The Wizards Are…Hold On…Good?

Twenty games into their season, the Washington Wizards were sitting at a very Wizardian 7-13. It would have been entirely understandable if the team’s fanbase – comprised entirely of my friend Justin – had abandoned ship. But he stuck it through, mostly because if there is anything that Justin has gotten used to in his time as a fan, it is the Wizards being simultaneously underwhelming and tantalizing.

Since that poor start, the Wizards suddenly rewarded Justin’s fandom with a 22-7 run, pushing their overall record to 29-20, good for 4th in the Eastern Conference and, given the ongoing struggles of the Toronto Raptors, the possibility that the team will climb even higher.

What is going on?

The most obvious place to begin is the team’s health. Previous seasons have seen the team routinely undermined by the fact that its arena and practice facility are built on an abandoned graveyard full of broken mirrors and black cats. But this year’s team is currently healthy. It’s a funny thing but as it turns out, having all of your best players available to actually play in the games turns out to be hugely beneficial. The Wizards have been built around a ferocious backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal – easily a top-five NBA backcourt, and for even more funsies, maybe a top-two NBA backcourt – but the team has rarely been able to put the twosome on the court together, owing to Beal’s body having been built out of balsa wood.

Beal has only missed four games this season* and, after a relatively unimpressive start to his season, one in which he was likely playing himself back into the shape necessary to contribute at a routinely high-level in actual NBA games, Beal has cooking. He is averaging 22pts/3.5ast per game since the start of the new year, and he is looking like every single bit of the player that fans have thought possible.

And then there’s Otto Porter. Long the subject of “What if this guy gets better?” type conversations, the former third pick’s fourth season has seen him getting career highs in points (14.2 per night), rebounds (6.5 per night), and three-point shooting percentage (a staggering .463, up from a previous high of .367). This is the kind of development that gets fanbases excited, especially because he is still relatively young.

Which brings us to perhaps the team’s most important piece: John Wall. Although Colin Cowherd (a bag of utter garbage) would have his listeners believe otherwise, the fact of the matter is that Wall is one of the NBA’s best players and, perhaps more importantly, one of the league’s fastest players. He is, simply put, a blur.

Speed isn’t everything of course – Wall’s shooting is…uhh…well, it could be better, let’s say – but his ability to get to the tin in the blink of an eye makes the missed jumpers slightly more tolerable. Meanwhile, like Beal and Porter before him, Wall’s game is sharper than ever: he’s averaging career highs in points (23), assists (10.3), steals (2.1) while fouling at a career low. Dude is good.

What this means for the Wizards’ outlook is hard to say. This team functions so well when all of its pieces are operating at full pace, but that happens so rarely that it is impossible to imagine the team being able to maintain its momentum if an injury inevitably occurs, especially since we have seen what happens when all of its players aren’t available.

But thinking of the bad is no fun at all. So for the time being, let’s not do that, and let’s instead a Wizards team that finally – FINALLY! – looks like a genuine threat to be as good as the one that we have all imagined for so long.

* -knocks so hard on a piece of wood that it literally turns into sawdust-

For No Reason: Ricky Rubio’s Passing

Although it is absurd to imagine that Ricky Rubio’s career is over – he is 26, only just now approaching the peak of his career – there’s no getting away from the creeping fear that are witnessing a player who will never be all that we imagined that he might be. His problem, in a word, is shooting; it is not simply that he is bad at shooting, but that he is awful at it. Not only has he never shot better than 40 percent, he has only once shot better than 37.5 percent.

His problem, in a word, is shooting; it is not simply that he is bad at shooting, but that he is awful at it. Not only has he never shot better than 40 percent, he has only once shot better than 37.5 percent. He is such a shooting liability that teams are willing to let him shoot from almost anywhere, thus allowing them to focus their defensive efforts elsewhere, thus depressing the Timberwolves offensive output. It is a truly grisly situation.

The truly awful part about all of this is how good Rubio could potentially be. That he still managed 8.1 assists without his defenders having any reason to stay near him is staggering. That he passes into what are essentially five-man defensive front while averaging only 2.2 turnovers is equally impressive. His assist-to-turnover ratio is good for third in the league, lagging behind only Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala. He is among the league’s very best distributors. On top of that, he is also a league-leader in steals, taking the ball away almost as often as he turns it over.

But his shooting undoes him. It always undoes him. If he could crack even 40 pecent, we’re not having this conversation, but he can’t. Sigh.

One possibility for the man’s rebirth is a new team. Although Minnesota hasn’t been able to fix Rubio’s shooting woes, another team elsewhere might be able to.* It is for that reason alone that he remains so tantalizing.

Well, that and getting to watch him distribute the ball:

So here’s hoping that help is on the way, be it epiphany or a new location or, if neither of those, then literally anything that unlocks the man to be the fullest player that he can possibly be.

*That team should be San Antonio. They turned Kawhi Leonard into a sharpshooter. If they can do even half of that for Rubio, he is a brand new player with a brand new career. My fingers are very tightly crossed.

Some Coaches Are Not Good

Steve Masiello is the head-coach of the Manhattan Jaspers. He has a bone to pick with the younger generation. Here is that bone, in full:

We’re a fraudulent society from top to bottom. Our society’s fraudulent. Everything about our society is edited. Everything about our society is prearranged so this generation is a fraudulent generation. And what I mean by that is they put their Instagram picture the way they want. They put their tweet out the way they want. Nothing is interactive. Nothing is real so when things don’t go the way people want them to, people really struggle with if it’s not 75 degrees and sunny and the stars aren’t aligned, if it’s not exactly 4 p.m., they didn’t get exactly eight hours of beauty sleep… young people today struggle with it. Our society struggles with that, and for me–I can’t speak for other coaches–I see it more than ever. When adversity comes in, people struggle. They’re not bad kids. This might be one of my favorite groups I’ve ever had. They struggle with adversity. They struggle with–that’s a byproduct of our society today, so I think we’re a reflection of our culture a little bit, not to get too deep.

Masiello let loose with that after his Jaspers – an oddly-named team that he is paid $237,536 annually to coach – lost a not particularly close game against Siena. The loss dropped the Jaspers to an incredibly unimpressive 7-14 overall, and although one would think this is the sort of record that would reflect poorly on the team’s coach, the issue is actually the coach’s players, at least per the Masiello himself, a man who definitely has no ability whatsoever to influence the situation.

This rant will be coming soon to a Facebook wall near you. It will almost certain be posted by somebody who also firmly believes that the only problem with our society today is the fact that it has young people in it, and that these young people today are much, much worse than young people were before. For those wondering, these rants always involve “before” being implicitly defined as when the ranter himself (or herself) was a younger person.

Masiello is not alone in his fury. Earlier this season, Louisville’s women’s coach Jeff Walz lost his mind along similar lines, insisting that his team’s struggles (the Cardinals were 6-2 at the time, with its only losses coming to top-five teams) were the direct result of young people today being worse than young people were before.

“You’ve got to have a will. You’ve got to have a will. Right now the generation of kids that are coming through, everybody gets a damn trophy, OK? You finish last, you come home with a trophy. You kidding me? I mean, what’s that teaching kids? It’s OK to lose. And unfortunately, it’s our society. It’s what we’re building for. And it’s not just in basketball; it’s in life. You know, everybody thinks they should get a job. Everybody thinks they should get a good job. No, that’s not the way it works. But unfortunately that’s what we are preparing for. Because you finish fifth, you walk home with this nice trophy, parents are all excited.”

Walz, for the record, is paid $775,000 annually for these allegedly penetrating societal critiques. And for coaching a team that is actually pretty good, despite his histrionic meltdowns.

Is it worth noting that both of these men are denigrating not only their own players, but also their own players’ parents? Probably. Is it worth noting that both of these men are each making hundreds of thousands of dollars on the backs of their players’ unpaid labor? Probably. Is it worth noting that both of these men are excusing themselves for having any responsibility whatsoever for how their teams performed, essentially insisting that even though they are literally being paid to coach, the very best metric of their ability should be ignored? Probably.

There are two things absolutely worth spending our time on. The first is that both of these coaches are spectacularly guilty of the things that they are claiming to be so deeply concerned about. Take Masiello’s rant: he insists that his players’ problem is that they are unwilling to work hard enough, in the way that he advises and demands, and that because of this, they are not succeeding at the level that they would be otherwise. But Masiello is doing exactly the same thing. Instead of figuring out how to coach his players – instead of, you know, earning his money – he is demanding that they do whatever he demands, whenever he demands it, and when they do not, he insists that they are ones refusing to work hard enough. It takes unbelievable stones to refuse to do hard work, and then to blame other people for not working hard enough. Walz does it too when he implies that his own coaching is exquisite, and that it is his players who have simply failed him.

To put that in much simpler terms: good coaches figure out ways to get through to their players. These two are insisting that they are in fact obliged to do no such thing, and that their inability to is merely a reflection of a younger generation’s failures, rather than their own inability to do the work necessary to get through to their athletes.

But the second thing to spend our time is perhaps the more important of the two. Masiello’s rant might be a classic, but let’s look at it again. This time, I have highlighted the particularly important passages:

We’re a fraudulent society from top to bottom. Our society’s fraudulent. Everything about our society is edited. Everything about our society is prearranged so this generation is a fraudulent generation. And what I mean by that is they put their Instagram picture the way they want. They put their tweet out the way they want. Nothing is interactive. Nothing is real so when things don’t go the way people want them to, people really struggle with if it’s not 75 degrees and sunny and the stars aren’t aligned, if it’s not exactly 4 p.m., they didn’t get exactly eight hours of beauty sleep… young people today struggle with it. Our society struggles with that, and for me–I can’t speak for other coaches–I see it more than ever. When adversity comes in, people struggle. They’re not bad kids. This might be one of my favorite groups I’ve ever had. They struggle with adversity. They struggle with–that’s a byproduct of our society today, so I think we’re a reflection of our culture a little bit, not to get too deep.

Funny thing about Steve Masiello: he lost his job at the University of South Florida after he was discovered lying about having graduated college. One wonders how many of his “fraudulent” players for whom “nothing is real” who “struggle with adversity” can claim the same.


Bad Quadruple-Doubles Keep Happening

Earlier this year, this website tackled bad quadruple-doubles, wherein a player gets double-digits in three of the five positive counting statistics (points/rebounds/assists/steals/blocks) and double-digits in the game’s single negative counting statistic: turnovers.

At the beginning of this season, the league had seen four such performances since 1982: Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Fat Lever, and Jason Kidd had each achieved the feat once (curiously, those players were 3-1 in those games). But now we’re almost three full months into this season, and we’ve seen that total doubled. Between them, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have accounted for an additional four bad quadruple-doubles (those players were 2-2 in those games). That brings the aggregate record of bad quadruple-double getters to 5-3.

Which leads us to a brief, albeit bigger, conversation: are turnovers even that bad? Or at least, are they bad in this case?

It is tempting to believe that turnovers are an enormous deal. “One guy turning it over more than 10 times?” we want to scream. “That’s how you lose basketball games!” The very small sample size says otherwise and there are other confounding factors too. The players who have turned the ball over the most? They happen to be the among the game’s greatest ever players.

But then, it makes perfect sense that the game’s greatest ever players turned it over the most. You have to have the ball to turn it over, and what team anywhere isn’t going to constantly get the ball into the hands of their best players? Harden and Westbrook don’t have four bad quadruple-doubles between them by accident. Both are by far and away the best players on their respective teams and those teams don’t go unless Harden and Westbrook have the ball constantly.

This is reflected in their usage rates, a hugely useful statistic that reflects how often a player has the ball, although it should be noted that there are competing ways to specifically calculate usage rate. But all calculations point to one very obvious thing: Harden and Westbrook have the ball constantly.

It naturally follows then that each of them would have an incredible number of opportunities to turn the ball over and, as expected, both Westbrook and Harden have been aggressively doing so. Westbrook coughs it up 5.5 times a game and Harden is even worse, at 5.7. That’s good for first and second in the league. Their next closest competitor is John Wall, who is losing the ball 4.3 times per game, or more than a full turnover less than Westbrook and Harden. But each of these three are also the league’s leaders in assists-per-game.

What exactly are we seeing? Given the success that both Westbrook and Harden have had (and, frankly, Wall too, given the recent play of the Washinton Wizards), turnovers seem suspiciously meaningless in the grand scheme of things, especially among truly great players. Or, to put that another way, three teams whose best players average the most turnovers-per-game are at a collective 81-50 in league play. All three teams would make the playoffs at this point.

So are there any conclusions to be drawn about bad quadruple-doubles?Well, they are very funny. Turning the ball over 10+ times a game is obviously not great, and it makes for a fun bit of apparent statistical failure. But in the broader scheme of things, they barely seems to matter.

Joel Embiid On Pluses And Minuses

Joel Embiid’s professional career began this year, almost two-and-a-half years after he was drafted. Due to the length of his time away from the game, and due to the reasons why it was exactly that he was away from the game, basketball fans had every single reason to be dubious about Embiid’s ability to substantively contribute to the otherwise moribund 76ers. Sure, he might be a talented big man, we all thought, but he was brittle, and really, how good could a player actually be if he never got onto the floor?

The answer, as it turns out, is really quite good. Embiid’s numbers are not jaw-dropping – he is getting 19.7pts/7.7rbs/2ast/2.4blk per game – and are stunted significantly by how little he is allowed to actually play. He has only been on the floor for 709 of the team’s 1872 total minutes, owing to the 76ers’ very understandable reservations about asking too much of a big man who certainly seems as though he is prone to injury. The team figures that getting anything out of Embiid is vastly superior to getting nothing out of him, and has played him accordingly.

One thing to remember about the 76ers is that it is a comically awful franchise, having gone a staggering 47-199 in the organization’s last three seasons. This was achieved entirely by design after the team’s GM – the utterly bonkers Sam Hinkie – calculated that the team’s best chance for future success was an immediate and prolonged bottoming out. As a result, he stripped the team of all assets as part of a broader plan to lose basketball games, the thought being that the team’s fastest hope for a rebuild was positioning itself to get draft picks. This was how the team ended up with Embiid (and Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel too) as part of its bizarre triumvirate of wildly athletic big men that might not be actually able to play together.

Predictably, this was a plan with problems. For starters, it turns out that fans actually want to see competitive basketball, and the league’s other owners were none-too-pleased by the ticket sales generated whenever the woeful 76ers came to town. The team also did little to actually develop its allegedly prized rookies, choosing to simply hope that those youthful guys would figure it out, rather surrounding them with the sort talented and experienced veterans who could help young players adjust to the league’s professional expectations. Finally, it accounted not at all for what happens when a team loses game after game after game.

Hinkie was eventually dismissed, just as his mad plan appeared to be coming to fruition. The 76ers had most of their Literal Big Three back at the start of the season, and although the returns have been varying – Okafor might not be good and Noel cannot stay healthy – the 76ers are on pace to win a staggering 20+ games. And the reason is almost certainly Embiid.

Again, remember that he has only played 709 of the team’s 1872 minutes. During Embiid’s time on the floor, he is a +48. That means he and his teammates have outscored their opponents by 48 points. His next best teammate, Ersan Ilyasova, is +14. That’s okay. Then comes Chasson Randle. He’s a -4. From there, the numbers are…not good: -11 (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot), -21 (Jeryd Bayless), -43 (Nerlens Noel), -69 (Nik Stauskas) (Nice), -75 (Richaun Holmes), -90 (Hollis Thompson), -109 (T.J. McConnell), -119 (Sergio Rodriguez), -134 (Robert Covington), -135 (Dario Saric), -141 (Gerald Henderson), and -195 (Jahlil Okafor) (Oh My God). Want to see a visual version of this nightmare?

Philadelphia Plus Minus

Have a little respect Jahlil Okafor. Good grief. Anyway, the point is this: if Joel Embiid is actually able to stay healthy, and even though he is surrounded by what appears to be outright detritus, his future is as bright as any that we can possibly imagine. If only he can stay healthy.

Pelicans Win! Knicks Lose Twice! Basketball!

Last night’s Pelicans-Knicks matchup – overshadowed by far bigger sporting events – was nightmarish for three reasons. One, it featured Anthony Davis’s big night being cut short. Two, it featured the Knicks collectively refusing to get the ball to its best player. Three, the absence of the player perceived as the Knicks’ weakest link, Derrick Rose, wasn’t the problem.

Let’s do this!

Anthony Davis Has Big Night Cut Short

This website exists for many reasons – basketball is great! – but one of them is celebrating players who absolutely go off. So when those players are cut-off midstream (as Klay Thompson was after getting to 60 through three quarters), this website recoils in horror. Players going off is cool.

Davis posted his second-straight Anthony Davis last night (his seventh of the season), and in only 29 minutes, he had put up 40pts/18rbs. The game at that point wasn’t particularly close, so he might have only gotten a few more minutes of run, so maybe he posts a 45/23. But New York’s Kyle O’Quinn, having already spent his time on the floor getting abused by Davis, responded with something between a hard foul and an outright cheapshot. The hit sent Davis clattering into the first row, ending his night prematurely. The foul is here:

Whether or not it was dirty is really beside the point. But O’Quinn and the Knicks, who already play borderline unwatchable basketball, took the only interesting part of the game out of it, robbing viewers of the opportunity to see Davis finish his spectacular night.

The Knicks Freeze Out Kristaps Porzingis

One of the Knicks ongoing subplots has been the rise of Kristaps Porzingis. That dude is the team’s future, and by most accounts, he should be its present too. But with bigger names on the team still demanding their slice of the pie – Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose apparently sacrifice shots for no man – Porzingis has constantly had to play third-fiddle.

It’s tempting to reduce the situation to shot attempts. The Knicks are better when Porzingis shoots more; the team is worse when he doesn’t. It seems obvious then that Jeff Hornacek’s dry-erase board should be nothing more than a tally-board of Porzingis’s shot attempts, and whenever that number isn’t high enough, he calls in plays like, “Get Porzingis the goddamned ball so he can shoot it!” and “I swear to god if Porzingis doesn’t shoot it this time, you’re all getting benched!”

Instead, he oversaw a scenario in which two players shot the ball more than Porzingis did. The first one of those players is obvious: Carmelo Anthony. He’s the team’s workhorse, its best-paid player, its alleged everything, even at 32 with his best years almost certainly behind him. But the second of those players is not obvious: Brandon Jennings.

Jennings took 14 shots last night, one more than Porzingis, and it should be noted that he was shooting better than the Latvian. Porzingis only managed 9 points on a paltry 3/13 from the field. He was having an off-night. But Jennings is a bench-player who only got the start because Derrick Rose (we will get to this) disappeared before the game began. As a result, Jennings picked up the spot-start, and apparently concluded almost immediately that he should shoot the ball at least as often as the team’s future. That’s a wild conclusion to draw!

Derrick Rose Disappears

But Jennings was only in there because of Rose. The league’s former-MVP had literally disappeared prior to tip-off, after apparently absconding home to Chicago for reasons that remain unclear. (Update: He claims he was with family.) Critics are predictably furious and the Knicks, in as Knicksian a fashion as is possible, has been fined and reprimanded, which is precisely the thing to do when players disappear just before tip-off. But this tempest in a teapot is missing the bigger point: Rose* isn’t the player he used to be.

He clearly thinks otherwise. He is shooting as much as ever but his assists are down. He is plainly desperate to recapture whatever it was that he had before his knees turned into paper mache, even if that means refusing to get the ball to the Latvian that it ought to be going to. All of this makes a certain sort of sense in the modern NBA. Rose’s shelf life is remarkably limited, and is even moreso after his injuries. His obligation is to maximize his earning potential in the very small window he has for doing so.

But the Knicks obligation is, presumably, not to enable Rose’s wildass delusions of grandeur. Somebody somewhere has to intervene with him to declare that enough is enough when it comes to his voluminous offense and its underwhelming return. He is being paid at least in part to distribute the ball, and if he continues refusing to do so, the team has to deal with that for its own future.

James Harden Goes Supernova

On the one hand, it came against the New York Knicks, an impossibly bad team stuck between an insistence that its current is worth a damn and its potential for future greatness. Teams in that situation tend to dismiss the little things like “defending” “anybody” “at” “all.”

But on the other hand, James Harden’s 53pts/16rbs/17ast is one of the greatest triple-doubles of all time.

Harden’s season has been otherworldly. For the record, he is averaging 28.4 points-per-game (a half point off his career best), 6.9 rebounds-per-game (more than a rebound-and-a-half better than he has ever done before), and a staggering 11.9 assists-per-game (which is, unbelievably, almost 4.5 more assists than he has ever averaged before). His performance Saturday night was merely icing on an already incredible cake. It is, it should be noted, a season that is looking for all the world like that of not only an MVP

And, it should be noted, his performance this season is looking for all the world like that of not only an MVP candidate, but the out-and-out frontrunner for the award. If Harden’s former teammate Russell Westbrook wasn’t averaging* a triple-double in Oklahoma City, the award would be all but sealed up by now given that Houston is sitting at a tidy 27-9 and third overall in the Western Conference.

Part of the explanation for all of this appears to be the symbiotic relationship that has developed between Harden and his new coach, Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni, fresh off of utter nightmares in New York and Los Angeles, came to the Rockets in the offseason looking at what was almost certainly going to be his last substantial coaching opportunity. For whatever the knocks against him in those two major markets, D’Antoni made his mark in Phoenix, where his Suns (led by Steve Nash) proved that his “Seven Seconds Or Less” basketball – fast, aggressive, focused on shooting 3s, less focused on defending – could be competitive with the league’s best teams. His subsequent attempts to implement similar strategies in his next two stops failed, either because the team lacked the players his style needed, or the players refused to buy-in, but NBA watchers saw D’Antoni coming to Houston and wondered if James Harden might not represent somebody who was, functionally speaking, Steve Nash 2.0.

Harden’s and D’Antoni’s relationship is fewer than 40 games old – and it is entirely unclear if this strategy will work in the playoffs – but the early returns have to be beyond encouraging for all involved. Harden has rebounded from last year’s underwhelming performance (his numbers were good, but after the Rockets’ 2014-2015 campaign – which they finished looking like potential darkhorse title contenders – fans expected more, and the Rockets comically underwhelmed instead) and D’Antoni’s magic is working again. In D’Antoni, Harden enjoys a coach who has fully given him the reigns and the responsibility to do the things that he does best. In Harden, D’Antoni has a player whose style perfectly compliments his preferred offense. This came to a head on Saturday night – 53/16/17! – but it seems easy enough to imagine that bigger things lay ahead.



For No Reason: Sleepy Floyd’s 29-Point 4th Quarter

  1. A guy named “Sleepy” going on one of the all-time hottest runs? That’s good scripting.
  2. Floyd wasn’t beating up on chumps. He single-handedly defeated one of the greatest teams of all time.
  3. The crowd is absolutely electric. (The same crowd would be just as when Klay Thompson went supernova.)
  4. 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.
  5. Here’s a write-up of the performance that better contextualizes the video, with specific attention paid to who Floyd was embarrassing.

Derrick Rose Isn’t Falling For Your Trickery Kristaps Prozingis

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.

Sports Fans Are Awful: Golden State Warriors Edition

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:

That stings.

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.