By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
MIDWEST IS BEST?
For two weeks we've received the e-mails. Most of them read something like this:
"Hey, you @%&!*#% jerk! When are you going to write about the Midwest Division?"
First, I'd like to thank my mom for sending that e-mail. Mom, I'll write back soon. Second, Click and Roll's top spot this week deservedly belongs to the Midwest Division.
How tough is the Midwest Division? It's tougher than a roomful of Teamsters whose paychecks have bounced. It's tougher than a starving pit bull with its jaws around a steak. It's tougher than coming up with another metaphor for tough.
But there it is. At the halfway point in the season, six of the seven teams are at least six -- SIX! -- games above .500. And Utah, which has more injuries than your average NASCAR pileup, has slipped below even, and that's for the first time this season.
Having six teams above .500 during the first month of the season was quaint. But to have so many teams playing so well at the season's halfway point is amazing. The division is so good, some have said that as many as six -- SIX! -- of the eight Midwest teams could be in the playoffs.
It's so good that the Memphis Grizzlies have won eight in a row and are in fifth place with a 25-18 record.
It's so good, that the Dallas Mavericks topped the Kings on Sunday, 108-99, for their eighth consecutive win, and the Mavs are only good enough in third place in the division. But it seems like all those early-season chemistry problems have been solved.
(And don't you love it when headline writers talk smack? This from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "The West's best, give it a rest." Nice to see Mark Cuban can write headlines and run a team at the same time.)
Then again, there may be some credence to that headline, according to Don Nelson's very own plus-minus statistics.
This is a division that has the defending NBA champion Spurs, the reigning MVP in Tim Duncan, a potential MVP (vote in NBA.com's Midseason Tracking Polls: Open now and more accurate than Florida's!) in Kevin Garnett, a Coach of the Year candidates in Denver's Jeff Bzdelik and Utah's Jerry Sloan and a got milk? Rookie of the Year candidate in Denver's Carmelo Anthony.
That and the division-leading Timberwolves are tied with the Kings for the best record in the West. And the Timberwolves could be even scarier if this happens.
One of the reasons the Timberwolves are on top is this guy -- Sam Cassell -- whom Click and Roll has cited before.
"I'm playing better right now than I did with Houston," Cassell told the Star Tribune. "I'm playing good basketball right now. It's fun for me. I don't have to do as much.
"People are saying, 'Sam is playing the best basketball in his career,' but hey, did I only average five points last year, or the year before last? I didn't shoot 50 percent last year, but I thought (I shot) 47 percent or something like that."
Ah, Sam, the voice of the confident Midwest.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, COMMISSIONER STERN
Has it been 20 years already? Congratulations to Commissioner David Stern on his 20 seasons as the NBA's top dog. ESPN.com found time to devote a couple of days to the commish's tenure. All in all, some damn fine coverage.
(That being said, No. 10 on the lows seems to be slightly out of line considering the writer hails from Illinois. Pick on someone from your own state.)
The commish's new business -- By Marc Stein
The player's perspective -- By Tom Tolbert
So, brush up on this Stern test. You'll see how much has changed in that score of years.
INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF HOOPS
He's the man with one name who's cut a singular path through South America.
What's the NBA's former poet laureate doing these days? He's back in his native England.
The 989 Sports Skills Challenge mimics the contest the NBA holds during All-Star Weekend. And if you get started playing it, you really can't stop. So, to help you reduce your time-wasting at work, Click and Roll provides you with some handy tips on cutting down your time.
(Click and Roll's best time: 25.52! Well, someone had to test it and set the standard.)
Play it and e-mail Click and Roll your best time. We'll see if you measure up.
PEOPLE WE LOVE
This week, we've finally given a name to this portion of Click and Roll. How does something like this start? I don't know, but maybe it's when certain people begin to recognize the people you've quietly admired (players about whom you talk to your friends.)
Last week, Milwaukee's Michael Redd became our charter member. (And he's still getting love this week.)
We think Redd should have some company, we nominate two people for our "People We Love" section.
First, we would like to bring in a broadcaster, Doris Burke. Burke, who is a sideline reporter for women's college basketball for ESPN and the WNBA for ESPN and ABC, is one of the best in the business, in our opinion. Smart and straightforward, Burke asks the best questions and breaks down the game as well as anyone. You feel brighter about hoops after listening to her. We think it would be great to see her on NBA telecasts and soon.
Second, we want to bring in one of our favorite under-the-radar players, Cleveland's Carlos Boozer. We love this guy. His teammates love this guy. His coach loves this guy. If you like basketball, you should too.
Here he is on another list of guys you should appreciate.
Boozer, along with the Clippers' Elton Brand and Sacramento's Chris Webber, has some of the best hands in basketball for a big man, a quality we think that is highly underrated itself.
Which brings us to our question of the week: Which big man (power forward or center) has the best hands in the NBA? Which one has the worst?
E-mail Click and Roll and we'll publish the best.
Also, send in nominations for the "People We Love" section. And we're talking unheralded guys who deserve more pub, not the guys everyone knows.
Want to keep up with LeBron James all season long? Go to this LeBron James weblog, sponsored by The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.
Read the first line of this story about Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen letting bygones be bygones.
Doesn't it sound like they're dating?
Every Rose has it's thorn.
Let's just say they'll be discussing the end of this one at 51st and Fifth Avenue this week.
Headline to this story: Carmelo's NBA meltdown. It's not what (I think) you think it is.
Seems like this is still a problem in Laker-land. Sigh.
Miami's Dwyane Wade on the difference between college and the pros: More free stuff!
Finally, I thought this was going to be just another article about throwback jerseys. And it is, except the quotes Ron Higgins gets from the Grizzlies are priceless. For example, James Posey has a Fennis Dembo jersey from when Dembo was an All-American at Wyoming:
"Posey didn't even know who he was, and we didn't even know who he was," Grizzlies center Lorenzen Wright said. "(Grizzlies coach) Hubie (Brown) had to give us the history on the guy. He's the only one who knows who most of these guys are."
Or this bit of candidness from Jason Williams:
"I just have to like the way it looks," said Grizzlies point guard Jason Williams, who didn't care to wager a guess on how many throwbacks he has in his collection. "I don't even have to like the guy to buy his throwback. For instance, I have a Bill Walton throwback."
Throw it down, little fella! Guess he won't be getting a job telemarketing NBA League Pass.
Hoo boy, did I open a can of worms with our e-mail question from last week: Is there anything such as a pure shooter? Seems to me most people think it is Peja Stojakovic. Take a look.
"I disagree with your definition of the phrase 'pure shooter.' I have always taken it as referring to the ability of a player to hit (open) shots, purely the shooting aspect of the game, as opposed to shaking off a defender, ball handling. By this definition, Peja, Kobe, Reggie Miller, and Chucky Atkins (and maybe Ray Allen, Vin Baker, Kerry Kittles, Devean George, Rip Hamilton, and Robert Horry) are all examples of "pure" shooters."
Click and Roll responds: Disagree with me, will you? OK, I can accept that. You make a valid point for the term "pure shooter." But Devean George?
"To say that Stojakovic isn't a pure shooter simply because he works hard at his shot is absolutely ridiculous. Pure clearly means how adept he is at it. And personally, I see nothing wrong in the way he shoots it (despite what Vlade may think) since two points is two points and you really can't argue with the results."
Click and Roll responds: Two points, well taken.
"Peja Stojakovic is not only the best pure shooter in the league, he is making a bid for the best pure shooter ever. With his stroke getting better and better as he matures, he is headed for a great career with the Sacramento Kings. He is a sniper when it comes to the three, can hit a mid-range jumper effortlessly and only needs half of a screen to get enough room to release the perfect shot. When it comes to free throws not many people can hang, so hands down he is the best shooter in the NBA today. As for the best pure shooter ever, I would give that to Larry Bird for now, but Peja has got years and years left and he is on his way to being a remarkable shooter and player."
Click and Roll responds: Ever, eh?
"The form of a player's jumper can measure the purity of a shooter, as you've stated, but I think of a "pure shooter" as someone who you know is going to hurt you with his shooting, and not much else on offense. Pure shooters tend to be average in every other area, but unlike great passers, great rebounders, and great shot-blockers, pure shooting seems to get a lot of attention because it directly results in scoring. "Peja, Redd, Steve Kerr, Hubert Davis, Walt Williams, Voshon Lenard, Reggie Miller, and Allan Houston are examples of pure shooters. Guys like Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, Brent Barry, and Steve Nash might qualify as having pure shots but they can all hurt you in other ways as well." Showtyme in Philly
Click and Roll responds: Interesting, Showtyme. But when Sports Illustrated mentioned that Peja may be the best since Larry Bird, you can't discount Bird's all-around game. So, if one compared Peja to Bird, must we assume that Peja's well-rounded on offense as well? Just asking. (And that's a nice name. Must have been easy for your parents: "Showtyme for dinner! Showtyme for your bath! Showtyme for bed. But I digress.)
"Although I'm not huge fan of his, Allan Houston might have the prettiest form on his jump shot the NBA has seen in decades. If you want to show your child a textbook way to shoot a basketball, like I do, show them a picture or video footage of that man shooting and you can't go wrong."
"My favorite "pure" shooter is Ray Allen. His shooting form is impeccable. I remember reading an article in a basketball magazine, I think it was Slam magazine. It was talking about the 100-point single game scoring record held by Wilt Chamberlain. The article suggested that of all the active players in the NBA, Ray Allen would have the highest chance of breaking the record. And I think the magazine is right. Shaq may be terrifyingly dominating but he can at most stay a little more than 30 minutes on the floor. But Ray Allen, he can launch those three-pointers one after another without breaking a sweat. Every time he releases the ball, it's a patented shot. Whether he's shooting a free throw, a short jumper, or a long three, it still looks exactly the same."
Click and Roll responds: I must agree, Ray-Ray adds a few extra "0s" to the word smooooth. Though, at the pace the game is played today, lets get more than half the teams to average 100 before we ask a player to turn the trick.
"There are very few pure shooters in the game any more. A pure shooter is just that a shooter who makes it seem effortless, not to be confused with a scorer. I like your choice of Ray Allen for a pretty shot, but not pure shooter, he is a scorer who can shoot. Dell Curry was a pure shooter, and Piatkowski is a pure shooter, and yes your choice of Chris Mullin would fit the mold too."
Click and Roll responds: Forgetting Del Curry was a gross oversight. Coaches would say the same about Del's defense.
Adam in Boston
Click and Roll replies: Oh, you mean Ashton Kutcher. (Thanks, for that one, Paul Pierce).
"If there is such thing as a pure shooter, we can be damn sure that it ain't Shawn Marion. Sam Cassell gets my vote."
Click and Roll responds: Every "Matrix" production is getting the thumbs down this year.
"Absolutely, there's such a thing as a pure shooter. It's a player that embodies all the basic fundamentals on how to shoot that we're all taught as youngsters: shoulders and feet square to the hoop, shooting elbow in (for the most part), follow through, backspin, swish! The best pure shooters of the last 20 years: 1. Chris Mullin 2. Glen Rice 3. Ray Allen 4. Allen Houston 5. Mark Price 6. Steve Nash.">
Click and Roll responds: Lynne, a shooting coach after my own heart!
"Pure or best shooter: You guys ever seen Glen Rice shoot the ball?"
Click and Roll responds: Nick, we have, though not lately. The Clippers waived Rice on Jan. 16.
"There may not be such a thing as a pure shooter, but when mentioning players with a beautiful shot you forgot to mention Jeff Hornacek. He ranks right up there with Mullin."
Click and Roll responds: Casey, touché!
"Your question about a "pure" shooter is interesting to me, because I've always wondered what people mean by that exactly. I too would think that it's how good a completely unschooled, unpracticed shooter is. Take 10 people who've never seen a basketball and if someone can make 50 baskets out of 100, then maybe they have a pure ability. By that definition, no one that we know of in the NBA is 'pure.' They are all physically gifted guys, but they all have been coached and have practiced countless hours by the time they get to the NBA.
"What amazes me and what I find 'beautiful' about Peja's shooting is that you can put 20 pictures of his jump shot next to each other and they are all so close to being exactly the same form. Now that takes a great deal of never-ending practice to achieve! You certainly can't argue with the result."
Click and Roll responds: Phil, we liked your letter on many levels, from the fact that our question was interesting to that you've thought about handing a ball to someone who's never picked one up before. One thing did creep me out a bit, however. I hope you've never laid 20 Peja pictures side by side to analyze his shot. Doing so would have a "Put the lotion in the basket" Silence of the Lambs vibe to me. But then, to be a good shooter, you need to be a little obsessive. A little, not a lot.
And finally, to Randy in Antelope, Calif., Wilt Chamberlain played for three franchises in his career: the Philadelphia-San Francisco Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. He and Shaquille O'Neal are both listed at 7-1, but Shaq outweighs Wilt by 55 pounds. Hope that helps your son win that -- ahem -- contest.