By Ben Golliver
• Above: Sixers center Andrew Bynum is apparently trying his hand at Pop-A-Shot while sidelined by knee problems that were apparently made worse while bowling. Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don't Lie with more. Photo via @AdamReigner on Twitter.
James has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated 18 times and made his cover debut on the Feb. 18, 2002 issue as a high school junior under the now famous tag: THE CHOSEN ONE. He revealed on Wednesday that the screensaver of his phone is a Photoshop image of himself handling the ball while guarded by Michael Jordan in his prime. "Jordan was my superhero growing up," James said. "He was the guy I feel helped me get to where I am today. As a competitor, who would not want to go against the best? That's like asking [Tom] Brady would he want to go against Montana in the fourth quarter."
James was asked if he thought he would play into his late 30s as Jordan did. "I want to play to the point where I am still able to make an impact," James said. "I feel like I have set a standard for myself. When I am on the floor, I want to make an impact in some way shape or form. Hopefully, if I can stay healthy and continue to be a leader, I can play until the game tells me it is over."
More importantly, it seems that James’ struggles at the foul line could be having a negative impact on his overall offensive game. James is going to the foul line significantly less than in years past. So far this season he’s making just 5.7 trips a game, which would be the lowest average of his career. This is a drop of nearly three attempts per game from last season. Not only that, it's roughly half as many as his last season in Cleveland.
This is an unusual and unexpected development. As James has appeared to hit his prime over the past few seasons and his all-around game has been honed, all of his numbers and execution have only been on the rise. This is the first significant regression in a while and the opposition is already starting to notice.
“I just need to go up there and make them,” James said. “Just go up there and figure it out.”
It has only been done 11 times by players who played the large majority of the season, with Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki the last small forward to do it, in 2006-07, and Lakers point guard Steve Nash has done it four times.
It's the sort of goal that makes the grind of an 82-game season more manageable, the kind of statistical pursuit that both motivates him individually and raises the bar collectively. Sustained excellence requires projects such as these.
"That's something I want do, something I'm chasing," he admitted. "That's being efficient, taking good shots, taking what the defense gives you, not forcing … That's what I want to do. I just want to grow in that area."
"He's trying to be a leader," Stoudamire said. "It's amazing. Zach's never tried to be a leader, man. I'm not saying it in a bad way. He's just trying to do some things bestowed upon him. Guys took him under their wing as a youngster and he's doing that now. He's done a great job of leading. You can tell. And he needed to be the voice on that team."
"It's time people start giving Zach respect as one of the best players in this league," Stoudamire said. "He can win and do the things people said he couldn't. But they don't talk about him anymore. They dismiss him. But once again, his numbers are the same or around the same.
OK, who else can shoot, pass, handle and move around a little? Oh, right, Pau! The irony is staggering. Gasol, suddenly an object of scorn, actually fits D’Antoni’s offense as well as Nash and Bryant, and better than Howard.
Not that anyone has noticed. Bruce Bowen, one of ESPN’s supposed experts, announced the other day that Pau is lost when he’s not “down on the block.” Bowen retired before Gasol became a Laker or he’d have had to notice him at the high post where his shooting and passing ability made him devastating in tandem with Andrew Bynum, “down on the block.”
Gasol’s problem isn’t D’Antoni’s scheme, it’s playing alongside Howard in D’Antoni’s scheme. The triangle ran great with two seven-footers. D’Antoni’s open-court offense is fine with none and can accommodate one at the max. And that has to be Howard, because he’s Dwight Howard.
• Ken Berger of CBSSports.com checks in on Royce White.
There are small signs of progress in Houston, as Rockets rookie Royce White has capitulated and begun seeing the team's recommended psychologist, Dr. Aaron Fink of Baylor University. White remains away from the team and continues tweeting away in seclusion, although the tone of his social media commentary has swerved distinctly away from attacking the Rockets. (Evidently, the fine deductions in his first couple of paychecks resonated.) However, sources with knowledge of the situation caution against characterizing these developments as any kind of breakthrough in the team's efforts to accommodate White's desire for what he has called "consistent" and "appropriate" treatment of his anxiety disorder. The White situation evolves daily, and there's no clear end game in sight. White deserves compassion, but he's resisted legal counsel offered to him as well as help from the National Basketball Players Association. The Rockets also deserve credit for not giving up on him. One person briefed on the matter has concluded that a lesser organization would've long since begun the process of voiding his contract.
• Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com writes that scouts are selling, not buying, on the 2013 draft class.
Most of them can't even recall a year like this, where there is no clear-cut No. 1 draft pick and the overall crop of players is vastly underwhelming. Maybe back in 2006 when import Andrea Bargnani was selected first overall and Tyrus Thomas and Shelden Williams were both somehow taken in the top five. The NBA general managers who dealt away their first-round picks for June 27th's NBA draft rejoice, while the ones who could end up picking at the top of the lottery are already frustrated and left scratching their heads in disbelief.
"I'd trade the pick for sure," one NBA GM said. "No one wants to pick first this year -- and no one can live up to the No. 1 billing."
"It's the worst it's ever been," said another.
• The Blazers get nothing from their second unit scoring-wise. Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com investigates.
I could find records back to 1997-98 and since that time, the Blazer bench scoring average per game of 14.7 points is the worst ever. And it's not even very close. In 2004-2005 Phoenix's reserves averaged only 17.5 points per game and that's the only thing even near Portland's weak number.
And it seems as if NBA teams have gotten deeper in the last few seasons. There has not been a team average fewer than 20 points per game for a season off its bench since 2005-2006. This season, the Lakers have the second-worst bench in the league and are getting (23.4), or about nine points more per game than Portland.
• Beckley Mason writes at the New York Times' Off The Dribble blog that Kobe Bryant's legacy could be found in his intense preparation and care for his body.
Whereas most players will be remembered for their exploits on the court -- and Bryant, with the five rings he has won in Los Angeles, will certainly be a legend for his footwork, his fadeaways and his snarl -- Bryant’s most enduring impact might be the example he set off the court. For goodness’ sake, the man went to Germany to have an operation he could not have in the United States, so that his knees, worn thin from so many seasons and postseasons, would potentially have a bit more life.
Even if he did not change the game on the court the way, say, Jordan or Chamberlain did, he has done as much as anyone else to push the limits of off-court dedication. No one has taken better care of his body (even Jordan drank and smoked cigars), which is why perhaps no one else has played at Bryant’s level so many games, minutes and dunks into his N.B.A. career.
• Bill Goldstein of The New York Times interviews David Halberstam, who compares Michael Jordan to ballet dancers.
"The moves are balletic. Michael is really on the order of an American Baryshnikov or Nureyev. And at the same time you have the technology at both ends getting better: We get better cameras on location, better lighting and in our homes, better receivers ... You can't imagine Michael as being that compelling an athlete in the radio age. ... He's the right athlete at the right time."