Off-Season Educational Part One: Pete Maravich

June 30, 2010

by Jack Maidment

Forget about the black and white film: Pete Maravich’s game was built for nothing but high definition.

Perhaps more than any other player in the history of basketball Maravich has not received the praise and acclaim that a man of such other worldly talents deserves.

Simply put he was a revolutionary, a player with a gift to entertain. It is one of the greatest and saddest ironies that such a man played in an era when the NBA was at its lowest point in attendance and number of televised games.

His opportunity to stun a national audience was rare, especially given the teams he played for during his career, but he left an indelible mark on those who did see him dance in his raggedy Chuck Taylors and famous floppy socks.

Pete Maravich only ever had one destiny; his father, Press, ensured that when he placed the ball in his infant son’s hands.

The young Maravich practised the drills of his father incessantly until his command of the ball was total.

Living with his father’s obsession for the game almost guaranteed that his understanding of the game would be light years ahead of any of his team mates in high school.

Passes hit faces and fingers were stubbed as The Pistol, so named because he hoisted his shot from the hip like a gun slinger when he was playing as a skinny 13 year old, unleashed his brand of whirling, no-look, high-octane transition basketball.

His mastery in high school soon generated the kind of buzz that is all too familiar today but had not been seen since the fabled exploits of a teenage Lew Alcindor; Kareem Abdul-Jabaar.

You would think that the pressure he had going into his freshman year at Louisiana State University, mainly from his father who was the team’s coach, should have caused some sort of slip up or let down, some hint that the boy-wonder was human.

No chance. The 6-5 Maravich took his game, by now labelled as ‘Showtime’ to college and flourished.

In his first year he averaged 42.6 points a game, single handedly thrusting LSU basketball into the public conscience, making them the team to watch in the late 1960s; a feat that cannot be underestimated given the strength of LSU’s affinity with football at the time.

Making basketball relevant would be a theme for the rest of his career.

Not only did he score like no guard before him, but in his first year he averaged 10.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists, the complete player.

In his first season at the top of college ball he was imperious and unplayable.

There was no second season slump either, just continual, almost machine-like brilliance: 43.8, 44.2, 44.5 points a game in his sophomore, junior and senior years.

He was a unanimous first team All American for 1968, 1969 and 1970.

He won the Naismith award in 1970.

He was The Great White Hope.

His storied college career, his box office draw and his skin colour made him a heavily fought over prospect for the pros.

ABA and NBA teams offered and counter offered with Pete eventually becoming the property of the Atlanta Hawks.

Joining a team with little in the way of surrounding talent the onus was on Maravich to single handedly drag a woeful franchise to respectability in a city with little appetite for basketball.

He was at once one of the League’s best scorers and undoubtedly its most entertaining player.

He was the fourth leading scoring player in the League for the 1970s and his career year in 1977, having been traded to the New Orleans Jazz in 1974, should be remembered as one of the finest individual seasons by any athlete.

Averaging 31.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists the only comparable stat line is Michael Jordan’s 1987 season: 37.1 points, 5.2 boards and 4.6 assists.

Figure into that the fact that Pistol played before the introduction of the three point line and it is perfectly plausible to add another four points a game to his ’77 season average.

No player has been more suited to playing with a three point line: his range would have forced opposing defenders to play him tighter or risk getting burned from deep, opening up the rest of the floor for his on-a-string handle and his master-of-geomotry passes.

It is a great testament to his ability that the Jazz would set NBA attendance records with a mix of good pricing ($1.50 for an upper bowl seat) and Maravich’s astounding skill set drawing crowds not to see a good team win but rather a great individual put on a show in another city which was not naturally drawn to the game of basketball.

Starring on poor teams was to be Pete’s gift and curse for all of his prime. He had the ball whenever he wanted it, could shoot when he felt the need, but ultimately he would never get close to even mild playoff success.

It was as if a bargain had been made. You can have one, but not the other.

A knee injury towards the end of his career may have slowed him slightly but ‘Showtime’ remained, a precursor to the brand of basketball that Magic Johnson and the Lakers would make famous just a few years later.

Like every human being he had his personal problems and quirks, including a fascination with UFOs, but whenever he was on the floor he was in his element. Born to do it.

The court was his canvas and he was only limited by the confines of his imagination.

He died in 1988, aged 41, while playing a game of pick-up, eight years prior to being named one of the NBA’s best 50 players during the League’s 50 at 50 celebrations: recognition of the foundations for the modern game that he laid down so early and in such majestic style.

The complex mix of startling vision and magical passing will never be rivalled.

There will only ever be one Pistol.

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Straight to the League’s Off-Season Educational

June 28, 2010

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the past.

Once free agency is done there will only be Summer League and the tedium of the off season.

A perfect opportunity to revisit.

With that in mind, this video is the beginning of a whole host of reminders of exactly why we love the game.

Stay tuned for part one: Why don’t you know about Pete Maravich?


NBA Draft 2010: Stephenson, Orton, Cousins, Aldrich and Lawal. Steals.

June 27, 2010

by Jack Maidment

Drama. Not a word you would associate with this year’s NBA Draft. With few surprises on the board and even fewer on the trade table this was a night that requires a little more digging than usual.

Who did well?

First and foremost the Chicago Bulls, who, with the deal that will send Kirk Heinrich to the Washington Wizards, have now got enough cap room to pursue two big-time free agents.

There can be little doubt that the Bulls are sitting in pole position to attract LeBron, Wade and co: big market, oodles of money, history, a top-three point guard and a dominant and energetic big man who needs to win.

Oh, and Luol Deng aka The Porcelain Man.

The Heinrich deal works out pretty well for the Wizards too as he can combine with John Wall to form one of the most physical and effective defensive backcourt pairings in the League.

Heinrich’s spot up shooting and range from three should also give Wall the space to penetrate and wreak havoc on the offensive end.

The Sacramento Kings profited handsomely from the Minnesota Timberwolves passing on DeMarcus Cousins because he had said he didn’t want to go there and because David Kahn is like the NBA version of The Riddler.

Two Drafts and two immense players for the Kings. A Tyreke Evans-Cousins tandem should be fruity indeed and even a fifty per cent fulfilment of the big man’s talent would see him become a truly dominant center.

He is enormous.

Curve ball time.

The Orlando Magic had a great draft.

Daniel Orton and Stanley Robinson. Late first and second round picks but with a lot more potential to make an impression than a number of other team’s picks.

Orton entered the Draft hidden by the hype that surrounded the rest of his team mates from Kentucky, but make no mistake, given some time and the tutelage of Dwight Howard and Patrick Ewing he could and should be a fantastic player.

As for Robinson, there is certainly the hint of Gerald Wallace in his do-it-all style and his ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor make him the potential steal of the second round.

The only problem for both of these players is whether or not they will get enough playing time to progress.

The Magic were not the only team to get better at the pivot position with the Oklahoma City Thunder doing what they do best to address their need for a big man.

Sam Presti has a knack for striking Draft gold and the trade he orchestrated to take Cole Aldrich to OKC by way of New Orleans’ pick gives them a gritty rebounder and shot blocker who is as tough as hell and whose lack of offensive game will not matter a bit with Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Green providing all the scoring needed. And he is cheap.

Honourable mention:

Ganai Lawal picked 46 by the Phoenix Suns the man from Georgia Tech is the perfect fit for an up-tempo system. He can run the floor all night long, can finish and most importantly he can rebound with ferocity. Help on the glass was exactly what the Suns needed and Lawal is an absolute steal this late in the second round.

Lance Stephenson out of Cincinnati, picked 40 overall by the Indiana Pacers, has long been held in high regard. There is not a record in New York city basketball that he doesn’t hold and his physical strength and shot creation should translate well to the NBA if he is given a chance to do his thing. He needs the ball. The question is if he will get it.


NBA 2010 Offseason: One to Cherish

June 22, 2010

by Jack Maidment

With one Game 7 victory the Los Angeles Lakers brought to a close another NBA season and ushered in the much vaunted free agency class of 2010. Beyond that and the Draft? Not much, so let us savour every last morsel of relevant basketball related information until the League goes in to its recuperation period.

In a matter of days those who can will be making their runs at the player(s) who they believe can save/help/resurrect their franchises.

For New York it means persuading LeBron that there is more to life than winning.

For Chicago it means showcasing Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah as the two-three punch on a potential championship team.

For Miami it means retaining Dwyane Wade.

Everyone else will flail and fail; or at least try and pass off Joe Johnson as a saviour.

And Chris Bosh will tell all that will listen that he can be the centre piece of a winning team.

All of this will take place while the Lakers sit on a roster that looks good to dominate the NBA for the next three years.

With the undoubted demolition of the Boston Celtics, LeBron’s contract status and Vince Carter still playing for the Orlando Magic, the standard out East will be no where close to the challengers this year gone.

Something major will have to take place in the West to turn the race for the Conference Crown into something more than a one horse cake walk.

In short: LA is the King. And the King stay the King until.

As for the Draft the Wizards can look forward to a future with John Wall in charge. What happens to Gilbert Arenas (he stays, plays, doesn’t explode) will have a large bearing on how big a turnaround the Wizz can hope for.

Meanwhile Evan Turner’s move to Philadelphia should inject some life into a Sixers franchise long bereft of relevancy.

Beyond that the draft is a mixed bag but cherish it because in a few weeks all there will be is Summer League.

Urgh.


NBA Finals: Game 3’s Most Important Top 10

June 10, 2010

by Jack Maidment

1. The Rim

In a career that lasts 10 years, 15 if you are super lucky/talented/lazy, all NBA players make plans for taking care of themselves after retirement. Game 3 of the NBA Finals was proof of where Kobe has invested a small portion of his considerable wealth.

Take a look at the under side of the rim on both ends of the floor in Boston and there, clear as day, a stamp: Kobe Inc.

Some of the bounces that 24 got in Game 3 can only be explained by favours; favours that the CEO of any company can expect.

2. Garnett match-up against Gasol and Bynum

Garnett dominated Gasol all night, having his way wherever he wanted, evidence that his first step and canny face up game are still potent. The same can not be said for his time against Andrew Bynum who gave the Big Ticket fits. His length allowed him to contest every shot Garnett made, forcing at least one air ball and many a hopeful rainbow. Lesson? Keep Garnett the hell away from Bynum.

3. Gasol touches

Pau Gasol is basketball’s best big man. No doubt. Every time he got the ball in Game 3 he was causing Boston no end of problems: drawing the double team and utilising his unsurpassed passing ability, shooting the angled fifteen footer (unbelievable reliable) or driving to the hole. So when Kobe was doing his best impression of a greedy child the Lakers struggled; balance gone and Gasol frustrated. Just give the man the ball. More.

4. Kobe being selfish

Kobe is the best player in the game but that shouldn’t give him the license he currently has to shoot the ball at the expense of his team. He needs to take over the game in his spots for sure, but stepping in front of a pass meant for Shannon Brown and hoisting a 3 doesnt seem like the way Los Angeles will repeat.

5. Big Baby Davis

The man is untrue. If he is 6’8 then Nate Robinson is at least 6’1. But it doesn’t matter. In Game 3 he was fearless, relentlessly attacking the rim and challenging the huge Laket frontline. He was backing down Bynum with some success but it is example that is worth the most going forward. The Lakers are the school yard bully with their length and Baby is showing his team mates that their lunch money is not pre-destined to end up in the Lakers’ collective pocket.

6. Fisher

Easily the most likeable member of the Laker team, especially after his emotional ‘my team’ post game interview, Derrick Fisher won Game 3 for the Lakers. When the offense was stuttering in the third and fourth he came up big time after time.

One play stands out: after a Laker defensive rebound and outlet pass Fisher took the ball to the basket over three Celtics getting obliterated but converting the lay up and hitting the foul shot.

7. Odom 5 for 5

Odom turned up. Lakers win. Simple as.

8. Artest and Kobe defense

Aside from a hint of selfishness, Kobe was an animal on defence, as was Artest. Pierce is having a hard time against Ron Ron and his ‘in your shirt’ D is a major reason for The Truth’s lack of production so far this Finals.

9. Replay Rule

Three times in the last 2 minutes of the game the officials went to the monitor after making out of bounds calls. All three times they got it wrong and all three times they reversed their original decision. Just so important. Technology is good.

10. Vujacic free throws

Possibly the most hated man in American sports (discuss…) came into the game in the last minute having played 20 seconds at the end of the first half. He entered, was fouled, hit both shots. The Lakers were up 6 at the time. If he misses both (conceivable given the pressurised situation) the game is on. He was money and he closed the game out, much to Kobe’s delight: how much Sasha will cherish that little head pat.


NBA Finals Game 2: Celtics have 4 Do Its

June 7, 2010

by Jack Maidment

I scare myself. I really do. I said it, I said it, I said it.

Then again it was hardly like I disclosed how the Timberwolves could make The Finals next year. It was a case in stating the obvious, but I will take a small amount of credit for drawing up the blueprint for a Boston come back even if it was common knowledge.

Some people might be saying that I actually said the Celtics didn’t have a chance. And, well, I did. But. That’s not the point.

Everything they didn’t do in Game 1 they did in Game 2 and that is why the Lakers are heading to Boston on the back of a beat down.

Not a classic 20-point-demolition-job-beat-down but a we-sucked-in-Game-1-lets-play-like-we-can-beat-down.

Ray Allen, quite simply, was imperious. His eight threes were enough to draw one of the Laker Bigs out of the domain of darkness that Los Angeles patrols down low in the second half, allowing the rest of the Celts to get involved, especially Glenn Davis and Rajon Rondo.

He was so hot that you knew that every shot he took was going in. Not in a ‘he’s my favourite player and he’s great’ kind of way, but in a ‘I feel something weird going on, there is no way this guy is missing tonight’ way.

They gave him the ball, normally with Kobe or Fisher draped over him and his snatch release did the rest. He was unguardable.

(Which leads me to the question: A ridiculously hot three point shooter can win you really really important basketball games. Not only do you get three points but the other team is utterly demoralised as the same guy comes down the floor, continuously, making shot after shot. How do you play that? And why did teams not grab the opportunity to trade for Ray Allen when the Celtics were dangling him for all to see in February?)

The Best Point Guard in the Game When Paul, Williams and Nash Aren’t Around was pure sweet triple double goodness. Time after time he came up with the ball in situations where he really had no business too and even when he wasn’t scoring or assisting he was making plays as he has done all post season.

One of the back breakers in Game 2 was Rondo’s block from behind of Fisher’s 3 point ahead. It sparked a fast break and two easy points exactly when the Lakers could not afford them.

The fact that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were relatively ineffective highlights the importance and luxury of having four Do It players. Rondo, Garnett, Pierce and Allen. All the Celtics need is two of them a game to show up and play anywhere near there best and they have a great chance to win.

How many Do It guys have the Lakers got? For my money, just two. Pau Gasol and Kobe. Which means that neither of them can have a night off if LA wants to win The Finals.

The officiating also played its part as it did in Game 1 but the shoe was on the other foot, with Kobe being forced to play the entire fourth with 5 fouls (many of which were more than questionable just like Ray Allen’s in Game 1) limiting his drives and turning him into a jump shooter only.

It was a massive wake up call for the Lakers that’s for sure. The Celtics looked dead and buried after Game 1 but like Sayeed in season 6 of Lost they came back inexplicably in Game 2.

And Rasheed Wallace ran the floor in Game 2. Madness. If that sets the tone for this series then I’m not ruling anything out. Maybe even Michael Finley will have his moment a la Robert Horry against Detroit. Or not.

No more brash (and stupid) reactionary predictions from me that’s for sure. Lakers in 5 was a bad shout. But I may as well go down fighting so that’s how it must be.

It should be one hell of a series.


Someone tell Boston it’s The Finals.

June 5, 2010

by Jack Maidment

The NBA Finals will this year be contested by the Los Angeles Lakers, or as my sister calls them, the Las Vegas Lakers (26, but mentally about 13), and the team formerly known as the Boston Celtics. Or maybe just Boston Lite. Because the team that played Thursday at the Staples Centre was not a Boston Celtics team playing in the NBA Finals.

And make no mistake, the Finals is the Celtics’ domain, more than any other team in the NBA. Their entire legacy and tradition is based upon championships and teams that play big in the big games.

Considering how disappointing their title defense was last year, what with Kevin Garnett’s gimpy knee and all, their performance in Game 1 is all the more surprising.

Anyone who was expecting blood and thunder as the League’s two premier franchises resumed their storied history of confrontations was up for a big time let down.

Wait. That was it? That noise at the end of Game 1, was that the last whimper of a Celtics’ team destined for deconstruction at the end of this post season?

Perhaps.

One thing is for sure: Thursday night, the Boston Celtics sucked.

To be sure the Celtics were hampered by the fouls called on Ray Allen who had four with 9 minutes left in the third. His absence showed how important his scoring punch is to a team that effectively plays with 4 on the offensive end when Kendrick Perkins is on the floor.

For the Celtics to have any any any chance in this series Ray Allen is going to have to be huge, he needs to bring the same fire that he did against Cleveland and Orlando when he was dunking on fast breaks.

(My favourite moment so far this Playoffs: Ray Allen streaking down court being chased by Dwight Howard, knowing that anything less than a flush would see the ball bouncing off the back ball and landing at half court. Jam from Ray Ray. It was FlashForward. But in reverse.)

Actually I take that back about having any chance.

Gasol’s post game comments about KG now being a jump shooter seemed pretty accurate to me. And a jump shooter who isn’t jump shooting on target is about as much use as Michael Finley, who I am fairly sure might be dead.

Garnett can pump his chest as much as he wants, but without some banging and physicality the Laker front court is going to eat him for brunch.

Oh, and Rondo played like it was 2008. Not like the man who terrorised Orlando and wrested control of the team from 3 Hall of Famers.

So essentially, the Celtics have no chance. I said it and I am standing with it. At least until they snatch Game 2 tonight.

I am taking the Las Vegas Lakers in 5.

In other news, here is my Top 3 Herky Jurky High Post Players:

  1. Paul Pierce
  2. Steve Nash
  3. Hedo Turkoglu