Tag:Luis Scola
Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:44 pm
 

The 2012 Hornets and How to Win Long Term

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

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

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

The Goal

The goal is to win an NBA championship.

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

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

NBA Finalists from 2002-2011 (Efficiency Differential)

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

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

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

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

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

How Close Were the Hornets with Chris Paul?

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

Chris Paul Era, Sorted by Efficiency Differential

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some more simple math at this juncture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are the Hornets now?

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

The Eric Gordon Effect

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

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

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

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

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

The Monty Williams Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team

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

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

Jarrett Jack

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

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

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

Eric Gordon

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 23%
Projected Differential: +5

Trevor Ariza

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 15%
Projected Differential: -8

Carl Landry

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 17%
Projected Differential:+2.5

Emeka Okafor

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

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 8%
Projected Differential: +0.5

The Bench

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

Chris Kaman

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 6.5%
Projected Differential: -7.5

Al-Farouq Aminu

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -9.5

Marco Belinelli

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -2.5

Jason Smith

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

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

Projected Possessions Used: 4%
Projected Differential:-7.5

The Rest

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

Projected Possessions Used: 6%
Projected Differential: -10

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future

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

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

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

+6, y'all. +6.


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

Hornets Sign Gustavo Ayon and What It Means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted on: May 21, 2010 1:46 pm
Edited on: May 21, 2010 1:50 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 6

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.  Would I be called a woman if I let you all know that I'm a little indecisive again?  After writing out an analyzing yesterday's submission, I kind of fell in love with that draft and wanted to immediately swap with this one at #6.  This is only the second time (out of five freakin' submissions) that I've wanted to switch something, right?  Not too bad?  Anyways, coming in at #6 on our countdown is the 2002 NBA Draft which features one of the most hyped foreign projects of all time, one of the greatest colleigate players of all time and a draft that, overall, followed 2001's trend and set a record with 17 international picks.  So here's numer six on our countdown.

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

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21895619?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21928696?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21957208?tag=mccBlogView;comBlogEntryListMin
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#6: 2002 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Houston Rockets - Yao Ming, C, China
2) Chicago Bulls - Jay Williams, PG, Duke
3) Golden State Warriors - Mike Dunleavy, Jr., SF, Duke
4) Memphis Grizzlies - Drew Gooden, PF, Kansas
5) Denger Nuggets - Nikoloz Tskitishvili, C, Georgia (the country)
6) Cleveland Cavaliers - Dajuan Wagner, SG, Memphis
7) New York Knicks - Nene Hilario, C, Brazil (traded to the Nuggets)
8) Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Wilcox, PF, Maryland
9) Phoenix Suns - Amar'e Stoudemire, PF, Cypress Creek High School
10) Miami Heat - Caron Butler, SF, UConn

Overall, not a bad list of top ten players here at all.  It's not overwhelming, but it's pretty good.  Yao Ming came in with a lot of hype surrounding his 7'6" frame and the fact that he was from China.  He immediately took the league by storm, appearing in plenty of commercials and starting in the All Star game (because the fans in China voted for him of course) and has eventually become a great player for the Houston Rockets, although he's shown a tendency to be injury prone the last six years and may never play again because of feet injuries.  Jay Williams was such a terrific college player and you had to see him to understand how good he was.  He had a very inconsistent rookie season in Chicago before nearly losing his life in the offseason during a motorcycle crash (which voided his contract) that resulted in him shattering his pelvis, severing a main nerve in his leg and three torn ligaments including the ACL.  The Bulls were very classy about it and continued to pay him even though he was in direct violation of his contract by riding the bike.  Eventually, though, they released him the next season and Williams, although he tried, has never played in the NBA since.  Dunleavy has always been a good, never great, player that was run out of Golden State for his inconsistencies and has been the same inconsistent player in Indiana.  Gooden has managed to be a nice player in the league although he's already been with eight teams in his career.  Tskitishvili is one of the biggest busts in draft history and was just a horrible player on the court, only lasting four years in the league.  Wagner showed a lot of promise his rookie season as being an explosive scorer but suffered from ulcerative colitis and then had his entire colon removed before finally finding himself out of the league.  Nene was traded to the Nuggets and was instantly a very fun player to watch.  He's had problems with injuries his whole career but has still managed to be an effective and efficient player in the league.  Wilcox, meanwhile, has showed some promise but has never, ever put it together on the court.  He's still in the league, though.  Stoudemire was a big risk for Phoenix but he stepped in and showed a lot of potential right away.  He's now one of the big prized free agents in 2010.  Caron Butler, meanwhile, probably had the best rookie season out of all of them on a bad Miami team.  Butler's managed to become a really good player in this league as well. 

11) Washington Wizards - Jared Jeffries, PF, Indiana
12) Los Angeles Clippers - Melvin Ely, C, Fresno State
13) Milwaukee Bucks - Marcus Haislip, PF, Tennessee
14) Indiana Pacers - Fred Jones, SG, Oregon
15) Houston Rockets - Bostjan Nachbar, SF, Slovenia
16) Philadelphia 76ers - Jiri Welsh, SG, Czech Republic (traded to the Warriors)
17) Washington Wizards - Juan Dixon, SG, Maryland
18) Orlando Magic - Curtis Borchardt, C, Stanford (traded to the Jazz)
19) Utah Jazz - Ryan Humphrey, PF, Notre Dame (traded to the Magic)
20) Toronto Raptors - Kareem Rush, SG, Missouri (traded to the Lakers)

This is where the draft takes a horrible turn for the worse.  There isn't one good thing I can say about this entire bunch, except that Juan Dixon was a great colleigate player who, like Williams, you had to see to understand how good he was.  Jeffries and Dixon joined Washington as experienced college players after Washington was so criticized for the Kwame Brown selection the year prior.  However, they showed that experience isn't everything as Jeffries struggled to find a place in the league and eventually would up in New York on a very publically criticized contract.  Dixon, meanwhile, bounced around the league as a shooting specialist but is now no longer employed by the NBA.  Melvin Ely was lauded as being a great low post scorer but he couldn't do much more and he's no longer in the league.  Haislip has bounced in and out of the NBA his whole career and even had a stint with the Spurs this year before being cut.  Fred Jones participated in and won the 2004 Slam Dunk Contest, but that became the highlight of his career.  He's no longer in the league either.  Nachbar had some good years with the Nets and Hornets before going back to play overseas in 2008.  Welsh had his cup of tea as a shooter before fizzling out of the league by 2006.  Both Humphrey and Borchardt were traded for eachother, and neither team got anything out of them.  Borchardt and Humphrey both were out of the league by 2005 and showed absolutely nothing but his size.  Meanwhile Rush was seen as a three point specialist and has found a way to poke his head in and out of the league because of it but hasn't been a consistent rotation player since 2008 and is currently a free agent.

21) Portland Trail Blazers - Qyntel Woods, SF, Northeast Mississippi Community College
22) Phoenix Suns - Casey Jacobsen, SG, Stanford
23) Detroit Pistons - Tayshaun Prince, SF, Kentucky
24) New Jersey Nets - Nenad Krstic, C, Yugoslavia
25) Denver Nuggets - Frank Williams, PG, Illinois (traded to the Knicks)
26) San Antonio Spurs - John Salmons, SG, Miami (FL) (traded to the 76ers)
27) Los Angeles Lakers - Chris Jefferies, SF, Fresno State (traded to the Raptors)
28) Sacramento Kings - Dan Dickau, PG, Gonzaga (traded to the Hawks)

Save for a couple solid names, this draft, again, takes a huge turn for the worst.  Woods received a lot of Tracy McGrady comparisons but his legal problems only contributed to the "Jail Blazers" monicker and he was evnetually out of the league by 2006.  Jacobsen could do absolutely nothing but shoot and, as a result, was out of the league by 2005.  Tayshaun Prince has managed to become a consistent, steady defensive player.  He was eventually named a starter in his second year in the league where he won an NBA Championship with Detroit and has even won a Gold Medal with the 2008 USA Olympic Team.  Krstic showed a lot of promise in New Jersey before leaving to play overseas in 2008.  However, he came back just a few months later with the Oklahoma City Thunder and is now their starting center.  Frank Williams was involved in the draft night trade that brought Nene to Denver but Williams didn't have any success in New York and was out of the league by 2005.  Salmons has managed to become a really good player in the league, adding a three point shot to his ability to finish around the rim and has made a nice name for himself.  Conversely, Chris Jefferies had no success in Toronto, barely cracking the rotation and was gone by 2004.  Dickau being traded on draft night started a trend for him as he was traded eight different times (having his best season with that awful 2005 Hornets team) in his career but didn't get the hint and managed to stay in the league until 2008.

Round Two Notables:
30) Chicago Bulls - Roger Mason, Jr., SG, Virginia
33) Milwaukee Bucks - Dan Gadzuric, C, UCLA
34) Cleveland Cavaliers - Carlos Boozer, PF, Duke
40) Washington Wizards - Juan Carlos Navarro, PG, Spain
41) Milwaukee Bucks - Ronald Murray, SG, Shaw
45) Memphis Grizzlies - Matt Barnes, SF, UCLA
49) Boston Celtics - Darius Songaila, PF, Lithuania (traded to the Kings)
52) Miami Heat - Rasual Butler, SG, La Salle
55) San Antonio Spurs - Luis Scola, PF, Argentina

The second round, meanwhile, brings a bunch of names that probably trumps anything outside of Tayshaun Prince or Salmons drafted from 11-28.  Mason bounced around the league a little bit before finding a home in San Antonio last season.  However, he regressed this season and his future with the team is unknown.  Gadzuric has become an object of scorn in Milwaukee for his contract but, alas Bucks fans, the contract is expiring at the end of next season.  Boozer meanwhile had a great second season in Cleveland, was allowed out of his contract so that he could sign for a big deal with the Cavaliers, but then signed a bigger deal with the Utah Jazz, shocking the entire city of Cleveland.  Watch out y'all; he's a free agent this summer too.  Juan Carlos Navarro did not arrive in the NBA until 2007 and by then his rights were traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.  He made the NBA All-Rookie Second Team that year but didn't like it in the NBA, took a buyout and went back overseas.  Ronald "Flip" Murray has managed to bounce around the league as a good sixth man option and has been a good scorer for some decent playoff teams.  Matt Barnes took awhile to stick in the NBA but finally made himself a name in Golden State in 2007 and has, since, been a solid rotation player in the league.  Songaila had some good years with the Kings and a really good one year in Chicago before signing a huge deal with Washington.  He's still a solid rotation player; now with the Hornets.  Butler eventually became a three point specialist and cracked the starting rotations in Miami, New Orleans and with the Clippers.  Scola, meanwhile, was involved in a tricky buyout situation with his Euroleague team.  After the team continued to ask for ridiculous amounts of money, the Spurs eventually traded Scola's rights to Houston where he's now become a solid starter for a couple of good Rockets teams.

Notable Undrafted Players:
D.J. Mbenga, C, Republic of Congo - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks in 2004
J.R. Bremer, PG, St. Bonaventure - Signed with the Boston Celtics
Devin Brown, SG, UTSA - Signed with the San Antonio Spurs
Reggie Evans, PF, Iowa - Signed with the Seattle Supersonics
Udonis Haslem, PF, Florida - Signed with the Miami Heat in 2003
Jannero Pargo, PG, Arkansas - Signed with the Los Angeles Lakers
Smush Parker, PG, Fordham - Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Not a bad list of eligible players who went undrafted in 2002 either.  Mbenga has managed to stay in the league because of his size, and I put him on the list for all of my loyal readers who are Lakers fans.  Just to tease all my loyal readers that are Lakers fans, I also decided to include Smush Parker's name although he's no longer in the league.  He managed to start a couple seasons for some Lakers squads that made the postseason.  Devin Brown eventually became a solid rotation player in San Antonio and won a championship with the Spurs in 2005.  Since then, he's bounced around the league but is still on Chicago's roster.  Reggie Evans became known for his rebounding, tenacity and hustle and that allowed him to be a solid role player in this league.  He's currently with the Toronto Raptors.  Udonis Haslem struggled with his weight before signing on with the Heat in 2003.  Eventually, he became a starter on the Heat team that won the 2006 NBA Championship.  Jannero Pargo, meanwhile, made a name for himself with the New Orleans Hornets but then went to play overseas in 2008.  He's since come back and is now on the bench for the Chicago Bulls.  Meanwhile Bremer managed to make the NBA All-Rookie Second Team but did absolutely nothing of note after that and was out of the league by 2004.

2002-2003 NBA Rookie of the Year: Amar'e Stoudemire
All Stars from the 2002 NBA Draft: Yao Ming, Amar'e Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Carlos Boozer

2002-2003 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Yao Ming
Amar'e Stoudemire
Caron Butler
Drew Gooden
Nene Hilario

2002-2003 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Manu Ginobili (who was originally drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 1999 before finally signing in 2002)
Gordan Giricek (who was originally drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1999 before finally signing with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002)
Carlos Boozer
Jay Williams
J.R. Bremer

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

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 9

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

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

entry/5993128/21869382?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#9: 2007 NBA Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: May 3, 2009 3:34 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:44 pm
 

2009 NBA Postseason First Round Review

My Postseason Preview - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

entry/5993128/14555500


Eastern Conference
(1)
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Cavs came into the postseason determined and really took it to Detroit in all areas of the game.  Defensively the Pistons had no answer for LeBron James and the anemic play of their three stars (Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace) resulted in just absolute destruction from beginning to end. 
My Prediction: Cavaliers in five
Result: Cavaliers in four
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that the opposite ends at which these teams were entering the postseason was going to affect how they could perform.  The Pistons frontcourt was small enough to where the Cavs' lack of size wouldn't be such a flaw. 
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that the Pistons would be competitive in their games in Detroit and that Mo Williams would probably struggle in this series.  Williams' shot was inconsistent but for the most part he was solid as the team's second option.  The Pistons never really posed much of a threat to Cleveland aside from the first half of game one in Cleveland.  It was sad to watch that proud franchise go out the way it did.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - This series has been really bad to watch because it hasn't given us great basketball from either team.  For three games the Hawks have played terrific defense, for three games the Heat have taken it to the basket and gotten to the line and have made their three point shots.  Neither team has shown any kind of consistency and the fact that it's gone to seven isn't fitting, seeing as how there hasn't been much competition or consistency from either squad.
My Predicton: Hawks in seven
Result: Hawks in seven
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that Al Horford would be huge for Atlanta and would most likely have a very good series against Miami.  His injury may have slowed him down near the end of the series but he really was the difference as the Heat had no options down low.  I stated that home court would be crucial in this series and, although both teams dropped one game at home, the fact that game seven was in Atlanta was the difference between these two teams. 
Where I Was Wrong: I looked for every home team to win and was wrong in stating that would happen.  I envisioned this series being the best in the entire postseason and it's been one of the more unwatchable ones from start to finish.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers - This series was highlighted by three buzzer beating shots and gave plenty of tough basketball from both teams.  Dwight Howard's lack of touches in the clutch got plenty of attention and Stan Van Gundy's pose on the sidelines was brought into question multiple times throughout the series.  All that considered, the Magic's two losses were by buzzer beaters where three of their victories were convincing victories.
My Prediction: Magic in six
Result: Magic in six
Where I Was Right: I stated that Andre Iguodala would have to basically do it by himself if the 76ers were to win and stated he'd be unable to do so.  He got contributions from Andre Miller but Iguodala never commanded attention as the best player on the team, and he needed to be for them to win.  I figured Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff would be left one on one with Howard but stated that it would be for naught if Howard was assertive.  Also, I figured Turkoglu would struggle due to the injury, although it was probably his shot selection that was more questionable.
Where I Was Wrong: Not to sound cocky but my preview was pretty spot on, although I stated it would be the least interesting series and this postseason was full of uninteresting series.  So I guess I was wrong in that regard.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - If not for this series, the first round would have been full of uninteresting, unmotivated players and performances.  However, both teams here played fantastic basketball from start to finish and really brought out the best in eachother.  It had theatrics on the bench, the young upstart squad versus the defending champions, fantastic buzzer beaters and tremendous basketball.  It's a shame one of these squads had to lose, but the Celtics earned this on the court.
My Prediction: Celtics in seven
Result: Celtics in seven
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that Rajon Rondo would be huge in this series as it was important for him to win the one on one battle with Derrick Rose with Kevin Garnett on the bench.  I also stated that Rose would be key for the Bulls if they were to win, and both of those guards did not dissapoint.  I also mentioned that the fact that the Bulls weren't great scoring in the point wouldn't be exposed because of Garnett's absence, and they managed to allow big men like Brad Miller and Tyrus Thomas shoot jumpers from all areas on the court.
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that the Celtics would win on the defensive end, but they actually won by outscoring the offensive Bulls.  I was surprised they went that route, but it looked as if they had no other options.  Either way, the Celtics still found ways to win and I figured they would.

Western Conference
(1)
Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz - From start to finish the Jazz looked out of place on the court with the Lakers.  They played hard but their bad play down the stretch continued on the defensive end here in the first round.  Andrew Bynum's comeback looked very promising at the end of the season, but his play in this series could bring future questions for the Lakers in the postseason.
My Prediction: Lakers in five
Result: Lakers in five
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that Lamar Odom would be huge for the Lakers as he consistently dominates Utah when he's in the game and by the end of the series he was starting in place of Andrew Bynum.  I also mentioned that nobody outside of Deron Williams was playing consistent ball for Utah and that it was on Carlos Boozer to step up and help them matchup with Los Angeles. 
Where I Was Wrong: I did mention that every game would be tough and that the Lakers would have to fight to win, but the Lakers really took it to them from start to finish.  Unfortunately for Utah they just never had a chance in this series and it took an attrocious shooting night in game 3 from Kobe Bryant for them to steal one game in the series.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - Coming into the series, the Trail Blazers were the popular pick to make a run at the Lakers and give them trouble in the semifinals, and they proceeded to get destroyed in game 1 on their home court.  After that loss, they never gained any momentum in this series and it never felt like they'd have a chance to win. 
My Prediction: Trail Blazers in six
Result: Rockets in six
Where I Was Right: I did mention that Houston was more talented but that it would all be mental with them.  I guess I was at least right that the Rockets were the more talented bunch.
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla would give Yao Ming fits and Ming just took it to them and was unstoppable around the basket.  I also mentioned that the fact the Rockets didn't have Tracy McGrady would hurt, since I assumed they'd have no one to take the shots in the clutch.  But Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, Shane Battier and Ron Artest went and gave them critical baskets in stretches when they needed them.  They had a "closer by committee" and that worked against Portland.  I also stated that the Rockets would mentally question if they could win this series, and there wasn't a more confident bunch in the entire first round of the playoffs. 

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - This series pitting two division rivals against one another seemed to be one that was sure to bring fireworks from start to finish, but the Mavericks really dominated the Spurs on both sides of the court and gave them fits from all angles.  The Spurs only had Tony Parker and Tim Duncan show up while the Mavericks had five players every night that gave tremendous production and really just overpowered the Spurs.
My Prediction: Mavericks in seven
Result: Mavericks in five
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that the Mavericks abundance of options and Dirk Nowitzki alone always gives the Spurs troubles and has forever.  It proved right again in this series.  I stated the Mavs would have no answer for Tony Parker and he would be huge but the fact that the Mavericks had better role players would be what gave them the edge.  I also stated that Jose Juan Barea would be a huge factor for the Mavericks off the bench and he really gave the Spurs fits on both ends of the court.  I mentioned the Spurs would need to rely on players like Roger Mason Jr. to play better since they were going to miss Manu Ginobili, but that I wasn't sure if he would be huge in the postseason.
Where I Was Wrong: I was wrong in imagining that the series would go seven games but I covered all bases and really thought Dallas would win.

Oh no, now onto this next series.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In a matchup of two teams entering the playoffs on two opposite runs (Denver was hot going into the postseason whereas the Hornets stumbled entering the playoffs), the Nuggets thoroughly exposed the Hornets as the least talented team in the entire postseason.  A dominating performance by Denver was highlighted by a 58 point game 4 victory in New Orleans
My Prediction: Hornets in six
Result: Nuggets in five
Where I Was Right: I gave the Nuggets the edge on the bench and I mentioned that the frontcourt would kill Chandler and Sean Marks, both which happened.  But anything I said would go right for New Orleans went wrong ...
Where I Was Wrong: I was pretty much wrong in all areas in this series.  I stated Tyson Chandler would be huge as I thought his injury had healed, I mentioned that David West would really shine and stated the Nuggets would struggle trying to contain Chris Paul.  However it was Chauncey Billups who the Hornets had no answer for, Kenyon Martin really took it to West and Chandler was awful on both sides of the court.  I also mentioned this would be a tightly contested series, which was obviously wrong.

Posted on: March 30, 2009 3:37 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Houston Rockets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2008-2009 NBA Preseason Predictions

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

 

 

 

Eastern Confrence

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Confrence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Postseason Predictions

Eastern Confrence First Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Category: NBA
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