Powder Blue Isotope

I can't believe how blind I was. To whomever said that the Nuggets are the new Warriors, you're wrong, but onto something. I watched them last night, and still stand by my complaint that this team should have way more edge than it does. And really, wasn't it edge/attitude/intangibles/serrated testicles that allowed the Dubs to push through Dallas like they did?

However, there is a light, and it's one whose familiar glow has at times threatened to burn down my life, or presented itself as that last flicker before the human race goes dark forever. That, my friends, is J.R. Smith. He may never grow up into a solid starter, but in the wake of Stephen Jackson's revenge, I see a new niche for J.R.: Catalytic wild card. Smith has been on a tear lately, which for him means backing up swag with outrageous playmaking, which in turn feeds the swaggering beast. George Karl may deserve to be fired, but at very least be should be commended for letting this petri monster bubble a bit.

So I'd say, why not take off the leash? Make Smith's antics a permanent feature of this team's night-in, night-out identity. Iverson and Melo are perfectly responsible adults now; Martin and Camby, beyond reproach. There's no risk of their backsliding, so why not at least give them a little souvenir of the vitality that goes with irresponsibility? It's the role of a lifetime for the mercurial Smith, and might give the Nuggets the spark they need to, well, stop looking so rote in their scoring explosions.

Look at the kid. Learn and listen. He idolizes you, and probably owes what's left of his NBA career to you. Now, it's his turn to give back, and maybe help himself even more in the process. J.R. Smith is getting free. Let him now lead his Nuggets to a higher plane of unpredictability. The Warriors parallel isn't perfect: Baron is a real point guard, Nellie has a vision, and so on and so forth. All the more reason to think in rareified terms. Nothing changes on the floor, except for the timbre of their output.

There is fun, and there is danger, inside J.R. Smith. When he harnesses these two, he's not a nuisance—he's a self-help guru for a team in need of a jolt. Here's hoping they don't let knowledge get in the way of knowing.

ALERT: I said earlier this season that Al Thornton would be mentioned on here more than any other rookie. Well, I fibbed. I haven't watched the Clippers once, though I see that dude has suddenly started to ignite what's left of the season. So someone, clue me in on Thornton at this level. Is he worth making a priority of? Does he belong in my Five?

Still not sure how I feel about Landry. The Rockets may be the most workmanlike running team ever, even if this might be the most I've enjoyed watching McGrady since 2002-03.

UPDATE: I have a new, highly entertaining column at SLAM.

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At 3/06/2008 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, FD's most accurate prediction (though not the way we thought, and contrary to the way it looked a month ago) might be:

"Thomas, Kurt: Will get a ring"

The Shaqtastrophe is making the Kurt dump look more and more boneheaded.

At 3/06/2008 1:13 PM, Blogger Hardwood Paroxysm said...

The wife's gone to bed, I've put the dog away, and I've watched the tape on whatever marquee matchup ended in another predictable Lakers, Spurs, or Celtics win. But there's still basketball on. It's Clippers ball. And the only reason I watch is Al Thornton.

To be fair, he was the kid I pushed for from the beginning. Lost in the shuffle of all the other big names, he just kind of slipped to the Clippers, and no one really talked about him. And he struggled for a few months, getting used to the bigger bodies, the faster speed, the daily grind.

Then he started killing it.

It's not just the range, or the control he exhibits when he drives, or the highlight reel potential every time he touches the ball.

It's the effort he exerts on both sides of the court. While KD's jacking up too long jumpers and getting schooled on crossovers, Thornton is buckling down and bringing the weak side defender help and getting out in transition. He still makes plenty of mistakes, being a rookie, but he's got a fantastic relentlessness.

Much like the first Franz Ferdinand album. That album was a feedback drenched diesel engine, attached to an armored jeep. It was relentless, it was cuastic, it was inventive.

They were a one hit wonder, but that album was a terrific slice of unrelenting fire and vodka.

Much like Al Thornton's rookie campaign.

At 3/06/2008 1:39 PM, Blogger goathair said...

I'd love to see a whole post on Shoals' five. I'm guessing J.R., Amare, Josh Smith, Kobe, and LeBron with Gilbert taking him to a tailor, trying to get a spot.

At 3/06/2008 1:42 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

That first pic is simply righteous.

I've got a backlog of Nug games on the TiVo, so I haven't seen this new JR.

I did, however, see the box score of last night's game. I'll hold off a little longer and wait to actually see a late-season Suns game before any pronouncements, but ... the Fun appears to be dead. Long live the Fun.

I just wonder when Kerr will hold the press conference at which he says, "The results of the trade are in: I'm an idiot."

At 3/06/2008 2:09 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

The Nuggets, and therefore this post, are not worth discussing. They should have been. But they didn't make the trade for Ron Artest.

Add Artest to the mix, and you have a team that would have relegated last year's Warriors to footnote status.

Because they didn't make that trade, I just can't be bothered to even acknowledge them. They should be the ultimate mix of star-crossed stars searching for a title... the hip-hop Boston Celtics of the West. Instead they are nothing more than a nice first round matchup.

That's ten times worse to me than the Yao injury.

At 3/06/2008 2:23 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

SML, I am trying to rescue hope. This collection of players is too precious to waste. And J.R., instead of being the kid caught in the crossfire between sinking ships, can be the salvation.

Read my new SLAM column.

At 3/06/2008 3:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn straight, Shoals.

I told you during the preseason that "downward spiral" wasn't right for J.R.

The kid is still a kid, but he's got a bizarrely good attitude. He knows he's lucky to be playing with Bubbachuck, and he's a loyal solider.

He's been trying to do the right thing on both sides of the court all year, and while he doesn't always get it right, he's trying damn hard.


It really shouldn't be underestimated when considering the Nuggets how 'Melo and J.R. both grew up idolizing Bubbachuck. The team has a weird solidarity.

Now if Nene can just pull a Willis Reed, they'll be able to compete in the postseason.


And you're right about one important thing here. The Power Blues really do need to maximize J.R. to succeed.

With the double-teams on Iverson and Anthony, the Nuggets need J.R. and Kleiza to punish teams.

Being able to get the most out of J.R. is going to be the test of whether George Karl's tenure was genius or idiocy.

When Karl threw J.R. under the bus in last year's postseason, he took ownership of J.R.'s growth process. If it all works out and he gets the most out of J.R., then Karl is a mad scientist. If not, he's a slimey control freak.

At 3/06/2008 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seeing as how every trade but Gasol has shit the bed for the team on the Western Conference end, I'm not ready to write the Nugs off just because they didn't go after Artest. Even though they're both playing fairly forgettable right now, I like their chances better than the Suns right now, and not just because they whipped 'em last night. All the Nuggets need is mental and physical health. JR & Kleiza have both gone for 40+ this year off the bench. You're just not getting that kind of potential production from Pietrus, or whoever doesn't get the start that night for Nellie.
The Warriors are not the new Suns, the Warriors are the self-actualized Nuggets. I would go so far as to say that both the W's and the Nugs are purer representations of the 7SOL philosophy than the Suns, except in the first incarnation where they still had wings like JJ & Quentin to spread the floor.

At 3/06/2008 3:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

When they got Smith, he was supposed to come in and hit open threes. Be a cog.

Now, we're saying he needs to do the same thing, but in a mildly insane way.

Can a role player be at once functional and disruptive?

At 3/06/2008 4:05 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Can a role player be at once functional and disruptive?

If you spell his name A-R-T-E-S-T.

I apologize for taking the focus off JR Smith. I'm just haven't come to grips with the reality that Ron is once again not going to be involved in the playoffs. We are all a bit worse for it.

But yes, let's get back to J.R. Smith....

At 3/06/2008 4:53 PM, Blogger knowing is knowledge said...

The thing about Artest is that he is Functional on the defensive end, phenomenal even, but a human black hole on the offensive end. He is not both at the same time.

JR Smith needs to be both at the same time to realize his potential.

At 3/06/2008 6:25 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

I guess somewhere in between J.R. as the Nuggets' wild card, the devolution of the Suns and the Warriors style of play, there is also an interesting discussion about the necessity of an element of unpredictability on a team level. I can't quite work it out because Ginobili's role on the Spurs is throwing me off. Even according to Popovich Manu's supposed to be something like what you suggest Smith to become for the Nuggets. But if your unpredictability is institutionalized, is is still what it's supposed to be?

At 3/06/2008 8:15 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Scouting report on JRS: just don't let him drive. Get it?

At 3/06/2008 8:51 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Quibble with the Slam piece: since when is Flash single? Didn't he like marry his HS sweetheart or something?

At 3/07/2008 12:27 AM, Blogger Nicholas said...

Shoals, get over your hate for Houston and enjoy this Rockets team for what it is: the reincarnation of the early 2000's Kings. They just got done dismantling the (Dirkless) Mavs, a rival team that always gives them fits regardless of personnel. The Rockets are a team that is clicking, and in a beautiful way. Landry is ferocious, I don't know how you couldn't love that guy. He's like a mini Dwight Howard. He's also brought back the art of the double clutch dunk.
I don't even know how you can call this team workmanlike, the only "blue collar" player they've really got is Chuck Hayes, but other than that, this is a fluid, flowing team with a ton of swag right now.

At 3/07/2008 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Nicholas- even Chuck Hayes is blowing up by his own standards- 11 points in two nights! He even hit this weird shot-put sort of thing tonight over Dampier...between him and Alston's floaters, there's never been a better time for the Ward Cleaver hook.
At first I also thought they were a resurrected Kings team too because of the way they move the ball, the depth of the bench, and yeah, Rick Adelman sitting on it, but really the way everyone's settled into their roles they're starting to look like a Rockets team from the Hakeem days- except moving the ball means more than just finding an open three pointer. Rafer reminds me more of Kenny Smith than Mike Bibby is what I'm trying to say. Landry, Scola...between those two, they bring something to the 4 spot that I don't the Rockets even had back with Otis Thorpe.

At 3/07/2008 12:48 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I don't like Houston, but my problem with the Rockets is Rafer Alston. However, after watching that game I've totally changed my mind. I'm finishing up something for TSN on it now.

At 3/07/2008 12:51 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I just typed the line "even Shane Battier had some swag tonight" which felt a lot like "even Richard Nixon has got soul"

At 3/07/2008 12:52 AM, Blogger The wondering Mind said...

Bethlehem, guys, completely off topic but ……… I was wondering if you guys have an opinion on this.

In soccer, if your team is not doing well, for example can't get over the hump or make expected progress, it is common to ship players out and bring in new ones regardless if they are stars or not.

There are at least a few teams in the NBA that are having trouble getting to the next level but will not trade some of their assets because they are waiting for the perfect deal (ala
Lakers) to fall on their laps.

Which brings me to my question, if you had the opportunity to make what on paper appears be an equal swap of talent would you do it? When Marbury was swapped for Kidd, it was thought to be a win, win but it turned it not to be even close.

Without looking up the stats would you trade these players for one another taking in account the team they will be joining?

Carlos Boozer for Elton Brand?
Richard Jefferson for Josh Howard?
Lamar Odom for AK47?
Joe Johnson for Brandon Roy?
(All star level)Jermaine O’Neal for Dirk?
Tmac for Vince Carter?
Michael Redd for Ray Allen?
Monte Ellis for Kevin Martin?

Based solely on feel, who would be getting the better of these trades? I mean if Dallas traded Josh for RJ, which team would gain the most from it, Dallas or NJ?

At 3/07/2008 8:02 AM, Blogger Sweat of Ewing said...

My thoughts on that...

Boozer for Brand -> might be win/win. Brand is a vastly better defender than Boozer. Boozer is a better scorer and passer, and has an edge in rebounds. Could be a toss up, but the Jazz can definitely use some more defense.

RJ for Josh Howard -> Nets win. Howard is better. No question. Jefferson is better at getting to the line and scores a bit more lately. Howard outrebounds, outdefends (nowadays), and outshoots Jefferson, plus he's tougher and doesn't get injured. Mavs would be dumb to make this.

Odom for AK -> Lakers win. I don't even want to think about that team if they get Kirilenko, it's not even close. Can't see why the Jazz would do this.

Johnson for Roy -> win/win? Having trouble with this one. Interesting trade, but I think Roy can be better than Johnson. The Hawks could sure use some more playmaking, and I think that Roy is better at that.

2003 O'Neal for Dirk -> Pacers win. Back then, I'd have made this trade, but I wouldn't swap 2003 O'Neal for 2008 Dirk. O'Neal totally halts whatever offense he's on - Mavs definitely don't need that.

McGrady for Carter - I'm from NJ and was nominally a Nets fan. If you Rockets guys want to give up McGrady for his cousin I'm all for it, but man you'd be getting the short end of the stick. Carter's probably a better shooter, though, so maybe he fits better with Yao, and McGrady's a better playmaker. Could be interesting, my dislike for Vince aside.

Redd for Allen - interesting. I don't think the Bucks make this because Allen is so much older, but if I was the Celtics I'd at least think about it. Allen is slowly getting worse and Redd is what, 26? Biggest difference right now is that Redd is a shitty passer and not a great ball handler, which I'd worry about if I was the Celtics.

Monta for Martin - I think that Martin just doesn't fit that team too well. Also, never trade for a guy in a fade, Nellie'd probably push him over a crouching Baron, sitting behind him.

That was oddly fun

At 3/07/2008 8:06 AM, Blogger Sweat of Ewing said...

Also, forgot to note that anytime a trade is win/win, make it for fun!

At 3/07/2008 11:07 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...


At 3/07/2008 11:36 AM, Blogger Nicholas said...

Damn, I almost said in my comment last night that Landry is "angry at the rim". I'm glad I didn't, because your "angry at the basket and angry at his anger" line was way better.

I'm afraid though that the first commenter on your post may be frustratingly correct: the Rockets might be the most interesting team to lose in the first round of the playoffs. If they have to face the Spurs, I don't see it happening. Anyone else, in a 7 game series I give them a 50/50 chance.

As for Battier, I had a wierd thought last night: he's Ron Artest plus a jumpshot minus the violent streak. But he doesn't have to shave "Tru Warier" into his head, his wrinkles are actually ancient Egyptian heiroglyphics for "quietly going about doing my job." Oh, and I'd like to point out that it was during this streak that Battier got the first technical of his professional career (for shit talking, no less). That right there speaks volumes.

You're right to a point, but the reason I think this team looks more like the early decade Kings and not the Championship Rockets is simple: no Dream.

At 3/08/2008 2:00 AM, Blogger Zeke said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3/08/2008 2:04 AM, Blogger Zeke said...

"RJ for Josh Howard -> Nets win. Howard is better. No question. Jefferson is better at getting to the line and scores a bit more lately. Howard outrebounds, outdefends (nowadays), and outshoots Jefferson, plus he's tougher and doesn't get injured. Mavs would be dumb to make this"

I'm a Mavs fan and I do this deal in a heartbeat. The Mavs need a guy who can run with Kidd and get to the free-throw line, not a jumpshooter who doesn't bother to play defense or do any of the things that made him great in the first place.

Whatever happened to the slasher that attacked the rim relentlessly? When there was a mad scramble for the offensive rebound on the final possession in the Spurs game, did J-Ho crash the glass? No, he parked his ass at the 3-point line, which is where he spends all of his time now. Memo to Josh: Stackhouse and Terry are the spot-up shooters when Kidd does the drive and kick. Your job is to run the floor on the fastbreak. When the Mavs were forced to foul late in the game against Utah, did he foul Paul Millsap? No, his lazy ass let Millsap swing the ball to Korver, and when Terry approached him,he waved him off as if to say "Don't talk to me." And don't get me started on the beginning of the second half against Houston, where he clanked up five bricks in the first two minutes before Avery mercifully sat his ass down.

Seriously, J-Ho has been fucking awful for about a month now. I can't figure out if it's because he's still butt hurt over his boys being in Jersey now, or he's still getting back into shape after that lower-back contusion. But the fact remains that Howard has a temper and a very low basketball IQ, and can't seem to understand that Kidd could be his best friend if he'd only let him.

The Mavs aren't struggling right now because they made a fatal mistake by trading for Kidd. They're struggling because they're only a two-man team with Dirk and Kidd, and they were under the mistaken impression that they would have a talented trio of Dirk, Kidd and Howard. I still am laughing my ass off over Shoals proclaiming Howard as Dallas' best player, better than Dirk. Better than the guy who is a matchup nightmare and is the focus of opposing defenses. If your argument is that Dirk isn't "clutch" or lacks some sort of leadership gene, Josh of all people doesn't trump him.

At 3/09/2008 3:33 AM, Blogger T. said...

Howard's grandmother who raised him recently passed away, and as much as we'd like to pretend hoops is hoops, I think it's still affecting him.

wv: ufktsfn - Ufukistan - next hoops hotbed in the former Soviet republics.

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