First Impressions

So the NBA season began for reals last night. Allegedly both Kyrie Irving and Sideshow Bob played pretty well for the Cavs, but on the other hand it was against the Wizards, so who really knows about that. Which, incidentally, is a weird way to start the season; it’s like the NBA telling you, “Yeah, we’ve got these two marquee matchups for you, but we’re going to whet your appetite for them with a game that hardly anyone outside the two fanbases could possibly care about.”

Before we move on, let me pause and thank all the gods, basketball and otherwise, for the existence of www.basketball-reference.com. This year they’ve added a feature which I hadn’t seen before: a shot chart that shows you where every team took shots from on the floor. In general, it’s a fucking brilliant resource. All hail it.

Anyways, I sort of half-watched the Celtics-Heat game and my basic impression was ARRR WHAT ARE YOU DOING JASON TERRY. Obviously, the Celtics still have a way to go before their team coheres around a single game plan, so it’s pointless to read too much into the results of the game. What I liked was: Rondo getting his own shot, to the tune of a 20-7-13 statline on 64% shooting. This is what he has to be like for the Celtics the whole year if they’re going to have a successful season. Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa were both outstanding; I’m especially happy for Barbosa, whom I’ve liked since his days as a Sun. Boston out-rebounded Miami on both ends, and in general had a very efficient offensive game, shooting 52% from the field and 46% from 3.

What I didn’t like: Miami shot a pretty unreal 50% from 3, 54% from the field, and forced a shitton of turnovers. Ray Allen torched his former teammates for 19 points, two of which came via a glacially slow drive past his defender (don’t remember who) to finish at the rim. I know Jesus can still play and all, but when a 37-year-old Ray Allen is beating you off the dribble, something is wrong. The overall picture makes it look like the Celtics fell down on the defensive end, but that is somewhat misleading; while Miami did get a number of easy buckets via good ball movement, LeBron also had a very good shooting night on long 2’s and 3’s. In general, if you can get your opponent to take a long 2 (especially a contested one) early in the clock, that’s a good thing, and this time Miami made their shots.

Also, Jeff fucking Green. I know, I know, dude had a heart condition and all, but still: 0-4, 3 of those attempts coming from close range. Boooo! And Paul Pierce shot like ass.

Then there was the Mavs-Lakers game, which I only watched half of, but have no reason to think that my impressions from that half are not generalizable to the whole game. Namely, why would you waste Nash’s talents like that, Los Angeles? Will Mike Brown ever come up with a competent offensive scheme? What’s the point of having one of the best pick-and-roll point guards ever walking the ball up the court and handing it off to Gasol at the top of the key? Pau led the Lakers in assists with six(!) and while I realize that he’s a pretty good passer for a big man, that should not be happening when one of the best passers in the game is on your team. All this talk about the Princeton hybrid motion offense is, as far as I can tell, a bunch of technical-sounding bullshit that essentially means a bunch of very static offensive sets and generally poor off-the-ball movement. As Sir Charles astutely noted during the half-time report, Dwight should be running up and down the court; many times in the first half, Nash would try to start a fast break only to find that he had no support for a lob and no trailers for a quick 3.

And what to make of these Mavericks? There’s a sense in which this incarnation of the team is sort of like the title-winning squad of, fuck, was it really a year and a half ago? Shit. Obviously not as good as that team was, but resembling them in the sense that they seem to be assembled around Dirk and a bunch of castoffs from other teams. I really thought that Houston was going to be the Island of Misfit Basketball Toys this year, but now that they’ve got Harden, it’s a bit more difficult to put them in that category. Dallas, on the other hand… the ’11 team was forged from Jason Kidd (acquired from the Nets for Devin Harris and a bunch of junk, but clearly on the decline), Tyson Chandler (now looking fabulous, then a dubious reclamation project after years of injuries), Shawn Marion (once a plausible DPOY candidate, before being traded for two O’Neals in a row), J.J. Barea (famous for being short), Brendan Haywood (another failure in a long line of Cuban’s attempts to acquire a moderately competent center), Peja (when did that happen?), and the likes of Corey Brewer, Ian Mahinmi, and DeShawn Stevenson. I’m not even counting Caron Butler, who was out for the second half of the season with a broken hand. Seriously, those people all played non-negligible roles on a championship team; some of them actually played starring roles. If anything can be a testament to Rick Carlisle’s coaching ability, it must be the fact that he won a title with a team seemingly assembled out of spare parts that no one thought to use. It’s like MacGuyvering a functional television out of circuitry harvested from a scrap heap: a technically possible but unlikely achievement by anyone but a real master.

Now the Mavs are at it again; of course, they won’t win a title this year, and many commentators don’t even have them making the playoffs, which I would argue is a bit premature. Seriously though, can anyone look at this team and honestly predict good things? Sure, if Dirk and Kaman (free-agent castoff) come back and stay healthy, if Rodrigue Beaubois can consistently play well, if Darren Collison (surplus to requirements at Indiana after backing up George Hill) can do point-guardy things and run the two-man game with Dirk, if O.J. Mayo (dumped by the Grizzlies) doesn’t continue regressing, if Vince Carter (oh god…) can resist taking 15 ill-advised long jumpers per game, if Brandan Wright continues to be a serviceable center, if Eddy Curry (Eddy Curry! Eddy Curry! AAAAAHHHH) doesn’t eat himself out of shape yet again, if Elton Brand (amenstied by the Sixers) can average 10 PPG, if Shawn Marion can muster up another year of all-NBA defense… that’s enough ifs for a Kipling poem. This team isn’t just a reclamation project, it’s like someone is trying to build a space shuttle out of old car parts.┬áSo many things have to go right for this team to even contend on any given night that if Carlisle gets them to the playoffs with a 6-seed or higher, he has to be the coach of the year; I can’t think of anyone other than maybe Doc Rivers (maybe Stan Van Gundy?) who could achieve that.

Oh god, it’s really on, isn’t it.