Basketball Geometry: Does it really matter?

After a thoroughly riveting first two rounds in the NBA Playoffs, the Conference Finals gave us what we thought was going to happen 10 months ago. For the last week, the one-two matchups in both conferences have each been exactly what you’d expect. Until last night.

The Miami Heat and the Spurs have been on cruise control for weeks. Even with the Indiana Pacers’ surprising burst in game one (read: the juries back, the Indiana Pacers aren’t that good), the Heat smoldered onward.

With the San Antonio Spurs crushing Portland and charging out the gates in the Western Finals, almost everyone would have concurred 2 hours ago, we’re getting a Finals rematch.

Then Russell Westbrook decided to do Russell Westbrook things. Kevin Durant sneezed a 31-5-5. And Serge Ibaka built a 25-foot wall, a moat and draw bridge around the paint.

Enter intrigue.

Gregg Popovich has spent the last weeks fine-tuning his Spurs, yet for all the carefully laid out scheming, the unfolding geometry and beautiful cuts and rolls he’s been orchestrating, the Oklahoma City thunderous Supersonics, like a scorned child high on cotton candy and pixie stix, came in and kicked, squashed, spat and generally disrespected every facet of the Pop code.

Geometry is critical to basketball execution. Spacing, movement, passes, threes and layups all have their place. In any given basketball scenario, there is a right time for any one of them.

OKC doesn’t care about that.

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Like most hoop fanatics that don’t have a membership to a gym with hoops, that live to recreate their glory days, I’ve picked up a rhythm of pick-up games around town—an elementary school on Sundays, a church on Tuesdays, another church on Thursdays and any hoop (Fisher-Price or fiberglass) any time in between.

Usually, guys are clamoring to play indoors. Shielded from the inconsistencies of inclement weather, 17 people to two hoops is not uncommon. For die-hards 100 minutes in a gym for 20 minutes on the court is part of the game. If anything, it adds to the incentive to win. The more you win, the more you play.

Last night only six people showed up at the local church gym, and only two of us had ever played organized ball. It was some of the best ball I’ve played in months.

My squad was clearly the less talented one. I was the primary ball-handler, and that’s never been good for any team I’ve ever been on. Along with my out-of-shape midrange game, we had a nine-year old, four-foot, shoot-first point guard with penchant for bad decisions and a 6’4” 300 pound center who never strayed beyond 10 feet.

We faced the two most athletic dudes on the court. They came in together and had an obvious rapport.

We won every game.

Going into the game, we had no idea how special our play was going to be. As the only guy who could match up athletically, I knew that I was going to have to work harder than usual, helping out on defense and carrying the offense. If my teammates were as tepid as I was, they didn’t show it. On the other hand, the other team felt great about their chances, and didn’t hide it.

On the first possessions, I sent an entry pass to our big on the left low block. He gave up five feet on the catch, but got most of it back backing his guy down. Having used up most of his energy though, he couldn’t figure out how to finish, so he sent it back out to me.

pickup 1

I drove into the lane away from the bigs, drawing the little guy’s defender to me. Sensing the collapse, our nine-year old sidled back over to the  top of the arc for a wide open three.

pickup 2

 

He heaved every ounce of his 85-pound body into the ball, launching it 28 feet. pickup 3As I tracked the ball in the air for what felt like forever, I knew that the whole night and, subsequently, how I felt about myself and the people around me for the immediate future would be determined by our little guy’s ability to sink exactly this kind of shot.

He drained it.

Betraying the beautiful absurdity of sport, that single fabulous little man jumper lifted up the spirits of over 525 pounds and five decades worth of teammates. We were floating on cloud 9-year old all night long.

On the next possession, we ran almost exactly the same play. Swish.

That’s when I knew it was over. The rest of the night, we played what Bill Bradley and other philosophers of the game call “pure basketball.” Nearly every basket came off an assist. One-on-one plays never took our team out of rhythm. We played inside and outside. When the shot was taken away, we drove. When the drive was taken away, we shot. And we always passed.

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Among the array of things basketball is, basketball is a language. Like all languages, it has rules, permutations and its share of quirks. Due to its inherent physicality, however, communication happens quickly, and with the right chemistry almost instantaneously.

Our unlikely trio had never played together before. Hell, we’d never said more than three words to each other before we started. We may have said three words during play. Maybe. Yet we seemed to gel almost instantaneously. Part of it was the kid sank his first two shots, we took a 4-0 lead (which in pick-up can seem an unsurmountable lead).

Most of it was that we identified each other’s roles early on and allowed that to dictate our spacing. Our big was the biggest, stayed close to the rim. Our shooter shot the best, floated beyond the arc. Our skill sets were so limited that we never over extended ourselves, trespassed onto each other’s territory.

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The Oklahoma City Supersonics trespassed all over the Spurs last night.

The Sonics didn’t just exact revenge, they crushed the Spurs, left them rattling, and for the first time in weeks, looking vulnerable.

The reason San Antonio’s loss is so jarring, was because there was no game planning around OKC. The aberration of OKC’s game when it’s on (like it was last night) is supernatural. Their formula is a simple: 1) you take the best pure scorer ever, the most ferocious two-way point guard in the NBA and the most intimidating shot blocker with simultaneously intimidating range, and 2) you let them all loose on the same court at the same time (Scott Brooks occasionally points them in the right direction).

Last night, KD and Westbrook combined for 71 points. Ibaka blocked more shots in his two games back (7) than his whole team did without him in games one and two (6). Ibaka’s defense is somehow more reliable than both Westbrook and KD going off simultaneously like that again. When those points are coming off leaping steals and 38-foot threes, it’s enthralling, a wonder, unbelievable, but impossible to sustain for four games against the one the most prolific teams in recent history coached by the most prolific coach in recent history.

The Western Conference Finals has been an exercise in supreme strategy v. prodigious freeplay.

Will the Spurs be ready for game 5? Of course they will. That’s a question for lesser teams—like the Pacers. Confidence is on OKC’s side. They just held the Spurs to under 100 points two games in a row; San Antonio has only been held under 100 in three games prior this playoffs. Of more pressing concern: the next three games will be a referendum on Scott Brooks.

 

#BREAKING: SHANE BATTIER CONFIRMS CHILD’S BELIEF THAT DAD DOESN’T KNOW HE IS RACIST

 

 

Following their defeat of the Pacers last Monday, ESPN got some time to interview Shane Battier on the team’s performance, their cohesion on and off the court, and their belief in themselves as they look for a 3rd consecutive national title.

But the real story was happening miles away.

In Yakima, Washington, 15 year old Washington native Tyler White was grappling with his own personal story.

“My dad couldn’t stop talking about how well-spoken Shane Battier was” White said, “He kept saying things like ‘why can’t they all talk like that?’”

“I know I am not supposed to say this,” White’s father chimed in, “but Battier is just so well-spoken. It isn’t like the rest of them, er, I mean NBA players, aren’t well-spoken but…uh…he just, you know, is better at it…you know, uh…speaking”

White’s father, Taylor White, went on to go back and forth over whether or not he was maybe racist but couldn’t seem to come to a conclusion.

He knew undeniably that he was right at least in terms of the surface-substance of his sentiment—Battier is an exceptionally well-spoken man—but he knew also that his even noticing it or thinking that this was something worth saying or commenting on likely spoke to a conditioned response rooted in a contrary expectation: that African Americans are NOT well-spoken.

He went on to assert internally that if he was thinking about it and conscious of the fact that he didn’t want the comment to come across as racist that he surely couldn’t be racist- given that he was mindful of the possibility and sought actively to avoid it.

He then internally countered with the argument that, well, even if you are aware of the expectation to which Battier’s speech runs counter and try to avoid bringing attention to it that doesn’t make that expectation any less your own. This implies that there is something built into you that is inherently racist even if you may not be willing to admit it in a public forum and tell me honestly if you saw a black guy knock on your door right now would you expect him to be selling magazines or looking for handouts or drugs and didn’t you just cross the street totally unnecessarily the other day just because that one big black guy was walking the opposite direction on the side of the street you were on and therefore gave you the slightly uncomfortable and totally inexplicable feeling of foreboding that you would soon be within shiv-range of a guy who (in all honesty) was probably just walking to the same McDonalds you were just leaving moments before?

White’s father concluded our interview by mentioning that he had at least 2 Jimmy Hendrix songs on his iPod and really wants to go on Shark Tank to plug his new invention: “The Mandingo.”

Seattle Mariners 50 Game Check-in Starring: The Back End of the Starting Rotation

 

The Mariners have played 50 games of the 2014 season. We have seen some players fall well short of expected production (read: Brad Miller) yet we have also seen players exceed expectations and step into larger roles (read: Michael Saunders). We have seen players perched oddly in the middle of the disappointment-to-pleasant-surprise spectrum (Read: Robinson Cano). The middle of most visible light spectrums is greenish. Robinson Cano is green. Ish.

That being said, if you had asked me prior to this season’s beginning where the Mariners would be after 50 games, I would likely have given a far more modest projection than where they presently sit in this reality.

In an alternate reality, the Mariners could be much, much worse. Their pitching staff could easily have crumbled under the weight of a combined lack of depth coupled with a reasonable dose of the league-wide “all young pitchers must die” epidemic. Thankfully this alternate universe exists parallel to ours and does not cross it. In this parallel universe, I don’t even like the Mariners, but am rather an exquisite Russian Ballerina with skills that marvel fans yet private reservations regarding my unique but voracious sexual appetites.

We do not live in that universe, as my browser history suggests. We live instead in a universe where the Mariners have neither a losing record, nor a winning one. The Mariners, according to record, are neither bad nor are they good. We are decidedly average. Yet, I can’t help but translate this averageness to optimism. After all, the M’s are undermanned- having only had Hisashi Iwakuma for a month and having both James Paxton and Taijuan Walker on the injury block as well. When people argue that the Mariners are doomed towards negative regression, it is those 2 names I bring up as bullet points subsumed under my list of arguments for the rebuttal.

Think about Brandon Maurer, Roenis Elias and Chris Young for a bit. These are the 3 guys who round out the Mariners’ starting rotation following the one-two punch of Felix and Iwakuma. None of these guys were expected to be contributors at the beginning of the season. All of them have had to fulfill important roles for this team. This team has not tanked completely. That alone provides a space for positivity.

Let us start with Brandon Maurer. Maurer has been the one pitcher of the aforementioned 3 to come out every 5 days and basically suck every time. His ERA is presently above 6 and, despite having what appears to be excellent and projectable stuff, he has yet to show an ability to locate his pitches and has done a bad job of limiting damage once things begin to unravel. This has been documented in the past. Maurer, in a fashion similar to other young pitchers with throbbing libidos and a taste for Taco Bell, lacks the wisdom of age.

This is OK. We all didn’t expect Maurer to be a contributor this year and if things went according to plan, he wouldn’t be. Unfortunately, things seldom do go according to plan where Major League pitchers are concerned. The number of injuries to pitchers this year has been record-setting, and the Mariners are just one of several teams to have suffered through this irksome trend. The reality is that Brandon Maurer was a stop-gap measure who is merely holding a spot for James Paxton’s return. If Paxton is anything remotely akin to what he was before he went down to injury earlier this year, this is a huge upgrade and therefore instance 1 of the Mariners having reason to expect positive regression.

Next up: Roenis Elias.

Elias was a no-name left more or less completely off any of the prospect lists headed into the 2014 season. A defector from Cuba having never pitched at a level higher than AA, Elias went into the season requiring major mechanical tweaks. He had previously thrown from about 30 arm angles. When asked why he was pitching like an idiot, his response was “I’m from Cuba.” Needless to say, this does not fit the profile of a guy from whom one could expect big things.

Until we all actually saw him pitch.

Elias has the look of a pitcher whose ceiling is even higher than what we have seen thus far. He does not fit the traditional profile of a lefty throwing junk and trying to fool everybody. Rather, he comes at guys with strikeout stuff—a great lefty fastball that he throws anywhere from 92-94 MPH and a big curve that generates plenty of whiffs and standing strikes as well. Watching him drop down from the left side to get Brett Gardner looking was one of the better pitches I have seen executed in awhile. Observe.

Roenis Elias is here to stay. Taijuan and Paxton are returning, but I do not see either of them unseating Elias. While Chris Young has performed well—Elias has the kind of stuff as a young pitcher that makes you salivate. A rotation of Felix-Kuma-Paxton-Walker-Elias would be one of the better staffs in baseball.

When you add Chris Young to the mix, that’s just gravy. But not just any gravy! This is gravy that is only gravy until it becomes necessary, congealing into meat in a matter of moments out of the saucer of long-relief, if any such gravy exists.

Back to normalcy! Let’s look at the final third of our injured starting pitcher replacement roundup: Chris “Unique Gravy” Young.

Watching Chris Young pitch is hilarious. If you ever get the chance, I suggest you seize it. Young has some of the most “whatever” looking stuff I have seen from a Major League starting pitcher. He goes up there and throws 84 MPH fastballs up in the zone that get crushed for warning track flies. It kind of makes you cringe sometimes, but in a good way. Sort of like the face that precedes male orgasm.

Young was a former all-star pitching in the spacious confines of San Diego’s Petco Park and has quickly seized upon the opportunity to pitch in Safeco’s delightfully offense-suppressing marine-layer. When Young is on, he is pitching up and down in the zone, inducing weak contact and suppressing runs-scored by simply making people hit the ball a wee-bit less hard than usual.

To provide some context- FIP is a stat used to measure expected runs allowed by a pitcher, taking into account only such events that are obviously in the pitcher’s control. For this reason, it emphasizes whiffs, strikeouts and walks. The flaw of the stat is revealed only when pitchers are good at controlling and limiting effective, strong contact without generating whiffs and strikeouts.  

Young appears to be one such outlier. His xFIP sits at a hilariously shitty 5.85 and yet his ERA is at a sparkling 3.30.

Since FIP is the statistic used to calculate fWAR (the most common stat used to measure a pitcher’s value in terms of wins), his fWAR is -.01. Yet we, having watched Young go out and limit teams to 2 or 3 runs over and over know his value to exceed that.

He is a player whose unique skills are so unconventional that they break the statistical system used to quantify them. “Chris Young is meta as fuck” your little sister might say, assuming she exists, reads at around a 7th grade level and has Pinterest as her MacBook Pro’s homepage. That being said, it is fascinating as a baseball fan to watch expectations unravel in the face of a unique set of skills. While not a particularly sexy player, (think Bob Saget on stilts) Chris Young has been a remarkably interesting player insofar as he breaks the mold of any I have seen before. While I would recommend moving Chris Young to long relief when Taijuan Walker is ready to play, I have no problem with him as our 5th starter.

The Mariners are average. The faces of this team are not the faces we expected when the year began. The names accompanying those faces have similarly changed. Rejoice in this fact because the Mariners have hung in there in the face of diversity—and help is on the way.

Now if only that Brad Miller guy could figure his shit out…

#BREAKING: LEBRON JAMES ENDORSES NIKE BRAND OF ATHLETIC TURBANS FOR MEN WITH RECEDING HAIRLINES

According to an anonymous source, and in keeping with a growing trend in regards to declining hairlines and widening headbands, Lebron James has commissioned Nike to make its first line of athletic turbans for men who struggle with receding hairlines and lack the gumption, head-shape or skin tone necessary to say fuck it and do the shaved-head thing.

“I just want to close the gap between forehead and hair and make playing basketball a memorable, accessible experience for people of all ages. We have a huge customer base of people who want that classic, athletic look out there on their local courts, without being saddled with the cultural appropriation of impotence associated with male hair loss” James told our source.

Teammate Ray Allen commented on James’ decision to help fund and endorse the product.

“Nobody is going to fucking buy these” Allen told our source, “I have told him (Lebron) he could borrow my hair-clippers whenever he wants. He keeps telling me he doesn’t want to clog the sink.”

 

 

#BREAKING: EDUCATION INSTITUTION TREATS STUDENT ATHLETE LIKE MINDLESS CHATTEL

According to sources that work on the custodial staff at ESPN, Kansas State University has spent months denying a transfer request to Spanish U18 basketball star and current K-State guard Leticia Romero, who led her team in points, assists, rebounds and steals this past season.

Kansas State–a bastion of racial diversity–has refused to comment specifically on Romero’s case, citing privacy laws.

Athletic Director John Currie, who denied Romero’s transfer request before ever meeting her, apparently did not get the memo, tweeting the following:

 

“Pretty much, I’m a dick,” Currie said to Luckswing’s sources. “There’s no way I’m gonna be out-smarted by an 18 year old foreigner. I don’t get why everyone cares–she’s not even from here!”

Full story can be found here.

 

Mariners Drop 4 of 6 Against Twins, Rays

 

The Mariners just dropped 2 of 3 games to the Tampa Bay Rays and subsequently, the Minnesota Twins. If you had told me this statement prior to the season’s beginning, I would have been completely unsurprised. I would not have known, however, that the Mariners team in question was a winning team heading into the series. I would also not have known that the Rays were about 10 games south of .500 having no Matt Moore for the entire season and a version of David Price with a barely sub-5.00 ERA.

In the context of the 2014 season, Mariners-Rays was actually a series the Mariners stood a fair chance of winning. The Twins’ series seemed to be winnable as well. Obviously that did not happen. So what glaring deficiency did the Mariners’ most recent disappointment reveal?

The Mariners can’t hit good pitching. Except when they do. Sometimes. But rarely. 

Last Monday against the Rays, the Mariners looked like the kind of team that could compete for a playoff spot. They spotted Felix Hernandez 9 runs early and looked to be basically incapable of getting out. They were hitting balls off the top of the fence every other at bat, and they were also benefiting from some very Mariners-like fielding by the opposition.

Then Tuesday happened. David Price went the complete game against the Mariners, allowing 6 hits to Ackley, Cano, Jones and Zunino, while completely wiping out the rest of the Mariners increasingly disappointing lineup. Despite the Mariners complete inability to get anything going against Price, they actually took a 1 run lead into the 9th inning. Hisashi Iwakuma continued to show that he is an ace pitching in Felix’ shadow by completely dominating the Rays through 8 innings.

Then Fernando Rodney happened. Most people will look to saddle the complete blame for that loss on Rodney. That is totally fair. Rodney does not appear to be a reliever worth paying 14 million dollars. That being said, the Mariners were only able to score one run all game against a starting pitcher who has been struggling. A very good starting pitcher who has been struggling, but nonetheless, you’re playing with fire when you can’t score more than a single run in a game. Many would argue that McClendon should have sent Iwakuma back out in the 9th. But Iwakuma has only been back pitching in the majors for 3 games and he had thrown 97 pitches. That, in conjunction with the fact that Iwakuma has been a bit fragile in the past make Lloyd’s decision a reasonable one. Game ready to be closed, put in the closer. I don’t chalk this loss up solely to Rodney’s meltdown.

Rodney has been really good at times this year. Rodney was even good during the first 2 outs of that inning. But Rodney is a volatile guy who doesn’t always know where the ball is going. That’s who the Mariners paid for. Rodney is hit or miss. On Tuesday, he missed.

But the fact remains the Mariners couldn’t touch Price. A lot has been said of the Mariners having issues against lefty starters but they have actually fared better against lefties on the year then they have against righties.

The Mariners issues do not boil down to unfavorable platoon matchups. The Mariners issues are more holistic and all-consuming than that. Think asteroid headed towards earth, rather than something more localized like a violent, volcanic eruption.

The Mariners have only 4 guys with a wRC+ over 100. Robinson Cano is not even one of those people. Of those 4, only Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley have had enough ABs for this to even be meaningful. The top guy on the list is that James Jones fellow and, while I would like to believe his incredibly hot start is sustainable- it almost certainly isn’t.

It is very hard as a Mariners’ fan to get excited over prospects. It is harder still to get excited over hitting prospects. It is basically impossible to get excited about outfield prospects. The best outfield prospect the Mariners have had in recent memory was stabbed to death in the Netherlands. Clearly shit just doesn’t seem to work out very well. That being said, I love Jones’ approach at the plate and would love nothing more than to see him see sustained success in the majors. Plus, the guy actually plays good defense in Centerfield. This is rare. Rare and cool.

None of this changes the fact that the Mariners are getting nothing out of Brad Miller, Justin Smoak, Stefen Romero, etc. Remember Michael Saunders’ glorious rebirth from the ashes of condor-incineration? Yeah, that turned out to be bullshit like everything else condor has ever done. That being said, one losing series isn’t the end of the world- though the manner of these losses has seemed a bit too familiar

But let’s not get carried away.

Similar to a herpes outbreak, things are never as good as they seem when the going’s good, and things are never as bad as they seem when the going’s bad. It is probably best to take this most recent disappointment with a grain of salt, the good kind of salt. After all, a series with the Rangers begins tonight! Kyle Seager party! Their pitching has been mediocre! THE BATS COME ALIVE.

Iwakuma takes the mound tonight against our old friend Colby Lewis. Lewis is sporting a barely sub-5 ERA. Iwakuma, by contrast, is well below 2.00 and has looked dominant in all but his first start where he still had a bit of a noodle arm a la Peyton Manning.

In the words of Mr. McClendon Himself: “He’s [Iwakuma] better than I thought. I knew sitting in the other dugout that he was good. He’s better than good.”

Let’s get back over .500 boys. Go Mariners.

 

The Dharma of Steve Kerr

“Ultimately, it was agonizing to say no to Phil because of what I think of him and what he’s done for my career. When Phil Jackson asks you to coach the Knicks, how do you say no? I think they’re going to turn it around, but going to be a big undertaking and it’s going to take time. The idea of doing that 3,000 miles from home, it just didn’t feel right.”

-Steve Kerr (via NBA.com)

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Steve Kerr has always been a pretty savvy dude.

Aware of his limitations as a basketball player, Kerr found a way to turn that sharp-shooting white guy game into the bedrock of a surprisingly healthy, lengthy five-championship (FIVE MORE THAN JOHN STOCKTON! AND CHARLES BARKLEY!!) career (including the post-season, Kerr played less than 50 games in only two of his 14 seasons in the NBA, and one of those was a 26-game rookie season behind the newly-minted Kevin Johnson-Jeff Hornacek backcourt of Phoenix glory).

Whether positioning himself intentionally or not, Kerr found himself coveted—again. Between TNT, the New York Knicks and the Golden State Warriors, he seemed to be as critical an off-seaason target to front offices as Kevin Love and Lance Stephenson.

So how does a three-shooting-only point guard, a dozen years removed from playing, four years removed from his only three years of experience managing a team (to middling results), who averaged 6 points and 1.8 assists on 45.4% three-point shooting finagle himself a $25 million five-year coaching contract with the Golden State Warriors?

Well winning three championships with the Zen of Phil Jackson, and two with the Wile of Gregg Popovich helps a great deal. But how much is that worth? And what are you really get for your investment? What is Truth Coach Kerr will anchor his team to? What is the team order he implements? And virtues and behaviors will it drive? WHAT IS THE DHARMA OF STEVE KERR?

There’s no salary cap for coaches. And for the handful that really move the needle for their teams, they probably don’t get paid enough, relatively (Thiago Splitter is making $10 million dollars this season. Gregg Poppovich is making $6 million. Is Splitter really that much more important to the Spurs success than Poppovich?).

Paying Kerr five sixths of Poppovich’s salary seems hasty, for a guy who has zero NBA coaching history.

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Kerr’s resume from his playing days is as impressive as any Hall of Famer (maybe not first-tier). His post-playing career (both after playing and on the low block) in the NBA has been less successful.

He spent three years as the Phoenix Suns General Manager from the summers of 2007 to 2010.of

Draft results:

2007: 24. Rudy Fernandez (draft-day trade to Portland, no longer in the NBA), 29. Alondo Tucker (no longer in the NBA), 59. D.J. Strawberry (no longer in the NBA)

2008: 15. Robin Lopez* (played 4 years in Phoenix, now starting in Portland), 45. Goran Dragic (still with the Suns, All-Star snub), 48. Malik Hairston (no longer in the NBA)

2009: 14. Earl Clark* (currently unsigned, last played with New York Knicks), 48. Taylor Griffin (no longer in the NBA), 57. Emir Preldzic (no longer in the NBA)

2010: 46. Gani  Lawal (no longer in the NBA), 60. Dwayne Jones (no longer in the NBA)

 *Players still available: Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum in 2008. Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson in 2009.

From back court to front office, drafting is among the trickiest NBA things to do in all of the NBA. Player development is critical, but a team has to be able to evaluate that player realistically and effectively in order to extrapolate those expectations into a player development plan. The Suns under Kerr’s day did not do that.

In 11 opportunities over four drafts, including two top-15 picks, Kerr managed to conjure merely two current starters in the NBA. That is a terrible track record. You could reproduce similar results using a Ouija board as your Scout. In fact, extensive research on both basketball-reference.com and hoopshype.com has not produced evidence to deny that Steve Kerr didn’t in fact use a Ouija board. He might as well have.

Free Agents: Grant Hill, Richie Frahm, Brian Skinner, Gordana Giricek, Linton Johnson, Matt Barnes, Louis Amudson, Dee Brown, Stromile Swift, Channing Frye

Kerr signed 10 players in his three years. Only three names move the needle—and even then, only nominally.

As Kerr’s first free agent signing, seven-time All-Star Grant Hill brought some hype, but more importantly another crafty wing player for the Nash-mobile. Matt Barnes and Channing Frye are quality starters that are still (or currently, in Frye’s case) playing to their potential.

Trades

Kerr spent his three years at the helm of the Phoenix Suns, essentially stripping Steve Nash’s pristine formula one for parts.

Within a month Kerr started up the welding torch, sending away James Jones (8 pts, 38 3pt%, 3.5 3s/gm and important floor spacer for Nash) along with newly drafted sharpshooter Fernandez.

Kerr’s first major move came when he shipped Kurt Thomas. Ok, Kurt Thomas wasn’t exactly an essential component of the Nash-mobile. But at 34, he was an important reserve that solidified their front court averaging an efficient 4.6 points, 5.7 rebounds on 18 min per game in his last season with the Suns. The true silliness of the trade is what was included in the package. Kerr sent with Thomas two first round picks (which would become Serge Ibaka and Quincy Pondexter) and a stripper in exchange for 2009 second round pick and a shovel.

Admittedly, the move allowed the Suns to pursue bigger fish and in 2008, Kerr went all-in with a $30 million* Project Shaqtus, trading away an truly integral player in the Suns’ formula and their premier defensive mind Shawn Marion and backup point guard Marcus Banks for a 35-year old belly-dancing Shaquille O’Neal.

Kerr continued carving up Maestro Mike D’Antoni’s former Phoenix Symphony by trading off starters Raja Bell and Boris Diaw in 2008 to the Charolotte Bobcats—essentially banning them to the Forgotten Realms of the NBA—while the Suns got back scoring punch and kept perimeter shooting, acquiring Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley.

In a cosmic twist that could only be happen in the Big Aristotle’s victory lap, Kerr traded Shaq to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2009  for Sasha Pavlovic, Ben Wallace, half a million in cash a second round draft pick. A continuation of Kerr’s sudden act of frugality, the Suns bought out Wallace’s $14 million in order to save $8 million.

*Shaq’s $20 million in 2007-08 (split between Miami and Phoenix) and $21 million in 2008-09’s almost doubled Nash’s ($11.4M in 2007-08 and $12.25M in 2007-09) and represented almost 36% of the teams salary cap.

Caveats & Lessons          

Suns GM in the summer of 2007. Helped former current Robert Sarver buy the Suns in 2004, and Kerr still owns less than 1% of the Suns franchise (which he’ll have to sell before he officially signs with Golden State).

Kerr’s three seasons with the Suns marks a tumultuous time for the Phoenix. Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less teams found tremendous success, revolutionized small ball and boasted blistering 177-69 (.720) over the three seasons prior to Kerr taking over. Unable to get past the second round of the playoffs though, the patently entertaining style came under fire.

Whether he was brought into the organization with a mandate or he acted on his own opinions, Kerr’s imperative seemed to be to traditionalize the Suns. After requesting defense and getting nada, Kerr fired D’Antoni. He brought in Terry Porter to slow down the team, which Porter did. He slowed them all the way down to a 28-23 start, at which point Kerr fired Porter and elevated Alvin Gentry* to head coach.

Gentry fared better (sort of). Finishing the 2008-09 season 18-13, the Suns missed the playoffs for the first time since 2004. But he led the Suns 54-game-win season, in large part due to Nash’s engine. They finally beat the San Antonio Spurs the second round of the playoffs with a stunning sweep, but fell short to eventual champions Los Angeles Lakers.

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Steve Kerr led personnel and acquisition decisions for the Phoenix Suns during a three-season-long transition that achieved middling success.  And Inside the NBA has won five Sports Emmys—I guess Steve Kerr is a part of that?

Essentializing Kerr’s career to those two points unfair: He’s clearly has an astute basketball mind, understands what it takes to win, has grown in the shadows of two giants—Phil Jackson, armed with his triangle offense and ability to speak to players on their terms, and Gregg Popvich, master of the motion offense and demanding sycophant-like devotion to his system. But there are still plenty of questions, and rightfully so, surrounding what more Kerr can do with an already successful team.

What does Coach Kerr look like? Will he continue the interpersonal player-centric strain of coaching Mark Jackson began and found success with? Or will he flee to analytics, X’s and O’s and become system-driven? Will Kerr use his skilled bigs to anchor the Triangle? Or run Steph Curry and Klay Thompson careening on head turning screens? WHAT ARE HIS DRUTHERS???

Are the Golden State Warriors really betting $25 million and five years on Steve Kerr being the love child of Phil and Pop?

I’d love nothing more for Coach Kerr to be the incredible amalgam of Zen and Wile*, to imagine and implement in Golden State new and beautiful triangle-motion schemes we’d forever call the “Kerr offense,” to become finely attuned at driving his team to success, balancing player personalities with team accountability.

But the fact is Kerr is untested, and the Golden State Warriors just made him among the top five highest paid coaches in the NBA. Clearly Golden State’s front office wasn’t in communication with the coaching staff this past year and produced bizarre states of disarray. Kerr’s personal reason’s for selecting Golden State (over the Knicks) aside, will he be walking into a scenario that allows him to flourish?

For better or worse, only the forthcoming basketball season can answer those questions.

*#TRADEMARKED: Can you imagine Phil Jackson and Gregg Poppovich starring in a buddy comedy called Zen and Wile about two retired coaches struggling to come to terms with a world that doesn’t fit their neatly designed systems? Light yet dark. Meditative yet silly. Screenplay forthcoming.

 

SVG: Rock On Motown, You Got Yourself a Good One!

On Wednesday, the Detroit Pistons officially announced the hiring of Stan Van Gundy as their newest Head Coach and General Manager. The contract has been reported to be $35 million over five years and gives SVG complete control over retooling the franchise as he sees fit.

A pretty sweet deal for a guy who has been enjoying retirement in Central Florida the past two years.

The Van Gundys were born to coach though. Over an eight year career with two separate teams, SVG vaunts a 579-371 (.641) record—having never missed the playoffs (his brother JVG amassed a 748-430 (.575) record over 11 years—missing the playoffs just once).

Watching the Van Gundys pace the sidelines as I developed my love of basketball, you get the impression these guys lived to sideline marshal. They studied the game, demanded peak individual performance, set high expectations and most importantly, lived and died with their teams’ successes and failures. As a player you love to see this, and when you’re struggling, you need to see that your coach is with you (a demonstrative nature Maurice Cheeks wasn’t well versed in).

Eventually, coaching affected health and hairlines (sorry, Jeff). But with a much needed, possibly doctor-prescribed, Jon Gruden media timeout, SVG has returned. And it is about time that one of the Van Gundy brothers finally got back to coaching.

Among likely candidates, SVG was probably the best fit for Motown. He’s had plenty of success with dynamic front courts throughout his career. He found a way to maximize a range of bigs—from enigmatic point forward Lamar Odom and an affable aging-yet-dominant Shaquille O’Neal in Miami to sharp shooting Rashard Lewis, Air Turkey point forward Hedo Turkoglu and a developing-yet-dominant Dwight Howard in Orlando.

That history of success bodes well for the Pistons All-Star caliber Josh Smith, highly skilled but young Greg Monroe and raw-potentially dominant Andre Drummond.

The Pistons could be a fun, unique team to watch, but their three bigs—right now a weakness that could become the strength of this team—don’t know how to move on a court together. As a result, you get Smith floating laissez faire around the perimeter, shooting the same way he plays defense—like a matador:

So much red.

The chart represents 70 of 265 treys for a disastrous 26.4% success rate. Clearly, J. Smoov’s shooting will have to be reined in, but that is more doable than one would think. That energy just needs to be focused on playmaking.

After all, Smith’s success in Atlanta came by being the Swiss-army-jack-knife-of-all-trades lynchpin of that he team. In his last two years with the Hawks, he averaged 18.1 points, 4.1 assists, 9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and almost 2 blocks per game. He ranked among the top 25 in points, rebounds, blocks and steals per game, easily among the top 10 in assists for forwards—all while maintaining a top 20 Player Efficiency Rating (PER).

Smith should be able to bounce back to that form. His trajectory was on  the upswing before he left Atlanta, and he’ll still only be 28 at the start of the season. It will dramatically help Smith (and everyone with a pulse in Michigan) to have shooting around him—his last two Atlanta teams were the 5th and 7th best three-shooting teams in the NBA.

Any discussion involving “shooting” and “Detroit” (and “basketball”) starts at Brandon “I got this” Jennings. To which, coach promised an imminent conversation with Jennings about shot-selection in a press conference earlier today.

“The questions are his decision-making ability—not so much that he’s a high-turnover guy, but it’s his shooting percentage you get concerned about. One of the things I like to do with guys in terms of shooting percentage is ask them why. Why 37 percent? I want to hear the answer on that. But I know he’s a very, very talented guy.”

We are the 37%.

Improved shooting and better point guard play should provide the Pistons with sorely needed spacing— the team’s uncrackable Kryptos this season.

Space on the offensive ends will allow the big bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to operate more intuitively in a more traditional high and low post scheme.

Easy buckets.

Hopefully SVG can read numbers better than his predecessors, and he’ll layer the playing time between the three bigs by taking out Smith early in the first and third quarters, featuring his skills as the leader of the second unit (a la Dirk Nowitzki with this year’s Dallas Mavericks). Plus, this gives Monroe and Drummond an added chances to develop together.

Talent-wise, shooting (guard) remains the persistent hole in the entire Detroit Piston equation. They ranked second worst in three-point shooting this past season with an atrocious 32%.

Fortunately for “The D,” shooting shooting guard is a relatively easily fillable hole via free agency, and the team is poised to make moves. They will have $22 million at the start of free agency, but this includes Monroe, a restricted FA. Even with Monroe’s hold, the Pistons will still have $12 million to spend.

The temptation will be to splurge, spending it all on Lance Stephenson or Avery Bradley (or heaven forbid, Evan Turner or Swaggy P). Bradley would be perfect for this club. He’s been working on his shooting form, elevating his three-point percentage to almost 40% on 200 shots this past season, and his relentless full court pressure would upgrade the Pistons perimeter defense tenfold. But even in the event he’s not there (he’s restricted and Boston’s looking to build), the team could wisely spend on a cadre of Jodie Meeks-, Alan Anderson-, Anthony Morrow-types.

Enter GM SVG.

Not wanting to relive the front office-coaching cleave in Miami eight years ago, SVG ensured that the bicameral houses of the franchise would stay united by signing on board as the only person to currently hold both the Head Coach and General Manager positions.

SVG will have to balance the immediate pressures of winning with a long-term view that ensures his teams health. It will be particularly challenging with a team that has so many questions looming. Standing at the intersection of game strategy and franchise strategy, however, allows him and the team to commit fully to his ideas. As a coach, SVG relied on systems that reflected the personnel he had. It will be interesting to watch him acquire personnel to complete his vision of the Pistons.

He’s got the tools and the skill set to get it right. If he does, the Detroit Pistons will finally lend some harmony to Motown.

 

#BREAKING: MARSHALL HENDERSON IS MARSHALL HENDERSON FOR HIS OWN PERFORMANCE ART THESIS

In a daring and unflinching confession, Marshall Henderson admitted just moments ago to an anonymous Luckswing source that his entire life has been a culmination of the most avant of avant-garde performance art, episodes of which he will later be re-enacting as his senior thesis installation on the Ole Miss campus, and later at the Met in New York.

Henderson tells our insider that, at an early age, he was inspired by the life of Boy George and galvanized by the emergence of Lady Gaga. Viewing himself as the natural successor of Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann, he is “proud to carry on their tradition, and elevate it to American sports.”

“Gesticulating wildly has always come easily to me,” Henderson told Luckswing’s source. “Becoming a performance artist, becoming ‘Marshall Henderson,’ or at least, his artistic subconsciousness projected upon the plane of subjective reality for all the world to witness from the comfort of their bourgeois vantage was the most natural thing for me–like taking too many shots,”

Allegedly, Henderson’s  drug abuse and recent rash of inflammatory antics has been part of the drawn out narrative he has created for himself. He went far as to intimate he may have been the real brains behind the Manti Te’o “catfishing” incident.

“You know I hate to classify myself in a particular way. Saying I’m a performance artist is so stifling, but truly, I am a visionary. I perform. I’m an artist.”

#BREAKING: MARSHALL HENDERSON LEARNS HOW TO FLY A PLANE FOR FRIEND’S MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES THESIS

According to an anonymous source, Marshall Henderson has learned to fly a plane for his friend’s Middle-Eastern Studies thesis.
“Joke’s on you guys!” Marshall said for figuratively the thousandth fucking time when harassed for his off-color twitter selfie depicting him in the cockpit of a commercial jet leaving what appears to be a Southeast Asian country.

The caption “Mind the gap!” accompanying a photo of the World Trade Center has been considered poor taste by college officials. The twitter-verse also openly questioned how or why he was in the cockpit of an airplane in the first place.

“My buddy asked me to learn how to fly planes and then borrow one from a pilot as a social experiment for his Middle-Eastern Studies thesis. He is trying to show that there needn’t be a racial imperative to conduct terrible criminal activity in the skies. We are trying to tear down the institution of American bigotry. My buddy is a pilot, so I figured: ‘Sure, how hard could it be?’”

Henderson went ahead and piloted the craft to a gentle, aquatic landing. He was subsequently airlifted back to the United States by Tom Hanks.

“All’s well that ends well, right?”

The plane and its passengers have not been found.