Thursday, October 9, 2014


Look at this picture:

What do you see? The name of every player the Detroit Pistons have a contracted to play basketball for them, of course. But what else do you see? Does it resemble anything? Is there a central theme? Do these colors make any sense together in this painting? What colors are these, anyway?

I was thinking about the Pistons’ roster. It is nonsensical. Last year, Drummond, Monroe and Smith all started together in the frontcourt, which makes sense because they’re all players who sit high enough on the axis of skill, size, and athleticism to be NBA starters. But none of them space the floor (No matter how much Josh tries), which was a massive tactical problem. Early reports are indicating that Stan Van Gundy, the team’s coach, is going to keep them from playing at the same time, which should salve that particular problem. But…

It won’t change the fact that all three of these players, and nearly every player on the team, is a completely unfixed quantity that makes very little sense. They are not unlike these hand warmers, for sale on Etsy. They are handwarmers, an item of clothing with a very narrow use in the first place (I need to keep my hands warm, but I absolutely cannot cover my fingers in this endeavor!). They are a winter or fall item that is primarily yellow, the summer-yst of all summer-y colors. They have stripes down the middle, the colors of which were likely arranged with a random number generator. (Brown/Pink/Blue/Orange/Pink/Sienna/Orange/Eggshell Yellow/Pink/Orange/Soup Pea Green. Huh?)

Take Andre. Andre made USA Basketball’s World Championship team this year. He did not play, and was not expected to play. But everyone was totally convinced that in two years it would be idiotic to leave him off the Olympia roster. “Oh no, he can’t play now, but he’s tremendous in the future.” A box, and everyone supposedly knows what’s inside and says it’s amazing, but why won’t anyone open the box? Drummond is already a migraine on the boards and at the rim. Insanely nimble and athletic basketball player with every tool to be a superstar NBA center. Except he shoots 41% from the line and can be taken out of a game by being intentionally fouled. But if it all works! The unknown, manifest.

Monroe, on the other hand, we know what he is. A back to the basket player, who can get you buckets against single coverage. But single coverage down low isn’t really a thing in an NBA where zone/zone hybrid defense is legal, and he doesn’t protect the rim or nuke pick and rolls. He would have been so good 15 years ago! If every NBA team is a painting, this is what Greg Monroe looks like in that painting:

Modern NBA teams are Kandinsky, experimenting with motion and openness and improvisation. You stick Ol’ Velasquez Portrait Greg Monroe in there, and it gets all gunked up. If only we could take him back to the NBA’s Baroque Period, he would be active and interesting and useful and celebrated*.

There is no player in the entire NBA messier than Josh Smith. A killer wing defender who can absolutely, never, play anything other than power forward and still be a contributing player on offense. Insanely dynamic, unlike-anyone-else-gamechanging-force with mastery of nearly every aspect of basketball…

...or a guy who lives to heave shots he doesn’t make, and has never made, and will not make, ever.

And no in-between! None! Josh Smith is either slicing his enemies to ribbons or poking himself in the eye and bleeding so much everyone slides around the hardwood and falls down. You dip the brush in the container to paint the ocean and it could be the most perfect shade of blue you ever saw or a kind of neon brown thing that makes the Pacific look like the world’s biggest diarrhea toilet.

Three point guards who might be pretty good or the shittiest players imaginable. Jerebko, Luigi and Singler could be good. Sometimes they seem good, at least. But also maybe not. Tony Mitchell’s young! KCP looked good in Summer League? What does that mean? Almost (We know what Jodie and Aaron Gray are.) everyone is an enigma, 15 enigmas together on a team whose strategic goals have been obscure in the last few years.

But Stan’s here! Stan’s Orlando rosters were order personified, Mondrianal, even. A big square in the middle and lines to give it balance. I was listening to a podcast the other day, I think it was The Podium Game, and one of the converses said that Van Gundy's previous teams crush in shot selection metrics, which reward a threes-and-rim approach that, I mean, is this team, with these players, really going to do that? What will he do with this collection of french curves, paint spatters and woodcut stamps of ballerinas?

*I regard this as an imperfect metaphor. My internal logic dictates that Hakeem was actually the Velasquez of the NBA.  

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