Monday, February 28, 2011

20 Questions From The Association - Deadline Dizziness

Is it just me, or...

In light of recent events, might the Pistons’ refusal to trade Tayshaun Prince have been driven by spite as much as it was by a desire to retain his on-court production?

In addition to providing the credibility of an A-list superstar, does the acquisition of Deron Williams remove any and all excuses that Brook Lopez may have had for not continuing his development into a top-five center?

Might it be a questionable strategy for a legitimate title contender to trade a starting center that’s wildly popular in the locker room and arguably the league’s best post defender in exchange for an underachieving, free-agent-to-be ex-lottery pick, whose inconsistency is rivaled only by his inefficiency?

Will Danny Ainge have a tough time selling the excitement of cap flexibility in 2012 to a 41-15 team whose leaders are 33 (Paul Pierce), 34 (Kevin Garnett) and 35 (Ray Allen) years of age?

Is it going to be fascinating to see if Kendrick Perkins is the same tough-as-nails hardass playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as he was alongside Garnett and Pierce in Boston?

Is it going to be hilarious watching KG put on his tough guy act in the playoffs without Perkins there to back him up?

Is it about time Daryl Morey took some heat for aimlessly “accumulating assets,” never selling high on any of them and ultimately assembling one big supporting cast of a team, whose value as a whole falls short of the sum of its parts?

Might the creepy old dude in the time travel commercial with Kevin Durant- the one that informs teenage KD that he’ll one day share he floor in OKC with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, but makes no mention of Jeff Green- actually have been from the future?

Does playing each of his home games in front of more live bodies (20,630) than the Charlotte Bobcats average in TV viewership (reportedly ~18,000) virtually guarantee a return to All-Star form for Gerald Wallace?

Based on the extremely early returns, does it appear as though all the theorizing about Carmelo Anthony, both positive (top-five scorer, solid rebounder, unphased by the limelight, an additional spark for the Garden crowd) and negative (ball-stopper, incompatible with Amar’e, a bit of a volume scorer, questionable defensively), was right on the mark?

Is it hilarious to hear teams and fan bases talk themselves into whatever is left of Troy Murphy (2010-11: 18 GP, 3.6 ppg, 34% FG, 17% 3-pt, 38.9 TS%, APER 6.40) and Eddy Curry (74 minutes played in 10 games over the past two seasons) as possible postseason contributors?

Has Derrick Favors very quickly gone from being inexperienced and a “project,” to being under a significant amount of pressure to live up to his lofty draft status and trade value?

Does the sob story about Chauncey Billups having to leave his family in Denver overlook the fact that he’s unlikely to be gone more than a couple of months?

Is it patently absurd that a team with a top-five point guard would trade real assets- its capable, if currently underachieving backup and a first-rounder- for an undersized, inefficient head case like Aaron Brooks?

Is “masterful” the only way to describe the way in which Sam Presti addressed his team’s most glaring deficiencies (interior defense, defensive rebounding) with a team-first, battle-tested (still) young piece, without sacrificing any cap flexibility going forward?

Is Jordan Crawford, Mo Evans and a first-rounder an awfully steep price for the Atlanta Hawks to pay for the privilege of swapping Mike Bibby ($5.6M this season, $6.2M in 2011-12) for the more expensive ($9M this season, $8M in 2011-12) but equally washed-up Kirk Hinrich?

Does someone need to explain to David Kahn that a) his team is, in fact, still rebuilding, b) trades are best way for 14-43 small-market teams to use cap space to bolster their roster and c) Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry don’t count?

Now that he’s no longer being overhyped by Knicks fans, is Danilo Gallinari about to become a leaguewide fan favorite?

Between Shane Battier (>45% FG once in the past five years, 12.1 APER), Memphis’ 2011 first-round pick (late-teens in what’s expected to be a weak draft) and Hasheem Thabeet (one of the five worst draft picks in NBA history), is it awfully difficult to identify a desirable asset in the Rockets-Grizzlies deadline deal?

Was the acquisition of Carl Landry more a preemptive response to Davd West’s seemingly inevitable departure this summer than an attempt to strengthen the team heading into the playoffs?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Appreciating The Underappreciated- Dennis Johnson

Last summer, in a 29-part series in, I selected an “All-Time Starting Five” for each NBA franchise (check out the archives from July-October 2010), based on the performances of players at each position, in the uniform of the franchise in question. Needless to say, there was no shortage of close calls or hard-luck runners-up. In numerous cases, a player whose talent and achievement ought to warrant recognition as the best ever at his position for two franchises, was passed over.

Rarer still are the greats (two come to mind) that starred (and I mean really starred) for three or more franchises without appearing in any of the 29 articles in the series. The hardest-luck star, Moses Malone, fell short at his position for an incredible four franchises, despite considerable success at each stop. An article was recently published on Hardwood Hype in recognition of his legendary career.

The other- referred to as "the best teammate I ever had" by Larry Bird in his autobiography, “Drive,” and "the greatest backcourt defender of all time" by Magic Johnson- was not only one of NBA history's most composed players, but until his untimely passing (and arguably in the years since as well), one of the most underappreciated. During his 14-year NBA career, Dennis Johnson was a pivotal part of three NBA champions- with the Seattle Supersonics' in 1978-79, in the process of which he named Finals MVP, and two more with the Boston Celtics in 1983-84 and 1985-86. Five times he was named an All-Star and was selected to an All-NBA First Team (1980-81) as well as one Second Team (1979-80). The greatest perimeter defender of his time, Johnson earned nine consecutive All-Defensive Team selections (1979-1987), six times as a member of the First Team, and three times on the Second Team.

In 1,100 career games (out of a possible 1,148) over his 14 seasons, Johnson scored 15,535 points, grabbed 4,249 rebounds, handed out 5,499 assists and swiped 1,477 steals. He retired (after the 1989-90 season) as just the fifth member of the NBA's 15,000/4,000/5,000/1,200 club- the others at the time were Magic, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving (it should be noted that steals have only been kept as a stat since 1973-74)- a list that grown to just 13 players (with the additions of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen and Clyde Drexler; LeBron's 792 assists and 161 steals away) in the two decades since Johnson's departure from the game. 

Johnson also participated in 180 playoff games (14th all-time) in his career, during which he scored 3,116 points (17th all-time), grabbed 781 rebounds, dished out 1,006 assists (8th all-time) and ranks 12th all-time with 247 career postseason steals.

As impressive as his statistical achievements are, and that's some A-list company that DJ's keeping, his impact on the game extended beyond the numbers. Not only was Johnson an all-timer at the defensive end, he evolved into one of the league's best big-game performers with a knack for making plays at key moments:

In the 1979 Finals, a year after an embarrassing 0-for-14 showing in a Sonics' loss in Game 7 of the 1978 Finals (it's worth noting that he set a Finals record for blocked shots in a game by guard in Game 3 of the series, with seven), Johnson's Sonics squared off against the Washington Bullets, the squad that defeated them the year before. This time, there was little question as to who would get the rings, as the Sonics disposed of the NBA’s best regular season team in five games, sweeping the Bullets after losing Game 1 by two points. Johnson, who averaged 20.9 points, 6.1 rebounds (2.6 offensive) and 4.1 assists in 17 postseason games, was outstanding, earning the Finals MVP award after averaging almost 23 points and 6 rebounds per game, including a 32-point outburst in a 114-112 overtime win in Game 4.

Not enough? How about totally stifling and frustrating the greatest point guard of all time in the Finals? In the spring of 1984, his first postseason appearance as a Celtic, while Johnson averaged a solid 16.6 points and 4.4 assists in 22 postseason games, he'll forever be remembered for his suffocating defense on Magic, which was vital in securing wins in Games 2, 4 and 7, and helping the Celtics to their only Finals triumph of the decade over the Lakers.

The following year, after encountering minimal difficulty in disposing of the Cavaliers, Pistons and 76ers, the Celtics and the Lakers squared off in a Finals rematch. While the Lakers succeeded in avenging not only their 1984 shortfall, but those of Lakers' past, winning the series in six games and clinching the title in Game 6 on the Boston Garden parquet, Johnson authored one of the most memorable moments of his career in the 1985 Finals. With the Lakers having won two of the series' first three games, in the dying moments of Game 4, with the score tied at 105, an aggressive double-team on Bird by Magic and Kareem seemed to have the game destined for overtime. However, Bird found an open DJ at the right elbow, and Johnson buried a buzzer-beater to even the series and ensured a return to Boston.

Two years later, as the Celtics were in the midst of their fourth consecutive Finals run, Johnson's defense and hustle came up big gain. In the 1987 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Celtics squared off against the Bucks in a fantastic battle that went the distance. In Game 7, with 1:30 remaining, the ball (and Celtics' possession) flying out of bounds, Johnson threw the ball off of Jack Sikma while diving into the Bucks' bench, allowing the Celtics to maintain possession and seal the 119-113 win.

In the next round, Johnson was a part of one of the most memorable plays in postseason history- and the one he deemed as his all-time favorite. In the final seconds of Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals- the series tied at two games apiece and headed back to Detroit and the Celtics seemingly assured of suffering a 107-106 defeat- Larry Bird made one of the most brilliant and intuitive plays of all time, picking off Isiah Thomas' inbounds pass. However, as "the steal" took place, the final two seconds of the game were ticking down, the Celtics still trailed by a point and Bird's momentum was carrying him straight out of bounds. Enter DJ. Hovering near the top of the at the time of Thomas' pass, Johnson instinctively bolted for the basket, where Bird's pass was waiting for him, and in one of the "underrated really tough shots of all time" banked in a layup over his right shoulder that required him to not only put an inordinate amount of spin on the ball, but to clear the outstretched hand of Bill Laimbeer.

For the (almost) decade and a half in which he took the floor in the NBA, Johnson was a fixture in/near the top tier of backcourt players and put his fingerprints on several of eras most memorable postseason moments. Crunch the numbers. Queue up some film. As his peers. Without a doubt, Dennis Johnson holds a place in the upper echelon of backcourt players in NBA history. After a phenomenal career spent neither courting attention nor having it bestowed upon him unsolicited, Johnson was selected for enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame on April 5, 2010, and officially inducted that summer.

Tragically, however, Johnson did not live to see his induction. On February 22, 2007, while coaching the Austin Toros of the D-League, Johnson suffered a heart attack at the Austin Convention Center following practice and could not be revived at a nearby hospital. Now four years (and a day) after his passing, I (hopefully along with some others) would like to bestow upon the late Dennis Johnson (September 18, 1954– February 22, 2007) some of the much-deserved attention he never received- outside of Boston (where his #3 hangs in the rafters) and among the fans of Seattle- during his playing career and in the 17 years he had remaining following his retirement.

Johnson starred for three franchises over the course of his 14-year career- the Seattle Supersonics, the Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics- first as a shooting guard, and later as a point guard. Despite accumulating three championship rings, earning five All-Star selections, nine All-Defensive selections and a pair of All-NBA nods, his greatness flew under the radar- somewhat fitting given the inauspicious way in which his career began.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kobe Bryant Is The Black Mamba- An Early Look

Ahead of the short film's February 19 debut, check out this interesting video of Kobe Bryant and Robert Rodriguez discussing the production of Nike Basketball and Screenvision's "The Black Mamba." The video is a pitch session between Kobe and director Robert Rodriguez, along with some really cool clips from the film.

The film carries a PG-13 rating and has a running time of six minutes and will be screened in 14 L.A. area theaters for the next six days. In addition to Kobe, who plays the character, the film features Bruce Willis, Danny Trejo and Kanye West as "The Boss."

"The Black Mamba" joins Kobe's 1996 appearance as Terry Hightower in the show Moesha on his list of TV/movie “acting” credits.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Too Much Of A Good Thing- Chris Paul's Toughness Is Hurting The Hornets

I’ve been around the block with Chris Paul. My first season with NBA League Pass was 2005-06, his first in the NBA. In a matter of quarters, I was in love. It was impossible to watch the 20 year-old maestro for any meaningful amount of time and not regularly toss around words like “special” and “genius.” From Day One, Paul had the look of a 10-year veteran whose sole purpose in life is to run the point. Almost immediately, a combination of speed (blinding), quickness (lightening), court vision (sublime) and basketball IQ (here’s where that “genius” part comes in), combined with a toughness and swagger reminiscent of Isiah Thomas, had Paul on the fast track to become one of the best pure point guards the game’s ever seen.

In the years since, he’s done little that suggests he’s destined for anything less than all-time greatness. In each of his first two seasons, he carried the Hornets to more than double the 18 wins they’d had the year prior to his arrival, and was the catalyst for 2007-08’s surprising 56-win team that thumped the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs and came within a single win of a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

He’s put up fantastic numbers along the way, with career averages of 18.9 points (on 47.3% FG), 9.9 assists (compared with just 2.6 turnovers) and 2.4 steals (he’s led the NBA in total steals three times and is doing so again this season). In 2007-08 (21.1 points, 4 rebounds, 11.6 assists, 2.7 steals, 48.8% FG, Adjusted PER of 30.62 and an NBA-best 11.43 Adjusted Win Shares) and 2008-09 (22.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 11 assists, 2.8 steals, 50.3% FG, Adjusted PER of 32.78 and 11.96 Adjusted Win Shares, second only to LeBron), he produced two of the best individual seasons by a player not taller than 6 feet. That Chris Paul is the best pure point guard since Isiah is indisputable.

By most statistical measures, Paul is enjoying an excellent 2010-11 season as well. He leads the NBA with 2.5 steals per game, ranks third (behind Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash) in both assists per game (9.7) and assists adjusted for 3-pointers (or “assists +”; 10.7) and sports an awesome 4.01 assist/turnover ratio, which is second only to Jose Calderon’s 4.09 mark. While his scoring is down from years past, at just 16.5 points per game, he's racking up his points efficiently, shooting 47.6/89.6/43.6 from the field, the free throw line and behind the arc. According to Hoopdata, Paul trails only LeBron James in PER and Adjusted PER and is looking up at only LeBron and Kevin Love in terms of Adjusted Win Shares.

There’s also no denying that without the help of their floor general, not only would the Hornets not have won 33 of their first 58 games, they’d likely be sharing some not-so-rarified air with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Sacramento Kings. In short, Chris Paul is a legitimate superstar, franchise player and, based on advanced statistics, a top-tier candidate for this season’s MVP award.


With all due respect to one of my favorite players, at this point in time Chris Paul is no better than the fourth-best point guard in the NBA and by no means an MVP candidate. Despite his seemingly heady numbers, not only is Paul not living up to his own awesome standards (as good as he’s been, he’s got four-year lows in points, FG%, rebounds, Win Shares, Adjusted Win Shares and assists, as well as a four-year high in Turnover Rate), he’s having a decidedly subpar season as a playmaker.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Personification of Basketball Perfection

In case you missed it, during the first quarter of Tuesday night's game in Indiana, Dwyane Wade made arguably the greatest pass in NBA history.

My words cannot do this feat of basketball genius justice. I submit, for your amazement, as perfect a spontaneous basketball play as you are ever going to see.

I dare you to watch this just once.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sloan Or No Sloan, The Utah Jazz Could Use A Backcourt Shakeup

When I began planning this piece Jerry Sloan was an active NBA head coach and the Utah Jazz were pro basketball’s model of stability. In the days since, Sloan, more than halfway through his 23rd season as head coach, stepped down from his role with the team, after the coach’s latest (but by no means first) disagreement with superstar point guard Deron Williams. Tyrone Corbin, a former assistant and player, has taken Sloan’s place on the Jazz bench. While it now seems somewhat silly to write anything regarding the Jazz’s on-court performance, I’ve elected to proceed because a) as a member for Sloan’s staff, Corbin’s not likely to overhaul the system completely, b) the team’s personnel remains identical and c) I’ve come across a pattern in this team’s play that’s worth noting, irrespective of who’s steering the ship.

In an article published here last week, I looked into the Jazz’s recent struggles and concluded that the team’s drop-off in efficiency- at both ends of the floor- could be attributed to a combination of playing at a slower pace to accommodate a talented-but-ill-fitting newcomer (Al Jefferson) and a shortage of talent in the 4-12 slots on the roster. In researching the article, I came across an interesting proposal that’s been the subject of ongoing debate (here and here are examples) with the Jazz- the idea of moving Deron Williams to the two-guard.

I've since given this idea a lot of thought. Based on certain strengths in D-Will’s game- his physicality and his ability to move without the ball, whether cutting to the bucket (where he’s a great finisher) or curling off a screen for a jumper (this is something he does as well as all but a few of the very best shooters)- there’s little doubt that he’d quickly develop into one of the league’s premier perimeter scorers, were this to be his primary focus. However, any team that commits to converting Williams into a pure shooting guard would be willfully ignoring two extremely important facts. First, Williams himself has no interest in changing positions, and second, and more importantly, Deron Williams is an exceptional point guard. Not good. Not very good. Legitimately great. Potentially Hall of Fame great. Great enough that the idea of turning him into a 25-30-point scorer seems terribly wasteful.

Whether Williams is consistently a hyper-aggressive, alpha dog floor leader is debatable, but he regularly flashes an implicit confidence in his own skills that’s seldom seen in any lead guard at any level. On any given play he’ll nonchalantly throw a 65-foot baseball pass, a 45-foot bounce pass through traffic or bury a pull up 3-pointer from five feet behind the arc in transition.

Beyond the spectacular, Williams ranks among the league’s elite PGs in assists (9.5 per game; 4th, behind Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash and Chris Paul), assists adjusted for 3-pointers (10.4; 4th, behind the same trio) and setting up high-percentage shots for teammates (3.6 assists “at the rim”; t-6th in the NBA with Baron Davis- and D-Will doesn’t have Blake and DeAndre). Additionally, Williams is good for 2.75 assists for every turnover he commits, good for 14th in the NBA (I can’t be the only one surprised to see D.J. Augustin is fourth with 3.46 assists per turnover, right?) which, while not exactly elite, is very good. On his worst day, Williams is probably no worse than the fifth-best point in the NBA. At his best, he’s the undisputed champ. I’m gonna say that if you’ve got a guy like that on your team, you probably want to play him at the point.

With that said, however, why is it set in stone that Williams’ backcourt mate must be a traditional two-guard? Thanks to the work of a number of versatile, multiskilled players, the NBA no longer clings dogmatically to the traditional, rigid PG-SG-SF-PF-C structure of years past. We’ve seen the “twin towers” concept attempted in the NBA several times (Duncan-Robinson, Olajuwon-Sampson, Ewing-Cartwright and currently Gasol-Bynum), as well as a number of championship-caliber non-PG backcourts (Michael Jordan with both Ron Harper and B.J. Armstrong, Kobe Bryant with Harper, even Nick Anderson and Penny Hardaway, who was more combo guard than pure PG). Why not a dual-PG backcourt?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Some Love For Z-Bo

I’m generally not one for “All-Star snub” talk. Every year, after the selections are announced, it’s not difficult to sort through the names of those that passed over and assemble a substantial list of worthy candidates. The subjective nature of selection criteria (I, for instance, weight individual production very heavily, and use team success as nothing more than a tiebreaker), along with the dogmatic way in which people cling to their opinions has really raised the degree of difficulty on having a reasonable discussion on the matter.

While it’s well known that the selection process is imperfect, it’s not as though it’s given us a steady stream of subpar All-Stars over the years. Very seldom, in fact, is a player selected for whom it’s difficult to even construct a case. Hell, even Jamaal Magloire, captain of the “WTF? All-Stars” averaged ~14-10 (similar to the stats with which Nene had a decent case this season) and blew up for 19 points and 8 rebounds in 21 minutes in the 2004 All-Star Game, the game in which he’s since been deemed unworthy of inclusion. Bottom line, these are all really good players.

With all of that said, I must take exception with the 2011 Western Conference All-Star roster.

Many pointed to the fans’ selection of Yao Ming, who played a total of 90 minutes in five games before being lost for the remainder of the season, as the prime example of the process' shortcomings. I disagree. Had the fans opted to toss their support behind a more deserving candidate (anyone) that’s physically able to take part in the game, on February 20 we’d still be lamenting the exclusion of Kevin Love, while watching Andrew Bynum or Nene jump center for the West.

Nope, the Beijing brigade’s seemingly silly selection of their countryman was actually a blessing in disguise. Since the commissioner is not bound by the antiquated policy of having to select a “true center” (as the fans are in their voting) as Yao’s replacement, David Stern was able to quickly step in and smooth over one of the team’s cracks by naming Love to the West squad.

Unfortunately, however, Yao was not the only blemish on the voting public’s 2011 resume. Despite having taking the floor in 40 more games in 2010-11 than Yao, Carmelo Anthony is the turd in the Western Conference punchbowl. Sure, Melo's one of the league's most popular stars, and yeah, the numbers are still there (24.6 point, 7.8 rebounds in 35 minutes per game), but in world where Kevin Love, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge- all enjoying better seasons having a positive impact on their respective teams- are all vying for spots on the West bench, Carmelo isn’t worthy of consideration. By some margin, he’d be the sixth man on the East squad, but take into account his impact on the 2010-11 Denver Nuggets (perhaps not quite malignant, but well beyond distracting) and the quality of his frontcourt counterparts out West (epic), and his inclusion is indefensible.

Some fans that saw Melo's super-efficient (16-24 FG, 16-18 FT) 50-point outburst (in a loss) on Monday night might take issue with my sentiment or question my choice of when to express it, but it’s worth noting that even in the midst of his career night, Carmelo managed to alienate Nuggets’ fans.

Meanwhile, that same in Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge, another of the NBA’s top forwards and one of the biggest All-Star snubs, was making as strong a case as one could reasonably expect from a baller scorned. Aldridge was nothing short of exceptional, lighting up the league’s best defense for a career-high 42 points (15-23 FG, 12-14 FT), 13 of which came in an exquisite final four minutes (4-4 FG, including a pair of 20-footers, and 5-6 FT) and sealed the 109-103 win for the Blazers. It was Aldridge's second consecutive 40+-point performance at home, making him the first Blazers to achieve the feat since Clyde Drexler did so almost 22 years ago.

Monday’s performance is only the latest highlight in what has been a fantastic seven-week run that began on December 15- the last time Brandon Roy was in the Blazers’ lineup. After a “slow” start to his 2010-11 season (17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, sub-50% FG), in his last 27 games Aldridge has more-than-admirably stepped into the team’s vacant superstar role. During this stretch, he’s averaging 24.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, made more than half of his shots, scored 25+ 18 times and carried the Blazers to a 16-11 record (they were 12-13 before) and (for now) a one-game lead over the Memphis Grizzlies for the conference’s final playoff spot.

Sounds like a no-brainer of an All-Star campaign, right? You’d think so.


Barring a fortuitous turn of events- Melo getting traded East, plus Dirk or Duncan choosing to rest their veteran bodies- not only will Aldridge not be on the Staples Center floor on All-Star Weekend, he'll have a tough time ranking as the season's most egregious snub. As great as he's been for a big chunk of the season, Aldridge isn't even 2011’s biggest snub, at his position, in his own conference. That honor belongs to the Western Conference's Player of the Month for January, the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Are The Utah Jazz Actually As Good As We Think?

Trust the system.

For more that two decades, that’s been the mantra in Salt Lake City. And with good reason. Since 1988-89, the season in which Jerry Sloan took over as head coach (17 games in), only once have the Jazz failed to win at least half of their games. In 19 of Sloan’s 22 seasons, the Jazz have featured an elite point guard-power forward combo, and in 15 of those seasons the team has won at least 58% of its games.

It was this system that produced one of the most unexpected winning seasons in NBA history. In 2003-04, the season after the Jazz lost both Stockton and Malone, the team rode Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, Carlos Arroyo, young Raja Bell and Gordon Giricek to a 42-40 record and missed the playoffs by a singe game. So, yeah, the system works, and is more than worthy of the fans’ trust. And clearly, it’s not remained static for multiple decades, but rather evolved and adapted to changes in the team’s identity and top personnel.

Previously, there had been no mistaking the identity of the Jazz. In the 1990s and the early 2000s they featured Stockton and Malone, surrounded by perimeter scorers (Thurl Bailey, Jeff Malone, Jeff Hornacek, Bryon Russell, even Blue Edwards and Shandon Anderson) and hard-nosed big men (Mark Eaton, Antoine Carr, Greg Ostertag and Greg Foster) who didn’t need touches to be effective. From 1988-89 until 2002-03, the Jazz advanced past the first round of the playoffs eight times, each of these postseason runs preceded by a regular season in which the team own at least 65.9% of its games.

Based on pace (possessions per 48 minutes), offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), these teams’ approach was simple, predictable, but also deadly- play solid defense (top 11 in efficiency in seven of those eight seasons; the 1998 Finals team was uncharacteristically 17th) and limit available possessions (ranked #17-27 in pace) to a number that would allow them to take advantage of their superior offensive efficiency (top-seven in seven of eight seasons; top-four five times). They utilized a) their knowledge of the tempo at which they could out-execute the opposition and b) the personnel needed to do so to control the flow of games and maximize their chances of victory.

Following the 2003 departure of his legendary duo, Sloan was forced to remix his formula. A year after signing Carlos Boozer away from the Cavaliers, he endured the leanest year of his coaching tenure. Following the shocking overachievement of the franchise’s first post-Stockton-and-Malone season, the 2004-05 Jazz encountered the difficulty that many (all?) had expected, and finished with a 26-56 record. That spring’s draft lottery saw the Jazz come away with the third overall pick which, combined with Billy Knight’s fetish for rudderless offenses, allowed them to nab Illinois’ Deron Williams.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

20 Questions From The Association - February Already?

Is it just me, or...

Considering the guy’s averaging of better than 22 points and 13 rebounds this season- and a Moses Malone-esque 25 points (on 63% FG) and 14.7 rebounds (4.6 offensive) in January- shouldn’t Dwight Howard’s bandwagon be more crowded than it is?

Given the way the past three decades have unfolded for the Clippers, is Ralph Lawler's ascendance to “the voice of League Pass” as improbable a development as the NBA has seen in ages?

Does the “Free Steve Nash” movement seem to ignore that a) the Suns’ priority is to make a good trade for themselves, not get Nash a ring, b) Nash doesn’t fit on any true contender and c) the man himself expressed no desire to be traded?

Between the joy of playing alongside Blake Griffin and the national exposure that goes with it, is there no happier player in the NBA these days than DeAndre Jordan?

In addition to being the most remarkable stats of the season thus far, does the Spurs’ use of a single starting lineup through 47 games suggest that a second half regression to the mean may be in order?

Is the fact that the Spurs have just five 5-man combinations with a negative +/- this season- none of which have been on the floor for more than 40 minutes or been outscored by more than 17 points- suggest that Gregg Popovich expects that regression too, and already has a plan to stave it off?

Regardless of where you stand on the merit Adjusted Player Efficiency Rating as a statistic, should the league’s second highest-paid player NEVER rank 13th from the bottom in something designed to provide comprehensive player assessment?

Is it pretty damn impressive that no 5-man unit that's taken the floor for the Miami Heat for more than 20 minutes this season has been outscored?

Are we a couple of weeks from the Denver Nuggets ending the Melo-drama by telling Carmelo “screw you, settle for less money in free agency” and sending him to a willing renter?

Based on his final 7:20 against the Celtics, does Kobe Bryant clearly not read TrueHoop

Are both Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough more athletic than when they were on Tobacco Road?

Given the league office’s treatment of Eddie House’s celebration in OKC, might Sam Cassell have wound up playing a couple seasons for free in today’s NBA?

Does the fact that Corey Brewer (-41), Kevin Love (-46), Luke Ridnour (-55), and Michael Beasley (-65) are four of the nine players with the league’s worst +/- in “crunch time” (less than 5:00 remaining, neither team ahead by more than 5) perfectly sum up the Timberwolves’ season?

Does the fact that five of the eleven worst “crunch time” +/-‘s belong to Memphis Grizzlies- Zach Randolph (-40), Rudy Gay (-41), O.J. Mayo (-45), Mike Conley (-49), and Marc Gasol (-50)- suggest that Lionel Hollins might want to look into shaking things up in late game situations?

Does Brook Lopez’s nice offensive season (19.5 ppg, 47.8% FG, 80% FT) not come close to making up for the fact that he’s grabbed more than eight rebounds in a game just five times, compared with three or fewer in 29+ minutes seven times?

Might the Milwaukee Bucks want to reconsider their slow-motion desecration of the game and pick up the pace a bit?

Can the Utah Jazz’s struggles be attributed to the simple fact that they just do not have very many good players?

With Caron Bulter out and Rodrigue Beaubois’ return date uncertain- not mention the accompanying concerns that he’s nowhere near game shape and still relatively unproven even when he is- is it going to take more than whatever’s left of Peja Stojakovic to return the Mavericks to contender status?

Between his nose for the ball and great energy in the paint, is drafting Ed Davis at #13 starting to look like a great value?

Is a 34 year-old point guard with no track record of winning, who’s been disgruntled everywhere he’s played as a pro the subject of an awful lot of trade chatter (as something more than a $7.3M expiring contract)?