Wednesday, August 22, 2007
NBA Preview: Rollin' Down The River
Headband is starting up its season preview, which will follow no particular order or reference point. Enjoy...
In the Southwest Division there are maybe the three best teams in basketball, excluding the Suns for a moment. S.A., Dallas and Houston make up an imposing Texas brethren, and will get a hell of a lot of attention this year. But I've got a soft spot for the two forgettable teams in the division, Memphis and New Orleans, and have a feeling that I will enjoy watching them immensely.
This is because, like most fans, I am a proponent of offense, and believe that offensive excellence is the true thread of basketball, and the recent uprising of defense cannot dissuade me from this core belief. I enjoy watching great defensive teams, I get no willies when I watch San Antonio rock it defensively, but the problem for me is that there is such a bullshit emphasis placed on D. Most teams are not that entertaining when they focus most of their energy on barricading the fortress - because they can only be good, and not great defensively. And watching good defense and lousy offense gets boring five times out of seven.
This is why almost anyone would rather regularly watch Golden State than Chicago over the course of a long season. And it is why I yawn when I see Cleveland play - because Mike Brown is so obsessed with defense that he overtly throws his offense under the bus. It's stunning and aesthetically torturous, and the truth is that despite Brown's obsession, he has of yet not made Cleveland a fantastic defensive squad. So much of the NBA is this neutering of your offensive identity to just focus on defense...let me tell you - you better be real good at fucking defense to sacrifice your offensive game so fully.
Back in 2004 when Indiana and Detroit slugged it out in the Eastern Finals it was a brutal series - but it was enjoyable, because the defense was so outstanding, you had the slight inclination that these teams could kick the crap out of anybody on the court. This belief was surprisingly actualized when Detroit beat L.A. in the Finals, and then the next year when Indy was the best team in the league till l'affair Artest. If you really are something on D, I will extol you, but to just be good at it and forfeit offense breeds adequacy, and the result is basically much of this year's Eastern Conference.
Which brings us back to my riverboat teams, which thankfully both have healthy appetites for transition basketball and scoring in general. Memphis particularly should be wonderful this year. Marc Iavaroni promises to bring the burn to the Delta, and I am rearing to see it in action. The whole thing with Phoenix the last few years is that there has been the "Only Nash could pull this off" argument. I always thought this was silly; of course no one could pull off such a system as well as Nash, but that hardly means it only works with him. Now we finally get to see another team truly copy Phoenix, and not bastardize the system like Denver does.
To expect the moon from such a young team as the Grizzlies would be foolish, but who is not going to like watching Conley racing down the court with Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Gasol and Darko? Plus they got Warrick, Lowry, Kinsey, Swift, and Gasol's best bud Juan Carlos Navarro. In short, that's fucking awesome. We are going to get to see some serious uptempo basketball, with a great mixture of athletes and shooters, and while the results might not be spectacular, it should be a hell of a spectacle. I dare say maybe the most entertaining team in the league. And it could very well translate into a playoff spot. Somewhere Furry Lewis is smiling.
New Orleans is another team that likes to push the tempo, although not in the overall manner or anarchic structure that Memphis promises to provide. Their core is more polished, a team with solid young veterans (West and Chandler) mixed with world class shooters (Peja and Mo Pete)- and all revolving around Chris Paul. The Hornets are very athletic and small up front, almost necessitating a running game. The key that makes it work is Paul. He's great. When I saw him live a few years ago I was shocked at all the little veteran tricks he knew - as a rookie. He would stutter step in the lane to create subtle angles or slyly grab the opposing guard's jersey to slow him down. Now all of twenty two, I'm not sure if there is a better point guard in the league except for Nash. CP3 alone is reason to watch New Orleans. Throw in the big potential of Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong and this should be an appealing team.
So kudos to the riverboat squads for keeping it real and playing with some giddy-up in an absolutely loaded division. Here's hoping they both make the playoffs as a reward for their ingratiating style.