Tag:Eric Gordon
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: June 7, 2010 8:19 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 NBA Mock Draft

What's up folks?  I've actually never done a mock draft before, but I did a lot of reading up on prospects for the Hornets appearance in the lottery and I'm goign to give it a shot now.  Forgive me if you think this totally sucks.  Don't be afraid to criticize, definitely don't be afraid to praise and I hope this generates some conversation heading forward on this dead day in between NBA Finals games.  So here goes out. 

By the way, I'm only going to mock draft the first round.

1) Washington Wizards - John Wall, PG, Kentucky - Seems to be the no brainer pick here.  I'm not really excited about Wall's prospects going forward, but I've been wrong on his type before (Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade) and he could continue to prove me wrong.  Overall, though, front offices are in love with him and he becomes the new face of a team that really needs a new start.

2) Philadelphia 76ers - Evan Turner, SG, Ohio State - I'm aware of the comparisons to Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young, but with the consensus being that Wall and Turner are the two can't miss prospects from this draft, I think Philadelphia has to stay at this place and take their chances with him.  Also, if they have to move Young or Iguodala then I don't think they'll hesitate.  It's not as if those guys did anything for team success this season.

3) New Jersey Nets - Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech - The Nets rebuilding process may be slow and tedious, but he fits in nicely with Brook Lopez, Devin Harris and Courtney Lee.  It continues to give New Jersey a nice little core with a lot of promise going forward, which may make them a more appealing destination next offseason.

4) Minnesota Timberwolves - Wesley Johnson, SF, Syracuse - Sorry, BNW, but this looks like the pick here.  Unless the team parts ways with Al Jefferson or Kevin Love going into the draft, the necessity of taking DeMarcus Cousins here just isn't necessary.  Even though he's the better prospect, Minnesota would have a complete logjam without any fluidity in their frontcourt.  Johnson also allows for Corey Brewer to go to the bench for Minnesota where he can be more of an impact player.

5) Sacramento Kings - DeMarcus Cousins, PF, Kentucky - The Kings wind up with the most promising player in the draft at the 5th spot.  Cousins has a lot of upside but there seems to be questions regarding his attitude.  Some think those red flags are unfair, but they do exist.  Cousins will have to work on staying out of foul trouble and on his conditioning (he didn't play a lot of minutes his one year in college) but he should be great if he doesn't become a problematic player.

Now we have a general idea of how the top 5 is going to play out.  The rest of it is all subjective.

6) Golden State Warriors - Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown - I see the Warriors taking Monroe here to fit in nicely with their frontcourt.  They already have the athletic big men in Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph, they have their explosive frontcourt with Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis and Monroe can fill in at either PF or C (in a pinch) for the Warriors. 

7) Detroit Pistons - Al Farouq-Aminu, SF, Wake Forest - Probably the best player available at this point, Aminu will be able to step into Detroit (a team largely in need of talent) and contribute immediately.  He could be the eventual replacement for Tayshaun Prince (who may not even be with the team by the start of the season) and could turn into a nice player at a big position of need.

8) Los Angeles Clippers - Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas - I don't think Henry deserves to go this guy, but the Clippers could use a conventional shooting guard that allows for Eric Gordon to come off of the bench.  With Blake Griffin debuting next season and with Chris Kaman under contract, the need for a big guy isn't huge but they could take one here.  However, I see them taking Henry at this spot. 

9) Utah Jazz - Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas - The Greg Osterag comparisons are entirely unfair (and, I would claim, racially motivated).  Aldrich is a great shot blocker and tough defensive presence that the Jazz sorely need at their center position.  He's a legit center who may never star in this league, but he can make a big difference right away for the Jazz.

10) Indiana Pacers - Epke Udoh, PF, Baylor - While picks like Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough haven't payed immediate dividends, a pure shooting guard or point guard would be a better fit for the Pacers at this point.  However, there really isn't one available.  For this reason, I could see the Pacers trading down (I know a lot of mocks have Heyward going here, but Indiana won't reach that high) but if they stay here, they'll Udoh and he can be a big upgrade over Hibbert right away.

11) New Orleans Hornets - Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky - The idea of taking a small forward here is really intriguing, but the Hornets probably draft for need and take a big man here.  Since I don't want the team to end up with Ed Davis or Larry Sanders, I'm going to pencil in Patterson here.  Patterson has drawn a lot of comparisons to David West in that he wants to be a conventional PF but lacks the size to do it.  However, being similar to David West is alright in this poster's eyes and, with West likely to opt out next summer, Patterson could wind up starting by next year for New Orleans.

12) Memphis Grizzlies - Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Lithuania - The Grizzlies probably don't need to add another big man, but I think the recent investigations with Zach Randolph are going to scare the team off of giving him the reported contract extension.  For that reason, they may want to start looking for a replacement.  Motiejunas is a complete opposite of Zach Randolph, but with Marc Gasol around the basket, the team can afford to take a chance on the sharp shooting, smooth 7 footer Motiejunas.

13) Toronto Raptors - Hassan Whiteside, C, Marshall - With Chris Bosh likely leaving, Toronto may start to look forward for its frontcourt.  Who knows where they'll be selecting depending on what trades they do or don't make involving Hedo Turkoglu, but there's no doubt the team needs a big man.  For that reason, the Raptors take Hassan Whiteside here, who's a big project but worthy of the risk at this selection.  Also, he's a legit center which would allow for Andrea Bargnani to play at his more natural power forward position. 

14) Houston Rockets - Paul George, SF, Fresno State - I don't think that Yao Ming is healthy and nobody can say certainly that he is.  However, the Rockets will go into next season with the idea that he'll be the team's starting center.  As a result, the team isn't in need of drafting another power forward.  Therefore, I see the team taking one of the fastest rising stars in the draft in George and plugging him in alongside Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin to form an explosive offensive trio.

15) Milwaukee Bucks - Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina - Although the Bucks aren't in desperate need of a big man, Davis can be plugged in to the rebuilding Bucks right away and immediately contribute for the team.  Whether as a starter or backing up Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Davis would a nice compliment to Andrew Bogut in the frontcourt and would join an already young and impressive Bucks squad.

16) Minnesota Timberwolves - James Anderson, SG, Oklahoma State - Ideally, the Timberwolves would love George to be here at 16th.  Because he's not, the team goes for another wing man here with the 16th pick.  Anderson has a nice offensive touch and can immediately step in as the team's starting shooting guard next season.  He'd bring a long range shot that was missing in Minnesota last season and can even become an eventual solid man defender at the NBA level.

17) Chicago Bulls - Avery Bradley, SG, Texas - Regardless of which route Chicago goes in free agency, Bradley could step in and play the Ben Gordon role in Chicago.  Kirk Hinrich may be better coming off the bench and, although similarly undersized, Bradley would be a better compliment in the backcourt with Derrick Rose than Hinrich is.  Anderson would be a great fit here as well if I didn't have him going to Minnesota.

18) Miami Heat - Daniel Orton, C, Kentucky - Rumored to be a potential lottery pick, the size starved Heat will take a chance on the promising but largely unproven Orton.  Although he only produced in spots last season for Kentucky, there seems to be a lot of potential for Orton.  His lack of colleigate production will cause him to drop out of the lottery, but Miami will quickly take him here. 

19) Boston Celtics - Gordon Heyward, SF, Butler - Although not your prototypical shooting guard, Heyward would be able to contribute in Boston right away.  Really promising and possesing a really good fell for the game, Heyward would fit in with Boston and could eventually be groomed to supplant Ray Allen's shooting guard position, or be the eventual replacement for Paul Pierce.  Either way, the Celtics could use a young, talented wing player and Heyward fits the bill.

20) San Antonio Spurs - Damion James, SF, Texas - The Spurs will get a smart, four year senior who can contribute right away in Damion James.  Needing an eventual replacement for Richard Jefferson (either this season or next season), James can play the small forward position and, while lacking the ball skills for the two guard spot, could play in that position in a pinch. 

21) Oklahoma City Thunder - Larry Sanders, PF, VCU - Joining former VCU teammate Eric Maynor, Sanders could step in right away and contribute for Oklahoma City.  Needing a legit PF, Sanders could join Serge Ibaka as a very promising front court going forward for Oklahoma City, which may be forced to let Jeff Green go due to financial limitations after they give the money to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

22) Portland Trail Blazers - Kevin Seraphin, PF, France - Without the necessary roster spots, Portland may seem content with drafting a foreign prospect and stashing him overseas for a couple of years.  A talented big man, Seraphin won't take LaMarcus Aldridge's spot anytime soon but he could be a contributing piece for a thin Portland frontcourt.

23) Minnesota Timberwolves - Luke Babbitt, SF, Nevada - Seen as a possible lottery talent, Minnesota will be extremely happy that Babbitt fell to them at 23.  Babbitt is different from the earlier picks in that he can play a front court position if necessary (although his skill set is more natural for a SF). 

24) Atlanta Hawks - Eric Bledsoe, SG, Kentucky - With Joe Johnson probably leaving and with Mike Bibby no longer blowing anybody away, Atlanta needs to turn its attention to the backcourt with the 24th pick.  Bledsoe may be very similar to Jamaal Crawford in that he's an undersized two guard who likes to score a lot, but the team may not have a long term need for Crawford either after this season.

25) Memphis Grizzlies - Willie Warren, SG, Oklahoma - Seen as a possible lottery pick last season before deciding to stay at Oklahoma, Warren will be able to step in and be a nice combo guard off the bench for Memphis.  Jamaal Tinsley isn't going to lock down any spots on the bench, so the guard spots should be wide open and Warren's scoring would fit rigiht in with what the rest of the Grizzlies are doing.

26) Oklahoma City Thunder - Devin Ebanks, SF, West Virginia - Joining Sanders, Ebanks looks like a solid second first round pick for Oklahoma City.  He may be too similar to Kevin Durant, but he can be a nice back up for Oklahoma City at both the SG and the SF positions.  He's a really smart player that's a fine rebounder for his position and also shoots a high percentage from the field.  That'd fit right in with what Oklahoma City's doing.

27) New Jersey Nets - Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinnati - There have long been attitude issues with Stephenson and questions about his character, but Stephenson is an extremely talented player who can shoot from NBA range and has great size for a shooting guard or small forward.  It's a risky pick for New Jersey, but his upside has impressed scouts thus far and he may be worth the risk at 27.

28) Memphis Grizzlies - Craig Brackins, PF, Iowa State - Another player whose stock dropped after he decided to stay in college instead of entering last year's draft, Brackins is a hard workign big man who could provide some grit and toughness for the Grizzlies. After having taken two prolific scorers with their other first round picks, Brackins is the kind of low post, hard working presence the team could use.

29) Orlando Magic - Elliot Williams, SG, Memphis - Although Orlando would like to take a big man here to move Rashard Lewis to his natural SF position, they take Williams with hopes that he can become the eventual replacement for Vince Carter.  Although lacking a great midrange game, Williams is a fantastic open court player and has no problem finishing around the basket.  He's also a great on ball defender and can learn even more in the Magic's system. 

30) New Jersey Nets - Armon Johnson, PG, Nevada - A tough point guard who could give the Nets another young, promising player, Johnson can step in and give New Jersey depth at the point guard position right away.  He's a solid, solid pick this late in the first round as well.
Posted on: May 25, 2010 5:27 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 4

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.  Sorry for the delay today, instead of working my usual nights I was asked to cover a morning shift and am just now getting on.  Don't worry, the countdown still goes on as usual.  Much like 2009, this draft that is coming in at number four is kind of hard to fully evaluate since it's only two years old (as opposed to 2009's one).  Early prognosis, however, is that this draft was really, really solid and should produce quite a bit of players who will produce for a long period of team.  In case I haven't given it away, the 2008 NBA Draft will be coming in at number four 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:

Round One:
1) Chicago Bulls - Derrick Rose, PG, Memphis
2) Miami Heat - Michael Beasley, PF, Kansas State
3) Minnesota Timberwolves - O.J. Mayo, SG, USC (traded to the Grizzlies)
4) Seattle Supersonics - Russell Westbrook, PG, UCLA
5) Memphis Grizzlies - Kevin Love, PF, UCLA (traded to the Timberwolves)
6) New York Knicks - Danilo Gallinari, SF, Italy
7) Los Angeles Clippers - Eric Gordon, SG, Indiana
8) Milwaukee Bucks - Joe Alexander, SF, West Virginia
9) Charlotte Bobcats - D.J. Augustin, PG, Texas
10) New Jersey Nets - Brook Lopez, C, Stanford

Pretty impressive top ten overall.  After Rose's performance in the NCAA Tournament and with him being a Chicago born player, his selection was the Bulls was expected and he immediately stepped up his game upon entering the league.  Some people thought he was a couple years away from reaching his potential, but he's managed to become a stud already after only two years.  The same can't yet be said for Beasley, who was expected all along to be the consensus number one prior to the NCAA Tournament.  After supposed attitude issues arose during pre draft interviews, some wondered whether he would be taken at number 2 but the Heat stuck with him anyways.  He's showed flashes of being able to produce on the court, but he still lacks a defined position and has had off the court issues with depression and marijuana use.  On draft night, the Grizzlies and Timberwolves swapped Mayo and Love in a move that was largely panned on Minnesota's part.  However, Love has turned out to be a pretty serviceable, if largely unathletic, option at the power forward position.  Mayo is an explosive scorer, but isn't much of a volume scorer and doesn't do much else yet.  It's hard to say at this moment who won the trade, although if a gun were put to my head I'd say the Grizzlies did.  Westbrook may wind up being the best player in the entire draft when it's all said and done.  He became the starting point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who relocated from Seattle shortly after this draft, right away and has matured into the position.  Gallinari is still a promising prospect who has shown an incredibly impressive outside touch and a willingness to defend top stars.  Eric Gordon, like Mayo, is an explosive scorer and may be undersized for long term prospects at the shooting guard position.  But so far, he hasn't let it deter his offensive game.  D.J. Augustin had a very surprising rookie season with his play off the bench in Charlotte, although he suffered a bit of a sophomore slump this season.  On the other hand, Brook Lopez really stepped his game up this season (probably out of necessity) in New Jersey and looks to be a promising player at a league-wide very weak center position.  In fact, the only player out of this top ten who looks awful is Alexander, who has barely gotten on the court for either the Bucks or the Bulls (who he was traded to at the deadline).  Who knows what Milwaukee was thinking when they drafted him at 8.

11) Indiana Pacers - Jerryd Bayless, PG, Arizona (traded to the Trail Blazers)
12) Sacramento Kings - Jason Thompson, PF, Rider
13) Portland Trail Blazers - Brandon Rush, SG, Kansas (traded to the Pacers)
14) Golden State Warriors - Anthony Randolph, PF, LSU
15) Phoenix Suns - Robin Lopez, C, Stanford
16) Philadelphia 76ers - Marreese Speights, PF, Florida
17) Toronto Raptors - Roy Hibbert, C, Georgetown (traded to the Pacers)
18) Washington Wizards - JaVale McGee, C, Nevada
19) Cleveland Cavaliers - J.J. Hickson, PF, North Carolina State
20) Charlotte Bobcats - Alexis Ajinca, C, France

Although this group isn't as impressive as the top ten list, it's still a good bunch of serviceable players.  A lot was expected of Bayless but he's been largely inconsistent in his two years in Portland.  He may need a chance of scenery already to continue his progression.  Thompson had a big rookie season after Sacramento was criticized for "reaching" for him.  He continued his stellar play this season, but hasn't shown that extra gear that may be needed to make him a starter for a very successful team.  Brandon Rush was a shooting specialist in college and was expected to do the same for Indiana, although he hasn't shown that touch yet much in his two years with the Pacers.  Anthony Randolph is a freakish athlete with a ton of potential, but has shown to be a bit injury prone his first two years in the league.  Robin Lopez, the twin brother of number ten pick Brook, was another criticized pick and looked, at times, downright lost on the court last season.  But he's emerged as the Suns starting center this season and his defensive prowress looks to make him a staple at that position for the future.  Speights has had some big games off the bench for Philadelphia but has shown a vulnerability to injuries as well.  Hibbert has rotated in and out of Indiana's starting lineup for his two seasons with the Pacers, and the team is still waiting for him to take the next step in his development.  McGee showed some signs this season for Washington after they went with a sort of youth movement, and could enter next season as the team's starting center.  Hickson became the second coming of Christ Jesus this season in Cleveland among their fanbase and was rumored in many trades at the deadline in an attempt for Cleveland to get more talent.  He's still on Cleveland's roster, though, and will most likely be a starter going forward next season.  Ajinca, meanwhile, has shown absolutely nothing thus far for Charlotte, and chances aren't good of him lasting past his four year rookie contract.

21) New Jersey Nets - Ryan Anderson, PF, Cal
22) Orlando Magic - Courtney Lee, SG, Western Kentucky
23) Utah Jazz - Kosta Koufos, C, Ohio State
24) Seattle Supersonics - Serge Ibaka, PF, Republic of Congo
25) Houston Rockets - Nicolas Batum, SF, France (traded to the Trail Blazers)
26) San Antonio Spurs - George Hill, PG, IUPUI
27) New Orleans Hornets - Darrell Arthur, PF, Kansas (traded to the Trail Blazers who then traded him to the Grizzlies)
28) Memphis Grizzlies - Donte Greene, PF, Syracuse (traded to the Rockets who then traded him to the Kings)
29) Detroit Pistons - D.J. White, PF, Indiana (traded to the Supersonics)
30) Boston Celtics - J.R. Giddens, SG, New Mexico

Even as the draft gets deeper, some really solid names are still on the list.  Anderson proved to be a serviceable scorer at the power forward position and is now playing for Orlando.  Meanwhile, Courtney Lee emerged as the starting shooting guard on an Orlando team that went to the NBA Finals but is now playing in New Jersey.  I just now put two and two together, and remebered that they were traded for eachother after their rookie seasons (well they were both involved in a trade anyways).  Koufos followed Greg Oden as an Ohio State freshman center taken in the first round, but even Oden's rookie season where he didn't play at all due to injury showed more promise than Koufos has in Utah.  Ibaka really came on strong this season for the Thunder and the team hopes that he can emerge as the center of the future.  Meanwhile, Batum has settled into Portland's starting rotation and doesn't yet seem to have tapped his potential.  The same can be said for George Hill, who is another one of San Antonio's rare finds in the draft and may be the team's starting point guard next season.  Arthur wound up settling in Memphis but hasn't yet showed a ton of promise.  The talent is there though.  Same can be said for Donte Greene, who wound up in Sacramento just before the start of the season and made some strides this season.  D.J. White didn't make it long in Detroit and didn't stick with Oklahoma City and is now playing in the NBDL.  Giddens doesn't seem too far behind.  He made no significant impact in Boston and after being traded to New York, never showed any staying power there either.

Round Two Notables:
34) Miami Heat - Mario Chalmers, PG, Kansas
35) Los Angeles Clippers - DeAndre Jordan, C, Texas A&M
37) Milwaukee Bucks - Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, SF, UCLA
39) Chicago Bulls - Sonny Weems, SG, Arkansas (traded to the Nuggets)
40) New Jersey Nets - Chris Douglas-Roberts, SG, Memphis
45) San Antonio Spurs - Goran Dragic, PG, Slovenia (traded to the Suns)
47) Washington Wizards - Bill Walker, SG, Kansas State (traded to the Celtics)

Another impressive list of finds here in the second round as well.  Chalmers started the entire season for Miami his rookie year.  He suffered a bit of a sophomore slump, but the 2008 NCAA Tournament MVP looks to have a bounce back year next season either off the bunch or starting for a team in the league.  Jordan is still a raw product who had the talent to be a lottery pick.  The Clippers hope he can partner with Blake Griffin to form a very formidable front court.  Mbah a Moute became a great defensive find for Milwaukee and has been, mostly, the team's starting small forward the last two seasons.  Weems is a great athlete who didn't really stick in Denver, but who showed a lot of promise and potential this past season with Toronto.  Douglas-Roberts has been inconsistent off the bench in New Jersey, but has had games where he looks like a good rotation player.  Dragic struggled big time last season but really came on this year and made a national name for himself with his Game 3 performance in the Western Conference Semifinals.  Just as Hickson is to Cleveland fans, Dragic is the second coming of Christ if you ask Phoenix funs.  Walker barely got on the court in his year and a half stint with Boston, but was traded to New York and showed a lot of promise the second half of this season.  He now figures to be in the team's future plans moving forward.

2008-2009 NBA Rookie of the Year: Derrick Rose
All Stars from the 2008 NBA Draft: Derrick Rose

2008-2009 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Derrick Rose
O.J. Mayo
Russell Westbrook
Brook Lopez
Michael Beasley

2008-2009 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Eric Gordon
Kevin Love
Mario Chalmers
Marc Gasol (who was originally drafted in 2007 by the Lakers before being traded to, and then signing with, the Grizzlies in 2008)
D.J. Augustin and Rudy Fernandez (who was originally drafted by the Suns in 2007 before being traded to, and then signing with, the Trail Blazers in 2008) tied for fifth on the second team.

Gosh I hate ties!

Posted on: January 5, 2009 1:07 am
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm
 

NBA Power Rankings Through January 4th, 2009

1. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - Rejoice, Los Angeles!  The beloved Lakers have reclaimed their top position.  The hottest team in the NBA is boasting one of its hottest players in Kobe Bryant.  As of late, Kobe and Pau Gasol have elevated their play to around the level they were at around the postseason last year.  The bench is getting good production even with Jordan Farmar missing time with his injury.  I don't believe adding another point guard is critical for the moment but it wouldn't hurt if they could land one for cheap.

2. Atlanta Hawks (5) - The Hawks suffered a crushing loss with a near halfcourt heave at the buzzer from Vince Carter at New Jersey.  That was only their second loss in twelve games.  Victories over Cleveland, Denver, Houston and Detroit highlight that stretch and prove that this team is not a flash in the pan.  I'm sure they won't maintain this level of competition all season long as the team is largely unproven, but don't try to dispute what they've accomplished so far this season.  Not only is this team legitimate, they're talented. 

3. Boston Celtics (2) - And just like that, with a loss to a depleted Portland team and to a bad New York team (coming off a week in which they lost their first game in forever in addition to a loss to a bad Golden State team) and the Celtics all of a sudden look vulnerable.  I'm not going to jump off of the bandwagon and say that they're cooked, it's not a matter of if but when this team rights the ship and gets back to playing the defense that made them impossible to beat through November and December.  Kevin Garnett has slowed a bit so far this season and Paul Pierce has had to carry this unit for basically the whole season.  The role players have also slowed a tad, which is the main reason for the team's struggles but they'll get it back together and they'll still be there in the end.

4. Orlando Magic (3) - Something doesn't quite seem right with Hedo Turkoglu this season.  All of his statistics have dropped from last season and his field goal percentage is at a laughable 38 percent.  That's either meaning he's struggling to do too much in a contract year, or maybe last season was more of an aberration for the turkish born star.  Overall, the Magic have been solid all season long and if he captures the form he showed last season then they'll be right up there at the top of the eastern confrence.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers (1) - Rejoice, Cavs haters!  Zydrunas Ilgauskas has gone down to injury and the Cavaliers dropped two games this week, including an embarassing defeat at the hands of Washington today.  For at least a week anyways, the team looked like last season's team, which relied entirely too heavily on LeBron James.  What's happened to Wally Szczerbiak this season?  He's the definition of a non factor, and with his expiring contract, if he showed any bit of production they could get a really good player in return for Wally World.  But so far his value is worth about the same as Eric Snow's.

6. San Antonio Spurs (6) - Manu Ginobili had a huge week for the Spurs.  Greg Popovich has done a fine job with his roster and has seemingly settled on a nice rotation.  Tim Duncan is having the best year he's had in the past two or three and Tony Parker is currently playing like their best player.  They're a dangerous unit and they're going to be there in the end, regardless of their difficult start. 

7. Denver Nuggets (7) - Carmelo Anthony played hero on two separate occasions for the Nuggets this season, even if they were underwhelming in barely defeated Oklahoma City and blowing a 26 point lead at home to New Orleans.  An injury to Nene for the Oklahoma City game showed no immediate hamper on the Nuggets, but if he misses any prolonged period of time they're in bad shape.  They lack serious depth in the frontcourt.

8. New Orleans Hornets (9) - They still lack the consistency that they showed for so much of last season but Chris Paul is playing the best ball of any player in the NBA.  The fact that he's not up there with Kobe Bryant in all star voting is unbelievable and truly speaks to the knowledge of the average NBA fan.  David West has really picked up his game as of late and don't look now, but the Hornets rank among the league's best at the defensive side of the ball. 

9. Detroit Pistons (15) - I've ridden no team as hard this year as I have the Pistons, but Rodney Stuckey has resurrected what was a dead season for Detroit after the Allen Iverson trade.  The readdition of Antonio McDyess is as much a factor as any in the team's current winning streak and even though they may not be blowing teams out, victories are victories and the Pistons are winning ball games.

10. Portland Trail Blazers (8) - Playing without Brandon Roy hurt this team this week as they looked bad against New Orleans and the Lakers.  Overall, they managed to pull out a victory against Boston and they're still playing hard even without Roy in the lineup.  McMillan will never let this team play a weak game but they can't win without their all star guard in the lineup.

11. Dallas Mavericks (11) - Today's loss at Memphis was embarassing but Dirk Nowitzki has carried the Mavericks to a very strong season thus far.  They're a team of wing players and that will doom them in the playoffs, but they will exceed any expectations they were given this season.  Rick Carlisle has done a really good job with the Mavericks this season.

12. Phoenix Suns (13) - Shaquille O'Neal is having his best year since his last year in Los Angeles for Phoenix and the team is maintaining a steady play so far this season.  Jason Richardson hasn't added much since his addition, but the team continues to win so his presence alone must be enough for the Suns to get by. 

13. Utah Jazz (12) - Word of Carlos Boozer now needing surgery has to demoralize this squad even with Paul Millsap playing as fantastic as he has this season (I forgot to mention him in my most improved players list last week).  The C.J. Miles experiment has worked well with him playing so steady this season.  He's never going to be more than an average starter in this league but he's solid enough to where the Jazz can continue to use Andrei Kirilenko on the bench, which has worked very well for them so far this season.

14. Miami Heat (14) - An injury to Shawn Marion has thrusted Daequan Cook into the starting lineup and I think with a shipping of Marion and his expiring contract at the deadline, that can be a nice spot for Cook.  Michael Beasley has been underwhelming so far this season but has shown flashes of being a nice player in this league.  It's safe to say that he was a tad overhyped coming into the draft, though.

15. Houston Rockets (10) - Tracy McGrady's play this season has been absolutely pathetic.  He's beyond bad at this moment and Yao Ming is shooting a percentage in the low 40s the past few games as well.  With Ron Artest in and out of the lineup as well, this team is currently in a great deal of turmoil and it's evident when you watch them out on the court.  Aaron Brooks has tailed off considerably since his start this season but the talent is still there for this team to turn it around.  You just have to wonder if their players are tough enough to do it.

16. New Jersey Nets (16) - They're incredibly inconsistent and continue to be without a victory when Devin Harris is out of the lineup, but the Nets still, week after week, find themselves in the picture in the NBA.  Vince Carter has had his fair share of last second theatrics this season and that's been a major reason for the Nets' position at the moment.  They have to wonder if a postseason appearance is worth a possible run at a championship in the next two or three seasons when it comes to Carter, but we'll see what it is they're offered for Vince.

17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks are a team that's so difficult to put a finger on, because they have no player who's consistently great every night and they don't really scare you in any facet of their play.  Yet they've been near .500 all season long and they're still in the playoff race thus far.  That speaks wonders for Scott Skiles, even though I'm confused at his reluctancy to give Ramon Sessions big minutes.  I've seen an increase in Tyronn Lue as of late and I don't believe he's better than Sessions.

18. Toronto Raptors (23) - Two weeks ago the Raptors were left for dead, and since then they've had a very impressive past two weeks.  Chris Bosh has found the form he displayed earlier this season and the team is winning ball games without Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon in the lineup.  Anthony Parker has been a steady player at the shooting guard position and the Raptors have found themselves back in the discussion as far as the playoffs are concerned.  It's a nice turnaround for a team that I wrote off just two weeks earlier.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - If you were to look up the word "bland" in the dictionary, you would see this team's photo right beside it.  Their play hasn't inreased without Elton Brand (even though I thought it would) and maybe they are what they are, a below .500 team that can't score and that isn't even that special on the defensive side of the ball.  It seems like the two years of momentum that was built up by this squad was ruined with possibly unfair expectations with the Elton Brand acquisition.

20. Chicago Bulls (18) - A loss at home to Minnesota highlights a woeful week for the Bulls which was heightened even further with a horrible showing by Derrick RoseBen Gordon deserves serious all star consideration this season beyond the three point shootout and he's been the team's steadiest, most consistent option thus far.  That probably is why they're down here at 20, but he deserves a little bit of credit after the way he was blasted and treated this offseason.  He may, yet, see his big payday this offseason.

21. Indiana Pacers (25) - Mike Dunleavy is set to debut this week for the Pacers and that should help a team that still is looking to make a run at sneaking into the last playoff spot.  Danny Granger has been tremendous this season even in the dissapointing year for the Pacers and Jarrett Jack has been tremendous since being inserted into the starting lineup as of late.  T.J. Ford has done fine off of the bench but you have to wonder if he's the type of player that would be content with coming off of the bench.

22. Charlotte Bobcats (22) - I still can't speak enough for Boris Diaw's play since coming over from Phoenix.  This Bobcats team has raised its level of play since that trade and currently has shown that they can be a pesky bunch to put away.  Adam Morrison, on the other hand, is now officially ready to be labeled as a bust.  He was a horrible selection as a 3rd overall draft pick (don't even get me started on Sean May).  Little known Matt Caroll is better at what Morrison does than Morrison is and that's why Morrison scored for the first time in six games Saturday night.  I still remember when Dick Vitale said we were all stupid for saying J.J. Reddick and Morrison wouldn't be great in the NBA.

23. Memphis Grizzlies (20) - Darius Miles made his debut this week for the Grizzlies and Steve Francis may be set to dress up anytime soon.  It's amazing that those two players found their way onto the Grizzlies roster, but it's safe to say both are in dire need to prove that their careers aren't over in the NBA. 

24. New York Knicks (24) - The Knicks have lost all of the good will they built up with a strong opening to the season, but still continue to play hard for coach D'Antoni.  Al Harrington off of the bench has payed huge dividends as of late, including a victory today over Boston.  David Lee has been tremendous this season and if they package him with a contract of Jerome James or Eddy Curry they can get another building block for the rebuilding of this proud franchise.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves got back to back victories for the first time all season and got Mike Miller back from injury.  Still, though, a lot is left to be done in Minnesota in order to get this team back to respectability.  Kevin Love has been inconsistent in his performance this season and doesn't look like a great acquisition by Kevin McHale (and nobody honestly believed he would be) but I think, with the investment they made in him, that he needs to be shown more minutes as the season progresses. 

26. Los Angeles Clippers (26) - Baron Davis, in addition to his pathetic displays on the court this season, caused controversy with a recent report of his wanting to return to the team he shafted just five months earlier.  His homecoming has been nothing short of brutal but the team has got to be happy with the play of Marcus Camby and Eric Gordon as of late.  They look like a team capable of hanging in tough games as long as Davis doesn't continue to shoot them out of ball games.

27. Washington Wizards (29) - The Wizards, with a run over Cleveland today, move out of the bottom two for the first time all season.  Getting Caron Butler back this week has been good for the Wizards and the increase in minutes for Javaris Crittenton is a solid move by coach Tapscott.  Andray Blatche has been a nice spot for what's been a dreadful season thus far and the Wizards are now starting to play harder each and every night.  It's not going to amount to any kind of success this year, but it's a far cry from the team that regularly would get beat by 20 every night just a couple months prior.

28. Golden State Warriors (21) - With Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette now publicly speaking about trade requests the horrid season for the Warriors has now reached rock bottom.  The dissapointing performance has taken a back seat to the fact that the group of players that they've assembled has now made the franchise one without any kind of positive direction.  It's tough to be a loyal Warrior fan, and this season is a perfect explanation of why that's so.

29. Sacramento Kings (27) - Kevin Martin came back this season and looked fantastic in his return and Brad Miller has been a steady force all season for Sacramento, but they still continue to lose.  This team looked like a team with a direction this season, but so far this season hasn't shown anything other than that they're a team without much talent or direction.  It's tough to see what the future holds for this franchise.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The Thunder are really playing good basketball as of late and I wanted to move them out of the last spot for the first time all season, but can't justifiably do so.  Jeff Green, this season, has looked like a player that was worthy of the draft slot they used on him and Kevin Durant have played at a very high level as of late.  They're playing with more intensity than they did earlier in the season and have showed signs of a team that's on the right path as of late.  That's good for that loyal fan base.

 

Posted on: December 1, 2008 4:02 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:26 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through November 30, 2008

1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - They've been number one all season long, and even though a part of me really wants to move them behind Boston, I simply can't.  They've been winning, they've been winning consistently and they've been winning with a new player stepping up every night (ironically, the same can be said about Boston).  They, though, have been great since the start of the season and I can't move them behind Boston.  Not yet.

2. Boston Celtics (2) - Kevin Garnett is having probably his quitest season.  Paul Pierce has been wildly inconsistent and Ray Allen's been a steady version of last year's diminished Ray Allen, yet this team continues to win.  Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, the two unheralded starters, are giving this team quality starts and they compliment what the big three do so well.  Perkins' game has really improved this season.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - I hear people asking "who have they beat", well they've only lost 3 times this season-all on the road.  A mark of a good team is winning games that you're supposed to win and that's what the Cavaliers are doing.  Charles Barkley is right in saying that LeBron James needs to shut it and start diverting all of his attention to the game and to his team, but a part of me believes that LeBron is more infatuated with the money and stardom than he is actual results on the court, which is why he'll always be a notch behind Kobe Bryant.

4. Denver Nuggets (4) - Even though they had a dissapointing loss at home to New Orleans on Thursday, this team continues to chug along with Chauncey Billups in the lineup.  This past week J.R. Smith really heated up and if he regains the form he had for much of last season then this team can only get better.  Chris Andersen coming back helps, but he can't be a savior for this frontcourt.

5. Orlando Magic (6) - Rashard Lewis is starting to play really good ball (even if you would like to see better rebounding numbers out of someone his size) and Dwight Howard is improving on his free throw shooting.  Losing Mickael Pietrus for three weeks will hurt but this team continues to do what they did last year, quietly win ball games.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (9) - I got some criticism putting them as high as I have the past couple of weeks but they proved me right this week.  Brandon Roy is one of the hottest players in the league and they're getting great production out of players like Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla.  They're deep and they're talented.

7. Houston Rockets (5) - They get Shane Battier back and now Tracy McGrady is having problems with his knee (he's looked dinged up all season, what with his shoulder and whatnot).  They are still winning, though, and they're doing it without any of their players playing consistently great ball.  Luther Head has stepped up the past couple of games, but Adelman's system allows this team to make up for whoever is struggling on that given night.  That's the sign of a good team.

8. Utah Jazz (8) - They had a bad loss to New Jersey but Deron Williams is slowly regaining some of the form he showed last season.  It's slow, but steady, progress.  Meanwhile, Paul Millsap has been outstanding in Carlos Boozer's absence and you have to believe he's going to see an amazing increase in minutes even when Boozer comes back.

9. Atlanta Hawks (10) - They're getting better play out of Mike Bibby (which is good because teams are starting to double Joe Johnson consistently) and they're surprisingly getting great contribution from Maurice Evans lately.  This team just continues to stay around.

10. Phoenix Suns (7) - I've had this team high all season but the intensity and execution they showed the first couple of games has worn off and the honeymoon period has already ended in Phoenix.  Amare Stoudemire is now complaining about coach Terry Porter's system and the team is searching for an identity all over again.  A tailspin may be in this team's future.

11. Detroit Pistons (11) - Allen Iverson is already missing practice and Rasheed Wallace continues to jack up three pointers.  Michael Curry was supposed to bring needed change in attitudes in Detroit but the players and player styles and attitudes continue to hold this talented team back.  They should be in better shape than they currently in.

12. New Orleans Hornets (12) - A good win at Denver and a quiet four game winning streak have gotten the Hornets back on track, but they still need some consistent ball out of anyone not named Chris Paul.

13. San Antonio Spurs (19) - Despite the loss to Houston, this team is above .500, they're getting good production out of their young players, and both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are back.  Those pesky Spurs just never go away.

14. New Jersey Nets (17) - People said I had them too high last week, I probably have them too high this week, but they're playing tremendous basketball.  Devin Harris has played tremendous basketball so far this season and he and Vince Carter have consistently been there every night.  They're supporting cast is hit and miss but they're getting a different person to contribute each and every night.

15. New York Knicks (14) - They need to get this Stephon Marbury situation over and done with, because it's clouding what's been a good season so far for the Knicks.  David Lee has played great and Tim Thomas has been lights out since coming over from Clipper land.  His best season came with D'Antoni in Phoenix, though, and his increase in production doesn't surprise me, and it won't surprise me when his production dips.

16. Dallas Mavericks (18) - There's not a hotter player in the NBA, currently, than Jason Terry and he's keeping this team afloat lately.  They still can't get consistent production out of the small forward position and aside from Terry they can't really get an answer at shooting guard either, but Jose Juan Barrera looks like a solid backup at the point guard position.

17. Toronto Raptors (21) - They turned a horrible last week into a solid week this week until they ran into the Lake show.  Chris Bosh has been outstanding this season and currently there's not a better big man in the league.  They're getting great play out of Andrea Bargnani lately which is very encouraging, though the injury to Jermaine O'Neal isn't.

18. Miami Heat (13) - The Heat have been wildly inconsistent this season and it has to be frustrating for any Heat fan to watch this team win one, and then lose the very next game but at the same time they have to be happy with Dwyane Wade's production.  This team is still relatively young and still has room to improve and should probably be around the playoff picture all season long.

19. Chicago Bulls (20) - All things considered, I believe Vinny Del Negro has done a solid job with this team.  They're slowly starting to get healthier (and will be better when Kirk Hinrich returns) but they still are an inconsistent bunch.  Drew Gooden has played well lately and Luol Deng is slowly returning to form as well. 

20. Philadelphia 76ers (15) - Andre Iguodala has played like a guy with a fat new contract, in other words he's definitely underperformed but I think with the offense having to adjust to the half court offense that Elton Brand flourishes in takes away from the strengths of both Iguodala and Andre Miller.  Maurice Cheeks needs to succeed this season if he wants to keep his job and it looks increasingly difficult for him to do.

21. Milwaukee Bucks (16) - They're struggling without Andrew Bogut but Richard Jefferson is quietly having a solid season.  Charlie Villanueva has put up good number this season but still hasn't brought it consistently like he should in a contract year.  He needs to develop a solid game and put that tremendous talent to use but he plays like a small forward and is too slow to play that position.  He should look at a player like David West and try to emulate a version of his game and then he can fully reach his potential.

22. Indiana Pacers (22) - The Pacers are puzzling because they just can't seem to get over that hump and win basketball games.  Danny Granger has been great, proving last year was no fluke, and Marquis Daniels has continued to play encouraging ball but they can't seem to get going as a unit.  Early in the season it was T.J. Ford playing while everyone else was struggling and now Ford has lot a step lately.  They need to get it together and I believe they will in the coming month.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves (25) - It feels weird putting them this high but I believe they're the best out of all of the lower tier teams.  Sebastian Telfair has been a steady force at point guard with Randy Foye and Mike Miller has had a couple of good games lately.  They won't make the playoffs, but winning nearly 30 games this season would be a huge step in the right direction for this squad.

24. Charlotte Bobcats (27) - Jason Richardson has returned and rumors are circling whether or not he will be shopped around.  Gerald Wallace has also been rumored to be out the door lately as well and this team looks to be in questionable shape.  D.J. Augustin has continued to play great and looks to be the best draft pick the team has made, which is ironic because he was not drafted at a position that needed filling and therefore his selection was criticized.

25. Golden State Warriors (24) - This team has been stuck in reverse all season long and they have to be hoping that when Monta Ellis returns they will make some progress this season because this team is young and in need of a step in the right dirction.  Andris Biedrins has cooled off lately and Jamal Crawford, though a need at guard, can't run the offense like they need someone to. 

26. Sacramento Kings (23) - This team is reeling and is doing so in a hurry.  Even with Mikki Moore's return, this team still needs Kevin Martin as he's not only their best player, he's the team's leader.  John Salmons will be a great running mate when Martin returns and if Beno Udrih plays as well as he has without Martin in the lineup then this team can take off.  Until then they will continue to struggle.

27. Memphis Grizzlies (26) - The team is slowly reaching irrelevance again and they're really struggling to find ways to win basketball games.  I don't think coach Marc Iavaroni has any chance to retain his job which is sad as he was once a promising candidate around the league.

28. Los Angeles Clippers (28) - Zach Randolph was a good acquisition and Al Thornton has played as well as he did last season but this team is missing something.  I don't know what it is, but I think this team would be making a horrible mistake in ridding themselves of Chris Kaman.  Even though he and Randolph don't mesh well, Kaman is a better player than Randolph and is a much better player than Marcus Camby.  They should find a way to keep him on this roster even though they could get a lot for him.  Eric Gordon has played great this week.

29. Washington Wizards (29) - As predicted last week, Eddie Jordan was fired but nothing has changed with this team.  They have Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and not much past those two players.  Because of the guaranteed contracts, this team is in such a deep hole that they're going to be stuck in this position for the next few seasons and may lose their best player (Butler) soon.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The 14 game losing streak is over and Kevin Durant and Jeff Green have played great ball this week.  The offense looks a lot more fluid with Scott Brooks running the show.  Why is Earl Waton still starting and how many chances is this team going to give themselves to draft a productive center in the lottery?

 

Posted on: November 30, 2008 2:39 pm
 

New Orleans Hornets Week 5 Review

 The economy is bad.  I can't afford Christmas presents for my friends and therefore I'm assured they can't afford presents for me.  I have to take a defensive driving class on Saturday to nullify a "rolling stop sign" ticket I received nearly two months ago.  I've had turkey for dinner for three straight nights and my last three Hornets weekley reviews have been negative.  I have a college algebra test this week and finals all next week, but today is good.  Today is a day for positive thoughts in Big Easy Bugs land.  Two wins over the lowly Thunder (see last week's review) and a win over the equally lowly Clippers helped get the Hornets back on track with a four game winning streak and although the Hornets still look a tad discombobulated out there, things are at least feeling good again in New Orleans.

The first game of theweek, played on Monday night in Los Angeles, proved to be a solid victory against the Clippers.  Eric Gordon is the last in a string of swingmen who continue to dominate against the Clippers (see J.R. Smith and Brandon Roy as well) but the Hornets were able to use their talent advantage to, well their advantage, and overcome a game Clippers team.  The Thanksgiving night game at Denver, though, was the best game that the Hornets have played since their game at home against the Cavaliers three games into the season.  James Posey and Rasual Butler were huge in the game, providing the Hornets with two strong performances and hope for the bench for the future when Morris Peterson eventually returns to the lineup (he missed all three games this week as well).  All of the good will that was gained in the surprising game against the Nuggets (despite efforts from scorned former promising Hornet J.R. Smith) it was lost just as quickly in their game at Portland the very next night.  Back to backs are tough, but traveling to two different time zones in two nights is even more difficult and the Hornets looked sluggish all game.  They did a good job controlling the paint (which is surprising as the frontcourt is supposed to be the weakness of this team) but frontcourts are killing the Hornets currently.  That's something that needs to be addressed and I'm sure Byron Scott will get around to it.

Peja Stojakovic has come to life the past few games for the Hornets, serving as their leading scorer against the Trail Blazers, shooting 47 percent from three point land this week.  I think a majoritiy of people undervalue the importance of Peja to this team.  When he's making shots and when he's spreading the defense the team flourishes and David West is allowed operate down low and Chris Paul is allowed to operate from all angles around the floor.  Speaking of Chris Paul and David West, they both had quiet games against Portland and West, especially, has looked sluggish the past two games, shooting 35 percent from the field at Denver and Portland after having great games against the Thunder and Clippers.  Paul, meanwhile, struggled against Portland but followed up two straight triple doubles with an amazing fourth quarter performance at Denver and has had a steal, now, in 99 consecutive games-bringing him within six games of the NBA record set by Alvin Robertson.  Here's to a Hornet setting any kind of milestone.

Speaking of struggling, Tyson Chandler still continues to pile up lackluster performances at center.  Hilton Armstrong continuously improves by the game and he is on par with Tyson Chandler as far as averages per 48 minutes (Armstrong is averaging 14.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 48 minutes while Chandler is averaging 12.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in the same categories).  Congratulations to Chandler for welcoming his son into the world on Thanksgiving day, but he needs to improve if the Hornets are to have any legit shot at a championship this season.  Also on the topic of big men, I'm surprised to see Sean Marks get more minutes than Melvin Ely this season.  I understand that Sean Marks has a better long range shot but I'm not too sure if long range accuracy is a necessity for the Hornets at the moment.  Melvin Ely has a good low post game and I'd like to see him get more minutes than Sean Marks but he's been in and out of Byron Scott's rotation so far this season.

The Hornets have two home games this week, against Phoenix on Wednesday and Memphis on Saturday.  Tyson Chandler and David West should both look to have bigger weeks against the competition and hopefully the Hornets won't let the confidence from their four game winning streak be lost with underwhelming performances this week.  Hopefully Morris Peterson, who had a huge game at Phoenix in the second game of the season, will return this week and it will only strengthen the Hornets bench with Rasual Butler adding firepower to an impressive set of frontcourt players off the bench for the Hornets.  Until next week, people.

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
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