Basketball is back! Basketball is back! Basketball is back!
Well sort of.
This weekend’s matchup of Team USA v. Brazil marked the first international competition leading into this year’s FIBA World Cup.
20 years ago, the generation that produced the Dream Team understood the greatness of the US in the context of having achieved that greatness. Charles Barkley, David Robinson, MJ, Magic, Larry and the lot lived, at bare minimum, through the conclusion of the Cold War—Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf.
On the other hand, we 20somethings—including the 16 on the US Men’s Basketball roster—have spent our entire lives being the best goddamn country in the world. At least that’s what our leaders have told us for our entire recollection. Living in a country that uses that same line to score cheap political points as often as American politicians do, it’s no wonder that generation at large has acquiesced into a quiet, unexamined cynicism of anything that comes close to resembling nationalism.
I am sympathetic to this point of view, but I unequivocally reject it.
I was born in the Philippines and came to America by way of Jordan. I’m not saying my life was particularly harder than the next immigrant’s. It wasn’t. I was tremendously lucky in many ways. But as I begin the work of assembling, to the best of my abilities, the modern American Dream—providing a comfortable home, plenty of food and quality education for my kids and wife—I am struck by how many people take these things for granted, as if it were a birthright. They’re not. And it takes a uniquely special place to allow the “Dream” to become possible through the sheer force of will alone.
What does this mean against the backdrop of basketball?
Well it’s easy to fixate on the negatives, easier still if the negatives of the country you live in become the predominant narrative. Who wants to play for a country with an intractably divided government? Who wants to represent a country with hackneyed foreign policy that more resembles Settlers of Catan than responsible world leadership? Who wants to be the face of a country whose caricature of itself in the world community is goofy, glutinous and rude?
These aren’t at all the reasons so many NBA stars aren’t competing in this year’s FIBA World Cup. But that they are all true, make the decision that much easier. The disastrous injury of Paul George provides the perfect out. With loudmouths like Steven A. Smith in their corner, it’s almost a wonder that Rudy Gay even answered Jerry Colangelo’s call.
That said, I appreciate Gay not just because off his healthy dose of Nationalism, but because he understands at some level, for pure, selfish basketball reasons, this is how you get better: by competing with the best in the world against the best in the world.
Anthony Davis as the go to guy
With 20 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks in 26 minutes, Davis was clearly the go guy for Team USA. The blocks and alley-oops were to be expected. But the insistence—and more telling, the allowance—of the 15-foot jumpers that rimmed off early on speak volumes to where Davis lies in the totem pole of the team.
Early in the fourth quarter, Davis’ dive into the second row to save a ball sparked a 10-0 run. Three of the next few plays featured Davis blocking a shot only to retrieve the ball while falling out of bounds, finishing an alley-oop out of nowhere and a textbook 25-foot jumper that netted nothing but, well, net.
With all the talk of him being “next,” the heir apparent to Lebron James and Kevin Durant, it’s easy to forget Davis is only 21. Of course he’s faded in and out throughout his first two seasons in the NBA. He couldn’t even drink! But this weekend, he was bodying Tiago Splitter with little remorse. Asserting himself more fiercely than the boy-king has been given the opportunity to show. With Monty Williams on the US Basketball coaching staff, this only helps to make Davis less boy and more king.
The Great White Hopes
I know Coach K is of Duke. He loves white dudes, especially white dudes who think they can rap. But seriously, remaining on the US roster:
- Kyle Korver
- Gordan Hayward
- Chandler Parsons
- Mason Plumlee
- Klay Thompson
Ok, so Thompson is half Bahamian, but he doesn’t try nearly as hard as his Splash Brother at being Black. Of greater concern: what are Gordon Hayward and Mason Plumlee still doing here? At one point the announcers mistook a lob for Parsons as one for Plumlee.
It was weird.
The Manimal Mannihilates
Keneths Faried’s development had been interesting to track all last season. As Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson and every other offensive asset for the Nuggets fell to injury, Faried turned his balls-out effort game into an unorthodox offensive game replete with funky jumpers, twisting hooks and the occasional, surprising guard-like spurt.
Early in the first quarter, Faried scraped the potential of what he could become though. With the ball 20 feet out near the elbow, Faried put the ball on the floor, splitting defenders. As he got close to the basket, he drew Davis’ defender at which point Faried flips a nifty one handed, hook-ish pass to an open Davis for an easy bucket.
Then early in the third, on the other end of the floor, Faried knocks the ball loose on an entry pass and winds up with the steal. Instead of hanging back and letting an “All-Star” finish the play after his outlet pass, Faried runs the floor anyway—literally the only other team USA player in the picture.
11 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. Classic Manimal.
If Faried continues this play into the NBA season and “takes the next step,” the Nuggets could be fun to watch. More intriguingly, he can transform from the exemplar of hardwork into a titillating trade chip.
James Harden might be a selfish dude…
Which is a strange thing to admit considering that just three years ago, he was the best sixth man on the planet (I still love you Jamaal. Don’t ever leave me!)—a position that necessarily requires astute self-awareness, honest evaluation and a coming to terms with collective success outweighing personal glory.
This offseason, Harden’s seemed to turn his on-court game of give-me-the-ball-I’ll-mash-turbo-into-the-lane-and-I’ll-probably-get-fouled-and-get-mine-while-you-just-stand-out-there-wide-open-and-I’ll-pass-it-to-you-some-day-maybe-I-promise-I’ll-probably-think-about-it into the perfect metaphor for the way he lives his every day, non-basketball life. Even if Donatas Motiejunas was misquoted and Dwight Howard, D-Mo and Harden all rendezvoused nightly to McGangbang Double QPC’s like they were racing to a heart attack, the Chandler Parson’s saga does not instill confidence in Harden’s leadership ability (to be parenthetically fair, almost everything involving Chandler Parsons or Chandler Parsons’ hair is, to some varying degree, a saga. I mean have you seen his perfume commercials? Epic pretty man, pretty girl saga).
Upon Parsons signing with the Dallas Mavericks, Harden said:
Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.
Harden’s defense remains that he wasn’t specifically talking about Chandler Parsons. Two things here:
1) Even if you weren’t talking about Parsons, there are still 10-12 other dudes on your roster. If my Masters in NBA Management from the University of 2K has taught me anything, there are three other Starters and one Sixth Man in addition to the two to four Role Players and remaining Bench Warmers. The four dudes not in Role Player role do not like it when you downgrade them like that—especially in public. That demonstrates cloudy thinking at best and an egomaniacal philosophy of basketball at worst.
2) Harden was clearly talking about Chandler Parsons!
Apparently, Harden and Parsons have squashed the beef. But even in the way he talked about the reconciliation, he can’t seem to remove himself:
No matter what, if the Rockets are playing good, Dwight and James get the praise. If we’re doing bad, Dwight and James gets the bulk of criticism.
I’m still waiting for Parsons to trip Harden or snip his beard or something as he finds a spot to sit.
Lastly (I could probably round up three or four more obscure supporting points, but because I’ve withered away too many neurons on this point already), when asked about Paul George’s tremendously unfortunate injury, Harden still couldn’t remove himself. The first words out of his mouth:
I gotta amp up my game. I’m not just a scorer, I’m a playmaker as well.
YOUR EXPERIENCE IS NOT THE DEFINING NARRATIVE, JAMES!!! That said, I’m probably still picking Harden in the first round once fantasy basketball season rolls around.
Have you heard yet? Derrick Rose is back.
Reading the reports on US Basketball PPGI (Pre-Paul George Injury), one would think Derrick Rose is the only player on the team. After watching a game, it makes sense.
With 4.6 seconds left in the first half, Coach K put Rose back in (after getting cut on the face). Rose said his instructions were to run the floor and get a good shot. Rose did. Like a flash of lightning, he drove right by an impending trap, leaving two Brazilians stunned in disbelief. Sprinting the full 94 feet, letting a floater bank off the glass, he masterfully executed with such contradictory force, I have to believe he could run for public office one day.
There was also the ridiculous cross over near the end of the third, where he went right to blow by his defender only to change hands in mid air, only kind off avoid a big, finishing with the left.
I can’t wait for new D. Rose .gifs…
Rose ended the game with only those two fieldgoals (7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 turnovers), but more impressive than the actual plays were the ferocity of his demeanor. He was the fastest, hardest dude on the floor the whole game. He had some missed floaters and even a missed dunk, but that he was convincingly there for those is a reassuring sight for sore, sore, Chicago eyes.
This game featured more words than I’d ever heard Rose speak at once—sans his MVP acceptance speech (but to be fair I started bawling as soon as he talked about his mama, so I really didn’t hear half of it). My immediate reaction: it seems like Rose is more comfortable being vocal. This is fantastic news for the Bulls who need an assertive Rose to reclaim MVP form. Rose has always strictly been a “let my play speak for me” kind of player. He was in the right situation for that. No one ever criticized Rose for it because his play was exceptional. The combination of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer let him lead in deed and not in word. It’ll be fun to watch Rose become the guy again on and off the court.
70 days. Does my breath smell bated?