All the Wheels of Destiny
First, matters of business:
-Review in today's Play. I refrained from typing that in all caps.
-I don't think we promoted David Wingo's "Macrophenomenal Anthem" enough yet. So listen!
-For whatever reason, the book is temporarily no longer available on Amazon. But there are other options! (UPDATE: Appears to be back.)
Last night was about as rad an evening of basketball as I could mortally hope for. Despite the endless vistas opened up by League Pass, I still try to stick to one game, beginning to end, and usually only one per night. That's about all my brain can stand—I am that super-sensitive, and that easily distracted. But yesterday, I managed to successfully flip back and forth between Hawks/Sixers (which I broke off an Obama volunteer shift to catch) and Heat/Bobcats. And then finish it all off with the last quarter of Bulls/Grizzlies. It was somewhere between the channel-surfing that some are capable of using League Pass for, and seeing it as a chance to create an alternative network slate.
Believe it or not—more me pinching myself than preaching to the converted of this site—I anticipated Hawks/Sixers like it was a "real" game. The Hawks are on the verge of being taken seriously, while I thought Philly's second-half self-discovery in 2007-08 was pretty crude. Brand makes them better, no doubt, but do they inspire fear, or will they be continuing to find their way, both with their new superstar and a strategic approach that needed some fine-tuning. Not to get all recap-y here, but I think Thaddeus Young might be the key to this team's coherency. One more bit of hyperbole: He's what they wish Iguodala could bring to that attack offensively, shooting well and attacking the basket with ranginess and control. Oh and also, he might also be what a lot of us still hope the Hawks got in Marvin, or at least a slimmer version. And this is a cliche for PF's, but Brand is definitely trimmer, and capable of running.
The Hawks, on their end, were a total wreck, not in the least because Smith looked lost and Johnson didn't get off immediately. Twenty-three point deficit at one point. But then—in no particular order—Josh started causing mayhem, which in turn frees him to make threes like they're not forced, and Johnson snuck in there and started hitting shot and after shot. The engine for the Hawks success is pretty simple: Smith has to get himself going, almost internally, by kindling that fire of non-methodical insanity in him that's keyed off by a steal/dunk combo, or something equally outliandish. It's like he's got his own inner crowd to appeal to. At this point, though, that's what it takes to get him in some sort of groove, albeit one that resembles a rash of bad decisions and impetutous leaps. The difference is, he's got that zone where they aren't forced, where the risks and illogical "huh?" moments are actually his natural rhythm. The problems start when you see him try and follow the kind of script a coach can read to you. Frustrating, I'm sure, but he's a player who needs to erupt in the worst way to matter.
Johnson, on the other hand, sneaks up on you. That's no surprise. But it's also striking how much the Hawks' momentum—incidentally, they ended up coming back and winning this one—is tied up in the Smith/Johnson dynamic. They feed off of each other, but it's not clear if Johnson steps in only when Smith fails utterly, or sneaks in when he see Smith getting off a little, and providing some cover (and needing counter-balance?). I dare say that, whether in success or failure, Smith is the catalyst, but that Johnson is far more reliable, coming through when Smith has either bottomed out or started to really freak out. We can debate the fine points of this, but there's some new kind of metaphysical inside-out game going here. Chaos/order, or something, in both concert and competition. The funny thing is that, by the end, you get them starting to converge. Johnson's looking more and more like someone with twelve sneaker deals, while Smith's settled down a little, deferring to JJ, and exists within some known structure.
Bobcats/Heat wasn't competitive, but represented the revenge of a few key points. Gerald Wallace was the Gerald Wallace of old, absolutely indomitable and yet throwing himself around like the lowliest role player of them all. A joy to watch. And what's more, I'm beginning to think he won't end up in LB's doghouse much. He plays hard, makes that extra effort, fights to get into the paint for buckets, and now has a fairly effective outside shot that he deploys with some prudence. That's the Right Way updated for today's modern audience. That team still has troubles, not in the least the fact that few players are as uniquely suited to this synthesis as Wallace. I also find it weird that GW defers to Richardson as the number one option. So best case scenario, the rest of the team struggles to make Brown happy, wins games with defense, and Wallace blazes away the whole time much to our heart's content.
I simply cannot take my eyes off this Heat team, and not just beacuse I picked Beasley too high in our fantasy draft (no Simmons—that was full disclosure). Dr. LIC described them as "scallywags," and while I don't quite know what that means, it captures some of the danger, strangeness, pathos, and stuck-on-a-boat-dying-of-scurvy-but-still-playing-dress-up quality of the team. I know some of you will accuse me of being a faggot for saying this, but Wade has lost all of that robotic quality I once so hated about him. It's not just that he's aggressive, almost recklessn at times—he really plays with feeling, like the whole thing's taken personally. You can tell it by the times he goes out of his way to make a statement dunk. Sometimes he's toying with the opposition, sometimes he's just managing his own emotional equilibrium in the hull of a lost cause. But if there were some kind of index that tracked—pardon my extremely un-PC nomenclature— "soul," in the "some have it, some don't" usage that's more refined and basic than evoking afros and slang—he's passed LeBron at this point. Maybe "soulfulness" is better.
I have no idea what's going on with Marion, who half the time seems intent on feigning decline, or a kind of confusion we rarely saw from him in Phoenix. Chalmers + Wade = solid, and I wish they'd euthanize Marcus Banks. Sometimes this team feels like you're watching something dramatically new, and others, it feels so bootleg, so corrosively silly, that you'd best turn away before you use lose all perspective all the game. Like the glorious 2006-07 Warriors without the undeniable fireworks.
The real draw for me, though, is Beasley. After that crappy opener, he's turning into a frightfully efficient scorer, living off a combination of mid-range jumpers and strong moves to the hoop that usually involve some added element of finesse or smooth body control. It's almost like he took the "Beastley" game of K-State and shut off the NBA switch. What's startling about him isn't how easily he gets inside, or how hard it is for defenders to anticipate whether he's going hard or soft, but just how much better his judgement seems game-by-game. Still not much more than a scorer who grabs a few boards, and Amare-like, blocks some shots just by being himself. But he's deathly effective at what he does, and I've got to say, at this point looks a hell of a lot better than Durant did this early. And Durant was the messiah. Not to sound like a one-note pony, but I could see Beasley emerge as the kid cousin of today's more versatile, advanced Stoudemire, but with even better people skills. What I wonder is just how much he's changed his game, versus his college narrative of arrogance and egotism falling away.
Which brings me to Derrick Rose, as Ritchie had already suggested I do before I got daylight savings time straightened out and got out of bed to check the computer. Point guards are the new centers, Rose is undeniably for real, and has instantly made Luol Deng whole and Tyrus Thomas not a youthful mistake we have to keep apologizing for. But what fascinates me is how, while Beasley seems to play a less "NBA" game than he did in college, perhaps out of necessity, Rose somehow made a quantum leap to seasoned, splashy pro point guard without barely thinking about it.
That's assuming a lot, but I definitely get the sense that, while Beasley is going the extra mile to show he's not a profligate or time-bomb, as witnessed from game-to-game, Rose just showed up, surveyed his surroundings, and uncorked a whole new dimension to his game. Granted, I didn't watch a ton of Memphis, but I do know that with the Bulls, from second-to-second Rose feels like a top-shelf, in-command, ultra-creative PG—as Dr. LIC hyperbolically put it, a cross between Paul and Williams. Beasley's toned down his game and affect (the threes have disappeared fast) to prove to the NBA he respected it; Rose sees the opportunity to step up and assert himself, since he's in the optimal position to join an elite class.
Rose coming to Chicago isn't quite, as Ritchie suggested, on part with Obama coming to D.C. Sorry. I also don't think that the Bulls have a coherent enough rotation to really make the most of his presence. Look at how carefully constructed New Orleans is, or how the Jazz made a leap last year just by adding Kyle Korver. And I do think that, even if we had gotten to see Oden/Durant unfold, it looks like it would have been a little underwhelming, especially as each would've been deficient at the other's primary end of the court. Rose and Beasley aren't comparable, since Rose is franchise material, whereas Beasley looks to be a force you then have to match an infrastructure to. But if this first week is any indication, two of the raddest players to watch in the league are last summer's 1/2 picks, who are tremendous to watch right now, and whose growth will decide exactly what happens with their imperfect/idiosyncratic teams. Show me a more tantalizing season-long storyline and I'll quit this business right away.