The bigs have landed, and dribbled past us

Porzingis and Jokic and Charlotte Wilder gets cheesy over the Celtics

The big guys have figured it out.

That couldn’t have been easy, that upbringing. Born in the 1990s, tall and talented and with nobody to look up to. Only eye-level glances at superstar guards that, by the time you can start to get paid for playing basketball, will be much, much shorter than you.

There’s no way Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Myles Turner, Kristaps Porzingis or either of the New Orleans Pelicans big men grew up watching Tim Duncan living in the low post. Duncan’s peak down there hit before Nazr Mohammad was made a Spur in 2004-05, and Shaq’s low post mastery (partially due to his insistence on only working company hours) was slowed significantly by the time he was mailed to Miami.

Darko Milicic used to lie about watching Kevin Garnett growing up, it was just something he was supposed to say, and these poor bigs had to develop in the shadow of what Darko – understandably lying about records he never had the cash to buy – was unable to play up to. Toss in a wave of rule changes set to make life easier for Canadian point guards, and you’re left with an era that schedules big men for duty as little more than offensive foul machines – first quarter annoyances that you hope don’t take out an MVP candidate with a sloppy closeout.

We’ve left that era, I think. Better yet, these players are the ones doing the teaching, informing us of what to expect in the future while flashing delightful hints of what they grew up with.

Nikola Jokic went off on Tuesday, bettering the Nets personally with 41 points in 31 minutes, battering the league to this point to the tune of 18 and 11 in the same amount of minutes per game, with 4.5 assists and 1.3 steals for a Nuggets team that does fine work in causing missteps; taking advantage of what it can out of the literal atmosphere, and the roster provided.

Myles Turner was left to answer for all of Indiana’s offseason with his early 2017-18 output, but a concussion setback allowed his season and the Pacers time to breathe. Afforded the luxury of watching just how his crew of overarching guards likes to run things while away from the arena, he’s now settled into a gig as Indiana’s go-to guy when things get hairy.

A couple of missed long jumpers against the Pelicans late on Tuesday won’t take away from the fact that Indiana badly needs its franchise player (17 and 10 with three blocks in only 29 minutes through four games) to can with routine from long range – it could critically open things up for what could be an unexpectedly long playoff run in Indianapolis this year.

DeMarcus Cousins is going to wait Anthony Davis out, in New Orleans. He’s going to give the longest-tenured Pelican every chance to swish from outside and to make do off of broken plays. Maybe we’re projecting in looking to Cousins’ face to characterize our iffy explanations as to what, exactly, Anthony Davis’ massive stats do for wins, but the point of the game is to score efficiently and grab the ball when they miss it, right?

Cousins knows this, it’s why he’s dishing out to Davis after a drive set up from Alvin Gentry’s sideline to calm the newest NOLA hopeful – DeMarcus will find ways to portray unhappiness through his play and it is up to the Pelicans coaching staff to monetize this. Boogie isn’t the sulk he used to be, the Pelicans can make something out of an exasperated sourpuss with skills and his teammate: The Converted Point Guard but Now Awesome Center. We could be in for a year that raises more good questions than bad in New Orleans.

(What Dell Demps plans to do with those posits is a story for another, less cheerier, morning.)

The pair combined for 69 points on Tuesday in Indiana, Cousins had foul trouble early and the Pelicans whiffed on a whole series of down-low looks for Davis and it hardly mattered, because Cousins and Davis picked spots so deftly.

They pulled in 27 rebounds, big man stuff, but also dished 10 total assists while only turning the ball over twice – remember that both are set 1200 moving screens per game, and that Cousins often runs the team’s offense from the top of the arc. Cousins and Davis also hit eight of 15 three-pointers in Indiana, because this is 2017 and also because these are good shots.

Kristaps Porzingis takes all the shots now, as he should, the Knicks big man is tops in the NBA in usage rate, which I suppose we all should have seen coming after the cornrows pictures came out. He torched the Hornets to the tune of 28 points (on 15 shots) in 28 minutes on Tuesday night, his noted added sinew just shuffles you out of position even through a TV screen and he’s given no indication as to why, exactly, a 7-foot-8 Guy can’t average 30 points per game again.

Meanwhile, after a night off, Joel Embiid waits his turn. Hassan Whiteside had some time to think after his overanxious start to his approach in Miami’s Golden State loss turned expectedly sour, at least his heart is in the right place. Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves have won seven of 10 games, America, and Marc Gasol is playing MVP-styled ball for the 7-4 Grizzlies.

There’s something to be learned from up there, that’s always been the case in this wonderful sport, and it appears as if any worries about the scoring approach during the years of Kobe’s worst instincts and LeBron and Dirk’s scattershot attempts at championships have evolved into something far more enlightening: NBA big men utilize the same at-all-cost scoring approach that made these stars so special as the NBA uneasily grew out of its dark ages, a time that Jokic, Towns, Kristaps and DeMarcus can’t even remember.

Each of the players has made their hay by playing smaller, we can cop to that, but not in the traditional sense. This doesn’t have to mean shooting more threes or venturing to distract us between the legs. It’s all about the approach.

Noting the failed switch, peeking at the irregular rhythms of the backpedaling defender, using lurches toward the basket that were more informed Kevin Durant’s first two NBA seasons than Michael Jordan’s middle eight. All while working with the knowledge that, should things get a little too top-heavy, you can still burrow a butt into the defender for a Mourning-styled jump hook in the end. It doesn’t have to be all AI.

The days of plopping a pin in the post are over, but thankfully for today’s game these centers never had to sit through any of that crap – the lumbering that used to delight us, so. You’ve got to be able to move and think on your feet in the modern NBA, and it’s calming to note that this current group of outrageously dominant big men is as calculating in its approach as they are sprightly in performance.

Explain Your Tweet

We asked Charlotte Wilder to let us know about this one, one that left her standing over a sink shoveling delicious processed oil cheese into her face as the Celtics worked their way to a win over Atlanta.

KD*:* Were they really cheese its, or something less cool that you had to fit in under 140 characters.

CW: Wow. I have never felt so seen. No, they weren't Cheez Its, they were smoky BBQ cheddar almond flour crackers, but because I'm one of the losers who doesn't have 280 characters yet, I couldn't fit that, and Cheez Its were the closest approximation

KD: I’m at a game right now. Why don’t they sell big bags of things? I would eat an entire box of cereal anytime. At a basketball game? Make that a double.  If you come back your seat with a box of Cheese itz the whole row is going to know what’s up.

CW: I think that's a place you could both innovate AND disrupt. A Costco right inside an arena: GENIUS

KD: A good game needs available mixes. Why the hell are you freaking out about one bad half against the Hawks in November though. On a Monday.

CW: Okay so here's the thing: I'm super into this Celtics team. And I'm the kind of person where whatever I'm doing or whatever I'm watching or whatever I'm into in the moment feels like the MOST IMPORTANT thing in the world. So an early Celtics-Hawks game where the score was close felt like a damn Game 7 because I was so insanely invested. Me as a sports fan is an exercise in very high emotions ... but me as anything is probably that. Sports just facilitate a high level of caring

KD: So what do you eat when it is a damn game 7?

CW: Well I just searched "stress-eating" in my twitter and found tweets about stale granola, wasabi peas, chipotle-spiced mango, stale popcorn, ice cubes. So basically anything I have in my cabinets. During the World Series last week I ate a lot of beef jerky and chocolate covered almonds. Shit gets dark, Kelly.


KD: I was gonna ask you if you had any other favorite tweets to plug so I think this is a good place to stop.

You can continue to watch Charlotte get sodium-rich with the nihilism at her Twitter account.

Darkling Down

No political significance.