James Posey, Getty Images

NBA Talking Points: Where Posey Is The Prototype

NBA Talking Points is a weekly series that runs down some of the top stories in basketball, and some that aren't being talked about enough. Click any of the links below to jump to one of this week's stories, and click here for last week's edition.

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1. James Posey, The Championship Prototype

Watching the end of the Hornets-Grizzlies game last night, there were a number of things that stuck out—Chris Paul is unbelievable, Memphis is somehow resilient now, Rudy Gay finally realizing his potential, etc—but more than anything else, I noticed Marcus Thornton, the rookie guard for New Orleans. He’s surprisingly solid, and has been playing well all season long. Last night in the fourth quarter, in a close game, he didn’t look out of place on the floor. Between Chris Paul and James Posey, there was Thornton in the backcourt, more than holding his own.

For a rookie drafted in the second round, that’s a pretty serious endorsement. And while it may not happen in New Orleans, there’s a good chance that Marcus Thornton will wind up making serious contributions to a contender down the line. He’s that good.

Or more specifically, he’s good at specific things that are important. I’ve mentioned this around here before, but the importance of a “glue guy” on a Championship contender cannot be understated. In a close playoff series, you’ll often see the superstars cancel each other out, and when it’s all said and done, people like Tayshaun Prince or Trevor Ariza wind up deciding the NBA Title. Seriously.

This insight isn’t unique, of course; people have been touting the importance of players like that for years. But they need a name. The biggest reason I’ve never expounded on this theory is because calling someone a “glue guy” just sounds idiotic, and vaguely condescending. Like calling a quarterback a “game-manager.” We’re not talking about placeholders here. These players often decide championships.

So what are we talking about, exactly? We’re talking about athletic swingmen that can defend the other team’s best player, and on the offensive end, stretch the court with perimeter shooting. Every title team since the Kobe/Shaq Lakers has had one. Last year, it was Trevor Ariza making crucial steals and backbreaking 3s for the Lakers in the playoffs. The year before, James Posey played the role to a T for Boston. For all of those Spurs titles, there was Bruce Bowen—killing teams with the corner three, and harassing superstars on defense. For Detroit in 2004, Tayshaun Prince did the same thing. For Miami in 2006, it was James Posey again.

Every year, the title team has a guy like Posey, always on the court for his defense, and with a knack for making big plays on offense. So why not just call this weird position a “Posey”? When you imagine the “glue guy” or “role player” that I’m describing, there’s a good bet you’re imagining Posey*, or maybe Bowen. So “Posey” it is.

And as for Thornton, he’s got an excellent shot at becoming one of the League’s next Poseys, not the least because, you know, he plays with James Posey every night in New Orleans. But also because he’s got just the right mix of skills, an underdog mentality, and by all accounts from this season in New Orleans, a willingness to do whatever it takes to get on the court. And that’s the thing that makes these guys so fascinating.

They are always afterthoughts. Posey, Prince, Bowen, Ariza… They became indispensable only after everyone had written them off as irrelevant. That’s not a coincidence. The reason these players excel at doing the “little things” that win championships is because that’s the only way they’d ever find a place on the court. Marcus Thornton’s a 2nd round pick; if he doesn’t play great defense, avoid turnovers, and take good shots, he just won’t see the court. 

So while players may be more gifted elsewhere in the NBA, someone like Tyrus Thomas doesn’t need to focus exclusively on defense and developing a reliable corner three; a lottery pick with breathtaking athleticism, he’ll get minutes no matter what. And he’ll also never be a key contributor on a championship team. Marcus Thornton might, though. Because these are the people that winning teams need.

Keep an eye on Thornton over the next few years. He’s not indispensable yet, but at some point, he’s going to crack the rotation on a very good team, and you’ll see what the fans in New Orleans have seen so far this season. He’s just an excellent player to have on your team. One day, he’s going to be a Posey.

Every good team has a superstar. But guys like Posey, Roger Mason in San Antonio, Mikael Pietrus in Orlando, and a handful of other indispensable role players are what sets the great teams apart from the good teams. We often look at playoff series as “Kobe vs. Carmelo,” but when you really pay attention, it’s often someone like Trevor Ariza that makes the difference, because he’s more reliable than Denver’s designated Posey, JR Smith.**

Anyway, keep an eye on Marcus Thornton. He’s the one on James Posey’s right shoulder.

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* We cannot mention Poseys without talking about Scottie Pippen. If God created James Posey, then the devil created Scottie Pippen. He was unfairly good at playing this role for the Bulls; he could lockdown any player on the opposition, and his otherworldly athleticism allowed him to dominate on offense, as well. Michael Jordan was the greatest player of all time, and Scottie Pippen was the greatest Posey of all time. It’s not a coincidence that the ’90s Bulls were the best team ever.

** That JR Smith is the Denver Nuggets’ version of James Posey explains why it’s possible that they’re fatally flawed, and impossible not to love.

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2. H.O.R.S.E. Heaven: The Ideal Candidates For All-Star Weekend

As Mike Prada noted yesterday, H.O.R.S.E. is returning to All-Star Weekend this year. The NBA’s release is redundant, but included just because PR People never fail to be a caricature of themselves:

H.O.R.S.E. presented by GEICO will return and will now be featured in prime time on Saturday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. (ET). The competition will showcase three NBA players challenging each other with thrilling moves and creative shot-making skills in a classic basketball competition. Participants for the event will be announced at a later date.

Thrilling moves! Creative shot-making skills! Will there be a fundamentals montage?!

In any case, a lot of folks have been throwing around their ideal candidates, so I had to weigh in.

  1. Steve Nash. He’s already been established as the funniest person in the league, but he’d also bring soccer skills to this competition. Have you ever kicked a basketball into the hoop? No? Well, Steve Nash definitely has. He’s also one of the best shooters in the league, so there’s that. But really, if there’s one player who needs to be included in this sort of thing, it’s Steve Nash.
  2. Tim Duncan. While Nash is the most deserving candidate for H-O-R-S-E, if Javaris Crittendon were holding a gun to my head, Duncan would be my choice to win a league-wide game. But we’ll get to that part. Duncan’s also one of the most sneakily charismatic players in the league, following the Peyton Manning corollary of “plays so boring we forget to notice he’s really cool.” If he were mic’d up, Tim Duncan wouldn’t disappoint in the trash talking department. BUT ALSO, he can hit threes from anywhere on the court, and as far as banking shots in, there’s nobody in history that’s been as effective or as clever as Tim Duncan. You’re telling me he wouldn’t be unbeatable in H-O-R-S-E?
  3. Rasheed Wallace. Included, first and foremost, because he’s hilarious. His ability to entertain the crowd would be unparalleled, even by someone like Nash. But unlike the other two—both Duncan and Nash seem slavishly dedicated to practicing fundamentals—you get the feeling that ‘Sheed has spent at least 30% of his career NBA practices working on trick shots. I wouldn’t rule anything out. Shooting from the tunnel, behind the baskets, on top of the Dallas Cowboys scoreboard.. Anything. Too bad David Stern is more likely to have ’Sheed executed than include him in something like this.

So, those are my three. It’d be the most entertaining competition in history; the H-O-R-S-E equivalent to the ‘88 Dunk Contest. And while we’re here, I’d like to petition Stern to include Teddy Dupay. First, because he’d be f—king amazing at H-O-R-S-E, but also because a marijuna advocate absolutely MUST be at All-Star Weekend.

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Yes, Duncan's a whiny bastard on the court. But he’s also the best H-O-R-S-E player ever.

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3. MMM MMM... Memphis!

This past week, Bethlehem Shoals wrote a great article at Fanhouse examining a potentially new model of franchise building that’s taking place in Oklahoma City and Atlanta. Shoals:

Monday’s Thunder-Hawks tilt featured two organizations on the cutting edge. The approach? Stockpile athletic, versatile lottery talent, fill in the gaps with vets and find a way to make the pieces fit. Simply put, it’s the first sustainable model for Future Team since Shaq killed the SSOL Suns. […]

In Oklahoma City, the Hawks see a team that’s followed their template — one which, it should be added, we once all sedulously doubted — and like them, now loom large in the future of the NBA. Ladies and gentleman, these are your Future Teams. Not “rising stars” — this is the new model for building might and right. 

But he left out Memphis! Sure, his message was delivered through the prism of Hawks-Thunder matchup, so it could be forgiven. But still. MEMPHIS!

This is a team that’s enormously compelling, but not for the reasons everyone (or me, at least) expected. Preseason, in my bloated NBA preview, I had the following thoughts on Memphis:

If any team could be said to be dancing with the devil, it’d have to be Memphis, right? They signed Allen Iverson, traded for Zach Randolph, and continue to juggle OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay, two shot-happy youngsters, in an attempt to cobble together a coherent offense. By adding Randolph and Iverson, it’s almost as if the Griz are trying recreate the ’04 Pistons-Pacers brawl among their own team.

They had the exact same approach as the Hawks and Thunder, but with a bunch of caustic personalities and little to no institutional control, almost like they were purposefully tempting fate to see what’d happen. And what’s happened? They’re one of the bettter teams in the league, and easily the most entertaining Grizzlies team that Memphis has ever seen. By any measure of traditional NBA logic, the Grizzlies should be hilariously dysfunctional, but instead, they’ve been downright dominant at times this year.

Last night against the Hornets, there were about four different points when the Grizzlies could have given up on the game. The Memphis team we expected this season would have quit on the game. When Chris Paul led the Hornets back in the fourth quarter, and New Orleans took a 3 point lead with under a minute left, a less disciplined, determined team would have said, “screw it, let’s go party in New Orleans.”

But instead, Memphis stayed patient, cut the lead to one, and then Rudy Gay nailed a three to tie the game with seven seconds left. Sure, the Grizzlies eventually lost after some late heroics by James Posey(!), but that’s beside the point. The Grizzlies team we expected never would have gotten that far. This team was supposed to win 20 games this whole year, but even with last night’s loss, their sitting three games above .500 at 22-19. Not bad.

And again, this is the same model that Atlanta and the Thunder have used. Just draft, sign, and trade for talented players, then try to make it work. But while Shoals might call this a new “model” of team building, I think we should probably pause before going that far. To some degree, this is just blind luck, and maybe a little bit of laziness. Keep in mind, the teams we’re talking about here are Atlanta, Memphis, and Oklahoma City.

While OKC has Sam Presti masterminding everything, it’s not a stretch to say that the other two franchises have been by fools for the past decade. Chris Wallace and Billy Knight were the architects of this strange, successful mix; while Rick Sund may wind up faring better as Atlanta’s GM since Knight stepped down in 2008, he can’t really get credit for assembling the pieces that currently have Atlanta looking like the league’s next up-and-comer. And even with Presti, you could argue that he’s stumbled upon this mix while biding his time waiting for Kevin Durant to mature and another superstar to matriculate. Just because it works doesn’t mean they planned it.

So, maybe it’s not a model, insofar as the word “model” implies a blueprint that can be applied by others, and it’s impossible to replicate the reasoning of a fool. But either way, have you been watching Memphis this season? Foolish or not, it sure is cool to look at.

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4. An All-White Basketball League? It Can't Fail!

You may not have heard, but the internet was buzzing on Wednesday over the proposed whites-only basketball league down in Augusta, Georgia. For me, it actually didn’t sound that racist at first. Nothing different than what my friends would do back in high school, at least (and now I just sound like a full-fledged bigot).

But seriously, sometimes we’d say to our friends that were really good at basketball (black and white, FWIW) that they couldn’t play pickup, because it ruins the fun. When you’re a bunch of unathletic idiots, it’s no fun to have someone there who’s constantly reminding you just how pathetic you are. The blind leading the blind is a whole lot more fun than one kid dominating and four other guys trying not to screw up.

So that was my first reaction. It’d be like that Filipino basketball league with a height limit. Kind of cute, really.

Then a.) I remembered that America’s still a pretty racist country and b.) I read the article from the Augusta Chronicle, and remembered that even the rest of the America concedes that Augusta, Georgia is the most racist place on earth. An excerpt from the article:

Lewis said he wants to emphasize fundamental basketball instead of “street-ball” played by “people of color.” He pointed out recent incidents in the NBA, including Gilbert Arenas’ indefinite suspension after bringing guns into the Washington Wizards locker room, as examples of fans’ dissatisfaction with the way current professional sports are run.

“Would you want to go to the game and worry about a player flipping you off or attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch?” he said. “That’s the culture today, and in a free country we should have the right to move ourselves in a better direction.”

So, yeah, that guy sucks. The only solace we can take from learning that perspectives like this still exist is that at least we know his venture will be a total failure. It’s the sort of thing that you really can’t ridicule mercilessly enough. And the Internet certainly obliged. Below, some highlights from the conversation that ensued when someone created the Twitter topic: “#AllWhiteHoopsLeague.”

Ordinarily, these hashtag things pretty much ruin my day, because everyone starts chiming in on Twitter with some variation of the same joke, and after about 15 minutes, it gets unbearable. But like I said, an idea like this can’t be ridiculed enough, and making jokes about it was maybe the only way to make this less disturbing. Just a few of thousands of riffs on the idea:

Bookgirl96: Slogan: “Where nothing amazing happens” #allwhitehoopsleague

DHSpeedwagon: When hockey just isn’t white enough for you. #allwhitehoopsleague

Unsilent: Short shorts and jerseys with sleeves. #allwhitehoopsleague

brickcheney: Minnesota Timberlakes, Utah Jazz Snobs, Washington Grand Wizards, Boston Celtics #allwhitehoopsleague

julia_flyer: ESPN criticized for having “Mid-west Bias” #allwhitehoopsleague

bruce_arthur: Eight-foot rims. #allwhitehoopsleague

russbengtson: Beats By Scott Storch headphones. #allwhitehoopsleague

WFNYCraig: Just slightly more entertaining than the WNBA #allwhitehoopsleague

TiricoSuave: Every team will be coached by one of the player’s fathers. #allwhitehoopsleague

chasehughes: “Just look at the technique on that lay-up. Bank it down big fella, bank it down” #allwhitehoopsleague

jeskeets: All-Star Weekend 2010 in … Eau Claire, Wisconsin! #allwhitehoopsleague

CaptainAnnoying: Dick Vitale? Still incredibly annoying #AllWhiteHoopsLeague

Unsilent: Tamir Goodman deemed “too jewy” for the #allwhitehoopsleague

mdotbrown: Adolph Rupp isnt rolling over in his grave. He’s trying to claw his way out! #allwhitehoopleague

DHSpeedwagon: Massachusetts is trending, I can only assume this has something to do with the #allwhitehoopsleague

mdotbrown: “So you mean Tommy points actually count now?” #allwhitehoopleague

russbengtson: See, now that’s just ridiculous. RT @JimSparkles: Vinny Del Negro wins 10 Championships #allwhitehoopsleague

DanFilowitz: All the podcasters who talk about it are black. #allwhitehoopleague

DrSaturday: Phrase “coast to coast” replaced by “manifest destiny.” #allwhitehoopsleague

Annnnnd…. Scene. No way you’re topping “manifest destiny.” There’s just no way. So, in closing…

 

RAWRRRRRRR OSTERTAG!

 

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5. The Washington Wizards: What Else Is On?

Last night, I got home at 9 PM and had a choice. Watch on pins and needles as the Wizards-Mavericks play the fourth quarter of a close game, or kick back and watch Modern Family on ABC. Two months ago, this would have been an easy decision: watch the game. The DVR function exists for awesome shows like Modern Family, whereas recording sporting events never, ever works out as planned.

And yet… Modern Family always makes me feel good, and this year, the Wizards do the opposite. Seriously, watching Modern Family makes me feel better about life, in general. It’s hilarious, but it also makes me think that one day it’d be nice to have a family, myself. This occurred to me after last night’s episode, and then I realized that I should probably qualify that statement: If I were married to Julie Bowen, having a family would be awesome.

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Julie Bowen Julie Bowen Julie Bowen Julie Bowen Julie Bowen Julie Bowen Julie Bowen.

God I love her. You may remember her from Happy Gilmore or the TV series Ed—underrated series, by the way—but I remember her for being impossibly cute and hot at the same time, and generally just the most perfect woman ever. And between Ms. Bowen’s brief lingerie cameo in last night’s episode and the overriding hilarity of everything that transpired afterward, I shut off the TV feeling pretty great about life.

Modern Family succeeds because it appeals to all demographics. Husbands love the women on the show (Bowen, and Sofia Vergara, who is a whole other, awesome story), and wives do, too, since they’re usually making the men look like fools. As for the men on Modern Family, everyone enjoys the gay couple, and Phil’s whole benevolent idiot ethos is pretty much perfect. Every guys sees themselves in Phil, and every woman sees their dumbass spouse. It’s perfect.

Like I said, it makes me laugh, but also feel good about life. It seems to do that for most people who watch the show. And while that amateur attempt at TV critcism is woefully incomplete and probably oversimplified, it sure beats the hell out of sitting here and writing about last night’s Wizards game.

Per usual, the Wizards lost on a last-second screwup. The opposite of Modern Family.

But hey.... Julie Bowen Julie Bowen Julie Bowen Julie Bowen Julie Bowen Julie Bowen.

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(HT: Babble.com for the first Bowen Pic)

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7. A Word About The Lakers

Yesterday, my colleague Mike Prada and I were going back-and-forth about the Lakers. He’s ranked the Cavaliers at number 1 in his excellent NBA Power Rankings for the past few weeks, and I disagree. First and foremost, because a team coached by the tandem of Mike Brown (nominal authority figure) and Lebron James (actual authority figure), should never be ranked number one at anything. But also because the Lakers have a better record at this point (nominally important), and in close games, they are nearly impossible to beat (actually important). 

Have they had an easier schedule? Absolutely. Do they take games off and sometimes get blown out by inferior opponents? Yup. But this is the NBA, where “taking games off” is practically a birthright for the NBA’s truly elite teams. And nobody can turn it on like the Lakers. Because, all things considered, they’re far and away the best team. When it counts—in April, May, and June—they are the undisputed favorites to win the title.

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All of which is to say that, tonight when they play the Cavs, I’ll be pretty shocked if they don’t win in demonstrative fashion. I hate the Lakers, but at least until someone proves they can beat them in crunch time, and as long as they’ve got one of the best records, they’re the best team in whole league.

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