November 25, 2013

1,000,000 Steph Curry Fans Can't Be Wrong

Earlier today I saw a tweet from Golden State Warriors' guard Stephen Curry announcing he had hit one million followers on Twitter last night. My initial thought was there's no way the Warriors have a million followers, let alone Steph Curry. But sure enough Curry was right. As of this writing, he's more than 2,000 followers north of a million and I assume that number will only get bigger. But sure enough I was right too. The Warriors don't have anywhere close to that many followers. To be precise as of 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, the Dubs have only 302,158. I'm sort of astonished.

Now, I know the NBA is a players' league. I get that every time I watch the Wizards play the Knicks, Bulls, Heat, Lakers or Celtics in what are supposed to be the friendly confines of Verizon Center. In the last couple of years, that message has been hammered home even harder when I see Clippers and Thunder "fans" packing the stands in our building. I mean who has even been to Oklahoma? None of the so-called Thunder faithful we have talked to at the games that's for sure. But Steph Curry pulling in three times as many followers as his own team? This might be worth digging into on a slow Monday night.

At his current total of 1,002,668 Twitter followers, Curry has more followers than any team in the NBA except five: the Los Angeles Lakers (3,491,382 followers), the Miami Heat (2,000,728 followers), the Boston Celtics (1,295,295 followers), the Chicago Bulls (1,203,143 followers) and the Orlando Magic (1,137,208 followers; I'm assuming they are benefitting from the Dwight Howard years). Not only would he rank sixth in followers in the league if he were his own team (I'm ignoring the possibility of other players being their own teams for just a minute), he'd have more followers than the bottom five teams in the NBA combined. My beloved Washington Wizards, who currently rank 26th in the Twitter follower contest, are one of those bottom five teams.

I have nothing against Steph Curry. I actually like him as a player and I love that he re-signed with Golden State for significantly less than the maximum he could have negotiated which will give the team more flexibility to go out and get other parts to make the team a winner year after year. And it's not his fault that a million people read what he writes 140 characters at a time on Twitter. But I find the notion that he has more fans than the team he plays for to be a little puzzling. And he's nowhere near the top of the food chain in Twitter when it comes to NBA players. Kevin Durant has almost 5.5 million followers and Dwight Howard has over 4.6 million. That's nothing compared to LeBron James of course, who topped my brief search at 10,572,075 followers. That's significantly more than the Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Bulls and Magic combined. In case you are wondering, I am not one of the ten million plus!

I don't understand this mentality of following players rather than teams. I realize this probably happens more with the NBA than any other sports league but as a die hard fan of sports teams, I've always resented the casual sports fan who picks up whatever team happens to be doing well or has the biggest star. I guess it pays off; you rarely miss the playoffs when you pick the best team in the league as your team. I'm a fan of the Wizards and I'm going to suffer through whatever pain they put me through for however long it takes to be successful and I realize I may never achieve the high of winning a championship that way. I'll live with that commitment.

I follow all 12 of our players who have Twitter accounts and I will until they leave the team and in some cases beyond that. Some ex-players like Andray Blatche get dropped as soon after they are released as I can find a computer. Others like Caron Butler, Roger Mason Jr. and Emeka Okafor who I think genuinely advanced the cause of the franchise get to stick around for a while. That doesn't mean I'm rooting for their teams to succeed. I want whoever gets the Wizards closer to the playoffs to win and that's who I'm pulling for.

None of the Wizards' current players are as popular on Twitter as Steph Curry, although John Wall is less than 100,000 behind him with a number of followers five times greater than the Wizards team has. And I really don't care how many followers the Wizards have as long as they succeed and reward long suffering fans like me with some great memories in the future. The team is at a mere 186,282 followers as I finalize this post. The Lakers are in town tomorrow. I'm just looking for a win there but I'm sure based on the number of Twitter followers, there will be plenty of Laker "fans" in the building. I'm wondering how many know enough about the team to know Kobe's out. I'll find out tomorrow.

One last thing: two of the 186,282 Wizards followers are not Trevor Booker or Marcin Gortat. That seems like some low hanging fruit to me. Hopefully those guys push the "Follow" button soon.

November 24, 2013

The First Dozen

When the 2013-2014 NBA schedule was released back in August of this year, I highlighted the Wizards' performance in the first 12 games of the season as a critical indicator of the season's success. Eight of the first 12 games were away from Verizon Center but only four of our opponents in those first dozen games made the playoffs last year. For a team last year that struggled on the road and against non-playoff opponents, I saw this first stretch of games as a potential bellwether of how our season might turn out.

Friday's road loss against the Toronto Raptors in Canada marked the twelfth game of the Wizards 2013-2014 season and I'm still not sure what we have. Our record this year is clearly way better at 4-8 than it was last year at 0-12 but my hopes that this year's team can duplicate last year's mid-season form, when we ran off a 21-15 record between January 7 and March 22, haven't been realized. In fact, I'm not sure we are any closer to understanding if this team is the playoff team they want to be after the first 15 percent of the season.

So in my confused fan state right now, and after having watched the Wizards knock off the New York Knicks last night behind a quality second half at Verizon Center, below is a six pack of thoughts about the first dozen games of the current season.

1. The East Is Terrible
OK, so this thought is not so much about the Wizards but about the Eastern Conference in general. But this fact, unless it changes drastically, is going to continue to keep the Wizards in playoff contention even if our record continues to languish below .500. At the close of Friday night's games, only four teams in the Eastern Conference could claim winning records: the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls. Every other team in the conference, including the Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors and championship hopefuls the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, had lost more than they had won.

The Conference is almost begging a team or two to take a step forward and fill in behind the four winning teams listed above and I don't see why that can't be the Wizards. Sure, we're not going to win the Eastern Conference title this year. As of this date, that looks like a two team race between the Pacers and Heat. But why not step up and make the playoffs, even if it's as a seven or eight seed? I see an enormous opportunity, especially with the Nets and Knicks in questionable at best shape. Go for it guys!

2. What Happened to the D?
Last year the Wizards managed to finish in the top third in the league in defensive efficiency behind some underrated individual defenders and some solid team defense. This year, the Wizards are hovering around the top of the bottom third of the league in that same category. Better than at the bottom of the bottom third, but not like last year.

I guess I'm hoping that part of this is early season jitters. In the first month of the season teams often struggle to defend more than they do score. Great defense over a long period of time relies on team play and a deep understanding of defensive schemes and responsibilities. Everybody has to be on the same page. Great individual offensive outputs can often be pulled off at the expense of poor defense and thus it's easier to have great individual offensive games than great team defensive success.

But there's no doubt we miss Emeka Okafor and probably to a lesser extent A.J. Price. I'm not knocking the Emeka for Marcin Gortat trade. I completely believe we made the right move to bring someone like Marcin in (we'll talk about the draft pick later) but he's not a premiere rim protector like Emeka. The last line of defense is often missing at the hoop without Okafor. We've been exposed badly in some situations especially by opposing teams' point guards either dribble penetrating or cutting to the rim without the ball. Hopefully with time and commitment from everyone, team D will improve to maybe the low teens.

3. The Team Is Paper Thin
One of the most glaring deficiencies about the Wizards team last year was a noticeable lack of depth. Other than Trevor Ariza, we really lacked dependability when we went beyond the starting five. Four of our roster spots were taken by guys (Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely) who were inconsistent at best, and that may be really kind, and we had effectively no backcourt depth.

So one of the off season priorities for the front office seemed to be to correct that situation. We re-signed Martell Webster, inked Eric Maynor to back up the point guard position and towards the end of the summer added free agent Al Harrington. I'm not sure that's fixed our lack of depth. Before the game against the Raptors Friday night the Wizards ranked 29th in bench scoring, ahead of only their opponent that night. In the 96-88 loss that night, the Wizards amassed only nine bench points, far behind Toronto's 25.

Admittedly, both Ariza and Harrington missed that game due to injuries, but Jan Vesely being the first man off the bench speaks volumes about the team's depth. Despite Jan's improved play in this first month, he can still only score on fast break and putback opportunities. Maynor as the backup point guard hasn't added much at all so far and I don't think Garrett Temple, while a quality third string guard, is the answer as a first backup in the backcourt. The team has managed to pull off wins in three of the five games both Ariza and Harringon have missed which is encouraging. But eventually somebody needs to step up and become a dependable bench player. Maybe first round draft pick Otto Porter is the guy, if he ever gets over the hip flexor and suits up.

Marcin Gortat's addition has been key through the first 12. I can't imagine where we would be without him.
4. Personnel Decisions Continue to Haunt Us
The Wizards' roster this year consists of four true backcourt players, one true center and ten other frontcourt players. Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza are still being used as shooting guards for periods in some games but they are really small forwards. Who's kidding who there?

One of the reasons for the Wizards being so forward heavy is our draft history. In 2010 we nabbed two forwards in the draft in Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker. A year later we selected Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton. Despite middling or lower production over the years each of those guys has been on the team, they are still all under contract and consuming roster spots. At this point in the season, only one of those four is averaging more than 15 minutes per game (Vesely) and the four combined are contributing less than ten points per contest. Singleton's out with an injury so these comments are a little unfair to him, but I'm not sure he's cracking the rotation in a significant way. That's four first round picks taking up almost 30 percent of the roster and contributing less than ten percent of the offense. Ideally, I'd love to have someone more dependable in one of those spots. Fortunately, all four are not under contract next year; that doesn't help us this year.

I see two potential personnel decisions that might loom large in the coming year. First, Eric Maynor has a player option on a second year with the team. I know it's only 12 games in but Maynor does not appear to be the answer at the backup point guard position. There's such a noticeable dropoff between him and John Wall. Second, there's that 2014 first round draft pick we gave to the Phoenix Suns in the Okafor-Gortat trade. I hate trading first round draft picks but if it gets us into the playoffs this year, it's probably worth it. If it doesn't, Gortat's likely gone and so is our draft pick at some point.

5. There Are Concentration Lapses
I know basketball is famously a game of runs. More than any other sport mostly due to just the frequency of scoring in the games, there are going to be periods in the game when teams just outscore the other team by an astounding margin. And it's likely going to happen whether you are the winning team or the losing team. Having said that, the Wizards' scoring droughts in some games have been so obvious and noticeable that it has either put them totally out of the game; put the game out of reach quickly; or almost wasted an outstanding effort.

Most noticeable in the first 12 games were the San Antonio Spurs' 16-0 run after the Wizards had battled back to within three in the third quarter; the Oklahoma City Thunder's ten point comeback to force overtime with less than three and a half minutes to play; and the Cleveland Cavaliers' 36-13 run to almost steal the win after the Wizards led by 27. In each case, the Wizards seemed to lose focus on what it was they were supposed to be doing on the court, and they lapsed into lazy, one-on-one hero ball and it cost them at least the Oklahoma City game and it almost took the Cleveland game from them. We haven't won in San Antonio since 1999, so it's pretty difficult for me to argue that unselfish play would have won that game.

I know this team is young to the point where arguably the two best players on the team are 20 and 23 (in Bradley Beal and John Wall) and I also realize neither of those two has had a veteran to mentor and teach them how to play their positions at the NBA level. But they have got to remember to listen to head coach Randy Wittman. I'm sure Randy is reminding them to share the ball and run the offense. They need to do it. It will save Randy's job and may save the season.

6. We Should Be 7-5
I'll end these observations on a hopeful note. In all honesty, this team should have won seven of the first 12, not four of first 12. We held a double digit lead against both Philadelphia and Cleveland in the second half at home and managed to squander both games and let the visitors walk off with a victory. We also had the Thunder dead to rights in Oklahoma City before Nenê picked up his second technical foul and the team lost all focus. There were also no games we won in the first 12 that we should have lost, so the three additional victories we should have is a true number.

In spite of that optimism, however, we didn't win seven of the first dozen games but the three we threw away should serve as a reminder for the team to realize they can achieve a winning record if they put forth 48 minutes of concentrated effort per game. I know that's going to be difficult for this team. Ideally everyone would like a few games where they can mail them in, but it doesn't appear our team is talented enough to do that. 48 minutes guys, not 36, 40 or even 44. 48! Do that every game and we might be OK.

On to the next 72! I feel better than I did last year.

November 8, 2013


It's been about a year and a half since I started this blog to detail the joys and struggles I experience as a Washington Wizards' fan (OK, mostly struggles). It was always intended to be a fan's story of what it's like to pour your heart and soul into a sports team (rather than being about the game of basketball). I often appear to joke in this blog about scheduling my life around the Wizards' schedule but it's actually not a joke. I really do schedule my life from very late October to at least mid April around the NBA schedule. Holidays, days off, vacations all get coordinated with the home schedule. This game and this team are important to my life.

So in between a packed slate of meetings this past Monday at work, I took an early lunch at Hard Times Cafe across the street from my office in Clarendon and while I was waiting for my Buffalo Chicken Wrap at the bar, I scanned through the Twitter posts of the morning. I can't even begin to describe my surprise when I saw a Tweet from Wizards' owner Ted Leonsis titled simply "My Swag Was Phenomenal." No way could Ted have gotten a hold of my blog and Tweeted it to the world. But that's just what had happened. I spent the next 15 minutes wolfing down my sandwich and fries dying to get back to a real computer so I could see all this on something other than my four year old Blackberry.

I don't know if this adds to my 15 minutes of fame that I feel I should be allotted or not. It just made me proud to know that the owner of the team saw my work and said a few nice words about it. I'm thrilled. Hopefully the Wiz can win their second game of the season tonight against the Brooklyn Nets. I'll be booing Andray Blatche vociferously from my upper level seats in Section 415 every time he touches the ball. Win or lose tonight, this has been a good week for this Wizards fan although a win tonight would obviously cap off the week in style.

November 3, 2013

Meet The Team

As of this writing, the Washington Wizards are off to an inauspicious start to the 2013-2014 season, going 0-2 in their first two games with honestly no realistic end to the losing with upcoming games against Miami, Brooklyn, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. It might just take a fluke of a game. I figured we could pick up a couple of easy Ws against the Philadelphia 76ers both here in D.C. and in Philly in the first four games of the season but somehow Philly has managed to go 3-0 to start the year so I'm counting on a loss Wednesday when we play up there at this point. So before I get too frustrated to deal with writing about this team for a while in a positive light, I thought now would be an appropriate time to look back on last Saturday's Season Ticket Holder Party at Six Flags.

The Season Ticket Holder Party (or the Meet The Team Party as it used to be called) is one of the most important events of the year for the rabid season ticket holder. I once left a business meeting in Roanoke, VA early so I could get back to D.C. for this thing. It's the event where fans like me can stand in line for about an hour to get some stuff which is essentially worthless autographed by my favorite players and add it to my rapidly expanding autograph collection, which is displayed in various locations throughout my condo in and around my also expanding bobblehead collection. And yes, I know I'm too old to be collecting autographs and bobbleheads. Let it go!

This is how it all starts: standing in line to get to the spot in the park when you really stand in line.
I've attended the Season Ticket Holder Party / Meet The Team Party every year since the 2003-2004 season. I missed out the first three years of my tenure because the team didn't have this sort of thing during the Michael Jordan years (presumably because it would have been a complete mob scene if MJ was signing) and I think I bought tickets too late the first year I signed up in 2000-2001. The format and location of this event has changed over the years drastically. I love the current format because it rewards resourcefulness and planning (which I have in spades) and aggressiveness (which I don't have; just can't knock little kids out of the way) is of little to no value. Let me explain.

The first couple of years I went to this event at Verizon Center were pretty much a free for all. The players were rarely at tables signing in an orderly fashion but were instead just standing around in random spots around VC or in some cases giving locker room tours. I remember talking to Jared Jeffries one year as he helped kids into the moon bounce set up at the west end of the building. I think that same year I almost literally bumped into Gilbert Arenas while trying to get my bearings and Kwame Brown was giving locker room tours; we each shook his hand before the tour and he introduced himself ("I'm Kwame"; yeah, no kidding!). In those days getting autographs was literally a mad scramble: it was almost impossible to plan because there was no rhyme or reason to where guys were located and the lack of lines meant that sometimes getting something signed involved pushing your way to the front of a loose mob. There were also no name tags so it was sometimes difficult to tell who was who. My friend Mike helped me identify Larry Hughes one year by the "LH" tattoo on his neck.

There's plenty of this going on. Notable here are Jan Vesely knowing he's just had his fourth year declined on his rookie contract and John Wall, who is not exactly Mr. Personality during these things.
The event stayed at Verizon Center through the 2009-2010 season (with one random year at the Newseum) but the team decided to change the format once we started to make the playoffs. In those middle years of my season ticket holder tenure, the team decided to distribute color coded tickets to attendees which allowed you to stand in one (and theoretically only one) line to get autographs from 2-3 preselected players. There were ways to get additional tickets if you tried, including grabbing more than one ticket the years they handed them out at the door and trading for different colored tickets with other fans the years they mailed them. These years were the worst. They rewarded neither resourcefulness and planning nor aggressiveness. It didn't matter how early or late you got there and you had no control over who you wanted to stand in line for: your fate was predetermined by the color of the ticket you owned. It also hindered any ability to get a single year's team collected on a single ball or whatever other object you elect to get signed. I like to use the box the season tickets come in.

Chris Singleton, Jedi Knight, with Bradley Beal and Glen Rice, Jr signing away furiously.
Then when Ted Leonsis took control of the team, he moved the event out to Six Flags in Prince George's County. This year the event was held on a Saturday afternoon in the picnic area of the park since the place was still open to the public; the past three years, it's been held at night on a weekday. In all four years I have been going to Six Flags for this thing, the format has been essentially the same: players are arrayed in different positions around the park with orderly lines set up and start signing about an hour after fans are admitted. For those who are resourceful and can plan, the hour before signing allows scouting out of locations to determine who is where and laying out the ideal sequence to get players in priority order. It's been tight the last two years but I've been able to get the entire team both years so I can check that box in my neurotic obsession about this stuff.

Basketball cards: my new favorite item to get signed.
Because of the rush associated with this event, there's very little opportunity to interact with players which is too bad (conversation after all slows down the line for others and hinders the annual complete set of signatures quest). But some players can't help themselves and I can't get by Kevin Seraphin without a couple of sentences in French (after a couple of sentences my language skills betray me) and without him showing stuff to his neighbor. Kevin's one of those guys who loves being semi-famous and having fans. He has his own hashtag on Twitter (#KevinSeraphinLife) and loves the spotlight that being a backup center for an NBA team affords him. He's humble but there's also no question he has an ego that he likes to have stroked. Last year I pulled up a picture on my phone of him as Superman and he made me show it to Earl Barron who was sitting next to him. This year he had to show Trevor Ariza the gold basketball card (above) I handed him so Ariza could be impressed by the kind of products Kevin inspires I guess.

This is the sort of event that makes me feel a little more engaged with the team. I know most of these guys must hate sitting at tables for an hour signing stuff for fans who should have outgrown this stuff years ago but I think it's great the team makes this happen. Fans are the reason these teams exist so I guess for one day anyway it makes me feel good as a fan that we get something exclusive for the money that we are forking over. Maybe one day this event will cease having so much value for me. Until then, I'll be leaving business meetings early or whatever else I have to do to get over to this each year.

This year's season ticket holder box, signed by the team.