Posted November 16, 2012

Court Vision: James passes in crunch time and life goes on

Andre Miller, Anthony Morrow, Brook Lopez, Carmelo Anthony, Kemba Walker, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Mike Conley, Rob Mahoney, Shaun Livingston, Tiago Splitter

LeBron James gave up the ball in crunch time on Thursday, but his previous critics were oddly silent. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

By Rob Mahoney

• This says far more about sports media and sports fan culture than it does about LeBron James, but on Thursday night James passed to an open teammate in a clutch situation — reason enough for most to rain criticism on LeBron a season ago — to almost no public reaction whatsoever. Tom Haberstroh catalogues the non-event:

This delicate balance between unstoppable and unselfish is what makes James so transcendent in this sport. He embodies the pick-your-poison dilemma for the defense. Do you send help to stop James or do you risk him making the back-breaking clutch pass that so many stars would rather not take? Until he won that elusive title, people screamed that passing off in crunchtime was his Achilles’ heel. When he deferred, it meant he was flawed.

But now?

The silence is deafening.

• Atlanta’s Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow aren’t just interchangeable knockdown shooters, but two elite marksmen who are pushing one another in post-practice shooting drills, and sharing in tricks of their shared trade. Frankly, Korver may be one of the few people on the planet uniquely qualified to school Morrow on the mechanics of his shooting and footwork, and vice versa.

• In a certain light, this year’s Knicks begin to resemble the title-winning 2011 Dallas Mavericks. Beckley Mason, writing for The New York Times‘ Off the Dribble blog, explains.

• An awesome look at where the Bucks’ shots are coming from on a play-by-player basis, using Milwaukee’s past performance as a comparison point.

• I love this rendering of Mike Conley – in verbal and visual forms — as a manipulator of shadows.

• Carmelo Anthony’s remodeled playing habits have completely changed the nature of the discussion surrounding his game. Kevin Arnovitz wonders if those subtle but significant changes might be enough to alter the overall tenor of Melo’s on-court influence:

Phenomenons like these always remind me of something legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons said a few years ago. Back when sabermetricians identified on-base percentage as one of the most undervalued statistics in baseball, there was a tendency among a small slice of devoted statheads to treat players who didn’t draw walks as terminal cases.

Gammons, who was by no means dismissive of analytics, was quick to point out that strike-zone judgment could be learned. If a major league player identified that as a weaker element of his game, he could teach himself the skill. He might never lead the league in walks, but he could become a measurably more valuable batter.

Anthony has never been one to draw walks, so to speak, and he probably hasn’t been called coachable in years. But what if he can teach himself how to take pitches? What if he can, at 28, pick up the nuances that allow scorers to make their teammates and themselves more efficient?

• Tim Duncan and Jason Kidd share a moment, and a rebound.

• The Spurs are in the West’s top tier as-is, but over at HoopSpeak Brett Koremenos diagnoses the factors that limit San Antonio from really staking claim to the conference and a spot in the Finals:

The Knicks illustrated that the Spurs are perhaps one player away from being a bulletproof title contender. The two areas that stuck out as problematic last night are the starting power forward spot and backup point guard position.

Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair and Stephen Jackson provide solid production at the four but none overwhelms and each has a glaring flaw that hinders the team when on the floor. Gary Neal is capable of the occasional huge scoring night, but is incapable of providing much else in the way of directing an offense while Patty Mills — who did very little in 16 minutes last night — should be just an emergency reserve on an NBA contender.

With Jackson’s expiring deal and several solid trade chips — Splitter, Neal, Bonner and Blair could all be valuable on the right team — San Antonio is in a position to either acquire an explosive scoring guard to bring off the bench with the declining Ginobili or an athletic defensive force at the 4 (hello Josh Smith). By pulling the trigger on a major deal, the Spurs could rise to the top of a growing list of contenders.

A dissection of Kemba Walker’s vast and many statistical improvements.

Shaun Livingston is back in Washington. Everybody wins.

• It’s good to see another team taking advantage of the possibility of D-League affiliate ownership. We’re still a long way away from a true team-by-team farm system, but those in the know are quickly snatching up affiliates in order to streamline their developmental resources.

• The Pacers have long had the unfortunate distinction of occupying the NBA’s barren middle ground: too loaded with contracts to fully rebuild, and yet so far lacking in elite talent as to reasonably contend for a title. Last season’s team seemed to sprint ahead of the curve in terms of their competitive quality, but this year’s squad has taken a sharp, downward turn. Granger or not, the Pacers have been a miserable offensive team this season, leading Jared Wade to wonder if the “treadmill of mediocrity” has finally gotten the better of them — with their attendance as the first forfeited spoil:

But something funny happened on the way to the bank: The Pacers may have become terrible.

Yes. It’s way too early to be overly concerned. It’s not even Thanksgiving and I’ve always maintained that nothing I watch before I’ve had my first leftover turkey sandwich actually matters.

But have you seen these first nine games? They have been close to unwatchable.

So if the team doesn’t look significantly better by New Year’s, the attendance issues will likely remain, and nobody will be able to continue to blame a fanbase that is missing out on good basketball. And if that happens, at some point, you have to ask: What was the point of trying to stay mediocre for so long? Just futile exercise on the treadmill?

• On a less gloomy note: Tim Donahue of Eight Points, Nine Seconds endeavors to cure the Pacers’ offense of its ills.

• Tiago Splitter has been notably less productive for San Antonio this season, but if nothing else, the nature of his interior defense has changed in a way that could significantly benefit the Spurs.

• It doesn’t get much better than this for Brook Lopez and the Nets.

• A loving ode to Denver’s Andre Miller, outfitted with wonderful illustration.

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