By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
There’s a lot of noise in this time of 24-hour news and even the most insignificant sports tidbit gets at least five minutes of airtime before fading into memory.
Most of these news bits really aren’t deserving of such over-analysis and can be easily distilled into two categories: trash or not trash. It’s difficult for a regular person to find the time to distill, but have no fear, I’ve taken it upon myself to do it for you. Here’s the latest edition of “Trash or Not Trash.”
Karl-Anthony Towns — NOT (QUITE) TRASH
After reading the segment that follows this one you may say, “Hold on, Chris, didn’t you just say we had to less vicious in talking about young players?”
Yes, yes, that is ultimately the opinion I hold, but unlike with the overall unfair opinion levied to Dennis Smith Jr., my opinion on KAT is based off a much broader sample size including some instances where he’s shown that he can be a better ballplayer than what he’s currently displaying.
NBA Twitter can be biting and cruel to players, no doubt, but I guarantee all jokes levied at Towns are rooted in the fact that we all want him to be better. Myself included! For a short time he was looked to be the future of the league, we’re just all wondering what happened?
It’s not all Towns’ fault, certainly. The Jimmy Butler saga has the Wolves in various stages of disarray. But after Wednesday night’s loss to the Lakers, Paul Pierce said on ESPN that Towns needs to demand the basketball more, a repeat of his comments following their loss to Golden State last week. This might not be exactly true — Towns has the second-highest Usage Rate on the team behind Derrick Rose — but his field goal percentage and scoring are at his rookie season levels.
In short, KAT has regressed. That said, plenty of teams would be happy to have an 18-10 power forward starting for them. But I won’t be happy until he takes the advice of Nuke LaLoosh and “establishes his presence with authority.”
Ben Golliver’s Takedown of Dennis Smith Jr. — TRASH
There’s a passage in Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball detailing why Kevin Johnson is one of the best 96 NBA players of all-time. In it, Simmons talks about watching KJ “self-destruct” in his rookie season with the Cavaliers, then his surprise at seeing the Suns trading established star Larry Nance to get him. Why spring for a young point guard who doesn’t have it?
Simmons goes on to say that after seeing Johnson torch Hakeem and the Rockets in the playoffs, he learned never to give up on young point guards. While the game may have changed a lot in the 30 years since KJ’s first season, it’s still a good idea to be patient with young NBA point guards.
However, the zeitgeist can say otherwise in our over-opinionated social media era, especially in the case of Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith Jr. Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver was particularly vitriolic toward Smith’s play in a podcast this week:
I’m not condemning this for the usual trite “reporters don’t know how hard it is because they haven’t played professional sports” reasoning. That’s stupid. Most people who watch a lot of basketball can accurately compare a player to their peers and judge them accordingly. It’s the finality of his declaration that irks me.
Smith not playing well with Luka Doncic at this point should not be a measurement for the future of either man: they’ve played 12 regular-season games together! “No discernable leadership intangibles?” I’m not sure what that means, but I’m fairly sure it’s in the Sportswriter’s Thesaurus, along with “clutch gene” and “heighth.”
Smith had a pedestrian year at NC State and he didn’t light the world on fire for Dallas last year. Maybe he’s not all-world, but the tendency in the Information Age is to swing drastically from one viewpoint to the other, and I think that’s what Golliver is doing here. If Smith is a low-value PG by the end of this season, I’ll concede the point, but let’s be patient first instead of slandering players for clicks.
WNBA Players — NOT TRASH
One welcome side effect of the supposedly-divided society we’re living in is that historically ignored voices are making themselves heard unlike ever before.
Sports is no exception to this development and it shouldn’t be due to women’s basketball players at the collegiate and professional level having long lobbied for equitable treatment and fair pay, and the issue really coming to a head in 2018.
Last week, the WNBPA (Women’s National Basketball Players Association) chose to opt-out of the most recent collective bargaining agreement in a bold attempt to level the pay gap. Nneka Ogwumike, the head of the players’ union, wrote about the decision in The Players’ Tribune this week, urging supporters to “bet on women.”
Tamryn Spruill, editor of SBNation’s women’s basketball blog Swish Appeal, took it a step further, asking the NBA to be fully transparent with WNBA financials so the public can be clear on the solvency of the league. (Deadspin’s Howard Megdal also penned an in-depth article on the conspicuous absence of the head of the WNBPA as the labor dispute beckons.)
I’ll be the first to tell you I hate the business side of sports, but I’ve never thought it was right that a pro athlete in the US had to play the other half of the year overseas just to make a fair wage. It’s true that for the first 20 years of the NBA’s existence, player salaries were fairly low and many players had jobs in the offseason, but the NBA in 1967 is not comparable with the WNBA now, specifically in terms of basketball-related income, the broadcast contract and fan interest.
As a Chicago Sky fan and writer, I’ve followed the league for the past four years. Even as they made the playoffs and Elena Delle Donne won an MVP award, there were still ignorant sexist comments thrown about regarding the idea of women’s basketball. It’s time to dead that. If you’re a true basketball fan, you should be watching as much quality hoops as you can, and you should support athletes getting paid their worth. Back women’s basketball. Everybody eats, B.
Brian Kemp and Voter Suppression — ABSOLUTE TRASH
Big shout out to you if you voted on Tuesday. The midterm elections were most important to the actual direction of this country seeing as domestic policy is largely in the hands of the states and the Congress, which is now not completely dominated by Republicans.
If you didn’t vote, no beef here; I don’t trust the system much anymore either and I can understand if you have reasons for not casting a ballot, especially if you live in one of the states that used dubious methods to manipulate the electorate in the name of combating voter fraud.
Some voting machines in Detroit were apparently “locked in a closet.” Some in North Carolina were defeated by humidity, and apparently some were just too old. Those issues might be hard to believe, but at least they’re plausible.
What cannot be discounted is the egregious misuse of power displayed by Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp. If you didn’t hear the story, Kemp was the Georgia Secretary of State prior to his candidacy for the governor’s seat, as in that position, he oversaw Georgia elections and voting tabulations. After citizens pointed out the obvious conflict of interest, he declined to resign the position and even accused the state’s Democratic party of voter fraud from the official Secretary of State website.
This is akin to a school election where the sitting Student Council president runs again, and the council has the job of counting all the votes. Even if we all think the prez is honest, isn’t it at least possible they’d be tempted to rig things so they won?
Of course, that doesn’t matter to Kemp, who only resigned his post after the voting came down in his favor (opposing candidate Stacey Abrams has declared she’ll fight for a runoff election). Why should it? Kemp and his particular ilk don’t care about “rule by the will of the people.” They only care about ruling.
Chris Pennant covers professional basketball for WARR Media