By Brian Spencer
With tears slowing trickling down our taut little cheeks, it’s time to bid adieu for now to the Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the rest of the NBA’s lovable losers whose seasons have ended. Today marks the end of the 2009-10 NBA regular season and is the last we’ll see of half the league until the fall; the others begin the annual playoff slog towards a NBA Championship. The action kicks off this weekend, and we’re psyched to see how it plays out.
For now, it’s time for a little stroll down memory lane as I take you back through the season that was here on Empty the Bench. We learned a lot, we had a lot of fun, and good golly did we write a lot. Though most all of you are religious readers who’ve visited us every day of the season, I’ve poured through our NBA archives dating back to October of last year and pulled out some of the highlights for you to relive and, in some cases, to discover for the first time. Not to get all cheesy on you, but I’m proud of our coverage this year and hope you enjoyed it.
This is not a comprehensive retrospective of our 2009-10 NBA regular season coverage. There were a lot more feature articles and editorials and random musings that aren’t included here, so once you’re through scouring these picks, break open another 12-pack and pour through the archives.
The 2010 NBA Playoffs beckon, as do the upcoming NBA and NFL drafts and offseason. The 2010 MLB season is underway too: look for my colleague Andrew Thell’s baseball analysis.
Enjoy, and as always thanks for reading. We’re happy to have you.
The Kids are Alright Series
In the postseason we want to know who is the best, regardless of pace, age, excitement, athleticism or offensive prowess. When we tune in on a Wednesday night in November? Not so much. We can’t watch the Cavs and Celts every night. With that in mind, we did an ongoing series on the youthful non-contenders, detailing why they’re worth watching and what the future holds.
Who You Got? Series
This ongoing series looks at two NBA players’ futures and tries to answer the following: if you had to pick one of these players for the remainder of their career, regardless of salary implications and their hypothetical future teammates, who would it be?
Surprise, Surprise, Surprise
Stephen Curry Silenced the Doubters – One of the biggest draft-day questions from last summer was definitively answered: Does Stephen Curry have the size to play the two or the ball skills to play the one at the next level? The answer is, both questions are moot. Forget traditional roles, the kid is a basketball player and a damn good one.
Jonas Jerebko is the Best Swedish-Born Player in NBA History – In addition to being the best Swedish-born player to ever don a NBA jersey, Detroit Pistons rookie forward Jonas Jerebko is also the country’s tallest, fastest, smartest, and most athletic import, as well as its most prolific contributor on the NBA stats sheet.
Five Players Who Had Quiet Seasons – Eric Gordon didn’t take the next step between his rookie and sophomore seasons, Jose Calderon regressed considerably, and loss after loss after loss might finally be getting to Al Jefferson. These players and two more had rather quiet 2009-10 seasons.
Bang a Gong, Again, for Big Ben Wallace – Ben Wallace came back to the house he helped build, and though he didn’t put a significant number of butts in the seats, no longer fluffed his hair into a ‘fro, and did not lead this team back to the promised land, there are a few things that, surprisingly, he did do.
D-Leaguers Can Look to Golden State for Glimmers of NBA Hope – Two unheralded players were unexpectedly sucked into Don Nelson’s mad, mad world due to a rash of injuries to the Warriors’ frontcourt. Both came to Golden State by way of the D-League and, Nelson’s herky-jerky coaching style be damned, both emerged winners after being thrown into the fire and asked to play 25+ minutes out of the gate.
This is just the tip of the 2009-10 NBA season iceberg; much more after the break…
Progress Reports and Report Cards
Checking in on the Last 10 Top-Overall Picks in the NBA Draft – Last year’s top pick, Blake Griffin, followed Greg Oden’s lead by missing his entire rookie season. But how have his nine predecessors faired in their NBA careers? A look at how they’ve progressed, what they’ve accomplished, and in the erotic words of Tiger Woods, “if [they’ve] ever had a golden shower done to [them].”
The NBA’s Two Biggest Free-Agent Busts of the Season Play for the Same Team – Not good, Joe Dumars, not good at all. A gaggle of NBA writers weigh in with their picks for the season’s biggest free-agent busts, and unfortunately for Detroit, they’re both Pistons.
Third-Year NBA Players: What You See Is (Generally) What You Get – Sometimes you get a Steve Nash who through increased playing time and the perfect team situation gives fans something unexpected down the road, but usually who a player is at the end of their third year is a pretty good indication of who they’ll be throughout their career. That being said, which of this season’s third-year players are showing something positive that teams can plan on building around?
NBA’s Most Consistently Inconsistent Players – If C+C Music Factory were to redo “Things That Make You Go Hmmmm” for the purposes of this piece, they might title it “Players That Make You Go Arrrrrrgh.” Ahem. These guys routinely toy with your fandom, tantalizing with their potential and commanding adulation after a monster performance, only to promptly punch you in the gut with strings of maddeningly poor showings.
Diamonds in the Rough: Five NBA Unknowns Making a Name for Themselves – Early this season a number of players, including the Nets’ Chris Douglas-Roberts and then-Rocket Carl Landry were making big impacts with little to no fanfare. Take a look back to December and see what was what.
Roy Hibbert Needs a Change of Scenery – There’s no question the second-year center got it done and is well on his way to not being a certified bust, but something is obviously wrong. That something is the team he plays for.
Blake Griffin to Earl Clark: An Early Progress Report On This Year’s Lottery Picks – Back in January I checked in on all 14 of the lottery picks from the 2009 NBA Draft. How were they doing? Here’s the report.
Answer the Call, Don’t be “The Answer” – So how’d that Allen Iverson thing work out?
Ball Numbers Don’t Lie
The Numbers Never End: Reranking the League’s Top Scorers – ETB Contributor Zachariah Blott proposes two new ways to assess and discuss the qualities of players and the context within which they score their points. One of these numbers will try to weigh players’ points per after accounting for the pace their teams play at and how often they see the ball. The other number will put a new spin on PPS that is more dependent on bad shots, not all shots.
Something Smells Foul in Cleveland – This one really brought the LeBron fans out of the woodwork. A look at James’ amazing propensity to avoid the whistle, and foul calls, of NBA referees.
Larry Brown Has (Fill in Team’s Name) Playing Some Good Defense – Why do colleges and professional teams keep signing Larry Brown if he has the commitment anxiety of Two and a Half Men’s Charlie Harper? Because a) he’ll coach any ragtag group of losers, and b) he can turn said group into a solid, defensive unit.
Advanced Basketball Statistics 101 – This article is meant as a primer to help basketball fans understand a little more deeply how to evaluate team and player performance. The first two stats, ORating and DRating, are the most necessary tools in evaluating how well a team scores and defends, and the Four Factors get into the nuts and bolts of what affects ORating and DRating.
NBA Stars, Both Rising and Fallen
The NBA’s Most Depressing Players of 2009 – In hindsight, there are other players I would have included in our annual list that counts down the league’s most depressing players, but hey, can’t argue with these picks.
Dwight Howard is the NBA’s Most Impossible Player to Gameplan For – Dwight Howard pops out as the most complete WTF-do-we-do-about-that-guy player in the league. Not only is he far and away the most intimidating defender, altering and discouraging just about everything inside of 15 feet, his capabilities define how the Magic’s offensive scheme works to a degree that only Steve Nash’s relation to the Suns’ fast break can compare.
Darko Milicic, the Multi-Million Dollar Crybaby, Has Nobody to Blame But Himself – Let’s not get misty-eyed and reflective about Darko Milicic’s NBA failure. He made his bed, he deserves to sleep in it. Nobody sunk Darko’s prospects except Darko. Not Joe Dumars, Larry Brown, and the Pistons. Not the Orlando Magic, not the Memphis Grizzlies, not the New York Knicks. This one’s on Darko and Darko alone.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on the Detroit Bad Boys, Bill Laimbeer, and Kurt Rambis – My short Q&A with two NBA legends as they promoted their book When the Game Was Ours.
The Washington Wizards Have Officially Become the Franchise of Misfit Toys – Can we start referring to Flip Saunders, head coach of the sunken ship that is the Washington Wizards, King Moonraiser instead? Because by season’s end, Saunders was not as much a NBA coach as he was the caretaker of a team full of forgotten, disregarded, and, yes, unloved
It’s Time for the World to Meet, Greet, and Embrace Monta Ellis – He gained notoriety for The Great Mopend Incident, but it’s time to leave that in the rearview window for now and focus on the positive: Monta Ellis is one of the most unstoppable one-man offensive shows the NBA has to offer.
The NBA’s Top Eight Cases of Buyer’s Delight – Good contracts are getting harder and harder to come by in today’s NBA, but they’re still out there. And I’m not talking about rookie deals, which are mostly done on scale and often provide great value for those teams lucky enough to hit on their pick. Here’s eight of the top bang-for-your-buck contracts in the NBA.
The NBA’s Top 8 Cases of Buyer’s Remorse – A look at eight of the current deals in the NBA that are looking a little dubious at this point. I included only longish-term contracts, not ones that expire this year or next, and players are in no particular order.
(Almost) Last But Not Least…
The State of the NBADL, with D-League Digest’s Steve Weinman – Part I and II – The NBA D-League is a good thing that has the potential to be a very good thing for professional basektball in the United States. We want to see it thrive, expand, succeed. Unfortunately, like most people, we rarely get to see anything from these games beyond the brief late-night highlights on NBA TV. Enter writers like Steve Weinman, the thoughtful wordsmith behind D-League Digest, who sat down with us for a two-part Q&A.
Worst Corporate NBA Cross Promotion Ever! – Aired during Detroit Pistons’ local broadcasts, Arby’s sponsors what they call the “Instant Three Play.” It fucking sucked.
Two Point Guards are Better Than One in Chicago Bulls’ Starting Backcourt – The Bulls decided to hang onto Kirk Hinrich, the seventh-year point guard who’d been in a lot of trade talks. Many fans felt he was an expendable piece after Derrick Rose arrived last year, but on the contrary, the two PGs brought the Bulls to new heights.
The New York Knicks Don’t Need the Draft – The New York Knicks don’t have much use for first-round picks, and are instead throwing their hopes and dreams into the free-agent market. It feels like they’ve been planning for 2010 free agency since the days of Larry Johnson, and GM Donnie Walsh better hope he delivers the two megastars he’s angling for because there’s no young help on the way
NBA Contenders Increasingly Turning To Wing Defenders Over Scorers as Starters – Here are six clubs, three in each conference, who are starting a defensive-minded wing over a better scoring option. Note that three of them are international players and another (Anthony Parker) honed his game overseas for six seasons.
The NBA’s Dream Team of Bench Players – These guys are hungry. They could be starting, often should be starting, and hopefully some day soon will be starting. This team is so desirous for a chance to prove themselves, they would make the playoffs in either conference, and then make some noise with their embarrassing $49 million payroll.
Channing Frye Finally Finds a Home (and Surprising Role) in Phoenix – In very simplistic terms, the “system vs. talent” thing can go both ways. Here’s where I went with this: Channing Frye is Exhibit A that systems can indeed go a long way towards making or breaking a career… or at least a few seasons’ body of work.