The Inbounds: Saint Anthony and America’s war on isolation

6 Comments

Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy. Today, a bonus segment.

So Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points in an Olympic basketball game Thursday, and based on probability, you reacted in one of four ways ways as a God-fearing NBA fan.

1. You were excited and thrilled that Anthony put on such an amazing performance for your country and in awe of his ability to put the ball in the basketball with that kind of frequency.

2. You noted how despite the amount of criticism Anthony withstands and his relative stature in the NBA superstar tapestry that he’s still truly one of the best players in the world and you cannot understand why people forget that so often.

3. You are left in polite admiration but simultaneous outrage that he doesn’t play that way all the time.

4. Some combination of the two depending on if you’re a Knicks, Celtics, Heat fan or none of the above.

It’s a terrific wormhole to go down. Melo was able to do what he did because he was facing Nigeria. Anthony only put himself in that position because he’s surrounded by that much talent. It takes that kind of talent to put his ego in a place where he can play catch-and-shoot. Melo just had a hot night (that’s an understatement). What he did wasn’t all that different from what he does with the Knicks. You can literally interpret Anthony’s performance in the 156-73 win in group play however you would like. You have to say he played well and that you were impressed. From there, you can go any route you want.

But it’s the structure of how Anthony scored that intrigues. Catch-and-shoot. It makes sense, right? You have one of the world’s best shooters, an elite scorer, with a significant size advantage over his defender. Why on Earth would you not use him as a catch-and-shoot player when you have LeBron James and Chris Paul throwing the ball to him after collapsing the defense each time? On the Knicks, he’ll never have the luxury of anyone else drawing that kind of attention. So comparing his exploits with Team USA to anything he does with the Knicks is futile.

Except, it’s not. Not really.

Part of what has made the Knicks’ approach so confusing is that they’ve essentially gone against the overriding principle in so many superstar teams’ design. Take Boston, for example. Paul Pierce no longer has to run point, dribbling at the timeline, directing traffic before trying to slice past four guys. Ray Allen isn’t jab-stepping defenders back so he can rise and fire over them. Kevin Garnett isn’t running point forward. In Miami, Chris Bosh is an outlet scorer and offensive rebound tip-in machine. That’s his job. In L.A., Pau Gasol’s not having the ball go through him every time (though that one can be argued is a bad thing). The point is that one of the luxuries of having multiple superstars it the ability to put an elite player in a role player’s position and watch him destroy because he’s so much better at that singular talent than the average replacement player.

And for Anthony, his VORP as a spot-up shooter is through the roof.

But of course, the Knicks not only can’t use him that way, but they eliminated any situation where he could be.

When Anthony returned after Linsanity (yep, we’re back to him again), there was a possibility for this all to work out. Anthony needed to adopt the role of a superior, obscenely-rich-man’s Shawn Marion in Mike D’Antoni’s Suns. By being the outlet shooter off the drive and kick on the baseline, by being the weakside off-ball cutter, but being the spot-up guy in transition, Anthony could not only keep but raise his scoring production while not having to run isolation sets every single time. With Amar’e Stoudemire running the pick and roll or Chandler doing the same, there would be lanes and opportunities. Instead, be it Melo’s preference or D’Antoni’s design, Anthony wound up drifting on the perimeter. He wasn’t just a spot-up shooter, he was scenery.

That dream of him working in an offensive set to move, catch, and score, is dead, replaced by the dystopian Woodson Isolation nightmare that awaits Knicks fans next year. But Team USA provides an alternative, not just for Anthony, but for Kobe Bryant, for LeBron James, for Kevin Durant, for Russell Westbrook. The shame is that the quality of the surrounding talent convinces them that the only reason this works is because they’re surrounded by that much talent. They can’t comprehend the same style working for them within the constructs of their teams. Whether that’s overconfidence in their abilities or a lack of confidence in the ability of others is inconsequential. The fact remains that these players will embrace roles where they do role player functions with superstar ability, and dominate the greatest players in the world. And instead of drawing on that experience and trying to replicate it, they will instead abandon it for some sort of 82-game “Quick and the Dead” impression where they duel one on one with everything like this is Teen Wolf.

For a day, for these few weeks, really, Anthony’s a saint. He’s a basketball icon teaching the world about how to play for it. Wait for your open shot, be ready, move without the ball, catch, rise, fire. And Team USA is showing one another and the world that there’s a better way than getting the ball at the perimeter, dribbling for fifteen seconds, and then hoisting up a jumper.

In twelve weeks, they’ll return to doing the same things, but for now, they play, maybe not the right way, but the best way, and they work hard to make things easy for one another. What’s amazing isn’t that someone as talented as Anthony did what he did on Thursday. It’s that Anthony and the rest of Team USA will forget the lesson learned by the star players who played as role players and made things easy for themselves.

You can be all things among your friends, but in the end, you cannot get away from who you are, for better or worse. It’s neither good nor bad. It simply is.

With John Wall and Bradley Beal, Wizards shouldn’t be this bad

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Entering the 2016-17 season, John Wall said he and Bradley Beal have a “tendency to dislike each other on the court.”

That year, the Wizards won 49 games and a playoff series – their best season in nearly four decades.

Dysfunction in Washington is nothing new. Losing through it is a change from the recent past.

The Wizards have not had a losing record in the previous five years. They made the playoffs in four of those years and won a postseason series in three.

Talent tends to win out, and with Wall and Beal, Washington has plenty.

But that hasn’t been enough this season. Washington is 5-11 and reportedly open to trading Wall and Beal.

This is the bottom falling out like never before in NBA history.

Wall and Beal have both proven themselves as All-Stars. Wall is just 28, and Beal is 25. Neither has missed a game this season.

Here’s every time since the NBA-ABA merger a team has had two prior All-Stars age 28-and-under play at least a third of team’s games and had a losing record, sorted by win percentage:

image

Wall and Beal can blame their teammates – and they will. They can blame Dwight Howard‘s injury, as he fills a major hole on the team. They can blame the distortion of a small, 16-game sample. That’s all valid.

But Wall and Beal must be better. Every other team with two healthy prior All-Stars under age 28 has been better. Other such teams have had surrounding problems, too. They still found a way to top this.

I’m not convinced Washington will actually trade Wall or Beal. This seems more like testing the waters. But the pairing certainly isn’t worth insisting on keeping together.

As good as Wall and Beal seem on paper, this just isn’t working.

Report: Wizards willing to discuss John Wall, Bradley Beal trades

Rob Carr/Getty Images
2 Comments

The Wizards are 5-11, have poor chemistry and are on track to pay the luxury tax.

This might call for extreme measures – like trading John Wall or Bradley Beal.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

As the Washington Wizards’ season spirals, the franchise has started to deliver teams an impression that every player on their roster — including All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal — is available to discuss in trade scenarios, league sources told ESPN.

Washington’s preference remains to reshape the team around Wall and Beal, but poor play among key teammates is limiting their trade value and paralyzing the Wizards’ efforts to make meaningful changes to a roster that no longer appears functional together, league sources said.

In other words: The Wizards are finally acting rationally. There’s no good-enough reason they should have refused to discuss Wall and Beal trades before. That doesn’t mean Washington should have traded Wall or Beal. They’re good players, and the inertia of NBA trades discussions would have made a trade unlikely. For the same reason, trading those stars now remains unlikely. But what was the advantage of not even considering trading those two? Maybe the Wizards would have gotten an offer so good, they would have taken it. There’s almost no downside to discussing trades, especially after setting a tone to players that trade talks are inevitable and not a reflection of a player’s importance to the franchise.

But, under Ernie Grunfeld, Washington has been far more reactionary to proactive. Considering dealing Wall or Beal now – when every Wizard’s trade value has sunk due to the team’s collective stink – is too typical of this stale regime.

Wall’s value is extremely low relative to his star status. His super-max extension kicks in next year and pays him $42,728,000 per season through age 32. That is a terrifyingly large contract for someone who already appears to be slowing down. Trading for Wall now could trigger a huge trade bonus that gives him a big raise this season, too.

Beal remains an elite trade chip. He’s just 25 and locked in the following two seasons at a reasonable $27,922,396 per year. But he hasn’t looked as sharp on the court this season, lowering his value.

Washington’s other planned top players – Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre – have also underwhelmed. Porter is on an unappealing max contract, and Oubre is headed toward restricted free agency next summer. There’s only moderate reason to trade for either now.

So, dealing Wall or Beal could be the Wizards’ way out of their jam.

Or a way into an even bigger jam.

Report: Warriors aren’t interested in Carmelo Anthony

Getty
5 Comments

It’s unclear where Houston Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony will finish the season this year. He won’t return to the Rockets, and nobody has stepped up to complete a deal with Daryl Morey for the aging superstar.

The most logical place for Anthony to land appears to be the Los Angeles Lakers, a team of former stars now lumped around LeBron James. But the Lakers haven’t seemed eager to do so, nor has anyone else.

Jokes around the league about where Anthony could go have been plenty, and one of the most popular refrains is that Carmelo should go to the Golden State Warriors to get his first ring. It’s a ridiculous supposition on its face, but after the Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins, it oddly doesn’t seem completely out of the question.

However, according to The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears, Golden State is not considering Carmelo.

Via The Undefeated:

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green believes there is an NBA team out there for his old USA Basketball teammate that will be a better fit. Anthony previously turned down the Miami Heat and also the Portland Trail Blazers twice, sources said. As for Green’s Warriors, a source said the two-time defending champs have no interest despite having a roster spot open.

“Of course, he can still play in this league,” Green said. “There is no doubt in my mind.

“He’s still Melo.”

I honestly don’t know where a good basketball fit for Carmelo is anymore, largely because of his attitude about himself. It’s not clear that Carmelo can be the type of player he used to be on offense, and defense is sort of out of the question. While he did take to shooting more 3-pointers with the Rockets this season, he needs to go into full Vince Carter mode in order to stay on an NBA floor. That seems unlikely moving forward.

All this leaves us with the same question: If Golden State isn’t interested in Anthony, who is?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Watch the Nets’ hype video for their Biggie Smalls-inspired ‘City’ jerseys

Brooklyn Nets
1 Comment

Look, the NBA City jerseys are not good. Most of them are gray, which is the most boring trend in uniform design in any of the four major sports over the last decade or so.

A bunch more are just straight up ugly, or run on motifs that make sense contextually but don’t push the right buttons aesthetically.

But the Brooklyn Nets jerseys? Those are beautiful.

On Saturday the Nets debuted their City jerseys, inspired by Brooklyn native Biggie Smalls, and published an incredible hype video that featured several players and locations around the borough.

Via Twitter:

The coloring on the jersey is Coogi-inspired. Coogi is a fashion brand known for similar patterns, which Biggie was fond of wearing both in music videos and on stage.

What do you think? Is this Nets jersey the best City uniform?