Man, this has been a weird little season so far. Everybody looks terrible on the second night of back-to-backs, and back-to-backs are happening all the time. Miami looks human, Indy looks unbeatable, Brooklyn looks old, J.R. Smith hates Brandon Jennings, and the tank division — Phoenix, Charlotte, Philly, Orlando, and Boston — is actually pretty good. I was getting a little confused by it all. Then, on Thursday night, the Thunder visited the Warriors. All night, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka battled David Lee and the Splash Brothers in front of one of those electric Golden State crowds that make most gyms look like mortuaries.
In case you were busy convincing friends and family that your Movember mustache should probably stick around through Mocember, here's what you missed on sports on Tuesday:
In a battle of the nation's best freshmen, Jabari Parker outshone Andrew Wiggins, but Wiggins's Kansas Jayhawks pulled away late, beating the Duke Blue Devils 94-83. Coming up with nicknames for the scintillating Parker is the task du jour for college hoops fanatics, so I'm going to throw a few out there; feel free to use any or all of them as you see fit. JaStarry Parker (Parker is a star). JaStarry Starker (seriously, the guy's a star). JaBobri Barker (the price is right for Duke, as college athletes are unpaid). Jaleel Parker (did he do that?). Jab-Ari Gold (for the obvious crossover potential with the upcoming Entourage movie). JaBerry Parker (for the obvious crossover potential with the upcoming Jamba Juice movie that's still happening, right?). Jerk-bari Parker (for NC State fans). Jerk-bari Jerker (for UNC fans). JABARI PARKER! (for Dick Vitale). Jay Parker (it's shorter to say Jay than Jabari). Danny Ferry (for people suffering from long-term amnesia). Shane Battier (for people suffering from mid-term amnesia and a rare disease that prevents them from differentiating between levels of raw athleticism). Jabari Plumlee (for people who don't have time to differentiate between Duke basketball players). Mason Plumlee (for people who really don't have time to differentiate between Duke basketball players). And finally, Marshall Plumlee (for people who really don't have time to differentiate between Duke basketball players, but at least want to make up a fake Plumlee name wait a second Marshall Plumlee is real? What the hell, Duke?).
Last week, we introduced the NBA Regular-Season Championship Belt — a season-long King of the Hill competition to make seemingly inconsequential matchups very friggin' consequential. The idea came from this awesome thread on the /r/NBA board over on Reddit. Miami came into the regular season holding the belt, but lost it to the Sixers in a huge upset. The Sixers — criminally undercovered on Grantland, if you ask me — bravely defended their title against the Bulls. They were the kings of the mountain. To see Brett Brown in his offices at Wells Fargo, one had to bring offerings like cattle or emeralds.
In case you were busy backing up your asshole son by trolling online forums incognito, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Josh McCown led the Bears to a 27-20 win over an injury-depleted Green Bay Packers squad at Lambeau Field, creating a three-team logjam at the top of the NFC North at the midway point of the season. "There's only gonna be one way to settle this," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy after the game. "We'll have to play the rest of our schedules." McCarthy then looked down at a laminated sheet of paper that said "Trust your gut, big guy," looked back up, smiled, and said, Yep, I'm almost positive we'll just have to play the rest of the games to determine who wins."
The "hot hand" has been mostly dead for the last half-decade — the province of irrational believers in “the zone” and “clutch hitting” and other amorphous concepts that haven’t withstood killjoy statistical analysis. Almost every search for the alleged “hot hand,” from the mid-1980s and onward, has either come up empty or found the opposite phenomenon — that players who make a basket are less likely to make their next shot than they are after a miss. David Brooks mocked the hot hand in the New York Times, and Larry Summers, who has been both U.S. Treasury secretary and president of Harvard, chastised the university’s basketball team for believing in the concept.
And, really, how disappointing is that? Few things in basketball are as fun as the burbling excitement that rumbles down from the crowd when a player hits one shot, then another, and gets the ball in position to try an even more difficult shot — and makes it. How could Stephen Curry not have been hot in raining 54 insane points on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden last season? Was it really just a random streak — basketball’s version of a run of “heads” in a series of coin flips?
DeAndre Jordan led the NBA in field goal percentage in 2012-13, but what does that actually mean? Field goal percentage remains our best proxy for shooting ability, but when we ignore the key interactions between court space and shooting percentage, we do a terrible job of assessing the league’s best shooters. DeAndre Jordan is actually one of the worst shooters in the league, not one of the best. Who can forget the timeless demonstration of this fact a few years back:
Here’s a look at the players who held the highest field goal percentage around the court.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. Here, you'll find takes on all the big free-agency transactions of the last few days, along with some of the not-so-big ones.
“It was on the Fourth of July,” Howard said. “That’s when I felt it was Houston. I was in Colorado. It seemed like every person that I met was from Houston. It was just so ironic. I’d walk around. Someone would ask for a picture. They’d give me a business card and it would say Houston on it. I was like, ‘Is everybody in Colorado from Houston right now?’ It was unbelievable. … I was like, ‘You know what, this has to be from God.’ You pray for things to happen. You pray for signs, for God to show you things. It just seemed like, this was it.”
So this whole thing, this whole will-he-or-won't-he, and if and when he does, where-will-he … all of this got settled by one chance encounter, like something ripped from an unreleased Frank Capra movie about a giant moron who goes up a mountain to decide what to do with his life, and finds a moment of clarity with a complete stranger. Word is he had an eye patch, wore himself salty sea dog facial hair, and spoke with a lot of "ARGGHS" added to the end of his sentences. But, man, isn't it weird that there happened to be a guy walking around the streets of Aspen, just as Dwight Howard was taking his Independence Day constitutional, and these two wayward souls bumped into each other and found common ground?
"You're thinking about going to Houston? Aye! Arggh! I be from Houston, matey."
Chris Ryan: With about nine minutes left in the third quarter and the Spurs holding on to a slipping six-point lead over the Warriors, Stephen Curry raced up the court off an Andrew Bogut rebound. Curry is not a normal point guard, so the normal rules of playing the position don't apply to him. This of course, is part of the fun of watching Stephen Curry over the last couple of weeks. He played like ... Stephen Curry, showing off a skill set so unique, on a pair of ankles so brittle, it felt like you were watching some endangered species. Like you sat down in your living room and boom, what in the shit, there was an Iberian lynx.
The other night in San Antonio, the Spurs “regained control” of their series with the upstart Golden State Warriors. Their winning formula was familiar: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker led the team in field goal attempts, while Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green each provided valuable supplements. The Spurs have a clear hierarchy of talent and leadership that generally manifests into a predictably similar order on the stat sheet.
The current Warriors hierarchy is in a bit of disarray. Although these playoffs have undeniably improved the reputations of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Game 5 it was Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack leading the Warriors in field goal attempts, while Curry and Thompson were off somewhere in the basement of the Alamo.
In Part 1 of 2, Bill Simmons talks to Joe House about the NHL and NBA playoffs, then asks which playoff city is House's food favorite. In Part 2, Simmons calls Zach Lowe to talk about the NBA playoffs and whether Golden State can pull off the upset over the Spurs.
To listen to these podcasts, download them on iTunes here, or to listen at the ESPN.com Podcenter, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.
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 weekend, along with ones you will remember forever.
The Black Falcon Has Landed
Jay Caspian Kang: Last spring, when the Golden State Warriors were redefining the acceptable parameters of tanking and Harrison Barnes was redefining the boundaries of how badly I could troll a player on my beloved Carolina Tar Heels, I wrote a series of columns stating the Warriors were doing the NBA a disservice and that Barnes was a bust. Around that time, I recall a friend joking that the best possible outcome would be if the Warriors tanked their way into the middle of the lottery and picked up Barnes. That way, my two beloved hatreds could be intertwined forever. If Barnes ended up being an NBA bust, the specious logic of sports predictions and the Internet record would vindicate me forever.
In case you were busy asking, "yeah, but when is Spoiled Only-Child Day?" here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tiger Woods won his second career Players Championship and his fourth PGA Tour event this year, finishing the tournament at 13-under. Woods benefited from Sergio Garcia's quadruple-bogey on TPC's iconic 17th hole. "I can't believe it," Tiger said after the tournament, "I thought for sure I was in trouble. You don't just stare down Sergio Garcia and live to tell the tale. I'm shocked that he made it easy for me. Shoooooocked." When told of Woods's comments, Garcia said, "Why? What's his problem, man? Guy has everything. He has a boat that holds other boats in it. He has a trophy case that is just all of the trophies he doesn't like melted down and turned into a trophy case. Why's he gotta come after me? What's he compensating for? What trouble has Tiger f-ing Woods ever had to deal with? Can we talk about that for a second? Can we talk about Tiger Woods's hypothetical personal troubles?" When told of Garcia's questions, Woods asked, "Wasn't he married to Greg Norman's daughter?" before winking provocatively at the press corps. When told of Tiger's wink, Sergio let out a frustrated scream. When told of Sergio's scream, Tiger let out a sarcastic chuckle. When told of Tiger's sarcastic chuckle, Sergio sighed. When told of Sergio's sigh, Tiger fist-pumped. When told of Tiger's fist pump, Sergio's lip began to quiver. When told of Sergio's lip quiver, Tiger didn't look up from his dinner of truffles and lobsters. When told of Tiger's feast, Sergio let one tear trickle down his cheek. When told of Sergio's tear, Tiger turned his laptop toward the reporter talking to him; the laptop had a really smug animated GIF playing on loop. When told of Tiger's GIF burn, Sergio asked, "Isn't that pronounced with a hard 'G,' like Garcia?" But it isn't, and when a reporter went to tell Tiger of Sergio's foolishness, he was too busy watching someone polishing his trophy case made of trophies to acknowledge the reporter's existence.
Even with Stephen Curry at less than full strength, the Golden State Warriors evened up their series with the San Antonio Spurs with a 97-87 overtime win. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was concerned after the game, saying, "Now that Curry is banged up, Mark Jackson discovered he's allowed to rest him. That sprained ankle cost us a massive competitive advantage in this series."
When the Warriors lost David Lee to what the team assumed was a season-ending injury in the team’s first playoff game, I was skeptical that Golden State would be able to reconstruct its offense on the fly against an opponent devoting nearly 100 percent of its scouting resources to the Warriors. It wasn’t that Lee was some kind of indispensable two-way destroyer for the Dubs; he’s a very clear minus on defense, and though he puts up gaudy individual rebounding numbers every season, his teams have generally rebounded better with him on the bench.
It was mostly that Lee was such a central cog in just about every Warriors offensive possession. He was by far Golden State’s most common screener for Stephen Curry, and on those deadly pick-and-rolls, Lee could do just about everything — pop for jumpers, roll to the hoop, catch at the foul line, and break down the defense with his dribbling/passing skills. He also soaked up a lot of Golden State possessions with a solid post-up/isolation game, particularly from the left wing. Only Curry attempted more shots per game or used a larger share of Warriors possessions.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
Danny Chau: This is a shot chart of Klay Thompson’s many 3-pointers from Game 2, overlaid on his 3-point attempts during the regular season. It’s wild.
As you can see, a majority of his shots traced the beginning arc on the right side of the floor. That is his favorite area of the court, and has been since he stepped foot in the league. Nearly 40 percent of his 3s in the regular season come from that hot zone (it’s also Steph Curry’s favorite area to shoot, but he’s more bashful about it). Thompson was fantastic from the right side as a rookie, shooting nearly 46 percent, but with greater usage this season, that figure plummeted to (a still very respectable) 37 percent, making it his least effective 3-point hot zone. It was by far his least effective in the first seven games of the playoffs, too. Before last night’s onslaught, he was 2-for-10 from that area. But shooters keep shooting, and they’ll keep shooting where they want to.