By Henry Abbott
Damian Lillard says wing Rodney Hood, who had 25 points on 12 shots in Game 6, has been the Blazers’ best player in the series against the Nuggets. Stats guru Dean Oliver agrees. How to understand that Hood is only a Blazer because he was recently on the NBA’s “scratch and dent” pile, after fizzling in Cleveland? Here’s a tweet saying Hood was “always this good.” Those three words open a massive and important conversation. Is it true? Tricky. Running any workplace well—including an NBA team—means getting the very best out of people. Some players, David Thorpe explains, can deliver in any situation. Others need the right care to really flourish. Is this the real Hood, or is this series a good circumstance for him? How many “bad” NBA players out there have this kind of potential?
Building an environment where many different kinds of players can succeed is a theme of TrueHoop’s LeBron series. Amazing player, mostly interested in exploring excellence with a limited pool of colleagues who share his dogged work ethic.
Jackie MacMullan says she doesn’t think Kyrie Irving knows where he’ll play next year. A big question for Nets fans. Like the Celtics of recent years, you have a well-run young team. Before we get to: Can you recruit Kyrie … do you want Kyrie? (If the Celtics could go back in time, would they?) It’s a question about his leadership abilities, but also about the team’s. Can you get the best out of him? I remember when Rasheed Wallace was seen as a team-killer in Portland, and I remember when he bought all of his Pistons teammates championship belts, like a prizefighter wins, in Detroit. Circumstances mean a lot.
Four of the NBA’s top five in playoff minutes are Nuggets: 1. Nikola Jokic (515) 2. Gary Harris (478) 3. Jamal Murray (471) 4. Damian Lillard (442) 5. Paul Millsap (437). Friday and Saturday off before Game 7 will mean a lot.
TrueHoop editor Don Skwar remembers Chris Paul a year ago, and has an amazing point: “Quite coincidental that a star in Game 5 of the series between Golden State and Houston would injure himself and miss Games 6 and 7 when all his team needed was one more victory to advance to the next round.”
The TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown update: Justin Kubatko has never lost, and looks good still.
Bill Oram of The Athletic wrote this week: “For all the talk of whether the Lakers should trade LeBron, the better question may be how much more ineptitude he will tolerate before demanding out. No one cares more about the image of the Lakers than [Jeanie] Buss. It should affect her deeply that, on her watch, the organization her father built into a powerhouse has been reduced to a laughingstock. It is not a conspiracy. It is not the media’s fault.” The mood among Laker fans—long staunchly supportive—has veered wildly negative around Jeanie Buss’s management of the team many place online. “She’s making Dolan look competent,” says the Reddit post that reportedly is touching off Laker fan protests outside Staples Center at noon PT today. (Here’s the vibe: The organizer sought suggestions for “anti-Rambis” chant suggestions, a reference to former Laker player and coach Kurt Rambis, and his wife Linda, both said to be influential in the current running of the team. Babybaybeh recommends: “Fuck you, Rambis.” locallyunknown replies “Clear and to the point.” cricketsymphony: “Can someone fill me in on why we hate Rambis? Whatever the reason, I'm on board. I met him once when I was a kid, total dick.”)
Good news for the Lakers is that Nick Nurse, Terry Stotts, Brett Brown—all essentially no-name coaches when they were hired—are alive in the playoffs. You don’t have to win the press conference to win games. But getting that right means dogged research and a real command of what factors drive success. Stotts devised plays in Dallas for Dirk Nowitzki that Neil Olshey thought would work for LaMarcus Aldridge. Nurse built a reputation as a master of modern offenses. Sam Hinkie spent a whole summer digging into the background and reputation of Brown. If the Lakers know what skills they seek, they may well be out there.
There was a bit of a stink about something Ayesha Curry said on Red Table Talk this week. Most of the social media reaction centered on high-adrenaline topics: Ayesha’s insecurities about her own sex appeal, and a jerky fan who leaned into the Curry family car to get Steph’s attention while Ayesha was breastfeeding their baby. I watched the whole show and came away wondering about tougher issues, mainly: Is the NBA an OK place for women? This is a who’s who of NBA family members: Steph Curry’s wife, sister, and mom, as well as Doc Rivers’ daughter. And it sounds hard. Callie Rivers, who is engaged to Seth Curry, recalls her family’s home being burned to the ground because her parents were an interracial couple. When she says “we are targets,” it’s hard to argue. Sonya, Steph’s Mom, recalls a KKK cross burning at a softball game in her youth. Sydel, his sister, has bad enough anxiety that it’s hard for her to meet people. “I have anxiety too,” says Ayesha, Steph’s wife. “Really, really bad, to the point where I take medication for it.” Ayesha talks of hurt feelings and says, “I honestly hate it,” in reference to a social media dust-up about this or that thing blown out of proportion. And now we know that’s what happened after this very show. The NBA’s age of anxiety is not just for players.
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin quoted Sixers’ guard T.J. McConnell on 76ers strength and conditioning crew: "They're just good people. You want to be surrounded by good people.’’ This is the secret legacy of the much maligned “Process” rebuild. Of course most of those Sachin Guptas and Ben Falks are long gone, but despite their reputation as number-crunching robots, that crew was alarmingly warm and affectionate, and hired accordingly.
If Kevin Durant leaves the Warriors … what do they do? Oh boy, did I have a fun conversation with Thorpe about that. He has VERY specific ideas, which he will write about soon, but in a nutshell: He thinks they can be amazing without recruiting another star.
"Unfortunately, we'll never really see what these guys can really do, because they're tired all of the time—because of the schedule." That’s Gary Vitti, former Lakers head athletic trainer to Baxter Holmes of ESPN. It was part of a TrueHoop post about Kevin Durant’s long minutes, sports science, and the toll of exhausted players. We should just run this quote every day until the owners change the schedule. Teams scour the globe for the people who can run the fastest and jump the highest, and then we have them run slower and jump lower because they’re mismanaged. Here’s how it really could happen: If every star does like Kawhi Leonard, and plays just 60 games, well, that would make it a lot easier for owners to cut the season to that length.
Brandon Ingram has huge potential. In all of the Anthony Davis drama, one fascinating wrinkle is that Ingram’s deep vein thrombosis, which sidelined him beginning in March, diminishes the value of the Lakers’ very attractive offer for Davis.
Kevin Love in GQ: “People will look at you like you have a tail if you say you meditate.”
Nuggets coach Mike Malone after this week’s school shooting in Colorado: “This is an epidemic. And it continues to happen. And that is the frustrating thing. How do you stop it? Again, gun control, laws, whatever it might be. I am not a politician. I don't want to sit up here on a soapbox. … I'm texting my daughter, telling her she's going to be OK. I don't even know if she will be OK.”
SOMEBODY who works at TrueHoop went on Reddit and said, “I am a versatile older man.” Should get him a bumper sticker?
Damian Lillard knows the difference between starring and leading. Here’s what the Blazers guard told ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg: "I always enjoy when CJ [McCollum] gets rolling because it's not just the fact that he's doing it for our team, it's the way it looks," Lillard said. "Smooth. Crossovers. Crafty. Tough shots. Just to watch it was great, as a teammate and a friend. Big shot after big shot. My job is to allow that. Let him keep rolling." (Let his dad keep rolling, too.)
TrueHoop reader John emails a great question about the value of drawing a foul. He wants to know if anyone has managed to “quantify that kind of cumulative effect—e.g., if you draw fouls at a particular rate per minute, you contribute to a certain degree to putting your team in the bonus (which results in increased points expected by quarter, I have to believe) and potentially takes a star out of the game.” We should know this. I bet Daryl Morey knows this.
Monday on TrueHoop: David Thorpe’s illustrated guide to defending the stars of the conference finals. Later: Henry Abbott’s series on LeBron and the Lakers concludes.