Monday, November 16th, 2009 at 3:15 pm  |  46 responses

Links: Hawks on Top?

Plus Jennings, Rubio, Rodman, Chocolate Thunder, Muggsy, et al…

by Lang Whitaker

Let’s start today with the latest NBA.com power rankings, in which we find — gulp! — the Atlanta Hawks ranked as THE BEST TEAM IN THE NBA!!!!!!!

I feel like I’m in some sort of alternate universe or something. I really don’t even understand how to process the feelings I have about this. Yes, the Hawks are 8-2, are in first place in the Southeast Division and won in Boston on Friday night. But are the Hawks the best team in the NBA? I’m sorry, but I don’t think they are. The Lakers drilled us in L.A. We lost in Charlotte to the BETcats. Ten games does not a champion make. The Hawks are very good, probably as good as they’ve been in the last 10 years. But I don’t think we’re the best team in the NBA.

Of course, this might just be a normal reaction from a fan of a team who is used to waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m afraid to even talk about this because I’m terrified that what we’re witnessing isn’t real, some sort of illusion designed to break my heart down the road. So. Moving on.

• Got an email from frequent commenter Jackie Moon, which arrived early Sunday morning with the subject line “Went back to read your column on Rubio v Jennings.” Writes Jackie:

You were wrong. You wrote in your game notes: “Whenever Joventut goes zone, Brandon is able to drive at will. If Coach Gentile would turn him loose he’d probably go for 30. To his credit, Brandon’s trying hard to stay within the team concept.”

He’d probably go for 55, not 30.

Really tho, the fact that you reported on that game, and the insight you displayed in the notes shows that you know what’s up.

Read your own words again:

“I find myself watching Brandon more than Ricky, because I already know Ricky can play at the next level — I mean, dude was holding his own at the Olympics against the Redeem Team. Brandon’s the more unknown commodity right now, although I’ve watched five minutes of this game and I see no reason he won’t be going in the lottery next year.”

“…But now he’s getting a one year crash course in defending pick-and-rolls, handling the travel and the attention, keeping his teammates and coaches happy — basically, what it’s going to be like for him next year in the NBA.”

I think Ryne should link back to that column and say, “Lang told ya so.”

P.S. Lang, make that check payable to “Jackie Moon,” M-O-O-N.

Hey, thanks for the email, but do you really think I wasn’t thinking the same thing on Saturday night? (if you missed it, here’s a great recap of the night from Bethlehem Shoals.)

One other thought: So many commenters ’round these parts spent the last year saying dumb stuff like, “Brandon’s numbers in Italy aren’t all that, he’s never going to be anything in the NBA.” I told you then and I’ll tell you again now: You were wrong. Brandon had abundant physical talents that should have been obvious to any informed hoops fan. Him trying to play that halfcourt, Euro-style basketball was like trying to make Iverson come off the bench — it was an awkward fit from the get-go. Still, he was good and this was apparent. And I told you this months ago.

But what does Brandon’s rookie season tell you about how well Ricky Rubio is going to play in the NBA? Ricky will never score like Brandon, but he’ll be an incredible all-around point guard. Don’t just look at the numbers. Watch him play, talk to people he played against and played with. Then judge.

• Loving David Aldridge’s Monday morning columns on NBA.com.

• My main man Enrico at The 700 Level has a great interview with Darryl Dawkins. I love that he knew a guy growing up that they called “Scald Cap.”

• Got an email late last week from Linkstigator Dieter Moeyaert over in Belgium, who said there was going to be an exhibition game between a team of Belgium hoops legends and a team of Americans captained by Dennis Rodman and starring Tim Hardaway, Muggsy Bogues, Dale Ellis and a handful of streetball stars (we have a Hot Sauce sighting!).

Would I like a report on the game? Why yes, yes I would like a report on the game, thank you.

Take it away, Dieter:

Ever wondered what a game featuring veteran Belgian ballplayers playing alongside NBA legends like Dennis Rodman and Muggsy Bogues, as well as streetball dons like Hot Sauce would look like? Last Friday, the people of Belgium — you know, those waffle-eating hobbits living near Brussels — got a taste of this tantalizing matchup.

The game, which was billed as “NBA star Dennis Rodman Vs. The Belgian Legends” (in Belgium, you become a legend once you get paid to collect bench splinters for some obscure Italian team), was a big deal for our small but proud nation.

Out here, life doesn’t come easy for NBA fans. We’re grateful to have two games a week on pay-per-view, for which we gladly get up in the middle of the night and during which we often see our countryman DJ Mbenga getting dunked on. (Tony Parker was thisclose! to being a Belgian, too — he was actually born in Bruges when his dad used to ball there, but as Tony Parker Sr. then went on to play in Paris, the French welcomed Tony with open arms. Sacre bleu.)

All of this to say: when a five-time NBA champ makes the trip across the pond, especially one who’s arguably as famous (well, or once was arguably as famous) as Michael Jordan, we roll out the red muggsycarpet and break out the champagne.

The Worm didn’t disappoint — at least, not off the basketball court. He went on national TV, on this late night talk show called “The Final Show,” donning a gigantic pair of sunglasses and entertaining the crowd with stories about strip clubs, tattoos and basketball fame. He even convinced Sting, who was also on the show but had explicitly told the host he didn’t want to sing, to perform “Message in a Bottle.”

As much as Rodman charmed the audience in the television studio, his on-court antics were far less entertaining. In a 127-103 USA win, he was virtually invisible during barely four minutes of half-assed play. I think he touched the ball maybe six times. He looked out of shape, setting weak pick and rolls, barely coming off his feet to get a rebound and in general not displaying much interest in what was happening.

Luckily, The Worm had brought company: an oddball mix of ex-NBA players and streetball stars, who were there to avoid the game turning into what it essentially was — a matchup between graying, forty-year old have-beens with fading tats and no hops.

Muggsy Bogues was there, as were Dale Ellis, Tim Hardaway, Tracy Murray,  Taurian “The Air Up There” Fontenette, Philip “Hot Sauce” Champion, Kareem “Air Bama” Ward, Anthony “Africa” Pimble, Patrick “That’s Crazy” Robinson and Marvin “High Rizer” Collins.

Murray came out the strongest, connecting on three out of five from behind the arc in the first quarter. Muggsy was good, too, pushing the ball upcourt, dishing out no-look passes and hitting a few jumpers. Hardaway, Ellis and especially Rodman, on the other hand, were virtually invisible. There was no UTEP two steppin’, no diving for loose balls. Oh, and no TV monitors were harmed during the course of the game.

Things only became interesting after the first quarter, in which the Belgian legends had somehow managed to keep up with Dennis & Co (20-21 after one). The streetballers had seen enough airballs and wheelchair-tempo fastbreaks and decided to take over the show.

And what a show it was. The Belgian Legends couldn’t but look on as Hot Sauce dribbled them off their feet and Africa, Air Up There and Air Bama posterized them in a series of crazy dunks.

In true With Us Or Against Us-fashion, the local team got bombed with off-the-backboard, alley-oop 360s, backward, two-hand slams and slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am tomahawks — with a huge cheer erupting from the 7,500-strong crowd in the Antwerp Sports Palace after each dunk. This was basketball extravaganza at its best.

In the end, the ones who had lured us to the Sports Palace didn’t play that much, but what we got in return — seeing basketball at its most spectacular, with talented players dunking, dishing and swishing — reminded us why us Belgian hoopheads get up in the middle of the night to watch the most beautiful game in the world.

Even if that involves your countrymen getting dunked on.

Thanks, Dieter.

(Also, Dennis Rodman is in the clink, apparently, because of all this.)

• Last thing: There’s a special tonight on ESPN2 called “NBA 10 The Inside: Generation Now,” about all the current stars of the NBA. I did a long interview for it last week, and it seems like it’ll be pretty cool. It’s on the Deuce tonight and then will replay ad nauseum on NBA TV. Check it.

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  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Lang knows I hate giving him credit, but since it’s a chance to take some for myself, too, I’ll say it: Slam has pwned pretty much everyone on predicting Brandon Jennings’ success. Not saying we predicted 55-point games two weeks into his rookie season, but I am f*cking saying.

  • http://slamonline.com Tzvi Twersky

    Yeah, you called it right on Jennings. Props.
    -Truth is, the whole SLAM squad kinda called it right. We had him on the cover. In our mock draft, I had him going fourth and wrote: “the kid didn’t miss a J, showed great speed, court vision and displayed the work ethic Eddie Jordan needs. I think he’ll be able to step in this year, play 30+ minutes a game and bring us back to respectability. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s a little flashy—remember the cow-bells that Jason Williams had ringing here 10 years ago?” He didn’t go to sactown, but I was kinda right. And then Holly wrote an online feature. Not to mention, he was in PUNKS with Jrue a few summers back. So, I guess what I’m saying is, We’re not that surprised at his early success.

  • http://slamonline.com Tzvi Twersky

    And I didn’t even see Ryan’s comment.

  • http://www.kzine.se Tanny

    Now the only question is how much money or how many girls rodman was offered to play in that game (while showing up is a more accurate description)

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Cheryl

    I love Sting. He was a good sport, eh?

  • Double J

    Rodman is bomb he paid off foreign police, i love this guy, and i love dieter, dude can write

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  • Ree Roe

    It is real Lang! Go Hawks!

    -REEcently Roe!

  • mookie

    is that Dieter from Laguna Beach

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Pffffft….ya’ll didn’t even have Brandon in your top 50, so whatever.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com/madlib Michael NZ

    The Aldridge morning tip is must read stuff. People gotta get on that. Actually I’m surprised Muggsy can still get up and down – he was playing bone on bone in those knees towards the end. Here in NZ we get 2 games a week on ESPN, but I will say this… they’re on mid afternoon with replays in the evening so I feel for the European NBA fan. Of course, we don’t get preseason games down here so that evens things out.

  • http://slamonline.com/ niQ

    That was a fun read. Haven’t heard Hot Sauce’s name in a minute. Good to see he’s still ballin.

  • http://www.manutd.com Z

    ”what does Brandon’s rookie season tell you about how well Ricky Rubio is going to play in the NBA?” Nothing. Nothing at all. Totally different players.

  • http://www.manutd.com Z

    What it actually tells us is that the NCAA is worried. Very worried.

  • http://www.yahoo.com christian wells

    if A.I. could play like brandon jennings things would b different 4 him,i think were gonna start 2c more highschool playrs go overseas then 2 theL bcuz u get paid and u can play marginally well bcuz of the difference n styles of play then come 2 the L and kill…

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    I for one would rather see Rodman on an NBA court over A.I. don’t hate me for saying that please.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    christian wells. Ai WAS brandon Jennings….10+ years ago.

  • http://www.manutd.com Z

    brandon jennings has a long way to go before we can mention him in the same sentence has ai. the man has had a rough past year. he’s still one of the greatest guards of all-time. let’s appreciate what brandon is doing right now and not go too too crazy yet.

  • http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:OzhW3M1GBSKkgM:http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    @Lang I accept paypal, too … @Z “What it actually tells us is that the NCAA is worried. Very worried”. Exactly. Right now every high school phenom is thinking, “Wait. You can mean I can get paid a mill to play a year in Europe, play against tougher competition, and it might make me more attractive to NBA clubs? OR, I can stay here, play for free against worse competition, and pretend to go to classes? Hmm …”

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Z is a highly underrated commenter. Two great points there. Even if he is a Man U fan.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Hawks now tied for best record in the NBA. ATL, shawty.

  • Hoodsnake

    You guys still have it easy here in South Africa if theres no signal there is no NBA( um Action) so sometimes you sit up til 2 in the morning and then cricket reruns gets dished up. Isn’t Van Damme from Belgium?

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Great stuff, Lang. Rubio will kill, too.

  • David

    Dale Ellis must be at least 50 by now, right?

  • T Bone

    Hoodsnake…i feel you man! i am in CPT so i know all about it!

  • http://slamonline.com Brad Long

    Lang, just watched that NBA 10 special. Your interview was awesome. Big ups.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com DP

    I kind of crazy so I will say that Brandon is AI 2.0. can’t tell me any different. play wit it.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com DP

    I kind of crazy so I will say that Brandon is AI 2.0. can’t tell me any different. play wit it.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Jennings is a point guard, Iverson never really was, even when he was putting up six assists.
    Jennings is nice, but I think there will be an inevitable drop off for him as the seasons goes on and people start taking away his favorite shots. But man, I like how that kid runs the show. He already understands the balance between scoring and running the show better than Iverson and Arenas ever did.

  • Vince5

    Wow, Raptors are 1st offensively but last deffencively! That’s pretty unnusual to see.

  • http://www.manutd.com Z

    It’s crazy to think that Arenas still can’t figure out how to get his teammates involved and run the show while still being agressive and getting buckets. That’s why he’s not as valuable as his stat line would suggest. Iverson was never a pg and only brought the ball up when it was absolutely necessary. He could have been a deadly pg because the court vision was there. He didn’t want to.

  • http://slamonline.com/ niQ

    Z is right man. I was saying that last night, these kids see Jennings and will start to think about the possibilities of playing overseas for a year.

  • http://slamonline.com/ niQ

    Vince5, is it really that unusual to see? I mean, weren’t the Suns the same a few years back?

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    You’re wrong about AI. His first two years in the league, he ran the point. He just didn’t have the patience. It’s not about court vision, it’s about understanding tempo, know when to pull up, knowing when to attack. Knowing how to handle screen rolls to make other folks better, and knowing how to used them to get yourself in better position to score.
    Iverson knew how to score. In every possible way except for in the post.
    Jennings knows how to run a team. I am very impressed with his ability to understand how team’s work. I mean, he took some tough shots last night in the clutch, but he also took some really smart shots. That little floater in the lane? Beautiful. That shot will serve him well for the rest of his career.
    What I don’t understand is why so many people said dude couldn’t shoot. I mean, he shoots with confidence, and is hitting a lot of shots.
    Sidebar: Did y’all know know that Iverson was shooting 57 percent in his 22 minutes of pay with the Grizzlies. Granted, it was only three games, but I can see why dude was pissed he wasn’t getting more tick.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Brandon is a point guard in name, I suppose, but he also broke the Oak Hill Academy scoring record. Worth remembering…

  • http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:OzhW3M1GBSKkgM:http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    How dare Fox Sports place the Suns at 1 and ATL at 2 in their Power Rankings? Who do they think they are?

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ Tariq

    So are you saying Iverson SHOULDN’T come off the bench?

  • http://fdjklf.com Jukai

    Z: It’s all opinion, but I disagree with you about Iverson.
    A lot of people say Iverson had the court vision but didn’t have the willingness. I’ve seen a lot of Iverson, and I’m not sure he HAD the court vision… I think Iverson was an incredible, creative passer who, when he saw the open man, could easily get the ball to him because of his ability to contort his body and know exactly how to throw the ball/how hard to throw it, sort of in the mold of Kobe (and to a greater extent, Jordan).
    However, I saw Iverson take shots while three-on-one instead of passing to the open man. The argument is there to make, because there was a better chance of Iverson hitting a shot three-on-one than passing it to most of his horrible teammates… but I always wondered if sometimes, Iverson didn’t see him.
    That being said, Iverson was a fantastic PASSER. Kick-outs always on target, lobs timed perfectly. I just question if he always saw his teammates.

  • http://fdjklf.com Jukai

    Jennings is going to have to make some decisions down the road: should he become a true point guard in the mold of Isiah and Billups, or should he become a scoring monster in the mold of Mo Williams and Tiny Archibald. Because, honestly, he could do either and be an all-star that way.

  • knock knock

    “we already know rubio can get to the next level” that right there, is horrible. Rubio is putting up horrible stats on a good team, but he is the STAR of the team. And they give him minutes, so there is no comparison between jennings and rubio. Rubio will be a bust, no doubt about it.

  • http://www.another48minutes.com Gerard Himself

    Rodman and co. were also in my country, but I didn’t want to go. For some reason it doesn’t feel right to me. A bit sad, actually.
    My advice to Dieter: Dieter, I’m from the Netherlands, so I’m your friendly neighbor. Two games a week on a pay-per-view channel… I hear you man. I had that for the last 10 years, until one month ago. I ditched it, and you know why? NBA League Pass Broadband International. F*ck 2 games a week. Try 50 games a week. In my country it’s basically the same price that have to pay for 2 games a week, so dude, get League Pass now!!!

  • al

    knock knock, anyone in there? if you think basketball is all about stats, then it is not worth trying to explain you the following. Rubio plays for a great team this year, probably as good as the Milwaukee Bucks no kidding. Rubio IS a star of the team, together with Navarro, cause he deserves it. If you watch last weekend’s game against Caja Laboral (former Tau) you will see why. He stole the ball thrice in a role at half court from Sean Singletary who said it had never happened to him before, not in school, not in NCAA, not in NBA. He will never score as Brandon, but he does so many things that make him unique.

  • http://fdjklf.com Jukai

    I don’t think the gap between Rubio and Jennings is that small anymore, and I don’t know who is ahead. I’ll just smile and comment that Rubio has 25 of his team’s 58 total assists so far this year.

  • matt the jazz fan

    great write up from my countryman

  • hillbilly

    Gotta give it up for the Hawks. I know the season’s still young, but these guys have been ballin’ outta their minds against some of the league’s best. Crawford’s a great addition to an already solid lineup and to quote Charles Barkley, “Owl Huffurd is a stud.”