 30 teams along the spectrum of conventional/unconventional. For this one, I'll be categorizing the different types of perimeter players on offense. If I had more time, a lot more of my posts would have graphs attached to them. PowerPoint is addictive to a nerd like me. I decided to not give definitions because I expect my readers to know the difference. If you don't, then you should reading which names are where. Anyway, peep the graph below.

The first element of the graph that may be noticed is Kobe's name in the merged center of the Venn diagram. Even though Kobe's a scorer by trade, he remains somewhat efficient with his shots and shot selection. I actually gave long consideration to placing Dirk in the middle of the graph as well. As much grief as I give the Big German, he's turned the silkiness of his jumper into a weapon of mass destruction. I've never seen a player so feared when he rarely sets foot in the paint. He's what Rasheed Wallace should have been his entire career since 'Sheed decided to be strictly perimeter-based. That's enough praise for Nowitzki. Moving on.

What I discovered through my research is that there aren't many "pure" shooters in the NBA. Well, at least there aren't many that are worth mentioning. Once a player becomes labeled as solely a shooter, the other facets of his game—if there are any—are rarely developed. Ray Allen is only a shooter because his jumper is that deadly. He's a scorer at heart, and still attacks the basket. Rashard Lewis poses as a scorer, but we don't feel him (we need something realer). In order to ascend offensively, a player must be a threat off the dribble. More options equals more potency.

The third component of the graph is Tony Parker's name outside of the three circles. That's because Parker is a symbol for the point guards that score, but not really. This includes Rondo, Rose, Miller, and even Billups, Paul and Williams to a degree. Yes, they can score, but they aren't considered scorers. Only Billups as "Mr. Big Shot" has a label of shot-maker. And most of those names have a pretty high FG%, but the perimeter jumper isn't their strong suit. But with not being a part of the graph, point guards are able to float among the periphery of it. They're able to morph into whatever their team needs them to be outside of the distributor and floor leader. Nash's name should probably be among them; but I think he's the easiest to classify among the 1-guards.

As with any post, leave comments and disagreements in the appropriate box. These are my interpretations, meant only to inspire Basketball thought. There will be more graphs to follow.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Another One For My Pickup Game Heads

Based on a true story, I took you on a journey through the mind of a Basketball run-stopper in hopes that you will never have to go through that type of pain on the court. Now, I feel like I must explain all the major roles you will see at your local Y, neighborhood blacktop, and campus gym. Some of them you will know from their title, but I guarantee light bulbs will illuminate when reading the description of each character. After the random picture, I re-introduce you to some people you already know.

The Beast...Dog. Everyone knows the guy that is the understood best player on the court. He walks it, he dribbles it, and he lays it up. Among regular people, The Beast is usually a hell of player in high school that plays at the local D-2/Comm. College because of grades. I named these type of hoopers as such because while at Pitt, my crew and I were waiting our turn to get on next. And this J-Rich look-alike (he'll be known as J-Rich in future mentions in this post) says, mid-layup,"I'm a" We were dumbfounded. So ever since then, people who were beasts were beasts, dog; but not better than "The"

The Opportunist. This guy is just an average player at best. But what he's good at is latching on and being a part of a five that has a bunch of really good players on it. This way, he stays on the court with minimal effort, and looks great if he does make a play on such a good team. It's similar to whomever was at center during the Phil/Mike/Scottie Bulls. Just be open and let everyone else do the rest.

The Antawn Jamison. Antawn Jamison is quietly one of the more productive players in the Association. Always, at or near 20 points and t0 boards; he continues to remain efficient as he gets older. His trademark is an array of "flip shots" from awkward angles, leaving younger forwards wondering how he's scoring. Every local gym has an older guy that still dominates as his athleticism dwindles. He doesn't jump very high or run very fast; but he's schooling cats on the court with all sorts of hooks, floaters, and fadeaways. Like Jamison, he rarely ever talks unless a teammate makes a bad play. A true veteran presence for any pickup team's five.

The Mike Miller. For this explanation, I have to start with Tracy McGrady. In Orlando, he bacame great friends with Mike Miller. This made Miller impossible to trade because their star player was so attached to him—similar to Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. The locl courts have a guy that's cool with everybody. He's very likable, despite his game not being reflective of his personality. He may not be terrible, but he's certainly the weak link. Somehow, he finds his way on someone's team because he's a great guy. This results in your team possibly not being as good as it could be. But hey, at least everyone's smiling.

The Rasheed Wallace. Personally, I believe 'Sheed is the most gifted of that class of power forwards that includes Duncan, KG, Webber, etc. For reasons only known to him, he chooses to be unselfish. It's most evident in the fact that though Wallace has a tremendous shooting touch, his post game is so much better. Yet he seems to want to constantly float around the arc, waiting for kick outs. There's a guy that comes to gyms worldwide that can murder in the paint; yet chooses to shoot jumpers most of the time. In addition to that, he also won't exploit mismatches even though teammates implore him to do so. He plays rather standoffish, contributing when it's convenient for him. It's selfishly being unselfish.

The Desmond Mason. This dude can jump out the gym, but his Basketball IQ is lower than Mateen Cleaves scoring average. Anything that isn't a block or a dunk is a skill he doesn't possess in his Basketball repertoire There's nothing much else that needs to be said. He's a living N.E.R.D. album; or a shark—ether in motion or ineffective. The straight-line dribble is about all The Desmond Mason can do on the ground, with a maximum of one switch-of-hands dribble (read: not a "crossover"). I'll never play with one of those.

If you frequent the courts as often as me, then you know there are many more characters you can find there. Leave some in the comments.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Arrogant Scientist

Bringing in 2010 with the re-re-re-resurrection of FU. My first post of the new year will be dedicated to my favorite team—in particular, the coach of that team and what I believe to be his thinking behind some of the roster moves he's made. New year, same random pictures...

Mike D'Antoni, originator of the "Seven Seconds or Less (SSOL)" system that added a 21st-century twist to the fast-paced Basketball of a generation ago, has tried to implement his philosophy with my New York Knicks. But there are a few differences between the Suns' teams that initially ran and the mob that calls Madison Square Garden home. There's no versatile help defender in NYC like Marion; nor a seven-foot jar of nitrous oxide that Amar'e was pre-microfracture. Instead, there are much more Quentin Richardsons—perimeter forwards that float 25 feet from the basket and hoist shots from distance like Antoine Walker did. This is actually a wrinkle D'Antoni didn't have in Phoenix, as there are multiple Knicks that are capable of hitting four threes a game. But the single-most important piece missing from true actualization is something D'Antoni himself refuses to change. And it's been visible in his decisions after leaving Phoenix.

First, let's examine the Suns back then. The signing of Steve Nash gave D'Antoni the ability to perfectly project his genius onto the floor. With Nash's immense IQ and vision, there was a conductor who knew exactly how and where his teammates would be most effective; something previous point guard, Stephon Marbury, either couldn't do or wouldn't do. As with any new idea, it has to breed success. Sixty-two wins in the SSOL's first year garnered an MVP for Nash, and established the hyper-kinetic offense's credibility. The supporting cast changed. Diaw, Bell, Thomas—all names that found oasis in The Desert. Nash was that literal steady hand. With the ball as that bouncing one in sing-alongs, he dribbled and assisted like leading a Tchaikovsky symphony; creating measures of chords at clips of 105-plus points per game.

So what does that extended metaphor have to do with D'Antoni? Well, it seems that he's being arrogant and refuses to draft or sign that life-altering point guard again. For instance, he turned down coaching the Bulls, even though Derrick Rose seems to be the thoroughbred built for SSOL. Then, in New York, he chooses to draft Jordan Hill over the young buck Brandon Jennings. Even drafting Ty Lawson, to a lesser degree, is that lead guard with speed in constant fast forward and championship-tested in college. Instead, D'Antoni entrusted the reigns to Chris Duhon—a structured, rigid guard that can't create for himself or others. He'd rather be stubborn that his system will win out as opposed to investing in this recent crop of 1-guards. Granted, players like Curry, Flynn, Evans, and even Rubio were off the board by the time the Knicks were on the clock; but the selection of Hill proved that D'Antoni believed finding the next Amar'e was easier than cultivating a newer Nash.

The final piece of evidence that supports my theory is the inexplicable benching of Nate Robinson. He's the one player on the Knicks with the improvisation in his Basketball soul, and the natural one-on-one scoring skills. For reasons between him and the Most High, D'Antoni sat Robinson for 14 consecutive games; and the Knicks did play well without him. In the short term, it looked like a wise decision. But the offense suffered as teams adjusted to the lack of dribble penetration. Then, Nate was released, and responded with 40 points in an overtime win on the road against fledgling elite Eastern power Atlanta. Like Napoleon Bonaparte with a jump shot, he shredded the Hawks in their own gym as if he hadn't had game action in a month. D'Antoni couldn't help but swallow his pride; yet I don't see Nate being the maestro in The Garden.

It could all be coincidence. Maybe this is another chemical equation in the SSOL formula. But passing on many of the revolutionary point guards has proven in today's NBA to set back franchises a few years. Just ask those Atlanta Hawks. He's probably forgotten more Basketball than I remember, so I'm pretty sure he knows what he's doing. For the sake of my favorite team, I hope so.

Or maybe it's all for Lebron.