Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Search of Yang...or Yin: Part 2

After reading this on my boy Mike Benjamin's, "Points Off Turnovers," (Side note: Seriously, Mike, I want in on I am compelled to probe deeper into my basketball yin/yang theory. I will avoid the obvious pairings and unearth various inverse/converse relationships within the important tiers of the Basketball Realm. After the picture, The Flash Green Lantern...

Being: Dwyane Wade

Yin or Yang?: Yin...too much yin.

Possible Yangs: Monta Ellis, J.R. Smith, Leandro Barbosa, Gerald Wallace

Actual Yang: Gilbert Arenas

I struggled mightily between either placing Wallace or Arenas as Wade's compliment, but I decided to go with The Hibachi; mainly because Wallace's star isn't as bright as Arenas' (and he falls a lot). Using Mr. Benjamin's form/function theorem, both Arenas and Wade use the other's element as a secondary-but-vital piece to the way he approaches Basketball. Wade, geometrically symmetrical with the backboard as his colleague, has flawless footwork when lining up his jumper. However, in his Iverson-like relentlessness to the rim, he employs whichever involutary bodily movement that is needed to score. Even in that mix, he demonstrates the fundamentals of the layup: off the glass.

Arenas, the exemplar of impulsive and whim, straddles the lines of consciousness—almost perilously. Yet, he is a tireless worker in the gym, as if he wants to elaborate on his impulsiveness through the rigors of structure. As Bethlehem Shoals said, "[Arenas] has atomized the game..." Though he sees the Realm of Basketball as a place to do whatever he feels, he is respectful of it, and a sage with quirkiness as his mystical arts. Both Wade and Arenas are masters of their craft, and need each other's basic ingredient to make their respective games whole.

Being: Brandon Roy

Yin or Yang?: A whole lotta Yin

Possible Yangs: Rudy Fernandez, Rudy Gay, Ben Gordon

Actual Yang: Nick Young

Brandon Roy will have his name among the Association heavens real soon. His game is stoic and disciplined. A microcosm of this is that as a right-handed player, he loves going to his left offensively. With silent confidence, he assassinates opposing wing players, and can still get the rest of his teammates involved down the stretch. Roy has underrated athleticism, and doesn't feel the need to display it unless it's necessary.

Nick Young may not ever reach the potential his game has set out for him to attain. Scoring comes naturally, and the Wizards have finally let him loose to put the ball in the basket. Plainly put, he gets buckets. As far as personalities go, Roy is mostly soft-spoken. He's not boring, but Young is definitely more of the extrovert. His nickname is, "Hollywood," and well, he does stuff like this for fun. Roy is certainly a better player than Young, but if Nick is allowed to ascend to his rightful plane, then their compatibility will come to fruition.

This is shaping up to be a long series, with more than just yin/yang relationships between players. Your move, Money Mike.


Monday, January 26, 2009

STAT: All Shine And No Heat...?

Every time I do one of these criticism-based pieces, I must preface them with the proverbial, "I'm not a hater," disclaimer. So consider that previous sentence this piece's informing of impartiality. I had originally put this idea off because I had found better things about which to essay. But with the recent announcing of the Association's all-star starters for this year, it must be shared. After the random picture, let's get to it...

Amar'e Stoudemire is a freakishly gifted athlete playing power forward. When he made Michael Olowokandi a poster in his rookie season, he seemed poised to spearhead the second coming of the power forward. However, my beef with Amar'e is that while he is an offensive battering ram with vertical rocket fuel, he seems to only showcase it when he can be awesome. To put it simply, he'll only try hard when it looks good.

Stoudemire plays no defense, and with all that athleticism, only manages eight rebounds a game. To give a comparison, Dwight Howard, who is the only big man that rivals Amar'e in physical gift, leads the Association in rebounds. For all of Howard's playfulness, he'll still dunk on you and play defense and rebound. Amar'e, for whatever reason, is only concerned with matters pertaining to the dunk.

I maintain that if it were not for his knee injury three seasons ago, he would never have developed the solid medium range jumper that he now has. Once his flight was taken away from him, Stoudemire saw his basketball soul flash before his eyes; and he found cause to add a newer, more fundamental dimension to his game.

So what needs to be done? What needs to happen that will compel Amar'e to commit to defense and rebounding in thought, word, and deed? I firmly believe he needs to be embarrassed by someone, and on a big stage. He either needs to be dunked on, or put through the ringer for a playoff series. David Lee did the former, and Tim Duncan does the latter on the regular; but Tim Duncan does that to everyone so it goes without mention. I mean it needs to be blatantly obvious that Amar'e is getting destroyed by an opposing player, and the media can't let him escape the criticism. Maybe then it'll be implanted in his head that he isn't elite until he competes on both ends of the floor and do the grimey work that doesn't make the highlights. Your move, STAT.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

In Search of Yang...or Yin

In sports, there is a yin to every yang. The Yankees and Red Sox, Chamberlain and Russell, Bird and Magic; there are always two opposing entities that need each other to be at their best. It's not just that the two are the best at what they do; but rather their souls are contrasting and complimentary. It can never be established by outsiders, but always forms as if it was preordained.
Since the dawn the realm of Basketball, there have been three individual yin/yang pairs among the players. There's the point guard, the swingman, and the big man. For example, Chris Paul and Deron Williams will be forever linked, regardless of whatever Rose or Harris do in their careers. Tim Duncan and Shaq are polar personality opposites—Shaq, the bold showman and Timmy being the epitome of quiet strength. But there lies a mystery regarding the perimeter player: who is the yin to Lebron's yang?

One would venture to the obvious answer of Kobe, but Kobe's six years Lebron's senior. They have been on the same plane for no more than three seasons, with this one being the third. If one figures that Kobe has five more years of Mamba-ness, then that places Lebron—at 29—with no one as his rival for another six to eight years. And besides, Kobe's rival has been the Ghost of Jordan Past since his inception anyway. Moving on...

Is it Wade? He certainly has the game, and will most likely see Lebron in some playoff series over the next few years. However, Wade and Lebron's personalities are too similar, despite The Flash not being so flashy. Both are sort of clean-cut, minus Bron-Bron's tattoos, and aren't exactly Muhammad Ali when it comes to taking any sort of political stand (more about that soon). It works a little, but doesn't quite capture that Bird/Magic feel. Keep on searching...

Maybe it really is Carmelo Anthony, as Draft experts had claimed after their selections in 2003; and really, since their high school days. Their games are diametrically opposed; with Lebron as Max Payne at light speed and Melo as Sam Fisher from the free throw line extended. Throw in Melo's Iverson-like street cred and inner city popularity; and there may be something stirring in the chemistry pot. Yet I feel that Melo, while mathematically, well, mellow and sublime from the paint, doesn't quite beam with the same regal aura as Lebron. While there is King James, I feel like Anthony would be more like Knight Melo instead of having his own empire among the Association. To me, Carmelo serves as Lebron's sparring partner; not necessarily for James to flat-out dominate, but to let The King know that he can't take too many days off from his celestial duties, yet still can't challenge the throne himself.

Who knows? Maybe Mayo, Granger, Roy or someone else will arise and be that converse for Lebron. Though that player won't be able to wrestle the crown from Lebron's head for awhile, he can at least claim some territory for The King to have battles to reaffirm him place atop the Realm.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let My People Go

Sometimes, a younger, upstart player with talent presses his team to give him more floor time—or be forced to part ways with him. For example, an energetic Gerald Wallace forced the Webber-Bibby-Peja Kings of the early 2000s to trade him, and now he's the Tasmanian Devil for Bob's Cats. This season, a few players have compelled their respective team to provide them more minutes; or leverage to trade the person in front of them on the depth chart. A few of them are listed after the random pic...

Nick Young. Coming out of Southern Cal, "Hollywood"—his nickname given to him by his Wizards' teammates—was a sublime scorer. However, because he didn't try on defense, he was stuck behind inferior off-guards (I'm looking at you, DeShawn Stevenson). With Stevenson's injury, coach Eddie Jordan Tapscott had to insert Young into the rotation. He began as a 7th or 8th man, but with Tapscott's tinkering with the lineup, Nick has started the last few games; and has responded. He had 28 points a couple games ago, 30 the next night, and 33 against my Knicks last game (but the Knicks did get that W). He can get his shot on his terms, and has the rock on a string. All I need now is more videos of him and Dominic McGuire acting like fools and Nick in the Dunk Contest. Oh, DeShawn, your days in DC are numbered. But at least you won't be Lebron's doormat for too much longer.

Paul Millsap. Paul Millsap should have been a first-round pick three years ago. At Louisiana Tech, he led the country in rebounding three consecutive years. Anyway, with Carlos Boozer sidelined with a hobbled knee, Millsap has stepped in to have his best season yet, averging 15+ points and 9+ rebounds a game. Now, with Boozer deciding to opt out at the end of this year, Utah may not be as upset if Boozer chases the money. Millsap does everything that Carlos does, and he's hungrier, younger, and more athletic. Look for Deron Williams to have a new pick-and-roll mate in the very near future.

Ramon Sessions. Unless you live in the upper midwestern US or desperately want to see Michael Redd's awkward-but-effective jumper, then you haven't seen the Bucks play in about three years. However, they have found a hidden gem in backup point guard Ramon Sessions, who began to show some signs last season. Sessions, on an April night against the Bulls, posted 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 24 assists. Now them numbers. So who's stopping Sessions from being the full-time starting floor general in Milwaukee? That would be Luke Ridnour; an okay player but will soon lose his sport to the second-year man from Nevada.

D.J. Augustin. The player whom the Knicks should have taken instead of "El Gallo" has forced Larry Brown, notorious hinderer of rookies, to give him time on the floor. When he's combined with Raymond Felton in the speedy-but-undersized backcourt, the Bobcats have been way more efficient and a halfway decent team. I wonder who leaves first: the point guard His Airness trades, or Larry Brown.
There are some other players that are waiting for their shackles to be removed. If you know of some, or want to debate the ones in this list, leave it in the comments. As the immortal song goes, "Let my people go." Peace.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Flash Needs A New Nickname

If you haven't noticed by now, whether it's because of the Heat's recent obscurity or because you're now blinded by Lebron's powder-laced might, Dwyane Wade is back to Flash form. He, like Lebron, has added muscle mass while keeping the same spring in his legs; evident by his tendency to be a 6'4" help-side swatting machine. I have no problem with his on-the-court abilities except for one. To me, despite Wade's superhero basketball abilities, he's still, well, boring. If that raised an eyebrow or two, you know where to meet me...

As stated above, I am amazed by his game.  However, his effortlessness is both a basketball virtue and a public detrement.  He performs in every play with practically a straight face, as if exerting unnecessary emotion is beneath him.  His clean-cut, golden boy persona has garnered money bags from the heavy-hitters in endorsements, but it seems that his popularity is massive, it isn't on the level of Lebron, Kobe, Dwight Howard or even Melo and Arenas.

Now this is based on my observations, but Wade doesn't have the "street cred" of a Melo, in the same way that Kobe couldn't reach the inner city popularity of Allen Iverson.  As written in the FreeDarko book (I'm paraphrasing), "Kobe leads in jersey sales; but Iverson would get the most crowd faints walking down the street."  The twist in this theory is that Wade's upbringing is anything but silver-spooned.  I believe the disconnect lies in his demeanor.  Even though he has some semi-humorous commercials, he doesn't portray the same charisma that Lebron does.  His smile doesn't emit the same wattage as Melo's or Dwight Howard's.  Even when he screams, it isn't as intimidating as some of his counterparts'.  I don't know exactly why, but even though he strikes fear in the hearts of defenders, his presence isn't daunting.  Wade isn't bland, just calm.  His display of emotions, whether aggressiveness or playfulness, seems a little more forced than Lebron's, even if nothing could be further from his actual truth.

 One factor in gaining street cred is the way one approaches the game of basketball.  Other than the moments he displays his superiority, his game is far from his DC Comics nickname.  The footwork on his jumper is flawless, and he has an affinity for the backboard.  The structure of his approach doesn't translate to the free-spiritedness of the blacktop.  Example, what would be practiced more, a Steve Nash pass or a Wade step-back jumper?  While street cred isn't necessary for most to appreciate players like Wade, it does keep them from being placed above the Association's stratosphere.

Fledgling stars like Danny Granger, Brandon Roy, and Devin Harris have the talent to place them among the elites in the current Association, but of this moment lack the off-court presence to be idolized in a way that their respective games demand.  They may be in your next Gatorade ad, but will have deity just out of their reach.  I'm not sure if Wade is to blame, or if it traces to Kobe, or before him.  But flash over substance has always been the montra among casual fans.  In the Justice League of The Association, where Lebron is Superman and Kobe is The Dark Knight, Dwyane Wade isn't The Flash; but rather The Green Lantern.  An unassuming, structured-but-unique, third-best player in the world, pillar of strength that while he may not every young hooper aspiring to be him, he's still essential to the NBA Universe.  And he will render opposers powerless by his calm but destructive hand.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bill Murray, The Knucklepuck, and Other Underrated Sports Movie Moments

I love a good sports movie. Like any entertaining movie, they have moments—usually at the end—that last forever in our memories. However, there are some underrated moments in various sports films that I would like to share with you. Take a trip down memory lane with me after the random pic...

"Space Jam" - Bill Murray's Toon Squad Contributions:

The Monstars, with the best intro music this side of "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, were punishing the Toon Squad with their stolen basketball abilities. Everyone remembers Michael Jordan stretching his arm for the game-winning dunk, but few remember a substitute that helped the Toon Squad complete their furious comeback. With cartoon characters going down left and right, Bill Murray stepped in to be the fifth man and second human alongside His Airness. Turns out, he had skills; and his on-the-court swag was phenomenal. In one behind-the-back pass, he showed that he was a viable NBA fantasy team option in all formats. His highlights are about three and a half minutes into that link.

"D2: The Mighty Ducks" - Russ Tyler's "Knucklepuck"

Everyone remembers the shootout in which Julie "The Cat" Gaffney stopped Gunner Stahl's triple deke (an underrated move in its own right) for the Team USA win; but there was a game-changing player that had a big shot in that game after Charlie Conway voluntarily gave up his spot for him. After getting their butts handed to them by Iceland, Team USA Junior League Hockey was heckled by a chatty kid named Russ Tyler, played by a much younger Kenan Thompson. Team USA challenges Russ' team to a street hockey game, learning toughness along the way. In the gold medal rematch against Iceland, Coach Gordon Bombay drew up a clever play to gave Russ a chance to unleash his Knucklepuck as The USA Ducks were rallying against the heavy favorites. Ze goalie! indeed.

"Blue Chips" - Nick Nolte's Basketball Punt

This one of Shaq's movies that were good, probably because he didn't talk much (Kazaam = wack). If you remember this movie, then the first thought that comes to your mind is Shaq and Penny (when he had knees) showcasing their youthful exuberance for fictional Western University. Or, you may remember that this scene was about "friends of the program" illegally using gifts to garner the services of top-level recruits. But in the opening scene, Coach Pete Bell (Nolte) goes Bobby Knight on a ref and throws a massive tantrum. He displays perfect punting form, even in an ugly sweater and wingtips. Bet Steve Nash can't do that. Oh, wait...he can.

"Friday Night Lights" - James "Boobie" Myles' Running Back-ness

Yeah, Friday Night Lights was a great depiction of the true story about Permian (TX) high school football. That's fine. But the legend of Boobie Myles is what is underrated about this film. He was Barry Sanders in an absurd-looking fade, with the personality of Deion Sanders. Derek Luke as Myles was my favorite character, and the movie became less interesting after he shredded his knee from being overused by Coach Gary Gaines, played by Billy Bob Thornton. He was easily the best player in the movie, and the actor most accustomed to playing the sport. His moves were fluid and smooth. Let's hope Derek Luke portrays Diddy as well as he did Myles.

I'm sure I'm leaving out many moments that aren't as heralded as the climaxes of the various sports movies out there. Leave them in the comments.