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 email@example.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!
After Houston fell to the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the ALCS, the national media couldn't wait to pile on the Astros, their dynasty, and fanbase. A perfect example of this came from Dan Clark, who said the Astros choked or cheated in every season outside of 2022.
The Houston Astros have been great for nine years, but how will history look back at them, winning it all just once?
'15 - ALDS choke
'16 - Missed playoffs
'17 - Cheated
'18 - ALCS choke
'19 - World Series choke
'20 - ALCS choke
'21 - World Series choke
'22 - 💍
'23 - ALCS choke
— Dan Clark (@DanClarkSports) October 24, 2023
Clearly, this take is totally ridiculous. Every time a team loses, it doesn't mean they choked. Sometimes the other team is better, and you just got beat. However, if you asked most fans, they would probably tell you the Astros had some great opportunities and weren't able to cash in.
So, just for fun, let's go through Dan's list and discuss if he has a point. And these are just my opinions below. I'm sure plenty of Astros fans will feel differently, and that's fine. John and I don't agree on all of these in the video above, so be sure to watch for the full discussion.
With that disclaimer out of the way, off we go.
2015: These were the baby Astros. Nobody expected them to get to the division series against the Royals. Houston went 70-92 the previous season, so this was a big jump in 2015. They lost to the Royals in 5 games in the ALDS and Kansas City went on to win the World Series over the Mets, taking the series 4 games to 1. The Astros did lead this series 2-1, but lost Games 4 and 5 pretty convincingly. Not a choke.
2016: Didn't even make the playoffs, further proving 2015 wasn't a choke. This team wasn't ready yet. They exceeded expectations in 2015 and took a step back in 2016. Not a choke.
2017: Won the World Series. While Dan will say it doesn't count because they cheated, I say, at least they won. Houston fans are well aware the Dodgers and Yankees had their own style of funny business going on in the video rooms, too. At least the Astros didn't cheat AND lose that year. They won the title so clearly, not a choke.
2018: Boston won the most games in baseball during the regular season (108). They won the ALCS 4 games to 1 over Houston and went on to win the World Series. The ALCS series wasn't close, and Jose Altuve had knee surgery immediately following the season. Boston was later punished by MLB for cheating in 2018. Not a choke.
2019: He might have a point here. This was the best roster the Astros ever had in my opinion. Houston never won a home game in this World Series. Heading home with a 3-2 lead in the series, the Astros were unable to close the deal against the Nationals (sounds familiar). The Astros won 107 games in the regular season, more than any other team. The top of their rotation was Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke. They choked.
2020: This was the weird covid season. The Astros didn't have a winning record in the regular season and got down 3-0 to the Rays in the ALCS. Houston won three straight and lost in Game 7. Both Justin Verlander and Yordan Alvarez were injured and unavailable that year. Not a choke.
2021: The Braves were just better and won the World Series in 6 games. Atlanta hammered Houston 7-0 in Game 6, securing the series. Lance McCullers was the ace of this squad and hurt his arm in the ALDS. Verlander didn't pitch in 2021. Not a choke.
2022: Astros win the World Series in 6 games against Philly.
2023: This one I could be convinced either way. I lean to it not being a choke because this team barely made the playoffs, winning just 90 games. They finished with the same record as the Rangers, and won the division because of head-to-head record. The Astros were down 2-0 in the series to start.
However, they did return to Houston up 3-2 needing only 1 win in 2 games to advance. But once again, the Astros couldn't win a game at home, and lost the series in 7 games. They also went 2-14 with runners in scoring position in Game 7, so that looks pretty bad. Inconsistency plagued this team all season, and it showed up again in the ALCS.
I'm willing to say the 2019 World Series against the Nationals was a choke for the reasons I listed above. And I'm kinda on the fence about 2023. The Rangers were the better team for most of the regular season, but not winning 1 game at home in the ALCS is hard to ignore.
Maybe you can convince me one way or the other in the comments! Go 'Stros!