Whether a contrived signpost or not, the quarter mark of the season has quietly evolved into a marker of adequate basketball sample size for rendering judgment on the vast majority of NBA teams. I would say all NBA teams, but San Antonio could go 1-19 and I'd still be terrified of not penciling them in as my 2 seed.
Much like a middle schooler's excuses for a "D"-riddled progress report, the excuses that rationalize sub-par performance to start the season begin to sound flimsy at about the 20-game mark. "Training camp was cut short because of China", "we haven't been fully healthy all season", and "Lance keeps lighting my homework on fire" begin to metastasize into more serious doubts like "maybe they can't really gel", "maybe Chris is getting old", and "good God what is Lance doing with that bunson burner again?"
Still, I tend to think the quarter pole is too soon to gauge anything but a passing first impression. NBA history is littered with teams who played mediocre ball to open the season and still made a strong postseason run. And I'm sure there's some precedent for a team that opened the year 23-0 and still flamed out to a really talented 8-seed in the first round. Right? Riiight?
While twenty some odd games may not serve as a reliable predictor of whether or not your team can get to the Western Conference Finals, luckily it does serve as a reliable sample of something far more important to diehard hoopsheads: the little things we love about our team.
The helpless Clipper obsessives that have inadvertently memorized Kyle Montgomery's tie rotation know what I'm talking about. For the others, let me explain.
The little things are the quirks and wrinkles you notice and appreciate in your team because you watch every game. They range in form and flavor, and typically change with every season (although some have remained consistent throughout the Chris Paul era). Examples include:
- Subtle, underappreciated feats of awesomeness by a favored player that typically elicit the reaction, "I fucking love it when he does that." (Think the Josh Smith chasedown block this year, or the the Eric Bledsoe offensive rebound of seasons past).
- Odd on-court combinations that you notice work surprisingly well (the Crawford-Big Baby pick and roll from last year).
- Player tendencies that happen all the time and nevertheless surprise the hell out of Mike Breen.
- Personality quirks and interactions between teammates, media, and coaches that you can really only glean from repeated watching (think Reggie's "I ain't lying").
Those examples do not form an all-inclusive list. The only factor common to all the "little things" is that they temper your fandom with a degree of intimacy that makes it difficult to truly despise the players on your team not named Jordan Farmar.These are the things that get you through the fourth quarter of that February road game in Brooklyn. These are the things let you know whether you're talking to another pathological diehard or someone who's never heard of Reggie Bullock before.
Without further ado, here are some of the little things we love (or at least I love) for the 2015-2016 squad so far.
The Smoove Block from Behind
We'll start with what's already been mentioned.
Smoove is good for at least one rejection a game where you and the rest of the fans in attendance remember, "Oh, that's right. Josh Smith is an athletic freak." And that really shodn't be all that surprising, considering Smith was one of the league-leaders in blocks in his days with the Hawks.
But what I didn't know was that when Smoove swats you, it's not just a block. It's a vicious rejection of everything you stand for. When I see a point guard diving around a screen a half-step ahead of Smoove, a part of me hopes he darts to the basket, just so I can see the carnage.
"Get Up D!"
This may be a controversial selection. When the indecision happened this summer and it looked like DJ was bolting towards Dallas, I kept thinking about whether he had heard "Get Up D" one too many times from Chris Paul.
Chris yells that at least 400 times a game, and this year it's picked up in perfect clarity by the NBA's rim mics (which I can't believe the FCC still allow around Kevin Garnett).
It's completely pointless. DJ is going to jump for the rebound regardless of whether Chris tell hims to. It's as if someone was at my desk yelling "Hit Enter M!" every time I wanted to start a new paragraph in a Word doc. And I don't have to battle Andre Drummond around for control of the keyboard.
But this year, "Get up D!" serves as as reminder that DJ and Chris are thankfully still on the same team. And that their relationship was likely not as bad as reported in the days preceding Emoji-gate.
It's hard for me to single out any of the countless Lance behaviors (on the court or bench) I've cherished this season. Here's just a quick listing:
- Any Lance rebound results in a coast-to-coast high-speed assault, with the result either being an amazingly entertaining assist or an amazingly entertaining turnover
- Lance's borderline unnecessary hyperactivity on defense. He's constantly reaching and daring the ref to call it. And once the ref calls it, you can clearly see Lance's third-person thought process: "I can't believe they just called Lance Stephenson for a reaching foul. I'm Lance Stephenson."
- Lance sitting on the bench serving whatever punishment Doc is handing down to him, eagerly overreacting to every positive development for the second unit, all the while thinking, "Lance Stephenson is a team player. Lance Stephenson does not want to play in China. I'm Lance Stephenson."
Lance has been incredibly entertaining this season. He's also been a refreshing change of pace offensively--I swear to God if I have to watch one more dribble handoff I'm going to murder Mike Woodson myself.
Blake's Feathery First Quarter Jumper
There are some nights when it's working, and there are some nights when it's not, but on the good nights you can actually see Blake's jumper has a softer touch to it this year. It literally looks better coming out of his hand and, when it does draw iron, it tends to rattle around the rim rather than clang off noisily before nearly decapitating DJ beneath the glass.
The first quarter is a good barometer of how Blake's jumper will fare for the rest of the evening. On the nights he hits his first three attempts, you get excited because you know you may be in store for a Utah-type performance where he's basically unguardable.
Blake's midrange game has been improving basically since he got in the league, but this year it appears more aesthetically pleasing than years past. Anthony Davis may still have the silkiest-looking jumper of any traditional big in the league (traditional = not Dirk), but Blake is not too far behind this year.
Mike Woodson's Goatee
Last year he experimented with that hideous moustache/5:00 shadow combination. I assume the rationale was to give opposing wings vertigo when attempting a corner three by the Cippers' bench.
This year, thankfully, the most immaculate facial hair in American professional coaching is back in its rightful place on the Clippers' sideline.
I don't know what Mike Woodson's goatee is made of--velour, cashmere, other men's facial hair he stitches together seamlessly for some type of amazing goatee toupee. But I do harbor some quiet concerns over what the league's new HGH-testing regiment means for it's future.