Saturday, August 15, 2009

One For My Pickup Game Heads

I gotta talk to my people that actively get on the court for a minute. Okay, you're in a game (pickup or organized) and you score. It could have been a nice one-dribble pull-up from 17 or a catch-and-shoot 3 from the corner. Then, you score again. Now, you've hit two in a row and the confidence begins to swell. So your team has possession again and you just know you're getting the rock for a heat check. You've just dropped consecutive buckets and everyone noticed. Here's where things go bad. You're expecting the pass—hands ready, feet square, shooting shoulder locked—and your teammate just hoists what could possibly be the worst shot since Dr. Naismith first put up peach baskets. You watch in confusion as the ball forcefully clangs off the rim, and you're left wondering, "What if," as you scramble (if you scramble) back on transition defense. If you can testify to this, then you were got by a player I like to call, "Run-Stoppers."

*Obama voice* Now, let's be clear. If Player A hits two in a row and his teammate hits an open three or cuts for a nice layup, Player A is not the victim of a run-stopper. Run-stoppers, as part of their fundamental truth, will always take a terrible shot. Said terrible shot will lead to a long rebound, which leads to a score for the opposition. I've been the victim of this plenty of times, and there is no way to avoid them. Also, do not confuse the run-stopper with the "jock," "heist-box," "black hole," or whatever your area's term is for someone that shoots too much. Run-stoppers do not necessarily have to want to shoot all the time. However, they see your consecutive scores as a green light for them to get their shine on. And I must stress that the shot they take while you're waiting for the extra pass is always terrible; and usually after a move that isn't in their repertoire. It's usually after mindless dribble to nowhere and an under-direst hoist towards the basket. The funny part is that everyone observant knows it's a bad shot, and the gym goes silent for about 48 seconds as everyone but the run-stopper has the, "What the hell?" thought bubble pop into their minds. And get this, the run-stopper will not—I repeat, not—say, "My bad," or pat his chest as any form of repentance. He will just jog back down the court behind the play like it's all good. It's borderline disrespect. It's as if he says, "Well, your buckets are okay, but they're inferior to my horrendously awful shot selection." In fact, run-stoppers are habitual line-steppers; continuously crossing the understood boundary of feeding the hot hand for their own selfish wishes. The run-stoppers aren't just found at your local "Y" or shaded blacktop. They have infiltrated the professional ranks. They do not include any of the superstars because superstars, by definition, can shoot whenever they want. After the random picture, I will name a few so you will be on the lookout for them this upcoming season.

Linas Kleiza. I've seen Kleiza play since he went to high school here in the DC area (shout-out to my boy Andrew who dunked on him); and since he was a D-1 talent, he had the proverbial green light. Well, must feel he's still at Montrose Christian because as soon as he's in the game, it becomes all about him. Everyone knows that JR Smith is the flame off the bench. Everyone, except Kleiza, that is. JR could be on the verge of one of his patented scoring streaks, and Linas will gladly hoist up a contested triple. Granted, he can shoot, but he is not good enough to take liberties like that. I don't care if George Karl is the coach or not.

Zach Randolph. Zeebo is really talented. He has impeccable post footwork and is really great at playing angles. But don't let anyone else like, say, Nate Robinson start to catch some fire. Z will gladly take the ball at 15 feet, and proceed to ignore his teammates for however long it takes him to shoot. Maybe that's why he's on his fourth team despite being a proven 20-10 guy. Or maybe it's stuff like this. Eh, take your pick.

DeShawn Stevenson. Picking on DeShawn is easy. He was on the embarrassing end of Lebron's Crabhammer, and has been associated with Soulja Boy. That isn't exactly a winning combination. Combine that with this false bravado that he can actually score, and he is the main reason the Wizards aren't that good (yeah, I said it). Stevenson frequently takes long-range shots like he's a marksman from distance. They always seem to come right when Caron or Antawn are about to get going. Even Nick Young's touches are worth more than Stevenson's. Hopefully, Flip sees the light and buries him next to Mike James (another run-stopper) on the bench.

Sasha Vujacic. First off, no one can have a self-given nickname. That's wack and proves you're not worth much on the court. Second, if you're "The Machine," shouldn't you be more than just a backup shooter that only plays when he shoots well? Shouldn't you be shooting well if you're a machine? Does that mean you're malfunctioning? Anyway, Vujacic will kill any Laker 8-0 run with his quick trigger. Part of it is that's all he can do with some sort of regularity; and part of it is that Lamar Odom—who usually runs the second team—is too unselfish to say anything. Take it back to NY on him...or at least get Ron-Ron to do it next year. I know he will.

That concludes my list of NBA run-stoppers. As usual, if you feel I'm wrong or have some players I've missed, leave it in the comments.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

No Time For Move Fakin'

Before each season, there are questions that arise that lovers of the hoops are curious to see how they'll be answered. There is also a group of players who have clouds of doubt hovering about them. I'm going to list a few of them, in no particular order. Some of them you know, some of them you will read perplexed as to why I'd question anything about them. Rookies and other young players do not qualify for listing since there is skepticism around them by default. If you're still with me, the list begins after the random picture...

Gilbert Arenas. I figured I'd start with someone predictable. Everyone knows Gilly's shoe pusher, Adidas, has a slogan titled, "Impossible Is Nothing." Gilly has taken that and put his own spin on it by switching his jersey number for "Nothing"—by the mathematics-based property of substitution. Well, after two years of knee problems and still receiving that max contract bread, he'd better be down to take on the impossible. It isn't a matter of him performing, because when he was last healthy, Arenas averaged the same numbers D-Wade had this past season—with two other 20-point scorers on his team. However, his Wizards team has fallen back to the pack and it will take a supreme effort for them to overtake the Crabhammers, the new all-Black Celts, and Orlando (sorry, no clever nickname for them). Shoot, it'll take more than an average performance for Washington to beat Atlanta. We'll see if Gilbert still has a few tricks up his quirky sleeves.

The "Baby" Bulls. Since about the middle of this decade, Chicago has been one of those young teams on the cusp of being a real contender once they, "grow up." In fact, it's not too long ago that they were co-favorites to win the Eastern Conference. Now it's the end of said decade (weird, huh), and those Bulls are in the same position they were. Kirk Hinrich is almost 30 and he's still grouped in with the young guys. It seems that Derrick Rose knows how to perform in the postseason and wants to be a real threat in May-June. Yes, Vinny Del Negro is a terrible coach, but the fact that team is still "young" is management's fault. Oh, can some psychiatrist get it into Tyrus Thomas' head that he is NOT a jump shooter? And somehow pass the tape of that to Josh Smith in ATL? Thanks.

Vince Carter. Vince's mixture has been diluted with more human and less supernatural. No longer 1/2 man, 1/2 amazing, Carter is coming off his most complete season. Because the Nets were a young team, he was forced into the role of veteran leader; a position he had shunned in Toronto and didn't have to fill while Kidd was in Jersey. Now, Vince finds himself in the scenario that Allen Iverson was in when Denver traded for him. Orlando is hoping to pair Vince with their young superstar in hopes of overcoming that championship hurdle. The Magic need him to provide an element they were missing from last year's Finals team. Carter, even as he loses his uncanny lift, is still a scoring savant—when he's motivated. And even now, once a game, he can call forth that supreme ability and give watchers a glimpse into divinity. As long as he stays focused on basketball, Vince will be a bigger asset to the Magic Kingdom than Mickey Mouse...or at least Donald Duck.

Every significant player from the '05 Draft not named Chris Paul, Deron Williams, or Danny Granger. Aside from the aforementioned players, this entire draft is on the hot seat. Paul and Williams further build HOF legacies by the game, and Granger looks to be an All-Star for years to come. But it's the rest of the draftees—the Blatches, the Marvin Williams, the Boguts—that need to become more vital to their teams. This will be those players' fifth season in the Association, and they are reaching the point where their respective teams are no longer waiting on them to develop and want to see more consistent and productive results. Even Monta Ellis has to have somewhat of a rebound year after an ankle injury. Paul and Williams are the cream of the '05 crop, but those other players should increase their output, or be reduced to throw-ins for trades. Right, Raef Lafrentz?

Lebron James. You may be thinking, "What does Lebron have to prove?" If you're not, then you're probably a Kobe fan and walk around mindlessly saying, "Four Rings," or "Crab Dribble." Anyway, Lebron does have something to prove. He's had sort of a rocky off-season in some people's eyes, and his reputation has taken a bit of a hit. He has nothing to do on the basketball court other than win a title, and that doesn't have to necessarily happen since he's still less than halfway through his career and at least four years away from his prime. I'm sure all of the disappointment some people feel will go away with his first highlight-reel move.

I'm sure there are a few more players in which this is a make-or-break season for them. Leave them in the comments.