Tuesday, January 27, 2015

You Ever Heard of this New Sport Basketball?

Photo by: Sebastiano Pitruzzello, Flickr Creative Commons

Yes, it has been a while. I've been busy. I'm currently at least five episodes behind on every TV show I follow except the Daily Show, and that only because I watch it while I get ready in the morning. I'm still preparing for the Cheaha 50k next month, although my mileage is lower than I'd like. The time issue is not getting better anytime soon either. Tennis season just started up so my work day is 2 hours longer four days a week until the end of March, and now I'm coaching youth league soccer. I spent most of my free time last night researching how to do basic things like dribble and pass the ball since it's the only sport I watch, but have never played. I had a couple of "ohhhh, so that's how you do that" moments last night on something as simple as the most basic dribbling techniques.

Speaking of sports I never really played, I started watching a little basketball again this year. I usually follow some of the early rounds of March Madness and there were a couple of seasons when I gave the Atlanta Hawks a chance to win me over for the NBA, but it never took, possibly because the Atlanta Hawks were the most Atlanta of Atlanta sports teams. (Not a sports fan? Our teams are notoriously mediocre and weakly supported by locals.) I didn't even watch a game last season as the Hawks only made the playoffs because the East was so bad that even a team that won barely 40 percent of their games got in. Sure, this made me a fairweather fan, but I tried. Basketball just wasn't that fun to watch.

I didn't have any plans on watching this year, either. Sure, I'd check in on their record, much in the same way I follow the Braves' record each summer, but I wasn't going to waste any time on watching them. Basketball and baseball were just going to be sports that didn't vibrate at the right frequency to resonate with me. That's ok.

Then the Hawks started winning.

And my Twitter feed started filling up with names like Korver, Millsap, and Budenholzer and phrases like "that ball movement, though."

And then they kept winning.

So I gave them a chance. In case you don't know, Kyle Korver is one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA and that may not even be hyperbole. They guy is currently hitting 53 percent of the threes. That leads the league by a wide margin. (Second place is only 46 percent.) It is not uncommon to see the Hawks on a breakaway pass from the paint back to Korver for a 3-pointer. That is not normal. At all.

Paul Millsap is good but there's a chance you watch basketball and don't even know him. I'll let this quote from a recent Grantland article sum him up:
Wins himself three different honors: “Best Free-Agent Bargain of the 2010s” (Atlanta stole him for $19 million over two years, which seemed utterly insane even at the time); “Best Secretly Successful Player” (for career win shares of active NBA players, Millsap is one of only five under-30 guys in the top 50); “Best Table Test Guy” (hold this thought) and “Best Night-To-Night JumboTron Surprise” (he never jumps out if you’re watching him in person, then you look up with nine minutes left and say, “Wait, Millsap has 18 and 8 right now?”).
Mike Budenholzer is the coach. He was hired from the staff of Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Popovich is beloved by the geekier basketball fans for his genius as a coach. It seems Budenholzer paid attention during his time in Texas. The Hawks are running a very similar game. They spread the ball around, put a lot of people on the court over the course of the game, and get everyone to play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. There are no ball hogs. Just guys doing what they do well and then helping the other guys do what they do. Then, because everyone seems to be on the bench for half of the game, the well-rested Hawks hustle to strangle the other team on defense. In their last game, which actually was an off night by this season's standards, four players ended with double digit points. It's common to see between five and eight guys in double digits, though.

Keep in mind that only five guys can be on the court at a time in basketball.

I didn't even mention guys like Al Horford and Jeff Teague, guys who've actually been on the team for a while now and were beloved by fans or recognized as great talents long before this season.

Oh, and they're riding a 16-game winning streak at the moment. And they're first place in the East. And they've recently beaten every good team in the dominant West except for Golden State, who they'll finally play on Feb. 6. And, yes, I'm being a bandwagon fan here, but when I've watched (and I've watched all or parts of most of the last month's games) basketball is suddenly fun. Instead of the usual repetition of get the ball to one of the one or two good guys on the team and watch him drive to the basket off a pick and roll followed by a trot to the other end of the court that seems to typify pro basketball, you've got a team that sends the ball all over the court on offense, and you never know who is going to take the shot, followed by full court defense even when they're up 10 points in the third period. They're complex. They're unpredictable. They're good.

I just hope it's not a fluke. This is Atlanta, after all.


Julie said...

Atlanta teams do have a tendency to choke even when they've seemed unstoppable all season. I'll keep my fingers crossed they let you have this one. I don't really watch any sports (unless necessary) but I will say basketball always seemed boring until I worked for the paper and got to watch from under the goal. I don't think it translates to TV watching as well as many other sports

Jacob said...

I think the difference was actually being forced to pay attention to it and try to predict what was happening so you could get the shots, although I will say baseball and hockey are better in person than on TV, although at least hockey is still good on TV. Football is better on TV than in person most of the time, besides atmosphere.

Any sport I've ever sat down on and focused on and taken seriously I have enjoyed. The sports I don't like are probably just because they don't share important qualities with the sports I like and I've never tried to watch seriously.

Julie said...

I think baseball is better on TV. It's such a slow moving sport that I find the variance of the close-ups and replays they show on TV help to break it up.

Jacob said...

Valid point, but for me, being there in person is the only way I can maintain focus on the game. I demand more movement from my TV viewing.