The NBA's most influential: Gilbert Arenas, #10

1 Comment

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for gilbert_arenas.jpg

Greetings and welcome to the “NBA’s most influential,” a list of the 10 players who will/could have the greatest impact on the league next season. To be clear: this is not a list of projected MVP candidates, or who this author thinks will be the 10 best players in the league next season. It is simply a list of the 10 players who, based on their game, their importance to their team, and their importance to the rest of the league, will have the greatest impact on the league next season whether they succeed or fail. Without further ado, here’s Gilbert Arenas.
From the beginning of the 04-05 season to the end of the 06-07 season, Gilbert Arenas was one of the best guards/pure scorers in the league. He averaged 25.5, 29.3, and 28.4 points per game during those three seasons, and missed a total of 12 games over that three-year stretch. Few, if any, players could match Gilbert’s combination of three-point range, an explosive first step, passing ability, and the strength to finish at the rim any time he got his shoulder inside of his defender.
Allen Iverson succeeded by putting his defender on a string, fooling his defender into giving him a lane to the rim, and hitting a quick-release mid-range jumper whenever he was given room; Gilbert was Iverson 2.0, a combo guard with the athleticism and raw strength to bully his way to the rim or the free throw line and the ability to rain threes on any defense that sagged off of him. (And Gilbert, of course, had the swagger to match his skills.)
That was then; this is now. Thanks to injuries and a firearm suspension, Arenas has only played 47 total games in the past three seasons, and his combined FG% in those three seasons is only 40%. 
Here’s the thing: Arenas still has more than enough talent to be an impact player. The arrival of John Wall will likely force Arenas to play the two next season, but Agent Zero has the ability to make an Arenas/Wall backcourt absolutely deadly. Flip Saunders has said that Arenas will spot up more this season, and he has the ability to punish any team that leaves him alone beyond the three-point arc. His knee injuries have taken a good bit of his explosiveness from him, but Arenas was never an above-the-rim player; his greatest talent as a driver was always his strength and ability to keep any defender on his shoulder once he got by him, forcing him to either concede the layup or give a foul — even if Arenas’ first step isn’t what it once was, he can still burn any team that gives him anything resembling a lane to drive through. 
Make no mistake: if Arenas can deal with the fact that he isn’t a 28 PPG scorer anymore and if his knees aren’t completely destroyed, he could absolutely turn himself into one of the best offensive two-guards in the league. Whether Arenas can accept his new role or not will be a key factor in Washington’s success or failure next season.
The Wizards could be very, very good next season. They could also be very, very bad. I don’t want to make a hard-and-fast prediction about that team, because they really have no floor or ceiling; it’s hard to name a team with more extremely talented and extremely flawed players. 
John Wall may be the best perimeter prospect to enter the league since LeBron; he’s also a rookie with limited three-point range, questions surrounding his ability to be a pure point guard, and an aversion to driving to his right. JaVale McGee is a true 7+ foot center with crazy athleticism, a Mr. Fantastic wingspan, and surprising skills for a man his size — seriously, he’s just as comfortable stepping around the help-side defender and converting a Giant Gervin finger roll as he is putting home an easy alley-oop. He’s also a center who’s never shot 51% from the field and has always seemed all to content to let his man get by him for an easy layup. 
Andray Blatche has true power forward size, small forward skills, and put up absolute monster numbers after Antawn Jamison was traded away last season, but he does tend to float in and out of games, especially on defense. Josh Howard and Al Thornton are talented scorers with superb mid-range games who have all but been given up on at this point in their careers. Kirk Hinrich was thought of as one of the most complete two-way combo guards in the league before he mysteriously became “Zombie Hinrich” and averaged less PPG in his last three seasons than he did in any of his first four seasons. Heck, even Nick Young and Yi Jianlian have shown flashes of greatness throughout their disappointing careers, and the latter has supposedly found his game this summer while working with renowned coach David Thorpe. In short, this is an extremely talented team with exactly 0 sure things on its roster.
Exactly how good or bad the Wizards will be next season may hinge on the John Wall effect. The Wizards have a roster filled with extremely talented players with glaring weaknesses; great point guards highlight the strengths of their teammates whilst hiding their weaknesses. Wall hasn’t played a minute of NBA basketball yet, but from what I saw in Las Vegas, the kid is for real. He gets into the paint at will, can hit the mid-range jumper if he’s given space, and, most importantly, knows how to set up his teammates when the defenses collapse on him. 
I’ve seen JaVale McGee hang out on the perimeter and try to be a 7-2 shooting guard during both NBA and Summer League play for who knows how long; in Vegas, when McGee was working off of Wall’s penetration, he was throwing down Alley-oops and catch-and-dunk opportunities with reckless abandon, and looked like a completely different player. Wall’s summer-league teammates were also the recipients of countless open looks from beyond the arc and open lanes to drive through thanks to Wall’s penetration and savvy dimes. It was only Summer League, but Wall showed that he wants to be far more than an athlete/scorer; he wants to be the next great point guard in this league.
All of this brings us back to Arenas. If Arenas accepts that Wall is going to be the one making everything go in Washington, he could absolutely experience a career renaissance — getting easy looks from beyond the arc, working drives on defenses tilted towards Wall’s side of the floor, or setting Wall and everybody else up with passes for easy finishes. If Arenas reverts to his old habits and (as he is occasionally wont to do) stops the ball and tries to relive his 28 PPG glory days on a bad knee, he may become an albatross for Washington, tempt his talented teammates to try and get theirs instead of playing a team game, and ultimately end up holding the New Wizards back instead of getting them back into contention. 
There’s also the matter of Gilbert’s off-court persona to consider. Before Twitter caught on and players regularly blogged, Arenas gained attention for his blog on (ghostwritten for him by former and current ESPN Los Angeles employee Dave McMenamin), which was funny, revealing, honest, and often charmingly insane. 
The blog was influential enough for former editor Will Leitch to write an essay about Arenas entitled “Why Gilbert Arenas Matters More
Than LeBron James” in his excellent 2008 book, God Save the Fan
In the essay, Leitch praises Arenas’ accessibility; when approached by a fan at a bowling alley, Arenas invited the fan to join his game, hung out with him for hours, and then played video games with said fan all night. He also sponsored a professional Halo team, tried to vote himself into the All-Star game, talked about taking a shower in his full uniform, embraced the “Agent Zero” given to him by, and admitted to dropping his daughter, “butt-first,” on his blog. By being so down-to-Earth and accessible, Leitch argued, not incorrectly, that Arenas was a new model of athlete, one who made LeBron’s reliance on corporate-friendly and team-first platitudes seem outdated and insincere. (Stop me if any of this sounds familiar to you.) 
Since 2008, Gilbert’s relationship with the media has changed. When twitter exploded, Arenas was no longer the athlete darling of Web 2.0; an Arenas blog post would probably be the 10th-craziest NBA player admission/statement of the day if it happened today. (Arenas briefly flirted with Twitter, saying he’d start tweeting when he got 1,000,000 followers; he never came close to getting that many followers.) 
Then, of course, there was the gun thing. An NBA player who developed a cult of personality for acting goofy and occasionally stupid got suspended for a full season for acting goofy and extremely stupid. It was one of those events that makes you consider just how athletes should be covered in 2010. 
The sports media (which I am, of course, a member of) will always try to separate athletes into Good Guys and Bad Guys, and Web 2.0 has often helped them do that. But an endearing web presence like Arenas getting suspended for a full season for bringing guns into a locker room highlights the fact that as athletes gain more and more control over their public image, they become less and less like characters in a narrative and more like human beings. The same Gilbert Arenas that invited a bowling buddy to play video games with him all night brought guns into the locker room because of a gambling dispute. 
In his Arenas essay, Leitch says the following about the contrast between Arenas and LeBron/Michael Jordan:
[An athlete] just has to be himself, an original thinker, someone who we feel is being straight with us. Michael Jordan never was this, and LeBron James never will be. We see through it now. We don’t believe him.
So, should we believe Arenas? Are we willing to accept his flaws, which are serious, and embrace the man that’s entertained us both on the court and off as a performer, Kanye-twitter style? Should we all go see Catfish and realize (spoiler alert, kinda) that being “you” on the internet is often just a way to market yourself rather than a true window into the soul? Or should we just worry about whether Gilbert will embrace playing off the ball alongside John Wall next season? 
All of these are valid questions Arenas raises, and ones we’re still looking for answers to in the thick of the Web 2.0 phenomenon and the dawn of the John Wall era.

Report: Jahlil Okafor tried using fake I.D. last month.

Jahlil Okafor
Leave a comment

Another day, another Jahlil Okafor issue.

There was the fight in Boston. And the other altercation in which Okafor reportedly tried to punch a man then had a gun pulled on him. And the high-speed driving.


John Gonzalez of CSN Philly:

In late October, Okafor allegedly presented a fake I.D. at Misconduct Tavern in Center City, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. Okafor, 19, was refused service, the sources said. One of the sources said he was surprised because Okafor is “a big guy” and “famous” and “pretty easy to recognize.”

This is a very minor offense – a 19-year-old trying to drink. If Okafor had stayed in college another year, he’d be surrounded by peers doing the game. Luckily for him, this seemed to end at the bar and without the legal system getting involved.

But more negative attention the last thing Okafor needs. His Boston fight began open season on him, with reporters digging into his past. What will they find next?

Okafor badly needs to change the narrative, and he can do that with sound behavior once the onslaught of revealing his past transgressions ends – whenever that happens.

PBT NBA Power Rankings: Thunder, Pacers climb into Top five

Taj Gibson, George Hill, Paul George, Solomon Hill
Leave a comment

Sure the top three in the chart remained the same, while the Thunder and Pacers round out an interesting Top 5. However, the real drama is at the bottom — can the Sixers get their first win Tuesday when they face the Lakers?

source:  1. Warriors (18-0, last week No. 1). This week, Draymond Green became the first Warrior with back-to-back triple doubles since Wilt Chamberlain — Jerry West is right, in this system Draymond is a top 10 player. No Harrison Barnes for at least this week (sprained ankle) and the Warriors head out on a seven-game road trip Monday. Will that mean a loss?

source:  2. Spurs (14-3, LW 2). Tim Duncan is doing exactly what you hope an elite, aging player does — use fewer shots but use them efficiently. The Spurs don’t have great individual shot creators, but their commitment to ball movement and running action through Duncan or LaMarcus Aldridge at the elbow (both great passers and smart players) makes up for it, and they have the eighth best offense in the NBA.

source:  3. Cavaliers (13-4, LW 3). Cleveland is still the top team in the East, but LeBron James looks at those two teams above them in these power rankings and knows Cleveland isn’t near that level of execution. (Especially on defense in the first half of games, they coast.) So he called a team meeting after a loss to Toronto. He’s right, but getting Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert back in the next couple months will help.

source:  4. Thunder (11-6 LW 5). Winners of four in a row, plus Kevin Durant is back — and he is knocking down threes at a 47.1 percent rate last season. On the road at Atlanta and Miami will test that win streak this week.

source:  5. Pacers (11-5, LW 9). They are outscoring teams by 11.9 per 100 possessions their last 10 games. Frank Vogel on Indy’s play: “We’ve had a good, healthy belief in this plan all year. We didn’t know how long it was going to take before it got going, and we knew it had the potential to catch fire. We’ve gotten a little bit hot of late, but we haven’t really accomplished anything yet.”

source:  6. Heat (10-5, LW 4). They still have the second best defense in the NBA this season (just ask the Knicks after last week) but that will be seriously tested this week hosting the Thunder and Cavaliers back-to-back.

source:  7. Raptors (11-7, LW 7). They had won four in a row, including over the Clippers and Cavaliers, until the Suns got them on Sunday.That’s a testament to Kyle Lowry and the offense, because with Jonas Valanciunas out the defense has struggled, and that will cost them at some point.

source:  8. Mavericks (10-7, LW 6). The Mavericks have a team true shooting percentage of 55 percent in their past 10 games, eighth best in the NBA. That is a testament to coach Rick Carlisle, because outside Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams this team is struggling to space the floor with their shot.

source:  9. Bulls (9-5, LW 8). Before the season the thought was Fred Holberg would improve the Bulls’ offense but would they still defend enough for him. A month into the season Chicago has the sixth-ranked defense but the 26th ranked offense. Tom Thibodeau was an offensive genius?

source:  10. Hawks (11-8, LW 10). They went 2-2 last week but the wins were quality ones — against Boston and Memphis. They are doing it with a top 10 offense on the season and great play from Paul Millsap, but things have flattened out some the past few weeks.

source:  11. Hornets (10-7, LW 16). They have outscored their opponents by 6.3 points per 100 their last 10 games, going 7-3. In the past this team has struggled with Al Jefferson out, but they picked up wins last week thanks to Frank Kaminsky and Tyler Zeller stepping up. Big tests with Warriors and Bulls this week.

source:  12. Celtics (9-8, LW 11). Boston is forcing turnovers on 19.2 percent of opponent possessions, which is an insane rate. They will try to keep that going when they head to Mexico City for a game there this week against the Kings.

source:  13. Grizzlies (10-8, LW 19). Must follow NBA writer/podcaster Nate Duncan had an interesting idea: Is it time to consider Zach Randolph going to the bench and playing the five behind Marc Gasol, then Memphis goes smaller with a little more shooting at the four? Not a move they can make mid-season easily (they need the four who can shoot better), but something to watch going forward.

source:  14. Jazz (8-7, LW 18). They have five of their next six at home after a road-heavy start to the season (although the Warriors coming to town isn’t really comforting). The defense is still top 10 but the offense has shown signs of life in recent weeks, which is a welcome change.

source:  15. Clippers (9-8, LW 17). The last couple games this team has looked more like its old self, like it’s breaking out of its doldrums, like Sunday beating Minnesota. When Pacers coach Frank Vogel was asked about so many teams hanging around .500 in the NBA and who would break out, he quickly pointed to the Clippers.

source:  16. Magic (9-8, LW 20). Scott Skiles has finally thrown in the towel on the Elfrid Payton/Victor Oladipo pairing (Oladipo is coming off the bench), which he had to do – the team is -12.9 points per 100 possessions when they are on the court together. The Magic have won three straight.

<source:  17. Suns (8-9, LW 15). Their defense has struggled, especially with Tyson Chandler out, but they have the fourth best offense in the NBA in the last 10 games, scoring 106.5 points per 100 possessions. Chandler used to be an offensive boost (because of his solid picks and good hands on the roll) but he hasn’t been this season in Phoenix.

source:  18. Timberwolves (8-9,LW 21). I’ll admit that I’m an not the biggest Zach LaVine fan, particularly when he is at the point, but for all his flaws it’s better to give him minutes than Kevin Martin when he can’t shoot (and he is shooting 27.6 percent overall and 23.8 percent from three his last 10 games).

source:  19. Pistons (8-9, LW 14). Andre Drummond is still putting up beasty numbers, but Stan Van Gundy called out his defensive effort in the Pistons’ losses this past week. They have a four-game homestead coming up, with all the teams below .500.

source:  20. Knicks (8-10, LW 12). Losing four in a row hasn’t cooled Kristaps Porzingis fever much in NYC. As will happen in Phil Jackson’s version of the triangle, the Knicks are the slowest paced team in the NBA over the past 10 games, and this team could use a few easy transition buckets.

source:  21. Wizards (6-8, LW 13). They went 0-4 against other teams in the second tier of the East last week. Their biggest problem is a bottom 10 defense, but second is John Wall turning the ball over on more than one-in-five possessions he ends, the highest rate of his career. Marcin Gortat is not having fun anymore.

source:  22. Trail Blazers (7-10, LW 24). It remains the Damian Lillard show — the Blazers’ offense is 14.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. He can reliably create shots for himself and others, and he is the only one (C.J. McCollum helps but it’s not the same).

source:  23. Rockets (6-10, LW 26). The coaching change didn’t inspire them to play better transition defense, it’s still a mess. Their wins last week — the Sixers by two, the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony in OT — did not impress. Patrick Beverly back in the starting lineup does help.

source:  24. Bucks (6-11, LW 22). The good news is Jabari Parker looks better every day and has been throwing down some huge dunks (just ask Kevin Love). The bad news is John Henson seems to have taken a huge step back this season — the Bucks are -16 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court.

source:  25. Kings (6-12, LW 25). The kings got one win with DeMarcus Cousins out, but that just makes them 1-7. His absence is part of the reason George Karl continues to jerk the lineups around. At least Rajon Rondo is putting up numbers.

source:  26. Pelicans (4-13, LW 27). The Pelicans are playing better of late and Ish Smith’s play at the point guard spot gets a lot of credit for it. He’s not the long-term answer the Pelicans, he’s just less of a disaster than the guys who have been in that spot before this season.

source:  27. Nuggets (6-11, LW 23). Losers of six in a row and things don’t get easier as they head out on the road for their next five. This might be the part of the season where the Nuggets start to really fall back.

source:  28. Nets (4-13, LW 28). They have played hard and hung around in games, then picked up a win against Detroit. But can they get one “one the road” Friday in Manhattan against the Knicks (who have struggled of late)?

source:  29. Lakers (2-14, LW 29). Kobe Bryant didn’t want a Derek Jeter-style farewell tour, but he’s about to get one anyway starting in Philly Tuesday. One thing to keep in mind during the tour: the Lakers have the second-worst record in the NBA, they only get to keep their pick come June if it’s in the top three.

source:  30. 76ers (0-18, LW 30). While they have yet to get a win the effort has been there and teams have had to come from behind to beat them as Memphis did Sunday (Philly just doesn’t have the talent once other teams crank it up). Does the losing streak end Tuesday when they host he Lakers?

Magic end NBA’s longest winning-record drought

Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris
Leave a comment

The Magic beat the Celtics yesterday, lifting Orlando’s record to 9-8.

A minor accomplishment in the grand scheme? Yes.

A big deal for the Magic? Absolutely.

Orlando hadn’t had a winning record in more than two years – the longest active period for an NBA team to be .500 or worse.

The Magic’s last winning record was 3-2 in 2013, when Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Jason Maxiell were starting. They followed that Nov. 6, 2013 win over the Clippers with an off day then dropped three straight. Orlando hadn’t seen a winning record since.

Until now.

A three-game winning streak since Scott Skiles changed his lineup has the Magic tied for eighth in the East. They can finally experience the small bit of optimism and confidence that comes with a winning record. It’s not much, but it’s more than they could have said for years.

To put the drought into perspective, here’s how many days each team had gone through Saturday since its last winning record. If you don’t already know the drill, keep scrolling – and scrolling and scrolling – for Orlando.

magic winning record

Watch Kobe Bryant’s entire retirement-announcement press conference (video)

Leave a comment

Kobe Bryant reflected, told stories and showed his emotions.

For nearly 25 minutes, the Lakers star talked about his pending retirement. It was pretty cool.