I have a troubling story to tell you. You see, Hassan Whiteside, a large and rather endearingly presumptuous young man who plays center for the Miami Heat, claimed, on the social networking site Twitter, that the reigning NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors, were going to have trouble playing against teams that employed skilled post up big men.
He then proceeded to suggest himself as an example, even though he is regarded, by and large, as a pick and roll/defensive specialist. At this point, Draymond Green, the erstwhile center in these lineups responded, and they had a back and forth, and it was excellent summertime NBA content. We celebrated accordingly.
On the day this whole fracas broke out, I circled January 11th, the day these two teams would meet, in my calendar. I was going to watch the game, track whether or not Whiteside posted up on Draymond, observe the results, and write about them for like a 900-Word article that did decent traffic and ultimately decided for the world's population, once and for all, if smallball was an effective long term tactic for NBA teams going forward. I'm an organized person, and this is how I do things. Unfortunately:
We were robbed. Especially me. Far be it for me to suggest that Hassan Whiteside was faking an injury to avoid his reckoning, of course. I would never suggest that. That is a horrible thing to imply about a professional athlete. How dare you suggest that I would suggest that. Honestly you are in the wrong here, much more than me. I think you should apologize to Hassan Whiteside, if you see him.
Anyway, ON TO HIGHLIGHTS!
Imagine yourself as a God, surveying the vast expanse of nothingness, a pure plane of reality. A voice in your head, then—a higher God, commanding you to create something in the void. You build a sun, a planet, animals, people, trees, websites. Dirt in the ground, then microbes in the dirt. You may or may not, depending on how misanthropic you are or are not, create a sort of uber-creature that will have dominion over all this, and give that creature the acute sense that it DESERVES dominion over all this.
What did the tree you created look like? Keep in mind, you don't really know what a "Tree" is, you and your mind are being tasked with creating the concept from whole cloth. I suspect it looks something like this:
Simple, elegant. You could print it out on wallpaper. This is because, compared to True Gods—or Nature, or whatever we attribute to the shape of the universe—your human instincts are feeble and order-seeking. We cannot imagine a tree that looks any other way.
Much in the same way, our minds find themselves attracted to the Golden State Warriors. They are the team that design and order built. Every man has a place and a function, a handful of options to pass to and an incentive to march in line and help the collective succeed. Klay Thompson runs off a screen, catches a perfect pass, takes and makes a perfect jump shot. How could anyone object to design this elegant and balanced? What type of man?
A twisted, vibrantly alive tree of a man. Hold yourself in awe at the last human being who is powered by blood and sand coursing through his veins. While the rest of the world submits to the tastefulness of the Warriors' elegant design, that series of endless picks and rolls and dribble handoffs that end in in a too-cute layups or beautiful three-pointers, our man dives into the machine with his two bare fists and his dancing legs.
Here is one of nature's last true Warriors, guided by the sun, trying to wrap his branches and tendrils around the machine and disconnect its cords. Eventually, of course, the machine unsheathes its blades and chops the tree back another day. But in the interim, we get to see him push and bully and displace and cajole his defenders around the paint in the service of making two points for himself. Watch him catch the ball at around :45, dribble into resistance from Festus Ezeli, push his opponent into an uncomfortable position, then turn around with downright elegant footwork and toss in a pushing hook. The whole spectrum of a self-reliant, living-off-the-land type of basketball that is disappearing from our country is in this moment.
Of course, Cousins also takes two spot up three pointers. I won't say I was disappointed, because I think Demarcus is free to make his own decisions. But there was a sort of melancholy there, knowing that purity of approach, a game born ONLY from the land, isn't the road to success anymore—if it even ever was.
SIDE NOTE: at the end of this mix, Seth Curry exchanges on court pleasantries and hugging with his brother, Steph. A lot of people probably like this kind of brotherly love-type interaction, but I find it unnerving to see two similar looking people touch each other in a video or film. There's just something about the flatness of the world in conjunction with the sort of radio energy of human touch that feels very alienating.
RATING: .75 DEMARCUS COUSINS
In the last few weeks, with wins over Minnesota, Sacramento, and Phoenix and fairly competitive showings against other more-or-less-acceptable teams, YOUR Philadelphia 76ers have surged from Eye-Bleedingly Terrible to Acceptably Terrible. This improvement has been laid at the feet of newly acquired assistant coach Mike D'Antoni and 27-Year-Old Career-Fringe-Point-Guard Ish Smith, who have revitalized the 76ers offensive attack by, like, developing an attack and then using it.
D'Antoni has a reputation as a kind of point guard whisperer, a visionary whose playbook and mentoring have turned Raymond Felton, Jeremy Lin, and a sack of potatoes brought to life with powerful black majick into very-good NBA point guards. Ish, whose colloquial name is literally a word that someone might use if they were addressing something inherently forgettable—We had, uh, turkey and stuff and all that ish—is maybe the most ill-defined guard Mustache Mike has blessed with his touch thus far. What are the feelings this particular union makes?
To observe: here Ish is, notching a career high against the Raptors:
I'm not totally sure there's anything at all to remark upon here. I suppose Ish's play, viewed in this admittedly narrow context, invoked some vague feeling of admiration. He is, after all, not a large man, slight of frame and listed at 6 feet even which seems fairly unbelievable. Neither is he a terribly successful man by NBA standards, here notching a modest career high in his 27th year. But he drives to the basket with an admirable zestiness, and a certain defiance. Watch our man split two defenders and lay out his body midair to notch two points at about 2:05. It's not an amazing move, but there is a bravery there, a note of either desperation or newfound liveliness or both at once.
But aside from that, there really is not a lot to genuinely recommend, here. Ish's three-point shot is so cursory and unspecial that it should probably count for two. His movement in drives is neither unnerving in its unpredictability (See, Shved, Alexey) or terrifying in its inevitably (Westbrook). It is merely functional.
It's hard not to wish for every D'Antoni collab to deliver the pure mania of Linsanity, an explosion out of nowhere that consumes everything in its path and makes you rethink, for a moment, the structure of a whole team. Something that inspires a weary nation in the darkest midwinter. Sometimes it just makes the worst team ever incrementally better.
I like to hope that, someday, we will get a player whose game has nothing to do winning or losing, but only the feelings in their heart. This athlete would not play to win, but only to let the world know, in no uncertain terms, how the oceans of their soul are raging underneath. A certain kind of commentator would have you believe this is already the case, and that only an athlete who has subscribed to stoicism in his deepest heart has what it takes to be successful. That's horseshit, of course. All kinds of troubled people were and are excellent athletes, geniuses at compartmentalizing or fueling themselves with troubles.
The closest thing we have to the mythical feelings-based player, so far as I can tell, is JR Smith. Not because everything he does is fueled by feeling. He actually has a kind of stoicism, I think, as if he is playing 100 percent in the moment at all times. But because the results are so wide ranging, random, and unknowable, he seems almost to be simulating what it might be like if someone were playing from a purely emotional place. He is like a standard work computer, built to produces spreadsheets and win basketball games, running an SNES Emulator that only plays Earthbound, that least practical of all Japanese role playing games.
So here is JR, feeling himself from three. His three-point shot is one of the league's most captivating. Not wholly effective, necessarily. Just captivating. It's... cartoony. His knees bend and his body twists like someone struggling to put a shot up at a range they can't quite manage, but his arms! They're perfect! Watch him strip Wiggins, keep the ball in play, streak to the other side of the court, spot up, and shoot an assisted three pointer at about :39. Look at the way his arms form a perfect floating diamond above his head! How often do you see an upper body motion so perfect? And then to affix it to his gamboling, all-akimbo legs? It's a masterpiece and we're all blessed to witness it as it happens.
The only problem with this mix? The Timberwolves defense is SO SHITTY that you can see it fueling JR's performance even in this little tiny sample size. Two transition buckets, including one at about 1:20 where I swear I saw half the team take an actual nap. An unworthy canvas for JR.
Thanks for reading! Next week, I'm going to play with toys! They said I could.