Happy Memorial Day! Great to see you! So, now that you’re here, it’s time to attack: Do you ever think about instigators, or why a lot of people die unnecessarily? Did you see the BARRY finale? What do you fear the most, and why is it the mirror? Anyway, haha, *high five*, let’s honor some of what we thought were the dead, but they’re still living.
Jimmy Butler has fulfilled his mission and obligation as The Man for the Miami Heat. Via the way the game is played today, et cetera, he found himself at the foul line with three seconds to go, the exact three seconds and three shots he needed to close out the Boston Celtics and end any speculation that the best-positioned team in NBA history to recover from down 3-0 would do so. He nailed all three, Michelobs surely on the brain.
1, 2, 3…
At his core, he was a dancer. If Kobe was the Baryshnikov of his era, Carmelo Anthony was Albert Torres, engaging defenders at the elbow in a perpetual tango evoking their shared Puerto Rican roots. A step forward, a feint with his elbow, a half-pivot, then: gone, with the duck of his sweatband-adorned head. It was one of the seemingly endless ways Anthony could score; it didn’t look effortless, but, like a choreographed routine done right, it usually looked like he was having fun.
Except to older heads whose respect he ended up earning anyway, it doesn’t much matter that the biggest win of Carmelo Anthony’s career happened before he ever made it to the NBA. Everybody wants to win – of course – but winning was never the most interesting nor important thing about Anthony himself. On the day when the team that drafted him bounced the last team he played for from the playoffs, Anthony announced his retirement.
Prior to the penultimate round of the NBA playoffs kicking off, a matter of only negligibly less importance took place in Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center. Mere steps from the closest stop off the CTA’s green line, the future of the NBA began to reveal itself. Several sweaty executives, a handful of younger NBA players and the odd nostalgia act rolled in as representatives of the fourteen teams eligible for lottery picks in this offseason’s draft.
The prize at hand? What we’ve known for two years, at least, if not longer: French prospect Victor Wembenyama, a 7’3” stir-fry of Kevin Durant, Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony Davis, if the scouting reports and highlights are to be trusted. Behind him, Scoot Henderson, along with several other players of varying overt Christian influence. But Wemby was the target, even for the teams with barely 1% chance of getting him. Twenty years after LeBron James’ draft lottery, a prospect of perhaps even greater repute has entered the chat.
This past Christmas, I was in Oklahoma with my oldest, not older, brother, taking in several of the NBA games that were on TV. They were there at my request, but several of our fellow patrons got into it; suffice to say, we identified a Kobe Guy. Two days later we would be at Paycom watching a Thunder-Spurs game that you’ve already forgotten; I doubt we ever will.
For what ended up being my family’s ad hoc Christmas celebration three months later, we descended upon South Carolina, my parents once again hosting a St. Patrick’s Day party featuring a lot of people I don’t know that well. One of them, a New Jersey transplant and lapsed Knicks fan, unfortunately found herself in a conversation with me, all but yelling at her about Jalen Brunson.
A tied game becomes a different thing when you know the other team can hit their shots, and then they start hitting them. Against a Finals-proven (and Kevin Durant-aided) team like the Phoenix Suns, it is only so much more demoralizing to watch a ball clink-clank-clunk through the rim than it is to watch a swish, but the shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers experienced both on Tuesday evening.
In one of the more entertaining series of a wildly entertaining first round, the Clippers, already without Paul George, took it to the Suns in the two games featuring Kawhi Leonard, in which he scored over 34 points a game. It began to fall apart when Leonard’s knee reminded him of some pain. That pain, which we all felt with him, meant that the Clippers were in the hands of one man, at least to start.
I want to talk about Damian Lillard – I’ve wanted to talk about him for weeks now, in truth – but first, I want to talk about my year in AP Calculus, a class in which I had no business being. That may explain why I often tried not to be there until the last possible second, or created diversions while showing up late.
If you recognize the image above, you know what’s next.
Louisiana native Willis Reed set Walt Frazier up on his first date after arriving in New York City – that’s Walt Frazier, a guy who put out an entire book on the idea of cool. A few years in the league under his belt, Reed always roomed with rookies in order to show them the ropes. He stopped fights in practice because he knew this team had the juice – they did – if only they could smooth out the vast caverns that separated, say, Rhodes Scholar Bradley from rhyming dictionary scholar Frazier, nevermind whatever Phil Jackson was up to that was too weird even for the Knicks of the Age of Aquarius.
At some time between revolutionizing his position and casually accumulating scoring nights the likes of which would be almost any other player’s career highlight, Steph Curry re-inverted the basketball court. As singular as he is a shooter, playmaker and scorer, his exploits have influenced the way teams play, even beyond his own Golden State Warriors.
A hallmark of the Warriors dynasty – and, accordingly, a window into NBA team assembly prior to and during Golden State’s run – has been a lack of a dominant center in the traditional sense. Because the Warriors typically shoot more threes than any other type of shot and tend to eschew the midrange and rim, and because they have a nontraditional big man, Draymond Green, act as center in their most important lineups, the notion of a center in the Shaq or Hakeem mold never made sense for the Warriors; many other teams tried to follow the blueprint, to mixed results at best.
If Curry was the endpoint of the NBA’s first three-point revolution, he was also indirectly the catalyst for revitalizing the center position. Even as we are inundated with reminders that the NBA’s position classifications are antiquated and, in cases where contract bonuses are tied to honors and awards, harmful, they nevertheless remain useful as a contextual foundation for what a player could be on offense, a foundation, even if that doesn’t pan out: Luka and Giannis are point guards in the bodies of forwards; Russell Westbrook is essentially a tiny center; Karl-Anthony Towns is a massive, volume-scoring shooting guard.
Through this lens, no single player in today’s NBA represents the return of the center specifically better than two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic, whose pursuit of a threepeat this season has already taken shape. As his Denver Nuggets press for top playoff seeding in the Western Conference, Jokic, nominally a center, is among the league leaders in assists, something only Wilt Chamberlain has previously done as a center.
Not so fast – To focus on the “sudden” rush to the bottom for Victor Wembanyama and, especially after their recent matchup on national TV, Scoot Henderson is to overlook what lies directly before us this NBA season. In what was bound to be a year of questions surrounding contenders, we’ve returned to another slate full of them.
In any case, we return, steeled to run directly into the fire. Who knows what awaits this caravan? New stats, new players, a continuous flow of publicly-available scandals: it isn’t all here, but we’ll make do. Forget STOCKS, or AST:TO ratio. The new way to identify player efficacy is assists+steals+blocks divided by/turnovers. Get used to it, identify your new Point Gawd, and get ready for tip-off.