THE COUCH SLOUCH

The Slouch looks at the rest of the NBA season (plus another Astros-related Q&A)

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As is our annual tradition at the NBA all-star break, Couch Slouch looks ahead to the remainder of the season – laced with remarkable perspicacity* – at no additional cost to you, the reader.

Yes, I will provide the acumen of subscription-based The Athletic and the access of pricey NBA League Pass…ALL FOR FREE.

Let's do it!

It used to be, "NBA Action, It's FANtastic." Now it's, "NBA Action, Bombs Away!" For much of NBA history, a basket was worth two points. In 1979, they decided that some baskets – from longer distances – would be three points. Then more recently, some analytic smart alecks figured out that three-point baskets were worth one more point than two-point baskets, so let's just make three-point baskets.

The game has changed.

The Milwaukee Bucks' 7-foot center, Brook Lopez, has taken more three-point shots this season (242) than two-point shots (234). The Dallas Mavericks' Kristaps Porzingis, at 7-foot-3, is the tallest man on the floor, yet he has taken almost as many three-pointers (277) as two-pointers (362).

We have evolved from those Pistons'-Bad-Boys, Pat-Riley-with-the-Knicks 88-85 slugfests of the late 1980s and early '90s to the current-day 128-126 playground skirmishes. The games have gone from rugby matches to the Ice Capades.

The fast-break layup has morphed into the fast-break 23-footer.

There is feasibly a middle ground between 88-85 and 128-126; I don't know what that exact number would be, but I always vote for the middle ground.

Three cheers for Ben Simmons, the three-ball contrarian. The multi-skilled Philadelphia 76ers' point guard will not do what everyone wants him to do – take three-point shots. You know how some kids have a mental block about math? Simmons has a mental block about three-pointers.

In his first two NBA seasons, Simmons did not make a three-pointer, attempting only 17 of them. This season he is two-for-six from beyond the arc.

You be you, Ben, two points at a time.

I stand with Simmons: Years ago, newspaper editors insisted I write longer articles with bigger words. No way, I told them – I write short and I use one-syllable words. And I'm still here.

(* "Perspicacity" is a rare exception.)

If it were up to Gregg Popovich, no one would ever take a 25-foot shot. One of the NBA's greatest coaches ever and one of the most severe critics of three-ball, Popovich is in danger of having two remarkable streaks end: In 22 full seasons of helming the San Antonio Spurs, he has never had a losing record and never missed the postseason.

"I've hated the three for 20 years," Popovich said in 2018. At the moment the Spurs are 28th out of 30 NBA teams in three-point shots made and 29th in three-pointers attempted.

The Spurs are 23-31 – five games out of a playoff spot – and their best chance might be to petition the league for transfer into the Eastern Conference.

As usual, the Eastern Conference should be quarantined. The 19-38 Detroit Pistons have a better chance of making the East playoffs than the 33-22 Oklahoma Thunder and 33-22 Dallas Mavericks have of earning home-court advantage in the West playoffs.

Then again, the Pistons also have a better chance of making the playoffs than Ben Simmons does of ever making another three-point shot.

The Golden State Warriors have gone from penthouse to outhouse, three points at a time. Many folks – I am not among them – are delighted that the Warriors, after five straight NBA Finals appearances with consecutive seasons of 67-15, 73-9, 67-15, 58-24 and 57-25, currently have an NBA-worst 12-43 record.

Enjoy it while you can.

Next season, aside from a core of young talent and the likely No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the Warriors will also have all-star Draymond Green, plus the return of the NBA's greatest three-point-shooting back court ever, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Zion Williamson is the real deal. But he's only taking one three-pointer per game. DO THE MATH, son: 3 > 2.

Ask The Slouch - Special Houston Astros Edition (again)


Q. Is it true that Astros owner Jim Crane has hired Rudy Giuliani to visit Ukraine in search of proof that Hunter Biden was the mastermind behind the sign-stealing fiasco? (Rick LaDuca; Ashburn, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. If the Astros ever hire Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as manager and starting pitcher, respectively, will Rob Manfred preemptively suspend them as repeat cheaters? (Tom Walker; Colonie, N.Y.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q.When MLB adds trash cans to its merchandise list, will they only be available with the Astros logo or will they include all teams with former Astros players/coaches? (David Roberts; Fairfax, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. How much trouble is Carlos Beltran's grandmother in for not providing proper guidance? (Ron Anderson; Lynnwood, Wash.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

Can't get enough Astros coverage?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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