Funky Fun: The NBA’s ultimate collection of oddities

In the NBA, there are positional standards and schematic archetypes that concede to whatever is vogue in the league at the time. Non-shooting point guards will cramp an offense’s style quite literally. A plodding ground-bound big is a walking bullseye every team is targeting with pick-and-rolls. Spacey defenders will be bombarded with back cuts. Non-shooting wings fumigate offenses.

However, some players introduce a bit of funk into the league’s otherwise trendy boogie. At times the new sequences of an individual’s dance are so spectacularly glorious and effective it becomes a glossed over abnormality in the player’s career dominance. LeBron, for example, is the King of funk, but it’s been warped within a pattern of greatness to the point where LeBron’s rare combination of physical build, skill and playing style has exceeded the level of quirky adoration into something much more grandeur — a core asset in determining his all-around greatness. Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki are of similar ilk.

The NBA’s all-funk team isn’t a group of amassed NBA titans, but rather a squad of loveable and infuriating NBA misfits. They have the ability to mesmerize, but also liabilities in their games that only add to the intrigue of their NBA reality. Enough chatter let’s get to it, starting with the team’s captain.

Team Captain: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis! Don’t you love the all-funk team already?!

No? You’re not sure?

This dude is the freaking eighth wonder of the world! Giannis’ length is the crux of his existence as a league marvel, but it’s his coordination, playmaking and activity on both ends to go with it that sets him apart. Giannis is more than a highlight reel; he can serve as a 6’10” NBA point guard with a 7’3” wingspan, who executes the regular reads and passing the game requires, such as finding a shooter spotting up on the break, bouncing a pocket pass to a rolling big and kicking out to the 3-point arc on drives.

Defenders consistently concede space to Giannis when he handles the ball with the idea of coaxing him into one of his bricky jumpers, but in isolations as well as pick-and-rolls, he’s smoothed out tactics to get to the rim anyway. He regularly deploys a tantalizing spin move, used more as a space carver than a blow by attempt to arrive right at the rim. Even on straight line drives, when Giannis gets his momentum behind him, one canyon-sized step puts him right on the precipice of the hoop. In pick-and-roll situations, defenders duck under screens, but when Giannis gets really ambitious, he’ll simply reject the open jumper and call for a rescreen. A few repititions of the screen and rescreen ballet and a defender will duck himself right into the paint with Giannis just one power dribble away from meeting the rim directly, where his go-go gadget arms can extend past the reach of even a contest from 5s.

Joakim Noah, New York Knicks

Noah’s relentless, energetic outbursts is his most endearing attribute, but what truly qualifies him for the all-funk team is relatively modest skillset, but yet esteemed effectiveness. Noah finished fourth in MVP voting in the 2013-14 season for God’s sake, yet he uncorks spring-coiled screwballs as jumpers, possesses no post moves and isn’t the elite rim-protecting and diving bundle of athleticism in the mold of DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. Noah has been granted partial custody of the elbow along with other passing centers like Marc Gasol and Andrew Bogut, but Gasol range extends to 18 feet and Bogut can protect the rim.

NBA: MAY 10 Eastern Conference Semifinals - Game 4 - Cavaliers at Bulls

In the past decade, Noah is the only center to average over 3.5 assists and under two blocks per game while also posting a true shooting percentage below 50, according to basketball reference. And he’s done it twice! Noah, however, is a tenacious rebounder, and his lateral agility defensively and offensively as a screener are unique in comparison to the majority of other elbow-conducting 5s. In summation, Noah’s overall game is just straight up funky.

Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs

After tormenting Pop for years with his ballsy tendencies, but garnering respect throughout the Spurs organization for his toughness, Manu has become one of the league’s most loveable oddities. His passing flare derives from his reckless imagination, witty idiosyncrasies and astute feel for the game. Manu morphs injudicious and irresponsible decision making into something artful, poetic and actually somewhat calculated.

Through deductive reasoning, Ginobili lobs passes at the backs of defenders, dropping in a bucket to a cutting teammate on the other side of the basket. His look-off passing in pick-and-rolls conjures comparisons to a magician duping onlookers. On the break, Ginobili is liable to try just about anything, including driving all the way to the hoop, where he could elevate with his unexpected power or deploy his famed eurostep, gracefully shifting his weight from one leg to the next.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

You thought the all-funk team was restricted to crowd-pleasing NBA treasures? Turns out players who inspire aspersion through morbid efficiency and a painful viewing experience are more than qualified. DeRozan chucking contested midrangers after a flurry of pumpfakes can cause extreme eye irritation, but he’s unique for a 2 guard as a player who lacks explosiveness, expansive court vision, a 3-point shot and defensive pedigree, yet is a multiple-time all-star and an Olympic gold medalist

Although a high leaper capable of puissant throw downs, DeRozan doesn’t translate that burst into drive-by potential. Despite the absence of elite acceleration, he still finished third in the league in drives per game last season squirming and wiggling his way to the rim with hesitations, half-spins and eurosteps. A player of DeRozan’s unconventional style generally doesn’t merit the copious number of possessions DeRozan does as he posted the league’s 11th-highest usage rate at 29.7 and accounted for 30.5 percent of the Raptors’ scoring and 29.7 percent of the team’s assists while he was on the court , according to nba.com stats.

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In fact, since 2011, DeRozan is one of only four guards to post seasons with splits of 20+ minutes per game, a usage rate above 20 and launch less than 1.5 3-pointers per game, according to basketball reference. DeRozan has accomplished the feat four times during that span, barely nipping it last season by moderately increasing his 3-point totals, barfing up 1.8 per game. The only other guards to match those splits multiple times have been Dwyane Wade (4 times), Rodney Stuckey (3) and….wait for it…Gerald Henderson (3).

Shaun Livingston, Golden State Warriors

Livingston has trashed positional norms in terms of physical dimensions as a 6-foot-7 point guard with a 6’11” wingspan. He’s eases a team’s defensive burden with his switchability at a position generally victimized by the strategy, and offensively he deploys his svelte frame in postup situations, where his jumpers regularly crest the tips of the fingers of contesting defenders. Last season, Livingston’s postup frequency was 19.2 percent, which trailed only Carmelo Anthony among non-big men, and was nearly 10 percentage points higher than the next point guard, Russell Westbrook. Livingston understands his strengths and the advantages he possesses over opponents. Heck, Livingston’s midrange game is so refined, even players equal to his height can be tossed into a purgatory trying to defend it. A glance at Livingston’s shot chart reveals just how unorthodox his scoring pattern is, consistently manufacturing efficient offense from the league’s dead zone, where he chokes defenses by shrinking his midrange attempts from 16 feet and in as opposed to the more preferred 16-23-foot range.

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Being paired with Andre Iguodala on Golden State’s second unit allows Livingston to ditch the traditional point guard role of acting as the team’s primary ballhandler, where he doesn’t scare defenses from the perimeter or with a quick first step in pick-and-rolls. Instead, he can park himself on the block, slice to the basket on cuts and engage in pick-and-rolls as a secondary action. Livingston is ideal for a second unit, where NBA teams tend to droop in offensive output, as he gives Golden State an easy path to a generating scoring opportunities.

Boris Diaw, Utah Jazz

Diaw certainly isn’t the chiseled body archetype associated with professional athletes with his doughy physique and aggrandized derriere. But Diaw utilizes his rolly-polly stature as an antidote to the idea of opposing coaches sticking a wing on him defensively, as he maneuvers and wiggles his way into deep post position on backdowns, crippling a team’s small ball strategy. Diaw was the third most efficient postup option in the entire NBA last season among players with over 100 possessions, where his 1.05 points per possession were bested only by former teammate David West and Kevin Durant, via nba.com.

Counter by inserting a traditional big man and Diaw floats to the perimeter, where the threat of his 3-point shot provides moments to apply his idiosyncratic flurry of pumpfakes that teeter defenders off balance. Diaw certainly lacks explosion as a driver and finisher when those fakes allocate a path to the hoop, but he needs to only slightly alter a defender’s position or create an angle to kick to a teammate on the perimeter or drop a pass to a big or slashing wing in the dunker spot. Since his rookie year, Diaw has had only one season where he averaged less than four assists per 36 minutes, according to basketball reference.

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However, with his age and bulk, Diaw’s value as a stretchy, playmaking 4 is beginning to deteriorate. His value as a bully on the block remains his saving grace against the wing-packed lineups of today’s NBA as Diaw’s defensive limitations athletically can usually be masked by slotting him on a novice wing ballhandler. But with more overall athleticism on the court, Diaw is being phased out by quicker small ball 4s who are more agile laterally with range to slide down to the 5 if necessary, such as teammate Trey Lyles.

Thon Maker, Milwaukee Bucks

Everything about Maker is fishy. His age was a universal punchline on Twitter. His qualifications for the draft were a difficult case study for the league. His draft stock fluctuated more than Donald Trump’s foreign policy plan, and his player comps upon entering the NBA spanned a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon.

After being drafted by perhaps the league’s funkiest team in the Bucks, the murkiness of Maker’s situation hasn’t been diluted much. He may be a developmental project in the D-League, but top 10 picks usually aren’t stashed away in such a manner.

Maker showed snippets of his potential in summer league, canning 3s and sometimes even  shooting off the dribble, but he also chucked… a lot. His ballhandling is fairly rudimentary and at 7’1” with a 7’3” wingspan, Maker projects as a 5, but he’s rail thin, even for the modern NBA, and his projections as any sort of rim protector are extremely cloudy due to his . Maker’s length, non-stop motor and hint of a consistent 3-point stroke should at least make him a valuable rotational big who can switch up the dynamics of a game in spurts, but the space between his ceiling and floor as a player is one that makes taking the elevator the preferred option.

Mo Speights, Los Angeles Clippers

Mo Buckets! Speights was an adoring figure in Golden State from the perspective of his teammates as well as the local media. His actual contributions weren’t quite as rosy as a defensive sieve mercilessly targeted in pick-and-rolls, but who freaking cares?! How many heat-check bigs are there in the NBA? Speights is a heavyset gunner, who fires from midrange and lengthened his range out to the arc last season. Speights’ usage rate of 30.2 last season was 10th in the league, and the 19.7 field goal attempts he hoisted per 36 minutes were more than Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. Heck, it even exceeds Kobe’s career rate of 19.4 field goal attempts per 36. As a bonus, the weird doohickey that sits on Mo’s head remains a point of fascination, and Speights’ odd spelling of his first name is still an arduous chore, which is why I lazily introduced him as Mo.

Filling out the roster: Julius Randle, Los Lakers; Rajon Rondo, Chicago Bulls, Corey Brewer, Houston Rockets; Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers

This is getting lengthy, so let’s just fill out the roster…Randle is a rugged, compact and bouncy player who pounds the boards, but his jumper is disaster and his passing is still fairly rudimentary. He’s a bit in the mold of a young Paul Millsap with the Jazz in terms of skillset and statistical translations….Rondo’s game and personality have always been a peculiar and vexing enigma….Nothing about Corey Brewer makes much sense, most notably his decision-making….Turner, who nearly faded out of the league, found his role in Boston last season as a high usage second unit playmaker, where having the ball in his hands mitigated his shaky jumper and elevated his passing from the wing.

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