Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
 
Tag:Carl Landry
Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:44 pm
 

The 2012 Hornets and How to Win Long Term

The 2008 New Orleans Hornets won 56 games, boasted one of the strongest young cores in the NBA, and came within a game of the Western Conference Finals.  They won often, fortified the presence of professional basketball in New Orleans, and, given the right moves, were on the verge of vaulting into a multi-year championship window.

Two years on, not a single member of that team is still a Hornet.  In fact, only one member of the 2010 side (Emeka Okafor) is still on the team in December 2011.  Rebuilding efforts are obviously common around the league, but 100% turnover in a two season span?  93% turnover over a one year stretch?  Not so much.  The Hornets tossed away their future core (Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton) in an effort to keep their then current core (Chris Paul, David West), a move, which despite its ultimate failure due to a number of reasons, is still vaguely defensible.  In between, the team also happened to pick up a new "owner", a new coach, and a new GM (and arguably two new GMs).

And now, on the start of this, the 24th season in the history of the franchise, we're face to face with a roster about as unfamiliar as the one that represented Charlotte on November 4th, 1988.  What does it all mean?  What will this team look like this year?  In 3 years?  In 5 years?

The Goal

The goal is to win an NBA championship.

Its obviousness might make it a rather inane point.  But the circus that was New Orleans' offseason, the uncertainty that surrounds the purchase 10,000 fans made in the last five months, and the prospect of the first superstar-less season for the Hornets in seven years, makes it easy, and even justifiable, to forget this.  Do they desperately need team ownership resolved?  Absolutely.  They need a real owner, they need a new lease on the New Orleans Arena, and they need the NBA-generated fan and corporate momentum to endure.  On the court though, the goal, as ridiculous or as remote as it may now look, remains the same - the eventual goal is to win an NBA championship.

Let's go a step further and quantify that - how close did the Hornets actually get with Chris Paul, and how far does the team now have to go without him?

NBA Finalists from 2002-2011 (Efficiency Differential)

2011 Dallas Mavericks (+4.7)
2011 Miami Heat (+8.2)
2010 Los Angeles Lakers (+5.1)
2010 Boston Celtics (+3.9)
2009 Los Angeles Lakers (+8.1)
2009 Orlando Magic (+7.3)
2008 Boston Celtics (+11.3)
2008 Los Angeles Lakers (+7.5)
2007 San Antonio Spurs (+9.3)
2007 Cleveland Cavaliers (+4.2)
2006 Miami Heat (+4.2)
2006 Dallas Mavericks (+6.8)
2005 San Antonio Spurs (+8.7)
2005 Detroit Pistons (+4.4)
2004 Detroit Pistons (+6.6)
2004 Los Angeles Lakers (+4.2)
2003 San Antonio Spurs (+5.9)
2003 New Jersey Nets (+5.7)
2002 Los Angeles Lakers (+7.7)
2002 New Jersey Nets (+4.5)

Here, "efficiency differential" refers to the difference between a team's offensive points/100 possessions and defensive points/100 possessions.  It's semantics, but this is also the same thing as the sum of how far from league average a team's offense is and how far from league average the same team's defense is.

Over the last decade, the above list shakes out to an average around +6 offensive points per 100 possessions minus defensive points per 100 possessions.  Efficiency differential varies from point differential by removing team pace from the equation.  Between two teams with identical efficiency differentials, the team with the faster pace will artificially have the higher point differential.

There's yearly variation based on conference strength, "weaker" teams breaking through, etc.  But ultimately, if you get to the +6 differential plateau, you're championship material.  You obviously don't have to get there; things like tons of prior playoff experience (2011 Dallas, 2010 Boston) play a role.  How you get there doesn't really matter either - you can play exceptional defense and mediocre offense (2004 Detroit), exceptional offense and bad defense (2001 Los Angeles), or mix and match between the two (2006 Miami).  But ultimately, +6 is a sign of a contending team.  It doesn't guarantee a title or even a Finals appearance.  But it guarantees a team that has a damn good chance.

+6 is the goal we now build towards. For the next few years, +6 needs to become the mantra.

How Close Were the Hornets with Chris Paul?

In hindsight, the Chris Paul years were amazing; as Hornets fans we were phenomenally lucky to have him, and he'll forever be a part of our history.  Due to injuries, poor roster construction, bad luck, and poor foresight, the Chris Paul years are now over.  But, based on the +6 paradigm, how close did the team actually get?

Chris Paul Era, Sorted by Efficiency Differential

2007-2008 (+5.8)
2008-2009 (+1.7)
2010-2011 (+1.0)
2006-2007 (-1.7)
2009-2010 (-2.7)
2005-2006 (-3.1)

The efficiency differential of 2007-2008 gives credence to the idea that that particular team was a piece or two away from greatness (<insert James Posey joke>).  It's also very clear from the rest of those numbers that in Chris Paul's six year stay, the Hornets had just one team that even remotely looked like it could do much.  For all of Paul's greatness, his supporting casts were just never that good.

By definition, league average efficiency differential is 0.  With Chris Paul, the Hornets finished below league average three times, and above it three times; yes, +6 was nearly achieved once, and yes, with a new owner and new management, the future perhaps looked like brightening.  But looking at it from Chris Paul's perspective, I think it's completely reasonable he decided he wanted out and, specifically, wanted out to a championship contender.  Are the Clippers that?  It remains to be seen, but their current setup would certainly appear to be better than the Hornets' 2005-2011.

We can break down Chris Paul's own individual numbers here too (and this will provide a good reference point for the Eric Gordon discussion, next).

During the 2007-2008 regular season, Paul used approximately 1450 offensive possessions, producing 1.25 points per possession (derived from his offensive efficiency (ORtg) of 125, including points and created shots for teammates).  The average points per possession value in the NBA was 1.075 that year and generally hovers around that mark.  So Paul produced, offensively, 0.175 more points per possession than the average NBA player.

Let's transfer that over to the original scale we were discussing - the one in which the concept of "+6" exists.  Over 100 possessions, that's a +17.5 differential above league average.  To make another very obvious statement - Chris Paul was amazingly, amazingly good at basketball in 2007-2008.

Some more simple math at this juncture:

The Hornets had about 7372 offensive possessions in 2007-2008.  20% of those ended with a Chris Paul shot, free throw, turnover, or assist, and of those 20%, the Hornets had the aforementioned +17.5 differential.  Keep in mind that we're talking only offense here.  +6 can be achieved through any combination of offense and defense; it could be +3 offense above the league average offense and +3 defense above the league average defense, +7 offense and -1 defense, or +0 offense and +6 defense, and so forth.

By using 20% of possessions at a +17.5 clip, Paul contributed a net +3.5 differential to the team; in other words, Paul's offense alone in 2007-2008 took the team more than halfway to championship contention status.

Now let's say we know we have a +3 defense (or +3 above the league average defense), and we needed the team to be +3 on offense (or +3 above the league average offense) to reach +6.  We know Paul used 20% of possessions at +17.5; we can then find out what the remaining 80% of possessions need to be, efficiency wise, to reach the mark.  In this case, with 20% of possessions at +17.5, the remaining 80% would need to be converted at a -0.625 differential (or close to league average of 0) in order to have a highly functional +3 offense.

In reality, the 2007-2008 Hornets actually finished at a +4 on offense, buoyed by strong contributions from David West and Tyson Chandler.  The Byron Scott-led defense finished at a +1.8 differential, the 7th best mark in the league.

Chris Paul's offensive involvement declined tremendously in 2010-2011, post-surgery.  However, the main drop-off in his offense came not in his points/possession (which dropped from 1.25 in 2008 to 1.22), but rather, the total number of possessions used.  He used approximately 1450 in 2008, 1500 in 2009, but only about 1100 last year.

1100 possession was only 15% of the team's total, as opposed to the 20% figure of 2007-2008.  As a result, the burden of achieving a higher positive offensive differential shifted to other players on the roster.  By eschewing the ball as much as he did, Paul forced unfathomably worse offensive players (Willie Green and Trevor Ariza come to mind) into using more possessions at terrible differentials.  The passive Chris Paul disappeared in the playoffs of course, replaced by the amazing Chris Paul of old.  But his possession drop-off in 2011 is still worth remembering nonetheless.

In 2007-2008, the rest of the roster required just that -0.625 offensive differential amongst themselves to get halfway to the +6 mark.  In 2010-2011, that number jumped all the way to 1.6 due to Paul's passivity.

Where are the Hornets now?

Most statistical projections will have the Hornets floundering around the bottom of the Conference this year, in line to pick up an excellent lottery choice in the 2012 draft. To the "eye test," that may or may not be a reasonable assessment; because nobody's seen this team really play together, the "eye test" is a tough one to refute, whatever its conclusions.  So let's dig a little deeper than that. 

The Eric Gordon Effect

Of the current roster, Eric Gordon is far and away the most likely player to still be present on the next contender that New Orleans puts together.  Rosters don't remain static, especially when they're headed by a GM as active as Dell Demps; Gordon, barring complications with his rookie contract extension, is far too talented to be moved before the team has a chance to build around him.

Gordon has a chance to develop into a superstar player, though for now, his impact is obviously significantly less than that of Paul's.

Last year, Gordon produced 1.12 points per possession, using 1082 possessions.  That's an offensive differential of 4.7 above league average, obviously a far, far cry from Chris Paul's 17.5 of 2007-2008.  That's the difference between a sure-fire Hall of Famer and a player gunning for a future All-Star berth.

Gordon only played 56 games last year, so if we propagate Gordon's usage through a full year (an exercise which obviously raises questions of its own, namely can Gordon be this good over an entire season?), Gordon would have used about 20% of the Clippers' total possessions last year.  Bringing back the +3 offensive differential above average goal once more, that would require the rest of his teammates to be +2.6 above average on offense through the rest of their possessions - obviously a huge ask.  Where Paul's 2007-2008 season saw him add +3.5 to the +6 goal by himself offensively, Gordon's 2010-2011, if we projected it out to 82 games, would add about +1.0.

The fact is, the next iteration of the Hornets will need to be a far more balanced offensive side than the teams we saw during the Chris Paul era in order to have success.

The Monty Williams Effect

You'll notice that to this point, any discussion of defense has been completely excluded.  Paul was a great defender; so is Eric Gordon.  There's probably an interesting debate to be had about the relative merits of each as a team's primary perimeter defender.  But the more instructive discussion here is probably a more overarching one - a look at how the Hornets played defense as a team in 2010-2011 and what that means going forward.

In Year 1, Monty Williams had his team playing top-5 level defense for large stretches of the season.  Various injuries to Paul, Emeka Okafor, and others eventually pushed the Hornets down to the 10th best defensive team in the league.  But Williams clearly has an exceptional understanding of how to funnel playmakers towards defensive help; that, perhaps more than anything, was his biggest strength as a coach in 2011.  We saw Emeka Okafor become a strong defensive anchor in the paint as Ariza and Paul systematically fed him offensive players on their own terms, and Williams' frequent use of zone defense was another component of this defensive style.

The Hornets finished last year with a +2.1 defensive differential above league average (using "positive" as a plus here, and "negative" as a bad sign, though that's obviously flipped in terms of the scoreboard) despite a tremendous amount of roster shuffling, a season ending injury to a critical big, and the presence of a very poor defender (Marco Belinelli) in the starting five.

The big questions for the Hornets defensively in 2011-2012 will come at point guard (Jarrett Jack) and power forward (Carl Landry).  However, the team makes a huge defensive upgrade at the 2-guard.  The Chris Paul-Jarrett Jack combination was the Hornets' most successful backcourt last year (by point differential) in part due to Belinelli's shortcomings at the position.  Obviously, Ariza and Okafor return to the roster.  It's not inconceivable at all for the Hornets to finish in the top 15 of defensive efficiency this season.  Even if the offensive talent isn't there, Monty Williams will have his players defending on every possession.

A defensive differential ranging between 0 and +1 to +1.5 isn't at all unreasonable to expect this year.

More importantly, Monty Williams' defensive abilities are very important going forward, especially in light of the +6 goal.  The 2012 draft is absolutely loaded with defensive talent.  Our plus defense will ostensibly allow us to inch further up the positive point differential without requiring as much offensive talent.  So in that sense, even the most die-hard "tank" advocate should be rooting as hard as possible for the Hornets' defense this season.  Sure, we may be getting new players in the near future, but the value of the fundamental defensive base everything is built around will become more clear over the next 66 games regardless.

The team

I won't go too heavily into analyzing each individual player - just my quick notes on them and my projection, based on past value and current role.

Additionally, this is an offensive look at the roster; as noted above, I expect the defensive side of the ball to shake out somewhere between a +1 and 0 differential.

Jarrett Jack

Jack struggled tremendously in his first month as a Hornets, but eventually began to rebound.  It's key to note that Jack has been an NBA starter in the past, notably starting 43 and 53 games for Toronto and Indiana in 2010 and 2009.  In those seasons, Jack posted offensive efficiencies (points per 100 possessions) of 116 and 107.  With the Hornets, that figure fell to 104 in a backup role.

This year, I see him rebounding at least to league average (~107.5) again.

Projected Possessions Used: 12% (of team)
Projected Differential: 0

Eric Gordon

Gordon's health will be tracked closely; over the last three seasons, Gordon has actually played fewer games than Chris Paul.  The main difference we'll see from 2010 Gordon and 2011 Gordon figures to be overall usage.  Gordon's defense is excellent, and Monty Williams won't have the "Marcus Thornton" problem with him; on the other side of the ball, Monty will have very few creative options - Carl Landry (and Jarrett Jack on a good day) figure to be chief among those.

I conservatively don't see Gordon's overall offensive efficiency increasing too much - he'll be taking on a much bigger possession load, and defensively, opponents can focus in on him every single night without too many repercussions.  Gordon's ORtg was 112 a year ago (a differential of +4.7).  If he'd stayed healthy, he was on pace to use 20% of the Clippers' total offensive possessions.

Projected Possessions Used: 23%
Projected Differential: +5

Trevor Ariza

Oh, Trevor Ariza.  Long one of the league's most underrated players, then perhaps its most overrated, and now, just a depressing one, at least offensively.

Last year, Ariza produced a hilarious -10.3 differential (yes, that is NEGATIVE 10.3).  I don't see it being quite that bad this year, simply because his 2010-2011 was one of the worst offensive showings in the history of the NBA and, happily, doesn't seem that repeatable.  He used just 12% of Hornets' possessions though, a figure which looks to increase without Chris Paul.

Projected Possessions Used: 15%
Projected Differential: -8

Carl Landry

Tooth returns this year, for another year of great PaintShops and, hopefully, a year of shot attempts a bit closer to the hoop.  Landry is easily one of the NBA's best finishers with his array of hesitations and shot fakes so hopefully he'll eschew the midrange game for a more drive-heavy one this year.

In the last three years, his ORtgs have been 110, 117, and 123, with an obvious decline; I think he should be right in the 110 range (+2.5 differential) once more.

Projected Possessions Used: 17%
Projected Differential:+2.5

Emeka Okafor

There's been some discussion about who the starter will be at the 5; I think Okafor will almost definitely take it due to his defensive impact.  Despite the presence of two elite defenders last year in Paul and Ariza, Okafor was still the centerpiece of Monty's D.  Now that he's been stripped of his superstar (and, depending on who you believe, a much better offensive complement of players in Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Lamar Odom), Monty will almost assuredly hang on to the one thing he still has - his defense.  And that still starts and ends with Okafor, no matter his offensive shortcomings.

From a casual observer's perspective, Okafor really did seem to gel with Chris Paul last year on the offensive end; in actuality, his offensive efficiency stayed about the same.  Over the past three years, his ORtgs have gone 112, 110, and 111.  I do see it dropping a bit this year without a real creator at the point guard (Jack will be calling his own number quite frequently one would assume).  Even in 2010, Okafor had Darren Collison setting up shots for him; this year, he won't even have that.  So I'd estimate his ORtg dropping more in line with his career ORtg (107).  Let's call it 108 (+0.5).

Okafor also used 9% of possessions last year, a figure that may slightly drop without Paul and with the addition of Kaman; however, it's already a low total and can't drop much further.

Projected Possessions Used: 8%
Projected Differential: +0.5

The Bench

Between the starters, 75% of the team's offensive possessions figure to be used. This assumes relatively robust use of the starting five, perhaps a safe bet given the composition of the team's second and third units.

Chris Kaman

Kaman's an interesting player in that his offensive game looks relatively polished in a stylistic sense (his jumper and post jukes are all clean).  But he's never been an efficient offensive player in his career.  His career ORtg is a woeful 98, and he hasn't crossed the 100 threshold since 2008.  I simply don't see that changing in New Orleans; he'll be in that 99-100 range again, in addition to some very solid defensive rebounding.

Alongside Aminu and Belinelli, Kaman also figures to be one of the biggest offensive options for the bench.  His possession percentage assumes that he uses more than a quarter of the bench's possessions offensively.

Projected Possessions Used: 6.5%
Projected Differential: -7.5

Al-Farouq Aminu

Aminu's far and away the most difficult player on the team to project.  Everyone else has either been in the league a while or has given us a reasonable expectation level for their future (ie, Pondexter).  Aminu, on the other hand, is still very young (21) and has components to his game that could improve significantly through coaching.

I'll actually go ahead and project Aminu optimistically; he had an awful 94 ORtg last year, but it's quite possible he creeps into the high 90's range, so around a -9 or 10 differential).

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -9.5

Marco Belinelli

As I've noted multiple times, I'm really quite glad the Hornets brought back Belinelli; however, his role is definitely a bench one.  Hopefully we'll get much more flag waving this season regardless.

His ORtg the past three years has been 104, 106, and 107.  Less Chris Paul and less even Jarrett Jack as a "creator" from the bench, a mild decline seems reasonable.

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -2.5

Jason Smith

I observed many times through Wednesday's game that Jason Smith looks like a much improved player and athlete.  Without Paul running the pick and pop with him, Smith's offensive opportunities may be a bit limited, but his value as both a defender and a rebounder looks to be in line to increase.

Smith's career ORtgs have been 101, 101, and 100 (-7.5) and that's not likely to change.  I also don't see him using more than 15% of bench offensive possessions, or about 4% of the team total.

Projected Possessions Used: 4%
Projected Differential:-7.5

The Rest

All in all, that accounts for about 95% of team possessions so far.  The rest will be taken by guys like new signing Gustavo Ayon, Greivis Vasquez (who I haven't really gotten a chance to look at yet becuase he was traded for Quincy Pondexter yesterday), as well as the DLeague guys, like Squeaky Johnson, who may make the final roster.  Let's go ahead and toss that percentage in as well:

Projected Possessions Used: 6%
Projected Differential: -10

It's obviously tough to get a great estimate of their offensive differential; -10 may indeed be a little bit harsh, but it's a small percentage of the overall impact.

Overall

And that now leaves us at 100% of offensive possessions accounted for.

Multiplying and adding it altogether give us a grand total of -1.52 points/100 possessions below league average on offense.  Gordon, Landry, and Okafor play their roles in buoying the figure a little bit, but ultimately, there's one too many minus offensive player on this current roster.

For some perspective, a -1.5 offensive team last year would have been the Toronto Raptors, or Eric Gordon's former team, the Clippers.  Interestingly, last year's Chris Paul led New Orleans Hornets finished about -1 below league average.

That last one is actually pleasantly surprising to me.  Based on my initial eye test of the new roster, one of my first claims here was that the dropoff from Paul to Jack wouldn't be that much different than the upgrade from Belinelli to Gordon, offensively.  And that's borne out by the numbers.

Next, we can take those offensive and defensive projections and take a stab at a record.  Let's go with a defensive differential of +0.5 (again, positive being a good thing).

If the Hornets play at a typical Monty Williams pace (89 possessions/game), they should score 89/100 x (107.5 - 1.52) points per game, or 94.3 and they should allow 89/100 x (107.5 - 0.5) point per game or 95.2.  Using a Pythagorean wins formula (see Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver), over a 66 game schedule, this should come out to 30.8 wins, which we can round up to 31 wins for a projection - so a record of 31-35.

The Western Conference's 8th place team posted a 56% winning percentage last year, which would be equivalent to a 37-29 record this season.  Overall, the Hornets may well be bit better than many project (John Hollinger has us last in the conference) but will likely fall short of a playoff spot by some distance.

The Future

As it stands now, this is a -1 to -2 efficiency differential team.  The goal is +6, and we've got quite a gap to make up over the next two to four years.  In the interim, we'll have multiple (lottery) draft picks, the development of Eric Gordon into a possible All-Star, and the evolution of Monty Williams' defensive scheme.

Will it be enough?  We shall see.  But we know quantitatively what our eventual goal is, and we know, quantitatively, some of the steps on the way to getting there.  Can Gordon, currently a +1 kind of player, grow into a +2?  Can Monty Williams' defense sustain a +1 efficiency despite the loss of so many components?  If both those things come to fruition, an elite 2012 draft could be what puts the team over the top.

As a fan, it's your right to root for a season of tanking (abject failure is, idiotically, what leads to small market success in the NBA) but there's a lot to look forward to from the 2011-2012 New Orleans Hornets from a basketball perspective as well.

+6, y'all. +6.


Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:40 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 2:41 pm
 

Hornets Sign Gustavo Ayon and What It Means

Opinion on Dell Demps as Hornets' GM, almost out of necessity, has no middle ground.

On the one hand, it's easy to point in hindsight to a number of his moves with a disapproving shake of the head.  The Thornton trade.  The Collison deal.  Even the move for Jarrett Jack.  The failed Lakers deal.  Each compromised the future of the franchise to varying degrees, and each transaction has been attacked many times in both national and local media.  Demps' detractors?  They all have a point.  In an alternative timeline, the Hornets have quite a few more intriguing pieces right now for their current rebuilding project.

On the other hand, the logic behind each move was definitely apparent when the deals went through.  This isn't Otis Smith trading Brandon Bass for Glen Davis territory in the slightest.  Monty Williams should take on a lot of the blame for the Marcus Thornton Affair, and Carl Landry was always going to help the 2011 Hornets more than Marcus Thornton.  Similarly, the old Trevor Ariza was always going to be more impactful on a Chris Paul-led Hornets side than Darren Collison coming off the bench.  Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Lamar Odom would have made for a competitive, exciting team in the short term, something that had to have been on Demps' mind given the state of basketball in New Orleans.  Dell Demps supporters?  They all have a point too - the specter of Chris Paul's departure loomed menacingly over Demps, impacting each of his decisions, and Demps made logical, informed, and highly defensible moves in spite of it.

My aim isn't to settle this debate here, nor do I think there's a meaningful resolution to this at all.  Instead, I call attention to the dichotomy of opinion on Demps to point out one thing we should all agree on - Dell Demps' most promising trait is his relentless, unceasing activity in the front office.  He's on top of every unheralded unsigned player, he's exploring trade possibilities with every member of his roster, and he isn't afraid in the slightest to move immediately when he thinks he has a move.  For a front office that has routinely been lampooned by A. Wojnarowski and Co. for its lack of employees, cubicles, staplers, or whatever else "normal" front offices are equipped with, it comes as a welcome step forward.

The signing of Gustavo Ayon is the latest example of this.

Ayon's a 26 year old power forward/center, hailing from Tepic, Mexico.  He signed on with Division 1 San Jose State in 2006, but instead opted to play professionally in his native Mexico.  After developing as a player and winning multiple league titles from 2006-2009, Ayon opted to head to Europe the next year, joining Spanish side Baloncesto Fuenlabrada.  The Spanish ACB is the best professional league in Europe; edging out Italy and Greece for top honors.

Ayon played a full season of Spanish basketball in 2010-2011, and had played 10 games in the 2011-2012 season before signing with New Orleans. Obviously, I haven't seen him play, but his line this year was about 16 points and 8 rebounds (over 3 offensive) on 66% from the floor and over 80% from the foul line.  Those numbers came in under 29 minutes a game.  It's clear, just from a statistical perspective, that this is a player that can play basketball.  And those that have followed his game extensively?  They're even more effusive in their praise.

Here are some tweets from Draft Express - perhaps the most respected international scouting service in professional basketball right now - last week:

@DraftExpress: In Spain. Arguably most productive player in league. RT @BKoremenos: Where did Gustavo Ayon play before NO nabbed him?
@DraftExpress: 6-10. Plays his ass off. Smart. Rebounds. Tough. Finds ways to score. Teammate. Perfect rotation big.
@DraftExpress: Most of the NBA was quietly tracking Gustavo Ayon. Everyone wanted to keep him a secret, hence the lack of hype/buzz. Clearly a NBA player.
@DraftExpress: Now its official I can finally say: Gustavo Ayon is a STEAL. Smart, tough, active, athletic 4/5. A young Jeff Foster. Well done New Orleans.

That's... a lot of praise.  From the description, is there any question at all that this is the quintessential Monty Williams player?

Dig around a bit more, and you'll find that the Spurs, Lakers, Nuggets, Suns and Pacers all made overtures for his services.  This, according to many analysts, is a guy that could help a good team immediately.  That a projected lottery team was able to pull this deal off?  That tells me a lot.

Whether Ayon will transition smoothly to the NBA remains to be seen, but the fact remains that this is a smart, cheap, resourceful signing regardless of how it all turns out.  You play the odds when you construct a team, and acquiring Ayon is a solid move regardless of the outcome.  The Hornets have reportedly been all over him throughout the lockout and will pay his Spanish side $0.75M to extract him from his contract there.

The Chris Paul section of Demps' tenure finishes to mixed reviews.  There was obviously an argument for going all out and trying to keep Chris Paul in New Orleans long term.  It didn't happen, and because of it, the alternative - keeping some pieces for the future on the roster - looks attractive in hindsight.  Whichever side of the Demps coin you fall on (I've supported every move he's made thus far, aside from Thornton), it's all in the past now.

The future began last week, and Dell Demps is, swift as ever, off to the races.


Posted on: May 27, 2010 3:55 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 2

Thanks to an error message, this is the second time I'll be typing this up.  I officially hate CBSsportsline.  Make my resubmission worth it, people.

 figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  The current draft on our countdown is actually the last draft in NBA history that allowed for high school seniors to be eligible to be drafted.  After this draft, eligible draftees (unless you are a foreign player, go figure) had to be one year removed from high school before they were eligible to be drafted.  For this reason, the 2005 NBA Draft is kind of historical, although it can be looked at historically for other reasons.  Two franchise players were drafted in the top five and one of the teams that passed on them is still regretting it to this day.  You may be a tad confused, but let's clear up any confusion on what I mean by diving into the draft coming in at the number two spot in our countdown.

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21869382

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21895619

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21928696

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21957208

#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21979856

#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22042511

#4: 2008 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22065028

#3: 2004 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22091609

#2: 2005 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Milwaukee Bucks - Andrew Bogut, C, Utah
2) Atlanta Hawks - Marvin Williams, SF, North Carolina
3) Utah Jazz - Deron Williams, PG, Illinois
4) New Orleans Hornets - Chris Paul, PG, Wake Forest
5) Charlotte Bobcats - Raymond Felton, PG, North Carolina
6) Portland Trail Blazers - Martell Webster, SG, Seattle Prep School
7) Toronto Raptors - Charlie Villanueva, PF, Uconn
8) New York Knicks - Channing Frye, PF, Arizona
9) Golden State Warriors - Ike Diogu, PF, Arizona State
10) Los Angeles Lakers - Andrew Bynum, C, St. Joseph High School

One thing you'll notice in this top five and one thing to remember going forward, the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels actually have quite a few players drafted here in the first round (in fact, four were lottery picks).  Just something to observe moving forward.  But the first player taken was not a Tar Heel, but an Australian Center who made a name for himself in the 2004 Olympics and followed it up with a terrific sophomore season for the Utah Utes.  Andrew Bogut has finally shown some consistency that lets the Bucks know they've found their pure center for the future, but he's also been very injury prone for his five seasons in the league.  Marvin Williams was thought by some to be the best prospect available in the draft.  Only 19 at the time of the draft, the Hawks, even though Williams did not play a position of need, took a chance on Williams.  He's shown some potential in his five seasons with Atlanta, but has not been consistent or anywhere near as good as the point guards taken after him; point guards who the Hawks could desperately use at this point.  Deron Williams took a year to get familiar with the Jazz system and the NBA, but the team has been rewarded handsomely with their patience.  Williams is the face of the franchise and one of the best players in the game.  The same can be said about the player taken right after him: Chris Paul.  Fun little fact, the Hornets and Bobcats actually had a coin flip to see who would pick first between the two if the draft worked out to where neither had a top 3 pick.  It didn't look like anything major at the time, but the Hornets won the toss and took Chris Paul, a perennial all star, Olympic Gold Medalist and the runner up to the 2008 MVP award, while the Bobcats took Felton who, although having a solid career, has not blazed the path that either Paul or Williams have.  Webster actually came into the league possesing a ridiculously pure jump shot, but has turned into a defensive specialist as his career has gone on.  He's also shown a vulnerability to injuries, though.  Toronto was soundly criticized for their selection of Villanueva, which many people felt was a reach and not a true position of need since Toronto had a good, young power forward in Chris Bosh.  Villanueva turned out to have a good rookie season in Toronto, though, and has managed to stay a solid rotation player for all three teams he's played on, although he's been largely inconsistent in his production.  Frye actually had a terrific start to his rookie season, winning the Rookie of the Month award with Chris Paul in November, but tailed off as the season went on and fell out of favor in Portland.  However, he's experienced a career resurgence with his hometown Phoenix Suns this season.  Diogu was seen as a potentially lethal low post scorer and showed flashes his rookie season in Golden State.  However, he's been injured a lot since then and has not been a consistent rotation player since his rookie season.  The Lakers, picking in the lottery for the first time since 1994, took a chance on a very talented high school center in Andrew Bynum to be the new center for the team after Shaquille O'Neal was traded to Miami in 2004.  Bynum has eventually become a staple at the center position, but has been injured for a majority of his career and has shown any dependability as far as his availability is concerned.

11) Orlando Magic - Fran Vazquez, PF, Spain
12) Los Angeles Clippers - Yaroslav Korolev, PF, Russia
13) Charlotte Bobcats - Sean May, PF, North Carolina
14) Minnesota Timberwolves - Rashad McCants, SG, North Carolina
15) New Jersey Nets - Antoine Wright, SG, Texas A&M
16) Toronto Raptors - Joey Graham, SF, Oklahoma State
17) Indiana Pacers - Danny Granger, SF, New Mexico
18) Boston Celtics - Gerald Green, SF, Gulf Shores Academy
19) Memphis Grizzlies - Hakim Warrick, PF, Syracuse
20) Denver Nuggets - Julius Hodge, SG, North Carolina State

A lot of untapped potential and underperforming players in this bunch.  Vazquez was taken by Orlando and they hoped to pair him up with Dwight Howard, but Vazquez stated, after being drafted, that he had no desire to play in the NBA, enraging Orlando fans and making the Magic look foolish.  The Clippers looked foolish for taking Korolev at 12 as well, but because Korolev got on the court for the team.  He made absolutely no splash his two seasons with the Clippers and quietly exited the league by 2007.  The Bobcats traded up to take May, the reigning NCAA Tournament MVP and another North Carolina product, but he hasn't been able to stay on the court due to injuries and weight issues.  His future in the league is seriously in jeopardy.  The Timberwolves, picking in the first round for the first time in five years due to a league punishment for a contract given to Joe Smith in 1999, took a chance on McCants, who was coming off an underwhelming season in North Carolina.  McCants showed flashes of potentially being a solid scorer in the league, although he had no lasting power and is now out of the league.  Antoine Wright has managed to become a solid defensive player in the league and has managed to become a starter for New Jersey, Dallas and then Toronto in his career.  Graham has been a rotation player for both Toronto and Denver during his stay in the league, but hasn't made a significant splash.  He may get a long look in Denver next season though.  Granger burst onto the scene as a scorer in 2008 and then won the 2009 Most Improved Player award.  Currently the face of the Indiana franchise, Granger is still as explosive scorer as there is in the league.  Green was a fantastic athlete coming out of high school and participated in a few slam dunk contests, but looked lost out on the court and struggled in game situations.  Minnesota and eventually Dallas took additional chances on Green but, at only 24, he's now out of the league.  Hakim Warrick has stayed as a solid big man off the bench for the duration of his career but has not taken that next step that's been expected by some.  Hodge, meanwhile, showed absolutely no flashes of consistency or productivity for two seasons with the Nuggets and was out of the league by 2007.

21) Phoenix Suns - Nate Robinson, PG, Washington (traded to the Knicks)
22) Denver Nuggets - Jarrett Jack, PG, Georgia Tech (traded to the Trail Blazers)
23) Sacramento Kings - Francisco Garcia, SF, Louisville
24) Houston Rockets - Luther Head, SG, Illinois
25) Seattle Supersonics - Johan Petro, C, France
26) Detroit Pistons - Jason Maxiell, PF, Cincinnati
27) Portland Trail Blazers - Linas Kleiza, SF, Missouri (traded to the Nuggets)
28) San Antonio Spurs - Ian Mahinmi, C, France
29) Miami Heat - Wayne Simien, PF, Kansas
30) New York Knicks - David Lee, PF, Florida

A solid list of role players were taken with the final ten selections in the first round.  The Suns continued their trend of using their draft pick for other teams and Robinson became a slam dunk sensation in New York (pun definitely intended).  He's also shown attitude issues and has been benched on two different squads so far in his career.  Time will tell where his talent takes him.  Jack, conversely, has been the type of player to maximize his talents and has been a steady, gutsy player for his career in the league.  Garcia has been a solid rotation player for Sacramento his entire career but has had problems with injuries the last two seasons.  Luther Head, meanwhile, was seen as a shooting specialist and has been in and out of rotations with different teams for his career, but may have found a home in Indiana this season.  Petro continued Seattle's trend of drafting a center and then seeing what happens (Robert Swift the year before this draft; Mouhammed Sene the year after this draft) although Petro's the only one out of the three who still has a place in the league.  Maxiell burst onto the scene as a tremendous hustle and energy player for Detroit his first few seasons in the league and was handsomely rewarded with a contract, but has not been able to perform with added roles and expectations.  Kleiza took awhile but became an explosive offensive player for Denver off the bench before going back to play overseas this past offseason.  Mahinmi is the only swing and miss so far for the Spurs this decade, but I like Mahinmi a lot (I've been able to meet him on two separate occasions) and I'll attribute his inability to crack the rotation and play consistently due to the injuries he's sustained over his career.  Simien, meanwhile, was out of the league by 2007 and, after playing overseas for a couple seasons, retired from basketball in 2009 to pursue a career with his Christian ministry.  Good luck to him!  David Lee became a fatnastic hustle player for New York and was immediately a crowd favorite in the Garden.  He's since emerged into an all star for the Knicks and may be a wanted commodity this coming offseason.

Round Two Notables:
33) New Orleans Hornets - Brandon Bass, PF, LSU
34) Utah Jazz - C.J. Miles, SG, Skyline High School
36) Milwaukee Bucks - Ersan Ilyasova, SF, Turkey
37) Los Angeles Lakers - Ronny Turiaf, PF, Gonzaga
40) Golden State Warriors - Monta Ellis, SG, Lanier High School
45) Philadelphia 76ers - Louis Williams, SG, South Gwinnett High School
49) Washington Wizards - Andray Blatche, PF, South Kent Prep School
50) Boston Celtics - Ryan Gomes, SF, Providence
56) Detroit Pistons - Amir Johnson, PF, Westchester High School
57) Orlando Magic - Marcin Gortat, C, Poland

A solid list of second rounders here.  Bass showed potential in New Orleans but never did crack coach Byron Scott's rotation.  He went to Dallas and became a great bench player for two seasons with the Mavericks before signing on to play with Orlando this year.  I actually played against C.J. Miles in high school and, after becoming the target of scorn from Utah's fans and coaching staff, finally showed flashes of being a really good player this season.  Ilyasova actually signed with Milwaukee in 2006 and then asked to be released so he could return overseas.  However, he came back this season and had a signifcant impact for a Bucks team that made the playoffs.  Turiaf was a terrific college player who some teams backed away from because of an enlarged heart, but he's managed to be a fan favorite and great bench player everywhere he's played.  Monta Ellis was a great find for Golden State in the second round and by 2007, was assuming an increased responsibility and becoming a fantastic scorer in this league.  A moped accident in the 2008 offseason, shortly after signing a brand new lucrative contract extension, irritated Golden State fans and management, but he made up for it, largely, this season.  Lou Williams took a couple seasons before becoming a great bench player for some postseason teams in Philadelphia.  Blatche has been a head case and in and out of Washington's rotation, but showed signs during the second half of this season of becoming a really, really good player in the league.  Gomes has managed to become a solid rotation player for both Boston and Minnesota during his career.  Amir Johnson receives the distinction of being the last high schooler ever drafted in the NBA.  He was counted on to do a lot in Toronto last season but underperformed and is now playing in Toronto.  Gortat, meanwhile, emerged as a backup for last year's Eastern Conference Champion Orlando team and received a huge contract last offseason, but didn't take the steps forward this season that some expected.

Notable Undrafted Players:
Jose Calderon, PG, Spain - Signed with the Toronto Raptors
Kelenna Azubuike, SG, Kentucky - Signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2006
Chuck Hayes, PF, Kentucky - Signed with the Houston Rockets
Josh Powell, PF, North Carolina State - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
Ronnie Price, PG, Utah Valley - Signed with the Sacramento Kings
Will Bynum, PG, Georgia Tech - Signed with the Golden State Warriors
Fabricio Oberto, C, Argentina - Signed with the San Antonio Spurs

Another great group of undrafted players.  Calderon was convinced to come to Toronto and struggled with his shot his rookie season but eventually burst onto the scene as a pure point guard for Toronto in 2008.  He's been in and out of the starting line up since then but has remained a solid player for Toronto.  Azubuike became an explosive offensive talent in Golden State's system but has struggled with injuries, like many of Golden State's players, the last couple seasons.  Hayes coupled up with Carl Landry to create an old school, physical bunch of forwards with the Houston Rockets and started all 82 games for Houston this season.  Powell eventually cracked the rotation with the Clippers as time went on and then signed with the Lakers, where he won a championship with the 2009 Lakers team.  Ronnie Price eventually returned to Utah as a back up point guard for the Jazz and is still a dependable bench player for the Jazz.  Bynum eventually became a good bench player in Detroit and burst onto the scene last year.  Meanwhile, Oberto signed with the Spurs in 2005 and eventually started on the team that won the 2007 NBA Championship. 

2005-2006 NBA Rookie of the Year: Chris Paul
All Stars from the 2005 NBA Draft: Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Danny Granger, David Lee

2005-2006 NBA All-Rookie First Team:
Chris Paul
Charlie Villanueva
Andrew Bogut
Deron Williams
Channing Frye

2005-2006 NBA All-Rookie Second Team:
Danny Granger
Raymond Felton
Luther Head
Marvin Williams
Ryan Gomes

Posted on: May 18, 2010 1:10 pm
Edited on: May 18, 2010 1:17 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 9

I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  The draft lottery is tonight, so with the lukewarm reception I received with yesterday's submission (and yes I am using the term lukewarm very loosely), I wanted to get out # 9 before tonight's game.  Just to let you know, we can all agree that 2000 is the worst draft of the bunch, so everything after this is entirely subjective and, honestly, I can switch from 9 to 5 as often as I want and I won't feel comfortable with my list.  But comment, agree or disagree, whatever.  Here's number 9 on my top ten draft lists: the 2007 NBA Draft which features some good names but, overall, a lot of dissapointing performances from a lot of the top picks.

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

entry/5993128/21869382?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#9: 2007 NBA Draft

Round One:
1) Portland Trail Blazers - Greg Oden, C, Ohio State
2) Seattle Supersonics - Kevin Durant, SF, Texas
3) Atlanta Hawks - Al Horford, C, Florida
4) Memphis Grizzlies - Mike Conley, Jr., PG, Ohio State
5) Boston Celtics - Jeff Green, PF, Georgetown (traded to the Supersonics)
6) Milwaukee Bucks - Yi Jianlian, PF, China
7) Minnesota Timberwolves - Corey Brewer, SG, Florida
8) Charlotte Bobcats - Brandan Wright, PF, North Carolina (traded to the Warriors)
9) Chicago Bulls - Joakim Noah, C, Florida
10) Sacramento Kings - Spencer Hawes, C, Washington

Not a horrible list of top ten players.  Kevin Durant is a bonafide stud and looks to be the, unquestioned, star of this draft.  As one of the exciting young players in the league, Seattle definitely got right.  Portland, bless their hearts, took a chance on another big man over a solid wing player and look to be experiencing deja vu all over again, what with Greg Oden's injuries to both his right and his left knee, and he's missed 164 out of a possible 246 games.  Horford has become a nice pieces for the Hawks as has his Florida teammate Joakim Noah for the Bulls.  Both are probably playing out of position at center, but the league's small lineups have allowed both to become potential perennial all stars at their positions.  Their other Florida teammate, Corey Brewer, finally showed some life in Minnesota this season after two dull years while players like Conley and Yi Jianlian are still waiting to turn the corner and become good players.  Jianlian, especially, made a big deal about being drafted to Milwaukee and not wanting to play there, although he eventually did before being traded to New Jersey after his rookie season.  Jeff Green is another solid contributing piece to those very promising Oklahoma City teams now while players like Wright and Hawes have battled injuries and inconsistency, and haven't yet shown that they can be counted consistently on by either of their rebuilding squads.

11) Atlanta Hawks - Acie Law, PG, Texas A&M
12) Philadelphia 76ers - Thaddeus Young, SF, Georgia Tech
13) New Orleans Hornets - Julian Wright, SF, Kansas
14) Los Angeles Clippers - Al Thornton, SF, Florida State
15) Detroit Pistons - Rodney Stuckey, PG, Eastern Washington
16) Washington Wizards - Nick Young, SG, USC
17) New Jersey Nets - Sean Williams, C, Boston College
18) Golden State Warriors - Marco Belinelli, SG, Italy
19) Los Angeles Lakers - Javaris Crittenton, PG, Georgia Tech
20) Miami Heat - Jason Smith, PF, Colorado State (traded to the 76ers)

This list of 11 to 20 just reeks of mediocrity.  You can't really say anything horrible about any of the players on this list outside of Law and Williams, but nobody, maybe Young, Thornton or Stuckey, has shown they can be really good players in this league.  Law never got on the court in Atlanta and is now sitting as a back up in Chicago.  Young has shown some promise for Philadelphia, especially last season, but regressed badly this year.  Wright showed some potential his rookie season but has done nothing after that for New Orleans.  Thornton has put up the best numbers of this bunch but did so with no expectations for the Clippers and dissapeared after a midseason traded to Washington this year.  Stuckey has been hyped a lot in Detroit but hasn't lived up to his promise any season.  Players like Nick Young and Belinelli have shown in spots that they can be competent players in this league, but neither cashed in on their increased playing time this season.  Meanwhile Crittenton didn't even last the full year with the Lakers and got involved in the infamous Gilbert Arenas gun incident this season while Smith has been a forgettable player for the Sixers but has still stayed on the team.

21) Philadelphia 76ers - Daequan Cook, SG, Ohio State (traded to the Heat)
22) Charlotte Bobcats - Jared Dudley, SF, Boston College
23) New York Knicks - Wilson Chandler, SF, DePaul
24) Phoenix Suns - Rudy Fernandez, SG, Spain (traded to the Trail Blazers)
25) Utah Jazz - Morris Almond, PG, Rice
26) Houston Rockets - Aaron Brooks, PG, Oregon
27) Detroit Pistons - Arron Afflalo, SG, UCLA
28) San Antonio Spurs - Tiago Splitter, PF, Brazil
29) Phoenix Suns - Alando Tucker, SF, Wisconsin
30) Philadelphia 76ers - Petteri Koponen, PG, Finland (traded to the Trail Blazers)

This isn't a bad 21-30 list either.  Cook, Dudley and Afflalo became really solid contributing pieces for playoff teams this season.  Wilson Chandler and Rudy Fernandez have both shown some promise although neither has shown that they can be great.  Aaron Brooks won the Most Improved Player of the Year award this season and really broke out in last year's postseason after becoming the starting point guard for the Rockets.  Almond and Tucker never did work out in their respective organizations and are now no longer in the league (as far as I know).  Meanwhile, Splitter and Koponen are hyped prospects by both of their respective fanbases but are still playing overseas.  Splitter, especially, is being counted on to be the big man of the future in San Antonio, although all that has yet to be seen.  Rounding out the first one, there's a lot of nice, solid players on this list but Durant looks like the only great player in the first round.

Round Two Notables:
31) Seattle Supersonics - Carl Landry, PF, Purdue (traded to the Rockets)
35) Seattle Supersonics - Glen Davis, PF, LSU (traded to the Celtics)
48) Los Angeles Lakers - Marc Gasol, C, Spain
49) Chicago Bulls - Aaron Gray, C, Pittsburgh
56) Milwaukee Bucks - Ramon Sessions, PG, Nevada

Not a bad list of 2nd round guys.  Actually some really solid names on this list minus Gray, who I only put on here because he's still playing in the league and because he plays for the Hornets.  Landry has become the consumate tough guy, has lost almost all of his teeth playing basketball and become a really good player for the Rockets and then the Kings this season.  Big Baby Davis was part of the deal that sent Jeff Green to Seattle, and after an OK rookie season, really exploded in the playoffs last year and is a solid bench player for some great Boston teams.  Marc Gasol was used later that season in the trade that brought his brother Pau Gasol to the Lakers and Marc is now the starting center for the Memphis Grizzlies.  Meanwhile, Sessions has shown so much promise every single season that he plays, but is still struggling to put it all together consistently. 

2007-2008 NBA Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant
All Stars from the 2007 NBA Draft: Kevin Durant, Al Horford

2007-2008 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Al Horford
Kevin Durant
Luis Scola (who was originally drafted in 2002 by the Spurs before finally being traded to, and then signing with, Houston in 2007)
Al Thornton
Jeff Green

2007-2008 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Jamario Moon (who went undrafted in 2001 before finally signing with the Raptors in 2007)
Juan Carlos Navarro (who was originally drafted in 2002 by the Wizards before being traded to, and the signing with, Memphis in 2007)
Thaddeus Young
Rodney Stuckey
Carl Landry

Posted on: March 5, 2010 2:57 am
 

NBA Power Rankings (March 4th, 2010)

Wow I actually miss doing these.  I used to do it every week last year and it really was a joy to put them out because they got so much attention on here.  Now with teams having made their moves at the deadline and now that they've been able to incorporate those new players to a certain degree, this serves as an ideal time to return with the power rankings.  We'll now evaluate who stands where at this point in time and who is prime to make a run, who's running out of gas and who is flying under the radar.  So here's this season's first incarnation of GoHornets21's NBA Power Rankings.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (48-14) - LeBron James has been absolutely terrific this season in every way and there's nobody playing better in the league at this point in time.  The injuries to Shaquille O'Neal and the "risky trade" of Zydrunas Ilgauskas really have hurt the frontcourt, and it's going to be difficult trying to get all of those players used to the rotation and back into the flow of things right at the postseason, but the Cavs have the best player in the league to help these players come along.  Mo Williams has found his shot as of late and if he can get consistent at all this season, the Cavs will be even better.  Antawn Jamison still looks like an odd fit, but he's putting up numbers and the Cavs could really use some scoring from the frontcourt positions so he has to be a welcome addition for Cleveland.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (46-16) - The team is still coming along slowly since Kobe Bryant's return to the lineup.  That's not to say this team is better without him.  If they're going to win a championship this season, they need Kobe in top form for the entire postseason.  He is the player that puts them over the top.  But players like Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown were getting all kinds of touches and opportunities to create for themselves and others, that they're now having to regress back to earlier this season and allow Kobe to get his touches again.  I think the confidence built up for Brown in Kobe's absence may have already gone to waste at this moment, but there's still time to build it back up.  Lamar Odom continues to play some really solid basketball of late as well.

3. Denver Nuggets (40-21) - The Nuggets continue to be a mixed bag for me.  Sometimes I think they look terrific and other times I think they don't have the mental toughness to be a championship team.  But they've played some really inspired basketball since George Karl's cancer announcement and they continue to stand out, to me, as the Lakers' biggest threat in the Western Conference.  But Dallas is hard on their heels and the Nuggets have to continue to bring it every single night. 

4. Dallas Mavericks (41-21) - Currently the hottest team in the league, the Dallas Mavericks have been a completely different team since Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood entered the starting lineup.  Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd both have just played some really great basketball since the trade and the Mavericks look as good as they have since the year after their NBA Finals apperance.  As we know, that team lost in the first round of the playoffs, though.  I don't expect that to happen this season but the Mavericks still have to distance themselves from the postseason stink that surrounds that franchise.  Is a clutter of assorted individual talents going to be enough to finally get Dallas over the hump?  Only time will tell.  But I think this group of players is a good enough fit for this team to make some kind of run.  Getting that second seed is more important to them than it is to any other team in the Western Conference in my opinion so I don't see them letting up at any point the rest of this year.  This is Dirk's new best chance to get that elusive championship ring.  He's playing like it.

5. Orlando Magic (42-20) - I don't know what's happened in Orlando, but Dwight Howard has really came on as of late.  After that dissapointing loss in New Orleans last week, the Magic have really looked focused out there and it shows in their play on the court.  Rashard Lewis is slowly starting to come along this season (finally) and if he gets a consistent shot like he had last season, this team will again challenge Cleveland in the Eastern Conference.  But they need Lewis to play better than he has this season.  Jameer Nelson continues to be an enigma of sorts in Orlando but when he's on this team really gels.  They need him to regain some kind of consistant form and when he and Lewis do, watch out.

6. Utah Jazz (39-22) - The Jazz have been flying under the radar all season but they're playing great basketball this season.  They've finally learned how to win on the road this season and we all know how tough of a team they are when they're in Salt Lake City.  Deron Williams really has to enter into some MVP talks with the way he's kept this team together, and Carlos Boozer is using this contract year to really step out and he is really playing hard to get paid this summer.  I still think they lack the interior toughness that championship teams possess, but the Jazz shouldn't be underestimated.

7. Atlanta Hawks (39-21) - After these first six teams, it gets a little jumbled up to me.  Atlanta stands out just because they have a terrific starting 5, a solid coach (I don't care what you Hawks fans say to the contrary) and a great 6th man.  Also, they've beaten the only other team I would consider for this spot (Boston) four times this season, so I believe Atlanta deserves to be here.  I usually roll my eyes when people say Joe Johnson is always an underrated superstar in this league, but this year is the first time I would really say that.  He's been huge for the Hawks when they need it and he's had to handle a lot with Mike Bibby's struggles this year and with Jamal Crawford not really being a true point guard.  But he's handled it well.  Marvin Williams has played well the next couple of games, and if they can get him to play hard they'll be just fine in the playoffs.  I don't know why he's been so bland this season.  But this team has the starting five, they just need to start putting it together for the stretch run.

8. Boston Celtics (38-21) - The Celtics are trying to get fully healthy for the first time this season, and if they can do so the league better watch out.  The Celtics really don't need home court advantage in the postseason.  They've been there and done that when it comes to winning in the playoffs and all they need is a fully healthy roster.  Neither Rasheed Wallace or Marquis Daniels turned out like they wanted this offseason in Boston, but picking up Nate Robinson at the deadline looks to be a good move.  What happened to Glen Davis this season?  After last year's run in the playoffs, I thought he was going to emerge as a great player off of Boston's bench this season.  He's only had a couple good games that I can remember all season long.  I guess some of it may be injury, but how much of it is possibly because he got paid this summer?

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-24) - Russell Westbrook continues to be in Kevin Durant's shadow this season but continues to play some of the most unheralded basketball in the league.  However, there's still no equaling what Durant's doing this season.  He's been the catalyst for this surprising team all season long and has absolutely no offensive weakness to his game.  If you want someone to score a point for you down the stretch, I'd put him right up there with Kobe as someone who I would want to have the ball for that possession.  And I whole heartedly mean that.  He's been great.  Jeff Green's stats have fallen off this year as opposed to last year, but I still think he's important as a glue guy for this team.  He's really gotten lost in the praise shuffle in Oklahoma City, and I think his salary may be neglected this offseason and that may hurt the Thunder's progression.  But there's no reason why this team can't win at least one playoff series this year.

10. Phoenix Suns (39-25) - The surprising resurgence in Phoenix continues even after a horrible month of January.  Steve Nash is still playing good basketball, Amar'e Stoudemire has been terrific since the trade deadline (someone else looking to get paid this summer) and they've gotten great contributions from Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic all season long.  Robin Lopez had about a week where he was putting up some terrific numbers but he's regressed a bit these past few games.  The Suns will need him to consistently contribute on both sides of the court if they're going to make any noise in the postseason.  He's shown that he's capable, it's up to him to still find ways to contribute even when teams now make an effort to guard him.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (37-27) - The team with the worst luck in the league is slowly getting back to health and when they do, they're one streak away from convincing me they can contend for a spot in the Western Conference Finals.  They're not that far off.  They're incredibly deep, they have a fantastic bench, a legit superstar in Brandon Roy and one of the best home courts in the league.  Getting Marcus Camby at the deadline will do a lot to soften the blow of not having Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla for the rest of this season.  Juwan Howard played admirably in their absence, but no legitimately good team is going to start him at center.  He probably shouldn't even be getting the heavy minutes that he is, but Nate McMillan really has no other options.  They have to find a way to get healthy this year if they want to make a run, but they can do it.  I like their chances.

12. San Antonio Spurs (34-24) - The Spurs continue to impress you one night, make you sick the next when they take the court.  I think a lot of the inconsistency across the board is Greg Popovich's fault.  All things considered, and I think Pop is the second best coach in the league to Phil Jackon, this has been Pop's worst season as a head coach at San Antonio.  The main reason for the Spurs inconsistency is Pop's inability to have any stable, set rotation this season.  He's given big minutes to George Hill, and that seems to be the only player outside of the big three that Pop knows what he wants to do with them.  He's started Richard Jefferson and brought him off the bench; done the same to Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and Keith Bogans as well.  He needs to set a rotation, know who he wants in the game and go with that already.  He's hurting this team's chance to get in any rhythym before the playoffs.

13. Milwaukee Bucks (31-29) - I've really been driving the Milwaukee bandwagon as of late.  Andrew Bogut has come down to Earth a little bit after a terrific stretch of basketball, but Scott Skiles and company just find ways to win basketball games.  John Salmons has been indescribably huge for them since coming over at the trade deadline, and let's not forget the contributions Jerry Stackhouse has made for them off the bench since coming on board midway through the season.  You look at their bench, they have Luke Ridnour, Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas, those are players that can contribute for you on a nightly basis.  They're more talented than people give them credit for.  If Brandon Jennings finds his jump shot again at any point the rest of the season, watch out for this team in the playoffs.

14. Toronto Raptors (31-28) - The Raptors started off playing some good basketball after Chris Bosh initially got injured, but have tailed off since; losing their last four games.  I thought Hedo Turkoglu would be an ideal fit for this team and the way they play basketball, but he's just been so unreliable all season long.  Andrea Bargnani really hasn't taken that step forward this season that I thought he would either.  There's a lot of players who have dissapointed up North, but the team still finds itself above .500 and they're still a solid team with Chrsi Bosh in the lineup.  I had bigger hopes for them, though.  Now, I can't see them winning a playoff series.  Then again, I was wrong with them once.

15. Memphis Grizzlies (32-30) - The Grizzlies started off slow, played great basketball, tailed off, and are now starting to play great again.  The team really goes as Zach Randolph goes.  When he plays great, the team is unstoppable.  When he's simply going through the motions and is just putting up decent numbers, it reflects in everyone else's contributions.  The bench is still horrendously thin and that's probably going to keep them out of the postseason.  But the Grizzlies have taken a step forward this season and the franchise at least has a pulse now.

16. New Orleans Hornets (31-31) - This was a crucial week for New Orleans and any hopes they had of making the postseason and the team didn't respond very well.  Losses at home to San Antonio and Memphis have great deteriorated the Hornets' playoff opportunity.  Chris Paul is said to be coming back in roughly a week, and his presence will be welcomed back among Hornets players, coaches and fans alike.  Darren Collison has been terrific in his absence, but his turnovers have cost the Hornets just as many games as he's won for them.  Marcus Thornton continues to be a terrific find in the 2nd round for Interim Head Coach/General Manager Jeff Bower, and the Hornets are doing the right thing by developing their young talent.  This offseason is going to be critical for the direction the Hornets take as a franchise.

17. Chicago Bulls (31-30) - I'm done trying to figure out what kind of team the Bulls are going to be this year.  Outside of Derrick Rose, you don't know what you're getting out of anybody on any given night.  Luol Deng has rebounded very nicely this season and is the clear cut second option, but is that necessarily a good thing?  Joakim Noah's injury also is holding the team back a bit, since he was playing so well at the beginning of the season.  Looking at Ronald Murray, Devin Brown and Jannero Pargo, the Bulls are probably wishing they had held on to John Salmons.  Hakim Warrick has always put up good numbers on bad teams, but is now being asked to contribute for a team with postseason aspirations.  He needs to deliver for Chicago.

18. Miami Heat (31-31) - The Heat's decision to not pursue a second option for Dwyane Wade may have been the right move financially, but it's really hurt the team on the court.  Michael Beasley showed glimpses of being able to put it all together earlier this season but started bickering at reporters and has regressed ever since.  Maybe a lot of you were right when you told me he didn't have the mental toughness to survive in this league.  Outside of Beasley, who of these guys do you really want contributing nightly for your team?  It's such a bad roster that I'm surprised Wade has them at .500.  I know they have the money for him and another superstar, but does this team have the brass to really put a decent team together?  Even if you add another great player, that's still a horrible group of players and now two good players.  It won't make them a championship team. 

19. Houston Rockets (30-30) - After the very publicized trade in Houston, Kevin Martin has come around to finding his shot for the Rockets.  They've been without Kyle Lowry for about 9 games now (I think) and that's really been a big reason why the team has struggled as of late.  They were playing so well at the beginning of the year, and with all the injury problems you kind of pulled for them to make some noise but they just don't have the talent to keep up.  It doesn't seem likely, but hopefully Yao Ming returns healthy next season (long shot) and this team can make some kind of sustained run together.  It's not a bad, little group of players.

20. Charlotte Bobcats (28-31) - For awhile there this team looked like a lock to make the postseason and was playing great basketball.  As of late, they've really looked bad.  Larry Brown hasn't been able to get a handle on this team in the two years he's been with Charlotte, and he doesn't look like he's enjoying the job either.  Michael Jordan buying the team pumps some life into them, but this roster doesn't have any kind of cohesive feel to it.  It's a great assortment of individual talent, but none of them look good together on the court.  I still like the move to acquire Tyrus Thomas at the deadline and he can be huge off the bench for the Bobcats if he plays up to his potential.  Miami is catchable, but their margin for error is slim and the team needs to get an identity and they need to do so quickly.

21. Sacramento Kings (21-40) - Even though the record isn't there, the effort, the hustle, the coaching and the potential is there to create some kind of excitement around Sacramento.  The move to acquire Carl Landry while getting rid of Kevin Martin's contract was just ingenious.  Tyreke Evans should run away with rookie of the year honors and overall this team has a fun feel to it.  Paul Westphal is the perfect balance of discipline and structure that a group of unproven players needs, and this team can really make strides these next two seasons and be back in the playoffs by 2012. 

22. Los Angeles Clippers (25-36) - The curious resigning of Mike Dunleavy and subsequent trades for cap space have once again made the Clippers a barely relevant basketball team, although their record says that they're now awful this season.  This team continues to riddle even the most brilliant of basketball fans, as there's no reason for a team with that kind of talent to be as mediocre as they are.  They have a good point guard, a good center, and good contributors at every position out there.  But they just never can put it together.  Hopefully, Blake Griffin comes back next season fully healthy and this team makes some kind of stride going forward.  There's really no excuse anymore to not succeed.

23. Philadelphia 76ers (22-38) - Nobody's been able to figure out what's going on in Philadelphia all season long.  Eddie Jordan just hasn't given this team any kind of identity or style and the play has been indicative of that.  The Allen Iverson saga has become bigger than the franchise as of late (something that most teams wanted to avoid, which is why Iverson was so available for Philadelphia).  They didn't make any moves at the deadline and I'm curious as to why they didn't, because they either need to get into rebuilding mode or spend ridiculous amounts of cash to be a playoff regular.  Because there isn't a more stale team in the league than this 76ers squad.

24. New York Knicks (21-39) - The Knicks can put up numbers in bunches but still look like garbage some times on the court.  That effort against the Cavaliers was pathetic but at least they rebounded to beat up on Detroit last night.  David Lee has been one of the most consistent players on the court league wide and if not for him the Knicks would probably be in worst shape than they currently are.  Bill Walker looks to be a great find off of Boston's bench (after hearing their interest in Michael Finley, you think they're regretting letting Walker go?) but then again, everyone looks to be a great find when they get in D'Antoni's gimmicked system.  They have a bad team, but that's mainly because they've freed up the space to go after who they want this offseason.  For the sake of their fans, they better get them, because if not this franchise is going to be in really bad shape.

25. Washington Wizards (21-37) - Moving Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler has been so great for this Washington franchise.  It's not that those were bad players, they're really good players.  In fact, their new teams are both in the top four of these power rankings.  And their additions are a big reason why.  But Washington needed a change in identity, and disassociating themselves from anybody involved with the team's playoff runs was a good thing for the future.  Now without the constraints of commitments to veterans, Flip Saunders has taken the handcuffs off this team and their play has been indicative of such.  Andray Blatche, especially, has been huge since the trade deadline and looks fantastic out on the court.  They're still not a good team, but at least they're a team Wizards fans can be prouder of.

26. Detroit Pistons (21-40) - The Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings officially look awful.  In fact, they look like some of the worst moves league wide in a long, long time.  It's not as if this team has the cap space to improve, the coaching that gives me confidence things can turn around, or even the young talent that you know they can build around.  Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Will Bynum, these are all nice players for good teams but they're not players you want to hitch the future of a franchise to.  When you look at the paychecks that Gordon, Villanueva and Jason Maxiell are getting in Detroit, it's no wonder why this team is so average.  They've invested in the wrong types of players and this franchise is in dire needs of a makeover.

27. Indiana Pacers (20-41) - They've really taken a step back this season and injuries have been a big part of it.  Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and even the likes of Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough have all missed substantial time this season.  It's not as if this team was stacked with talent to begin with, so the injuries just make things worse.  Jim O'Brien looks as good as gone, and this is another team that really needs some kind of makeover.  I look at the players Larry Bird has brought in and the players he's drafted, and I don't think he's done a bad job in Indiana.  I just don't look at the roster as a whole and say "there's something to like here."  Danny Granger hasn't been able to duplicate the success he had last season and neither has Troy Murphy for the most part.  Those are probably the biggets reasons why Indiana has taken such a drastic step back.

28. Golden State Warriors (17-43) - Stephen Curry has really been a feel good story in the Bay City and has done a lot to lessen the blow that is how awful this team is out on the court.  He's played all year and has done a fine job in his starting role, but Monta Ellis' recent injury problems have only added on to the long list of injured Warriors on the roster.  This is now becoming a recurring theme every year for Golden State, and it confuses me as an observer from the outside.  Why is it that all these players are getting hurt in Golden State every single year, regardless if the player has any kind of injury history or is even getting any substantial minutes to where this injury can occur.  There's some kind of bad aura surrounding Golden State right now and it doesn't look bright for the Warriors.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-48) - Finally Corey Brewer has come around to being a servicable player in this league.  Maybe still not worthy of the lottery pick the Timberwolves used on him, but a good player nonethless.  Outside of him and Kevin Love, everybody that was on the team last season just has dissapeared this season.  This bootleg triangle that Kurt Rambis is trying to opperate just is not working.  Al Jefferson is nowhere near the player he was the last two seasons.  Ryan Gomes would at least show glimpses of being a good player last year and he's been virtually non-existent this season.  Jonny Flynn has put up good numbers but has done nothing to stand out in Minnesota as well.  This is another team that's still a bit puzzling because you don't know when the true rebuilding stage is going to kick in.  They're obviously not anywhere near playoff contention yet, but what gives you any indication they will be in the near future?

30. New Jersey Nets (6-54) - For awhile there I bought into the hype that the Nets could set the NBA record for futility and surpass the 76ers 9-63 record.  After last week's win at Boston, I'm convinced this team will at least go 4- 19 over their last 23 games to get that elusive tenth victory.  This team has no business being this bad, and for that reason I kind of feel as if they deserve to carry that loser label around with them.  They don't try, they don't perform, they're undisciplined and they don't seem to care that they're so awful of a team.  Poor Kiki Vandeweghe was told to firesale the roster with the hopes of acquiring LeBron James this offseason, but he's going to be blamed for how bad this roster is.  Even with all this cap space, there's no reason for a player to want to go to New Jersey, the impending move to Brooklyn is still pending, and that Russian billionare who was going to buy the team still has yet to buy them.  Even still, they shouldn't be anywhere near 9-63. 
Category: NBA
Tags: 76ers, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andray Blatche, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Antawn Jamison, Antonio McDyess, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Bill Walker, Blake Griffin, Bobcats, Brandon Jennings, Brandon Roy, Brendan Haywood, Bucks, Bulls, Carl Landry, Carlos Boozer, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Channing Frye, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Clippers, Corey Brewer, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, David Lee, DeJuan Blair, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Devin Brorwn, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, George Hill, Glen Davis, Goran Dragic, Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, Jannero Pargo, Jared Dudley, Jason Kidd, Jason Maxiell, Jazz, Jeff Foster, Jeff Green, Jerry Stackhouse, Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson, Joel Przybilla, John Salmons, Jonas Jerebko, Jonny Flynn, Jordan Farmar, Juwan Howard, Keith Bogans, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kurt Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, Luke Ridnour, Luol Deng, Magic, Marcus Camby, Marcus Thornton, Marquis Daniels, Marvin Williams, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mike Bibby, Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Pistons, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Jefferson, Robin Lopez, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ronald Murray, Russell Westbrook, Ryan Gomes, Shannon Brown, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Suns, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Troy Murphy, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyreke Evans, Tyrus Thomas, Warriors, Will Bynum, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph
 
Posted on: March 30, 2009 3:37 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Houston Rockets

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

Eastern Conference:
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team that, by way of Phoenix's loss last night, recently clinched a playoff spot: the Houston Rockets.

Strengths
The Rockets are a throwback to the old days.  They include everyone in the offense, play a physical style of basketball and have tremendous defenders at nearly every area of the court.  The Rockets throw two tremendous on the ball defenders in Ron Artest and Shane Battier at your best players, making it nearly impossible for anyone to get into any kind of rhythym and then have 7'6" Yao Ming waiting around the basket for whenever Artest and Battier gamble and their defenders gets past them.  It's extremely difficult to score on Houston and they are also fantastic at rebounding the basketball, which limits any second chance opportunities for the oppositon. 

On offense, the Rockets are very balanced with a nice inside-outside game.  Yao Ming, for all of his height, has a beautiful touch around the basket and can draw defenders away from the basket.  He's a weapon that a lot of times simply don't have, and because of his height and shot is difficult to guard.  Rick Adelman's motion offense includes everyone on the court and forces teams to hold all of their players accountable.  But with Luis Scola and Yao Ming holding the paint area, and with Ron Artest, Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks streching the defense, they're not as inept on scoring as most teams that rely on their defense are. 

Weaknesses
The Rockets, although they run a fantastic offense and have solid players on every position, really don't have anyone who can take over a game in the clutch.  Yao Ming is capable but lacks the killer instinct, and Ron Artest doesn't shy away from taking big shots, but is way too inconsistent to be reliable for every game in the postseason.  They don't have that wing player that can really help them get over bad slumps and get the ball going around to everybody.  Aaron Brooks is also a solid point guard and has more upside than Rafer Alston did at this stage in his career, but I'm not convinced that Brooks is an upgrade at this point in time.  Also, the team has a nice starting five but doesn't necessarily have the explosive bench necessary for spelling those starters.  Von Wafer, Kyle Lowry and Carl Landry are good energy players but neither has the capability of changing games off the bench. 

The Rockets also aren't a very athletic team.  When they play potent offenses things can get difficult for them, and this team really struggles coming from behind.  Their defense has to be on point every single game, and it is, but they can't fall behind by double digits and hope for a comeback.  Their team isn't built for that.  The Rockets are very good at controlling the pace of the game, but if they can't dictate the pace and teams escape the half court game then the Rockets are going to be hard pressed for options. 

Why They Will Win It
The Rockets could easily win it this season because they have two things that so many teams are lacking in the postseason: defense and a fantastic post game.  The Rockets have depth at the big man positions and all of them can score around the basket.  They've been on the brink of succeeding the past couple of seasons but always seem to defeat themselves in the postseason.  Ron Artest brings an awesome sense of confidense in tight games and this team now believes that they can win. 

Why They Won't Win It
The Rockets may struggle to find someone who can consistently take over games for them in crucial situations.  They have all of the role players, defensive mentality and post game but don't necessarily have a good wing player who can come up with big shots consistently.  In this regard, I think they'll miss Rafer Alston and Tracy McGrady.  McGrady was never effecient at taking the big shots, but teams really focussed to stop him and that opened up shots for other people.  Most teams will live with Ron Artest's low shooting percentage because he doesn't utilize his main strength: taking smaller defenders to the basket.

Conclusion
It's still mental in Houston.  They have to escape the first round and once they do that things can fall into place.  The first playoff series will be the most difficult but if Houston wins then they can make a nice run at a championship.  There are no excuses to not get out of the first round this season, because Tracy McGrady is not there to blame, Yao Ming is healthy for the first time in four years and they have, arguably, the best defensive team in the NBA.  They have to avoid teams that also excell at half court offense, but if they can face a team that relies too heavily on offense then the Rockets can shut them down and come out victorious.  The Rockets, though, may be lacking the consistent offensive star to take this team to the next level.  Aaron Brooks, Ron Artest and Von Wafer can be great in spurts in certain situations but they're going to lack any bit of consistency.  The Rockets are a championship team with a championship defensive mentality, but they have to have someone step up and hit big shots consistently.  If anyone can step up and do that, the Rockets can make a run at a championship.

The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.

Posted on: October 2, 2008 11:50 am
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:22 am
 

My 2008-2009 NBA Preseason Predictions

 Well with the season nearing and with all of the players basically signed up to play for the upcoming 2008-2009 NBA season, I'm going to throw my predictions out there (even if it is too early).  Their playoff seeding will be by the team name.

 

 

 

Eastern Confrence

 

 

Atlantic Division
1. Boston Celtics (1) - The defending NBA champions throw out, roughly, the same roster and the biggest question is how hungry the big three will be after winning their championship.  That may be a problem down the road but Kevin Garnett and company will not have hunger issues this season.

2. Philadelphia 76ers (3) - Obviously the addition of Elton Brand was huge for this team but it will be interesting to see how he meshes with this up tempo type team.  Andre Miller is getting up there in age and Andre Iguodala had an awful postseason so there's room for skepticism but for some reason everything just looks as if it will mesh.  Maurice Cheeks will have pressure to get out of the first round and if he can't deliver then he may be gone by next season.

3. Toronto Raptors (6) - Picking up Jermaine O'Neal gave them virtually a Chris Bosh carbon copy as both have similar games.  Still the addition of another big man will always help and if O'Neal can be healthy and man down the center position (two tall tasks), if Chris Bosh plays like he did in the olympics, and if Jose Calderon plays like he did last season then this team could surprise.  Too many if's for me, though.

4. New Jersey Nets - Even though this team was virtually in firesale mode this offseason I really liked the moves that they made.  They picked up Yi Jianlian and I think he's going to be a great player in the league.  Devin Harris is coming into his own as a point guard and the additions of role players like Bobby Simmons, Jarvis Hayes, and Eduardo Najera will keep this team playing hard.  Is it just me or does anyone else see Vince Carter having a great season this year?

5. New York Knicks - Mike D'Antoni's gimmick offense worked when it had talent on his team.  People forget how "great" his offense was when Leandro Barbosa was running the point the year before Steve Nash arrived.  I don't know how he's going to involve Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry and company but if the offensive genius can do it then he'll have to do it with Chris Duhon at point guard.  Good luck with that. 

Central Division:
1. Detroit Pistons (4) - The talks of the Pistons demise have been dramtically overexaggerated.  I, too, thought that Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace needed to go but that Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince should be retained.  Turns out all of them are there.  This doesn't mean that the team is going to lose in the first round.  This team is every bit as talented as any of the teams that have gone to the last six eastern confrence finals.  The problem is, it's as talented as all of the teams that have collapsed in those same confrence finals the last three seasons.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (5) - The addition of Mo Williams was drastically overrated as his style doesn't look like it will match up with LeBron James.  Maybe they know something I don't, though.  It looks like a shoot first point guard who didn't really run an offense (Delonte West and Daniel Gibson) were already on the roster so it looks like he was brought in for his gaudy stats.  Unless LeBron James truly can do it all and play center then this team will have no inside presence.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas tries but he's too old to be a dominat presence.  Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao don't deserve mention.

3. Indiana Pacers (8) - For the first time in a couple years I see the Pacers coming into the season with a direction.  It may not be talented enough to make a huge splash but the playoffs are every bit a possibility.  Mike Dunleavy finally came into his own last year and now the key is doing it on a good team.  Danny Granger is as talented as they come and the additions of T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic will help make this team better than it was last year when it fielded Jamaal Tinsley and Jeff Foster in those spots.  Foster is better off the bench and the Pacers could be in position to make a legitimate run at the postseason.

4. Milwaukee Bucks - Scott Skiles was a huge addition for this team.  He'll be able to get the pass-first point guards like Ramon Sessions and Luke Rindour get the ball into Andrew Bogut and Richard JeffersonMichael Redd is still a one trick pony and any team with him as your best player is not going to go anywhere deep in the postseason so the key is to get Bogut going this season.  Now's as good a year as any.

5. Chicago Bulls - Last year I had them in the confrence finals, this year they still haven't proven to me they've overcome last year's turmoil.  I said it would be interesting to see how everyone responded to almost being traded for Kobe Bryant and sure enough they collapsed.  Was last year just that or is that mental weakness and turmoil still in the clubhouse.  Vinny Del Negro as your head coach is a head scratcher and who knows where this team is headed this season.  I don't think it's the postseason.  Joakim Noah should have an awesome season, though.

Southeast Division:
1. Orlando Magic (2) - Dwight Howard is right behind LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as far as best players in the league go.  Rashard Lewis is going to put up similar numbers as he did last year (Though you'd like to see more rebounds) and the key is getting Hedo Turkoglu to repeat his performance from last season.  Seeing that this is a contract year I think it's a big possibility.  I wish Jameer Nelson would play all season like he did in last year's postseason and this team would be much better.  They still lack that legitimate power forward and shooting guard but overall this team will be carried wherever Howard takes them.

2. Washington Wizards (7) - Losing Gilbert Arenas and replacing him with Juan Dixon isn't a blueprint for success and neither is dedicating all your money to two players on a team who haven't gotten your team out of the first round the past few seasons.  This is a team destined for mediocrity and even though I love the games of all three members of the big three, they just don't spell championship success for a team.  Caron Butler is great and I think with Arenas missing most of the season he can lead this team to the postseason.

3. Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade has made me a believer.  After watching him in the olympics I can't wait to see him do it for a whole season.  Problem is it's not likely he'll do it for more than 65 games.  This year, though, they have Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley to pull some weight but the lack of a point guard or center could definitely kill this team.  Spoelstra is a great selection as coach, though.

4. Charlotte Bobcats - Larry Brown was a fine addition to this club and they finally have a legitimate head coach.  They just don't have legitimate players on the club.  Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace don't mesh well together and Emeka Okafor would be better serves as a power forward on a contender.  He's a fine player who was wrongfully given great player expectations.  The selection of D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez makes me scratch my head but it goes to show how much they don't think of Raymond FeltonAdam Morrison and Sean May's production expectations are anyone's guess.

5. Atlanta Hawks - My how they've fallen.  Say what you want to about Knight but when he was fired I mentioned how bad of a move it was.  Next thing you know this team lets Josh Childress leave, horribly mishandles the Josh Smith contract situation and are going to throw out a frontcourt of Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford.  An aging Mike Bibby and floundering Joe Johnson won't save this team from taking a humongous step back from last season's promising playoff appearance.

Western Confrence

Southwest Division:
1. New Orleans Hornets (2) - This team looks poised to take a step forward from their breakthrough performance last season.  Inside presences like Tyson Chandler, fantastic scorers like David West and Peja Stojakovic, championship experience and toughness/defense in James Posey, athleticism and dedication from Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong in addition to the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul leaves this team with no glaring weakness.  The only problem for them will be how they handle expecting to win.

2. Houston Rockets (3) - The addition of Ron Artest is big and I really do look for Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to have huge seasons.  This team will mesh together very well and the flexibility off the bench with players like Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, and Carl Landry (whose offer sheet I expect them to match) give this team a lot of depth and talent.  But I still can't see a team with Raefer Alston at point guard winning a championship.

3. San Antonio Spurs (5) - The models for consistency are getting up there in age and with Manu Ginobili's health being in question coming into the season you have to wonder what, exactly, this team is going to do this upcoming season.  Tim Duncan may have a couple more seasons like last year stored up but it's not guaranteed.  You know what you're going to get out of Tony Parker but the rest of the team is open to interpretation.  Roger Mason's a nice pickup, though, and this team is still a legitimate title contender with Tim Duncan on the roster.

4. Dallas Mavericks (7) - I stated last year that no team with Dirk Nowitzki as its best player would win a championship.  The Mavericks tried to adress this by giving up Devin Harris for Jason Kidd and again (as properly predicted) it blew up in their face.  Josh Howard has become a public relations nightmare and you have to wonder if this team as presently constructed can ever recover from that series with the Warriors two seasons ago.

5. Memphis Grizzlies - O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay are going to make this team exciting and if Marc Gasol lives up to expectations and Hakim Warrick plays as he did at the end of last season this team has the makeup and talent to be every bit as pesky and annoying as last year's Sacramento Kings team was.  Their lack of a bench will keep us from taking them serious (unless you want to mention Antoine Walker and Darko Milicic, then again why would you?) but this is a team with a very good direction who could be good again in a couple years.

Northwest Division:
1. Utah Jazz (4) *by virtue of winning division - No offense to the rest of the teams in the northwest division but this is the weakest division in the West by far and aside from the southeast may be the weakest in the league.  The Jazz are extremely talented and still lack enough inside power and a legitimate swing man to be taken serious as championship contenders but Deron Williams is the most underrated player in the league and this team will again win this division and be on its way to the postseason.

2. Portland Trail Blazers - Getting Greg Oden back is huge and Bradon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge are already legitimate.  This team, though, still seems to be lacking somethign to take that last step.  They're going to push for a postseason spot but last year this team thrived on everyone writing them off.  They can't get caught up in the hype surrounding them or else they'll fail to live up to those expectations. 

3. Denver Nuggets - Having a frontcourt of Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen isn't the sturdiest nor most dependable assembly of big guys in NBA history and that alone is the reason why the Nuggets will miss the playoffs for the first time in five years.  Allen Iverson was denied a contract extension and will probably finish the year on someon else's team.  J.R. Smith is a good player but you have to scratch your head at the contract he was given.  Who knows how focused Carmelo Anthony is and if his head will ever match his skill out on the court. 

4. Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant is the real deal.  Everyone who said he had a bland year last season didn't really watch him play.  He and Jeff Green are good cornerstones for this team and players like Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, and Nick Collison will make this team more competitive than last season's Supersonics.  I'm surprised Carlesimo was retained but you can't blame him for last season's debacle of a team.  Sam Presti has this team in the right direction and in a few years they're going to be great.  Kudos to those great fans as well.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves - New logo, new power forward, same Kevin McHale, same Timberwolves.  Trading O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love is confusing regardless of the influx of guards on the Timberwolves roster.  Mike Miller is a fine player and Al Jefferson is the real deal, but why Randy Wittman is a head coach in this league I'll never know.  It's tough for me to see this team being anything better than what was on the court last season.

Pacific Division:
1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - There's no doubt as to who is going to win this division.  The Lakers are the most talented team in the league and getting Andrew Bynum back is more of a boost to this team than Greg Oden is to Portland.  Bynum should move in and it will be awkward at first before this team catches its groove around December/January.  Bynum's injury status is something to keep an eye on as he hasn't yet played a full season.  Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league and this is the Lakers' best shot at bringing home a championship.

2. Los Angeles Clippers (6) - Yes I put them above Phoenix.  Even though chemistry may be a problem they put a talented team together and it's a team full of players who look like they will fit together.  Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby are going to be deadly inside presences (if Kaman is focused for 82 games) and Baron Davis and Eric Gordon should light it up on the offensive end.  They're not going to win championships but this team is very talented and if Mike Dunleavy can't get them to be legitimate this season then he's just not the coach we thought he was.

3. Phoenix Suns (8) - Signs of Steve Nash's decline are in place and even though Terry Porter is going to be good for this team you have to wonder if it's too late for the Suns to contend for their title.  Shaquille O'Neal is light years past his prime but is still a legitimate center and a fantastic role player at this stage in his career: when he's motivated.  That's the problem.  Amare Stoudemire is a top ten player in this league and if he ever learns how to pass or play defense then he's going to be something special for years to come.  But he's developed a fantastic mid range game to offset what he's lost with those knee surgeries.  Problem is, though, this team is not built around Stoudemire.  In due time, though.

4. Golden State Warriors - The Warriors, last year, were the toast of the town.  Losing Baron Davis and trying to replace his scoring with Corey Maggette will show up in the box score but not in the leadership or win-loss column.  After being burned by Elton Brand and Baron Davis and also losing Monta Ellis for the beginning of the regular season Warriors fans have to be wondering what's going to become of that promise that was there at the end of the 2006 season.  Brandon Wright and Anthony Randolph are very good players to grow with but Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington are just like Corey Maggette and nobody knows who's going to run this team.

5. Sacramento Kings - After last season's surprising season this team will not sneak up on anybody this year.  Kevin Martin looks like this generation's Reggie Miller; in other words he can score and try on defense but not much else.  That's not a knock on him as I think he's better in that role than Michael Redd is and he's somebody good to build around.  I just don't know if they'll win a championship with him as the guy on the team.  Giving Beno Udrih that long term contract is quite the gamble but if he plays like he did last season it will pay off.  If not he's going to just be on the roster for three years until they release him.  This team is still talented and I still love Reggie Theus but the perception is they're not a playoff team, yet.  And I agree.

 

Postseason Predictions

Eastern Confrence First Round

1.
Boston Celtics vs. 8. Indiana Pacers - The Pacers surprise run to the postseason may end quickly or the Celtics could start off slowly as they did last postseason.  Either way, Kevin Garnett dominates and the Celtics advance.

2. Orlando Magic vs. 7. Washington Wizards - The Wizards string of seasons backing into the playoffs and losing in the first round will be continued this season as Dwight Howard destroys Brendan Haywood and the Magic advance.

3. Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6. Toronto Raptors - The matchup of Chris Bosh vs. Elton Brand will be hyped uncontrollably and this series should be a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, though, the addition of Jermaine O'Neal gives no new result for the Raptors as they bow out in the first round again.

4. Detroit Pistons vs. 5. Cleveland Cavaliers - Rasheed Wallace and company help the Pistons overcome LeBron James despite a valiant effort from the Cavaliers.  Will be the best matchup of the first round.

Eastern Confrence Semifinals
1. Boston Celtics vs. 4. Detroit Pistons - Last year's big matchup will now be held in the semifinals instead of the confrence finals.  The Pistons, though, will suffer the same fate as the Celtics make relatively quick work of the Pistons in five or six games.

2. Orlando Magic vs. 3. Philadelphia 76ers - This will be a great matchup of last year's two surprising teams.  Stan Van Gundy will try to bombard the Sixers with three pointers while the Sixers will struggle to make some.  Elton Brand and company will give a valiant effort but the Sixers will lose in the semifinals.

Eastern Confrence Finals
1. Boston Celtics vs. 2. Orlando Magic - Dwight Howard will show up in the main stage but the Magic's continued improvement will again halt.  Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu will dissapear in the key stretches and Paul Pierce will carry the Celtics back to the finals.  They lose in the first round in 2007, the 2nd round in 2008, and now the confrence finals in 2009.

Western Confrence First Round
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 8. Phoenix Suns - This ridicuously hyped matchup will bring ratings but not much competition.  Andrew Bynum vs. Shaquille O'Neal will be the high profile matchup and Amare Stoudemire will own Pau Gasol but Kobe Bryant will shine again and Lamar Odom will own Grant Hill on both ends of the court.  Lakers advance.

2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 7. Dallas Mavericks - A rematch of last year's first round matchup proves the same result.  Brandon Bass and Dirk Nowitzki will go nuts but Chris Paul will run circles around Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic and James Posey will shoot the Hornets past the Mavericks in six games.

3. Houston Rockets vs. 6. Los Angeles Clippers - This will, again, be a very interesting matchup.  The Clippers will steal a game in Houston and everyone will panic and remind themselves Tracy McGrady has never gotten past the first round.  But then when the series shifts to Los Angeles McGrady will take over and Rafer Alston will knock down big shots to help the Rockets win this series in six games.

4. Utah Jazz vs. 5. San Antonio Spurs - A fantastic matchup in the first round will take place but this series will only be for the old school fans.  A lot of tough, inside, rough and tough, physical games will take place but that benefits the Spurs.  Tim Duncan and Carlos Boozer will be a good matchup as will Tony Parker's speed vs. Deron William's strength but Manu Ginobili will out shoot Kyle Korver to help the Spurs advance.

Western Confrence Semifinals
1.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. 5. San Antonio Spurs - The Spurs will come into this series destined to avenge last year's embarassment in the Western Confrence Finals.  The result will be the same, though, as Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, again, prove to be the difference in this series and allow the Lakers to edge the Spurs in six games.

2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 3. Houston Rockets - This will (until the Western Confrence Finals) be the best matchup of the playoffs as the Rockets size and strength will matchup against the Hornets finesse style of play.  Yao Ming will dominate as the Hornets leave Tyson Chandler one on one against the 7'6" superstar.  Peja Stojakovic will be smothered by Ron Artest and Luis Scola will do his best to stay in front of David West.  The Hornets will panic but James Posey and Julian Wright will slow down Tracy McGrady and eventually Chris Paul and David West will run the pick and roll to perfection to advance in seven games.

Western Confrence F inals
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs.2. New Orleans Hornets - The matchup of what would have been the more entertaining Western Confrence Finals last year will take place this season as these two talented teams will fight to see who advances to face the Celtics in the NBA finals.  Kobe Bryant and company will split with the Hornets in Los Angeles before taking game 3.  But the Hornets will come together in game 4 and gell just in time to take the series in seven games due to Peja Stojakovic's surprising play in a series that actually matters.

NBA FINALS
Boston Celtics (home court) vs. New Orleans Hornets - The hungry Hornets will come into town to matchup with the defending champions and the prospects of having James Posey try to take the championship away from the team that he left in the offseason will make for fun storylines.  Chris Paul will be slowed down by Rajon Rondo but David West will step up big time and prove to be a key factor in his matchup with Kevin Garnett.  Tyson Chandler will slow down Garnett on the offensive side of the court and although Paul Pierce will light up the Hornets, Peja Stojakovic will out shoot Ray Allen in the matchup of players who do virtually nothing other than rebound.  The Hornets will win exactly one game in Boston but that will be enough to take the series in six games and allow (homer pick) for your 2009 NBA Champions, for the first time in franchise history, to be the New Orleans Hornets.

Category: NBA
Tags: 76ers, Adam Morrison, Al Harrington, Al Horford, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Anderson Varejao, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Andrew Bogut, Andrew Bynum, Anthony Randolph, Antoine Walker, Baron Davis, Ben Wallace, Beno Udrih, Bobby Simmons, Bobcats, Brandon Bass, Brendan Haywood, Brook Lopez, Bucks, Bulls, Carl Landry, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Chris Andersen, Chris Bosh, Chris Duhon, Chris Kaman, Chris Paul, Chuck Hayes, Clippers, Corey Maggette, D.J. Augustin, Daniel Gibson, Danny Granger, Darko Milicic, David West, Delonte West, Deron Williams, Desmond Mason, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Eddy Curry, Eduardo Najera, Elton Brand, Emeka Okafor, Eric Gordon, Gerald Wallace, Gilbert Arenas, Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hilton Armstrong, Hornets, J.R. Smith, Jamaal Tinsley, Jameer Nelson, James Posey, Jarvis Hayes, Jason Kidd, Jason Richardson, Jazz, Jeff Foster, Jeff Green, Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson, Joe Smith, Jose Calderon, Josh Childress, Josh Howard, Josh Smith, Juan Dixon, Julian Wright, Kenyon Martin, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kobe Bryant, Kyle Korver, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LaMarcus Aldridge, Leandro Barbosa, LeBron James, Luis Scola, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol, Marcus Camby, Marvin Williams, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Michael Redd, Mike Bibby, Mike Conley, Mike Dunleavy, Mike Miller, Mo Williams, Monta Ellis, Nets, Nick Collison, Nuggets, O.J. Mayo, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Peja Stojakovic, Pistons, Rafer Alston, Rajon Rondo, Ramon Sessions, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Rasho Nesterovic, Ray Allen, Raymond Felton, Richard Hamilton, Richard Jefferson, Rockets, Roger Mason, Ron Artest, Rudy Gay, Sean May, Shane Battier, Shawn Marion, Spurs, Stephen Jackson, Steve Nash, Suns, T.J. Ford, Tayshaun Prince, Thunder, Tim Duncan, Timberwolves, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Tyson Chandler, Vince Carter, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian, Zach Randolph, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com