You have to guard him close, you have to play him tough and we did that… But, I mean, we’re just human. He’s not.
So… this is about late capitalism?
Suns forward Michael Beasley, after missing two of his first free-throw attempts off the side of the rim, walked down the lane, stared up at the iron and shook his head. “I had to scare the gremlins away,” he said. “Those gremlins are always messing with me.
How can we know the Kansas dancer from the Kansas dance?
Usually, when we win we jump up once or twice in the locker room. Tonight we let them jump up and down three or four times. We let them have their fill…
We got a new universe coming and he’s going to control all our universes. We’re going to put our universes together.
It’s a grand day in the wider Chicagoland area: Taj Gibson has signed on for 4 more years at between $34 and $39 million total.
But there’s nothing awkward about this extension, which was reached just minutes before the October 31st midnight deadline. According to Nick Friedell at ESPN Chitown4eva, the Mahal’s teammates couldn’t be happier.
The news of Gibson’s agreement spread quickly in the locker room. Carlos Boozer screamed that Gibson was buying the whole team steaks. As Gibson entered the doorway into the shower area, Joakim Noah exclaimed, “WUUUUUU!” given that Gibson is affectionately known by his teammates as Tajy Wu. The joy over the news Gibson finally had gotten paid was palpable.
“I’m happy, man,” Noah said. “That’s my young boy. Taj is my young boy. … I’m really happy. It’s very well deserved. I see Taj’s grind every day. And I know how much he fights every night to represent for the Bulls. That’s just the icing on the cake. I’ve been through it so I know it’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s a very stressful situation, too, because a lot of people are telling you what you should do, what you shouldn’t do.”
Tajy-wu? Tajy WUUUUUU?? Now that’s affection incarnate.
Which begs the question, does this make the Bulls the anti-Thunder? They convinced Taj to sign for slightly less than he’d get elsewhere, they still have their locker-room camaraderie, they apparently like red meat as much as your average Oklahoman, and… they’ll probably end up amnestitizing Carlos Boozer sometime during the next 2-3 years, which is what OKC should’ve already done to Kendrick Perkins.
Then again, maybe this extension will allow Taj to relax and play better which will put pressure on Carlos to work hard to retain the starting PF spot. Oh wait, that’s just the booze talking.
Also of note: Joakim Noah is exactly 4 months older than Taj, his “young boy.” Way to be, old man Yokeem.
Could Dwight head to Texas in 2013?
Could CP3 go back to New Orleans?
There’s at least one guy who might have something to say about all that.
Oklahoma City just dealt James Harden to Houston. The Thunder pulled in an impressive haul, despite the setback: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-rounders (one of which comes from Toronto and should be in the #4-#14 range), and a second-rounder. What’s the impact?
In the wake of this out-of-the-blue/red-and-into-the-black trade, most folks are talking about the short-term: good for Houston who are now a long-shot to make the playoffs. Minor setback for OKC whose chances of winning the title are down a few percent.
Everyone else is talking about the long-term: great for OKC who gains flexibility, avoids the repeat tax, and has some promising pieces (the Veal, the Toronto pick). Mixed for Houston because they’re committing a lot of dough to Harden who will sign for a max, like, right now; Asik who the Bulls are anxiously watching from afar to see how much he’s actually worth as a starter; and Lin, ditto for NYK.*
Nobody is talking about the all important middle-term. How does this effect the next two off-seasons, summer 2013 and summer 2014? First and foremost, it sets up Houston as a hugely desirable place to play. Why’s that?
• You get to play with a solid young PG with huge marketing potential in J-Lin.
• You get to play with one of the most well-liked dudes in the NBA in The Beard.
• You get to play with one of the hardest-working young defensive-minded centers in Asik.
• Bonus: Donatas Motiejunas on the rise.
• You get to play with… Chandler Parsons.
• And, most importantly, you can sign for a max contract because Morey has cap room.
Dwight Howard has supposedly made it clear he never-nurver wants to play in Houston. But if the Lakers struggle to mesh this season and he refuses to re-sign in the wake of various interpersonal and on-court disasters, then Houston might look like a pretty swell retreat. Same goes for Dallas.
And there are far less speculative possibilities out there for the Rockets. Who else is a free agent in summer 2013? After Dwight, there’s Chris Paul. Then there’s Andrew Bynum, Josh Smith, and Steph Curry.
While Paul doesn’t make nearly as much sense in Houston (they’d likely have to trade Lin for a SF), it’s hard not to see him and Harden getting along.
Seemingly wackier but actually far more realistic, if the Clippers turn out to be a disaster this season—with Vinny faking his way “at the helm,” a roster-full of wings bickering over minutes, and no one to play defense (not even Reggie Evans)—well, Paul might just opt out and survey his options. In addition to Houston, what’s his best bet? Join LBJ and make an acronym sandwich?
He should go back to New Orleans. Join Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and A-F Aminu to make what would arguably be the most balanced starting five in the league. Wouldn’t that be something? He left New Orleans in a relatively classy manner, has maintained connections there, and would be greeted as a hero returning to make good. You heard it hear first: CP3 to New Orleans in 2013. Give it a solid 3.6% chance.
Even less speculatively than that, what about the massive cohort of free agents set to be on the table in summer 2014? Tons of talent could move that summer. Just the SF position alone—with James, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, and Danny Granger—will force ESPN to hire additional staff to churn out trade-spec pieces.
In any case, Houston will be extremely well positioned to draw interest from the talent pool that opens to the public the next two summers. And you gotta believe Daryl Morey has a few more tricks up his protractor. Should be interesting.
*What are the ethics of rooting for/against a player your hometown team decides not to re-sign/overpay? Do I root for Asik to prove how stupid the Bulls front office is and because I love the lovable goof? Or, short of praying for him to fail, do I root against him hoping that the Bulls made a smart future-oriented decision?)
You’re watching a basketball game and a spectacular player makes a spectacular play, but it’s a play of a peculiar kind. It’s quick, apparently minor, and highly unusual.
The self-pass off the backboard, developed most thoroughly by Kobe Bryant, is one kind of “haq”: a play so quirky that its specifics barely register on our radar. Sure, the announcers exclaim acclaim. They tell us it was a fabulous play, a heads-up play, a phenomenal play. They speak the truth, but they also leave something out, and collectively we fail to stop and unpack the details because the details themselves are so unfamiliar they don’t quite fit into any of the frameworks we have for talking about basketball or even “good basketball.” So, we move on.
Then, it happens again.
Then, a couple weeks later you’re in front of your laptop or TV again, watching another game, this time college hoops. There’s, say, 6 minutes left in a reasonably tight game, so you’re paying pretty close attention when all of a sudden it happens again. “Wait. I just saw that last week! Where have I see that??” You’re right. You did just see that. Harrison Barnes just tried something really weird, but it was the same really weird thing that LeBron James did a few weeks back. James’s self-pass was mostly successful whereas Barnes’s was mostly not, but that’s beside the point; the strange thing is the similarity.
Let’s be more specific. Kobe begins incorporating the self-pass-off-backboard haq into his game in 2008. LBJ tries it against the Indiana Pacers on February 15, 2011. Then Harrison Barnes takes a stab at it in March of that same year (2011). Henry Abbott has actually discussed this exact chain of influence, but it’s far from the only example.
Consider Dwayne Wade’s astounding out-of-bounds save off an opponent on January 11, 2012 against the Los Angeles Clippers. (I’ve already typed about the questionable legality of this particular move.)
Guess what? Harrison Barnes does the exact same thing against Kansas in the Elite Eight game on March 25, 2012. He makes an incredible save by shunting the ball off the body of Thomas Robinson as the two are flying out of bounds. Clearly this kind of play, in general, is far more common than the self-pass-off-backboard, but the specific sequence here is eerily similar to Wade’s save off of DeAndre Jordan.
What we have here, is the revelation of the Harrison Barnes Dream Team Meme Machine. In both instances, Barnes takes up a small but extremely unique play less than 12 weeks after a highly visible NBA player (James, Wade) performed it on television (NBATV, ESPN). It’s almost as if Barnes is quoting James and Wade.
Of course, these were all in-game situations. Barnes is reacting quickly and (half-) intuitively to the contours of the current situation. That said, it’s hard not to believe that he saw the earlier instances. Both games were televised. The LeBron play was aired over and over on SportsCenter. The Wade play at least made it into the recap. In all likelihood, Barnes watched these plays. Did he study them? Did he rehearse them? I have no idea. What we do know is that he imbibed them. They became part of his potential repertoire, which is pretty incredible when you think about it… Barnes sees a completely novel but just-as-completely intuitive and specific play made by one of the best basketball players, and athletes, in the world. Then he effectively puts that play to use during in-game situations. Then he does it again!
Does that tell us anything about his upside as an NBA player? Jay Casian King’s March 2012 piece on Barnes-as-bust was intriguing. Solid writing, great insight. But it’s hard not to think that Barnes’s stock has fallen too quickly. Isn’t a young, developing wing player supposed to struggle when his PG goes down with an injury? Barnes has instincts, he likes The Moment, and he can shoot. He was a steal at #7 in the draft; he’ll be a solid starter, maybe a regular all-star. The trick is that we already know it’s not enough just to imitate how you think an NBA player should talk and act. Just “saying the right things,” talking about “hard work” and “winning” and “love of the game,” isn’t enough. You need to be good, and you need to work hard more than you talk about working hard. But what about imitating how an NBA player plays? That’s a good thing, right? The fact that Barnes is practicing—quite obviously and quite specifically—the old-fashioned art of mimicry is a positive sign, yes? Maybe, maybe not. If he’s doing it because he’s got a great feel for the game and/or because he’s a pure student of the game, then great. That’s a fantastic sign. However, something about the specificity of these plays—and their wide circulation via the ESPN matrix—makes his mimicry a tad creepy. It’s too specific. Too discrete. He saw these phenomenally peculiar moments, digested them, and then spat them back out on national television (where he first encountered them). That creepy specificity signals some of the same concerns that his interview in the Atlantic did: the focus on his brand, the focus on being more than a basketball player, the business-speak.
At the very least, though, Barnes’s reasonably successful imitation of these two difficult haqs, one by James (via Kobe) and one by Wade, demonstrates that he pays attention to what’s currently happening in the game and is capable of replicating it. He’s able to extract, dissect, and clone micro-moments from the continuous flow of the NBA gestalt. Surely that kind of technique- or skill-based imitation is more substantive than a mere meme.
But if copying is a crucial component of learning, it’s tempting to insist that making something you’ve copied “your own”—something Barnes obviously hasn’t done yet—is one of the necessary steps toward becoming a genius in any field. These haqs, then, call attention to the fine line between learning a technique and spreading a fad. I’m fascinated by Barnes not so much as a basketball player or a person but as a learner: will he end up being a true student of the game and maximize his potential, or will he reveal himself as a sort of cipher, excellent at mimicry and acquisition but lacking the ability to transform what he copies and acquires into a new whole? Barnes already knows how to seem like an all-time great. Is there any chance he becomes one? Or are these the wrong questions and is there in fact no meaningful difference between technique and meme, seeming and being, genuine learning and pure mimicry?
Only the 2012-13 NBA season can answer those kinds of questions.
Yep, the numbers came in as expected.
There were 4 upsets total in the 2012 playoffs: Sixers over Bulls, Clippers over Grizzlies, the Thunder over the Spurs, and the Heat over the Thunder (OKC had a better regular season record). Regular upsets by round: 2 + 0 + 1 + 1 = 4.
There was 1 “big” upset, which is defined as occurring when (highseed loser) - (lowseed winner) > 2. The Bulls loss to the Sixers, under difficult circumstances, was the only such upset. Big upsets by round: 1 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 1.
Those numbers coincide almost exactly with what we’ve seen over the past 14 seasons. The average, from 1999 thru 2011, was 3.92 upsets and 1.15 big upsets per playoffs. The new averages, including 2012, are 3.93 and 1.14.
In 1999, the other lockout season, there were 4 upsets but all 4 were big. This past season things went even more smoothly: neither was the number of upsets out of line with the historical average nor was there was an unusual jump in the number of big upsets.
Upsets are by definition unexpected, but there’s seems to be a relatively consistent pattern to their frequency, even when we try our best to screw things up by cutting 20-30 games from the regular season. Order in chaos, and all that.
In my dream-world, the Miami Heat would lose both the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals. Sadly that’s not possible. They have, however, just lost two (nearly three) games in a row to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, and it’s curious that they’re struggling so much, particularly in the first half of these games.
The question, then, is what lineups should they be running: Who should be starting in order to keep them from falling down by double digits in the first quarter? I think they need to get Bosh on the floor, even if he’s not 100%, and they need to try James at center for 10-15 minutes. Something like this would seem advisable:
Starting Lineup: Chalmers, Wade, James, Bosh, Haslem.
First Substitution: Chalmers, Wade, Jones, Bosh, James (at center).
Second Substitution: Cole, Miller, Battier, James, Bosh.
Third Substitution: Chalmers, Wade, James, Haslem, Anthony.
The obvious answer is yes.
The faux-nuanced answer is Fewer than in college hoops.
The precise answer is 3.92.
Yep, there are approximately 4 upsets per year in NBA playoff series. Over the past 13 seasons, from 1998-99 through 2010-11, lower seeds advanced an average of 3.9 times per season. (That includes instances where the Finals were won by the away team.) The range of upsets runs from 1 to 5 per year. In eight of the years there were exactly 4. In 2002 there were 3 and in 2008 only 1. The maximum of 5 glorious upsets was reached in 2006, 2007, and 2011.
This is a small sample size. I’ve only looked at seasons since (and including) the previous lockout. And there are only 15 playoff series per year: 8 first round, 4 second round, 2 conference finals, 1 NBA finals.
That said, the data is interesting because it suggests that the ESPN Playoff Simulations are not quite hitting the mark.
Here’s my crude—borderline infantile—data.
NBA PLAYOFFS UPSETS
2011 (mavs, 1): 2+1+1+1 = 5
2010 (lakers, 2): 2+1+1+0 = 4
2009 (lakers, 1): 2+1+1+0 = 4
2008 (celtics, 0): 0+1+0+0 = 1
2007* (spurs, 2): 3+1+1+0 = 5
2006 (heat, 2): 1+1+2+1 = 5
2005 (spurs, 1): 2+0+2+0 = 4
2004 (pistons, 0): 0+1+2+1 = 4
2003 (spurs, 1): 2+1+1+0 = 4
2002 (lakers, 0): 0+2+1+0 = 3
2001 (lakers, 1): 3+0+1+0 = 4
2000 (lakers, 0): 2+2+0+0 = 4
1999** (spurs, 4): 2+1+1+0 = 4
1999-2011 (15): 21+13+14+3 = 51
2000-2011 (11): 19+12+13+3 = 47
number of seasons = 13 (12 without lockout)
average upsets per season = 3.923 (3.917 without 1999) = 3.9
average “big” upsets per season = 1.15 (0.92 without 1999)
range of upsets = from 1 to 5 inclusive (same without 1999)
range of “big” upsets = from 0 to 4 inclusive (from 0 to 2 without 1999)
team in parentheses = nba champ
# in parentheses = “big” upsets in which (highseedloser – lowseedwinner) > 2
* = years in which home-court and seeding did not correlate
** = years in which regular season ≠ 82 games
If this resembles something like the “real” story of upsets in the playoffs over the last decade or so, then the “simulated” version is a bit more variable. The Celtics-hating ESPN Playoff Predictor has three options: Current Standings, Hollinger, and AccuScore. The initial seedings for these three options are very similar in the East (Hollinger has the Hawks and the Pacers flipped). They vary much more in the West, which makes sense.
Here’s the single most believable simulation result I received while playing around with the site for a couple (gulp) hours. I’m a Bulls fan born on the South Side so this makes my skin crawl, but it’s undeniably a safe, convincing bracket.
You see? Four upsets! Looks just about right, give or take .08. But most of the time things look much weirder in this simulated world. You get Philly in the Finals. You get the Clippers taking out OKC over and over again. More than you would expect. More than seems “right” according to my “statistical intuition.” Basically, it seems like ESPN is giving us more simulated upsets than we can rightfully expect. More than we can expect in the real world with its solid, predictable NBA and its grueling but outrageously fair 7-game series.
To check this, I ran the simulator 13 times under each of the three options. I chose 13 because that’s the number of real seasons of I counted up initially. Then, just for kicks I ran Hollinger through a second trial (i.e. 13 additional times).
SIMULATED DATA: Current Standings
total = 62 upsets in 13 “seasons”
average = 4.8 upsets per season
range = 3 to 6 upsets per season
SIMULATED DATA: Hollinger Trial A
total = 43 upsets in 13 “seasons”
average = 3.3 upsets per season
range = 1 to 6 upsets per season
SIMULATED DATA: Hollinger Trial B
total = 39 upsets in 13 “seasons”
average = 3.0 upsets per season
range = 0 to 6 upsets per season
SIMULATED DATA: AccuScore
total = 53 upsets in 13 “seasons”
average = 4.1 upsets per season
range = 1 to 6 upsets per season
(If you happen to be insane, the raw data is available on request.)
Turns out my usually flawless intuition wasn’t quite right. AccuScore and especially Current Standings definitely run high. You get more upsets and more excitement than in an average real-world playoffs. But Hollinger actually runs low on upsets. (He would.) Overall AccuScore is the closest, in this one respect, to the data from the previous 13 real seasons.
The ranges in the simulators are also a bit off. All three options give 6 or more upsets in some runs. Since 1998, the max in a single real playoff year has been 5. Zero upsets, which one run of Hollinger returned, hasn’t happened.
What does this mean? Well, if you’re a Bulls fan looking for some reassurance amid all the injuries, use Hollinger. A Knicks fan hoping for another lockout miracle? Stick with the Current Standings simulator.
Of course, this year might be especially unpredictable. Perhaps the simulator “knows” that somehow, which would explain the high scores for two of the three options. But the previous lockout season (1999) suggests that the total number of upsets per playoffs remains relatively constant, hovering around 4. Based on that isolated precedent, the only thing the recent lockout is likely to warp is the number of highly unexpected upsets. That is, there will probably be 3 or 4 upsets no matter what. But of those 3 or 4 a few are likely to be “big” this year.
Life will let us know for sure in just a few weeks.
We had insanely great seats for the Magic @ Warriors yesterday (5th row behind the basket). Mark Jackson took the Haq to a whole new level, but the Magic ended up winning by a pack of hot-dog buns anyway. Dwight went 21-39 from the line (54%), winding up with 45 points and a cool 23 rebounds. Along the way he broke Wilt’s record for most free-throws taken in a game (was 34). And he tied for the third-most free-throws missed in a game with 18. Wilt had games where he missed 18, 19, and an unholy 22.
Strangely, we went to the same Orlando-in-Oakland matchup last year, and that was a record-book rewriting affair as well, though a much more delirious one: the teams set a new max for combined 3-pointers made in a game with 36. It felt like there were fifteen buzzer-beaters. Golden State won 123-120 in OT.
The game this year lacked that sense of drama. With all the fouling it was not, needless to say, high-intensity basketball. But at some point during the third quarter it became clear we were yet again at a historically interesting game. There’s something to be said for that. Plus, while sitting in the stands I thought of a great umbrella term to describe all varieties of intentional fouling:
The word “hackniques” covers the entire gamut of standard-issue hacking schemes: Hack-a-Shaq, Maul-a-Wallace*, Smite-a-Dwight, Wham-a-Dampier, and Bruise-a-Bruce. But it also covers isolated deployments of intentional fouling to extend the game when you’re down; avoid a possible three-point attempt when you’re up; stop easy baskets; express frustration; or issue a warning to your opponents. What flavors! Pretty soon every coaching staff is going to need a hackniques specialist. I can’t wait.
*It’s too bad CP3 is such a great shooter. Maul-a-Paul has a nice ring to it.