Tag:Pop Quiz
Posted on: December 16, 2011 3:26 pm
 

Pop Quiz: Who takes the 7 & 8 spots in the West?

Posted by Royce Young

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... Wait, we're almost to winter. What happened? Who cares, there's a season! The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a couple weeks. To get you ready for the season, we've put together some pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Who gets the last two seeds in the West?

The Western Conference is wide, wide open. And I don't just mean at the top. There are a pretty set top six teams in the West -- Oklahoma City, Memphis, Dallas, San Antonio, the Clippers and the Lakers. Nobody's really going to argue too much with that.

But my question is, what is going to happen with spots seven and eight? Here are the remaining teams: Minnesota, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Utah, New Orleans, Houston, Golden State and Sacramento. Two of those have to go to the playoffs (assuming of course the top six go as planned). Who, I mean who, has the edge there?

The Veterans

Let's start with teams that were there last postseason. That includes Portland, New Orleans and Denver. Obviously you can cross the Hornets right off, but of those nine teams vying for the two spots, you'd have to think Denver and Portland have the best shot. The Blazers took a massive hit with Brandon Roy's retirement, but that team made the playoffs pretty much without him anyway last year. And with Jamal Crawford coming in, Craig Smith beefing them up a little inside, Ray Felton running the show (as long as he's not 300 pounds), Gerald Wallace doing all the little things and a legit star in LaMarcus Aldridge, I'd say Portland will probably punch one of those spots.

The Nuggets? That's iffy. Bringing back Nene to go team with Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson gives Denver a solid core, but this team was ravaged by the lockout. J.R. Smith -- gone. Wilson Chandler -- gone. Kenyon Martin -- gone. It wasn't a guarantee those guys were coming back anyway, but Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer aren't really ideal replacements. Plus, this team is breaking in a lot of new stuff and with just 66 games, there's not a lot of time to get it sorted out. But among the contenders for No. 8, Denver will definitely be in the mix.

The Middle Class

The teams that are consistently solid, have a star or at least a quality roster and can compete with pretty much anyone on a night-to-night basis. I'd put Phoenix, Houston and Golden State in this group. Steve Nash gives Phoenix a chance every night, Houston went 43-39 last season and if the Rockets can add a big man -- granted, only Samuel Dalembert is really left -- they could be a solid seven or eight-seed and Golden State has too much offense to ignore.

It's a question with the Suns whether or not Nash can hold up in this schedule, if the Rockets will in fact get that big body they need and if the Warriors will just be themselevs and only play on one side of the floor. But any of these three could make a run one of those two spots and it wouldn't surprise me.

The Bottom

The Hornets are intentionally lowering their bar, despite getting a decent haul of talent from the Clippers. Really, Jarrett Jack, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Emeka Okafor and Chris Kaman isn't a horrible core. But not being horrible doesn't mean you won't still struggle against the depth of the West. Because the Hornets currently have six or seven D-Leaguers on the roster, all with a pretty good shot at the final team. That's not good.

The Jazz just aren't there yet either. They need a scorer badly. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors give them a nice frontcourt, but Devin Harris, C.J. Miles and Gordon Hayward aren't really going to light it up.

I like what the Jazz are doing, but they are built entirely around four frontcourt players. They need to dump Mehmet Okur and maybe even Millsap or Jefferson to get a scorer (Danny Granger?) unless they aren't sold on their lottery pick Enes Kanter. It's a rebuild post-Sloan and post-Deron and they're likely to be a whipping boy this season.

The Sleepers

By process of elimination, you can figure out who are leftover and I'm even scaring myself with this. But the Kings and Timberwolves could both be set up for a quiet playoff push this year.

Start with the Kings. Tyreke Evans is finally healthy. He's finally in a real position playing shooting guard. Who knows what Jimmer will bring, but if all that fails, Evans can take over handling duties and bring Marcus Thornton in, who is instant offense. DeMarcus Cousins could be dominant if he keeps his head straight, Chuck Hayes is a classic scrapper, Jason Thompson and J.J. Hickson give them some depth. Who knows, in a 66-game schedule where crazy things happen, maybe the Kings start hot taking advantage of teams that didn't get a full camp together and use their youth to stay fresh through the crammed season. I could see it happening.

The Wolves? It's time for them to show some sign of improvement. It has to happen. Rick Adelman is a major addition because he's going to get these young players at least focused on a system and structure. David Kahn has built a mess of a roster but give him credit for one thing: It's got talent. There's a big if in Ricky Rubio and how much of a contributor Derrick Williams will be, but Kevin Love, Anthony Randolph, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley -- I can't believe I'm saying it, but I don't completely hate this roster.

It's all about Adelman though. I'm really believing that he makes a difference in figuring out how the pieces fit. Because if not, the Wolves could win 15 games. But if things click a bit and Rubio and Luke Ridnour run the Adelman offense well, could this team win 30 games? And with the back end of the West looking so iffy, could it be enough to sneak in? I'm not saying I believe it, but I could see it.
Posted on: December 14, 2011 9:15 pm
Edited on: December 15, 2011 1:39 pm
 

Pop Quiz: Are the Clippers contenders now?

Posted by Royce Young

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... Wait, we're almost to winter. What happened? Who cares, there's a season! The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a couple weeks. To get you ready for the season, we've put together some pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Can the Clippers contend for the title this season?

We're all already having daydreams of Chris Paul lobs to Blake Griffin for 1080 dunks. And while that's hard to put out of the brain right now, the real thing we should be wondering about is if the Clippers -- yes, the Los Angeles Clippers -- have just emerged as a legitimate championship contender.

Notice I didn't say playoff contender. Because that should be a given at this point. CP3 dragged a Hornets team playing Marco Belinelli and Aaron Gray major minutes into a six-game playoff series with the Lakers. So add him to Griffin, and you've got a real-deal playoff team. The first one the Clippers will have had since 2005-06.

CP3 traded to the Clippers

But again, that's not really the question I'm asking. I'm asking if the Clippers are in the same class as the Thunder, Mavericks, Spurs, Grizzlies and (gasp!), the Lakers.

The answer: No, not yet. Close, but not there. Very close, in fact. If you start two All-Stars, you're in the conversation, at least. It comes down to this: Just look at the starting five. Paul, Randy Foye, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan. One of these is not like the other.

Had the Clippers somehow been able to convince the league to take Eric Bledsoe instead of Eric Gordon and you're talking about a team with enough firepower to topple anyone. But with a major hole at the 2-guard, the Clippers are still one of those teams hunting pieces. They need more frontcourt depth still. Jordan is a blossoming defensive presence and will benefit more than anyone from CP3's point guarding, but behind him is... well... nobody at the moment. Craig Smith could still be re-signed and there's Brian Cook and rookie Trey Thompkins. That's not much.

They still need some depth behind Butler, who is coming off a massive knee injury. Al-Farouq Aminu had the length and potential to be a nice defensive stopper, but now it's just Ryan Gomes, a decent veteran role player, and Travis Leslie, an unproven rookie.

This isn't like the Knicks last season who got Carmelo Anthony but still weren't in a good position to win big. They needed a lot. The Clippers need a little. Unlike last season's Knicks, this Clips team makes a lot more sense. An All-Star point guard feeding to an All-Star big man with a good wingman to help spread the floor with a rim protector and rebounder handling business on the inside. The make-up of the roster, sans some depth and a piece or two, just fits.
 
You can be sure general manager Neil Olshey is working the phones right now seeing what he can get for Mo Williams though. And they also have a $2.5 million "under the cap" exception. Possibly the Clips could use dangle both of those assets to strengthen their bench and add some depth. But it's not going to solve the hole at 2-guard.

It'll be interesting to see how Vinny Del Negro uses Chauncey Billups, though, and that alone could make a major difference in where the Clips land. It's hard to imagine Billups sliding into a 2-guard position, but if anyone on point guard roll-sheet could potentially do that, it's him. Have Bledsoe play behind CP3, Billups split time with Randy Foye at the 2 and then wait until next summer to really upgrade the position.

Because that's truly where the Clippers are. They just moved from a world where with Gordon, Griffin and Jordan they were a "wait until later" team. They aren't "wait until now" quite yet, but they're in the boat of just needing another piece or two. Which is a far cry from where the long, painful history of the Clippers has been.

Are they going to challenge in the West? Not yet. But the summer of 2012 could turn this team into a monster. The Clippers are finally entirely relevant and if things are managed well -- again, this is the Clippers here -- this team could stay that way for a number of years. Griffin is just 22. Paul is 26. Jordan is 23.

It's a good day in Clipperland. The fact we're even asking this question should really say it all. I mean, this is the Clippers, remember? No more jokes, no more laughing -- these guys are for real now. They shouldn't start reserving a spot in the Staples Center ceiling for a banner of their own quite yet, but for once, they can at least start dreaming about one.


Posted on: December 5, 2011 6:07 pm
Edited on: December 5, 2011 9:38 pm
 

Pop Quiz: Can Chandler help remake the Warriors?

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... Wait, we're almost to winter. What happened? Who cares, there's a season! The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a couple weeks. To get you ready for the season, we've put together some pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question... 

Can Tyson Chandler help remake the Warriors?

By Matt Moore  

If Dwight Howard is a model of greatness to himself, Greg Oden is the mystery of a career lost, and Andrew Bynum is the intriguing incomplete whippersnapper, then there's a missing archetype. The hyper-competent, hyper-efficient, all-around veteran difference maker who has toughness a young guy can't have, the toughness that comes with maturity.

In the 2011 free agency, that archetype is personified by Tyson Chandler.

Tyson Chandler's story is pretty interesting. From a stone-handed bust for the Chicago Bulls to Chris Paul's alley-oop partner, Chandler was considered only valuable next to a guard like Paul as recently as 2009. He had injury issues, one of which derailed a trade to the Thunder. He wound up in Charlotte, had a forgettable year, and then made his way to Dallas. Boom.

He was the difference, in every way, for the Mavericks. For years the Mavericks were thought of as weak, as poor defensively, as lacking resolve, as lacking toughness around the rim. Chandler changed all of that. He attacks relentlessly and has the veteran sense to understand spacing to float and recover. If you want numbers, he allows just a 39 percent field goal percentage against the pick-and-roll according to Synergy Sports. He blocked 3 percent of all shots last year, including 19 blocks in 21 playoff games.

But it was more than just numbers. It was his approach. Not overly emotional, not tempermental, not prone to impulse. Making the right play, making it strong, and finishing alley-oop after alley-oop. 62 of Chandler's 266 makes last season were on pick-and-roll scoring opportunities and most of those were alley-oops. He and J.J. Barea had a very unique set of chemistry.

Chandler is a pro's pro at this point in his career, and in a league in desperate need of quality starting centers, he does all the things you look for a big man to do. Which is why he's got so many suitors. Reports over the weekend indicated that Chandler's biggest options were Houston, New Jersey (who want to sign every single free agent on the market), and the Golden State Warriors.

That's right, it's a new day in the Bay (so why don't you call it a day and eat some hay, what do ya' say, I just may) and Mark Jackson has vowed to turn the Warriors into a defensive-minded team. When new ownership and management came out alongside Jackson and said that they would be focusing on getting big men, it seemeed laughable. But now the Warriors are in a position to move from their constant rebuilding status of the past few years into at least "acceptably decent" territory. Chandler puts them lightyears ahead.

With a defensive minded coach, if Jackson can reach them, the Warriors have a dynamic point guard who can shoot from anywhere in Stephen Curry, a prolific scorer in Monta Ellis, a low-post scorer and volume rebounder in David Lee, a plethora of talented wings, a young raw big man in Ekpe Udoh who showed flashes last year, and a championship big man in Tyson Chandler. Having that kind of defense at the rim shifts the entire function of the team. If you don't believe a system and capable bigs can help a team with poor defensive talent, I direct you to the fact the Chicago Bulls had one of the best defenses in the league last season and started Carlos Boozer while bringing Kyle Korver off the bench.

Chandler is likely going to draw a King' ransom based on his reputation, the weakness of this free agency class, the weakness of this league at the center position, and the teams currently in the market. Golden State is a big-market team looking to put itself on the map with new owners, a new coach, and players they can trade, most notably Ellis, who has been on the block for what feels like a decade.

Chandler is 29, if he's given a near-max extension or, even worse, a max, he'll be 32 when the deal expires. That's a quality length of time. Golden State has tried going young and athletic, now it wants to get serious.

It doesn't get much more serious than Tyson Chandler.

The Warriors could be in position to make a serious move in 2011-2012.
Posted on: December 2, 2011 3:34 pm
 

Pop Quiz: Would OKC be better without Westbrook?

Posted by Royce Young

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... Wait, we're almost to winter. What happened? Who cares, there's a season! The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a couple weeks. To get you ready for the season, we've put together some pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Should Oklahoma City trade Russell Westbrook?

We all heard it. Read it. Saw it. Someone even said it. Russell Westbrook needs to chill out.

For the Thunder, pretty much all of the 2011 postseason was focused on Westbrook and what he should and shouldn’t be doing. Pass more, dribble less, shoot less, give it to Durant, know your role -- and on and on. Despite all of that outside noise, the Thunder became the youngest team in 20 years to go to the conference finals and that was with the 23-year-old Westbrook leading them.

For most Thunder fans, they were all saying, “What’s the big deal? That’s just Russell Westbrook.” But it didn’t matter. When people saw box scores showing 30 attempts by Westbrook’s name and the fact he took six more shots than Durant, there wasn’t a person in the world that could calm down the harrumphing going about.

A lot of it became about Durant needing a so-called "true" point guard to play with, someone that would get him the ball and then get out of the way. And while all this Chris Paul is hot and heavy right now, some have been rumoring him to Oklahoma City for Westbrook for some time. The common thinking is that alongside a pass-first guy like Paul, Durant would flourish and rule the league as the first 100-point-per-game scorer ever. (Or something like that.)

It was even taken so far that Durant and Westbrook were feuding, which isn't true at all. Did they and do they continue to get frustrated with each other? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean they want a divorce. Consider this quote from Durant this summer:

“I don’t want any other point guard,” Durant said. “He’s perfect for us, the type of guy he is, the type of player he is, the type of teammate he is. We’re all competitive, especially me and him. We get the best of each other in practice every day, and we want to go at each other and make each other better. We are going to have disagreements. That’s what all good players on good teams do.”

Let's assume though, you’re Sam Presti (designer glasses and perfectly gelled hair and all). You just signed Westbrook to an extension the second a new CBA is signed. Dell Demps calls you. Chris Paul for Westbrook, straight up.

What do you do?

First instinct says to do it, right? Chris Paul with Kevin Durant and a supporting cast of James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison sounds like an incredible roster. It sounds like it because it is.

But that's why you're not Sam Presti. He wouldn't do it. Because it's not what's best for his roster in the present, nor in the future. Westbrook's younger, hasn't had a major injury and probably hasn't actually found his ceiling yet. But it's not just about age, it's also about fit.

Consider this: Via NBA.com, the Thunder's offense actually improved more when Westbrook usage went up. Think about that. The more Westbrook inserted himself into the offense, the better OKC scored. And we're talking about a top five offense in both points per game and offensive efficiency.

Look at the numbers: Westbrook assisted Durant on more field goals made than any other player in the league (279, next closest is CP3 and David West with 212). The Thunder’s offense finished the season in the top five in both points per game and offensive efficiency, and was a top three unit the last couple weeks.

What made the Thunder turn the page offensively after Jeff Green was traded was three-fold: 1) Green and his horribly inefficient offensive ways were gone, 2) James Harden had a much bigger role and 3) Westbrook had a bit more leash.

The issue was never about Westbrook and Durant working together. It was about the structure and how things changed in a 7-game postseason series against a veteran team and good coach. Don’t you think Rick Carlisle had a gameplan prepared to stop the Thunder? And with seven games to figure it out, he was going to have something. The Mavs did their best to take away Durant and put all the pressure on Westbrook to make plays. Westbrook had to score. It was the only way the Thunder would crack 90.

What hurt Oklahoma City there was the fact that Westbrook often tried to do too much instead of taking a deep breath and that Durant had difficulty getting free of Shawn Marion for Westbrook to pass him the ball. In the series against the Mavs, OKC’s offensive rating dropped all the way to 78.2, which is horrible. But that was more about what the Mavericks did right, than the Thunder did wrong.

Dallas was prepared for that. Oklahoma City, all the way down to its coaching staff, was not. It’s something to learn from. And despite that, the Thunder were a couple blown fourth quarter leads away from having that series 3-2 in their favor and coming back to OKC. They weren't that far off, not by any stretch. 

Westbrook needs to improve in some areas. He knows it. Good thing he’s just, you know, 23 years old. At the rate he’s improved and transformed his game from year one to year three has been kind of incredible. He’s added a solid jumper, sees the floor much better, is under control more, passes the ball more authoritatively, actually understands offense and is capable of running one. Don’t forget: The Thunder won 55 games, the Northwest Division and was two fourth quarters away from playing for an NBA title. All with a team that features its top four players under the age of 25. The Thunder got to the Western Finals more because of Russell Westbrook, not in spite of him. People seem to forget that when they start playing with the Trade Machine.

The Thunder aren't just fine with Westbrook. They're actually better off with more of him.

Posted on: November 30, 2011 1:38 pm
Edited on: November 30, 2011 2:07 pm
 

Pop Quiz: How can the Magic keep Howard?

Posted by Royce Young

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... Wait, we're almost to winter. What happened? Who cares, there's a season! The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a couple weeks. To get you ready for the season, we've put together some pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We start our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Can Orlando keep Dwight Howard?

It's been less than a week since the lockout unofficially ended and there have already been 400 reports about Dwight Howard. He's going to Los Angeles. He's going to New Jersey. He's going to Boston.

Have we considered this one: He may not be going anywhere.

OK, so that's pretty unlikely. But Howard, unlike Carmelo Anthony, hasn't actually made it painfully obvious that he doesn't want to stay with the franchise that drafted him. Howard has said things like "I want to be in Orlando," "I love Orlando," "I want to win in Orlando," and so on and so forth.

And on top of that, with all this trade speculation going absolutely crazy already, remember this one: Magic general manager Otis Smith said right before the lockout started that he would NOT trade Howard mid-season. Smith is convinced Howard will stay and re-sign in 2012, so he's going to take that chance.

Smith put it this way about trading Howard: "The answer will be the same as it always is: No."

But he's already changing his tune. He told the Orlando Sentinel this Wednesday:  “I think you have to look at everything ... I don’t think you can take anything out of consideration."

It's a hefty risk to take not to consider trading him, but then again, the Magic are probably right to take it. Howard so far, hasn't indicated he wants to leave. And just because a player says he wants to look at his options, it's not the black spot for a franchise. Maybe he really wants to look at his options. (By the way, Howard himself hasn't used that line yet.)

Proclaiming "no" to all trade offers sounds pretty straightforward. Of course, things change. Opinions change. People change. And if Smith becomes more and more convinced that Howard will be leaving for another team com July 1, 2012, he might reconsider that position. Which it looks like he already is. As Denver's GM Masai Ujiri proved, sometimes it's worth giving up your man and getting the most you can back.

And Smith has an advantage because Howard hasn't necessarily zeroed in on one place he wants to go (yet). Meaning the Magic can get offers from more than just one place.

But that's not the concern for Smith and the Magic. Not yet. They're still focused on keeping their franchise man. And I think they can. I don't take Howard as a liar, as someone that's just saying nice things for the sake of it. I think he wants to stay with the Magic as long as they afford him that possibility. Meaning, he's got to have a team around him that he can win with.

Not for a lack of trying, Smith has tried to give Howard a roster to win with. They've failed miserably for the most part, but he's tried. It really lines up almost exactly the same as Danny Ferry's efforts in Cleveland to give LeBron a roster he could win with. Gilbert Arenas was a failure. Hedo Turkoglu as well. Jason Richardson was and still is a nice piece, but he didn't have a favorable role.

What the Magic need is a point guard that can relieve pressure and open up the game for Howard and a go-to scorer that can shoulder the load late in games. Arenas and Turkoglu were supposed to combine to be those people last year and it didn't happen.

But if Smith can give Howard a team he likes and one that can truly compete, I honestly think there's a chance he re-signs. He's got a brand new arena to play in that's one of the nicest in the league, Orlando is a nice market and the team has been solid. It's just about impressing him enough to convince him to commit to a future with them. It's like a boyfriend trying really hard to impress his girlfriend that he knows is too good for him. That's what Smith has to do. He's got to woo Howard this season. Roses, chocolates, a roster that can make it to The Finals -- you know, that stuff.

Last season's playoff exit might've been a major nail in the coffin, but there's a chance for redemption this season.

Unless you trade him.
Posted on: September 22, 2010 5:00 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2010 7:16 pm
 

Pop Quiz: Are the Celtics too old?

Posted by Matt Moore

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a few short weeks. To get you ready for the NBA season, we've put together 25 pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Are the Celtics too old to win the title?


Too old for what? I suppose that's the real question here. Too old to win the East? Probably not. Too old to get homecourt advantage? Surely not. Too old to win the title?

That's a tough one. 

Let me take you back to a year ago. The Celtics began the season trying to regain their pride after a loss to the then-surprising Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And to be honest? They didn't look very convincing, even on their winning streak as they cruised to the division title. In key games, Garnett looked slow. They lost to a Kobe buzzer-beater. Even when they later got revenge for that game, it seemed to set a tone. And that was before the second half, where they looked terrible. Every Boston fan on the planet will tell you that it was just a lack of resolve, a sense of boredom, and that those games simply didn't matter to them, so their effort wasn't there. That's probably partially true. It's also partially true that even bored the Celtics should have beaten the Nets and beaten them easily in every game they played. There were problems for Boston. Tons of them. Most notably, they were swept by the Hawks, and each time it was a late run by the Hawks featuring the transition game that did them in. The Celtics simply couldn't run with them. Everyone put a plug in them, except their fans, a handful of media, and Nate Jones. 

And then the playoffs came, and all of that thought process went out the window.

The San Antonio Spurs throughout the years had drifted and coasted to second half finishes, and yet always seemed to find themselves there at the end for years. But there was no precedent for the rope-a-dope the Celtics seemingly pulled last year. Even the first few games against Miami in the first round seemed close. But then Kevin Garnett got into a fight which lead to a suspension, and from there on out, the Celtics destroyed everyone when they needed to when they came across them, all the way up until the 4th quarter of Game 7 against LA. The pitbulls had regained control of the pack, and everyone that said Boston only lost to the Magic due to Garnett's injury in 2009 was vindicated. 

That was last year. The Celtics are now a year older. Ray Allen is 35, Garnett 34, Pierce 33. They added two centers who long ago left the comfort of 30. Rajon Rondo is still young and chipper, alongside Glen Davis and Nate Robinson. But they put on a lot of miles the last two years, which will add to the fatigue factor. 

But then, Shaquille O'Neal says that old teams win titles. Which is pretty on par. Experience matters in this league, and the Celtics have a world of it. 

How old are the Celtics in comparison to other title teams? Since 2004-2005, championship team starters averaged to be 27.4 years old. The oldest were naturally the Spurs in 2007. Their starting five in the Finals that year began the season at an average age of 30.6 years old. The Celtics enter this season at 30.2 years old if we project Kendrick Perkins as the starter for a theoretical Finals and 32.8 if we go with Shaquille O'Neal, the probably opening night starter. The Celtics, in essence, are trying to be the second oldest team since 2004 to win the title. It's relatively easy to argue that the competition is greater now than it was in 2007, with the Pau-Gasol-era Lakers, the Heat, and the Magic in play, but those are the numbers. 

So what's the answer? In case you haven't been able to tell, this is simply not a quiz with a correct answer. If you are to make the case that the Celtics have finally reached the threshold where wisdom becomes physical limitation, you're probably on par. We saw signs of it last year, the Celtics just showed a remarkable amount of grit in powering through it and committing to the team concept (again). If you were to make the case that the Celtics are nowhere near done, not after last year's performance, who could argue with you?

And that's where we hit the Heat. 

Of course.

The Heat are going to be the antithesis for the Celtics this season, and in a lot of ways they are polar opposites. The Celtics rely on players that are very clearly defined in their roles (Rondo is the point guard, distributer, floor general. Garnett the defensive motivational speaker. Pierce is the go-to scorer. Allen is the perimeter marksman, etc.). The Heat have a nebulous lineup that may end up featuring a super freak small forward at point guard and their starting center is an inexperienced Canadian who is 6'9'' (Perkins is 6'10''). The Celtics are committed to a defensive philosophy of sacrifice and communication. The Heat are betting heavily on overwhelming opponents with skill and ability. The Celtics are primarily an old team. The Heat are primarily a mid-20's team. The Celtics have experience. The Heat are inexperie....wait. No they're not. Dwyane Wade's won a title and James has been in the Finals. But that's the perception. 

It's an interesting corollary that our society will define age with physically limited, but also often associate it with toughness. If you make it that long, you must have thick skin. And that's the area where most people doubt the Heat and believe in the Celtics. The Celtics are betting that you'll have an easier time drawing breath at your young age, but that they'll be the last one standing when the bell rings. 

I closed the door on the Magic's window and needless to say, team bloggers are not buying. I was ready to shut the door on the Celtics last year, and they slammed it back in my face, walked in, made themselves a sandwich and tracked mud on my carpet. I'm not willing to bury the Celtics until the heart's stopped beating. Age can be cruel, but for the Celtics, it's a beast they can live with. They remain contenders to the ring until that last breath gives out. 
Posted on: September 21, 2010 1:13 pm
 

Pop Quiz: Who's winning MVP?

Posted by Royce Young

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a few short weeks. To get you ready for the NBA season, we've put together 25 pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Who will be lifting the Maurice Podoloff Trophy next season?

No, I'm not going to spend the first three paragraphs explaining my definition of "Most Valuable Player." I'm not going to go on about if I think it's about the player that means the most to his team or if it's the guy that was the most outstanding through the season.

Because truly, it doesn't really matter. Everyone likes the MVP to be a bit ambiguous, leaving the voting criteria up for interpretation. It makes for better results in the end, I suppose. Or at least more arguments.

But it also means that this season won't be much different than the rest in terms of who the main faces in the race will be. You're not going to have a guy like Gerald Wallace that plays bulldog defense and leads his team in rebounds, blocks and scoring all from the small forward position. His value to the Bobcats last season can't really be quantified, but he's definitely not the traditional MVP type of player. He just has no chance.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. So in the end, you'll have the same cast of characters. Kobe Bryant. LeBron James. Dwyane Wade. Dwight Howard. And on. Oh, and one more guy - Kevin Durant.

Most don't realize that Durant was actually MVP runner-up last season. Now LeBron ran away with the award in a vote that wasn't close, but still, 21-year-old Kevin Durant was the runner-up. And he's my favorite to win it this season.

Why Durant? Because while LeBron is splitting not only the spotlight with Wade in South Beach, he'll also be splitting shots. He'll be splitting assists. He'll be splitting time with the ball. And most importantly, he'll be splitting big moments. To be an MVP, you need to own your team. You need to be The Man. And while most saw LeBron as the unstoppable MVP force that might win 10 straight last season, now he might not really even be in the discussion. And some think it was selfish that LeBron went to Miami.

There is the chance LeBron does something otherworldly though. I mean, he still is LeBron, an otherwordly basketball talent. What if he averages a triple-double? At that point, doesn't he have to be anointed? He's likely going to be on a team with one of the best records, plus add huge stats and something that hasn't been done in 40 years? You've got to award that. Even if he's the media devil right now.

And of course, don't forget the other usual suspects. Kobe will have numbers, his team will be good and he has everyone's attention. But as he ages, the less important big numbers have become and he's completely satisfied with 25-28 points per game. Dwight Howard does it all for the Magic, but voters have already proven hesitant to award such an imperfect player. Wade has the LeBron Problem and while there are other great candidates (Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams), one guys has to just stick out.

And Durant already has a leg up on everyone in the most important category: the media. Because of his uneventful but very eventful summer, Durant skyrocketed up popularity charts and had every person with a blog, Twitter or press pass writing about what a swell guy he is. You know, for announcing his "exstension" in a tweet and then for winning gold for his country. He's been cast as the anti-LeBron and in a world where whether it's sports, movies or real life, we like good vs. bad. Durant is Obi-Wan to LeBron's Darth Vader.

And that sort of thing is what could separate him. Durant is going to have the numbers. It's likely he'll finish with a line of something like 31 points per game, eight rebounds, three assists with percentages of 50-40-90. And if his darling Thunder squad wins over 50 and is in the Western mix, voters will pretty much hand deliver the award to Durant.

But KD has to deal with something he really hasn't had to yet - expectations. People are writing how he's the savior to basketball, the good guy, the one we should root for the sake of the children - children!!! - Durant should be the role model. But still, he has to perform.

His MVP campaign started with a simple tweet and built up serious steam in Turkey. But if Durant wants to hoist the Maurice Podoloff trophy in front of the Thunder faithful, he's still going to have to play. And there's no doubt he will.
Posted on: September 20, 2010 11:40 am
Edited on: September 20, 2010 11:41 am
 

Pop Quiz: What players could be on the way down?

Posted by Royce Young

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a few short weeks. To get you ready for the NBA season, we've put together 25 pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Who are some players potentially set for a drop-off?

It doesn't take much to go from the top of the perch in the NBA to drop to the bottom. The food chain isn't friendly, especially to aging players.

Eventually, everyone has to come down to earth. Two seasons ago, it was Shaquille O'Neal. Last year, Elton Brand, once a walking double-double, had a terribly mediocre season. It just happens. It's the circle of NBA life. Some players can go out on top, but mosr will see their production dip and the slide starts. Who's facing that reality this year? Here are six candidates:

Yao Ming, Rockets - Yao is probably the most obvious choice for three reasons. 1) He's older. 2) He's coming off a significant injury. 3) His playing time is already being limited. Strikes one, two and three.

I think it's pretty much accepted that the great days of Yao Ming are probably passed. Every season but his rookie year, he's averaged over 30 minutes a game. Now with only 24 at his disposal, putting up anything near his career averages of 19.1 ppg and 9.3 rpg will be difficult. He can still have a stellar statistical year in terms of per 36 minutes and per 48 minutes, but as far as being one of the top two or three dominant big men in the league, he may have to settle for really, really tall role player.

Tony Parker, Spurs
- The better George Hill gets, the less valuable Tony Parker is to the Spurs. Is Parker set to fall off the face of the earth? Not likely. But is he looking at going from top three or four point guard in the West into being just a solid top 10 point man? I think there's certainly that possibility.

But this is a contract year for Parker. He has Hill chomping at his playing time and idiots like me saying he's potentially headed for a down year. The motivation is certainly there for him. He's not old (just 28) and doesn't have a ton of mileage on him. He did break his hand last year but that shouldn't be anything that affects him this year. Still, it's hard to deny that his numbers and percentages dipped across the board last year and as his team ages around him, he might have a hard time putting up the big stats like he has in years past.

Vince Carter, Magic - I know, I know. Putting Carter on this list isn't really fair because he pretty much already had his drop-off year. But even through a seemingly bad year, Carter still averaged 16.6 ppg while maintaining solid percentages. The 16.6 ppg is the lowest in his career, but he still was a quality contributor all season and at times, showed flashes of his old, explosive self.

Now he's 33 and has played over 850 games, battled through injuries and is on a team where he's not the lead man. He played the role well last year, but the better J.J. Redick gets, the less need for Carter there is. This is a contract year for Carter who would still like to keep going. But he might be splitting time at shooting guard with Redick and he'd probably be lucky to average anywhere near 16 points a game.

Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks - Shield your eyes, Knicks fans. I know New York just dropped a heavy dollar amount on Stoudemire and already talking about a decline for him isn't something anyone wants to hear. But here's the reality: Steve Nash doesn't play for the Knicks. For his career, Stoudemire is assisted on about 60 percent of all his baskets. And who was the guy creating those scoring opportunities? Yeah, that guy.

So going from Nash to Raymond Felton might cause a decline in Stoudemire's typically sexy stat line. Does this mean he's not going to be good and help the Knicks improve? Absolutely not. But could his nickname of STAT potentially be outdated already? Definitely.

Mo Williams, Cavaliers - Mo Williams, pre-LeBron James: 14.2 ppg, 5.6 apg. Mo Williams, with LeBron James: 16.8 ppg, 4.7 apg, one All-Star appearance. Mo Williams, post-LeBron James: to be determined.

It's hard to deny the rise in profile for Williams after he joined LeBron in Cleveland in 2008. He went from underrated point guard in Milwaukee to LeBron's No. 2 man. But without The King, things will be more difficult for Williams. Open shots won't be as available and as the best scorer Cleveland currently has, he'll be the focal point for opposing defenses. Williams is going to have to carry Cleveland and that's something that he's not really equipped for. He's always been a good shooter, a good creator and a good scorer. His assists dipped with LeBron because Williams was able to play off the ball a lot with LeBron running point. Now Williams has to do it all for the Cavs.

Ray Allen, Celtics - At some point, time is going to start catching up to Ray Allen. He's avoided it the past few years, turning in some of the most efficient of his career. But he's got over 1,000 games and almost 38,000 minutes on the odometer. His 16.3 point per game average last season was the lowest since his rookie season and though his shooting percentages held pretty close to form, he took the fewest number of 3s per game in 10 years. To me, that says he's not getting as many open looks because when Allen's open, he fires.

Allen is going to have a quality season, because his perfect shooting touch won't allow otherwise. But in terms of sustaining his high level and gaudy numbers, this season might be the start of his journey down.
 
 
 
 
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