All posts by Noam Schiller

Jeff Teague – From Wake Forest To Heavenly Ascension

Jeff Teague has been a bit player for the first two seasons of his career. Atlanta’s coaches never helped with this matter – Jeff saw himself stranded on the bench while Mike Bibby’s corpse or shoot-first-pass-never Jamal Crawford played the point behind him – but when you are a point guard who can’t score, can’t pass, can’t make decisions, and can’t defend, you usually aren’t an NBA caliber player, even if you have the athletic ability and raw potential to overcome such severe limitations.

As is usually the case with NBA bit players, when Jeff Teague followed up two games of fantastic basketball with a scorching start to Game 3 of the Bulls-Hawks series, commentors in the Daily Dime Live chat room went bananas with newfound Teague love. However, due to my inclination to side with 2 year sample sizes over 9 quarter sample sizes, I pointed out just how unlikely this was to sustain. When Chicago took a commanding lead in the 2nd quarter, prompting me to declare the series over (“Chicago is finally playing like Chicago! The Hawks are the Hawks!”), the suddenly present Hawks fans to go with plain ole Teague bandwagoners wanted my head on a platter.

The compromise, as always, was a wager: if the Hawks win another game in this series, I will write a loving ballad on Jeff Teague’s masterful exploits. Of course, as DDL’s very own overlord Zach Harper often says: “Never trust the Hawks”. Atlanta took Game 4 of what is now a competitive series, Teague has remained phenomenal and projects to be a starter in Atlanta from here on out, and the results of my epic failure follow this paragraph.

In a basketball league,

Brimming full with intrigue,

Above all, stands Jeff Teague,

Of the Hawks.

 

He can dribble and drive,

He can blossom and thrive,

He can dance, he can jive,

And he rocks.

 

He may look pretty small,

But the dude can enthrall,

More than Horford, Jamal,

Or Josh Smith.

 

And his stints on the bench,

Fill my nose with a stench,

That is worse than Revenge

Of The Sith.

 

As this brave Demon Deacon,

Is revealed as a beacon,

To convert all the heathens,

And pagans.

 

One is left to give thanks,

Name drop one Marcus Banks,

Watch the rhyming scheme tank,

And eat bacon.

 

So play Jeff, Larry Drew,

Bid Kirk Hinrich adieu,

Pinch yourself, see it’s true,

And Rejoice.

 

As this marvelous player,

This MVP slayer,

Makes the biggest naysayer,

Change his voice.

 

No one else will prevail,

Not Lebron, not JaVale,

Not the Blazers of Trails,

And not Dwight.

 

They might as well take vacation,

As Jeff Teague sweeps the nation,

A roundball manifestation,

Of light.

At Long Last, It’s Miami vs. Boston

Finally, it has come to this. Those pesky Bulls had to crash the party, had to make this series take place one round early, but never mind them. While Chicago sweeps the Hawks, all eyes will be on this.

Heat vs. Celtics, Evil vs.Good, free agency vs. the trading market, tampering vs. a little help from your friends, individual Rucker Park basketball vs. championship-level synergy.

Sunday afternoon, it begins — and all we have to do is sit back and watch, pens drawn, narratives abound.

That said, those of us who want to watch a basketball series and not the ultimate battle of clashing basketball philosophies that don’t clash at all are in for a treat as well. Seven All-Stars will take the court Sunday for the start of a four-to-seven-game series. At least 6 future Hall of Famers will play. And if we’re lucky, Hubie Brown will be in the announcing booth, pointing out every important thing we’re watching.

But what exactly do we need to be watching when they tip-off?

I’m glad you asked.

Who’s Guarding Lebron James?

I’ll let Tom Haberstroh take this one, because he’s much smarter than you, me, and everybody.

According to Newmann and Oliver, Pierce checked LeBron 69 percent of the time, with Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Marquis Daniels (no longer with the team) filling in the rest. But against Pierce, LeBron shot just 43 percent from the field and his efficiency plummeted to depths rarely seen from him. In fact, LeBron scored 75 points per 100 possessions with Pierce covering him, down from his 93 points per 100 possessions when guarded by all other Celtics defenders.

We’ve seen this going on in previous Lebron vs. Boston series. Though Boston guards Lebron in a team-wide manner, having Pierce spearhead the defensive effort is key – more than ever when the defensive monstrosity that is Jeff Green is the primary second option. Boston needs Pierce in prime shape, hoping that working on Lebron won’t take the same toll it has taken on his offensive game in the past.

Where’s Dwyane Wade?

In four games against Boston this year, Dwyane Wade is shooting 28% from the field. His true shooting percentage isn’t much better, at a disturbingly low 38%. He registered 21 turnovers to 21 assists, and got to the line only 5.8 times a game (after averaging 8.6 for the year). The narrative dictates that Wade is clutch and Lebron is not, that Wade shows up for the playoffs and that Lebron does not, and that Wade is a good person and Lebron is not, but with Lebron’s averages against Boston on par with his season numbers (29, 6.5, 6.5 on 56.2 TS%, albeit 5 turnovers), the onus to show up will be on the former Finals MVP.

Will Rajon Be Rajon?

In three wins against the Heat, Rajon Rondo had 43 assists. In one loss, he had 5. This is obviously a very cut-and-dry way to look at things, with millions of other factors going in to every one of those 4 regular season games, but the difference is simultaneously astonishing and extremely logical. When Rondo is at the top of his game, penetrating at will and finding his teammates, this Boston offense is a completely different beast. When Rondo is not well, the offense boggles down to a 9-7 March or a 4-4 April.

Who Plays Center?

Joel Anthony has risen from national punchline to cult hero, and with good reason. The handless +/- monster has had a strong effect during the regular season series between these two teams, playing fantastic defense on Kevin Garnett in Miami’s blowout April win. In fact, the Celtics have only scored 89.7 points per 100 possessions with Joel on the court, compared to 99.6 when Zydrunas Ilguaskas is out there.

The picture flips on offense. By replacing Joel’s dunk air-balling goodness with Z’s pick-and-pop acumen, the Heat’s offense vs. Boston jumps a staggering 14 points per 100 possessions. Balancing the two centers (perhaps occasionally playing centerless when Boston trots Garnett out to the pivot) will be key for the Heat.

(Just for kicks, in case one of you still thinks Erick Dampier is a valid NBA center: Miami has scored 54.4 points per 100 possessions against Boston with Damp on the floor. It should be noted that this took place for only 6 minutes all season, but hey, why take notice of sample sizes when making fun of Erick Dampier?)

The center position is just as important from Boston’s side as well, if only because of the increasingly unlikely scenario that Shaquille O’neal ever takes the court again. Shaq was a key part of Boston’s torrid start to the season, which included two closer-than-the-score-indicates wins over these same Heat. Miami has no one on it’s roster who can handle Shaq.

Sadly, it seems as if 39 years of humongousness have finally done the Diesel in.

The Supporting Casts

Miami is the big 3 and nobody else, while Boston is a TEAM. Right? Anybody?

This line of thinking should probably go down the drain at this point. Beyond Boston’s 4 all stars, the team has been absolutely atrocious. Adding on to the Jeff Green outlash is just plain cruel at this point, but Glen Davis hasn’t looked much better, and Jermaine O’neal looks about as creaky as the frequent and generic punchlines make him out to be. Delonte West is shooting 27% in these playoffs so far, and while this probably improves considerably, he’s hardly been the model of consistency these past few years. Boston’s fifth  best player might be Nenad Krstic at this point, which says a lot.

Meanwhile, Joel Anthony has been fantastic defensively, and the James Jones/Mario Chalmers combo are shooting a combined 39% from three. Hardly spectacular, but with rest between games and enabling Lebron, Wade and Bosh to play upwards of 40 minutes a game, the Heat don’t really need spectacular. All they need is to drag Boston’s supporting cast down with their’s, which at the moment, seems very plausible.

Who Shows Up?

A simplistic question, without much analytical standing.

Yet, this will decide the series.

Miami has shown a disturbing lack of urgency throughout this season. The reasons as to why now become completely irrelevant – from here on out, Miami runs the risk of it’s season ending. The urgency should accompany that prospect.

Similarly, we have no idea which Boston arrives. The Celtics aren’t as bad as their post all-star play indicates, but expecting them to flip the switch all the way back up, even if they did it last year, is an extreme leap of faith. And as impressive as they looked in the final 2 games against the Knicks, they were also very close to losing twice on their home floor, to the Knicks.

Prediction, Just Because It Has To Be Done

The Heat are not going to blow the Celtics out. Boston is too proud, the defense is too good, and Miami still lacks the cohesion to pull it off. And Boston is not going to blow Miami out, because Miami has the two best players in the series, in a sport where this sort of thing matters. (Don’t give me the “New York had the two best players in the series too!” bit, because we know better.) It will be a close series, with low scoring and high drama. But this Boston team needs too many things to go just right, and unlike last season, when everything did go just right, I don’t think Lebron skips Game 5.

Heat in 7.

Trying To Make Sense Of The Trade Deadline

After 8 months of prolonged, dolled out, all-talk-no-walk Melo rumors, we got the exact opposite from Tuesday onwards, with a flurry of deals coming out of nowhere to hit us right in the face. Here is a quick team-by-team look at what happened and what it means.

Atlanta Hawks: Kirk Hinrich is in, Mike Bibby is out in the role of washed up point guard. The difference is in the levels of washedup-iness – Bibby is, at this point, practically useless as anything but a spot up shooter and is one of the worst defenders in the league, while Hinrich is past his prime but still serviceable. Atlanta should enjoy watching opposing point guards actually work for their points, but don’t expect this upgrade to go further than softening the blow of a first round exit. Hilton Armstrong will compete with Josh Powell and Etan Thomas for absolutely nothing.

Boston Celtics: Boy, was this unexpected. The Celtics came out of nowhere to send out the non-all-star portion of their classic starting 5, sending out Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to OKC for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. One has to assume Danny Ainge is counting on his team maintaining one of the league’s best defenses without Perk, which has worked so far this regular season. Concerns about Perk’s impending free agency were obviously a factor as well. Problem is, what happens when you meet Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum/Pau Gasol for 7 games? Can two over aged, oft-injured O’neals and a perimeter oriented guy like Krstic pass for a contending center rotation? Stay tuned.

In the meanwhile, the hope is that Jeff Green can supply a wing scorer, decent defender, and someone who can sop minutes behind Paul Pierce. Green’s NBA career so far isn’t optimistic in that regard – despite the reputation bestowed upon him by OKC’s golden-boys image, he’s hardly been average at any category, and his defensive plus/minus has been awful – but he has the athleticism and size to be a good defender at the small forward spot, and a good system in Boston can bring that out in him.

It should also be noted that by shipping out Marquis Daniels, Semih Erden and Luke Harangody, the Celts cleared up some roster spots for future buyout guys, giving this deal even more of an incomplete grade.

Charlotte Bobcats: It’s very easy to look at this move and criticize MJ for being cheap. The bottom line, though, is that this is a team going absolutely nowhere, that needed to blow things up. By finally sending out Gerald Wallace, they did just that. The return is unspectacular to say the least – Joel Pryzbilla will either leave this summer or be bought out in the following days, and Dante Cunningham is solid but no more – but they got two first rounders in the process and are working towards a clean slate. Acquiring decent prospect D.J. White from the Thunder for veteran center Nazr Mohammed was another step in the rebuilding direction. Waiving Derrick Brown was not. Don’t expect this team to be good anytime soon.

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls ultimately passed on bringing in a new 2 guard, doing their damage by salvaging a first round pick for seldom-used forward James Johnson. Good value, and though the passiveness may come back to haunt them these playoffs, they’ll have plenty of time to get another major contributor if the lockout ever ends.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Baron Davis may be a big price to pay for a lottery pick, but for a team going nowhere, the pick is worth it. Mo Williams will not be missed. If Semih Erden and Luke Harangody turn out to be future rotation players, consider it gravy.

Dallas Mavericks: Made a push for Devin Harris before the Deron Williams trade ruined their shot. For once, Cubes stands pat.

Denver Nuggets: Nobody likes losing their franchise player, but considering the situation, Denver made out well here. The team now goes 2 deep at every position, has some solid youngsters in Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, and might even manage to hold on for a playoff spot. It will take some work to create a future as promising as the Melo past, but this was a good start.

Detroit Pistons: No idea what Joe Dumars is trying to accomplish her. The veterans are angry and overpaid, the youngsters (excluding Greg Monroe) are questionable building blocks, and yet the Pistons do nothing. Things are not looking good in Motown.

Golden State Warriors: The Dubs came up with minuscule savings in the form of Troy Murphy, though they almost blew it on a last minute Antwan Jamison deal. Murphy is probably working out a buyout as you read this, on his way to Boston/Miami/Orlando.

Houston Rockets: If Hasheem Thabeet pans out, great. More likely, the Rockets gained a first round pick for the trouble of paying him. Houston should be sad to see Shane Battier leave, but they’re much better served giving his minutes to youngsters Chase Budinger and Terrence Williams to see how they fit long term. Moving a disgruntled Aaron Brooks to Phoenix for Goran Dragic – a similar, younger player who makes less money and arguably has more upside – was a steal. Oh, and they got a pick from the Suns too.

Indiana Pacers: A disappointing deadline in Indy, where the hope was to nab a young core piece at either power forward or shooting guard. The latter almost came in O.J. Mayo, but the trade call missed the deadline. If the Pacers don’t fully utilize their cap space next summer, they will regret missing out very much.

Los Angeles Clippers: Baron Davis is gone. That’s all that matters. Although I’m sure the L.A. food industry is quite hurt.

Los Angeles Lakers: Despite overblown talks, the Lakers, as expected, did nothing. Maybe they’ll pick up a buyout guy, but it looks like this is the core that will fight for that three-peat.

Memphis Grizzlies: Shane Battier suddenly makes this team deep at the wings, and gives them another perimeter stopper along with Tony Allen. This team looks prime for a playoff push – but will have to deal with a very unhappy O.J. Mayo, who knows that he was being shopped for very little (Josh McRoberts and a pick? Really? That’s it?)

Miami Heat: Miami had nothing to move, though they reportedly tried to get teams to bite on Mike Miller’s awful deal. Another team waiting for the buyout market.

Milwaukee Bucks: Another non-participant, who is probably just waiting for this nightmare of a season to end.

Minnesota Timberwolves: I hope you’re excited about Anthony Randolph, Wolves fans. The David Kahn Rehabilitation Center takes on what may be it’s most challenging project.

New Jersey Nets: When you can nab a top-2 point guard in the world, you do it, and ask questions later. Or do you? The Nets better hope that they won’t regret bringing in an extensionless Deron Williams, because if they move him next year, they aren’t getting back a Derrick Favors. In the meanwhile, Deron can try and restore the remains of Brook Lopez’s potential.

New Orleans Hornets: Marcus Thornton was a fan favorite, but he was deep in Monty Williams’ doghouse, while frontcourt depth was lacking. Carl Landry will help that in a big way – playing for a playoff squad with an elite point guard should restore him to his Houston level, 6th man dominance.

New York Knicks: The Knicks got their man, and will immediately be better. The question is, at what cost? The new CBA might help, but until then, Melo and Amar’e will make a combined 40 million a year. This for two guys who play offense only, and who both want to be focal points of the offense. The hope is that the two of them draw in a third star, but until it happens (and the odds of that happening are questionable), this deal makes the Knicks much more prominent in headlines than in contender discussions.

Oklahoma City Thunder: This is it. After 3 and a half years of staying the course, Sam Presti went all-in for the final piece of the puzzle. Kendrick Perkins gives this team a legit defensive presence down low, and a young one (26) at that. Addition by subtraction could be a big factor here as well – Serge Ibaka has been far superior to Jeff Green all year. Moving him to the starting lineup should pay huge dividends. Nazr Mohammed was an underrated pickup that completes a suddenly strong frontcourt with Nick Collison.

Orlando Magic: The Magic used all of their assets up in December. Expect the flailing contender to make a run at any buyout big man they can get their hands on.

Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers decided that making the playoffs was a top priority, and stayed pat. Expect them to either overpay or lose Thaddeus Young this summer as punishment.

Phoenix Suns: I’m not sure what the plan is, here. Aaron Brooks is less likely to accept a backup role than Goran Dragic, is older, and is up for an extension. I’d criticize the Suns for giving away a pick in the swap, too, but they don’t really use those first rounders anyway. Free Steve Nash.

Portland Trail Blazers: Gerald Wallace completes an absolutely fearsome 6 man rotation, one that should see both Wallace and Nicolas Batum see plenty of minutes as small-ball 4s with Joel Pryzbilla leaving to Charlotte. This is a team that will frighten people come playoff time. However, I’m not sure what the long term plan is – Gerald is already 28 years old, has 2 years and 21 million remaining on his deal, and has declined since his all-star campaign season. This team might have painted themselves into a long run of first round playoff exits.

Sacramento Kings: I think I’ve made my thoughts on Marcus Thornton pretty clear by now. Marquis Daniels is an afterthought who was only brought in to raise the Kings above the salary floor.

San Antonio Spurs: Best record in the NBA gives you the benefit of the doubt. No moves here.

Toronto Raptors: Nothing against James Johnson, but he isn’t the savior. This is a team in need of a major shakeup, and they didn’t even take a single step in that direction.

Utah Jazz: Whether trading Deron Williams was the right move is debatable; if you make the choice to go through with it, though, you’ll be hard press to get better value than Utah did. Devin Harris has regressed since his 2009 all-star season, but has played well if not spectacularly this season, and should be better once he gets back to caring about basketball (funny how Avery Johnson kills players’ will to play). Derrick Favors could be a beast, and the Jazz now have two lottery picks this summer, assuming they fall out of tha playoffs, which looks pretty probable. However, one wonders why they didn’t try to move Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap – they will now be paying the luxury tax for a lottery team, all while stunting Favors’ development.

Washington Wizards: Hinrich was a positive influence in the locker room, but using him to take a shot at a former first rounder (Jordan Crawford) and to acquire another first round pick is sound. Crawford will also blend nicely with the whole “I have no idea how to play basketball, but I loooooove the look of this 20 footer” theme that Washington has going for them.

All The MIP Candidates You Could Ever Want

It’s still early.

We keep hearing those two words, and it’s true. Although most teams have already played somewhere around 20 games, they still have 3 times that figure left. As such, while some phenomena are already clear to us (the Clippers suck, the Celtics be beasting, etc.), one of our favorite activities – bludgeoning each other to death over award races – is sill premature.

You can’t determine things like MVP, ROY, or 6th Man of the Year after just one quarter of all play. You just can’t. Sure, the field has already been separated to contenders and also-rans – nobody is giving Johan Petro an MVP vote or arguing the Blake Griffin has a sizable lead in the race for ROY – but contenders just aren’t that interesting.

Except for the Most Improved Player award.

With the MIP, the whole point is the contenders. The funnest thing about November, to me, is watching as a guy just blows up to proportions that seemed impossible even as late as training camp. And unlike the bigger awards, the MIP has such a loose definition, that several players can fit under the criteria.

So here is one person’s way-too-long-list of players who have made the leap so far, separated into appropriate categories. This is in no way a ranking – though if there are more/less deserving candidates, I will point them out – as much as it is a showing of appreciation for those who have played at another level so far.

(All stats are from the ever so helpful Hoopdata.com. Also, allow me to answer your question before you ask it: Eric Gordon isn’t here because he has regressed as a long range shooter and has only marginally improved anything other than his usage rate. Thank you)

The Superstar Leap:

Al Horford, Atlanta: Last season was the year we all realized Josh Smith and Al Horfordwere the Hawks’ best players. Josh Smith is playing even better so far – andyet, he is now a clear number 2 again. The stats are impressive enough – a ridiculous 63.7 TS%, career highs in assist rate, defensive rebound rate, turnover rate, free throw percentage and points per minute, 3rd in the entire league in PER – but what really puts Al over the edge is his defense. Fast enough to shade guards yet big enough to match with paint dwellers, Al has been one of the league’s best defenders so far. This despite being inexplicably restricted to only 32 minutes a night.

Horford was already an all-star last season, so his inclusion as a MIP candidate may raise some eyebrows, but the improvement has been monumental. That extension is looking like a bargain.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City: And who stands above Horford for 2nd in the league in PER? I’ll give you a hint: he plays for the Thunder and he isn’t Kevin Durant. Westbrook has taken his scoring to the next level by using his speed and athleticism to constantly get to the rim, where he either converts his shots at a career high 55.2%, or draw fouls. Russ is getting to the line 9.6 times a night (good for 4th in the league) and making his freebies at a career high 87% clip, combining with last year’s prominent leap-maker Kevin Durant to create the league’s most deadly foul drawing team. If he doesn’t make the all-star team this year, something is wrong with the universe.

From Stud To All-Star:

Kevin Love, Minnesota: Make no mistake, he is still one of the worst defenders in the league – otherwise, he would have been placed in the above category. However, he is also on pace for the most rebounds per game since Ben Wallace’s 15.4 in 02-03, and has eclipsed his previous career high in points per 40 minutes by 3.3. He’s shooting a career low 43.4%, but his TS% is right around his career mark thanks to improved marks from 3 (38.6%), and from the free throw line (88.5% on 6.1 attempts). He has been freed, and it has been marvelous.

Paul Millsap, Utah: We all saw this coming, yet it should be acknowledged. Finally out of Carlos Boozer’s shadow, and now paired up with Al Jefferson , a big man who can slide over to center without giving up 4 inches, Millsap has been a huge contributor for a Jazz team playing arguably their best ball of the past 4 years. Posting a career high 22.28 PER, shooting a career high 60.9 TS%, averaging a very Boozer-like 20.7 and 9.5 per 40, even improving as a passer to fill in for the now-Bulls forward. You probably won’t see this guy back in a 6th man role ever again.

Luis Scola, Houston: Watching Luis dominate at the world tourney this summer, everyone wanted to know if the Argentine Russell Brand clone could keep it up in the NBA. The answer has been a resounding yes. Posting a beastly 24.4 and10.5 per 40 minutes to go with a startlingly low 6.7 turnover rate, Scola has given the struggling Rockets hope and Spurs fans nightmares. His PER is also up to a nice 20.70. Yet another happy contract extender in Daryl Morey.

Rudy Gay, Memphis: Speaking of extenstions… no, this one still looks bad. But not nearly as bad as it was in October. After stagnating the past 3 years, Gay is posting career high across the board, clocking in at a very nice 21.7 points, 6.4 boards, and 2.7 assists a night. The big part, though, is his percentages: previously the definition of a volume scorer, Gay is shooting 49%-41%-84%, for a robust 57.3 TS%. And he could still improve more: Gay is shooting an absurd 72.6% at the rim, by far a career high, yet is taking only 3.5 shots from that area after taking 5.3 last year.

Roy Hibbert, Indiana: Let’s focus on this preseason prediction of mine, and not the one that had Milwaukee winning 51 games (whoops). Finally adjusted to the physical NBA game, both stamina-wise and no longer gathering fouls by the bunch, Hibbs has been able to stay on the court for the improved Pacers, and has been producing. 21 points, 11.8 boards, and 4 assists per 40 minutes. His 29 minutes per game prevent those per-game stats from looking as gaudy, and he’s cooled off after a hot start, but while the abundance of quality centers out East should keep him out of the all-star game for now, he’s in the discussion for the future. One quarter in, this is your MIP leader.

Raymon Felton, New York: If you had to choose all-star teams right now, who would be your guards out East? Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo should be locks. But then?

I’m going Felton, and not looking back. Early on, Felton’s career-best basketball was overshadowed with his struggles in the pick and roll. However, instead of sticking to his system, coach Mike D’Antonti has switched to a game more suited to Felton’s skills. And he has them: 18.1 points and 8.4 assists per game, while functioning for 38 minutes a night in the Knicks’ short rotation. His turnovers are still at a career high rate, but his scoring (58.3 TS%, with last season’s 52.5 being his best mark by a mile until now) and playmaking (30.4 assist rate) has more than offset that.

The Josh Smith Memorial “Realizing My Potential”

Michael Beasley, Minnesota: Beas’ rise hasn’t been as impressive as advertised – every non-scoring stat is pretty much the same. However, his future in this league is as a scorer, and he’s showing that he can definitely produce as one, with 26.2 points per 40 minutes. The efficiency still isn’t where you’d want it to be – only 52.9 TS%, and an over reliance on long 2s – but after playing so badly in Miami last season, it has been a welcome improvement.

Tyrus Thomas, Charlotte: Don’t be fooled by the subpar per-game numbers, which are only the result of Larry Brown inexplicably keeping his best big man on the bench for more than half a game. Once you expand those 21.2 minutes a night to per 40 numbers, you get blown away: 21.8 points, 10.9 boards, 1.8 steals and 3 blocks. Add that to finally getting rid of his inefficient ways, scoring wise – his TS% is at 58.3% after 4 seasons ranging between 48.6% and 52.5%, thanks to boasting career marks at the rim (68.4%), on long 2s (52%), and from the free throw line (82.7%) – and you get an all-star level PER of 22.47. Free Tyrus Thomas.

Matt Moore Motivates Me

Mike Conley, Memphis: I give the floor to Matt.

JaVale McGee, Washington: He still can’t spend a minute on the court without giving the impression that he doesn’t really know how to play basketball, but he’s shown considerable progress. His rebound rate is up from 14.5 to 17.9, and his TS% is up from 53.9 to 59.9. All in all, though the criticism is justified, you gotta like a 20.16 PER (after 17.04 in both of his first two seasons) and averages of 14.4 and 12.2 per 40 minutes. He’s also making slight progress as far as his weaknesses go, fouling once every 10.5 minutes instead of once every 8, and going from an absolutely awful 3.3 assist rate to a just totally awful 5.6. Baby steps.

Weren’t You On Your Way Out Of The League?

Daniel Gibson, Cleveland:  Three years ago, Boobie was carving up the Pistons in the playoffs andlooked like the greatest second round steal ever. Once the dust settled, though, Boobie was revealed as a decent spot up shooter and not much else.

This year, Boobie’s shooting is actually down quite a bit – his TS% has dropped from 61.3% to 55.1%, and his 3 point shooting is at a career low 38.1%. The difference has been that he has finally begun doing other things as well. His rebound rate is still bad at 6.9, but is far improved over last year’s horrid 4.1. His turnover rate is at a fine 6.8. And he’s attacking the hole, getting 2.1 shots at the rim a game (might not sound like much, but his previous career high was 0.9). Even though he only makes 0.8 of those shots, it has helped him get to the foul line a career high 3 times a night.

The most impressive thing about Gibson, however, has been his usage rate. End-of-the-bench players tend to take a hit in their efficiency when they are given the ball more. However, Gibson’s usage is at 20.6 after 13.3 last season, and while the scoring isn’t as efficient, his PER has jumped from 11.31 to a respectable 16.16. He won’t garner much consideration for the actual award, but he’s been as much of an MIP as anyone so far.

Darrell Arthur, Memphis: For his first two seasons, Arthur was a scoring 4 who is incapable of scoring. Which was kind of a problem.

Now he’s a scoring 4 that can, indeed, score. The main difference being that he can actually get a shot up. Arthur had 8.5% of his shots blocked his rookie year, and that figure crept up to a disturbing 12.3% during his injury plagued sophomore campaign. This year, it’s down to just 4.9%. As a result, Arthur’s percentage at the rim has jumped from a horrendous 49.1% to a Dwight-esque 80.6%. Pair that with an actual midrange shot (43% from 16 to 23 feet, after 38% and 33% in previous years), and the Grizzlies can actually offer something off their bench.

Bounce Back Veterans

Richard Jefferson, San Antonio: After a terrible season last year in which he seemed like he’s done as a player, RJ is back in business. His scoring numbers aren’t near his career averages because his usage has gone down as a 4thoption, and his rebounding has been gone for years, but his TS% is at a career high 62.6%, he rarely turns the ball over, and he’s getting it done defensively. Most important, the Bruce Bowen trademarked corner 3 has been falling all year long. While Manu and Tony have been incredible so far, Jefferson finally doing what he was brought in for has helped the Spurs regain contention as much as anything.

Tyson Chandler, Dallas: Apparently, he was just injured. After slugging through terrible seasons in his last New Orleans campaign and his sole season in Charlotte, Chandler has gone back to being the defensive beast he once was, ranking third in the league in defensive rating (behind Dwight and KG) and leading a defensive overhaul from a Mavericks team that suddenly doesn’t have the tools to outscore people anymore.

Except Tyson has been getting it done offensively as well. While him leading the league in TS% may not raise any eyebrows due to the perception that the only thing he does is dunk, Tyson has been earning that mind boggling 74.3% by improving his perpetual weakness: his free throw shooting. A career 61.8% shooter from the stripe, Tyson is currently at a fine mark of 80.2%. Combine that with a 72.5 shooting percentage at the rim – back in the territory of his finest NOLA days – and you have the league leader in offensive rating. Yes. Tyson Chandler. I know.

Elton Brand, Philadelphia: Brand will never regain his Clipper dominance, and the Sixers will forever regret that contract, but given how bad he’s looked since moving to Philly, you have to like what you’re seeing from him so far this year. His field goal percentage is back above 50% after three sub-48 years, and his true shooting is at a 4 year high as well at 56.9%. His free throw shooting is actually the highest of his career, at 80.8%. The rebounding has gone with the hops, and he isn’t dominating teams any more, but after looking like bench fodder for three years he looks like he could probably be a decent 3rd option for a functioning offense. If only Philly had one.

I Only Improved One Thing, But I Improved It So Darn Much

Shannon Brown, L.A.Lakers: Brown is sure to get a lot of MIP hype if his production sustains, due to the humongous spotlight that is constantly on his team, and the way his past few seasons have modeled our perception of him as a dunker and not a basketball player. I take offense to this, because in most areas, Shannon Brown is the same guy. His rebound rate is marginally improved, his assist rate is down 1.5%, his turnover rate identical. He gets 0.4 more steals a night, I guess, but that’s not worth much more than a pat on the back.

Where Shannon has excelled, though, has been as a shooter. His percentages are up from last year from wherever you want on the court – at the rim (62.5 vs. 58.1), inside 10 feet (73.7 vs. 44.4, though he attempts only one a game), on long twos (42 vs. 41), and most importantly, from three point range (43.1 vs 32.8). The only area in which he has stagnated is the 10-15 foot range, where he has only taken 5 shots all season, missing them all. His TS% has taken the hint as well, jumping from 51.7% to 61.5%, dragging his PER up with it (20.47, up from 12.41).

I don’t think Shannon should win MIP, or anywhere near it. Virtually no part of his game has improved other than his shooting. He’s not better as a creator – his assist ratio, as mentioned, is down, and he’s been assisted on more of his shots than in the past (61.7%, vs. 57.3). Even his free throw shooting, now a ridiculous 93.1%, has come on the exact same number of attempts per game. And since shooting percentages tend to be fluky, I don’t think he’ll be in the same 50-40-90 territory once the season comes to an end.

However, in the Lakers’ system, Shannon’s improvement fits the bill like a glove. It has magnified his imprint like the Suns magnify opposing frontcourts. The Lakers needed Shannon to become a top-notch shooter, and he has, and for that he should be applauded.

Nobody Else Will Have Him On Their Lists But I Swear He’s Not A Gimmick

Glen Davis, Boston: Big Baby’s stats show minor improvements in assist ratio (from 8.2 to 10.4), major improvement in defensive rebounding rate (13.3 to 17.3), turnover rate (12.4 to 8.8) and true shooting (50 to 54.6), and a baffling regression in offensive rebounding rate (from a dominant 13.7 to a subpar 5.3). He’s been much better around the rim offensively, getting blocked only on 5.5% of his shots vs. 17.9% of the time last year, which might explain some of the lost offensive rebounds and is a good sign in general. Good stuff, but not MIP material.

Subjectively, though, Davis has been incredible. Coming off the Celts’ bench, he has supplied them with energy and hustle on every turn, and a newfound defensive intensity. Always taking a charge or rotating correctly, unabusable  in the post. I admit this is hard to quantify – which is why you’re welcome to disagree with me here – but it has seemed to me like the drop off between Garnett and Davis on defense has been minimal. Which is huge for the Celtics and terrible for everybody.

Remember The Blazers

I don’t know what the world is going to look like in 2030. Chances are, you don’t know either. It’s a funny relationship, that of humans and the time-space continuum, one which gives us quite a lot of freedom on the space axis, but demands discipline as far as our progression through time.

This bugs us.

We like to believe we are ever powerful, ever in control of our own fate (I would use the word omnipotent, but when calling the Knicks-Kings game, Walt Frazier used that word to describe Carl Landry, so it doesn’t really feel right). And when we see an unmovable entity such as time, it pisses us off. That arrogant time. Not only does it refuse to bend to our wishes, but it outright ignores us! Just slugging along, second after second, same pace as ever. We’ll show it what’s what. Screw it.

Except we can’t show it what’s what. It’s physically impossible. I’ll admit, the whole DeLorean/flux capacitor premise looked real promising at first, but it somehow fell between the cracks.

And so, incapable of manipulating actual chronological fabric, we do the next best thing – manipulate our perception of it. Like those freaky fish with eyes on both sides of their heads, we bemoan the culmination of the past while simultaneously hyping the arrival of the future, pausing only to mention how much the present sucks. We write and read and tell stories of what has happened, failing to resist the temptation of carrying the narrative forward and predicting how events will continue to unravel. And then we study our own studies, call them “history”, and hope our children will pay attention when it’s taught in schools, because hey, it’s important.

But time doesn’t care. Smash your watch and eat the battery if you wish to be poisoned by the acid it contains, but never forget that those little hands represent something greater than you and me. And as much as you like to think you can use our oh-so-wonderful deductive abilities to survey the situation and find out what’s going to happen next before it arrives, you are wrong. Eventually, tomorrow will arrive, and it will do whatever the hell it wants, without even acknowledging the hopes and dreams that it stomps. Never vicious. Never cruel. Just present. Time cares not for malevolence or for spite. It’s too busy anyway. It has a busy schedule, appointment after appointment, and it can’t be late. It has a reputation to maintain.

Usually, we move on. We accept it. We like to grit our teeth and curse to the skies and swear that when we get our hands on that damn Father Time, when Christopher Lloyd finally gets off that busy schedule and gets that baby running at 88 miles per hour, oh boy, we’ll show him. But deep down, we know it’s all for show. We know that time does as it pleases, and we adjust around it.

But sometimes, it’s too cruel. Sometimes, that big pendulum at the bottom of the grandfather clock seems to go out of it’s way just so it can clang right into our collective crotch. And as we roll on the ground in pain, our eyes watering and our voices strained, we can’t help but ask: why? We know there are reasons, and we don’t pass judgement – after all, we’re fairly young, while you’ve been time for a long, well, time. But goddammit, this really hurts, and you don’t seem to care. As Joakim Noah would say, be sweet. Be sensitive

Time has been neither sweet nor sensitive to Greg Oden. It seems fairly apathetic towards Brandon Roy. That excitement in the city of Portland, that Team Of The Future, Team Of The 2010s – that seems to be just another narrative gone wrong. We’ve held onto it, as we usually do, but as microfractures pile over patellas which pile over meniscuses, even the strongest of grasps let go.

Look, injuries are part of the game. We know they are. Sometimes they take greatness and confine it to a short period of time, as with Bill Walton or Elgin Baylor. Sometimes they just deprive us of greatness entirely, as with Shaun Livingston. We hate it, but again, we can do nothing, so we live with it. Barely.

But this? Hitting down again and again and again on a spot so sensitive, one that we cared about so much? And for what? So Durant backers can be vindicated? They already were. So Minnesota fans won’t feel bad about their GM preferring Randy Foye? They already do.

And so you take a team with so much promise, the Thunder that preceded the Thunder, the team everybody loved – and you drive nails into it’s knees. And that future, that wonderful, marvelous future, becomes the past before it even happened. Just skips that whole “present” bit in its entirety.

Remember this. Remember, as you see Al Horford and Joakim Noah deservedly earn a combined 120 million dollars, that for that special night, even in a loss, Greg Oden looked better than the both of them. Remember, as you watch the new and diminished Brandon Roy labor around the court, still scoring, still leading, still damn impressive, that the old Brandon Roy was Kobe lite for that magical 08-09 campaign. Remember, as Rich Cho tries to sort out this mess – and I’m confident that he will do the best given the circumstances – that Kevin Pritchard had a damn good vision, and was damn good at realizing it, even if it didn’t turn out like we hoped.

Remember the Blazers. Their narrative was one to believe in, and that belief was found wanting. History will remember them as the team that could have been but wasn’t. But you know better. Remember them for the future that happened only in optimistic forecasts and Soccer Mom lairs, for the incredible will power, for winning games with their coach and half their lineup in a cast on the sideline. And pray that time’s twisted humor will somehow turn this around, that this somber chapter is just the crisis that precedes the climactic, heroic return of the Larry O’Brien trophy to Rip City.

And just to show you that time chooses which narratives to follow: I started writing this piece before the Oden injury. It was originally titled “an Ode to Roy”. Sometimes, time does help you write its own summary. But don’t mind thanking it. It has already moved on.