Rating the Boulevard Year-Rounds as Midwest College Basketball Teams

Boulevard Brewery has become one of the best craft breweries in the United States over the past decade.

I love the NBA. However, I still do appreciate college basketball. While I feel the NBA is head and shoulders a better product than the college game these days, I still enjoy a lot of the nuances of the college game as well as the diversity of teams across the nation. In the Midwest, the college game remains supreme with the number of established programs (Kansas, Indiana, etc.) and lack of big-time NBA franchises (the major ones reside in the coast with the exception of Chicago; Milwaukee, Indiana, Minnesota are small-town Midwest NBA franchises).

So, it is important to focus on the college game every now and then here at Flannel, PBR and PER. And it’s also important to impart some of the college game into Kansas City culture, especially craft brewery culture, which continues its boom and recognition on a national basis. One of the best craft breweries in the nation has to be Boulevard, which resides here in the heart of Kansas City, near the Liberty Memorial and World War I Museum. Founded in 1989, Boulevard has grown to not only be a major player in the crowded Kansas City and Midwest brewery scene, but on a national level as well. In fact, it seems Boulevard is on its way to becoming the Midwestern “Samuel Adams”, a boon for Midwesterners who have typically been thought of as the “American Light Lager”-drinking community (typical because Budweiser was founded in St. Louis and Miller in Milwaukee). But with Boulevard’s excellent variety of quality craft selections (their Smokestack Series really is phenomenal), they are proving that you don’t need to resort to the coasts for great, quality beer.

I could spend this whole post just talking about every single Boulevard Beer from the Year-Round collection to the Smokestack Series. That being said, that post would be like 10,000 words, so I’ll keep it short and just focus on the Year-Round selection. So, let’s take a look at Boulevard seven-beer collection as Midwestern College Basketball teams.

(Also, I’ll be ranking them in order of preference, so the first listed will be my favorite and the last one will be my least-favorite.)

80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer: Butler Bulldogs

80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer is Boulevard’s most complete beer out of their year-round selection. The beer is an innovative mix between an IPA and a Wheat and is a classic Midwest (known for Wheat Beers) meets Coastal (which is known for IPAs, especially on the West Coast). The result is a beverage that will satisfy IPA fans while also catering to those who typically don’t have the palate for the Hoppy-ness of IPAs and Pale Ales. When beers go hybrid and try to satisfy multiple tastes, it can fall flat on its face. 80-Acre not only avoids such a pitfall, but actually rises to the top as the brewery’s best-tasting year-round beer.

I compare 80-Acre to the Butler Bulldogs because the Bulldogs have been one of the best basketball teams in the Midwest the past decade. Since 2007, they have only missed the NCAA Tournament twice and have been to the National Title game twice (2010 and 2011). They are also one of the more innovative teams in basketball (much like 80-Acre is one of the more innovative beers of the year-rounds and at Boulevard in general) as former coach Brad Stevens eschewed traditional coaching techniques (i.e. always yelling at refs or players) and employed advanced statistics in helping develop game strategies and player development. Though Butler certainly has had their share of moments against my alma mater (i.e. Gonzaga), the Bulldogs have been one of my favorite college basketball teams to follow in the Midwest as of late.

80-Acre doesn’t seem to get the distribution or publicity like other Boulevard selections such as Boulevard Wheat, Pale Ale or even Tank 7, and Butler may not roll across the tongues of Midwest college basketball fans like Kansas, Indiana or Iowa State. However, both have proven that they are quality and are probably the better in their respective venues than most people would give them credit for.

Boulevard Wheat: Kansas Jayhawks

Boulevard’s best-selling and most popular is exactly what you would expect from a Midwestern beer. It is refreshing, light, with a cool finish and hints of citrus and it is the perfect beer to drink with barbecue either at a restaurant, a festival or just your own backyard. Wheat beer, in my opinion, exemplifies Midwest living and flavor (easy, laid back and not fancy, but still of strong quality), and Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat proves to be the epitome of what Wheat Beer should be from the Midwest.

(I know some people are on the fence with this one, as many say a lot of imported Wheat or “Wit” beers are better or other craft breweries have produced better quality Wheats; I think Boulevard deserves some credit for being the first to really push Wheat beer’s popularity in a primarily Pilsner or Lager territory, and while it may not have the “flash” or “boldness” of some modern Wheats or Imported Wheats, it’s contribution to Wheat beer popularity in the Midwest and its still strong flavor after all these years to me merit the high praise.)

When I think of Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat, I think of the best qualities of the Midwest. Kansas Jayhawks basketball represents the best qualities of Midwest college basketball: consistency, success, strong history of talent, dedicated talent, and all kinds of strong roots in tradition (i.e Allen Fieldhouse, James Naismith, etc.). With the exception of perhaps Indiana, the Jayhawks seem to be the “Midwest’s Team” and this has earned them all kinds of praise and derision from people all over the nation (much like the mixed feelings I spoke of about Unfiltered Wheat in comparison to Wheat beers above). As a newer resident of the Midwest, I can appreciate what Kansas (and Unfiltered Wheat) has to offer, but they are a little bit too-mainstream and “traditional” for my tastes. I can appreciate quality and history, but I will take the more innovative flavors (in both beer and basketball) in the end, and that is why Kansas and Unfiltered Wheat don’t match 80-Acre and Butler.

Single-Wide IPA: Marquette Golden Eagles

When you think of the Midwest, you don’t think of IPAs. Maybe that is just me growing up in California and the Pacific Northwest, where there are many breweries that specialize in crafting hoppy India Pale Ale varieties (such as Sierra Nevada in Chico and Bridgeport in Portland), so I am a little hesitant to think that the Midwest can produce quality IPAs like the ones that I have been exposed to back in my original home states. While I jumped on board on the 80-Acre and Unfiltered Wheat’s immediately, it took me some time to warm up to Boulevard’s Single Wide IPA, out of fear that I would be disappointed.

Surprisingly though, Single Wide is a great representation of what a “Midwest” IPA should beer. There’s a great hoppy flavor to it, thought it is not as strong as the more traditional IPAs that I have had before. There is a lot to admire in the boldness of what Boulevard tried to do here with Single Wide. They knew it would be tough to cater to the “IPA Crowd” (especially transplants like myself coming from more “IPA-Heavy” states) but they created one anyways in a fashion that pays tribute to the traditional IPA, while still maintaining that “easy drink-ability” that caters more to Midwestern beer drinkers’ tastes. It’s not quite the balanced hybrid that 80-Acre is, but Single Wide is a surprising tribute to the IPA created by Boulevard.

Single Wide is ambitious, different (for the Midwest) and of pretty solid (though a shade below the 80-Acre excellent) quality. Marquette echoes a lot of similar characteristics in the college basketball world. They are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is as Midwest as it can get (Liberal Midwest, but Midwest nonetheless). And yet, Marquette feels more like an East Coast team with their bold uniforms (I have always loved their racing stripes down the sides and they are a Jordan-Brand team, which always is a nice little honor in basketball style circles), history of producing NBA players (Dewayne Wade, Jae Crowder, Steve Novak, Jimmy Butler, just to name most recent…I could go on forever with the ones who played for Al McGuire), and tough, physical play which has resulted in frequent NCAA Tournament appearances (though last year was an off-year in Wojo’s rookie campaign as head coach). Marquette doesn’t rank up there with the Midwest blue bloods, but they certainly are a shade below and have the kind of “cool” factor that one normally doesn’t associate with Midwest traditional Blue Blood programs.

Much like Single Wide won’t make people forget about Sierra Nevada IPA anytime soon, Marquette will not be replacing the elite of Midwest College basketball any time soon. They still are overshadowed by Kansas, Indiana and even in-state neighbor Wisconsin as of late. However, much like Single Wide IPA with beers, they get fan points and respect for their boldness in bucking the trend of what is expected from a Midwest college basketball team, even if they don’t completely succeed compared to the other “established” programs in the Midwest.

Pale Ale: Missouri Tigers

Boulevard Pale Ale is one of the other major-selling year-round beers next to Unfiltered Wheat. In fact, it is quite common to see the Pale Ale variety always tagging along with Wheat in some way. Farmland has Boulevard flavored Brats in Wheat and Pale Ale varieties. Unfiltered Wheat and Pale Ale are the only Boulevard varieties that come in 20 bottle packs. It seems like Pale Ale is always attached to the hip of Unfiltered Wheat, and for good reason. Pale Ale is a quality beer. It’s quality crafted, English style ale with a nice balance of hoppyness and deep, dark flavor and it really is a good complement to the lighter, crisper Unfiltered Wheat.

But, I just can’t help but feel that Pale Ale is the “little brother” to Unfiltered Wheat, much like Mizzou basketball is to Kansas. I’m not trying to knock Mizzou or the university itself by any means, but it’s obvious football matters more at Mizzou and basketball means more at KU. And no matter what Missouri tries to do, even during years where there teams are competitive (not last year that’s for sure), they still seem to always pale (another PUN!) in comparison to their neighbors west of the Kansas border in Lawrence. There were some great seasons under Norm Stewart, and I enjoyed the Mike Anderson/Demarre Carroll era quite a bit. But in terms of basketball, relevance? The Tigers just cannot match what the Jayhawks do on an annual basis.

I know that’s tough to stomach for a lot of Mizzou fans. But, just like Pale Ale will always be in the shadow of Unfiltered Wheat, the Tigers just seems to always be the “little brother” to KU Hoops. That is not to say that Mizzou or Pale Ale aren’t good. However, that stigma of unfortunate attachment prevents either from being taken more seriously in their respective circles.

Pop-Up Session IPA: Iowa State Cyclones

Session IPA’s seem to be the new “Big Thing” in craft brewery fandom circles. And, it makes sense, as Session IPAs seems to be a nice introduction for those who don’t like the bitterness of traditional IPAs. That is an understandable and completely fine thing. But, I don’t know. I just can’t get into Session IPA’s, despite their boldness in trying to cater to their target of beer drinking palates (i.e. traditional pilsner beer drinkers who think hoppyness is bitterness). It obviously tastes better than a traditional lager, but it surprises me that they categorize them as IPAs, since to me it just doesn’t have that taste or finish of what makes IPAs so enjoyable to consume.

Pop-Up is Boulevard’s bold take on it, and while I appreciate it’s ambitiousness in taking on crafting a Session IPA for Midwest beer drinkers, it falls flat with me in comparison to other Pop-Up Session IPAs. It’s got kitsch factor, and some nice colors and some interesting flavors, but it just really pales (PUN ALERT) in comparison to the other beers Boulevard offers from their year-round lineup. I want to like it. Logic tells me I should like Boulevard’s take on the Session IPA. But in the end, I just end up disappointed (though not completely dissatisfied; after all, it’s still comes in 5 out of 7).

Iowa State, at least under Fred Hoiberg, were the “hip” team to like in the Midwest and college basketball the past few seasons. Hoiberg ran an “NBA” offense. He got the most out of transfers looking for a second chance. The Cyclones became a relevant team again in the Big 12 and the best team in the state of Iowa (any chance to better the Hawkeyes was welcome in Ames). Hoiberg’s nickname was “The Mayor” for chrissakes! That’s the best nickname for a college player/coach in all of college basketball!

And yet, the Cyclones never seemed to grasp with me as much as other Midwest basketball fans. Their squads never really endeared to me, even though I liked the freedom Hoiberg gave his team. They always underachieved in the Tournament, and they seemed to be a hard team to predict, as they had periods of inconsistency during the year where they would beat Kansas, but then lose to a Texas Tech or TCU.

The Cyclones and Session IPA have garnered a lot of bandwagoners as of late. In fact, when I go to concerts, it’s common to see Session IPA on tap, which displays the surge in the popularity of Session IPAs in KC. But, for both ISU and Boulevard, I just can’t swing on either of those bandwagons with any kind of eagerness.

Bully Porter: Kansas State Wildcats

Bully Porter probably has the coolest label of all the Boulevard Year-Round varieties. I mean, it’s a Bulldog, in a tuxedo, with a monacle. How there isn’t a gold medal on the bottle saying “Bottle Design of the Year” to me is one of the great mysteries of our time. If the beer was just average, I would think it would be the greatest beer ever just because of the label. In fact, if I could have a poster of that and put it on my wall, I would.

(This is a bad habit of mine, as sometimes I will be swayed a beer is good simply by labeling. This is especially true with lager varieties; for example, I enoyed Sol simply because I loved their “peeking” Sun logo. However, once they changed the logo, and I had it again, I somehow liked it a lot less. Amazing how things like graphic design can actually change your palate in mysterious ways.)

Despite my affinity for the label art, I struggle liking porters in general. Unless a porter really has a special something, it’s difficult for me to really enjoy one. Porters simply toe that line between beer and coffee too much, and not in a way I find satisfying or appetizing. Unfortunately, Boulevard’s Bully Porter doesn’t really excel in the taste department. It lacks that special “boldness” that separates it from the typical porter, and hence, this one simply fall flat and remains a forgettable selection of the Year-Round varieties.

Kansas State basketball falls in the same kind of boat. They have good looking uniforms and colors, a cool arena nickname (“The Octagon of Doom”) and had Frank Martin screaming up and down the sideline for a good while (great entertainment on its own, though he hasn’t been as good or angry in South Carolina). They had Michael Beasley put up one amazing season that got him drafted No. 2 overall in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, everything else about Kansas State, especially in terms of their on-court success, is forgettable. They have had good teams in the past, but if you think about it, to the college basketball fans nationally, Kansas State simply doesn’t stick out or really burn in anyone’s psyche. It’s too bad because they have had some good teams, just like the Porter isn’t bad by Porter standards. It’s just that there is nothing that stands out about either except the gaudy appearances.

KC Pils: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Formerly “Boulevard Pilsner“, KC Pils is Boulevard’s take on the American Domestic Lager. This beer caters to what is typically liked by most Midwest Beer Drinker’s tastes: a refreshing, crisp beer in the mold of traditional domestics like Miller, Budweiser and Coors. Unfortunately, KC Pils, re-branding and all, suffers from two major issues that prevent it from escaping the basement of the Boulevard year-rounds.

First, while KC Pils isn’t bad by any means, it doesn’t really distinguish itself from the typical American Lager varieties. There’s a little bit more body to it than a Budweiser or Bud Light, but it’s not considerably fuller tasting or crisper than anything you generally would get on the market. Second, KC Pils is priced as high as any other Boulevard Year-Round, which makes it difficult when you’re competing with bigger Breweries who can offer the same kind of beer for a lot cheaper. So, Boulevard’s Pilsner variety ends up falling in “No-Man’s” land of sorts, with the price and market (i.e. crowded) being a huge factor in preventing it from being more successful. And to be honest, I really don’t think of Boulevard when it comes to American Lagers. If I want one, I would rather go Coors or PBR, High Life or Rolling Rock if I wanted to save a couple of bucks.

Nebraska Cornhusker basketball suffers from many of the same issues as KC Pils. The product is not very good and hasn’t been traditionally that good in their history (sans a couple of years ago when they made the NCAA Tournament). But worse than that, there is a lukewarm attitude about Cornhusker basketball with Cornhusker and Midwest fans. While Nebraska football is religion, basketball is a side-attraction when the local high school team is not playing. Basketball is just not a priority in the state of Nebraska (heck, high school and college wrestling is more attended than college basketball). Considering that they play in a conference that is a major player in the basketball scene (i.e. Big 10) and in a geographic area near the premiere program of the Midwest (i.e. Kansas), and it makes sense, like KC Pils, how Nebraska basketball gets lost in the shuffle in its relevance.

KC Pils isn’t bad tasting. Nebraska basketball has gotten better under Tim Miles. But, there are just a whole lot of better American Lager and Midwest Basketball options out there than those two…and considerably so.

So that’s the list and the ratings. Agree? Disagree? Think I picked the wrong team? Think I was too hard on K-State? Think Session IPAs are the greatest thing in the history of craft brewing?

Let me know in the comments below!

Can the Milwaukee Bucks Win the East Next Year?

The Bucks’ uniforms got better (love the blue!), but will their record improve? Flannel, PBR and PER likes to think so…

The NBA season is still months away. In fact, we aren’t really done with free agency just yet this summer (some players are still yet to be signed). However, despite the distance from the start of the NBA season, it is never too early to talk about next season and what teams will be making an impact and dominate the headlines in 2015-2016.

A select number of teams have been dominating the headlines this July, in good ways (San Antonio Spurs), bad ways (Sacramento Kings) and good/bad/hilarious/emoji ways (Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks and DeAndre Jordan). However, one team that has gone under the radar has been the Milwaukee Bucks this off-season. Of course, it makes sense that they haven’t dominated the “big off-season” discussions in major media circles. They didn’t sign any “big” names, and haven’t really been involved in any July drama with players, though the team’s arena issues did put a fright in many Bucks fans who were afraid they would see their team leave to Seattle (the NBA’s eternal bargaining chip). Now that it is certain that the Bucks are going to be in Milwaukee next season and beyond, the focus can be what they did in improving their roster and how they set themselves up for next season.

And let me just say this: the Bucks are going to be good…and not just good like 5-8 seed in the East good, like last season. The Bucks next year may be a serious threat to the heavy East favorite Cavs, and that is saying something considering how the Cavs will most likely improve with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (and committed Love after re-signing to a 5-year extension this off-season) and the Hawks still return mostly everybody from their squad a season ago (minus DeMarre Carroll).

So why are the Bucks a dark horse in the East? How can they potentially dethrone King James and his merry men of Cavaliers? Let’s take a look at three reasons why the Bucks should be taken seriously next season and could greatly surpass their 41-41 record from a year ago.

Reason #1: Greg Monroe is a huge upgrade for the Bucks in the post.

Monroe’s stock wasn’t as high as many initially thought when he entered this summer as an unrestricted free agent, but that isn’t to say he isn’t one of the more productive post players in the league. Despite playing 13 fewer games from a year ago (69 last year), and struggling to find a role with the crowded Pistons front court in the beginning of the year (with Josh Smith and Andre Drummond garnering minutes; though Smith was waived early, which freed up playing time for Monroe), Monroe posted improvements in PER (18.8 to 21.2), win shares (5.9 to 6.8), points per 100 possessions (26.6 was a career high in that category) and true shooting percentage (53.1 to 54.9 percent). Though Monroe certainly wasn’t an indispensable part of the Pistons’ future (Drummond is the younger, more valued commodity, and coach Stan Van Gundy prefers stretch 4’s over traditional posts, so the writing was on the wall for Monroe in Detroit), Monroe was a big reason in the Pistons’ surge mid-way through the season that nearly result in a playoff berth for them despite a 3-15 start. With his strong ability to score and adept passing ability for a big man, it was not surprising that the 25-year-old from Georgetown garnered heavy interest from the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this summer.

But, instead of being in the Big Apple or Tinseltown, Monroe finds himself in the Cheese Capital of the USA thanks to a three-year $50 million deal from the Bucks, an aggressive and unexpected move from a small-market franchise that ranked 29th in attendance in 2014-2015. The deal appears to be a considerable upgrade over what the Bucks trotted out there in the center position last season. Larry Sanders went AWOL a quarter of the season in, and while Zaza Pachulia was a fan favorite (and noted public speaker mind you) and John Henson has been an underrated young talent, they have not and will not match the production that Monroe will generate as Milwaukee’s go-to center next season. In fact, let’s compare the career advanced numbers for all four players:

1 John Henson 200 18.0 .541 .317 11.6 20.5 9.0 6.1 14.1 20.1 3.6 5.1 8.7 2.3
2 Greg Monroe 378 19.7 .545 .376 11.3 22.8 12.6 1.5 13.8 21.9 19.3 12.8 32.2 12.3
3 Zaza Pachulia 815 14.2 .533 .534 12.2 19.4 9.0 1.3 17.2 17.3 17.5 18.8 36.3 5.2
4 Larry Sanders 233 15.5 .494 .235 11.0 21.4 6.0 7.1 12.6 17.0 1.8 8.5 10.3 3.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2015.

It is obvious Monroe has been the best and will be the best offensive player of the bunch going forward in Milwaukee. He bests all the other four in nearly every scoring category, and he also demonstrates excellent efficiency (career 19.4 PER) and ability to generate offense off his passing prowess (career 12.6 assist rate). Pachulia has been the better offensive rebounder, and Sanders appears to be the better defensive player (7.1 career block rate) and Henson is the young “upside” pick (second-highest PER of the four). But, Monroe is head and shoulders above the other 3, as evident by his 12.3 VORP (value over replacement player). Bucks fans should be excited about the options Monroe will give this Bucks team, especially with his passing ability in the post, which should open up the offense for athletic forwards such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker (who is coming off injury though).

A lot has been made about whether or not Monroe will fit in with Milwaukee’s hyper-aggressive, switching defensive scheme (as chronicled in this Zach Lowe piece). In a changing league that is starting to utilize more “small” posts to promote nightmare matchups offensively and defensively, Monroe leaves a lot to be desired in the latter end. His athleticism is average to below for a big, and he has never been categorized as a shot blocker at any point in his career (in fact, his lack of athleticism and lackluster shot blocking ability was a big reason why he slid to the Pistons at No. 7; the Kings drafted Demarcus Cousins at 5, wisely; the Warriors drafted Ekpe Udoh at 6, not so wisely). It’ll be interesting to see how Kidd will utilize him within the defensive scheme that carried the Bucks to such radical success a year ago (remember, the Bucks were one of the worst teams in the league two seasons ago), and if Monroe will be a fit, or if he’ll be subbed in key moments with someone more athletic to mesh better with what Kidd and the Bucks do best defensively.

Defensive issues aside though, it is a clear that Monroe will help the Bucks improve upon their .500 record a season ago. Monroe is the most productive and talented center to arrive in Milwaukee in quite some time (Ervin Johnson he is not) and he gives the Kidd and the Bucks the kind of offensive flexibility they haven’t had since the Karl days. Furthermore, his presence will give the Bucks a major weapon to compete against the best bigs from the best teams in the East such as Chicago (Gasol, Noah and Mirotic), Cleveland (Mozgov and Thompson), Washington (Gortat and Nene), and Atlanta (Millsap and Horford).

Reason #2: Head Coach Jason Kidd could be even better in year two

It is hard to imagine now how much Kidd has progressed as a NBA head coach, especially considering two seasons ago, it looked like his hire was a colossal mistake in Brooklyn. The Nets, coming off the major acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, were 5-12 by the end of November, and Kidd was widely ridiculed in the media as “unprofessional” and a “hack” for this incident below:

Since then though Kidd has done few things wrong. He led the Nets to a 44-38 finish and a first round victory over the higher-seed Toronto Raptors (including a Game 7 win in Toronto). Last year, despite taking over a team that went 15-67 the year before, and with little established, veteran talent, he coached the Bucks to a 41-41 record and pushed the Bulls (who looked like the second-best team in the East in the playoffs) to six games (they won 2 emotional games after giving up the first 3 in the series). “Sodagate” aside, this is certain: Kidd can coach.

That being said, year two remains a bit of a mystery to Kidd and Bucks fans. Kidd has only coached for two seasons, and this is the first time he has had a full off-season with his current team. While there is expected to be some growing pains and some adjustments other teams will make to what Kidd likes to do offensively and defensively as a coach, it goes without saying that there will be a lot of improvement from Kidd as a coach with this roster in year two. Kidd has done an extraordinary job reaching his young talent, while also getting the most out of his under-the-radar veterans. Jerryd Bayless and OJ Mayo were big-time contributors for the young Bucks last season, even though they had been widely maligned throughout their careers for inconsistent play. Kidd excels as a player’s coach, while also doing a good job of communicating what he expects from his players on the court, which is more characteristic of a “coach’s coach” in the mold of a Tom Thibodeau, for example. That puts Kidd in a rare class, and it is enticing what he can do going forward with this organization.

The biggest challenge and judge of him as a coach though centers on how Michael Carter Williams develops, whom they acquired in a 3-way trade with Philadelphia and Phoenix that involved them shipping Brandon Knight, who was on the cusp of making the All- Star team a year ago. Carter Williams, though the Rookie of the Year a couple of seasons ago, has been categorized as an “efficiency-killer” who gains gaudy per game numbers while doing it inefficiently (his career offensive rating is 94, which means 9.4 points per 100 possession; average is 10) and on losing teams. Kidd has voiced his confidence and faith in Carter-Williams and his future with the Bucks in the past, making the improvement and revitalization of MCW’s career somewhat of a side project for the 3rd year coach. After all, no one is questioning MCW’s ability: at six-feet, six-inches, he remains a nightmare matchup for the league’s point guards, and there is hope that MCW will turn into what Shaun Livingston would have had Livingston not suffered that grotesque leg injury with the Clippers early in his career. But, it will be interesting to see if Kidd, who also struggled with his shooting early in his career much like MCW, has the coaching chops to turn around MCW’s struggles and develop him into a Kidd 2.0.

If that, or some progress on that side mission, can happen next year, not only will MCW revitalize his career, but Kidd will have proven that he is one of the top “coaches” in the game and the Bucks will be serious threats to Cleveland’s hold in the Eastern Conference. Pay attention next year to MCW’s development. With a full off-season under Kidd, I can’t help but think there will be improvement in MCW’s game and thus, the Bucks’ play in 2105-2016.

Reason #3: The Bucks will have underrated depth on their roster.

The signing of Monroe not only improved their starting five, but also their bench immensely. In terms of the front court depth, John Henson, as displayed in the table above, is an underrated big who is an efficient scorer and rebounder, and has outperformed expectations when he first came into the league. Miles Plumlee, with Ersan Ilyasova now a Piston, will give the Bucks valuable minutes in the post, and is the kind of “dirty work” player that will help the Bucks compete against some of the “tougher” squads in the East. Even Johnny O’Bryant, an end of the bench player who offers “stretch 4” skills, could greatly improve in his second year in the league and give the Bucks an added boost when needed.

Furthermore, the backcourt depth for the Bucks will be really impressive and should help make “Fear the Deer” a phrase worth repeating on multiple occasions next season. The Bucks added Greivis Vasquez this off-season, a tall point guard in the MCW mold who can push the tempo and generate instant offense off the bench. He excelled in that role in Memphis and Toronto, and though he is prone to inconsistency, he is the kind of dynamic player that will maintain the offense when MCW is off the floor. Also, the return of Bayless will also be a boost to the backcourt, as he is a similar kind of player to Vasquez. Though he doesn’t have the height of Vasquez, he can find ways to create offense, and isn’t afraid of the big moment, as evidenced in the video below:

The Bucks will also return Mayo, who has to prove he can have more seasons like last year in Milwaukee rather than the lackluster year before, as well as second-year guard Tyler Ennis, who came from Phoenix in the Knight-MCW trade and looks to be a project of sorts (He seems destined for more D-League time next year). However, one of the more overlooked options on the bench next season could be Jorge Gutierrez, who signed a multi-year deal at the end of the season with the Bucks after succeeding on multiple 10-day-contracts. Gutierrez has been a D-League stud, as he has a career per 36 average of 13.8 ppg, 6.3 apg and 5.8 rebounds per game. Gutierrez also offers a lot of defensive upside, as he is a tough, gritty defender who can match up well with opposing wings as well as points. Should anything happen to Vasquez or Bayless, don’t be surprised to see Gutierrez breakout and become a star in the mold of Matthew Dellevadova in 2015-2016.

The Bucks will have a great starting lineup with MCW, Khris Middleton, Giannis, Jabari Parker (when healthy), and Monroe. But the Bucks’ options off the bench and the underrated talent that they have stacked up last year and this off-season will help them go from fringe to possibly a serious contender next year.

Final Analysis on the Bucks

The race for the Eastern Conference crown will be more of a dogfight than in years past. Cleveland will most likely improve in LeBron James Era 2.0 year 2, especially with Kevin Love back and committed for the long haul. Boston is another young team that will improve under their excellent coach, Brad Stevens, and Chicago could turn the corner now that they have a coach (Fred Hoiberg) who is more in touch with the modern game (i.e. better at offense) than his predecessor (Thibs). And Atlanta remains an interesting team as well, especially considering they returned everyone but Carroll, and declared coach Mike Budenholzer as in charge of basketball operations as well. They were still the no.1 team after the regular season, and they still will provide a challenge to the rest of the Eastern Conference, as well as the league in general.

But, the Bucks did so much this off-season with the signing of Monroe and the re-signing of Middleton. Add that with more depth on their bench, and the possibility of Kidd improving as a coach in year 2 with the Bucks organization, and Milwaukee’s hopes next year look scary good. There without a doubt will be improvement from the Bucks next year. They will not be just a .500 team next year. However, how much they improve is the real question. Will things come together and will Milwaukee take the next step to being the “team to beat LeBron” in the East? Or will they fall in that “contender, but not really” pack with Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto and Washington?

Whatever happens in 2015-2016 for the official basketball team of the Cheese State, this is for sure: the Bucks will be required League Pass viewing for NBA fans across the nation (myself and FPP included).

SacTown Secret Service? A Look at the Kings as Characters from “Archer”

Kings fans could argue that the organization is as well run as the ISIS organization in the show “Archer” (and not THAT ISIS organization BTW).

One show I have gotten into as of late is Archer on FX. As a fan of SeaLab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, Archer continues the trend of hilarious, though probably inappropriate comedy that is solely reserved for late night. It ranks up there with South Park, Aqua-Teen Hunger Force and Futurama as late night guilty pleasures that you can’t help but watch when it’s on FX, Comedy Central or Cartoon Network.

Amazingly, Archer, while incredibly well-written (not surprising since SeaLab and Frisky Dingo were also very well-written animated comedies), really benefits from an all-star voice cast. Actors such as Judy Greer (Married, the Village), Chris Parnell (SNL), Aisha Tyler (Talk Soup), H. Jon Benjamin (Bob’s Burgers) and Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) add considerable depth to the show’s hilarious, and multi-layered characters. As good as Adam Reed’s previous animated incarnations were, he never had a voice cast as talented as the one on Archer, and it is easy to understand why Archer has become such a huge hit among Animated Comedy fans.

That being said, I always like to cross pop culture with sports whenever I get the chance. And, as a way to express my thoughts about the Kings off-season, instead of doing a traditional “analysis” or “grading” of what the Kings have done this summer, I have decided to correlate a player or person in the Kings organization with a character from Archer. So, let’s take a look at the Kings going into 2015-2016 as characters from ISIS (and for the record, not the Muslim terrorist organization, but the International Secret Intelligence Service; and yes, I know they do not use the name on that show anymore and have tried to block out any reference to it in past shows).


Sterling Archer: Demarcus Cousins

Archer is the star or the show as well as the figurehead of the secret service agency. He is the main agent for both better and worse, and the same is true with Boogie on this Kings roster. As all the missions and operations revolve around the drunken, womanizing, but strangely lovable and skilled secret agent, the Kings organization centers on the multi-talented, but sensitive and hot-tempered All-Star post player. The Kings will do anything to try to please the budding superstar, for both the benefit (bringing in free agents like Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Caron Butler) and detriment (seriously limiting their future options by trading away Nik Stauskas and draft picks in order to clear cap space) of their organization, much like Malory does for Sterling (and she does, because even though she is self-centered, she always manages to overlook all of Sterling’s “unsavory” characteristics and actions).

Sterling has a hot and cold relationship with the other members of ISIS and Cousins proves to go through something similar. One some occasions Cousins seems to be buddy-buddy with many of his teammates. After all, who could forget Omri Casspi fixing Cousins’ headband on the bench and giving him a fist bump in thanks, as demonstrated in the video below:

But, while there are plenty of examples of Cousins being a solid teammate, there are also occasions where the fussy start loses his cool with his fellow Kings. It was a regular sight to see him yelling and sulking at teammates, especially now departed ones like Nik Stauskas and Derrick Williams. Heck, Cousins has a reputation for driving off talent that don’t mesh with his prickly personality. Thomas Robinson and Isaiah Thomas are examples of young King talents who were dealt or let go because they either didn’t mesh with Cousins’ personality (in Thomas’ case, who never seemed to get out of Cousins’ doghouse after the Chris Paul incident) or to get someone who got along with Cousins better (as in Robinson’s case, as he was replaced with Patrick Patterson, who played with Cousins in college at Kentucky). Much like Archer drives people in his office over the edge with his drunken antics and self-centered comments and actions, Cousins has had that kind of effect driving Kings players, coaches (Paul Wetphal, Keith Smart and now George Karl being prime examples) and even management (Paul D’Alessandro seemed to be in Cousins’ doghouse after he fired Mike Malone, a coach that Cousins deeply respect).

Is Cousins’ prickly personality going to cause the same kind of downfalls that flummoxed ISIS? It’s hard to say, but Cousins proves to be entertaining, talented and unpredictable for the Kings and Kings fans, just like Archer is with television audiences.


Lana Kane: Rudy Gay

Much like Lana is to Sterling, Rudy is the Robin to Cousins’ Batman, only comically more. You could argue that Rudy might be more valuable to the Kings because of his positional and scoring versatility (Rudy arguably has had the best seasons of his career in Sacramento), but because of his sidekick status, Rudy doesn’t seem to get the appreciation he deserves in the Kings organization or from Kings fans compared to Boogie.

Rudy has always seemed to be groomed to be the franchise player of an organization when he was drafted eighth by the Grizzlies. But after that failed somewhat in Memphis and miserably in Toronto, he has found his niche as the talented second-in-command in Sacramento, much like Lana with ISIS. Of course, that comes with good and bad. Rudy still gets more respect in the organization than most Kings players, much like Lana is more respected than her on-again, off-again, rebound Cyril or Cheryl or Pam. Unfortunately, Rudy always seems to pale in importance in comparison to Boogie. Despite the myriad of mistakes or issues that might flare up with Boogie, they still seem minuscule to whatever mistake Rudy may make on the court in the eyes of Kings fans. Though he has improved greatly in Sacramento, advanced stats people still are hard on Rudy (phrasing!), like Lana is the subject of unnecessary ridicule with Malory, the head woman in charge at ISIS.

On Archer, Lana is a multi-talented field agent who takes her job seriously, but is easily influenced by those around her, though she can be stubborn in her way about it. On the Kings, Rudy is an extremely multi-talented player that can play 2-4 and be a nightmare for opposing players at any of those positions, though he can infuriate Kings fans at times for trying to do “too much”. Rudy also seems to be more of “people” person than Cousins, as demonstrated by his ability to lure Rondo to Sacramento and his “near” luring of Josh Smith as well (though he eventually signed with the Los Angeles Clippers). He is not an enigmatic player like Cousins, as he seems to fit better in the organization with more players and their personalities on this Kings roster (much like Lana with ISIS in comparison to Sterling). That being said, it’s obvious that when it comes to the hierarchy of importance and power in the organization, Rudy takes a clear backseat to the alpha dog Cousins (Like Lana to Sterling).

I know Rudy may not like the comparison to a female character from an animated show, but it’s obvious that Lana is the perfect Archer characterization for him in this Kings organization. Rudy may be more efficient and dependable on the court (like Lana is as a field agent), but Rudy won’t ever capture the impact and heights of Boogie as a King (Sterling with ISIS).


Pamela “Pam” Poovey: Darren Collison

Pam Poovey is an odd cat on Archer. She seems to be the more competent of the office pair (her and Cheryl) and she has her stuff together in comparison to the other members of ISIS. As the ISIS agents and staff are prone to constant ups and downs, Pam seems to be the most stable of the bunch. That being said, though she is stable, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s spectacular or great in what she does. But she’s comfortable with who she is and offers a lot of hidden talents (bare knuckle fighting for one) though she can be the object of ridicule among many in the organization.

Darren Collison may not be an overweight, gossipy, white human resources director for a secret service organization, but he shares many of the same traits as Pam. He is vastly underrated and has performed much better than expectations in Sacramento. He is adept at pushing the tempo and generating offense in transition, and he has the size and athleticism to make things difficult for most point guards in the league. Amazingly, Collison has put up the same exact true shooting percentage the past three seasons (57.5 percent) for 3 different teams (Clippers, Mavericks, and Kings) and he has averaged a PER at least over 16 the past 3 season (including 17.5 last year). Collison is not a Top-10 point guard in the league, but last year he proved that he could be a serviceable point and is a key cog going forward for this organization, even if his signing was ridiculed at the time (because he placed fan favorite Isaiah Thomas).

But despite his value and underrated status, Collison, much like Pam, doesn’t get the love he deserves. Like people in ISIS make fun of her weight, basketball circles categorize Collison as a career backup (as evidenced by the Kings signing Rondo this year). Pam is known for crossing multiple boundaries with her co-workers with her socially awkward comments leaving her with a “less than stellar” reputation at the office. Collison suffers from a similar reputation, as he is more known for not matching Thomas’ personality or scoring ability, and for being routinely schooled in the playoffs by much better point guards (such as getting overshadowed and schooled by Stephen Curry in the 2014 first round).

No matter what he does, Collison can’t seem to escape that label of being “overrated”, “replaceable” or “mediocre” even though he is more valuable to the Kings than most think. The same remains true for Pam, as her value and character doesn’t stand out in comparison to Sterling or Lana or Malory, but it’s safe to say that she is a valuable contributor to ISIS and character to the Archer universe.


Cyril Figgis: Ben McLemore


Cyril is clearly the second-class citizen among field agents at ISIS. He struggles to find a fit in the organization, even though he tries his hand at dating Lana (disastrously, mind you) and taking certain roles during missions (also quite ineffectively). However, Cyril can surprise at times. Though he looks like an accountant, Cyril somehow is able  to find success (though short term success mind you) with women. Of course, this has had a destructive quality with his relationship with Lana, but while Cyril certainly could use more points in the “macho” category (especially in comparison to Archer), he is no slouch with the ladies (or at least finding fleeting relationships).

Ben McLemore has been kind of a punch-line since coming to Sacramento. He is obviously talented, but he just hasn’t put it together in his two years in Sacramento, and he always seems to be at the discussion of trade talks or being replaced. He offers big time athleticism and shooting potential, but nothing about his game is consistent, and like Cyril with ISIS, this has given him an “expendable” label with the Kings. Two years ago during the Dunk Contest, McLemore and Shaq teamed up to do a comical “King themed” act before and after his dunk, only for McLemore to be spectacularly outdone by John Wall’s dunk (it was a perfect duplication of what Sterling does to Cyril when Cyril tries to “outdo” Sterling in anything). Last year, the Kings looked to be on their way of replacing McLemore with the drafting of Nik Stauskas, but lackluster play from Stauskas and a massive cap-space-clearing trade has left Stauskas in Philly, and McLemore still remains. Much like when Lana or ISIS may think they have a better replacement for Cyril but they end up with him in the end, the Kings have done the same with McLemore: he’s still wearing a Kings uniform, though they aren’t necessarily over-thrilled with him it seems at times.

Cyril may be a harsh characterization of McLemore, who I think really progressed in his second year and is starting to find confidence in his shots, something he didn’t have his rookie year. But, we are in the “Archer” universe, and unfortunately, McLemore and Cyrical just share too many similarities.


Cheryl Tunt: Omri Casspi

Cheryl doesn’t seem to be a fit in the ISIS organization. She’s a ditz, she comes from a wealthy family, she has all kinds of weird issues (especially with her romantic partners) and she has hot-and-cold issues with the members in her organization (especially the main trio of agents: Archer, Lana and Cyril). Surprisingly, Cheryl is a fit with her partner in-crime Pam, and seems to not irritate too much the head of the organization, Malory, who seems to be grossly irritated by everyone who works for her.

Omri Casspi fulfills the same role with the Kings. He obviously has somewhat of a decent relationship with Cousins. (I mean, how many people would Cousins allow to touch his headband, let alone head on the bench?) But, it was obvious at times that he was also the subject of Cousins’ up and down streaks on the court if he made a mistake or was in the way of an irate Cousins heading toward the bench. Watch as Cousins takes out his anger on a chair right next Casspi, and of course, Casspi picks it up. All that is missing would be a “Cheryl-esque” ditzy comment while picking it up.

Much like Cheryl, Casspi is more talented than people think, as he has become much better scoring at the rim this second time in Sacramento (he used to be primarily a 3-point specialist). That being said, his talent has only seemed to be realized in the Sacramento organization, and that’s a big reason why he re-signed with the Kings this off-season. But, like Cheryl with ISIS, Casspi is appreciated in Sacramento and he seems to be a key cog and fan favorite in Sacramento going forward, much like Cheryl has become a favorite character of “Archer” fans.


Raymond Q. Gillette: Andre Miller

Ray, in all his flamboyance, proves to be one of the more level-headed members of ISIS. Much like his appearance and impact is more limited on the show, the same proves to be true with Miller, who was acquired late in the season by the Kings. Ray doesn’t get the most respect from people in the organization, and he can be the object of ridicule at times, but it is obvious that he knows what he is doing and he had confidence in what he does for the organization (though it often goes unrealized thanks to the main agents in charge, i.e. Archer and Lana).

Miller is a throwback vet who obviously had a good effect on the Kings younger players, which were yearning for leadership last year after shuffling through some many campaigns with a “Captian-less” ship. Though Miller’s game is not pretty, and can be the scoff of many fans and basketball analysts for his “old man” skills, he is effective and holds a vital role on the Kings now and hopefully going forward, should the Kings re-sign him. Of course, much like Ray’s role on the show, it’ll be interesting to see how big a part he will have on the Kings in the future, should he have a role at all.

Whatever happens, it will probably be common to see Miller pinching his nose and sighing in frustration with the Kings next year, similar to what Ray does when Archer or Lana or Cyril (or even Malory) refuse to take his advice. Let’s just hope that Miller is doing that as a King.


Dr. Algenorp Krieger: Vlade Divac

Dr. Krieger is the mad genius of the ISIS research department. Vlade is the mad genius of the Sacramento Kings department. Krieger often creates new kinds of technology that serve no immediate or relevant purpose to the agents or organization. Vlade has engaged in some transactions (the Sixers trade; the Luc-Richard Mbah-Moute signing) that don’t seem to really fit the purpose of what the Kings are trying to do (become a winning franchise again for a long period of time). Krieger when he gets caught seems to blubber and show little idea of what he is doing. Many media experts and fellow GMs think Vlade is blubbering his way through his first year in charge of Kings basketball operations without a concrete plan or idea of what he wants to do beyond this year. Krieger has a beard. Vlade has a beard.

The similarities are just way too uncanny. Of course, I hope Vlade isn’t as ineffective as Krieger. I think Vlade does have a plan, but I think he may be trying to rush the Kings back to success a little bit too quickly, as evidenced by the Sixers trade, which seemed to be a sign of playing his hand too early. (Seriously, how many other teams were really considering Rondo at the end of the day?) Whether it was a good call or not, only a couple of years will tell if Vlade pulled a smart move as head of operations for the Kings or simply demonstrated a “Krieger” (i.e. crazy and ineffective).

Let’s just hope that Vlade stays away from the risque, holographic Anime and cocaine, unlike Krieger.


Woodhouse: David Stockton

David Stockton was a nice little story for Gonzaga and has been a nice story going forward for the Kings. Despite going undrafted, Stockton fit well in Reno’s “Grinnell-style” system, and eventually earned himself a call up to the league a couple of times late last year.

But let’s face facts: Stockton has no relevant purpose on this team other than being a warm body and to give people high fives. The same proves to be true for Woodhouse, who is Archer’s servant, and is mainly there to help Archer accomplish whatever crazy, perverse idea he has going on in his drunken state back at his apartment. In fact, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Cousins treated Stockton like Archer treats Woodhouse. After all, that kind of treatment would be expected with a star player and an end of the bench rookie who probably won’t be spending that much time with the organization or the league in general.

I can only hope that Cousins doesn’t make Stockton eat a bowl of spider webs if Stockton turns the ball over in the preseason.


Malory Archer: Vivek Ranadive

This is the last, and the easiest comparison of the list (other than Cousins to Archer). Malory Archer runs ISIS as her own personal vanity project, looking to utilize the organization and her agents for her own personal wealth, gain and status. Vivek seems to be using the Kings as a vanity project for himself and his own goals to change basketball and how a franchise is run. Unfortunately for the both of them, this hasn’t always worked out to their success. Malory’s many missions have failed due to her own ego and self-centered nature getting in the way. Vivek’s quest to create a “NBA 3.0” has often fell flat and the subject of ridicule, as evidenced by the failed tenure of Pete D’Alessandro and Chris Mullin, the firing of Michael Malone, and his inability to mend the relationship between George Karl and Cousins this off-season.

Much like Malory, Vivek is often confusing where he places blame concerning the multitude of issues running amok in the Kings organization. Often times, it looked like he was putting the responsibility on the previous leaders in the front office (i.e. Pete and Chris), only for it to come out that they weren’t all that responsible at all. Also, while Vivek tries to put the right people in charge, it also seems at times that he loses control of the key people in his organization, leading to conflict and a tense working environment when their personalities get out of control (i.e. Karl and Cousins). Malory suffers from the same issue, as her son Archer and Lana often take to their own personal issues in the midst of everyone, and instead of diffusing it, Malory seems to let it happen to the amusement of herself. That is not saying Vivek is amused by this current situation, but it makes you wonder why he doesn’t step in more when the issues are minor and just developing (rather than later and they are already major problems).

I don’t think Vivek is as heinous or as a selfish as Malory Archer. I really think he wants the Kings organization to be good and he really wants this team to be good for the city of Sacramento. But some of his decisions make one wonder if he has had a bit too much to drink in the office, much like Malory.

NBA Hipster Profile: Jason Williams (i.e. “White Chocolate”)

Jason Williams (center) was not just known for his spectacular play, but also carrying a NBA Hipster legacy

NBA Hipster Profile is a part of Flannel, PBR and PER where I look at NBA players both past and current who represent the “Hipster” players of their generation or time. This can be in terms of style, the way they played, their attitude with media, management, players, etc. Hopefully this becomes a year-around series that also delves into the D-League and College game as well.

Jason Williams was probably one of the most important players during the Rick Adelman era in Sacramento. I am not saying he was the best player or most crucial to their success. In fact, his successor, Mike Bibby, experienced much more success as the point guard of the Kings, especially in the postseason (Bibby was a catalyst in the 2002 playoffs, especially against the Los Angeles Lakers, where he almost pushed the Kings to the NBA Finals). But even though Bibby was probably the better overall point guard and had a more lasting impact on the Kings in terms of wins and losses, nobody jump started the new era of the Kings more than Williams. Through his brash, highlight-making, and unapologetic style of play, Williams helped the Kings jump onto the national radar and began the process of what would be their incredible run in the early 2000’s. But more importantly, he inspired a generation of point guards and guard play that was incredibly against the grain and well…hipster.

Why was Jason Williams hipster, even if such a term did not really exist for him during his playing career? Let’s look at a few reasons why.

Reason #1: His style of play was incredibly different from what was expected from NBA point guards

Williams in all sense of the word was a showman, especially when it came to his passing and ballhandling. Regularly, Williams was a regular feature on Top-10 lists on Sportscenter and his style of play not only captivated fans, but also inspired a generation of “streetball” players that eventually morphed into a greater interest and participation into the “And1 MixTape Tour” movement.  You wouldn’t think a white guy from West Virginia, who played college basketball in a Football-Mad conference (He played at Florida and in the SEC) would have such a profound impact on the game of basketball not just in the NBA, but at the amateur level with And1. But, I have a hard time seeing And1 stars such as “The Professor“, for example, reaching the kind of legendary And1 status without the influence and success of Williams in the NBA his first 3 years in the league.

And if you don’t believe me, watch some of the highlights below. Watch as Williams make incredible crossovers (he crosses up Bibby quite a bit when Bibby was a Grizzly; ironic considering they were traded for each other) and passes with style, swagger and ease. Witness as his expressions pump up the Sacramento fans and teammates. (Heck some of his plays made Tariq Abdul Wahad look good…no simple task mind you!) Tell me that was not fun to watch. You’re either a curmudgeon or a middle school basketball coach from Southern Indiana if you cannot find some kind of joy or entertainment in Williams’ highlights.

Without a doubt, his streetball style changed what was expected going forward from NBA point guards. Point guards were expected to be Bobby Hurley types: leaders, intense competitors and quarterbacks on the floor who were known to be composed and consistent in order to leader to efficiency on the floor and boredom in the personality area. As a Gonzaga alum, I love John Stockton. He was the prototype of what was expected from a NBA point guard: no flash, play within the offense, execute regularly to the point where it almost becomes routine. A lot of NBA point guards have followed that mold. You could argue current NBA point guards such as Chris Paul and Tony Parker have found success following the mold Stockton set before them (and Paul’s excitement comes from his arguing with the refs and flopping; when the ball is in play, he is consistent and deliberate in his play and it is beautiful to watch).

Williams on the other hand? Everything was flashy. The behind the back passes. The crossover step backs. The baseball bounce passes from beyond half court. Everything Williams did was high risk on the floor, the antithesis of what a good point guard did. A good point guard, in any coaches’ mind, is to run the offense while minimizing risk. Williams wanted to maximize the risk. He would go faster in a car to see if he could jump a gorge rather than brake and stop before it like any sane, normal driver would. This kind of quality endeared a lot of Kings and NBA fans to Williams, especially the younger generation as well as those who enjoyed the playful spirit of street-style, playground basketball. Williams was anti-expected, anti-establishment when it came to the foundation of what constituted a “good” point guard in the league and that was a “hipster” quality in him that becomes more and more appreciated as the years pass, especially as the game gears more toward his style that he helped push and pioneer when he entered the league.

Reason #2: Williams bucked the expectation and style of the “white” player in the NBA.

Stockton wasn’t just the quintessential “NBA” point guard. He was also the prototype image for every “white” player in the league. Stockton was clean-cut, wore short shorts, did ho-hum interviews and did borderline “dirty” things on the court that was usually characterized as “scrappy” or “intelligent” by the mass media. Bobby Hurley followed that mold. So did Greg Ostertag and Bryant Reeves and Christian Laettner. They were not just basketball players, but they also could have served as presidents of their chapters Young Democrats or Young Republicans in college.

Williams could have followed that mold. When he initially came into the league, he had a full-head of hair and a boyish look that made him resemble more like a Boy Band member than the point guard of a NBA squad. But, as he garnered more minutes and started to display his “streetball” style of playing that made him such a hit with NBA and Kings fans, it became obvious that Williams was going to break that “white point guard” mold that had become expected from media and general basketball fans.

By the second year, Williams ditched the Boy Band haircut and went with a shaved head and went with a buzz cut for most of his career beyond Sacramento (he also played for the Grizzlies, Magic and Heat). He started to garner more tattoos each year, as he only had a couple as a rookie but by his later years in the league his arms were covered almost as much as Chris “Bridman” Andersen’s. There was an urban swagger to Williams and unapologetic way he carried himself not just on the court, but off it as well. Williams, from West Virginia (he played high school sports famously with Randy Moss), didn’t care if the traditional media or basketball fans didn’t approve of his style. He didn’t care if people claimed he was trying to be something he wasn’t (which proved to be untrue; Belle, West Virginia is like any coal-mining West Virginia town and though it was primarily white, the town had its hardships like any major town from that tri-state area (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) suffering both socially and economically after the fallout from many mines and plants closing; Williams never claimed he was from Compton or Baltimore or somewhere likewise). And his uncompromising way of carrying himself endeared Williams to many young basketball fans and players who wanted to rebel against the status quo regardless of race or background (I know as a half-white, half-Asian american, I secretly admired Williams both on and off the court growing up).

In fact, if you don’t remember, check out this segment from ESPN’s “The Life” which profiled Williams’ first year in Memphis. He is candid, honest, blunt, and incredibly intense both on and off the court. If you have some time, watch the 20-minute clip. I find it hard to see a lot of point guards in general both then and now displaying the kind of honesty that Williams displayed in this video segment.

Reason #3: His style still influences guards today

In his day, Williams was the leader of the “rebel” cause at point. He didn’t look to make the “sure” play, but the spectacular one. He was a gunner when he wasn’t making the flashy pass, as he posted a career 49.1 percent 3-point attempt rate (the percentage of his shots that came from beyond the arc), something that wasn’t typically associated with great point guards. Point guards, when they weren’t passing the ball or making the assist, were supposed to get to the hoop on the pick and roll. And while Williams was certainly capable of that, his affinity for the 3-point shot drove him a little bit more.

For many NBA fans, Williams probably seemed to be the last of his kind, the product of the “Streetball” “And1 Mixtape” movement that died out in the late 2000’s. But since the turn of the decade, we are starting to see more and more point guards not just dominate the ball with flashy move and energy, but the 3-point shot as well. The biggest example is Stephen Curry who displays the same kind of highlight producing skills that Williams showcased in the early to mid-2000’s. Look at the highlights of Curry below and see how similar Curry and Williams’ games are similar nearly a decade later.

Is that saying Curry is the modern-day Williams? No. Curry was a whole lot more efficient with the ball and a much better shooter. (After all, Williams never won a MVP award). But, Williams broke the mold that a point guard could show flash and be successful. He displayed that a point guard could be a 3-point shooter and still be labeled and successful running the point. Maybe Stephen Curry exists without Jason Williams. But to say Williams game didn’t have an influence on guards like Curry, whether intentional or not, is dubious to think.

Final Thoughts on “White Chocolate”

Williams was a unique character both on and off the court. Even though he came off as a showboat on the court, he was incredibly reserved and easily agitated off of it. He was incredibly blunt and not just with the media, but opposing fans, as it even got him into trouble quite often (I remember his incident where he got in an intense heckling match with Golden State fans where Williams crossed the line with his comments). For a while, Williams was characterized as a “malcontent” and a “cancer”, but in reality, he just happened to by a hyper-competitive player who wanted to win, who wanted to play the game the only way he could (with panache and style) and wanted to stick close to his roots despite the misconception and sometimes, criticism (Williams was a West-Virginia proud guy; for those from Kansas City, he was like someone from Wyandotte County, which I got a lot of love for since I used to live there for a couple of years and found it hard to leave).

In short, Williams was hipster before the term was popular or even existed. The only thing Williams cared about was the game. He didn’t care about making movies. He didn’t care that he punted a lot of opportunities to market himself beyond the court more because of his style and the way he carried himself. As I said before, Williams could have probably been a media and marketing darling if he bought into the “98 Degrees” look he sort of sported his rookie year. But Williams passed off on that, because he knew that wouldn’t be who he was at the core, and “White Chocolate” can only be him at the end of the day.

There probably won’t be a hall of fame spot for Williams. And frankly, I don’t think Williams cares nor does he think about it, and that not only makes him a retro NBA Hipster, but so endearing as well. It is refreshing to see, in a day where many athletes are so self-conscious about their image and legacy, that he willingly stays out of it and doesn’t give a crap. Instead, his legacy is displayed in the current crop of budding NBA point guards endearing themselves to new waves of fans (like Curry) and his son, who is already gaining notoriety as “White Chocolate Jr.

It is exciting to think that another Williams can make it in the league. It gives hope to future generations that they can enjoy basketball like we younger fans did in the early to mid-2000’s when Williams was out there tearing up and “Hipstering” up the league.

Jayhawk Jump? Can Kelly Oubre Follow Andrew Wiggins’ Lead in the NBA?

Kelly Oubre (left) maybe didn’t capture Jayhawk fans in 2014-2015 like expected, but it was the right decision for him to leave after 1 year.

Being in Kansas City, Kansas Jayhawk basketball dominates college (and just general) basketball talk. People either love or loathe KU hoops, and their opinions of certain players can be quite intense. No two players have been as polarizing the last couple of years than Andrew Wiggins, the former No. 1 recruit out of high school, No. 1 draft pick and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, and Kelly Oubre, a top-10 prospect out of high school who followed Wiggins’ lead and declared for the draft out of high school.

For starters, if you understand the KU landscape, the easiest explanation of why these two players generate so much discussion is they have been the antithesis of what KU fans “expect” from their players. Jayhawk players stay for multiple years. Jayhawk player develop in Bill Self’s system and get better by year 2 or 3. Jayhawk players win Big 12 titles and go to Final Fours. Jayhawk players represent the name on the front and not on the back.

I know…it’s hard not to laugh at this crap, especially considering all the issues going on with the NCAA and College Basketball in general. But in all reality, this is how 90 percent of KU fans view their players and teams on a year-to-year basis. They really believe all those characteristics are associated with the Jayhawks like “The Cardinal Way” is with St. Louis Cardinals fans. And in the minds of Jayhawk fans, Wiggins and Oubre represented the opposite of that. They didn’t stay for more than 1 year. They didn’t “fit” in Self’s system offensively. They both exited in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And they were “perceived” as players who cared more about their individual goals rather than team goals (i.e. they declared for the draft even though they didn’t achieve much success in the postseason).

First off, Wiggins was a projected No. 1 pick and Oubre was expected to go in the top-20. It’s hard to say “no” when those are your circumstances, especially as draft classes and stocks change quickly on an annual basis. Before he played a college game, Cliff Alexander, another fellow KU recruit who was actually rated higher than Oubre coming out of high school, was perceived as a Top-5 to Top-10 pick. Less than a year later? He’s undrafted and fighting for a roster spot, his future most likely destined for a D-League or International team next year. You can’t blame Wiggins, Oubre or any other NBA player for going while their stock is high (though Wiggins of course had the much higher stock).

In response to point number two, wings have always traditionally struggled in Self’s system at Kansas. Self runs primarily a 3-out, 2-in motion that looks to get touches and points in the paint through their big-men, and it’s obvious by the numbers that Self prefers scoring in the paint than beyond the arc (i.e. traditionalist basketball coach). Case in point, in the past four seasons, 58.3 percent of KU buckets have been assisted. A pretty good percentage and sign for a team, displaying there is more of an emphasis on passing and ball movement in Self’s system. However, in the past four seasons, only 28.9 percent of their field goal attempts have been from beyond the arc, and they haven’t rated higher than 247th in the nation in 3-point attempt percentage the past four seasons as well. What does that mean? It shows that all that ball movement and passing is going primarily to 2-point shots and 2-point shots typically are the forte of post players since they tend to be closer to the basket for closer 2’s (nobody game plans for mid-range jumpers, unless you’re Byron Scott). That is not necessarily something that corresponds with the trend in play going on in the NBA right now and what is wanted from wings at the college level (i.e. shooting from beyond the arc).

So what can you take away from Self’s system? It means that you have to take big-man production with a grain of salt and give a little more understanding to wing players who may struggle initially. So, the Thomas Robinson’s and Perry Ellis’ of the world are going to look good playing for Self while Wiggins and Oubre may leave some to be desired. But it’s not necessarily the latter wing players fault, as it seems to be more of a by-product of Self’s “post player preference” offense (common in 3-2 motion offenses).

Despite an offensive system that doesn’t typically play to wing players’ successes, Wiggins and Oubre still succeeded and improved over the course of their career, even if it was one season. At the end of the year, against Tier A competition (Top-50 opponents), according to Ken Pomeroy, Wiggins posted an adjusted offensive rating of 101.4, a True Shooting percentage of 53.6 percent and usage rate of 27.8 percent. Despite an offense geared toward posts, and against elite competition (in 2013-2014, KU had the toughest overall schedule in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy), Wiggins became effectively “the Man” for KU and carried the Jayhawks offensively. To compare to No. 2 pick, Jabari Parker of Duke, though Parker edged him slightly in the same category (Tier A opponents) in adjusted offensive rating (101.7), he did have a higher usage rate (31.8) but a lower true shooting percentage (51.5 percent). So Wiggins did improve in his career, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that Wiggins ended up having the Rookie of the Year season that he did. He flourished as much as he could have in Self’s system, and he got out while his stock was high.

As for Oubre, he didn’t have quite the same success that Wiggins had, but he wasn’t necessarily the same prospect either (Oubre was always a Top-10 guy, not a Top-2 player like Wiggins). His offensive rating over the year was a lot lower than Wiggins (108.7 to Wiggins’ 112.3) and he wasn’t as featured in the offense as Wiggins either (22.1 usage rate to Wiggins’ 25.5 rate). But Oubre, started the year horrifically (he only played double digit minutes in 2 of the first 7 games) and then really came into his own in Big 12 play. In conference play alone, his offensive rating stood at 110.0 with a true shooting percentage of 53.6 and a defensive rebounding rate of 19.3, which was actually the fifth best mark in that category in the Big 12. And much like Wiggins, Oubre proved to be a menace defensively, with Wiggins being better at blocking shots (3.1 to 2.5) and Oubre better at swiping the ball from opponents (3.6 to 2.3). Oubre still has to develop his outside shot, as he only shot 32.1 percent from the arc in Big 12 play and 32.7 percent against Tier A competition (compared to Wiggins, who shot 36.8 percent in Big 12 play; though he did only shoot 30 percent from beyond the arc against Tier A competition). But Oubre offers the same kind of athletic, offensive and defensive flexibility that made Wiggins such a success at Kansas and in Minnesota his first year in the League.

One of the main arguments though against Oubre by traditional Jayhawks fans though was that Oubre needed another year to develop. Unlike big men, who have gotten better with more years at Kansas (i.e. Robinson, who blossomed as junior, and Ellis), that hasn’t necessarily been the sure-fire case with perimeter players. Yes guys like Frank Mason got better last year (his offensive rating jumped from 105.8 to 111.5 his sophomore season), but Wayne Selden saw his offensive rating drop from 104.9 his freshman season to 98.0 his sophomore season, last year. Sure, Oubre could have seen an increase in efficiency and production his second season at Kansas, but it could also have gone south, like Selden, a late first-round to second round pick projection at the end of his freshman season who looks like a NBA longshot at this point. Oubre has a NBA game, and while his skills need some refinement, he still did enough his first year at Kansas to merit a NBA team using a first round pick on him.

As far as the last comment from Jayhawk fans about neither Wiggins nor Oubre winning anything as collegiate players? I think that is vastly overrated when it comes to evaluating college players and whether or not they’ll be successful at the NBA level. First off, neither Wiggins or Oubre had complete teams when they entered the Tournament. Wiggins’ squad had lost Joel Embiid, who was playing like one of the best big men in the country, while Oubre’s team struggled all year along with a go-to guy, that amplified even more when Alexander was ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season after 28 games. Furthermore, in college, it is hard for one player to transcend a team over the top, especially in the one-and-done style of the Tournament. In the NBA Playoffs, the best teams usually wins because it’s a 7-game series. In a single-elimination tournament, it’s a crap shoot that is fun to see because of the upsets, but usually results in Final Four matchups that usually underwhelm because the best teams aren’t in the championship (i.e. Butler and UConn circa 2011 and UConn-Kentucky circa 2014…yes, I do not like watching UConn).

And remember these facts: Kevin Durant lost in the 2nd round his freshman year at Texas; Parker lost in the first round with Duke; Chris Paul lost in the 2nd round of the tournament his sophomore year at Wake Forest; and Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t have won a championship if not for Gerry McNamara going insane or Hakim Warrick blocking that shot against Kansas down the stretch. Throw a packing zone defense or have one player hit an insane amount of threes for a half and even a slightly-above average or even average can knock off a college team with LeBron James. You cannot blame Wiggins and Oubre for not winning it all in the college landscape. In the NBA? You have an argument, but not college where the rules (longer shot clock, no zone defense limits) and circumstances (single-elimination postseason) make it far too difficult for one player to carry their team to a championship.

So, despite what many “Jayhawk Purists” think (i.e. fans who still hang onto players becoming the next Jacque Vaughn, Kirk Heinrichs, Nick Collison, Scott Pollard, Greg Ostertag, etc.), Wiggins had a successful year at Kansas and it transitioned to the NBA, and Oubre had a successful season at Kansas, even if many Jayhawk fans might not admit it (do not point to the 9.3 ppg…per game numbers can be deceiving due to pace and the offense a coach employs, and neither really helped Oubre all that much last year, especially with the offense lacking direction and definition immensely at times beyond Oubre’s control). Will that transition to a successful season for Oubre his rookie year though? Can Oubre prove to the KU naysayers much like Wiggins did with Minnesota?

As of two Summer League games, Oubre is trying to make his case. He leads the Wizards in minutes at 29.5 per game, he is scoring 19 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game, and showing flashes of brilliance on the defensive end, averaging 1.5 steals per game along with some highlight reel blocks. However, Oubre is only shooting 35.1 percent from the field and a ghastly 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. His shaky 3-point shot has been a critique from scouts of Oubre as well as his shot selection and that seems to be evident in the limited 2 game sample in Summer League. That being said, Oubre is showing the strong rebounding ability and offensive and defensive versatility that made him a weapon at Kansas and persuaded the Wizards to trade for him at 15 in last year’s draft (the Hawks had the original pick).

It will be tough though for Oubre to match the heights of Wiggins’ Rookie Campaign in Washington. First off, unlike Wiggins, Oubre is coming to a playoff team with a strong (but still young) veteran presence. With John Wall and Bradley Beal leading the way, and Otto Porter coming off a strong second year, minutes will be tough to come by for Oubre in the Wizards rotation. I would not be surprised at all to see the same growing pains for Oubre that Porter had his rookie year, where he only played 37 games and struggled to find minutes. The Wizards are looking to compete for a Eastern Conference title with Cleveland, and Randy Wittman has displayed a short leash with his rookies in the past.

But, Oubre has potential, and he could be a sleeper from this 2015 draft class. Though he certainly was a polarizing figure at Kansas (like Wiggins) and while some Jayhawk fans felt he was a disappointment, Oubre was a lot better than people thought last season and he left to be a professional at a good time, considering the circumstances (offense, Self’s history with producing NBA wings) back in Lawrence. Maybe Oubre and Wiggins could have benefited from another year at KU. It certainly would have been fun to see Wiggins or Oubre as sophomores. But considering the situations they both faced, it was obvious that the benefits would have helped the Jayhawks more than them as individuals in the long-term and that is a risk that certainly wouldn’t have been worth it for either of their professional futures.

I know that’s something Kansas fans don’t want to hear (i.e. a player cares more about his individual future than the team’s). But I know most Kansas fans (and myself) and even would be thinking about their own livelihoods too if they had a chance to accumulate millions of dollars immediately too, degree acquired or not.

Why Kansas City Needs a D-League Basketball Team

Municipal Auditorium would be the perfect host for a potential D-League team

If you live in Kansas City (like I do), you are a bit in basketball wasteland. Since the Kings moved out after the 1984-1985 season, and with the demise of the Kansas City Knights of the ABA after the 2004-2005 season, professional basketball has remained dormant in the Kansas City-Metro area. For a professional basketball fan like myself, this has some benefits (I do not get any locally blacked out games on NBA League Pass), but it also has a lot of negatives for live professional basketball fixes. While there are a slew of college options (UMKC and Rockhurst, DII, in the city; Kansas University 45 minutes away in Lawrence), it just doesn’t match professional basketball. The quicker pace of the game, the higher scoring, the 48 minute games, the silly in-game promos…professional basketball just tops it for me, especially as college basketball continues to deteriorate due to overly-controlling coaches (hopefully the 30 second shot clock will change quite things quite a bit). And besides, with KU games regularly being sell outs (i.e. tough to get tickets), and UMKC and Rockhurst basketball being “dead energy” affairs, even if you do love college basketball in Kansas City, you may be disappointed or coughing up big bucks for quality basketball save for the Big 12 Tournament (though that can be hard to get tickets for, especially the deeper you get in the tournament) or the NAIA Tournament (which is the greatest event ever for basketball fans and also one of the best values, as you can buy all sessions of the tournament for $100).

So Kansas City needs another basketball alternative, and the D-League sounds like the most viable option (because let’s face it, with OKC so close, NBA Basketball is not coming to KC, even if the Sprint Center is a quality option). Of course, there are multiple benefits and pitfalls that would come with a professional sports team coming into a metro area. Zach Bennett of Hardwood Paroxysm wrote a good article about 5 potential places for D-League teams, and mentioned Kansas City as the No. 1 choice and looked and examined some of the positives and negative with D-League basketball coming into Kansas City (as well as Omaha and St. Louis, which were other cities listed). However, I wanted to expand on what Zach touched on in that article from a year ago, and go more into depth of why D-League basketball might work in Kansas City.

Let’s take a look at four reasons why the D-League would be successful should it move to Kansas City.

1. Municipal Auditorium would be a fantastic location to host D-League games

Zach mentioned Kemper Arena as a potential home for a future D-League team. I couldn’t disagree more. Municipal Auditorium is the obvious choice as the best destination for a D-League team. Municipal is in a great location, walking distance from Power and Light (though further than the Sprint Center), near the Convention Center and access to plenty of Parking Garages (including one right across the street) as well as highways (i.e. easy for suburban people to commute to and after games, unlike Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead). Municipal was remodeled in 2013, and now is complete with video boards and lower level seating, making it the perfect venue for basketball. UMKC and the NAIA Tournament have both benefited from Municipal as a venue, and I think a D-League team would benefit from the smaller (it seats about less than 10,000) but more intimate environment. Sprint Center would be the ideal, but that seems less likely since Sprint seems to make too much money from events other than sports, and a permanent tenant (like a sports team) such as a D-League team just wouldn’t be beneficial to their bottom line. But Municipal? Right now, their big money makers seem to be UMKC basketball and the NAIA Tournament, and I guarantee a D-League team would probably outdraw both of those in the long-run, especially with NBA basketball growing in popularity in the Sprint Center (the exhibition at the Sprint Center seems to draw near sell-out capacity every year) and the D-League being a more widely used option by NBA organizations (i.e. more familiar faces than before in Independent basketball).

2. D-League basketball is more important than ever

One of the best initiatives the NBA has made in the past five years or so has been emphasizing the D-League’s importance more. The league has done a great job promoting it, from televising all games free on YouTube to having more 1-1 teams (i.e. a D-League affiliate for every franchise). Furthermore, general managers are starting to see the benefits of the D-League, letting late round picks get valuable playing time in the D-League rather than rot at the end of the bench. And the D-League has had its share of success stories. Danny Granger reshaped his game into a 3-point specialist in the D-League. Jeremy Lin earned a shot in the NBA thanks to his strong performances in the D-League with the Reno Bighorns. And, NBA teams are utilizing the D-League as a place for strategy experimentation, as the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (the affiliate of the Houston Rockets) and the Reno Bighorns (affiliate of the Sacramento Kings), famously showcased the past couple of seasons. D-League basketball is not just a holding ground for washed up veterans and failed rookies. It has been a legitimate lab for young players to hone their skills and organizations to test strategies and concepts that would be too risky to employ during the 82 games season.

So with that being said, the D-League is important. It’s important to players and more importantly, organizations. And with that being the case, the basketball has become better and more entertaining than what we have seen from independent basketball in the past (i.e. the CBA and ABA). Players getting called up is not a rare occurrence any more. Is it on the level on Minor League Baseball? Of course not, but it’s getting there, as evidenced by the more single-team D-League affiliates. Kansas City basketball fans will recognize this and show up, knowing that they have the potential to see the next Lin, the next Hassan Whiteside, the next Gerald Green hit the Municipal Auditorium floor, be it on their team or the opposing one.

3. Kansas City could spark a Midwest D-League Basketball Renaissance

Kansas City has loyal fans. I mean, look at the latest All-Star voting for chrissakes where the Royals almost got seven players in, including a second-baseman who was around replacement level. Heck, look at Sporting KC, which has become the standard for most MLS teams, as well as the Kansas City T-Bones, who remain a draw despite being an independent league team in a city that has Major League Baseball. Kansas City people love their sports, and with relatively few big-time basketball options beyond KU or K-State and Mizzou (if you’re willing to make the drives), it seems only natural that Kansas City would ardently get behind a D-League team.

But, in the big picture, Kansas City could be a trendsetter for a D-League Midwest Mecca. What do I mean? There are plenty of cities that could probably benefit from D-League teams in the Midwest. Omaha and St. Louis are two that come to mind, and Sioux Falls, and Des Moines have D-League teams that could further add to possible rivalry fire. Could you imagine a D-League Cup perhaps in the Midwest where KC, Sioux Falls, Omaha, Des Moines and St. Louis would all be involved? I can see the citizens of KC getting behind it, going for the bragging rights of being the best Midwest team in the D-League even if it only D-League. Midwest people like their bragging rights as the best Midwest city in any category. College football, beer, BBQ, thunderstorms, etc. D-League basketball would just be another venue to do so, and that would not just benefit the fans and people of these metro areas, but the D-League as well (as attendance and coverage would increase because of this quest for bragging rights).

4. A D-League Team Could Help Push the NBA Coming Back to Kansas City

Like I said, it’s probably a long shot, or at least a long shot in the immediate future. Seattle is the obvious front runner for a NBA team (after all, it seems owners use Seattle as ammunition to hold cities hostage over the construction of publicly funded arenas. Sacramento was in this situation years back, and it looks like Milwaukee is going through a similar issue. After Seattle, Vegas also seems to be a viable option due to the amount of money in Vegas, the night life, and the possibility of sports gambling becoming a more widely accepted thing.

However, the NBA lacks a serious presence in the Midwest to the west of Milwaukee and Chicago. Oklahoma City can be considered Midwest or Southwest depending on who you ask, but to me, it feels more closer to Texas in terms of lifestyle and culture than Missouri or Kansas or any other Midwest state. So, there needs to be a presence of professional basketball in this part of the country, since going to Denver or Chicago for a game requires an arduous journey of sorts, especially during Winter time.

Kansas City has the amenities. The Sprint Center is a NBA-quality arena. The Power and Light area around Kansas City would make it an attractive hangout for younger crowds before and after games. They are working on some streetcar systems that could make it easier for people to commute to and from games (or at least find different parking spots all over the city). Basically, Kansas City has now what Sacramento wants in a year. Maybe Kansas City doesn’t stick out like Seattle or Vegas, but Kansas City could host a NBA franchise and they could be successful with it. Unlike St. Louis, who has struggle to support three professional sports franchises (i.e. the Rams), Kansas City seems like it would thrive due to the fan loyalty and economic infrastructures (downtown arena) already in place that would correspond to a NBA franchise succeeding in a city.

But, Kansas City needs to prove that it can handle basketball, and what better way to do it than with a D-League team? We have already seen MLS franchises get established due to the minor league teams becoming such wild successes. It is easy to think that the same can happen in Kansas City, as fan support will catch the eye of Adam Silver and the NBA and they will realize that all the pieces are in place for a NBA team to relocate to Kansas City.

And if a successful D-League franchise doesn’t catch Silver’s eye? Well…at least there will be professional basketball again in Kansas City, and that would still be a win for basketball fans in Kansas City.

FPP NBA Free Agency Chronicle: Day 1 Hipster Beer Edition

So it’s July 1st, which means (other than it being 3 days from July 4th holiday) that it’s the official start of the NBA free agency period. Much like any NBA Blog or Web site, I will be doing my own ratings with a “Flannel, PBR and PER” spin. I will categorize the free agency signings from Day 1 into 4 “Hipster” beer choices as follows:

Miller High Life: The champagne of beers meaning that these are the best of the best signings. They make sense for the team and will have great long-term value down the road.

Pabst Blue Ribbon: These solid deals are worth a blue ribbon and overall are more positive than negative. They aren’t quite elite deals, but it’s hard to argue with the signings (i.e. like PBR, which is great, but doesn’t really touch Miller High Life).

Rolling Rock: The deals are meh. They have serious warts with them, but if you had to weigh it on a positive to negative basis, it’s probably like 55-51 percent positive. Just enough to be worthwhile, but certainly not the No. 1 or 2 choice. These deals, just like Rolling Rock, are ones that you settle for when choices 1 or 2 are off the board.

Natural Light: These deals, much like Natural Light and the Budweiser company in general, suck. We don’t know what these teams were thinking.

So now that we have the categories set let’s get started.

(Note: a lot of the linked articles come from SB Nation, since I have been primarily following Twitter and SB Nation’s Free Agency stream. Gotta love Tom Ziller and crew).

High Life Signings

  • Kawhi Leonard, 5-year, $90 Million deal with the Spurs: This was probably expected. After all, Leonard in all seriousness embodies what it means to be a Spurs player. He was undervalued (ala Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker), he’s a quiet leader (ala Tim Duncan) and he holds a ton of position flexibility thanks to his offensive and defensive skill set (ala Boris Diaw). Leonard was the Finals MVP in 2014, and he improved across the board last season, posting career highs in PER (22.0), usage rate (23.0), rebounding percentage (12.9) and defensive rating (he allowed only 0.96 points per possession which was best in the league). It is obvious that Leonard is one of the most complete players in the league and is a budding star that looks prime to take the mantle as the Spurs’ franchise player when Duncan finally retires. Furthermore, the deal is mostly back-loaded, with his contract only counting $7.2 million against the cap this year (he will supposedly earn up to $16.5 million in the final year of his deal), which gives the Spurs flexibility to sign other guys both currently on the roster (they have already signed Danny Green) as well as other potential Free Agents (LeMarcus Aldridge is apparently a target). Both financially and for the future competitiveness of this team, this deal fires on all cylinders and should be seen as the toast of the early free agency period.
  • Anthony Davis, 5-year, $145 Million extension with the Pelicans: This is a deal that just makes sense and he’s worth every penny. Davis led the league in PER at 30.8 and he is only in his 3rd year. His 3rd year people! He is a two-time All-Star, was a dark horse MVP candidate last year, and will be a more serious MVP candidate this year because he’ll have a better head coach in Alvin Gentry. Gentry will bring an offensive system that will make it not only easier on the Pelicans in general, but Davis, and that is scary. $145 Million over 5 years seems like a steal when you think about what impact Davis will have in the next half-decade, and by then, he will still only be 26 at the end of his deal.
  • Danny Green, 4-year, $45 Million deal with the Spurs: Green pretty much is what he is: a sharpshooter in the Kyle Korver mold that fits well with the Spurs “Pace and Space” system (62 percent of his shots last season were 3-point attempts, and he’s been over 60 percent the past 3 seasons with the Spurs). But, at an average of about $12-13 million per year, and considering the hot market for players of such caliber after the success of the Golden State Warriors last year, Green really comes as a value. Khris Middleton, a similar kind of player for the Bucks, earned another year and $25 million more total than Green. Again, I know the Spurs had bargaining power because Green has not had success beyond San Antonio, but he’s still a valuable fit that keeps the Spurs’ future bright when the sun finally sets on the Duncan-Ginobili-Parker trio.
  • Paul Millsap, 3 years, $58 million with the Hawks: Millsap has always been vastly underrated over his career. But, he’s finally getting some love in Atlanta and rightfully so. He’s a two-time All-Star, he is coming off a season where he put up a 20.0 PER and a 56.5 true shooting percentage, and he accumulated a career high 8.3 win shares. He has thrived under Mike Budenholzer in all aspects of his game, as he has improved defensively in Budenholzer’s sytem, and he has been more prone to shoot the 3-ball, as his 3 point attempt rate has been 20.2 and 23.2 percent the last two years with the Hawks (his career 3 pt attempt rate in Utah was 2.2 percent). And, with a 35.7 3-pt percentage in Atlanta, Millsap has made the more attempts worthwhile. He is really a versatile weapon that can hurt teams in a variety of ways, and his contract is cheaper than Brook Lopez, even though Millsap is infinitely a more flexible and versatile player than Lopez, especially these past couple of years. The Hawks know the Cavs will be the team to beat, but like last season (when they snagged the East’s top seed), they are looking to make it a dog fight for the top spot. Millsap will be the prime reason they do so, as long as he is healthy.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Signings

  • DeMarre Carroll, 4-year $60 million with the Raptors: I don’t make this a High Life signing because it is really risky. Carroll has always been a defensive force, but he was always a one-trick pony prior to his arrival in Atlanta. But once he played in Mike Budenholzer’s system, his offensive game improved, as his true shooting improved to 57.5 and 60.3 percent in his two seasons with the Hawks. Consequently, he averaged double figures PPG also (11.1 and 12.6, his first and second year respectively) and combined for 7.4 offensive win shares, over triple what he generated in Utah (2.3), where he played two seasons and was most effective prior to coming to Atlanta. And thus, I worry about his offense going south, because while I like Dwane Casey, I do not think he’s as talented or creative a coach as Budenholzer, and the Raptors are filled with high-usage guys who need the ball (Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, etc.). But, the Raptors were woeful defensively last year, ranking 25th in the league in defensive rating. Carroll’s energetic and versatile defensive play will improve that. Furthermore, Carroll also provides good insurance for the Raptors should Terrence Ross not work out, who is coming off a woeful season where he ranked 10th on the team in Win Shares (2.4). Carroll will bring either defensive punch to the starting lineup or be a force off the bench and take the pressure off of Ross, who needs to rebound after a bad year. I think it was a lot of money for a guy who still has a lot to prove, especially offensively, but I liked the idea of Toronto improving themselves immediately on the wing and defensively with Carroll.
  • Goran Dragic, 5-year, $90-million with the Heat: What I like about this deal? Dragic is one of the more under-appreciated point guards in the league. Two seasons ago he had a PER of 21.4 and when he moved to Miami, his PER was 18.8 (up from 16.7 in Phoenix, which demonstrated the dysfunction with the three point guards had an effect on his performances). Dragic is an effective playmaker (career 28 percent assist rate) with a great ability to get to the rim (41.4 percent of his shots came from 0-3 ft). And lastly, Pat Riley once again used his psychological skills to the Heat’s advantage, as Dragic was eligible to make up to $110 million on the open market, and he settled for $20 million less to stay in Miami. What I don’t like? Dragic really didn’t help the Heat all that much when he arrived (they actually fell out of playoff contention in his time there, though a certain share of that has to be attributed to Chris Bosh missing most of the time when Dragic arrived due to a blood clot in his lungs) and Dragic’s deal only looks great if Wade comes back. If he doesn’t, the deal probably goes to Rolling Rock status. (Though it seems as if Wade is likely to re-sign with Miami).
  • Brook Lopez, 3-year $60 Million with the Nets: I know Lopez isn’t the dominant post he was a few years ago. But Lopez had a bounce back last year after missing most of the 2013-2014 season due to injury. He played 72 games and posted a career best rebounding rate (14.3 percent) and his PER was once again solid at 22.7. Furthermore, with Mason Plumlee now gone (in a trade to Portland), Lopez will be the center of the Nets’ offense in the post, which is likely since Lionel Hollins is the kind of coach who earned his chops getting the ball to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the post in Memphis. What I like the most about this deal? The fact that it is only 3 years. Lopez is certainly a lot more valuable in my mind than Tyson Chandler, and Chandler got a 4-year deal from Phoenix. If Lopez can continue to come back from his All-Star form from three seasons ago, this deal could be a lot more valuable than the experts think.
  • Khris Middleton, 5-year, $70 million with the Bucks: I like the Green signing more, but don’t get me wrong: I love Middleton and think he’s going to form a great young combo with Giannis, MCW and Jabari in the years to come. Middleton posted career bests last season in win shares (6.7), PER (15.6), PP36 (16.0) and true shooting percentage (56.3 percent). Also, Khris was widely known for his play in the clutch (with buzzer beaters being a common occurrence) and his impact in helping the young Milwaukee Bucks make the playoffs and give the Bulls an entertaining six-game series. Middleton was a second-round pick whom the Bucks received along with Brandon Knight in the Brandon Jennings a couple of years back, and has been a pleasant surprise for a guy who was imagined as contract fodder in the deal.
  • Paul Pierce, 3-year, $10.5 million with the Clippers: No question Pierce is over the hill. He’s going to be 38 years old next season and his All-Star days are behind him. But Pierce put up a surprisingly effective campaign as support to John Wall and Bradley Beal last year. His 16.3 PER was his best mark since 2010-2011. He also developed into a 3-point specialist, with 46.2 percent of his shots being 3-point attempts (he shot 38.7 percent on threes). Pierce is not the same kind of game-changing superstar he once was in Boston, and Washington knew that and put him in a role that helped him mentor the younger stars and incorporated a system that allowed him to succeed individually despite his limitations (something Brooklyn didn’t do two years ago; they wanted him and Garnett to be 2008-2010 Pierce and Garnett and it failed miserably). I can see Los Angeles doing the same. Doc Rivers knows Pierce, and Pierce will bring instant leadership and production in a more limited role. He is Matt Barnes but with more consistency and less headaches (though he won’t match Barnes’ athleticism). What keeps this from being a High Life pick though? I just don’t know how he’ll mesh with the Clippers more temper mental talent. If things don’t go well initially with Pierce’s arrival, I could see him clashing with the younger stars, especially DeAndre Jordan (if he’s back) and Blake Griffin (I think Chris Paul is temperamental as well but Paul’s a bit more of a vet that will have instant respect for Pierce). I know Doc is all about team chemistry, but he hasn’t reached the kind of “ubuntu” in LA that he had in Boston. Will Pierce be the difference or will he fall into the anti-“ubuntu” that has kept the Clippers from going further in the playoffs?

Rolling Rock signings

  • Kevin Love, 5-year, $110 million with the Cavs and Tristian Thompson, 5-year, $80 million with the CavsI am glad for Cleveland and LeBron’s sake that Love re-signed with Cleveland. It would have been devastating for him to leave in free agency considering not only did they not even get a healthy playoff season with him and they lost out on the reigning rookie of the year (Andrew Wiggins) in the process (seriously…imagine LeBron and Wiggins running the floor…I think LeBron would have won the Finals with Wiggins if the Love trade never happened). However, I just don’t know if Love fits in this team. He really emerged as more of a spot-up corner 3 player on this Cavs team (his corner 3 percentage was 32.1 percent; his previous high in this category was 13.2 percent his sophomore season), and there are guys who can come a lot more affordable than Love. And furthermore, this leads to Thompson, who earned an $80 million extension. With Love, Thompson and Mozgov, one post is going to be the odd-man out. And while Love is the more established player, it was obvious that the combo of Mozgov and Thompson was very effective in the playoffs for Cleveland, probably more so than with Love supposedly because Thompson and Mozgove are both upgrades defensively over Love. In fact, if I was Cleveland, I would have simply gone forward with Mozgov and Thompson, even if it meant the Wiggins trade was all for naught. I think the former Longhorn and the big Russian just have more long-term upside than Love, who I am not sure is the dominant post presence that he was in Minnesota (though he certainly has diversified his game). If they re-signed just one, I would credit that to them committing to a certain style of play (either more wide open with Love or more post-oriented with Thompson). But both? It just smells like a recipe for disaster in year 2 of the James era 2.0.
  • Brandon Knight, 5-year, $70 million and Tyson Chandler, 4-year, $52 million with the Suns: Phoenix confuses me. Last year, they signed Isaiah Thomas to a multiple year deal though they already had three point guards on the roster (Dragic, Bledsoe and Tyler Ennis, their first round pick). Then they traded Dragic for Brandon Knight, and much like the deal for the Heat, it really didn’t help their playoff chances. Knight just seemed like a better fit in Milwaukee and he doesn’t have the ballhandling or playmaking ability that complements Eric Bledsoe like Dragic did. In his 11 games, Knight stopped going to the rim (29.1 percent of his shots came from 0-3 in Milwaukee; that fell to 15.4 in Phoenix) and settled to being an outside shooter (46.9 3-point attempt rate), which is fine if that’s from your wing specialist, but not a guy who’s allegedly taking over for Dragic at the point. Maybe Phoenix likes this version of Knight. Maybe they see Bledsoe taking over more point opportunities. But $70 million seems a lot for a guy who didn’t perform well and is suspect when it comes to the running the point. As for Chandler? Can he fit into Coach Hornacek’s run and gun system? I watched Phoenix live against Sacramento and they can push the pace. It was common to see one of the Morris twins play small-ball center. Can Chandler handle it? I know, he’s there for defense and maybe leadership, but I have trouble seeing Chandler as a fit with this squad and their style of play. And four years? Maybe Phoenix is just holding him as a trade asset to eventually trade back to Dallas in a year or two?
  • Jimmy Butler, 5-year, $95 million with the Bulls: On paper, it really is a pretty solid deal. Butler is coming off his best season yet in his career, posting a PER of 21.3 and a true shooting percentage of 58.3 percent while accumulating 11.2 win shares last season. Butler is an athletic guard who really assumed the mantle as one of the go-to perimeter scorers for the Bulls as Derrick Rose struggled through injury. The fact that they got him for only 5 million more than Dragic and Kawhi Leonard seems like a good deal, especially when you consider how much he meant to the Bulls last year. However, Butler’s breakout seemed random (never posted a PER above the 15 range in his 3 previous seasons), and he seemed to rely heavily on the mid-range last year, shooting 12.1 percent of his shots from 10-16 ft and 21.2 percent of his shots from 16 to the 3 point line. This was a big increase from two years ago where he shot only 8.5 percent and 19.8 percent of his shots from those spots respectively. And likewise, his 3-point shooting percentage went down from 34.6 percent in 2013-2014 to 21.2 percent last year. People may argue that his true shooting went up when he started embracing the mid-range more (his true shooting was 52.2 percent in 2013-2014), but it wasn’t as if his efficiency improved in those shots much better than his 3-point shots. He went up 2 percent in 10-16 range and 1.5 percent in 16 to 3 point shots while his 3-pt percentage improved 9.5 percent. This will be interesting to see how this shot selection will mesh with Fred Hoiberg, who tends to embrace a lot of modern-day NBA principles (i.e. 3 and Key). Butler may be worth the $95 million and I think Butler will fit with the up-tempo style of Hoiberg, but I am a little skeptical to see Butler put together two All-Star campaigns in a row.

Natty Light Signings

  • Brandan Wright, 3-year, $18 million with Grizzlies: This is a weird one because I actually like Brandan Wright and think he is a very good, underrated player in the right situation. Plus, the contract is very friendly, being only about $6 million per year on average. But, I don’t see Wright fitting in on this team. He obviously will come off the bench with Z-Bo and Gasol manning the four, five posts, respectively, but I am not sure how effective he will be in Dave Joerger’s offense. I think this probably also means the end of Kosta Koufos, who I think was a very underrated cog for the Grizzlies and fit their needs better (which was defense from the posts). Maybe they will keep Koufos of course, with Jon Leur now a Phoenix Sun, but if Wright is the primary bench option off the bench for Memphis, I think that isn’t a good sign, because I don’t know if he can play the style (i.e. Grit and Grind) that is demanded of a post player in Memphis.
  • Thaddeus Young, 4-year, $50 million with the Nets: Thaddeus Young is the king of tweener player that in my mind seems enticing on paper, but ends up being disappointing. He is like a Natty Light bottle. It looks cool. The design is somewhat cool. You pop it open though, take it in and…just disappointment. Young cannot shoot from beyond the arc, as he is a career 32.3 percent 3-pt shooter, and has only taken 14.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in his career. And thus, that has kind of limited him in the small and power forward positions, as he is not really big enough to establish himself down low there, and he is not skilled enough to keep defenders honest. Young is pretty much a poor man’s Andre Iguodala, ironic considering they both played for the Sixers to start their careers. I could see Young find a renaissance as a small-ball center, but unfortunately, Lionel Hollins is not the kind of coach to employ that kind of strategy, and the presence of Brook Lopez further hinders it from reality as well. I think Young could have fit in a lot of places in a different kind of role. Unfortunately, that won’t be in Brooklyn, and that’s what makes this deal seems unappealing (like Natty Light).
  • Al-Farouq Aminu, 4-year, $30 million with the Blazers: I don’t get Aminu love by any means. This is a guy who is a poor man’s Thaddeus Young, which is sad because Young is a poor man’s Iguodala (I could continue the cycle here, but I won’t for space sake). Aminu’s career true shooting percentage is 50.5 percent. His career PER average is 12.4. He flamed out of New Orleans even though the organization spent a lottery pick on him, and while he did bounce back in Dallas in a reserve role, he only averaged 18.5 minutes. To spend about an average of $7.5 million per year over FOUR YEARS just seems like way, way too much. I know Portland likes their versatile big guys who can play multiple positions. I am sure that the Blazers wanted to replace former Swiss Army knife Nic Batum in some kind of way. And yes, Aminu can play multiple positions, as he logged in time, according to basketball reference at every position but point. But unlike Batum, Aminu can’t really play any position well, which is the reason why he is not a starting caliber player in the NBA anymore and barely serviceable as a bench player.
  • Iman Shumpert, 4-year, $40 million with the Cavaliers: The Cavs want to keep the band together. And that is understandable as the Cavs were two games away from bringing that elusive title to Cleveland. Signing Love to a massive contract is understandable. He is an All-Star, a big name, and you traded a possible future superstar (Wiggins) for him, so you have to keep face and hope that Love pans out. Thompson was a Cavs draft pick and had a good playoff run, especially in the Finals. You can’t blame them wanting to reward Thompson for the good work (not to mention beat the rush before another team offered him a contract; Thompson was a restricted free agent). But Shumpert? $10 million on average per year for a guy who only scored .98 points per 100 possessions last season? I am all for team chemistry and do believe that Shumpert provides a lot of defensive value to the Cavs (he has accumulated 6.5 defensive win shares in his four-year career). But $10 million per year just sounds like a lot to pay for it. It’ll be interesting to see if Shumpert can find a more refined offensive role in his first full season in Cleveland to help justify this signing.

I will probably create another post in the next day or so to discuss some other signings and extensions, but this is the list so far. It’s only July, but the 2015-2016 NBA season couldn’t start soon enough.