Category Archives: Reminiscing

LeBron James and the Heat look young again while I age myself

Sometimes aging is smooth and graceful, like realizing I’m only 24 and have plenty of life left in me. Other times it’s a rude awakening, like stressing out over crazy things like responsibilities while being reminded of more enjoyable times, like the first time I watched a basketball team chasing a three-peat make their stop in Minneapolis.

There’s very little I remember about the time the 1998 Bulls came to Minnesota, likely because I was playing basketball with a five-foot hoop, one with an oval-shaped cardboard backboard and an Orlando Magic logo slapped on it my dad squeezed into the basement a couple years earlier. The space to chuck bricks at it to the point it looked like I was trying to mash a hole was something like 10 feet wide and 15 feet long. To the left of the hoop were the house’s furnace and firewood which represented out of bounds along with wherever the carpet near it ended. The right right side of the basement featured a couple steps leading to a worn out couch and a television I watched basketball from when I wasn’t bouncing off the walls with energy, which was basically never.  

That’s probably why I remember very little from that game 16 years ago between the Bulls and Timberwolves. Outside of watching basketball, roughly 99% of my freezing Minnesota winters from 1996 to 1999 – first grade through fourth for me – were spent shooting hoops in the basement or playing NBA Live 95, 97, or 98 after school. Having the flu didn’t stop me from any of those hobbies, and especially not after Michael Jordan’s ‘Flu Game’ during the ’97 Finals. I still remember the times I labored from my bed to the basement, humming the theme song of NBA on NBC only for my legs to feel like Jell-O a few minutes later. It was never a good idea to create my own flu game, but I couldn’t help it.

The little I remember from the time the Timberwolves beat the Bulls, though, like Stephon Marbury celebrating by heaving the ball into the stands, will stick with me for as long as I’ll live. Marbury and the fans acted like they won the NBA Finals that night, but I can’t blame them. After that game, Eight-Year-Old Me thought Minnesota escaped the cellar of the West for good and became a contender.

Here are some highlights of that game:

Even though this season’s Wolves and the one of ’98 were looking to put years of rebuilding behind them, not much was alike in regards to what actually happened during their games. The crowd last night was mostly dead and so was I. The gravitational pull of recliner left me with no urge whatsoever to stand up and pass time between dull moments by exercising. I chose instead to stare blankly at what appeared to be a payment plan for college loans, while other times I scrolled Twitter and online discussion forums about visual snow. It even took me midway through the second quarter to realize the last time I saw Minnesota host a team chasing its third championship was when I was four feet tall. In 2002 I was glued to the PlayStation 2 when the Lakers paid themselves a visit, and I was playing online poker both times the 2011 Lakers won at the Target Center.

Like the enthusiasm, the result of the game wasn’t close to what it was like in ’98. A youthful Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury had the luck of playing a Bulls squad missing Scottie Pippen while last night’s Heat were at full strength and Minnesota was missing Kevin Love. If that sounds like a recipe for a blowout, you would be right. LeBron and Dwyane Wade ended the Heat’s two-game losing streak by doing LeBron and Wade things. After their 21-point victory, Wade video bombed LeBron, giving an accurate summary of the game:

That’s what I’ll remember most about last night. Neither lasting memory from the Timberwolves playing host to the ’98 Bulls or ’14 Heat were highlights from the actual games.

After watching Stephon Marbury celebrate Minnesota’s victory over Chicago by heaving the ball into the stands, I celebrated by shooting hoops in my basement and pretended I was Kevin Garnett with my newfound energy, banging a ball against my head and pretending to be a seven-foot freak of nature. 16 years later, 24 Year-Old Me lounged in the recliner long after the Heat mopped the floor with the Love-less Timberwolves. The time I should’ve spent trying to get back into shape, or anything really, was instead wasted wondering if Wade would ever videobomb LeBron while dressed as an elf. I dozed off shortly after, waking up four hours later and tweeting in my foggy, half-asleep daze about the need for an all-you-can-eat French fry buffet.

For more Timberwolves memories, check this out.

Fantasy basketball history: The Most Improved Players

Last week, I wrote about MVPs in the NBA normally not being the best in fantasy basketball. A couple questions popped into my head while writing that piece:

  1. Which players in fantasy basketball were one-hit wonders?
  2. What about breakout seasons, much like contract years in the real NBA?

Introducing, fantasy basketball’s most improved players! It was yet another excuse to reminisce about the recent history of the NBA and the players I grew up watching. I found 15 players — one for each season since 1998 — who may have swung the fortunes of their fantasy basketball owners.

Each player is also linked back to RotoMonster where their fantasy basketball rankings came from. It’s a neat site, one I’ve used for my most recent fantasy basketball postings.

Onto this list though. Let the reminiscing begin:

1998: Wesley Person, Cleveland Cavaliers

8-cat ranking: 16

9-cat ranking: 6

As I said in my post about the 1994 NBA Draft, I thought it was so cool his last name was actually ‘Person’.

With his 192 three-pointers, Wesley Person was the most valuable three-point shooter in ’98 ahead of Reggie Miller and Glen Rice, among others. He also became a nice source of steals. Outside of those two categories, Person didn’t do anything too good or bad. He was a steady all-around player that nearly ascended to the top of the fantasy basketball world, all while being a teammate to the immortal Shawn Kemp.

1999: ???

I actually skipped this season because, well, it sucked.

2000: Michael Dickerson, Vancouver Grizzlies

8-cats: 34

9-cats: 27

Michael Dickerson’s one of a handful of players in the early 2000s I hated to see their career cut short due to injury. I still have a page on my bedroom wall from the March 2001 issue of NBA Inside Stuff where veterans and coaches talked about up and coming players from that time. In particular, Derek Anderson talked about Dickerson:

“The most underrated guy in the league. I think he’s sort of like Clyde Drexler. He’s one of those guys who scores, does it all, plays hard and just wants to get a win. You can tell he’s come from a good, solid program. He’s just been in a situation where they’re not winning. But he still plays hard on both ends.”

Unfortunately, groin and sports hernia injuries forced him into an early retirement. 2000 was his best season overall when he played all 82 games and was a nice source of points, threes, and free throws for fantasy basketball owners. He wasn’t too damaging in any other category.

I’ll always remember Dickerson as an Arizona Wildcat. The same goes for Miles Simon. I’ve come to despise college basketball, but I’ll never forget when those two guys won an NCAA title in 1997.

2001: Antoine Walker, Boston Celtics 

8-cats: 5

9-cats: 13

Antoine Walker was actually a decent guy to draft in the 8-category leagues since turnovers don’t count, and he turned it over a ton, making his rankings between the 8 and 9-cats pretty drastic. Walker was also major minuses in field goal percentage and free throw percentage over the years.

In 2001, though, Walker became an unusual source of assists and steals for power forwards. He also exploded in three-pointers, becoming the most valuable player for that category ahead of Ray Allen (2001’s best overall player in both leagues) and Dirk Nowitzki. Top it off with taking less free throws, an element in the game he often struggled with, and Walker had a career fantasy year.

But it wasn’t enough for Walker to make an All-NBA Team. He actually never made one his entire career. Things happen when you start your career nearly the same time as Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett while playing at a loaded position in general.

2002: Michael Jordan, Washington Wizards  

8-cats: 92

9-cats: 107

This is a reverse one-hit wonder, if anything. 2002 was actually the only time Michael Jordan played more than 50 games and finished outside the top 100 in either fantasy basketball league.

Since this was when he was a Wizard, let’s pretend this never happened. It’s much more fun to look at the 10 seasons Jordan went either first or second in fantasy basketball.

2003: Eric Snow, Philadelphia 76ers

8-cats: 32

9-cats: 36

Most categories for Eric Snow emit light red on RotoMonster, which explains why he finished out of the top 100 nine out of his 13 seasons. He was often a nice source of assists and steals though. In 2003, free throw percentage was thrown into the positives he gave fantasy basketball teams, shooting nearly 86 percent on 4.6 attempts per game. He was also a not-so-bad point-producer, which was nice given he was a role player on every team he played for.

But Snow was a valuable role player at that. In 2003, he was a great one for fantasy basketball teams as well.

2004: James Posey, Memphis Grizzlies

8-cats: 22

9-cats: 9

James Posey was kind of, sort of similar to Wesley Person in ’98: a solid contributor to threes and steals while not hurting his team too much in categories he didn’t specialize in. For a wing, he was also an unusual positive in field goal percentage.

What was best about Posey though was his production in the last two weeks of the season, normally reserved for the fantasy basketball playoffs. During that span, he averaged 22.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 2.3 threes, 7.1 free throws on 80 percent shooting and shot 51.8 percent from the field through nine games. If that stat line was too long, it can be summarized as this: Posey killed it in six categories, enough to turn an average fantasy basketball team into a title contender.

2005: Larry Hughes, Washington Wizards

8-cat: 24

9-cat: 24

In 2005, Larry Hughes was a top-25 fantasy basketball player. Every other season but one (2004), he finished outside the top 100. That ranking in 2005 is even more shocking when he missed 21 games. Dwyane Wade pulled off a more extreme version of this in 2008, playing only 51 games while making the top 25 in 8-cats.

But to compare the two, Hughes was at least active for the fantasy basketball playoffs. He could’ve anchored a team in steals while not being too big of a minus in field goal percentage, and even though Hughes shot only 28 percent from three, he made one per game. So there’s that. He was also obviously a great contributor in points that season.

After signing with Cleveland, Hughes might’ve been the worst fantasy basketball player ever while making over $12 million per year in real life. My theory behind that terrible contract: Larry Hughes was on Dan Gilbert’s fantasy basketball team the season before.

2006: Mike James, Toronto Raptors

8-cats: 25

9-cats: 24

I laughed while looking at Mike James’ basketball-reference page. Look at all the jerseys he wore over his career:

mike james teams

It reminds me of international competitions when you see all the flags:

image-sports-the-olympics-flags

James will always be known for triggering my embarrassing, irrational excitement for the 2007 Timberwolves thanks to his 20 points per game in ’06. Anything was an upgrade over Marko Jaric.

He was a fine contributor in points, threes, assists, and free throw percentage the year before he came to Minnesota. 2004 was the only other time James finished in the top 100 in fantasy basketball, back when he was part of Detroit’s 2004 championship squad. I actually forgot all about that stage of his career. Add that with the ’07 Timberwolves and Mike James embarrassed my (lack of) basketball knowledge twice.

2007: Leandro Barbosa, Phoenix Suns

8-cats: 15

9-cats: 14

Leandro Barbosa was actually a solid fantasy basketball contributor for a few seasons, but he was huge in 2007. As a team, Phoenix owned that season in fantasy basketball with Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Nash, and Barbosa all in the top 15 in both 8-cats and 9’s. (I already wrote about Shawn Marion’s dominance here.)

Barbosa logged a bunch of threes that season and was either a positive or microscopic negative in any category but rebounds and blocks, stats guards rarely produce anyway.

Looking back on the Suns of the mid-2000s is always depressing though. I’m not a fan of Mike D’Antoni, but those Nash-led teams were so fun and got so close to a title so many times. Bad luck and bad management was too much for them to overcome.

2008: Baron Davis, Golden State Warriors  

8-cats: 5

9-cats: 7

Throughout his career, Baron Davis was hot and cold both in fantasy and real basketball. He was rarely healthy after 2002, wasn’t a great free throw shooter, and in multiple seasons he was the biggest minus in field goal percentage for fantasy basketball. He often alternated with finishing seasons in the top 50 and outside the top 100.

But boy, Davis was a freak in steals and assists. In 2008, only Chris Paul provided better, well-rounded production in those two categories. Playing all 82 games that year also led to being a solid source of points, threes, and an above-average rebounder and blocker (!!!). Being healthy all season led to being a pain with field goal percentage and turnovers, but that was acceptable when he was one of the best in four other categories.

2009: Mo Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers  

8-cats: 26

9-cats: 25

Mo Williams was one of the Weirdo All-Stars along with Jamaal Magloire and a few others, but was also a unique point guard in fantasy basketball. Though he was one of the best three point shooters and rarely missed a free throw, he wasn’t a big contributor in assists. Williams also wouldn’t hurt teams in field goal percentage like most point guards would. Much of the lack of assists and boost in field goal percentage could probably be blamed on LeBron James. Once LeBron left Cleveland, Williams’ value in fantasy basketball plummeted.

2010: Aaron Brooks, Houston Rockets

8-cats: 31

9-cats: 54

2010 was the only season where Aaron Brooks consistently started, and he did that for all 82 games. He was the most valuable three-point shooter in fantasy basketball, which helped with points as well. Assists and free throws were also positives that came with drafting him.

All of that made for one season where Brooks was a nice addition. He’s been ranked outside of 150 in every other. 2010 was also the season Brooks was the Most Improved Player of the Year. If only Houston could trade him to the Utah Jazz so he could win it twice.

2011: Dorell Wright, Golden State Warriors

8-cats: 20

9-cats: 13

In 2011, Dorell Wright was only a minus in one category: field goal percentage. It was an acceptable tradeoff when, like Aaron Brooks in 2010, he was the best three-point producer. He also produced in categories normally not reserved for small forwards: assists (while not turning it over too much) and blocks.

Overall, 2011 was a breakout year for Wright. It reminded me of Quentin Richardson’s 2005 campaign with Phoenix (here’s a statistical comparison). Richardson tailed off after that season while Wright has been a key reserve on bad teams until now, thanks to Portland storming out of the gates.

2012: Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers

8-cats: 14

9-cats: 19

2012 was Andrew Bynum’s most complete season, being a buy-low sell-high candidate at first until he played nearly every game, 60 out of 66 in a lockout-shortened season. He dominated in four categories (points, rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage) while being a pretty bad contributor in every other, ones where big men typically suffered though.

Then came 2013 when Bynum was the complete opposite of how he finished. He went from buy-low, sell-high to a waste of a first round draft pick in fantasy basketball. Maybe one day he’ll be a master in fantasy bowling.

2013: Amir Johnson, Toronto Raptors

8-cats: 47

9-cats: 29

Last season, Rudy Gay joining the Raptors didn’t affect Amir Johnson’s fantasy basketball value, even though Gay could’ve been a small ball power forward in Johnson’s place.

His 2013 production didn’t really scream effective when looking at it, but little improvements were made in just about every category with the biggest coming in steals, giving him an advantage over most power forwards. Overall, no category was too big of a positive or negative for Johnson, which is different from most players in this post. 

And that’s what was nice about him. It kind of, sort of reflected his game in real life. He wasn’t the main man on the Raptors by any means, but he was one of the better role players despite playing with ball stoppers like Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan.

This year, every player on the Raptors is a question mark in fantasy basketball because of the likelihood of a trade or two happening before the February deadline. We could see Johnson be used a little more if Gay is traded, or we could see him play less if he’s traded to an actual contender and not the East’s fourth seed that’s currently under .500.

Prediction for 2014

It’s hard to judge after only one month but…

Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia 76ers

Best fantasy basketball season: 2013

8-cats: 79

9-cats: 81

Spencer Hawes has done it all this year: score, score efficiently, rebound, pass, make threes, and also turn it over but whatever. Right now, he’s producing in categories some guards can’t even match, most notably the couple of threes per game.

He won’t shoot 49 percent from three all season though and that inevitable downfall will hurt his field goal percentage, but he’s in a situation where everything else can stay steady. The 76ers are really thin up front so he’ll consistently get over 30 minutes of play, at least until March and April. Eventually, Philadelphia will go into the tank, even if the Atlantic Division continues to be terrible. Who knows if Hawes starts developing “soreness” and misses a few games here and there, which would bring his ranking down at the end of the season.

But right now, Hawes is a top-10 fantasy basketball player. All but last year he was outside the top-100. He’ll finish somewhere in between if he can stay relatively healthy, but right now he’s been all that his fantasy basketball owners could ask for and more.

Just like every other player on this list.

Fantasy basketball history: Shawn Marion ruled the mid-2000s

460px-Shawn_Marion

Photo by Keith Allison

If you have any interest in either fantasy basketball or the history of basketball (but preferably both), I suggest giving RotoMonster a look. It’s a simple, easy to navigate fantasy basketball archive that covers every NBA season from 1952 to now. There’s a ton worth discussing from there and maybe I’ll dedicate a series of posts to what I find, but for now I wanted to use it to write/brag about one of my favorite players ever, Shawn Marion.

In a weird place called reality, Marion might be the very cutoff separating great NBA careers from Hall of Fame-caliber ones. Among other accomplishments, he was good for 20 points and 10 rebounds on both the pre-D’Antoni AND D’Antoni-led Suns of the mid-2000s, all while being a third banana. (Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash were the first two great bananas of those Suns squads, in my opinion.)

But if there’s one description for both the real-life Shawn Marion and his fantasy basketball version, it’s that they were both freaks of nature during their time with the Suns. He could do it all statistically with his average line from 2001 to 2007 being 19-10-2-2-1 with 48/34/83 splits, one chest-passed three, and 2.8 free throws per game. He wasn’t a turnover machine either, ranked outside the top 50 in that category. That made him more valuable in 9-category leagues than 8’s, the difference in the leagues being the inclusion of turnovers in the 9-cats.

Equally as important was Marion’s durability. From 2001 to 2007, he always played 79 to 81 games, making him one of the most valuable commodities in those seven seasons. He was at his greatest from 2005 to 2007, the best in 9-cats during the primes of Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kobe Bryant, among others. Here’s a screenshot of his fantasy basketball career (click to enlarge if you’d like):

shawn marion

For Marion’s entire fantasy basketball page, click here.

The absence of Amar’e Stoudemire in 2006 led to Marion’s greatest season statistically. Though it was only good enough to make third team All-NBA, it was his most convincing first place ranking in fantasy basketball and arguably the most convincing season of his career in terms of his real, on-court value. He bested the 9-cats over second-place Nowitzki and Elton Brand by nearly .40 points in overall value, the largest margin since 1990. Marion was the only player that season ranked in the top 20 in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and minutes. 

Freak. Of. Nature. Basketball-Reference had him listed at center that season. If fantasy basketball leagues gave him multiple positions, he was that much more valuable.

Stoudemire’s return in 2007 put a dent in Marion’s production, but he still placed first and second in 9-cats and 8-cats, respectively. Kobe bested him in the latter, thanks to turnovers not being accounted for. 2007 was a monster season for the Suns both in real and fantasy basketball. The core of Nash, Stoudemire, and Leandro Barbosa, along with Marion, made the top 15 in each kind of fantasy basketball league.

Per game wise, Marion was one of the best in 2008, ranking fourth in 9-cat leagues and sixth in 8-cats, but he only played 63 games. It was that season when the fantasy basketball torch was passed to Chris Paul, which was then passed to Kevin Durant in 2010. Marion has continued to be a nice addition to fantasy leagues, often ranked in the top 75 in each league since 2009.

Where real basketball is played, Marion’s Hall of Fame status is up for debate, though it might be a losing one. In fantasy basketball, however, there’s no doubt the Matrix was one of the greatest of his time.

Remembering Latrell Sprewell as a Timberwolf

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Photographed by: Jeffery A. Salter

Ten years and two months ago, I was a 14-year-old geek sitting in the backseat of my father’s pickup truck. My father drove my family and I back from our annual summer vacation from Wisconsin while I blasted Metallica in my CD player and read the Star Tribune. That was when I learned about the trade that sent Latrell Sprewell to Minnesota.

Some of my earliest memories involving the Timberwolves came from those situations, reading newspapers in the backseat of the trucks my family took our road trips with. One other memory was nearly 20 years ago when I tried to read about Isaiah Rider’s drug abuse. I say tried reading because, despite the effort, it was pointless. I was only five years old and, looking back, I mispronounced so many words, especially names of players in NBA Live 95

I could only hear my father’s version of the story about Rider, which happened to be filled with “bad words” as I looked at the picture of his mugshot in the newspaper. This is the guy that won the slam dunk contest, I thought, he’s really good and his name reminds me of riding bikes but he does drugs and my father hates him. It was my first of several experiences with pessimism in Minnesota sports. I cried.

Eight or nine years later, the Timberwolves landed Sprewell in a trade. Sam Cassell was also traded for, but Sprewell stuck out far more. One of the most volatile players of the 90s, the face of the New York Knicks in the early 2000s, and now…a Minnesota Timberwolf? It remains one of the most strangest Timberwolves acquisitions of my lifetime. Perplexed about the trade, I asked myself why and if it was all a joke. It was as if one of the most popular girls in my school wanted to date a pale geek like me. It wasn’t too good to be true, but rather too cool to be true.

Back then, I had a fascination with high-profiled players who were enigmas. Their inconsistent performances on and off the court, despite immense talent, may have left something to be desired but it’s what both intrigued me and drove my father crazy. Rasheed Wallace was my favorite, but Sprewell was right up there. Stephon Marbury was at the bottom, but the Wolves got Terrell Brandon and, in the summer of 2003, Sam Cassell to erase memories of a young, rising point guard who didn’t want to play in Minnesota.           

We know how everything ended for the 2004 Timberwolves. It was a hell of a ride that fell just short, but Kevin Garnett became the NBA’s MVP. Sprewell was also everything I thought he would be: the dreadlocks, scowl, streaky shooting, and fast break dunks that gave flashbacks of cherry picking with him in NBA Live 98. It was all there that season.

I can’t say the same for 2005, the year the championship parade would be held in Minneapolis as Stephen A. Smith once predicted on national television. It was the most disappointing season of my memory, starting with the infamous quotes about Sprewell turning down a 3-year, $21 million contract because he had family to feed and ending with the Timberwolves missing the playoffs to Memphis and Denver, the latter team the Minnesota handled in the first round in 2004

Sprewell had the worst season of his career and hasn’t played another game since. I couldn’t believe he came to Minnesota and I couldn’t believe the way he left. My father did, only because he experienced a tumultuous departure so many years before. I recently asked him if he still remembers Rider.

“Pain in the ass,” he says. The frustration in his voice and immediacy in his response made me laugh. It’s like Rider’s and Sprewell’s troubles that drove him crazy so many years ago happened only yesterday. Their stays in Minnesota were short-lived, to put my father’s complaints about them in the politest way possible. 

Maybe that’s true, but Sprewell in particular is a player I reminisce about because of how fun 2004 was. He gave at least one memorable season rather than none at all, and the “I’ve got family to feed” incident is something I joke more than complain about because it’s so ridiculous it could only come from Sprewell himself. He was part of the best of times and the worst of times, and though he could’ve left on better terms, so could’ve several other notable players in Minnesota sports. He wasn’t the first to leave not-so elegantly and he won’t be the last, as is the case for every city owning a professional sports team.

The Timberwolves’ 2006 season wouldn’t be any better for my father. Ricky Davis would be traded to Minnesota. I couldn’t help but complain too, but only because the news of Davis’ arrival wasn’t as weird, confusing and exciting as when another polarizing scorer came to town 30 months earlier.

Throwback Thursday video: Scottie Pippen dunks on Patrick Ewing, leaves a high five hanging

I forgot to include a Throwback Thursday video last week, so I’ll include two today.

The first one comes from the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, a year without Michael Jordan but that didn’t matter to Scottie Pippen. After putting in a season that cemented himself as more than just a sidekick to Jordan, he had himself a highlight Jordan himself performed three years earlier: a memorable dunk on Patrick Ewing:

Lots of stuff to look at here.

First, Pippen and Ewing’s flattops are sooo ’90s. Good stuff.

And even back then, players got technical fouls for taunting. That caught me off-guard. Still, Ewing doesn’t become a spaz, instead reacting quite well to being put on (yet another) poster. Maybe that’s because he knew ’94 was his year to get by the Bulls, or maybe because he had Charles Oakley by his side, or maybe he knew guys like Spike Lee and John Starks would tweak for him. Such team players, except Spike’s not a Knick. Someone tell him that already. We’re in 2013 and he has moments where he acts like he’s the second coming of Latrell Sprewell.

Last but not least, here’s a shoutout to Pete Myers. Go to 1:35 and see one of the best high fives left hanging of all-time.

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