Pre-Game Odds and Ends

Again with the “Style versus Substance” on Nate? Nate Robinson had his best offensive performance of his young career on Saturday against Portland. He shot 16-28 from the floor and 13-15 FTs. He handed out 6 assists and had 5 boards. Subjectively it didn’t “feel” like he dominated the ball either, despite the 28 shots. By comparison, Richardson’s 20 shots seemed more “labor intensive” and out of the flow. Part of the difference is that Nate never had to look hard to find the mismatch; he was the mismatch. Overall, it’s difficult to criticize his offense with a straight face. He’s efficient. He’s low turnover. And, he’s made himself into a passable passer; a player at least the equivalent of Leandro Barbosa. If there is a criticism of Nate’s game—and there is—it is his tendency to wander, to gamble, and to lose focus on the defensive end. Steve Blake, to his credit, put up some pretty good numbers against him: 15, 11, and zero screams.

Now, I love that Nate Robinson plays to the Garden crowd. What I don’t love are his routine defensive brain farts. Nate is minimally adequate at best when he should be a terror on defense. But, here’s the thing. You can hardly get to the latter because people won’t quit blathering about the former (present company excepted of course). The too, too tired “style over substance” trope virtually forbids discussion of actual basketball—unless it is to say that Nate would be better at it if he “toned down his act.” I get that some people just don’t care for Robinson’s act, which is perfectly fine and understandable. But it’s hard to make a case that he really hurts the team unless you’re talking about his defense. He’s been among the most potent offensive players on the team the past two years.

I try not to whine about NBA officiating. It’s better by an order of magnitude than NCAA officiating, which has managed to turn me off college hoops almost entirely. With NBA officials you usually know what’s coming, but the non-call on Nate Robinson’s drive at the end of regulation was a particularly bad call. I’m usually for letting the players settle end-of-game situations, but Robinson made his move, put the big boy on skates, took the bump, and finished. It’s one thing to let that kind of bump go on a defensive star like Artest or Bowen, but on a mediocre player like Pryzbilla that’s an and-1.

March Badness. With conference championships being determined this week and March Madness on the horizon, time to start thinking about the college kiddies. This appears to be a draft with two stars and a bunch of potential. New York figures to have a top five pick. You guys already know Beasley and Rose. The other guys who will likely end up in the top seven should they declare include (listed alphabetically):

• Jerryd Bayless (6’3” G, Arizona) – about the only games I’ve watched this year are in the Pac 10 and involve Arizona, so I’ve seen a bunch of Bayless. I’m not convinced he comes out this year but the mocks love him. I’ve heard the name “Chauncey Billups” thrown around but I don’t see that. His explosive athleticism is more reminiscent of a young John Starks, but with better handle and more efficient scoring; a combo guard—not a pure point. He’s got some holes in his game (e.g., defense, left hand), a former NBA coach, and seems to like college. He may go back.

• Eric Gordon (6’4” G, Indiana) – Gordon is built like a young Joe Dumars. He has very broad shoulders. Unlike Dumars though, he has no discernable point guard skills. Efficient scoring is his calling card—either slashing or shooting.

• Brook Lopez (7’0 C, Stanford) – I like Lopez a lot more than some others. He doesn’t dominate, but virtually no college centers do anymore. The way the games are coached and officiated simply doesn’t allow it. Lopez isn’t an outrageous athlete, but he’s a notch above Hibbert and he’s quite skilled.

• O.J. Mayo (6’4” SG, USC) – his game is far more cerebral and less explosive than I’d imagined. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Mayo’s plenty athletic, but is more of an intermediate jump shooter than a guy that attacks the rim at every opportunity.

No matter who makes the picks for New York in this upcoming draft I’d be surprised if anyone outside this list were under serious consideration unless the pick is dealt. Danilo Gallinari appears to be the top international prospect, but the team likes Wilson Chandler. Russell Westbrook continues to impress, but it’s hard to see him overtake Gordon and Mayo.