Tuesday, December 8, 2009

AI Back In Philly

Allen Iverson looked rusty in his return to the 76ers after a short-lived one-month retirement. Iverson brought energy to the entire squad in the first half. Samuel Dalembert defended the paint like Dikembe Mutumbo swatting away six shots and finished with a game high 15 rebounds. Thaddeus Young worked inside and attacked the basket to finish with 21 points. AI looked to get his teammates involved, perhaps a few times to a fault. He ended the game with 11 points, six dimes and five boards. Modest stats in light of his supersized career. However, there he was enough of a potential threat that he drew double teams and allowed the other AI, Andre Igoudala, a chance to show what he can do when he doesn’t have to face double and triple teams for entire games.

Igoudala was making everything during the first half, including a 94-foot heave a split second after time expired at the end of the second quarter. He ended the game with 31 points, but only scored eight of them in the second half and six of those came on a pair of triples during the closing minute when the game had already been decided.

Iggy’s production fell off for one specific reason. After a solid, but unspectacular first half in which he had six points, three rebounds and three assists, the Nuggets backed off of doubling Iverson. Instead, they made the adjustment of putting speedy Ty Lawson on him. Lawson was able to stay in front of AI, who admitted after the game that his legs were tired (he shot 4-11 in 38 minutes). With Lawson shadowing his every move (even blocking one of his shots), the Nugs were able to double on Igoudala and force him into tougher looks.

That being said, as Iverson gets his sea legs, he’ll be a 15 to 20 point threat every night and will draw doubles on enough occasions that it will make life easier for Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and at times Igoudala. He might not be a 30-per-game scorer anymore, but I wouldn’t bet against him dropping 30 at least a couple of times before the season is completed.

If the Sixers can maintain the defensive work they put in during the first half, limiting the League’s highest scoring offense to a paltry 41 points, then the addition of Iverson’s offense should be enough to make a legitimate push towards the playoffs, even for a team mired in a ten-game losing streak at 5-16. A bit on that defense to end. Thaddeus Young hounded Melo into a miserable 5-21 shooting affair. Iggy is one of the best wing defenders in the Association and Elton Brand, at one time in his career, could play some D. If Dalembert can bring a consistent effort on defense, this team will be much better. Stingy defense will lead to transition buckets and this team is still at its finest when running the break.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tonight’s Starting Five

Shooting Guard:

Tonight is an example of what Vince Carter brings to the Magic.

In the Magic’s win over the Warriors tonight, he took over late in the third quarter when Dwight Howard was forced to sit after picking up his fifth foul. After three consecutive Warriors baskets including two layups, Carter went to work scoring eight points including three trips to the line in which he tagged CJ Watson with his fifth, Monta Ellis with his fourth and Anthony Randolph with his third—basically the three best players for the Warriors tonight. While the Warriors took the lead, it was Carter’s offensive savvy that kept the Magic within three at the close of the period.

Carter was also involved with eight key points in the last three minutes when the game was still up for grabs. He deflated Oracle arena with his three pointer that put the Magic up 117-114, then stole the ball following the Warriors’ timeout and got to the line, sinking both freethrows. He then found an open Mickael Pietrus for a three. Ball game.

Hedo Turkoglu was pretty good at creating his own shot and getting people involved, but his offensive game has nothing on Carter’s. The Magic don’t pull this one out without Carter’s contributions during crunch time.

* * *

Small Forward

Still love me some Vladimir Radmanovic. The Space Cadet (as so endearingly called by Phil Jackson) helped energize the crowd tonight. His defense, as I said before,

He’s even shored up that non-existent defense, working to stay in front of his man and usually getting a hand in his opponent’s face.The best change that I’ve seen in Vlade, however, is his activity around the basket...Vladimir, on nearly every shot other than his own, dives towards the basket and uses his 6-11 frame to at least try and touch the ball. I’d say about 85-90 percent of the time he fails, but during that other 10-15 percent, he often makes positive things happen. He’ll get tip outs to teammates on the perimeter. He’ll get putback buckets. He’ll get offensive rebounds.And it’s these little aspects, nuances that he contributes, like the hockey assists and the hand up on defense that have added to his game and made it possible for him to stay on the floor even when his high-arching shot isn’t falling.

All of those things seem to be evident with him now that he’s getting major rotation minutes with the Warriors. Since joining GS, he’s averaging 32 minutes. His December has been spectacular, despite the three losses (the Orlando and Houston games were both very winnable). He’s averaging 15 points, 2.7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2.7 steals and shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent overall.

* * *


Amare Stoudemire was a beast on the boards tonight against the surprising Sacramento Kings who gave the Suns a hell of a game that will hurt even more tomorrow when the face the Lakers.

Amare pulled down 21 caroms, including 9 offensive which justifies his STAT moniker. The somewhat disappointing reality is that this was only his fifth game of the season with double digit boards. While it seems like he’s been working to be better defensively, the extra board work clearly has taken its toll on his offensive game. In those five games, he’s shooting 48 percent. In all other games he’s shooting a blistering 59 percent but pulling down a paltry 5.6 caroms. He’s faced some big time centers in those five contests including Shaq, Brendan Haywood, Jermaine O’Neal, Dwight Howard and a thus far impressive Jason Thompson, which could account for the dip in shooting percentage, but it doesn’t explain the paltry glass work against lesser centers.

With Jason Thompson only playing 23 minutes tonight, Amare should have had nearly 30 boards. He got his hands on several, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t have a natural ability to rebound. Just watch a guy like DeJuan Blair to see the stark difference.

And, not to continue to pick on Amare, because I mentioned him to show appreciation for the work he put in tonight, but I have a problem with him not wearing his protective shades while shooting freethrows. I used to wear goggles before I found soft contact lenses, so I understand the discomfort. But he ditched his goggles last year and ended up on his face for 22 hours a day for nearly two weeks.

He should not be taking any unnecessary risks whatsoever. Good players aggressively box out the shooter. He could get poked in the eye on a box out. What I worry about the most is that one of his shots bounces long, or right back at him, and he gets poked in the eye because the shades are up on his head. Along those lines, he’ll never be aggressive to rebound his misses because he’s unprotected. Which, ironically or not, goes back to my beef with his paltry rebounding numbers.

Point Guard:

During the Suns/Kings game, a poll was taking on who the public believes to be the early favorite for rookie of the year. Brandon Jennings won outright with over 50 percent of the vote. Tyreke Evans came in second with only 23 percent. Yeah, I know dropping 55 points got everyone’s attention. And leading the Bucks, sans Michael Redd, to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference is a big accomplishment. I know the stat geeks will point out that he’s leading the rookie class in PER (18.10) and scoring.

But Evans is playing equally as well, if not better. He’s averaging nearly a minute more per game, putting up 19 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds (the only other players to do so are Dwyane Wade, Lebron James and Andre Igoudala) and he’s playing in the Western Conference.

Jennings was phenomenal during the first 11 games of the season, a stretch that saw the Bucks go 8-3. But he’s largely been resting on that stretch to keep his numbers up. Over his last seven games, the Bucks are 1-6 and Jennings is averaging 14 ppg, 6.5 apg, 2.85 rpg, 1.42 spg and 2.42 turnovers on 30 percent shooting. Add to that the fact that the Bucks are ranked 29th in strength of schedule, and Jennings, while a worthy candidate, should in no shape or form be the clear cut frontrunner for the ROY.

Meanwhile, over Evans’ last seven games, the Kings have gone 4-3 and he’s averaged 22 ppg, 6 apg, 6 rpg, 1 spg, and 3.71 turnovers on 50 percent shooting. The Kings have had it pretty easy as well ranking 24th in strength of schedule, but it has to be noted that they are one game out of the Western Conference playoffs and doing so sans their star player on a team that many pundits picked to finish in last place.

The season is long. Picking awards now is stupid. But as of right now, Evans appears to be on his way up, while Jennings has fallen off quite a bit.

Power Forward

Speaking of beastly play and a guy with a natural talent for rebounding, look no further than Marcus Camby, the Clippers starting power forward. Camby has been on a five-game blistering of the backboards averaging 16 caroms including a 17-board effort tonight in a win against Indiana. He too had a 21-rebound game last week against, yeah, Indiana. In addition to his rebounding, Camby has been contributing across the, ahem, board averaging 3 blocks, 2.6 steals and 3.6 assists over that span while shooting 53 percent. While the competition has not been stiff (only the height-challenged Rockets has a winning record), it has to be noted that Camby punishes those teams that should be punished. Take notes STAT.


Kobe Bryant won that game last night. (You can check out his miracle three here.)

Look, I don’t mean to belittle Pau Gasol’s tip back that tied the game with a minute to go or his pair of clutch freethrows to bring the game within two with nine seconds to go. I especially don’t want to overlook Derek Fisher’s step back three that put the Lakers within a point with four seconds left in the game. All of those plays were critical, vital even.

I’m also not going to argue that Dwyane Wade missed a freethrow after Fisher’s triple that would have ensured the Heat at least overtime. Hell, the guy went 12-18 from the stripe last night (a side note, Wade’s freethrow total nearly matched that of Bryant, Gasol, and Andrew Bynum combined (21), who, as noted in ESPN’s Weekend Dime make up three of the top five players in the NBA in scoring in the paint).

But I will say it again. Kobe won that game. He put the team on his back going into the fourth quarter and turned a 76-76 tie into a six-point Laker advantage a minute and ten seconds into it. The boxscore indicates he only had three assists, but he fed several wide-open looks to Ron Artest, Fisher and Shannon Brown (a combined 9-32) that they just didn’t hit. He was moving the ball around in the first half and only took six shots.

And because of his last second game winner, nobody is even talking about him slicing between three defenders and fading away to a hit running-bank to end the first half.

Kobe also helped to limit Wade to 2-9 from the field in the first half.

In fact, Bryant seemed to make it his mission to harass Wade and outside of about six times a high pick came and Wade made something happen via scoring himself or assisting on a bucket or getting to the line, Bryant accomplished his mission. Wade did a lot of his damage when matched up against Brown and Artest. Brown, while energetic and athletic, doesn’t possess the savvy necessary and Artest, who is a brute and can hang with bigger small forwards, doesn’t have the speed to hang with Wade.

The Black Mamba put full body pressure on Flash and forced him into tough shots or giving up the ball (though I’m still not sure why Bryant picked him up at half court and beyond).

Offensively, Kobe put on a show as well. He hit a now standard fake left, turnaround fadeway jumper, a running, left-handed baby sky hook, as well as a couple of different and ones, including a scoop shot off a drive into JO (which could have been a charge…)

And of course, he hit this shot. Watch it again. Staples Center…Where Kobe happens.

Oh, it’s also where Sasha Vujacic can put up a statline of zeros across the board and yet still manage to have a +6 in the +/- department. (Hint, he was in during the last few seconds of the game when Fish and Kobe both hit their improbable threes.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Kidd/Harris Trade

Two years removed from the Jason Kidd for Devin Harris trade and the Mavericks have to feel somewhat justified for their decision.

Sure, Harris played like an all-star last year, but managed to play in only 69 games and the Nets failed to make the playoffs largely because he missed those 13 games. This year, he’s already missed ten and the Nets have been historically horrific (0-18). In fact, the 26-year-old Harris has averaged 69 games per season in his five seasons, with a high of 80 games, only 61 of them as a starter. Which brings into question how Harris, who relies on his athleticism and speed, will age going forward seeing as how he has already proven to be frail in his youth.

Furthermore, while Harris made the all-star team last season, his numbers were boosted by an incredible November in which he averaged 26 points and 6.5 assists on 48 percent shooting and an equally impressive February where he averaged 25.7 points and 7.1 assists on 46 percent. He also had a horrible January where he averaged 16.6 points and 6.4 assists on 39 percent as well as a miserable close to the season with 12.3 and 5.7 averages on 41 percent. This season? His numbers look a lot closer to his January/April than his November/February at 15.6 points and 5.4 assists on 36 percent. I know he’s coming back from injury, but that’s the point.

Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Kidd has missed seven games total over the past four seasons and while he’s no longer a hall-of-fame caliber point guard, Kidd has transformed himself into a valuable asset and key cog on a Dallas team that is currently leading its division. And while Kidd’s numbers have taken a hit due to age and a decline in athleticism, he’s managed to make himself better in other areas. Kidd has the highest true shooting percentage of his career (.592) and it isn’t even close (last year at .550 was his second highest). More specifically, his three-point (48) and freethrow (90) shooting are both career highs. And it’s not like he forgot how to do what he does best. Kidd is a very close fourth in the league in assists at 9 per game.

While there is every possibility that Harris will remain an all-star level talent, being injured doesn’t help the Mavs who are in win-now mode. The Mavs don’t make a surprising run to the playoffs last year with Harris sidelined for 13 games. Likewise, they don’t lead the Southwest division this year with Harris missing ten.

There were, of course, other variables involved in the trade, though none of them matter all that much. Antoine Wright and Trenton Hassell are pretty much semi-decent defensive players who offer little else, DeSagana Diop is an overpaid (thanks to the Mavs laughable five-year, $31-million contract) third string center, Malik Allen is a bench warmer and Mo Ager isn’t in the league right now.

As for the two first rounders Dallas gave up, the Nets turned one of them into Ryan Anderson who turned into basically Courtney Lee. The other we’ll have to wait and see during this upcoming draft, though, because of how well the Mavs are playing, it won’t be a high pick. A Harris and Lee backcourt could be formidable, even if they are a bit undersized. But the duo has to remain healthy. Lee’s already missed seven games this year as well.

Even with Kidd at an advanced age, going forward, the Mavs have already found their point guard of the future in Rodrigue Beaubois. At 21 years of age, he’s putting up very similar numbers to Harris’s rookie campaign. Of course, Beaubois has something Harris didn’t when he was a 21-year-old rookie—the unique ability to learn from and develop under one of the greatest point guards to ever play in the Association.

Yeah, the guy the Mavs traded Harris for…

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Buck for A King

If you took a poll before the season began of the vast majority of people who care about NBA basketball, 99.8 percent of them would have told you that the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings would spend this season vying for the dubious honor of being the worst team in their respective conferences. Even the most positive glass half full Bucks faithful would have told you that the playoffs were a stretch and the most optimistic Sacramentonians would have been ecstatic with 30 wins.

Of course, there was plenty of ink dedicated to the franchises two respective rookie point guards. On that front, nothing has changed, not with Brandon Jennings’ 55-point explosion, his 22 ppg average or his dynamic ability in leading the surprising Bucks to a 9-7 record. Nor with Tyreke Evans leading the Kings to an 8-8 record in the ultra-competitive Western conference, while averaging nearly 19 ppg, 5 assists and 5 rebounds and joining the Dwyane Wade/Andre Igoudala/Lebron James trio of wings who are averaging at least 18 points, 5 dimes and 5 boards.

So, I’m sure you’ve heard of them if you’ve even remotely been paying attention to the NBA.

But the rookie sensations are only half the story. Here’s a few guys from both the Kings and the Bucks who probably haven’t gotten too much ink, but whose importance and contributions to the hot starts of both teams can not, nor should not be overlooked. Basketball is a team sport and these guys have helped put Ws in the left column.


Andrew Bogut

Andrew Bogut is being more aggressive on the block which has resulted in a career year in the scoring department capped off by his 22 point, 15 board, 3 assist, 4 block, 3 steal-night on Monday. This season, in the games the Big Aussie has played in, the Bucks are 6-2 (both losses by shots at the buzzer). More importantly, Jennings has shot 45 percent when Bogut plays as opposed to 36 percent when he doesn’t. While Bogut may never live up to being taken over Deron Williams and Chris Paul, in a twist of fate, it’s worked out pretty nicely now that Jennings is on board. Outside of Greg Oden, haven't seen any 7-foot double-double machines with a post game in the last three drafts.

Luke Ridnour

Remember this past offseason when everyone had no idea why the Bucks wouldn’t re-sign Ramon Sessions, a 23-year-old guard with a career PER over 17? Remember in August of 2008 when everyone questioned the Bucks motive in trading for Luke Ridnour? Well, Jennings is the answer to question one and Ridnour has thus far answered that second question. At 28, Luke is having his finest season blowing away his career highs in field goal percentage (51), 3-point percentage (38) and PER (18.39). He’s hit some clutch shots and has been key in facilitating the Bucks offense when Jennings goes to the bench.

Ersan Ilyasova

Ilyasova’s two seasons playing in the ACB with Barcelona have done wonders for the 22-year-old. While I don’t hold too much stock in per-minute numbers, Ilyasova’s rebound rate puts him in the top 25 rebounders in the entire Association and he hits threes at a 36.4 percent clip, which is a rare combination. While he sometimes looks skittish during crunch time, there’s no doubt that his emergence has helped soften the blow of losing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and to a lesser extent Joe Alexander. Ilaysova has averaged 14 points and 8.6 rebounds over the past five games. While the Bucks lost four of those, it must be noted that they lost to the Magic by two points and the Hornets by three and were missing not only Mbah a Moute, but Andrew Bogut and for all intents and purposes, Michael Redd.

Carlos Delfino

I’ve always like Carlos Delfino’s game and though his shot hasn’t been falling and his rebounding is down, he has been money from beyond the arc at 42 percent, a crucial aspect of the Bucks offense.


Omri Casspi

I love watching Casspi play. While it’s notgood that his freethrow percentage (47.4) is nearing his three point percentage (45.7), in another light, you can think of that as phenomenal even if you have to sit through the occasional hack-a-Cass. Casspi is averaging 10 ppg and 3.7 rpg on 51.7 percent shooting, but more than the boxscore, he’s one of those players who just makes things happen. In fact, he is third on the team in +/- behind, well, behind the next two players.

Beno Udrih

ESPN’s John Hollinger is pretty reserved in his bias, but when the numbers speak to him, he sometimes listens with a vengeance. To that end, he’s been extremely critical of Beno Udrih after the Kings signed the 27-year-old to a five-year $32 million contract before last season. Udrih is currently making the Stat-king eat a bit of crow. Using Hollinger’s own system, Udrih is putting up nearly a 17 PER, which ranks him ahead of such all-star players as Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Mo Williams, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Kidd, while also outplaying up-and-coming talents like Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose and Aaron Brooks.

Sergio Rodriguez

I knew Sergio would have a blast in a Paul Westphal-run offense. So far, when given the opportunity, he’s played out-of-this-world. In his last five games, he’s gotten 20 minutes per and done wonders with the limited time. He’s shot 56 percent, including 41 percent from three, while averaging 13 points and 4.6 assists to only 1.4 turnovers. The Kings have won three of those contests (sure, they included the Nets and the Knicks, but still). Right now, the Kings have an extremely potent three-guard combo that doesn’t include Kevin Martin. Who would have thought?

John Brockman

Mr. Garbage man has to get some love here, since he’s fourth on the Kings in +/- and fourth in the entire Association in rebound rate. When put in that light, his 2.8 points and 3.7 boards on 61.5 percent from the field look pretty spectacular for a 6-7 power forward.