The NBA playoffs are in full swing, and as the amazing continues to happen, the Grantland crew wants to help you buff up on some of the lesser-known faces populating basketball's second season.
Who Is He? Pablo Prigioni.
What’s His Nickname? “The Maestro” has popped up a few times in my search, but I’m suspicious that’s only a result of the YouTube clip below. New Yorkers can help me out here, but apparently there’s a local sportscaster who refers to him as “Priggy Smalls” — make your own judgments there.
Where Is He From? Argentina, but he played professionally in Spain.
Years Played: Rookie.
What’s His Salary? $473,604.
His Game in 25 Words or Fewer: A pass-first point guard who’s fluent in the pick-and-roll, shoots it well enough from 3, and consistently makes great decisions with the ball.
But, holy cow, did Hibbert announce himself to a national TV audience that might have ignored the Pacers this season, including during their first-round win over the Hawks. Hibbert finished with five blocks and played a huge role in holding the Knicks to just 15-of-34 shooting in the restricted area, per NBA.com. There will be nights when the Knicks miss an unusually high number (for them) of 3-point shots and midrange jumpers, and Carmelo Anthony is going through a streak of such nights right now. But if an opposing defense controls the paint like the Pacers did last night, New York will have to work very hard to win even when more of the jumpers fall.
On the November 7, 2012, episode of Pardon the Interruption, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon interviewed Dork Elvis, a.k.a. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. During the interview, Kornheiser asked Morey the following questions: “Is there a specific statistic, Daryl, that you look for in a player that counts for more than any other statistic out there? Is there one thing that you might see that appeals personally to you?”
Morey hesitated, Kornheiser pressed, then Morey suggested that he loves guards who get to the rim: “We really like guys who can attack the hoop. Our point guard, Jeremy Lin, is a great example; so is James Harden. Point guards who are a little more traditional, a little more safe, and stay within their lane, I don’t think they impact winning as much as people think. I like having multiple attack guards and playing with pace.”
Good things happen when guards “attack” the basket. Aside from the obvious — layups and dunks — less apparent results like offensive rebounds, defensive fouls, free throws, and assists are also more likely to occur when attacking guards get near the hoop.
The Knicks are on pace to make history. The team is on track to break the record for most 3-point attempts in NBA history, and so far, they're hitting a ridiculous 41 percent from deep. That number will come down; only eight teams have ever finished a season having hit 40 percent of their 3's, and four of those teams played during the three-year stretch in the mid-’90s when the NBA used a shortened 3-point distance. AND when they hit an inevitable cold stretch, this will be among the two or three dominant discussion topics: The Knicks shoot too many 3's, and they need to pound the ball inside!
For most of the year, Miami is for Lamborghini-driving Argentines and frat bros with barbed-wire tats at Wet Willie’s. But for a brief, fragile window, during the annual Art Basel, the city is Little Downtown New York. Whether by happy accident or cunning scheduling, the Knicks just happened to play the Heat right in the middle of Art Basel this year. Adding to an orgiastic week of art shows, musical performances (A$AP Rocky rapping at the Delano Hotel), parties with gratis champagne, and half the taggers from Bushwick skateboarding into the Design District, there was also a matchup between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. Advantage: David Stern.
This couldn’t have been more different from the first time the Knicks and Heat tangled. Held in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the game took place when parts of New York were still shrouded in darkness, when subways were flooded and the battered citizenry was subsiding on Utz bodega chips. Miami might not have tanked, exactly, but it’s difficult to imagine Coach Spoelstra delivering a fiery oratory in which he pounded on lockers and demanded that his soldiers send the fans in Madison Square Garden back to their cold, dark rat traps in sadness. After absorbing a pounding from the Knicks, members of the Heat smiled and embraced their temporary betters. That’s not usually what occurs when a team gets the breaks beaten off by a conference rival in a season opener.
But last night’s game? Everyone knew that one counted.
Heading into tonight’s game against Orlando, New York is the only undefeated team in the NBA. Save the pillowcase–of–snow globes thumping inflicted by the Miami Heat in the playoffs, the Knicks have gone 22-6 under the glowering tenure of Mike Woodson. The story line has been simple: The Knicks are buying into Woodson’s ideology and Carmelo Anthony has been brainwashed into trying hard for sustained periods of time. Should the Knicks dispatch the Magic and the Spurs, “MVP” chants at the Garden are inevitable.
Yet New York’s success is not a result of Anthony’s maturation into a bona fide superstar. While he has worked harder on defense, much of his game is the same. His field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, rebounds, and offensive rating are all roughly at career averages. In fact, with Anthony's assists at a career low of 1.5 per game, an argument could be made that the Knicks' offensive brilliance has been a result of him doing less, not more.
But if not Anthony, who deserves credit for the Knicks’ pristine start? Surprisingly, it’s the team’s oft-maligned front office. Really.
It’s too early to draw meaningful conclusions about teams or players, but after just a week, we can say this: One of the league’s glamour teams looks surprisingly comfortable in its own skin, while a would-be contender fresh off a massive long-term roster change is showing worrisome early signs.
The team making me smile: The New York Knicks, whose existence over the last 12 months (and beyond, really) is a glaring reminder against reading anything into a mini-streak of any kind. And let’s not go crazy, even though the Knicks are in the top three in both points scored and allowed per possession after games against two solid opponents; both Miami and Philadelphia in their current states allow New York to play small ball without consequences, and Carmelo Anthony, despite the glittering start, has hurt his shooting percentage (43.5 percent) with three or four irresponsibly nutty attempts in each game. (J.R. Smith remains New York’s reigning King of Irresponsibly Nutty Attempts.)
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Stephen Strasburg struck out seven over six scoreless innings to earn his 10th win of the year as the Nationals beat the Marlins 4-0. In the home locker room, Ozzie Guillen took a long hard look at himself in the mirror and realized he had to motivate his team. It had been too long. Without wasting another second, he took out his iPhone and Googled "inspiring Fidel Castro quotes."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports since Tuesday.
Phoenix Sun? More like Phoenix done! Steve Nash is headed to the Lakers the Los Angeles Lakers, that is. The Suns point guard worked out a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix that will send him to L.A., where he'll chase an NBA title with a certain fellow superstar. Maybe you've heard of him: Kobe Bryant.
For the remainder of the NBA season, The Triangle will be breaking down the biggest games of the week. Up first: Knicks-Mavs, a game in which Tyson Chandler returned to Dallas and faced the team he won a championship ring with last season. In Dallas's 96-85 victory, Dirk Nowitzki resumed his single-footed heroics and Carmelo Anthony gave more fuel to his growing army of critics.
What Was at Stake
Since the Knicks had amassed their full arsenal of weapons — Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Baron Davis, and Iman Shumpert returned from injury, and J.R. Smith came back from joyriding junkets down the Yangtze River — they’d gone 2-3, with losses to Boston, Miami, and New Jersey going into Tuesday's game. The two wins were in games that presented challenges as daunting as spotting someone in Los Angeles wearing a fedora: One was a trouncing of a depleted Atlanta team, the other a rout of the Cavs. (Even then, the Knicks trailed at the half by 12.)
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
According to sources, Saints owner Tom Benson is backing head coach Sean Payton despite accusations that he maintained a bounty program to injure opponents. "I think Sean Payton is great! Beep-Beep-Beeeeeeeep! No problems here! Beeeeeeeeep-Beep-Beep" he said loudly. It took code-breakers all night, but they finally realized Benson was using Morse code to deliver a hidden message: "Bounty on me, please help, they have my wife."
Redskins players came out in support of former assistant Gregg Williams, insisting that while he gave money for big hits and good plays, there was never a bounty system to reward anyone for injuring an opponent. "He would also pay us $1,000 if we threw water in his face and called him 'Little Linda' until he cried," said one former player. "But I'm pretty sure that was unrelated."
LeBron James is not the Incredible Hulk or Tupac. He does not thrive on hate. He is not fueled by rage. I don't think he's fueled by love, either. He plays basketball like an Apache helicopter and bites his nails. We're not going to know what basketball means to this guy until the (still inevitable, I think) day he wins a ring. Maybe he'll have a Jordan-crying/KG-screaming moment. Maybe he will just clap baby powder in our faces. Maybe he'll just bite his nails some more.
According to reports, Kenyon Martin will be joining the Los Angeles Clippers, accepting a "mini-midlevel deal" with the team. Martin will reportedly join L.A. once the Xinjiang Tigers complete their season. The question then, is this: What does this mean for the Clippers?
The NBA lockout lasted from July 1 to November 26 . We lost a lot during that time. Namely months of wildly speculative, anonymously sourced, economically illiterate trade and free agent rumors, which have come back with the vengeance of Old Boy in this compressed offseason. Something else got lost too. The Dallas Mavericks lost the chance to be champions.