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No One Will Out-Eurostep Kyrie Irving

That’s one of eight pressing NBA statements we’re grading for accuracy this week

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

On Sunday, the Cavs played the Thunder, which is to say the Cavs played Russell Westbrook. Halfway through the third quarter, Kyrie Irving grabbed a loose ball and Speedy Gonzales’d his way up the court, aiming to get an easy basket. The only guy for the Thunder who had a chance at preventing it was Alex Abrines, one of their backup shooting guards. Kyrie charged at him, picked up the ball, stepped hard to his right, and I mean “hard” like he stomped so convincingly in that direction that I would not be surprised to learn that the earth stopped spinning during that quarter of a second when his foot touched the court. This is him right before he put his foot down:

Abrines jumped to his left to try to cut Irving off, but Irving had already anticipated Abrines was going to do that, because when Kyrie Irving is on offense he can see a tiny amount into the future like Nicolas Cage in Next, so he Eurostepped around him for an uncontested layup. It was a devastating move. Poor Abrines looked all the way lost. He looked like the way a second grader would look if you tried to explain algebra to him. He actually ended up crashing into a teammate, that’s how spun around he’d gotten. Look:

I mention all of this to pose a question, because this column is all about answering questions: Do you think that there will be a better Eurostep this season than Kyrie’s around Abrines? That’s the question. And for the answers, you can choose only Likely, Unlikely, or Unable to Be Determined at This Time. That’s it.

The answer here, obviously, is Unlikely, on account of not only how much it fooled the defender, but how expertly all of the pieces that go into executing a Eurostep were stitched together by Irving.

So that’s the column. That’s how it works.

Let’s do seven more.

James Harden’s liberation tour is the most enjoyable tour happening in the NBA: Likely, Unlikely, or Unable to Be Determine at This Time?

Several weeks ago, following that game where James Harden put up a 53–16–17 line, I wrote a story and said he’s been on a liberation tour this season, inspired by a combination of (a) Dwight Howard being gone, and (b) Mike D’Antoni’s playbook being just a binder of 25 pages with the phrase “Just go frigg’n nuts, James” scribbled on each one. It’s the James Harden Liberation Tour. And it’s great. He just had another 50-point triple-double last week (51–13–13), making him the only player to do it twice in a season. So, again: His tour is pretty great.

Some other good tours happening: the Russell Westbrook Destruction Tour, the Joel Embiid Freedom of Life Tour, the Gordon Hayward “Hey, Someone Please Pay Attention To Me” Tour, the Giannis Antetokounmpo Bright Lights Tour, the Isaiah Thomas Tour of Napoleonic Devastation (more on this in a bit), the LeBron James Chief of Justice Tour (more on this in a bit, too), and, on a very limited one-week run, the Dion Waiters “This Is My City” Tour of Excellence.

But of all those tours, yeah, James Harden’s right now is the most enjoyable. This one is Likely.

(Adam Ballinger)
(Adam Ballinger)

Rajon Rondo will be playing for the Chicago Bulls in October: Likely, Unlikely, or Unable to Be Determined at This Time?

LOL. There’s a better chance that I’ll be playing for the Chicago Bulls in October. That whole team is just done for. Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler (probably) hate Rajon Rondo. Rajon Rondo (probably) hates Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler. The younger players (probably) hate Dwyane Wade. Dwyane Wade (probably) hates the younger players. GM Gar Forman (probably) hates everyone. Jimmy Butler (probably) hates Fred Hoiberg. And Fred Hoiberg (probably) hates that Batman let Rachel die in The Dark Knight.

If we look at the main people involved in the infighting (Rondo, Wade, Butler, Hoiberg), Rondo is the only one who seems destined for the guillotine. The Bulls won’t trade Butler, their best player, if only because his contract ($17.5 million this year) makes him the second-best talent-per-dollar-paid player in the league (behind only Steph Curry). Wade won’t leave because he has a player option there. If he picks that up, he’ll make nearly $24 million for the 2018 season, which he definitely wouldn’t make anywhere else. And Hoiberg still has three years left on his deal, so I’d guess he’s in the clear, too. Not Rondo, though. He’s a goner. Him being there in October is extra-Unlikely.

Clint Capela will recover from this Paul George dunk in less than six weeks: Likely, Unlikely, or Unable to Be Determined at This Time?

How to spaghetti a man, in 13 steps:

Step 1. Trevor Ariza plays a little too tightly on Paul George at the 3-point line.

Step 2. George uses Ariza’s positioning against him, dribbling around him, hoping to make his way into the lane.

Step 3. George puts his shoulder in front of Ariza, effectively eliminating him from being a meaningful presence for the rest of the play. He’s created a direct line to the rim.

Step 4. As George maneuvers into position, so does Rockets center Clint Capela. It’s a territory fight now.

Step 5. George remembers every single awful thing that has ever happened to him, and to anyone he’s ever loved, and probably also to anyone he’s ever known in general. His whole body becomes filled with hate.

Step 6. George jumps.

Step 7. Capela jumps.

Step 8. They collide in the air.

Step 9. Capela begins to descend back down to the earth.

Step 10. George’s hate helps his body float a full second longer than it should’ve. Capela, now entirely out of position, realizes that his atomization is only moments away.

Step 11. George cocks the ball back

Step 12. George powerbombs the ball through the rim.

Step 13. Capela’s intestines exit his body. It’s a mess. It’s a great, big, spaghetti’d mess.

Will it take Clint Capela fewer than six weeks to recover? UNLIKELY*.

*In the interest of accuracy, I would like to mention that this is just my best guess. I Googled “how long does it take to recover from getting spaghetti’d?” hoping for a proper answer but there were no relevant search returns. I tried WebMD, inputting “my intestines exited my body,” but it just came back with some recommendations for stretches I could do at my desk, which seems like a wildly inaccurate diagnosis.

Harrison Barnes is actually GOOD: Likely, Unlikely, or Unable to Be Determined at This Time?

Harrison Barnes is averaging nearly twice as many points per game in Dallas than he was last season with Golden State. He’s also averaging more free throws, shooting a higher free throw percentage, grabbing more rebounds, has a higher usage rate, and also has a higher PER. That said, I’m still not all the way certain that he’s GOOD. I’m very confident that he’s good. I’m halfway confident that he’s capital-G Good. But I’m only 15 percent confident that’s all-caps GOOD. Best I can figure, he’s the new Hedo Turkoglu, who, I mean … was he good? He was good, right? But he was also bad, right? We need at least one full season where he’s the alpha on a team, if not two. As such, this one is Unable to Be Determined at This Time.

(Adam Ballinger)
(Adam Ballinger)

LeBron James vs. Charles Barkley will be LeBron’s most substantial fight this season: Likely, Unlikely, or Unable to Be Determined At This Time?

Two things to point out here: (1) Just to answer the question quickly, this one is Unlikely. LeBron has too many other fights going on for this one to really matter. He’s got LeBron vs. the Warriors. He’s got LeBron vs. the Cleveland Execs. He’s got LeBron vs. Phil Jackson. He’s got LeBron vs. Trump. He’s got LeBron vs. How Big Is Too Big for My Beard. There’s just too much competition here for LeBron vs. Charles Barkley to echo any louder than it is right now, which is to say not all that loudly. (Besides, LeBron basically already decimated Barkley when he told ESPN, among other things, “I know he wanted to retire a long time ago, but he can’t. He’s stuck up on that stage every week.” That fight’s over.) (2) If we’re trying to figure out which of his fights will be the most substantial, it’s a toss-up between LeBron vs. the Warriors, which, if he manages to beat them in the Finals again, would unquestionably shoot him up into, like, THE TOP THREE GREATEST BASKETBALL PLAYERS EVER conversation, and LeBron vs. the Cleveland Execs, because what happens there will very likely determine what the shape of superstar influence looks like for the next few years.

Nikola Jokic is quietly the best passing big man in the league: Likely, Unlikely, or Unable to Be Determined at This Time?

I don’t know if Nikola is …

… definitely the best passing …

… big man in the league …

… but I do know …

… that he …

… isn’t more than an arm’s reach away …

… from that title.

Verdict: Likely.

The Celtics are going to start sitting Isaiah Thomas because of his defensive inequities: Likely, Unlikely, or Unable to Be Determined at This Time?

Last week, Jason Concepcion wrote a fun and smart story about when the backlash comes for new NBA superstars. We’re beginning to see a version of that happening with Isaiah Thomas, who is like a 5-foot-9 hug for my heart. Here are some fun stats: (1) Thomas is averaging 10 points in the fourth quarter of games, good for best in the league. (2) Thomas has scored 20 or more points in the fourth quarter of four different games. Nobody else in the league has done that more than once. (3) Thomas is averaging 29.4 points per game, good for second-best in the NBA. (4) Thomas has scored 20 or more points in 32 straight games. (John Havlicek is the only Celtics player to have done it for more games in a row.) (He did it 40 times in a row.) (5) The Celtics have an offensive rating of 120.6 when Thomas is on the floor during crunch time. (6) The Celtics, at 30–18, have the second-best record in the East, which nobody really expected.

Here’s a less fun stat: The Celtics give up 122 points per 100 possessions when Thomas is on the floor in the fourth quarter. That’s gross, and why articles with titles like “Isaiah Thomas’ Defense Is a Major Problem” and “Isaiah Thomas’ Defense Is the Best Reason He’s Not an All-Star Starter” and, most aggressively, “Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas Is a Fourth-Quarter Killer, but Which Team Is He Killing?” are popping up with more and more regularity. Is it enough to get the Celtics to start sitting him, though? Unlikely. They’ve got, like, two other guys (Avery Bradley, Al Horford) who have figured out that putting the ball in the basket is important (maybe three, if you include Jae Crowder), but none of them can do what Thomas does. More likely is that they add a big defensive center (I’d guess they lift Andrew Bogut from Dallas), and even more likely than that is they just don’t do anything at all.