We've been getting in the mood for basketball for a few weeks now, but the NBA season doesn't officially begin until Media Day.
That's when everything that's amazing and ridiculous comes back at once. The photos, the quotes, the trash talk, the outrageous predictions. It's all there. And it's been even better the past few years, because Twitter makes it easier than ever to share all the best moments. With the help of Danny Chau and the rest of the NBA Internet, let's run through some important moments from around the league.
Almost exactly a month ago, Brandon Jennings got slapped in the face during a Drew League game in Los Angeles. Today, we have reports that Jennings was punched in the grill by L.A. rapper The Game at a nightclub in Hollywood on Saturday. AT HIS OWN BIRTHDAY PARTY.
Joe Dumars has been Detroit’s top decision-maker for 13 years, and, holy cow, what a 13 years it has been for the franchise. Over this stretch, Dumars has experienced the end of the Grant Hill era; the related and visionary Ben Wallace theft; the surprisingly effective Rip Hamilton–Jerry Stackhouse swap; the magical 2004 title run; the Malice at the Palace; a heartbreaking seven-game loss in the 2005 Finals (Robert Horry was involved); six straight conference finals appearances (think about that); the highly controversial Chauncey Billups–Allen Iverson trade; the 2009 free-agency splurge the entire city of Detroit has agreed never to mention again; and a slow, painful rebuild during which attendance dropped to league-worst levels and Detroit became the consensus “league’s most boring team” — even as they quietly drafted very well outside the top five.
Suddenly, bam: The Pistons are the NBA’s new League Pass darling. Everyone wants to see the Andre Drummond dunk fest, and how three guys who need the ball — Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Greg Monroe — will coexist in lineups that will struggle for spacing. The Pistons have somehow become the most captivating non-contender while acquiring two big-money players most fans seem to find frustrating more than anything else.
After a weekend watching prospects at Adidas Nations in Los Angeles, Dumars took a break and chatted at length one-on-one with Grantland. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
First of all, let’s congratulate the Pistons and Bucks on collaborating for a fitting capper to the NBA’s silly season. It seemed at times like these two were at the center of at least half the free-agency rumors after July 1. The Pistons used their cap space — earned mostly via sacrificing a first-round pick to dump Ben Gordon on Charlotte — to sign one polarizing lefty free agent, and have now nabbed another via sign-and-trade. In between, they signed Italian sharpshooter Luigi Datome, who joins Milwaukee’s Miroslav Raduljica in the club of “international guys only 2 percent of NBA fans had heard of before Detroit or Milwaukee signed them.”
The Bucks, meanwhile, turned over two-thirds of their roster in ditching every perimeter player from their 2012-13 squad, save for Ish Smith. They signed Zaza Pachulia in what might have been a clerical error, and they and the Hawks damn near discussed flipping rosters at one point. The Bucks and Hawks should have worked a token swap of second-round picks into this Brandon Jennings deal, making it a three-team trade that would have worked as a convenient shorthand for the entire non–Dwight Howard portion of the 2013 offseason.
In case you were busy becoming an expert on the recovery period for hip surgeries, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Red Sox bolstered their rotation before the trade deadline, acquiring former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox in a three-team deal. When asked if he was worried about the pressure of playing in Boston, Peavy responded gravely, "Yes. Terrified. Everything changes. I've spent the last couple of hours weeping into this bucket. Look at it!" Peavy then held up an empty bucket, before adding, "Of course I dumped out the bucket before I came out here. I'm not a weirdo."
Mark Ellis hit a walk-off single and the Dodgers kept on rolling, edging past the New York Yankees, 3-2, and improving to 27-6 over their past 33 games. The hit extended Ellis's hit streak to 11 games, a run he credits to "not having anything to do with hallucinogenic drugs, why is everyone asking me that? Of course I'm not tripping at the plate. That would have made this impossible I would imagine." Ellis then furrowed his brow and asked, "Is this because of that honorary doctorate I got in June?"
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Tower of Power
Chris Ryan: Yesterday a couple of us were sitting around when Brian Schmitz's Orlando Sentinel piece on the cooking-in-its-own-juices ex–Orlando Magic players beef came across the Telex machine. Doing my best to capture the gravitas of the situation, I read out Rashard Lewis's quote: "We made a good run. Hell, look at those (conference and division) banners hanging in the stands. They don’t say Dwight Howard on them."
It was just eight days ago that the Milwaukee Bucks were left for dead on the side of the NBA highway. Losers of three straight, the team clung to the final Eastern Conference playoff spot strictly by default. The trigger-happy duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings had seemingly shot the team out of any chance at relevance, and even the addition of the trade deadline’s biggest name, J.J. Redick, couldn’t inspire most NBA fans to care about the happenings in the frozen tundra of southeastern Wisconsin.
After a string of tight-knit and entertaining games, the Bucks have won four straight and are emerging as a potential playoff wild card in the East. Ellis and Jennings have been the catalysts for the most recent surge, but not in their usual fashion. Instead of shooting with reckless abandon, they've taken turns in the role of playmaker — with impressive results.
During their winning streak, Ellis and Jennings have combined for 78 assists, including 36 by Jennings in just the last two wins against Toronto and Utah. It is Jennings’s sudden switch from unapologetic gunner to reserved floor-general that's seemingly sparked new possibilities for a franchise mired in mediocrity.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Monta Ellis
Ellis had 34 points on 15-21 shooting last night, leading his Milwaukee team to their second overtime win in as many games (this time over the Jazz), and their fourth straight win overall. With J.J. Redick in the lineup, Monta's averaging 21.5 points, 9.3 assists, and 4.3 steals per game. He also does stuff like this.
Fifteen of the league’s 30 teams have purchased a data-tracking camera system from STATS LLC that records every single movement on the court — the ball, the players, the referees, etc. — in three dimensions. The cameras can measure just about anything, and the teams that are using them best have moved far ahead in developing their own algorithms to measure whatever they wish — which team forces pick-and-rolls left most often, where corner 3s typically rebound when they miss, and how often a player accelerates from “jog” to “sprint” during a game.
(These are the subscribing teams: Houston, Boston, New York, Washington, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Golden State, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando, Dallas, Minnesota, Toronto, Cleveland.)
Teams hoard their own data like kids hoard candy on Halloween. But STATS was kind enough to send Grantland a giant pile of exclusive information from the 2012-13 season, updated after Wednesday’s slate of 13 games, on a few general categories STATS tracks for all subscribing teams. The data focuses on both the player and team level, including drives to the basket, post touches, and touches at the elbow areas. From that pile, here are some Friday nuggets for your perusal:
We’ll always have the second half of the 2009-10 season. That's when the Bucks, under head coach Scott Skiles, became League Pass darlings in a way they never were before and haven’t approached since. The Bucks went 18-6 after swiping John Salmons from the Bulls at the trade deadline, and before Andrew Bogut’s season came to a scary and sad end in early April with a gruesome bad-luck fall on his right arm. Bogut had been playing the best ball of his career, scoring in high volumes from the post, getting to the line more, dishing assists out of the pick-and-roll, and playing the best individual defense that existed anywhere outside of Orlando.
Salmons went on a tear that would earn him a $40 million contract the Bucks have since pawned off on the hapless Kings (though Salmons, it should be said, has been a steadying presence in Sacramento this season). A delightful, fearless grasshopper of a rookie point guard in Brandon Jennings helped run what used to be Michael Redd’s show, and the Bucks for two months were legitimately terrifying. When Salmons, Bogut, and Jennings shared the floor, Milwaukee scored at a top-10 level, defended better than any team in the league — by a giant margin, per NBA.com — and scared the bejesus out of fans whose higher-seeded teams were potentially in line to draw Milwaukee in the first round. Fear the Deer was a real thing. It was perhaps Skiles’s crowning moment as a coach, though he had already transformed teams in Phoenix and Chicago into defensive powerhouses before wearing out his welcome in both towns.
As someone who's lived in Atlanta for the past six years, I distinctly remember the shocking announcement that Josh Childress had decided to leave the Hawks. He passed up on the team's $36 million offer, which would've paid him a respectable $5.6 million in his first year. Instead, the forward accepted a more lucrative three-year offer from Olympiacos, a Greek basketball team. At the time, it made him the "the highest-paid basketball player in the world outside of the N.B.A.," but he's since spoken out against his decision. If you read his interviews from before and after his stint in Greece, it seems as if he didn't quite consider all the tradeoffs of leaving the NBA before he crossed the Atlantic.
In recent years, a growing number of American players have decided to take their talents abroad and play outside of the United States. Veterans like Tracy McGrady, Stephon Marbury, and Jordan Farmar have headed overseas this year for a variety of reasons, whether it be money, searching for playing time they can't find in the NBA, or a longing for different cultural experiences.
Coming into the season, the biggest question facing the Milwaukee Bucks was one of fit. Their ceiling was going to be defined by how well their diminutive, shot-happy backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis could co-exist.
Armed with a full training camp, it was left to head coach Scott Skiles — known for his defensive acumen — to devise a creative offensive scheme that made all the pieces fit. Like Rick Carlisle does year in and year out in Dallas, Skiles has built a system with concepts that allow his primary creators to not only play to their strengths, but also to avoid their weaknesses.
For both Jennings and Ellis, that means minimizing the number of times they're forced to create with the ball in their weak hand. Ellis, in particular, has diminished effectiveness when forced to his left, something that can occur quite often when teams use “down” side pick-and-rolls or execute a “weak” coverage on ball screens in the middle of the floor.
Today's big picture: Two teams with point guards who appear to be foundational offensive players have locked them up with long-term deals, while two others (Milwaukee and Philadelphia) have passed on extending point guards who have yet to show that kind of potential.
Why is it that as soon as I saw this NBA "Gameface" T-shirt, featuring Chicago Bulls point guard and groin-injury-sufferer Derrick Rose, I immediately thought of the "NOT THE BEES!" scene from Wicker Man? Maybe it's just my particular worldview, but there is something disturbing about this motif, this mating of man and mascot. Other horrifying entries include LeBron James/FACE ON FIRE, Zach Randolph/Grizzlyman, Brandon Jennings with ANTLERS and, most disturbingly, Kemba Walker/CAT-FACE. (Because how, in the name of all that is just, did Kemba Walker get his own T-shirt?)