Tuesday, November 25, 2008

FreeDarko Presents the Macrophenomenal Rockets

My loving girlfriend of what will be four years next week just returned from San Francisco last night with a little surprise. She had brought with her The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac collectively written--a term that may not do the book justice--by the bloggers responsible for FreeDarko.com. It was supposed to be a Christmas stocking stuffer but she couldn't help giving it to me when she came home. It was just then I noticed my brother slinking away to reveal that he, too, had bought me a copy for the holidays. So, now I have two.

I've read Free Darko on and off now for about 3 years--I think that's about how long they've been around. And whether or not you take to their intellectual/philosophical musings or often obscure references to and applied to the game of roundball, this book is worth a look. Sure to become the basketball geek's field guide, the stats are gleefully esoteric and meant to accentuate the centerpiece--detailed, surreal and often very funny psychological profiles of the NBA's stars. And it's all made accessible to even the most visual of learners through beautifully illustrated charts, graphs and a gradually more useful as you go "Periodic Guide to Style."

But what may sway Rockets fans to buy this book is that of the 18 NBA stars worthy of analysis, three of them are current Houston Rockets. Yao Ming, Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady. The FreeDarkans happen to be proponents of T-Mac, in a different kind of way. They have a certain kind of love for every player examined in the book but a special place is reserved for Mac who they subtitle, "Effortless Agony." They aren't apologists for McGrady's failings but rather they don't frame them as failings (they eschew wins and losses as a point of interest). As I've tried to do before in this blog to a lesser extent, they portray McGrady as one of sport's tragic heroes, which is what I've always thought makes him so interesting in a way beyond the typical understanding of the game.

In many respects, Yao and Ron-Ron also need non-traditional viewings from sports fans to really appreciate who they are and what they represent as professional athletes; which is what makes the Rockets so interesting. The Macrophenomenal Almanac gives you a different take on a select few of the NBA's more "interesting" stars (it leaves you wishing for more. And accordingly, perhaps the world's most confounding player, Gilbert Arenas, writes the Foreword.

If this tickles your fancy, you can find several online locations to cop the book at: www.freedarkobook.com.

Yao & T-Mac drawings above (and all drawings in the book) illustrated by Jacob Weinstein, "Big Baby Belafonte" of the Free Darko collective.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Artest's Leadership Inspires More Than Just Win

Not sure just yet whether Houston's 94-82 win was a result of the Rockets superior play or the Suns atrocious 37.6% shooting. Houston's 45.3% shooting was a significant improvement and their defense was solid as usual but the Suns had their share of good looks. They just didn't put them down. How the Rockets look in the next couple of games will be more telling. One thing's for sure, the player's-only meeting called by Artest made an impact. The motion in Houston's offense looked somewhat better. If you consider Rockets forwards Ron Artest and Luis Scola combined 2-18 from the field and that this game was still a blowout, moreso even than the score would indicate, it would seem it was working quite well. But Artest's poor FG% was also a result of poor shot selection.

Artest often resorted to fade-away jumpers when the offense stagnated. So it may be worthwhile to keep in mind that Tracy McGrady, Rafer Alston, Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming, all who shot 50% or better from the field, are capable of creating their own shots and did so effectively. They did so in the structure the offense but more often in transition.

The offense looked better but it's not there yet. Nevertheless, it was one of the Rockets' more exciting games to watch this season. McGrady caught fire and never cooled, Rockets PGs were huge on offense (a combined 34 pts on 15-25 FGs) and better than that, Yao was solid. It's been a tough road back for Yao so far. Yes, he held his own in the Olympics but he only had to play the U.S. once in Beijing. In the NBA, Yao has to face the world's best athletes night in and night out. Yes, he faced single coverage as Shaq is always up to the challenge but Yao is still one of the few players in the league that no one player can shut down offensively in man.

It's his quickness and timing that have been slow to come this season but single coverage gives you a chance to gather yourself. Doubles force Yao to make quick decisions and he's struggled with that so far. This was a good game for Yao to get his bearings. He didn't dominate, Shaq to his credit went toe-to-toe with him, but he did play with some urgency. He was more active on the boards than he has been all season and much stronger in securing the ball.

As for the scuffle, Barnes gets a fine no question. Cheap shot by a cheap player. Alston probably didn't need to get in his face but who wouldn't have? What Nash was thinking running at Alston, I'll never know. T-Mac regulated Nash and then Shaq regulated everyone. It's only 8 games in, how many altercations is this? Yao sees a bright side. Fellow Chron.com blogger Jerome Solomon quotes Yao as saying:
"When [a fight] happens, no matter what, you have to protect your teammate," Yao told reporters after the game. "I saw Matt Barnes really lean into Rafer and I thought I had to separate them and don't let Rafer get hurt. That really can help us because we [were] together face-to-face against Phoenix as a team."
Nothing like some shoving to bring out the camaraderie of a team--no matter how misguided that might be. But it's nice to see some fire in Houston. Rockets have to be doing something right to elicit that kind of reaction.

Photo credited to AP Matt York and Jeremy York.

Originally posted at Yao Central on 2008-11-13 06:21:16