The NBA Mega-List of Things to Like and Dislike

Every year, dozens of “likes” and “dislikes” fail to make it into a Tuesday column, left to die if they are somehow unique to that particular season. And every year, we try to save at least some of them with a mega-post to showcase the worthiest. Herewith: 37 Things I Liked and Didn’t Like From the 2013-14 NBA season.

1. Stephen Curry As a “Big Man”

This is very similar to something the Wolves do for Kevin Love:

Teams start loads of possessions with a big man at each elbow, and the Wolves, blessed with one of the world’s greatest shooting big men, use various actions in which the initial ball handler passes the ball and runs toward Love at the elbow with a surprise screen. The other guards on the floor typically chill in the corners.

Here, the Warriors place Curry in the big man’s role and completely fool Portland with a screen-handoff combination.

Coaches can do so many fun things with great and mobile shooters. Golden State has designed a lot of nifty stuff over the last couple of seasons, which makes it doubly frustrating when the team devolves into isolations.

2. Goran Dragic’s “Now You See It” Fakes

Damn right, we’re starting with perhaps the two most entertaining players of the season. Dragic has an endless reserve of tricks for use in close quarters, including some Rajon Rondo–style ball fakes:

Yeah. This baby from the same game is almost Dream Shake–y:

But, hey, it’s cool. The Hawks are in the playoffs.

3. The Demise of Andrew Nicholson

In the season’s very first game, Andrew Nicholson became a Twitter sensation with a pile of post moves, two corner 3s, and a delightful mustache. That was the high point of Nicholson’s season. He logged fewer minutes than in his rookie year, struggled badly from all over the floor, and made only small progress in figuring out NBA defense. Let’s hope Year 3 is better.

4. Russell Westbrook’s Leg Kicks

Westbrook is going out of his way to draw bogus fouls on jumpers, splaying his legs in all directions:

To his credit, the trick has worked on several 3-point shots since his return from injury. But this is distasteful, and perhaps not the best idea for a dude coming off three knee surgeries in one year.

5. The Tyranny of the “Cha-Cha Slide” in Charlotte

I’ve railed against the ubiquity of this tune in NBA arenas before, but, holy cow, watching the Bobcats means you hear this song on a loop for two hours. I am eventually going to end up like the guy from A Clockwork Orange (movie version) when he hears Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

6. Jeff Teague’s Defense

Teague has little blips of spaciness that can unravel a team’s entire defensive scheme — going under picks when he shouldn’t, allowing players to cut behind him along the baseline, and wide-eyed ball-watching.

Teague’s a solid player who has refined aspects of his game every season, but he has to be more consistently in tune on defense.

7. Thomas Robinson Running the Floor

The dude runs like a demon. It’s almost unfair watching other big men try to keep up. Robinson looks like a guard in comparison. A big who runs the floor hard has real value. He might not score, but if he beats his defender to the paint, a perimeter player will often have to run inside to stop a possible dunk — leaving a shooter open someplace else.

8. Lance Stephenson’s Frantic Pointing

Stephenson does everything just a little bit more aggressively than everyone else. I bet he snaps his toothbrushes in half. Lots of ball handlers in transition motion for teammates to run to certain spots, but no one else does so with the same verve as Stephenson:

9. Oklahoma City, Prompting the Crowd

After a change of possession favoring Oklahoma City, you’ll sometimes hear the Thunder public-address announcer shout, “Whose ball is it?” And then the crowd chants in response: “Thunder ball!”

For some reason, this annoys me. It seems like a kid’s routine.

10. Paul Pierce, Attacking Gaps

The Nets’ season turned when they shifted Pierce to power forward, committed to their own weird version of small ball, and amped up their defensive pressure all over the floor. The team’s rebounding has suffered, but it has thrived in almost every other area.

Post-up behemoths haven’t slaughtered Pierce. He battles them hard, sometimes fronts them, and gets help from long, swiping arms all around the perimeter. And on the other end, Pierce has hurt bigger defenders by dragging them out to the 3-point line and ambling by them on dribble attacks that would be too slow to beat the wing defenders he has dealt with most of his career.

He’s just very good at sensing when the Nets have bent the defense, catching a pass, and attacking little gaps before they close:

11. New York’s Clock Management

I’m not sure I recall a team regularly mismanaging the clock as often as the Knicks did this season — blowing 2-for-1 chances across all quarters, the infamous Andrea Bargnani shot, the slightly less infamous J.R. Smith shot, and, for a grand finale, Carmelo Anthony inexplicably shooting with 10 seconds left in the third quarter and the shot clock turned off against Miami earlier this month. Anthony missed. LeBron rebounded the ball and drove the length of the court for an and-1.

12. D-Thrill

I object to this would-be nickname for Derrick Williams, who has just kind of vanished in Sacramento. He needs to thrill us a little more often to earn it.

13. Amir Johnson’s Half Hooks

Lots of big men can cut to the rim on the pick-and-roll for dunks. In theory, any big man can set a screen, pop into open space, and be ready for a jump shot. But there aren’t all that many who can catch the ball in the tricky area around the foul line and do something with it — the so-called “short roll.”

Some guys are skilled enough to catch there, take a dribble, and finish around the rim; David Lee and Anthony Davis come to mind. But sometimes there’s no room for even one dribble, and Johnson has this little shot in reserve for just such situations:

14. The Clippers’ Banner Offensive

Doc Rivers generated a silly preseason kerfuffle when he requested that giant banners of Clippers players cover the Lakers’ championship banners during Clippers home games. I loved this. It’s an aggressive move for the sad-sack co-tenants of Staples Center, but this is how sad sacks assert themselves. The bullied don’t turn the tables by being nicer than the other guy. They hit back and stake their claim.

And it’s not unprecedented for arena co-tenants to change entire color schemes depending on which team is hosting a particular game. That’s the way it should be. Why did it take so long?

15. The Selective Use of a Player’s Middle Name

When Vince Carter hit a particularly dramatic 3-pointer during a recent Dallas game, Mark Followill, the Mavs’ play-by-play guy, exclaimed, “VINCENT LAMAR CARTER!”

I love this trope, but it must be used selectively. The use of a player’s full name somehow signifies drama. Perhaps it’s the rarity of it, or that we tend to use our full names only at very big official events. “Kobe Bean Bryant” is obviously the best such exclamation, but it can work with almost anyone who has a cool middle name.

16. When Rebounds Hit Players in the Face

This is the NBA’s “Stars: They’re just like us!” moment. We’ve all been there. It’s refreshing to know even a superstar athlete can fall victim to a ball taking a weird path off the rim (or through the basket) and into his face.

17. Portland’s Elbow Pick-and-Roll

This is a nifty way of getting Nic Batum the ball with a clear directive and space to work:

There’s a lot going on here: Robin Lopez, the eventual screener, starts the play by faking a little flare screen for Damian Lillard — a decoy designed to get Lopez’s man, Marc Gasol, to take a step backward in anticipation of helping on Lillard. That leaves Gasol a half-step behind as Lopez zooms into a quick screen for Batum.

The opposing defense won’t be stoked about helping from the weak side, because look who Portland has on the left wing as Batum dribbles to his right: LaMarcus Aldridge, feared midrange shooter. Solid play design.

18. Crippling Backcourt Anxiety

I can’t be the only one who feels this. I am not suffering alone. There are moments in every NBA game when one offensive player will dribble the ball over half court near the sideline and nonchalantly bounce a pass back to a teammate near midcourt in the center of the floor. Sometimes the recipient hasn’t even crossed half court when the passer releases the ball.

And every damn time, I think it’s going to be a backcourt violation. It is maddening.

19. Jordan Hill’s Topknot

I’m not sure on the technical name for this hairstyle, but points for creativity.

HILL

20. Brooklyn’s Dodgers Jerseys

I am still open to the idea of sleeved jerseys. I kinda liked the Christmas ones. And though I despise when home teams wear dark jerseys, I am tentatively in favor of the gray-and-blue duds Brooklyn has broken out a few times down the stretch. They look like some combination of pajamas and middle-school gym outfits from the 1970s, but they also connect to the sporting void the Nets are hoping to fill.

21. Vivek Ranadivé’s Courtside Clapping

Ranadivé is the Kings’ new owner, and he sits courtside at lots of home games. He claps a lot for good plays, and he has a very wide clapping radius — a large clap gap between his hands. I find it endearing. I am a close clapper.

22. DeJuan Blair Pass-Backs

Blair is an artful pick-and-roll player, especially when Dirk Nowitkzi is spotting up around him, but he’s not a great finisher in traffic against larger defenders. Good news: Blair knows this, and he understands where shooters are standing. Not many big guys can throw spinning passes like this to targets directly behind them:

23. Moe Harkless’s Late-Season Friskiness

As recently as three months ago, Harkless looked terrified to do anything with the ball but immediately pass it to someone else. But something has clicked for him, and he’s increasingly comfortable taking it to the rim when he should — when he catches the ball with the defense in midrotation, or when he senses his defender is off-balance:

24. Bradley Beal’s Elbow Chaos

Beal isn’t a great pick-and-roll guy yet — he mostly just takes long pull-up 2s — but he’s a deadly shooter and a willing passer, and the Wiz are right to explore possibilities with him. They can make things easier for Beal the ball handler by giving him the rock in advantageous places and creating a little chaos at the start of things. Here’s a pet play they like:

That’s John Wall starting the play by entering the ball to Beal at the left elbow and running into a screen for Beal, who then scurries around a second pick at the opposite elbow from Marcin Gortat. That leaves only Trevor Ariza, a killer spot-up guy, on the weak side, forcing the defense to make a lot of tough help decisions in a short span of time.

25. Patty Mills’s Pull-Up 3s in Transition

Patty Mills does not care what the score is. He does not care if there are three defenders already back on defense. He does not care if a teammate is open under the rim. He does not care if Gregg Popovich might cut him out of this summer’s wine-tasting tour. If Patty Mills is bringing the ball up in transition, he is going to pull up for a 3-pointer, and you are just going to have to accept it.

26. J.J. Hickson Going for It All

You can say a lot of not-nice things about Hickson’s game, but I’m not sure anyone searches out vicious highlight dunks as aggressively as he does. Hickson wants to murder dudes at the rim, every damn time he touches the ball.

27. The Houston Hunger Games Whistle

The in-arena crew at Rockets games will occasionally play that stupid whistle thing from The Hunger Games movies after a Rockets basket. It’s weirdly dissonant, though I honestly can’t recall what the whistle means. Is it the mockingjay call? Is it therefore supposed to be a positive, happy sound? It sounds solemn — too solemn for a celebration.

28. NEEE-KOLA

This, on the other hand, is gold: The Wolves’ public-address guy shouts, “NEEEEEEEEEKOLA!” mimicking the famous drawn-out “Ricola” exclamation, after every Nikola Pekovic hoop.

29. Dion Waiters’s Jumper

There are still issues with Waiters’s shot selection, especially when he pulls up for long 2s early in the shot clock. But he shot much better from long range this season, and there were games in the second half of the season where he looked unstoppable for long stretches. And, man, does that jumper look wet when it’s on. Waiters arcs that baby so high, increasing the likelihood of a pure swish. How high? On long 2-pointers, no player’s shot trajectory reaches a higher average peak, per SportVU data provided to Grantland; Waiters’s average long 2 tops out at 15.6 feet above the ground. And on 3s, only four players reach a higher peak than Waiters’s average of 16.5 feet above the floor: Jamal Crawford, Jordan Crawford, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jeremy Lin. The thing just looks pretty.

30. Deron Williams Getting Funky on the Cross Screen

Guards normally set a cross screen under the rim to free their big-man teammate for a post-up. That’s the ostensible purpose of this Williams cross screen for Andray Blatche:

The second Williams senses his man leaning the teeniest bit toward Blatche to provide some potential help, Williams will fade out like a wide receiver and make himself available for a lob pass. Williams is bigger than a lot of point guards, with a polished post game. This is a nice wrinkle for him.

Fake cross screens are becoming a more common tactic around the league, by the way. The Mavs like to run a little set where Nowitzki cuts toward a screener waiting near the rim, only to suddenly spin back and post up right where he started. It’s a neat set that plays on the expectations of the defense:

31. The Suns’ New Uniforms

I’ve been waiting all year to say this: I love ’em. The little lines below the word “Suns” give off the impression of something round — a ball, the sun — speeding through space. The colors are great, and the purple road jerseys are gorgeous. There are all kinds of nice little touches everywhere — on the collar, on the bottom of the shorts, and the lettering that spells out “Suns” from either direction.

The heavy use of purple is especially welcome after the Suns weirdly excised it from their court design in favor of a black-and-orange Halloween-style theme.

32. The Eric Bledsoe–Jameer Nelson Floater

Sticking with the Phoenix theme, I love this little “come out the other side” shot from Eric Bledsoe:

On shots like this, it appears the shooter starts with his back to the basket and then spins all the way around to face it in midair. That isn’t quite the case, but it looks that way in real time. Nelson in his prime had a similar shot in his bag.

33. DeMarcus Cousins, Pushing the Pace

What I said about Thomas Robinson up at no. 7, only Cousins can lead the break as a ball handler and passer. He’s great to watch transition.

34. The Dirk Screening Dance

Defenses have to adjust their base pick-and-roll tactics to account for Nowitzki’s shooting when Dallas uses him as the screener. Bigs who might prefer to hang around the paint instead have to jump out hard toward midcourt — a means of cutting off the ball handler and staying close to Nowitzki in case of a quick pick-and-pop.

Dallas has a bunch of savvy ball handlers, and they know how demanding that style of defense can be. They’ll often go back and forth around a Nowitzki pick until the defense finally breaks down:

35. Melo’s Swiping Blocks

No non-center — and perhaps no one at all — blocks more shots without jumping than Anthony. He is the king of the sideswipe rejection, where he just rips the ball from a shooter’s hands before the poor guy can even release it.

36. The Bobcats Without Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson

Charlotte will run without its two key scoring cogs for at least the early part of the second quarter, and though the numbers show the Bobcats have survived those stretches, it’s nerve-racking watching them search out points. On the other hand, they give more responsibility to Josh McRoberts during those stretches, and he can do fun stuff like this:

37. The End of the Regular Season

It’s playoff time. Let’s go.

Filed Under: NBA, Zach Lowe, Stephen Curry, Goran Dragic, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder, Charlotte Bobcats, Atlanta Hawks, Jeff Teague, Thomas Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers, Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers, Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets

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Zach Lowe is a staff writer for Grantland.

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