NBA Shootaround: Mad Men

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Ibaka

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.

It Was This Kind of Night

Not Without My Baby

netw3rk: This is, essentially, how Matt Barnes rolls. If you’re looking for a guy who can play some D, hit a few 3s, and shove people with little to no provocation, Barnes is your man. Remember when he fought Rafer Alston? His multiple attempts to goad the Mamba? The time he slapped an opposing coach at a pro-am game? Or when he threw coach Terry Stotts to the ground? But this, without a doubt, is one of the most heartless displays of Barnes gonna Barnes. I’m talking about Barnes pulling his son out of his seat after being ejected, with a whole half of basketball left! I mean, if I was Barnes’s son, I’d probably be pretty pissed, because that was a good game, man.

I’d be like, “OK, Daddy, I get it, you got ejected for shoving Serge Ibaka for basically no reason. Kinda your specialty. But, hold up, did Blake die? He ain’t dead, is he? Still in the game and everything? I mean, I’m glad you defended Blake’s armpit from Serge’s hand; that was obviously a situation that required you to almost start a fight, but, listen, nothing personal, Blake’s kinda the star of the team, you know? Him and Chris Paul. Now, now, wait, you know I love you for giving me life and everything, but first of all, I’m not even sure how that giving-of-life process works. OK, I can see you’re getting mad, but, Dad, you only play, like, 20 minutes a game … score maybe six points or so. I come here to see Blake and Chris. Hey, and you, OK? And you. But mainly them. Like, I see you at home all the time, you know? Blake had 22 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists! Chris Paul had 14 points, 16 assists, and seven rebounds! The Clippers overcame a first-half deficit to win the game! And I missed it because you pulled me out of my seat for I don’t even know why. Dad, you know you’re my favorite person in the world, but, I gotta be honest, Blake and Chris are my favorite players. You being my favorite player would be like if someone said their favorite member of the Avengers was one of the random dudes working for S.H.I.E.L.D. Dad, you’re not even Hawkeye.”

Anatomy of a Blowout

Steve McPherson: Once something becomes ludicrously outsize — as the Wolves’ 124-95 win over the Cavs did in the third quarter — it defies reason. Before the game went thermonuclear during the stretch between the 7:09 and 2:47 mark in the third quarter, when Minnesota pushed a 20-point lead to a 34-point winterization, Wolves fans were giddy and Cavs fans despondent. But Wolves fans have, obviously, seen the blowout clouds from both sides now. And once things get out of hand, the view isn’t as different as it might seem.

Consider it like this: A blowout is a night of serious drinking. For the winning team’s fans, it’s a celebration: a bacchanalian orgy of SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS-SHOTS, a night of living like there’s no tomorrow. For the losing team’s fans, it’s the night your five-year relationship finally shuffles off that mortal coil: a howling threnody that makes you question why you invested all this energy in something that’s falling apart right in front of you. But mechanically, they’re the same: You just want to lose control. When a game turns into a genuine blowout, the absolute value of that big lead becomes its own intoxicant. Nothing makes sense, from Corey Brewer’s 5-for-5 night from behind the arc to Ricky Rubio’s rending of space-time with passes like this:

Bottom line: A blowout pushes basketball out of bounds. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s “throwing their hands in the air like they just don’t care” and who’s throwing their hands in the air like they just don’t care.

Linsanity II?

Ben Detrick: Jeremy Lin’s first year with the Rockets was bookended by poor play and injury, the rock bottom being his struggle-face performance against Oklahoma City in the playoffs. This preseason, he was greeted as a god in Taiwan, then came home to find Patrick Beverley lounging around in his starting lineup bathrobe. All those frothing Knicks fans who took such exception to his offer sheet exchanged high fives. Lin was all hype and they knew it (well, as soon as he left).

[Nate Dogg voice] Hold up. While numbers show Lin was a league-average point guard last year — and excellent in the second half — he has since transformed into an unstoppable bucket-making cyborg. Last night, in the Rockets’ Harden-less loss to the Sixers and Tony “Yung Mayhem” Wroten, he sunk a career-high nine 3-pointers, scoring 34 points, and adding 12 assists and five boards. And that came on the heels of Monday’s 31-point detonation against Toronto.

Apparently, Lin took the offseason to fully internalize the Daryl Morey offensive orthodoxy: assaults on the rim, trifectas, and foul shots. According to SportVU’s player tracking, he’s seventh in the league in scoring per game on drives into the lane. He’s shooting 51 percent from deep and heading to the stripe nearly twice as much as last season. Lin’s rocking an otherworldly true shooting percentage of 69 percent, which is roughly the same scoring efficiency as 2012-13 league leader Tyson Chandler. This makes Linsanity seem calm and rational.

A correction is inevitably coming. It’s only nine games. But at 25, he’s still in a developmental stage in which dramatic improvement can’t necessarily be written off as a fluke. Either way, Lin brings his Human Torch shooting hand to Madison Square Garden tonight — and we should all hope he continues to make James Dolan’s soul burn slow.

Speaking of James Dolan …

Jason Gallagher: The Knicks and James Dolan can rejoice over their win over the Hawks, but there’s one folk legend who won’t be joining in the celebration. I present to you Bob Dylan’s rare and unreleased new track called “Mr. Dolan.”


Sean Fennessey: Iman Shumpert doesn’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve to have his name carelessly floated in trade rumors. He doesn’t deserve to be diminished, the sole desirable young asset on a team of mummified Tuts. He doesn’t deserve to have his playing time overmanaged because J.R. Smith can’t decide which night is best for actually trying. He is young, springy, disruptive, unselfish, well-rounded. Everything the Knicks are not. Yesterday, the Daily News reported that the Knicks had engaged the Nuggets in talks for a Shump–Kenneth Faried swap. With Tyson Chandler out for the foreseeable future, the Knicks need help in the frontcourt, where Andrea Bargnani is busy not being alive. Shump has fallen out of favor with coach Mike Woodson, according to the Daily News. But the Nuggets rebuffed the Knicks quickly because the Knicks will not have a first-round pick to trade until Blue Ivy Carter matriculates at Harvard. Now the front office is backpedaling on a Shumpert deal.

But I hope they find a taker for Shump, because he needs off the island of Manhattan. The Knicks won last night, a soul-salvaging effort after James Belushi understudy/owner James Dolan guaranteed victory over the sneakily efficient Atlanta Hawks. The Knicks looked a bit like the 2012-13 Knicks, raining unconscionable 3s while protecting the ball with surprising care. But it was Shump — ignored, undervalued Shump — who was in the middle of everything, dishing nine dimes, using his pipe cleaner arms to unhook four steals, and generally pouncing in and out of lanes. He was plus-15 on the night, easily the game’s highest mark. The Knicks can’t win without him. (Bargs banking bozo 3s from 25 feet helps.) Once upon a time, Shumpert was yet another underestimated, surprisingly effective, non-lottery wing player who got Knicks fans all worked up about potential. (See Fields, Landry; Balkman, Renaldo; Ariza, Trevor.) But this year, the Knicks have another helicopter-armed energy machine in Tim Hardaway Jr. He’s got all the right moves: quick offense, stroke, nice story. They don’t need Shump. So trade him for a stiff, Dolan. Send him somewhere he’ll be appreciated. Like Atlanta. Or Portland. Or Memphis. Anywhere but JD’s Blues Palace.

Oh, Good: Another Erratic, Electric Player!

Jared Dubin: Tim Hardaway Jr. is going to have a very J.R. Smith career. I mean this in a strictly on-court sense, but to me it’s already very obvious.

Much like Smith, Hardaway is capable of preposterously athletic plays that make you lose your shit. Also like Smith, Hardaway is capable of preposterously boneheaded plays (be they bad shots, blown rotations, or lackluster transition defense) that make you lose your shit. When Hardaway is playing well, he is positively in-your-grill awesome. When Hardaway is playing poorly, he is terrible in a very in-your-face way.

It’s thrilling in the way I’ve been told skydiving is thrilling: You’re having the time of your life while also being scared out of your mind.

Last night was one of the good nights, for the most part. Hardaway racked up 14 points on eight shots, nailing two 3s and completing an alley-oop that was just filthy in the process. He didn’t get as lost on defense as he usually does. He was part of a key run. But he also threw up a ridiculous fadeaway 3 off the dribble on a fast break that missed by about four and a half feet.

Thrilling, but terrifying. Electric, but alarming. Such is life with Tim Hardaway Jr. Such is life with J.R. Smith. So it was, and so it will be.

The War Against Brandon Jennings

Andrew Sharp: It seems like just yesterday that Chris Ryan waded into the investigative journalism waters with his piece, “Why Is Everybody Punching Brandon Jennings in the Face?”

But now here we are again.

If you saw those tweets last night — did J.R. Smith just threaten the entire city of Detroit? — and wondered who inspired it, you probably should’ve known it was Brandon Jennings. He didn’t actually get punched in the face, no, but it certainly seems like Smith wanted to punch Jennings in the face, and that’s really what’s most important. No matter what happens in the NBA, you can rest assured that there’s always someone who wants to punch Jennings in the face. I love this game.

Big Al

Danny Chau: With 17.7 seconds left in the game, the Bobcats held a four-point lead over the Celtics. Avery Bradley darted across the court with Gerald Henderson shadowing him the entire distance. Just as Bradley received the ball, Henderson pried it loose with his right hand and dove. Al Jefferson watched the entire play unfold, then frantically called a timeout once Henderson fell to the floor. What followed was the most righteous series of fist pumps of Big Al’s career. What a team player.

“Al Jefferson has arrived as advertised,” Bobcats play-by-play announcer Steve Martin said. For the final minute of the game, the camera panned over to Jefferson’s mug as often as possible. “We’re seeing right now why the Bobcats were so excited about this season during the offseason,” sideline reporter Stephanie Ready said. The Bobcats won, Jefferson got his first 20-and-10 of the season, and from the tenor of the broadcast team’s voices, it’s clear they’re ready for this to be the new normal.

You’d think Jefferson came from a championship pedigree from the way he was being relished, not someone who has won, on average, 26 games a season. Despite being the most statistically prolific veteran on the team, he isn’t the winningest player on the Bobcats (Ben Gordon). He isn’t even second (Jannero Pargo — I know).

Yet there was a genuine sense of appreciation from the broadcast crew of Jefferson’s effort, enthusiasm, and the care he has for his new teammates. He didn’t bring a great track record with him to Charlotte, but he brought a strong sense of pride — one that hasn’t been broken in his nine long and often unfortunate years in the league. Maybe that counts for something, especially on a team that knows his struggle.

The Bobcats are a .500 team, and it’s kind of amazing. But, true to form, even this victory wasn’t a complete one. As part of a promotion throughout the 2013-14 season, Papa John’s offers fans a coupon code for 50 percent off a regular-price order whenever the Bobcats score 90 points or more (I know, I know) in a game (Promo code: BOBCATS90). The Bobcats scored 89 points. Somehow, I think their fans will survive.

You in Reverse

In the Land of the Blind, Arron Afflalo Is King

Chris Ryan: Is Vegas taking action yet on which players from would-be tanking teams are making shocking All-Star runs? Because right now Evan Turner and Arron Afflalo are All-Stars. Afflalo is averaging about 21 points and five boards a game, with a PER of 20.94. Last night, he sang “Closing Time” to the spunky Bucks, scoring 14 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter and ending the game with this steal:

He is going to make a buying team very happy at the trade deadline, and he deserves to go to New Orleans.

That Orlando Magic

House of the Rising Defense

Kirk Goldsberry: Marcin Gortat gives great interviews. After getting sent from Phoenix to D.C., he has found himself in the middle of a very frustrating transition. His old team, Phoenix, was supposed to be horrible, but it’s had a really hot start; his new team in Washington looked poised to make a playoff push, but so far it’s been maddening. Still, when asked about his old team’s great start, Gortat delivered a candid, insightful quote:

The big success on that team is actually Mike Longabardi, the assistant coach from the Boston Celtics. He’s the defensive coordinator. He’s just an incredible defensive coordinator. He gets his team ready for every game and I think the success of the team, a lot goes to him. He knows how to win the games.

Through eight games, Longabardi’s scheme is turning heads. Phoenix is holding opponents to 95.5 points per 100 possessions, good enough for fifth in the NBA. Last season they ranked 24th, allowing 105.7. It’s early, but if those numbers hold up, that will be an incredible transformation. Still, the ascendant Suns defense is a work in progress, as Channing Frye demonstrated late last night in Portland.

How not to defend a Damian Lillard/LaMarcus Aldridge high pick-and-roll:

With 11 seconds left in the game, the Suns owned a fragile one-point lead. After an inbounds pass to Lillard and a predictable screen from Aldridge, the Suns had a very costly defensive breakdown. For reasons unknown, Frye stayed with Aldridge (who was 5-of-19 for the night, and 35 feet from the basket) and turned his back on Lillard, which enabled one of the league’s fastest attackers to turn the corner and sprint to an uncontested game-winning layup.

The Suns won’t become a defensive juggernaut overnight, and despite this costly error, Gortat is right, Longabardi appears to be doing good things, and the Suns are in the process of developing a stingy new identity.

Nene and the Buttheads

Woooooooooo. Normally we don’t get Wizards quotes like that till December. LET’S GO WIZ.

A Visual Summary of Nuggets-Lakers

Everyday Shuffling

Brett Koremenos: Before last night’s game against Brooklyn, Sacramento’s first-year head coach Mike Malone made another small change to his starting lineup. Malone moved struggling veteran Marcus Thornton to the bench in place of rookie Ben McLemore. Given that the Kings had just lost five straight, triggering the “same ol’ Kings” lament from most fans, this move barely seemed of consequence. If last night was any indication, however, we might want to start paying attention, because Malone may have just created the most explosive bench duo in the league.

As a starter, Thornton’s high-usage game seemed to clash with a starting lineup featuring two other players — Greivis Vasquez and Boogie Cousins — who also need the ball to be effective. Vasquez is the team’s best pure playmaker and a badly needed floor general while Cousins is (fingers crossed, Kings’ fans) its offensive anchor. In the presence of those two, Thornton’s remorseless gunning doesn’t seem like a great fit. What that starting unit needed was a player willing to simply spot up on the perimeter, knock down open shots, and only create offense when called upon — precisely what McLemore is suited for at this stage of his career.

By moving to the bench, Thornton has a little bit more of a chance to be, well, Thornton. In the second unit, the only player (who’s currently healthy) capable of creating offense is Isaiah Thomas, the diminutive super-sub who has started off this year gangbusters. The rest of the second unit Malone rolled out last night — Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, and Travis Outlaw — are certainly not players who need the ball to slice up opposing defenses, so Thomas and Thornton can have full creative control when they’re in the game.

With Patterson and Outlaw spreading the floor (though Patterson has struggled from deep to start the year, he has shot well from 3 in the past), Thornton and Thomas were free to unleash their scoring fury on Brooklyn. The two ball-dominant guards even proved they can share quite well together as five of their eight combined assists were to each other. When the dust settled, they had combined for 43 points, helped propel Sacto to its highest scoring output of the year (107 points) and a sizzling 110.9 offensive rating, a mark that would lead the league. Sure, the Nets team they played is old and struggling, but their defense has been respectable in the early going this season.

You Cannot Stop the Sixers

Sharp: Even after we jinxed them with 4,000 words of praise, the Sixers just keep on shocking the world. Tony Wroten had a triple-double last night. James Anderson had 37 points. The Sixers beat the Rockets. The world makes no sense.

But nobody epitomizes this better than the Most Valuable Patriot.

He’s averaging 16 points and 10.6 rebounds on 52 percent shooting. Nothing about the Sixers this year has been weirder or more entertaining than watching Spencer Hawes turn into a legitimate weapon, and it will probably never get old. None of this should be working in Philadelphia, but it is, and it just keeps getting more ridiculous.

Don’t ask questions, just embrace it.





Filed Under: Andrew Sharp, Brett Koremenos, Chris Ryan, Danny Chau, Houston Rockets, Jeremy Lin, NBA, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, Sean Fennessey