Linsanity and the NBA’s Point Guard Revolution

February 23, 2012 9:10 am

In many ways, this column came to be because of Linsanity: the rise of Jeremy Lin from undrafted free agent to starting (and starring) point guard of the New York Knicks. He has Linvigorated both his teammates and the jaded New York fanbase. He has transformed Steve Novak, Bill Walker and Jared Jeffries from fringe members of the Knicks’ rotation into Lintegral components of a winning team. Through his first two weeks as an NBA starter, all he did was Lin, leading the Knicks to seven consecutive victories, punctuated by a game-Linning three-pointer against the Toronto Raptors. Superstar running mates Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire are completely Linvested, and if Jeremy’s Twitter mentions are any indication, the Linch mob is gradually taking over the Linternet. From his brother’s couch to center stage at Madison Square Garden, he is living through a Linderella story the likes of which the NBA has never seen.

Now that the requisite puns are out of the way, it is easy to understand just how Lincredible Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments truly are. Lin is admired by fans and throughout the league mostly for what he is not: a typical professional basketball player. The NBA’s lone Asian-American player, Lin was not heavily recruited out of Palo Alto, California, choosing to sign with Harvard rather than walk on at Stanford or UCLA. Undrafted out of college, Lin signed as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, playing in 29 games in 2010-11 before being waived this past December. After being signed and cut by the Houston Rockets prior to the start of the shortened 2011-12 season, Lin was picked up by the Knicks on December 27th. He’d start his first game just over one month later.

Steve Nash continues to torment opposing defenses at 38 years old.

Lin’s ascent to NBA prominence is remarkable for more than just his distinctive backstory. Against all odds, he has managed to turn the New York Knicks into a quality basketball team. Prior to Lin’s insertion into the starting lineup, the Knicks were languishing at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, hamstrung by a lack of quality guards to complement Anthony, Stoudemire and defensive anchor Tyson Chandler. Lin has seduced the MSG faithful with his unflappable confidence and supreme basketball IQ, but it’s quite possible that any upgrade over Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert and Mike Bibby’s decaying corpse would have sufficed.

In my 2011-12 NBA preview, I implored the Knicks to explore a potential trade with the Phoenix Suns for Steve Nash. Without a capable point guard to initiate their offensive sets, a team with two perennial All-Stars and basketball’s second-best defensive centre sat outside of the playoff picture nearly halfway through the season. Now, with Lin playing the role of Nash in Mike d’Antoni’s offense, Knicks fans aren’t entirely delusional when they envision a deep playoff run.

Lin’s rise is representative of the greater success of point guards and perimeter players throughout the league in the last few years. Aside from Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, every NBA champion throughout history has boasted an All-Star or Hall-of-Fame caliber big man patrolling the interior. This season, the championship hopes of nearly every contender rest on the shoulders of players doing most of their damage from the outside.

Jason Kidd (2) played a significant role in the Dallas Mavericks' 2010-11 championship run.

For teams that don’t possess two of the game’s best perimeter stars (everyone but the Miami Heat), the significance (dare we say, the Linportance) of the point guard position has never been more pronounced. A top-tier floor general alone doesn’t ensure success (Nash and New Jersey’s Deron Williams can attest to this), but general competence at the 1 is a necessity for a shot at the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

At 38, Jason Kidd can no longer be considered among the NBA’s top point guards, but his contributions to the Dallas Mavericks’ 2010-11 championship run cannot be understated. Kidd’s size and ability to defend bigger guards (including Dwyane Wade in the NBA Finals) allowed Dallas to unleash Jason Terry and the diminutive JJ Barea, talented offensive players with limitations on the defensive end. Kidd remained steady under pressure, coolly orchestrating the offense, allowing Dirk Nowitzki to operate inside and knocking down open jumpers, helping to spur a number of comeback wins en route to the title.

While Kidd’s veteran savvy was a perfect fit for the experienced Mavericks, many teams rely on aggressive, cocksure point guards to lead their offense. The Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose is the reigning NBA MVP, not to mention the only legitimate source of offense on one of the league’s top teams. While coach Tom Thibodeau has instilled a defensive system that rates amongst the stingiest in the league, Rose carries the Bulls on the offensive end, controlling the ball in every key situation and creating scoring opportunitiespractically out of scratch. Chicago’s title aspirations will hinge on the contributions of its role players, but they wouldn’t be anyway near contention without Rose.

Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose headline two of the NBA's top teams in Oklahoma City and Chicago.

Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook packs the same explosiveness and ferocity as Rose in a slightly leaner package. If teammate Kevin Durant can best be described as a killer, methodically knocking down absurd jumper after absurd jumper, Rose and Westbrook are warriors, refusing to yield an inch to any opponent. Westbrook’s high number of field goal attempts has drawn ire from critics who believe that he should defer to Durant more often, but his inspired play has driven the Thunder to the top of the Western Conference and solidified him and Durant as the league’s best duo. Westbrook and Rose could be primed for several showdowns in the next decade’s worth of NBA Finals.

Several other young players rank among basketball’s top point guards. Boston’s Rajon Rondo possesses the most unorthodox game of any effective point, rarely shooting from outside but using his freakish athleticism to create opportunities for the Big Three. Washington’s John Wall and Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans both studied under John Calipari at Kentucky before unleashing the dribble-drive attack on the NBA. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio, the frontrunners for Rookie of the Year, have assumed leadership roles on young teams and garnered the immediate respect of their teammates.

The emergence of the next generation of point guards has served to accentuate the accomplishments of their forerunners, several of whom are still bona fide stars. Steve Nash continues to excel despite his advanced age and a sorry cast of teammates, while Tony Parker’s best individual season in years has the San Antonio guard primed for a fourth All-Star appearance. Chris Paul remains the league’s best pure point guard, asserting his dominance alongside Lob City running mates Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, while Toronto’s Jose Calderon is playing the best basketball of his career at age 30.

Not all contenders are receiving positive production from the one-spot. The Los Angeles Lakers have never needed to pair a dominant point guard with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt, but nearly any conceivable acquisition would be an upgrade over the tandem of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. Expect the Lakers to emulate New York in searching for a replacement, either through trade or the free agent market. Their title hopes, and those of each prospective playoff team, could hinge on the performance of the man commanding the offense.

Just look at the Knicks, suddenly revived by a skinny, undrafted 23-year old Asian-American out of Harvard. All they needed was a point guard.

Hot Gold Needs Cold Cash

February 17, 2012 9:57 am
Screen shot 2012-02-17 at 9.51.13 AM

For Kate Chisholm of Capital Power Corporation, the turning point came when Olympian tri-athlete Simon Whitfield requested a humidity-infused cargo ship to train in. While the request might seem strange, Chisholm was more than willing to fork out cash to rent the ship. After all, success at modern day Olympics no longer just about sheer talent. It’s about access to the best coaches, psychologists and importantly, training facilities money can buy.

The cargo ship was an ideal training space for Whitfield. It was large enough for him to use for running during a Canadian winter and the humidity mimicked the steamy atmosphere of Beijing. The result? Whitfield brought home a silver medal in the men’s triathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “He trained in the cargo ship for months,” said Chisholm, Senior Vice President and Corporate Secretary of Capital, an independent power-generation company based in Edmonton. “He wouldn’t have been able to do that without fundraising events like those organized by the Canadian Olympic Committee and sponsored by corporations like Capital.” Capital’s contribution to the Olympic movement has been substantial. It was the primary sponsor of the Gold Medal Plates fundfraiser at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre in November 2011. The Ottawa event, attended by Justin Trudeau and other luminaries, was part of a national culinary competition. The annual soirée, organized by the Canadian Olympic Committee, has raised almost $5 million since 2004.

Tri-athlete Simon Whitfield

While Capital’s support is admirable and greatly appreciated by athletes, it comes with a downside. Corporate sponsorship fills the gap where government dollars are absent. Canada lags behind other G8 nations when it comes to government support for sport. The feds chip in a paltry five per cent of Olympic funds. The rest comes from the private sector. Compare this to Kenya (a non G8 country), which has an Olympic program entirely funded by its government. Most countries fall midway between Canada’s 5 per cent government funding and Kenya’s 100 per cent funding levels. (Canada is, however, streets ahead of the United States who is one of three countries whose government gives zero dollars to athletes.)

According to Canadian Olympic Committee Treasurer Wayne Russell, the Canadian situation needs to change. “We are a G7 nation this means we are one of the top seven nations in the world economically, health care and in education. We are a well educated and very fit group of people in this country and we are well financed. We should receive funding for our athletes that allows them to compete with the best of world. But when I put it all together, I don’t think we are in the top 25 per cent in the world in terms of support coming from Government to athletes.”

Russell should know. A Canadian Olympic Committee board member since 1997, Russell is the founding chair of the Canadian Hockey Foundation and former chief executive officer of the Own the Podium program. Russell says that the Own the Podium program was a great step forward.  The feds doubled its contribution to the winter sports portion of Own the Podium. The program was widely credited for Canada’s Vancouver Olympics success story.

The more money poured in, the greater the medal haul.

There is no question that the connection between Olympic dollars and success is undeniable. The more money poured in, the greater the medal haul. A 2011 study by the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid calculated it cost 40 million Euros ($55 million Canadian) for a country to win a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. By this measure, Canada’s medal standing at the Vancouver Games was nothing short of miraculous. Canada won 26 medals in total including 14 gold medals which was a record for any nation at any single Winter Games — let alone for a host country — and was achieved with a budget of $118 million.

In fairness, Russell says at while the money is critical, it is also important to have a clear strategic vision. “You have to have a clearly developed plan as to how you are going to recruit athletes, train them and bring them to the games. If that plan is well thought out and constantly updated, then money makes a huge difference. If you ask me without such a plan does money make a difference? I am not sure it does.”

The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games were a great experiment with the Own the Podium plan. It was a bold plan whose main goal was simply to: “Place first in the total medal count at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.” Not only did Canada achieve its goal, it proved that collaboration works. For the first time, 13 winter sports federations pooled their funding on technology and human performance research. With the athletes’ determination and dedication and the assistance of government, success was ours.

While the Winter Games were a resounding success, Russell is less optimistic about Canada’s chances at the 2012 London Olympics. “Do we have enough money for the summer program? The answer is no.” says Russell. The main challenge says Russell, is that Canada is a northern nation and it is easier for Canada to prepare its winter athletes. “While the Government contribution to summer sports through the Own the Podium program is larger in dollar terms, the money needs to stretch further. Through Sport Canada, the Government of Canada contributed $22 million to winter sports and $34 million to summer sports. A further $6 million was earmarked for team sports. “The number of sports in the summer program is larger and we need a lot more money to implement that program,” says Russell.

The athletes themselves, they believe that funding is the key.

But he adds, Olympic success at the upcoming 2012 Summer Games in London is possible. “Canada had a plan in Vancouver and it really showed results. Now we have to make sure that plan has the capacity to go to the summer sports.” The only missing element is the dollars – and that money may need to come from the Government. “The private sector is going through some tough economic times. And of course, when you are relying on the private sector you always ride the rollercoaster. You hope that you will get money for the coming year but it’s always a very strict battle.” As for medal count expectations in London? The goal for Canadians is more modest than for Vancouver 2010. We hope to have a top 12 finish at the 2012 Summer Games and a top eight finish at the Paralympics Games.

As for the athletes themselves, they believe that funding is the key. Joannie Rochette became Canada’s sweetheart after securing a bronze medal in figure skating at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics shortly after her mother died.

Citing communist Russia as an example, Rochette said money “makes all the difference” to a country’s Olympic medal haul. Funding from the Canadian Olympic Committee helped Rochette hire a choreographer for two $10,000 skating sets and skating costumes worth up to $5,000 each. “It was important to have the best during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic program and to feel like I had the best,”says Rochette.

But Rochette says Olympic funding is about more than just medal glory – it’s about the future of Canada’s children.

“As a society it is important to get kids moving. If they grow up seeing their heroes on TV at the Olympics winning medals it will inspire them to be active and the chances are they will keep being active when they grow up. ” Rochette says. “I see this now because with my mom having a heart attack right before the games, I realize how important it is to be active. My mom did not have the gift of doing sports when she was young so it was not natural for her.”

More information on supporting Canada’s Olympic heroes at the 2012 London Games is available at the Canadian Olympic Committee website at

Natives Indigenous to All-Star Game

February 6, 2012 8:28 am
All-Star Game

Once again, Carey Price represented the Montreal Canadiens at the All-Star Game in Ottawa last week. Not only was he the only Habs there (excluding the rookies), and with reason, but he was also the only Native NHL player there too.

According to Greg Horn, editor-in-chief of Iori wase, news from the Kahnawake region, “it’s important to have Native players in the National Hockey League, period.” For Horn, “having Native hockey players in the NHL is important for Native people across North America.”

Chicago Blackhawks Logo

There are 11 Native hockey players active in the NHL. They are Arron Asham, René Bourque, Kyle Chipchura, Vernon Fiddler, D.J. King, Dwight King, Cody McCormick, T. J. Oshie, Carey Price, Sheldon Souray and Jordin Tootoo. According to Horn, player’s Native ethnicity isn’t “talked about as much as it could or should be, part of it is the team’s fault and part of it is the players fault.”

With 652 members of the media that took part in the All-Star powwow, Price had the ability to definitely highlight his ethnicity. By doing so, “it gives young Native hockey players role models to look up to someone with a similar history and background, playing the game at its highest level,” said Horn. “But isn’t it a testament that these players made it to where they were without their heritage being brought up? I think that shows that they have made it on their own merits,” adds Horn.

It might be surprising, but since the turn of the millennium, Native players appeared seven out of ten times in the NHL’s mid-season festivities. This is Ulkatcho First Nation’s Price third consecutive presence at the mid-season classic after joining the league in 2007. Before Price, the last Native players to lace them up for the All-Star confrontation were the Cree, Jonathan Cheechoo and the Métis, Sheldon Souray in 2007. Wade Redden, a Métis himself, skated for North America in 2002, but the flu kept him sidelined in 2004. There are a few more Native’s who also wore the All-Star jersey.

Aboriginal War Veterans Monument

Métis Bryan Trottier is the Native player with the most appearances at the All-Star Game with eight. While playing in the NHL as a centre with the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Trottier amassed 1425 points in the NHL. Right behind Trottier with seven nominations are Mohawk George Armstrong and Métis Theo Fleury. As for the tenacious Fleury, he piled up 1088 points in 1084 games.  Métis Reggie Leach, nicknamed the Chief, also skated among the NHL’s best in 1976 and 1980.

Even if Native represent a small band of players in the NHL, many of them excel and are rewarded with an All-Star nomination. “I think that it’s important to have Native in the All-Star game, but only if they deserve to be there. I don’t think they should be in an All-Star Game based solely on their ethnicity,” said Horn. “If a Native NHLer is good enough to be on an All-Star team, then all the better.”  Native’s represent 0.01 per cent of the 737 NHL players, and having one of them in a select group of 46 All-Star players is an achievement to be proud of.


Ottawa Senators Monthly Report: January

February 3, 2012 9:00 am

Entering their toughest stretch of the NHL season, the Ottawa Senators sat on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Their performance in early January against each of the conference’s top teams would go a long way in determining the club’s final record and position inside or out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Conventional wisdom held that the Senators would be unable to keep pace against the league’s best clubs; hell, they were hardly supposed to challenge for the playoffs, much less hold a spot as the midpoint of the season passed.

In January, the Ottawa Senators continued to prove the doubters wrong, earning seven of 10 points against the Eastern Conference’s top four teams and securing sole position of second place in the Northeast Division. With a considerably lighter schedule ahead, the Sens are at the head of a cluster of teams jockeying for the last three playoff spots in the East, a race that will come down to the season’s final days. For now, we take a look back at the month of January in Hockey Country.

Record: 8-5-1. (Currently 27-20-6. 2nd in Northeast Division. 6th in Eastern Conference. T-10th in NHL.)

Leading Scorers: (January) – (Total)

Erik Karlsson (14 GP: 3 G, 10 A, 13 PTS) – (52: 8-40-48)
Jason Spezza (14 GP: 7 G, 5 A, 12 PTS) – (53: 20-30-50)
Daniel Alfredsson (14 GP: 6 G, 6 A, 12 PTS) – (46: 17-21-38)
Kyle Turris (14 GP: 5 G, 5 A, 10 PTS) – (20: 5-9-14)
Colin Greening (14 GP: 4 G, 5 A, 9 PTS) – (53: 12-15-27)

Game-by-Game Recap

The Senators opened the month of January by surrendering two first-period goals to the New Jersey Devils on January 2nd, before storming back to claim a 3-2 overtime victory (their third win after regulation in as many games). A well-earned 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lighting would follow, before Ottawa secured three of four points in a home-and-home series with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Senators would continue their toughest four-game stretch of the season with decisive wins over the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, by scores of 5-1 and 3-0, respectively.

After a 3-2 shootout win over Montreal, Ottawa failed to earn a point for the first time in January, getting blanked 2-0 by the Winnipeg Jets. They would rebound the next night, erasing a two-goal deficit to top the hated Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2. Two nights later, they would embark on a Pacific road trip, throttling the San Jose Sharks 4-1 and dropping a 2-1 decision to the Anaheim Ducks.

The final weekend of January saw the hockey world arrive in Ottawa for the 59th NHL All-Star Game. While Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek and Colin Greening all participated in the festivities, their Senators teammates finally had a reprieve from a schedule that had them play the most games in the NHL over the first part of the season. After the All-Star break, Ottawa concluded the month in Boston, where they pushed the favoured Bruins to the brink before falling 4-3.

Player of the Month

For all the flak he took in the early parts of the season, Craig Anderson was terrific for most of January, starting all 14 games and surrendering just 31 goals in total. A dismal 1-5 start to the season has hounded Anderson’s statistics for much of the year; since then, he has hovered around the level of play that saw him capture the heart (and pocketbook) of general manager Bryan Murray last year in Ottawa. Anderson sits fourth in the league with 25 wins, gradually rounding into form along with the rest of the Senators’ defensive corps. In January, he dominated, allowing Ottawa to capture 17 of a possible 20 points before their ill-fated Western road trip.

Anderson’s best stretch came from January 10th to the 21st, during which time he allowed no more than two goals in seven straight games, adding his first shutout of the season for good measure. While Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson provided the bulk of the scoring, Anderson stole several points for the Senators through his solid play, earning the NHL’s First Star for the week of January 10th to 16th. With backup Alex Auld seemingly tethered to the bench, Anderson will have to maintain his stellar play for Ottawa to remain in playoff position.

Goal of the Month

There are two viable candidates to receive this honour, both of which occurred on January 10th against Pittsburgh, within seven minutes of one another. Already sporting a 1-0 lead near the end of the first period, Nick Foligno corralled the puck in his own zone and burst into the Pittsburgh end. After gliding past Tyler Kennedy and turning Ben Lovejoy inside out with a gorgeous dangle, Foligno threaded a slick pass across the ice to Bobby Butler, who roofed a shot past sprawling goaltender Brent Johnson.

Not to be outdone, Jason Spezza would provide an even greater highlight just a minute into the second frame. Scooping up a loose puck at the Pittsburgh blue line, Spezza stepped around a falling Zbynek Michalek and drew Johnson well out of the crease. Faking a slapshot, Spezza walked around Johnson, cut behind the goal line, reached back and tucked the puck into the net while being tripped by the Penguins netminder.

Game of the Month

Despite their precipitous rise in the standings over the first half of the month, the Senators didn’t submit a performance that could realistically be characterized as dominant. Their best stretch came from January 8th to 12th, during which they staged a stirring third-period comeback against Philadelphia and ran away from a Pittsburgh squad sans Sidney Crosby. Ottawa’s most impressive game of the month came two days later, in a commanding 3-0 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.

Craig Anderson was stellar, stopping all 34 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season. While Jason Spezza opened the scoring midway through the second period, the decision wouldn’t be finalized until late in the third, when Milan Michalek added an insurance marker. Spezza would score his second of the game on the power play, handing the Rangers a demoralizing defeat on home ice. While wins over division rivals Toronto and Montreal may have been equally satisfying, Ottawa’s performance against New York set the tone for a successful month of January.

Looking Ahead

After playing a combined 29 games in December and January, the Senators’ schedule will lighten considerably in February, with eight of their 12 contests to be played at Scotiabank Place. They open the month with a five-game homestand, with games against the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers. Ottawa will travel to the state of Florida on February 14th and 15th, facing the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers on consecutive nights.

After a five-day break, the Senators travel to Long Island for a matinee matchup against the Islanders, before returning home for games against the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and (once again) the Islanders. They will close the month the exact same way as January – with a trip to Boston to face the Stanley Cup champion Bruins.

All-Star Game Recap

The 59th NHL All-Star Game was, undoubtedly, a rousing success for the Senators organization and the city of Ottawa. Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek were voted in as four of the six starters (with Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf and Boston’s Tim Thomas rounding out the fan balloting). Colin Greening participated in the Skills Competition along with 11 other rookies, while Alfredsson was named as one of the captains (opposing former Senator Zdeno Chara).

After the Thursday Fantasy Draft saw Alfredsson stockpile his teammates and a collection of hockey’s best Swedes, he quickly went to work in topping Team Chara in Saturday’s Skills Competition. Alfredsson and Spezza performed admirably in the Hardest Shot competition (though Chara blew the competition away with a record 108.8 mph blast), while Karlsson shone in the Fastest Skater event. Steven Stamkos’ victory in the Elimination Shootout secured a 21-12 victory for Team Alfredsson on home ice.

Although Chara would get his revenge on Sunday, earning a 12-9 win in the All-Star Game, the day belonged to the hometown captain. Alfredsson received a standing ovation after scoring the first of his two goals, punctuating an entire weekend devoted to celebrating the denouement of his illustrious career. Marian Gaborik would receive the game’s MVP on the strength of a hat trick, but these four days at the end of January will be remembered for so much more. He may never hoist the Stanley Cup, but Daniel Alfredsson will always be beloved in our nation’s capital. Last weekend, he shone, and the city shone right along with him.

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