Over a decade after he rose to national prominence as a dominant college player at the University of Florida, and nearly 10 years after he was drafted into the NBA, we finally have the most accurate portrayal of Joakim Noah’s infamous shooting “stroke.”
Leave it to Sacramento Kings star DeMarcus Cousins, he of the refined tastes from the basketball perimeter, to appropriately mimic Noah’s style. From Friday night’s Kings/Knicks blast in Sacramento:
That’s DeMarcus Cousins, the NBA’s third-leading scorer at 28.8 points per game, a rock solid shooter that boasts a 75.7 percent mark from the free throw line while working with an above-average three-point stroke (at center), taking on Joakim Noah and his dodgy free throw mechanics.
Noah finished the night with a 31 percent mark from the free throw line after raising his percentages with a 2-2 mark from the stripe. More on that in a bit.
While you ponder what makes a man mock, recall that Cousins (tired of Noah’s physical play and gnashing) let loose with a little bump sent Joakim’s way last Sunday when the two teams met in New York:
On this particular Friday, though, the Knicks had the upper hand in more ways than one.
The team entered the contest with the press peeling the layers following Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony’s pointed back and forth, but it was Noah’s work from the stripe that helped move New York to a more-than-respectable 13-10 on the season. He hit two freebies, his only pair of the night, deep into the fourth quarter to give the team a late lead.
“It felt good to make ’em, clutch,” Noah said of his late free throws. “Just gotta stay positive and keep working.”
Cousins, meanwhile, missed a makeable layup with 81 seconds left that would have given his team a one-point lead. Boogie’s 28-point, 12-rebound, six-assists, three-steal night far outpaced Noah’s nine-rebound, four-point, two-block evening, but total points are total points, the Knicks won 103-100, and Joakim Noah’s Bob Fosse-hands are, indeed, clutch.
The league doesn’t really have a pot problem, in spite of its strong use. To some, pot acts as a solution, so much so that the league will be faced with staring down the idea of lifting restrictions on its use for players and coaches as society in general warms to both medicinal and recreational legalization of cannabis. For now, the league’s penalties following positive drug tests are relatively tame – a five-game suspension for third positive test, following a $25,000 fine on the second offense.
Speaking on ESPN on Friday night, former Finals MVP and NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups discussed the fact that more than one of his former teammates (on the Celtics, Raptors, Nuggets, Magic, Timberwolves, Pistons, Nuggets again, Knicks, Clippers and Pistons again) actually played better basketball after ingesting pot.
“I honestly played with players – I’m not going to name names, of course I’m not – I wanted them to smoke. They played better like that. Big time anxiety, a lot of things can be affected – [marijuana] brought ‘em down a bit, it helped them focus in a little bit on the game plan. I needed them to do that. I would rather them do that than, sometimes, drink.”
Given that this is a bit of a low bar – preferring one recreational substance over another prior to being paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to play a lone game of professional basketball – we can agree with Dr. Billups. Yes, if given the choice, kindly do toke up before starting at shooting guard for the Denver Nuggets, as opposed to downing a few Moscow Mules before the contest.
(And quit it with the Moscow Mules, OK? It tastes fine, sure, but this isn’t some high end cocktail worth showing off. You’re not positioning yourself as an old-timey Speakeasy denizen when you order it. Those things are best served as one of the mystery ingredients in ‘Chopped,’ and you don’t suddenly turn into Zelda Fitzgerald after drinking one.)
You don’t have to toke up to steady your focus in order to have the memory in place to recall that Chauncey Billups played for the Denver Nuggets from 2007 through 2011. Colorado legalized medicinal marijuana in 2000 while legalizing recreational use in 2012.
That legalization came a year after J.R. Smith and Billups played their last games with the Denver Nuggets. We’re merely tossing Smith’s name into the mix to give you a timeline sense. Do not read anything further into it.
Marijuana can be used to quell anxiety, which is a common and deserved complaint for many that choose to partake in medicinal use of the drug in states that allow for such things. The drug’s role in successfully helping so many find relief from their anxiety is not to be dismissed, though.
We shouldn’t need to remind people, however, that anyone working under the influence of the drug is still, well, “under the influence.” And while it might make sense to some to rationalize use before athletic performance in the same way the guy you work with likes to “get a couple of Modelos in me” before offering his finest rips in the batting cage, there’s a reason why cannabis should never be allowed in locker rooms even if made universally legal in terms that influence the NBA to take the ban off of the drug.
Players have played buzzed, drunk, hungover, or still drunk the night before from alcohol, and have for decades. Nobody is trying to ignore as much, whether the impetus comes from a legitimate problem or someone like the former Ron Artest chasing away tank job ennui as a young member of the Chicago Bulls by downing cognac at halftime of games.
It’s a long season, there are hundreds of players, and there are giant flashing signs for something called ‘Crown Royal Caramel Apple’ on the sidelines of NBA games, right next to where players sit down to wait to return to the contest. Misuse isn’t sanctioned by the NBA, but the presence of libations as part of the NBA’s holiday party is.
This isn’t to get into some college freshman term paper, haughtily arguing the merits of pot over alcohol. What we all can recognize, as things move faster and faster in the months between election dates, is that the NBA will at some point will be forced to make some tough choices, and its players will be forced into even tougher ones.
When the drug does become legal, and/or NBA-legal, teams, players and coaches are going to have to lord over some teammates in more active, obvious ways. No player or exec will go on record to chide a co-worker’s alcohol abuse, but enough off-record euphemisms are tossed out there for the check to represent.
The same will have to be in place for pot, in spite of the potential for strong evidence – think, “J.R. Smith plays terribly after going out on Saturday night”–sized evidence, that certain players do better after taking in some THC.
The apple cart might be tipped to the point of annoyance, for regular smokers. And publicly. In ways that might have them growing fond of a time when the drug wasn’t illegal for all involved, pushed to the fringes of the car park to surreptitiously take in before games.
Justin Schultz, D, Penguins: Not that long ago, Schultz was a pretty big deal. He racked up 91 points in his final two years at the University of Wisconsin; he went 18-30-48 in a 34-game trial in the AHL; and he exploded with 8-19-27 in his NHL debut in Edmonton four years ago, a 48-game sample.
Since then, Schultz has been more hit and miss. Playing in Edmonton, of course, he was routinely buried in the minus. Eventually he was moved off the power play, and last year he finished up with the Penguins.
Pittsburgh doesn’t need Schultz to be a power-play quarterback — though he’ll get some secondary-unit activity — but just being on a high-scoring team agrees with him. Schultz is off to a 3-10-13 push through 27 games, with a league-best plus-16 rating. He’s scored at least one point in five straight starts, collecting 10 points over that span. Although fantasy owners have been jumping on Schultz over the last few days, he’s still unowned in 75 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Wayne Simmonds, RW, Flyers: He’s not someone you can add in fantasy — Simmonds was a fifth-round pick in common leagues — but it looks like Simmonds is going to surpass his preseason cost. He’s leading the league in power-play goals, riding shotgun on the second-best man advantage in the NHL. Simmonds is also enjoying a bump in shooting percentage, not that 20 percent is a crazy outlier. He’s a sure thing for 30 goals, and one of these years a few bounces will go his way and we’ll see 40 markers on the board. It looks like 2016-17 could be his time.
Nazem Kadri, C, Maple Leafs: His 10-8-18 line isn’t going to knock your socks off, especially as a center-only player, but Kadri does two things always in fantasy demand — he shoots the puck (74 attempts) and he hits the opponent (53 PIMs, fourth in the league). Versatility is generally underrated in fantasy circles — heck, in common sports circles — but is most welcome here.
Nick Holden, D, Rangers: Just about any regular defenseman on a winning team can be fantasy-approved, so long as he’s not a total zero when it comes to handling the puck. Holden isn’t a power-play man for the Blueshirts, but we’ll accept his 3-9-12 haul along with a plus-11; that’s life in the big city. Holden is free to add in 76 percent of Yahoo leagues, and teammate Dan Girardi, using the same frame, is even more available.
Cory Schneider, D, Devils: When does a bad start become a bad season? The New Jersey blue line isn’t coated with glory right now, but Schneider’s percentages (2.72, .911) are shockingly bad. The only reason Schneider has a winning record is because New Jersey’s offense, the worst in the league last year, has taken a step into the middle of the rankings. You can’t move Schneider right now, but if he puts a little run together, you might want to go to market at that time.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Coyotes: We accept the minus rating as a price of doing business, but we can’t take the point drop sitting down. OEL’s first issue is shooting the puck — after being over three attempts per game in the previous two years, he’s only offering 2.15 times per start this year. He’s not getting much help from the lads in the desert, as the Arizona power play is one of the worst in the league.
Nick Leddy, D, Islanders: There are a bunch of Islanders we could put in this spot, so Leddy stands in for many of his teammates. He’s a part of the league’s worst power-play (Johnny Tav, where are you?), and he’s lugging a minus-12 rating around. Leddy is shooting more than ever and he’s been a little lucky with puck luck, but if this power play doesn’t get fixed — with or without Leddy — there isn’t much fantasy goodness to be found here. You need to shoot higher for your secondary defensemen.
Fifth-round picks typically stir big debates as the draft enters the weekend. Those selections usually don’t transform Super Bowl contenders as rookies. This season has been an exception for both.
Meet Tyreek Hill, the Kansas City Chiefs’ controversial and skilled runner/receiver/return man who came to town with more baggage than the closest Trump Tower. Anyone who watched Hill in his one year of Division I football at Oklahoma State came away with one thought about his ability as a player: electric. And yet anyone who read the reports of Hill choking and punching his pregnant girlfriend in December 2014 should have come away with another feeling: disgust.
Hill was kicked off the Cowboys’ team and pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation. In return for his plea, he received three months’ probation, which felt like a light sentence. “I did something I shouldn’t have done,” Hill told associate district Judge Stephen Kistler, per The Oklahoman. “I let my feelings take control of me.”
The underlying belief was that the incident would seriously hinder his ability to make a fruitful living in the NFL. This all happened in the wake of the league’s awful year with domestic violence, which became a national scourge following the Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy cases.
Shutdown Corner spoke with three teams about Hill, who transferred to West Alabama after leaving OSU, and two of them said they had removed him from their draft boards. The third team had a draftable grade on Hill as a player but put him on their “reserve” board, relegated to players with serious reservations (typically character or medical concerns) that they would not spend a draft pick on but would consider signing as an undrafted free agent.
The Chiefs felt better about Hill than other NFL teams. They selected him with the 165th pick in April’s draft, and even with that fairly low spot the selection immediately resonated locally and across the NFL. Some Chiefs fans went on radio to condemn the pick. The media criticized the team, which defended taking Hill and promised that it did its due diligence on a player who did some heinous things.
In short, Hill had a lot to prove — and perhaps a shorter leash than the other rookies trying to make the team.
“Those fans … they have every right to be mad at me because I did something wrong and I just let my emotions get the best of me and I shouldn’t have done it,” Hill said on draft weekend. “They have every right to be mad. But guess what, I’m going to come back and be a better man, be a better citizen and everything will just take care of itself and let God do the rest.”
It was clear early in training camp that the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Hill had special abilities. The speed he showed with his 4.29 40-yard dash at his pro day was on full display in pads, too. In the preseason, he totaled 101 yards on five offensive touches and showed explosion in the return game. After a 58-yard catch and two good punt returns in the third preseason game against the Chicago Bears, it was obvious that Hill would make the team.
Early in the regular season, he was used sparingly on offense. But when Jeremy Maclin went down early against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 9 (and would miss the following four games) Hill’s role on offense increased. Once he got the ball in his hands, special things happened. And by the time the Chiefs beat the Broncos in Denver in Week 12, with Hill catching nine passes, rushing for a TD and running back a kickoff 86 yards for a score, it was clear he was here to stay.
How did Hill not completely dominate at West Alabama? In 11 games last season, he totaled only 254 rush yards (fourth-best for the Tigers) and 444 receiving yards (second-most).
The Chiefs probably do not beat the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night without him on the field. After Hill’s fumble on a punt return for what would have been their first possession, he atoned. Hill caught a game-high six passes (for 66 yards, including a 36-yard TD) and had a total of 14 touches for 192 yards, including a 78-yard punt return TD that helped give the Chiefs a three-score lead. Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub even has invoked the name of Devin Hester, whom Toub coached at the start of his Chicago Bears career, when comparing Hill.
On offense, losing Maclin ended up being a blessing in disguise for the Chiefs. They were forced to reinvent themselves and find ways to manufacture offense in his absence. One way was by giving more touches to Hill, who is averaging nearly seven catches over the past five games after only 22 receptions in his first eight games. Thursday might have shown Alex Smith’s warts, but it also demonstrates how many matchup problems the Chiefs present. With Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce on the field, the Raiders opted to double Kelce, who had 26 catches for 380 yards during Maclin’s absence and had just ripped off a 16-yard catch up the middle. With Kelce covered, Smith went to Hill, who got on top of corner David Amerson and beat the safety for the 36-yard score.
But the Hill’s atonement for his sins off the field, the Chiefs swear, is just as impressive.
“I'm proud of him more for what he's done off the field, then what he's done on the field.”
Some, naturally, are skeptical. He has many vocal critics who have decried his actions and speak up the more he’s mentioned as a burgeoning star. But if Thursday was any indication, Chiefs fans — at least those at Arrowhead for the Raiders game — rightly or wrongly are putting that incident in some well-guarded place in the backs of their minds. Before his 78-yard return for a score, the crowd chanted loudly, “TY-REEK HILL! TY-REEK HILL!”
Hill has won over Chiefs fans, but his past will and perhaps always should follow him. He has rewarded the team so far for believing in him, and the hard work on and off the field have just begun. But make no mistake: Whether he’s a nice guy or not, Hill has added a dimension to the Chiefs that put them in the discussion of teams that can win a Super Bowl.
Yes, that’s a fifth-round pick we’re talking about.