Book review: Jack McCallum’s “:07 Seconds or Less”

March 15, 2013

Editor’s note: A book review is a first for me, but I figured, hey, why not. So this is something you’ll probably see more of around these parts, maybe one every two weeks or so, depending on how well this experiment goes.

There’s not many NBA writers out there better than Jack McCallum. A former Curt Gowdy Media Award winner, McCallum, also the author of last summer’s remarkable ‘Dream Team’ profile, spends most of the 2005-06 season as a phantom assistant coach with the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns, with the majority of the book’s content derived from the team’s Western Conference Finals run.

The anecdotes are classic — and often hilarious. McCallum’s angle, as a token assistant coach who has no say in day-to-day operations but nevertheless is in that room, delivers troves of insight, mainly from head coach Mike D’Antoni and assistant coach Marc Iavaroni, and excellent anecdotes, mainly from Alvin Gentry, a guy who’s been around the block for, at the time of McCallum’s writing, 18 years.

The book really demands a respect for the day-in, day-out grind of coaching in the NBA, one of McCallum’s stated reasons for writing. The frustration conveyed by the coaches throughout the 2005-06 postseason, from the 3-1 deficit to the Lakers dominated by Kobe Bryant, (purportedly) poor officiating and Kwame Brown, to another 7-game series against an L.A. team, the Clippers, and on to the team’s 6-game bow to Dallas.

Then, there’s the players. McCallum delivers dozens of behind-the-scenes stories, perhaps none more interesting than the ever-so-delicate personality of Shawn Marion, then Nash’s No. 1 running mate, who felt the coaches unfairly targeted him more than any other player and hated, I mean hated, the way Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and D’Antoni drew the headlines before him. Marion was, according to McCallum, reportedly furious his inflated bobblehead was not for sale in the team’s in-stadium store, unlike Nash’s and Stoudemire’s.

Oh, and of course there’s Raja Bell and Eddie House — and the opposing team scouting reports that House ‘won’t shoot it unless he has it in his hands.’ The locker room dynamic, as a whole, is intriguing, and McCallum does an excellent job breaking down the roles each of the guys play, mainly Nash, Stoudemire (who missed all but 3 games of this season due to injury), Marion, Bell, House, Tim Thomas, Boris Diaw, Kurt Thomas and Leandro Barbosa.

How delicate the coaches are in addressing the players — whether to point out that they consistently shoot the ball just inside the 3-line, to address an individual player’s weakness on tape and potentially embarrass him, etc. — and how much more thought goes into these processes than normally let on.

I only have 2 complaints with this book. A: Fair or unfair, even the slightest grammatical mistake in a printed novel drives me insane, and there are a few misspellings in this book — the most egregious being ‘Andrew Iguodala.’ B: McCallum often glosses over the regular season, which I can understand in the sense that the playoff reading is more entertaining and McCallum’s editors probably wanted to keep the book tidy, already at 309 pages. But then again, I enjoyed McCallum’s reporting and the coaches’ anecdotes so much, I just wanted more.

Season profiles can, if not done right, can turn into a chronological compilation of game stories, but the Suns, at least from the surface, afforded the author unprecedented access (even to the pre- and post-meal buffets!), and McCallum did not mess it up. Just a phenomenal book from a phenomenal writer.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

Buy Jack McCallum’s “:07 Seconds or Less” via Amazon here.


30 in 30: WASHINGTON WIZARDS

March 4, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the last of Armchair 3’s 30 in 30 series, where we’ve run you up to date on all 30 NBA teams over the course of the last 30 days. You can find links to each individual team’s analysis piece here. Now that this series has concluded, we’ll provide more day-to-day analysis of NBA news, rumors and playoff jockeying.

Washington doubled down on the present, not the future, this summer, with the veteran acquisitions of Trevor Ariza and former No. 2 overall pick Emeka Okafor. The price for these 2 was Rashard Lewis’s $13.7 million — itself still the largest deal on New Orleans’ cap, even though Lewis, since released, is playing spot minutes in Miami. Before the end of the 2012 season, Washington had already traded for Nene’s 5-year, $67 million deal.

Then, a few months later, Washington selected Bradley Beal with their No. 3 overall selection. Beal, 19, is Washington’s leading scorer, at 14.2 points per game, and arguably the league’s 2nd most impressive rookie after Blazers’ 1-guard Damian Lillard. Beal’s only 6’3″, but has unique ability as an outside scorer who can also create his own shot and score in isolation sets. Beal’s a 41% shooter, but is coming on strong late, averaging 18.8 points on 48% shooting in his last 10 games, as the Wizards have surged since Wall’s return from injury.

ALSO ON ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30: UTAH JAZZ

Diagnosed with that stress injury in his left kneecap, Wall did not make his season debut until Jan. 12. Without Wall, Washington started the year 0-12 and was 5-28 until his return; since, Washington’s improved to 19-39, winning 14 of 25 with the star point guard in the lineup headed into Sunday. The Wizards are 9-5 against likely playoff teams since Wall’s return, as well, and even won in Denver, who are tied atop the NBA with only 3 home losses.

With a lineup of Wall, Beal, Martell Webster, Nene and Okafor, Washington’s operating at a +60 points differential in 104 minutes together. Those 5 are, headed into Sunday, scoring 1.15 points per possession, while allowing opponents 0.86 points; those are the best outputs, on both ends, from any Wizards lineup to play at least 30 minutes together this season.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — TORONTO RAPTORS

Through any other statistical prism, Washington stinks — they’re 30th in scoring offense, at 92 points per game; 29th in field goal percentage, at 43%; 24th in assist-to-turnover ratio, 1.41; and tied for 19th in rebound differential, -1.4. Defensively, though, Washington’s made strides, allowing a 6th-best 95.5 points per game, better than Boston, San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City. They’re 4th-best in opponent’s FG percentage, 43.7, and tied for 6th-best in opponent’s 3-point percentage, 34.3. (And, somehow, their opponents shoot a 3rd-worst 72.8% from the foul line.)

But then, of course, there’s Washington’s personnel issues. Head coach Randy Wittman assumed the responsibility after the team fired Flip Saunders mid-season in 2012 and is on through at least this year, but who knows after that. Wittman, though in stalwartly standing behind his franchise guy Wall, blasted the supposed stubbornness of his young players publicly in February. Injuries and consistency are also an issue; 16 different guys have started games for Washington this year, easily the most in the NBA. (And only 1 guy, Okafor, has appeared in all 57 games.)

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Wall is one of the league’s top PGs in his 3rd year — he’s playing less than 30 minutes, but still posting 7.3 assists per on the NBA’s worst scoring offense. The game still needs to slow down for the super quick Wall, who’s also tallying 3.7 turnovers. And his 3-point game has never developed, dropping from 30% his rookie year to 7% this season.

Behind Wall and Beal, Washington’s best backcourt scorer, Jordan Crawford at 13.2 points per, has since been dealt to Boston for Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa’s expiring deal (and torn ACL). Crawford was shooting a mediocre 41.5% from the field and 34.5% from 3, though good enough to be career-highs, and his shot selection reportedly did not endear him to the Wizards’ coaching staff.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — SACRAMENTO KINGS

At the 3, Washington’s had a revolving door of Ariza, Webster and Jan Vesely. Webster, a lottery pick out of high school in 2005 and August signing, has been the most consistent, appearing in 56 games (42 starts) and averaging 10.7 points per game. Webster is also Washington’s primary deep threat, at 45% from 3. Ariza’s missed 17 games with a calf issue and is only shooting 41%. Vesely, the No. 6 overall pick in 2011, has struggled finding time in Wittman’s rotation, logging only 2.6 points per in 34 games. Even Chris Singleton, also a first-round selection in 2011, and his well-below-average 8.8 player-efficiency rating has played in 42 games.

In the frontcourt, Nene is one of the league’s most skilled players around the basket on both ends, when healthy. In 42 games this year, he’s tallying 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, and Okafor’s adding 9.5 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds. The departure of Lewis was supposed to free up time for Kevin Seraphin, a 1st-round selection in 2010 Washington’s particularly high on. And Seraphin, the 6’9″ stretch forward, is averaging career-highs in points, 9.5, and minutes, 22.7, but shooting a career-low 44.5% from the field.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Washington’s long-term future is, even with some of those higher-profile acquisitions, predicated on its upcoming draft picks. The draft, obviously with Kwame Brown the staple in 2001, has not been kind to Washington, aside from Wall and Beal, as none of Washington’s 1st-round picks prior to 2010 are still with the team. And Washington’s limited in free agency, with $14.5 million owed to Okafor in 2013-14, $13 million to Nene and another $7.7 million to Ariza, who’s likely to pick up his player option.

I understand $13 million is a little high for Nene, but his leadership and offensive polish is crucial to this team’s continued development. And let’s remember this is a team still trying to overcome the immature label, particularly because of the gun incident involving the since-departed Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton in 2009. Washington also amnestied the controversial Andray Blatche, now in Brooklyn — but not before the Wizards gave him an extension in 2010 that pays, on average, $8 million per through 2015.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — PHOENIX SUNS

Hypothetically speaking, say Ariza picks up his option for 2013-14, and so Washington would have about $56-57 million committed to 9 players, not counting the $7.8 million they’re paying Blatche off the cap. Webster’s the only guy coming off the books this summer Washington may want to extend; Okafor and Ariza’s deals expire next summer, meaning enough cap flexibility to ink up Wall long-term, who would be a restricted free agent.

As for next year, my bets are on Washington, if healthy, making a push for a lower-end playoff spot, as Milwaukee, Boston and Atlanta likely retool this offseason.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

FULL SERIES: ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30


%d bloggers like this: