Five Thoughts From The Nets' 131-121 Loss to The Bucks, Including Eric Bledsoe on If His Matchup With D'Angelo Russell is Personal (Video)Read Now
Here are five thoughts from the Nets' loss to the Bucks on Monday night at the Barclays Center.
1. Playoff like atmosphere in the 3rd and most of the 4th
The Nets dug themselves an early hole, falling behind 35-20 at the end of the first quarter. The Bucks blitzed them from the start. Brooklyn shot 7-25 (28%) from the field in the first, while Milwaukee was 13-23 (56%). Some of that was Milwaukee's defense, but the Nets also missed shots, and defensively they were not sound and allowed Eric Bledsoe and Sterling Brown to get downhill on them and force the action.
Brooklyn found their footing defensively and started making shots in the second quarter. When the buzzer sounded to head into halftime, Milwaukee's lead was cut to five.
In the third quarter was when both teams really engaged in what a playoff game would look like. Mini runs and answers. Counters on defense and offense and at the end of the third, Milwaukee's lead had been cut to two. The crowd was into it and both teams exhibited a playoff type of intensity that you can't muster consistently during an 82 game regular season.
Even in the 4th, after the Bucks jumped out to a 10 point lead and it looked like Milwaukee Bucks' all NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was about to take over, the Nets battled back and got within three at one point. This is the type of intensity the Nets will need, and more, if they are going to make the playoffs and win a game or two.
A potential playoff berth would be a new experience for this Nets team. In fact, meaningful basketball this late in the season is a new experience. But this is all part of general manager Sean Marks' and head coach Kenny Atkinson's master plan, to build a championship level program in Brooklyn.
2. Caris LeVert's aggressiveness
LeVert had his best game since coming back from injury. He scored 24 points on 15 shots, handed out 6 assists, and grabbed 4 rebounds. He was aggressive in his drives to the paint, something we mentioned after Saturday's game against Boston. He was confident in his shot, he made 4-8 from three. He got his hands on loose balls defensively and he showed playmaking ability and the return of the two man game with Jarrett Allen.
The Nets are 39-39, they are currently the #7 seed in the playoffs. They are a half game behind the Pistons and a half game ahead of Miami. With four games remaining, (Raptors, Bucks, Pacers and Heat) they will likely need to go 2-2 to feel comfortable in securing that playoff berth. LeVert will have to play like he did Monday night, which was what he looked like early in the season before the injury.
It was always going to take a while for LeVert to regain his rhythm and timing. Maybe Monday night was the breakout and signs of things to come.
Atkinson spoke about LeVert in his postgame media session.
3. Eric Bledsoe vs. D'Angelo Russell
In what appears to be a matchup that both guys take personally, Bledsoe finished with 29 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and the win to Russell's 28 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and a loss. Russell was named as an all-star replacement in February. A spot Bledsoe believes, he should have deserved more consideration for. Either way, it feels that when these two have matched up this season, there is a bit of extra juice.
During one point in the game Russell scored on Bledsoe and let him know about it, typical hoops type competition. There were a few plays defensively when Bled really got into Russell and on offense really attacked him downhill.
Bledsoe was the far more efficient player Monday night, needing only 19 shots to score his 29 points. Russell needed 27 shots to score 28 and turned the ball over six times.
Russell's efficiency has dropped of late. For the month of March he shot just 41% from the floor and 32% from three. This could be the byproduct of a number of factors, including: defenses keying in on him, fatigue, and lineup fluctuations. Whatever the reason, he will need to elevate his play down the stretch and in the playoffs. Again, this is uncharted territory for Russell and the Nets. Progress isn't always linear.
Following the game Bledsoe talked about going up against Russell, he told Black Sports Online that it isn't personal and he (Bledsoe) has played well all season, not just against Russell and the Nets.
4. Foul hunting on pick and rolls
Late in the fourth quarter with the game still yet to be decided it looked as though the Nets were hunting fouls on pick and rolls. Specifically Russell, coming off screens. No doubt there was contact on many of the plays as there always is in the NBA. Players try to show officials that they are indeed fouled and hope to get favorable whistles. In a tight game, free points without the clock moving are critical.
The Nets as a team have not quite mastered that subtle art as well as some other teams have in the league. Russell is certainly not as skilled in the arts as say, James Harden.
In his postgame media availability, Kenny Atkinson talked about the challenge of getting officials to see contact around screens in the NBA.
5. Mike Budenholzer
At 58-20 the Bucks have the best record in the NBA. They are the #3 team in offensive rating (113.5), #1 in defensive rating (104.5), and #1 in net rating (9.0). They have the presumptive league MVP or runner-up in Giannis Antetokounmpo. All signs this season have suggested the Bucks are an NBA Finals caliber team. That is due in large part to the presence of head coach Mike "Bud" Budenholzer.
Bud was most recently the head coach in Atlanta where he guided the Hawks to the playoffs in four of his five seasons at the helm. When he arrived in Milwaukee the consensus among the basketball media was that he would be able to get more out of this talented Bucks roster than Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty were able to. So far, so good. Bud's 5 out offense has unlocked Giannis into a terror that is dominating the league on both ends, and they appear to have very little weaknesses as a squad.
Of course with only a few games remaining in the season. The real test will begin in the postseason. Being the #1 seed and best team in the regular season doesn't guarantee success in the playoffs. During Bud's second season in Atlanta they won 60 games and were the #1 seed in the conference. They lost in the conference finals.
Still in all, Bud is an excellent coach and has a temperament that suggests he learns from previous disappointments and he has this Bucks team ready for a deep playoff run.
Before the game in his media availability, Bud talked about the balance between playing well heading into the postseason and rest, as well as the injuries the team has suffered the last few weeks.
Five Thoughts From The Nets' 110-96 Win Over The Celtics, Including D'Angelo "Ice in My Veins" Russell (Video)Read Now
The Brooklyn Nets secured a much needed win over the Boston Celtics at the Barclays Center on Saturday night, as they push towards the playoffs. Here are some thoughts.
1. D'Angelo Russel's third quarter
DLo finished the game with 29 points, 10 assists and was a +24. He scored 20 of those points in the third quarter, where the Nets pushed their lead. He scored in a variety of ways, threes, floaters, and layups. DLo has been the bellwether for this team. When he has good games and is efficient scoring the ball, the Nets usually win. He was electric in the third, with the help of an attacking Caris LeVert (more on him later) and that was the deciding quarter. He almost matched the Celtics in scoring for the quarter, as they only scored 22 points. The lead never got below double digits.
DLo talked to the YES Network's Michael Grady following the game.
2. Nets' defense
It was much better on Saturday night than it had been on their recent 2-5 road trip. Brooklyn held the Celtics to 96 points on 42% shooting. In the deciding third quarter, the Celtics shot 38% and turned the ball over six times. To be fair, this was the second night of a back to back for the Celtics, and they were without their best player, Kyrie Irving, and Al Horford. Still in all, a win is a win. The Nets clamped down defensively, especially in the third, but it really began with increased effort in the second quarter.
Brooklyn grabbed 35 defensive rebounds, 72% of what was available in the game. They closed out possessions well and limited second chance opportunities.
3. Caris LeVert's rim attacks
It wasn't a particularly stellar stat line for LeVert. He finished with 15 points on 5-13 from the floor, and he was a -7. His shot distribution is what was interesting. Of his 13 shots, 9 were inside the free throw line, with the remaining 4 shots from three. LeVert has been uneven in his play, since returning from injury just before the all-star break. But, that was expected. His timing and rhythm are off and likely won't return until next season. Unfortunate, as he emerged as a real go to guy, earlier in the season.
Regardless, LeVert's attacks put pressure on the defense all night and he was able to draw three fouls with his drives. His ability to do that in the playoffs and convert at a higher clip will be critical not only to his development, but the team's overall growth, as they hope to make the playoffs.
4. Playoff mode activated
The Nets have five games remaining on their schedule, and to be safe they are likely going to need to win at least two of the next five. That would give them a .500 record for the season. That won't be easy. Two of the five are against the east leading Bucks, one against the Raptors, one against the Pacers, and a final game against the #8 seed Heat. All playoff teams, who besides the Bucks and Raptors, are still battling for seeding.
This is uncharted territory for Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson and his players. But their fate lie in their own hands. If they win, they're in. That makes it pretty simple.
Atkinson talked about the team's position pregame.
5. Nets' bench celebrations remain the best
This Nets team has been pulling for each other all season long. When you're in the arena at the games, you can feel the joy and energy from the guys on the bench as they support the players on the floor. Theo Pinson is the leader of the bench mob celebrations.
During DLo's hot third quarter, the bench players couldn't contain themselves. It may seem like a small thing, but team chemistry on a squad with no playoff experience, trying to make the playoffs, is huge.
Russell went from potential first-round bust to All-Star on a playoff team
"I've seen a lot of growth, really in all areas. Maybe the most important area, is as a team leader ... that said, the point guard is always going to have the most complex job of ball distribution, mixing in an aggressive attack, to score and set up playmaking opportunities. There's real nuance to all that stuff. But he's smart. He wants it, and I've really loved how he's played. He gets a little better every day."
Those were the words of Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle at the beginning of the season about his then-starting point guard, Dennis Smith Jr.
A lot has happened since then: uneven play from Smith, some immaturity, and the emergence of a rookie named Luka Doncic. Fast forward to today and Smith is now a member of the Knicks, on a completely gutted roster (or a young rebuilding one, at least) looking to find stable footing and develop into the player many thought he could be when Dallas selected him No. 9 overall in the 2017 draft.
But for Smith and the Knicks to be hopeful, they needn't look any farther than across the Brooklyn Bridge at the development of D'Angelo Russell.
NBA fans know the story. In 2015, Russell was drafted No. 2 overall by the Lakers, who saw Russell as a player with "star" potential that could help usher in their next period of glory during life after Kobe. But it was never meant to be. Russell never got the opportunity to be "mentored" by Bryant. Then there was the "Snapchat incident" -- but that terrible lapse in judgment, poor play, immaturity and the drafting of Lonzo Ball led to Russell's 2017 draft day deal to the Nets.
Now Russell is an All-Star and it's safe to assume the Lakers wouldn't mind having this version of him right now. Such is the plight of young point guards in a dynamic NBA, where we want immediate results.
Like Doc Rivers recently told the NY Post of Russell: "Sometimes, you've just got to wait on a kid."
But for the Knicks, the development of Russell at least shows what they could have in Smith.
Most point guards don't fully develop until the age of 22 or 23, or their third or fourth season in the league. Looking at both Smith and Russell's rookie years, there are some similarities (Smith's rookie numbers also compare favorably with another athletic point guard and former league MVP in Oklahoma City)
Even though their games aren't carbon copies, Smith would do well using Russell as a blueprint. Both players are good at reading their defender in ball screen and pick-and-roll action; the 6-foot-5 Russell is very good at it. Smith, standing at 6-foot-3, would do well studying that part of his game.
Imagine advanced-level ball screen and pick-and-roll skills coupled with pure athleticism?
In terms of personality, there are some similarities, too. As rookies, both could be described as headstrong point guards with something to prove. Russell, though still out to prove his doubters wrong, has developed a calmness. Yes, part of it is maturity. But, it's also the situation he's in and the relationship he has with his head coach, Kenny Atkinson.
Roadmap to Success
Year one in Brooklyn was a bit rocky for Russell, but before it was derailed with an injury, he was starting to get it. Russell was averaging career-highs in points per game (15) and assists per game (5.2). His per 36 numbers were great at 21.7 ppg and 7.3 apg. He began developing a relationship with Atkinson and the seeds of trust were planted.
In year two, now his fourth season in the league, Russell is an All-Star. The presence of veteran leaders like DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, and Shabazz Napier have all helped with the young point guard's development and maturity. He is averaging career highs across the board: 20.4 ppg, 6.8 apg on 36 percent shooting from three.
He also has the highest usage rate of his career at 31 percent. During a rough stretch for the Nets in late November and early December, Russell was in a slump and being pulled in and out of the lineup during crunch time because of ineffective play. During a players' only film session, Russell sought help from his veteran teammates, asking "What am I doing wrong? How can I be better?"
The result was improved play from the young point guard, including the best month (January) of his professional career, and the team recording an 11-4 record and establishing themselves in the playoff race.
Self-awareness is among the most important skills any person can possess. In that moment of poor play, Russell humbled himself and asked for help. He wanted to be better, but not just for himself.
The NBA is made up of approximately 470 players. The ego and bravado that exists is overwhelming. Rightfully so. You have to be extremely good at basketball to make it in this league. Humility is not an easy virtue for this level of professionals.
Russell credits Atkinson and the situation in Brooklyn for his success. At his All-Star media availability in Charlotte when asked about working with Atkinson he said: "He's been great. He's gotten better as well. I think just with the youth that we have on the coaching staff and as players, we're all getting better together. It's a good feeling."
There is a trust that has developed between the two and it has unlocked freedom for Russell.
If Smith can develop a bond with head coach David Fizdale, the sky's the limit for him. For his part, Fizdale wants that for Smith.
"I want to put the ball in his hands a lot and get him out in the open court and get him a lot of space. Give him some freedom to make some mistakes and while he's learning," Fizdale told ESPN of Smith, adding, "But man, there's no doubt about it. The kid's a talent and hopefully we can bring it out consistently."
The Challenge of Staying the Course
The NBA, much like society, is about immediate gratification. We need results now. General managers, coaches and players are seemingly judged game to game. But development, growth and improvement are not linear. It's not true in life, why should sports be any different?
There are ups and downs, and maximizing potential in the NBA is all about fit and situation. For the elite talent within the league, they will thrive and grow into their talent regardless of where they are. But for the other 99 percent, it is incumbent upon organizations to have a plan, a roadmap, and stick to their core principles (of course leaving room for some flexibility). Giving up a year or two in for the next shiny, new prospect or idea is generally bad for business.
In Brooklyn, the Nets clearly have a plan and it looks to be with Russell as a cornerstone of said plan. Can the same be said of the New York Knicks? We'll wait and see what the plan is for Smith Jr.
The Nets defeated the Pistons 103-75 on Monday night in Barclays Center in a "must-win" game. Brooklyn is now a half-game ahead of Detroit for the 6th seed in the eastern conference playoffs. Here are five thoughts from the Nets' dominating win.
1. Playoff atmosphere at Barclays
We are just about at mid-March and there is meaningful basketball being played at Barclays Center, and we're not talking about college basketball tournaments. The Nets are in the thick of a playoff race. They along with the Pistons, Heat, even the Magic and Hornets are all battling for the last three spots in the eastern conference playoffs.
All season long the Nets crowd has been, meh. When the heavyweight teams and superstar players are in town, the arena is full. But the crowd is mostly cheering for the opposition. As the season has gone on, it has gotten incrementally better, but still a far cry from a true home crowd.
Monday night was different. The arena was pretty close to capacity, and they were well aware of the significance of the game. Now, the game eventually ended up being a blowout. But the crowd was loud and passionate early on. This is the kind of crowd the Nets will need for their remaining home games in the regular season and it will need to go up a level for the playoffs, if they make it.
Take a look at the atmosphere last night.
Courtesy of Nets Daily's Bryan Fonseca.
2. 34-16 second quarter
Monday night was one of "those nights" for the Nets. They came out of the locker room with the requisite energy, focus, and commitment to the game plan. After one quarter they led, 27-19 and at halftime, it was 61-35. Brooklyn opened up the floodgates with a dominating second quarter.
They hounded the Pistons on defense, limiting them to 4 made shots in the quarter (4-20). It's true, the Pistons were on a back to back, but they are in this playoff battle as well and the Nets just took it to them. Spencer Dinwiddie and Rodions Kurucs (17 points) outscored the entire Pistons team in that quarter.
3. Meek Mill in the house
Not only was the crowd playoff-like on Monday night. The celebrity factor was up a notch as well. The Barclays Center has had all sorts of well-known celebrities from the worlds of pop culture, politics, and sports in attendance this season. But, they are often a step below their neighbors across the river at Madison Square Garden.
Hip Hop star and criminal justice reform activist, Meek Mill raised the quotient a bit with his appearance on Monday night.
4. 7 game road trip
At OKC, at Utah, at LAC, at SAC, at LAL, at POR, at PHI. Those are the next seven games for the Nets. With the exception of the Lakers and Kings, every team is in the playoff picture. The Lakers still have LeBron James and the Kings were in the playoff race as recently as a week ago.
A 2-5 record at the end of this road trip will not be good. The Nets need to find a way to finish this trip with their total record no worse than .500. That means a 4-3 record on this very difficult road trip. They are certainly capable and it will start with beating the Lakers, Kings, and Clippers. The latter of which won't be easy. Then between the Thunder, Jazz, Trail Blazers and 76ers, they'll need to find another win. This is what it takes to make the playoffs in a tough league.
5. Kenny Atkinson and D'Angelo Russell
The connection between the head coach and point guard is often dissected and put under a microscope. Coaches are often most hard on point guards as they are their natural extension on the court. The point guard or lead ball handler is tasked with setting up the offense and making sure players are where they are supposed to be. Decision making is of paramount importance. When to push the tempo, when to dial back, finding the right guy, finding someone who hasn't had a touch in a few possessions. It's a balance and the hardest position to play in the league.
Atkinson and Russell have developed a great relationship over their two years together in Brooklyn. We've detailed how it hasn't always gone smoothly. What relationship does? But they are at a stage now where trust is developed and both men understand what is necessary for team success, which is the ultimate goal.
Following the game both talked about the win against Detroit, what they have in front of them on the upcoming road trip, and the playoffs.
Nets Pull Away in The 4th To Beat The Cavaliers, But They Are Walking a Thin Line in Their Playoff Push (Video)Read Now
The Nets defeated the Cavaliers at Barclays Center on Wednesday night, 113-107. The win pushed the Nets record to 34-33, and with 15 games remaining in the regular season, they are currently the #7 seed in the eastern conference playoff picture. Taking a macro view, that’s a pretty good position to be in for Brooklyn. They began the season with faint hopes of making the playoffs, but then something happened. After a gutwrenching losing streak in November, and losing breakout star Caris LeVert to injury that same month, the team found its identity. Led by first-time all-star D’Angelo Russell, the team ripped off a 20-7 record immediately following that late November into early December 8-game losing streak. That run vaulted them into playoff contention and the talk of a playoff push started bubbling in and around Brooklyn.
Since that 20-7 run, the team has played below .500 ball (6-8). Part of that was due to the mounting injuries to an already thin roster. LeVert was out for the majority of the season (returned Feb. 8). Spencer Dinwiddie had thumb surgery in January and missed several weeks, only returning last Friday, March 1st. Now that the team is back to full strength, there are some kinks to work out on the floor.
Basketball is a game of rhythm. When teams are playing well it’s because they are connected on the defensive end and offensively, there is a fulcrum that everyone else plays off. In other words, roles are defined and everyone operates within their roles as a cohesive unit. For much of the Nets good play this season, Russell was that fulcrum. Particularly when LeVert and Dinwiddie were out. But they are back now and trying to get reacclimated for this stretch run.
In the last two games, head coach Kenny Atkinson moved LeVert to the bench, opting to go with veteran Allen Crabbe and more shooting around Russell. Small sample size, but the Nets are 2-0 in those games. Keeping LeVert on the bench to start the game has allowed the second unit to have two downhill, attacking ball handlers (Dinwiddie) with shooting around them to help space the floor. It was a gutsy move by Atkinson, but one that had to be done. At this late stage of the season, the Nets don’t have the luxury of a full slate of games to work this out. They need to keep winning games, ahead of a brutal 7 game road trip that begins on March 13th in Oklahoma City.
Last night’s win did have some troubling signs for the Nets. After a solid first quarter that saw them go up by 11, the Nets allowed the lowly Cavaliers (16-49) to get back within 5 points at halftime. Coming out for the third quarter, the Nets defense was leaky, they gave up 35 points and were outscored by 10. In a game they should have put away early, the Nets let the Cavaliers hang around and gain confidence. Brooklyn ultimately pulled out the win, but this type of uneven play is a little cause for concern.
Atkinson and any coach will tell you, there are no easy wins in the NBA. They are right. But, there are games that certain teams should win. If the Nets fancy themselves a playoff team, they cannot lose games to teams behind them in the standings, like the Cavaliers or the Washington Wizards last week. They just can’t. Atkinson and GM Sean Marks often talk about the program and culture they are building in Brooklyn, how it’s a process and they are creating for the long term. Part of that process is the players understanding and learning the levels of winning basketball in the NBA.
For this collection of players, this is all new territory. Playing games this late in the season, that matter, and have real stakes is brand new. That’s a difficult adjustment, given the rigors and grind of a long NBA season. In years past, these players see vacation light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Of course, they prefer to be in the position they are in now, contending for the playoffs. But it’s still an adjustment, both physically and mentally. They are going to have to activate a level of intensity, they have yet to experience as a collective.
Brooklyn’s next two games are against the Hawks on the road Saturday, and back home for the Pistons on Monday. These are must-win games if the Nets are going to solidify their playoff standing. But they won’t be easy. The Hawks are not in the playoff race, but they are in many ways what the Nets were a season or two ago, but with higher upside. Atlanta is a young team with a possible future star in rookie Trae Young, GM Travis Schlenk and head coach Lloyd Pierce are developing infrastructure and a program to enable long term success. Despite their poor record, they are competing. They would like nothing more than to show they can beat a team like Brooklyn, that’s in the playoff race. The Nets have to start thinking and preparing for games and teams that will have that mindset. Brooklyn isn’t an upper echelon team, but there is an element now of them being the “hunted” rather than the “hunters”. With the Pistons, that’s the team directly above them in the standings (they are technically tied for 6th but Detroit has two games at hand), another “must win” for the Nets.
You could argue that the Nets are ahead of schedule but Marks, Atkinson, and the players would likely all disagree. Earning a playoff berth is critical for the success of this franchise. Cornerstone players like LeVert, Russell, Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and Rodions Kurucs all need to taste this level of competition for their personal development, as well as the team. These last 15 games will be the biggest test this collective franchise has faced in their short tenure, how they emerge will tell a lot about the future of the Brooklyn Nets.
Following Wednesday night’s win over the Cavaliers, D’Angelo Russell and Rodions Kurucs talked about the importance of the win and the team’s thoughts on making the playoffs.
Another Year, Another Set of Ridiculously Offensive Questions Being Asked At The NFL Scouting Combine. Are We Missing Something?Read Now
The racial power dynamics behind what is being said and who is saying it.
“When did you lose your virginity?"
“So, do you like men?”
“Do you find your mother attractive?”
“Is your mother a prostitute?”
“Would you use a gun or a knife [to murder someone]?"
“Do you have both of your testicles?”
These are just a small sampling of the questions asked over the past several years at the NFL Scouting Combine by team representatives to potential draftees. The latter of which was asked at this year’s Combine to former University of Texas CB Kris Boyd. To his credit, Boyd answered, “Yes. I don’t know why you got to ask.” That’s the question. Why do they have to ask?
On its surface, they are seemingly strange questions to ask during an extensive job interview process. You certainly couldn’t ask questions like that in the private sector to a prospective employee without facing a lawsuit. But most people chalk this bizarre line of questioning up to the culture and nature of football and the NFL.
The league’s most ardent defenders will tell you, owners are investing millions of dollars into their potential future employees. They need to discern how well these guys “think on their feet.” These “outside the box” questions will give teams as much insight as possible into the “character” and “make up” of these players. Are we sure? This line of questioning has been asked for years, yet the NFL still has issues with player conduct off the field. What are all these “smart men” in the front offices doing with the information they gather from these intensive sessions? It doesn’t seem like they’re doing much, beyond engaging in a practice and a power dynamic that goes back to the founding of this country.
Such is the plight of an NFL hopeful. Over several days potential draftees strip down to their underwear and are weighed, measured, poked, prodded and dissected. They do a series of agility, strength and general fitness tests as well. Team officials obsess over hand size, buttocks size, girth, speed and strength. Potential draftees also sit through a variety of intelligence tests like the Wonderlic and are then grilled individually during the team interviews. Does any part of that process sound familiar to you?
“The slaves remained at the race-course, some of them for more than a week and all of them for four days before the sale. They were brought in thus early that buyers who desired to inspect them might enjoy that privilege, although none of them were sold at private sale. For these preliminary days their shed was constantly visited by speculators. The negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to find how muscular they were, walking them up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in different ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture or wound; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions...” an account of “The Great Slave Auction” in 1859 as written in "Slave Auction, 1859", EyeWitness to History.
Yes, it’s true, these players trade on their body, so it makes sense that all of this physical info and data needs to be collected. But why the line of questioning that at its core reduces these players to something less than? To be fair, all players that attend the Combine are available to be asked these types of questions. No doubt, many non Black players have been asked unnecessary and ridiculous questions, yet none of them seem to be as outlandish, and visceral, as the questions that began this piece. For the record, those questions were all asked by players that identify as Black. According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), 70 percent of NFL players are Black. The Combine likely has a similar demographic breakdown. So, you do the math on who is subjected to the worse line of questioning.
If you listen, you can hear them. Those ardent NFL defenders. “These athletes make millions of dollars, so what if they have to answer weird questions! Nobody is forcing them to play football. If they don’t like it, they can do something else. They aren’t slaves. This isn’t slavery.” Agreed. It is certainly not slavery. Not in the 18th and 19th century image of slavery burned into our collective consciousness. But follow the lineage of the Black athlete from plantations, where sports were introduced, to sanctioned slave fighting, to boxing, and the crowning of the first Black heavyweight champion, the integration of baseball, all the way up to the present day.* Black bodies largely on display for public consumption. In her collection of essays titled The Black Interior, Elizabeth Alexander writes: “Black bodies in pain for public consumption have been an American national spectacle for centuries.”
There is something about young 20-something-year-old Black males being asked these questions by primarily white males who control their future earning potential that just doesn’t sit right. If it doesn’t bother you, it should. What exactly are we doing by essentially ignoring this type of behavior and allowing the NFL to conduct its business in this manner? Why are they allowed to get away with this behavior?
The easy and most obvious answer is, because they can. The power dynamics makes it clear. Both externally, through the league’s power and league media, and the internal process itself. For the majority of the young men at the Combine, playing professional football is not only a lifelong dream, but the only way they are presently equipped to earn a living. There aren’t many players at the Combine that are Rhodes or Fulbright Scholars. Very few had the ability to take advantage of the “free education” they were offered at the collegiate level. These young men are at the mercy of team executives because they need these jobs. There are very few players that would vehemently object to the line of questioning and walk out from the interview for the obvious fear of not being selected in the draft. So instead, these players are subject to the humiliation at the hands of mainly white team executives.
The idea that these types of questions are necessary is ludicrous. The NFL is a multibillion dollar business. If they truly wanted to ascertain how quickly players think on their feet, or test their emotional intelligence, and/or see how they respond to a hostile environment, they could hire any number of experts in the fields of cognitive behavior, personality, and psychological fields. But they don't. They allow amateurs in front offices to dehumanize these young men with abhorrent questions.
“Come on. This is the sensitive PC society America has turned into. Far worse things are said between players on the field.” Yes, on the field of play it is known that players say all sorts of wild, disgusting things to each other in the heat of battle. No argument here. But there is a key difference. That is on the field in a peer-to-peer situation. The Combine interview process is not that. It is ownership and team executives speaking to potential players. The power dynamics there is very different and heavily slanted to one side. There isn’t a whole lot these players can do without major repercussions. Why should they be subjected to that type of verbal assault during a job interview?
While the NFL Scouting Combine was going on, about 950 miles away in Boston, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was taking place. During one of the panels, Patrick Lucey, the vice president of artificial intelligence at STATS, said the following: “What we need to measure is athletes in the wild. We do it in the lab and the Combine, but what matters is how they play live.” An easy comment to let slip by without a second thought. To be fair, we can’t say Lucey had any underlying thoughts or beliefs to imply. But we must change the language we use when talking to and about athletes (primarily Black bodies) and sports. When you hear or read the phrase “in the wild,” what immediately comes to mind? Words are so powerful, and who is saying them matters. Regardless of their physical talent and feats of athletic prowess, they are human beings first.
This is not the first thinkpiece to compare the NFL Scouting Combine to a slave auction, and it most certainly won’t be the last. Noted author and journalist Matt Taibbi once referred to the process as having a “creepy slave-auction vibe and armies of drooling, flesh-peddling scouts.” But when the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine comes around and we hear about another set of dehumanizing, abhorrent line of questioning, we need to ask ourselves, “What are we doing? Is this necessary, all in the name of football?” If our collective response is to let it continue, then it is a clear reflection on who we are as a society.
*If you want a closer look at the connection, read legendary sports columnist and author William C. Rhoden’s seminal work “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.”
Five Thoughts From The Nets’ 127-88 Win Over The Mavericks, Including Luka Doncic’s Half Court Shot (Video)Read Now
Here are five thoughts from the Nets’ dominating 127-88 victory over the Mavericks on Monday night at the Barclays Center.
1. Caris LeVert did not start the game
Heading into Monday night’s game the Nets were on a three-game losing streak. The defense was poor, and offensively, the team’s rhythm was off. With fewer than 20 games remaining on the schedule, and a playoff berth at stake, the Nets coaching staff don’t have the luxury of letting things play out. So, for the first time since his return from injury, head coach Kenny Atkinson opted not to start Caris LeVert, putting Allen Crabbe in the starting rotation. This move should let Nets fans know, Atkinson is committed to getting this team to the playoffs and will do whatever it takes to win games.
This move is significant on a couple of levels. LeVert is one of his favorite and best players. Moving him to the bench could imply a loss of confidence in LeVert. Though that is clearly not the case. It also shows the commitment and buy-in the team has around the message Atkinson has been preaching since he became the head coach.
LeVert came off the bench and played 27 quality minutes, scored 18 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, dished out 5 assists, and was a +25 overall.
Being moved out of the starting lineup is not an easy thing for an athlete to handle. But the way Atkinson approached it and the way LeVert responded speaks to how good their relationship is, and the spirit of the team.
Following the game, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was asked about Atkinson and what he’s done so far during his tenure in Brooklyn, he said:
He’s one of the most respected coaches in our business because of the task that he undertook a few years ago which was a culture change and sort of a reinvention. Taking a lot of players that were sort of pushed aside by other teams. You look at what they’ve done with Dinwiddie and LeVert. Those guys had injury histories and stuff like that. They’ve gotten them healthy and they’ve turned them into high-level players. You go right on down the line. All their guys – Joe Harris. That’s another guy that was a little banged up after the draft. A lot of people thought he would be a depth player in this league – probably not a rotation player. Now he’s a starter. He’d be a player that most teams would covet. He’s so solid on both ends of the floor. There’s a bunch of guys that got like that. He’s done tremendous work here. He never changes his approach. He’s always positive. His sideline demeanor is energetic and reinforcing of the players. So they’ve got a really valuable piece of the puzzle in him.
That’s high praise from the Mavericks head coach and reinforces the decision Nets ownership and management made by bringing Atkinson in.
In his postgame media availability, Atkinson was asked about the lineup change and what he saw on the floor as a result.
2. Nets team defense was good
Brooklyn held Dallas to 35% shooting overall and 26% from three. Brooklyn’s rebounding rate, which had been subpar lately, was better Monday night and they owned the glass with 45 defensive rebounds. In their previous three games, particularly the two at home, the Nets defense was atrocious. They gave up 60+points in the first half twice and looked a step slow on rotations and were not fighting hard through screens. Tonight was a different story. They started the game with a defensive energy that had been missing the last three games. Couple that with shots going in on the offensive end and you have the team we saw for most of the season.
Coaches often talk about connectivity and being on a string when touting a team’s defensive abilities. That was evident on Monday night. The Nets will need a lot more games like that on the defensive end over the last five weeks of the season.
3. Nets scorching from three
Brooklyn made 17 3’s and shot 41% from deep. DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, and Rodions Kurucs were a combined 12-17 from deep. Every time they put one up it seemed like it would go in. That fueled the team on the floor and got the players on the bench and the crowd excited. It’s cliche, but the league is make or miss. It’s as simple as that. When shots are falling, everything looks good.
Kurucs was very good on Monday night. It was his best game in about a month. The rookie is adjusting to the rigors of an NBA schedule and fluctuating playing time. He understands that getting comfortable in this league is a process, but he’s very confident and spoke postgame about staying ready and the differences in playing the 3 and the 4.
4. Luka Doncic
This kid is the goods. Coming into the season he was projected by many (including the writer of this piece) to be the player most ready to contribute in the 2018 draft class and win rookie of the year. So far so good. He has a feel and understanding of the game very few have. Even fewer at his age. Monday night wasn’t his best performance. He finished with 16 points 6, rebounds, 1 assist and was largely inefficient. But you could see the way he reads the game, and his passing ability is next level. When he identifies a mismatch on a switch, there is nothing hurried about his move or motion. He gets into his stepback with ease and converts at a pretty good rate.
He isn’t perfect and there are areas where he can improve. His conditioning, and defensive effort to start. But the Mavericks have the cornerstone of their franchise in Doncic.
At the end of the first half, Doncic banked in a half-court shot. Take a look. Video courtesy of House of Highlights.
5. Dirk Nowitzki
Although he hasn’t officially announced it, this is likely Dirk Nowitzki’s final season in the NBA. The 20 year Dallas Mavericks veteran is a Hall of Famer and a legend. NBA champ, Finals MVP, league MVP, 14X all-star, 12x All NBA, the list goes on. He revolutionized the game and stretched the possibilities of what a power forward could do. A 7 footer who could shoot the three, and play in the post. The perfecter of the “stretch 4” in NBA parlance. You see elements of his game in many of today’s great players.
On Monday he appeared to be headed for a scoreless night, but the Brooklyn crowd urged him to keep shooting and erupted when he made a couple of baskets. It was a nice sendoff for one of the NBA’s greatest players.
Five Thoughts From The Nets' 123-112 Loss to The Hornets, Including Kemba Walker's Postgame Drip (Video)Read Now
Here are five thoughts from the Nets’ 123-112 loss to the Hornets at Barclays Center on Friday night.
1. The Nets are 4-6 in their last 10…
Losers of 4 of their last 5 at home and 2 in a row. No matter how you slice it, that’s not good. Including tonight against Miami, the Nets have 18 games remaining and will likely need to play at a 57-60% win rate to solidify their playoff berth. The Nets are currently the #6 seed, but only one game ahead of the #7 seed Pistons and two games ahead of the Hornets. The Magic and Heat – currently out of the playoffs – are within 1.5 games. It’s going to be a nailbiter for the Nets and their fans. Their final game of the season (April 10th) against the Heat, might be for a playoff berth.
Friday night’s loss to the Hornets was bad and with a quick turnaround in Miami on Saturday night, the Nets need to activate “playoff mode” now.
2. Jarrett Allen’s rebounding rate the last few games has been off
Allen is averaging 8.5 rebounds a game for the season which is pretty good for the second year player. But, in 23 minutes of action Friday night he only grabbed 2. Only 16 total rebounds in his last three games. Some of that was a function of his minutes and situations where rebounds were available. However, on a few key plays, he was outmuscled and rebounds were taken away from him. That can’t happen for the Nets, as every possession matters for this team right now.
For the season, Allen is just outside the top 25 in total rebound percentage, which is excellent. He grabs 17% of all available rebounds when he’s on the floor. For context, the league leader (Hassan Whiteside), grabs 25.9%. Allen’s teammate, Ed Davis, is #2 at just over 25%. As a team, the Nets are top 10 in the league in rebounding. An important stat when closing out possessions on defense and getting second chances on the offensive end. Allen will need to pick it up over the last 18 games to help keep the Nets in the playoff picture.
3. D’Angelo Russell has to be the bus driver
DLo finished with 22 points and 9 assists in Friday’s loss. He wasn’t very efficient, taking 24 shots to get his 22 points. But it appeared as though he was caught in between two roles during the game. Being an aggressive scorer on the one hand and a playmaker on the other. Of course, that is the conundrum for every point guard in the NBA. But, DLo seemed to be getting the hang of it during his spectacular play in January and the early part of February.
However, the return of Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie has seemingly complicated matters for him. DLo and the Nets are happy to have their full squad back, but it is taking some time to adjust. Unfortunately, with only 18 games remaining, there isn’t a lot of time to figure out chemistry and roles. This is the other part of injuries and re-entry into the lineup that is often overlooked.
Prior to their returns, the team was functioning well with DLo as the lead orchestrator and everyone else playing off him. LeVert and Dinwiddie will have to do that when they are on the court together. Obviously, LeVert and Dinwiddie are special with the ball in their hands, but they are better off the ball (especially LeVert) than Russell. Head coach Kenny Atkinson will have to work on different ways to keep LeVert and Dinwiddie active off the ball while allowing DLo to drive the bus and let the others play off him.
4. Inability to stop dribble penetration
As a whole, the Nets defense was atrocious on Friday. They gave up 68 points in the first half. Regardless of the issues on offense, they scored 112 points, the defense is the immediate area of concern. That’s two games in a row, the Nets have given up 68 points in the first half. Again, not to beat a dead horse, this is the wrong time of the season to be trending this direction.
Friday’s problems seemed to be with dribble penetration. Hornets’ all-star Kemba Walker got past his man at will. To be fair, Kemba does that to everyone. But, Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, and Tony Parker all lived in the paint. The stress that dribble penetration put on the defense manifested in slow rotations and easy shots at the rim for Hornets’ big man Frank Kaminsky, who finished with 15 points.
Following the game Nets’ head coach Kenny Atkinson talked about the team’s loss and their struggles on defense.
5. The Hornets’ “others”
Kemba Walker gets top billing, and rightfully so. He was good Friday night. He finished with 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals. But it was the Hornets’ “others”, as TNT analyst and Basketball Hall of Famer Shaq calls non-stars, who made the difference on Friday night. This was a “must win” game for the Hornets as they are holding on to that #8 seed. They came into the game with a playoff-type intensity and attitude that the Nets were unable to match.
Nicolas Batum had 17 points, Jeremy Lamb came off the bench with 22, and Frank Kaminsky had 15. A collective effort is what the Hornets know they’ll need to make the postseason.
Following the game, Batum and Lamb talked about their focus and how they have to help Walker in order to clinch a playoff berth.
Kemba Walker also talked postgame. Check out that drip!
Here are five thoughts from the Nets' loss to the Wizards on Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
1. A disappointing effort with this much on the line
The Nets jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and looked like the superior squad to the below .500 Wizards. Things went back and forth and the Wizards took an eight-point lead into halftime. Then came the third quarter...
Brooklyn was outscored 33-19. Washington beat them to every loose ball, was more physical on the boards and frankly, looked like the hungrier team. This was disappointing from Brooklyn's perspective. With 19 games remaining in the regular season, the Nets are the currently the #6 seed. But, they are only 1.5 games ahead of the Pistons and 3 games ahead of the Hornets. Given their difficult remaining schedule, the Nets can't afford to lose home games to teams behind them in the standings.
Regardless of how it all ends, this has been a successful season for the Nets. Nobody predicted a potential playoff run. Now that they are close, it would be a disappointment if they don't make it. But, as mentioned before in these postgame pieces, there are levels to winning in the NBA. This is the first time this collection of players are playing games that matter this late into the season. There are teams that want to spoil the Nets run and solidify their own playoff seeding. Winning games when you have to is different than winning when no one expects.
Following the game Nets' head coach, Kenny Atkinson talked about his team's effort.
2. Caris LeVert's offense will take time before it's back to pre-injury level
LeVert finished with 0 points in 20 minutes of action on Wednesday night. This was the first time LeVert had been held scoreless in a game since January 2, 2017, his rookie season. The Wizards played pretty solid defense on him, but he missed a few shots at the rim after beating his defender off the dribble.
His timing appears to be off on his rim attacks and his shot. He will have games, like Monday evening against San Antonio, where he looks like the Caris of old. But it will take him some time to be consistent. The challenging part for the Nets is, they will need him to play well over these next 19 games to put a stranglehold on a playoff berth.
The good news is, Caris is playing well defensively and not forcing anything on the offensive end. He and D'Angelo Russell are building their on-court chemistry, hopefully, it will be in time for the squad's first playoff appearance.
Atkinson talked about LeVert's struggles and what can be done.
3. D'Angelo Russell's ceiling as a player
Russell was the lone bright spot on Wednesday night for the Nets. He finished with 28 points, 7 assists and was 9-10 from the free throw line. He was an all-star for the first time this year and is blossoming into the player many thought he could be when the Lakers drafted him #2 overall in 2015. He is averaging career highs across the board in all the major categories in this his fourth season. The Nets have a difficult decision to make at the end of the season, Russell is a restricted free agent and will command a maximum deal, whether the Nets believe it or not. The question is what do Nets management and staff see as Russell's ceiling?
In many ways, he is a polarizing figure. His supporters will point to the fact that he is an all-star and his numbers at this age compare favorably with future Hall of Fame guards, Stephen Curry and James Harden. His detractors will say he was an injury-replacement to the all-star team this year, and while he's putting up career numbers he isn't a plus athlete or a plus defender. His ability to get separation is often predicated on the help of a teammates screen.
The reality is, we don't know what the ceiling is for Russell. But the Nets have to predict the future when making their offer to him this summer. A Harden/Curry ceiling may be overstating his case but maybe Mike Conley or Jrue Holiday are fair comps. Either way, it will be an interesting summer of negotiations.
4. Spencer Dinwiddie's return to the court is likely soon
It looks like Spencer Dinwiddie's return to the court will happen soon. Dinwiddie was on the court prior to Wednesday night's game putting up shots.
*Video courtesy of Bryan Fonseca of Nets Daily
Dinwiddie hasn't been cleared for full contact and scrimmaging yet, but it looks like that will be any day now. The return of Dinwiddie after thumb surgery will be a welcome boost for the Nets down the stretch. His shooting and penetration abilities were sorely missed. His return will also allow Atkinson to settle his rotations. Like LeVert though, it will take Dinwiddie some time to get his rhythm back.
5. Nets being sued by Coogi for Biggie jerseys
Coogi, the Australian fashion brand made popular in the United States by the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G. is suing the Nets. The lawsuit is over the Nets' city edition jerseys that honor the Brooklyn rapper. The trim on the uniforms is reminiscent of the Coogi patterns.
Coogi asserts the Nets did not receive proper authorization to use their pattern and is now taking legal action against them, as well as the NBA, Nike, New Era, and Russell Brands for merchandise with the pattern.
Five Thoughts From The Nets' 101-85 Win Over The Spurs, Including a Three Point Barrage & The Lighter Side of Gregg Popovich (Video)Read Now
Here are five thoughts from the Nets' 101-85 win over the Spurs at The Barclays Center Monday night.
1. Nets started the week off right
We've discussed the monster of a schedule the Nets have coming up in March. Monday night was the start of a brief three-game homestand. The Nets are currently the #6 seed in the playoff race, but only 3.5 games separate them from the Orlando Magic, who are out of the playoffs. It is important that the Nets "bank" as many home games as possible since they will be on the road for the majority of March.
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson talked about the importance of playing well at home in his pregame comments.
Following the game, Caris LeVert echoed Kenny's sentiments.
Monday night's win over the Spurs was an excellent start to the week. They were physical on defense and shot the ball well from three. Though the Spurs are sputtering of late, 1-7 in their last 8 games, it's still a Gregg Popovich coached team. After getting blown out by the Knicks on Sunday night, it would stand to reason that the Spurs would be better. But the Nets took it to them and really broke the game open in the second quarter. Speaking of...
2. Caris LeVert's 12-point second quarter run
Monday night was the best Caris has looked since his return to the lineup from injury. He finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists. But it was a personal 12-2 run in the second quarter that helped push the Nets' lead to 14 at halftime.
Caris was aggressive going downhill, finishing at the rim, his floater looked good and he hit a couple threes. The biggest sign that Caris is "back" is the fearlessness and relentless energy in his attack. The rhythm and timing on his jump shot will come with time. The other important thing is he and D'Angelo Russell appear to be developing their on-court chemistry. Remember, these two haven't logged a lot of on-court minutes together. DLo was hurt last season and Caris was hurt for the majority of this season.
Following the game, Caris talked about the team win.
3. Nets blitzed the Spurs from the three-point line
Brooklyn made 19 threes to only 4 for San Antonio. That's a recipe for a blowout. Joe Harris and DLo each connected on five from deep. Defensively, the Nets ran the Spurs off the three-point line and closed out to shooters very well. That defensive strategy means the Spurs would take more midrange shots which they are pretty good at converting.
4. The King and Crown Prince of the midrange
DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge take the most shots in the league in the midrange. Both were efficient last night finishing with 23 points (9-14) and 26 points (12-21) respectively. In a league that prioritizes the three, these two and the Spurs as a whole are a throwback. Despite playing that "old school" type of basketball, the Spurs have an offensive rating of 112.1. That's good enough for #7 in the league.
That's the Spurs. They often zig when the league zags, and that's due in large part to their Hall of Fame coach, Gregg Popovich.
5. Gregg Popovich
5X champion, 3X coach of the year, and 22 seasons at the helm of the San Antonio Spurs. Pop has built a legendary career and has coached some of the best players this league has ever seen. He is no doubt in the twilight of his career, but he's still a competitor and enjoys the nuances and the beauty of the game.
Prior to Monday's game against the Nets, Pop held court with the assembled media and waxed poetically on a variety of topics. His team's offense and defense, the men's national team, his coaching tree, Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson. Pop also has a funny interaction with yours truly. Enjoy!