NBA Players may hate the impact of the 21st century’s blog boys, may hate way math nerds are impacting the style of play, and may long for the game of their childhood… But today players and bloggers alike are talking about how a math professor from Ball State created a format that may have just handed us a new and better way to end the All Star Game.
Dr. Nick Elam watched a lot of basketball to come up with this formula. As many basketball fans, Elam noticed that the last few minutes of a basketball game have turned into fouling and shooting free throws. Logically, teams are gambling that if they can stop the clock they have a shot of playing catchup. Even if the winning team hits both free throws, the losing team has more possessions left to chip into the lead because of how short the winning team’s possessions are.
Elam did some math, figured out some averages, and decided that truthfully all a team needed to win a college basketball game was to score roughly seven points (not off “hack-a” style free throws)in the last four minutes. So, Elam proposed that after four minutes teams should just play to that seven, not for a length of time. If team A is up 60-55 with 4:00 left, the clock is turned off, and the game is first to 67. If the game is close, those possessions become super important, and teams DON’T want to foul. If it’s more like 60-40, the likelihood that team B gets 27 points faster than team A gets 7 is minimal. Either way, the game ends on a made basket. Thus, there’s always a “game winner.”
The Elam Ending was taken on by The Basketball Tournament, with varying approval from fans. While it has a set score from the opening possession, the Big 3 also has found a format that “always has a game winner.” But taking away the clock from an NBA game?
Sunday night, the NBA may have taken its first step. The NBA used the Elam Ending to wrap up the NBA All Star game in Chicago. In honor of the late Kobe Bryant, 24 was added the winning team’s overall score from the first three quarters and called the “target score.” Team Giannis entered the 4th quarter up 133-124, and thus the final score was set at 157. While 24 initially sounded like it might be a short NBA quarter, the commercial free quarter lasted over 45 real life minutes (including the timeouts, free throws, foul reviews, etc.). Team LeBron came storming back, but the pressure was evident in all ten players on the floor down the stretch. The game’s “Game Winner” came in the form of an Anthony Davis free throw after a foul inside.
The next day, everyone is claiming this fixed the NBA All Star game. Truthfully, the game’s fourth quarter was as intense an All-Star game as there has been in twenty or more years. Kyle Lowry, Team Giannis’ point guard in crunch time, was 3 for 5 on charge attempts in the fourth quarter. Joel Embiid tried to dominate the game from the low post, and was met with a swarm of Team LeBron defenders. The game truly became, as Kobe Bryant himself once called it, the greatest pickup game on Earth.
But… Does that mean it’s fixed?
The game’s intensity picked up in the second quarter, when Giannis himself went on a tear. He had 14 of his 25 points in the quarter, but his energy was even more impactful. Whether it was due to the charitable cause or the sheer lack of enthusiasm from his handpicked team, Giannis’ effort was contagious and Team Giannis went nuts. Down the stretch of the third quarter, with $100,000 for charity on the line, both teams clawed their way to a tie before entering the fourth. When the fourth tipped off, the tension was thick enough to see on the court.
But, did it make the game better? We went from seeing uncontested, up and down, lob throwing contests to a guy trying to take five charges in a quarter. Players tensed up, as was evident in James Harden passing up at least a contested lay-up and Kemba Walker dribbling the ball out of bounds. Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard were unconscious in the first three quarters shooting the ball, but had a harder time getting loose with new teammates in the fourth.
All of that is different than any previous All Star game over the entirety of the fourth quarter. The drive to get to 157 was stronger than any stretch of any All Star game in recent memory.
But, the Elam Ending was also proposed as a way to quicken blowouts.
Would the fourth have had that kind of feeling had Team Giannis built a 150-124 point lead by playing well for stretches of the first and third? They would have needed to get to 174, a measly 24 points. But Team LeBron? In that scenario they would have needed to score 50 points before Giannis’ team scored 24. We’ve seen plenty of All Star games that end the third quarter with two teams a lot more than nine points apart. Would this be as fun then?
The other thing about pinning all of the fun from Chicago onto Elam’s Ending is it negates other factors that also made the game more competitive. Towards the end of quarters, players clearly knew the charitable stakes of the quarter. Team LeBron and Team Giannis each chose a charity, and at the end of each quarter, $100,000 was handed to the charity of whichever team won the quarter. The kids from the charities were given sections of seats to watch and cheer for their team. The players used that as fuel, and clearly wanted to win those kids $100,000. Those stakes made the game that much more competitive on their own.
Kobe Bryant was notorious for being the guy that took the game too seriously, and the homages before, during and after the game were palpable. Before the game we had Jennifer Hudson and her tribute, during the game Team Giannis all wore number Kobe’s #24 (and Team LeBron all wore Gigi’s #2), and after the game Kawhi Leonard received the first ever Kobe Bryant All Star MVP award. Allen Iverson, who lost to Kobe and Shaq in the 2001 NBA Finals, wore a throwback #8 jersey to celebrity row. Bam Adebayo had artistically customized sneakers in tribute to Bryant. With his presence everywhere, anything less than hyper competitiveness to finish the game would have been unacceptable.
Last night’s NBA All Star game was incredible in several ways, and the most notable difference was the competitive element. But was that because of the Elam Ending? The goal was to find a fun ending that was both competitive but took away the fouling to extend the game. And it did feel like, even with the charges and goaltending reviews, we got that…
But was it because of an ending that came down to an Anthony Davis (Chicago’s very own) free throw?
There are certainly kinks to work out. Yes, the game was fun this year… but is it fixed? We’ll see in the years to come.
Zach LaVine Is The Missing Piece For The Sixers by Chris Allen
Zach LaVine is a 6’6 catch and shoot lob threat. This 25-year-old two-time slam dunk champion has spent his career trying to make it to the playoffs or keep the Chicago Bulls at 500. In contrast, he’s averaging over 25 points per game since 2019, per basketball reference. LaVine is bound to be an All-Star this year, having career highs in both points and FG shooting percentage. His skill set, and size, might be the missing piece for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers have themselves projected anywhere from a 2-4 seed coming out of the Eastern Conference. Ben Simmons is the best playmaker and on-ball defender on the team. Joel Embiid is a beast in the post and spreads the floor. Tobias Harris is a solid shooter anywhere on the floor and can create his own shot. Out of the three, the most tradeable player is Harris in exchange for LaVine. Depending on management, you can make LaVine sign an extension or throw in Danny Green and Otto Porter Jr. to offset the salary cap.
How would the 76ers offense and defense schemes work? In theory, depending on matchups, Simmons would play the four on defense for the most part and alternate with LaVine or another guard to play the one. This allows for more explosive offensive firepower surrounding Simmons and still creates space for Embiid to operate in the post or stretch the floor. This open space leaves room for your slashers, Simmons and LaVine.
With all the movement and attention on the central core, spot up, catch and shoot three-point shots will thrive. Matisse Thybulle, Seth Curry, & possibly Porter Jr. offer the Sixers solid shooting on the floor to make this a solid offense. Simmons at the four on defense allows him to turn into the point guard as soon as he gets the rebound hitting LaVine on the fast break for quick transition points.
LaVine can do something that Simmons can’t do, which is the ability to shoot from outside the paint. Whatever position you put them in, they could cover each other’s weaknesses and keep Philadelphia’s offense potent. Philly still has depth with Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey for guards if Simmons and LaVine ran as your forwards.
No one wants LaVine to have career numbers on a struggling team. Simmons and Embiid are rare in their skill set. They could use an independent scorer to take away attention and get a bucket when needed. With LaVine holding the ball more, there’s less talk about where Simmons sits in the offense with his lack of shooting. With the trade deadline coming, it will be interesting to see whether LaVine will stay a Bull or find himself with a contender for a ring.
Damian Lillard Named Cover Athlete for NBA 2K21
There aren’t many players in the NBA that are as exciting to watch as Damian Lillard. The Portland Trail Blazers point guard can drop 50 points on any given night, putting up statistics only seen in video games.
Due to his gaudy play this year, Lillard has been announced as the first of three players that will grace the cover of the NBA’s premier video game franchise, NBA 2K.
Lillard was in the midst of a remarkable season prior to the league shutdown, as he averaged a career-high 28.9 points and 7.8 assists per game. If the season resumes next month, Lillard will look to close a 3.5 games gap across an eight-game schedule to get his Trail Blazers into playoff position.
Regardless of how this season ends for Lillard though, it will still go down as another incredible campaign for the five-team All-Star. One worthy of his first selection as the cover athlete on 2K.
Lillard will be on the cover of NBA 2K21 for all the current-gen gaming consoles including PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC and Google Stadia systems. 2K still needs to announce another cover athlete for the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles.
For the 29-year-old point guard, this honor is very gratifying as it continues to solidify his status as one of the game’s most elite players.
Due to the continued fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still unclear whether NBA 2K21 will be released at it’s regularly scheduled drop-date in September, or if it will be pushed back to accommodate the league’s changed schedule.
If the season is played in it’s entirety, many don’t expect the 2020-2021 NBA season to start until late November, if not some time in December.
Stephen Jackson: Journey Man
Nearly two months ago, when the NBA announced the 2020 Hall of Fame class, and in the midst of having no sports to televise, ESPN ran a series of important games from Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan’s careers. For Duncan, ESPN played his near quadruple-double to seal the 2003 NBA Finals. In the fourth quarter, when the Spurs needed buckets, the New Jersey defense collapsed in on Duncan, who kicked to a wide-open, third-year NBA player named Stephen Jackson. Jackson hit three big three-pointers, Spurs win. For many, some combination of that performance (being the secondary star in a non-primetime, 17-year-old basketball game) and his All The Smoke podcast with Matt Barnes was the most thought given to Stephen Jackson in quite some time. Jackson went on, after a brief stint in San Antonio, to play for six franchises in eleven years before retiring in 2015. Many would call him a journeyman for his travels in the NBA, and assumed his life would settle down after that.
Last week Stephen Jackson put himself, and his cause, in front of everyone. Following the brutal murder of George Floyd by four police officers, Jackson took to his Instagram to let the world see and hear the pain he had for his lost friend. Floyd grew up in Houston, Jackson in Port Arthur. For those not acquainted with Texas’ geography, the two went to high school just over an hour apart. Many in Port Arthur residents, like Jackson as a child, go into the city of Houston when they need things you’d find in the city. Port Arthur is a tough-minded oil town that functions as both a suburb of the city of Beaumont and the city of Houston. It’s produced the likes of Jimmy Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Pimp C, and Bun B… but Stephen Jackson is the only notable NBA alum that cites it as home. You can see Port Arthur’s toughness in Johnson, Charles, and Jackson. You can see its swagger in Pimp C, Bun B, and Jackson.
And now, you can see him representing Port Arthur, and making a difference.
Everyone ended their Memorial Day weekend watching the same horrifying viral video. It hit everyone differently. For some, it was a wake-up call to the deadly realities of police brutality. To others, it was an anger-inducing “another one?!” To still others, it was horrifyingly close to home, with a mirror-like reality. And to Jackson? It was his lifelong friend. His “twin.”
Jackson and Floyd have known each other since childhood. Both were active athletes from similar neighborhoods and backgrounds, but the “twin” moniker came not only because they were figuratively brothers, but because they look eerily similar to one another. The two played pick-up basketball in the Cuney Homes housing complex of Houston’s Third Ward. (Jackson has, in the last week, really done an intentional job of pointing out how talented of an athlete Floyd was. To be frank, it is very important. The difference in Floyd’s life cut short and Jackson’s life in the NBA can come down to a few breaks or ball bounces here and there.)
While much of the nation’s initial anger over George Floyd’s murder was in their own homes for the initial twenty-four hours, Stephen Jackson’s was cast for the world to see.
In the following days, Jackson continued to post homage to Floyd while he made his way to Minneapolis to lead protests. Once there, he made his message clear: no one was going to diminish Floyd’s name. No one was going to rest until action was taken. Change was coming, and Jackson was ready to work for it.
Jackson was surrounded by the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie, actor Jamie Foxx, Houston area rap artist Trae the Truth, amongst other protestors. After speaking to the crowd, Jackson and others went outside marched to the Hennepin County Government Center.
Protests and marches have been commonplace all over the United States of America this week. In an effort to combat police brutality, communities are banding together to have their voices heard. Both in-person and online, at the forefront of these protests continue to be high profile athletes and celebrities. In North Carolina, Dennis Smith Jr. and J. Cole were mixed into the marches like everyone else. Jaylen Brown did the same in Atlanta. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote an op-ed for the LA Times. It clearly did not take being connected to the situation like Stephen Jackson to take the lead in the community.
In the week since publicly sharing his pain, Jackson has become the face of NBA players involved in the protests, and his movements are seeing results. Within hours of his statements in Minneapolis, the police officer who murdered Floyd was arrested. Protests have continued, calling for both the arrests of his three partners who watched him idly, and for their four convictions. Since Jackson spoke out, major shoe brands, EA Sports, and even Adam Silver have come out in support of the protests. Jackson, who made a career as a reserved tough guy, pushed much of the NBA world to the point of speaking up. While COVID quarantine certainly helped further the cause (everyone is stuck at home with little other distractions, searching social media), Jackson’s activism is the inspiration we look for.
What’s both fascinating and disturbing is George Floyd was not the first unarmed black man murdered on camera. He wasn’t even the first of such since the COVID quarantine started, and the violent reaction to the protests imply he won’t be the last victim of police brutality either. But, his name and case are pushing people to a protesting brink at a national level. There are several factors, but Jackson and the ensuing NBA involvement is certainly a big one.
The murder of an unarmed person at the hands of the police shouldn’t need celebrity grief to become a tragedy. NBA players shouldn’t have to remind the public they’ve been wearing “I CAN’T BREATHE” tee-shirts since 2014. The news should sting on its own and, if you’re paying attention, it always does.
However, in Jackson’s grief he helped elevate this particular case. The NBA, and pro sports, can humanize black people for many white audiences that otherwise don’t get to interact with people that don’t look like them. For decades neighborhoods, schools, and public spaces have been (intentionally or unintentionally) segregated through various means. As pointedly illustrated in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crowe, these systems can perpetuate cyclically and lock people into only being around folks that look like them. Humanized professional athletes can bring new faces into white neighborhoods, as they connect with and idolize people on their team. Jackson is one of those faces, and he isn’t just “involved” in the ongoing fight in Floyd’s name. In his own words, he’s “all in.”
Jackson’s activism can bring those conversations into white homes, neighborhoods, and families. It can help force the issue and conversation. Recent generations of NBA players have been very socially active, and time after time we see the issues they take up carry significant weight. It’s sad to admit, but in many ways it’s vital. It makes the stories human to more people, because Jackson is a human known by more people.
Jackson has spent the last week publicly riding an emotional roller coaster. He mourned the loss of his friend, was firm in pursuing justice, and was open in sharing his story. As we enter week two of Jackson’s journey, he has accepted being the leader of the current athlete activists.
“Like, I’m honest with you: I did not expect to have the role and to have so many people waiting to see what I have to say and what’s the next move,” Jackson told ESPN. “Like, I didn’t ask to be in this position, but I’m embracing it. I’m embracing it.”
But what does that mean? What does embracing it look like for Journey Man Jackson?
“We got to vote,” Jackson continued. “I’m not just talking about the president. I’m talking about the local city council. I’m talking about your police chief, your fire chief. We need to vote for all that type of stuff because all that stuff’s going to matter at the end. And what we’re doing now as far as protesting everywhere around the world, we got to use that same energy when it’s time to vote.”
“Coming into this, I’ve seen so many situations not pan out right,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen the impossible happen also. And I think this is that situation. I think this [is] going to be the change. My brother’s death is going to be change. I think we’re going to get convictions for all of them. I think they’re drawing it out right now because this is the typical system. That’s why we got to change the rules — they look out for each other. They try their best to look out for each other. So this is expected by me.”
“But we’re going to fight. This is a marathon. And we’re going to continue this fight, and we’re going to outfight them. We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep this thing going. They’re going to get tired of hearing about George Floyd. They’re going to get tired of hearing his name.”
The word “journey” carries a lot more positivity than “journeyman.” A journey can be life-changing, and it can be historically impactful. A journeyman is a wanderer; he’s lost or he has no home. A journey is going to be important. Calling someone a journeyman implies they weren’t important enough to stick in one place.
However, in the NBA journeymen are often beloved by other players because they have to be good teammates to survive. Journeymen change clubhouses frequently, and they’re more appealing to more teams if their past teammates can attest to their characters. But to fans, and outsiders, they tend to be the periphery of the storylines of the league. Sure, Stephen Jackson hit a barrage of three-pointers in the 2003 NBA Finals, but they were off of Tim Duncan’s assists. He’s an emblem of toughness, but Jackson never stayed in the same organization for more than two complete seasons (though he did have two separate two year periods in San Antonio).
Players love Jackson, that’s evident in his podcasting and TV appearances. But he was never integral to the NBA’s story throughout his journeyman-days. He was always going to be remembered as the guy who scored on Duncan’s kick out, or the teammate that got traded, or the veteran on a one-year deal. If you watched the NBA in his 14-year career, you knew who he was… but his playing days didn’t indicate he’d be an unforgettable piece of the story of the league.
But as the latest chapters of Jackson’s story is being written, he’s looking more like a man on a journey than a journeyman. If you persist he is a journeyman, he’s clearly chosen to focus on the breakdown of the word regardless of your perception.
And his leadership has proven far more than necessary in connection to the story of America in 2020 than it ever was in connection to the NBA.
If you have the means to, or would like to donate to help the cause Jackson is at the front of, please consider the following places to start:
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