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.