Power Rankings [of Injured Players], 3rd Edition

In admiration of the New York Times’ terrifying new paywall, Negative Dunkalectics is proud to announce our own paywall: after April 1st, you will have to pay us to keep writing this junk! (Just kidding boat: we do this for the kids.)

As traffic-crashing as the Times plan is, it pales in comparison to the more serious injuries our NBA superstars keep suffering, day after day in their lives on and off the court. Between freak Segway incidents, getting a hand bitten off by a seal, and hair plug rejections, it seems like half the league is currently bed-ridden. Anyway, here’s our attempt at staying above the haters, the third-ever (and hopefully last ever) “Negative Dunkalectics Power Rankings [of Injured Players].”

10. Paul Millsap / left knee tendinitis
Since his hot start early on in the season, Millsap has definitely petered out, dragging a bag of mediocrity behind him, like a ragamuffin's bindle. Regardless, he was still an essential part of the team, especially in the wake of the Deron Williams’ trade. In an echo of earlier and brighter times in Salt Lake City, the lottery-bound Jazz still found a statistically similar, slightly crappier replacement for him while he’s injured!

9. Shaquille O’Neal / the big Achilles [tendon]
By committing themselves to Shaquille O’Neal’s rickety bones and enormous hubris after trading Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics have definitely erred. O’Neal hasn’t played since the beginning of February (that would be 18 games for anybody counting), and he might be more concerned with talk show appearances and general hubris than pushing himself back into playing shape. Allegedly, he practiced in a shoot around yesterday, but that’s the most good news I’ve heard about him in a while. Is his return enough to push a floundering team back in the right direction?

That was the serious way of saying: Shaquille O'Neal and his giant feet probably killed the Celtics this season - mind, body and soul - and it sucks.

8. Joakim Noah / illness of ears and brain
The Chicago Bulls’ franchise center has been sick for a few days. From what I’m hearing on Twitter, this is the scoop: while watching tape of a future opponent’s game at the Bulls’ practice facility, Noah became violently ill while listening to a segment of Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy’s color commentary. I can’t blame him for taking a day or two off after that. Most people who watch those games take months off before watching another NBA game! Somehow, he bounced back from that to play last night against the Nets.

7. Michael Redd / robot knees
One thing I love about Tracy McGrady this year is that despite the extent of his injuries – essentially having both of his legs and his torso melted and reformed out of cybernetic cables – he has reformed the nature of his game into this weird point guard thing that everybody (meaning myself) talks about, but yet nobody actually watches.

I hope Michael Redd, who blew up so hard in the middle of the last decade, can renovate his style of play in a similar way as zombie McGrady. At the same time, I fear and expect that the best we will see is a sad alternate future vision of Paul Pierce’s final season (but probably not as good as that). Despite the futuristic way of correcting Redd’s various knee ailments, he likely is still suffering from a case of the Ancient Feingolds, a terrible Flemish infliction which causes a patient to smolder out in their prime, then linger around for years afterwards in a drowsy, afflicted haze of ennui and regret.

6. Eric Gordon / right wrist injury
The season before Negative Dunkalectics started, I got into fantasy basketball for the first time with the other principal characters that would end up forming this site. I’m almost certain I picked up Eric Gordon in the draft, but it might’ve been through one of those magical trades that happen sometimes where you end up completely wrecking your trade partner (this year, I got Blake Griffin and Dorell Wright for O.J. Mayo and J.J. Hickson).

Either way, I was extremely pleased by his performance. Even though I didn’t get him in this season’s league, I was happy for his improvement this year: he deserves his success and to have a higher ceiling than analysts predicted; it’s evident of a lot of hard work. But then he got hurt, and the Clippers have been shitty, and besides Blake, unwatchable since then. When Don Sterling’s robotic, still-racist sequel unveils a holographic bust of Gordon at the beginning of the 2027-28 season, we will think back of this as a low point.

5. Rajon Rondo / straight up missing you Perk
Since approximately the time of the All-Star break, Rondo has played with something amiss. It was evident when NBA TV’s “The Association” aired its latest episode – covering the drama of the trade deadline in Boston – that the team’s emotions were breaking at that point, and it remains to be seen if Rondo is comfortable without Perkins in town to hang out and get into adventures with.
It's not just his stat line, which fluctuated before settling into depression lately. He is clearly suffering from an injury, probably various physical ailments from pushing himself night after night, but because basketball is such a psychological sport, it seems natural that part of it has to do with the disappointment of losing a close friend at the cost of business.

4. Tyreke Evans / plantar fasciitis
According to my friends in med school, one of the most effective ways of treating plantar fasciitis is with “motion control running shoes.” According to my brain, that seems like a really awesome and necessary futuristic invention (kind of like pushing the “moving sidewalk” to the next level), but pretty unfair when you consider that almost all of the NBA’s players propel themselves with their own bodies. Let’s just hope that when Evans returns at the end of the season (or just next year, if he realizes that Marcus Thornton is better at him at scoring, like he never figured that out with Kevin Martin).

3. Rudy Gay / left shoulder
One of my favorite things about Rudy Gay being injured is that it has allowed the forlorn beast of Tony Allen to come alive and defend every great swingman in the league – most of which with some degree of success. I think the one notable exception is that “I do this” time with Carmelo? I hope Rudy stays out forever and teaches himself boo-ray.

2. Danilo Gallinari / sprained left toe
As I reported in my now-classic essay, “Denver, the Riveting Hydra,” Gallinari has been out after getting a series of increasingly elaborate neck tattoos. That’s cool, kind of Denver’s thing, but if the Nuggets are going to get into any sort of groove before the playoffs, they’re going to need the floor-spreading and sharp-shooting ability of the Italian Stallion. Oh, they’re 100-2 since the Carmelo trade? In that case, I recommend an apple neck tat for Mr. Gallinari. He needs to remember where he came from.

1. Zydrunas Ilgauskas / gross infected foot
A couple of weeks ago, Big Z, Chris Bosh and LeBron were bored and they figured that since they were big time Floridians, they could get into the naval base in St. Augustine and sneak into the abandoned naval prison there to take some ill, spooky pictures. Stopped at the gate, LeBron flashed his pearlies and the guard let them in without question.

They parked at the commissary and snuck around for a little while, pretending to be checking things out, until finally they got to the isolated corner on the water where the prison building was. There was no way of getting in through any ground floor entrance, so Bosh and Z picked up a discarded chain link fence and leaned it against the building so they could climb up and through a hole in the concrete wall.

LeBron shimmied up through the hole first, followed by Z and Bosh. It was dark, sans for sparse, dusty light provided by assorted holes poked through the walls by years of decay and erosion. They had arrived in what appeared to be the prehistoric cafeteria, old wooden benches and equipment littering the floor. Bosh noticed a staircase off to the side of the room, climbing up to an even darker floor above.

The men crept up the stairs, flashlights in hand, until reaching nearly the top steps. All of the sudden, a cold wind swept across all of them, and a blank voice called out into the night. They panicked, running back down the staircase, and towards the end, Big Z stepped on a nail sticking out of one of the benches. Arriving safely back in Miami later in the day, Z went to the doctor and got a tetanus shot for the gross puncture wound in his foot. One part of this story is true: he actually did step on a nail.

And on that cheerfully gross note, the third Official Top 10 Authoritative Power Rankings [of Injured Players] has been completed. Hopefully all of these dudes get healthy and none of them get traded in the off-season to Houston.

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This Is What Happens When You Are JaVale McGee

In case you missed it amongst the madness occurring on Tru TV, JaVale McGee had a triple double tonight. Yes, his team lost by 19 points, but you can't blame JaVale and his 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 blocked shots! And so what if he showboated on a dunk that clinched the feat, in garbage time as his team was about to complete loss number 50? You may assume he was putting himself ahead of the Wiz, but JaVale is a forward thinker. 20 years from now he can say he was in the same company as Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwight Howard and no one will remember the result of an NBA game in March. And who cares if his last dunk was clearly a forced attempt to get into the record books, obviously outside of the game's organic flow? There's no asterisk for that in the record books.

OK, lets say this book of records that everyone keeps referring to had an appendix for shaky attempts at entering the annals, here are some that might make the list.

Anthony Bowie vs Detroit Pistons, March 19th, 1996.

A career reserve for the Orlando Magic, Bowie was desperate to cash in on his one triple double opportunity. Stalled at 20, 9 and 9 with 4 seconds left, Bowie made sure to rebound a Pistons miss and call a time out in a game that was already out of reach. Coach Brian Hill wanted no part of Bowie's shenanigans and walked away from the huddle as Bowie drew up the final play. Pistons coach Doug Collins was even angrier and ordered his players to stand underneath the opposing basket in an apparent protest of this statistical maneuvering. Bowie's 4 second stint as player-coach worked like a charm as he completed a pass to David Vaughn for a dunk and while he tried to apologize to Collins afterwards, Bowie was still excited about his accomplishment. He also got the last laugh as he is currently not the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Ricky Davis vs Utah Jazz, March 16th, 2003

You may remember Ricky Davis from the Negative Dunkalectics preview of the Wizards/Cavaliers game in February. Rest assured that this was not a one and done appearance, as we just signed him to a 3 year contract to be included in any ND post that features the tag "What Happens When You Hot Dog". A rebound away from a triple double against the Jazz, Ricky shot at the wrong basket and snatched the board to get his place in history. And it was all captured in beautiful technicolor.

Bobby Sura tried the same thing a year later but at that point the NBA had enough and rescinded his last rebound, cementing the legacy of Ricky Davis.

Dana Barros vs New York Knicks, January 12th, 1996

Coming into the night having made a 3 pointer in 89 straight games, Dana Barros would not be denied in continuing "The Streak" amidst a typically subpar M.L. Carr coached Celtics season. Down by 13 with seconds left in the game, the Celtics called a time out as Barros was 0 for his previous attempts. They inbounded to Barros who took several more attempts as the Knicks crowded him, but it was not to be. One of the least memorable streaks in NBA history was over.

There was also that time some quarterback for the Packers took a dive to give Michael Strahan the single season sack record but that's the wrong sport and I can't remember what that guy's name was.

Follow me on twitter if you like the idea of Landry Fields in a slanket appearing in your timeline

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Axiology and the Race for MVP

Ever since Magic edged out Barkley and Jordan for the 1990 Most Valuable Player award, people have debated the methods by which the MVP is chosen.  Prior to 1980, players chose the MVP themselves through popular vote.  Since then the MVP has been chosen by a group of sportswriters through a point system. The league has never given the “voters” any guidelines by which to make their selections.  The result has been a yearly debate, multiple controversies, and only one unanimous choice (Olajuwon, 1994). 

The problem that fans have had with the MVP award stems from the ambiguity around the term “value” and how it is being applied.  The current model for choosing the MVP, allowing a random group of writers to arbitrarily select someone based on their own individual criteria of what is “valuable,” is a perfect example of the Austrian School’s subjective theory of value.  The result begs the question: he is the most valuable player because, according to most of us, he meets our standard of “valuable.” There is no intrinsic value to the player, no value in and of itself, independent of our personal value systems. 

Given that the Austrian School fails to meet Negative Dunkalectic’s high standards of serious academic research, today we will examine other models for determining value and who those models may offer us as this year’s Most Valuable Player. 

Labor Theory of Value

If our starting point is the subjective theory, a decidedly libertarian view, then perhaps we should take a look at its historical antagonist.  Classical economist David Ricardo suggested that a thing’s value was determined by the amount of labor required in its production.  Both he and Marx believed that things had intrinsic value separate from their exchange value (their price) or their use value (their necessity).  This intrinsic value was, according to the labor theory of value, entirely dependent on the amount of abstract labor embodied in the commodity.

Perhaps they would agree on Monta Ellis as the league’s MVP this season.  The hardest working player in the NBA, Ellis has played 67 games, 2719 minutes, and averages 40.6 minutes per game. 

Intrinsic Value

While the labor theory of value is arguably as controversial as the subjective theory among economists, the idea of an object having intrinsic value is less so among philosophers.   That isn’t to say there isn’t debate, though. 

Intrinsic value is commonly defined as value that a thing has “in and of itself,” as opposed to value that is related to other things.  Philosophers tend to approach this distincition dialectically, as a question of means and ends.  Some things have value because they are instruments that allow us to arrive at another thing which has value.  For example, if I value listening to hip hop music, then Ghostface has instrumental value, whereas the record “Supreme Clientele” has instrinsic value

The philosopher G.E. Moore, skeptical that one could truly arrive at anything with intrinsic value, offered us this experiment:  consider a thing such that in its complete and total isolation from the world we would still judge it to be good, or of value.  Applying his experiment to an NBA player seems simple enough. Consider a player such that in the absence of his team he would still be as good.

One could just take the best player on the worst team and award them the MVP based on their intrinsic value.  Using efficiency ratings as a yardstick, that award would go to Baron Davis on the Cleveland Cavaliers.  That’s unfair, though, because Davis only recently joined the Cavs.  The player on the Cavs with the most minutes and highest EFF is Antwan Jamison.

Kevin Love, on the other hand, has the highest EFF in the entire league.  He doesn’t play for the league’s worst team, but the Timberwolves are truly bad, in the bottom five of the league.  There is no better example of a player in complete and total isolation, stripped of any extrinsic or instrumental qualities, than Kevin Love. 

Instrumental Value

What of the aforementioned instrumental value?  Could someone choose an MVP based solely on that alone?  Pragmatists such as John Dewey would argue yes.  In fact, they would have argued that there is no such thing as intrinsic value at all.  Value, according to Dewey, is all instrumental.  The ends constantly evolve based on the means (experience and results).  The value that any action or thing has is in its relationship to the collective good.  The notion of something having intrinsic value is flawed since value requires experience and results, nothing can have value in a vaccum.

The instrumentalist would likely take the inverse approach of the previous example.  The best player on the worst team may be a good player, but obviously has little or no value given that their team is so bad. Who is the most contributory player on the best team? 

The adjusted +/- stat tells us how well a team is doing with and without a particular player on the floor.  So far this season Steve Nash has the highest APM.  But he plays on a team that is terrible, so even though he is making an impact, that impact isn’t leading to wins.  Dewey may take issue with this and argue that the ends doesn’t affect the value of the means.  

Be that as it may, the player with the second highest APM this season is Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, who are currently 6th in the Western Conference.  The third highest APM belongs to Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, who are 2nd.  Perhaps the instrumentalist gives the MVP to Dirk.

The Categorical Imperative

Kant believed in intrinsic value, but only believed there was one type: good will.  All other things had only extrinsic value relative to the good will they brought about.  He saw good will as something “to be esteemed beyond comparison as far higher than anything it could ever bring about.” 

To that end he developed a framework by which human actors could judge their own actions to determine whether or not they had value.  The categorical imperative helped us arrive at things that had absolute and a priori instrinsic value, and were therefore examples of good will.  It was our imperative to “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.”

Kant would likely look to players who have engendered the most good will as having the most intrinsic value to themselves and to the game.  Perhaps he would look at the fouls column of the box score for evidence. 

The team in the NBA that commits the lowest number of fouls is the San Antonio Spurs.  And among that team’s starters, Tim Duncan scores the least number of fouls among all the regular starters.  A scholar and a gentleman to be sure, Duncan would earn Kant’s MVP.  

You may not agree that any of these players deserve the MVP this year.  But this is an examination of process, not necessarily of results.  While each of these candidates are debatable, so too will be the eventual winner of this season's award.  What is needed is an unambiguous process that informs us all what it is that we should expect and value from NBA players.  Beyond winning a ring, of course.

David Hill is a writer in Brooklyn, New York. He took a few philosophy classes in college but can't be held responsible for any inaccuracies in this post.  He can be found on twitter here. 

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So Kevin Love's Streak Finally Ended Last Night

I started this piece about Kobe Bryant's collapse against the Heat at the end of Thursday night, somewhere around midnight. The concept behind the article would've been that his ego (in a Freudian sense) destroyed him at the end of this game, dealing with age and other lingering issues when facing physically superior competitors. I love talking about things crumbling. There was also going to be a bit about how, in the "clutch" (if we're all going to designate the end of close games between playoff teams by that terminology; also, ever notice nobody mentions bad teams' closers?), Kobe had been playing like a housecat in a deep, unending slumber. So many bad shots. About an hour later, I first read about the earthquake and I've mostly been unable to concentrate on basketball related things since then.

There have been a few things that have distracted me from the endless human suffering abroad, first and foremost being the pretty amazing NCAA conference tournaments this past weekend. Undoubtedly the most exciting moment in those dozens of games was the PAC-10 championship game, where Washington and Arizona found themselves in a brutal shootout (not really, but this is how things are typically described) towards the end of the second half, likely orchestrated in part by the booming, awesome voice of Gus Johnson. Upon the inevitable tie, Washington performed better in overtime, but Arizona caught up (thanks to some good defense and the Huskies inability to put a ball through a uniformly-measured hoop), leading to the following, an incredible display of youthful swagger, skill, and voiceover performance:

Excitement! I've written a lot on here and Twitter about how much I truly despise the cabal of ESPN's NBA coverage, and how difficult it is to just hear Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen put together a broadcast. I briefly listened to the Orlando/Phoenix game yesterday while doing some other work (clearly not writing anything), and in comparison to the lucid excitement that Gus Johnson brings to the [normally, sort of lame] world of amateur basketball, those very well-paid fellows who are supposed to represent the best of the sport only do it a disservice. While it is normally quite a harsh bummer, it seemed especially awful yesterday compared to how wonderful Johnson was the night before on a competing network.

So yeah, that managed to cheer me out of my ennui a bit on Saturday. Last night, the Timberwolves played against Golden State, in a game I never considered watching despite having an ethereal attachment to both teams due to my immersion in negative dunkalectics (lowercase indicating the attachment to the concept). I had a previous commitment to "Chopped All-Stars" and the Fab Five documentary, and although I was pretty excited to read about whatever happened in the game and maybe check it out later if it was tight, there was no reasonable expectation of watching it. But in the end, it was a "historic night" in Oakland, as Kevin Love's much-lauded double-double streak finally ended, almost as soon as anybody noticed that it had began.

As a pretty constant reader of advanced and non-advanced box scores every morning, I have had the pleasure of seeing Love become the best "bad player on a good team" in centuries, surpassing even the Byzantine post-player Liutprand the Rhomaioi, who played with a very good barnstorming team in the early 13th century. Love and Beasley have been a thrill to watch mature this year, even as the Beas gets kicked out of movie theatres for being obnoxious and Love's public persona teeters on the line between funny and annoying. Those two cats are pretty much why the "Wolves Watch" column even began as a joke, many months ago.

But as good as Liutprand was - once, he was shipwrecked on a remote Grecian island and on the night he was rescued, put up a 32/21/5 with six steals in his return to civilization - Kevin Love's ascension from sixth man to franchise player is a tale of legend (sort of like Danny Granger). And like the footnotes of many legends (and Danny Granger), in six months nobody will give a singular crap about Kevin Love's streak of double-doubles.

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