Jazz Coach Quin Snyder Has the Most Terrifying Scowl Ever

If you’ve ever seen a zombie turn on its prey, you’ll recognize the look Quin Snyder wore on his face Thursday night. 

The Utah Jazz stamped out the garbage fire that is the Los Angeles Lakers, 119-86, and improved to 4-0 for the preseason. In spite of this, the team still somehow managed to a coax a horrifying death glare out of their head coach.

CJ Fogler crafted a Vine of the moment. If you feel your face magnetized toward your screen, pull back and walk away from your computer or electronic device. 

Harrowing, to be sure.

Considering the circumstances, it’s likely we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this in the coming months.

If the Jazz don’t go 70-12 this season, maintenance workers might start finding the remains of mauled bats in the catwalks of EnergySolutions Arena.

 

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Kobe Bryant Steals Ball from Stephen Curry, Slams Home Oldest Old Man Dunk Ever

Kobe is old.

He’s so old that his current teammates wore his jersey growing up. He’s old enough to have actually been a fan of Twin Peaks. The Black Mamba could run for president right now.

But like Sisyphus, Kobe Bryant returns year after year to work that rock, and he does it better than most.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ star stepped back onto the court Thursday night for a preseason matchup against the Golden State warriors. He wasted no time in reminding everyone how good he is, and just how old he’s become.

Bryant’s moment came on a slick steal off Stephen Curry. The 36-year-old swiped the ball out of Curry’s hands and took it to the rim for the oldest, old man dunk that has ever been dunked.

Eighteen years in the NBA takes a toll, and after last season’s fractured tibia and torn Achilles tendon, it’s a credit to Bryant that he even went for the slam.

Scarcely a year ago he was slamming over two defenders:

We may never see that Kobe again, but you can’t rule anything out when it comes to the Black Mamba. Between his otherworldly determination and the miracles of German franken-science, life’s rules only loosely apply to this man.

 

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Each NBA Franchise’s Worst Team Ever

Figuring out how modern-day offenses and defenses stack up against the units of the 1950s and ’60s isn’t exactly an easy task, but it’s quite necessary when attempting to determine the worst teams in each of the 30 current franchises’ histories. 

Just looking at points scored and allowed doesn’t do the trick because that doesn’t give pace an opportunity to come into play. For that reason, defensive and offensive ratings—pace-neutral metrics that show how many points a team allows and scores per 100 possessions—are much better gauges to measure prowess on those ends of the court.

But when attempting to rank teams historically, as we’re doing here, that’s still not good enough. After all, not every team with identical defensive ratings is on the same level. Nor is every team with an identical offensive rating equally competent at scoring the rock.

If two teams gave up 95 points per 100 possessions, which is worse—Team A, which did so during a year in which defenses rose to the top of the heap, or Team B, which did so when everyone was scoring points like the video game sliders were all the way up?

Team A should be the easy answer because context is crucially important. That, in a nutshell, is why DRtng+, or adjusted defensive rating, is the best inter-era metric for comparing defensive performances. 

The same holds true for ORtng+ or adjusted offensive efficiency.

Calculating these metrics isn’t particularly troublesome: Just divide the league-average defensive rating from the year in question by the team’s defensive rating and then multiply the result by 100 to achieve DRtng+. Similarly, ORtng+ is derived by dividing the team’s offensive rating by the league average and then multiplying by 100.

A score of 100 means the defense or offense was perfectly average that year. That does tend to happen fairly often, given that we’re working with the 1,315 teams throughout league history for which we have data. 

The final step in determining the strength of a team is averaging the two metrics. The result, called TeamRtng+, weights offense and defense evenly to ascertain the overall effectiveness of any team in NBA history.

When determining the worst squads throughout the NBA’s many seasons, the style of play doesn’t factor into the equation. Neither does points scored/allowed per game nor memorability, subjectivity and win-loss records. 

TeamRtng+ is all that comes into play. We’ll be looking at the worst team in each franchise’s history, counting down toward the very worst squad of all time. Analyses like this have been run before, notably by Hardwood Paroxysm’s Andrew Lynch and Ian Levy, but this is taking it to a whole new level by calculating things before and after the 1976 ABA/NBA merger. 

 

Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com. This introduction is an adapted form of what was used when ranking the top 20 offenses in NBA history as well as the top 20 defensesbottom 20 defensesbottom 20 offenses and best teams for each franchise throughout the same period. 

Begin Slideshow

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Transfer leaves Marquette before ever suiting up

Transfer forward Gabe Levin leaves Marquette before ever suiting up for Golden Eagles

      
 

 

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Could LeBron James Ever Surpass Michael Jordan’s Cultural Impact?

LeBron James may one day become the cash-stacking, trend-setting pan-media mogul Michael Jordan is. But if he ever reaches that level, he’ll owe a debt to the man who blazed the trail.

That’s because the basketball-player-as-business-icon game, driven by the commodification of cool and the sale of sneakers, is still one dominated by the man himself.

 

James: Trying His Best

According to Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes.com, James makes an estimated $20 million per year from Nike. His signature shoes accounted for approximately $300 million in sales in 2013, making them the most lucrative of any active player’s specific kicks.

His equity in Beats headphones earned him a reported $30 million when Apple bought the company. He’s a pitch man for McDonald’s and a ubiquitous presence in television ads for Samsung. He also collects loads of cash from endorsements in Asia that include Dunkin‘ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins.

A partnership with Fenway Sports Management netted James part ownership of Liverpool FC, which is among the most popular clubs in parts of the world outside the U.K.—especially Asia.

All told, Forbes estimates James has made $326 million in endorsements since coming into the league as a teenage phenom, including $72.3 million last season. He collected more than $50 million in each of the past two years, and his year-over-year earnings have increased consistently since 2003-04.

Chump change.

 

Jordan: Still Dominating

That $300 million in sales of James’ signature shoe sounds impressive…until you learn Jordan brand apparel did $2.25 billion in the same year, according to another report from Badenhausen. Jordan didn’t collect more than a fraction of that number, but he still made an estimated $90 million last year (20 percent more than James without an NBA salary).

And for Jordan, being a cultural icon isn’t solely about the money, though James will almost certainly have to become MJ‘s rival in finance before we consider him equal in sphere of influence.

Jordan’s legend (and it is a legend, by the way, which is another reason LeBron has so far to go to catch him; James is merely human at this point) is about more than cash. It’s about creating a brand, cultivating cool.

When Jordan signed a $500,000 deal with Nike in 1984 for a signature shoe, the NBA did everything it could to stop him. It banned his shoes and fined him $5,000 in every game he wore them.

Combining his business sense with his inborn defiance, Jordan rocked them anyway. And Nike picked up the tab on the fines.

That’s a cool move. Jordan flouted the rules. He stood up to the power structure, which, viewed in context with his otherwise very uncontroversial public life (he deliberately avoided stances on touchy political issues), seems shocking in retrospect.

It’s hard to know if Jordan benefited from such a guerrilla start to his life in business, but it’s worth noting that he triumphed in a market that was far harder to navigate than the one James exists in today. Now, instead of banning shoes, the league pushes Kia Optimas out onto the court for Blake Griffin to jump over in dunk contests.

Jordan taught a reluctant NBA that the best way to market itself was through individual players, but he had to fight to do it. And you’d have to assume he’ll continue to fight for his market primacy.

All the cash Jordan makes is one thing, but his continued recognizability and approval make it tough to imagine James overtaking him.

Per Badenhausen: “Jordan’s Q score, which gauges awareness and popularity, has been tops among sports fans every year since 1991. His 25 million Facebook fans are 43 percent more than any other U.S. athlete.”

The fact that MJ is more recognizable and popular than James right now, despite the fact that His Airness hasn’t done the thing that initially made him famous for over a decade, is remarkable. In fact, it makes it difficult to imagine LeBron ever surpassing Jordan in that regard.

To do so, James would have to become significantly more popular than he is right now, which seems almost impossible.

 

A New World

Jordan built his empire in the pre-Internet age, which makes his rise that much more astounding. At the same time, James understands how the world has shrunk, and he’s been better than Jordan at utilizing social media and technology to grow his brand in avenues MJ never considered.

Perhaps that’s the secret. Perhaps James will find more ways to reach his fans, to influence culture.

He’s already got his own app, and he’s diving into television production, with two shows set to premiere this year. In terms of multimedia, James is already ahead of Jordan—even if he’s still being actively influenced by him.

“I’m really excited about helping develop Becoming and bringing this kind of program to kids,” James said in a statement, via ESPN.com. “Sports and athletes were my inspiration growing up. It was the stories about Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders and Allen Iverson that kept me dreaming. When I learned that they had some of the same struggles and challenges I did, it made everything seem possible.”

Younger fans (if not this generation, then the next) may not relate to Jordan the same way they will to LeBron—especially if the latter is making his way into their smartphones and TV sets. At some point, MJ will become the guy whose logo is on a pair of shoes, and it’s even possible some especially young fans won’t even realize Jordan once played.

Ask a bunch of 15-year-olds whose likeness is on the NBA logo (it’s Jerry West, kids), and you’re likely to get far more shrugged shoulders than you would from a group of 30-year-olds. The same thing could happen here.

If Jordan is just a guy with a cigar on a golf course to young fans, maybe he’s not as cool as someone still winning titles on the court and setting trends everywhere else. Then again, there are plenty of brands that maintain influence and cultural ubiquity long after their namesakes have faded away. Maybe Jordan is Levi Strauss or James Barclay.

Who knows?

 

Getting by Giving

James is in his prime, on TV, playing hoops, pitching products and capitalizing on his popularity. He’s everywhere.

Jordan is in full icon mode. You don’t see him often, and he’s becoming a bit more withdrawn (a cool guy move if ever there was one) as he ages. He sits back and smirks at the world while James sprints up to smile and shake its hand.

His days of changing things are over. He already pioneered the shaved head, the longer shorts, the endless string of chill-inducing commercials.

James has yet to put those kinds of stamps on the game and its fans.

But he has an opportunity to do something Jordan never did. He can use his social conscience to make an impact through charity.

That’s not to say Jordan wasn’t concerned with effecting change outside of his own bank account and reputation. But it’s hard to ignore the way James has made giving back a priority.

Per Sam Amick of USA Today, James explained:

I’m 11 years in, (and) I feel like I’m in a great place as far as my professional career and I feel like as far as off the court, that’s the more meaningful thing for me. I believe my calling is much higher than basketball, and I will continue to use that tool to continue to inspire because it has helped out a lot.

We’ve never heard anything like that from Jordan.

If James ever reaches MJ‘s level of fame and influence, this is how he’ll do it: with a far more human touch.

 

Homage to the Master

LeBron’s public-relations missteps (The Decision, principally) have made him more eager to please, while Jordan never had to make amends during his career. Playing at a time when the media wasn’t salivating for schadenfreude certainly helped.

Jordan commodified cool, but he did it with a complicit press that ate it up and rarely tried to tear it down.

Nobody stays on top forever, and James is definitely making progress toward Jordan’s throne as an icon. If the young gun ever catches the old dog, he’ll owe his predecessor a great deal.

Because even if James eventually does it better, Jordan did it first.

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Each NBA Franchise’s Best Team Ever

Figuring out how modern-day offenses and defenses stack up against the units of the 1950s and ’60s isn’t exactly an easy task, but it’s quite necessary when attempting to determine the best teams in each of the 30 current franchises’ histories. 

Just looking at points scored and allowed doesn’t do the trick because that doesn’t give pace an opportunity to come into play. For that reason, defensive and offensive ratings—pace-neutral metrics that show how many points a team allows and scores per 100 possessions—are much better gauges to measure prowess on those ends of the court.

But when attempting to rank teams historically, as we’re doing here, that’s still not good enough. After all, not every team with identical defensive ratings is on the same level. Nor is every team with an identical offensive rating equally competent at scoring the rock.

If two teams gave up 95 points per 100 possessions, which is worse—Team A, which did so during a year in which defenses rose to the top of the heap, or Team B, which did so when everyone was scoring points like the video game sliders were all the way up?

Team A should be the easy answer because context is crucially important. That, in a nutshell, is why DRtng+, or adjusted defensive rating, is the best inter-era metric for comparing defensive performances. 

The same holds true for ORtng+ or adjusted offensive efficiency.

Calculating these metrics isn’t particularly troublesome: Just divide the league-average defensive rating from the year in question by the team’s defensive rating, then multiply the result by 100 to achieve DRtng+. Similarly, ORtng+ is derived by dividing the team’s offensive rating by the league average and then multiplying by 100.

A score of 100 means the defense or offense was perfectly average that year. That does tend to happen fairly often, given that we’re working with the 1,315 teams throughout league history for which we have data. 

The final step in determining the strength of a team is averaging the two metrics. The result, called TeamRtng+, weights offense and defense evenly to ascertain the overall effectiveness of any team in NBA history.

When determining the top squads throughout the NBA’s many seasons, the style of play doesn’t factor into the equation. Neither does points scored or allowed per game. Nor does memorability, subjectivity or win-loss records. 

TeamRtng+ is all that comes into play. We’ll be looking at the best team in each franchise’s history, counting down toward the best squad of all time. Analyses like this have been run before, notably by Hardwood Paroxysm’s Andrew Lynch and Ian Levy, but this is taking it to a whole new level by calculating things before and after the 1976 ABA/NBA merger. 

 

Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com. This introduction is an adapted form of what was used when ranking the top 20 offenses in NBA history as well as the top 20 defenses, bottom 20 defenses and bottom 20 offenses throughout the same period. 

Begin Slideshow

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Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah Gives Tony Snell Funniest Nickname Ever

Since the dawn of modern sports it seems nicknames have been synonymous with its athletes. Often times a player is better known by his or her given moniker than their own birth name.
Inevitably some are far more clever than others with the classic pairing of the first letter of a player’s first name with their last name such as D-Rose, D-Wade, or D-Will taking virtually no thought but being pretty much timeless whereas calling Kevin Durant the Slim Reaper is simply brilliant.
The first key to having a nickname is being given one, not choosing one. When it comes to giving nicknames it seems the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah fancies himself an unofficial master.
Witness a good performance by Taj Gibson and don’t be surprised if you hear Noah shouting Tajy-woo! Apparently Kirk Hinrich has been forced to accept the fact he is known by his teammate as Kirky Werky.
He may not like hearing this, but I like Noah’s nickname giving ability to that of an embarrassing grandmother. However, that somehow makes them al

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Rajon Rondo Trade Will Be More Difficult Now Than Ever for Boston Celtics

The rocky road ahead for the Boston Celtics and franchise face Rajon Rondo just grew even more treacherous.

Trading the mercurial floor general  was never going to be easy. Not with his troubling track record that includes run-ins with coaches and teammates, a torn ACL that plagued his production last season and stats that might not be as strong as they seem.

But moving the obstreperous point guard has never been as difficult as it is now that he’ll be sidelined for the next six-to-eight weeks with a broken left finger. He was still working to repair his reputation after last year’s disappointing showing, and now he’ll have to do so without the benefit of training camp, the preseason and possibly as much as the first month of the 2014-15 campaign.

Considering the package the Celtics would need to receive in return for a trade to pay off on their end, Rondo’s trade value is a long way from where it has to be. This latest setback could drag it down even further, as it might be a while before he starts rubbing elbows with the NBA elites again—assuming he even gets back to that level.

While the time frame is an estimate, CelticsBlog’s Kevin O’Connor found that the five players who underwent surgery to address a metacarpal bone injury in recent seasons missed an average of 41.6 days. Of those five—Carlos Boozer, Kevin Love, Hedo Turkoglu, Patrick Beverley and Manu Ginobili—two of them (Love and Turkoglu) reinjured their hands after their initial return.

Love was plagued by the injury throughout the 2012-13 season, shooting just 35.2 percent from the field in his 18 games, though he did suffer two separate fractures during that year. Ginobili lost a little over a month the previous season to his injury, but he showed no lingering effects and compiled a .513/.384/.859 shooting slash after his return.

Rondo went under the knife last Friday. A six-week absence would cost him four regular-season games. An additional two weeks out of action would keep him out of another six contests.

In the context of an 82-game campaign, this might seem like minimal damage. But with so much riding on this season for both Rondo and the Celtics, this has the potential to become a crushing blow.

“The beginning of the season is the worst time to sit out, especially when it involves losing out on those crucial team-building opportunities that come just prior to the first game’s opening tipoff,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal.

For Rondo, this won’t be as simple as getting back on a bicycle after a lengthy layoff.

There are new players around him, including his potential replacement in lottery pick Marcus Smart. Rondo will miss out on head coach Brad Stevens’ training camp for the second consecutive year, and that could prove problematic as Rondo said Stevens has a new system to put in place, per Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News:

There is no way to get that developmental time back.

He can keep himself in shape, but none of his workouts can replicate NBA game speed. He will have to attempt to hit the ground running with and against players who could have as much as an entire month of regular-season contests under their belts.

That transition won’t likely be a smooth one. He had 30 outings to find his form in 2013-14 and never did seem particularly comfortable. He shot 40.1 percent from the field in his first 15 games back and 40.4 percent in his last 15.

The Celtics can’t afford to have him stumble out of the gate this time around. While they technically have until next summer to decide his future, February’s trade deadline looms large as Boston’s last possible chance to bring back something in return for its franchise face.

That is when the Celtics must really make their call, assuming that bridge hasn’t already been crossed, of course. There has been some speculation over whether Rondo or the Celtics have left the door open to a potential long-term relationship.

Publicly, both have stressed it’s still an option.

“We expect Rajon to be in Boston for the long term,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said, via Comcast SportsNet. “Does that need to be asked anymore by anybody every again?”

Consider that latter portion wishful thinking on the executive’s part. Those questions will persist until something official comes across the transactions log, be that a blockbuster trade or a significant contract extension.

At Celtics media day on Monday, Rondo expressed his desire to stick with the team going forward, per ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg:

It’s all very definitive—except, it isn’t that at all.

Consider the current situation.

Boston is Rondo’s current home. Until he officially has a new one lined up, there is no incentive for him to start distancing himself from the city.

Unless, of course, he can do so behind closed doors. According to ESPN Boston’s Jackie MacMullan, Rondo has already started putting his exit in motion.

“He’s told them he wants out,” MacMullan said during a behind-the-scenes portion of ESPN’s Around The Horn, via CBS Sports’ James Herbert. “And no one believes me, but that’s the truth.”

If that’s the case, the Celtics have reasons to quietly shop Rondo. But they need to prize him publicly until something takes place, or they risk seeing his value plummet to the point that any trade is no longer worth their while.

If something did crop up that would bring in a young potential superstar, the Celtics would have to reconsider their stance against dealing Rondo—but with Rondo posting only so-so-numbers as he completed his rehab last year, his value is relatively low just now,” wrote Sporting News’ Sean Deveney.

That’s what makes Rondo’s latest injury so deflating. He needed this season to help him cash in on the free-agent market next summer. The Celtics had to have a strong year from him to either feel good about keeping him for the long haul or, more likely, furthering their rebuilding plan by getting a collection of future assets in return.

Ideally, Rondo would have proved himself last season, and the Celtics could have flipped him over the summer to avoid a year-long media frenzy.

That obviously never happened, and now there are some serious concerns over whether it ever will. If it takes some time for Rondo to find his groove, the Celtics could have a hard time moving him even if that is their desired outcome.

“Teams want to see him perform before putting much into a trade offer,” noted NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin. “Now they are going to wait longer and be watching two injuries.”

It’s almost impossible to find a silver lining in this injury.

If one does exist, it’s probably the added exposure Smart should receive in Rondo’s absence. Even then, it’s hard to say what the best-case scenario would be.

Say Smart explodes out of the gate and creates some offensive harmony with his teammates. Then, what happens when Rondo comes back? Would Smart’s development be stunted in order to help Rondo’s trade market? Or would the four-time All-Star be trapped behind the rookie, watching his potential free-agency earnings diminish in a reduced role on a team that could struggle to win 30 games?

Or what if Smart cannot rise to the occasion and looks incapable of ever effectively replacing Rondo? Would that motivate the Celtics to keep a 28-year-old whose best days may be finished before the team’s even start?

Ainge already told reporters at media day he knows it’s going to cost whichever team winds up paying the point guard, via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

The Celtics don’t need a max contract on their books. Not one who clearly needs to find his way to a win-now roster, at least.

It’s hard to say if Rondo can perform at a level high enough to warrant that type of financial commitment. No matter what type of offers get put in front of him, though, he seems eager to explore all of his options in free agency.

“It’s kind of like college all over again, with recruiting,” he told Washburn. ”Only times 50 because they have a ton of money to throw at the guys and they don’t have any restrictions on what they can do.”

If the trade deadline passes without any movement on the Rondo front, the Celtics will have completely lost control of this situation. Even if there is mutual interest of keeping the relationship alive, it might not be enough to keep him from being overwhelmed by another suitor.

There are risks involved with either outcome, and Rondo’s injury only further complicates the matter. That’s a potentially major issue, even if the injury itself feels like a relatively minor one.

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Manu Ginobili Remains as Important and Unpredictable as Ever to Spurs

The San Antonio SpursManu Ginobili remains a mystery.

I’m not talking about his talent, because it should be fairly obvious to all that he possesses tons of it. Rather, the manner in which Ginobili chooses to use his gifts is what produces question marks.

The 6’6” Manu is wildly unpredictable, which makes it difficult to guess what comes next with him. Will he break away from the play? Gamble on defense? Ignore head coach Gregg Popovich?

There’s just no way for teammates or opponents to know, and boy does it give him an edge. He’s always been the proverbial X-factor, and I feel confident in saying that will always be the case. That might sound like an exaggeration, but let’s take a look back at his career and see how he’s evolved.

 

Crossovers and Dunks

Long before even setting foot on an NBA court, Ginobili was a star. He helped Argentina hand Team USA its first loss at the World Championships since the Americans began using NBA players.

Manu had great ball-handling skills and demonstrated a great level of athleticism. I wouldn’t accuse the Spurs of being unpatriotic, but it’s probably fair to assume they loved what they saw from Ginobili against the United States. He showed no fear against NBA players and was constantly on the attack.

NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper offered this appraisal of Ginobili’s performance in 2010: “Ginobili was everywhere. There just was no way to know the extent of the preview, that it was the first look for most in North America of a unique talent who would play a pivotal role in delivering three titles and making San Antonio, along with the Lakers, the dominant team of the first decade of the 2000s.”

San Antonio selected Manu with the No. 57 pick in the 1999 draft and kept him stashed away in Europe. By 2002, the Spurs felt it was time to bring him in.

Ginobili joined the Spurs and backed up Stephen Jackson at the 2-guard. Considering Manu was fresh off the World Championships and it was difficult to project how he would adjust to the speed of the NBA game, Popovich brought him along slowly.

Ginobili only averaged 7.6 points in 20.7 minutes per game during his rookie year.

Once the bright lights of the postseason came on, though, Ginobili became a seemingly maniacal king slayer. Despite coming off the bench, he felt comfortable attacking every player on a Los Angeles Lakers squad that was trying to win its fourth consecutive title.

Manu produced 11.7 points and 2.5 assists in 24.7 minutes per game against the Lakers, while shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 61.5 percent from long range.

Ginobili broke off plays to creatively attack defenders off the bounce and finish at the rim with authority. His play led to the demise of the Lakers, and San Antonio went on to win the championship.

Just like that, a reckless star was born.

Popovich has mostly kept Ginobili in a second-unit role throughout his career (except for the 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2010-11 campaigns where he started over 55 games in each), in an effort to preserve his 2-guard. He’s only cracked the 30-minute barrier on average twice (2007-08 and 2010-11 seasons), which has kept him fresh for playoff runs, where the real magic happens.

An argument could be made that he’s been the best postseason 2-guard not named Kobe or Dwyane Wade over the last decade.

During his younger years, Popovich entrusted him in late-game situations where he came through time and time again. For instance, many remember Game 5 of the 2005 NBA Finals as the Robert Horry game, but few might recall that Ginobili had the assist on the game-winning basket.

Once the Detroit Pistons’ Rasheed Wallace trapped Manu in the corner, the 2-guard quickly responded by feeding an open Horry.

That kind of decision-making is the reason why the coaching staff feels confident down the stretch of games with the ball in Ginobili’s hands. He delivered again in Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks. Manu capped a comeback by nailing a three-pointer to give San Antonio the lead late.

On the flip side, bad Ginobili showed up a few possessions later when he fouled Dirk Nowitzki and allowed him to convert a three-point play that sent the game to overtime where Dallas ultimately prevailed.

That sequence of events captures Ginobili’s career perfectly. He’s always been a moment away from the biggest and worst play of his career. At age 37, his skills have eroded with time, but he’s still the mysterious player he’s always been.

 

Jumpers and Floaters

San Antonio’s backup 2-guard has become a little slower and less athletic in the latter portion of his career, but he’s still important to the Spurs’ success.

Sure, the team operates now like a fine-tuned machine that was created for basketball, but the right pieces are still mandatory.

The Spurs seemingly operate as one, with everything flowing perfectly because that’s what Popovich demands. Manu is a big part of that because of his ball-handling, passing (6.8 assists per 36 minutes last season) and shooting (46.9 percent field-goal shooting last campaign).

He no longer attacks the rim with reckless abandon and regularly dunks over defenders, because he’s evolved in conjunction with the decline of his physical state.

Still, Ginobili keeps the ball live and continues to dish out remarkable passes to teammates, which explains why San Antonio had the best playoff offense last year, according to ESPN.com.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe offered this take in May:

He’s still pretty much the only player who can get away with breaking the offense and not having Gregg Popovich look like he wants to murder somebody.

His wild drives and outrageous passes are otherwise anathema for the Spurs, whose offensive system is an acutely constructed machine that runs with Peyton Manning–esque precision — except when Manu decides to pursue something that seems beyond possibility until the moment it actually happens.

He’s relying a little more on jump shots and floaters, without sacrificing too much in terms of efficiency. Don’t get it twisted, Ginobili still dropped the hammer on the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh during the Finals, but that’s no longer the norm.

Manu fits within Pop’s motion offense, but he’s no longer an overwhelming option for opponents.

He’s more of a role player now, as opposed to a star. And yet, Manu will continue to decide games because he’s a threat for a throwback performance.

For instance, in Game 1 of the 2014 Finals, Ginobili dropped 16 points and 11 assists on the Heat. He had similar numbers in Games 2 and 5, but he had a dud in the fourth contest (seven points and four turnovers).

His energy and playmaking off the bench will still impact games when he has it going, and the unpredictable nature of his game will continue to catch people by surprise.

The ascension of Kawhi Leonard will push Manu to the background ever so slightly, but he will continue to remain relevant and important to San Antonio’s success. Even in limited minutes, he’s the best second-unit player on the Spurs, and he will continue to swing series, while also occasionally looking like he’s sabotaging them.

Manu being Manu is just awesome, and the Spurs will take him as such. The latest title run is proof that he still affects San Antonio’s title window.

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Can the NBA Ever Replace Kobe Bryant?

Few jerseys are as recognizable as the purple-and-black No. 24 (or No. 8, if you go back far enough), donned by a current player who will be elected to the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible. Few players are as respected as the man whose name has become virtually synonymous with a poisonous species of snake from sub-Saharan Africa.  

Few names are as recognizable as Kobe Bryant‘s, whose presence in the NBA has been as ubiquitous as any over the last decade-and-a-half. 

But what led to the Los Angeles Lakers All-Star shooting guard turning into the legend he is today? 

For starters, how about everything? 

Everyone’s definitions of stars and superstars seems to vary, but you’d find precious few people who would dispute No. 24′s status as a superstar. Though I’m one of them, that’s only because he falls more into the realm of superduperstars, a classification occupied by only a few players throughout the course of NBA history. 

Bryant simply transcends the game.

Even now that he’s 36 years old and fighting to come back from two major injuries while carrying a mediocre Lakers squad, there’s still a widespread belief that he won’t skip a beat. No one has ever done what he’s trying to achieve, but there’s still this underlying assumption that Bryant is a superhuman, basketball-playing entity who is somehow beyond the reach of laws that apply to mere mortals. 

Isaac Newton may have stood on the shoulders of giants while furthering the pursuits of physics and mathematics, but Bryant somehow looms even larger, unaffected by all those laws Newton helped quantify and explain. 

Why? 

Seriously, go out, and ask a few basketball fans why they believe in Kobe Bryant. Chances are, you’ll hear a few different answers of the same iteration: Because he’s Kobe Bryant. Some might even include an expletive as Bryant’s fake middle name. 

It’s a silly argument. Tautological as it gets, it’s supplying no form of rhetoric other than an unsubstantiated opinion.

Yet somehow, it still makes sense. 

Again, simply because this is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about. 

It was a ridiculous convergence of factors—some controllable and others uncontrollable—that got us to this point, and that’s saying nothing of Bryant’s immense popularity, both domestically and internationally. Just think all the way back to the beginning of his career, when a precocious teenager was drafted out of high school by the Charlotte Hornets and almost immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Whatever involvement Kobe had in that process, it happened. And it allowed him to play for what’s arguably the sport’s No. 1 attraction. Though the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls would all disagree for various reasons, the Lakers are the league’s marquee franchise, enjoying gargantuan levels of support from virtually all areas of the globe. 

Anytime you combine a captivating athlete with a franchise that’s always in the global microscope, sparks are going to fly. And Kobe promoted them by being so damn good early in his career, even if his first All-Star appearance was a little bit ridiculous. Plus, the titles flowed in during the afro-bearing, No. 8-wearing portion of his career, setting the stage for a widely viewed prime and twilight to his NBA tenure.

Let’s not overlook how rare it is for a superstar to spend his entire career in one uniform.

There have been negative aspects to Bryant’s life with the Lakers—the time he spent in Colorado early in his career, as well as the summers in which he was no longer satisfied with the direction and success of the organization—but he’s worn purple and gold throughout his entire time as an NBA player. From brash teenager to sage, unfiltered veteran, Kobe has gone through every stage of an NBA life without changing colors.

Kevin Garnett can’t say that. Paul Pierce can’t either.

Nor can Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Allen, LeBron James or virtually any other star of the modern era. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are the exceptions, though neither has risen to the level of worldwide popularity and unmitigated scrutiny that Bryant has both enjoyed and put up with throughout his time playing professional basketball. 

 

Ridiculous Popularity 

How many people truly fit the definition of a household name? 

If you walked into the home of a family that had as little interest in the NBA as possible, which players could they name? Due to how much they dominate the news cycle, James and Bryant would likely be mentioned. But beyond that? Even Kevin Durant hasn’t spent enough time making headlines, and the rest of the big guns—O’Neal and Michael Jordan, above all else—are long retired. 

If you walked into a sports bar instead, you could gauge how much conversation just saying a name sparked. People always seem interested in arguing about Bryant, whether discussing the strength of his career resume, his ability to excel upon his return from injury or whether he or O’Neal was the leader of those early-2000 L.A. teams that were so successful. 

Who else passes the bar-fight test? James again. Maybe Derrick Rose. But beyond that, you’ll be met with some indifference by at least some portion of the otherwise-interested crowd. 

Everyone seems to care about Bryant, and that’s not a statement that’s limited to the United States. China, above any other country, has a torrid love affair with the future Hall of Famer, as Chris Ballard carefully detailed for Sports Illustrated in one of the best sports articles of 2014: 

As for Kobe, here in China he really is, as the sign reads, “forever young.” Here the local media dotes. The fans not only adore him but arrive with no expectations beyond glimpsing the icon. Hang around a Lakers’ road hotel in the U.S., and you’ll see groupies and autograph hounds awaiting the bus, and if the players don’t acknowledge them, angry 40-year-old men will berate them. In Shanghai, I saw one group of nearly a dozen teenagers outside the Shangri-La hotel at 10 in the morning one day; at 11:30 p.m. they were still there, waiting, hopeful, asking any Westerner who entered if they knew when Kobe might return. They carried a succession of handwritten placards, in English, that, one holding each, read “kobe can we take photo with u [heart sign]?”

This kind of unconditional love is rare. Growing up, Kobe received it, like most kids, from his parents. Now he gets it from 17-year-old Chinese kids. 

There’s no telling why exactly this popularity sprang out of nothingness, though Ballard speculates it happened organically, with a hardworking people respecting and admiring the unmatched dedication that Bryant has shown to his craft. 

Regardless of the reason, it exists. 

In fact, ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell reported during the 2013 offseason that Bryant was the most popular player in the NBA from 2008-09 until last summer, when James surpassed him.

Think about that. It took four MVPs and two titles for the best basketball player in the world to move past a star who should be aging. 

A summer later, Rovell wrote that James had become the most popular male athlete in America, but let’s not overlook where Bryant ranked. 

Keep in mind that the Lakers superstar was coming off a season in which he’d played only a handful of games, limited by an Achilles injury during the early portion of the ill-fated campaign and a major knee injury after his brief return. Despite being largely out of the public eye for the vast majority of the year, Bryant remained the fifth-most popular male athlete in the country, trailing only James, Jordan, Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning. 

This isn’t the result of a normal career. 

 

An Abnormal Career

It’s a testimony to everything Bryant has done in his NBA life.

He’s stayed with the same franchise, which again just happens to be the most popular one in the Association, and excelled throughout his career. He’s won titles, consciously—and convincingly—imitated the greatest player of all time and displayed a near-psychopathic ability to avoid distractions and believe in himself unfailingly. 

Armed with unequaled self-confidence and an insatiable desire to prevail over opponents—both literal and figurative—on his own terms, ferrying Los Angeles’ hopes has become Bryant’s preferred way of life,” Dan Favale writes for Bleacher Report. “He wouldn’t have the Lakers entrusting their fate to anyone else. He wouldn’t share the strain of expectations even if he could.”

Bryant has drilled countless game-winning shots, shaking off the misses so vigorously but simultaneously with so much ease, that everyone in the arena believes the ball is finding the bottom of the net when it next leaves his fingertips while the last seconds of a game tick off the clock. He’s posterized what seems like every great big man during his era of NBA history. He’s crossed over myriad opponents, leaving them clutching their ankles as he rises for another successfully converted jumper. 

In his prime, he was even a lockdown defender, capable of impacting a game immensely on that end of the floor. Though he’s devolved into a ball-watching, opportunistic defender who thrives on his previously earned reputation, he remains capable of serving as a shut-down one-on-one player to this day. 

It was probably the best defense somebody’s ever played on me since I’ve been in the league,” Brandon Jennings said about the 2-guard, via The Associated Press’ Greg Beacham, after a January contest during the 2012-13 season. 

He wasn’t the first to feel the wrath of a jilted Bryant on that end of the court, and he certainly won’t be the last. 

Bryant’s game has constantly evolved, as he’s developed some of the best footwork in NBA history to counteract his falling athleticism. When the need arises, he’s served as a de facto point guard, piling up assists and eschewing those volume-shooting outings for the better of his team. 

He’s by no means a perfect player, but he’s always going to do his darnedest to ensure he comes as close as possible to that descriptor. Well, as close as possible to his version of that descriptor, as Bryant’s idea of a perfect player doesn’t always show a perfect correlation with everyone else’s.

What he’s done in the NBA is irrelevant here. There will be players who match his number of titles as a key player. There will be stars who put together similar statistical resumes. Someday, another standout will score more points than Bryant has to his credit when he’s done lacing up his sneakers for a final time. 

That much feels inevitable, even if it’s hard to fathom in the present. 

More important is how Bryant has risen to such prominence. That’s where the tireless work ethic, nonstop improvements and tinkering, willingness to play out his career with a single franchise and knack for handling the spotlight all come into play. 

And that’s why there won’t be another Bryant. 

 

No Potential Replacement in the Current Landscape

There are plenty of superstars in the current iteration of the NBA. In fact, James seems awfully close to superduperstar status, if he hasn’t reached that popularity nirvana already, and Kevin Durant won’t be far behind if he keeps improving each and every season of his already impressive career. 

But no one has been mythologized like Bryant. Plus, each star has a notable flaw in the resume he’s submitting while trying to walk in the shooting guard’s size-14 footsteps.

James has already changed teams multiple times, alienating the Cleveland Cavaliers fanbase before returning to his hometown team after winning two championships with the Miami Heat. Even though he’s the most popular athlete in the sport now—objectively speaking, based on those earlier popularity reports from Rovell—his career has been filled with too many twists to enjoy the unbridled adoration so many project upon Bryant. 

As for Durant, he simply hasn’t been as successful.

Now gearing up for his eighth professional season, he’s ringless and has yet to develop the following that Bryant enjoyed at such a young age. He’s widely viewed—whether it’s fair or not—as the league’s second fiddle, a status that might be different if he’d already three-peated, as Bryant had already done at Durant’s age, young as that may be.

Who else is going to get there? 

Anthony Davis is the next big thing, but he’s playing for the small-market New Orleans Pelicans. Ditto for Andrew Wiggins, who’s now set to toil away in relative obscurity for the nondescript Minnesota Timberwolves.

Poking holes in the candidacy of the league’s other young up-and-comers is a similarly easy process. 

Plus, the way we view the NBA has changed. 

The role of analytics has risen rather dramatically, shaping the way the game is played and viewed by fans. Though some remain stubbornly opposed to the impact of numbers, they’re doing so at their own peril, passing up a chance to glean valuable information and become more intelligent consumers of an incredibly complicated, ever-evolving and often awe-inspiring product. 

Bryant had the luxury of playing in the era just before everything was scrutinized. Basketball was quite popular in the early-2000s, but the sport wasn’t a 24/7 entity in which each move was broken down. Allen Iverson was allowed to loft up 25 shots per game while shooting low percentages from the field, and hero ball pervaded late-game situations. 

That doesn’t fly anymore. Well, it doesn’t fly to the same extent. 

But that offensive freedom—the ability to operate in a one-on-however-many situation—allowed Bryant to start his career in soaring fashion, then continue on his merry way as the game changed around him. It’s hard to fathom any player in this day and age recording an 81-point game, for example, despite this particular 2-guard doing so only eight years ago.

Still, the thought of anyone so much as scoring 70 points in a single game—in a league that’s gone to great lengths to encourage ball movement and spacing and de-emphasize isolation play—is a fleeting one, at best,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin while looking back at what has arguably become the most famous game of Bryant’s incredible carer.

So, regardless of whether anyone touches that 81-point milestone, will the NBA be able to replace Bryant? 

Absolutely not. 

Just as Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and the rest of the stars from the post-Jordan era helped the Association move past the absence of the greatest player the sport has ever seen, remaining ever-popular all the while, Davis, Wiggins and the new breed of basketball superstars will help the league fill the void left by this particular shooting guard.

However, that in no way means the Association will replace the man, the myth and the legend named Kobe Bryant. 

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