White Box of Jazz
A couple weeks back I heard a commentator say that Andrei Kirilenko really needed to hit the weight room this off-season to bulk up. I was shocked. It seemed almost blasphemous to even imagine Andrei without his pterodactyl like wingspan, since I had always been under the impression that it was his greatest asset. Logic would suggest that putting on a few pounds of muscle wouldn’t hurt young Drei—Dwight Howard manages to be both strong and long—but I’ll have none of that logic. Kirilenko without the arms is like Queens without the Bridge. But I can understand the announcer’s desire to see AK do SOMETHING to take his game to the next level. AK has long been one of my favorite players, but even I’ve noticed the way he’s plateaued this season. It’s starting to seem less likely that he will ever have the sort of skill that can be harnessed in key situations. His success seems more the product of geometry: something that long and fast will inevitably fuck things up in a confined space. And I can only assume that his ability to impact a game is as random and chaotic as the genetics that spawned his freakish arms.
But even if Andrei is never able to take over in the clutch, he will always be one of the most dominant players in fantasy basketball. At times, it seems that the game was specially designed to accommodate AK’s game, and no less an authority on fanball than Flip Saunders called him the “MVP of fantasy basketball.” For most of the season I was convinced that triple-doubles were beneath him. He had created his own statistical feat, the fabled 5X5 (For the record, Hakeem recorded six of these before young Andrei hit puberty). But I was wrong. On January 17th Andrei posted his first career triple-double, and made it clear that he was actively pursuing the tri-dub by trying to rack up assists late in the 4th. Jerry Sloan, who famously condoned a flagrant foul on Ricky Davis when Ricky was going for his first triple double, even aided the effort by playing Andrei for the entire second half despite the fact that the game was in-hand. What’s more, Andrei has even become aware of his preeminent position in the fantasy world. "Sometimes people tell me I'm 'eight-cat,' good in eight categories," Kirilenko said. "I have lots of stats, so I'm good choice, they say."
Andrei even went so far as to defend his accomplishment through the guise of cultural observation: “America is a stats country.” This is funny, because I believe Tocqueville said the exact same thing during his 19th century voyage. Indeed, having just dusted off my copy of Democracy in America, I see that Alexis actually said: “It's in the Player Efficiency Rating that one learns the morals, the usages, the spirit, and the character of a player. Finally, one improves oneself in seeing the game, and one learns to know men of all kinds." Here at FreeDarko we view stats through a suspicious eye, yet I imagine even Shoals himself would be hard pressed to deny the accuracy of Andrei’s observation. America IS a stats country. While we’re not alone in our love of fantasy sports, we certainly pioneered them. We’re constantly adding new tickers to the bottom of our channels and the collection of stats has become big business. The blame for this phenomenon doesn’t lie at the feet of Billy Beene, Michael Lewis, Bill James or even the nerdgod who first invented fantasy sports. We would have reached this point without them. We are a results oriented people supposedly living in an “era of accountability.”
Tocqueville never made it further West than Memphis, but I wonder what he would have had to say about Utah, the only state where the man above collected more than 70% of the vote. The Jazz have long been regarded as the “whitest” team in all of basketball, but I was unsure if this was actually true or was simply the vestigial remnants of that Stockton/Hornacek backcourt. Enter statistics. This study shows that throughout the 90’s the Jazz were the second whitest team in the league, trailing only the Bulls (which shocked me, until I recalled Longley, Wennington, Kukoc, Kerr, Paxon, Buchler, and, last but not least, Jack Haley). From 1990-99 the Jazz were 33% white. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find stats that included recent years when the Euro invasion really took off, but a look at the Jazz roster demonstrates that they’re still operating at about the same clip. Five of their fifteen players are white. And while I’m probably the 3,548th person to make the “even their black players are white” joke (Williams and Humphries), that doesn’t even include their Alaskan (Boozer) or Stanford grad (Collins). Clearly this roster was put together with more than just winning in mind.
The question is, who’s behind this? Is it Jerry Sloan or Larry “Brokeback” Miller? Miller is the easy target after the tolerance he demonstrated in recently banning the Oscar frontrunner from his chain of movie theatres. Yet, it’s impossible to think of the Jazz without envisioning Jerry Sloan and his John Deere trucker hat. Sloan is the longest tenured coach in the league, and his fingerprints are all over the Jazz roster. Sure, he had success coaching arguably the greatest duo in NBA history (two trips to the Finals), but he’s never won a ring. Further, since the departure of Stockton-to-Malone the Jazz have gone a woeful 94-125, yet Sloan still somehow maintains his unassailable rep as one of the great coaches in the league. This season they are three games below .500 despite having two players in the midst of All-Star caliber seasons. The last few years have seen Stein and other pundits heap Sloan with praise for getting less-talented players to play hard, but this really doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment to me. It seems like the inevitable result of constantly stocking the team with untalented hustle players like Matt Harpring and Devin Brown. Did the Jazz really think Deron Williams would be better than Chris Paul?
All of this pisses me off because I love Kirilenko. Burns helped me appreciate Memo, but Memo13.com made me positively fall for him. You’ll never hear Memo complain about crooked rims like Wally and Hoiberg. While Cribs has left us with the impression that all ballers have comfy gyms or at least a decent SportCourt, Memo just slapped a rim up over his garage. STRAIGHT SUBURBAN. And before he can even practice his silky jumper he has to shovel his own driveway. Atta, Turk!
I want to see more of AK and Memo. I want to see them in the All-Star game. And since only players on good teams make it to All-Star Weekend these days, I need the Jazz to become a good team. Do you realize how many Kirilenko sippin’ sizzurp jokes we were deprived of this year?