12.10.2006

The Toilet Paper Mummy


A long time ago, I had the idea to write a post about Francisco Liriano, and how, being the quintessential Freedarko baseball player, his injury situation was all too similar to that of Amare Stoudemire. I then realized that baseball injuries, simply don’t have the same impact on me that basketball ones do. Like, fuck, the Twins lost a future Cy Young winner who may never regain his pizzazz, but they still made the playoffs without him, they still have a strong staff, and they still have the current best baseball player in the world, Johan Santana. Baseball teams recover all the time from injuries. The Cardinals, Twins, and Yankees all overcame significant injuries to make the playoffs. In football, injuries are simply an inherent part of the game, and entire second teams are constructed to account for the harmed and dislocated. The 2006 Jeff Garcia, The 2005 Brad Johnson, and the god-inspired 2000 Kurt Warner proved that even the downfall of the quarterback is not necessarily a football team’s undoing.

Sure, the 2005-06 Suns made a case that they could survive without Amare in this manner, but when expectations for that team were the NBA Finals, the team’s perishing at the hands of the Mavericks seemed like a collosall disappointment that would have never occurred had Black Jesus been present. Bottom line is that injuries change the landscape of the NBA season in a way that never occurs in other sports. Gasol goes down, and an entire playoff spot opens up. Yao and T-Mac get banged up last year, and the Rockets go from contenders to slouches. One of Shaq’s legs is twice the size of the other one, and thus, the Eastern Conference has gone to shit. Can our beloved Association flurry so whimsically, resting on the well-being of just a few individuals to keep its gears turning? I fear the answer is yes.


Recently I was discussing with The Recluse how pissed we would be if, after Shaq’s long layoff, the Heat came back, squeaked into the playoffs and won the whole damn thing again. To a small degree, this practically happened last season. I’ll give credit to Zo Mourning and Gary Payton for not going into a panic when Shaq went down. Clearly they were hoping to piggyback on Big Fella’s shoulders on the way to a championship, but they put in their work and earned their rings. This year, the chances of a similar Heat renaissance seem slim, but given that the Eastern Conference currently resembles Baghdad, anything is sadly possible.

I am of the strong belief that Shaq’s absence is partially responsible for the desolate state of the East. His presence generally has the effect of raising the play of his competition as well. With Shaq out, and nobody believing the Magic’s hype, teams from the Bobcats to the Nets are thinking that they have a chance to compete. The field is wide open, and so tribes of young men are pedaling themselves in circles around each other like some wild ritualistic dance…but nobody is going for the jugular. Shaq’s presence, especially on a title defender, means that “The Champ Is Here” and there is a dragon to be slayed. The Heat’s current title defense has to this point, however, looked so sorry that it’s as though there isn’t even a champion to knock off.


Again, it is the fragility of the league infuriates me. Even the league’s two best teams, Dallas and San Antonio, are one power forward ankle sprain away from a 45-win season. Ray Allen’s absence for a few games alone may translate to lottery balls. The entire future of the Sacramento Kings’ franchise was reshaped based on the health concerns surrounding Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, and Doug Christie. Must the Maloof Brothers and G-Peot be so impulsive?! The NBA seems like it should be a source of everflowing talent, endlessly regenerating its limbs when a Kobe Bryant, a Bobby Simmons, or even a Mark Madsen goes down. The assembly line does not shut down. The soldiers do not break their formation. But yet, the fracturing of a wrist sends the "L" into entropy: Your 2007 Eastern Conference Champs, The New Jersey Nets.

Coda: Chris Webber's production contribution to the new Nas album can be gotten here. The song embodies all that is/was C-Webb's long, injury-doomed career:

a) a confused Nas
b) a rhetorical question, as though posed to one's buddies during lunch in 10th grade, about whether Alex Haley smoked marijuana before writing
c) rapping about the spousal abuse and drug tribulations of former R&B stars
d) on a track with plastic drums
e) that is slow
f) with synth opera vocal stabs ghouling in and out of a 3rd-grade "Lose Yourself" piano line

No song is sadder. Larry Bird he is not, but Chris Webber's string of failures (even in his last chance to SAVE AI), largely at the hands of his injury are a tragedy that seems to simple and unnecessary. Please don't let them take McCants.

38 Comments:

At 12/12/2006 12:26 PM, Blogger seezmeezy said...

mike miller has sweet boobs.

umm anyway injuries completely eradicating NBA teams from contention proves one thing and one thing only: there are too many fucking teams.

these benches have less depth than a kiddie pool cause vancouver just had to have a pro basketball team. treat some of these squads like so many steve nash follicles and cut em the hell off.

wv xuokl: xzibit's emo album

 
At 12/12/2006 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of the most profound differences between the L and college BB. If one of the 6'8" white dudes from Duke went down, nary a beat would be skip. A system has been established, and while interchanging cogs in the system may change the flow, the end product is roughly the same.
Quick question-Better college player: C-Webb or Big Dog?

WV-ipabwpyc Apple product marketed only in India.

 
At 12/12/2006 1:18 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

uh......duke plays like 7 guys. every season. 7 guys. they lose their 6-11 white guy (mcroberts), they're as fucked as any nba team.

 
At 12/12/2006 1:30 PM, Anonymous Scott said...

glenn robinson is the best college player I ever saw. he's like a heisman winning quarterback (any year).

 
At 12/12/2006 1:39 PM, Blogger T. said...

The flipside is that the story arc between bad team and playoff contender can also be just one guy - trade, free agent or draftee. (LeBron, Greg Oden, TMac, AI, Kareem).

I like that in hoops one guy makes a difference.

The college game? It really depends. If we had lost Jason Kidd, Lamond Murray or Shareef Abdur-Rahim - I don't think the NIT would've been in our future, much less the NCAAs.

I think Big Dog Robinson was a better NCAA player - but it's hard to say because CWebb had the luxury of being able to have bad games with Juwan, Jalen, Jimmy and Ray.

The college basketball players I've seen: Jamal Mashburn, Hank Gathers and Larry Johnson. Harold Miner too.

 
At 12/12/2006 1:59 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

I'd have to go Big Dog for best college baller recently, just because he didn't have the support Webber had, but also because his production was better in every regard. He would just score on the whole other team every time down the floor.

But, don't forget Kidd. When he was at Cal, the coaches didn't know what to do because he was so far ahead of the action that he would screw his teammates up. Plus in the college dunk contest, he went behind his back, high off the wall behind the backboard, then reversed on the other side.

 
At 12/12/2006 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Larry Johnson lost in knee cartiledge, he more than compensated for in neck hair.

 
At 12/12/2006 3:36 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

When Webber was at Michigan, they paid him in SP1200s and sneakers. Put up a double-double, get an MPC on incentive. He never asked for records.

 
At 12/12/2006 4:55 PM, Blogger Gladhands said...

I'm going to venture out on that limb and offer Wally Szczerbiak as the best college player in recent memory...and I'm not kidding.

WV: ZCDWO - Ilgauskas' album bricked.

 
At 12/12/2006 5:35 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

I'm going to venture out on that limb and offer Wally Szczerbiak as the best college player in recent memory...and I'm not kidding.

whoa. whoa.

carmelo? the transcendant glenn robinson? joe smith? k-mart? marbury? mashburn? okafor?

wally zzzzbrk averaged 24 a game in a garbage conference but had a great march. all the while, being on some derek zoolander shit.

fuck that.

my vote goes to joe smith's two year career of double doubles at maryland.

 
At 12/12/2006 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone define "BEST". Best what?

Because the best shotblocker I have ever seen is hooping it up for BC right now.

Big Time Sean Williams, remember the name. He's the dude that blocked Lowry's 3ball in the Sweet 16 last yr to send it to OT. (I still think if BC beats 'Nova they give Florida a run for their money.) Big Time is swatting six shots/game this yr.

 
At 12/12/2006 6:18 PM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

Best college baller under 6 feet might be Brevin Knight (one-year wonders like AI don't count). No way Mike Montgomery coaches in the NBA if not for Brevin, because Stanford would not even be relevant.

Getting back to the point of post -- irreplacability in the NBA. I think a lot of it is that domination in the NBA is psychological -- Kobe isn't just a collection of skills, there's an attitude and confidence that can only come from getting the ball in crunch time and winning big games. When Kobe goes down, another guy can't just step in to that role, even if he had the same quality jumper and athletic domination. I think this also explains why NBA teams don't go from rags to riches the way teams in other sports do. You have to learn how to win, and it's a psychological thing that you're not born with. It's funny, since even dudes like Mark Madsen (to bring it back to 90's Stanford) were The Man in college or high school, but I guess it just has to be re-learned at the NBA level.

Incidentally, Duke may only play 7 guys, but that's by choice rather than necessity -- it's not like the benchwarmers aren't McDonalds too. In college the coach is the dominating personality, so there's less of a need for individual players who can impose their will.

 
At 12/12/2006 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AI had two great seasons at Georgetown, not one.

He was pretty unreal in college.

More recently, Carmelo's one year at the 'Cuse was sublime-- and the fact that he brought them the title was even sweeter.

Maybe not for a whole season, but remember that absolutely sick game Marvin O'Connor had for St. Joe's in the '01 tournament-- against Stanford? He destroyed everybody's all american Casey Jacobsen. And Bill Walton loved every minute of it.

That was the best single game performance in recent memory.

wv: emrzfgtv Okafor and RZA forgot the TV.

 
At 12/12/2006 9:55 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Touching only slightly on the problem of injuries in the NBA, I wanted to point you towards Dennis Hans' interesting article on the danger of the block/charge call as it is being called right now in the NBA. He raises some good points, and between the lines he does advocate style over coach-pleasing hustle:

http://hoopshype.com/columns/nunn_hans.htm

As fars as the discussion of best college player goes, I don't watch it all that much, but just from the recent years Dwyane Wade comes to mind. I don't have the stats at hand to back it up, but the way he single-handedly carried Marquette in his last college playoffs was very impressive. For a lack of an explanation not beaten to death by the sports media, he just had this strange aura going of rising to every occasion and always coming through when it mattered. Even though he lost in the semis (if I remember correctly), he impressed me more than Carmelo.

 
At 12/12/2006 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

without a doubt the most impressive college player of recent memory (Sweet Lew Alcindor does not count) for me has to be Juan Dixon, I even put his as the best small player to suit up in college. He totally dominated the NCAA tournament- shades on a 2000-01 Iverson.

 
At 12/12/2006 11:52 PM, Blogger T. said...

fix_the_knicks - Brevin Knight? Really? I went to rival Cal - and we spent his 4 years chanting "CBA" at him - it wasn't just a rival taunt either - I was suprised when he made the (and have been more surprised that he stuck - I always thought Tyus Edney was a much better player).

No Walter Berry or Sherman Douglas fans around?

I'll add one more - Jimmy Jackson.

sldojxld - Slow Do Jax Lid - the newest southern hip hop trend

 
At 12/13/2006 12:21 AM, Anonymous megapickles said...

We really gonna talk college ball around here? It's a whole different ball game, and that's the only way I can rationalize being a disciple of FD yet at the same time an indoctrinated Dukie.

Recent memory? Jason Williams was unreal to watch, especially with Battier on the squad. A little more distant? Laettner. Dude was ridiculous. Didn't miss a single shot vs. KY. He's the textbook case of why that game has no relevance to what we discuss here on the daily...
---
Before I forget, can somebody around here please write something correlating AI's teenage bowling incident and his recent protest utilizing Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" as a reference point?
---
wv: ieivd: i.e. 4 dimensions

 
At 12/13/2006 2:54 AM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

T - I was also surprised that Brevin stuck in the league -- he's just not all that quick for a little guy. But as a college player, he took over games on a regular basis, in a way that was absolutely on par with Baron Davis, Bibby, and Jason Terry. And none of those guys are under 6 feet anyway. I guess Eddie House was pretty ridiculous, I think he scored like 70 in a game or something for ASU. (And yes, my knowledge of college basketball is pretty much exclusively restricted to late 90's Pac-10) But Brevin basically dragged a bunch of stiffs on his back into the sweet 16 when that team should have been in the NIT.

 
At 12/13/2006 3:27 AM, Blogger T. said...

fix_the_knicks - I'd love to get into a discussion of 90s Pac-10 basketball here, but I suspect the rest of FreeDarko nation would issue a collective yawn the likes of which haven't been seen since the 1995 Rockets won the Championship.

(I thought Stevin 'Hedake' Smith was the most dominant guard of the 90s Pac-10 who never made the league. Well, him and Ike Fontaine of WSU. I'd throw in Ed Gray too - but Ed drank and drove himself out of the league.)

 
At 12/13/2006 8:39 AM, Anonymous Hylas said...

A quote from the Dennis Hans article:
"Stu Jackson and his merry band of rule makers have created an Orwellian NBA court where a defender chasing his man and trying to avoid screens is granted far more freedom of movement than a dribbler on the floor [...]"
and one from the FIBA-rules:
"The player with the ball must expect to be guarded and must be prepared to stop or change his direction whenever an opponent takes an initial legal guarding position in front of him, even if this is done within a fraction of a second."
This rule seems to be a pretty basic and universially agreed upon concept and is not (another) NBA conspiracy.

I'd much rather see more flagrant fouls being called (player makes no effort to play the ball, dangerous play) than to completely abandon the concept of a team sport/defence in favour of 1-on-1 matchups.

 
At 12/13/2006 10:14 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

@Hylas: good point in mentioning the FIBA rule that is indeed universally accepted. But in my opinion you contrast this rule with a quote by Hans that is not central to his argument.

He says that the main problem is defenders positioning themselves in the area where an airborne offensive player is going to come down. So most of the time we are not talking about the primary defender chasing somebody over screens but rather one from the help-side. This is how James Posey gets most of his charge calls that are supposed to justify his reputation as a great defender.

I think Hans goes too far when he says that a defender has to have position by the offensive players' second-to-last step to be awarded a charging call. I can't quite understand the logic behind that because you might not be able to completely change directions on your last step, but you can still slow down or make some smaller necessary adjustments (as Ginobili often does).

But in my opinion Hans' basic argument holds true nonetheless and is even according to the FIBA rule you cite. If an offensive player has jumped while moving towards the basket (which can cover quite some ground and time in the NBA), a defender should not be allowed to set up in his path and be rewarded with an offensive foul call when the offensive player is already in the air. As the rule says, an offensive player "must be prepared to stop or change his direction whenever an opponent takes an initial legal guarding position in front of him". But you just can't do that when you are already in the air, so in my opinion such a defensive tactic should not be deemed a "legal guarding position".

 
At 12/13/2006 10:16 AM, Anonymous Fielding Badney said...

I had the privilege of watching Brevin Knight, aka the Black Squirrel, make west coast college basketball his world and reduce much larger and more talented menchildren to nut-getting Reggies. He is one of the great overachievers in human history, I say with tremendous perspective. The fact that he could take over games--and he did, against quality competition--is testament to the largeness of his HEART and the fact that HEART can win NCAA games. In the NBA skill trumps HEART, alas, alack and all that malarkey.

 
At 12/13/2006 11:12 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

well, FB, knight is getting it done somehow in the nba. last i checked, he was a starting point guard (even though he's holding back my man ray ray!!!) and had something like 19 assists in a game last year or the year before. so, if skill trumps heart in the nba, knight's not a good example. unless you're saying he's really skilled.

i would say that you have to have heart AND skill in the nba. there are a lot of skilled, athletic players who have failed in the nba because they lacked heart. and discipline.

 
At 12/13/2006 12:32 PM, Blogger c-los said...

Brevin is not that quick???? You must be looking at his brother Brandon...Brevin was/is one of the better lockdown defenders in the league...there's a reason why Felton can't crack the starting lineup down there in BETland.... my vote for the best all-around college bball player would go to Grant Hill and i HATE duke but dude was so smooth and when Laetner & Hurley left he led a pretty average Duke team to the championship vs Kentucky...Big Dog might have gotten the #1 pick status that yr but as soon as Grant stepped into the League he dominated...not to mention he bagged Tamia.

 
At 12/13/2006 12:32 PM, Anonymous Hylas said...

@kaifa:
I don't know. My impression is, that he wants to give the player controlling the ball a bigger advantage. This would alter the whole offence/defence balance and change the game itself far more than it would help avoid injuries.

A better way would be to penalise the rough play per se. If there is a realistic risk, that the attacking team gets free throws and possession, the defender might abstain from blocking a player who has already left the floor or hacking someone with a clear path to the basket from behind. As it is, flagrant fouls are almost never called (as such).

 
At 12/13/2006 12:50 PM, Blogger c-los said...

Great read kafia....On a purely entertainment side I love the dotted line....i love to see a guy set up, get dunked on, and get the foul called on him...but on my realist side I agree with Hans' logic....it creates an atmosphere of players running to the edge of line and setting up even when offensive players are in the air...It all ties into the recent Dukie talk as I firmly believe they started the downfall of this block/charge call...Duke started it, the Kings brought it to the NBA, and Ginobli & Nocioni made it a global game...to some extent I wish it was like a playground game where if someone calls a charge they get laughed off the court

 
At 12/13/2006 1:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

BILL SIMMONS IS STILL A VERY GREAT AND IMPORTANT WRITER WHEN HE WANTS TO BE. hats off.

 
At 12/13/2006 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd throw in Ed Gray too - but Ed drank and drove himself out of the league.

You got to love a guy who ends his college career shattering his kneecap piking on a dude for his 57th point of the half, IIRC.

Best college baller of recent memory is Tim Duncan - arguably the best player in the ACC for three straight years.

 
At 12/13/2006 2:08 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

@Hylas:
You're right, altering the game in such a way that there is practically no way of discouraging the quick guards from just barraging into the lane every time would be a bad idea.

But these block/charge calls need to be sorted out because the current way they are being called really disturbes me. As I said, Posey is a prime example for me. I just can't stand to see him sliding over and trying to set up just outside the circle and already leaning backwards so that a slight contact will make him fall over. At least try to challenge the shot, if both players are in the air then the risk of the offensive player being undercut is smaller.

Then there's the second kind of charging call that really terrible. When a player drives the lane and dishes to an open teammate for a lay-up but runs into a defender after he's made the pass. Again, instead of trying to challenge the shot or lay-up, the defender will just set up outside the circle and will take a charge OFF the ball. Of course there's a limit to what an offensive player should be allowed in terms of contact, but I'm sure you know what kinds of plays I'm talking about (those that made me feel a ashamed of being a Lakers fan at times when Derek Fisher let himself be run over in the lane).

Personally, I'd rather see a bunch of Josh Smiths challenge every lay-up in mid-air than guys waiting to flop upon impact when they were late from the help-side to begin with.

 
At 12/13/2006 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ed cota was the best.

 
At 12/13/2006 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My sincereous apoligizes to the FD nation. I was the one that raised the C-Webb/Dog question and had no idea it would snowball. I'm pretty sure the general masses here will consider C-webb, Big Dog, and Duncan (Laettner?) as the most dominating college players of our formative years. Between then and now, I saw Ed Cota get thrown in to the mix, yikes.

On Simmons column, the Truth. AI and LeBron are the only 2 players I would pay to watch play. Tough to add or subtract from it except his man love with Gerald Green.

 
At 12/13/2006 3:53 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

it's hard not to get excited about the man most likely to shatter the MONTMAC (myth of the next t-mac for the uninitiated) if he's on your favorite team. and he only has 3.5 fingers, which is pretty cool.

 
At 12/13/2006 3:57 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Perhaps this is pointless to add, but the "greatest college player ever" is basically a fight between Alcindor and Walton.

Glenn Robinson was so utterly dominant at Purdue--then Duke (mostly Grant Hill) shut him down in the tourney. Is Grant Hill arguably better?

 
At 12/13/2006 5:07 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

Ditto on the Simmons piece. He was after the same point I was trying to make in my McSweeney's piece a few months ago and completely kicks the stinkin' bile out of it. Kudos to Simba.

 
At 12/13/2006 5:11 PM, Blogger T. said...

PV - I'd agree (and maybe throw in the Big O) but I limited my choices to "who I've seen"

Anon 3:09 - I'd pay to see Kobe play. On a night when he's got it going - it's sublime. A force of basketball.

 
At 12/13/2006 10:50 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

re: the taking a charge issue:

"Jeffries tried to draw a charge on Josh Smith, but instead was called for a foul and wound up in the locker room getting three stitches in his chin."

 
At 12/14/2006 10:57 PM, Anonymous Ten Foot Tiger said...

Give me Robinson over Webber and Duncan. Then give me Marcus Camby over all of them. Camby was a force of nature at UMass.

 
At 12/15/2006 3:41 PM, Anonymous Sczcerbiak Attack said...

Does anyone read these comments five days after the post? Who knows...

I generally agree with the premise that injured stars hurt NBA teams more than in other sports, and would expand the reasons to include the salary cap (trades are more difficult) and the sorry state of the D-League. If the NBA had a true minor league system, they'd at least be able to cultivate a crop of replacement saplings for when the big trees fall.

The flip side of this, however, is the structure prevents that great baseball phenomenon: the loveable flash-in-the-pan. While injuries may allow young future stars to shine earlier than expected, they almost never allow also-rans to become short-term superstars, the way baseball does. Where are the basketball Bo Harts or Kevin Maases? Baseball has a rich history of guys with narrow skill sets, but one or two insanely sharp skills that no one can figure out at first and makes them ephemeral world-beaters/fan favorites. Who's the Association's Phil Plantier?

I'd never presume, but there seems to be something pretty FDish about that.

 

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