Remember how we had that one series, a long time ago, where we'd entreat our writers to scribe short vignettes on the previous night's games? This is that series, only it appears once in a blue moon and often has little to do with the games of the previous night. As always, the vignettes may not always be tactful, tacit, or terse -- they'll always be under a thousand words, though, and generally attempt to work through a question, an observation, or a feeling. Today's short pieces are as follows.
- CHI at CLE: Gothic Ginobili goes Wojnarowski, Part I (by Aaron McGuire)
- OKC at SAS: Gothic Ginobili goes Wojnarowski, Part II (by Aaron McGuire)
- POR at OKC: Durant's New Wrinkle (by Jacob Harmon)
Read on after the jump.
• • •
CHI/CLE: Gothic Ginobili goes Wojnarowski, Part I
When this game began, my intention was to use it as a springboard to talk about all the things Cleveland did wrong. That was the goal, anyway. As most of you know, I do have some allegiances with Cleveland sports, and I figured that a midseason tilt against the blown-to-pieces Bulls as the Cavs chase their playoff spot would be a good game to use as a "what's wrong, what's right, what's awry, what's on rye" type of post. The answers, in short: everything, nothing, most things, ham. That's pretty much all one needs to say. After watching this depressing, depressing game, there wasn't much point in rehashing it, and there isn't much point in belaboring said point. The Cleveland Cavaliers are a bad basketball team that's only still in the picture because the equal-opportunity east has seen fit to keep them there. That's about all there is to it.
But I'm not one to shy away from writing even when there's little to say. My plan today is simple. Going forward, Gothic Ginobili will no longer be only a place to get weird sporadically dropped basketball analysis written by even weirder people. It will no longer be exclusively a place to find stories about Richard Jefferson and Tim Toms Merlin Dunkman (sic). No, we will now also be the finest scoop-finding journalistic love story in the entire industry. Some people look at scoops and say "why?" I look at scoops that never were and ask "why not?" That's our new brand, our new strategy, our new raison d'être. To start us off, I'm going to make all of my sources really happy and maliciously leak random documents I've gotten a hold of in recent months. I'm taking the classic pick-up artist strategy towards scoops -- if I act like a unconscionable prick to every source I have, they'll all come back to give me more scoops and soon I'll be buried in scoops so deep I can't "scoop" my way out.
Anyway, today's leaked document is an internal scouting report from the Cleveland Cavaliers. This one is on a player nobody even realized they were working out, mostly on account of him not actually being a real person. This exclusive report represents the summary of all Cleveland's attempts to work out NBA journeyman Dexter Douglas. You may not recognize this name. This is because he is most often known by his superhero alias, star of the mid-90s superhero cartoon "Freakazoid." Evidently, cartoon characters age differently than normal human beings, as Douglas only aged 4 years from the cancellation of Freakazoid in 1997 to his workout earlier this week with Cleveland. He is currently engaged in a riveting internal debate as to whether he should declare for the NBA draft or continue leading the team for the top team in Division IV basketball, the West Virginia Clown College "Eucalyptus Trees." (Fantastic mascot, guys.) Well, Dexter, let's see if this maliciously leaked scouting report helps you make a decision.
CHRIS GRANT'S SUPER-PRIVATE NOTEBOOK OF PRIVATE THOUGHTS, JANUARY 22th 2014
I am a very big fan of gourds.
Whoops, sorry, wrong leak.
CHRIS GRANT'S SUPER-PRIVATE NOTEBOOK OF PRIVATE SCOUTING REPORTS, JANUARY 22th 2014
10:05 AM -- Dexter "Freakazoid" Douglas has not arrived yet. We scheduled his workout for 9:30 AM, but he DID warn us that he often sleeps in and would have trouble commuting from West Virginia to Cleveland in a single morning, especially since he'd be up late studying for his juggling midterm. So I guess that's fair. Dan is pacing around frantically. When I tried to calm him, he snapped at me, yelling about how we're on the clock for last year's #1 pick and that he wasn't even sure Stern would accept it if we turned our pick in this late. I don't have the heart to tell him.
10:23 AM -- Dexter Douglas is in the building. Somehow, he showed up in his bed, still sleeping -- when we tried to wake him, his hair slapped our hands out of the way. Dan and I agree that this ability shows great promise for his court awareness, although I admit that Dan is more open than I am to the idea of playing basketball games while every single player on the court is asleep.
10:47 AM -- He woke up shortly after my last entry. He was very apologetic -- apparently, he often flashes to random locations when asleep, and he was having a dream about being a Cleveland Cavalier. We decided to start him off on some easy stuff and do some combine tests and measurements. First discovery -- Douglas is 6'10". Sort of a tweener, a la Anthony Randolph. His wingspan is 7'0", which is good as well. The big issue we ran into when doing measurements was that because he's completely flat he doesn't technically have any weight. He can still hold onto things and apply pressure, but he doesn't actually weigh anything. Big knock on his screen setting ability, but since Dan once saw Mo Williams set a good screen, he's convinced Douglas can set good ones. I'm dubious.
11:43 AM -- We decided to start his drills off with a simple shooting test. For this classic Cavaliers scouting test, we cover the floor in "Twister" boards then yell out colors, forcing the prospect to sidestep dribble to that color and keep shooting until he makes the shot. Over the course of 30 minutes or so, this becomes incredibly exhausting, but it gives you a good sense of how the player adapts to shooting off the dribble. Also, Dan likes Twister. A lot. In this case, though, this probably was a poor choice for a drill -- Douglas could NOT stop playing Twister, and kept trying to get shots off WHILE playing Twister, which is a skill that has literally no NBA value whatsoever. He made a few, mind you, mostly when he did this weird move where he headbutted it to get the shot moving then slapped it with his hair for the follow-through Dan was enthralled, again, but I am not feeling great about this session.
12:23 PM -- Just finished a few passing drills. These were inconclusive. Every once in a while Douglas would break out some crazy pass we hadn't seen in this practice gym since LeBron was in wine and gold. Some next-level court vision, that sort of thing. But then he'd intermittently just pass the ball through the ceiling, literally breaking pipes and destroying plaster with the speed of his passes. Once, he actually passed the ball THROUGH the backboard, where it bounced back around and landed softly in the ballboy's lap. Dan was very impressed, but I mean, the ballboy was out of bounds, that would've been a turnover in an actual NBA situation. Come on. Get real.
12:49 PM -- I don't really think Douglas understands what we mean when we say "screen" drill. He keeps changing his clothes into the outfit Nic Cage wore in Face/Off and reenacting one of Cage's Travolta scenes. This is even more confusing than it sounds on paper.
1:52 PM -- We finally decided to simply axe the solo drills and try some one-on-one drills, bringing the team in for some burn with Douglas. I don't really know if this was a success or a failure. In the one-on-one game, Douglas got to show off one of the more interesting parts of his game, a completely unpredictable first step. I mean, seriously. Kyrie is bad at defense, but I'm not entirely sure how anyone is supposed to defend someone who can apparently move vertically as well as horizontally. Unfortunately, this unpredictable first step usually leads to more unpredictable steps thereafter, and I have no idea how Mike can work that into his always-completely-predictable offense. Can he, even? Dunno. Major philosophical question. Will need to consider this deeply. But I also think the refs will probably call a travel if Douglas continues to carry the ball after rising into the air with no feet touching the court. Just a suspicion of mine.
2:32 PM -- After the one-on-one game, we decided to finally simulate a full five-on-five game with Douglas subbing in on our "wine" team for Alonzo Gee. The wine team lost by 45 points, which is actually better than usual, given that the wine team is usually composed of Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev, Alonzo Gee, Tyler Zeller, and Anthony Bennett. The practice team designations are drawn at the beginning of the year and never changed, per team policy. Due to this, our "wine" team practice squad loses every practice game by roughly 70 points, which is actually pretty impressive given that we usually play "first team to 70." I keep telling Mike and Dan that this practice team thing completely defeats the purpose of practice teams and probably is completely destroying everyone's confidence, but Dan won't hear it and Mike's too busy chewing tobacco to hear me. (It's really loud. I wish he'd stop.)
2:46 PM -- Oh, wait, I didn't actually talk about Douglas's performance. Well, Douglas was better than Gee, but he also caused more than his fair share of errors. For whatever reason, whenever he received the ball to handle it, he would just dribble in ever-expanding concentric circles until he migrated out of bounds, at which point he would produce a trumpet and do a solo. It was fun, but it also meant he finished a 30 minute practice game with 15 turnovers, which is just insane. He also has an incredibly strange understanding of how dunks and three pointers work. Whenever he caught the ball in the paint, he'd backflip from the paint to the corner beyond the three point arc and whip the ball up in the air. He actually made all his corner threes taken like that, although most of them bounced off something else before going in the basket. Conversely, whenever he got the ball outside the free throw line, he'd jump as high as he could (which, let's be fair, is REALLY HIGH -- big advantage to not weighing anything whatsoever, will have to keep this in mind for future scouting reports) and slam the ball down with abandon. Very entertaining, but your offense can only make up for so much when you turn the ball over once every two minutes in a practice game against one of the worst defensive practice teams ever. He also had a strange understanding of defense, choosing to simply wave his hands in the air and make funny faces in an effort to distract his man. Funny enough, this actually worked on Anderson Varejao, because he thought he was looking in a mirror and started trying to check out his teeth. At that point, Douglas stole the ball and ran for a breakaway dunk, but apparently forgot what he was doing because he simply ran straight past the stanchion and through the wall with the ball. Heh, funny enough, we're actually still waiting for him to come back.
4:32 PM -- Still waiting.
7:55 PM -- Man, I liked that ball.
9:34 PM -- Well, the team is playing tonight's game now, so it's time to cut our losses and stop waiting for Douglas to come back with our ball. Dan and I both agree that Douglas has a lot of potential if he cuts down on the turnovers and learns to stop traveling so much. He has some attitude issues, but I mean... we just dealt with Andrew Bynum, right? I was going to slot him in at 15th on our draft board, but then I let slip that he used to be on a cartoon show, and Dan gave an executive order to slot at first. I knew I shouldn't have told him that...
Dexter Douglas: first pick in the 2014 NBA draft. You heard it here first, folks.
• • •
OKC/SAS: Gothic Ginobili goes Wojnarowski, Part II
Oh, but you thought Cleveland would be the only team to face my "leaking important scouting reports" wrath? No. Wrong. Incorrect. The Spurs are a good team that plays like a crummy one when playing other good teams, Kawhi Leonard was injured, and grumbles encase my heart like Han Solo's carbonite face. So I will also leak San Antonio's scouting report of Dexter "Freakazoid" Douglas, as secretly went to work out with the Spurs as well. Aaron McGuire: Your Man With The Important Scoops, forever. The Spurs have a much more succinct, efficient, and organized style of scouting reports -- it was on a printed form sheet not unlike an SAT answer key.
POSITIVES: Quicker than Tony, can literally jump out of a building, can pass with his hair.
NEGATIVES: Wears underwear outside his pants.
FINAL VERDICT: No.
The sheet is slightly crumpled, as though it was passed between two people a dozen times. There is a conversation in the margins:
"...That's it? Come on! He's young talent! He'd fit well with Leonard and Splitter!"
"He wears underwear outside his pants."
"Pop, this is a new age in the NBA! You can work with this!"
"He wears underwear outside his pants."
"Pop, Stephen Jackson did that."
"Stephen Jackson got cut."
• • •
POR/OKC: Durant's New Wrinkle
NOTE: This was written before last night's game between OKC and SAS.
Going into the fourth quarter, I honestly can't say I expected the Thunder to win this game in Oklahoma City. I didn't agree with the odds-makers that put the Thunder as a 6.5+ favorite going into it either. I've seen the Blazers (and particularly LaMarcus Aldridge) knock down big shots in flurries on the sporadically porous Thunder defense twice this year, and even midway through the fourth quarter, nothing in particular made me expect the outcome I received.
Maybe I should start trusting Kevin Durant a little bit more. Most people have noticed KD's relentless improvement of his all-around game; they've noticed the tightening of his handle, his increasingly elite court vision. People are even starting to acknowledge his prodigious skill as a defensive player (a dimension that isn't new this year, and went frustratingly overlooked the past two seasons). But the improvement I saw Durant display in the fourth quarter of this game was the most viscerally exciting of them all: the collected poise of "Angry Durant."
It's not the first time I've seen Angry Durant in some incarnation. He racked up a career-high in technicals last season, barking at the referees and opponents alike. And there's the whole "#NotNice" campaign. But this incarnation of Angry Durant was fundamentally different. When he felt the referees missed a call in the fourth quarter, he slammed the scorer's table with all his might. His protest of "That was bull****! ****!" was more than audible on the commentator's microphones. He looked pissed off, rattled, and generally aggravated. After an animated discussion with the concerned referee (during which I anxiously awaited the seemingly imminent second technical), Durant re-entered the game with a visibly steely resolve.
As you may know, he didn't miss again. Opening up the throttle with a furious lay-up and following it up with a barrage of contested 3-point bombs, Durant scored 11 points in a little over 3 minutes. That was the game. This was Angry Durant like I've only seen flashes of, the Durant that responds to frustration with defiant focus, extending the upper limits of his already immense talent. This is a Kevin Durant who, facing adversity in a close game with an elite division rival, responds by grabbing another gear. His crunch-time play in the early days of 2014 has been almost sneering in its dominance.
Every night won't be like this. KD has never been quite this hot, and it's hard to deny he's a better player than he ever has been... but there will be adversity for the Thunder in the coming months, with Westbrook still out for a while. LeBron James is not likely to relinquish the MVP to him lightly, and the narrative which now elevates Durant to such heights will just as quickly tear him down if he goes cold next Thursday in Miami. Which, let's be real -- it isn't out of the question. It never is.
Still, in the uncertainty of Westbrook's absence and the inconsistency of this Thunder team's very young supporting cast, KD has validated everything I've ever thought that he was. His ever-improving game and night-to-night effort has been a ray of sunshine in what initially figured to be a particularly dark winter for Thunder fans in Westbrook's absence. So whatever the outcome is when the summertime comes, I'll enjoy every one of these moments spent in the sun.
Final Score: 97-105, OKC.