NBA Shootaround: Astronaut Status
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is back to help you keep track of it all. You’ll find takes on moments you might’ve missed from the previous night along with ones you will remember forever.
Chris Ryan: For the first time in the history of basketball or the Internet, I agree with the inevitable person in the comments section of this blog who is about to type the phrase “not a dunk” on his computer and hit “reply.” You’ve had a long road, sir. And you’ve finally arrived in Jerusalem. You are finally, after all these years … you’re … right. It’s not a dunk. But it might be better.
What if this is the future of the sport? Think about it; there are kids out there, growing up, who only know Michael Jordan through Hanes commercials and celebrity golf tournaments. They don’t know that a dunk is defined by depressing the rim downward with the palm of your hand after firing the ball through the cylinder. What if this is what the seeds decide — “Eff holding on to the rim. I’m going to take off from the arc and throw this through the hoop, line drive–style”? Are you ready for a world where Blake Griffin is playing basketball like the Cleatus robot? Does that make you want to hold your head and storm off into oblivion and hide under a blanket? You’re in good company. DeAndre Jordan — who freaks out like he just watched the Red Wedding for the first time — agrees with you.
How Green Is Gerald’s Valley?
Kirk Goldsberry: Gerald Green hit a game winner last night along the right baseline in front of Target Center’s frozen audience. Objectively speaking, the “play” was really ugly, but its result exemplified both the rapid rise of the Phoenix Suns and the uncanny inability of Minnesota to win close games this year. After a dismal shooting year last season, Green is making his jumpers again; of the 208 players who attempted at least 100 midrange shots last year, Green ranked 197th in terms of efficiency, hitting just a fraction over 30 percent of those shots. This year in the same area he is hitting 45 percent of his shots, which is better than players like Klay Thompson, Paul George, and even Kevin Durant.
Steve McPherson: When the Minnesota Timberwolves’ J.J. Barea was pulled from their 104-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns with 8:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, he was none too happy about it. There were curse words. Then, as the Wolves’ tenuous hold on the game slowly evaporated — they missed six conescutive shots in the last 4:31 and the Suns closed the game on a 16-6 run — Barea and Dante Cunningham sat out the team’s timeouts, preferring to stay on the bench.
Kevin Love was none too happy about that. “We can’t have two guys sitting at the end of the bench that play good minutes not getting up during timeouts,” he said. “That kinda pisses me off. We’re supposed to be a team.”
Problem is, “supposed to” won’t get you very far in the NBA. So maybe this is good. Sometimes things need to break, and Love and Barea have a bit of a history. Any relationship has these skeins that wind through it, outlining stress points and underlying problems. And they’re not, you know, THE problem. Not when Love shoots 2-of-12 and Nikola Pekovic shoots 1-of-8 in the first half. But SOMETHING is sure as hell wrong in Minnesota, and maybe it would benefit the team to have it out about this right now, just to get the blood flowing.
Ricky Rubio knows there are worse things than a loss in early January. “Somebody is maybe frustrated because he didn’t have the minutes he wanted or he’s not in the game in a late situation,” he said. “But it’s coach’s decision. You have to be with the team. I didn’t see that, but if [Love] says that he saw something, we would have to talk because that’s even worse than losing a game, not having the team together. That’s terrible.”
Sunny With a Chance of Morris Twins
Get It Jan and Poppin
Andrew Sharp: The Wizards wasted a top-10 pick on Jan Vesely, so watching him should make me angry. But he works as hard as anybody on the team, he hurls his body all over the court in the best and worst ways possible, and it never stops being entertaining. All Jan does is make me smile. Likewise, no player personifies any NBA franchise better than Vesely personifies the Wizards. So if the Wizards are going to become a real contender one day, they damn well better keep Jan. He’s our connection to the past.
Why are we discussing this? Because he just finished the best 48 hours of his career. Last night he scored 12 points, had seven rebounds, and … was actually kind of a weapon. The Wizards beat the Pelicans, and Vesely was all over the place in the first half, continuing his season-long journey toward respectability.
Against the Bobcats:
Sit your ass down, Kemba. That’s what happens when you bring that shit to Jan’s house.
He also scored six points that night, including a gliding dunk from the free throw line that had John Wall telling the Washington Post’s Michael Lee afterward, “He’s about to jump from the free throw line. And I’m thinking ‘Oh, snap, he might not make it.’”
But he made it. Then? Wall says, “He winked at me like, ‘I got that in me.’”
“He’s a black man in a white body,” added Marcin Gortat in a comment that instantly made everyone tug at their collar. “You never see a white man jump like that.”
Don’t blame Gortat for getting carried away. Everyone’s going crazy for Jan right now. Although Martell Webster is quick to clarify:
Martell Webster on Marcin Gortat’s comment: “Jan…I like the kid…but he’s nowhere near black.” #wizards
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) January 8, 2014
I don’t know whether he’s a black man in a white body (Wall’s take: “I’m going to think about that”), but the point is, it’s been a big week. Jan was commanding double-teams last night and throwing in little baby hook shots like he’s Magic in the Finals. He’s been better than ever this year, and I think he might be turning into the type of guy who can help a good team for 20 minutes off the bench. We’ll see. For now, it’s the middle of January and nobody knows when we’ll have another opportunity to celebrate Jan Vesely, so here we are. Maybe next time, Kemba Walker. This week, it’s all about JAN.
The Dirk Defender
Jason Gallagher: As noted yesterday by Mr. Goldsberry, Dirk Nowitzki is having a scorching-hot shooting year … yet again. This is really scary stuff here. But guess who isn’t afraid of a little Dirk heat? BORIS.
Above you see Nowitzki’s shooting chart from last night’s game against the Spurs, during which Dirk shot a below-freezing 21.4 percent from the floor. This is Dirk “What’s a miss?” Nowitzki we’re talking about here. And guess who was defending Nowitzki on 13 of his 14 shot attempts? BORIS.
What Boris Diaw did was damn impressive. He was guarding Nowitzki, one-on-one, fighting through screens, fronting the entry pass, NOT FOULING, and absolutely refusing to switch on any pick-and-roll situation. Every time Dirk checked in and out of games, Diaw was right by his side. It was like he was Dirk’s bigger, girthier shadow. And guess who had a Spurs’ plus/minus high of plus-24, mostly due to shutting down Dallas’s main scoring threat?
His Name Is Jonas
Like a Hurricane
Jared Dubin: During the Spurs-Mavs bloodbath last night, I realized I watch two NBA teams differently than I watch all the others: the New York Knicks, whom I’ve loved since the day I was born; and the Dallas Mavericks, for whom rookie Shane Larkin gets backup point guard minutes. Larkin attended my alma mater, the University of Miami, a school whose current “Best Player in the NBA” is probably John Salmons.
While I was in school (2005-09), the team’s best player was Jack McClinton, a fiery shooting guard who rained 3s like nobody’s business and did little else. He came in third in the ACC in scoring once and made all-ACC twice, but couldn’t lead Miami to postseason success. The Canes made second-round outs in both the ACC and NCAA tournament during his time in Coral Gables.
Last year, Larkin was the best player on what was Miami’s best team since joining Division I in 1985, two years before I was born. With averages of 14.5 points (on 47.9 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from 3), 4.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game, Larkin was named ACC Player of the Year. He became Miami’s first All-American since Tim James in 1999. He was a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award and the Bob Cousy Award, and he was named Lute Olson National Player of the Year, the first player in school history to be so honored. Sometime in the next few years, there is no doubt he’ll join McClinton, James, Dick Hickox, Don Curnutt, and Rick Barry as the only players whose numbers have been retired by the University of Miami.
All of which is to say I have a lot invested in Larkin’s future as an NBA player, so when I watch the Mavericks, I can’t help but ONLY watch him when he’s in the game. I lose track of every other player on the court, as well as the ball. I can’t help it. I do a silent fist pump when he makes a shot or a good pass; I wince when he misses a shot or blows a rotation; I yell instructions to him through my TV screen.
It’s strange rooting this way for a player on a team that I don’t have particularly strong positive or negative feelings about, but it’s what I do. I just want so badly for him to do well. I can’t have John Salmons be the best guy repping The U.
R.I.P., Cara Delevingne’s Sitting-Courtside Streak
Corban Goble: Though a handful of winning streaks were in jeopardy when the Nets and Warriors tipped off, it was clear that the only one that mattered was already over: Delevingne’s two-night dominance of New York City’s sidelines. Paying tribute to her triumph was none other than former Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz — sitting next to Bruce Ratner, nothing shady about that! — and Spike Lee, wearing a Knicks hat that was Nets-colored. It’s the new Brooklyn! It’s weird.
Once the game got started and the ceremonial wreaths were cleared away, the game that happened was filled with enough surprises that any beat writer who tried to get a head start after the first quarter was still at his or her desk. The Warriors, protecting a double-digit win streak, burst out of the gate before the sugar crash, having arrived in New York at 3 a.m. from Milwaukee (presumably because Klay Thompson begged them to stop at Miss Katie’s before they hit the jetway). Kevin Garnett was the guy I rationalized he would be when I ponied up for a season-ticket package, making defensive play after defensive play — including the steal that sealed the game — and finally knocking down the elbow jumpers that had evaded him all season.
The joy is temporary. KG can’t always be there when we want him. On Wednesday night, he was there when we needed him.
New Giannis Blog Post?
Andrew Sharp: “Did anyone expect I would be here? To be in the starting five of an NBA team? Everyone thought, or almost everyone, that in my first season in the NBA I would be the towel-water-and-ice boy.” NEW GIANNIS BLOG POST.
Harden in the Paint
Danny Chau: Think of all the 4-year-old kids in Southern California enjoying their first NBA season this year. They, unlike their caretakers, are blessed with the ability to watch this Lakers team without context. They don’t know why this is a lost season, and they won’t remember the losses. They’ll mimic everyone else in the room and yell and scream at the team’s ineptitude on defense, but that doesn’t mean much to them. Without context, their disappointment is hollow.
Instead, they’ll likely marvel at the spectacle that is Nick Young, the Lakers’ one-man Disney on Ice show. Their memories of his 360 layups and unbelievable spin moves will endure and inflate over the years, and they’ll talk of Young with a cultish reverence that for the last 17 years has been reserved for Kobe. But Kobe is on the periphery for now, and the 4-year-old can only see what’s in front. When Kobe does return for his second act of the season, there might even be some frustration. Who is this guy, and where is Swaggy P?
I can sympathize. I was that 4-year-old.
My fondest and earliest basketball memories involve Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel, and those transitioning Lakers that treaded water, never quite able to make it past the second round. I didn’t know Magic Johnson; his HIV announcement came three days after I was born. I didn’t know of the impossible standard these young guns were trying to live up to. What mattered to me was Van Exel’s left jab–right hook–left hook celebration, and Jones inexplicably leaping from 20 feet away from the basket to execute the most incredible finger roll ever. I didn’t know what the Lakers were moving on from, and the franchise-changing moves that followed were still years away.
The Lakers are back at that crossroad, and it has brought back a whole lot of nostalgia. Young has done a good bit of press about how he spent his childhood watching Van Exel and Jones play at the old Great Western Forum. It’s fitting, and significant, that he has become their swag incarnate for the next generation (that Kendall Marshall bears a striking resemblance to Vlade Divac is icing on the cake). It’s been a thoroughly shitty year for Lakers fans, but for stretches in a game, the failure almost feels like a blessing, if only because it allows Young the freedom to do everything he does. He offers our weary and cynical asses exactly what we’ve longed for since stepping into adulthood: a chance to be a little kid again.