Introducing the "Steve Nash Equilibrium"

"The Italians have a phrase, inventa la partita. Translated, it means to “invent the game.” A phrase often used by soccer coaches and journalists, it is now, more often than not, used as a lament. For in watching modern players with polished but plastic skills, they wonder at the passing of soccer genius—Pele, di Stefano, Puskas—players whose minds and bodies in not so rare moments created something unfound in coaching manuals, a new and continuously changing game for others to aspire to."

--Ken Dryden, "The Game"

A couple weeks ago, Aaron wrote this must-read piece about tenacious Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard that got a lot of traction. The money quote is probably this take on Duncan:

"Never mind that Duncan on defense has always been one of the most beautiful things the league has to offer. The defensive structure of the Spurs as a whole, really, but Duncan especially: Tim’s defense has always inhabited a brave world oscillating between the bounds of reactive and impressionistic fluidity on one end to a prescriptive and predictive rigidity on the other. Duncan’s defense has always been equal parts shutting down what the offense gives him and preventing the offense from giving him anything he can’t handle in the first place, through reputation and savvy alone."

This quote hints at what makes a player great or interesting, as opposed to merely good or simply lacking. When we're making projections and figuring out which team will hold the trophy in June, we sometimes talk about where in the rotation the D-league players come up. We also like to talk about the black holes on offense, the players that make terrible rotations on defense, the players that can't buy a rebound, and so on. And this makes sense: Often when a team gets eliminated you can point to a single thing that went wrong, a single matchup or difference in depth at a position that got exploited over and over. But this is only half the story.

Basketball is not just a game of mistakes, of - you might say - mere violations in the fabric of a designated right way. We all know about players that defend a star perfectly and have to live with a mismatch or an offensive clinic. It's that Dirk triple-move on poor Nick Collison and more generally it's Dirk's greatness in creating space. It's Chris Paul slowing the game to a halt or bringing it to its true, blistering speed. Skills and creativity determine far more than mistakes and holes at the highest level of play. There's a affirmative, creative, impressionistic, reactive part of basketball that brooks no law and finds no need of patterns, and it's where the soul of a great basketball player is found. It's the oscillation between the reactive/impressionistic and prescriptive/prepared - and the total, competitively-motivated embrace of both tendencies - that seems to me the essence of a baller and the poverty of a scrub. Continue reading

New York's Three-Point-Plan: Defend. Ascend. Contend.

A BRIEF ORAL HISTORY OF THE NEW YORK KNICKERBOCKERS

When Ewing left, the rebuild began. It was slow, a process. But the free agents did come. In twos, in threes, in all sorts. Stephon, Eddy, more and more. It was then that the media -- the Beast -- cried. "The Knicks are back," they said. But it was Isiah Thomas, the false prophet, moves all for naught. The Knicks rebuilt, for a time. They were not back. They were not front. They were merely there; the New York Knicks, the NBA's resident big market stooge. The team that lets Kobe score 60, LeBron score 50, et cetera, et cetera. Career highs in the holiest of holies, Madison Square Garden nothing more than a mystical place for faraway stars to style on a terrible, terrible team. And it was not good. And it was not right. The Knicks proceeded on, and atoned for the sins of their forefathers. They traded their contracts, forged space, and waited. And thus did the Apostrophic King take his leave of the Phoenician Point God for good, departing with a nod and a wave as he fled to the greener pastures of New York. And so they were back. But the new Knicks struggled. They were not back. For they could not defend. They had naught but scraps around the King, such as it were, and the Media was not happy.

The Beast demanded a star, at any cost. And thus the Knicks traded their scraps, realizing upon departure their intrinsic value. And thus did they acquire the Rounded One. The Rounded One scoured upon the NBA tales of his scoring, his shooting, his post ups; signed, sealed, delivered. But the team was not complete. For they still could not defend, and they still could not contend. And thus did the summer come early, in an ignomious sweep to a wizened team. It brought with it a deathly fast, peppered with tales of a new Point God or a gentle giant come to the land of King. But not for one year. Knicks fans must be patient. The Knicks must still build. But in the 11th hour, the land of King realized its folly -- for the scorers and coach and team they'd assembled, they would not be Back until they engaged in the careful art of Defense. And thus did the Knicks add the Erstwhile, Fragile Champion. And thus did the tale conclude. The Beast who cried wolf was appeased. And finally, it was correct.

Indeed, the Knicks were back.

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Chasing Rings Revisited

“Lord, thank you,” [12th-man Bell, the only senior on the team,] said, “Thank you for letting us be a part of this game and this season.  Thank you for letting me be part of this team and for the people in this room.  I know they’ll come back and win this tournament next year and no one will cheer harder for them than me.  Thank you for making them part of my life.”

--Forever's Team, John Feinstein, after Duke lost to Kentucky in the 1978 NCAA championship game

But ask us after a game. After we’ve played the Bruins or theIslanders; after a playoff game. If you don’t understand the excitedtumble of words, look at our gray-white faces, at eyes that glitter andpop at you. Look at our sweaty smiles, at hands that won’t shut up. Anhour later, a day’s tension sucked away, look at our bodies. All ganglyand weak, so weak we laugh it feels so good. Look at our faces, atsmiles distant and content.

[...] Coaches like Vince Lombardi and George Allen have told us we must play for certain reasons. As children, our parents and coaches told us something else. But after the Bruins series, Chartraw came much closer, "I don't play for money," he laughed, "I play for the party after."

--The Game, Ken Dryden

So the other day, Aaron linked me to Craig Lyndall's fantastic article about chasing rings. I think a lot of it rang true and if you're into the experience of being a fan (quite a general category), it's a must-read. The piece is earnest, filled with credible self-doubt (who doesn't like Big Z?), and attacks a foundation of NBA culture, namely that the ring is king.

Lyndall successfully deconstructs the notion that a ring is meaningful in an absolute sense and in and of itself, which is a common premise used to justify ring chasing by players ranging from players with such diverse backgrounds as Wilt, Barkley, Chris Paul, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Essentially, Lyndall argues that a given ring is only meaningful in the context of the complex circumstances which produced it: The ownership, the fanbase, the locker room, the coaches, the games, and finally, the players themselves as individuals. This is a very clever and important point: A ring (especially for an older vet like Ilguaskas) only matters to the extent that that player is able to make meaningful relationships with the others (most importantly to Lyndall, the fans) involved in the title.

And Big Z, Lyndall argues, would have gotten something transient and ultimately meaningless in his ring if the Heat had beaten the Mavs this June. Without the total emotional involvement of the Cleveland fans that had stood by him for so many years in recovery, without a fanbase that had come to respect him as a great player cut down by injuries, and a class act and a franchise cornerstone at that, a title for Big Z would be a relatively hollow achievement. There was a deep and mutual respect between Ilgauskas and the city of Cleveland which would have made a ring with the Cavaliers as sweet as any title could ever be, at 5 mpg or 35. Continue reading

Challenging Orthodoxy with the 2012 Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks won the 2011 NBA Championship. It was a pretty big deal, you might've heard about it. They've also been one of the most active teams in the offseason -- they've lost the linchpin of their defense, Tyson Chandler, but gained the reigning sixth man of the year Lamar Odom. They lost the diminutive Barea (he of filleting the Lakers and getting killed by Bynum fame) but added the eternal wildcard Delonte West. They let DeShawn Stevenson and his shocking defense walk, but replaced him with Vince Carter -- half man, half... geriatric? That's not how that's supposed to go! Regardless. The Dallas Maverick team that takes the floor on Christmas day to receive their rings and raise the blue and white to the rafters will bear few similarities in style to the team that reigned supreme last June.

Missing a whole wealth of pieces, Rick Carlisle will find himself tasked with quite the challenge -- while the pieces may be there, alchemizing together a cohesive contending unit from this menagerie of mismatched parts is going to be a thing to see. But among their key losses and gains, Dallas is stirring together an odd, odd brew. The 2012 Mavs look to be a potent and unpredictable blend of heterodox rotational flaws and opportunistic lineup tinkering. It could blow up. It could be dominant. We don't really know. I've never been a Mavs fan, nor ever will I be. But I'm excited to see how this plays out, and you should be too.

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Juwan a Blog? #5: I Go Hard Now

"Review forthcoming. Not a joke."
       -- Me, December 4, to I Go Hard Now.

Well, I wasn't joking, but I may as well have been! Starting today, I'll be giving points out for effort here at Juwan a Blog? (but only for me), and, in this new paradigm, I'm going to go ahead and award myself an "A" for this entry, despite having just 40 or so words so far. See, these 40 words were preceded by at minimum 10000 others, in dozens of edits. My eight-day quest to write this is nothing short of heroic: Since starting this review, I've read about 50 basketball drills, probably 200 other blog entries, the entirety of "A Season on the Brink," and about a quarter of that one hockey memoir. I also found time to save a lot of people from various fires. All of this in an attempt to understand this one neat NBA blog centered around the Cavs. (To that end, I read their last 5 months of content as well.) But all my heroism counts for practically nothing without results: Most of the people I saved died from smoke inhalation, and after 8 days I still only have about 200 words and an endless graveyard of GG drafts within and without this review.

Long story short, it's a tough world we're living in. A tough world... rather like the Cavaliers are living in right now!* And I Go Hard Now is a blog about this tough NBA world. Named after Christian Eyenga's terse summary of everything, I Go Hard Now is a slightly longer summary of slightly fewer things. Fewer things like...the NBA! The Cavs! The experience of sports fandom, especially towards a troubled small-market team like the Cavs! MSPaint drawings of Micky Arison doin' stuff with a steak! Really sad, important stuff!

* Transition brought to you by impromptu speeches from Alex, age 8.

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Alex Learns Stats: Drawn and Quartered

Aaron's fascinating look into the inherently deleterious effect of the compressed season on injuries (focused on effects wrought solely because more games fit into the same recuperation period) got me thinking. As stat posts are wont to do. What if it weren't the number of games that were compressed, but the games themselves? We've all heard the tired LeBron jokes. I tried to make change with LeBron, but he didn't have a fourth quarter. Well...what if nobody had a fourth quarter? How would we make change then?! What if that was the price of the lockout? What if Commissioner Stern, in a jaw-droppingly flamboyant abuse of power, declared that the cost of a lockout would be felt every night, for 12 missing minutes?

... well, I had some spare time and wanted to try my hand at these public Google Doc spreadsheet posts that Aaron has been using, guess we're going to find out. Follow me hither to the magical world of endless, tedious data entry, where Aaron and I frolic among the sparse statistical flowers of wisdom to be found there. This is kind of a curiosity, but there were a few interesting surprises. Continue reading

Paul to the Clippers: the (big) easy way out.

Remember my post from less than a week ago, where I started with a misleading paragraph meant to make you think I was describing the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade? The one where I was actually talking about Albert Pujols in an attempt at some classical misdirection comedy? Well. I'd ask you to read that introduction again, and actually apply it to Chris Paul this time. Because virtually everything I said for the Lakers -- that they weren't really expected to land Paul, that they took a bigger risk than was being reported, that there's this sense where you wonder if you're dreaming -- effectively summarizes how I feel about Paul going to the Clippers. Countless words have already been spilled on it, but I feel that there's a lot that's being left out of the conversation right now. So, I'll be the contrarian folk hero who quixotically tries to add a bit to the discussion. Paul to the Clippers. Really. This actually happened. Let's discuss. Continue reading

2011 Transaction Analysis #3: Big Deals

Season's back, everyone! And you all know how we like to celebrate. Excruciatingly long posts analyzing intricacies and untapped facts, ahoy! In this mini-feature, watch as Aaron shares his inexpert opinions on every amnesty, trade, and signing -- big and small -- that goes on before the season starts. We're going to cut it into several parts -- this is a to-be-updated post on the larger deals of this transaction period. In an amusing and somewhat unintentional twist, every player in this post isn't just one of the larger prizes from free agency, they're also all big men. So, big deals in more ways than one, I suppose. This post outlines my thoughts on the signings of David West, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, and Nene. Let's get to it. Continue reading

Chauncey Billups: the Memoirs of a Cancer

Chauncey Billups: the Memoirs of a Cancer

A story of Chauncey Billups' amnesty demands, told (almost) firsthand.

Chauncey Billups in George Karl's office, trying to convince Karl to pick up his option.

Chauncey Billups: You know, George, I once turned the Nuggets inside out, just to see if I could. I'm bad news. I'm a bad dude. Don't take me on waivers unless you're willing to deal with hell on Earth.

George Karl: No, Chauncey, that was Carmelo. You were the guiding force that we fucked over to make our trade balance work. On the one hand, we'd love to have you back. We have a starter-quality point in Andre Miller and a promising young guard in Ty Lawson, but with Miller aging, and the compressed season, it could work out quite well, actually...

CB: You know what, wow, that makes perfect sense. In that case, I would--

GK: It's too bad we're not even interested in you.

CB: Wait, but --

GK: Chauncey, I have to ask you to leave. We're really short on players, and I've been really busy getting everyone ready.

CB: Wait, I could be one of those players! That would be great!

GK: Do you really want it?

CB: Yes, actually. I'm a veteran presence, and my leadership would be perfe --

GK: Tell me what you want Chauncey, and I'll do my best.

CB: I just want a vet min contract, a stable place to stay and raise my family, and no hassles caused by goddamn superstars that think they're above the goddamn system. That's all I want.

GK: Absolutely not. Get out of my office. Try the Clippers. I'm sure they'll never trade you.

CB: Damnit! Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Trouble B-Roy

"I want to thank Paul Allen, Larry Miller, Coach McMillan, the entire Trail Blazers organization and our fans for all of their love and support during my time in Portland. It's been a great ride."

-- Brandon Roy

Lost amidst the turmoil over David Stern's erstwhile turn as owner of the Hornets and the wild free agency period we've been blessed with, Brandon Roy retired this weekend. I've spent a few days grappling with what this means for the league, and for me. To that end, I polled people on twitter today about their five favorite players. Explicitly left out Roy from my own list. Partly out of curiosity, partly to see if anyone would put Roy if I neglected to mention him. Much to my surprise, nobody did -- perhaps because to most people it seems he's been gone a long, long time. No longer Roy, there lies a ghostly crossover and the ever-fading image of the perfect fadeaway, an flickering image of the star once known as Brandon Roy. Maybe the real Brandon Roy died a long time ago. But it doesn't really matter whether you think Roy left his mortality behind long ago, or refused to believe his demise until he uttered the words I started the post with.

Let's take a few moments to reminisce over him, then.

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