Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I'm A Monster!!!

So… are we having fun yet? 

In the wake of a lackluster 104-101 victory in Oakland over the fast-fading Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in familiar haunts. Against a backdrop that featured some vintage late-game heroics from Kobe Bryant (admittedly, said heroics would likely not have been necessary if he’d made more than a third of his shots before that point), an outstanding performance off of the bench by Matt Barnes (18 points, on 7-10FG and 3-5 3-pt, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 30 minutes) and a showdown with the class of the conference looming in less than 48 hours, for the second game on the trot, the post-game chatter centered around a Laker star’s involuntary relegation to the bench.

On Sunday night it was Kobe on the pine during the stretch run. This time Andrew Bynum was the target of Mike Brown’s hook. Two minutes into the second half, having connected on just four of 10 field goal attempts and made minimal impact on the boards, and appearing generally disinterested at the defensive end, Bynum, trailing the play as the Lakers were setting up in the half court, received the ball at the top of the arc, about 25 feet from the cup. With 16 seconds remaining on the shot clock and the Lakers holding a slender 56-50 advantage, Bynum, whose 6+-year resume had on it a grand total of seven 3-point attempts (and prior to Sunday night, no makes), assessed the situation and concluded that letting fly from distance was the option best aligned with the team’s interests.

C’mon!!

31 seconds after the ill-conceived heave, ‘Drew found himself with a courtside seat for the remainder of the third quarter and all but the first 170 seconds of the final stanza. The game played out, the shot, the hook and Bynum’s subsequent refusal to join the team huddle during timeouts ("I just sat where he (Brown) put me."), sending Twitter aflutter with reaction running the gamut, from “Did Bynum really get benched just for taking a 3? What’s the big deal?” to “Andrew Bynum is a disgrace to the organization.” The truth, as it annoyingly tends to do, resides somewhere in the middle.

Andrew Bynum is NOT a disgrace to the Purple and Gold. He is, by all accounts, an intelligent, charming and well mannered young guy. Despite having the trappings of wealth, celebrity in the city of Los Angeles at his feet since graduating high school, he’s not run afoul of the law (poor choice in parking spaces notwithstanding) and has honed his craft to the point where there are not five people walking the planet better equipped to do his job.

Andrew Bynum is, however, a petulant child. This was a tantrum. You could see the clouds gathering. From his untimely ejection in last week’s loss in Houston, to his lackadaisical effort the following night in Dallas, to his “I gotta get my numbers” proclamation immediately after, Bynum is acting out. Perhaps feeling (justifiably or not) about an aging Kobe the way that Kobe felt about Shaq a decade ago, or maybe jealous of the outpouring of love from Laker Nation toward backcourt savior Ramon Sessions, Bynum is not receiving the attention he clearly feels he is owed.

With that said, it’s important that we take a step back and not make too much of the events of Tuesday night. This is not some apocalyptic breaking point, but a manifestation of an unseemly aspect of Bynum’s personality. He is not a locker room cancer on a mission to tear this team apart at its seams, but an entitled adolescent in need of affirmation that he’s not forgotten and still loved. This is not a straw that’s broken a camel’s back. Our camel is just a bit of a brat.

It is…

Cue the ukulele.

Allow me to wander off on a tangent for a moment. On more than one occasion, I have likened new Lakers President Jim Buss to fellow (albeit fictional) genetic lottery winner, Gob Bluth, While casting ‘Drew Bynum here as pampered man-boy Buster, striking similarities between the current crew in Lakerland and the Bluth clan began to emerge. For instance, Jerry Buss is a perfect out-of-the-picture patriarch (George Sr.), with Jeannie – the daughter that is loved, but overlooked in matters of great significance –as Lindsay. Kobe is clearly Lucille Bluth, the under-the-radar (less in Kobe’s case) puppetmaster, while Pau Gasol – talented hard-working, always willing to sacrifice, but flawed in his own right and frequently disregarded – makes for quite the Michael. We can round out the gang with Mike Tobias Brown F√ľnke – the less-than-alpha outsider that probably regrets signing up for this shitshow, but with nowhere else to go – and Ramon Sessions – still innocent and somewhat above the fray – as the teenage George Michael.

Am I crazy, or does that kinda work?

Now if Ron Howard would just agree to do play-by-play….Yo quiero leche! Whuh?? Where are we?


Last summer I wrote about the “new Laker fandom.” It is now upon us, and it is not well-versed in the art of subtlety.

Neither the behavior exhibited by Andrew Bynum nor the turmoil that persistently surrounds this team is unprecedented in the history of sport. This is just a pain-in-the-ass idiosyncrasy in Bynum’s personality, not unlike the ones Shaq possessed, or those regularly paraded about by Kobe Bean. However, conspicuously missing (thus far) from this new chapter in Laker history is the organizational stalwart – the Chick Hearn, Jerry West, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Magic Johnson or Jerry Buss – with both the credibility and the gravitas to remind young ‘Drew that this act only flies in Lakerland when you’re stackin’ ‘chips, and even then, look at banner, buddy – no man is bigger than the franchise.

This is oddly sorta fun though, right? This is what this team is now. They fuck up until they have to get it together, and we have no idea where it's going.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Clyde Drexler and a Retroactive League Pass Alert

History will not be kind to Clyde Drexler. Sure, he will be remembered as one of the greats of his era, but the narratives surrounding the second half of his career (the half that most everyone best remembers) do not easily lend themselves to idolatry and lionization.

Bounced from the 1990 Finals in five games. Upset in six games by the aging, post-Showtime Lakers in the 1991 Western Conference Finals. Eviscerated by Michael Jordan the following spring. Traded two and a half years later by the franchise he once personified… in exchange for Otis Thorpe, Marcelo Nicola (!) and a 1995 draft pick that ultimately became Randolph Childress. Hell, even his championship ring has attached to it the caveats (valid or not) that Michael Jordan had yet to regain his post-baseball sea legs when Clyde, now starring alongside Hakeem Olajuwon, hoisted hardware in Houston.

(I know what you’re thinking – I thought it too – but we’re not going there)

Obscured by this, however, is the fact that over the course of his brilliant career, Drexler assembled an all-around statistical resume on par with that of any perimeter player in the game’s history:
In 15 NBA seasons, Drexler averaged 20.4 points (19+ 12 times), on 47.2% FG, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists and a pair of steals per game, posted (per Basketball Reference) a PER of 21.1 and accumulated 135.6 Win Shares, good for 25th all time (just shy of Bob Pettit’s 136) and decidedly better than the career totals of John Havlicek, Scottie Pippen and Patrick Ewing.

An awesome 13 times Drexler posted a PER of at least 19.7, matching the career totals for Bird, Magic, Jerry West, David Robinson and (so far) Kobe Bryant, one shy of Michael and Moses, and once more than Wilt. And six times he managed a PER of at least 22 – one fewer than Larry Bird and Moses Malone.

In his first six NBA season (through 1988-89) he grabbed nearly 300 more offensive rebounds than any other guard (1277; Fat Lever, who entered the league with Drexler, had 985), Lever and Magic Johnson were the only guards to outrebound Clyde overall, and only Lever (1,134) and Alvin Robertson (1,128) topped Drexler 1,101 steals. As a scorer over the same stretch, Drexler was bested by only Isiah Thomas and Rolando Blackman, each of whom was two years into his career when Drexler was drafted, and, of course, Michael.

16 times in NBA history has a guard turned in an Offensive Rebound Rate of at least 9% - no one more than Drexler’s three times. In 1988-89 he averaged 3.7 offensive boards per game, still the single-season record for guard. In doing so, he topped his own record (3.2) from the year before. In addition to the top two spots on the list, he’s also responsible for the 6th, 7th, 12th 18th and 19th highest ORB averages for a guard.

Since the league began tracking steals in 1973-74, two players have had produced six seasons with averages of at least 25 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.5 steals – Clyde is one of them. Drop the scoring bar to 20? Fine. The list doesn’t get much longer.

Wondering about the murderer’s row that sustained these averages for an entire career?

Pretty solid crew, right? How about some raw numbers? 20,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 6,000 assists – illustrious and exclusive. Again.

The bottom line? Clyde Drexler was fucking awesome. But that's also not why we're here.
I was playing around at work yesterday with Basketball Reference’s Play Index. Just goofing off. Looking for ridiculous single-game performances. And then I stumbled upon this gem from February 26, 1988, in which Clyde Drexler became the only man in NBA history to score 40 points, hand out 8 assists and swipe 5 steals without turning the ball over, with 42, 9 and 8 (!!)  with no turnovers, and, summarily dominated Michael Jordan. (Seriously, take 10 minutes and watch both clips. This seems like it would have been a fun one in the League Pass/Twitter era.)


Thing is, Michael managed a businesslike 52 along the way. And a little something for Clyde at the end.


Dumb luck is why we’re here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How Do You Fight A Madman? Bracketology Edition

Less than 24 hours from now, March Madness will officially be upon us, as two titans of the hardwood, the Delta Devils of Mississippi Valley State and the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky University, lock horns for the right to be fed to the Wildcats Thursday evening.

If you are even an occasional visitor to this corner of the internet you are probably aware that the NBA purveys the lone flavor of hoops to which my palate is accustomed. Seriously, I have virtually no tolerance for this inferior level of ball, even at its highest elevation. This is (I think) the third consecutive NCAA basketball season in which I have entered the tournament able to count on one hand (maybe two) the hours I’ve spent watching the game’s finest “student athletes.”

HOWEVAH…

As anyone that’s ever met me can attest, I do love my games accompanied by a healthy dollop of the betting, which mean, naturally… BRACKETS!

As you might imagine, given my apathy for college hoops, there is precious little (beyond my overall sports dorkiness) that separates me from the dude from IT that will win your office pool, based solely on mascot ferocity. It honestly tripped me out for a few minutes to learn that there are two SDSU’s in this year’s field.

Now, it is certainly not without strategy that I attack the field of 68 –I can tell you with great confidence that Rick Pitino will not see the tourney’s second weekend, and that Kentucky is good. Really, really good. Additionally, in honor of Laker great Michael Cooper, New Mexico State will log at least one victory, much to my wife’s delight Wisconsin will advance to the Sweet 16 (as I have selected Montana to bounce them in Round 1. Or 2. Whatever) and I will be picking UNLV to win no fewer than two games.

Beyond this, my bracket is a straight numbers game. Break down the matchups all you want, but don’t tell me we’re not seeing one #12 and one #13 this weekend, with at least one surviving to see Week 2. A #8 looking particularly enticing against a #9? Yeah, your bookie’ll love hearing that.

Anyway, before you set about filling out your bracket, check out this awesome graphic from Jen Rhee at BusinessDegree.net, chock full of fun factoids and prevailing trends:

March Madness
Created by: Business Degree

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plays of the Week – Here They Stayed and NBA Owners Behaving Badly

This week, after an emotional roller coaster, Sacramento’s City Council approved a deal for a new arena that will keep the Kings in town for the long run. As a Laker fan, I’d like to offer sincere congratulations to the Cowbell Kingdom. 

While on a panel at the Sloan Conference, Mark Cuban slapped Bill Simmons with a “sophomoric joke” right out of the playbook of your average 14 year-old. Unfortunately for Cubes, he’s 52 and a billionaire.

From Searching for Slava, one of the best Lakers pieces you’ve read in a while.

An incredible breakdown of Boris Diaw's prowess in the arena of consumption, from Angelo from I Go Hard Now. A must.

Not new this week, but new to me: a fantastic look at the role of Young Money in Michael Jordan’s legacy.

12 years in, and Bill Simmons’ annual Trade Value piece is still a hell of a fun read. Part 1. Part 2.

On Sactown Royalty, a great look at trade possibilities for every NBA team that are decidedly not crazy. (East and West)

Dan Diamond’s debut effort at Truth About It is a strong one, examining the relationship between age and PER in the NBA, and the select company in which it places Cavs’ phenom Kyrie Irving.

Oh my, Donald Sterling. Stay classy, buddy.

Finally, at ClippersBlog, D.J. Foster examines the sustainability (or lack thereof) of the Clippers’ reliance on their brightest remaining bulb.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Plays of the Week – 100 Turns 50 and Jim Buss Continues To Terrify Laker Nation

Finding the Clippers less than likeable these days? You’re in good company. HoopSpeak's Beckley Mason delves into all that’s maddening about Blake and the Point God.

From SI.com’s Zach Lowe, an excellent breakdown of the difficulties that await the Dallas Mavericks in their quest to land both Dwight Howard and Deron Williams

I love mock drafts. Thing is, far too often mock drafts are merely lists of prospects. This, from Ball-O-Holics, is a mock draft.

In the latest installment of Searching for Slava’s Sager saga, our protagonist finds himself in Lakerland, hanging with a dude who’s name may (or may not) be Jim.

In a related story, the new head of the Lakers has “revamped” the organization, in part through the addition of Chaz, his personal bartender (okay, in fairness, it’s not his bartender. It’s a dude he buddied up with while killing time at the track. Cuz, y’know, that’s better) to the scouting department. Sadly, Chaz inspires more confidence throughout Lakerland than does Baby Buss.

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin chatted with Phil Jackson about Michael Jordan’s epic “flu game.” A fascinating look back at one of the era’s great performances.

A staggeringlook back at one of the darkest incidents in NBA history, as told by witnesses and participants. An oral history of the Artest Melee, featuring Reggie Miller as Gob Bluth. C’mon, Reggie!!

Truly outstanding work by Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams.

is Rasheed Wallace primed for an NBA comeback? Did he ever really leave? A fantastic examination by Danny Chau.

At The Two-Man Game, Rob Mahoney wonders, as I have in the past, about where we draw the line between hoops and real life, specifically with Lamar Odom in mind.  

At Forum Blue & Gold, Darius (in a fantastic recap of a Lakers' W over the Timberwolves) shared some thoughts on the substation patterns of coach Mike Brown and the upcoming trade deadline. Soon after, the Rumor Mill was born.

Finally, as the most storied accomplishment in NBA history turned 50, Ken Berger sorted through the patchy, sometime contradictory accounts provided by those in attendance in Hershey in 1962. As usual, beautifully done.