Monday, December 18, 2006

The NBA (National Brawl Association)

It was an exciting weekend in the NBA, to say the least.

Saturday night, as I was sitting in Pete's Tavern, enjoying a Sierra Nevada, my phone rang. I figured Casey was calling to see what I was up to for the night, to see where I was going, and if I wanted to join him at the bar he was at. The call wasn't about that at all. The brief conversation was similar to the following:

"Hey Casey, what's up."
"B. Are you watching the Knicks game?"
"It's on in the bar--"
"--there's a huge brawl, you have to watch this. It's insane."
"Shit. You're right, this is crazy--WAS THAT CARMELO ANTHONY?"
"Yeah, with a sucker punch."

There are plenty of nicknames already emerging from this altercation between two fired up franchises. The Malice in the Palace Part II. Fight Night at MSG. You get the idea. It wasn't as crazy as the Malice in the Palace last season in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Jermaine O'Neal was suspended 25 games, Stephen Jackson 30, and Ron Artest never again suited up for the Pacers after they were each involved in fights with fans, both on the court and in the stands. It was an embarrassing moment for the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, the Detroit fans, and especially the NBA. In a league desperately trying to improve its image, there was now an enormous setback.

A dress code and a new code of conduct were a part of it. The NBA had also tried to improve it's image by marketing a new crop of players. Out were the likes of the rape-charged Kobe Bryant and practice-skipper Allen Iverson ("We're talking about practice. Not a game, practice."), and in was the new school. A crop of international superstars including Yao Ming (China), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), and reigning League MVP Steve Nash (Canada) are at the forefront of commissioner David Stern's global marketing strategy. Also featured prominatnly in NBA marketing is the cream of the 2004 NBA Draft class: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony.

Wade is coming off of an NBA Championship where he gained Finals MVP. James has the city of Cleveland thinking about a professional championship for the first time in ages. And Carmelo? He can throw one hell of a right cross.

Forget the fact that he proved the be the most clutch player in the NBA last season. Forget the fact that he has slowly but surely, all under the radar in Denver (or over the radar, as it is the Mile High City), has improved every aspect of his game. In his first two seasons, he scored 21ppg, then upped it to 26.5ppg last year, and is leading the NBA with an average of 31.6ppg. He is also averaging 5.6 rebounds and a career-high 4.1 assists per game. His scoring average has gone up 6 points a game, and he is still dishing out an extra assist and a half per game? Unbelievable. But perhaps the most impressive statistic to look at is field goal percentage. I haven't seen a high-scoring swingman shoot over 50% from the field since Michael Jordan. I'm too lazy to look it up to see if it's happened, but Carmelo has increased his percentage every season, from 42.6% to 43.1% to 48.1% to 50.3% this season. Only centers and power forwards, who take the majority of their shots inside of 8 feet, should shoot that high. The dominant scorers in the NBA (Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Gilbert Arenas, Vince Carter) shoot in the low-to-mid-40% range. Kobe is shooting an impressive 48.9% this season, but has never shot over 47% in his career. Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks is shooting right at 50% this season. No offense, but it's Joe Johnson. Yeah, he may be scoring 28.4ppg, but I would put at least 10 other swingmen above him on the list of deadly scorers in the NBA, none of which shoot over 50% from the floor. Except Carmelo.

One thing Carmelo Anthonthy is 100% on, is sucker punching. Right as he is emerging as one of the NBA's favorite young stars to market, he does something that could (and probably will) taint his entire career. Yeah, he was sticking up for teammate J.R. Smith, who was flagrantly fouled by Mardy Collins of the Knicks on a layup with less than two minutes to play on Saturday night. And he wasn't the only player who's head got hot and made some bad decisions (Smith himself retaliating, Nate Robinson, Jared Jefferies), but there is no way he should have put himself or his team in this situation. Now they are without the NBA's leading scorer until mid-January after his 15 game suspension. They'll be without second leading scorer Smith for ten games as well. And they are right smack in the middle of the playoff race. 18% of the season the Nuggets are going to be without Anthony. It's time to pull the trigger on that Iverson deal, or their hopes of a championship will fade away faster than Carmelo ran away after he laid the smack on Collins.

A few other notes on the brawl: Was George Karl running up the score to avenge how Isiah Thomas treated his great friend and ex-Knicks coach Larry Brown? Did Isiah Thomas order a flagrant foul? Is anyone else as surprised as I am that only two players received an automatic one-game suspension for leaving the bench during the brawl? I would've expected at least three players per team to go join the melee. And finally, how did Marcus Camby make it through the whole fight without tearing a ligament or throwing out a shoulder? The guy is made out of glass.

But that wasn't the only exciting thing this weekend in the NBA. On Sunday night, the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers enjoyed an epic battle, resulting in a 147-141 overtime victory for the Wizards. But the subplot of the game was bigger than the score showed. Gilbert Arenas dropped 60 and Kobe Bryant had 45. But instead of tipping his hat to the great performance, Kobe criticized Arenas publicly about his shot selection and amount of shots he took following the loss. "First of all, he shot 27 free throws. We as a team shot 30. Think about that... Some of the shots he took tonight, you miss those, they're just terrible shots, just awful. You make them and they're unbelievable shots." Kobe Bryant has no right to criticize any player in the NBA for shooting too much or shot selection. He got lit up by one of the most explosive scorers in the NBA, and just didn't want to admit it was a great performance. This is one of the reasons I can't stand Kobe Bryant. That, and he always had a knack for putting up big numbers against the Seattle Supersonics.

I would've loved it if Carmelo had thrown that right cross at him instead.



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