Monday, November 16, 2009

I Told you so

The new Answer? I called it a while ago.

Since Brandon Jennings just dialed in 55 points, I figured I'd re-post an excerpt from my NBA draft article:

On the clock: Milwaukee Bucks
-Selection: Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy
Before this pick was made, I figured that Jennings was going to slide way down the board. Jay Bilas(a guy who I don't think is very smart) didn't even have Jennings in his top 15. Suffice to say I was quite relieved when the Bucks made this pick. This was a team that was fighting for an 8 seed towards the end of last season, and the addition of Jennings may have given them a playoff birth.
Draft Grade: A+, this guy is the exact same as Allen Iverson but with two differences: he doesn't have the great jumper that AI does, and he is a much more willing passer than the answer. I see big things for this kid. Great pick by the Bucks.
Wins added: Jennings will have to compete with Ramon Sessions for the starting job, but I think he can add around 5 wins to this franchise anyway. As long as Mike Redd stays healthy the whole season, the Bucks will have themselves an 8 seed.

Well there you have it, the first ten picks of today's draft. My sleeper went number 10, and my bust went number 4. All in all, I have to say I was a little disappointed. I was expecting to see some big trades, especially after all of the huge ones that had gone down in the days leading up to the draft. Either way, it was still a fun draft night, and an enjoyable topic to write about for my first post.

Noting that sleeper and bust comment at the end, just take a look at Tyreke Evan's stats so far compared to Jennings':

Forget the fact that Jennings outdoes Evans in every statistical category and just look at the difference in shooting percentages. Also, Milwaukee is sitting at 5-2 even without Mike Redd. Jennings is an absolute stud. All I can say is, I told you so.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Next Year's Contenders

So I've been reading a few articles concerning the favorites for the 2010 NBA championship. The consensus goes as such: Lakers and Spurs out west, and Cavs, Magic and Celtics in the east. There are a few issues with this group that must be assessed.
1. Celtics/Spurs: Is it at all a sure thing that they're going to stay healthy? I'd be willing to put money on another Manu Ginobili injury, and the whole KG thing for the Celts does not appear to be something that's easily fixed. Not to mention the aging Tim Duncan who has almost become defective on defense.
2. I will say it: the Magic got worse. Not that Vince Carter isn't better than Hedo Turkoglu, but it wasn't simply Vince for Hedo. It was Vince for Hedo and Courtney Lee, a guy who was huge for them in the playoffs. The Magic have no chance against the Cavaliers now. Think about it, the Magic beat the Cavs because they had Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis on the floor at the same time, and LeBron can obviously only guard one person at a time. Now they can simply throw LeBron at Rashard and Anderson Varejo (who did not match up well at all with Lewis in last year's Eastern Conference finals) will guard a guy who's much more his style, Brandon Bass. Shaq may not do a great job on Howard, but if you watched the Cleveland-Orlando series, you saw that big Z did absolutely nothing defensively (or offensively for that matter), so even if Shaq only forces two or three misses, it will make a huge difference.
3. Why is everyone blowing off the Nuggets all of the sudden? Granted, they haven't made any deals, but an improved Carmelo Anthony goes a long way. I still expect to see the Nuggets finish ahead of the re-studded Spurs in the west.
4. Wait until the off-season is over, please. I am still going to wait until this month is over and more deals are made before I make my big pre-season predictions article. Between July and November, not only do more deals go down, but injuries occur. We should all save our breath for now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Waiting until the end of the month...

Stay thirsty for free agency, not Dos Equis.

There has been a plethora of player movement this month in the NBA. I am going to reserve my judgment on each team's respective moves and assess them at the end of the month. That way, the bulk of the free agency deals will be done, and I can make a large article that will analyze every deal from the Richard Jefferson trade to the 4-way Marion-to-the-Mavs deal. I am expecting quite a few more signings to be reached between now and August, as big name free agents such as Allen Iverson, Nate Robinson, and Andre Miller still remain in the pool. There is also a potential 3 way deal that is currently being negotiated that could deliver Carlos Boozer to the Bulls. Yes, many deals have gone down already, but there will be plenty more to come. For now, we will simply have to wait. Until then, stay thirsty my friends.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Legacy of Yao Ming

Yao Ming, the 7'6" all-star center from China has beaten the odds his entire career. Picked first in the 2002 draft by the Houston Rockets, he was ridiculed for being "soft" and "overrated". Yao struggled in his first few games in the NBA, and was heckled by analysts such as Charles Barkley who claimed, "Kenny [Smith] I will kiss your ass if he [Yao] scores at least 19 points in one game this season". Dick Vitale, a guy who is in the basketball hall of fame for his analytic skills, claimed that Yao would fail in the NBA. As did one of my favorite sports writers, Bill Simmons. But Yao would prove Barkley and Simmons and Vitale wrong that rookie season. In Yao's 8th game as a pro he dropped in 20 points against the Lakers to shut the loud-mouthed Barkley up (and yes, sir Charles did in fact keep up his end of the deal and kissed Kenny Smith's ass). He continued to exceed the expectations of doubters throughout his rookie season, but even as he excelled on the court, the ridicule continued. Shaquille O'neal, who then played for the Los Angeles Lakers, made fun of Yao's nationality on television. But doubts and jokes and even racist remarks were nothing compared to what Yao had to deal with as an NBA player. Yao was tasked with carrying a country filled with 1 and a half billion basketball fans. As the first Chinese basketball player in the NBA, Yao had to overcome the pressure of his home country's expectations along with the doubt from many major analysts and NBA figures to become a star.

Since that tumultuous rookie season(one that he finished with a more than respectable 13.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg), Yao has garnered respect from every NBA player and analyst as one of the elite centers in the NBA. Paired with fellow all-star Tracy McGrady in the 2004 season, the Rockets were expected to make a big playoff run. While McGrady had spent his entire career averaging a ton of points, he was never a very efficient scorer and has never won a playoff series. McGrady has also never completed a full 82 game schedule in his 12 year career, and that really took a toll on the Rockets. Yao missed only two games in the first 3 seasons of his career, and he seemed to have defeated the idea that extremely large centers could not stay healthy. However, in the 2005-06 season, Yao suffered a toe injury and had to receive surgery. The Rockets fell in the first round of the playoffs without their all-star center. In the 06-07 season, Yao averaged a career high 25.0 ppg for the surging Rockets, but broke his leg during a game which once again led to a first round playoff defeat. In the 07-08 season, Yao suffered a stress fracture in his left foot, and again missed the playoffs as the Rockets were dealt yet another first round defeat.

All this time that Yao spent getting injured, McGrady was getting injured too. However the 2008-09 season held some promise for the Rockets. They acquired free agent Ron Artest to form a "big 3", and were deemed a championship contender, if, and only if, all 3 could stay healthy. McGrady had season ending surgery in February of 2009, and so the Rockets, without a playoff series win since 1996, seemed unlikely to pull one out this year. But Yao battled on and played 77 of the 82 regular season games. With Artest replacing McGrady for Houston's new 1-2 punch, the Rockets were able to shed the young Blazers in 6 games and advance to the second round for the first time in Yao's career. It appeared that the Rockets had finally gotten over the hump, and after stealing game 1 in L.A. of the western conference semi-finals, Houston seemed like it might have had a chance at the NBA title. However, in game 3 of the Lakers-Rockets series, Yao Ming began to limp late in the fourth quarter. They were forced to take him out of the game, and the Houston doctors declared that he was done for the rest of the 2009 playoffs. Without Yao, the Rockets pushed the heavily favored (and eventual NBA champion) Lakers to 7 games. Which makes one wonder, would the Rockets be NBA champions right now if Yao had remained healthy?

The fact that gets lost in the shuffle here is that Yao has had zero time off since he started playing professional basketball. He spent all of his summers carrying the Chinese national team. And after 7 NBA seasons, 11 summers with the Chinese national team, and 4 years in the CBA(Chinese Basketball Association) prior to his entry into the draft, Yao Ming is facing a possible career threatening injury. The stress fracture in his left foot in the 2007-08 season had resurfaced. Doctors claim that there is no surgical procedure to help it, and he could miss all of next season, or even the rest of his career. This is no new thing for 7'+ centers, Bill Walton had a shortened career due to countless foot injuries, and more recently, prospect Greg Oden of the Portland Trail Blazers has had trouble staying on the court due to knee trouble. But the really sad thing about Yao's career threatening injury is because of his body of work. While he is incredible on the basketball court with a polished post game and great passing ability, it is what he does off the court that makes him so special. Yao carried China's flag in Beijing this past summer for the Olympics. He has been involved in countless charities in order to help his struggling home country. He is not a hero to millions, he is a hero to billions, as Forbes has ranked him as China's most popular person for six straight years. To see someone who is doing such great things both on and off the court is a sad thing to see, but as they say, injuries are a part of the game.

The rest of us can only imagine how hard it must be to keep a 7'6" body injury free(I struggle to do so with a 6'5" one). Yao has worked extremely hard to become strong enough and conditioned enough to sustain such injuries to the best of his ability. As a career 83% free throw shooter, Yao is one of the best mid-range and free throw shooting big men of all time. He is a surefire hall of famer because he is the pioneer for all Chinese basketball players. But me and everyone else in the world want to continue to see him play in the NBA and fight for that ever elusive championship. Only time will tell as to whether or not Yao will ever return. As for the 2009-10 Houston Rockets, things certainly aren't looking good so far.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The 2009 NBA Draft

I figured that today would be a good day to start this blog considering that there is such a big NBA event taking place: the draft. While this years draft class has been dubbed, "below average", there are still a few players who have real superstar potential. Guys like Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio, and Stephen Curry all have the skill set and potential required to play amongst the NBA elite. This is also an above average draft for point guards, so it isn't like there is no quality talent to be gained here.

I am going to go pick by pick through the top 10, analyzing the selections made by each team. I am going to give a grade which will represent the quality of the prospect, and I am also going to give an estimation on how many wins each pick will add to a given team in his rookie season.

I want to preface this draft analysis by commenting on two players, Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans. Evans is likely to go very high, and I must say that I 100% disagree with this. Sure Evans has the size, but he doesn't have the elite skills required for a starting NBA point guard, and I don't see him as anything more than a nice option off the bench. Jennings on the other hand has Iverson-like potential. This guy is the epitome of explosion. He makes great passes and savvy plays with the basketball, and has a knack for scoring. Jennings, as you may or may not know, played last season in Italy instead of going to college, and had a rough time of it. He played for a very prestigious team in a tough league, and he struggled accordingly. But those struggles were to be expected, if anything, they made him even more NBA ready. Regardless of whether his Italy experience helped him or not, it caused him to slip from the possible number 1 overall pick (where many thought he might go when he was a high school senior), to a guy who could maybe slip out of the lottery. To me, Jennings is up there with Rubio and Griffin in terms of star potential, while I feel like Tyreke Evans will be a big time bust.

On the clock: Los Angeles Clippers
-Selection: Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
Well this was a no-brainer. The sad thing is that I had a thought in the back of my head the entire time that the Clippers would find some way to mess this up and not select Griffin. I thought the Clippers would accidentally select his brother, but they pulled through, for once, and I'm proud of them. It's amazing how with a franchise that has been so insanely bad over the years that you completely lose any sort of sense of trust with them. Griffin was an incredibly easy selection to make, but I still wasn't sure that he would go number 1 until they called his name. Why? Because with a franchise as bad as the Clippers, you always have to expect the worst.
All kidding aside, Blake Griffin is the real deal(just like the governator). What impresses me most was his ability to score in the post against a zone defense in college. Every time he caught the ball, there would be three defenders there, and yet he was still able to score with the best of them. It's his tenacity and work ethic that really makes him special though. If I had to compare him to a current player, it'd be Amare Stoudemire. Blake is pretty much a slightly less gifted Amare but with a lot more work ethic. By that logic, he will be better than STAT, and will most likely play in multiple all-star games. I doubt that he will be a real superstar though. I don't think he's good enough to be the best player on a championship team, but he is never the less a star and a guy who will greatly help the hapless Clippers from the get go.
Draft Grade: A+, This was the right choice.
Wins added: This really depends on whether or not the Clips can dump Randolph and Camby or not. Randolph is extremely talented but is the paragon of locker room poison. Camby should be easy to trade because he has a very large expiring contract(which they could use to nab a solid perimeter player) and he is still a force on defense. I think Blake will reignite Clipperland and motivate guys like Baron Davis who mailed in performances night in and night out in 08-09. If they cannot get rid of Randolph, then Blake adds 10 wins. However, if the Clips can dump Randolph as well as Camby, then they can maybe sneak into the playoffs as an 8 seed, or at least have a winning record. This all depends on how the notoriously bad GM Mike Dunleavy is able to handle the franchise this off season. Don't hold your breath.

On the clock: Memphis Grizzlies
-Selection: Hasheem Thabeet, C, Uconn
There are a couple of things to point out here. One, David Stern's voice cracked so badly when he announced this pick, maybe he's really still just 13 years old. Second, yes Rubio is undeniably the best player available right here, but the Grizz burned that bridge by showing other Spanish stars Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro what an awful franchise they were. If the Grizz selected Rubio, he would have demanded a trade, so there was no point. Memphis was supposed to try and trade this pick, but apparently they were unable to. And so, they took Hasheem Thabeet, the 7'3" defensive specialist. Here's my issue with this: yes Thabeet is the best center in the class, and yes he is a force on defense, but why should a guy who is a poor rebounder and has no meat on him going number 2 in the draft? I appreciate Memphis' effort to focus more on defense, but Thabeet's 260 pound frame is going to get trashed in the NBA. He will be a good help defender and block a fair amount of shots, but it is a misnomer to say that a guy is a good defender because he gets a lot of blocks(or steals for that matter, see Shane Battier/Bruce Bowen, two of the best defenders in the league and neither of them get a lot of blocks nor steals). The biggest flaw with Thabeet is, he has never guarded someone man to man. They play zone in college, he has never had to deal with defensive three seconds. More importantly, he has never had to deal with someone like Dwight Howard or Shaquille O'neal or Pau Gasol or Yao Ming. I think he will develop and get better at defending man to man, but I'm skeptical as to whether or not he can become an elite defender. Also, he is a poor rebounder for his size, which is never a good thing. The only cool thing about him is the fact that his name means "destroyer of evil".
Grade: C-, this will go down as a relative bust, but Thabeet will be saved by his misleading blocks per game numbers.
Wins added: Thabeet doesn't add or subtract any wins to the Grizzlies. I think the only factor that adds wins to this team is the improvement of O.J. Mayo. (On another note, does anyone else agree with me on the fact that Rudy Gay is a ballhog who is going to leave in two years anyway? Why not just trade him now, for crying out loud, the Suns offered Amare for Gay and you idiots turned it down. The Grizz officially win the award for the worst management in the NBA. Congratulations guys.)

On the clock: Oklahoma City Thunder
-Selection: James Harden, SG, Arizona State
I was a bit disapointed that Rubio wasn't selected here, but when I learned about how Russell Westbrook threatened to slice Sam Presti's throat, I understood the decision. I am a big fan of James Harden. He is by far the most pollished player in the draft, and he will fit right into the OKC starting line up from day one. This selection just further proves that the Thunder are the best future team. While the Thunder are passing on the next great point guard right here, you still have to say that they aren't exactly "missing" with this pick. Harden will be a big time impact player this coming season for the Thunder and for many seasons after this one.
Draft Grade: A-, yeah they missed on Rubio, but you cannot deny that Harden is a guy who has all-star potential(plus the whole Westbrook thing must have been pretty debilitating).
Wins added: Harden alone should add around 5 wins to this OKC club. The improvement of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook however will add even more. Look out for the Thunder. Their name may be lame, but they have some serious young talent.

On the clock: Sacramento Kings
-Selection: Tyreke Evans, PG, Memphis
Well, this is a blunder if I ever saw one. Evans has size... that's it. Not a great passer. Not a great shooter. Can't really handle the ball that well, Sacramento has to be right there next to Memphis in terms of poor management. Not to mention, if they wanted a point guard, why would they not take the guy who is the best passer since Steve Nash? The reason why so many teams are missing out on a perrenial all-star is because they are still afriad of the international player. Despite guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol, NBA GMs still don't know what to make of the Europeans. Sometimes they're great when you don't expect them to be (Tony Parker), and sometimes you think they're a can't miss and they end up making you want to kill yourself (Darko Milicic). I can see why you'd be afraid, but Rubio has been praised by all of the guys on the US olympic team, and I hear they have some decent players on that squad.
Draft Grade: D, this is going to be a big time bust. Evans might put up nice number his rookie season simply because he is big and the Kings are so bad, but he is going to end up being infamous because he was taken over Rubio.
Wins added: None, and no one else will add any wins to the Kings either. They will start a worst-team-in-the-league streak in 09-10, I wonder if they will be able to stretch it to 3 straight seasons by 10-11.

On the clock: Minnesota Timberwolves
-Selection: Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Well, it's about damn time. Thank you Minnesota for finally being smart and taking the guy who is going to be averaging 15 and 10. I guess we can dub the Twolves' new GM as a good one(or can we?) This guy is the best player in this draft not named Blake Griffin, and he will prove that in his rookie season.
Draft Grade: A+, thank god someone decided to be smart... for now.
Wins added: With guys like Love and Jefferson to play with, Rubio's passing ability will really shine. I see him adding 10 wins to this franchise in year one because he will be able to make the offense churn like a well-oiled machine. Now, if the Twolves go ahead and draft the best shooter in this class, they will officially be the second best future team (next to the Thunder). Alright, here we go Minnesota, future is on the line here....

On the clock: Minnesota Timberwolves
-Selection: Johnny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
...The future was on the line, and Minnesota decided to defecate on it. Johnny Flynn? Right after Rubio? Now their intentions become apparent, they fear the foreign player too. It's obvious that they are going to deal Rubio for some shooting guard and have Flynn be their point guard of the future. Huh? So you don't want the guy who can make every pass possible at the age of 17 because Johnny Flynn is faster? Who are you, Al Davis?(see 7th pick of 2009 NFL draft)
Draft Grade: F, way to blow it Minnesota, with Curry yours for the taking (and Rubio already being taken by yours), you decide to give Rubio to a different team. And giving Rubio to another team is going to be like buying a little girl a pony for Christmas: everything they want and more. Don't get me wrong, Flynn is a phenomenal player, and I think he will be a solid starter in this league, but he will not be anywhere in the league of Ricky Rubio.
Wins added: Flynn will still add 5 wins to this squad, and the Twolves still have a bright future, but damn, they really could have been something if they took Curry right here.

On the clock: Golden State Warriors
-Selection: Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Davidson
You have got to love this selection. Curry is a real Warriors type of player: a guy who will never be gun shy. This will bolster the Warriors offense and reignite their running game (which died a bit last year due to the absense of Monta Ellis).
Draft Grade: A+, the Warriors really hit the nail on the head with this pick.
Wins Added: Curry will probably add about 5 or so wins with his innate shooting ability. But the reason why the Warriors are a potential playoff team next season is because they are so dangerously close to landing Amare Stoudemire. Never the less, Curry fits in perfectly here, and I'm expecting him to be in at least 3 all-star games before his career is done, he is just too good a scorer not to be.

On the clock: New York Knicks
-Selection: Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona
As the fans at Madison Square Garden boo at the newest Knick, I can't help but sympathize with them a little bit. They got Hill because he is strong and can run, and with D'antoni as the head coach, those are very important traits. But while the ESPN panel was talking so lavishly about Hill's athleticism, his highlight tape was rolling. He got about 10 inches off the ground on his dunks. The fact that D'antoni thinks that this guy is the next Amare is flat out perplexing to me. There is also a bigger subplot here: the Knicks picked Hill because David Lee is about to leave the franchise, which would only deter a certain 2010 free agent named LeBron James.
Draft Grade: C, Personally, I think that Jennings should have gone here. They would absolutely love a guy like Brandon Jennings in New York. Flashy, skillful, and quick. Don't tell me that D'antoni's offense wouldn't be perfect for him either. Hill will average around 10 points per game this season, all off of fastbreak points.
Wins added: None, the fact that David Lee is leaving the Knicks is a bad omen for the 09-10 season for David Stern's beloved gang.

On the clock: Toronto Raptors
-Selection: DeMar DeRozan, SG, USC
Now here's a refreshing pick. DeRozan has size and skills and explosive athleticism that you just love to see out of any NBA 2 guard. This fills the void quite nicely at the shooting guard spot up in Canada, but the team's issues go far beyond that.
Draft Grade: B+
Wins added: DeRozan will probaly only add around 2 wins for the Raptors. They are still a team with the talent to be a 5 seed or better, but they just couldn't get it together this past season. It'll be interesting to see if Bosh and co. can start working together as a unit again.

On the clock: Milwaukee Bucks
-Selection: Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy
Before this pick was made, I figured that Jennings was going to slide way down the board. Jay Bilas(a guy who I don't think is very smart) didn't even have Jennings in his top 15. Suffice to say I was quite relieved when the Bucks made this pick. This was a team that was fighting for an 8 seed towards the end of last season, and the addition of Jennings may have given them a playoff birth.
Draft Grade: A+, this guy is the exact same as Allen Iverson but with two differences: he doesn't have the great jumper that AI does, and he is a much more willing passer than the answer. I see big things for this kid. Great pick by the Bucks.
Wins added: Jennings will have to compete with Ramon Sessions for the starting job, but I think he can add around 5 wins to this franchise anyway. As long as Mike Redd stays healthy the whole season, the Bucks will have themselves an 8 seed.

Well there you have it, the first ten picks of today's draft. My sleeper went number 10, and my bust went number 4. All in all, I have to say I was a little dissapointed. I was expecting to see some big trades, especially after all of the huge ones that had gone down in the days leading up to the draft. Either way, it was still a fun draft night, and an enjoyable topic to write about for my first post.