basketball kansas basketball

Basketball / Tale of two teams

Baron!The Bay Area: Where Baron hap­pens. Pho­to: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Liv­ing in the Bay Area, I've watched Baron Davis and Don Nel­son breathe life into the corpse of the Gold­en State War­riors by play­ing fast, loose, undis­ci­plined, unpre­dictable bas­ket­ball. When they're click­ing, the War­riors are invig­o­rat­ing and life-affirm­ing. Nel­lie doesn't bur­den the team with struc­ture — they don't real­ly run an "offense" or play "defense" in the tra­di­tion­al sens­es — instead, they rely on the play­ers' abil­i­ties to impro­vise, pull their oppo­nents out of their own struc­tures, and wear them down with run­ning and gunning. 

Playground electicity

When the War­riors are good, they're like the best play­ground bas­ket­ball team you could ever imag­ine. What makes them all the more excit­ing is that their ros­ter lacks key tra­di­tion­al dimen­sions asso­ci­at­ed with suc­cess­ful teams. They com­pete with­out the tra­di­tion­al man-moun­tain in the low-post to take on Shaq, Yao, Dun­can, or Pau; instead, Andris Biedrins, who has very lit­tle in the way of a J and doesn't ever try to play fac­ing the bas­ket, uses his quick­ness and hops to rebound, fol­low, and gen­er­al­ly sur­prise oppo­nents with his abil­i­ty to keep War­rior pos­ses­sions alive. (Check out where The Wages of Wins ranked Biedrins for the 2006–2007 sea­son) Spoil­er: He's #1 on the team, with 11.7 to Baron's 9.7. On the guard front, Baron and Stephen Jack­son and Mon­ta Ellis don't real­ly run an offense as much as they weave through defens­es in per­pet­u­al one-on-fives, dri­ving to the rim, dish­ing to team­mates. Baron has a (admit­ted­ly deserved) rep­u­ta­tion as a shoot-first point guard, but he defers to oth­ers when they're hot and his team­mates seem to feed off his ener­gy. Mon­ta, more of a two-guard than a point, some­how can't shoot the three, but he can blow by just about any­one and he's one of the bet­ter fin­ish­ers in the league right now. 6'9" Al Har­ring­ton is more reli­able from behind the arc than he is with his back to the bas­ket; Wages of Wins doesn't think much of him, but it's hard to deny the prob­lems that he cre­ates for defens­es when he's in the game. Stephen Jack­son — Stack Jack, as Baron calls him — is the glue; when he's in the game, every­one is bet­ter. Seri­ous­ly, who wouldn't want to play with him? He's got everyone's back.

DarnellDar­nell can't do it alone. Pho­to: Nick Krug, Lawrence Journal-World.

Con­trast the War­riors with the oth­er team that I fol­low, the Kansas Jay­hawks. Where the War­riors are dan­ger­ous, inscrutable, fierce com­peti­tors who save their best for big games, the Jay­hawks have been the oppo­site: soft, pre­dictable, vul­ner­a­ble when the game is on the line. Where the War­riors have at least three guys who thrive in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions — Baron, Stack Jack, and Har­ring­ton — the Jay­hawks have eight guys who could start on any team in Amer­i­ca, but not one who wants to take over a game. Last week, I trekked to Ora­cle with Justin, Mara, and Lynne (Lynne? Blog?), and we watched the War­riors wear down the Celtics and, in the final moments, dri­ve a dag­ger into their hearts. Three days lat­er, I watched the Jay­hawks wilt in the final moments against a very, very fired up Okla­homa State team. Part of the prob­lem is that Kansas sim­ply doesn't have reli­able offen­sive weapons; anoth­er part is that teams love beat­ing the Hawks, and each Jay­hawk oppo­nent is play­ing its biggest game of the sea­son. Col­lege bas­ket­ball is dif­fer­ent in that regard. Mes­sage boards don't rejoice each time the Lak­ers lose a game, but oh how peo­ple love to see teams like Kansas (Google: "kansas" + "choke"), Duke (Google: "duke" + "choke"), and Ken­tucky (Google: "ken­tucky" + "choke") lose. Which is fine. If peo­ple didn't real­ly react this way, the wins wouldn't be as much fun.The root of the Hawks' prob­lem is offen­sive, though. The War­riors are stocked with guys who can cre­ate their own shot, but Kansas has to rely on Mario Chalmers and Sher­ron Collins (and, to some extent, Rus­sell Robin­son) to break down defens­es and spring Bran­don Rush on the perime­ter or Dar­rell Arthur inside. Like the War­riors, the Hawks don't run a struc­tured offense with inter­change­able parts; they rely on ath­leti­cism. This lack of dimen­sion is eas­i­ly exploit­ed by teams who effec­tive­ly pres­sure the Hawks' guards, and who run big guys out to trap the ball at the three-point line. Add to this mix the fact that Kansas guards can­not seem to defend oppos­ing guards, and there's no ques­tion that they've got some big prob­lems to solve before mid-March.

basketball san francisco visual

Warriors / Drama, elevation, a posterization, terrible officiating

The War­riors play­off ride is over, the Jazz's ride will come to an end some­time in the next week or so, but Baron's dunk over Kir­ilenko will live on FOREVER. Let's just sit back and appre­ci­ate it for a minute. (It's much bet­ter live).

the rise-upBaron ele­vates and ele­vates; he begins his leap before Kir­ilenko and is still going up as Kir­ilenko descends. Mind-bend­ing. To his cred­it, Kir­ilenko said after the game that it was an awe­some dunk and that "at least I got to be on the poster." Also to Kirilenko's cred­it, he didn't foul Baron; if any­thing, it was an offen­sive foul. More on the stu­pid NBA offi­ci­at­ing later.


stomach shotAs impres­sive as the dunk itself was Baron's stom­ach flash after he land­ed. Not real­ly sure where this came from. The ele­men­tary school play­ground? An And1 mix­tape? Wher­ev­er it came from, it was a stroke of genius in that par­tic­u­lar set­ting — Fri­day night, Oak­land Col­i­se­um, West­ern Con­fer­ence Semi-final blowout. You could prac­ti­cal­ly feel the Bay Area ele­vate that moment.


the dust-offAgain, haven't seen this before, out­side of a play­ground game in the Pan­han­dle, but Stephen Jack­son appeared to be dust­ing some­thing off Baron's shoul­ders. The remains of the rim? Some mag­ic dust from David Blaine?

Inci­den­tal­ly, the best pic­ture of all was not tak­en off my TV, but by an AP pho­tog­ra­ph­er from the oth­er end of the court. It cap­tures Baron as he descends from the dunk.

I really did believe

Like every­one in the NBA uni­verse has already said, the War­riors were huge­ly fun to watch this post-sea­son, and it was sad to see them go. It would have been nice to see more scrap­py, inspired Matt Barnes moments; more Stephen Jack­son dag­gers; more Baron Davis PERIOD. I've always liked Baron, but this post-sea­son he had it all work­ing: his fast-break vision, his high-arc­ing three-point bombs, his cross-over, his abil­i­ty to get in the lane and dish out to open shoot­ers. (More of Baron's finest career moments on YouTube.) It was nice to see Mon­ta get his game back in games 4 and 5, and Biedrins had some real­ly strong moments, by which I mean some ridicu­lous dunks and a few improb­a­ble free throw conversions.

Yes, the Jazz deserved it

At the same time, I admired Utah by the end of the series. Jer­ry Sloan is an ass­hole, but he proved in this series that he is an ass­hole who knows what to do with tal­ent­ed play­ers. The 3‑D guard play (Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Derek Fish­er) was unex­pect­ed­ly sol­id and impres­sive. Memo and Booz­er were Sports­Cen­ter fix­tures through­out the sea­son, but I was sur­prised at how eas­i­ly Memo was tak­en out of his game by the quick­er War­riors. I was sim­i­lar­ly amazed at how great Booz­er has become. The guy rose to the occa­sion, took lots of big shots, fre­quent­ly changed the momen­tum of the game and was by any mea­sure a badass among badass­es. To say those things about a for­mer Duke play­er requires a lot of pride-swal­low­ing on my part.In con­trast to the uneven, streaky War­riors, every Jazz play­er was tena­cious and grit­ty while exhibit­ing a pro­fes­sion­al­ism and char­ac­ter that has been miss­ing from the West­ern Con­fer­ence play­offs this year. Why are so many play­ers, espe­cial­ly War­riors, con­tin­u­al­ly try­ing to draw charges? Play defense. Draw the charge when it comes to you, but don't try to sub­sti­tute actu­al defense with step­ping in front of a play­er as they go to the bas­ket. Stephen Jack­son! Dude! You were huge in the Dal­las series, but against Utah you took your­self out of the game by try­ing to take charges and then get­ting pissed that the refs didn't call them! You know this: the refs are not going to give you those calls when the only thing you're doing is try­ing to draw them. Same goes for Barnes and Har­ring­ton. UPDATE: Hen­ry Abbott of True­Hoop has some thoughts on this very sub­ject:

There are a lot of fouls called on play­ers defend­ing against the dri­ve. What occurs to me more and more is that it's smart to do the whole "draw the charge" flop onto the butt, and only in part because you might draw the charge. A big­ger rea­son is that if your hands are up, and you're jump­ing, and there's con­tact, you have NO chance of get­ting the call, and it's like­ly a foul on you.

An inter­est­ing point; per­haps it's all part of an effort to enable slash­ing and to com­pli­cate phys­i­cal defen­sive play. On the oth­er hand, super­stars seem to get calls even if the defense seems to be legit. Baron obvi­ous­ly drew a lot of charges and hacks, which I think is evi­dence of a huger prob­lem: THE F%@$$%$ING CONSPIRATORIAL OFFICIATING. 

What the f%$#@%$?

It real­ly seems like the ref­er­ees go into each game with an agen­da. Like, the Jazz got every call in game one. Why? Did they want to even things up from the pre­vi­ous series when it seemed like there were some quick whis­tles on Josh Howard? The lop­sid­ed­ness of the calls make you won­der things like that. I mean, even Stephen Jack­son had some legit beefs that night! Then in Game 5, Baron got pret­ty much every call. He lit­er­al­ly ran over Deron Williams a cou­ple of times, no whis­tles. When Williams would so much as touch him, whis­tle. Did the NBA want to pro­long the series? Did they want to give Baron the super­star foul exemp­tion? UPDATE: And don't even get me start­ed on the role of the NBA front office in all this. If the sus­pen­sions of Diaw and Stoudemire end up cost­ing the Suns the series, I'm going to … protest. Some­how. How can the NBA be so bad at inter­pret­ing their own rules? Every sport in the world func­tions effec­tive­ly by imple­ment­ing the spir­it of its rules, not the let­ter. Why go by the let­ter in this case? Stoudemire and Diaw didn't esca­late any­thing; they didn't incite fur­ther may­hem; what gives?In spite of it all, great play­ers make great play­offs. Thanks War­riors, and go Suns.