Hoop Logic with God Forbid’s Doc Coyle: “That Kick Was A Bitch Move”
The holiday season is a time of giving and joy, and accordingly the NBA spent December a sleigh-load of amazing highlights, grin-and-bear-it gifts (srs), and hot, hot action. So there’s tons of knowledge for God Forbid guitarist and NBA super-expert Doc Coyle to discuss, dispel, dispute, and dispense in the new year’s first Hoop Logic! Make way or be posterized!
THE CLIPPERS: POST-SEASON SUCCESS?
Doc, the Los Angeles Clippers recently wrapped a 17-game winning streak, the longest this NBA season and in the team’s history. That’s awesome, but how do the Clips match up against the gatekeepers of the Western Conference top seed, the Spurs and the Thunder?
Doc Coyle, God Forbid: Like many hoop junkies, I have been fascinated with this Clippers team since they traded for Chris Paul. I loved the idea of savvy, fundamental veterans like Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Caron Butler in the backcourt mixed with the high-flying, young front court of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. In its first season, this line-up soon lost Billups to an achilles injury, but the Clips still beat a stacked Grizzlies squad in one of recent history’s most furiously contested post-season series (before ultimately being steamrolled by the Spurs in the next round).
I thought they looked good for this season, but I didn’t expect this good; few of even the brightest NBA minds predicted this level of success. Reasons that they are awesome:
1. Chris Paul is at a LeBron- and Durant-level of talent. The guy just changes the culture of a franchise. I still dream of the possibilities if he’d been paired with Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks.
2. Impact players Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Eric Bledsoe have improved significantly. Blake improved his outside shooting and developed a balanced game; DJ is a bigger threat in the low post, a more complete defender, and a key presence down the stretch (unlike last season); Bledsoe is proving to be a top reserve in the league.
3. Their bench is performing at a much higher level. New additions Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, and Lamar Odom each is coming off a down year, and have meshed well to bolster the NBA’s best second team.
4. Coach Vinny Del Negro has proved wrong the naysayers (including me). Perhaps Chris Paul makes any coach look good, but only until the post season when match-ups, adjustments, and late-game execution matter most.
Are they contenders? Definitely. OKC retains a slight edge because they have the best player, the youth, and the experience as reigning Western Conference champs. Yet the Clippers have no glaring weaknesses except maybe Griffin’s and Jordan’s free throws and perhaps their team defense identity. Otherwise, these boys are right in the mix and the funnest team to watch.
THE LONG CLIMB TO THE MIDDLE
The NBA is about superstars and powerhouse teams, but the saying goes that any NBA player is awesome and any team capable of awesome play. So Doc, have u been loving the lowly, young, mismatched but overachieving teams like the Pistons, Bucks, Trailblazers, and Bobcats?
DOC: There are only a handful of “bad” NBA teams. A third of the league inhabits the middle class whose records hover around .500. There are a few great teams, and few crappy teams, and a bunch in the middle; I put the Bucks and Blazers in that middle class. Keep in mind the Blazers still have the young core they built to surround busted number-one pick Greg Oden and injury-plagued Brandon Roy; that for sure would have been a playoff team. Even now, their starting lineup is one of the better ones in the league, but not their bench; they are a key addition or two from becoming very dangerous.
The best lowly team to watch now is the Cleveland Cavaliers just for the existence of Kyrie Irving. The guy is an All Star despite the lack of talent around him. And if there’s one team that sucks but has the most potential, it is the New Orleans Hornets (soon to be New Orleans Pelicans). Their young core of Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Greivis Vasquez is very impressive — as long as Gordon can get healthy. Another great draft pick awaits them after this season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys lunged up the ladder over the next few years. And coach Monty Williams is underrated. He’s young, positive, and patient — the perfect type of coach for a rebuilding team.
LILLARD LILLARD LILLARD
Oh hey speaking of the Trailblazers, we should discuss rookie PG Damian Lillard. On track for Rookie of the Year honors, the kid is renowned for his calm, poised pick-and-roll play. Are some ballers born cool?
DOC: I think that’s the chicken-and-egg thing. In my experience, people with that reserved, even temperament get it via years of success at a particular skill. The confidence emerges from trial and error, and the ability to see the angles from having encountered and conquered the obstacles many times. To be confident at something you have no skill at is hubris and will yield mixed results.
It’s still hard to say what side of that coin Damian Lillard falls on; I may have to go find his high school footage. Remember that he didn’t come out of college until after his junior year, which is rare for lottery picks trying to capitalize on their earning potential. So he is older — and more experienced — than most NBA rookies. His game seems very refined: He shoots very well from distance, makes few mistakes, and is clearly the floor general though usually the youngest player on the court. His maturity is impressive, and it’s surprising that scouts didn’t pick up on these attributes beforehand. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.
If he reminds me of any player, it’s a young Chauncey Billups — though he may now be a better natural distributor than even CB4 at that age. (Chauncey went through a bit of an early identity crisis figuring out if he was a 1 or a 2.) They each have fundamentals down and are natural leaders, and have the ice coursing through their veins needed to hit big shots in tough late-game situations.
But Lillard’s demeanor is best compared to Hakeem Olajuwon’s. The Dream silently destroyed you with his play and never seemed distracted by emotions. Of course the Rookie Of The Year race is far from over; I am still curious to see what Hornets C Anthony Davis does in the second half.
WADE ON THE WANE?
The day after Christmas, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade gave a belated holiday gift to Charlotte Bobcats PG Ramon Sessions: a random kick to the nuts. What followed was a game-suspension for Wade and a new look at his small history of cheap shots and sketchy hacks. Doc, do Wade’s recent actions seem to indicate that he is frustrated?
DOC: It’s hard to say if this incident is related to an overall frustation of Wade’s. I don’t think he is in quite the decline that has been stated. Consider where he is coming from: Wade may be the most athletic person to ever play the shooting guard position. The guy was an absolute freak that lived above the rim, but is no longer the same after some knee issues. He went from being unstoppable to being merely one of the top players in the NBA. He’s great, but can’t do it every game now. Or he may just be coasting a bit until the playoffs.
Has he lost athleticism, quickness, and lift? Yes, but he’s still in the top ten in scoring and shoots 51% from the field (a career high). As a player like Wade ages, his game has to evolve in order to be competitive now that he can’t just physically dominate the game. Kobe is the best example of this. Michael Jordan did the same thing. Unfortunately, D-Wade is not their class of shooter, but he will have to add other things.
I see the frustration of being unable to do what he used to do with ease: Wade is one of the the biggest complainers when he doesn’t get a foul call. He’s a crybaby and it’s very annoying. There has to some heartache that comes with losing your superhuman powers, but he must let go. That kick was a bitch move — he needs to just play the game and stay smart. Luckily, he has LeBron to carry the load when he’s having an off-night.
–Doc Coyle, God Forbid