Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Very Merry 2012 NBA Preview

Here are some of my picks and predictions for the upcoming 66-game NBA season.

NBA Champion:  Miami Heat
I don't see them being denied.  They got better in the offseason by obtaining Shane Battier, and they apparently will run a better offense predicated on player movement.  With a more balanced offense, a ball-swinging Battier, health, and an improved post-game from LeBron James, the offense should be fine, even without a PG (though Norris Cole has looked OK).  Defensively, they are still missing a big man to control the paint against big centers, but their ridiculous wing defense should allow them to overcome that.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will give them a great NBA Finals though.

Chicago and Dallas are the viable candidates to take out Miami or OKC this year.  The Los Angeles teams are my sleepers.

KD vs. CP3 will likely determine the MVP race this season.  
NBA MVP:  Chris Paul or Kevin Durant
Chicago has a target on their back now.  I see them having a mini-2009-Hornets season, which drags Rose's MVP shares down because the Bulls don't meet the same gaudy expectations that carried over from the slight overachievement of the season prior.  New York's stars are too even to win MVP.  Kobe and the Lakers are getting older, LeBron and D-Wade hurt each other, and Dwight Howard is a complete wild card for MVP.  There's a good chance he switches teams midseason; I highly doubt they'll give him a league MVP award.

That leaves Paul and Durant.  By picking up where he left off last season- on a new team that sucked last season, no less- Paul's narrative is set for the MVP race.  It won't matter that Blake Griffin is on the team- Paul is established.  The voters will see it as Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire all over again.

Durant has a shot, as I see him running away with another scoring title and OKC being the best regular season team in the West.

My sleeper pick is LeBron James.

Defensive Player of the Year:  Dwight Howard
Dikembe Mutombo won this award in 2001 after switching teams.  This award is based more on ability, reputation, and defensive stats, as opposed to narratives and team success, which sort of govern MVP voting.

Sixth Man of the Year:  A Maverick
The best Maverick coming off the bench has the best chance.  That team is deep.
If James Harden is a sixth man- please, Scotty, let him start- then he's the favorite.

Tracy McGrady is my LULZ pick.

Most Improved Player:  John Wall
This had a Denver Nugget written all over it until they all left for other parts of the world.  I think Wall has an all-star worthy season this year.  Perhaps next year, he'll make a D-Rose leap.  This year's improvement will be good enough for the award.

Serge Ibaka and even James Harden have a shot at this as well.

Rookie of the Year:  Kyrie Irving
I'm taking Irving since he'll have control of his team, but Brandon Knight and Ricky Rubio are possibilities, too.  

Deron Williams is N.J.'s anchor.  
Sleeper teams:  Nets and Suns
I was a lot more comfortable with this Nets pick before Brook Lopez got injured, but Mehmet Okur softens the blow.  Deron Williams has become a hugely underrated player after being traded last season and being shrouded in darkness while Paul and Rose have gotten the positive point guard headlines for the past year.  Williams is a top-7ish player in the league, and the Nets aren't a terrible group.  I think Williams elevates his team to the playoffs.

Steve Nash finally has a Suns team that defends and fits.  But it's too late now.  Phoenix won't be a contender, but they've got a great chance at making the playoffs.  Nash guarantees a good offense, while Marcin Gortat and Grant Hill provide balance with strong defense.  Phoenix is a solid team.

Those are my picks.  Merry Christmas, and enjoy the NBA season!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tyson Chandler: A Redemptive, Transformative Acquisition for New York

With all of the Dwight Howard/billionaire Russian tampering and CP3/rigged NBA talk traipsing around ESPN, message boards, and the blogosphere, Tyson Chandler's move to the New York Knicks has almost been pushed aside.  A top-5 defensive center in the NBA joining forces with two of the league's best scoring forwards gives New York its most formidable front line since Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason were anchoring all-time great defenses in the mid-'90's.

Tyson Chandler will give N.Y. some much needed defense and heart.
Though this squad won't be nearly as dominant defensively as their predecessors, they've got great overall potential.  What kind of team is this though?  

Given the news that N.Y. will acquire Chandler via sign-and-trade, I'm going to assume Chauncey Billups still becomes an amnesty victim, leaving Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Landry Fields, and presumably Toney Douglas as New York's starting five.  Coach D'Antoni has indicated that Douglas will bring the ball up the floor while Melo acts as a Larry Bird-type of facilitator.  Obviously this is mere Twitter fodder, words Mike came up with for some lulz, because Melo has never shown himself to have the type of court vision Larry Bird had.  Different players, different skill sets.  

So how does this offense work?  How should it work?  Where will the new Knick fit?    

Well, Chandler has already proven himself to be one of the best role player-centers in the entire league offensively, combining ultra-efficient catch-and-score paint offense (so low role- no ball domination necessary) with elite offensive rebounding and no turnovers (so he gives his team more chances to score).  He's had his greatest offensive successes with either a superb playmaker in Chris Paul giving him gimmes or elite spacing in Dallas, mainly through the game of Dirk Nowitzki.  

New York doesn't have Paul - let's see where the U.S. Supreme Court says he should end up in the coming months - but they do have some sweet spacing of their own.  Amar'e is one of the great off-ball big men in NBA history.  Not only is he great from mid-range, but he also gets into the paint through dives from the perimeter and off curls at the high-post.  Melo, Fields, and Douglas are sufficient threats from range.  Chandler is primed for another efficient year offensively- as long as his minutes are handled correctly and New York slows their pace down.  These two caveats are integral.    

Chandler had a big year in 2008, then two injury-filled years.  Last year was a big year, but in reduced minutes (less than 28 per game) and on a slower, methodical team.  N.O. in '08 ran a methodical style of play as well, capitalizing on Paul's efficient use of Chandler and shooters.  That same methodical style should apply to New York this year as well, and not just for Chandler's sake.    

It'd serve Melo and Amar'e well to slow the pace down as well in my opinion.  Although they are great iso scorers, they are at their best as finishers, especially Amar'e.  Without a true distributor, using Douglas to get the ball to these scorers in a frenetic offense seems like a recipe for bad half-court offense and lackadaisical transition defense.  Instead, slow it down.  Put Amar'e in pick-n-rolls with Douglas and Melo and put Melo in the mid-post.  Execute.

More importantly, make Amar'e and Melo more aware of their defensive responsibilities, especially in transition.  

I liked Ian Thomsen's article on how Chandler can change the defense and the culture of New York like a KG-lite, especially with Mike Woodson preaching defense, too.  What Thomsen didn't mention was that 2008 Boston had Kendrick Perkins serving as the brick wall supplying backup to KG's motion-sensor horizontal mid-range defense system- basically, KG played help D all over the floor, but if anybody got to the paint, KP laid wood on them or blocked their shot.  Chandler's PF is Amar'e, and his backup is Amar'e.  What has to change?  

One is Amar'e's defensive intensity, and two is N.Y.'s backup C plan.  Even Chandler had big ole' Brendan Haywood last year backing him up.  The Knicks just need another big body to spell Chandler and move people around in the paint.  Anybody but Eddy Curry...

So, New York needs another big frontcourt body and league-average point guard who concentrates on distributing and can hit open 3's.  That sounds doable.  

New York fans deserved the Chandler signing, and they deserve the feeling of happiness that comes with it.  People love to spew vitriolic rants aimed at the Knicks, but they had to suffer through the Isiah Thomas-era and the crap that came along with it.  

In the middle part of last decade, Thomas obtained Curry, the wrong Baby Bull- the one that only added to his considerable baby fat.  Now they're counting on the mature, achieving one to be that key component to fully transform them.          


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Looks Like We Made It...

Dear NBA,

Welcome back.

F*** you.

You better be worth it this season.

I'm not going to one game this year.

Don't pull this crap ever again.

Let's go Knicks, Nets, and Lakers!

And so help you God if this is a tease of some kind...

Best Regards,

P.S.  League Pass should be free.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Thanksgiving Quickie

I wanted to quickly relay thoughts on some games this past week.

Harrison Barnes could go high in the next NBA draft.  
Memphis vs. Georgetown on Wednesday was a sweet game.  Henry Sims of Georgetown displayed fantastic feel in the post against bigger defenders, and his passing opened up the game for the Hoya shooters.  He's a senior and isn't getting much pro attention (understandably so, as he's undersized and a senior), but his offensive game is very useful in college.  Georgetown knows what to do with bigs in the post.

Lil Joe Jackson was quick as hell, too.  He had some terrible turnovers, but man, his ball-handling ability and quickness allowed him to get anywhere he wanted.  It's the start of his sophomore campaign, so if he can manage the game a bit better, he can hurt you.  

Duke vs. Kansas was the classic showdown.  As expected, Duke's perimeter advantage was the difference (though in an unexpected way).  I liked Mason Plumlee's play in the game; I need to see more of Mr. Rivers to talk about draft expectations.  

North Carolina looks good right now, albeit against a bad team.  I love Harrison Barnes as a college player, but...I see him as more of a borderline all-star with a high-bball IQ and great longevity in the pros.  Could be wrong though; I need to see more.  

Wow at UConn.  Jordan...

Ohio St. vs. Duke is what I'm looking at this Tuesday.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rewiring for College Ball; Adios NBA

The ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon couldn't come at a better time.

Four games in (hey, I needed SOME sleep), and I already have my eye on some players and teams.  Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos buried nine 3's in one game and showed some solid point guard game-management skills- eventually (passing into traps let WSU back into the game late).

903?  We'll see.  
I think the team is a bit green, but it'll be cool to see how that core develops throughout the season.  Pangos needs to improve his play under the arc and look to be more aggressive scoring the basketball inside.  Under the arc, he had Rajon Rondo-syndrome.  You can't just pass the ball every time; keep the defense honest kid.

I'm going to watch every Northern Iowa game I can this season.  That offense was woeful; their best play was the possession before halftime, when they held the ball for 30 seconds and didn't do anything.  Too damn funny- gotta appreciate sloppy basketball, too.  It makes beautiful basketball that much better to watch.  It boggles the mind that two years ago, this program took down mighty Kansas.

College of Charleston forward Antwaine Wiggins impressed me with his length and height.  His offense is lacking, but I think he has some great tools defensively.  The pros love length on defense.

Ahh, and the pros.  As I said before, this average Tuesday couldn't come at a better time for college basketball.  Marketing people dream of this opportunity: you're main competitor just bashed its own head into a chained-up door (you're locked out, dummies!), and the next day is a momentous celebration of your service, attracting hordes of new customers.  This would be like if all Facebook servers had died the day before Google+ officially launched to the public.  F***** beautiful.

NCAA basketball will definitely be featured more often on both this blog and my T.V. schedule, which is basically just Walking Dead on Sunday and Sons of Anarchy on Tuesday (a great literary work, and badass show overall, in my opinion), so there won't be too much conflict.  Let's not be naive- the NBA isn't going to exist this season.  It's sadly become an issue of pride and games for the owners and players.  When money isn't even the biggest problem...

Anyway, pure basketball is back.  I plan on enjoying it more than ever...    


Thursday, November 10, 2011

MJ's Actions are Just Like Mike

I found this article by Jason Whitlock on a RealGM forum and posted a response there.  Here is a modified version of that response:  

I'm not as knowledgable about business as some here, but speaking from the perspective of somebody in a line of work related to Mr. Whitlock- I didn't like that article. It was way too easy to write, and was ironic itself considering the claims at the top of his page: that he musters the courage to say things most won't.

Michael Jordan is simply being the best owner he can be.  
Most journalists don't make basketball owners- white or black, MJ or non-MJ- out to be slave owners. Not because it's too hard, but because it's such a simplistic view of the relationship between owners and players. It's wrong. It's dumb. 

I'm not saying playing the race card or making a controversial analogy is never warranted, but it wasn't in this scenario.

Some have been making a point about the irony of MJ's position in this dispute after having a different position a decade prior. I, more than most, get the irony. I don't think it's necessarily hypocritical, however. 

Jordan going from player- best player in the league- to owner of a middling basketball team is a stark crossover. But let's not go overboard here: it's not slave becoming slave owner. It's more like union electrical engineer becoming the head of Verizon's wireless communications wing. I may not have been creative with that comparison, but it's better than Whitlock's, and more apt to boot. 

Jordan's a different person now; nobody is who they were ten years before. People can be many things; father, son, lawyer, gardening addict, procrastinator, and dabbler in painting can describe one person. 

Michael Jordan doesn't play basketball now. He wasn't an owner when he made the comments about Abe Pollin, and lent those words out to help the people in his position, including himself, get the best deal possible. You can at least credit him with giving consistent effort for whichever side he's on. 

If one wants to critique Michael Jordan as being selfish and greedy, there are better ways to do it. Is he selfish and greedy? Probably. That's a weakness to have as a player. That's probably a strength to have as an owner and a business man. I can't fault him for trying to extract the best deal possible for himself. 

That's why I can't fault him for doing what he's doing to the players either. He doesn't owe them a damn thing, and they don't owe him a damn thing. Not in the arena of business. Basketball arena, yeah. Business arena, no. Why would they owe each other anything? 

If players feel they are entitled to have MJ in their corner here, well, it's their own fault for confusing their basketball idol with a selfless person and/or a possibly bad businessman, and being pulled in by the fantastic marketing of the Jordan brand. Go ahead, don't wear Jordans anymore. Congratulations, you finally realize you didn't need to wear them in the first place. 

The NBA is a sports league, which means it's an entertainment league, which means it's a business, the same as in Rome 2000 years ago. If you're going to enter the industry, keep your head on a swivel before it ends up on a spike. 

I do wish that in general, Michael Jordan was more like Bill Russell in a sense that he was more socially conscious. But he doesn't need to be. He chose the right business for himself. As it did for all those ringless 90's stars, it sucks for the players today that MJ is who he is, if for different reasons.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pigskin Comparison: LBJ vs. KD

Aaron Rodgers and Kevin Durant vs. Tom Brady and LeBron James- which duo would you take for one year?

That might be a legitimate question soon enough.  Bron Bron issued a challenge to KD over Twitter a few days ago after Durant swapped sneaks for cleats.  Considering the NBA is lacking in, ya know, existence, we can't watch the budding James/Durant rivalry grow in pro ball.  How would the two fair if they went to the NFL? 

The stars wouldn't be going head-to-head in football.
  • An apt destination for Durant is Green Bay.  OKC needs to load itself with more history to roll with the Pack, but both play in small markets with seemingly fiercely loyal fan bases, and they're both engineered by astute front offices.  
  • I can't see KD being anything other than a WR.  Durant is great working off-ball with Russell Westbrook controlling the rock; imagine KD freeing himself of a defender after Rodgers cleverly escapes multiple defensive ends and linebackers.  (Rodgers replaces Eric Maynor at backup PG?)
  • James obviously is going to play for New England.  I know he loves Dallas, but the second-best player in the league doesn't play there, so New England it is.  His sense of acting for ironic purposes is lacking, so the Browns are out.  
  • James would be a receiver as well.  Tight end is too physical; I don't think you want a 6'8 guy blocking 320 lbs. masters of leverage. 
So you've got two tall wide receivers for two of the best QBs around.  I think it works all right.  James would be better since he has experience playing football and would theoretically be the better blocker, leaper, and YAC accumulator, but KD's length and height could prove to be effective in red-zone situations, especially with Rodgers being able to throw from any angle with startling accuracy.

James the possession receiver, Durant the bigger end zone threat- sounds like a common fantasy football dilemma.  

[Full disclosure:  I have my doubts either would be able to stand up to the riggers of the National Football League over an extended period of time; it's not as simple as "they're pro athletes."  But it's the lockout, and imagination starts taking over...]       

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Frightful Halloween Weekend in NBA Land

Halloween just ain't what it used to be.  Formerly a beacon that let us fans know the NBA season was close- like Ash Wednesday and Lent/the Easter season, or increased libido and Valentine's Day- this weekend simply reminds us that the NBA season isn't going to be normal this year, to say the least.

Opening night means rookies salivating at a chance to prove themselves and dunk on the some of the legends they dressed up as ten Halloweens ago.  It means veterans either get another chance to win that all-important, elusive ring, or to add to their legacy with another.  It means budding superstars begin their quest for a scoring title or a league MVP.

Manu Ginobili, vampire-slayer. 
A few years back, the world saw Kobe Bryant torch the Houston Rockets for 45 points in an opening-night loss.  It seemed like business as usual for L.A.: Bryant scores a ton, but to no avail as his teammates fail to produce.  The cycle was supposed to continue- '06 and '07 all over again.  As we all know, a mid-season trade brought Pau Gasol to the team, and the Lakers made three straight NBA Finals.

That the NBA season starts around Halloween, a day closely associated with autumn, is apt.  It forebodes change in the NBA landscape- not only at the start, but throughout the season as well.

But that cycle has been threatened by this unnatural lockout.  If and when the season starts, its patterns will be as irregular as a college kid's sleep schedule.  When is the All-Star game?  When do the playoffs start?  Is the season really going to include all 82 games?  When should Boston and L.A. start coasting in their infinite arrogance?

Again, that's if this season even plays out.

Boo.  For all the wrong reasons this Halloween.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Golden State Warriors Believe in a Throwback

A charity game, held by NBA star Matt Barnes, is set to take place November 5th, and the names of the participating players keep getting bigger.  Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas weren't actually on the 2007 "We Believe" squad, but hey, fans need to escape the reality of the lockout.

So far, the throwback team is going to field Barnes, Arenas, Jamison, Jason RichardsonIke Diogu, Al Harrington and C.J. Watson, while the current Warriors will be represented by Stephen CurryMonta Ellis, David Lee, Dorell Wright, Lou Amundson, Charlie Bell, and Jeremy Tyler.

J-Rich was a key member of the "We Believe" team.
Man, that '07 team was scary.  Put Mickael Pietrus, Harrington, and a younger, quicker Ellis on the throwback team and replace Jamison and Arenas with Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson- the combined beard/swag power of that duo could bring an end to the lockout right now if they decided to reconvene- and you've got a group that ran over a 67-win Dallas Mavericks team.  Ridiculous firepower.  It's a bunch of long, athletic swingmen and wings who could shoot, slash, and post.  Don Nelson's dream team.    

It'd be nice to see B-Diddy and Captain Jack come out for this one, just to give the Warrior fans 2007 all over again.  Jokes about their awesomeness aside, those two defined "We Believe": Davis leading the way with his havoc-inducing drives and 30-foot 3's, and Jackson, the aggressive high-risk/high-reward swingman who wasn't afraid to take the big shots.  

I know these off-season games essentially become high-scoring, dunk-filled entertainment events, but what if they weren't?  "We Believe" would leave the current team with a mud hole stomped through them if they played a real game, as the current Warriors are just a worse version of the '07 team.  

If the November 5th game were a legitimate game- with only the confirmed ballers as of right now playing- I'd probably side with the Curry/Ellis team.  Curry/Ellis can't stop anybody, but they'd score at will with Al Harrington guarding the basket for the current team.    

Who wins next month's game?  The current Warriors, so long as Davis and Jackson don't enter the fray.  The younger team should win an up-and-down funball game, but if the big Baron and Jax show up, it might reinvigorate "We Believe," and make a believer out of me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mike Brown Earning His Seat in L.A.

Phil Jackson stopped by Phil Jackson's office- yeah, it's his until L.A. wins another title- to speak with new Laker coach Mike Brown.  They talked players of course, and when Brown was interviewed, he spoke about the types of schemes he'd run.  While he couldn't be specific because of the lockout rules prohibiting him from talking about players, he did shed some light on what he plans to do.

Apparently, he'll use sets similar to the ones San Antonio used when Tim Duncan and David Robinson played together.  Last year, Kobe Bryant lost a step and wasn't as dependable as an offensive Constant, so spreading the offensive responsibility around evenly might make the Laker offense less predictable.  Brown can't make wings better 3-point shooters or ball-handlers, so Kobe's load will remain large, but if Brown runs more plays for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the mid-post and low-post, it'll do two things:

Mike Brown must be firm with his new star-studded team.  
1.) It'll take the volume scoring load away from Kobe, preserving his energy for crucial times.  

2.)  It'll expedite the transition from a Kobe-centric "Triangle"- "all that means is 'get the hell out the way'"- to a more forceful interior-oriented offense as Kobe declines further.  

Brown was criticized for running uncreative sets in Cleveland while he coached LeBron James, and though those accusations held merit, Cleveland didn't have the all-around bevy of weapons L.A. possesses.  

Defensively, it seems he wants the bigs to show further away from the basket and hedge out quickly, then recover.  Bynum and Gasol didn't seem willing to do that last season, however, and they aren't the most lithe bigs around (Gasol has seen his most athletic days), so motivating them to do this will be a challenge.  

L.A. was at its best last season after the all-star break with Bynum committed to defense; Brown definitely is adept at getting young players to commit fully to D.  LeBron usually credits Brown for helping him with defensive fundamentals.  Now, James is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league.  

Brown can't solve all of L.A.'s problems, but if his coaching strategies can optimize the talent on the team, Phil Jackson might be stepping into Mike Brown's office next summer to talk players.    

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's Not All Bleak

The NBA lockout has diehards feeling bad about cancelled games, and charity games only ease so much pain.  Few people relate to billionaires vs. millionaires, but when thousandaires- arena workers and team employees- get caught in the crossfire, there arises a human element.  These middle-class and lower-class workers are being launched into an unforgiving job market, something too many people can understand right now.

Arena workers set up entertainment at NBA arenas.
Some players have gone out of their way to help out.  Dinner is on Danny Granger in Indy, while Kobe Bryant and Luke Walton have helped out in L.A.  As the Granger article pointed out, the players shoulder half the blame for the workers currently being out of a job, but credit these players for showing some appreciation to the men and women who help them with their own jobs.

These players aren't giving the workers their jobs back, and these charitable acts only do so much.  But it's nice to hear some people rose to the occasion and reached out with a very human gesture.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The NBA Lockout: Third-Party Losers and Their Voice

This is a battle where the only losing participants are the ones watching it unfold.

Two weeks- gone in a flash.  Two weeks of ball games.  A summer of meetings between two groups couldn't settle a disagreement about a system connecting money/business and product/winning, so we watch more meetings unfold before we watch more ball games.

This scene could occur ubiquitously if the lockout continues.  
Melancholy as they are and should be, fans shouldn't be pointing fingers at any one party.  This isn't a game of one vs. one; much to a basketball purist's vexation, this battle is ironically a symbol of poor basketball fundamentals.

There's a lack of preparation: why didn't meetings start immediately after the NBA Finals, and why have there been so many lulls in the discussions?  The NFL's situation this year was abated by quicker turnaround to business after the Super Bowl, and a line of meetings moved briskly.

There's a lack of camaraderie among the ranks:  Stars and superstars can withstand the lack of a check for a few months or even for a year if the lockout is extended, because they can receive funds for putting their signature on teenagers' shoes.  Can rookies and role players do the same?  Understood that players have supposedly prepared for this lockout, and to those that did, kudos for being financially responsible.  But some probably weren't, and some definitely couldn't.  

And not all owners are created equal.  A big-market team with an owner who gives a damn about winning a championship is going to have a different opinion on issues as opposed to an owner who bought a team to play with and make a profit from.

Poor execution from every angle.

Revenue sharing, Bird free agent contracts, non-Bird free agent contracts, the luxury tax- these are the issues these "teams" are battling over, the reasons why the NBA will lose $160 million and players will miss paychecks.  That's also the reason why thousands of arena jobs are in jeopardy.

For those watching, these games aren't fun anymore.  Not when the real games start disappearing.  Not when working-class and middle-class jobs are on the line.  Not when inexperienced rookies and other young players are out of options.  Not when die-hard fans can't root for their home teams.  Not when fans want to see LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, and Dirk Nowitzki play.      

Those watching- the third party in this arrangement- may not have a voice in the offseason, but they sure do every late October/early November.    

This battle may continue, and more real games might be cancelled.  At some point, the voiceless losers are going to communicate "enough", and if and when that time comes, the burden of losing will fall on the two sides that waged this summer battle.          

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

NBA Lockout Affects 2012 Season

It's official.  The first two weeks of the NBA season have been cancelled.  The owners and players still haven't come to an agreement.  

What do you think?  Who is at fault?  Does it matter who is at fault at this point?  Do you think more games will be cancelled?  

More to come later...   

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ricky Rubio: Becoming Rick Adelman's Alpha-T'Wolf

The Minnesota Timberwolves could conceivably start five forwards and call them their five best players.  Rich in forward talent, Minny has jettisoned from Spain the apparently forward-thinking Ricky Rubio- forward-thinking in terms of court vision, creativity, and playmaking, not "take him to Vegas betting rooms" forward-thinking- to lead the team.  

Rick Adelman's most vital task as the new head coach of the T'Wolves will be to give the team's new international point guard the appropriate amount of freedom to connect with his teammates of a similar age.    As noted in the Ric Bucher article, Adelman has experience with talented point guards, including Mike Bibby, Jason Williams, and Terry Porter.  Adelman is a seasoned vet when it comes to handling different types of floor generals.

Minnesota fans hope the newest T'Wolf's bite is as good as advertised. 
The Williams/Rubio comparisons permeate the hype that has followed the young Spaniard thus far, as have comparisons to "Pistol" Pete Maravich, a once-in-a-generation talent from a different era.  Adelman must toe the line and not give Rubio too much freedom so early in his career, especially with all of the young offensive-minded forwards begging for the ball to be distributed to them.  

Molding Rubio into an invigorating floor general who stabilizes his squad's offense will be a challenge.  An equally likely scenario sees Rubio following the pack and making chaotic hit-or-miss plays as required by a younger team's culture.  I won't pretend to know about Rubio's current leadership skills or maturity level, but every possibility should be covered.

The story of Maravich's career was that he was given too much freedom by his father before he hit the big leagues.  Once in the NBA, his irresponsible play continued, and he wasn't aided by having strong supporting casts either.  Fast forward 30 years to the era of Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury, two ultra-talented players listed as point guards who were given too much freedom early in their careers.  Francis and Marbury never became real point guards; not even Larry Brown could morph Marbury into one as a Knick.  Rubio likely won't end up like they did as passing seems more native to him.  

Williams may have seen success with Adelman on the early 2000s Sacramento teams, but he became a much better overall point guard when he was traded to Memphis and coached by Hubie Brown.  Think about this:  Sacramento got closest to winning a title in 2002 with Bibby in place of Williams, and Williams actually won a title as a key role player of the 2006 Heat after maturing into a competent floor general.

A creative distributor is exactly what a team plentiful in scoring forwards needs.  Rubio can make his teammates into finishers instead of iso-loving creators (sounds like a phone or a rock band).

Looking ahead two or three years, Minnesota could be a top-flight offensive team; that is, if the coach succeeds at giving the rookie T'Wolf the right amount of leash.  History has shown that straying too far from a coach's philosophy normally has negative consequences as far as team impact goes.  When it comes to making smart decisions on the court for Minnesota, Rubio must step forward.        

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NBA 2K12 Out Today

NBA 2K12 comes out today; check out the trailer.

NBA Live 2004 was my favorite basketball video game when I was a teen, mainly because it featured Michael Jordan.  I'd create superteams, formed by placing classic legends from all-era teams alongside the current iterations of each club.  So at the time, MJ had Scottie Pippen, Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler next to him.  Good thing this was a video game; Jordan would have probably forced Curry to run steps until his heart burst.

It was a hassle creating these incomplete teams, however.  Now, NBA 2K12 is giving this generation of gamers legitimate versions of some of the greatest teams ever.  Rival squads from each era can reunite on the court at the whim of some skinny, basketball-crazed, big-haired gamer- this generation's me- and have their stats encapsulated forever in a Word document on the kid's computer.  Yeah, I did that.  Explains this blog, doesn't it?

Anyway, I'm glad NBA 2K12 has been able to progress to the point where they can pull this off.  Enjoy and appreciate this, you wacky 2010s generation of basketball gamers...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Team of the NBA's Upper-Middle Class

With an impending lockout and the NBA's middle class in possible danger, I've decided to create a team for next year full of players that didn't make the 2011 all-star team.  It's simply toying around and seeing how high-quality that middle class is, so salary will be ignored.  The team will only be built for next season, not for seasons thereafter.  Finally, both talent and fit will be considered.  

The best player in the league who wasn't selected to be an all-star last year was Steve Nash.  Nash, even at an advanced age, can still anchor a great offense if he has competent pieces to work with.  I'm building around the two-time MVP.

I'd go after a rim protector to pair with Nash; it's something he never had when Phoenix was contending, and it usually cost the Suns when they faced bigger teams like San Antonio or 2006 Dallas.  Dwight Howard would be my first choice, but by some voting blunder, he was an all-star last year; Tyson Chandler gets the nod.

My next two needs are an additional perimeter creator and a frontcourt scorer who can post and play pick-n-roll.  Eric Gordon can pass, shoot from 3, and slash; he can play off Nash while also being able to take pressure off of him.  LaMarcus Aldridge plays pick-n-roll beautifully, and this past season, he transformed into a formidable low-post scorer.

Finally, I need a premier perimeter defender.  Andre Iguodala is my choice.  He's arguably the best perimeter defender in the league and a great glue guy who can finish Nash's passes.

The team looks similar to the 2008 New Orleans Hornets.  The Nash/Paul comparison goes without saying, and Chandler is...Chandler.  Aldridge is a better version of David West; his big advantage is going into the post.  The weakness of that Hornets team was on the wing, as they had poor perimeter defenders and no ball-handling to take pressure off CP3.  Iggy and Gordon shore those aspects up and give the team added versatility.

Tyson Chandler
LaMarcus Aldridge
Andre Iguodala
Eric Gordon
Steve Nash

Nash and Gordon can space the floor with their 3-point shooting, while Aldridge spreads the floor with his mid-range game.  Iggy is at least a threat from outside, and Chandler cleans everything up inside.  Aldridge is my post scorer in the half-court.  Good luck stopping this team on the break.  

I sacrificed better rebounding for superior defense, range, and pick-n-pop play by taking LMA over Zach Randolph.  Chandler went over Andrew Bynum, Andrew Bogut, and Marcin Gortat because he's simply more proven in his role.  Iggy went over Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, and Danny Granger because he's the best defender, the best defensive rebounder (which was necessary when I took LMA over Randolph), and the best passer of the four.  Gordon got the nod over Monta Ellis and James Harden because he's a better defender than Ellis (especially next to Nash) and he's a better 3-point shooter than Harden (would have loved the beard though).

My second team/bench would probably be Bogut/Randolph/Deng/Harden/Wall.

The starting lineup is good enough to win a championship, especially if it gets some of the second-team guys to come off the bench.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Nets Return to New York

Get your red, white and blue balls. 

The incomparable Dr. J.  
Jay-Z confirmed the New Jersey Nets will be called the Brooklyn Nets in 2012.  Playing at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be a throwback for the team, which last called the Empire State home in 1976 when they won the last ABA championship ever behind the legendary Julius Erving.  

That was the last time the Nets won a league title.  Besides a back-to-back run of being the top dog in a weak Eastern Conference in 2002 and 2003, the Nets' stay in the NBA hasn't been too memorable.  However, the team has a legitimate top-10 player on the roster in PG Deron Williams and a talented C in Brook Lopez.  With an owner willing to spend money, the Nets may be a serious contender to land Dwight Howard in the near future. 

The move to the Big Apple doesn't guarantee success, but it could come with even more important results:  afros.  Hopefully, the Nets cement their return as a New York team by growing Dr. J-style fro's as some sort of chemistry-building strategy, similar to how some teams don't shave their faces during a playoff run.  It would not only make them taller and more intimidating, but also would be an appropriate toast to their history and a reminder of where they really want to return to: the top of their league. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The NBA's Top Five Up-and-Coming Duos #1: Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon

Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon might only be the second-best sg/pf combo in the City of Angels, but they're quickly turning Clipper Land into a passable purgatory.

Building around Griffin and Gordon, and Los Angeles Clippers are hoping to eschew from the shadows of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and the Los Angeles Lakers this decade.  Although accomplishing the task won't be as effortless as sitting down and watching an awesome Blake Griffin video (that video intro wrote itself), probability is on their side after all these years of futility.

Eric Gordon, left, and Blake Griffin are the future of the Clippers. 
Griffin's dominance was felt immediately during a historic rookie year filled with power dunks and demonstrative rebounds. He averaged 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, and an especially impressive 3.8 assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field and drawing tons of fouls with a surprisingly effective back-to-the-basket low-post game.  He cost himself points by missing free throws (64.2 percent made), but he's got a fervent desire to improve.  Karl Malone, a legendary gym rat and self-improver, shot under 60 percent from the free throw line in his first two seasons and finished a career 74.2 percent free throw shooter.

Gordon has arrived with a bit more subtly than his teammate, but going forward, he'll be just as important to L.A.  When EG played last season, the Clippers were 25-31; without him, they were 7-19.  The efficient 22 ppg scorer can shoot the 3-ball (36.4 percent), which spreads the floor for Griffin.  Not content with hanging around the perimeter, he was also adept at taking the ball to the basket and getting to the line.  An underrated ball-handler and playmaker, he averaged 4.4 dimes per game last year as well.  He can play off or on the ball.   

Griffin and Gordon project to be a duo capable of handling the offensive duties of a Western contender.  Currently, Gordon plays solid defense; Griffin plays rookie-game defense, though he's tough on the defensive glass.  Both should morph into solid defensive pieces, and if DeAndre Jordan works on his defense and becomes an interior suppressor, L.A. could have a solid defensive core as well.

The 2012 season- if it ever gets off the ground- could very well be the coming-out party for Griffin and Gordon as leaders of a playoff team.  The two ascending clippers- the dynamic duo of L.A.'s Clippers- the best young pair in the NBA.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The NBA's Top Five Up-and-Coming Duos #2: John Wall and JaVale McGee

The Washington Wizards- probably the least threatening name for an NBA team.  The alliteration in the name lends itself to sounding poetic- and not in that fierce, powerful "I am strong and shall escape the oppression put on my mind by society" kind of way.  Washington sounds all tony and dignified (cue the government jokes), and "Wizards" sounds like your classic Halloween costume.  Hear me roar?  No, how about hear me wave my magic wand around.   

John Wall and JaVale McGee might magically morph that punk-ass ole' male witch into something more formidable- something dangerous to the welfare of other Eastern Conference teams.  Wall and McGee- alpha-athletes in a league filled with the best physical specimens on the planet- have the talent and attitude to become an apex-predator duo.  They dunk, they snarl, they Dougie and they plank.  Mature, win and jitterbug are the next verbs they must fulfill in order to reach their potential.
John Wall and JaVale McGee- wondrous Wizards of the East. 

Wall's rookie season was compromised by an early injury, but the Kentucky product still produced 16.4 points and 8.3 assists per game with solid rebounding numbers as PG.  The offense he ran was atrocious, but he still displayed pure point guard skills, and his talent is obvious.  At full strength, he can get into the lane any time he wants.  He's got the tools to be a very good defensive point guard, and apparently he's been improving his J.       

Meanwhile McGee got a real chance to show his stuff in 2011.  After starting 33 games in the two previous years combined, he made the most of his 75 starts last year.  With almost double the minutes per game, McGee improved his per-minute rebounds, turnovers, and fouls, indicating that experience and work has increased his basketball IQ, which is something many people didn't think he would do.

He also shot 55 percent and wasn't a turnover-machine.  With a modest USG 16.3, McGee posted an individual offensive rating of 111, the highest among Wizards who played at least 2000 minutes last season.  He was smart enough to accept his role, and he succeeded in that role as a result.  He's an average defender right now, but with amazing length and run/jump ability, he may be able to parlay that shot-blocking ability into something more useful for Washington's defense.    

Wall/McGee vs. Cousins/Evans?  Wall/McGee takes it because McGee has the highest defensive potential and Wall has a chance to be a real superstar, on the level of Derrick Rose possibly.  Matching a defensive-oriented big with a superstar point guard usually produces devastating results.

Abra Kadabra.  Wall to McGee alley-oop...catch, slam dunk, angry face.

Roar.  Wizards won't be whimperin' no more.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

The NBA's Top Five Up-and-Coming Duos #3: Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins

Tyreke Evans won the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year Award after recording a rare 20-5-5 rookie season with a style of player similar to LeBron James.  He was 20 years old.  Sacramento Kings fans finally had something to be excited about again. 

But after an injury-riddled 2011 season that saw his production decrease across the board, Evans has become encapsulated in question marks and doubt.  A leg injury shackled Evans and disallowed Kings fans from watching him set up defenders with tricky ball-handling before puissantly driving to the basket with off-balance defenders rolling off him.  But can you blame Tyreke?  If he couldn't push off the leg, how is he supposed to repeat what he did in his rookie year, especially with defenses knowing what they're dealing with? 
Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins are Sacramento's future. 

It's more reasonable to use Reke's 2010 season to predict where he'll end up.  A 26.2 USG% with an individual offensive rating of 107 is actually pretty good for a rookie with a weak jumper.  Evans should be slotted at shooting guard and used as a combo guard alongside a pure floor-general who can take the ball out of his hands and make him more unpredictable.  Rookie year stats aside, he isn't LeBron, and having five pairs of eyes on him every time down court is going to wear the kid out- not something you want to do to a young guy who has had leg injuries.  With complete health and a full 2012 season, Evans should go back to being a 20-5-5- threat with an improved jumper, especially if DeMarcus Cousins can help free him.

Likewise, Cousins should benefit from A.) experience, and B.) having a creative force like Evans healthy for more than 57 games.  Cousins had a very Shawn Kemp-like year as a rookie, and I'm not talking about the monster jams or the awesome '90s high-top fade (anything to put some Reign Man Dunks up).  I'm talking about being fifth in the NBA in total turnovers and first in total fouls.  That's pretty bad, especially considering he played only 28.5 minutes per game.

But he's big and skilled and talented; he's got good passing and ball-handling skills for a player with such an elephantine frame.  Although he was a poor defender and average shot-blocker in his rookie year, he still sported an excellent defensive rebound rate.  Efficiency and playing within himself weren't things he focused on in year one, but hopefully some experience will remedy those problems.

TyWreck and Demo have a chance to grow into a devastating small/big combo.  We could be looking at a future top-5ish small maturing with a future top-5ish big, a classic core build that could make Sacramento a power in the West again.       

Monday, September 5, 2011

The NBA's Top Five Up-and-Coming Duos #4: Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson

After trading Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to New York last season, the Denver Nuggets roared into the playoffs as the best offensive team in the league, a squad replete with a mix of explosive scorers and consistent high-efficiency finishers.  Melo and Mr. Big Shot were anchoring a top-notch offense before the trade, but Denver pushed it into high gear post-trade and finished with 50 wins and a decent playoff showing against a more established Oklahoma City team (weird saying OKC is more established- boy are they old now or what?).

While Denver used incredible depth and commendable teamwork to achieve the post-jettison results, Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson were major impetuses for it.  Melo was traded for reasons mainly dealing with his impending free agency and possible departure, but Denver had a host of packages to choose from and chose one centered around Gallinari.  They were also cozy with trading Billups away because they had seen some of what Lawson could do and liked him as a point guard.       

Danilo Gallinari, #8, and Ty Lawson, #3, are a potent offensive duo.
Gallinari has become one of the most efficient players in the league.  He's a dead-eye 3-point shooter with unlimited range who uses screens effectively.  Now, he's using his shot fake ability to help him get by hapless defenders and draw fouls inside.  A lot of fouls inside.  In NY, he had a foul draw rate of 18.8 percent; in his 14 games with Denver, it went to 24.3 percent.  For perspective, Dwight Howard had a foul draw rate of 27.1 percent, and most high-volume wings hover in the teens.  Rooster's passing creativity should be unleashed on his new team as well, and if he maintains his healthy vitriol of losing, he could become a borderline all-star type- kind of like how DeMar DeRozan was described last post.     

Lawson saw a boost in his numbers following the trade, too.  After the all-star game, he started 25 games, averaging 14.4 points and 6.9 assists on 50.6 percent shooting and 42.4 percent from 3 in 31.5 minutes.  Lawson can dart into the lane with television camera-evading speed to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.  He can shoot the ball, and he's a solid defender.  If he works on his mid-range game and develops a floater, he could become one of those point guards who will continually get screwed out of future all-star games because the point guard position is so ridiculously deep in promising talent right now.  That's a compliment.

Gallinari and Lawson have burgeoning skill sets ready-made to compliment each other and anchor a perennially elite offense for Denver.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The NBA's Top 5 Up-and-Coming Duos Countdown #5: DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis

The Toronto Raptors didn't have a very good decade in the 2000s, especially when it came to perimeter players.  They lost Tracy McGrady, traded Vince Carter, got torched in historic fashion by Kobe Bryant, and were beaten by Allen Iverson during the playoffs in their most tantalizing season of the decade.  The most haunting perimeter player-oriented debacle for the franchise: the center they drafted with their number one overall pick turned into a shooting guard, too.  Or at least, he rebounds like one- on a good day.

Yes Ed, the camera is on. 
But this decade should be different.  Guard DeMar DeRozan has all the makings of quality swingman, from size to athletic ability to work ethic.  While he doesn't have the potential of a T-Mac or VC, he's got a combination of traits that should allow him to become a 20 point, 6-7 rebound, 3 assist, 1.5 steal shooting guard/small forward who scores efficiently from 20 feet in and defends well.  Those are the numbers of a borderline all-star- something like prime Caron Butler or a better Josh Howard, but geared more toward SG.  He'll need to work on his ball-handling, shooting, and defense, but he's only 21, and the team needs somebody to produce. 

Ed Davis is DeRozan's fellow 21-year-old partner in this up-and-coming duo.  Davis is already one of the better defenders on the team- it doesn't say much considering Toronto was the worst defensive team in the league last year, but still- and gives them efficient frontcourt offense (7.7 ppg on 58.3 percent True Shooting in 24.6 minutes per game last year).  He rebounds on both ends and has shown himself to be a decent shot-blocker (1.5 blocks per-36 minutes last year).

DeRozan and Davis need better spacing from their teammates- Toronto was the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last year- especially DeRozan, whose games is based on slashing and scoring in the mid-range.  If they get that, it is more likely they will flourish offensively.  Together, D&D can put some D in the dinosaurs, too.

This duo alone won't get Toronto to any future NBA Finals, but they're a great starting point that will make the team relevant again. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The NBA's Top 5 Up-and-Coming Duos Countdown: Introduction

Dynamic duos. Left jab, right hook combos. Kris and Kim Humphries. Every successful NBA team needs them (Next season, your 2017 NBA Champion New Jersey Nets…). Few have them. If a franchise can obtain a young pair to cultivate for the future, they can add pieces around them and build a champion within five years. At least, that’s the plan.

Even a small pair can pay large dividends in the end.
I’ll be doing a top five countdown on the best up-and-coming duos in the NBA today. The criteria door is held wide open for interpretation- as interpretative and free-flowing as John Wall’s Dougie- but there are some general guidelines. Recently drafted players who haven’t played a second of NBA basketball will not be included. Neither will established NBA stars, such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and even Derrick Rose. What? He won an NBA MVP for Jordan’s sake!

The duos also must be the projected key members of their teams’ cores. James Harden and Serge Ibaka would have ranked high if not for this unfair golden rule which I have no power to change. As we see every day from our favorite duo, Republicans and Democrats- change occurs at a glacial pace.

I first want to introduce two duos that didn’t make the top five cut: Minnesota’s Michael Beasley and Kevin Love, and Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison.

Michael Beasley and Kevin Love just missed the cut.
Beasley and Love are definitely more talented than some duos in the top five, but they did not make it for one reason: they play the same position. Love is a pure, traditional 4; Beasley is a modern, versatile 4, but a 4 nonetheless. B-Easy has small forward skills like Lamar Odom has small forward skills (and hopefully a similar maturity arc); it’s what creates their advantage against other power forwards. Slot Beasley in at the 3 and he loses his quickness advantage while providing sub-par catch-and-shoot ability and poor defense. Too much redundancy from this pair, especially on Minny.

Hibbert and Collison didn’t make it because Danny Granger is still in play for the team. Granger is young enough (27) where he may still be part of this Pacer core. Indiana has a very good young nucleus, however.

My apologies to Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors, Stephen Curry and Metta World Peace. Holiday, Favors and Curry are great young players, but most of their non-rookie teammates are known quantities at this point. Evan Turner or Spencer Hawes intrigued, but Evan’s rookie year scared me off, while Spencer’s fear of the post frightened me even more. Sixer, Jazz and Warrior fans shouldn’t take this as an indictment on the future of their respective teams; all three squads have solid overall cores.

As for the new star on the block, Metta, you barely missed the cut. Most of your teammates are veterans (Andrew Bynum’s knees say he’s a vet all right).

The next post will feature the fifth best new duo in the league…