Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Week Six: Rose City Curse

For Week Six, it would be sequential to focus on Iverson's return since Weeks Four and Five were solely focused on the briefly entertained thought of him coming to Madison Square Garden. But there's a much sadder story going on in the Great Northwest that I'd like to spend time and keystrokes on. More after the random picture...

Greg Oden has suffered another knee injury, his third such devastating ailment in his three pro seasons. It occurs just as Oden was making strides in his development. He was lighter and quicker off his feet; and beginning to get more comfortable with his hook shot in the post. Then another setback. It's not just a setback, it's another near-full year he's going to miss. As to be expected, echoes of the "B" word are swirling around his career with more legitimacy. and few believe he'll amount to anything close his #1 overall pick suggests.

There are so many factors working against Oden. Kevin Durant is a superstar and growing, and the Blazers are a pretty good team without him. He even has history as an opponent, as his injuries have conjured up memories of Sam Bowie and Bill Walton. Is there a curse floating around in the Rose City that only attacks big men? And why is Oden looked at with so much expectation?

Even though I maintain that point guard is more important than center in today's NBA, there's no doubt that size equals wonder. It's why we marvel at Dwight Howard. Yet Oden was never labeled as a freak athlete along the lines of D12 and early Amar'e. Hoops fans were intrigued with just how naturally gifted he is at blocking/altering shots--his timing is impeccable. But that question does remain about Oden. No #1 overall has been an All-Star since Howard, and every big man drafted first since Tim Duncan has had his career hindered by whatever reason--whether it's injuries (Yao, Brand and now Griffin) or slower development than expected (Bogut, Bargnani).

Once a big man has received the label of "franchise," expectations of him grow exponentially with less patience. That's the difference between Oden and Blazers' teammate LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge can develop more at his own pace since he isn't really seen as the franchise. Some of you may consider Roy to have that franchise tag; and yes, he is by far their best player. But Oden is to be that anchor, that monumental pillar of strength in the paint that would literally solidify them as a championship contender for the next decade. He's to be the Willis Reed to B-Roy's Walt Frazier, Shaq and Kobe-like in the Rose City.

There's also the actual injury itself: broken kneecap. If Stoudemire, Webber, Kidd and Penny weren't the same after microfracture surgery, what will become of Oden when that bone is more than cracked? This is the latest mental hurdle the deceptively charismatic Oden must overcome. There will be countless doubters and naysayers that will say his career is over before it has truly started. As Portland is currently constructed, they don't need him to be an offensive priority. His defensive prowess will be there. He's not DJ Mbenga.

Honestly, labeling Oden a bust is premature and slightly cruel. He's steadily increasing in productivity, and has displayed the willingness to do whatever it takes for him to be dominant. Since he doesn't rely on freakish athleticism, he can still be the force on defense and work on his ever-improving touch. At 23, he's younger than Dwight Howard and further along offensively. Despite his facial features and hair, he has youth on his side. Remember, Kwame Brown and Olowokandi played whole seasons and are terrible. Give Oden a chance.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Weeks Four & Five: A Dream Deferred

It was to be the Greatest FU Post Never Written. But for the fourth (and fifth) installment of the FU's version of "Week In Review," I decided to compose the post that would have been had dreams come true. Peep after the random picture...

Rumors of my all-time favorite player coming to my favorite team stirred my Basketball Soul in a way a Carmelo move off his jab step could never do. And even with his skills visibly diminishing—except, it seems, to him—Iverson to the Knicks would have literally been the Best of My Worlds. Each time I tuned into an MSG broadcast, my fandom would have been in perfect harmony. I know he isn't at the height of his powers, but his ginsu-style crossover is still fatal. He probably would have donned his #3, and fans would immediately hope he purged any remaining evils that haunted Coney Island's Finest. He could have provided the go-to scoring a young Knicks team lacks; as well as a buzz among Knicks Nation.

But it's not about any of that. It's about me. Those two ideals have been halted from fusing together. But even with that, the realist in me can't ignore the other side to this story—the side I somewhat acknowledged in a previous Iverson post. As much as I would have enjoyed seeing Iverson in New York, it would have always been bittersweet due to the circumstances his signing would have been under. This is where Iverson's career has led him. Labeled as a malcontent, and an unusable gun. He's the anti-Bob McAdoo that can't find employment; even with franchises looking for hope like the Grizzlies and Knicks. It's always tough to see a once-great struggle with near-mediocrity. But when it's someone that molded your very philosophy of the sport, that sympathy is magnified infinitely. It's like watching my ideals embark on a never ending quest for someone to accept them as truth. Iverson is longing for that belief fans of his held onto when his diminutive frame felled giants with reckless abandon. It doesn't look like it exists anymore.

Perhaps, it is for the best that my favorite player did not join my favorite team. Even if the Answer had found his solution at Madison Square Garden, he would still look out of sorts in that white, blue, and orange. It would have jibed with my Basketball Soul like a dope Jazzanova record. There would have been a bunch of elements going on; but it would have worked somehow. However, seeing him attempt to rescue the Knicks from futility would have been both heroic and pathetic. Could he have done it? Maybe. But to me, it probably isn't worth risking slightly tarnishing his Hall Of Fame legacy for a franchise waiting on the future. Still, it was nice to dream; if only for a moment.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Three Weeks In: In Thee Face!

We've reached the third week of the NBA season, and unlike college hoops, the offense is ahead of defense. A good portion of that has to do with the small yet significant fact that 97% of NBA players don't play defense. But at least at the early onset of this season, offensive players are taking defenders challenging at the rim a little more personally. They're attacking, and attacking with malice in their hearts. This begs the question: why is everybody dunking on everybody?

I understand that posters are a part of the game; and that they happen pretty much on a nightly basis. After all, there's a site dedicated to the meeting at the summit of the rim. But it just seems that these dunks are much more meaningful—more disrespectful. There are dunks, and then there are posters that are very rude and could end friendships. The early part of this season has had a lot of the latter—for reasons I cannot explain. I understood the mentality behind Melo's dunk because he's one of the few star players that has something to "prove." But the others...I just don't know what or why those deserved that emotional abuse. Except for...

Mr. Varejao aka "Sideshow Bob" aka "Carlito," I know why he deserved to be dunked on by His Wadeness. He is a notorious flopper and annoyance in the paint. He routinely violates two Hoop Commandments. He's seven feet tall and takes charges instead of using his length; and always tries to take said charges when defending a fast break. That was the one time he wanted to be tall and he failed because he isn't used to it. I have no sympathy for him. You are forever in the Wade highlight reel with your feet over your head and your ridiculous hair flopping around. Take that.

I'm going to set aside a paragraph for the man with the best disc jockey name that no one can use: DJ Mbenga. Fun fact: Mbenga is well-versed in the Martial Arts. Well, I guess self-defense doesn't aid one in interior defense because highflyers are challenging him above the rim with reckless abandon. Not-so-gradually, he's becoming the new Shawn Bradley. Or, he's Dikembe Mutombo without the resume to worry about being dunked on. One has to admire his determination, but also frown on his low success rate. You can even give him the benefit of the doubt and excuse the Rudy Gay & Blake Griffin posters; seeing those two have rocket boosters in their legs and rise well above the backboard square. However, where I draw the line is when DMV product Ty Lawson rose on DJ like it was an insult for Mbenga to do even be near the rim. It wasn't quite KJ on Olajuwon, but it had the "In De Face!" factor that Iverson on Camby lacks.

These dunks—from Melo to Will Bynum—are a collective statement that interior defense is not like it used to be. Someone put Hasheem Thabeet on alert.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Two Weeks In: Four-Guard Monty

I liked the Melo post after his titanic dunk in the first week of the season so much that I'll try to have a weekly installment as the season moves along. For week two, FU highlights a few fledgling floor generals making early impacts. Take that, Ricky Rubio. More after the random picture...

In Denver, there's a roadrunner speeding up and down the court in the Rocky Mountains the same way that Looney Tunes' bird evaded Wile E. Coyote through the canyons. Lawson can learn from Billups, and George Karl will allow him to maintain that frenetic pace he mastered at Chapel Hill. It also helps that the Nuggets have no other offensive option off their bench (I count JR Smith as a starter). Joey Graham in Denver's swingman normally means a team is lacking along the perimeter. Lawson is like the "change-of-pace" running back--like what Darren Sproles is to LaDainian Tomlinson. He's impossible to keep out of the paint, and has a better jumper than previously scouted. We'll see if he climbs that plateau that hovers over fellow UNC point guard Raymond Felton's game.

Moving further west, in the midst of Sacramento's futility is a gem of a combo guard in Tyreke Evans. "Team Tyreke" is 6'7" with point guard skills and a scorer's arsenal of moves. Evans appears to be everything hoops fans were hoping Shaun Livingston would be before that freakishly devastating knee injury. Some questioned his early jump to the NBA, but it seems the new crop of young floor generals seem to have an inner belief in their abilities that scouts can't measure. It helps that he's on a young team that has talent, but not that impact player with superstar potential. Kevin Martin's good, but he's along the same plane as Ben Gordon. He scores really well, and does little else. Evans is a game-changer on many levels. The big question will be if he can bring the Kings' franchise back to relevance.

In the Twin Cities, Jonny Flynn has allowed the Timberwolves to forget about Ricky Rubio and his decision to stay overseas. Flynn has also won the starting job from Game One, relishing free agent acquisition--and underrated point guard--Ramon Sessions to the backup role. To me, Flynn was the better pick than Rubio anyway because he's stronger, a better defender, and tougher. He was somewhat of an insurance policy that turned into a key franchise piece to build around Al Jefferson. Like Evans, Minnesota's obscurity makes it hard for Flynn to be noticed. But how ever under the radar his start to the season is, he is producing.

This brings me to the main attraction; the reason behind this post. Of course, I'm talking about Mr. "3-guard" himself: Brandon Jennings. He has done everything but chisel his name on the Rookie of the Year trophy, and it's only been two weeks. He has an uncanny knack for using screens, and is the best at it other than Paul, Williams (Deron), and Nash. Yes, already. But I'd like to focus on his moxie. Whether you agree or disagree with his choice to eschew college, no one can deny the impact it's had on his mental toughness. Playing in Italy forced Jennings to grow up quickly; and he had to hang on to his inner belief in himself. It's that type of confidence that intrigues me about him. He was barely getting minutes; yet still somehow knew he would not just play in the NBA, but be extremely effective. Jennings' situation combines elements from the previous three I mentioned. Like Evans to the Kings, he goes to a team starving for a star. Like Lawson in Denver, he gets to learn from a tough, experienced point guard (Head Coach Scott Skiles, not Luke Ridnour). And like Minnesota, the Bucks just aren't that good of a team; so Jennings gets to play significant minutes in insignificant games.

Jennings is the kind of point guard that's indefensible. He's unpredictable. Once he clears the pick, the floor becomes a myriad of options for him and his teammates. And somehow, the Knicks couldn't find a use for a player like that. You better be good, Toney Douglas.

With these four rookies, in addition to the other young lead guards in the Association (Rondo, Rose, etc.), it's becoming clearer by the day that point guard is now the most important position in the NBA. It was evident once Jameer Nelson went down with injury last year. And if anyone can't see the wizardry Chris Paul has done with the Hornets the past two seasons, then they must believe that Mo Peterson and Devin Brown are underrated. These point guard battles will be fun to watch for the next decade. Oh, Jennings should have kept the flat top.


Monday, November 9, 2009

You Best’a Recognize

This piece was birthed from my thoughts about Len Bias, and the events that have ensued. If it seems random you just have to follow my thought pattern.

My heart is Maryland. My soul is D.C., but my heart is Maryland. I love everything about it, Especially the sports teams. Maryland basketball has been the only collegiate basketball I really follow on a consistent basis. The ESPN documentary "Without Bias" based on the events in the life and tragic death of Len Bias resonated with me. The story is so real and so palpable in every way. There was a chain of events that weaved and linked into the events of today. Amid pressure of scandal and investigation into his knowledge of his players using cocaine, longtime coach Lefty Driesell resigned from the position he held for 17 years. His successor Gary Williams has been pacing the sidelines at College Park ever since.

Gary has taken the Terrapins to the Final Four twice, and in 2002 won the National Championship with a bunch of overlooked, "under talented" players. I mean, Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Byron Mutton, Chris Wilcox and Lonny Baxter aren't your normal band of players with extreme talent. But Gary knew what he was working with, and made the right moves (along with the heart of his players) to win that lone National Championship.

In the years since then, the Williams train has traveled down the tracks of mediocrity. There has been player after player, who has suffered from JDS (Juan Dixon Syndrome) where they matriculate from Maryland only to either not be relevant or have minor success in the NBA. John Gilchrist, Drew Nicholas, Nick Caner-Medley, Darryl Strawberry Jr., all have passed through Maryland and have nothing really to show for it professionally. Steve Blake has been the most productive Terrapin since Steve Francis. But why hasn't Gary broken into the well of upper echelon talent the DMV has to offer? Well his main flaw is his refusal to recruit out of AAU.

Let's put things in perspective here. The list of DMV talent that has passed by Mr. Williams (or he didn't recruit fully) includes Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Jeff green, Roy Hibbert, Joey Dorsey, DaJuan Summers, Scottie Reynolds, Ty Lawson, and Jack McClinton. I purposely left Carmelo Anthony off that list because that story sums up the whole point (he was recruited by Maryland, and wanted to attend, but they instead went with Caner-Medley. Anthony won the championship that year with Syracuse). Gary may have looked at these kids, but didn't follow through or seriously recruit them. Yes, Greivis Vasquez was his choice out of Montrose Christian when Kevin Durant came from the same school.

In order for Maryland to once again become a force in collegiate basketball Gary must realize that AAU is the place where most talent lies and begin to harness that talent. He must build a report with AAU coaches and change the perception he has around those inner circles of the AAU. Williams couldn't even sign his latest recruit and New York sensation Lance Stephenson. I mean, its not like he can't fine talent. Maryland just signed Center Jordan Williams, who did this. I understand Gary is a purist, and that is great but one must realize when he must alter his thinking in order to achieve the goals they set out to do. All local talent plays AAU. Hell, I played AAU with the creator of this blog. If Gary is to keep his job in the coming years he has to recognize that and delve into the ocean of talent that DC, Maryland, and Virginia is producing. Until then, that lonely Crystal Trophy in a glass case at Comcast Center will never see a twin.

Love, Peace, and Hairgrease


P.S. I took that picture ^^^^ #thatboytalented

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

One Week In: The Warning From the Peak

Wow. One week into the season and we have an early announcement from the mountaintops of the Basketball Realm: Carmelo Anthony has arrived. Some may be thinking, "He's already been an all-star and is respected as one of the Elite players in the Association." That's true; but you know how I do it here at FU. My definition is a little different. It shall be explained after the random picture...

Before I get to Melo, my explanation must begin with Lebron. Prior to Lebron becoming the best player in the world, he was facing the same barrier two years ago. Then, in that epic seven-game series against the Celtics, he rose and threw one down over KG--the Defensive Player of the Year. Ever since, Lebron has been a different, meaner animal on the court; and it has taken a lot for teams to beat him, especially in the postseason. Yes, Lebron has already reached an NBA Finals and never faced a first-round exit. But that dunk on KG symbolized something more than just two points—more than just momentum in that game. It was a personal truth that he will forever hold self-evident.

Last season, Dwyane Wade was forced to reannounce his might. Coming off two injury-plagued seasons after Flash-ing his superpowers against the Mavs in the '06 Finals, people in South Beach and all around the NBA began to lose faith in their hero. But then, straight out of Marvel Comics, he harnessed his inner strength and emerged a new, better Flash. Last March, against his hometown team, Wade makes a steal and hits a running buzzer-beater three. The play in itself would have been enough, but the resulting leap onto the scorers' table and emphatic proclamation of "This is my house!" makes it that much more impactful. It was as if Wade was sick of all the doubt, the rumors of his demise—of his flaws. He needed to reassert himself as pillar of Awesome, and that table was his platform to do so.

So what can Melo attribute to this breakthrough and discovery of an even greater source of his abilities? Like most things in life, it's a combination of ingredients. Part of it is from watching Kobe's shinobi-like work ethic in Beijing. Part of it is due to losing the team war to the Mamba's Lakers in the Western Conf. Finals, despite winning the individual battle ('Melo bullied Kobe all over the court). The question that is begged is: Why did he proclaim "I'm back?" Few, if anyone, have doubted his offensive abilities. So why did he decide to yell that? I don't know him personally, but this is my assessment: "I'm back," wasn't the whole statement. He hasn't returned from anywhere other than the offseason. It was more like he was saying, "I'm back, meaner than ever." Anthony, to me, was letting the rest of the Basketball Realm know that his nickname will no longer be linked to his game. He will be a force on the grandest of magnitudes from this point forward. The scream wasn't a taunt meant to embarrass Paul Millsap, or a showboating gesture. Melo was simply saying that there's a new fire that burns inside of him; and it will take a hell of a lot for him to be defeated. Beware, NBA.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Real Recognize Real: Money Mike's Knicks' Season Preview

The NBA tips off very soon; and I figured it was time to request help to write the season preview of my beloved Knicks. I enlisted my good friend and fellow superpower, "Money" Mike Benjamin to give a New Yorker's respective on the team that calls MSG home. Peep his thoughts after the random picture...

Fearless Forecaster: Knicks’ Preview 2009

When I close my eyes and think about the 2009 New York Knicks, my mind instantaneously flashes forward to the summer of 2010. You can’t blame me for this. It’s natural. For 95% of the Knick fan base, the key to our basketball ascendance rests squarely in the palms of one Joseph Donald Walsh Jr. and the (fading?) mythos of the World’s Most Famous Arena. Our legitimacy in the eyes of the basketball conglomerate depends on this. We’ve been brainwashed to think and speak in the future perfect tense.

So, why should YOU care about the New York Knicks of 2009? Why even bother to research the disparaging backgrounds of these symbiotic placeholders (Larry Hughes, Darko Milicic)? Should we even care to cheer these athletic mercenaries employed to coerce the distant superstar?

Yes, we should. We must motivate the Jared and Eddy, the two players impeding our efforts to scoop two megalomaniacs in the great tussle in 2010. We must embrace the youth movement, the only pieces of our disjointed puzzle alluring to the potential free agents of the next decade. I just don’t see Lebron riding straightway to N.Y. on his steed if our Knicks team remains pathetic, no matter how legendary the setting. (Unless we witness a swipe akin to the great steal of Wayne Gretsky by the Los Angeles Kings, which would indelibly lead to jeers of “Collusion!”)

Cheering for this impotent franchise doesn’t have to be a boring exercise, however. Within the first four weeks, a symphony of Knicks fans will be singing the praises of the lyrically notable Toney Douglas. Douglas, with his explosiveness and inventiveness similar to the reckless abandon of Nate Robinson, will sadly become the cheaper alternative to our Slam Dunk King when the free agent fracas ensues. David will shift from underrated, to overrated, to properly rated by season’s end, and probably receive a ransom not unlike a certain burgeoning forward (LaMarcus Aldridge) directly following our successful signing of Lebron, Wade, or some other member of the future NBA generation. And if the overrated Knicks management (yes, I said it…he hasn’t done jack since hiring Mike DiAntoni) can flip one of our uglier pieces of furniture for a state-of-the-art masterpiece (a first-round 2010 draft pick), we’ll be cheering simultaneously for John Wall AND the aforementioned 2010 piece de jour.

I’m penciling 60-22 as our record with my heart, but 33-49 with my brain. An astoundingly unimpressive amount of wins for an insignificant cast of characters. We’ll have much to cheer about, that’s for sure. Even if most of it is surrounding the events that will take place on July 1, 2010.

246 days, 14 hours, 57 minutes…and counting.

Mike Benjamin, II

Thursday, October 22, 2009

NBA Team Structure-Chaos Spectrum: An FU Graph

If you're new to FU, then allow me to explain the basis of how I see Basketball. I stand by the creed that Basketball is the only team sport in which a player fuses the game with his personality and soul. No two players can play exactly alike. Kobe can study all the Jordan film he wants, he'll will still shoot his fadeaway in his own Mamba way. Whether noticed or unnoticed, a player's "game" is defined by the kind of person he or she is. Richard Hamilton will never use screens the same way Reggie Miller does. Blake and Taylor Griffin are brothers; and even they have totally different inner methodologies that could never be copied. The shooting form in my banner pic is mine and mine alone. I'm not referring to how productive a player is on the court; so the last guy on the Nuggets isn't a worse person than Carmelo Anthony because he isn't as good as 'Melo. I'm theorizing that how a person sees Basketball is a reflection of their personality.

An addendum to my FU creed is that a Basketball fan's like/dislike of certain teams is also a reflection of how a person is. All 30 teams fall somewhere between "conventional" and "unconventional." This is along the parallel of my yin/yang series, as well as "Money" Mike Benjamin's "Form/Function" series over at Points Off Turnovers. Characteristics such as offensive tempo, play-calling, rosters, and the blurring of traditional positions are included in a team's mixture. And I, to the best of my ability, graphed them. Western Conference teams are on the left, and the East is on the Right. Peep the result and an explanation at the end of this sentence.
The first thing I think readers will notice about the graph is that the Lakers and Celtics are in the middle of Chaos and Structure. This doesn't mean they are "perfect" teams; but rather that they've achieved the most exact blend of those two ideals. The graph is also Conference exclusive. Eastern and Western Conference teams aren't necessarily compared to each other. For example, the Pacers are more conventional than the Bucks; but they're not necessarily as conventional as the Rockets with Yao. A third idea is that I'm not associating better teams with being closer to the center of the graph. As you can see, there are contenders scattered along the spectrum.

This is a graph about the teams as a whole. Each of them has at least one player opposite of its place in the spectrum. And your like/dislike of a player has no bearing on how you feel about a team. So you may like watching Deron Williams; but that doesn't mean you enjoy watching the Jazz. And allegiance to one's favorite team does not apply to this graph because that bias will distort your view. It's understood that some players—particularly the Elite ones—exponentially add interest to their respective teams through fans' appreciation of their work. I'm a huge fan of Chris Paul, yet I cannot stand watching the Hornets. In this graph, an individual player does not correlate to the overall enjoyment of watching the entire team.

The Rockets and the Sixers were given two spots on the graphs because they had drastic alterations to their team's chemical makeup. Both teams became more successful when they were forced to abandon structure and become more chaotic to survive. Thaddeus Young became the hybrid SF/PF that Philly needs to get out and run; and the Rockets just played on pure guts and let Aaron Brooks be Atom Ant. It was a bit of Adelman's smoke and mirrors, but Houston somehow won 2 games without Yao against the future NBA champs. As for the Sixers, that first-round series with the Magic was a lot closer because they had to be fast break-oriented. Andre Miller, now playing in the Rose City, was the reason the transition from structure to chaos was seamless. Elton Brand must adapt himself to the fast-paced Sixers and not the other way around. It makes them much more dangerous.

Where our individual personalities factor in on this graph is that it will point out the many facets we have as people. I'm infatuated with the pure ruthlessness of the anarchic Warriors as well as the Spurs mechanization through the Big Fundamental. Portland's young near-completeness and Oklahoma City's developing Revolution are both microcosms of my personality. That's the beauty of Basketball. Just when you think you've figured out everything about your self, you discover something new about who you are as both a person and a hoops fan. Find yourself through this art. I have and am continuing to do so with each passing season.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back on the Warpath

I finally understand how hard it is to write about hoops in the off-season. And I give ultimate respect to FreeDarko and the other basketball blogs out there that kept the quality of their content in mid-season form. Searching for a quality topic that was up to FU standards, I probably threw good ideas away in hopes of sparking great ones. However, I am back from hibernation with to bring you loyal readers that Basketball philosophy that goes beyond the superficial. This season should be a fun one, and I thank all those that come along for the ride. And yes, there still will be random pictures.

The reason I couldn't post anything in the past few weeks is because I didn't have much that really excited me during the off-season. Then it hit me. I'm gonna share the storylines and situations for the 2009-10 season that do spark interest. Everyone can talk about Boston, LAL, San Antonio, and Cleveland. That's easy; I'll worry about them in April. Teams like those, barring injury and "Banderas Complex", are proven commodities with only stats and records to fill in. Even the potential 'Sheed outburst is a given. There will also be teams that disappoint and teams that surprise. With that said, this season has me more amped than any other before.

The Coming. I've been trying to tell anyone (literally) about Anthony Randolph, the second-year forward out of LSU. I think I'm interested in his development more than I am with Steph Curry's. AR is a legit 7 feet with the aggressiveness that Lamar Odom can't harness. Not as polished, yet; but no one is as skilled as Odom at that height. The speed in how Randolph matures may determine how willing the Warriors are to trade Stephen Jackson. If Monta sees the light and recognizes just how much space playing with Steph will give him, the Warriors may just be more impossible to defend than they were in the "We Believe" era. The Key is Randolph; for he is the one true mismatch on the team. I sure hope Don The Mad Scientist has one more concoction he can experiment with; because that's too much talent to not be on the same page.

The Corollary. Some athletes want to assimilate into the professional world and "blend in;" and some march to the beat of their own drum. Well Brandon Jennings must have his own live band because he's definitely different, and I respect it. His decision to forego college for overseas has made him polarizing in the Basketball community; stirring up the same divisive feelings that AI being the Christopher Columbus of hip-hop in the Association did in '96. "The Corollary" may not catch on as a nickname for Jennings, but his Iverson-like persona makes him the answer to The Answer. It's as if he's cosigning, but with his own response. Of course, in order for him to be taken seriously, he has to pan out and be a good player on the court. Eccentrics like AI, Arenas, and Rodman were able to be so because they're productive and vital components to their respective teams. Yes, that goes for Gilbert, too. Jennings' style is what made him the highly touted prospect that he is, and if he sticks to that, he should do good things for Milwaukee even though the Knicks should have drafted him.

Legend of the Fall-Offs. Like clockwork, when an athlete's ability to play at a high level goes, it goes. Even MJ, the G.O.A.T., couldn't escape Father Time and could no longer call forth his magic at his whim. Regardless of how great a player is, at some point, he will lose a considerable amount of that greatness. Every star player with at least a dozen seasons under his belt is battling Father Time tooth and nail. This applies to Kobe, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, KG, with AI, Jason Kidd, and Rasheed Wallace already beginning to lose the fight. I'm not rooting for any of them to drastically decline; but it'll be interesting to see which ones stay consistent and which ones look "old." Timmy has the best chance because he never relied on explosive athleticism to be effective. Kobe and Ray will be relying a little more heavily on those outside shots. I am slightly concerned with the Maestro, though. This is the seventh year of him in SSOL Mode, and I'm not sure his back can take another 82 games of that without a viable backup. Phoenix may have to rely on more Amar'e post isolation offensive sets just to keep Nash upright. Every Suns teammate, except maybe Grant Hill and Barbosa, depends on Steve Nash to put them in positions to score. That's a lot of mental strain combined with the physical strain of playing uptempo for 82 games. I don't know how much longer Nash can be on the front lines of the Revolution.

R versus R. My last pre-FU post was a comparison between Chris Paul and Deron Williams. A couple years later, and another young PG juxtaposition in the other Conference interests me more than that one did. Boston and Chicago played the best first-round series ever. Spawning from that is a 1-guard rivalry for the next decade. Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose are both unorthodox and free-flowing. Neither follows the John Stockton model of being a point guard. Rondo is the injection of youth that fuels the veteran Celtics, and Rose is the one Baby Bull with transcendent talent. Each of them has sparked change in different ways and should have very entertaining bouts in the East for coming years...with inclusions of Devin Harris.

This is the first time I've missed Basketball this much, and after hibernating, FU will be better for it. We're back with more of that Basketball truth rarely talked about in the mainstream. Thanks for your support, and I won't let you down. To steal from the WNBA: Expect Great.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

FU Self Face/Off: The Iverson Saga

Since I'm in my yin/yang, both sides of the spectrum mode, I'm going to write yet another post on my favorite player: Allen Iverson. I know FU seems to be flooded with AI posts and mentions; but since I've become indulged in the Basketball Realm as its scribe, his career has had more dramatic change than ever. Gone are the days of carrying franchises on his diminutive shoulders, slicing mountains and monuments with the sharpness of his crossover dribble. He's a journeyman now; trying to disprove the perceived notion that he's fallen from the ranks of the Elite.

Whenever an idea for a post starts formulating, it usually sparks two different types of reactions and opinions in me. Now each opinion in unedited and honest, but one is a little more controversy-based than the other. It's like "T.I. vs. T.I.P.," minus the southern accent and military arsenal. With that said, I'm going to share both opinions that arose once I heard that AI signed with the Grizzlies. The semi-politically correct one is after the random picture...

Welp, it's happened. The Little Shooting Guard That Could, the undersized perimeter player with an unbreakable will, the Braided Bringer of Buckets—Allen Iverson—has finally lost that proverbial step. Since his release from the Motor City, he has had the Clippers semi-interested in his services and had to practically beg the Grizzlies for a chance—and even they took a couple months to think about it before signing him. Even Larry Brown, the one coach able to fully utilize AI powers, wouldn't bring Iverson aboard because he didn't want to disturb the chemistry of his Bobcats team; despite said team in desperate of big-time scoring. Something has to be wrong with Iverson if bottom-feeders like the Bucks, Knicks, and Kings wouldn't give him a look. And yes, the claims of him being a bad teammate are starting to become legit. At first, he was all gun-ho about coming off the bench in Detroit so Rodney Stuckey's development wouldn't be stunted. Twenty games into Joe Dumars' experiment, and it was obvious Iverson's isolation-based game doesn't mesh with all the screens Rip runs around. It became more clear once Iverson went out with the back injury the first time, and Rip flourished without him.

The Pistons went from six straight Eastern Conference Finals to getting swept out the first round by the CrabHammer of Lebron. Chauncey Billups, who AI was traded for, grasped the attention of the often knuckle-headed Nuggets and led them to the Western Conference Finals. Billups proved he was behind Detroit's success, and established himself as one of the game's best leaders. And well, no one's associated Iverson with leadership.

This is what it has come to for Iverson. His lowest points per game total ever (18.5); and players like Paul Millsap, Ramon Session, and Hedo Turkoglu being more coveted than him. This is the beginning of the end.

And now...the other way I felt...

So the only team that wanted AI is the Grizzlies? Really? Those 50-loss teams couldn't use a prime scorer who is two years removed from averaging 33 points a game. That's thirty-three...for an entire season. Yes, Iverson is incapable of averaging 30 a game. Yes, it seems the countless reckless treks to the rim are now taking their toll on his frail frame. But there still aren't fifteen guards better than Iverson in the Association right now. He didn't fit in Detroit, and he still averaged 18+ ppg and 5+ apg. Do you know how many point guards did that last season? Four (Billups, Paul, D. Williams, and Harris). So don't act like Iverson can't play at an extremely high level in this League.

You want to know why I really think AI wasn't signed for awhile? Collusion. Not just from the owners, but from an order by Commissioner Stern himself. How else would the active leader in points per game be a free agent until September? Did I mention he's two years from averaging 33 points a game for a season? And you mean to tell me the Kings feel Beno Urich is a better option? Even if he has to come off the bench, what team couldn't use an unstoppable scoring threat with their second unit? Last I checked, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Miami, and a few other teams don't have a hint of a scoring threat off the bench. Yet Iverson has to settle for Memphis, while Earl Watson is still employed.

No punches pulled, I think David Stern blames Iverson for the infusion of hip-hop into his precious League. Shorts became longer, fundamentals began to lack, and individualism became more outwardly expressed once The Answer was drafted. If you've been paying attention, Stern has slowly been trying to eliminate the individual style that today's pro hooper is displaying. I always point out that Basketball forces one to intertwine the game with his soul in order to prosper at it. It's why no matter how many times you watch "Better Basketball," you won't shoot the same way as J.J. Redick or dribble like Mike Bibby. One's "game" is as exclusive as his fingerprints. Yet it seems Commisioner stern doesn't want any of his players to express themselves. Eliminating the Band-Wade, the leg tights, and event he dress code to some extent are all ways to promote uniformity. This isn't football. Fans see the faces of the players all the time; so if a player wants to rock a colored band-aid under his eye then let him. Stern is trying to do away with that quietly. Why do you really think Lebron's shoes are ugly?

Anyway, glad to see Iverson was able to continue his career and not be totally frozen out the Association. I've given you guys a little insight into my thought process whenever a story like this occurs. As you can see, while I still don't give you the everyday, mundane, watered-down hoops analysis; I still hold back a little bit. Maybe I should stop that and just cut loose for real. I guess I will do that from now on. FU has just increased the pressure.