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.