In case you're wondering what to get me for my birthday, Chris, I'll take a"Krypto-Nate" shirt.
I don't have much else to say about the weekend festivities - I'm not a huge all-star game guy in any sport. (Though I love to watch the best of the best play together in a format where they actually play defense and care about winning and losing - which is why I can't get enough of the Olympic hoops tournaments.) The best all-star observation I've seen came from Kevin Arnovitz, posting on True Hoop, who observed that the East was doomed as soon as David Stern named Mo Williams as the replacement for Chris Bosh.
Makes a lot of sense - without Bosh, the only two bigs on the East roster were Dwight Howard and KG, which meant Mike Brown had to put Rashard Lewis in the middle against the West's second-unit front court... Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol.
That ain't right.
No wonder the big fella won co-MVP honors.
Speaking of Shaq, it seems his team has finally decided to acknowledge something that's been obvious to the most casual observer for the better part of this year: the Terry Porter experiment just wasn't workin'. Porter was reportedly let go over the weekend, and assistant coach Alvin Gentry - the only holdover from Mike D'Antoni's staff - is taking over on an interim basis. (The Suns haven't made an official announcement yet, but Porter himself told the Associated Press he's been fired.)
Some people are looking at this as an attempt to hit Control-Z on the whole "we're going to focus on tough defense and slow the pace a bit" movement that has made guys like Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa some of the biggest fantasy disappointments this year. And hey, I'm all for that. But there's another story sort of lurking in the background, which has the Suns still shopping Stoudemire in the hopes of getting under the luxury tax threshold this season.
What's your take? Can the Suns regain their "draft everybody on this roster" fantasy status? Or is the magic gone?
Do you think there will be any more big moves before the deadline, or was Shawn Marion-for-Jermaine O'Neal the big one?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: February 17, 2009 11:16 AM PDT
No problem, Charlie - I'll get you the shirt. I was going to get you a Keith Van Horn Knicks jersey, but I can exchange it.
I watched most of the All-Star game, and initially I though the East was going to win. D-Wade, LeBron, Dwight Howard, KG all on the floor at the same time? Think about the athleticism, the defense! But all-star games aren't like regular ones in that defense isn't valued much, and also your rotation goes 12 deep. Even though the league is more balanced power-wise with the Celts, Cavs and Magic, the West certainly still has most of the best bigs, especially with Elton Brand having a lost season. Dirk, Yao, Gasol, Shaq, Tim Duncan, Stoudemire - half the team is close to seven feet.
I agree the Porter experiment was a failed one - it was a classic example of a coach wanting to force the wrong style for the personnel he had. I also think Shaq's resurgence was a curse in some ways because at this stage, I don't think you can build a contender around him, and he's strictly a half-court player. So you either can't play Shaq more than 10-15 minutes a game, or you have to bog down Steve Nash and Stoudemire while he's on the floor. But Gentry was a terrible coach on the Clippers - he got very little out of the Brand/Lamar Odom (in his prime)/Corey Maggette/Andre Miller team - so I'm not optimistic he's the answer, either. Will he let them run? Hard to say since that Clippers team was more of a half-court one (averaged around 94 ppg in 2002-03). The one hope you have if you own Stoudemire and Nash is that Gentry wants to distance himself from the Porter experiment and reinstate the Suns past success. But he'll have to be willing to marginalize Shaq, and I don't think it'll happen to the necessary extent.
I think the Marion move was interesting. Jermaine O'Neal almost isn't worth analyzing because it's all about health, and speculating on when a player will break down again is hard to know, and it's not all that interesting. Marion might get a significant bump, though, running with Jose Calderon, and Michael Beasley could have a bigger role now for the Heat. It also means the Raptors are comfortable with Andrea Bargnani in the pivot. The Raptors are an interesting team now with a star point guard, a finisher who can crash the boards like Marion and a three-point shooting center to complement their superstar. The one question is whether Marion can thrive at the three - a position he didn't like much even in Phoenix.
Do you disagree Charlie? Do you think Gentry will shelve Shaq and let the Suns play ball? Also, I'd be remiss to finish this entry without citing the fantastic Michael Lewis article in the Times about Shane Battier. His thesis is that Battier is far better than people realize because of subtle things his off-the-charts basketball IQ enables him to do. Battier knows how to force elite offensive players to their weaker sides, interfere with their vision of the basket as they're shooting, strip the ball from them on the way up, before it's too high to block, block out someone else's man when his own isn't much of a rebounder and be in the ideal place on offense should his team win a scramble for a loose ball. Are there any other players similarly underrated? How about overrated ones?
Subject: Give and Go
Date: February 17, 2009 1:05 PM PDT
The only jersey I own currently is a Clyde Frazier throwback. I don't think KVH would be a suitable addition to that collection.
I do think Gentry will try to pick up the pace - what else can he do? - and to whatever extent that marginalizes Shaq, so be it. I think his approach has to be, "Look, big guy... your job is going to be to board, throw outlets and start our break. You know Nashie will reward you if you get down the floor."
I don't know if it will net them enough wins to sneak into the playoffs, but I think their fantasy numbers will improve across the board. Of course, I reserve the right to re-think the Suns yet again if this rumored three-way "Stoudemire to Toronto, Bosh to Chicago, Tyrus Thomas and spare parts to the Suns" deal happens.
I hope not, mostly because I'm very interested to see how the Marion/Bosh/Bargnani frontcourt works for the Raptors. It's an interesting concept... on the defensive side, you'd probably play Marion on the opposition's three, Bosh on the four and Bargnani on the five (or flip Bosh and Bargnani, depending on matchup)... but on offense, you'd almost use Bargnani as a traditional spot-up small forward, Marion as the power forward and Bosh as the post-up pivot.
Can it work? I don't see why not.
As for the Battier article - Michael Lewis' work is excellent as usual. To me, good defense is the hardest facet of the NBA game to quantify - or for the casual observer to even see clearly. (Of course, that's true in most sports... which is why Derek Jeter wins gold gloves and the best cornerbacks tend to have the lowest interception totals - but I digress.)
Does that make Battier underrated? Probably depends on who you ask. I bet most NBA general managers, coaches and even particularly clued-in fans would love to have a guy like Battier on their teams... and just as many "system" guys that are far more valuable on one team than another.
The system guys are easy to spot - they're the ones who play very well, sign a fat free agent deal and then disappear. My favorite example is Damon Jones, who was one of the league's top sharpshooters with Miami and a complete waste of space with the Cavs.
I think it's hard for the fan - even a really invested fan like me - to know which players are underrated in the Battier sense. That's the realm of scouts, coaches, and, occasionally, the particularly helpful color commentator. Kenny Smith used to serve as the fill-in commentator on some Knicks games. He was great about pointing out some of the more technical aspects of the game - like the fact that Jamal Crawford never, ever remembered to force a left-handed player to his off hand, or some of the tricks that Malik Rose would use to defend bigger and stronger players in the post.
I can't get enough of that stuff. I wish more analysts gave us the real nuts-and-bolts perspective, instead of going through the same old tired catch phrases.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: Febuary 17, 2009 3:48 PM PDT
Don't knock Van Horn - at one time Jayson Williams (before he took out his chauffeur for absolutely no reason) compared him to Michael Jordan and Brian Williams (before changing his name to Bison Dele and disappearing at sea) called him the Great White Hope.
And I agree about what Gentry *should* do - I'm just not convinced that he will commit to it, and even if he does, that the team will execute as well under his watch as they did under D'Antoni's. If Shaq were 10 years younger, you could mold the team to fit him, but now Stoudemire has to be the key guy, especially with his free-throw shooting ability in tight games. Of course, that's assuming he's not traded. Thomas would be an interesting fit on the Suns alongside *Stoudemire*, but I don't see him playing alongside Shaq. If the team played up tempo, Thomas could fill the Marion role with even more explosiveness, but alongside Shaq, I don't know if the team would have enough horses to play any pace all that well.
I like what the Raptors did, too, and I agree they might switch up their offensive and defensive assignments, but who's going to guard a real post presence like Yao, Dwight Howard or even Pau Gasol? I like them better on offense where Bosh can post, Bargnani can spot up and Marion can crash the boards.
I also agree that system players are easily overrated, but I'm referring more to the anti-Battiers - like Crawford disproportionately allowing players to go to their strengths. I'd suspect a lot of big-time scorers on losing teams are that way. Stephon Marbury, a guy who averaged 20 and 8 for most of his career, (only Oscar Robertson ever did that) is an obvious candidate. Probably Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry, too. I bet the list of Isiah's signees would probably comprise most of the bottom-10 on Daryl Morey's list. On the flip side, I think Manu Ginobili, whom the article singles out for being a "statistical freak" in that he's the only player who goes left or right with equal efficiency, Kevin Garnett - his presence has helped the Celtics far more than another player with similar stats would and Tim Duncan are all better than the traditional numbers indicate. But that's not exactly breaking new ground, and I agree that it's much harder to spot a player like that at Battier's level of production.
Article first appeared on 2/17/09