Minute Basketball: Delayed Reactions

  
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We don’t usually realize truths until long after they become true. That’s a fact, even if you never realized it (see what I did there?). It’s broad, generalizable; the frog in a soon-to-be-boiling pot of water. It’s specific to your own life, too. You can sit beside the same person in class every day for a month before asking their name. When you’re too hungry, you don’t taste the first bite of food. And then you don’t feel full until 20 minutes after your stomach should take no more. 

That sense of delay is glaringly evident in the NBA. The general conception of players is often a year or two behind their actual impact on the court. Fred VanVleet was an elite defender, damnit, long before he earned the reputation in the NBA Finals. Kawhi Leonard was among the best defenders in basketball even before LeBron James cursed at seeing him re-enter a Finals game. Reactions go both way, slow to realize the good and the bad; Leonard has waned as a regular season defender, but his reputation remains immaculate. 

We see delay in the big picture, of course, but so too do we see it on the court every night. A good fake leaves defenders moving the wrong direction for an eternity. A hungry shot-blocker will leap for an opponent’s shot far too long after it has left his hands. Delay is part of the game, and the way we cover it. 

Ball is life, as they say.

Folk - No Country for Old Men

“Things happen to you they happen. They don’t ask first. They don’t require your permission.”

To succeed as a protagonist in the harsh and unfeeling world that Cormac McCarthy creates in ‘No Country for Old Men’ you have to be preemptive, calculating, and tough as nails. Even then, you probably won’t make it. There is no room for indecision, and if you aren’t actively working towards an end goal of your own you’re probably working towards someone else’s. You apply the pressure, lest it be applied to you.

Whether or not you view Kyrie Irving as righteous in his decision to deny media access to kick this season off, he put everyone on the back-foot. For a player who never seems to lose control on the court, be it his body, the ball, whatever - Irving has been irked by the media taking his words and twisting them. Peddling snippets to the masses, and representing him as something he isn’t. Perhaps the most egregious example was the painting of him as the “disruptor” prior to the NBA’s bubble. 

So, he assumed control. The game of cat and mouse began, with Irving proving more evasive than most expected. Off the court, Irving is closer to Llewelyn Moss. An imperfect protagonist trying to get Chigurh (the media) off of his trail, in pursuit of peace and a better life. Chigurh does get his man, though. Irving is back talking to the media. 

On the court, Irving is Chigurh, always. With the ball in his hands he is perpetually the apex predator. Cold, calculated, and possessing an improvisational bent and weaponry that shreds any who stand in his way. When you guard Irving everything is a delayed reaction. He might be the greatest non-dunking finisher that the NBA has ever seen. Delayed reactions are baked into his game. Or, it might be more accurate to say that he dresses up counters as delayed reaction. While his finishes can look last-ditch as he fades away from the basket, they never are. 

Miles Bridges, you sweet summer child. Irving was never passing to Jordan in the crammed paint. He was just waiting for you to jump the lane - and you did. 

Fast players going slow. LaMelo Ball is most dangerous when he’s moving toward Irving, so he simply waits until he’s… moving away. Core strength, balance, finishing flair earned through countless hours of work, and the mind to break it out night after night in the world’s best league. 

No words here, quite frankly. The leg strength it takes to stabilize like this? Insane. 

The intersection of Chigurh and Moss. Elusive and cunning when avoiding the big bad, and world-shattering in pursuit. With great forethought, Irving and Durant planned out their gambit. You could see it in small, stolen conversations at the All-Star game. Working toward an end goal, naturally. 

Zatzman

Here is a list of my favourite delayed reactions in the NBA:

- Closeouts against James Hardens’ stepback. 

- Everything about Kyrie Irving’s game, but Samson beat me to the punch.

- Nikola Jokic’s slow realization that any possible manipulation of the ball can reach a cutter’s hands.

- CJ McCollum’s realization this year that he could and should shoot as many triples as possible.

- Chris Boucher’s attempt to block shots that no human could possibly block.

-  This, possibly the best and strongest movement undertaken by the human leg since we grew them and crawled out of the primordial soup. Jamal Murray’s defender’s reaction wasn’t delayed, but in fact absent entirely.

Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, LeBron James: the NBA’s ageless wonders

Time is supposed to be undefeated. Surely it will be, at some point. But that’s a point that time is going to have to prove against these guys. As it is, there is a core of superstars in the NBA who refuse to age. Talk about a delay. 

Lowry has always been the heart and core of the Toronto Raptors, but this season has been the most pronounced example yet. In fact, the numbers are laughable. Through three games, the team has outscored opponents by 14 points with Lowry on the floor and lost the other 33 minutes by 40 (!) points. Forty. Points. Put another way, the team’s net rating with Lowry on the court has been a respectable plus-6.4 and without him a net rating of negative-49.7. Like I said, laughable. It’s possible that Lowry is Dorian Gray, but with all his teammates concurrently aging instead of him. 

And Chris Paul is simply a winning machine, no matter the background. He went to Oklahoma last year and turned a franchise full of new players into one of the best clutch rosters in the NBA. Now in Phoenix, the youngsters are 3-1 with a massive point differential despite not shooting particularly well from 3. Paul has ceded the foreground to the marvelous Devin Booker, but the former is still an engine of destruction. Paul is averaging a ho-hum 9.5 assists per game to only 1.8 turnovers. Age? Paul doesn’t know how. 

And LeBron James? What else needs saying? The Los Angeles Lakers are only 2-2 on the season, but they’re like a leviathan car with an engine out of a spaceship. Those old boats are slow to rev, but when they go they fly. James remains the best player in the world until Kevin Durant snatches the title back, For now, enjoy the show. But don’t stress. It’s not like it’s going to end anytime soon.