- A guy named “Sleepy” going on one of the all-time hottest runs? That’s good scripting.
- Floyd wasn’t beating up on chumps. He single-handedly defeated one of the greatest teams of all time.
- The crowd is absolutely electric. (The same crowd would be just as when Klay Thompson went supernova.)
- Floyd went for 18/26 for 51 points. That’s great. But in the fourth quarter, he shot 13/14 for 29 points. That’s better.
- Here’s a write-up of the performance that better contextualizes the video, with specific attention paid to who Floyd was embarrassing.
The New York Knicks’ Derrick Rose scored 26 points in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks yesterday. As long as those 26 points aren’t contextualized, it would appear as though Rose had himself a good night, the kind of thing that sometimes happens despite the loss.
Rose did not have himself a good night. He had precisely the opposite. It took him 28 shots to get his 26 points. He only made 9 of those attempts. To contextualize that properly, players have attempted 28+ shots 27 times this season. Rose’s point total (26) is the lowest by 5 points; Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook each got 31 points, which isn’t great, but which is better than 26 points on 28 shots. Just last week, this website spent significant time extolling the virtues of DeMarcus Cousins, who also shot the ball 28 times, but who got 55 points for his efforts. Cousins, in other words, more than doubled Rose’s output. (And in a win too, if somebody’s into that sort of thing.)
A further exploration reveals that of Rose’s many, many misses, only 2 were from beyond the arc, meaning that Rose shot 9/26 from closer to the basket than from farther away from it. It is impossible to put into words how bad this is, especially considering the closeness of the team’s eventual loss.
It is perhaps worth noting that (hopefully) Rose shot the ball so much because the team’s only other scorer – Carmelo Anthony – had gotten himself ejected after tangling with Thabo Sefolosha. This left the Knicks low on gunners and Rose saw this as a predictable opportunity to up his own (already high) output. It didn’t work but what else could Rose have possibly done?
It isn’t like Rose plays for the Brooklyn Nets across town. If he did, he could have simply routinely gotten the ball into the hands of that team’s sizeable future. The Nets, after all, are the ones with the ones who have corralled the 7’3” Latvian unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis. He’s a guy with a practically undefendable turnaround jumper, a ferocious follow-up game, and a steadfast refusal to backdown. He’s precisely the kind of guy that makes the most sense to routinely get to the ball to, given how difficult he is to defend, and how effective he can be when he gets his offense going. In his second season, Porzingis has seen his shooting improve while going from 14 to 20 points per night and owing to his young age – he’s only 21 – the sky is the limit for Brooklyn.
Part of what makes Porzingis so appealing is his trickery, none greater than having convinced the world – from the Brooklyn Nets to the New York Knicks to the league – that he is actually a New York Knick even though he definitely isn’t. From wearing the uniform in games, to appearing on the team’s website, to being booed by the team’s fans when the team (didn’t) draft him, Porzingis has made every imaginable attempt to convince the world that he actually plays for the Knickerbockers, but Derrick Rose knows better. He knows that Porzingis couldn’t possibly be a Knick, and that’s why Rose, in a game where the Knicks desperately needed more scoring owing to Anthony’s ejection, continued his own assault on the basket (well, near the basket) without getting the ball to Porzingis – who was having a considerably better, if still not great, night – instead.
Or at least, that’s the only explanation that makes any sort of sense at all, what with for Rose having shot the ball 28 times while making practically none of them, while Porzingis only got 17 attempts of which he made 7, scoring a total of 24 points. Want to do some fun math? Rose scored .92 pts per attempt. Porzingis scored 1.41 pts per attempt. So obviously Rose needed to shoot much, much more. Because no matter how many times he’s told, Rose knows that Porzingis is an impostor send to sabotage the Knicks, and that sort of subterfuge is not happening on his watch.
So that’s Derrick Rose everybody: the Inspector Clouseau of the NBA.
Back in the 1990s, fully ensconced in my youth, I somehow stumbled upon reruns of a show called My So-Called Life, one of the great shows for teenagers ever made.* The show seemed like as real a representation of being a teenager that I could at the time fathom, in that it involved young people clumsily adjusting to the world around them.
Perhaps nobody was as bad at doing this as Brian, a serial dork who pined for Angela, the show’s main character. But because this was high school, Angela pined for Jordan while Brian stewed. This was standard issue high school stuff and in a lesser show, Brian would have always been a sympathetic character, forever wanting, forever without. But halfway into the season, the show introduced Delia, a new student inexplicably attracted to Brian, so much so that he asks her to the dance. But when Brian thought, incorrectly, that a chance with Angela had materialized, he abandons Delia, and we’re suddenly forced to reckon with a very obvious thing: teenagers are impossibly flawed.
This though is a website about the NBA, not about mid-1990s genre television, and for that reason, we now need to shift gears abruptly, from great television to great basketball. Enter the Golden State Warriors, owners of the league’s best record, four of the league‘s best players, an almost certainly wide-open road to a third-straight appearance in the NBA Finals, and mounting frustration at the team’s inability to have won its last four games against Cleveland Cavaliers.
Things have come to a head after a Christmas Day loss to the Cavaliers. In that game, the Cavaliers, as they have so often done against the Warriors, came back right at the very end to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That the win came on an absurd shot from Kyrie Irving only rubbed the salt in deeper, what with how things ended last June and the NBA, knowing damned well where its bread is buttered, released a video commemorating the whole thing:
Suddenly, Golden State fans and media are growing restless. As a result, heaving criticisms in all directions. “The problem is Steph Curry’s defense!” versus “The problem is Kevin Durant’s inclusion!” versus “The problem is Steve Kerr’s coaching!” versus “The problem is Draymond Green’s absurdity.”
Or – and this is a completely different option than the ones discussed this far – some Golden State’s fans are losing all perspective entirely. Somehow, the team’s 2015 championship (its first since having won its one in 1975) caused these fans to forget the intervening years, ones in which every imaginable thing went wrong, and only one substantive thing went right. These are fans who witnessed their team struggle to win that 2015 championship against a badly hamstrung Cleveland team (it was a 4-2 championship that should have been a 4-0 sweep given how little Cleveland had in the tank), then watched the Warriors lose to the Cavaliers when it had its full complement of players, and somehow seemed to conclude that the Warriors were an invincible super team incapable of losing.
To be fair, it might be the case that Golden State is as close as the NBA has come in a long-time to having such an unbeatable team, but it is one with very specific (and attackable) weaknesses. Teams that can slow down the Warriors offensive juggernaut can have success against them, and Cleveland has proven, time (2015) and time (2016) and time (Christmas Day) again, that it can trade punches with the Warriors. Surely the most reactive of that team’s fans are smart enough to understand this.
Or maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re Brian Krakow, not satisfied with the attainable (the team’s already established greatness) when the unobtainable seems so tantalizingly close (literal invincibility). Maybe it makes a certain sort of sense to pursue that sort of immortality, but it is off-putting as hell to anybody watching from afar.
*My sneaking suspicion is that this show wouldn’t withstand a repeat viewing as an adult, so unlike the mistakes I made with MacGyver – that show is terrible – I steadfastly refuse to repeat the error.
Here, for absolutely no reason at all, are almost six minutes of Earl “The Pearl” Monroe being absolutely awesome.
DeMarcus Cousins went for 55 points last night, and punctuated his game by doing all kinds of DeMarcus Cousins stuff, like getting ejected from the game before then getting un-ejected from the game, which is an awfully neat trick.
Those who hate Cousins are going to focus on the (non)-ejection. It will be evidence of his inherent cancerousness. They will insist that it is sufficient evidence to show that any team would be bonkers to want him playing for them. Cousins’s home is of particular importance given ongoing questions about him being moved to another team (and his the impending end of his current contract).
This though isn’t about that. People that dislike Cousins are always going to do so, and there’s no convincing them otherwise. And for even the fans tempted to defend Cousins – who has frequently gotten a raw deal in terms of the coverage that he has been forced to endure – often struggle to actually do so, given the big guy’s volatility.
But the other part of the Cousin’s equation was equally in play last night: the fact that he is really, really good at playing basketball. Like, exceptionally good. This is why teams continue to consider ways to acquire him. Talent doesn’t supersede all other things, obviously, but it can supersede a lot of them. Just look at him taking apart the Portland Trailblazers’ “defense” here:
The most notable thing about Cousins’ 55 points is that they were gotten on only 28 total shot attempts. It is very worthwhile to unpack that second number. Let’s start with the very most obvious thing: scoring 55 (or more) points in a game is hard to do. It has only happened 90 times since 1963, which isn’t a lot considering how many players and how many games that timeline represents. But we need to control it farther, and to do that, we need to account for the shot attempts. Those started being tracked in 1982. Since that year, players have mustered 55+ points on 57 occasions.
Only 9 of those 57 occasions involved a player shooting the ball 28 or fewer times. Which means that Cousins 55 points was an exceedingly rare event within an exceedingly rare event. It should be celebrated.
But for those who refuse to celebrate anything involving Cousins, here is something: of those nine performances, Cousins’ 55 points on 28 attempts produced the second-lowest game score. Game score is a measure of how impressive a performance was within the context of a single game, and accounts for everything a player did, from scoring to rebounding to fouls to turnovers. It was developed by John Hollinger. Cousins’ game produced a 42.7, which within Game Score generally is an exquisite number, and evidence of an absolutely tremendous performance. But Michael Jordan (x2!), Kevin McHale, and Dominique Wilkins managed to break 50 (holy moly), and Karl Malone broke 60 (holy guacamole*).
So perhaps it is best to finish with the following – DeMarcus Cousins contains multitudes. He’s talented and bonkers and, presumably, it is impossible to get his one without getting his other.
*Malone’s awesome 61/18/2/3/0 with 2 turnovers and 2 fouls came in a rout. Cousins’ came in a relatively close game. And in fact “awesome” might not be sufficiently explanatory. That Malone game was the third-highest game score ever.
Nikola Jokic is a monster.
Although he is currently only averaging 11.6pts/7.5rbs/3.3ast. In theory, those numbers are good, but not great, and hint at the sort of middle-of-the-road grinder that most teams would love to have. Except those are Jokic’s numbers in only 24 minutes per game. He’s averaging roughly a half of a basketball game per night, far fewer minutes than the game’s biggest and brightest stars traditionally play. Over the course of 36 minutes, Jokic is hinting at the capability to produce 17.4pts/11.2rbs/5ast, an absolutely sensational line that takes a player from being somebody that other teams might want on a roster to being a player that other teams might build around.
Jokic’s drawback is his adjustment to the American game. Although he puts up numbers, he also fouls a lot. He often finds himself riveted to the bench after only short bursts of in-game action owing to his propensity to defend hard. Worryingly, his fouling has shown no signs of slowing down, as his fouling rate from his rookie season (4.3 fouls per 36 minutes) is ticking upward this year as he is getting slightly more burn (4.6 fouls per 36 minutes). What this unfortunately means is that he is often unable to unleash his potential owing his inability to actually stay on the court.
Jokic has perfectly sumarized himself in the last week. In a win against the Portland Trailblazers, Jokic for 13/4/5 in only 19:23 of game time, owing to having also picked up five fouls. In a win against the New York Knicks, Jokic went for 10/9/5 in only 20:13 of game time, again owing to having picked up five fouls. Those are both beastly performances for having only averaged twenty minutes per game – and to be fair, the Nuggets won both games – but the mind reels at considering what he might be capable of if he was playing 31 minutes a game instead.
Or maybe 38 minutes instead. That’s what Jokic managed last night after fouling only once. His resulting production – a stellar 27/15/9 (on 13/17 from the field) – is precisely the sort of game that fans are imagining whenever Jokic takes the floor. The issue is whether or not he can ever figure out a way to consistently stay there.
There’s one other excellent reason to get excited about Jokic’s career. If the Serbian big man’s numbers aren’t enough to get the blood flowing, his passing absolutely is. To that end, we have all of the following passes as evidence:
And this one:
And this one:
And this one too, because what the hell:
The tempting thing to do now is sift back through NBA history to find big-men who were equally adept at passing. This though is unfair, as Jokic is 21, and is growing into his game, and holding his youthful play up against one of the game’s all-time titans sets entirely unreasonable expectations that nobody should be forced to measure up to. It would frankly be an injustice to both Jokic and the player to compare them to one another, and that isn’t what this website will ever be about.
With that said, here is a video of a very calm big man throwing a very calm pass precisely on the money for the easy layup:
Russell Westbrook’s had himself a historic Saturday night.
But before we get to that, an editor’s note: a very fair critique of this website, among the many that are possible, is that it is too focused on night’s like Russell Westbrook’s. What good is it to look at a single performance without contextualizing things within a broader statistical reality? We live in a time when we can know so much about the game that one wonders what sense it makes to just go haywire about a night’s worth of work. Surely there are more important things.
Which, okay, yes. But the counterpoint is that Westbrook put up a 26pts/11rbs/22ast. Those numbers are cool. Westbrook’s utter evisceration of the hapless Phoenix Suns was as awesome as it appears to have been and is in fact something that has not happened since 1983. Seriously, Westbrook is alone in having produced 26 (or more) points, 11 (or more) rebounds, and 22 (or more) assists. In fact, if you dial all Westbrook’s numbers backwards – say, to a 20/10/20 line – it’s still something that has only happened five times in the last 33 years.
The issue, as discussed last week, is that getting 20 assists while also scoring 20 points is very, very hard to do. Posting a 20/20 is something that has only happened 53 times in the last 33 years. Tossing in 10+ rebounds turns a difficult feat into a practically impossible one. The biggest issue is that the assist requires the cooperation of two separate participants, the first being the guard who distributes the ball, the second being the player who then proceeds to make the shot. That second part should not be ignored: a good guard surrounded by terrible finishers is going to look worse than he actually is. (Conversely, a bad guard surrounded by excellent shooters is going look better than he actually is.)
But basketball has a fairly consistent way of separating the wheat from the chaff. Players capable of racking up assists and scoring at a high-rate are relatively rare, particularly owing to the inverse relationship of the two pursuits. A player passing the ball isn’t shooting it; a player shooting the ball isn’t passing it. Finding players doing both, a lot, thus has a tendency toward pointing us toward truly great players. This is why of 20/20 games tend to reveal players we recognize as great guards, especially a majority ones who have done it more than once: John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Steve Nash. (Norm Nixon and Scott Skiles both did it too, but they’re a step down from those first four.) Westbrook’s 20 assists were the first time he has ever done it, and although he is relatively far along in his career, it seems very difficult to imagine him never doing it again.
But enough about Westbrook having a truly awesome night, because as cool as that might be, the coolest part was him successfully pulling off a ferocious in-game Shammgod. The Shammgod has variations, but is essentially a single-hand crossover dribble designed to get a defender moving in the direction opposite the offensive playerp. Even a minor Shammgod is a valuable move in the right hands, but what Westbrook did with it Saturday night was nothing of the sort. Poor Tyler Ulis watched Westbrook move by him on the left after being absolutely certain that he needed to be defending him on the right. That Westbrook finished things with a two-handed jump-pass to Steven Adams was icing on a very, very delicious cake.
Craig Sager, the NBA’s best-dressed man, passed away yesterday. He had fought leukemia to a draw for far longer than anybody thought humanly possible and then he succumbed. This is what happens of course. The worst part of life is that it ends. So this isn’t about that. This is about how Sager lived.
Sager was a sports journalist. He appeared throughout professional sports – he was waiting for Hank Aaron after the Brave had hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record – his basketball work was where most viewers would recognize him. He patrolled the sidelines during NBA games and interviewed players and coaches before and after.
Those unaware of Sager might at least recognize his sartorial splendor. He led with it, always dressed to the nines in the gaudiest suits but never in the same one twice. His look caught the attention of players, as it caught the attention of anybody who could see. Kevin Garnett made a sport of routinely roasting Sager’s outfits. But then, at the end of each interview, Garnett left with a smile or a laugh or a giggle, presumably having winked at Sager and although Garnett never directly said it, his affection for Sager was clear to anybody watching. Garnett wasn’t alone. Players everywhere loved him. LeBron James, busy executing one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history, after going through a standard post-game interview, took the time to bemoan the (bizarre) fact that Sager had never covered an NBA Finals and to express his appreciation at Sager having simply attended the game. “We really appreciate you,” James said, in the immediate aftermath of having played almost 43 minutes.
That affection for Sager and his work went beyond players. He frequently found himself on what appeared to be Gregg Popovich’s bad side. Popovich, a man who does not suffer frivolity, clearly loathed the mandatory in-game interviews that coaches endure, and made his disdain clear on multiple occasions. But like with Garnett above, the enmity wasn’t for Sager himself, just for the interview. Popovich’s response to Sager’s death was purely heartfelt and showed that the performative aspects of their interviews were just that: a performance. Popovich and Sager both knew what their repartee was part of basketball’s bigger show.
And then there were Sager’s heartbroken colleagues. There was a demonstrable quiver, from former athletes like Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller to former coworkers like Rachel Nichols and Ernie Johnson, that ran throughout the tributes that they gave for Sager. These are hurting people missing a man that they loved.
There are lots of ways to miss the man though. When accounting for Sager, both behind the scenes and publicly, perhaps it was Steve Kerr who captured the situation best, insisting that a moment of a silence for a man so visually outspoken would have been an insufficient way to remember the man. So he asked instead for a moment of expressed joy. Golden State’s arena exploded in loud praise. It was entirely appropriate.
Craig Sager was a man who lived his life, a fact that is perhaps the most any of us can ever hope to do.
The Los Angeles Lakers are absolutely falling apart. The team has lost eight in a row, now sitting at 11th in the NBA’s Western Conference. Professional basketball is a hard thing. Most teams struggle to achieve goodness, let alone greatness. The Lakers have shown brief signs this season but the long grind of 82 games eventually wears down all but the best. The team’s rapid return to earth – it had started out 10-10, considerably better than anybody imagined it was capable of – makes entirely too much sense given how young the team is. But the reality of the situation is that this year’s Lakers team is one building for the future, not trying to be immediately good. As such, they’re giving their youngest guys lots and lots and lots of opportunities to experience the game’s
As such, the Lakers are giving their youngest guys lots and lots and lots of opportunities to experience the game and all of its facets, including its lows and….oh my god Larry Nance Jr, what are you doing up there?
Eight losses in a row is no fun at all. Seeing a guy jump out of the building to hammer one down is all the fun there is. So at least the Lakers still have got that going for them.
Andre Drummond and Rebounds
Through nine minutes last night, Andre Drummond grabbed 10 rebounds. He had essentially rebounded everything that there was to get. He had 38 minutes left to grab as many more rebounds as he could. But he only finished up with 17 rebounds total after playing another 17 total minutes of game time. He, unfortunately, didn’t get anywhere near the number that he was initially on pace for. Which isn’t to say that 17 rebounds is necessarily disappointing – getting that many rebounds has only happened 54 times this season, and Detroit ended up beating Dallas – but for fans of a game in the very dregs of the season, it takes more than that many rebounds to really get our significant attention. Drummond was on his way toward greatness and then he wasn’t. Dude needed more rebounds.
But what number would have been enough to get our attention? Drummond’s 20/20 game over the weekend was nearly enough, owing to the combination of points and rebounds, but last night, Drummond only shot the ball three times. Dude needed more rebounds.
There have been only been 16 games this season with players grabbing 20+ rebounds. Drummond has five of them. While we’re not necessarily used to him getting that many, 20 wasn’t enough. Dude needed more rebounds.
If Drummond had grabbed 25 (his pace suggested this was a possibility), we would have been forced to perk up. That has only happened once this season. Dude needed 25 rebounds.
But let’s go farther. Drummond averages just shy of 30 minutes a game and, again, he had 10 rebounds through nine minutes. If he had maintained that pace, he likely finishes north of 28 rebounds in a single game. That has only happened 29 times since 1983 and Drummond had one of them. If finishes with 30+ rebounds, he moves into even more rarified air: in the last 33 years, only 9 players have grabbed that many rebounds in a game.
Andre Drummond is 23. It seems entirely reasonable to believe that he’s likely to post a 30 rebound game before all is said and done and, if fans of huge nights are really lucky, he might make a run at Charles Oakley’s 35-rebound night, the best of its kind since 1983.
Six games in the NBA last night. Let’s do it:
The Orlando Magic have an inexplicably constructed roster that generally struggles to produce points. The team has broken triple-digits in eight of its 26 games. It ranks 29th out of the league’s 30 teams in per-game scoring. Atlanta’s defense is marginally better, ranking 14th out of the league’s 30 teams in stopping the other guys from scoring.
But everything went sideways last night. Orlando shot .586 from the field, Atlanta didn’t, and that, as they say, was that.
After the game’s first quarter, the Bulls were leading 38-22 and the internet was gleefully roasting Tom Thibodeau’s return to Chicago. Two hours later, the Bulls had managed to lose quarters 2, 3, and 4 by 77-56 and, in the process, the game itself. Wiggins, KAT, and LaVine put up 23, 16, and 24, respectively, and not-quite-here-yet three-headed monster that is the Timberwolves showed surprising signs of life. That’s made somewhat easier by the presence of a seven-footer who runs – runs – the floor.
The Memphis Grizzlies are essentially too injured to play basketball. Mike Conley is down, Chandler Parsons is down, and Marc Gasol stayed behind in Memphis. That they would then be trying to stop the Cleveland Cavaliers was simply too tall an order. The Cavaliers built their lead in the first quarter, then rested on it for the rest of the night.
Two things worth noting:
The first is this absolutely absurd pass from LeBron James to Kevin Love. Cool passes are cool. James is averaging more than 9 assists per night with this team (a career high) moving the ball around like this. That’s good basketballin’.
The second is the coming controversy that will result from what the Cavaliers are doing tonight: not sending any of their big three to Memphis to play the second half of back-to-back games. Scorching hot takes are sure to result from star players sitting, and whether the angle is, “But think of the children who attended tonight’s game hoping to see LeBron!” or “Back in my day, star players played 48 minutes a night, traveled coach, got injured by 25, and were out of the league by 28!” the shrillness of it all will be enough to burst eardrums. Please note that the Grizzlies sat Gasol and Cavaliers sat Irving in last night’s game. The outcry was…less than deafening.
The implication is that James, who has more miles on his odometer than any player ever at the same stage of a career, owes it to basketball to play a meaningless December game if even a single fan anywhere would be disappointed by him sitting out instead, career longevity and championships be damned. This is an at-best underwhelming claim that simply ignores the rigors of the NBA schedule for the imagined debts owed by the game’s giants.
Anthony Davis’s 28/8/3/2/5 was predictably just shy of being enough to beat the league’s (2nd) best team. Golden State’s Durant/Curry/Thompson hydra poured in 74 points while New Orleans was busy giving minutes to a start to a player named Alexis Ajinca.
The less said about this nightmare the better, save that poor Davis is going to literally choke a teammate to death on the floor and no jury anywhere would find him guilty for having done so.
Before leaving with back spasms, Derrick Rose had played nine minutes, during which he shot the ball six times and missed six times. In nine minutes. IN NINE MINUTES.
Did that cost the Knicks the game? Of course not. But it didn’t help. Neither did Carmelo Anthony’s ghastly 3/15 from the field, or Brandon Jennings 1/6. That team’s recipe is so clear – give the goddamned ball to Kristaps Porzingis and let him go (he shot 12/23 for 34 points, plus 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 steals) – that it is baffling whenever the team complicates things by imagining that it has better options available. It doesn’t.
Either Russell Westbrook can go supernova, or the Oklahoma City Thunder can lose. That seems to be about the whole of it as far as this team is concerned. Westbrook’s 20/6/6 wasn’t nearly enough after Portland won the 2nd quarter by 15 and spent the evening shooting competently.
OKC is also missing Victor Oladipo, after he injured his wrist against the Boston Celtics over the weekend. His absence might really start to be a serious problem for OKC. This is especially true if Westbrook is returning to the game’s somewhat more human stratospheres.