It may not seem important but I was incredibly small growing up. At one point, the pediatrician told my mom that I was “almost on the chart” for my age. When I got my learner’s permit at fifteen and a half, I stood 5’2” and weighed 95 points.
As I said, small.
Thankfully, I was never physically bullied but there was always talk, particularly as someone in the fray both in the classroom and on the field. By the time I became a teenager, every size-related quip had made it into my ears from all sides. Heck, one of my best friends called me “Little Napoleon” as a term of endearment.
While that stretch was difficult in many ways (most notably my lack of a basketball background at present), it also taught a lesson some never learn: nothing anyone said ever made me any smaller, any dumber or any less hardworking. Words of praise and words of condemnation are just that and always will be.
It was that sentiment that led me to my favorite quote of all time, attributed to Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach: “We are so vain that we even care for the opinion of those we don’t care for.”
Once I realized that what other people said would not affect me, it became a tool worth wielding. On the soccer field, I would pick my spots and try to shake the rattleable- after all, as someone who was small and refused to play dirty, the rest of the toolbox has to be available.
Then and now there were only two types of talk I considered off the table: slurs and specific threats. Hopefully the reasons for those exceptions are clear. Other than that, on the field whatever talking it took to get an advantage that would not get caught and penalized was fair game.
One quick aside: for me, trash talk always had to come from a position of strength. This and the nature of the sports are why I talked a lot in soccer but very little in baseball (where I struggled) and tennis. Others are capable of it from a disadvantage but that never really worked for me because it always rang hollow.
After high school, my personal athletic endeavors ceased but the talking did not. At the very end of my freshman year at UCLA, I asked one of the basketball players what they could hear on the court from the student section which was right off the floor and he said “everything” which functioned as a call to action. When in earshot, I would say absolutely horrible things to opposing players while still following the two rules from above, of course. Just like on the mean streets of Central Marin youth soccer, if they could not take it that was their problem. Of course, I only heckled when the opposing players could hear it- there is no point to trash talk without the intended effect unless it is against a Dodger, in which case it is always both suitable and necessary.
All that backstory explains why I was so shocked to see LeBron James’ reaction on the podium after Game Four of the Finals. He was rattled and his comments made it seem that his agitation was rooted in what Draymond Green said to him rather than the game (and the series, at the time) getting out of hand or anything else. While we probably will never know for sure, that likely played a role in precipitating the High Road Walkover which precipitated Green’s Game Five suspension (though that is entirely Green’s fault, as I wrote about at The Athletic) and a potentially historic series win for the Cavs.
The specifics of the situation were particularly fascinating for me as well. LeBron and I are less than four months apart in age and graduated high school at the same time. The first NBA game I ever paid to attend was to see him. While Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd were the luminaries of my youth, LeBron was a peer (in age, at least) capable of doing anything on the basketball court. Having the opportunity to cover that greatness for the last seven years has been one of the most fulfilling and satisfying parts of my sports media life, including and especially the last two weeks.
After spending some time thinking about it, LeBron being a little shook by some words makes a degree of sense. After all, when I was 5’2” and 95 pounds, I was sitting at home reading about and later watching a fellow high schooler who already looked like an NBA player and even got some of his high school games on ESPN. It would make sense that King James never went through that process because his readily apparent greatness has functioned as a buffer whether he wanted it or not. He never got cut from the varsity team like MJ and stands as one of the few great hopes to exceed the hype. There have been pitfalls and we will all have time to litigate his legacy later but he still has chapters to write.
While we need to be diligent to mark the line between trash talk and bullying/targeting that need to be handled and curtailed, outside of that there can be a value to learning that what other people say will not hurt you in any way. Today we are focused on the power words have and their destructive potential but the other side of the coin proves even more potent in the right hands. I respectfully disagree with Taylor Swift- the goal is not to shake it off, it is to never have the words of the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world stick to you in the first place.
“We are so vain that we even care for the opinion of those we don’t care for.”
One of the aspects of occupying a small corner of a field lots of people care about is that in the age of the internet there will be chatter about you, plenty of it negative and infuriatingly that is a certainty for my female colleagues. Knowing how to ignore hollow sniping (I saw it, Deadspin, but I do not respond and also do not forget) while also gleaning worthwhile insight from substantive criticism has proven invaluable thus far. Engaging with well-meaning detractors and critics will always bring value to my life and my work and I hope to do the same for others for as long as I have a platform.
Being able to agree without being disagreeable is a necessary human characteristic in the modern world that would add meaningfully to the discourse in sports and so many other topics and in some ways, that is the beauty of having the confidence and knowledge that other people’s words will not phase you. From my experience, it makes you less likely to engage in useless pettiness because it loses its appeal. There are too many wonderful things in this world to spend time taking other people down or listening to those who are not interested in constructive, mutually beneficial conversation. Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.
I am thankful every day that my combination of hard work and good fortune has brought me to a place that was inconceivable to that scrawny kid who memorized baseball encyclopedias and played Tecmo Super Bowl ad nauseam. To me, part of the obligation from even this small level of stature is to use my place to elevate those who deserve it and another part is to do what I can to elevate discourse in as narrow or broad a way as reasonably possible. Hopefully it helps.
To all those who read this,
Sitting in SFO with an unanticipated two hour flight delay gives me the rather fortuitous (for the circumstances, at least) opportunity to reflect on what has to be one of the bigger thrills of my adult life.
In some ways, being a draftnik has been a part of me as long as being a sports fan. It takes a unique place in the sporting world as it combines a transition in talent with a transition in terms of a person’s career. Even the biggest college players are making a jump to whatever professional league they enter, likely the first time they have ever made meaningful money playing sports (unless they went to U$C, of course). While many people ignore this component of the process, I have always found it to be incredibly interesting because of all the changes it can mean for these young men. The pressures of going to school and maintaining a social life while playing sports at a high-level are hard to overstate yet pale in comparison to the amount of work it takes to thrive in the best leagues in the world from a physical standpoint.
The other fun part of the draft is that it combines research, analysis, and prediction in a way that stands out. While there are no clear-cut answers most of the time, draft pieces hold relevance and interest for an incredibly long time after the fact because it often takes a while to find out the “right” answer should one exist. Furthermore, there can be gaps in terms of both information and interpretation of that information and reasonable minds can differ in more ways than are present in normal sports discussions. Think about the MLB draft for a second- even big money teams have used completely different philosophies and thrived with similar resources because there are a variety of methods that can work. While that point holds, there are also some who succeed more than others and learning from evaluation mistakes takes on a different light in the draft because the same players never come by again. You have to attempt to apply those learned components on individuals who may or may not fit that box. The uncertainty makes drafts continually interesting and challenging.
For all of these reasons and many more, I gravitated to drafts at a pretty young age. Despite not watching a ton of basketball as a child, I used to take the limited amount of March Madness available to a kid in the late 90’s and try to figure out which guys would be stars and which ones would be duds. Doing that for years in both hoops and football also gives someone bizarre allegiances since the pride in being right on a player sometimes trumps lower-level personal biases. As an example, I have spent years rooting for Danny Granger and Russell Westbrook because each was a player I touted for eons and thus have an emotional stake in their fights however frivolous it may be.
That fascination for drafts only kicked into a higher gear when college started. The reams of hand-written pages got replaced by pages of typing along with more complicated rankings and analysis. The rise of draft content on the Internet and competent internet message boards also forced everyone to step up their game and learn from those around them in a brand new way. Writing draft previews, reviews, and season predictions actually served as the only sportswriting I did for nearly ten years.
As I was starting law school, two of my good friends from college let me know that they were starting a blog and that I was welcome to do any writing for it that worked. It felt like a logical method to blow of the intellectual steam law school inevitably generates (you can see this from the amount of law students and lawyers that engage in sportswriting). From the start, the draft was my passion and it eventually became the place where my relationship with RealGM began and one of the important places it continues to this day.
In many ways, the trip to cover the NBA Draft marks both an accomplishment of one of my biggest dreams and someone to check off the bucket list that I never anticipated fulfilling, much less this quickly and in this capacity. It is both humbling and gratifying to see the effort and time it has taken and consider how many other worthy people have never had the opportunities that have been presented to me over the last few years. That leads to my predominant emotion being appreciation for all those who have made this possible. Instead of naming specific people and this contributions, I will say this: the people who were integral in getting here know who they are and should remember that they have my eternal thanks and appreciation for doing so. If they want public recognition for that role, they can ask me and it will be given.
Even with that, two specific people get some mention here. Rahim and Derrek started Vegan Fish Tacos and brought me into the fold nearly immediately and offered encouragement before anyone other than the three of us and our college friends had any idea what we were doing. Without their push, support, and input, none of this ever would have happened. Guys, you likely will never know how pivotal a role you played in any and all of my writing success. So if anything bad happens, that means it is your fault. Everyone else: thanks so much- you know who you are.
Whether this ends up being a stepping stone to something bigger or a blip on an otherwise uneventful path, everyone who made it this far had a reason to or plenty of free time- my key demographics. Thanks for being a part of this run and here’s to hundreds more stories and pieces to come.
DJ Can – Therapy Sessions
Since one year after the award was first awarded in 1956, only five teams have ever won an NBA Championship without a player who won or would win a regular-season MVP award.
1975 Golden State Warriors- Ric Barry got close, but never won one
1979 Seattle SuperSonics (RIP)- Dennis Johnson was the Finals MVP, and I can’t recall him ever getting heavy consideration
1989/1990 Detroit Pistons- Isiah never won one.
2004 Detroit Pistons- There’s still a little time, but I sincerely doubt it.
That’s forty-eight out of fifty-three NBA Championship teams and 48/50 for non-Pistons champions.
Let me clear this up off the bat: I am a big Hollinger fan (for the most part). That said, I have had some more serious problems with his work as he has upped his column load- it appears that he seems to be writing more “You see this and think _____, but that’s not right”
Today brought another one of those columns, with the subject being the Miami Heat’s potential addition of Carlos Boozer or Lamar Odom. John proceeds to go through why those players would not be substantial upgrades for the team. However, he either deliberately or accidentally (I’m not one to state motive) falls in the trap of misusing his data to make his point.
In the piece, he compares both men’s production to Michael Beasley, the #2 pick in last year’s draft. Ignoring the fact that Hollinger’s PER essentially ignores defense, he relies on it to show that there is no meaningful difference between Boozer and Beasley and that the Beasley actually outperformed Odom. Unfortunately, Hollinger commits one of the fatal flaws while crafting his argument: false choice. He chooses to create a situation where the minutes that Boozer and Odom are taking come from Beasley when the fact of the matter is that they would come from other players. Not surprisingly, the players who Boozer and/or Odom would actually be taking the minutes from were far less productive than the three players analyzed for the piece.
Assuming that the only two positions in play are Small Forward and Power Forward (even though Boozer would inevitably play some C considering Miami’s depth there is deplorable), there still are 96 minutes to divvy up to different players. The players who played those minutes this year and finished the season with the team were:
Michael Beasley (24.8 MPG @ 17.28 PER)
Udonis Haslem (34.1 MPG @ 13.10 PER)
Jamario Moon (25.9 MPG @ 13.35 PER)
James Jones (15.8 MPG @ 8.43 PER)
Yakhouba Diawara (13.5 MPG @ 6.4 PER)
Dorrell Wright (12.2 MPG @ 3.77 PER)
Those are the players that Odom and Boozer are replacing in real life. In fact, since Beasley absolutely would not be a part of a Boozer trade, it would be more logical to consider his minutes more “locked in” than the others, especially coupled with the fact that he was also the most productive of the group and has the most long-term potential.
Even if you give Beasley the 31 MPG he played in April of last season, there are still 65 minutes to be had for other SF/PF players, and Lamar Odom and Carlos Boozer are dramatically more productive than the rest of the Heat roster, particularly those still around since Jamario Moon left for the Cavs.
While all of the analysis is flawed, the most jarring (with the exception of his idea that Boston would trade Rajon Rondo for Michael Beasley with KG, Sheed, and Perkins on roster) is Hollinger’s piece towards Lamar Odom. Despite Hollinger’s classification of Odom as a PF, he would play a vast majority of his minutes at SF for Miami, a fact that John mentions. Looking objectively at where Lamar’s Minutes would come from, the most likely culprits are out-of-town Jamario Moon and Dorell Wright. Incidentally, Lamar’s typical 38 minutes per game (I’m understating his 5-year average to be nice to Hollinger and to account for his slightly older age) exactly connects with taking these minutes away from those two players.
Since I value showing my work:
Lamar Odom (38 MPG @ 16.6 PER)
Jamario Moon (25.9 MPG @ 13.35 PER) + Dorrell Wright (12.2 MPG @ 3.77 PER)
Balancing out the PER’s for those two players for the minutes they played gives a PER of 10.28 . The upgrade from their combined 10.28 PER to 16.6 is the equivalent of going from Chris Bosh to Jason Maxiell. If you switch Dorrell Wright to Diawara (more favorable to Hollinger), the difference is 5.63, the margin between Kevin Durant and Grant Hill.
For Boozer, the best man to use for the comparison is Udonis Haslem, since any trade for Boozer would almost definitely have to include him and they play the same position. Of course, it is worth noting that giving Boozer Haslem’s minutes would also necessitate a move of Boozer to C or Beasley to SF for part of the time (31 MPG + > the 48 MPG at Power Forward), so feel free to discount the #’s slightly. The difference in PER from Boozer to Haslem is 4.18, which is less than the margin between Nene and Andrea Bargnani or David West and Nick Collison.
When you use the players who would actually lose minutes instead of the steady guy who will get his minutes regardless of what personnel changes Miami makes, you see the true value in pursuing Boozer and Odom.
To those of you who are used to the format, welcome back.
For those who are not familiar with how I do draft work, here’s a short synopsis: I do two distinct mock drafts, one of which is the Predictions mock and the other which is what I would do if I were the GM of each team. For this time, I have not put in trades on either mock, but they will be in soon. After that, I have my 67 player deep Draft Board, which is a semi-exhaustive list of draft-eligible players. This year, that list includes a ton of guys who are eligible but declined to enter, so it gives a sort of prospective on who to keep an eye on and where those guys would stand.
At the outset, I’d like to note how bad of a draft we have this year. Below the Draft Board, I have included for the first time my tier rankings, which basically group players based on how good I think they will be in their prime. The most jarring part is that there is a total of one Tier 1 draft-eligible player (Rubio) and a very, very small number of Tier 2 guys. The number of fringe starters and rotation players is not horrendously off of the average draft, but the top being so weak pushes those players much higher this time. A good basic rule is that outside of the top few picks, moving everyone down 8 slots would put them where they would go in an above-average year.
Predictions Mock (no trades projected this time):
- LA Clippers– Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma. No surprises here. I don’t doubt that the Clippers are listening to offers, but I doubt they actually move the pick.
- Memphis Grizzlies– Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn. My take is that they see Rubio’s threat as credible (mostly because it is) and take the guy that is #2 on their board, which apparently is Mr. Thabeet.
- OKC Thunder– James Harden, SG, Arizona State. A much better fit between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, plus he still keeps the possibility alive of trading for Tyson Chandler, which is a serious possibility.
- Sacramento Kings– Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain. There would be no happier fanbase, and it has a serious likelihood of happening if Memphis passes (which I think they will). What Sacto needs to watch out for is being jumped by Minnesota, Golden State, or the Knicks, especially since Sam Presti has no problem accumulating assets coupled with the knowledge that neither the Kings nor the Wizards would realistically take Harden.
- Washington Bullets– Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona. The likely BPA on their board also makes sense if they are considering moving Antawn Jamison, as has been heavily rumored.
- Minnesota Timberwolves– Jrue Holliday, PG/SG, UCLA. An incredibly hard pick to project at this time, but they end up settling on Jrue because he is a good fit next to Randy Foye as a primary ballhandler with size. Honestly, there are about 5 guys who would not remotely surprise me at this pick, so we’ll have to wait and see.
- Golden State Warriors– Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy. If he is around, it would be genuinely shocking to see the Warriors go in any other direction should they have the pick.
- New York Knicks– Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Davidson. There is ZERO chance that if Curry is around he falls past the Knicks. He is a solid fit off the bench for next season and as a starter once the 2010 class gets sorted out.
- Toronto Raptors– Tyreke Evans, SG/PG, Memphis. A pretty solid fit, though there is the possibility of DeJuan Blair if the Bosh situation clears itself up before draft day.
- Milwaukee Bucks– DeJuan Blair, PF, Pitt. If they are losing Charlie V (and signs indicate that they will), Blair is a natural fit next to Bogut. Obviously, PG is a possibility here, but I see them going after a more established PG like Kirk Hinrich over a rookie who is a little ways away.
- New Jersey Nets– Austin Daye, SF/PF, Gonzaga. Gives the Nets even more length on the perimeter and a guy who they can work along slowly as the rest of the team comes together.
- Charlotte Bobcats– Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke. If it were any other team, I’d have DeMar DeRozan here, but Charlotte has shown a penchant for taking guys like Henderson both under the Jordan regime and during the rest of Bob Johnson’s tenure with the team.
- Indiana Pacers– Earl Clark, PF/SF, Louisville. Considering the wealth of talent already on the Indiana roster, a flexibile guy like Clark who would be perfect in Obie’s system makes a great deal of sense. Don’t rule out a backcourt player here, but I think they like Ford and Rush enough to not rock the boat with another lotto pick.
- Phoenix Suns– DeMar DeRozan, SG, U$C. Because he’d be a great fit for their team and an absolute (perceived) bargain at this point.
- Detroit Pistons– Terrance Williams, SG, Louisville. Williams screams “Dumars player” to me: he’s great defensively and is flexible enough to do a lot of different things as he retools their roster.
- Chicago Bulls– Jeff Teague, PG/SG, Wake Forest. The Bulls replace Ben Gordon with a younger, cheaper version.
- Philadelphia 76ers– Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse. Another big value pick, and a guy who can help the Sixers in both the short term and the long term.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (via Miami)– Chase Buddinger, SG/SF, Arizona. With the Point Guard situation under control thanks to Holliday and Telfair, the next logical spots for the T-Wolves are a shot-blocking C or a swingman. Since the C pile is effectively empty, Buddinger becomes a logical choice.
- Atlanta Hawks– Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina. Oh man, this would lead to one of the most entertaining teams in the entire NBA. Lawson’s stock appears to be dropping, and with the PG’s sliding a little bit, Atlanta gets their backup who they can groom to take the reins.
- Utah Jazz– Eric Maynor, PG, Virginia Commonwealth. The Jazz finally get a bona fide backup for Deron Williams.
- New Orleans Hornets– BJ Mullens, C/PF, Ohio State. If they keep the pick, the Hornets HAVE to take some size to back up Chandler and West and to cover when they get hurt.
- Dallas Mavericks– James Johnson, SF/PF, Wake Forest. Mark Cuban gets the man who might be the heir apparent to Josh Howard from Josh’s alma mater.
- Sacramento Kings (via Houston)– Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina. With the PG spot locked down, Sacto gets a big man who can get some minutes for them.
- Portland Trailblazers– Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech. With the PG’s sort of at an awkward place for Portland, they take a good little PF that can become an immediate part of their rotation.
- OKC Thunder (via San Antonio)– Nick Calathes, SG/PG, Florida. Sam Presti clearly has no issue taking guys who are going to be abroad for a few years, and their roster flexibility allows them to get a guy who will be just nasty in a few years.
- Chicago Bulls (via Denver thru OKC)– Derrick Brown, PF, Xavier. The Bulls need big man depth, and Brown is probably the best option at this juncture.
- Memphis Grizzlies (via Orlando)– DaJuan Summers, SF, Georgetown. There is always the distinct possibility they take a PG here, but I see them as the frontrunners for guys like Sergio Rodriguez, so Summers makes sense as a Chris Wallace pick here.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (via Boston)– Victor Claver, PF/SF, Spain. The T-Wolves are adding enough new pieces as it is, so they can either keep Claver in Europe for a year or just bite the bullet and dump a 2010 expiring to bring him over now.
- LA Lakers– Sergio Llull, PG/SG, Spain. Seems like an awfully good fit in the Triangle for a team that needs productive PG play like nobody’s business.
- Cleveland Cavaliers– Sam Young, SF, Pitt. The BPA just happens to be the swingman that the Fightin’ Lebrons need.