NBA Regular-Season Shootaround: Good-bye to All That
So much amazing happened during the NBA regular season, and the Shootaround crew was here to help you keep track of it all. With the playoffs on the horizon, we looked back on some of our favorite smaller moments, head-scratching story lines, beloved players, and games from the course of the season.
My Name Is Carmelo Anthony, I Work for the State
(All GIFs by @HeyBelinda unless otherwise noted)
Chris Ryan: The NBA season is long and full of terrors; but it is not without its moments of levity. This happened in January. The Knicks had just beaten the Suns in overtime, winning their fifth game in a row, and Melo scored 29. It was time to celebrate and go half on a burger at the Spotted Pig with LaLa. Right? Wrong! Back to the line, Rosie the Riveter. The regular season is inexplicably long and unnecessarily grueling; and that’s just if you want to watch it! It’s nice to know that at the end of the day, players are just like us.
Heroes, Just for One Day
(GIF by Jason Gallagher)
Jason Gallagher: Favorite moment of the year? It’s simple. The Lakers prove all the haters wrong and defeat the Clippers on opening night to momentarily become the best team in L.A.!
Talk, Talk, Talk
Steve McPherson: About all you can reasonably expect from in-game interviews — with coaches, celebrities, or players’ family members — are bland pleasantries, empty clichés, or both. An interviewee like Gregg Popovich is a breath of fresh air precisely because he refuses to engage in bloated wordsmithing that does little more than spin the wheels.
But sometimes you get something like this Lisa Salters interview with Joakim Noah’s father, Yannick, the former tennis star.
“How much of yourself do you see in him?” she asked.
“He’s alive,” he said. “He’s a free spirit, hard worker.”
Great: cliché achieved. I checked out of this interview almost as soon as it began. But then something awesome started to happen. When Noah gets switched out onto LeBron James on the perimeter, the crowd’s energy rises and, paradoxically, Yannick’s explanation of how focused Joakim is dissolved as his own focus drifted. Noah hassled James into a tough shot and when Chicago secured the rebound and went streaking up the court, Yannick shouted, “YES!” and then, “Sorry!”
When Jimmy Butler missed a layup, Noah corralled the rebound and got fouled going up, letting loose a trademark scream, neck veins bulging as he stomped up the court. And what we got was an intimate portrait of a father’s unabashed joy for his son. Then Yannick stood and applauded. This was not upending the cliché with a blunt answer, à la Pop; this was going directly through the cliché and down to its root. It was the kind of beautiful and human moment that sports can be so good at delivering on and that sports broadcasts are usually so godawful at trying to manufacture.
“So much passion,” concluded Yannick. Amen.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Ryan: Sharp and Danny already summed up the season in the Sun(s), but I wanted to shout out this great little slice of life featuring Goran Dragic after he scored a career-high 40 points against the Pelicans. At the end of the game, Jeff Hornacek pulled Dragic so he could get his standing ovation from the crowd. The coaches all gave him dap, but his teammates seemed weirdly subdued. Then, as Dragic looked for a seat, they exploded in joy and mobbed the Weavin’ Slovenian. It’s getting misty in here.
This Is 50: Corey Brewer’s One-Night-Only Scoring Extravaganza
Jonathan Abrams: On the list of NBA players to top 51 points, Corey Brewer would have fallen somewhere between “unlikely” and “never” before last Friday. The Timberwolves plucked Brewer seventh overall from 2007’s draft, and he struggled to make a name for himself before being traded to the Knicks, where he was waived before ever playing a game in New York. He made stops in Dallas and Denver along the way, but he returned to Minnesota this past offseason, earning recognition for his thwarting defense. Aside from his legendary leaking on the fast break, Brewer is not considered much of an offensive force.
But when he got to last week’s game against Houston, with Minnesota primary scorers Kevin Love and Kevin Martin out for the evening, he had an itch to score. “I was like, ‘Oh, Kevin Love’s not playing? OK,’” Brewer said. “And then, Ricky Rubio, we always joke around: ‘We can be aggressive. A lot of shots tonight.’” They were there for the taking. Brewer predicted to teammate Chase Budinger that he would score 30 points. His career high of 29 points came last season against Philadelphia. That night, he felt as though anything he threw up would be absorbed by the basket. “You get so much confidence when you get it going like that,” Brewer said. “It’s the best feeling you can have as a basketball player.”
On Friday, he transformed an otherwise meaningless game for the Timberwolves into a memorable evening. He scored 26 points in the first half, and his last three came off a heave before the half-court line he banked home as the second quarter’s buzzer sounded.
“It felt good when it left my hand,” Brewer said. “I’m not going to lie. I was hot all day. I was like, ‘I’m going to get one up. I’m going to knock it down.’ You’ve got to have a little fun with yourself. When I let it go, I was like, ‘This is good.’ When it went in, I was like, ‘OK, it’s a great night tonight.’ But 26 at the half? My career high is like 28.”
No one had to encourage Brewer to keep it going in the second half. “Every time I touched it, I was like, ‘I’m going to score,’” Brewer said. “It was just working.” Minnesota won, Brewer dropped 51 points on 19-for-30 shooting. His name now belongs to an illustrious group. Only Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, and Rick Barry have scored 50-plus points and snatched at least six steals in an NBA game. “No one expected that to happen, huh?” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman joked with Brewer after the game.
Still, Brewer has no delusions of grandeur. “No way,” Brewer responded when asked if he could ever match the effort. “I know my role. I was just glad I was able to get 50. A lot of people can’t say they got 50 in this league.”
netw3rk: In May 2013, Masai Ujiri was hired as Raptors GM — usurping Bryan Colangelo, the architect of the Raps’ roster of ill-fitting pieces. He then promptly began the work of tossing those pieces out onto the lawn.
In July 2013, Ujiri — probably drawing on his previous glimpse into the collective psyche of the Knicks front office during his time as Nuggets GM — managed to convince the Knicks that, oh yeah, that thing I just threw out on the lawn is worth, like, three draft picks.
Thus did Raps franchise albatross Andrea Bargnani end up in Jim Dolan’s living room like a lamp in the shape of a woman’s fishnet-bedecked leg, a living monument to the irrational power of the impulse buy from the minds of those with too much fucking money and not enough sense.
In December, Ujiri traded Rudy Gay — who was at that time pretty much the only human alive capable of uniting lowbrow and highbrow NBA fans, albeit in derision — in a deal that ended up being good for Gay’s game and very, very good for the Raptors, creating space for DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Amir Johnson to grow into.
The Knicks’ uncanny 37-win bull’s-eye fulfillment of Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE computer projection is the easy punch line (“Sometimes there’s glitches in the computer,” said Carmelo back in October, causing me to research designs for a ‘STOP GLITCHING’ T-shirt late last night), but it was the Bargnani deal that made it possible.
With Bargnani, the Knicks were 15-27, his un-stretchy stretch shooting contributing to an offensive rating of 100.8, which would’ve been one of the 10 worst offenses in the league. Without Bargnani, the team was 22-18, with a rating 107.6, which would’ve been a top-10 offense.
Last night, Masai Ujiri came into the Garden triumphant. The Raptors are the third seed and the division champs. With Bargnani on the Knicks’ books for $11.5 million next season, a crucial piece of the Knicks’ strategy for the upcoming year will be how to frame Bargnani for some kind of felony charge.
Fan Appreciation Night
Corban Goble: “I love Dion Waiters,” said Robert Attenweiler, the only Cavs fan I know and my bartender on a recent evening. “Kyrie Irving … he says everything he needs to say,” he continued, delivering a sense that he, as well as the commenters on the site Attenweiler writes for, have mentally moved on from Irving as a centerpiece and don’t trust his motives.
This is Cleveland, and the worst-case scenario is a way of life. Another no. 1 pick — which would be their third in four years — is probably out of reach, but the Cavs are still about as far out of the picture going forward as anyone in the soft East.
Amid Tank-apalooza and a talent-deep college basketball season, dreaming about future star alignments was my favorite part of this year’s season. At this bar in the Lower East Side, I looked through the mock draft on my iPhone and quizzed Robert about who fit in his most optimistic vision — a vision that the Cavs will no doubt subvert by merit of being the Cavs.
“Aaron Gordon … I like his motor,” he said. We rattled off names: Dario Saric, Doug McDermott, Noah Vonleh. These names represent the steady arcs that all form as a rainbow bending over the Ultimate Cleveland, the one where Kevin Costner is the Browns GM, a swagged-out Johnny Manziel is the QB, and Francisco Lindor is hitting the home stretch of a Silver Slugger/Gold Glove campaign.
It’s an unsustainable reality unfit for this world. They’re probably gonna wing it in the lottery and pick Jahii Carson. At least they’re not Detroit.
Jason Gallagher: January 1, 2014. Playing the Pacers. The Raptors’ resolution? LET’S BE REALLY GOOD.
With 6:58 left in the fourth quarter, the 14-15 Toronto Raptors found themselves tied with the 25-6 Indiana Pacers at 74 apiece.
It was in that moment that the Raptors looked themselves in the proverbial mirror and said, “This year is going to be different!”
And with that New Year’s resolution, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry went OFF!
They had a combined 16 points down the stretch to beat the Pacers, 95-82, putting the Raptors at .500 and, most important, solidifying their place in the 2014 version of the NBA as a really good basketball team.
Jared Dubin: I fell in love with Victor Oladipo’s game in his final year as an Indiana Hoosier, when he supplemented his role as one of the best defenders in the country with an offensive repertoire that consisted mostly of transition dunks (and almost dunks!), blow-bys of hard-closing defenders, and spot-up 3s. It was a varied enough catalogue to vault him up draft boards and land him in Orlando, where Jacque Vaughn decided to experiment with him as an occasional point guard.
The results of this experiment were predictably mixed, with Oladipo sporting a sky-high turnover percentage but also occasionally flashing passing skills that nobody knew he had. He wound up with six games of double-digit assists, including a triple-double against the 76ers and a 30-point, nine-rebound, 14-assist masterpiece in a double-overtime comeback victory against the Knicks.
He was one of six players to play at least 50 minutes in a game twice this season; one of only 32 rookies ever to average at least 13 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game (and of those players, he did it in the fewest minutes per game); and he’s unofficially the only NBA player with YouTube videos of himself singing both Usher and Bill Withers tracks, and actually holding his own.
As if that weren’t enough, his rookie numbers are positively Westbrookian. If the Magic take nothing else from this season, they were lucky enough to snag Oladipo, who all by his lonesome justified my watching far too many of their games.
Brett Koremenos: After playing just 342 minutes his rookie season — mostly in meaningless games at the end of the year — and just a handful of games early this season with Toronto, Quincy Acy had to switch sides of the continent to get his first real NBA chance. Within his first month and a half with Sacramento, Acy surpassed his minutes total from all of last year. And as someone who tuned into Kings games to scratch my Isaiah Thomas itch, let me make one thing clear: This was great news.
Watching Acy play is, well, an experience. Not only does he look like a bouncer at a seedy biker bar, but he plays like the type of person you’d expect to find at such an establishment. There is nothing aesthetically pleasing about Acy’s game. He goes hard and has worked to improve his shooting stroke, but for the most part he lacks a discernible NBA skill. He’s simply a maniac who spends every second on the court waiting for the opportunity to obliterate an NBA rim like it just insulted his mother.
Some of the most malicious dunks I witnessed this year were compliments of Acy. Most of them caught me by surprise, too. You’d get caught up in watching the Kings do Kings things, then out of nowhere Acy would slam the ball through the hoop with such force you swore it would trigger an indoor storm.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to see Acy contributing meaningful minutes to a winning team (a.k.a. one people watch) unless he puts in a lot of work on real basketball skills. I honestly can’t even say for certain he’s a lock to stick in the league. But for the past four months while filling out Mike Malone’s rotation for a bad Sacramento team, Acy’s random acts of rim violence added an exciting element to a largely irrelevant team.
Bless the Brow
Danny Chau: We’ve reached the end of the regular season, and there is no way I could have loved this season as much as I did without NBA League Pass. This was my first season with it and I can no longer imagine life without it. (When I die, I want bagpipe renditions of the LP-on-break guitar chugs at my funeral.) Here are some of my favorite moments of the season that was — moments that I could’ve appreciated only with the help of League Pass.
Favorite one-liner from an announcer: “Kyle Singler has gone from the guy who gets no plays run for him to the guy who the Pistons go to when they need a play.” —Pistons color commentator Greg Kelser
Context: On March 5, the Pistons hosted the Bulls. Singler was the only Piston to score in the first seven (!) minutes of the game. On a difficult drive to the rim that resulted in a Singler and-1, Kelser, with complete sincerity in his voice, let out the saddest thing I’d heard on a Pistons broadcast this year.
Favorite running gag from an announcer: When games get intense, Trail Blazers color commentator Mike Rice has a bizarre tendency of talking about his tooth, or his dentist. I think it means that close games stress him out. It could also be a psychological trigger to the time when his son, Mike Rice Jr. (the former Rutgers coach who was exposed last year to have grossly mistreated his players), knocked out one of his teeth in a heated pickup game the day before Junior’s wedding.
Favorite stat of 2013-14: Tony Wroten attempted a shot from the backcourt in one of every six games he’s played this season. He led the league in makes from that distance (two), and is tied for first in attempts with J.R. Smith (12). Both of Wroten’s makes happened over the course of two days in February. He took his first backcourt shot in the second game of the season on November 1.
He took his next one two weeks later with seconds left in a 106-106 tie against Houston to win the game; it rimmed out. His final backcourt shot came just last week, on April 11. Why does he do it, you ask? Because the chances of him making a full-court heave are only five percentage points lower than the chances of him making a jumper from 16 to 39 feet out. It’s faith and math, dude.
Favorite moment that confirmed my suspicion that Mother Nature hates the Lakers: (Not League Pass–related, but, really, life is a League Pass.) On a particularly windy afternoon about a month ago, I walked out of the Grantland offices and noticed the open concourse at L.A. Live was full of Lakers booths and broadcast equipment. As I passed one of the booths, a concert of gusts forced a background screen to keel over the table in front of it. An employee ran over to fix the damage, but he was too late. I had already taken a picture. Here’s a salute to the 2013-14 Lakers season:
Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots
Kirk Goldsberry: Welp. That was that. NBA shooters attempted 204,173 shots during the regular season this year. Some were good, some were bad. Here’s a visual tribute to the 92,779 field goal attempts that went.
The Last Night
Kevin Lincoln: Last night, in their regular-season finale against the Cavs, the Nets started a lineup that, like the discovery of dark matter or the Higgs boson, reinforces how little we really understand the universe. At point guard was Jorge Gutierrez, shorn of the ponytail he cultivated at Cal, a sort of wavy crown that looked like what would happen to Antonio Banderas after an hour of hot yoga. At small forward was Marquis Teague, a 6-foot-2 point guard best known, at this point, for being sacrificed to the god of crossovers by his brother.
As the passive ingredient in the sports soufflé, we, the consumer, are conditioned to accept starting lineups as, if not beyond reproach, then at least the product of some greater intelligence. There’s supposed to be a reason behind them, a rationale.
But April NBA games don’t give a damn about your reason. They’re sports creationism. They are the way they are because they are. When Jorge Gutierrez and small forward Marquis Teague start an NBA game, it proves that this whole thing is, at its core, completely arbitrary, beautiful, and strange. Air Bud, uniform logistics aside, is not out of the question, and, for the Bucks, maybe even kind of a good stopgap at 2-guard. If you don’t lock your doors at night, you might find yourself wearing a Sixers uniform and zipping outlet passes to Adonis Thomas in some horror-movie April to come. Warn your kids.
BRING ON THE PLAYOFFS