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.