Words have meaning, and Klay Thompson is the purest scorer in the NBA

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

What do we even mean when we call someone a "pure scorer?" Plus, The Hook considers Brazil's lament against Nene and the benefits and consequences of international preseason travel.

The concept of purity in basketball is an odd one. I wrote back in 2011 about point guard purity, and how -- because of the fetishization of Bob Cousy and then John Stockton -- we degrade point guards considered "impure" while elevating those who rack up assists. But as that data study in 2011 showed up, some of the league's best point guards, like Derrick Rose, are some of the least pure, and some of the most pure are wholly mediocre compared to the norm. Telling us whether a point guard is impure or not does not tell us whether said point guard is good. It's an adjective, not an answer.

Similarly, the concept of a "pure scorer" is a little mystifying. What is purity? An absence of contaminants. In human terms, a contaminant would be something immoral or, less harshly, lacking in the department of moral norms. Basically, to be pure is to successfully live up to the ideal, whatever it may be. In measuring purity in basketball, the ideal point guard would be one who sets up teammates and doesn't take too many shots himself. So measuring it is pretty straightforward: assists are pure, shots are impure.

Translate that to the concept of the pure scorer, and it's trickier. What makes a scorer pure? Well, by our standard definition of purity, it'd be the absence of all that is not scoring. So that would mean assists, and if you wanted to stretch it out, also perhaps rebounding and defense. In the end, by defining the "pure scorer" in this way, you're also defining the "one-dimensional ballhog." That doesn't sound as nice, does it?

We'll leave it focused on offense for ease. Points will represent the pure, and assists and offensive rebounds will represent the impure. Here's a rudimentary scale we'll call the Scorer Purity Index, including all players who averaged at least 30 minutes per game and played 50 games last season.

Scorepure-tz_medium

Words mean things, and "pure" means a specific thing. Bastardizing its meaning to show something completely different leads to wide confusion and, eventually, the absence of meaning in words. So when we talk about the purest scorers, we're talking in some way -- not necessarily with the very basic approach used here, but in some way -- players who just score. Among those players, Klay Thompson currently ranks No. 1, followed by Carmelo Anthony, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki.

It's worth noting that the high-profile point guard who is the most pure scorer is Kyrie Irving, though I imagine Rose being back will challenge him. It's also worth noting that Kyrie is more pure a scorer than ... Monta Ellis, Josh Smith and Russell Westbrook. On the far end of scoring impurity, you have low scorers Greivis Vasquez (No. 3 in assists per game last season) and Joakim Noah (who rebounds offensively and passes well, but doesn't shoot much).

The best illustration of how goofy the concept of the pure scorer is can be found just skewed to the impure side of the index. By this measure, LeBron James (a Swiss army knife), Stephen Curry (a great passer) and DeMarcus Cousins (a great offensive rebounder) are all equally pure as scorers. Clearly, the concept of purity really means little in terms of scoring.

Next time you hear someone call Curry the "best pure scorer in the NBA," think about what that actually means. He's no DeMar DeRozan, after all. Being called a pure scorer isn't really much of a compliment.

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BRAZIL'S LAMENT

In 2002, Nene became the NBA's first major Brazilian player. (A couple of Brazilians from a prior generation had a cup of coffee in the league.) Nene has since been one of the better big men in the league, getting to the playoffs repeatedly and putting up solid numbers with a variety of co-stars. He also had midseason surgery to remove a testicular tumor in 2008 ... and played two months later. Like many tall athletes, he's suffered a number of knee injuries throughout his career, including a catastrophic torn ACL in 2005.

As a result of those injuries and a few other issues, Nene hasn't spent much time playing for the Brazilian national team. As a result of that, Brazil hasn't often met its lofty expectations. As a result of that, much of Brazil's basketball community seems pretty mad at Nene. The Wizards played in Rio on Saturday. From Michael Lee's Washington Post recap:

Nene is a pioneer [...] but he is not universally revered here. In fact, Nene got a jolting reminder at HSBC Arena on Saturday that the opposite is actually the case for many. Booed during introductions, when he addressed the crowd and later as he shot free throws, Nene encountered a reaction that was vastly different from what he experienced during an emotional week of handshakes, hugs and smiles for the native of Sao Carlos.

Brazilian legend Oscar Schmidt, who never played in the NBA, was particularly nasty. Schmidt got a standing ovation when a highlight reel of his days played. He's been critical of Nene's decision to take summers off.

"That's not my fault," Schmidt said when asked about Nene's reception. "Everybody knows what he's done. If you don't want to play for national team, don't talk about your country. Ever."

Nene's too reverential to say it, but to hell with all that. This is total B.S.

Nene's too reverential to say it, but to hell with all that. This is total B.S. No one has an obligation to play for their country (for free). No one has an obligation to give up every summer based on other people's needs and expectations. It's great when players can experience to camaraderie of their nation in international competition. But it's a choice each player can and should make on their own. Nene is Brazil's best player, so his decision impacts the quality of the team more than does that of anyone else. But it's still his decision.

And while it's the decision of Schmidt and those other fans to boo him, to guilt him, to tell him he can't talk about his love for Brazil -- as if playing against Canada in FIBA Americas is the only way to show that -- well, those folks just look selfish, small and ridiculous.

Nene got the final word, anyway.

Asked about his decision not to play for the national team, Nene said, "I don't have to defend myself because I didn't steal, I didn't kill and I didn't rob."

True enough.

THE PERILS AND BENEFITS OF A TRAVELING CAMP

The Warriors and Lakers are in China this week, engaging with fans and playing a couple of games. Other teams are spread all over the planet, too. One of the specific concerns this year is that the Asian trips are all coming dead in the middle of the preseason, not at the beginning of training camp. That means that when teams return home, they'll only have 10 or 11 days before the regular season begins. That's the source of Andre Iguodala's lament, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

"I don't know, man. I've got mixed feelings," Iguodala said. "I've been in training camps overseas, and it's not always enjoyable. We'll get an opportunity to see the world and meet some great fans in Asia, but you've got to man up and remember to get your work done."

Traveling these sorts of distances is exhausting. A 13-hour plane ride? That's like a full day of work right there. Mix in a trot on the Great Wall, a few 2-hour bus rides, a few charity events, practice, bouts of jet lag and a couple of preseason games and you're packing in way more exhausting activity than you would at home.

But David Lee has a slightly different take:

"This trip is going to be very taxing to our bodies, but it's really going to help our chemistry. We had the best chemistry in the league last year, and that's why we got the most out of our team. We plan on doing that again this year."

I'm of mixed minds about this. Being forced together is good in theory. But take a dozen exhausted guys, stick them in a box together for a week, and you're bound to get some aggravation popping out. This is the basis of a whole genre of reality shows. So I could see how the ultra-familiarity you get with teammates on a long overseas trip could breed a bit of contempt.

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