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The Starting 5: Beards, Blazers and Birds, A Collection of Profiles

The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet 

1. A Mystery Wrapped Inside An Enigma Shrouded In A Beard – Pablo Torre, ESPN The Magazine

In this space, I try to highlight high-quality writing from smaller sites and less known writers. Part of that is because I don’t want to just link to Zach Lowe’s Tuesday Column every Wednesday morning, but it’s really because there is so much great work that gets lost in the churning sea of each day’s basketball content that it feels more worthy to pull out the articles that might otherwise have drowned. But since Pablo Torre is one of the best writers working in basketball right now, full stop, exceptions can be made for this frankly exceptional profile of James Harden. It is in many ways standard stuff for a celebrity profile – the crowds taking pictures at the mall, the discussion of fame – but Torre has a way of getting into the psychology of his interview subjects without feeling hackneyed or presumptuous. If you like great writing, read this feature.

2. Warren Could Be Key To Suns’ Season – Michael Pina, Sports On Earth

After two years of near constant turmoil, it is still impossible to figure out just who or what the Suns are. There are surely some who think that their failure to tank in 2013-14 was the worst thing that could have happened to them, as it kickstarted them back into the playoff chase perhaps too soon, costing them players and picks in the process. And hey, they may be right! But damn has this team been fun and exciting over the last two seasons, mixing breakneck speed, experimental rosters and a chaotic locker room into a roiling stew of chase down blocks and three-point bombs. Second-year forward T.J. Warren will be looking to add a splash of his own flavor to the team this year, and Pina believes that his play could play a major role in how the season shapes out in Phoenix. Warren’s finishing at the rim and ability to get into the paint make him, at the least, an interesting pick-and-roll finisher when Tyson Chandler is sitting.

3. Jeff Teague, the Hawks’ ‘engine,’ is only revving up – Adi Joseph, The Sporting News

Jeff Teague is up there with Derrick Favors as a front-runner for the Mike Conley Most Underrated Player in the NBA Award. He’s far from the flashiest of the league’s top-tier point guards, but his adaptability and work ethic would likely stand out if he wasn’t in Atlanta. Joseph’s profile explores the way his game has changed over the years, and the ways Teague has pushed himself to evolve as a player to fit with the times. There’s some good “F—k You” potential with the Hawks this year; with everyone planning for their inevitable regression the team has a lot of reasons to come out swinging. If the team adjusts – by playing Teague off ball next to Dennis Schröder as the article suggests or perhaps using former Spur Tiago Splitter to refocus the defense – this could be another great season in Atlanta

4. Lakers already feeling Roy Hibbert’s sizable impact – Anthony Irwin, Silver Screen and Roll

Roy Hibbert has had a rough couple of years. He struggled in the playoffs as his team imploded, was then at least partially blamed for the team’s dissolution and finally was loudly written out of the Pacers’ future. While he hasn’t looked thrilled to be on the Lakers so far – especially, as Irwin mentions, in moments when his team fails to rotate on defense – he clearly recognizes the opportunity to salvage his name and is making the most of it. This is great news for Los Angeles; the rise of small ball may have helped us forget how close Hibbert came to shutting down LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals three years ago, but he’s still one of the league’s better rim protectors. When you add in the experience he brings to the team’s rookies, earned in multiple deep playoff runs, and the defensive IQ that Irwin highlights, and it’s clear that he can do as much to rehabilitate the Lakers as the team can to rehab his image.

5. Damian Lillard Has The Makings Of A Franchise Player – Paul Flannery, SB Nation

Paul Flannery, much like Pablo Torre, is a great writer. The fact that he has chosen sports as his topic is mostly incidental; if he’d developed a passion for octopuses instead of basketball, he just would have wound up as an editor at National Geographic instead of SB Nation. It is unsurprising then that he wrote an excellent profile of Damian Lillard. Regardless of how you feel about his skill set, Lillard is unquestionably one of the most personable players in the league, and Flannery does an excellent job letting Dame’s personality and humanity shine through in this piece. This piece makes an interesting comparison to Torre’s Harden profile: both features highlight the importance of branding in this era; both talk about the unique appeal the stars they feature. That Torre hones in on Harden’s inscrutability and strangeness, while Flannery notices more than anything just how normal Lillard is gives you insight into the writers as well as the players. Given their respective shoe deals, there may also be an insight into Adidas’ overall marketing strategy, highlighting the two extremes of personality among their featured athletes. Whether that strategy in any way impacted the writing of these profiles is hard to say; it is at least interesting that they were released on the same day.

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