Hear that? That was the sound of me cracking open the first Sunday Six Pack of the season – a weekly look around the league through our slightly green and gold tinted glasses. Hope your Sunday is a good one, wherever you are.
ONE: Kicking off with the usual Aussie Roundup, we should probably pause and give thanks to Brandon Jennings. His first career triple-double today saved Bogut and the Bucks from falling into an unthinkable 0-3 hole – unthinkable because their first three opponents were New Orleans, Minnesota and Charlotte. With Bogut still clearly hampered by his arm injury (he says it might take a full year to recover 100%), Jennings lit up the Cats with 20 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds on a very tidy 6-8 shooting. Bogut wasn’t too shabby himself – he contributed 14 points, 8 boards and a season-high 4 blocks. It was a marked improvement on his previous game in Sota, where he turned in a 8 points, 10 board, 3 block performance in only 28 minutes. His season debut on the other hand was a pearler – a 15-15 domination that ultimately had Milwaukee coming up 4 points short in New Orleans (which by the way they’re travelling at the moment, is nothing to scoff at). FYI – AB only had nine 15-15 games last season, so dropping one straight off the bat this season must have been a confidence booster for the big Aussie.
As has been much publicized (even locally), Patty Mills was able to secure the final sport on the Blazers roster, putting him third in line in their point guard rotation behind Andre Miller and Armon Johnson. Who the hell is Armon Johnson, you ask? Good question. He is Portland’s rookie that they picked at #34 in the draft, a puzzling choice given the roster at the time was stacked with Miller, Bayless (now gone) and Mills. But the rookie has been impressive all throughout the Blazers preseason, and earned the following praise from Brandon Roy: “I think number one is his work ethic and number two is his ability to watch something and practice it, and then transfer it over into a game. Some guys can watch tons of film and they just can’t seem to transfer it… And he’s a gamer. He’s one of those dudes where, when the lights come on he gets focused. I love that about him.”
Well that’s great, but what does it mean for Patty? So far, it means Armon is getting the nod ahead of Patty, having played 17 minutes over the Blazers first three games to Patty’s zero. I’m sure Patty will get his opportunities, but it’s hard to deny that Johnson being the bigger and more athletic guard will find himself in demand against most NBA Teams. We’ll keep our eye on Patty, as we always do. That season debut can’t be very far away.
Over in his new home in Toronto, David Andersen has so far been steadily contributing just as well – if not better – than he was in Houston. He had 8 points and 5 rebounds on 3-6 shooting in the season opener against New York, and backed it up today with 6 points (on 3-4 shooting), 5 boards and a steal in 14 minutes against the Cavs. Obviously that hole Bosh left is going to give DA plenty of opportunities to cement his place in the side this season. After Bargnani and Reggie Evans, the Raptors have very little in the big man department. Amir Johnson has started promisingly for them, but I can guarantee you he will fade away into a shadow of failed expectations, just as he did in Detroit for way too freaking long. To think I thought he would become one of the premier defensive big men in the league. Bah!
I would forgive you for not knowing this, but Nathan Jawai no longer plays in the NBA. In August he signed a one-year contract with ex-European champions KK Partizan, from Serbia. And from all accounts, he was impressive in his recent debut:
He’s a great fit in the Partizan lineup, a physically dominant player who makes the most of his minutes. Most importantly for his team, and that Partizan crowd, he plays hard and with lots of emotion. I believe it would help him to lose some weight in order to run the the floor better and have better stamina. It would also enable him to get more vertical lift, which would cause more trouble for defenders on his finishes. Jawai was very aggressive on Wednesday and was one of the keys to Partizan’s victory, getting Khimki’s big men in trouble. It’s hard to believe he shot only one free throw in 28 minutes! But in him, Partizan certainly has a dominant inside player, keeping a tradition after Nikola Pekovic and Aleks Maric. Opponents will have to double-team him if he continues to play like yesterday. Keep an eye on Nathan Jawai.
Gotta love it when a game recap includes insightful analysis such as “I believe it would help him to lose some weight in order to run the floor better and have better stamina”. Still, its a pretty glowing review, and we’ll be keeping an eye on Jawai’s work over in Europe. For what its worth, I think the move was a good idea for him. In the Euro League he’ll be able to use his size to more of an advantage, get more touches in the post and polish his all-round game. I wouldn’t count out a return to the NBA some day.
TWO: Did you hear about that Miami Heat team? They’re kind of a big deal, and they kind of manhandled Orlando yesterday. Here’s the pre-game intro, which starts out awesome and then had me in stitches (Phil Collins wtf?).
And if you didn’t see it, here’s the Bosh to Lebron to Wade alley. How many of these are we going to see in the next six years?
I didn’t see this game, but head over to Hardwood Paroxysm for the break-down and Pinstriped Post for the Orlando angle. Also worth checking out Bill Simmons excellent piece from a few days ago. Bill self admittedly was over-thinking things when he wrote this – I don’t agree for one second with his Epiphany No. 2. Lebron James is not MUCH better than Dwyane Wade (caps was Bill’s not mine). There will be no James-Wade battle of egos , there will be no admission from either player that one is better than the other. There doesn’t need to be, and I’ve seen enough from the Heat this season to validate that. Lebron James took 12 and 13 shots respectively the last two games, meanwhile Wade took 20 and 20. You can’t read too much into that – Wade simply got hotter in those two games – but you can infer that Lebron isn’t exactly concerned with his numbers or about making a statement. If he was, that kind of stuff would materialize very early in the season. The kind of “I’m getting my 25-7-7 from Day 1 and you better get used to it” approach. It ain’t happening, and the Heat are still looking dangerous.
The other reason I don’t see any clash of wills? The fact that Dwyane Wade has something Lebron wants – a championship. Wade has lead his team to the holy grail before. He was, albeit for a brief time, the league’s best player and ultimate winner. Something Lebron James has never been. Wade dismantled Dallas in the 2006 Finals. He was anointed the next Michael Jordan off the back of just four games. He won a Finals MVP while playing alongside a still reasonably-functioning Shaq. He can walk with the arrogance of a champion because he is one, and because he knows how to get it done.
Lebron clearly doesn’t. He couldn’t lead the Cavs to a single win in the 2007 Finals. He’s been bumped in the Conference Finals the last two years when he was expected to prevail. Whether you blame him or his team, the fact remains that time and time again his legacy has taken a battering, his will to win questioned. Lebron now walks with those scars, talks with those scars.
That’s why I think Simmons is a little off with that observation. Wade will never be questioned this season because he’s a champion, because he’s already taken the Heat to the top of the mountain. Everyone watching from America Airlines Arena saw him do it four years ago with their own eyes. More importantly, Lebron knows it. Which brings me to my own epiphany…
Deep down inside, amongst his darkest secrets and insecurities, Lebron James is afraid that he is missing something crucial. Let’s call it the winning gene for sake of a better term. He’s had incredible individual and team success throughout his career so far by embracing the game and the world in the only way he knows. Lebron’s brand, his obscene talents, his chemistry amongst team mates, his sense of fun, his unselfishness, his leadership style… it has all served him extremely well. He has had arguably the best 7-year start to an NBA career you could imagine. Yet, that ultimate achievement – a championship – still eludes him. And I think deep down inside, Lebron fears that it’s because the winning gene is curiously absent from his DNA.
More to the point, I think Lebron looks over at Wade and wonders if “that guy knows something I don’t?”. I’m not talking about a ring, I’m talking about the winning gene. Lebron knows that individually he’s had more success than Wade and that he’s a better all-round player than Wade. That makes it even harder to him to swallow. The fact that every day he walks the halls of the Heat locker rooms and sees posters of Wade hoisting the 2006 Championship trophy. A reminder that “nothing you’ve done Lebron compares to this”. The fact that before every game Lebron is looking over at the guy next to him in the number #3 jersey, knowing they’re about to lace up for the next step in the journey – a journey Wade has already successfully completed.
And when it comes to May or perhaps June, and the pressure cooker is at maximum late in the fourth, and the question of championship mettle is being asked at the megastar duo? I think Lebron is still looking over at Wade, because he doesn’t know the answer. Dwyane Wade does. No one will forget that this season. Especially not Lebron.
THREE: Hands up if you picked New Orleans racing to a 3-0 start to the season? Yeah, didn’t think so. It’s early days so far, but only Ash and JT picked the Hornets to finish amongst the West’s best, and that was 8th and 7th respectively. Their opponents so far have been nothing to scoff at either – the Bucks, Nuggets and Spurs. At the Hive has the breakdown of today’s win in San Antonio, and for your viewing pleasure, check out Chris Paul completely crossing over George Hill twice in three seconds for a clutch bucket late in the fourth. It’s around the 2:00 mark. Sick.
FOUR: Did you hear the one about Delonte West throwing a punch at Von Wafer in the Celtics locker room? Now you have. How many times does this guy have to be thrown a fricken bone?
FIVE: Let’s not talk about the fact the Pistons were outscored 34-9 by the Bulls today and lost by 10 points, ok? Detroit is now 0-3 and has been competitive in all three games so far. That makes it even more frustrating of course. I can tell, it’s going to be a long season for Pistons fans. But hey, at least Jim will be happy his new team pulled out their first W. And how bout that Rose guy?
SIX: Free Darko fans rejoice. The boys at FD are releasing another book: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. And if it’s anywhere near as good as the last one, it will be well worth a buy.