Twitter is a beautiful place. Nowhere else can you combine a confluence of news from across the world with such glorious meme-making. Twitter is now the hub for getting up-to-date information on anything breaking, as well as the best video of people surprising their parents with trips to Portugal for Christmas. It’s gorgeous. It’s also an annoying cesspool of internet idiots, of whom I am chief.
After some innocuous joke tweet about the 12 Days of Christmas a couple of weeks ago, some anonymous guy I don’t know had to hit me with a “Well, ACTUALLY...” and tell me that the 12 Days are really AFTER Christmas, and that everyone talking about them before are wrong and ignorant. Thanks dude. It is in his honor however that I present to you your post-Christmas reading, a retelling of those same Twelve Days, centered around some of the best narratives this NBA holiday season has bestowed upon us. The words don’t rhyme and the rhythm is off, but if you PayPal me three bucks I’ll record a personal video of myself singing it and send it to you. Thank you for reading, happy holidays, and enjoy the Twelve Days of Naismithmas.
Twelve Upstart Lakers
If there’s any one thing you can consistently take away from the NBA, it’s that everything always works out for the Lakers. They’ve had seventy years of relevance and championships, even maintaining popularity when they’re not even sniffing the playoffs. From being the first NBA dynasty in Minneapolis way back in the 40’s to the last dredges of Kobe’s farewell tour, the Lakers rule the world. That’s just how it will always be forever.
Even with the strenuous past three years of bad basketball and worse records, the Lakers emerged unscathed, never dropping in ticket sales or nationally televised games while they stocked the cupboard full of young assets who want to get out and go. With Kobe’s shadow lifted, their first, second and third year players are dancing in the bright lights of Hollywood. The team brass has drafted well, grabbing top-tier talents of D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle in the early lottery, while also nailing later picks such as Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr, and even Ivica Zubac (he’s only gotten D-League time but he’s looked great there). Nearly every fanbase in the country has hated the Lakers for half a century, but it’s now getting harder to do so. The team is full of kids and they’re just having fun. Can we blame them? Coach Luke Walton is seemingly barely older than the players he’s coaching (other than the probably immortal Metta World Peace), but he’s gained trust and implemented a much better offensive style than the bedridden Byron Scott. He’s gotten Nick Young and Lou Williams to buy in to team ball, and he’s unleashing Randle on the defensive end with a longer leash, trying to create his own Draymond Green in Southern California. Their sets are still simplistic enough and unfortunately end in isos too often, but they’re passing the eye test. They just LOOK better than last year. There’s young talent, production from in-prime veterans, and mentorship from some elder statesman (again, the Immortal World Peace is invaluable here). Can’t wait for the Lake Show to win the 2021, 2023 and 2024 NBA championships. It just makes sense for them to get whatever they want again.
Eleven Injured Jazz (men?)
If the Jazz had a fully healthy team, then they’d be undefeated right now with a point differential over twenty per game. Some may say that’s hyperbolic but they’ve looked exceptional when more than even three of the starters are together. Unfortunately that’s been an extremely rare sighting in Salt Lake this season, as every player outside of the stalwart Stifle Tower has missed time at some point in the season. George Hill opened the season like Mario on two mushrooms and a flamethrower power-up, exceeding all expectations with his sizzling start, but has since been hampered by injuries. Gordon Hayward has looked like he’s taken a step forward in development this year, but he’s continually hampered by a bad broken finger. Derrick Favors’ knee is continually banged up, and Alec Burks is a mythical beast at this point. I don’t even believe if he’s real. Plenty of teams have gone through injury woes this year as well (the Grizzlies come to mind) but it feels like the Jazz have born the brunt of it this season. Every Christmas wish up and down the state of Utah was for lasting health and a division championship. As of now they look firmly locked into a playoff spot at the very least, but if things finally pull together for even a 20-game stretch of health they’ll make a push at a top 4 seed.
And one last thought about injuries—as objective fans we know NOTHING about what’s going on with a player and the medical staff. Too often anonymous Twitter eggs will complain about the Jazz players not showing toughness or being total wusses when they sit out. And that’s unfair to the players and the medical staff as well. These are paid professionals that for the majority WANT to play. Hayward isn’t trying to sit out so he can play more League. Favors doesn’t want to wear a suit to every game. And as for George Hill, turf toe ain’t nothing to play with. The men are doing their job. They’re not weaklings, as much as you want to make them out to be. Cheer for your team, and hope for your own health. God bless the troops and etc.
Ten Rockets Running
Our official surprise team of the year has shown up! For the first two weeks the Bulls claimed the crown but after they all decided to quit showing off and return to .500 basketball, the Rockets have leapfrogged them and then maintained consistency. Most analysts and casual fans dubbed the Rockets a fringe playoff team, with the loss of Dwight Howard and the lack of nearly anyone that wants to play defense they were written off as contenders. And as of today they sit alone in third place in the West.
A stylistic change has benefitted nearly everyone on the roster, and it’s all thanks to a new coach. Mike D’Antoni went through a gross four years of contempt and ridicule, getting caught up in the mess of the Knicks for a season, as well as the Hindenburg Lakers of 2012-13. D’Antoni is a great coach. He does good things and gets a lot of juice out of every grapefruit that he has. He’s a bit complicated because if he doesn’t have the right pieces to tinker with then his team will be a mess. A New York team with Carmelo and a broken Amare can NOT function under his guidance. An insolent Dwight Howard, pissed-off Kobe, and leering Pau Gasol were less than ideal as well. An argument could be made that a truly great coach could make it work regardless of player fit, but who cares. D’Antoni looks the Pringles mascot and when his teams do good it’s fun, calm down. James Harden has opened another blossom in his offensive bouquet, averaging a beautiful 28-8-12 and getting everyone on the floor involved. Every player has looked comfortable in their role and they’re putting the ball in the hoop in droves. Their defense isn’t as atrocious as people want it to be (I think I’ve said the exact sentence “Harden isn’t THAT bad at defense” over 200 times in my life), and their frenetic style is winning a lot of games they shouldn’t. The Rockets are fun. Don’t overthink it.
Nine Years of Rebuilding
It’s been over nine years since the trade that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston. Over twelve since Minnesota even made the playoffs. They’ve aborted their rebuilding structure three times now, and hopefully this is the right timeline for eventual success. The Timberwolves are the young darlings of the league, everyone loves them and wants them to do so good, they keep getting tousled on the head and other teams saying “Good job! You guys tried your best! You’re going to be really good soon, just wait a little bit longer!” And their fanbase is quite frankly sick of it. You can only be patronized for so long.
That definition of long is about to be extended for at least one more year. The Wolves sit one game out of last place in the west, an abrupt change from the pundits who placed them in the playoff race two months ago. Blame is starting to seep in, complaints about new coach Tom Thibodeau being inept, Karl-Anthony Towns being young, immature and overrated, and doubts about their two other lottery picks underperforming. Those lines of reasoning shift blame around from real sources and it isn’t that complicated-everyone outside their big three sucks. That’s it. Don’t get it twisted. Ricky Rubio is still a valuable commodity (I’ll love him and his hair and his penchant for assists until they bury me six feet under) but his shooting inability and nagging injuries has dropped his stock. Kris Dunn was their new point guard who was supposed to take over after Rubio and he is well, bad. Dunn isn’t as good at basketball as other people are and that’s okay. He’s also older than the big three, and most importantly, he spells Kris weird. So I don’t see it working out for him. Their bench is a joke, and there’s no veteran presence to take control. They’re trash outside of their core.
But that core is TOO BRIGHT. We’ll cover Towns in a few paragraphs, but let’s show love to the wing options of this team. Andrew Wiggins has fallen back to earth after an earth-burning first ten games where he displayed unreal effectiveness in shooting the ball. He had an effective field goal percentage of 60% and he jumped up to a 53% shooter from three-point land. The comet that was his stroke has come back down to land, but he’s still pulling 22ppg on 45-37-75 splits. It’s not perfect, but it’s better. Wiggins and Towns have rightfully gotten the bulk of the publicity for this young team but the man who intrigues me the most and who (among these three) has shown the most improvement during his time in the league is Zach LaVine. This guy, excuse me, my guy Zach gets better literally every game. He is going to be woefully miscast as a dunker for a couple more years until he passes up Andrew as the second-best player on this team (put me down for it, I’m going on record with that), but his array of talent stretches far beyond that. Yes he can and will yam all over any lead-footed big man in his way, but his arsenal is anywhere on the court. He’s an excellent three-point shooter, he can drive with ease and his midrange game is cagey and effective. Could he be the next Mamba? I’m not going on record with that, but seeing his statistical improvements year after year (he’s gone from 10 to 14 to 22 ppg each year in the league), it's hard to miss the comparison. LaVine is the northern lights of the Minnesota territory, make sure you get a chance to go see him in person.
Eight Muddled Spots
That’s how many playoff teams usually exist in each conference, per tradition. And the East is messier than ever. There’s Cleveland and then barely behind them but not really *barely behind* them is Toronto…and then who the freak knows for ten more teams. I will say definitively that Miami, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia are NOT making the playoffs. Apart from that? Your guess is as good as mine. There are four games separating the third seed and twelfth place in the conference. In two weeks, we could have five different teams in playoff positioning, it’s been that volatile. If you made me guess, I’d say after the Cavs and Raptors we’d see Boston, Charlotte, New York, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Detroit. And I’ll probably get at least two of those wrong. Parity exists for 28 of the teams in this league I guess.
Seven Playoff Teams
And as for the West they look decidedly more decided. The first seven spots are all but guaranteed, with Golden State, San Antonio, LA, Houston, Utah, Oklahoma City, and Memphis nearly locked into the postseason. Seeding will change throughout the next three months but we’ll end up seeing those seven teams come April.
Where it gets juicy is contention for the last spot. No one wants it but someone is going to have to get it. Portland has utterly regressed from its surprising ascent last year, falling destructively to the worst defense in the league. It’s simple to see why when you watch, neither of their starting guards operate as more than a matador on defense, and no big man has any rim-protecting fortitude at all. If Festus Ezeli ended up healthy then they’d have a chance at building inside-out, but at this point it could be doubtful he’ll ever return, and they might renege his contract. The easy move is to get Nerlens Noel from Philadelphia but they have next to nothing that they could throw over to the 76ers. Allen Crabbe makes the most sense, but his contract is a lot to swallow and further money kicks in if he’s traded. Philly has gobs of cap room but they’d rather keep it open to pay their own players and maintain flexibility rather than overpays for backup shooting guards. Portland could push to grab Andrew Bogut from Dallas, but again they have no chips to work with. Dame is obviously untouchable, but apart from CJ McCollum no one is on a tradeable contract, and frankly, who would you want? Meyers Leonard? Evan Turner? Rumors are buzzing for a CJ for Noel swap but that’s a huge overpay for an oft-injured soon to be free agent. If Nerlens wants to be here sign him in four months. Don’t swap your second-best player for him. Portland is stuck in the quagmire, but if their guards go turbo for long enough they could swoop into the eighth seed with a sub-.500 record.
The Nuggets are starting to tick upwards, as their recent focus around Nikola Jokic has led to further production from the center position, a less stagnant offense, and most importantly, wins. Denver also has a lot of interchangeable pieces to move around (most likely everyone is available that’s not named Nikola or Jamal) and don’t be surprised if they throw some big packages on the table for a game-changer (they still want Blake Griffin BAD, even if he is injured now). Any combination package of Will Barton, Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Galinari, Kenneth Faried or Jusuf Nurkic is sure to get people’s attention. New Orleans is a threat to make noise as well, as you can never count out a top five player to make a push. However I think the one we all hope to see in the playoffs is coming up next…
Six Boogie Ejections
It’s been seven years, multiple all-star appearances and All-NBA teams, and we’re yet to see DeMarcus Cousins in the playoffs. That’s most likely the fault of management, as the only competent player (Isiah Thomas) he’s ever had to work with was shipped out just as they were rolling. Boogie is one of the most complex players in the league right now, fighting to stay afloat a perpetually sinking ship. He’s Jack Dawson and he’s determined to stay in this iceberg water until hell freezes over. In this scenario the Kings management is playing the role of Rose, refusing to bring him up on the board. The Kings have been the worst drafting team in the past fiveish years by far. Thomas Robinson busted within ten games. Ben McLemore can shoot sometimes, and that’s it. Willie Cauley-Stein has decided to just never improve at any facet of his game. And who can forget the Nik Stauskas experience. Even this last year the Kings threw away their first round pick to move a few spots back and draft Georgios Papagiannis, a player who shouldn’t have even sniffed the lottery, and has subsequently racked up “DNP-CD” like they’re unwanted fruitcakes. There is ZERO help for Boogie in this arctic ocean.
That conversation is an easy one to have. The Kings have sucky players. You can see that. But what’s tougher is the other side of Boogie, the one where the pendulum switches from pity to petulance. Cousins has been branded as the crybaby of the league, being told constantly to shut up and grow up. He’s had his fair share of altercations (the incidents with the Sacramento Bee reporter is the freshest one) and has been made out to be an overgrown child, rude to players and mouthy to officials. The complexity lies in what is real and what is a media narrative. Boogie isn’t the perfect statesman on the court, that’s given. I won’t defend that. But do I think that he’s been unfairly miscast? I do. He’s gone through a revolving door of coaches and teammates, even an ownership switch. He’s been constantly thrown from bad situation to frying pan to fire. His charity work in the Sacramento area and in his native Alabama has changed lives. By nearly all accounts his own teammates love him. The Olympic squad this summer was ecstatic to have him along. So what is the truth? Cousins has problems in both his on and off court lives, but he’s frustrated with bad situations and constant losing. He shouldn’t yell at reporters but they could also lay off dragging him every chance they get. Amid this maelstrom of flagrant fouls and local media tantrums, the Kings sit right in the thick of the playoff race. The Boogie is complex.
Five Generational Players
In four successive drafts from 1995-1998 the league gained a few bona fide superstars that defined a generation. Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Bryant Big Country Reeves, all legends. They nearly all won NBA titles, won every MVP for a decade, and dominated the All-NBA leaderboards. Most of them have retired or are barely hanging on for a last season, leading to the end of a transcendent era in the league’s history. Now our most recent crop of big dogs is starting to age, with LeBron, Carmelo, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Adam Morrison all on the wrong side of thirty. Luckily we gained enough new shiny players in the past three years to fill their spots and raise another generation of fans.
Comparisons between the recently retired and these newer players would be lazy and disrespectful to each player’s individual talents. You could say that Kristaps Porzingis is the new Dirk, Karl-Anthony Towns is a new-age Duncan and Anthony Bennett is our own Michael Olowokandi, but that’s too reductive. Each player is their own tale to weave. Kristaps is near seven and a half feet and can shoot lights-out up to three times his height away from the basket. Towns is…unreal. That’s lazy writing. I’m sorry. I can’t say anything else to express him. Watch what he does with a basketball at his size. Duncan ain’t crossing people up and dunking them back to their ancestors’ graves. He’s unreal. He’s like if you gave a jaguar human legs and human hands and human head and torso and stuff but like he was still a jaguar underneath it all, that’s what Karl is like. Joel Embiid should round out this group of big men as the final piece of our big-man triumvirate. Millennials just grew up watching KG, Dirk, and Duncan trade blows for twenty years, and now Generation Z (?) will get to see Kristaps, Embiid and KAT trade the title of best big in the league until the end of Michelle Obama’s second term as president.
Our backcourt options remain bountiful as well. The Timberwolves duo has already gotten enough burn in this piece, but even outside of the Minnesota tundra there is talent. D’Angelo is going to usher in a new era of showtime in LA, and Devin Booker could quite easily be a generation’s Ray Allen. Justise Winslow will be a ten-year defensive showcase, and Jamal Murray is the quietest “next big thing” that you’ve never heard of. And above our centers and guards reign the human yoyo with seemingly no ceiling, the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is impossible for anyone to express the right amount of gratitude that Giannis deserves. He’s played basketball for five years, MAYBE, and he’s leading his team in nearly every major statistical category. His legs can span a Milwaukee bridge, his hands dwarf a Green Bay Packers’ helmet, and he’s only going to get better. If you’re ever bored just YouTube “Giannis highlights”. He was sent from Zeus himself to save basketball from the reign of the Titans, and he’ll surely overcome any of the twelve labors that will befall him. Giannis is the Hercules of Great Lakes, and we are privilege to his arrival. The league’s in a good spot.
Four Teams a-tanking
Maybe I anointed a new generation of rival players too early, because this upcoming draft is supposed to be a stacked cupboard. There’s a glut of talented point guard, headlined by Washington’s Markelle Fultz. The quick comparison is Russell Westbrook with a jumpshot. I mean, that’s all you really need to hear. Uber-point specialist Dennis Smith follows out of NC State, and Pete Maravich’s illegitimate son Lonzo Ball from UCLA. Kansas wing Josh Jackson and Duke’s star forward Harry Giles round out a HEAVY top five, with maybe even ten more premiere picks to follow. The 15th team could get a player that would’ve been top four just the year before. It’s a treasure trove next summer.
And teams are preparing for it now. The 76ers are making strides (they reached nine wins quicker than any year of the past thee), as Embiid looks to be legitimate and they’re still waiting on Ben Simmons to start, but they’ll still be around the top, especially owning a pick-swap with the Kings and the Lakers’ pick if it falls outside the top three. Apart from them there’s a few other teams reaching for the bottom in order to grab a ladder to the top. The Phoenix Suns continually stupefy the league, as their moves seem incongruent from season to season. They’re a bad blend of old veterans, win-now players, and raw rookies. Tyson Chandler, Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker are all at completely different career stages and it just isn’t working out. Their other young players are all getting in the way of each other, with a frontcourt logjam hampering both rookies Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. A top three pick could help bring further talent to a muddled roster, and creative trades of their veterans would bring further drafting opportunities.
The other two tanks are teams that are slowly coming to grips with the need to give up. Both the Heat and the Mavericks won titles in the past five years but the way things swung out are now looking at barren rosters. The Mavs simply got old and the Heat just got unbearably unlucky. If Bosh was healthy then the Heat could quite possibly be trying to snag the playoffs, but as they are now, Miami is aiming for a rapid rebuild. In Texas, Mark Cuban just kept rolling the dice with cast-off veterans and high-priced rentals, continually making the playoffs but never going far. Now with Dirk missing games and the rest of the roster following suit, it’s time for them to drop off. They’ll be rewarded with young talent, something Dallas literally hasn’t had since…Josh Howard? Dirk himself? Tanking certainly isn’t desirable but its fruits. Suffer hell for Markelle.
Three Statistical Categories a-slaying
Russell Westbrook has passed onto the metaphysical realm and left us all behind. He is the human embodiment of rage and destruction, a true-blue Oklahoma tornado, hellbent on vanquishing any plywood shed which so much as wanders into his blast zone. I could write paragraphs on his presence, soliloquies of his stature, but in the end what is the most important of his crusade for justice is the holy trinity of points, rebounds, and assists. This madman is going to average a triple-double through 82 games, all while barely sweating. Words of man are futile to ascribe to Westbrook. He is a global phenomenon, a natural disaster. Batter your hatches, gather your loved ones, and pray to the heavens above. The man of Thunder cometh.
Two MVPs a-Golden
Above all the other juicy subplots of this season reigns our two conference champions supreme, forming an atmospheric distinction between these last two gifts. The thrilling trilogy that is Golden State-Cleveland is sure to come next June, and everything else that happens is merely wispy clouds around our twin Himalayan peaks.
The word “good” is the best way to describe this new iteration of the Warriors. They broke the regular season record for wins last year, so how much higher could they go? The addition of Kevin Durant brought on 82-0 expectations which will just hamper them every single game. Every time they lose it’s a national event. The spotlight will only continue to grow. Durant has outshined Steph Curry so far to this point, but Steph is one of the ultimate troopers in the league. I don’t cheer for the Warriors in this rubber match with the Cavaliers, you probably know that. Doesn’t mean I hate them (aight Draymond is a weird story because I love him so much and also hate everything he’s ever done or said or touched). Curry is exemplary. Curry is a good guy. Curry was also lauded as the greatest offensive player in NBA history last year, and he’ll have to jump back eventually and reclaim that distinction. People are already sleeping on him and his influence. Like I always say, you gotta stay woke. Keep eyes on Curry as we transition to the second half of the season.
However, it’s not HIS league…
One King on a Crimson Throne
And on this last day of Naismithmas, I present to you the King over all, the Prince of Points, the Mighty Forward, the everlasting MVP, LeBron James. He’s about to turn 32 at the end of this week and he’s finally found a team to act as his consistent foil. Regardless of what side you may cheer for, if you watched their game on Christmas you must acknowledge that we are lucky to see two full-powered teams so excited to go at each other. They want to play each other. Kyrie is thirsty for those last second moments. Draymond WANTS the challenge of guarding anyone from Cleveland. And above all, LeBron has never gotten more excited to play a team throughout his thirteen-year career. They WANT to go at each other. And I don’t know how you can complain about seeing them again this June for the third straight year after watching this recent game. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Happy Holidays.