The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet
Be honest for a second. Did you have any idea Chase Budinger was playing for the Pacers this season? Heck, if you’re not a die-hard hooplehead, there’s a good chance you don’t even know who Chase Budinger is. That’s part of what makes this article great though; it’s not just an in-depth breakdown of what Budinger could do for Indiana this year, it’s a spotlight shone on one of the many oft-ignored role players who make up the meat of an NBA team. Cooper is optimistic about the impact the seventh-year forward can have in Indianapolis, projecting him as not just as a potential starter at the 3, but also a realistic fit in a Shane Battier-esque role at the 4. Much as Battier did for LeBron in Miami, Budinger could serve as a breakwater for Paul George, protecting him from the energy-eroding duties of guarding the league’s Z-Bos, while leaving him free to torch them on the other end.
If you’ve been following this column – on Monday and Wednesday, at least – you’ve likely noticed an undercurrent of affection for both the Indiana Pacers, and the NBA Sunday columns of Moke Hamilton. Imagine my joy then at finding the two topics combined. This is admittedly not Hamilton’s finest work; the prose is less deft than usual, and the structure less fluid. But he more than does justice to the topic at hand, contextualizing the current situation in Indiana while reminding us just how incredible Paul George was to watch two short years ago. The variable his recovery from injury introduces to the equation points to what makes the Pacers so thrilling this season. We know, for the most part, who most of the great teams are. There are small questions, things like “how will LaMarcus Aldridge fit in the Spurs’ offense,” or “will Ty Lawson and James Harden be able to share the ball,” but our expectations for the elite teams are likely not too far off from the reality. The Pacers, as well as the Miami Heat, could be anything. If everything breaks right, you could see them making a deep playoff run. If it breaks wrong, they’re back in the lottery. Their season is like the prospect of seeing your girlfriend from junior year at your 10-year high school reunion. No matter how it turns out, you can’t help but be a little excited.
If Josh Huestis comes through for OKC this season, do you think the folks who made fun of the Thunder for being cheap when they drafted him will deliver on the mea culpa? Huestis is making more money now than he would have if he’d signed last year, and it’s not like some other late first-round pick would have saved Oklahoma City from the ravages of injury last season. Of course, the whole question hinges on Huestis being able to perform, which is very much still up in the air. Kennedy explores the Stanford product’s play in the D-League last year to get a sense of what the Thunder can expect from him this year, and to be honest it’s a mixed bag. The hope was presumably that Huestis would have become, if not a knockdown shooter, at least a reliable one. Instead, it seems like he’s still making his hay defensively, and while that may come in handy as OKC tries to plug holes around Enes Kanter, the “three” part of 3-and-D is pretty important if you want to stick in the league. But no matter how he performs, it’s cool that he’s getting a shot.
By no means have the Lakers had it bad since Magic Johnson retired. They’ve won five championships, featured two all-time great players and missed the playoffs only four times. That being said, while a player of Magic’s stature is irreplaceable, they could have done a slightly better job with the point-guard position. Kulik lays out the last 23 years of Los Angeles floor generals, and with respect to Nick Van Exel and Derek Fisher, the list is well short of inspiring. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that there wasn’t much space for a ball-dominant point guard during the Kobe Bryant/Phil Jackson eras, much like you don’t hear Bulls fans talking about the John Paxson or B.J. Armstrong years very often. Things are looking up for the Lakers though, with D’Angelo “Voodoo” Russell in the fold to drag Los Angeles into the modern era of the NBA.
There will be quite a few pieces remembering Moses Malone on the Internet today. He was, by all accounts, one of the giants of the game, and his loss will be keenly felt. James here recounts his own personal “Come-to-Moses” moment, and how his perception of the man changed once he began to truly consider the context of his achievements. It’s an interesting meditation on how we appreciate players, and how different they can appear as the context changes around them. We return to the accomplishments of earlier eras only sparingly, and often only when someone dies. There is real value in revisiting the game’s earlier eras and remembering the players who shaped the sport, especially the ones whose names don’t ring quite as loudly as Bird’s, Jordan’s, Russell’s or Kareem’s. We should not have to wait until we lose one of them to do it.