Friday, November 16, 2012

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Expedited Delivery

I am watching a good amount of Bobcats basketball these days. No, I’ve not moved to Charlotte. No wagers were lost. My remote is just fine, thank you.

You see, the 2012-13 Charlotte Bobcats are actually pretty good and, yes, a pleasure to watch. Alright, maybe “pretty good” ought to be graded on a curve, but 4-3 for a squad whose unconscionably inept predecessors found a win in every nine outings a bridge too far is cause for optimism, if not out and out celebration. Playoff talk is a bit premature, but a meteoric (yes, meteoric) rise to 11th, even 10th, in the East is not out of the question. Given the state of affairs in Washington and Detroit, the forthcoming slap of reality heading for Orlando and the prospect of injuries derailing a mid-pack squad (like you can’t see the Sixers losing Holiday while Bynum YOLO’s his rehab into February), as many as five East teams could end the season look up at the ‘Cats.

Beyond the strong start, the Bobs boast a perimeter trio (apologies to former Lakerland hero Ramon Sessions and future poor man’s Jason Terry, Ben Gordon) capable of serving as the foundation for, I dunno, something positive. Gerald Henderson (currently out with a sprained left foot, but due back by December) is not a star, but the fourth year man is a solid defender and possesses a mid-range game that should make him a solid glue guy for some time. Then there’s the 2011-12 preseason Hype Rookie of the Year, Kemba Walker. A disappointing rookie year under his belt, Kemba’s a different player this year (a great read on his improvement from Ben Swanson at Rufus on Fire), both statistically, where he is more productive (19 points, 5.1 assists and 2.9 steals per game, compared with 21.1, 4.4 and 0.9 a year ago) and more efficient (51.4% True Shooting, 86.5% FT, 25.1 USG, compared with 46.4%, 78.9% and 25.2 a year ago), as well as in presence. The team is looking to Walker be its star, and this year he’s down to give it his best shot.

As valuable as Walker has been to this team, however, the most valuable member of the Bobcats might be a man whose NBA resume consists of just seven NBA contests, largely against subpar competition. It’s worth noting, however, that this “subpar competition” is even a thing, given the rust standard for subpar competition set by this franchise over the past decade.



That Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s efficient, all-around contribution from the starter’s pistol has contributed to a world in which the Charlotte Bobcats are no longer dismissed out of hand is an achievement unto itself. You might once again point out that it’s only been seven games. I’d counter that small samples are more likely to work against a 19 year old at the start of his rookie campaign than they are in his favor. In barely two weeks, Gilchrist has not only shown himself to be NBA ready, but made a huge impact at both ends of the floor. He’s not a polished offensive player – as evidenced by a .67 Assist/Turnover ratio and a Turnover Rate (13.75%) well above the league average (~10%) for a swingman – but does an excellent job of playing to his strengths – setting screens for others, crashing the boards and getting to the bucket.

At 6’7”-230, MKG is built for the NBA game. Beyond that, he is a hypercompetitive workaholic that just knows how to play the game. He’s rarely rattled or out of control. Absent are the mental lapses and boneheaded plays that are so common in players this young and inexperienced. In short, bad stuff seems to happen less frequently when MKG is on the floor. Do the numbers bear it out?

Join me if you will, at center stage of the Comically Small Sample Size Theater, where we will consider…

In just under 28 minutes per game, Gilchrist is averaging 11.1 points with a True Shooting Percentage of 54.5%. He’s attempting 3.4 free throws per game, connecting on 79.1%. More impressive is his .46 Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA), nearly double the league average for swingmen (.242) and tied for fifth (with Manu Ginobili) among 2s and 3s.

Of his 8.7 field goal attempts per game, nearly two thirds (5.6; of which he’s making 64.1%) are at the rim. In fact, of his 27 made field goals, all but three have come from within four feet. The only other shot he’s dialing up with any frequency is the dreaded “long 2,” though he’s attempting just 1.9 shots per game from 16-23 feet out. He’ll do well to avoid a Josh Smith-esque fetish for the feel of the 3-point line on his heels, but reality is that an 18.5 Adjusted PER is not bad for a guy with a sub-20 Usage Rate that wasn’t supposed to contribute much offensively right away. And we haven’t even grazed the good stuff!

On the boards, MGK already ranks among the best at his position, and is potentially one of the best offensive rebounders of the non-big lot. Of his 6.9 rebounds per game, 2.4 – best among NBA swingmen – are corralled at the offensive end. His rebounding rates do little to hurt the argument: his 13.3% Total Rebound Rate ranks in the top 10 among swingmen and his 17.6% Defensive Rebound Rate places him in the top 20 among wings. Again, however, it’s on the offensive glass where he is at his best, sports an 9.1% Offensive Rebound Rate, more than double the 3.5% league average for swingmen (15+ minutes per game), trailing only Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker (12.6%) and Magic rookie Moe Harkless (12.5%).

And then we’ve got the defensive end, where Gilchrist was supposed to earn his NBA stripes – and has not disappointed. He’s averaging more than a steal per game, though this is owed almost entirely to five against the Mavericks on November 3. He has, however, immediately established himself as one of the NBA’s best shot blockers on the wing. MKG is averaging 1.7 blocks per game (only Andrei Kirilenko’s 2.0 is higher among non-bigs), swatting 5.1% of the shots with which he’s presented – 15th in the league, ahead of both Josh Smith and Joakim Noah – and has blocked a shot in all but one game thus far, with multiple blocks on four occasions.

Impressive in a vacuum, certainly, but what’s truly incredible has been MKG’s impact on the overall performance if the Bobcats – who have ascended from historical atrocity to, well, loftier heights. It’s frankly staggering. Credit where is it due to his teammates for their work, but man…

Per NBA.com, when MKG is on the floor the Bobcats secure 51.7% of available rebounds, compared to just 43.3% when he’s on the bench. Interestingly, on the offensive glass the dropoff is slightly less pronounced – 32% with MKG on the floor; 27.5% when he’s off – while at the defensive end, Charlotte is grabbing an awesome 71.8% of available boards with MKG on the floor, and 60.7% when he is not.

Crazier still, in the 194 minutes in which MKG has seen the floor, the Bobs’ offense is a fantastic 13.8 points per 100 possessions (106.6 vs. 92.8) better than in the 147 in which he’s sat, while at the other end the Bobcats are a whopping 11.5 points per 100 possessions better (97.9 surrendered, compared with 109.4) when he plays, compared to when he does not. If my math is correct – well, actually, assuming the gift of reading numbers has not yet deserted me – the Charlotte Bobcats are a silly 25.3 points per 100 possessions better when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is on the floor than when he is not.

For the sake of comparison, the New Orleans Hornets are actually a point per 100 worseTWENTY points per 100 worse on D – with Anthony Davis on the floor (Note: Davis has played v. the Spurs, Bobcats and Rockets and got hurt 14 minutes in against the Jazz, while sitting against the Bulls and 76ers), and Portland – they of the “war crime against competitive endeavor” second unit – is nearly eight points per 100 better with Damian Lillard on the floor, though it’s worth noting they’ve been outscored when Lillard is on the floor (-2.2/100) as well as when he is on the bench (-9.9/100).

Now, unless Gilchrist has immediately hit the ground running as one of the greatest players in NBA history, the impact of his presence on the floor is likely to regress some. The overarching fact, however, is that MKG – drafted as much for his capabilities without the ball as for those with it – has delivered all the Bobcats dared hope for as they spent the #2 overall pick to secure his services, and in so doing is playing a vital role in inspiring hope in a situation that very recently was completely desolate.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Reading Between The Lines - Hardwood Hype's 2012-13 Eastern Conference Preview

A week ago, as part of an elaborate annual preseason ritual (tonight, sweat lodge!), I broke down the 15 combatants in the NBA’s Western Conference and – with a helping hand from the invisible (unless you’ve got an internet connection and an account) hand of the open (betting) market – hashed out some opinions on the fate awaiting each in the coming months. 

Out West, collection of participant in the 2013 playoffs will likely strongly resemble that which took the floor(s) last spring, though the power structure has undergone something of a facelift. The acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard have the Lakers once again ensconced in the uppermost tier of contender while some brilliant opportunism has elevated the Denver Nuggets to the second tier spot vacated by the Lakers. Injury and big game hunting gone could relegate the 2011 champion Mavericks from playoff picture, but the ascendant Utah Jazz, last season’s #8 seed, appear poised to assume their spot. 

The East differs somewhat. Frankly, it’s a hodgepodge of mediocrity. Outside of the top four, and probably a couple of bottom feeders, there is a case to be made that in no team is a lock to out- (or under-)perform its counterparts in the fat portion of the Eastern bell curve, as win totals in the 30s (and low-40s) abound.

The opening act of this production, while thorough and (I can only hope) occasionally amusing, ran a tad, um, how do you say… fucking long. My aim as I eyed the Eastern Conference was efficiency, conciseness. And…


Yeah… about that…

At least we've still got thoroughness and possible amusement, right? Let's move on.


Atlanta Hawks
2011-12 Record: 40-26 (5th in the East; lost 4-2 in Round 1 to the Celtics)
Key Additions: Devin Harris, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson Anthony Tolliver, Anthony Morrow
Key Departures: Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Willie Green, Tracy McGrady, Kirk Hinrich
Likely Rotation: Al Horford, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Zaza Pachulia, Ivan Johnson, Anthony Tolliver, DeShawn Stevenson

OK, gonna try this again… THIS is the season in which the Atlanta Hawks fail to exceed expectations.

The loss of Joe Johnson, issues with depth on the wing (Kyle Korver, John Jenkins and DeShawn Stevenson? I smell long 2s from J-Smoove), the defensive difficulties that will likely accompany a Devin Harris-Jeff Teague-Lou-Will backcourt and the inevitable rollercoaster ride that is Contract Year Smoove casts doubt on this team’s ability to win 45+ regular season games.

And yes, shedding a commitment of nearly $90 million over the next four years is a huge plus for the new owners of an enterprise value at roughly $400 million, losing Joe Johnson will hurt. To contend otherwise is ridiculous. It’s like we’ve allowed an awful contract to cloud the reality that Johnson is a damn good NBA player. Yes, Devin Harris and Lou-Will will likely replace his statistical production, but you replace a steady All-Star – and your crunchtime catalyst – with Lou for One, and you will feel it.

That said, this remains a playoff caliber squad. Few teams boast a frontline combo as talented or versatile as Josh Smith and Al Horford. If Jeff Teague – who will be relied on more than ever this season – can play to their strengths, while making the most of arguably the East’s deadliest long-range duo in Korver and Anthony Morrow, this is potentially an excellent team. I would, however, like to see it first.

This team will win some games, and is a decent bet to wind up in the vicinity, but the call here is for UNDER 43 wins, if only because the alternative is tough for me to commit to.

Boston Celtics
2011-12 Record: 39-27 (4th in the East; lost 4-3 in conference finals to the Heat)
Key Additions: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green (missed last season due to heart surgery), Jared Sullinger
Key Departures: Ray Allen, Greg Stiemsma, Mickael Pietrus, Jermaine O’Neal, Sahsa Pavlovic
Likely Rotation: Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Jason Collins, Fab Melo

I love this team. I am of the belief that the 2012-13 Boston Celtics’ performance will exceed preseason expectations.

This Celtics team is eerily reminiscent of recent iterations of the Spurs – let’s Mad Lib, shall we?

Simultaneously over- and underrated Tony Parker Rajon Rondo returns, as not only the primary offensive catalyst (I’m looking for 17 points per), but the night in, night out linchpin that generates early season MVP buzz beyond any he’s garnered before. Manu Ginobili Paul Pierce continues to answer the bell. Not reliant on athleticism for his scoring, Manu Pierce continues to add to his legacy as perhaps the greatest grinder of his era. In those, most vital moments – on the road, shorthanded and the fate of the season in the balance – few players can be counted on with greater faith than Manu Pierce to, hell or high water, figure out a way – any way, no matter how ugly – to hang 25 on the scoreboard. Anyone that watched Game 2 of the Celtics' first round series in Atlanta – Rondo suspended and the Hawks eyeing a 2-0 advantage – was witness to absolute mater class in grinding, P.P.-style.

And Tim Duncan Kevin Garnett? Hehe.

Duncan Garnett, now entering his 16th 18th season, is no longer the player he once was. Right?? Sort of. That Duncan KG is simultaneously well off of his peak yet remains offensively productive, a genuine gamechanger on defense and perennial top-12 MVP candidate (admittedly, this applies more to Garnett) speaks less to any emergent shortcomings in his game than it does to the unfathomable heights to which he’s ascended over the past decade and a half.

Outside of the top three, the Spurs Celtics boast an irrationally confident veteran off of the bench for whom confidence sometimes outstrips ability – potentially abrasive in the wrong situation, but an ideal fit alongside an established core (Stephen Jackson Jason Terry; there is a Manu parallel to be drawn as well), a young-ish big man whose role seems to expand with time, but tenuously at best (Tiago Splitter Brandon Bass), a high-upside young big with health concerns (DeJuan Blair Jared Sullinger/Jeff Green) and a pair of perimeter defenders (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee) whose the ability to contribute at both ends in big moments could play as big a role playoff life and death as any performance turned in by their more accomplished mates.

Either I’m an idiot, or... that may not end well for me. Either way, look for the 2012-13 C’s to cruise past 50.5 wins, settling somewhere in the 55-57 range.

Brooklyn Nets
2011-12 Record: 22-44 (12th in the East)
Key Additions: Joe Johnson, Reggie Evans, Mirza Teletovic, Andray Blatche, Josh Childress
Key Departures: Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Gerald Green, Shelden Williams, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson
Likely Rotation: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, C.J. Watson, MarShon Brooks, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Mirza Teletovic, Josh Childress

Let’s keep this simple: the Brooklyn Nets are the best professional basketball team in New York City. And it might not be close.

A year ago, in previewing a potentially catastrophic lame duck team, I said of Deron Williams, “… a legitimate superstar – perennially one of the NBA’s ten best players, top-three at his position, and, barring a catastrophe, a Hall of Famer. Greatness doesn’t lose two out of every three games.”

So… maybe it does. But last year, in a nightmare situation – in an arena as inspiring as the Berlin Wall, lame ducks moving not to the greener pastures of a new region, but less than 20 miles east, to just a cooler neighborhood (think about that. The 2011-12 Nets played their home games against a backdrop of “Ok, let’s get this over with a blow this shitbox for our new digs down the road. As long as we still have to be here, can we interest you in some $40 upper level seats?”) – 22-44 had to feel downright triumphant. (And topped 21.5. Holla at the dirty Jerse!)

For a team that got a whopping five games from its 20-a-night center, just 16 from Gerald Wallace following his acquisition at the trade deadline, trotted out Shelden Williams and Johan Petro for more than 2,200 minutes and lived in constant fear that its cornerstone piece would spurn them in free agency, survival was victory.

Script flipped.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reading Between The Lines - Hardwood Hype's 2012-13 Western Conference Preview

I have yet to unearth a more effective method of crystallizing my own take on each team’s fate that staring down a single question, with (usually) a binary outcome.

Last season, as I have done mentally for several years, and a couple of times in writing, in order to organize my thoughts on the offseason that was and the upcoming NBA season, I turned to the open market. Using the Over-Under lines for regular season victories to “assess the market’s assessment” of teams’ fortunes, I previewed the season that was to be (West and East) – and actually got some right!

Let’s keep this simple, since there are plenty of words to come. I, like you, have spent recent weeks immersed in depth charts, shot charts, game logs, and the treasure trove that is the top-shelf work turned in on a daily basis by the NBA blogosphere Thanks to offshore sports books the web over, Basketball Reference, Hoopdata, the Basketball Prospectus crew, and the tireless efforts of Zach Lowe (currently in 1993 MJ mode), as well as the fine gentlemen at Ball Don’t Lie, The Basketball Jones, SI.com, and too many team-specific sites to mention individually, I assembled some semi-coherent, if long winded thoughts on the Western Conference in 2012-13 :

Dallas Mavericks
2011-12 Record: 36-30 (7th in the West; lost 4-0 in Round 1 to OKC)
Key Additions: O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand
Key Departures: Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Brendan Haywood, Lamar Odom
Likely Rotation: Dirk Nowitzki, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Brandan Wright, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones, Delonte West

Thanks to the cost-conscious decision to part ways with Tyson Chandler and the Lamar Odom heist that (generously) didn’t quite pan out, the Mavs’ 2011-12 title defense was dead on arrival. Recognizing this – and after whiffing on Dallas native Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and one-time Mavs’ QB Steve Nash – cost-cutting and judicious spending were the orders of the day. The endgame is simple for Mark Cuban: maximize financial flexibility by limiting long-term, big money commitments and steer clear of the luxury tax (under the new CBA, as of 2013 tax payers cannot take part in sign-and-trade deals) in order to remain a player for any superstar that hits the market. Sound strategy.

Beyond this season (in which they’re on the hook for $65.7 million), the Mavs are committed for $44.5 million in 2013-14 and have no commitments beyond next year. Though change has been a constant for much of the Cuban era, the stage is clearly set for a massive overhaul in Big D, one that, not coincidentally, will coincide with the final act of Dirk Nowitzki’s magnificent career.

What does this mean for 2012-13? A collection of viable NBA talent, made up largely of talented underachievers and stars rapidly approaching their respective “sell by” dates. In terms of on-court results, a core of Dirk, Shawn Marion, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo (a longtime Hype favorite; this is a make-or-break year for our relationship), Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Rodrigue Beaubois and Chris Kaman ought to keep the Mavs competitive on a nightly basis, but it’s tough to see this hodgepodge as much more than a .500 stopgap. And if these ominous quotes from Dirk mean what (let’s be honest) they probably mean, the Mavs will finish the 2012-13 season with well UNDER 44.5 wins.

Denver Nuggets
2011-12 record: 38-28 (6th in the West; lost 4-3 in Round 1 to the Lakers)
Key Additions: Andre Iguodala, Anthony Randolph
Key Departures: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington
Likely Rotation: Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Corey Brewer

If you’ve been anywhere around the NBA blogosphere of late, you’ve heard about this situation. The second biggest beneficiaries of the Dwight Howard trade, the Nuggets are being touted as anything from upgraded League Pass darling to darkhorse title contender. I suspect this squad is more the former than the latter. That said, much of the hype is not misguided. This is a really good, brilliantly assembled team.

Since taking over at GM – in the midst of the Carmelo Anthony saga, remember – Masai Ujiri has put on an absolute master class in personnel management. Gotta trade Melo? Fine, get a haul of versatile young talent and dump Chauncey Billups’ contract in the process. Nene hits free agency? Max him out., if for no other reason than to retain a valuable, if overpaid asset. Losing one of your best players for nothing in the name of fiscal responsibility seldom works out well. Sure, overpaying can also be a mistake, but letting good players walk away for absolutely nothing is not a great habit to get into. And who knows? Just months later, maybe you’ll have an opportunity to get younger, cheaper and more athletic at the position. And turning Arron Afflalo into Andre Iguodala while dumping three years and more than $21 million of Al Harrington? Bravo!

Have the Nuggets built a title contender? No. Until they become at least an average defensive team, that conversation stays on the shelf. But this team is a legitimate threat to beat anyone at any time, and has enough talent and versatility to win a good number of games. This is the Daryl Morey method perfected. And they’re going to be a blast to watch. Ty Lawson has game-changing speed, and will be flanked by some combination of Danilo Gallinari, Iguodala, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried (see how I steered clear of the Anthony Randolph landmine? He’s not getting me again).

However, another void that will have to be filled before any talk of contention can begin is inside. Kenneth Faried is the only power forward on the roster, and while his toughness and endless energy are a huge part of who this team is, Manimal’s not yet a legitimate offensive weapon. As for center, the trio of JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov is solid, but has question marks. Koufos and Mozgov are useful NBA big men, but neither is a game changer. And JaVale? Physically one of the most gifted centers in the game, he has the unrivaled ability to introduce the absurd into a professional basketball game. At his best he is an evolutionary Larry Nance. Other times you’d think he was on acid. In a harmless lovable way, though. On balance, this should prove to be a flawed-but-solid, occasionally comical crew.

Can the Nuggets win more than 50 games? Sure. And it’s a safe bet they’ll wind up in the neighborhood. If I had to wager, though, I’d place my money slightly UNDER 49.5 wins, and not feel great about it.

Golden State Warriors
2011-12 record: 23-43 (13th in the West)
Key Additions: Andrew Bogut (acquired via trade last season; has yet to play for team), Harrison Barnes, Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack
Key Departures: Kwame Brown, Nate Robinson, Dorell Wright
Likely Rotation: Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson, Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack

I don’t like the Warriors as much as I am supposed to.

Apparently Andrew Bogut’s stellar play on defense will elevate that of those around him, including noted sieve David Lee. Because y’know, Bogut will be healthy for the majority of the season (Oy). And David Lee will now learn to keep someone, anyone, in front of him.

On the other side of the ball, Steph Curry – one of this generation’s purest hoops geniuses – will link up with Bogut, Lee, Klay Thompson, Brandon Rush, Richard “let’s just exercise that $11 million 2013-14 player option now” Jefferson and rookie Harrison Barnes, to spark a dynamic attack befitting the Warriors’ offensive legacy. Because, y’know, Steph’s ankle aren’t made of porcelain anymore. And Jefferson isn’t done. And a paid Barnes is fully focused on maximizing his potential as a pro. And NBA-ready to begin with.

Could happen. That’s just an awfully big parlay to have to hit to ascend to mediocrity. I’ve got the Dubs UNDER 35.5 regular season wins.

Houston Rockets
2011-12 record: 34-32 (9th in the West)
Key Additions: Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Terrence Jones, Carlos Delfino, Jeremy Lamb, Royce White
Key Departures: Luis Scola, Chase Budinger, Marcus Camby, Samuel Dalembert, Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee
Likely Rotation: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Marcus Morris, Carlos Delfino, Shaun Livingston, Donatas Motiejunas Jeremy Lamb, Royce White

As always, the Rockets boast a number of interesting pieces and the potential to overachieve, but it’s difficult to view this as anything but a throwaway year. And, frankly, I don’t think Daryl Morey would have it any other way.

Monday, October 15, 2012

2012-13 NBA Blog Previews - This Time, No Lockout!

So, apparently this is a thing.

For two years running, late in the spring, with the NBA field whittled to the point where the ultimate prize is within everyone’s grasp, on the heels of an ode to a first-time-champ/Finals-MVP-to-be, I have embarked on a journey. In a literal sense, this usually involves recreational jaunts to Mexico and Las Vegas, but in realty, my annual pilgrimage delivers me to the proverbial edge of the earth, where – like the rat for whom the maze is almost… I fall over.

As it pertains to my work here (this site specifically, but really all internet locales), I question whether there is anything left to write. Scratch that. While continuing to watch and identify so much I’d like to say so much about, I perpetually sweat whether my capacity to effectively explore an idea has vanished – what with anything longer than a ‘graph-long work email requiring a strategy session, outline and 45 minutes of “crafting.”

Thankfully, however, the ability to punch out of this rut also appears to be a thing. Be it regular rereads of Aaron McGuire masterfully tackling writer’s block (by the way, if you’ve not read Gothic Ginobili’s player capsules from this summer, I give you Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. You’re welcome. Now clear your calendar for the week), the continued support of the Forum Blue and Gold crew and community, Basketball Twitter, a fast-approaching NBA season and, well, the love of the game, I plod along.

Additionally, for the second consecutive year (of the seven that it’s been in existence), I am a part of the contingent of writers from home bases web-wide that united to create the 2012-13 NBA Blog Previews. Thanks again to CelticsBlog’s Jeff Clark for lending his considerable powers of organization to the project, and for once again inviting me to the shindig. As was the case a year ago, my contribution to the group focused on the Lakers. Whether or not you’ve checked out Mitch Kupchak at his baddest ass and a (hopefully valid) argument for why Kobe Bryant will not torpedo this star-studded production, check out the stellar work by my fellow members of the basketball blogosphere (while you're here, check mine out too, huh?):

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The NBA's 1% - Previewing The 2012-13 Lakers




Team Name: Los Angeles Lakers
Last Year's Record: 41-25
Key Losses: Andrew Bynum, Matt Barnes, Ramon Sessions
Key Additions: Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks


1. What significant moves were made during the off-season? Y’know. Just a couple of tweaks.

It’s funny, in recent summers, given the roster’s perennial, glaring shortfalls, bolstering the bench with an aging-and-inefficient-but-still-capable veteran scorer and a young(ish), moderately consistent perimeter threat would have sparked celebrations in the farthest reaches of Lakerland and further ratcheted up already-stratospheric expectations.

This year? Not so much.

I’ve frankly had spells during which I have forgotten entirely about Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. How, pray tell, on the heels of a season in which just two second-teamers – Matt Barnes (7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) and (generously) Steve Blake (5.2 points, 3.3 assists per) – took part in 50+ games and provided something bearing even a vague resemblance to consistent production, do Jamison (17.2 points per game last season, though just 40.3% from the field – Nash should help here) and Meeks (235 3-pointers made over the past two seasons, with a 38.3% success rate) find themselves as mere footnotes in the mind of even the most rabid fan?

Well…




2. What are the team’s biggest strengths? As it has been for some time, the strength of this Lakers squad is concentrated at the top of the roster. In last year’s preview, I not-so-controversially declared that, “Barring an unforeseen series of events, the 2011-12 Lakers top four [then Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom] will once again rank among the league’s very best.” The more things change, huh?

While the claim rings true today as it did a year ago, not even the most optimistic citizen of the Nation would have dared predict that in 2012, as summer turned to fall, the Lakers would manage to significantly upgrade the quartet atop the roster. However, by roundaboutly parlaying Odom into one of history’s great playmakers and perhaps its best-ever shooter, and soon after flipping the NBA’s second-best center in exchange for arguably the NBA’s second-best player (and, y’know, first-best center), Mitch Kupchak succeeded in doing just that.

More importantly, rather than simply accumulating a treasure trove of incongruous talents, Kupchak, patient yet aggressive, cherry-picked a pair of prized assets for whom collaboration with the incumbents should come fairly easily. Nash is a no-brainer – a hoops genius whose shot, playmaking and leadership have seldom been seen at the position. His execution on the pick and roll – if not flawless, not far off – is unlikely to suffer as a result of teaming up with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Additionally, no lead guard in the NBA is as effective at finding open shooters on the perimeter (Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks, c’mon down!), which is helpful, given the frequency and incisiveness with which Nash infiltrates the paint.


Now, like Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard will occasionally displace Gasol from the post. While last season this did result in Pau’s worst as a Laker (a career-low 17.4 points per game, his worst TS% since 2003-04 and lowest PER since his rookie year), there is a case to be made that, given a lead guard with a basketball IQ on par with his own, with both the ability and willingness to deliver the ball at the proper time and place on the court, a bounceback season is in the cards for Pau.

And what of the aforementioned Howard? He should – thanks to Steve Nash being, well, Steve Nash, the defensive attention commanded by Kobe, Nash and Gasol, and post moves that, while hardly Hakeem-esque, are too often sold short – be in line for the most efficient offensive season of his career. Additionally, his work on the offensive glass (12.07% ORB Rate, 19th all-time) and incredible athleticism on the pick and roll, when paired with the penetrating and passing prowess of Nash should transform the Lakers into the NBA’s undisputed kings of the half court.

Oh yeah. And Kobe Bryant is still a thing too.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses? Though mitigated somewhat from years past, the Lakers’ greatest weakness lies, once again, in the second unit.

Thanks to Antawn Jamison (he won’t shoot 40% again, right??) and potential Steve Nash All Stars Jodie Meeks and Andrew Goudelock, the 2012-13 Lakers’ reserves should put up some points from the perimeter. Problems arise, however, when we look behind Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and discover that backing up the league’s most prolific interior duo we have offensively-challenged rebounder/spark plug Jordan Hill, potentially serviceable rookie Robert Sacre, Earl Clark and…

(Crickets)

In reality, the Lakers will spend the vast majority of their 2012-13 minutes with at least one of the their front line bigs on the floor. In the best of times the lack of frontcourt depth will likely not come into play.

HOWEVAH…

Like any deal that is priced for perfection, unforeseen circumstances (foul trouble and, far more importantly, injuries) have the potential to throw this crew for a loop. Not even the best prepared team could “replace” either of these singular talents, but to enter a season with your All-Universe center recovering from back surgery (though he is, by all accounts, progressing quite nicely) with nothing in the way of insurance beyond Hill, Sacre and Clark is something of a tightrope walk.

4. What are the goals for this team? ‘Round these parts, it’s quite simple. Championship or bust. The message has not changed, though it must be said that it’s delivered with far more sincerity this year than in the last couple.

5. How will Kobe Bryant fare as a member of an ensemble cast? Aside from injury, that’s the biggest pitfall here, right?

From the moment we learned that Steve Nash was to become a Laker, questions abounded:

Will Can Kobe subjugate his rock-monopolizing tendencies to accommodate an unimpeachable point guard whose lifeblood is a live dribble? How will Kobe react to once again teaming up – this time as a veteran of nearly two decades – with the league’s best big man, who happens to be firmly ensconced in the prime of his career? After years of vacillation between grudging half-reliance on and blatant distrust of teammates whose ability and desire chronically fell short of his lofty expectations, can Kobe find the capacity to genuinely trust not one, but two new superstar teammates whose respective bodies of work warrant nothing less?

In short… does Kobe want to win on terms that are not his own?

Be it Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Shaquille O’Neal or some other star with whom he’ll one day join forces, as long as Kobe Bryant occupies a spot in the NBA sandbox, both his willingness and ability to play nicely with others will be called into question. And not without reason. Few players in NBA history (young Mike? Larry Bird? Jerry West?) have so publicly combined monomaniacal competitiveness with blatant disregard for the opinion of all they encountered.

Thing is, however, Kobe Bean is no fool. He is, by all accounts, in fact a rather intelligent man. After what must feel like a lifetime of Smush Parker, Chucky Atkins, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and a rapidly declining Derek Fisherthe suggestion that Kobe would allow his ego to alienate Steve Nash a player that he himself recruited, whose approaches to conditioning, preparation and competition mirror Kobe's own discredits immensely Mamba's understanding of not only the finer points of the game itself, but the legacy he's taken such immense pains to construct.

Meanwhile, Kobe has thus refused to cede much of anything to Dwight Howard (and why exactly at this stage should he?). Again, however, make no mistake: Kobe remembers the Shaq era. As far into the rearview as those days have faded, memories of the dominance exerted by the NBA's best inside-outside combo working in concert, and the relative ease with which each facilitated the other's first three rings, remain vivid.

Given what we know of his personality and track record, to question Kobe Bryant's ability to thrive as part of a superstar cast the likes of which the Lakers now boast is only natural. However, to assume that the inherent selfishness that is almost universally ascribed to the man would preclude his ability to function as a part of this unit takes the pennywise-pound foolish image wrongly ascribed to Kobe to obscene heights. Anyone suggesting that Kobe would willfully sabotage a legitimate opportunity at ring #6 in favors of a few more dribbles and a couple of extra shots per game is himself willfully overlooking one rather significant point:

Kobe Bryant knows many things. On no topic is he more knowledgeable than the enduring legacy of Kobe Bryant.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Still Waiting To Witness


We’ve been here before.

Neither is the matchup new nor the backdrop unfamiliar. For the fourth time in five seasons LeBron James will take the floor at Boston’s TD Garden for a game in which a season hangs in the balance.

In May 2008, a year removed from a virtuoso run to the NBA Finals, LeBron’s Cavaliers met the C’s in a winner-take-all affair for the right to square off against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. In one of the great true mano a mano battles in recent playoff history, the eventual champs – behind 41 on just 23 shots from Paul Pierce, and no more than 13 from anyone else – outlasted a Cavs team that received 45 of its 92 points (along with five rebounds, six assists, two steals and just two turnovers, despite a 41.9% Usage Rate) from LeBron, for a 97-92 victory.

Two years later, this time with the Orlando Magic awaiting the victor at the NBA’s penultimate hurdle, it was at the TD Garden where, fresh off a 32-point drubbing in what proved to be his final home game in Cleveland, LeBron James: Cleveland Cavalier met his waterloo. Aspersions were cast and – thanks to a certain hour-long appearance on ESPN – subsequently cemented as gospel regarding LeBron’s commitment, as he coasted to 27-19-10 with three steals, but made just eight of 21 shots and coughed up possession a staggering nine times in the 94-85 defeat.

In roughly 25 months (how has it not been longer?) since he ripped off his wine and gold in that Boston hallway, almost every intangible once taken for granted about LeBron has been called into question. With talent utterly beyond reproach, he’s been vilified – sometimes rightfully, often not – for, among other things, his lack of loyalty (now, that Dwight Howard on the other hand…), integrity, humility, maturity, self-awareness, self-reliance, killer instinct, fashion sense, desire and courage. Round out the list as you see fit.

Last spring, having seemingly vanquished not only the Celtics but his legions of newfound detractors, LeBron marched the Heat to within two wins of the franchise’s second championship – and himself to within two wins of the NBA’s most resounding exhale in 40 years.

HOWEVAH…

An inexplicable disappearance in last season’s final act, combined with the now universally(ish) accepted “truths” that he’d “needed help,” “taken the easy way out” and begun “ring chasing” too early in his career, resuscitated the peanut gallery…

Hey, it’s LeBron James Day in Miami. Everyone gets to leave work 12 minutes early.

If you need change for a dollar, don’t ask LeBron – you’ll only get three quarters.

LeBron should try out for the NHL. They only play three periods.

Apple is coming out with a LeBron James iPhone. It only vibrates. No rings…

To say nothing of comedic masterminds that brought you LeDouche, LeQuit, LeQueen, LeBitch... really, just the lamest Mad Lib ever.

You know what I'm talking about. You've done it too.

Tonight, his painstakingly constructed new empire in flux, he returns to the haunts where the last one crumbled. To stare down the defilers of his crown.

A growing tally of late-game instances in which he’s opted for the "right basketball play" in lieu of aggressively looking to settle matter himself – from the inconsequential (March 2 in Utah) to the, well, the final minutes of Miami’s Game 5 defeat –has revived the exhausted conversations about heart, grit, desire and fortitude.

Is LeBron afraid of the moment? Will he ever win “the big one”? Will he, CAN he, raise his game when the stakes are highest? Does he want it enough?

Please LeBron, make it stop. Once and for all. Ok, maybe just once again. Whatever. We've been waiting, dude. Ever since the 48 Special. There's another one in there somewhere. The lights upon you may never be brighter than they will be tonight, the reception never more venomous.



You’ve set this stage. That magical night in Detroit. Game 7 in Boston the following spring. The MVPs. Your thudding 2010 finale. The Decision. The Pep Rally. The statistical greatness. The physical domination. Passes to Udonis Haslem in the dying seconds. Idling in the corner while Dwyane operates. Attempting as many free throws as Ray Allen in Game 5. All of it has conspired to deliver you to this moment.

As much as my brain says "Cut the cord. This is just what LeBron is," I continue to hold out hope. For the next one. For the time you drop 50 “when it counts.” I know it’s in there. So do you. You can’t not.

We’ve seen your way – always making the "correct basketball play." How’s that workin’ for you? Given the bumper crop of jewelry it’s landed you, I’d say it’s left a bit to be desired. What baffles me is that in this seemingly eternal quest to do the "right" by the masses, the other way – y’know, the one where your use that combination of speed, power and skill that you possess that no one in the history of the game ever has to lay waste to all in your path, Dwyane Wade’s ego be damned – doesn’t even seem to have a place in the equation.

For better or worse, man, empty your gun tonight. If not for me, do it for Skip Bayless.

Put this fucking baby to bed.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mad Props! Hello, Old Friend

Behind Rajon Rondo’s ninth career postseason triple double (which, for those scoring at home, is the fourth most all time) and another solid (though lackluster by recent standards) 18-point (7-of-17 FG), 13-rebound showing from Kevin Garnett, on Saturday night the Boston Celtics finalized the NBA’s final four.

The Celtics started their third Eastern Conference Finals in five years staring down some familiar foes in South Florida. For the third straight season and the fourth time in five years their path crosses with that of now three-time MVP LeBron James. By his side is an incredibly in-form Dwyane Wade, who is also facing the Celtics for the third straight postseason. Many will point to league-best defensive prowess (just 98.2 points allowed/100 possessions) and regular season success against the Heat (won three of four) as evidence of the Celtics’ ability push Miami to the brink and perhaps pen yet another disappointing chapter in the story of LeBron James.

Don’t bet on it. Yes, Kevin Garnett is balling at a level approaching that of his 2004 MVP season. Yes, the timetable for Chris Bosh’s return remains uncertain. And yes, equally uncertain is Bosh’s condition upon return. However, if the Celtics are unable to score consistently (using the league’s 27th ranked offense) against the league’s fourth stingiest defense – with the most devastating perimeter defender on Earth checking Paul Pierce – any success they have in slowing Miami’s offense will be rendered moot. The new adventures of old KG may push this matchup to six games, but the storyline in unlikely to vary greatly from last year.

On the prop front, the Western Conference Finals (some thoughts to come here) is effectively a three-on-three battle between the Spurs’ bejeweled trio and the NBA’s best 1-2-3 perimeter combo. Back East, meanwhile, the menu boasts five familiar faces, with cameos from a variety of supporting characters:

Brandon Bass Over 18½ Points + Rebounds – Speak of the devil! Bass has been solid for the C’s all season, scoring 15+ in a game 20 times and grabbing at least seven rebounds on 25 occasions, but make no mistake, his appearance on the prop radar is owed almost entirely (if not entirely entirely) to his 27-point outburst in Boston’s Game 5 win over Philly.

Interestingly the added attention may be somewhat justified. Bass has combined for 20+ points + rebounds in three of his last four, posted P+R totals of 18+ three times against the Heat in regular season and fared no worse than 16 – 8 & 8 on April 24’s no stars affair. I didn’t think I was ready to trust Bass to turn in a big performance in a road series opener, but discovered that doing so at a plus price does not feel entirely nuts.

Dwyane Wade Under 26½ Points – What a difference a week makes, huh?

Eight days ago, Wade, fresh off as bad a playoff performance as any bona fide superstar in recent memory has had, facing questions about his health… and ~23.5 scoring lines. Three games, 99 points and 40-for-65 (61.5%) later, we’ve seen a three-point spike.

Under my “don’t bet against greatness” rule of thumb, fading Wade is not really a viable option, but, given recent line inflation and a failure to reach 25 in any 2011-12 game against Boston and the premium price tag, decided that there are occasions to break certain rules.

LeBron James Over/Under 30 points – Forget the numbers. There was a decided “fuck you” element to LeBron’s disposal of the Celtics last spring.

This year, Bosh is out, adding to LeBron offensive workload, and Avery Bradley’s absence does nothing to help the C’s on the perimeter. Try as I have, I am totally unable to concoct a scenario in which this year’s evisceration is any less brutal.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mad Props! Spicing Up Game 7

In roughly half an hour, at Boston’s TD Banknorth Garden (Did I get that right? Didn’t look it up) the Celtics and the Sixers will take part in an oddly compelling one-and-done affair. ESPN will cue up the archival footage and this clash as another in the Boston-Philly pantheon. They will (I hope) fail.

In the absence of single elimination or sudden death, any Game 7 in the NBA, by its very nature, is intriguing. It ain’t Russell and Wilt, or Bird-McHale-Parish v. Doc-Moses-Toney, but Saturday night will feature two squads on the verge of rising to heights unforeseen for either when the season tipped off on Christmas Day.

On the one hand, we’ve got the Celtics, a once-fading, star-laden empire resuscitated by the return of a veteran stalwart to his Hall of Fame best and the postseason’s best remaining pure playmaker. Should the Celtics emerge triumphant, they will move on to author yet another (perhaps the final) chapter in their saga with LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, in their respective twilights but hardly over the hill, will be fighting further cement their legacies among the game’s greats, while Rajon Rondo… yeah, I have no idea what goes through his head. But dude can ball, and he’s got an incredible knack for doing so on the big stage.

Philly, meanwhile was this season’s whole > sum-of-the-parts story. That is, until a second half swoon saw them forced to fight tooth and nail to simply gain entry into the playoffs. Their first round matchup dealt them a fortuitous hand, as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah were nipped by the injury bug – and Carlos Boozer remained. Led not by one man, but by an eclectic collection of talents, the Sixers are single victory away from becoming just the third #8 seed in NBA history to reach the conference finals.

Given the defensive focus – and offensive limitations – personified by these teams – along with Boston’s edge in high end talent and postseason experience – the buildup to Game 7 has a decent shot at outstripping the excitement of the game itself. That is of course, unless you’ve got your action elsewhere…

Andre Iguodala –Under 13 Points

On the surface it would appear that Game 7’s great value play is in Iggy scoring 14+. In the series’ first six games Iguodala has averaged 15.6 points per game and scored 13+ three times – all in Boston. He’s shown an ability to avoid foul trouble while guarding Paul Pierce (no more than 4 fouls in a game this series and 4+ just three times in his last 17 v. Boston) and is certain to see the floor, having logged 35+ minutes in five of six in the series, and in 10 of 12 playoff games. Iggy will be live on Saturday.

However, I’d strongly suggest a glimpse behind the numbers before getting’ down on Iggy. Yes, he’s averaged 16 per in three trips to Boston this series, but he’s made just 43.6% of his shots en route (sadly an upgrade over his 40.9% mark for the series), relying on an unsustainable run from beyond the arc for his points. In the three games, Iguodala has made 7-of-12 (58.3%) 3-point attempts, including an unreal 6-of-8 in Games 1 and 5, the only times he’d have actually won on the over. 


Kevin Garnett – Over 27/27½ Points + Rebounds

So you remember how Vintage KG crashed 2012’s playoff party in Boston’s opening round defeat of the Hawks? Well, he got comfy and is still passed out on your parents’ couch.

His worst game (by some margin) of this series still saw him combine for 20 points + rebounds. He’s managed 26+ in each of the other five, eclipsing 40 three times. It’s worth noting that two of these five (15 and 12 in Game 2, and 20 and 6 in Game 5) would fall painfully short of victory tonight, but when one of the greatest ever to play his position is playing like one of the greatest ever to play his position, it pays to take notice. This is not quite a slam dunk win, but it’s tough to imagine this iteration of KG not making a run at 20-10 with the season on the line.


Rajon Rondo Over 27 Points + Assists

Statistically, this looks like full retail.

In 11 postseason games, Rondo’s handed out 10+ assists in nine times, with 13+ six times, including five in this series. In those same 11 playoff games Rondo has failed to score at least 13 points just twice, and has topped 15 five times. He’s combined for at least 27 P+A six times, four of them in the last six games.

In three regular season meetings with the Sixers, Rondo (who’s attempted 10+ shots in every playoff game thus far) attempted just 16 shots en route 18 points (seriously, that is excellent) and posted 15+ assists twice. The Sixers have done precious little to stop Rondo in this series, and given the things we’ve seen him do with the eyes of the nation on the Celtics, (gut feel alert!) look for monster outing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hero Ball Redefined


Russell deployed it without the ball. Time and again, Jerry West rode it to the very cusp. It made Larry a Legend. It’s what Magic means by “winnin’ time.” Isiah oozed it. And Michael? Well…

These days, the San Antonio Spurs appear to heroically disavow it. It courses through Carmelo Anthony’s veins, though it’s apparent that at least partial transfusion may be in order. As with everything, Chris Paul has achieved an awe-inspiring mastery. It will, as it has before, for better or for worse, determine the Lakers’ fate. Six years ago it permanently coated Dwyane Wade in Teflon, and LeBron James’ willingness – or lack thereof – to deploy it en route to the ultimate triumph will draw more scrutiny than any decision he’s ever made.

Hero ball.

Already a hot button, as the playoff field is whittled down and a new champion crowned, the idea will take up residence under our collective microscope. Vilified by the evolved, new school observer, hero ball has come to represent an antiquated, selfish and inefficient path in the pursuit of victory. An analog flip-phone in a 4G world.

Make no mistake, one player has not, will not, cannot singlehandedly win a game, a playoff series or a championship. However, in this, a team sport in which the individual performance has the greatest impact on final outcome, it is the foundation upon which virtually all greatness has been built.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mad Props Playoff Preview - Spurs v. Jazz


#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz (Game 1, Sunday 1:00 PM, at San Antonio)

December 31, 2011, @ San Antonio – Spurs 104, Jazz 89: Coach Pop rings in the new year with win #800; a balanced attack, led by 23 from Manu, trumps Al Jefferson’s lonely 21 and 11.

February 20, @ Utah – Spurs 106, Jazz 102: 20 from Timmy, 23 (and 11 assists) from Tony and a clutch Richard Jefferson triple prove too much for a balanced Utah attack, led by double-doubles from Big Al (20 and 11) and Paul Millsap (16 and 11).

April 8, @ San Antonio – Spurs 114, Jazz 104: Manu and Tony Parker combine for 51 and Tim Duncan kicks in 13 and 16, as the Spurs cruise past (stop me if you’ve heard this) Al Jefferson (19 and 10) and the Jazz for their 11th consecutive win.

April 9, @ Utah – Jazz 91, Spurs 84: Pop punts an 11-game win streak in the second of a home-and–home, though the Jazz need 25 from Devin Harris to dispose of a spirited Spurs supporting cast.

Got It Made: Manu Ginobili has taken the floor just twice against the Jazz this season, but in that limited burn he has been an absolute terror. While New Year’s Eve was something of a statistical anomaly (9-of-10, with 5-of-6 from 3 doesn’t happen often), Manu nearly managed to replicate the that 24-minute, 23-point form on April 8, against notching 23 points, this time in 28 minutes, despite making just four of 10 shots. Checked by the likes of DeMarre Carroll, Jamaal Tinsley and Gordon Hayward, he earned an awesome 15 free throw attempts, making 14. It’s now playoff time, and, barring injury, he will be Euro-stepping around and through the same defensive contingent for at least half an hour (and, conservatively, 18+ points) per game. The biggest threats to Manu’s minutes now are Spurs blowouts.

Also worth a look for the Spurs is Tim Duncan on the boards. In three meetings with the Jazz, Timmy averaged nearly 11 rebounds per, though he only reached double figures once. As a scorer, Duncan will provide the 12-18 that his team needs, but forecasting when he’ll take a back and when he’ll be driving is a crapshoot. However, in the postseason Duncan has grabbed fewer than 9.9 rebounds per game just once since his rookie year and managed 10+ in five of six games in last year’s opening round series against Memphis. This year, against a similarly deep and hefty (though more athletic) front line, look for a similar performance against Duncan

On the other side, we’ve got Al Jefferson – whom I regard as a poor man’s Duncan – who has played extremely well against the Spurs, both this season (four double-doubles; 19+ points three times) and last (22-8 or better in two of three games, once in San Antone). Al’s lines will call for something on the order of 18-10 to hit on the over. I am (a bit more than) cautiously optimistic, though I’ll probably wait to see the early returns on in his return to the postseason before taking the plunge.

Meanwhile, we’ve got Devin Harris, who has played phenomenally of late (16.5, with 5.3 assists and 42% on 3-pointers in his last 12 games) and has performed well against the Spurs, averaging 16.5 and nearly 5 assists per game, hitting 42% of his 3s (weird, right?) and notching three of his top 15 scoring performances of the season. Harris strikes me as the type of player capable of ignoring stakes and shaking off a hostile environment and working his way to 15+. With Tinsley and Earl Watson behind him, the minutes ought to be there (though guarding Tony Parker, they will not be easy minutes), and Harris plays (~14 points) should be live.

Look To Fade: I no longer bet against the Spurs. I used to “try and avoid it.” I now simply no longer do it. If you’re feeling frisky, you might roll the dice with an under bet on Tony Parker’s points in Game 3 (he’s scored just 16, 18 and 12 points in each of his last three playoff road openers), in hopes that keeping up with Devin Harris will lead to foul trouble or an off shooting night. It’s worth noting, however, that only twice in the four regular seasons has Parker failed to score 20+ against the Jazz.

Tempt fate if you must. I’ll be staying away.

On the other side, if I encounter a Gordon Hayward line in excess of 14/15 points, the fade will be on. Hayward has proven me dead wrong by developing into an above-average (and improving) wing scorer. However, between his lackluster performance (10 points per game, on 14-of-37 shooting; topped 12 once) against San Antonio (namely Kawhi Leonard) this season and the prospect of having to check Manu (both fatigue and foul risk), I’m not terribly optimistic about Hayward’s outlook in this series.

The Call: Spurs in 4. Not to denigrate the Jazz, who’ve played some excellent ball to earn entry into these playoffs and look to have a very bright future, but they were unable to stay within double digits of the Spurs in San Antonio, and their lone regular win came with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili inactive. And even that was hard fought. Pop’s done fucking around.

Mad Props Playoff Preview - Thunder v. Mavericks


#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks (Game 1, Saturday 9:30 PM, at OKC)

December 29, 2011, @ OKC – Thunder 104, Mavericks 102: Behind 29 and 10 from Dirk, Dallas takes a lead into the final second, when it is confiscated by Kevin Durant.

January 2, @ Dallas – Mavericks 100, Thunder 87: Dirk with another outstanding performance this one sufficient to end OKC’s perfect start.

February 1, @ Dallas – Thunder 95, Mavericks 86: Mavericks inexplicably (well, Jason Terry had 25 and Shawn Marion and Brandan Wright combined for 24) stay within single digits despite 33 from Russ, 23-12 from KD, 10 blocks from Serge and a near-triple-double by Harden.

March 5, @ OKC – Thunder 95, Mavericks 91: Despite 27 from Dirk and a combined 12-for-38 by Westbrook and Durant, an 8-0 run to close the game gives the Thunder 30th win in 38 games.

Got It Made: Had you asked me a month ago, I’d have pushed every last chip to the middle of the table with Russ Westbrook. Between Jason Kidd and Roddy Buckets, the Mavs do have a player with the combination of size, speed and defensive acumen to slow Russ down. However, Russ has struggled recently (sub-40% shooting in 5 of last 9 regular season games; 4-of-24 from 3 in that span). In the meantime, the Thunder have dropped seven straight against playoff-caliber competition. I’m not eager to wager against them (in Game 1, Russ’ 28 and 5 paid, though not the one-point victory), out it’s become a bit difficult to blindly assume the consistency of either.

Now, this may be a bit obvious, but if you’re looking to the upside with OKC, Kevin Durant is the way to go. For starters, and I will repeat this as often as is necessary… Greatness is, for lack of a better word, good. Greatness works.

Durant only topped the likely 28/29 at which his lines will be set once in four games against Dallas in 2011-12, but he scored 22+ on each occasion, including a 27 in Dallas January 2, and shot an uncharacteristic 13-for-37 (combined) in his other 22- and 23-point showings. Combine this with the fact that he lit up the Mavs to the tune of 28+ in each 2010-11 regular season meeting and 23+ in each of five playoff matchups, the fact that he’s a 28.6-point per game playoff scorer and had dropped 29+ in five on the trot entering the playoffs and baby, you got a stew goin’! His 25-point Game 1 showing fell three-ish short of the mark, but unless you’re expecting a great many more sub-40% shooting performances from KD, I’d look to capitalize on the opportunity wager on the 23 year-old, three-time scoring champ.

For those looking for upside with the Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki is as he has been against OKC, scoring 26+ in three of four 2011-12 regular season meetings and 25 in Game 1 (though this required two LATE free throws) after going for 26+ in five of seven 2010-11 meetings, including four of five in the conference finals games. As long as he is healthy, Dirk will be on the floor, he will be the primary option and will still be Dirk Nowitzki.

Where is likely to find a bit more value however, is with the Mavs’ #2 option – though I bet not if you ask him – Jason Terry. A man that I have referred to as “a sane J.R. Smith,” Terry’s consistent productivity against the OKC makes him an excellent limited-downside play. Heading into last night’s ultra-efficient playoff opener (20 on an awesome 8-of-10 from the field; 4-of-5 from 3), which paid on the over (14.5) by halftime, Terry had scored 15+ in each of the team’s four previous meetings, whether shooting extremely well in two games at home (a combined 40, on 13-of-22), or struggling (34 on 13-of-36) in two in OKC. In these teams’ seven 2010-11 meetings, despite only shooting 50% or better twice, Terry hit double figures six times, including three outings of 20+.

Despite Dirk’s ownership of the Mavs and Terry’s the role as sixth man, the gap in their roles narrows significantly come playoff time. There is a chance it won’t be pretty, but Jason Terry, neither a hothead nor a foul trouble risk, will be on the floor (he’s played 29+ minutes in each of his last 11 v. OKC) and will, as he always does, ooze fortitude as the Mavs’ top backcourt option.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mad Props Playoff Preview - Heat v. Knicks


#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 New York Knicks (Game 1, Saturday 3:30 PM, at Miami)

January 27, @ Miami – Heat 99, Knicks 89: Shockingly, 21 from Bill walker and 43 3-point attempts are not enough to overcome 59 from LeBron and Wade.

February 23, @ Miami – Heat 102, Knicks 88: Linsanity hits South Beach, is quickly smothered by LeBron and Wade.

April 15, @ New York – Heat 93, Knicks 85: Carmelo Anthony scores 42 of Knicks’ 85, singlehandedly saves ABC’s second half ratings.

Got It Made: Dude… LeBron and Carmelo.

Remember those things I’ve said (many, many times actually) about keeping it simple and not making a habit of betting against greatness? This is that. I will be shocked if either of these guys fails to hit 30 in any game in this series. Keep it simple.

Additionally, and I maybe clouded by a borderline familial love, keep an eye out for any J.R. Smith scoring lines. Given the Knicks dearth of scorers behind Carmelo and (sometimes) Amar’e, to say nothing of J.R.’s shall we say “enthusiastic” approach to projecting the ball at the rim and the high potential for LeBron and Wade to bring out his swagtastic best/worst, lines you find (likely ~12.5) are sure to be live, and could prove conservative.

Look To Fade: You remember that thing about not betting against greatness? Well, in a similar vein, go ahead and feel free to bet against proven mediocrity. In the case of Knicks-Heat, we’re talking about the likes of Mario Chalmers and Landry Fields. (I have actually seen lines for both, on multiple sites)

In the case of Chalmers, he’s failed to make an impact against the Knicks this season as either a scorer (combined 15 points on 6-of-17 in three meetings this season) or a distributor (7 assists). While it’s likely that he’s find the range at least once in the series, given this, along with the likelihood of LeBron and Wade shifting into top gear offensively, we’re not terribly likely to see ‘Rio doing a great deal of damage.

Fields, on the other hand, has simply been putrid of late. And yet, thanks to two magical months last season, a prominent work address and a handful of oops from a now-famous former houseguest, his status as a relevant NBAer remains cemented. In his last 17 games, only three times has he scored more than 10 points, and only once has he topped five rebounds. Checking Dwyane Wade and switching onto LeBron in the pick-and-roll is not likely to reverse either of these trends.

The Call: LeBron and ‘Melo will each score a ton, and the rest of the Heat > rest of the Knicks. ‘Melo will go nova once - Miami in 5.

Mad Props Playoff Preview - Bulls v. 76ers


#1 Chicago Bulls vs. #8 Philadelphia 76ers (Game 1, Saturday 1:00 PM, at Chicago)

2011-12 Meetings
February 1, @ Philadelphia – 76ers 98, Bulls 82: Still riding high, a balanced Philly attack (five guys with between 14 and 19 points) blows out the Bulls.

March 4, @ Philadelphia – Bulls 96, 76ers 91: A similarly balanced showing (17 from Thad Young, 16 from Jrue Holiday and three guys with 14) fall short against 35 from Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah’s 18 boards.

March 4, @ Chicago – Bulls 89, 76ers 80: No Rose, no problem. The Bulls overcome 30 points by Holiday, behind five double figure scorers.

Got It Made: Assuming a nicked-up Derrick Rose that missed virtually half the regular season needs a minute to regain his MVP form, and given the offensive struggles of Carlos Boozer (11 points, 7.3 rebounds per game, 42% FG) and Luol Deng (more on him in a second) against the Sixers, balance is likely to be the Bulls’ greatest offensive weapon in this matchup. Worth a look, however, is Joakim Noah on the boards. In three previous meetings this season, JoNo has grabbed an average of 12 boards against the Sixers (who allow a combined 25 rebounds/48 to opposing PF/C’s), and has grabbed 11+ boards in three of his last four home games against the Sixers, including 11 this past St. Paddy’s Day.

Judging by these teams previous meetings, the Bulls’ approach to stopping the Sixers is forcibly casting Jrue Holiday as primary scorer. In three meetings this season, Holiday averaged 21 points (and 4.7 assists), but required a whopping 20 shots per game to do so. Given the prevailing market (pts+assts lines have ranged from 18.5 and 20.5), Holiday would look to be in play in Round 1. As a result, however, anyone looking at Holiday as an upside play will be paying full retail.

Looking under the radar a bit, Thaddeus Young presents an intriguing opportunity. In three regular season meetings with the Bulls (against whom frontcourt players have shot an uncharacteristic 45%+ this season), Young averaged 14.7 points (including games of 19 and 17), shot better than 50% from the field and grabbed eight rebounds per game, including… 4.7 offensive rebounds (!!) per game. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Thad has fared fairly well at the United Center. Prior to this season’s eight-point showing (which came on 4-of-8 and was accompanied by five offensive rebounds), in his previous four trips to Chicago, Young has averaged 16.5 points (on just under 50% shooting) and 6.8 rebounds per game, three times grabbing at least three offensive boards. Lines for Thad may prove a tad challenging to find, but assuming they’re based on his season averages of 12.8 and 5, could provide decent value.

Look To Fade: The phonetic brothers, Luol and Lou Will. This matchup (read Andre Iguodala) has been a disaster of late for Deng, who’s shot 3-for-11 each of the last three times he’s suited up against the Sixers (last March 28, and twice this year, plus a DNP), and promises to have his hands full against Iggy, if not actually keeping him from scoring, then keeping him off the boards and actually getting free for a shot of his own.

On the flipside, we have Lou Williams, Philly’s bench spark, for whom this matchup is an absolute nightmare. In three outings against the Bulls this season Lou shot a putrid 25% (7-of-28) from the field and managed just 9.7 points per game. Only against the Hawks (against whom he at least made a third of his shots) did Williams take the floor multiple times this season with a lower scoring average. Throw in the fact that he’s topped 14 points (his 2011-12 season average was 14.9) just twice in his last seven outings against Chicago, along with the Bulls allowing a mere 17.2 points per 48 to opposing two guards, and Lou’s inevitable 14.5-15.5 scoring lines look a bit inflated.

The Call: Bulls in 5. The Sixers lacks the consistency, cohesion and, over the past couple of months, confidence to hang with the Bulls. They are, however, healthy and still boast an impressive stable of athletes, led by arguably the league’s best (no worse than top-3) perimeter defenders. The Bulls depth and stifling defense are sufficient for easy entry into the conference semis, but there’s liable to be at least a minor hiccup in Rose’s reintegration into the lineup. This, combined with the inability of either Boozer or Deng to generate much offense against the Philly frontcourt will allow the Sixers to steal one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mad Props! #PointGod

That is more like it. Now I’m smart! Totally saw that backdoor cover coming.

Or sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. I've heard it both ways. 

Chris Paul did not have the best game his career last night. Hell, he needed a pair of late free throws and an irrelevant breakaway dunk with a second left to get to 29 points and assists (21 & 8). But last night, as he frequently does, he put on full display why he is a top-three MVP candidate and would not be a travesty as an upset winner of the award.

In the waning moments of Wednesday night’s game in Denver, a vaguely familiar sound began to rain down from the Pepsi Center rafters…

BEAT L.A.! BEAT L.A.!

Born in Boston in 1982, unifying sworn enemies against a common foe, the battle cry permeated the NBA in the 1980s, making a cameo any time a lesser opponent pushed Magic Johnson and the visiting Showtime Lakers to the brink and rocking packed arenas at playoff time. Respect. A tip-of-the-cap to the NBA’s preeminent Western power, it accompanied the Lakers on virtually every road trip for the remainder of the decade. It was the ultimate legitimizer.

BEAT L.A.! BEAT L.A.!

On Wednesday night, it was bestowed upon the Clippers. This is, of course, not to say that the Clippers own the Western Conference, or that they ever will. Nor is it my goal to say that the Clippers are inherently unworthy (though there is fair bit of historical failure to contend with) of the respect of opposing fans. I’m not even saying the gesture carries the same weight it did 30 years ago. But it was weird.

And it was all because of Chris Paul.

This season, statistically, Paul is your average, run-of-the-mill #pointgod. Down a bit from his incomprehensibly dominant 2007-08 and 2008-09 form, Paul’s 2011-12 performance is the third best of his career and ranks in the very top tier of the NBA’s elite.

His 29.2 ranks second to LeBron’s 31.6 in Hoopdata’s Adjusted PER. Only LeBron (11.2) and Kevin Love (10.07) have more Adjusted Win Shares than Paul’s 9.98. Among point guards, only Lou Williams, Brandon Jennings and Gary Neal turn the ball over less frequently than Paul, who is coughing the ball up a career-low 11.06 times per 100 possessions. He ranks third in the league (behind Rajon Rondo and Nash) in assists per game (9.0), Assists+ (adjusted for 3-pointers; 10.2) and trials only Steve Nash and Mario Chalmers in True Shooting Percentage. He leads the league in steals (141), steals per game (2.5) and steals Steal Rate (3.7 per 100 possessions). Still brilliant. Historic, actually.

He is the reason the Clippers are one pace for the best winning percentage in franchise history (currently .629; the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves hold the current mark of .598) nearly six percentage points better than 2005-06 team that holds the mark for the L.A. era.

Despite his sometimes maddening (but let’s honest, sometimes funny and awe-inspiring) penchant for the dark arts, Chris Paul is every bit the genius maestro that we’ve come to expect. He controls time and space on a basketball court better than anyone alive today and owns property near the very top of the historical list. He is the only reason that a Los Angeles Clippers jersey has ever heard a “Beat L.A.” chant in person.

He is, as always, the very pulse of his team. And the circumstances under which he’s become the unequivocal soul of the Clippers – just four months after his arrival – put this season’s effort on par with anything he’s ever done. In a season in which he’s been shorthanded in terms of both on-court production (I’m not going to get into it here, but Blake Griffin has shown shockingly little, if any growth in either his skill set or maturity) and leadership (Chauncey Billups' absence, combined with Blake’s aforementioned developmental hiccup), Paul has a carried a monumental laughingstock to within half a game of a first-ever division crown. 


As it did a year ago, the annual race for NBA’s top individual honor will come down to a photo finish between one of the NBA’s young, shining lights, a beacon of all that is good about today’s game (and yes, Kevin Durant absolutely is all of that) and the most overpowering physical force and greatest statistical wonder of our time. As with last year, I feel that LeBron James is the award’s most deserving recipient. However, in the event that LeBron’s time in the corner is not yet up, I hope Chris Paul receives the honor. This will not happen of course, but give it a thought the next time you watch Chris Paul – flanked by a supporting cast that is above average, but by no means elite, and not quite the headiest crew– makes a fairly important regular season game feel like something more.

Looking ahead, proper lines will be harder to find in these final days of the regular season, with wild swings in playing time impacting matchups all over the court. But if a palatable number on Chris Paul (in Phoenix) were to pop up, it’d certainly be worth a look. I don’t think his pedal comes up from the floor the rest of the way.

Until next time...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mad Props! Back To Basics

“Don’t make a habit of betting against greatness.”
- Me, yesterday 


Chance are, at one time or another, you have embarked on a quest to shed a few extra pounds. No, no, no ladies! Please don’t leave! I didn’t say you were fat, I was just… aw, c’mon!

Sigh.

For those of you still in attendance, if this has ever been you, it’s also likely that at some point you’ve received the single most maddening piece of “encouragement” imaginable on this front: “All you’ve got to do is eat well and exercise.”

You don’t say. Is that all?

While ignoring the box of Oreo cupcakes in the office break room, the possibility that your wife might whip up some bacon jam (seriously) or order goat cheese-stuffed, pancetta-wrapped dates (every bit as good as they sound), this is perfectly sound advice. At its core, a reduction in consumption, combined with increased physical exertion will result in weight loss and improved conditioning. Simple.

So what’s this got to do with one man’s mission to deliver the gospel of the prop bet to the world?

It’s time to get back to basics.

Not that it’s even remotely apparent based on the early returns, but I do in fact have a clue as to what I am doing here, and rules by which I abide the vast majority of the time. For starters, there is no need to get cute. A win is a win. They are every bit as sweet when you ride the obvious greatness of Kobe, LeBron or Chris Paul to payday, as when you get lucky with Nick Young, Darren Collison or an off night from Kevin Durant. In addition to aligning yourself with the best in the business, these plays have the potential to be as much fun as anything you’ll do with your clothes on, because if you're on board during one of those games (I had "Kobe over 35.5 points" on the night of 81), it is special. There's no bonus for showing off how freaking smart you are.

On a night when a red hot Carmelo Anthony (28+ in 7 of 11 games before last night; five games of 30+; 47% or better nine times), at home, with playoff position on the line – admittedly against an elite defense, but one against which he’s scored 25+ three times this season, and one more concerned with arriving at the postseason rested and in good health than anything else – hangs obscene 35-12-10 (Over 27 points or Over 9.5 rebounds + assists were available in the -120 range), you want to be on board. Conversely, there is no feeling more demoralizing than watching said torching and marveling, “wow, I’d sorta forgotten just how devastating ‘Melo is when he’s rolling,” while simultaneously praying for Landry Fields, your “contrarian value play,” to miraculously eclipse 8.5 points.

Keep it simple.

Align your interests with those of legitimately good, in-form players, who’ve got something to play for, against favorable matchups. Simple.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mad Props! Inauspicious


Well, that was awesome.

I am choosing to view inauspicious debut of Mad Props not as a portend of imminent disaster, but as a test of discipline and resolve, administered by a pair of all-time greats. A possible payday undone by an overwhelming finish in Newark, driving home a stark reminder of my “don't make a habit of betting against greatness” policy, followed immediately by the encouragement of a foul-plagued first quarter that transformed suddenly into a no-effin-way-your-under-is-winning first half, topped off by a just-for-good-measure three overtimes – good times all around.

First, the fans in Newark, deprived of seeing both Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams, received value for their entertainment dollar in the form of a magnificent fourth quarter from LBJ. Actually, not even a full quarter. It wasn’t even half a quarter. In the game’s final 4:48, having received a “in two weeks these guys are Brooklyn’s problem” reception, LeBron went full 48-Special, scoring Miami’s last 17 points (bringing his total for the evening to an Under-27.5-busting 37) to seal the 101-98 win over the shorthanded-but-game Nets. Hell, if I’d known Miami’s game plan would involve more than simply paying for postage I’d have coughed up the cash to be in the Pru. Even on TV, it was awe-inspiring.

With that said, I am unclear as to the objective of Erik Spoelstra’s game plan. Sure, the genesis of this complaint is largely self-interest, but even the impartial observer in me is slightly puzzled by the decision to rest the perpetually nicked-up D-Wade but run Chris Bosh and LeBron– the latter only a day removed from a minor ankle tweak – for 35 minutes apiece in the interest of securing an inconsequential regular season victory against a lotto-bound opponent.

Make no mistake, Spo did right by the fans, his superstar (LeBron clearly felt like being out there) and the immortalized words of Herm Edwards, and all’s well that ends well… but why?

Meanwhile in Utah, two first quarter fouls in roughly 9:30 – again, on the road in the second half of a back-to-back – appeared to place Dirk Nowiztki’s bid for 24+ (he had 6 in the quarter) in jeopardy. Yeah, about that…

Dirk returned a couple of minutes into the second quarter and, thanks to a whopping eight free throw attempts (and makes), 3-of-6 from the field and no more personal fouls, proceeded to hang 14 on the Jazz in the stanza, and took 20 points into the locker room at the half. Dirk did little to inspire hope after the break, peppering the dream with a pair of 15-foot daggers before ending the misery with the first of two freebies with just over three minutes remaining.

I say the following in all honesty – be it LeBron extending hope before extinguishing it with a blinding nightcap or the efficient steamroller that is Dirk requiring neither fourth quarter nor THREE OVERTIMES to lay waste what was frankly an aggressive line – if you’re going to go down in flames, there are more maddening way to have it happen than that Monday night smackdown. One logical theory. Two prime opportunities. No bad calls. No hard luck. Two gameplans zagging where I thought they’d zig. Two of the greats doing what they do. That you can live with.

Let’s move on, shall we?

On a fairly light Tuesday slate (5 games) – one highlighted by a Celtics-Knicks/Spurs-Lakers TNT doubleheader (tips off at MSG at 8:00 Eastern) – I say we keep it local (to me, at least) with a contrarian value play (tread lightly; no need to bet the farm here) on a team still battling for playoff seeding, squaring off against an aging (elderly) opponent whose playoff position is pretty well set in stone. At The Garden, where the rejuvenated post-D’Antoni Knicks – locked in battle with the 76ers for the East’s bottom two spots, take on the set-in-stone Celtics, who are part of the 3-way logjam at 4-5-6, but, thanks to a 4.5-game lead on both the Sixers and Knicks, are a virtual lock to finish as the #4 seed by virtue of winning the Atlantic Division. I’m hesitant to predict a full-blown Boston mail-in… but I’m not sure why.

Ray Allen and Paul Pierce – both of whom will apparently suit up Tuesday night – were listed as questionable until well into the afternoon and are unlikely to see particularly heavy minutes. As a result, increased responsibility for checking a red-hot Carmelo Anthony will fall to Mickael Pietrus, with double-team help where appropriate. This, along with some possible added rest for Melo (I’m avoiding both his scoring line of 27 and Reb/Asst line of 9.5, with both over’s at -125) in what ought to be a fairly easily winnable game against the C’s second unit, should open up opportunities – both in the form of minutes and touches for one Landry Fields. Fields has been decidedly less-than stellar of late, but getting plus odds (+105) on his reaching 9 points – a mark he reached in four straight games prior to the last two – in a game that could feature a lot of sitting stars epitomizes the ugly contrarian play (seriously, I don’t even feel good about it, which tells me there is something there) that stealthily pays.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mad Props! The Maiden Voyage

What if your performance at work was scrutinized similarly to that of a professional athlete? I’m not talking annual, semiannual or ever quarterly assessments, but having your effort, attitude, consistency, (of course) performance, hell, even your body language dissected… not even daily, but in real-time. In granular detail. Publicly. Like, on TV. National TV. Multiple channels. What if an army of finely coiffed talking heads was perpetually lying in wait to scrutinize your every move?

“I’ve been around this game for years and from where I sit, it’s clear that his effort on that last interoffice memo was NOT where it needed to be”…total BrickBreaker immersion in each of the last six staff meetings? You tell me he’s not quitting on his team… another failure to circle back and touch base subsequent to the offsite symposium highlighting the synergistic dovetailing of best practices? Unacceptable!” (I count 9 in that last one. Challenge extended)

Skip Bayless falsifying achievements in his youth at endeavors which you regularly neglect. Colin Cowherd inquiring about the identity and whereabouts of your father. Repeated assertions that you are “more Vince Carter than Kobe Bryant.” It would be awkward.

I shudder at the thought.

With that said, however, I can only imagine that the resulting hypervigilance – born, if not out of a genuine desire to scale the ranks of one’s profession, at least out of a desire to be left the hell alone – has a decidedly positive effect on a person’s “game.” Thus despite multiple half-starts and failures to launch (let’s see, off the top of my head, there are the short-lived “Hardwood Hype’s As Yet Unnamed Links Collection,” later reincarnated as the too-easy-to-neglect weekly “Plays of the Week,” “Lines of the Night” and “What To Watch For”), as part of a longstanding and ongoing effort to address issues relating to consistency, I ambitiously lob another idea at the wall with the Mad Props, a regular look at the day that was and the night that will be in the NBA troposphere. (I'm making this a thing - just watch!)


If you’ve crossed paths at any point with the wellspring of short-form brilliance (I've heard other, less effusive descriptions as well) that is my Twitter feed, you’re likely aware of my undying affection for the sports betting, namely NBA player propositions (props). Being an incorrigible dork, one immersed in the statistics and day-to-day goings-on of the NBA, I view player prop lines the way a trader does a quote on any financial asset. For more than 3 years I have regularly placed these “a la carte” wagers – and actually done so at a moderately profitable clip.

In the coming days, I will kick off a twice weekly column focused on the “prop market” on the website (stay tuned for the details) of a respected member of the sports gaming industry in Las Vegas. As an accompaniment to the column, which will be more concerned with trends and developments than personal results, and in the interest of holding myself accountable for both solid research and fiscal discipline, Mad Props will provide a forum for me to talk out the one or two prop bet(s) (if it's more, I'm doing it wrong) I make on a nightly(ish) basis, while assessing the results and rationale from the evening prior.

Shall we get started?

With many playoff-bound teams' positions already set (if not in stone, at least in hardening glue), in light of the events of Sunday afternoon, it's not unreasonable to expect that some stars, particularly those nursing minor nicks or with a lot of miles on the odometer, will see limited burn. On this, the second in a pair a of back-to-backs, two stars in particular – both playing away from their loyal, gate-revenue-generating home fans – jump out as prime "1 & 3" (1st/3rd quarter only) candidates, and thus less likely than one might expect to rack up big numbers:

LeBron James Under 27½ Points (-115) at New Jersey. (UPDATE: by the time I posted, he'd scored 8 in the first quarter against the Deron-less Nets.) Troubling though the early productivity may seem, he'd need to play all four quarters (yeah right!) at roughly this clip to eclipse this number. The Heat are essentially locked in to the East’s #2 spot, and again it’s the second half of a road back-to-back, on  the heels of LeBron tweaking his ankle yesterday at MSG – after which he was not quite the same. Even if the ankle is fine, with the playoffs approaching, it’s likely that Spo will value rest over a victory over the lottery-bound Nets.

AND...

Dirk Nowitzki Under 24 Points (-120) at Utah. A scenario similar to that of LeBron James, sans the fresh injury. Any kind of pre-playoff rejuvination is the most valuable commodity for veteran stars these days. Sure, the Mavs seemingly have a bit to play for yet (1.5 out of #5 spot), but with the teams immediately beneath them in the standings (#7 Nuggets; .5 game behind & #8 Rockets, 1.5 back) squaring off for the second consecutive night, the negative impact of a loss is somewhat mitigated. Plus, a bit of downward mobility might be welcome in Big-D, with the alternative being a first-round matchup against a Laker team that in all likelihood will secure the West's #3 seed and, without Kobe Bryant, just put the finishing touches on a four-game season series sweep of the Mavs.


It’s impossible to say whether this is the one that’s going to stick – and last I checked, Vegas is offering +240 on my reaching the one-month milestone – but I humbly ask that you humor me. Any and all feedback on these posts will be considered, and I iron some wrinkles myself, the flow of the posts will go in the only direction possible from here.

Cool? Thanks! Until tomorrow...