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Past Features

Enraptored! Read more

The dunk that saved a league. Read the story

Remembering Jordan and the Pistons. Read the story

Does the Hornets brand still have sting? Read the story

Muggsy Bogues and point guards of stature. Read the story

NCAA legend Dwayne McClain reflects on his Sydney Kings career and talks about the NBL's future. Read the Q&A 

Lauren Jackson helps us forget the end of the Seattle Sonics. Read the story

 

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HALF COURT PRESS

EDITOR: JP PELOSI

 

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Saturday
Nov012014

Why the Nuggets are the Northwest Division sleeper

Everything we’re hearing about the Denver Nuggets right now is that they have depth. And while it’s certainly good to have a lengthy and versatile roster in the NBA, it won’t exactly drive jersey sales.

When a team is said to have depth, it’s like a pretty girl calling you a “good friend.” In this regard, the Denver Nuggets have become the dorky rom-com buddy who’s always polite and punctual, but never gets his lenses fogged up. This can be advantageous though, because as we all know, the dorky friend always beats the popular jock in the end.

So just how will the Denver Nuggets stand up to the likes of the much cooler Thunder and Blazers? Well, with the very versatility that their strange and eclectic roster boasts. Coach Brian Shaw has said he wants to run and gun, but also be physical inside. While seemingly contradictory thoughts, I think I know what he means.

(It’s a confusing roster, so we should expect any ideas about how it will be utilized to be equally perplexing!)

Read the full post on Fansided

Wednesday
Oct082014

Previewing the finale of Kobe's Lake Show

Everyone realizes it’s one of those down eras for the Lakers that swing by more infrequently than Halley’s Comet. Great clubs need moments of rejuvenation every now and then, you know, where they can ice the knees and sip some Gatorade.

That time is now for LA’s purple and gold, which conversely has meant good fortune has fallen upon their red and blue brethren, the Clippers. Yes, Jack Nicholson knows this is as bad as it gets, while Billy Crystal no longer has to scare up support for his squad.

For all the criticism the Lakers are getting ahead of the new season, mostly because their roster doesn’t look good enough to compete with the Washington Generals, there’s something admirable about this mob. It’s a team of young and unaccomplished parts, spear-headed by two of the sport’s all-time greats, one of whom especially, refuses to surrender to the rust that’s setting into his joints.

Fine, Kobe Bryant isn’t the self-catapulting basketball ninja that he once was, but he’s still one of the best ever, and won’t go quietly into the night. We know this, that even on one ankle, with the soles of his sneakers wearing thin, blindfolded with his pants pulled down, Kobe is still a threat.

His grinding down reminds me of Magic at last call, when instead of bustling his way across court with the ball being bounced up at his ears, Magic turned his back to the basket like a kid trying to keep it from his bigger brother. In this position, which seemingly lulled defenses into a slumber, Magic continued to pull a rabbit from the hat. That’s just the way it is, you play to your strengths.

And so to Kobe, who has no sharper arrow in his quiver than his self-belief. If Michael Jordan invented the hyper intensity of take-no-prisoners basketball, Kobe refined it, pushing himself to succeed when everyone else said he should be inspecting retirement homes in Boca Raton. Well folks, all he’s ever cared about is the equipment in the fitness centre. Oh, and the tapioca pudding I'm told.

While he’s never been my favorite Laker, I appreciate Kobe’s extraordinary effort. How can you not? No matter how close the Lakers drop to the NBA floor this season, setting off more alarms than a sweaty Ethan Hunt, his hunger to compete has surely never been more evident. You only need to consider the current roster and the prospect of him having to carry it to see this.

Conversely, there’s a likeable vulnerability to Kobe now, which is seeping into the picture of his career like the decaying edges of an old photograph. Like that photo, Kobe’s no longer crisp, but rather imperfect, and this undoubtedly troubles him as it does all the great athletes. And yet, from the sideline, it’s hard to not admire his seemingly endless and tireless pursuit for victory, buoyed by a melancholic sense of invincibility, which still yet might produce something noteworthy. 

Or maybe it won't. Listen, Magic remained my favorite player after he shaved the goatee, perhaps a sign that he was no longer young enough for fast styles, or breaks. Like Kobe now, he played on in the slower years, the old dog – the underdog, as it were – giving it one last heave before the era finally ended. That's all you can ask for.

 

Wednesday
Oct012014

Why the Wizards don't have the NBA's best backcourt

One of the reasons it’s so easy for the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal to claim he and John Wall are the NBA’s best backcourt, is timing. After all, Both Beal and Wall are in the early part of their careers, while other notable backcourts are no longer performing at the peak of their powers, or are simply too often injured. (The Spurs’ Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili must scoff at these sorts of arguments the way George Clooney would shrug at the rise of Ryan Gosling).

Reporting from the team’s media day, The Washington Post shared Beal’s zeal for the duo’s potential, which after a strong season that saw the Wiz make the playoffs, isn’t completely misplaced. Wall was an All-Star last year, of course, and Beal posted solid shooting numbers in his second season.

But is this enough to be the best?

Adi Joseph of USA Today addressed the topic too, clearly unsatisfied with Beal’s conclusion, which is suitably lofty like many claims that come out of the capital. Looking ahead, rather than at what we’ve seen, Joseph decided that the best pairing heading into the new season is actually the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Certainly on the measure of outside shooting, there’s no question these two are in the conversation, though I find it hard to place them at the very top of such a list.

Where this debate gets as convoluted as a flowchart from the HR department, is when you think about each backcourt player with regard to their respective position, as opposed to the combination. When a club constructs a backcourt, it surely weighs up these opposing aspects and works out which type of guards suit the roster overall. Traditionally, teams needed one guard to run the floor, like Magic Johnson once did so brilliantly for the Lakers, and a second guard to compliment him with offensive punch, as Byron Scott did Magic.

However, this approach seems less common in 2014, mostly because there’s a shortage of outstanding off-guards. So, in a number of instances, teams are using two point guards, as is the case in Phoenix, which starts Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, while in others, there are essentially two shooters, as is the case with the Warriors. Comparing such backcourts is a little like choosing between Mad Men and Curb Your Enthusiasm: both work incredibly well but yield very different results.

Going by the traditional one-two format, I’d argue that the Clippers really have the best backcourt with Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. This isn’t based on numbers, nor a particularly good sample size, but the general effectiveness of their combination - one as a floor general who creates for his teammates, the other as an outstanding shooter who tires defenses, and both players as a formidable defensive combo on the perimeter.

Listen, there’s no question that Wall and Beal have incredible upside as a duo. But if the Clippers and Wizards met in the NBA Finals, you’d have to take experience over youth, wouldn’t you?

Thursday
May152014

The Ex Files (part 3): Where did Dante spring from?

Dante Exum is mostly known as 'The Australian Kid' in NBA pre-draft circles, a point guard squeezed into a two guard's body, who wowed onlookers at the Nike Hoop Summit last year. Draft boarders label him as the next big thing at the point, which is fine, they have to quantify unknown quantities somehow. But I think his slashing and cutting is the stuff that shoots scoring guards to the moon. 

In Australia, we've been following Exum for a while. After all, he's the son of one-time star of our local league, Cecil Exum, a talented small forward for teams like the Geelong Supercats and Canberra Cannons. Canberra, the nation's capital, is also important in the story of the younger Exum because it's where he honed his ball skills, tested out dunks, no doubt, and developed the court vision you see today. His years at the Australian Institute of Sport, our version of the collective college sports experience bundled up into one place, cannot be underrated. The coaching he received there from the likes of Ian Stacker and Paul Goriss, seems to have had the same type of meaningful impact that a man like Dean Smith had on, say, Michael Jordan.

Now I won't dare compare Exum to MJ - or Kobe, for that matter, though some have - but I certainly understand the hope. Not only is he six-foot-six and a similar weight (Jordan was 195 pounds in college according to Sports Reference), but he has that dash of flair Jordan had at a similar age - a sort of quiet confidence and patience that the right crease will present itself. He glides into the play, if you know what I mean. Listen, he has a way to go, of course, but the foundation is there.

“Basketball has always been part of my family and I have grown up around it with my dad coaching so that has been good for my development,” Exum said in an AIS interview recently.

“The AIS has helped me progress and take that next step to the NBA draft.”

There are a few Aussie ball players coming up through the AIS ranks in fact, and like Exum, they're the kids of National Basketball League greats. But Exum is all the talk right now: he has the moves, the look, the catchy name and even an element of the unknown, which can only work to his advantage.
Tuesday
May132014

The Ex Files (part 2): Dante Exum, the wizard of Oz

 

Dante Exum will be in the NBA this time next year and that has genuine meaning for Aussies, beyond the novelty of one of our countrymen defying the odds, that is. It's not everyday that an Australian reaches the global sporting summit after all, which differs depending on your vantage point. For us, Down Under, the highs of sports achievement usually involve venerable cricket grounds, starched green blazers or white coloured rugby balls branded with the name 'Gilbert'. Rarely then, does the climb to athletic stardom occur in the United States, though it does happen from time to time. For example, we have punters in the NFL, pitchers in pro baseball and the occasional big man in the NBA (there are shorter exceptions of course, such as the Spurs' Patty Mills).

All of this makes the rise of Dante Exum to Top NBA Prospect so very compelling, right up there with Hugh Jackman's Broadway takeover and basically everything Miranda Kerr does or doesn't do. Exum is neither big nor small, nor exceedingly fast like Mills or a soft-handed giant like Luc Longley. But he appears to be the prototypical, six-six combo guard that draft board aficionados salivate over. For example, ESPN's Chad Ford had him at around No.5 last year and now seems to have pegged him even higher, depending on the drafter. Exum will be coveted come June, of that we can be sure, but the end result will be part of the story at home. Indeed he has a chance to be an international star, the likes of which no Aussie basketballer has experienced, not even the great Andrew Gaze. This is why the tale of Exum to this point, even before the draft, has a real touch of magic about it.

Monday
May122014

The Ex Files (part 1): On NBA prospect, Dante Exum 

 

Australian guard Dante Exum will get another chance to boost his already favourable profile at the NBA combine in Chicago this week, where prospects are questioned, measured, tested, poked and prodded to see if they're a fit for the company. Sounds a lot like an afternoon on Facebook. The basketball firms likely to be in the mix for Exum's services are the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, based on the high number of chances these clubs have in the lottery.

Wherever these teams end up picking players, a few of them in particular will be keen to speak with Exum and find out what the kid's made of, given that most of what they know about him has been via Youtube highlights and in newspaper reports about his latest endorsement deals. At this point, all that's certain is that he's half pogo stick, half crane, where one bounces and the other stretches its neck and soars.

The Orlando Magic, for example, are destined for a No.3 pick and according to many draft pundits and the prognostic wizards of ESPN, Exum is not only likely to land in central Florida but would be well-suited to the ball club there. He might even like the climate too. The rationale behind the Orlando idea is that the springy and speedy Exum could team up with budding star Victor Oladipo, presumably with the six-foot-six Aussie running the point and Oladipo on the wing. 

Meanwhile, if the Sixers move their current point Michael Carter-Williams, which has oddly enough been rumoured across social media sites, then Philly could prove another intriguing spot for Exum. This is especially so because head coach Brett Brown has spent much of his career in Australia and has surely been keeping an eye on Exum as he's risen through the ranks of the Australian Institute of Sport. Of course, the turn of lottery balls will play its part in all of this.

Saturday
May032014

EnRaptored: The joyful state of almost

The Toronto Raptors came close to beating the NBA’s fifth most valuable club (according to Forbes) and its most stylish (based on Rihanna's support), but the history books will surely say Game 7’s outcome was inevitable. You could argue that creaky veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were always going to conquer the plucky upstarts from Up North, just the way the Bird-McHale-Parish Celtics overcame the long-bombing Pacers of the early Nineties. The fates just don’t allow some things to happen, you see. Read more

 

Thursday
May012014

Shooting at a suprising Clip

 

By J.P. Pelosi

Beyond the new crop of stat geeks, and every zany guy behind a backboard with a poster of Kate Upton, free throws have never really inspired anyone.

Even for those who’ve played ball, professionally, in high school, or on some dusty back lot, foul shots were never the draw card, the thing that urged us out of bed Saturday morning to hustle to the mall for a short set, to paraphrase the Fresh Prince.

No, buying new sneakers, let alone playing in them, has always been done with more in mind than wanting time at the charity stripe to show off your stroke. 

It’s the same for fans of course: Leaving work early to get a beer before the game; calling out a Marv-like ‘YES’ at a perfect jumper; forking out for League Pass; keeping your Topps cards safe in a shoebox; wearing your favourite jersey in another city; following player tweets as if they unlock the universe's secrets; scouring Youtube for that dunk you missed; reading Zach Lowe to learn how LeBron humiliated your team – no this isn’t all leading to a Mastercard punchline – these are simply the things we do for the action of this sport, not the wicked game inside the game that is free throws.

And yet, despite all that, there we were watching the NBA’s team of the hour, the Clippers, take down the Golden State Warriors from the free throw line in Game 5. It was a masterful, if bland display of shooting, that not even the NBA’s bombardier of the day, Stephen Curry, could match. Oh sure, Curry slots them in from the Rosa Mexicano restaurant down the street from Staples, but what of it? The Clippers hit 31 of 41 free throws!

We should have known this might happen the moment Blake Griffin stepped to the line in the first minute of the game Tuesday. The arena was buzzing after Silver put the sword to Sterling, and it seemed the fans were about ready to party. They wanted to party, as Vince Vaughn’s Swingers character might have told us. It was a magic opening to the night indeed, with an emotional anthem and rousing cheer, and really deserved a Paul-to-Griffin alley-oop, or a thunderous rim rocker from DeAndre Jordan - or at the very least, another Billy Crystal kiss-cam moment. All we got was, well, 'two shots'.

But as it turns out, there was significance to those shots. The Clippers had come of age, not only by thwarting the monumental pressure they faced to perform - heck, to even show up and play - but by excelling, lobbing the ball around as loosely as the Trotters, measuring up their threes with poise, and absorbing the Warriors hits so that they might have a chance to grind it out at the line.

And didn’t the Warriors just love it? Players like Draymond Green were being whistled at so often it felt like carnivale in Rio. The Clips made him and the W’s pay, especially Jordan, who really appeared to be enjoying the outing, even at the foul stripe, which he normally must dread. The Warriors were taken aback, it seemed. The last time anyone looked on so helplessly at so many well-timed free shots they were staring back at Don Rickles. DeAndre, a career 43% free throw shooter according to the Elias Sport Bureau, knocked down 9-of-17.

So if the Clips are to forge ahead these playoffs, their free throw shooting might be a leading factor. They can certainly match it with the best. For example, among the league’s best free throw shooting teams this season are Portland (80%), Dallas (76%) and Oklahoma City (83%) in the West, and Miami (76%) and Toronto (83%) in the East. Hey, the Spurs (72%) and Grizzlies (70%) aren’t too shabby either.

The Clippers were in the top 10 at 74% and against the Warriors on Tuesday night, they bettered this to make 76%. In the playoffs, with the sudden weight of cultural history on their shoulders, that’s pretty damn impressive. It also matters especially when you shoot 41 of them. Couple this with smothering defense, energy on the boards and a crowd with a chance to become the most boisterous sixth man since Cliff Robinson, and you have a genuine title contender on your hands.

Consider that when the other outfit from Los Angeles won the championship in 2002 and 2003, Shaquille O’Neal made more than 60% of his foul shots. His 65% in the ’02 postseason and 65% in ’03, were the best of his playoff career (with the exception of his hiatus in Cleveland where he played fewer games, minutes and took less attempts. Come to think of it, I don’t even think that was Diesel but a cardboard cutout on wheels, Kevin McCallister style).

The point is, if the Clips can get similar nights out of their big man for Game 7 and (perhaps) the rest of the playoffs, the mere foul shot might just become a thrilling aspect of basketball in Tinseltown.