[h/t The Basketball Jones]
Heroic effort by Tyson Chandler here, oh by the way.
Thanks to SB Nation’s Andrew Sharp for pointing this out on Twitter. Appearances from some other names you might know: McCants, Brown, Iguodala, May, and Jordan himself.
This will be the only time ever you’ll ever see Shavlik Randolph clowning Carmelo and Amar’e.
On The Dunk Contest: I watched the dunk contest in the bar of a fancy high-tech driving range in Dallas called Top Golf. There was no volume on at the time but my group of friends provided the necessary audio when we collectively lost our minds (or alternatively booed) the dunks throughout the night. One of the more intriguing aspects of this year’s dunk contest was that the contestants weren’t whittled down through “rounds” that culminated in a one-on-one final between two individuals. Rather, they were all allotted the opportunity to have three dunks apiece. This move deserves applause and hopefully they stick with it in the future. It worked because it helped the contest move at a much more reasonable pace and allowed the participants the security of knowing they didn’t have to stick with a “safe” dunk to move on to the finals. The more risk involved, the more spectacular the event.
Unfortunately there are also two obvious and unavoidable aspects that overshadowed anything good about it. The first was the decision to allow the fans to decide the winner. It makes a ton of sense on paper because this is the age of the internet/YouTube/etc, but I can’t tell you how dreadfully wrong the fans got it by going with Jeremy Evans. The only thing I remember about his performance was a collective nod of the heads after he dunked two alley oop basketballs from teammate Gordon Hayward. It was lessened by the fact that he didn’t convert on his first try. At no point though did we ever lose our minds on one of his attempts—an obvious minimum requirement for any dunk contest champion. It’s time to go back to the celebrity/former player judging panel and live with their terribly biased decisions, if only to save the fans from themselves.
The most glaring problem of all though is the lack of star power in the dunk contest. I applaud the efforts and bravery–it takes a remarkable amount of fortitude to put yourself out to the world like that in front of your peers with the risk of becoming the next Chris Andersen—of the participants this year, but there’s really no point in holding it anymore so that the tenth and eleventh best players from various non-contenders can show off their unappreciated athleticism. This point is further emphasized when the very athletes that should be participating in it are sitting front row for the action and making fun of the guys when they can’t convert their attempts (not to mention LeBron blowing every single participant out of the water with his in-game dunks during All-Star game). It would be the cultural equivalent of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, etc sitting in the front row of a theater and falling over themselves laughing while a struggling wannabe actor/waiter from the nearby steakhouse attempted to recite Shakespeare in front of them.
The dunk contest used to be a culturally relevant event. How can it possibly still be worth the time and effort when the casual fan could identify maybe one of the four contestants? Stern needs to drop the hammer and threaten LeBron, D-Wade, etc with the very existence of the event to force them into participating. Get the big boys in or get rid of it all together.
On Dwight Howard: This was a sort of farewell tribute for the league’s best center and I can’t help but feel that he failed to properly recognize the fans in the city of Orlando. He gave an uninspired address prior to the game after deflecting trade rumors all weekend. While he deserves credit for not making this weekend all about himself, he seemed largely disinterested by everything. He didn’t take the game seriously, jacking up several three pointers and largely staying out of the way of his teammates. For a dominant player who can entertain the fans with the best of them (and for the record, please click on that video and watch how much sheer joy Dwight brings out from his peers with his participation in the dunk contest…maybe Stern can get him to broker a deal with the big boys??? These are the thoughts of a basketball-obsessed weirdo…), his effort this year was a major #fail. Cannot wait for his trade drama to be over.
On Kobe’s Nose Getting Broken By D-Wade: Loved it, especially how it wasn’t personal for either of them, strictly business. Move on folks, nothing to see here!
On The Pre-Game Introductions: This is the type of thing that a hard-core basketball blogger would blast me for and where I’m admittedly reading way too much into something so please acknowledge that before proceeding. HOWEVER, was I the only one who noticed the huge contrast between the was the West starters came out of the tunnel as compared to Dwight, Carmelo, and LeBron? No seriously take a look. Here’s the West (move the clip to the 5:00 mark):
And here’s the three stooges from the East making fools of themselves on national television (move the clip to the 4:45 mark):
I don’t mean to keep criticizing, but seriously, take a look at Derrick Rose’s face throughout that second clip to get an idea of the same feelings that were going through my head during that moment. What’s equally hilarious is how you can read the “what-in-the-hell-are-these-idiots-doing” look all over Dwyane Wade’s face. If Derrick Rose’s Bulls knock the Heat out the playoffs, this can be one of the events you point to when you tell your friends you saw it coming. Also creepy is the way Dwight and Melo follow/mimic LeBron’s every move. More on this later.
On The Game Itself: I’m a big fan of the high offense, no defense philosophy that seems to permeate through every league’s respective All-Star game. One thing that is undeniably entertaining though is when the game is close during the final minutes and the best players in the world all start to care about the outcome. We were fortunate this year that LeBron and Wade were able to erase the huge deficit for the East, but in the future I’d like to seriously recommend that the League institute a rule whereby the game has to matter in the last five minutes. There really is nothing quite like seeing the best athletes in the world suddenly want to destroy their peers, solely for bragging rights and respect points. Can we please see this every year?
On LeBron James And The Now Infamous Turnover: Let’s get some points out of the way before proceeding. First, the most intriguing observation of the weekend was made by SB Nation’s Andrew Sharp in just how influential LeBron is on the league right now. Sharp points out that all of the young players in the League now talk, dress, and act like LeBron James. Look no further than that pre-game introduction and how Carmelo and Dwight take all their cues from him. This is a fantastic observation that probably deserves way more investigation and I urge you to read Sharp’s column to get his take.
Moving on though, LeBron James is undeniably the best basketball player alive right now. He was solely responsible for the East’s comeback in that game and it would not have been entertaining at the end had he not put on a dazzling display of talent and athleticism. In fact, he’s probably the most physically gifted athlete ever, in any sport. BUT, and this is perhaps the biggest but in all of sports right now, I can’t help but feel disappointed by him. Every. Single. Time. Always.
Any attempt at a rational explanation is pretty much futile, but that is the feeling I get watching LeBron James. It’s the great debate of basketball right now. Basketball stat nerds and hard-core bloggers are unquestionably in James’ corner and rush to his defense anyone brings up the “clutch” word. Fans and old-school writers tend to lean in the opposite direction though in their universal criticism of how he “doesn’t get it,” how he “sucks when it counts,” or how he “has no rings.”
I tend to come down somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Even I was shocked though at the way he passed out of the big moment last night. Before that infamous possession I remarked to my fiancee about how important a moment it was in the broader context of the NBA. Should LeBron make the shot, it would do wonders for his reputation in the basketball community, or so I told her. Never in a million years though did I think he would first pass off to Deron Williams for the big shot, then refuse to go at Kobe Bryant and eventually cough up an awful cross court pass that Blake Griffin would steal to seal the game (or pass the ball in with 1.1 seconds left to his teammate Dwyane Wade when he could have redeemed the turnover, but that’s neither here nor there).
I was so upset I actually leapt off my couch and started taunting LeBron by yelling and pointing at my television. I have no idea what overcame me and it’s rather embarrassing to admit. I guess the basketball snob in me is just reaching a critical breaking point with the continuous failings of the best basketball player alive in the biggest basketball moments. You can say it really doesn’t matter and that the game was just an exhibition match anyway, but that doesn’t do it justice.
Reading Adrian Wojnarowski this morning, you’d even learn that Kobe was BEGGING LeBron to take the shot and he still refused to pull the trigger. And it’s not like this is some anomaly. It’s a trend of continuous letdowns. It’s so frustrating so let’s get this over with and come up with any kind of a conclusion.
As a sports nerd, I’ve come to overwhelmingly trust the opinions of two groups of people when it comes to sports analysis. The first is the advanced stats community, who as I mentioned are very quick to defend LeBron. The second is the actual players though. They know the real story of the league and the teams and the players and it often never reaches our ears. They know that LeBron James is still afraid of the big moment. They know he doesn’t want the rock when it matters. They know that it’s going to take a Herculean effort by Dwyane Wade for this Heat team to break through and win a title. Don’t you remember DeShawn Stevenson openly taunting LeBron in last year’s Finals with Shawn Marion? No seriously though, look at the faces of LeBron’s peers in this video.
Column coming on this later today. Quick thoughts though: look at Kobe begging LeBron to shoot and then watch Kobe/Carmelo absolutely clown LeBron for turning it over.
If you really believe the Knicks are going to struggle when Carmelo Anthony gets back, you’re likely one of the idiots who believes that having Russell Westbrook hurts the Oklahoma City Thunder. Let me know how that works out for you. It’s also highly probably you don’t think the Heat are title contenders. Please note, for the record, that I don’t enjoy people like you who share asinine ideas like that. Alas, let’s make an attempt at an insult free analysis of why the Knicks are going to be excellent when Carmelo gets back, which could happen as soon as tonight.
It is no secret that Mike D’Antoni prefers an offense that revolves around the use of the pick-and-roll. Duh. When Carmelo gets back that’s not going to change, most especially with the recent success they’ve had running it with Lin. Carmelo understands this. Expect the Knicks to still start a vast majority of their possessions with a pick-and-roll utilizing Tyson Chandler.
As you may have noticed recently, most especially in yesterday’s game against the Mavericks, teams are starting to key on Lin in order to disrupt the offensive flow. The preferred method used by Dallas was to double team Lin as soon as he ran the first pick-and-roll. It usually resulted in him having to pull back to reset the offense or send a long pass over to the wing where a Dallas defender was waiting to intercept. You can see it briefly here at the 5:09 mark of this clip (no need to keep watching after ten seconds or so):
Note that Steve Novak’s defender, Lamar Odom, chooses in this instance to protect against the rolling Knicks player, Jared Jeffries. This opens up Novak for the pass to the wing and eventually he creates an isolation bucket through a pump fake and Odom’s being off balance. Steve Novak, in that lineup, is playing the three. He replaced Bill Walker who was injured late last week.
Bill Walker replaced Carmelo Anthony.
Before Lin’s emergence as an elite pick-and-roll point guard, teams that played the Knicks were keying on Carmelo because of the lack of ball movement within the Knicks half court sets. They’d often double team him or simply rely on the low percentages that come about as a result of forced shots from isolation offense.
Now, teams will have a huge decision to make when playing against the Knicks. Will they fall back to using a help defender to limit the game of Carmelo Anthony? Or will they continue to double team Lin off the pick-and-roll? This is a HUGE question that I guarantee you is driving opposing head coaches crazy right now. On the one hand, Lin is no where near the talent of Anthony, but he has proven he can consistently kill teams on the pick-and-roll. To not give him his proper respect might be a quick death sentence. On the other hand though, doubling Lin means that Carmelo Anthony has a 100% guaranteed one-on-one matchup coming off the result of a cut to the ball (rather than a post up). There are maybe two guys in the NBA who can guard Carmelo Anthony with no help, especially if they’re off balanced like Odom was in that clip. He’s going to be a huge beneficiary of Lin’s recent success.
Another important element to point out is that the Knicks still have options when they face a team strong enough to play a standard man-to-man based defense (think: Bulls, Heat). This point was brought up by SI’s Zach Lowe in a blog post last week. Lowe verifies that the Knicks will still start possessions with the Lin/Chandler pick-and-roll. However, sometimes that just doesn’t work and New York is forced to reset the possession with about 12 seconds left in the shot clock. At that time, it’s likely not a good idea for Lin to continue to hold onto the ball and wouldn’t you know it, Carmelo Anthony is going to be the guy he passes to. What the Knicks can then do is utilize the same tactic LeBron and D-Wade use whereby the two most talented offensive players on the floor play pick-and-roll. Only in this case it will be Carmelo and Amar’e. You can see what a problem this will be for teams in this video evidence:
As Grantland’s Sebastian Pruiti describes this play, “No defense would allow Anthony to come off a screen untouched, so Kris Humphries, Stoudemire’s defender, hedges hard at Anthony and traps him before he starts his dribble. This is a perfect opportunity to slip the screen, and Stoudemire, being the fantastic roll man that he is, reads it perfectly and slips to the rim with space. The result is an easy finish.” While you might be right in wondering aloud why in the hell the Knicks don’t run this option 20+ times a game, I can guarantee you that you’ll start to see more of it in the future.
The final argument in Carmelo’s favor is that he perfectly embodies the NBA definition of a go-to scorer. Every NBA champion in history has had one of these guys. A simple way of describing them would be that they can score points no matter what the other team throws at them. Good examples include Kobe, Dirk, and Durant. As tends to be the case in playoff series, teams that succeed often have a player who can bail them out when the elite playoff defenses come out to shut down the normal flow of the offense.
Carmelo Anthony is probably the most gifted scorer in the game and so long as he’s willing to let the offense start off by flowing through Lin, the Knicks are going to be great. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but they actually have a roster that looks like it could contend for a title. Carmelo is the superstar, Amar’e is the pseudo superstar who can score and rebound, Tyson Chandler is the defensive anchor, Landry Fields is an athletic wingman and an above average defender, J.R. Smith is the irrational confidence guy off the bench/sixth man, Jared Jeffries can relieve either Stoudemire or Chandler without being too much of a liability, and Steve Novak/Bill Walker can knock down open threes. And of course all of this keys off of the distributing/unselfish play of Jeremy Lin who is more than happy to oblige. When you throw in whatever Iman Shumpert can give you, that’s a team that has every traditional key role filled.
Holy crap. The Knicks are title contenders.