Some days I ponder why I sit around to watch, nay love, basketball so damn much. As humans we often go searching the soul for a deeper meaning, better understanding, or easily enough more perspective. “I sit before flowers hoping they will train me in the art of opening up,” writes quite a reflective Shane Koyczan in his poem The Student. There is no meaningful or beautiful phrasing for me to find in my search. In a way this search is attempting to figure out the ethos of the modern basketball player. If one understands their subject then one can explain, not just recite its definition. Instead of reasoning, maybe I focus intently on the game only to learn some moves to mimic in my driveway. Possibly I am just trying to project my ultimate fantasy upon players that seem to perform like I imagine I would as a super tall, coordinated, and skilled athlete. I see a skinny Kevin Durant, knifing through men thick as trees, reaching his arms into the rafters and softly rolling the ball off his fingertips for a basket. Witnessing this I wonder how could I not be drawn to this man? He who is able to ennoble himself to the highest of ranks despite appearing to be limited because of a frail looking body type. I learn merely one thing after watching Mr. Durant play, he simply loves to play basketball.
Shielded from much skepticism during his career, Kevin Durant has become a sort-of golden boy for the NBA and its followers. Could the reasoning be that he suffered a franchise crumbling and was uprooted to a tiny town filled with people who seem to be from an era much earlier than his? Maybe it is because he has hardly lets us down on and off the court. Though it just as easily may be that his tattoos were hidden beneath his jersey until he lifted it up too high and revealed them to us one day. The reason for my enjoyment of Kevin Durant is because of his body’s frame. Thin as one can be at nearly seven feet tall, he uses what is a common slight to similarly built players as a weapon instead. Seeing him in action is like seeing my recreational basketball glory transmitted on to the big screen. There is a tremendous list of things I would skip doing to watch Kevin Durant play basketball. Most obligations are secondary to seeing him perform on the hardwood, even the wondrous act of sex has taken a backseat to his silky jump shot. Something about watching him uncurl his too long to measure arm to lay in a ball while his body remains at the free throw line is incredible. Much like watching a chameleon lash out its tongue striking its unknowing prey from afar. The only difference is that every defender, even those sitting on the bench in track suits, have an eye on Durant. Often he looks at ease, as if he hasn’t been doing much work at all, then one look at the box score and you see he has an efficient double figure point total. It makes one ponder; just what kind of numbers he would put up if he was selfish, taking every shot he could get?
Well the world finally got some resolution to those wonders. Kevin could score, quite a lot in fact, and also pass and rebound in great quantities. However he could not push his team past the brink of elimination. His wide but thin shoulders were not enough to carry the load. Watching those playoff games where he was playing out of his normal, respective and fenced-in mindset was reminiscent of seeing LeBron James carry sorry upon sorry Cavalier teams to promised lands all for naught. Hyperbole can no longer be used to describe Kevin for now we have seen him for who and what he is. Maybe now there will be more critics saying “Ya but can he win you a title?” On the horizon there already are young guns poised to steal away Kevin’s most liked ball player trophy. However I will keep on watching and rooting for the Baltimore native. There is just too much joy I get by watching him score from impossible angles on the court.
If the NBA was more like a video game his hot-spot would be as soon as he stepped on the hardwood, crazily enough his real life percentages seem to confirm this. He was a part of the extremely exclusive 50-40-90 club (actual numbers were .510 FG% .416 3P% and .91% FT) while being the second leading scorer in the league last year. Those numbers stand for 50% for field goals 40% for three pointers and 90% for free throws. There are only five other players who have done that and none of them are the reigning MVP LeBron James. I mean his weakest shooting spots equate to league average percentages! How can that not be valuable enough to allow him to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy? Or at the least stand and smile with the Maurice Podoloff throphy?
Ahh! Right, LeBron James, the requisite model for a basketball player. From his body to his knowledge of the game to his work ethic and even to his presentation to the media, all picture perfect as if he were a robot made to rule the sport. Traditionally big men were needed to win a title, the NBA: Where wide bodies succeed. It makes a good amount of sense to, the court is like a stage and these giants fill it vertically as well as horizontally making themselves far easier to notice. The better players, the popular, talked about ones always seemed bigger than the other athletes. Well I should say that they seemed to encompass a space bigger than the average role player. There has been a subtle shift however, and now the short and the quick are the new plan to emulate. No cookie cutter can contain Kevin Durant though as he rewrites the rule book on his path to the top of the proverbial mountain. His shoulders are not as defined and angular as the King’s, maybe that is the reason why he can shimmy through big men and score in ways that even LeBron James has to shake his head at.
It can be easy to forget that KD is no longer a kid. He is by no means old, instead he is now an established, veteran man. He has been around enough to look back and reflect on his career. Maybe even he searches for a reason why he has this Goliath he cannot slay despite how many points he puts on the scoreboard. He has suffered heartbreak, from defeat in the playoffs also losing close teammates via trade and injury. Those types of things evoke change in oneself. There is something though that has yet to change, Kevin Durant still loves to play basketball. Sure he screams a little more and gets heated and has endorsement deals and interviews. Every summer he still goes out and plays, and he plays with a smile on his face. I think what I was searching for, in some ways, was Kevin Durant himself. A player who is able to bend the rules of the sport in his advantage, yet still play it pure of heart. He shows emotion when the referees make a call not to his liking, but refrains from the whining act many other players put on. It could be that he knows he is only putting his team in a tough spot on defense. Though I like to imagine it is because he realizes there is more basketball to be played, and the sport brings him great joy over petty fame and fortune.
To me basketball isn’t about accolades as much as it’s about the game itself. Be one of less frivolous stats or predictions and obtain some purity in a very, very un-pure world. Or in simple terms, enjoy the actual game. So when the new season starts to creep up and quotes and ideas pour out onto the internet about who will be rich and poor with basketball gold, shut it out. Each season is like a new album from a favorite band, they are altogether different and alike. There’s no sense determining who is worth what when everything is born anew. Most important is that the game needs to be witnessed.
According to a recent poll, 10% of Americans believe the world will end this year, most likely because of the Mayan calendar. Surely ten percent seems like a low number, to put it in perspective though, that is about 31,361,194 people. Now I am not in the camp of believing the world will end come December 12, however the pieces are starting to come together. Against the Indiana Pacers, after losing Chris Bosh and home court advantage in the series, the Heat kept up their pace (get it?) and went on to the Eastern Conference Finals. There they scraped with one of grimiest teams, the Boston Celtics, beating them after being pronounced dead by many a sports writer. The end may actually be nigh. The impending media frenzy about the Heat actually winning the Championship would seemingly cause a black hole or some other anomaly and wipe out civilization as we know it.
There are always two sides to a story however. Kevin Durant and company are knocking down doors they shouldn’t be opening yet. At least the old guard says that. Were I half the writer I act like, I would have already wrote an article discussing the youth being better and more prepared each year. This culture is too informed for anyone to not know wrong from right, so as long as the player has the talent and the will, they can be nearly as good as they want right away. The experience factor is lessening everyday by way of an information overload. The first team to beat the last three champions to reach the Finals, the Thunder are rolling as hard as possible right now. Although I absolutely adore this team, quite a lot of praise is being lavished on them. They do deserve it, but reducing this titan match-up to good vs. evil would be a travesty.
The accusations that the Heat don’t want to win is absolutely preposterous. Maybe it’s not the idea that they don’t want it, but the idea that their egos or brand is bigger than a title during the season, the Finals no less, is asinine. Every cat playing the game wants to win it all. Losing meaningless pickup games against competition that isn’t even on the same talent level as myself infuriates me. Admittedly some “ballers” just want to pick up checks or live the life, but that’s a select few, not superstars. Another theory out for the public to read and believe stating that OKC is the ultimate team and the Heat were bought together is somewhat bogus. Oklahoma City is a copy of the Heat, who are a copy of the Celtics, who copied someone else. They just fit better as a team and were drafted instead of free agents pick-ups. Arguably this is an advantage to the Thunder because rookie contracts are steals and this allows them to afford Kendrick Perkins and a few other good bench players. LBJ stayed seven years, Durant has only inked his first extension, things change, don’t fool yourself.
It’s as if people have forgotten LeBron carried worse to the Finals. He is about as close to a one man team as possible. To a Cleveland Cavaliers fan like me, James is that stunning ex girlfriend. The one girl you somehow get who is far too pretty and way too good for you. Able to keep her for a while, slowly you let yourself get used to her beauty and stop being a good partner. Finally you make your last mistake and she leaves, but how can you blame her? Whatever problems she caused are nothing to your taking her for granted. After some time passes you forget those little looks she has and when you see her you’re reminded of the good times and her beauty still affects you. That’s LeBron James to me, when I see him soar through a crowd and slam down a tomahawk dunk and start his shoulder shimmy before he hits the ground, I don’t feel bitter but man do I miss him.
Then there’s Durant, this skinny boy with long limbs looking like a stretch toy. He now dunks with ferocity, a feat that normal girthed humans don’t understand how scary it actually is. One wrong bump can send the man hurdling into photographers or a worse injury (knock on wood it never happens). In this league players are getting chiseled into muscular, marble sculptures, he is the wiry freak who uses length to his advantage. He has added a small layer of muscle and he flexes it, but what is hard to realize on the hi-def TV is his height. He is a seven footer (the NBA decides height by “in shoes”) he stands up taller than his big men despite what size they say each is. This makes his standard jump shot nearly unblockable. Seemingly, by his length and coordination, he is a constant mismatch to all. It takes just one look at him curving his endlessly long arm around some wide defender’s body and lay it in to notice just how that body frame helps him.
Now this series is about more than LBJ vs. KD, even though they are the top dogs. So there is Wade and his stubbornness on not developing a three-point shot, or at least finding a way to fit in better off ball. Russell Westbrook and his antics, while powerful and helpful, can still be more “get mine” than “pass to the top five player wearing the same jersey as me.” Harden has had a somewhat rough postseason, the barreling into traffic play isn’t working as well. Then Bosh comes back and has decided to shoot the three pointer like he has a respectable shooting percentage or something. But these are side-plots to what seems to be the main story. Due to how tired all the players must be, hunger should be a more prominent word to describe these Finals. Yes they are all hungry, but who is starving? These are two teams very evenly matched, playing fast styles. The pending factor could very well be who runs out of gas quicker. So with exhaustion a theme during this hyper-fast season, I question why does LeBron jump for the tip offs? There’s one less jump he has come the fourth quarter, no matter how much he seems to be like a cyborg. Alas nothing has happened yet, the Thunder did their job and protected home court, Miami played well, just not good enough. If anything this series should only be allowed to be seven stellar games. The lockout didn’t hurt the league, it hurt us fans. We deserve that, we are bloodthirsty, we want a battle.
When I write I like to take time to completely turn over a topic in my head. For sports writing this is a sin, a terrible mistake that causes any little notoriety I could receive and cuts it in half. People want instant reaction and the first article on the subject. In some cases my deeper thinking helps myself and could benefit others. Say for instance Metta World Peace. A vicious dunk in traffic in a meaningful, physical game after likely being fouled surely calls for one to celebrate. This celebration resulted in a seven game suspension, likely the entire first round of the playoffs, for Ron Artest. No one can argue the punishment, however most everyone has argued the intent or accident that caused the penalty.
I was watching the game live, multitasking as always, I looked up when the action stopped and saw James Harden on the ground and a lot of commotion. After a few seconds came the replay, not just one or two, but literally a dozen mixed up with different angles and slow-mo. If you haven’t seen here is the elbow in question.
Now those several frames do not show the whole story. Earlier in the game when Harden first checked in, he was going back on defense after a made basket and the camera followed him for a cut away. He trotted directly into his own player and gave said player a shove out of his way. Now I haven’t played anything near professional ball, but I play pickup often and occasionally a guy gets out of line and needs bumped. Yet watching that I thought to myself “Man if he did that to me he’d get a shove right back.” Well Harden did it again and got more than a shove in return. Now in pickup basketball as far as I can tell, if you do something stellar (that amps the onlookers or earns some props from the players) you have the right of way. Meaning you can do a celebration or a little trot or my favorite a chest bump and everyone takes it because you earned it. So technically Artest had the right to celebrate and Harden, unnecessarily, bumped into him instead of moving one easy step away. The chest pounding celebration has many variations, and Ron was doing a wild one, to himself. The bump starts the trouble, obviously the cocked back elbow ended it. That is the simplest conclusion and the most truthful.
Now because Harden initiated contact wouldn’t make him suspect-able for a fine or suspension. But he isn’t without fault here. Likewise while Artest didn’t look for the fight, after getting bodied up maybe you put the elbow away for a step or two away and don’t go MMA on the guy. Being honest I would say he didn’t know who it was and thought it was a taller player he would just give a hard elbow to in the shoulder. His denying of knowing there was someone there is very, well untrue. He even looks back afterward. Ron is smarter than to let this thing happen, but the whole game had been very physical and this may have just been one hit too many for him. I like Metta, he is an honest guy and even though I may not agree with him, honest answers are rare in sports. Yes he is a tad crazy and very aggressive on the court, but he has been a very good player. James Harden is a great player to watch and instead of trying to relate my feelings towards him, I’ll quote a Bethlehem Shoals article, for he wrote it better than myself.
“A word about Harden: Any lover of basketball for its beauty, creativity, and brilliance felt his heart sink when Harden went down. He’s having a model year, subtly bringing the Thunder together like that voluminous beard of his were that proverbial Lebowski rug, and his effortlessly versatile game is always a joy to behold.”
To conclude, this is just a mistake in the heat of an intense game. When people speak on how they miss the good old days when a foul was a foul, remember this is the result of that. Earlier on, Pau Gasol was posted up and received a terrible pass. With a defender on his back, I watched him reel in the pass with one arm and then resume to go to his post move. For that one or two seconds all of his concentration was on gathering the ball, then he snapped back to the situation at hand. Metta World Peace was in the moment, possibly a moment back home when he was younger and out on some local court playing pickup. He wanted his respect and his celebration and someone took it from him. He wanted to give them a little tap and let it be known he won’t take any trash. His wayward elbow was too hard and too high and clocked a relatively innocent player. He shouldn’t be demonized because of his past problems, he should be criticized for reliving past mistakes.
Monta Ellis is the epitome of underdog. Undersized, mispronounced name, inefficient, worse than Lou Williams. Doubters have plenty of molotov cocktails to chuck at his already burning heart. Yet for a small group he is the subject of pure affinity. A common man hero among many egotistical supermen, a constant all-star snub, able to match the toughness of Kobe Bryant while providing the flash of Dwayne Wade any night. A man capable of taking the last shot and able to make it. The Mississippi Bullet, damn well near the only honest nickname in the league, is an apt description.
A player with no Twitter or extravagant personality, who has kept (relative) distance from the headlines. A currently open harassment scandal, a mistake on a mo-ped causing a mired season, and a little restlessness with the management (about being constant trade bait and bringing in his replacement before giving him a shot at running the team), have been his only missed shots off the court. On the court is where he is seemingly embattled even more by public perception. A shot taker instead of a play maker with no will to play defense. He has only inflated stats due to a weird up-tempo system on a consistently terrible team and has a bad shooting percentage. Arguably lack of leadership and quality players is a major contributor to these claims against him. Don Nelson for too long encouraged lots of shots and little defense, playing with multiple D-League players, Monta was asked to take the bulk of the shots. Without many reliable teammates he had a hard time playing out of position as a distributor and has been a regular league leader in steals with a 1.7 SPG career average. A relentless attacker of the rim even while playing the most minutes per game in two of the last three years. Maybe he takes too many long twos, but he has a proficient midrange game along with an improved three ball. He shoots .465% for his career despite having to raise his shot attempts up by 5-7 more per game once becoming a starter. So maybe he wasn’t a true point guard or great defender but he was, still is, a true warrior able to hang with the big boys and make the shots needed to win games.
The perfect sleeper player, never an All-Star, only on TV for Top 10 plays and trade rumors. Unfortunately the reasoning behind that is because he was never a winner. Considerably capable of being a star yet he never reached those lofty reserved heights. This was a hard post to write because of the affinity I have for Monta, the player who’s spin move I try to emulate when I play. He was the Golden State Warriors as far as I am concerned, and it is satisfying to see a great number of posts reflecting love for him as opposed to animosity. As a pure basketball player Monta is easily one of the best pound for pound. He plays hard and gives his body to the game every night while completing incredible, nay, impossible maneuvers on the court. For some people that wasn’t enough, they wanted statistical proof that he was a good player. A shame when all they had to do was open their eyes and watch the man play his heart out…
Anthony Davis to see waxing specialist after season before he gets drafted first overall and becomes a bust.
Jordan Crawford, the human embodiement of a turtle, adopts two tortoises to make his first headline as a Wizard this season.
Antwan Jamison to win 8th consecutive Prettiest Eyes Award this year.
Kobe Bryant still hates everyone for not being as good as him.
Monta Ellis and David Lee signed up for a reality TV show where David follows Monta around, cleaning up his messes.
Jerry Stackhouse and Allen Iverson are still looking for their checks from being in the movie The Hunted.
Earlier this season Jeremy Lamb was at new found heights, draft stock-wise. Coming off a mostly dominate U-19 performance and posting the first dunk of the year candidate, his stock was unquestionably within the higher top ten. Of course then came tougher opponents and increased pressure on his shoulders, not only because of teams zeroing in on him, but because declining play of his fellow teammates. They seemed to fix that with Ryan Boatright getting his chance to shine, yet he was suspended again by the NCAA and the funk continued. Even now with Boatright back UConn is struggling to hit 70 and sometimes even 60 points a night and their defense just cannot contain teams below that threshold.
Before looking at what may be causing this recent problems let us first discuss what he was last year that made him such a great contributor. The first I saw of Jeremy was against one of the earlier matches in after the Maui tournament and I just happened to notice this long and lanky kid who moved so smooth. UConn was in a smaller lineup and had me thinking this #3 guy was a big man, then the starters returned and it was still hard to tell he was a wing player. His wingspan and length was incredible and he hit mid-range like no kid cares to do anymore. The thing more notable though was his defense and being one who appreciates those who play hard on that side of the ball, I continued to watch every Huskies game after and watched him develop. At first his three point shot seemed questionable but it was apparent after a few games he was just settling down in the college game and was able to stroke it consistently. He became the shooter to Kemba Walker’s driving, and after a while developed some nice moves to get to the rack himself. He mostly used a silky floater that he could get off without going in to the trees and avoiding contact. Despite his height, he was skinny and knew it, so he avoided contact and would go under screens on defense too. Normally this would be a problem but his length and smarts allowed him to still make the shot and contest those jumpers. His handles and moves were quite awkward but he had that herky-jerky movement that freezes defenders and allows one to get by them. On defense he was a terror causing obscure shots and deflected passes every game and was always able to rebound well with his gigantic wingspan. Seemingly every game he would get a steal, usually in a critical situation. He always played within himself, kept a calm demeanor, and was consistent. A perfect off guard prospect the only real complaints on him were mostly development based: get stronger, fight over the top of screens, run and shoot off of screens, clean up his handles and drive to the hoop more with contact.
Flash forward to now and this is a different Jeremy Lamb. His once automatic shot is off, his demeanor is the same but it is now a negative because he can’t seem to inspire his teammates. It seems that he relished playing the sidekick role rather than lead a team like he was asked to do this year. Maybe he is a leader, but he doesn’t look it. In college the best leaders always seem to be the exuberant kind, where they yell after and ones and the team feeds off that energy. That is what UConn did last year with Kemba, this year they are missing that and consistent point guard play period. Jim Calhoun praised them a bit too much earlier, likely to inspire confidence within them. This, however, is a team without a true identity. Shabazz Napier was playing out of his mind early on, now he starts some games on the bench. Ryan Boatright seems cut from the Kemba mold but he is still too green and too wild to lead the group. This lack of a running mate likely has affected Jeremy and made him less consistent. He tries to be the man rather than play his part like he was able to do last year. While he drives to the basket more now, they aren’t always good attempts. He seems to have forgotten his floater or is just determined to go deep in to the defensive bigs and it isn’t working. Fouls in college seem to fluctuate, but mostly are harder to draw than in the NBA in my eyes. He also has been working off screens more this year, but to little effect. First they are quite predictable, either he runs them incorrectly or they are easy to figure out, he also doesn’t run hard off of them. Secondly he seems less comfortable shooting off of movement, he maybe more of a spot-up shooter and needs to develop more using screens and shooting. The aforementioned drives to the hoop feature bad shot selection and yet it isn’t as shocking as his normal shot selection has become. I have seen players who shoot only threes and players who are volume shooters, but the sheer amount of threes Lamb throws up in a night leaves you dumbfounded. Quite a few of them come from extremely deep or with a hand in his face as well. He obviously has the green light and when his drives don’t work or he doesn’t get free from the screens he just shoots the deep ball. Worse yet is how poor his shooting percentage on them has been recently.
Now all of these problems are fixable over time. In the grander scheme of things this shouldn’t make him any less of a pro prospect. Maybe he is no franchise savior, but he still is a prototypical shooting guard with bounds of potential. He is a reported hard worker and seems to know the game despite his problems this year. I would expect him to make a better pro on a team where there is a star or bigger name than himself. Also I expect him to return to form this year before he makes himself a fringe first rounder (although that might help the Cavs chances of getting him). One thing I would like to see the coaches have him do is run some pick and roll with Andre Drummond. If he can handle the ball and see the court well enough doing that, it would cause teams to pick their poison as Drummond is a man-child. If he got easy looks from defenders hedging towards Lamb he would become more like the Amare Stoudemire comparison he has received, hopefully boosting his confidence and playing more aggressive. It is also possible that he is tired or hurt after playing so much more this year than probably he’s ever played before.
Whatever the reasons behind this slump, after watching him last year, it is easy to say this isn’t what to expect from him. Hopefully this Huskies team still has some fight left in them and figures out how to play to their strengths before they fall in to the dreaded NIT. Even more wishful thinking would have me hoping Jeremy Lamb ends up on team where he can play with another “leading” player on the wing. If only so he can complement them and receive easy looks while developing his own style of play with driving floaters, smooth mid-range of off screens, critical steals leading to breakaway dunks, and dagger three pointers to win games.