VICE Sportshttps://sports.vice.com/en_usRSS feed for https://sports.vice.comenMon, 10 Dec 2018 16:43:30 +0000<![CDATA[Kawhi Leonard's Handle is the Secret to his Success]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/a3mydg/kawhi-leonards-handle-is-the-secret-to-his-successMon, 10 Dec 2018 16:43:30 +0000Kawhi Leonard is 27 years old, enjoying the prime of a career that’s already turned him into the most complete basketball player in the world. He can score efficiently at all three levels, shoot, rebound, create for teammates, and, without help, defend just about every player in the league.

But when Phil Handy—an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors who specializes in skill development and has worked closely with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kyrie Irving, among many others—met Leonard over the summer and asked what part of his game he most wanted to improve, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year had ball-handling at the top of his list.

“Great players are great players, and I think they become even better players when they’re willing to get out of their comfort zone and just work on different things,” Handy told VICE Sports. “Kawhi was already a good ball-handler. I just think a lot of people didn’t really get to see that part of his game. It was there.”

They started with simple combinations and focused on improving his balance, base, and footwork, then blended in additional moves with multiple variations. Repetition was key. The objective wasn’t necessarily to teach Leonard new ways to transport himself from Point A to Point B on a basketball court so much as it was to plow what he already knew even deeper into his psyche. Now, when Leonard does something with the ball, his reflexes kick in before his brain has time to process what’s going on.

“Sometimes the dribbling exercises you put guys through, it may not be something they actually use on the floor but it gives transference. Their instincts become better,” Handy said. “They just instinctually start to go from one handle to another to another when they’re in different situations in games.”

He's availing himself with a broader palette. Here’s Leonard getting hounded by Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Josh Okogie. When he goes between his legs and Okogie reaches in for the steal, Leonard spins baseline fast enough to convince viewers the move was directed by a choreographer.

The result of Leonard's hard work during the offseason is clear every night. After a lost year in which he only appeared in nine games, Leonard has not only re-inserted himself into MVP and “best player alive” debates, but has also emerged in his first year with the Raptors as arguably the best ball-handler at his position. Plays like the one seen below are already typical.

On the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard’s handle felt like a pencil sketch of the Mona Lisa. Greatness was imminent, but operating in place of flair and spectacle was a robotic efficiency that never really needed to evolve. Every dribble inside Gregg Popovich’s system was a wasted opportunity to pass or shoot, and who was to argue with that calculus? His straight line drives regularly led to tomahawk dunks. The Spurs were a juggernaut. That doesn’t mean Leonard was stagnant, though. He itched to journey past the fundamentals which had already been mastered. There was strobe-light training and a demand to create more than separation for his own shot, particularly in the playoffs, as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili aged out of their responsibilities.

“He always was able to get to his spots, but now he is so comfortable anywhere,” Jamal Crawford told VICE Sports. “His handle is to the point where he does things to hop into shots, along with getting to the rim, along with using it to get his space in the mid-range.”

Today, Leonard’s ball-handling is an ideal marriage between style and substance; it’s grown from garnish to bedrock. There's more fluidity and jazz at a higher volume. His dribbles per touch are at a career high, and shots attempted after at least three dribbles account for over 57.2 percent of his own offense. (Two seasons ago that was 42 percent, and one before that it was 37.1 percent.) Leonard is also averaging 5.3 more drives per game than he did three years ago, and 1.5 more than his last healthy season with the Spurs. (So far, only 36 percent of Leonard’s shots have been assisted. His previous career low was 48 percent, and in his third year that number was all the way up at 59 percent.)

"San Antonio did a phenomenal job developing Kawhi and helping him become a better player. I just think it was a different system." Handy said. "The flow of our offense puts him in different situations where he’s able to expand a little bit more."

The hard work is paying off, but a change of scenery hasn’t hurt. When I asked why he’s been able to showcase his ball-handling a bit more this season than in year’s past, Leonard acknowledged Toronto’s system and how he’s being utilized: “It’s pretty much just the offense that we’re running. I’m just able to come off pin downs and there’s a lot of cross screens and dribble hand-offs. Nick’s just doing a good job of spacing out the floor.”

Where lineups earlier in his career rarely prioritized offensive gravity over defensive intimidation, Leonard now operates with four three-point shooters by his side (including Pascal Siakam, who's making a relatively impressive 34.6 percent of his threes right now), in an era designed for stars to take advantage of extra room. When he receives a pick high above the three-point line, Leonard skis downhill and sticks the screener’s defender on an island. It’s impossible to guard, but switching isn't much of an alternative.

“We knew he could score in and out and off screens and all those kind of things. Play in transition some. And now we’re kind of getting him more in the screen-and-roll game, so he’s learning. And I think he’s starting to see things a little bit better too. He’s finding some kick-outs and passes out of there, and those guys are gonna need to step in and make them,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “So he can do everything, right? He can do everything, and we’ll just keep progressing with keeping it in his hands in all situations.”

Sit 15 feet away when he warms up at the free-throw line, as I did before a recent Raptors game, and it’s impossible to ignore just how small everything looks in his hands—if the basketball is Earth's surface, Leonard’s hands are its oceans. At the NBA combine in 2011, his hands were 11.25 inches wide—which is wider than every player measured at the last four combines—and served as exclamation points at the tip of his 7’3” wingspan. They’ve always been his closest friends, around to help deflect passes and tally unreachable steals, sky for a rebound or finish a contested layup. And now more than ever, it’s hard to negate their usefulness when he handles the ball, too.

“Kawhi is really long, so my tendency when I’m working with guys that are long is to help them tighten their handle,” Handy said. “It makes sense biomechanically with your body, if you’re sitting in a wider stance it’s going to help you keep your length in.”

Leonard has more control over his entire body than the average person does over their big toe. Merge that discipline with unparalleled physical dimensions that directly impact his ability to manipulate a basketball, and what you get is a unique handle that defenses can’t really stop. He’s even more compact and under control than he used to be, which, when talking about someone who already takes care of the ball better than any star in the league, is really saying something. It allows him to alter tempos whenever/wherever he wants.

“He doesn’t play at a breakneck speed, but when he changes speeds he’s fast,” Handy said. “He just kind of puts you to sleep with the way he plays, and then boom. He’s really deceptive like that.”

The first time I re-watched this video, I thought the fourth dribble was a glitch; I’m still not 100 percent positive the ball physically travels went between his legs:

Already one of world’s best players, Leonard’s growth in this specific area has elevated his ceiling and made it even less possible to slow him down. Try and trap him and he'll turn the corner, draw two defenders and still create enough space for a baseline fadeaway. Leonard regularly rips the ball off the rim and goes coast-to-coast, swiveling through defenders with an in-and-out move that's executed to perfection at top speed. His between-the-legs crossover is lightning and his one, two, three-dribble pull-ups are virtually unguardable. Leonard's handle isn't the entree of his skill-set, but it complements everything else that makes him a franchise-altering talent. And just like every other gem who thrives in the same rarefied tier, the best is yet to come.

“I don’t care who you are, Kyrie, Steve Nash, Chris Paul. I don’t think you ever get to a point in your career where you say ‘OK, that’s enough with my ball-handling,’” Handy said. “You always have to constantly continue to get the rhythm of the basketball, and keep your handles tight, so wherever you are on the floor there’s any combination of dribbles you can use.”

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a3mydgMichael PinaBasketballsportsnbaToronto Raptorskawhi leonard
<![CDATA[Max Holloway Defends Crown in MMA Striking Masterclass]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/439bd9/max-holloway-defends-crown-in-mma-striking-masterclassMon, 10 Dec 2018 16:43:14 +0000 In a sport where plenty of fighters still awkwardly circle with seven feet of space between them and the opponent, then wing full-power swings while trying to run in the opposite direction, Max Holloway’s comfort in trading range might as well be considered a superpower. It took all of a minute for Holloway to work Brian Ortega out and to start taking chunks out of the challenger. Round one was a beating and Holloway simply did the same thing, with more intensity, every round after that.

Of course, the one thing that everyone knew coming into this fight was that Brian Ortega is an opportunist and not a perfectionist. In fact Ortega had not convincingly won a round in years before he fought Cub Swanson. Ortega takes shots, lands a few of his own, and then finds the finish seemingly out of nowhere. This fight was always going to be the man who can find the finish at any time, against the man who only gets stronger as the fight progresses.

The disparity in striking skill was obvious before the fight: Ortega is finding his feet as a striker and Holloway has already developed into one of the best to ever compete in the UFC. The things that Ortega was doing—attempting to get down behind his lead shoulder and time big counters—would work against lesser strikers, but Holloway was having none of it.

From the get go, Holloway’s jab interrogated Ortega and squeezed his intentions out of him. If Holloway jabbed and Ortega retreated, a second jab would cover Holloway’s second step, and a right hand would fly towards Ortega’s head or body on the end of it. Whenever Ortega lingered, the second step would never come but the right hand would slip in early. And when Ortega went to his shoulder roll—which we have discussed not working against Renato Moicano—Holloway would jab him deep into it and then crack him with the right hand all the same.

Ones and twos were the diet that Holloway fed Ortega for the majority of his five hundred thrown strikes in this bout, but there was plenty of variety in there too. Holloway is one of the best in MMA history at getting to his opponent’s body. Where Takanori Gomi and Fedor Emelianenko pioneered the body punch in MMA, neither mounted them on the kind of scientific boxing that Holloway uses to sneak them in. In addition to wide rights and right straights to the body, Holloway will often throw a left handed body shot off the jab, requiring some serious dexterity and a gauge on his opponent’s reactions.

The fight was called off by the doctor before the fifth round could start. This was merciful, as Ortega had absorbed over three hundred strikes in the previous four rounds and was a swollen, bloody mess. But there is no doubting the heart of Brian Ortega, who was quite prepared to go out and take another hundred strikes just to look for that one perfect elbow or snap down.

Ortega’s striking looked amateurish against Holloway, but Ortega still has plenty of time left to improve. His striking has come on in leaps and bounds through his short UFC tenure already so being able to absorb the best shots from Holloway for four rounds will probably only give him more confidence to experiment and grow comfortable under fire. If he can use that confidence to shore up the defensive holes and tighten up his form, he could trouble even the better strikers of the division. And don’t forget that jiu jitsu is what Ortega is known for in spite of his almost complete lack of takedowns. There is so much missing in Ortega’s game and he has still made it this far. With attention in the right areas there is certainly a lot more to look forward to in his future.

For Holloway the next step is unclear. He has only defended his featherweight crown twice, but he has already fought the majority of top featherweights on his way up. If Frankie Edgar can successfully pitch yet another title shot, there will always be an audience for Holloway vs. Edgar. There are rumblings of Holloway going to lightweight though, and Dana White has expressed his desire to see Holloway there. Max missed out on a late notice title fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov a few months back, but more than that there is the prospect of a rematch with Conor McGregor which would certainly garner great interest and provide Holloway with an enormous payday. Either way, it is great to have Holloway back in action and looking so damned sharp after the worrying symptoms that took him out of the originally scheduled Ortega fight back in July. Holloway is one of the best to ever play this game and every time he steps in the cage it is a joy to sit back and spectate.

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439bd9Jack SlackSean NewellMMAUFCFIGHTLANDcombat sportsmax hollowayufc 231
<![CDATA[Korean Sportscaster Doesn't Seem to Mind the Blood Flowing Out of His Nose]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/yw7q4k/korean-sportscaster-doesnt-seem-to-mind-the-blood-flowing-out-of-his-nose-nosebleedFri, 07 Dec 2018 18:38:17 +0000This is what you call pure dedication to the game. A Korean sportscaster with SpoTV suffered a pretty brutal nosebleed while on camera, but the man just kept on rolling.

Jo Hyun-il was mid-broadcast about the NBA when something in his nasal passages went awry:

A pretty crazy scene, as Hyun-il recognized something was going wrong at first, but then just kept going with it. The only person to do a real double-take was his co-host, who gave a pretty funny WTF glance off-screen to see if his producers had any solutions for it. The show—and nosebleed—must run on.

h/t Extra Mustard

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yw7q4kLiam Daniel PierceSean Newellnbakoreabroadcastingsportscastingjo hyun-il
<![CDATA[Cavs Rookie is Really Great at This Really Bad Thing]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/d3bwdj/cavs-rookie-is-really-great-at-this-really-bad-thingFri, 07 Dec 2018 14:30:00 +0000 The below has been excerpted from this week's Outlet Pass, to get caught up on everything else you need to know in the NBA this week read the rest of the column here.

Collin Sexton owns one of the most maddening and admirable shot charts in basketball. Guards who fetishize long twos and struggle-face their way into the paint with little to show for it unnecessarily wander uphill while leaving countless points on the table. But, as Cleveland’s physical representation of a silver lining, Sexton (who’s still 19) isn’t afraid to prioritize his own comfort zone over what NBA tastemakers deem obligatory. It’s clear from watching him that threes aren’t necessarily outside his range, but, for now, Sexton and the Cavs are fine with him cozying up to an area on the floor that just about everyone else in the league has abandoned.

“He’s taken what the defense has given him,” Cavs head coach Larry Drew said. “I think as he continues to mature, continues to grow and develop, he’ll start to understand, you know, that you just take a little step back and you get another point. But right now he’s playing off feel.”

Not only does Sexton gorge on the game’s least efficient shot more often than anybody else, but the gap between him and the pack is jarring. According to Cleaning the Glass, 43 percent of Sexton’s shots are long twos. For reference, that’s one point below DeMar DeRozan’s career high and last year’s league leader finished at 38 percent. “That’s just what they’re giving me,” Sexton told VICE Sports. “I have to take advantage and make it.”

Not even 30 games into his career, this doesn’t need to induce a freakout. But just so we’re clear, threes matter, and Sexton will eventually need to take more than 1.6 per game if he wants to widen his own margin for error. The upshot of a mid-range diet typically is not an efficient scorer. The Cavs would like Sexton to eventually be an efficient scorer. The good news is there doesn’t appear to be any sort of unnerving impediment holding him back. His range will someday extend by a few feet without any need to rework shot mechanics or speed up his release, and he’s already shown a willingness to pull up in the face of defenders who duck under his screen.

Sexton’s warm-up routine before games mostly focuses on the tight pull ups that account for a huge chunk of his shot selection, but Cleveland’s coaches also want to simulate the cushion defenders regularly give him above the break.

Earlier this week, before Cleveland’s shootaround began, Sexton and a handful of coaches had half the court to themselves. On the other side, a few Cavs (Alec Burks, Channing Frye, Sam Dekker, and a couple more) walked through sets with Coach Drew. For Sexton, the goal was to sharpen his entire off-the-dribble attack. He snaked pick and rolls as a coach instructed him to step forward towards the paint instead of back to the arc as he weaved middle off a screen, so as to prevent his man from recovering to bother his shot.

“Attack the nail!” they shout, referencing the exact middle of the free-throw line. Speed is important, but this particular sequence is pointless unless Sexton can get his defender on his hip and lock him in jail. Learning such nuance does not happen overnight, but is crucial to his development. Until he figures it out, Sexton will take some difficult shots that don’t need to be so hard.

He then spent ten minutes implementing patience into his side pick-and-roll, setting his big man up to re-screen and let him get downhill for an easier jump shot when his man goes under the pick. For Sexton, these smooth pull-ups are great to keep in his back pocket, especially after the three becomes a regular part of his arsenal and opponents work to take that away. In the meantime, not every long two is created equal. Like, this should never, ever, ever happen in an NBA game:

Sexton doesn’t completely abandon layups or threes—he’s 18-for-39 beyond the arc and isn’t bashful when given enough space and time to let one go—and that’s notable. But his next step will be to initiate pull-up threes instead of settling into them because that’s what the defense wants.

“It’s there,” he told VICE Sports. “I’ve just got to take more reps and not be afraid to shoot...I’m not at all [shy about shooting threes], but if they’re gonna sag back off me I’ve gotta be able to knock that 15 footer down.”

Coach Drew has not instructed Sexton to take more threes, and so long as the Cavaliers are playing to lose, the rookie’s shot selection is sufficient. Frankly, when he makes them at an effective clip (currently 44 percent, which isn’t bad), the threat of a mid-range jumper accentuates Sexton’s blinding speed and forces defenders to guard him tighter than they want to. Ignore his first ten games (all off the bench) and Sexton’s averaging 17.8 points on very impressive shooting splits. He went 3-for-3 beyond the arc on Wednesday night against the Golden State Warriors. So long as he and the organization are happy letting his scope expand organically, Sexton can become one of the more dynamic scorers at his position. Attach a potent mid-range pull-up and reliable three ball to Sexton’s uncanny speed and someday defenses won’t know what the hell to do with him.

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d3bwdjMichael PinaBasketballsportsCleveland Cavalierscollin sextonthe outlet pass
<![CDATA[The Spurs Need to Tank the Season]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/8xpd5v/the-spurs-need-to-tank-the-seasonFri, 07 Dec 2018 14:15:00 +0000 The below has been excerpted from this week's Outlet Pass, to get caught up on everything else you need to know in the NBA this week read the rest of the column here.

The world made so much sense last year whenever you read the words that Synergy used to grade how well the San Antonio Spurs performed on defense. Against post-ups they were “excellent.” In transition, isolation, and stopping putbacks they were “very good.” The sky was blue. They made the playoffs. But watch them now and all that feels like it took place six million years ago. Today, markers like “poor,” “below average,” and “average” dominate the page.

Not to bury the lede—this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who read every word up until now—but San Antonio has the worst defense in the NBA. That’s right, the same franchise that’s enjoyed over two straight decades of playoff basketball by surrounding their own hoop with a silver and black bunker fortress—the Spurs had a top five defense in each of the past six seasons—is now a disheveled mess. (Since Gregg Popovich’s first full season as San Antonio’s head coach—so long ago that Frank Sinatra was still alive—they never finished with a defense that was worse than league average. Right now they’re 5.0 points per 100 possessions higher than the league average.)

While plenty of deserved criticism has focused on their stubbornly antiquated shot chart—the Spurs take the league’s fewest amount of threes and shots at the rim while launching more long twos than anybody else—it’s defense where they struggle to breathe. On that end, Popovich’s troops are undisciplined, be it in the open floor (they’re allowing 1.49 points per possession after a turnover, which is lower than the Washington Wizards, and if you’ve seen the Washington Wizards play this year you know this is the red alarm to end all red alarms), timing a double team in the post, or simply containing the ball. They’re consistently a step slow helping the helper or unnecessarily over-helping in the first place:

The Spurs are regularly surrendering astronomical point totals, be it 140 against New Orleans, 139 in Utah, 135 in Milwaukee, 128 in Minnesota, or 136 against the Rockets, or 121 against the Lakers. All those games are within the past 17 days. They’re getting worse as the season rolls along, not better. And if almost any other organization was currently playing like they are, regardless of preseason expectations, they would be written off as a lottery team, which brings me to the point of this entire section: maybe the Spurs should tank.

Yes, they are technically only two games back of a playoff spot, but in front of them in the standings are the Rockets, Jazz, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Kings, and then every other team in the Western Conference except Phoenix. According to Tankathon, only the Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Oklahoma City Thunder face a more difficult schedule from here on out, too. (It’s a bit silly to place too much validity in this fact before Christmas, but still, it exists!)

FiveThirtyEight gives the Spurs a 2.0 percent chance to make the playoffs. They don’t have a point guard, any two-way wings (fatal in today’s league), and are missing the foundational on-court leadership that was forever provided by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. As Kawhi Leonard resembles an MVP candidate in Toronto, DeMar DeRozan mirrors most of his All-NBA production from a year ago but is also 6-for-32 behind the three-point line. Pau Gasol is 38 with a stress fracture in his foot.

So what are their options? Should they conduct a firesale, trade DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, then head into next season aggressively rebuilding around Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, their own two first-round draft picks plus whatever they get back in trades for their two best players? It’s too early for that. The impact Murray’s torn ACL has had on this team can’t be overstated and the Spurs should be curious about how they’ll look with DeRozan, Aldridge, and Murray all healthy next season. Add Walker IV, their own picks (if the season ended today they’d be eighth and 30th overall), and a couple more outside shooters, and the Spurs should bounce back, hopefully with a more modern offensive identity.

But it’s not like the rest of their books clear up this summer. Patty Mills, Davis Bertans, Marco Belinelli, Bryn Forbes, Derrick White, and Jakob Poeltl are all under contract in 2020. Instead of selling off Aldridge and DeRozan, dangling Rudy Gay or Belinelli in an attempt to get younger while increasing their shot at a higher pick makes sense. What doesn’t is heading the other way, trading an asset for more immediate help just to make the playoffs.

With the amended lottery system set up to help bad-but-not-terrible teams leap into the top four, San Antonio can get lucky without pillaging its roster. They can use this crucial turn of misfortune to their advantage by turning it into a bridge towards the future, when Murray, Walker, and the draft assets they already have hopefully turn into something special. Until then, the Spurs as we knew them no longer exist. Such is life in the NBA.

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8xpd5vMichael PinaSean NewellBasketballsportsnbaSan Antonio SpursGregg Popovichthe outlet pass
<![CDATA[Lonzo Ball is a Force in Transition]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/ev3mba/lonzo-ball-is-a-force-in-transitionFri, 07 Dec 2018 14:00:00 +0000 The below has been excerpted from this week's Outlet Pass, to get caught up on everything else you need to know in the NBA this week read the rest of the column here.

Lonzo Ball currently exists as the most intriguing Eye Test vs. Analytics conversation in the NBA. You see this in microcosm whenever he attacks in transition. Watch him speed dribble up the floor, turn back-pedaling defenders into traffic cones, and finish with a layup.

Plays like this shouldn’t happen in an NBA game. They are the basketball equivalent of a bank robber attempting to crack a vault right after he sends the local FBI office a text that says “watch me rob this vault.” But with Ball, the defense almost doesn’t believe he’s able or committed enough to pull it off. They anticipate a kick-out/lob or convince themselves he won’t drive 1-on-3 and screw up L.A.’s floor balance going the other way. That miscalculation usually costs the defense two points.

According to the eye test, Ball is antsy enough to make it work more times than not. It feels like the plays seen above happen once or twice every game, which doesn’t sound like a lot but provide L.A. with an easy basket they don’t really need to work for; teammates on the bench stand and applaud even when he misses. But numbers (this year and last) tell a different story. Even though the Lakers as a whole are more efficient and aggressive in transition when Ball is on the court, Synergy Sports ranks him in the 4th percentile as a ball handler in transition (largely thanks to turnovers), with a pitiful 31.6 field goal percentage. That’s very terrible.

Watch the film, though, and these possessions include ill-advised stepbacks and quick ups at the rim that don’t fall but get tipped in or rebounded by a teammate. In other words: the opportunity cost is pretty low when Ball gets all the way to the rim, as he increasingly looks to do. Score one for the eye test, for now.

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ev3mbaMichael PinaSean NewellBasketballsportsnbaLos Angeles Lakerslonzo ballthe outlet pass
<![CDATA[Is Allen Iverson the Only Person in America with 'Troy' in His Top 5 Movies?]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/9k4zk3/is-allen-iverson-the-only-person-in-america-with-troy-in-his-top-5-moviesThu, 06 Dec 2018 19:46:03 +0000Allen Iverson wrote a long piece at the Players' Tribune this morning that was at times poignant, insightful, hilarious, and somewhat inexplicable. You should head over and read the whole thing because it is, above all else, extremely entertaining. He wades into the Jordan vs. LeBron debate ("We’re talking about Mike, O.K.?? We’re talking about Black Jesus himself."), his love of drawing, and The Process (he's down with it), among other things.

He also presented a series of Top 5s, including his Top 5 NBA players (excluding himself), rappers, and movies. Today, I would like to talk to you about Allen Iverson's Top 5 movies. They are as follows:

TOP FIVE ALL-TIME MOVIES (EXCLUDING HEAT):

CASINO
HOODLUM
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS
LAW-ABIDING CITIZEN
TROY

Now look, ranking movies is a tricky thing. Do you separate them into categories? Maybe you value a particular director more than others, different strokes for different folks, etc. But still, I think if we polled every American who has ever watched the movie Troy, it's entirely possible Allen Iverson would be the only person who included it in their Top 5 movies. Of all time. Not, like, Top 5 movies I watched yesterday, or Top 5 hungover movies, or Top 5 movies with Brad Pitt playing a legendary greek warrior with one glaring and ultimately fatal, somehow, weakness. Top 5 movies of all time.

To be fair to AI, his all-time favorite movie is Heat—four out of six of his favorite movies are one word films, apparently he's not a Seagal fan—and Heat is a fine film; Val Kilmer is an underrated craftsman. I just simply cannot fathom, of all the movies you could possibly pick to throw in your top 5, landing on or anywhere nearTroy.

But here's the thing when you ask Allen Iverson a question: The Answer will never be wrong.

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9k4zk3Sean NewellSean NewellBasketballnba#FilmsTroyallen iverson
<![CDATA[Brook Lopez Signs Fan's Microwave]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/gy78vq/brook-lopez-signs-fans-microwaveThu, 06 Dec 2018 18:18:41 +0000Autographs are kind of a weird thing to begin with. They just prove that a famous person was there with an object—piece of paper, whatever—at the same time. Hell, maybe you weren't even there at the same time with the object that was signed by a famous person. It's got a strange touched-by-god kind of vibe, but yet it's something we're pretty into as humans.

So if autographs are pretty weird to begin with, then why not make that shit extra wacky? Like, get someone to sign something pretty bizarre and unrelated to them. In the past we've had a Nashville Predators fan ask Ryan Johansen to sign a birth control kit, and someone asked Klay Thompson to sign a toaster, which people credited for a 14-game win streak and the Warriors' 2017 championship season—hell, my 8th grade teacher once asked Matthew McConaughey to sign some meat he bought at a butcher.

Milwaukee Bucks fan Noah Birenbaum knew that Brook Lopez would be at a Pick 'n Save in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, signing things, so he wanted to cook up something good. Birenbaum told VICE Sports that he had heard about the Klay Thompson toaster, so he rifled through his basement for something funny, and came up with the microwave. Birenbaum said Lopez loved it, and signed away:

Lopez even included his new Bucks nickname "Splash Mountain" in his John Hancock to add a little flare. (I gave up on a splashed soup microwave joke right here—you're welcome.)

Now, each time Noah heats up some victory popcorn, he'll have his guardian angel Brook looking over it to make sure it doesn't burn. Let's just hope that dried sharpie is heat resistant.

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gy78vqLiam Daniel PierceSean NewellBasketballsportsnbamicrowaveMilwaukee Buckstoasterbrook lopez
<![CDATA['Washed' LeBron Drops 42 on Spurs After Sleeping Through Christmas Party]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/yw7qdm/washed-lebron-drops-42-on-spurs-after-sleeping-through-christmas-party-los-angeles-lakersThu, 06 Dec 2018 15:39:33 +0000LeBron James is the only person who can call LeBron James "washed"—you got that? OK, good.

Yesterday, LeBron came under what would be a crippling amount of scrutiny for anybody else, with a well-quoted Bleacher Report article about how players don't want to play with LeBron anymore. This on the heels of two Lakers legends, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson, voicing concerns that LeBron's workload was getting to be two much. But LeBron is no mere mortal. These things don't stick to him.

Instead, he had other things on his mind:

Apparently, LeBron missed his company party for a little bit of winter shuteye, like some kind of snoozing geezer—maybe those workload concerns are legit??

His teammate Kyle Kuzma couldn't let that one go, though, and decided to serve up some roast GOAT:

LeBron came back with a dad-ass "NOT" joke in response—only just compounding his old-man look:

But this Christmas party business is all beside the point. LeBron's rep took a major hit in an article quoting the whole league—Kevin Durant said no one wanted to play with him because the media lovefest surrounding LeBron is "toxic" and, speaking before he was traded to the Lakers, his then former and now current teammate Tyson Chandler said that when you play with LeBron "you've got to make it all about LeBron," (which Chandler later claimed was out of context)—and then came out of the day looking unflappable. Why?

Because last night, against the San Antonio Spurs, he did this:

Now, the Spurs are not the same team we've come to know, but LeBron came out with his third 40+ point game of the season, dropping 42, with 20 in the fourth quarter, at one point nailing 14-straight points in four minutes, and even found a way to slide a beautiful 29-foot stepback three. Unbelievable.

You know someone who wasn't quoted in that article talking shit about LeBron? Gregg Popovich:

That's because he knows what he's actually witnessing right now—the GOAT getting older, but refusing to give up his prime.

And LeBron had this to say after the game, per ESPN:

Afterward, James was asked if his performance was fueled in anyway by all the talk surrounding him in recent days.

"No, for what? I'm past the [taking things] personal stage," James said after his third game of 40-plus points this season. "I can do whatever. I can have a huge workload, I can have a not so huge workload. ... It doesn't matter for me. What's most important is seeing my teammates make huge shots in the fourth quarter. ... That's what's most important to me. I can care less about the narrative about me. It doesn't matter. I'm a staple in this game."

I don't know about you, but playing ball with someone who drops 42, shouts out his teammates, and maybe adds a little bit of ego to the mix? That sounds like something I could work with.

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yw7qdmLiam Daniel PierceSean NewellBasketballsportsnbaKobe Bryantlebron jameskevin durantSan Antonio SpursLos Angeles LakersMagic Johnsonkyle kuzma
<![CDATA[The Outlet Pass: The Spurs as We Knew Them No Longer Exist]]>https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/3k95g3/the-outlet-pass-the-spurs-as-we-knew-them-no-longer-exist-gregg-popovichThu, 06 Dec 2018 15:29:03 +0000 Should San Antonio Rev Up the Tank?

The world made so much sense last year whenever you read the words that Synergy used to grade how well the San Antonio Spurs performed on defense. Against post-ups they were “excellent.” In transition, isolation, and stopping putbacks they were “very good.” The sky was blue. They made the playoffs. But watch them now and all that feels like it took place six million years ago. Today, markers like “poor,” “below average,” and “average” dominate the page.

Not to bury the lede—this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who read every word up until now—but San Antonio has the worst defense in the NBA. That’s right, the same franchise that’s enjoyed over two straight decades of playoff basketball by surrounding their own hoop with a silver and black bunker fortress—the Spurs had a top five defense in each of the past six seasons—is now a disheveled mess. (Since Gregg Popovich’s first full season as San Antonio’s head coach—so long ago that Frank Sinatra was still alive—they never finished with a defense that was worse than league average. Right now they’re 5.0 points per 100 possessions higher than the league average.)

While plenty of deserved criticism has focused on their stubbornly antiquated shot chart—the Spurs take the league’s fewest amount of threes and shots at the rim while launching more long twos than anybody else—it’s defense where they struggle to breathe. On that end, Popovich’s troops are undisciplined, be it in the open floor (they’re allowing 1.49 points per possession after a turnover, which is lower than the Washington Wizards, and if you’ve seen the Washington Wizards play this year you know this is the red alarm to end all red alarms), timing a double team in the post, or simply containing the ball. They’re consistently a step slow helping the helper or unnecessarily over-helping in the first place:

The Spurs are regularly surrendering astronomical point totals, be it 140 against New Orleans, 139 in Utah, 135 in Milwaukee, 128 in Minnesota, or 136 against the Rockets, or 121 against the Lakers. All those games are within the past 17 days. They’re getting worse as the season rolls along, not better. And if almost any other organization was currently playing like they are, regardless of preseason expectations, they would be written off as a lottery team, which brings me to the point of this entire section: maybe the Spurs should tank.

Yes, they are technically only two games back of a playoff spot, but in front of them in the standings are the Rockets, Jazz, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Kings, and then every other team in the Western Conference except Phoenix. According to Tankathon, only the Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Oklahoma City Thunder face a more difficult schedule from here on out, too. (It’s a bit silly to place too much validity in this fact before Christmas, but still, it exists!)

FiveThirtyEight gives the Spurs a 2.0 percent chance to make the playoffs. They don’t have a point guard, any two-way wings (fatal in today’s league), and are missing the foundational on-court leadership that was forever provided by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. As Kawhi Leonard resembles an MVP candidate in Toronto, DeMar DeRozan mirrors most of his All-NBA production from a year ago but is also 6-for-32 behind the three-point line. Pau Gasol is 38 with a stress fracture in his foot.

So what are their options? Should they conduct a firesale, trade DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, then head into next season aggressively rebuilding around Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, their own two first-round draft picks plus whatever they get back in trades for their two best players? It’s too early for that. The impact Murray’s torn ACL has had on this team can’t be overstated and the Spurs should be curious about how they’ll look with DeRozan, Aldridge, and Murray all healthy next season. Add Walker IV, their own picks (if the season ended today they’d be eighth and 30th overall), and a couple more outside shooters, and the Spurs should bounce back, hopefully with a more modern offensive identity.

But it’s not like the rest of their books clear up this summer. Patty Mills, Davis Bertans, Marco Belinelli, Bryn Forbes, Derrick White, and Jakob Poeltl are all under contract in 2020. Instead of selling off Aldridge and DeRozan, dangling Rudy Gay or Belinelli in an attempt to get younger while increasing their shot at a higher pick makes sense. What doesn’t is heading the other way, trading an asset for more immediate help just to make the playoffs.

With the amended lottery system set up to help bad-but-not-terrible teams leap into the top four, San Antonio can get lucky without pillaging its roster. They can use this crucial turn of misfortune to their advantage by turning it into a bridge towards the future, when Murray, Walker, and the draft assets they already have hopefully turn into something special. Until then, the Spurs as we knew them no longer exist. Such is life in the NBA.

Collin Sexton is Lord of the Long Two

Collin Sexton owns one of the most maddening and admirable shot charts in basketball. Guards who fetishize long twos and struggle-face their way into the paint with little to show for it unnecessarily wander uphill while leaving countless points on the table. But, as Cleveland’s physical representation of a silver lining, Sexton (who’s still 19) isn’t afraid to prioritize his own comfort zone over what NBA tastemakers deem obligatory. It’s clear from watching him that threes aren’t necessarily outside his range, but, for now, Sexton and the Cavs are fine with him cozying up to an area on the floor that just about everyone else in the league has abandoned.

“He’s taken what the defense has given him,” Cavs head coach Larry Drew said. “I think as he continues to mature, continues to grow and develop, he’ll start to understand, you know, that you just take a little step back and you get another point. But right now he’s playing off feel.”

Not only does Sexton gorge on the game’s least efficient shot more often than anybody else, but the gap between him and the pack is jarring. According to Cleaning the Glass, 43 percent of Sexton’s shots are long twos. For reference, that’s one point below DeMar DeRozan’s career high and last year’s league leader finished at 38 percent. “That’s just what they’re giving me,” Sexton told VICE Sports. “I have to take advantage and make it.”

Not even 30 games into his career, this doesn’t need to induce a freakout. But just so we’re clear, threes matter, and Sexton will eventually need to take more than 1.6 per game if he wants to widen his own margin for error. The upshot of a mid-range diet typically is not an efficient scorer. The Cavs would like Sexton to eventually be an efficient scorer. The good news is there doesn’t appear to be any sort of unnerving impediment holding him back. His range will someday extend by a few feet without any need to rework shot mechanics or speed up his release, and he’s already shown a willingness to pull up in the face of defenders who duck under his screen.

Sexton’s warm-up routine before games mostly focuses on the tight pull ups that account for a huge chunk of his shot selection, but Cleveland’s coaches also want to simulate the cushion defenders regularly give him above the break.

Earlier this week, before Cleveland’s shootaround began, Sexton and a handful of coaches had half the court to themselves. On the other side, a few Cavs (Alec Burks, Channing Frye, Sam Dekker, and a couple more) walked through sets with Coach Drew. For Sexton, the goal was to sharpen his entire off-the-dribble attack. He snaked pick and rolls as a coach instructed him to step forward towards the paint instead of back to the arc as he weaved middle off a screen, so as to prevent his man from recovering to bother his shot.

Attack the nail!” they shout, referencing the exact middle of the free-throw line. Speed is important, but this particular sequence is pointless unless Sexton can get his defender on his hip and lock him in jail. Learning such nuance does not happen overnight, but is crucial to his development. Until he figures it out, Sexton will take some difficult shots that don’t need to be so hard.

He then spent ten minutes implementing patience into his side pick-and-roll, setting his big man up to re-screen and let him get downhill for an easier jump shot when his man goes under the pick. For Sexton, these smooth pull-ups are great to keep in his back pocket, especially after the three becomes a regular part of his arsenal and opponents work to take that away. In the meantime, not every long two is created equal. Like, this should never, ever, ever happen in an NBA game:

Sexton doesn’t completely abandon layups or threes—he’s 18-for-39 beyond the arc and isn’t bashful when given enough space and time to let one go—and that’s notable. But his next step will be to initiate pull-up threes instead of settling into them because that’s what the defense wants.

“It’s there,” he told VICE Sports. “I’ve just got to take more reps and not be afraid to shoot...I’m not at all [shy about shooting threes], but if they’re gonna sag back off me I’ve gotta be able to knock that 15 footer down.”

Coach Drew has not instructed Sexton to take more threes, and so long as the Cavaliers are playing to lose, the rookie’s shot selection is sufficient. Frankly, when he makes them at an effective clip (currently 44 percent, which isn’t bad), the threat of a mid-range jumper accentuates Sexton’s blinding speed and forces defenders to guard him tighter than they want to. Ignore his first ten games (all off the bench) and Sexton’s averaging 17.8 points on very impressive shooting splits. He went 3-for-3 beyond the arc on Wednesday night against the Golden State Warriors. So long as he and the organization are happy letting his scope expand organically, Sexton can become one of the more dynamic scorers at his position. Attach a potent mid-range pull-up and reliable three ball to Sexton’s uncanny speed and someday defenses won’t know what the hell to do with him.

When Karl-Anthony Towns Looks Like a Guard Hide Your Children

The Stretch Five Era has forced centers across the league to adapt in myriad ways. Beyond “shoot and make threes,” the most important modification has materialized on defense, where being comfortable on the perimeter—with an ability to sprint out and run a popping seven-footer off the line—is a prerequisite for extended playing time, especially in the fourth quarter.

But as defense catches up to offense, offense continues to progress. It’s terrific having a center who can stand still 27 feet from the rim, catch a pass, and drill an open three. But even more valuable is having a center who can do all that, then put the ball on the ground, blow past his defender, and either score, draw a foul, or make a play while rumbling towards the rim.

Right now, only a handful of bigs consistently pull it off in a helpful way. Al Horford, Joel Embiid, and Anthony Davis have all turned the three-point shot into a devastating pump-and-go, as DeMarcus Cousins did last year before he tore his Achilles. But there’s something particularly majestic whenever Karl-Anthony Towns does it. It’s like watching a thoroughbred win the triple crown, then decide to dominate Olympic swimming. For defenses, it’s an evolutionary horror show. Towns’ driving numbers aren’t up from last year, but he’s unleashing transformative ways to beat his man off the bounce, even after an initial advantage is well defended.

His stats have plateaued in a divisive way. He still fouls a ton (as in, once again Towns leads the league) and entire quarters go by when you’re not sure if he’ll ever “get” how talented he is as a first option on a dangerous playoff team. But a not-insignificant slice of that criticism can be attributed to internet impatience and NBA group think. Towns turned 23 a few weeks ago. He’s still learning. And whenever he pump-fakes his defender out of position, flings the ball out in front of him and decides to impersonate Giannis Antetokounmpo, well, defenses probably won’t know how to deal with that for the entirety of his career.

Nick Nurse is in the Lab

Nick Nurse was just named the Eastern Conference’s Coach of the Month and it will surprise nobody if he wins Coach of the Year. He’s successfully integrated Kawhi Leonard into an offensive system that was already razor sharp and overseen jaw-dropping improvement by Pascal Siakam. The Toronto Raptors are obscenely deep and have several players on their bench who’re good enough to start elsewhere. They’re averaging 30 fewer passes per game than they did last year, but Nurse has managed to keep everyone happy, even those he’s demoted.

But in addition to his apparent strengths as a man who puts out fires before they can touch anybody, he’s also a spectacular tactician.

During Toronto’s fourth loss of the season (and one of its most entertaining games) against the Nuggets on Tuesday night, one particular ATO stood out. I don’t know what the technical verbiage is that should be used to describe it, but essentially Nurse drew up a delayed Hammer set. It was executed higher up on the floor than I think I’ve ever seen, and sprinkled in for good measure was some deceitful misdirection. Here it is, in all its glory:

As Pascal Siakam pitches the ball to a streaking Delon Wright on the right wing, Danny Green rushes up from the baseline and appears ready to come off a stagger screen set by Jonas Valanciunas and C.J. Miles. That’s a ruse. The play’s real goal occurs a second later when Valanciunas hits Miles’s defender with a backpick as Green reaches them. The difference between this and Hammer sets run by the Spurs is JV’s screen occurs up on the left wing, elbow extended, instead of closer to the weakside corner, which is where Miles wants to eventually end up.

For all intents and purposes, it works. Miles shakes free from Jamal Murray and is wide open in the corner when Wright picks up his dribble. But Wright’s vision is blurred thanks to Mason Plumlee, who’s sagging way off Valanciunas and wasn’t buying Green as the play’s focal point. Instead of kicking the ball out, Wright goes up strong and tries to draw a foul. Plumlee is now all the way over to contest the shot, so Valanciunas rolls into the paint, corrals Wright’s miss, and finishes the play by drawing a goaltend.

The play was designed to generate an open three but the Raptors still came away with two points because everyone involved did exactly what they were supposed to do against an intelligent defense that wasn’t entirely caught off guard. It’s the sign of a well-coached team.

Monte Morris Equals Mid-90’s Nostalgia

Watching Denver Nuggets point guard Monte Morris is like stepping into a time machine and going back into my grandmother’s living room, where I would crouch in front of a 20-inch standard definition TV and fall in love with smart point guards who never made mistakes or looked flustered.

Morris—a four-year college player—is a reincarnation of those old school players and has all the classic qualities of a brick-solid backup point guard. He’s unshakable and dependable, with a live dribble that rarely comes to a stop and his head always on a swivel. He can make threes (Morris is at 43.6 percent on catch-and-shoot tries), but instead of jacking them up himself he’d rather set the table for teammates and watch them eat.

As a deferential seeing eye dog who shepherds solid-to-spectacular offense without overreaching for attention, Morris represents a vintage NBA archetype that's since been phased out of the league. He’s a low-usage floor general who dances at whatever speed the game calls for. Scoring is not his job, but if his team needs him to stop the opponent’s random 10-0 run, he’ll draw a foul or knock down a pull up from the elbow.

He’s a balm, averaging seven assists per one turnover (a ratio that leads the league), and Denver’s bench is +65, which only trails the Dallas Mavericks. Their net rating is also steadily one of the top five marks in the league whether Morris is in the game with or without Jamal Murray, per Cleaning the Glass. This is all a pleasant surprise.

As well as Morris is playing, it’ll be interesting to see how Mike Malone integrates Isaiah Thomas and Will Barton into Denver’s rotation once those two are healthy enough to play. Murray’s minutes can stand to go down a tiny bit, but Morris has played well enough to cement himself as a fixture in this backcourt; he’s regularly closing games for one of the best teams in basketball! Kids don’t aspire to be like Monte Morris, but more probably should.

Bogdan Bogdanovic is a League Pass Darling

After a decade-long drought in which the Sacramento Kings inhabited the spirit of a clown car, we’re two months into a new season and this organization has finally provided at least half a dozen non-comical reasons why you should watch them play basketball. Bogdan Bogdanovic, the dazzling 26-year-old Serbian sophomore who plays basketball like a stuntman who despises safety nets, is one of them.

Bogdanovic is the quintessential League Pass Darling. If he’s on the floor when I flip over to a Kings game it feels like a $20 bill magically appeared in my back pocket. He plays with flair, ingenuity, and a special brand of fearlessness without devouring possessions or being overtly reckless. There’s a “no, no, no, yes!” portion of his game that’s less and less of a concern every day—i.e. what he does on this switch against Myles Turner:

Or here versus Mike Scott:

In year two, Bogdan’s usage rate and True Shooting percentage are up while his turnover rate is (way) down. There’s a 50/40/90 season lurking somewhere in his future, even though he has a tendency and willingness to shoot long before he can even see white in the defense’s eyes. I love that about him.

Most NBA players are a carbon copy of someone else—Bogdanovic is 100 percent not that. He’s unpredictable and plays with an imaginative verve, just as likely to pull up from 29 feet with 19 seconds on the shot clock as he is to bumrush the paint and, with one hand in a single motion, put back a teammate’s miss by gently kissing the ball off the glass.

After a close win against the Pacers last week, Bogdanovic—who’d just scored at least 20 points in his third straight game—modestly summed it up: “I’m not as athletic as all these American guys so I have to create different ways. That’s my game.” God bless Dave Joerger for letting Bogdan be Bogdan.

When Numbers Lie: Lonzo Ball is a Coast to Coast Sensation

Lonzo Ball currently exists as the most intriguing Eye Test vs. Analytics conversation in the NBA. You see this in microcosm whenever he attacks in transition. Watch him speed dribble up the floor, turn back-pedaling defenders into traffic cones, and finish with a layup.

Plays like this shouldn’t happen in an NBA game. They are the basketball equivalent of a bank robber attempting to crack a vault right after he sends the local FBI office a text that says “watch me rob this vault.” But with Ball, the defense almost doesn’t believe he’s able or committed enough to pull it off. They anticipate a kick-out/lob or convince themselves he won’t drive 1-on-3 and screw up L.A.’s floor balance going the other way. That miscalculation usually costs the defense two points.

According to the eye test, Ball is antsy enough to make it work more times than not. It feels like the plays seen above happen once or twice every game, which doesn’t sound like a lot but provide L.A. with an easy basket they don’t really need to work for; teammates on the bench stand and applaud even when he misses. But numbers (this year and last) tell a different story. Even though the Lakers as a whole are more efficient and aggressive in transition when Ball is on the court, Synergy Sports ranks him in the 4th percentile as a ball handler in transition (largely thanks to turnovers), with a pitiful 31.6 field goal percentage. That’s very terrible.

Watch the film, though, and these possessions include ill-advised stepbacks and quick ups at the rim that don’t fall but get tipped in or rebounded by a teammate. In other words: the opportunity cost is pretty low when Ball gets all the way to the rim, as he increasingly looks to do. Score one for the eye test, for now.

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3k95g3Michael PinaSean NewellBasketballsportsnbalonzo ballthe outlet pass