Tag:Matt Bonner
Posted on: May 28, 2010 12:13 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 1

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.  Mercifully, for some of you, this countdown is almost over.  It's been a blast typing them up and it was fun looking at some of the way teams have fared in the draft and how well some players have panned out, regardless of where they were selected.  We've covered a lot of ground the last decade.  From the high schoolers taken abound in 2001 and 2004, to the new one and done rule in 2006, to the amount of foreign players taken in 2002, to the University of North Carolina setting a record with 4 players taken in the lottery in 2005, to now.  Overall, this draft class has drawn comparisons to legendary classes of 1984 and 1996.  It's changed the courses of franchises, may have put handcuffs on another's chance at a dynasty, and features players who will be at the top of the list when it comes to free agency this summer (since that's what everyone wants to talk about).  But here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the number one draft on our countdown of the top ten drafts the last years.  Coming in at number one is none other than the 2003 NBA Draft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2: 2005 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22122758

#1: 2003 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James, SF, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School
2) Detroit Pistons - Darko Milicic, C, Serbia and Montenegro
3) Denver Nuggets - Carmelo Anthony, SF, Syracuse
4) Toronto Raptors - Chris Bosh, PF, Georgia Tech
5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade, SG, Marquette
6) Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Kaman, C, Central Michigan
7) Chicago Bulls - Kirk Hinrich, PG, Kansas
8) Milwaukee Bucks - T.J. Ford, PG, Texas
9) New York Knicks - Michael Sweetney, PF, Georgetown
10) Washington Wizards - Jarvis Hayes, SF, Georgia

Obviously, this top ten features a couple of franchise players, four olympic gold medalists, two NBA MVPs, one NBA Championship, one NBA Finals MVP, a ton of all star appearances; so on and so forth.  Cleveland's relevance in the NBA was changed forever when they got the number one pick and took it on heavily heralded star LeBron James.  Going to school at nearby St. Vincent-St. Mary, LeBron entered the league with a plethora of expectations and it was unknown how we would handle the fame and responsibilities, given that he was fresh out of high school.  But LeBron immediately took the league by storm.  He's won two NBA MVPs and led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in only his fourth year in the league.  He's not been able to return the team to the finals since then and has drawn criticism for that, but there's no denying that LeBron is already the best player in the game, and that Cleveland one hundred percent made the right decision.  And then Darko; Darko Milicic.  Just his name along makes blood ooze out of the ears of the citizens of the state of Michigan.  Darko was just as highly heralded a prospect as LeBron, seen as a big, talented player that was only 18, but could already run the floor, block shots, score from inside and outside and could play solid defense.  However, Darko never got on the court in Detroit and their passing on the next three players on this list probably halted what, at the time, was two straight NBA Finals appearances and one NBA Championship.  Denver was equally irrelevant at the time of the 2003 draft, and when they took Carmelo Anthony, the reigning NCAA Tournament MVP, they made the playoffs for the first time in ten years.  Denver is now a regular in the playoffs, having made it all seven of Carmelo's seasons in the league, and even made the Conference Finals in 2009.  Carmelo is still progressing as a player, and is already one of the best offensive talents the league has.  Toronto seemed to have reached for Bosh, who was considered a raw prospect out of Georgia Tech.  However, he showed flashes his rookie season and by the time Vince Carter was traded by Toronto during that rookie season, Bosh became the face of the franchise in Toronto.  He's emerged into a 20 point, 10 rebound threat every night and was a member of the 2008 USA Olympic Team that won the Gold Medal.  Another plalyer on that team, jonining LeBron, Bosh and 'Melo, was Dwyane Wade.  An NCAA Tournament darling, who led Marquette to the Final Four, Dwyane Wade was seen as a hybrid without a true position in the league and who may struggle with his jump shot in the pros.  But Wade entered the league and led the Heat to the playoffs his rookie season, and then led them to the Conference Semifinals.  After acquiring Shaquille O'Neal following his rookie season, Dwyane Wade would eventually lead the Heat to the 2006 NBA Championship and be named the 2006 Finals MVP.  Kaman was another who made a name for himself during the tournament, but has made the most out of his time in the league.  One of those rare "long term Clippers" players, Kaman's been with the franchise for his entire career.  He manned down the center position for the team's 2006 Conference Semifinals run and has been named an NBA All Star over his career.  Kirk Hinrich was drafted just one year removed from the Chicago Bulls drafting point guard Jay Williams.  After Williams motorcycle crash, it was entirely evident that he would not be playing, at least for the near future, and Hinrich was Chicago's pick.  Hinrich showed a defensive toughness and an outside stroke that endeared himself to the Chicago fans, and he showed a tendency to step up his game in the postseason.  He's regressed offensively the last three seasons, inexplicably, but is still a favorite among some Chicago circles and is still a starter on the Bulls team.  T.J. Ford was the reigning Naismith Player of the Year when Milwaukee traded up to get him to play point guard.  It took him awhile to adapt to the NBA game, and some freakish neck injuries halted that progress, but Ford eventually became a starter on some playoff teams in Milwaukee and Toronto.  He's regressed some due to injuries the past few seasons, so it's unsure how effective his career will be going forward.  Michael Sweetney was immediately just a bad pick.  He struggled with his weight right away and consistently came into camp in bad shape.  He played two years in New York and two years in Chicago before being out of the league by 2007.  Hayes, meanwhile, has managed to become a solid, steady rotation player for the duration of his career and, while not overly productive, he has been productive for the duration of his seven years in the league. 

11) Golden State Warriors - Mickael Pietrus, SF, France
12) Seattle Supersonics - Nick Collison, PF, Kansas
13) Memphis Grizzlies - Marcus Banks, PG, UNLV (traded to the Celtics)
14) Seattle Supersonics - Luke Ridnour, PG, Oregon
15) Orlando Magic - Reece Gaines, SG, Louisville
16) Boston Celtics - Troy Bell, PG, Boston College (traded to the Grizzlies)
17) Phoenix Suns - Zarko Cabarkapa, PF, Serbia and Montenegro
18) New Orleans Hornets - David West, PF, Xavier
19) Utah Jazz - Sasha Pavlovic, SG, Serbia and Montenegro
20) Boston Celtics - Dahntay Jones, SG, Duke (traded to the Grizzlies)

At this point, the draft takes a pretty big step backwards, although that had to be expected with the sheer awesomeness and insanity of the top five.  Pietrus has actually become a very good player in the league, starring on some Golden State and Orlando teams that made nice postseason runs.  He's managed to become a defensive and three point specialist in the NBA, carving out a nice career for himself.  Collison has created a nice career of his own for the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder.  He missed his entire rookie season due to injury, but was part of an exciting 2005 postseason run for Seattle.  He's managed to stay in the rotation for his entire career.  The best player out of the Grizzlies and Celtics draft night trade out of the top 20 happened to be Dahntay Jones.  Marcus Banks was seen as a potentially explosive scorer out of college, but he's struggled to get off the bench in the league.  He's still a member of Toronto's roster, but has played in only 345 games in seven seasons.  Troy Bell equally struggled in the league, not having a true, defined position and he was out of the league by 2007.  He was fantastic at Boston College, though.  Meanwhile, Jones equally struggled for a few seasons but made a name for himself during the 2009 Conference Finals run by the Denver Nuggets as a defensive specialist and was given a long term contract by Indiana this past offseason.  Contrary to Banks and Bell, Ridnour was a classical point guard in ever sense of the word.  He, too, was part of that exciting 2005 Conference Semifinals Seattle Supersonics team.  Ridnour has managed to either start or be the first guard off the bench for his entire career and is still producing, now in Milwaukee.  Reece Gaines struggled right away in Orlando and couldn't get on the court in Houston or Milwaukee either, and was out of the league by 2006.  Cabarkapa suffered a back injury his rookie season.  For that reason, coupled with ineffectiveness when on the court, he only made it one season with Phoenix before being traded to Golden State.  He didn't last there, either, and was out of the league by 2006.  David West was a true diamond in the rough, a four year colleigate senior who had a very nice career at Xavier but fell due to questions about his ability to be tough enough to play the power forward position.  West has turned in an all star career for New Orleans and has managed to stay with the team for his entire career thus far.  In the process, since I always rib other fan bases for their love for certain players, he's managed to become the object of my CBSSportsline man crush affection.  Pavlovic had a nice stay in Cleveland after being traded there from Utah.  He started on the team that went to the 2007 NBA Finals and was a nice outside shooter that could help spread the floor.  He's tailed off since then, but is still on Minnesota's roster as of right now. 

21) Atlanta Hawks - Boris Diaw, PF, France
22) New Jersey Nets - Zoran Planinic, SG, Croatia
23) Portland Trail Blazers - Travis Outlaw, SF, Starkville High School
24) Los Angeles Lakers - Brian Cook, PF, Illinois
25) Detroit Pistons - Carlos Delfino, SG, Argentina
26) Minnesota Timberwolves - Ndudi Ebi, SF, Westbury Christian High School
27) Memphis Grizzlies - Kendrick Perkins, C, Ozen High School (traded to the Celtics)
28) San Antonio Spurs - Leandro Barbosa, SG, Brazil (traded to the Suns)
29) Dallas Mavericks - Josh Howard, SF, Wake Forest

The bottom half of the draft actually produced quite a few signifcant role players in the NBA today.  Diaw, depending on who you talk to, can either be one of the most versatile and talented forwards in the game, or can be a passive bum who shoots too many jump shots.  But his ability to play multiple positions on offense and his skill set make him one of the most versatile players in the league.  Planinic never did adapt to the NBA game.  He struggled mightily on the court, except for a 77 foot buzzer beater during a 2006 game against the Utah Jazz in 2006 (youtube it).  However, he was out of the league by 2006 as you have to be able to score consistently closer to the basket.  Outlaw took a long time to get going in Portland, but really burst onto the scene last season.  Injuries limited his effectiveness this season and he's now playing for the Clippers.  Brian Cook was the object of much scorn during his time with the Lakers.  He was a big man who loved to shoot from outside, and that's all he did (in addition to getting hurt).  He fell out of the Lakers rotation and was traded to Orlando in the trade that got them Trevor Ariza.  Delfino has managed to become a solid, if unspectacular, rotation player for his entire career.  He just had the best year of his career this season with the Milwaukee Bucks.  Minnesota took a chance on Ebi fresh out of high school, and almost immediately regretted it.  They actually begged the league to let them send him to the NBDL, but at the time the league would only accept players who had been on an NBA roster for at least three seasons.  Ebi never saw a third season in the league, as he was done by 2005.  Perkins took a long time to get acclimated in Boston, but has eventually become a defensive stalwart and a staple in Boston's starting line up.  He was the team's starting center when they won the 2008 NBA Championship.  Barbosa burst onto the scene with his quickness and explosive scoring ability in his rookie season in Phoenix.  After the Suns signed Steve Nash in 2004, Barbosa went to the bench where he excelled in that role.  He won the 2007 Sixth Man award and has played his entire career with Phoenix.  Josh Howard was another four year colleigate senior who didn't blow people away, but immediately contributed for Dallas.  He became one of the best young players in the game by 2006, where he was a starter on a Dallas team that went to the NBA Finals.  However, injuries, inconsistencies and maturity issues have derailed his production.  His future productivity in the NBA is largely uncertain.

Round Two Notables:
31) Cleveland Cavaliers - Jason Kapono, SF, UCLA
32) Los Angeles Lakers - Luke Walton, SF, Arizona
38) Washington Wizards - Steve Blake, PG Maryland
41) Seattle Supersonics - Willie Green, SG, Detroit Mercy (traded to the 76ers)
42) Orlando Magic - Zaza Pachulia, C, Georgia
43) Milwaukee Bucks - Keith Bogans, SG, Kentucky (traded to the Magic)
45) Chicago Bulls - Matt Bonner, PF, Georgia Tech (traded to the Raptors)
47) Utah Jazz - Mo Williams, PG, Alabama
49) Indiana Pacers - James Jones, SF, Miami (FL)
51) New Jersey Nets - Kyle Korver, SG, Creighton (traded to the 76ers)

A solid group of guys selected here in the second round as well.  Kapono has won three three point shootouts in his career but hasn't yet become a steady rotation player in the league, even with his beautiful jump shot.  Luke Walton has been in and out of Los Angeles' starting line up for the duration of his career, but is a player with a ton of intangibles who has managed to stay a steady part of the Lakers team.  Blake was a local product when the Wizards took him at the 38th pick.  A true point guard, Blake has managed to stay in rotations for his entire career; first with Washington and now with Portland.  Willie Green eventually became the starting shooting guard in Philadelphia and is still one of the most productive players on the team.  Zaza Pachulia is from the country Georgia (not the state), but eventually made a name for himself as a productive bench player for the Atlanta Hawks.  Keith Bogans hasn't really stuck in any rotation anywhere he's gone, but he's managed, with his defense, to stay in the league thus far and even started a majority of his games this season with the San Antonio Spurs.  Speaking of the Spurs, Matt Bonner, the three point shooting specialist, became a fan favorite in both Toronto and San Antonio, and is still a productive player for the Spurs today.  Mo Williams only lasted one year in Utah before going to Milwaukee, where he signed a big contract after some very good seasons.  However, in 2008, he was traded to Cleveland where he became an all star point guard and part of some successful regular season teams for the Cavaliers.  James Jones is another three point shooter and scorer who has managed to stay a steady rotation player for both Indiana and Miami.  Korver, meanwhile, immediately made an impact his rookie season in Philadelphia with his terrific three point shot, but is now a regular and a fan favorite with the Utah Jazz.

Notable Undrafted Players:
Marquis Daniels, SG, Auburn - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
Quinton Ross, SF, SMU - Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004
James Singleton, PF, Murray State - Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2005

Marquis Daniels had an absolutely terrific rookie season in Dallas and was rewarded with a long term, six year deal.  However, he's struggled with consistency and injuries since then and didn't get off the bench this season in Boston due to the same problems.  His future productivity in the league is uncertain.  Quintin Ross was signed by the Clippers and became a starter for the team during its 2006 Conference Semifinals run.  Effective for his terrific on ball defense, he's currently playing with the Washington Wizards.  Singleton hasn't really done much in his career, but has managed to stay on the rosters of NBA Teams since he came into the league and is also currently with the Washington Wizards.

2003-2004 NBA Rookie of the Year: LeBron James
All Stars from the 2003 NBA Draft: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Kaman, David West, Josh Howard, Mo Williams

2003-2004 NBA All-Rookie First Team:
Carmelo Anthony
LeBron James
Dwyane Wade
Chris Bosh
Kirk Hinrich

2003-2004 NBA All-Rookie Second Team:
Josh Howard
T.J. Ford
Udonis Haslem (who went undrafted in 2002 before signing with the Miami Heat in 2003)
Jarvis Hayes
Marquis Daniels

Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:05 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview

It's playoff time!  At this point, the stakes are high and offseason paychecks and inseason acquisitions are expected to be rewarded with postseason success and jobs will be secured and won with big playoff appearances.  There are a ton of great matchups and the NBA really got it right with the sixteen teams that made it.  There's not one matchup, maybe outside of Cleveland, that looks like it won't be a fantastic matchup.  But here we go, this is GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview.

Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Chicago Bulls - A really intriquing matchup here.  The Cavs ended this season with the most wins in the league for the second consecutive season.  The Bulls looked dead a few weeks ago, only to experience a resurgence and have straked their way into the postseason.  The Cavs have coasted for awhile now and LeBron James hasn't even played in a couple of weeks.  Likewise, the team will be integrating Shaquille O'Neal back into the lineup after missing two months with a right thumb injury.  The Bulls, though, are experiencing their own bit of inner turmoil after a reported confrontation between head coach Vinny Del Negro and VP of Basketball John Paxson dominated the headlines in Chicago.  The Bulls are playing great basketball, but they don't have the horses to keep up with Cleveland.  The fact that they have a head coach that, in all likelihood, won't be there next season doesn't do much to help the team's psychi.  Derrick Rose will make things interesting, this won't be a sweep, but Cleveland has time to get their players back, figure out their rotation and still win this series.
Predicton: Cavaliers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Shaquille O'Neal - As mentioned earlier, the Cavaliers will be bringing Shaquille O'Neal back to the lineup in this series and his play is vital to the team moving forward.  How effective he is and how he plays will speak volumes about how things will unfold for the team in this series and in future series.  The team has played well without him, but his presence is still necessary down the road.  He must be effective.
Bulls Player to Watch: Kirk Hinrich - With Derrick Rose assuming a lot of responsibility for the team's chances of winning the series, the Bulls will look to Kirk Hinrich to step up and play huge this series.  His defense on Mo Williams will be important but he has to show a more consistent jump shot this series for the Bulls to have a chance to win.  It's not enough for him to just be out there on Williams.  He has to keep the Cavs honest on the offensive end and that will begin and end with him rediscovering his jumpshot.

(4) Boston Celtics. vs. (5) Miami Heat - A tough matchup to predict here.  Both teams have glaring weaknesses and considerable strenghs.  The Celtics have the championship experience from 2008 and say they're healthy for the first time this season.  However, they've really struggled the last two months of the regular season and if they didn't have their name, they'd receive no championship consideration.  Conversely, the Heat struggled earlier this season but, led by Dwyane Wade, the team looks to have its feet back under them.  They took advantage of a significantly easy stretch of games at the end of the season and can carry that momentum forward.  The home court would come into play in a 4/5 matchup, but the Celtics have lost 17 games at home this season.  They've never been more vulnerable.
Prediction: Heat in six
Celtics Player to Watch: Nate Robinson - A lot of the Celtics problems this season have had to do with the team's considerable age and thinning depth.  Robinson can play a huge role off the bench if given the chance and if he were to have a big series, there's no doubt the Cetlics would win.  He's been really inconsistent since going to Boston in February, but if he can find his stroke and some regular playing time, the Celtics will be a formidable team.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley has been so aggravatingly inconsistent this season that a lot of people have just given up on him in Miami.  The Heat need that consistent second option that can help Wade and lead this team to victory.  Not only is Beasley the most talented option for the Heat, he's the only player the Celtics have no immediate answer for.  Paul Pierce will likely be busy with Dwyane Wade, which leads him matched up with the smaller Ray Allen or the slower Kevin Garnett.  If he takes advantage of that, the Heat will win this series.

(3) Atlanta Hawks vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks - Picked by many to be among the worst teams in the league this year, the Milwaukee Bucks surged this season under the guidance of Scott Skiles and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  The franchise now has an identity in rookie guard Brandon Jennings and have responded well to added expectations as the season's progressed.  The Hawks, meanwhile, continue to steps towards becoming an elite franchise.  After making the playoffs for the first time in nine years in 2008, they won a playoff series last year and look to expand on that this season.  Their play all year gives no indication that's going to end.  The Bucks are at a huge disadvantage without center Andrew Bogut in the lineup and the team's lack of experience in the postseason together will give them troubles enough.  Skiles will keep his team competitive but it will catch up to them.
Prediction: Hawks in five
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - With Bogut out, Horford will be matched up with the aging Kurt Thomas and the underachieving Dan Gadzuric.  With that kind of advantage inside, Horford can make it easier for the Hawks perimter shooting which will take the Bucks out of any game.
Bucks Player to Watch: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Most likely will be assigned the dutie of guarding Joe Johnson.  His ability to do this well will allow John Salmons to conserve himself for the offensive end which is where he can really shine for the Bucks.  Considering the Bucks will need any offensive production they can get, it's important for Mbah a Moute to spell Salmons defensively.

(2) Orlando Magic vs. (7) Charlotte Bobcats - For the first time in the franchise's history, the Charlotte Bobcats are in the NBA postseason.  Their reward for making it, a date with the red hot defending Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.  The Magic boast the league's deepest team top to bottom, but that may not always be a good thing in the postseason.  Coach Stan Van Gundy barely set on a rotation entering the postseason whereas the Bobcats have had to go with the best players available night in and night out.  Both teams have played well down the stretch and both have a ton of momentum heading into the series.  I expect Charlotte to play to its full potential this entire series and push the Magic to the limit.  But I still expect the Magic to advance.
Prediction: Magic in seven
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - Always a matchup problem with his size and outside shooting, Gerald Wallace will probably be given the assignment of guarding Lewis which could really negate a lot of double teams down in the post on Dwight Howard.  Lewis has really struggled with his shot all season, but we saw last postseason that if Lewis is hitting his shots, the Magic are almost impossible to defend.
Bobcats Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Banged up the entire season, Chandler is the only big man capable of staying in front of Howard one on one defensively and will likely be given that assignment throughout the series.  He will be spelled by other big men on the Charlotte team but he's the best option for them offensively out of that group.  If Chandler has a big series, then the Magic could really be in for a fight.


Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Oklahoma City Thunder - A classic matchup of youth vs. experience here.  The Thunder are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005 (when the team was still in Seattle) and are in the playoffs as the youngest team in the NBA.  Facing them are the defending NBA Champions; who struggled in the last month of the regular season.  The Lakers are banged up across the board and look vulnerable here in the postseason and the Thunder are young, fearless and dynamic across the board.  But what is the Lakers biggest strength, size, is the Thunder's biggest weakness.  Unfortunately, the Thunder are a bit overmatched in their first playoff series going up against the champs.
Prediction: Lakers in six
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - As mentioned earlier, the Lakers biggest strength is their size, but that's only true when Bynum's in the lineup.  Expected to play in the playoffs, Bynum's production will be all gravy for the Lakers as the Thunder have nobody to matchup with him inside.  Coming off an injury, though, he may struggle (as he did last postseason) so his production is still important to the Lakers success.
Thunder Player to Watch: James Harden - If Harden continues to be effective off of the bench for the Thunder, he gives the team what the Lakers don't have, and that's someone over the bench who can take over games offensively.  With Bynum expected to be brought along slowly form his injury, Lamar Odom will get a lot of minutes and that leaves the rest of the bench largely ineffective.  Because of this, Harden alone can make all the difference in the second units which prevent the Lakers from every running away with a game. 

(4) Denver Nuggets vs. (5) Utah Jazz - Two really tough teams to figure out go to battle in this series.  The Nuggets have really struggled ever since George Karl's unfortunate cancer diagnosis back in February and have gone through moments where they looked like the same, immature, selfish Nuggets of years past.  The Jazz have gone through stretches this season where they look great, stretches where they look bad, and stretches where they just look lost.  Add Carlos Boozer to the team's indecisiveness, as he's a game time decision for the playoff opener.  However, I think the Nuggets longer spell of mediocrity is a sign of things to come with Dantley at the helm, and unfortunately they really miss their general.
Prediction: Jazz in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: Kenyon Martin - If he's matched up against Carlos Boozer or Paul Millsap, Martin, still recovering from an injury of his own, will be important to stopping the Jazz pick and roll and containing their best big man.  Martin did fantastic in the playoffs last year and was a huge reason why the team went to the Western Conference Finals.  For them to advance, they need Martin to have a similar impact this season.
Jazz Player to Watch: Mehmet Okur - With Boozer's injury in question, Mehmet Okur's production will be important for the Utah Jazz.  Because Martin will get the assignment down low, Okur will be left alone offensively mainly with Nene guarding him, which gives him a quickness advantage to go along with his lethal shooting ability.  Okur showed last season that he can produce with Boozer out of the lineup, and if he struggles the Jazz will look to him for big buckets.  He's played well during the home stretch of the season, and the Jazz need that to continue into the playoffs.

(3) Phoenix Suns vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers - Probably the NBA's hottest team, the Phoenix Suns finally look like a formidable team again for the first time in a few seasons.  Now with an added attitude on defense, the Suns look as complete as they ever have since the seven seconds or less days.  Still lethal on offense, the Suns will follow Steve Nash's lead in hopes of taking advantage of a Bradon Roy-less Trail Blazers squad.  Without Roy, the Blazers will look to other players to step up; as they have all season long battling the injuries the team has.  However, they look to be too overmatched against Phoenix at this point in time.
Prediction: Suns in five
Suns Player to Watch: Louis Amundson - With Roy out for the series, LaMarcus Aldridge becomes the only consistent offensive threat for Portland and Phoenix will have a tough time matchup up with him.  Amar'e Stoudemire, even though he's playing fantastic ball of late, is still poor defensively and Robin Lopez's injury limits what the team can do to slow down Aldridge.  Because of this, Lou Amundson's production off of the bench defensively will be counted on in this series.  Anything he can do to rough up Aldridge or limit second chance points will go a long way towards helping the Suns advance.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Jerryd Bayless - Earlier this season with Roy out, Bayless had the best game of his young career while spelling Roy.  Bayless was a huge prospect when he was drafted by Portland, but has struggled to find his niche yet with the team.  With Roy out again, the onus will be on Bayless to take the responsibility and live up to his lottery selection.  If the Blazers continue to get poor production out of him, this will be a quick series.

(2) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs - Another intriguing matchup, the Mavericks and Spurs face off in a rematch of last year's playoff series, where the Mavericks upset the Spurs in five games.  The Spurs have battled injuries all season long but finally look to have everyone, minus a hobbled George Hill, back for the playoffs.  The Mavericks, meanwhile, made a huge deal at the all star break to acquire Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in hopes of finally winning that elusive championship.  Division rivals matching up in the postseason always leaves a bit of a mystery as to how the games will play out.  Both teams are stacked top to bottom, but the Spurs are the one team with the size to match up with the Mavericks.  Who on Dallas has an answer for Manu Ginobili?  This should be a fun series but I see the Spurs shocking Dallas in game seven on their home court.
Prediction: Spurs in seven
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Last postseason, J.J. Barea was my player to watch for this series and was a huge difference maker for the Mavericks as the Spurs had no answer for him without Ginobili in the lineup.  Now that the Mavericks have added Butler to the lineup, not a lot is expected out of Barea and I think the lack of pressure will help him.  Along with Jason Terry (who you know will produce), Barea can make the difference in the second unit for Dallas and can really help separate the Mavericks from the Spurs if he plays well. 
Spurs Player to Watch: Matt Bonner - Last season, Bonner was a starter for the Spurs team that fell in five games to the Mavericks as he and Roger Mason Jr. struggled with their shot the whole series and the Spurs just couldn't get production offensively.  Now on the bench, Bonner has found his groove shooting the ball as of late and can make a huge difference for the Spurs if he's knocking down his shots.  They'll count on him again and I think last year's struggles will help him this season.  Look for Bonner to make a difference off the bench for the Spurs.

Posted on: November 13, 2009 2:27 pm
 

Making The Argument For Jeff Bower

Right now, it's pretty tumultous to be a fan of the New Orleans Hornets.  As I stated in yesterday's little post, things around the franchise are hectic in all areas.  From management to players to ownership, the Hornets are in a critical point in the franchise's history.  So with that being said, you have to be confident that you have someone who can turn the ship around.  Now I know a lot of people are blaming the current state of the Horents on Jeff Bower and you very well can, but let's evaluate his moves as a general manager from a whole.  He's not looking too well now, but we all know that basketball is circumstantial.  The Hornets have the 12th highest payroll in the league, but they don't have money like the Lakers and Knicks to throw around at players (and I know throwing money did not work for the Knicks so I'm not saying it's always an advantage), but when you want to commit to winning a championship it's difficult to do so as a small market team.  Teams like the Spurs are the exception to the rule.  They routinely have terrific drafts regardless of where they're drafting and find cheap, yet productive, free agents who really can impact a team (Roger Mason Jr., Matt Bonner, etc.).  But this is why the NBA has such a small fan base compared to baseball and football, because there is no parody in the league.  Actually, that's why football is the biggest sport in the nation.  Because every year, going into the season, you can have hope for your team in football.  Teams routinely make 5th and 6th round draft choices that produce right away.  A great head coach can be hired and turn things around in only one season.  You've had the Panthers go from nowhere to a Super Bowl and never be the same again.  Some would look at that as a bad thing, I think it keeps fans of all teams interested.  Here, even teams like the 76ers who have been above average the past few seasons won't get anyone to show up for their games, because even though the team will win 41 games and make the postseason, they'll do nothing when they get there.  So what do you do in the case of the Hornets, who have always been around average or above average but have never broke the barrier as a small market team?  They came close in 2008 and took big chances to build upon that and win immediately.  That chance backfired in a really bad way and now the team is paying the consequences.  But had they stood pat that offseason and not gone after anyone, people would have criticized management for not taking chances when they were so close.  So overall, fans are fickle and management is in a no lose situation.  But I'm here to tell you that Jeff Bower has done a good job as the general manager of the Hornets and I'm going to argue for him to stay on board in New Orleans.

The most often criticized move of the Jeff Bower regime, currently, is the contract given to Peja Stojakovic.  At the time of the signing, in the 2006 offseason, Peja Stojakovic was a consistent 20 point threat and was one of the deadliest shooters in the league.  When you're a team that's playing out of town in Oklahoma City and as a team that's never been an attractive destination for players, you're kind of forced to overpay to get above average talent to your team.  Peja Stojakovic probably was a smarter investment at near the 9-11 million dollar a year range at that time, but the Hornets gave him 65 million and 5 years to convince any kind of big name to come and play for them.  Again, that's management attempting to build a winner regardless of the restrictions.  It didn't pay off immediately as he missed 69 games in his first year of the deal (and if that injury had happened prior to him becoming a free agent it's safe to say the Hornets would not have made that kind of investment to Peja).  However, the next year paid off really well for the Hornets and Peja.  He wasn't scoring at the rate he used to, but he shot over 40 percent from three point range and made countless clutch shots for the Hornets and became one of the most popular players amongst fans.  As a three point catalyst, he was crucial to the Hornets winning the Southwest Division and making it to game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2008.  The very next year his back injuries reemerged and he hasn't been the same player since, so in only that sense is it a bad contract.  Had Bower had a miraculous crystal ball and could have predicted the injuries that would emerge with Peja, I seriously doubt the team would have made that kind of investment with Peja.  However, with the contract in place, the Hornets can't do anything to distance themselves from Peja.  I'm sure they tried to move him in the offseason, but with that price tag, the only way they could have moved would have been to add the relatively cheap David West to the package and if they had done that, fans and players would have accused the franchise of cost cutting and would have bashed Bower.  So again, in a no win situation, Bower is forced to put Peja out on the floor.

The signings of Morris Peterson and James Posey go hand in hand.  Neither are as expensive as Peja's, but both were brought in as complimentary swingmen who could really add unspoken intangibles to a team on the rise.  The signings were a year apart, so I'll argue Peterson's first.  When Peterson was brought in, he and Rasual Butler were supposed to provide a formidable pair at the two guard position.  Peterson never has emerged as the player the Hornets thought he would be when they first brought him in.  They gave him a 4 year, 28 million dollar deal (again overpaying) to get him to start at shooting guard.  For years, Peterson had been regarded as a fan favorite who hustled, played defense and knocked down shots.  He was viewed by many as one of the more unheralded players in the NBA and the Hornets really took a chance on him and gave him the starting shooting guard position.  He's never materialized and I'll never know why.  However, 9 out of 10 general managers would have done the same thing that Bower did.  Again, maybe not at that price tag, but in order to convince players to come over you have to give them the best deal.  Which brings me to James Posey.  Is Posey a 4 year, 24 million dollar player?  Not at all.  He wasn't even when he was in Boston, playing on a one year contract with the Celtics and proving invaluable during the Celtics 2008 championship run.  As one of those clutch, defensive role players that every championship team needs, the Hornets felt he was just the man to help get this team over the top.  The Hornets had Julian Wright emerging as a backup small forward and he was entering his second year, so Posey was not a necessary signing, but it was an aggressive move to show that the team was still committed to brining a title to New Orleans.  The Hornets were already spending a lot of money at that point, and with the contract extension given to Chris Paul ready to kick in in the 2009 offseason, they made a huge risk by bringing in Posey.  A lot of teams were interested in Posey, but nobody wanted to offer 4 years.  So the Hornets decided to do so to ensure that he would sign, and he did.  James Posey is the same player he was when the Hornets brought him in.  He'll give you around 9 points a game and play hard defense, bring the intangibles; the whole nine yards.  But his efforts go unnoticed because the Hornets are struggling.  He's not a saviour to a team.  He's more of a complimentary player whose efforts would be better appreciated on a championship team (as they were in Boston).  His contract is no different to the one the Spurs gave Malik Rose.  Malik Rose was a huge crowd favorite in San Antonio and was a hustle guy/role player.  The Spurs gave him a 7 year, 42 million dollar deal at his peak and he didn't change his style of play.  The Pistons just did this with Jason Maxiell.  These players aren't anything more than what they are on the court.  But you make an investment in a player because you want them to stay.  When they first pop on the scene, the market for them is huge and you want to do anything to keep the player on your squad.  This may happen with the Jazz and Paul Millsap as well, but that's the risk you take when you invest your money into role players.  Teams like the Lakers can get away with contracts like Luke Walton sitting on the bench.  The Hornets really can't afford to do so and that's why the Posey deal is killing them right now.

But Bower has made countless great moves to bring the Hornets back to the forefront.  As an assistant coach to both Paul Silas and Tim Floyd, Bower's been with the Hornets organization in various roles since 1996.  After being given the general managers position in 2005, he oversaw a complete turnaround of the Hornets franchise.  He was given a team that was starting the season with four starters (Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, Jamaal Magloire and David Wesley) on the injured list.  The team had a lot of money invested in those players and a few others on the bench.  That wasn't going to work.  The team won 17 games his first season as general manager, but he oversaw the dismantling of that underachieving, often injured bunch (sound familiar to this year's squad?) and made key moves in putting the Hornets future together.  As the team's primary talent scout, he played a huge role in drafting David West in 2003 at the 18th pick and drafting J.R. Smith the very next season at the same spot.  Also, in the 2004 offseason, the Hornets moved from the Eastern Conference to the deadly Western Conference.  Knowing that you couldn't win with the roster he had, he got rid of everybody.  Darrell Armstrong and his salary were sent to Dallas for Dan Dickau: an expiring contract.  David Wesley was sent to Houston for Jim Jackson and Bostjan Nachbar, Nachbar being a promising young player and Jackson being an expiring contract.  Baron Davis was sent to Golden State for Speedy Claxton and an expiring contract in Dale Davis in a move that looked horrible at first, but freed up the space to eventually sign Peja and lock up David West longterm.  He brought in Bryon Scott to lead the bunch and endured a very tough 17 win season.  In the offseason, just by being apart of the deal that brought Antoine Walker, James Posey and Jason Williams to the Heat for the 2005-2006 season, the Hornets were given Rasual Butler and Kirk Snyder.  Those two players played hard for the Hornets in the first season in Oklahoma City and they were huge steals for Bower.

One thing that cannot be underappreciated by Bower was his ability to keep the team together and afloat when they had to relocate to Oklahoma City because of Hurricane Katrina.  With the help of Byron Scott, the Hornets kept a solid, promising team together and always put a competitive team on the court when it could have been very easy to look at the situation as a loss cause and completely collapse (see how the Saints handled being away from New Orleans after Katrina).  In that same offseason that the Hornets had to go to OKC, they drafted Chris Paul.  He and J.R. Smitih were supposed to be the tandem of the future for New Orleans, but once Smith started to undermine Byron Scott and regressed his second season, the Hornets turned a negative into a positive and moved him to Chicago for Tyson Chandler.  Tyson Chandler would develop immediate chemistry with Chris Paul and would start for three seasons witih the Hornets.  The next two drafts brought Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright to New Orleans and both players have showed promise sparingly.  They've never capitalized and it's safe to say Hilton never will, but one bad draft pick in five or six years isn't a reason to fire the general manager.  Especially when you picked both of them around the 13-15 range. 

So let's look back at it all, he was able to trade J.R. Smith for Tyson Chandler, was able to trade Chandler for Emeka Okafor which allowed the team to still be able to compete this year while giving them minor salary cap relief (a move most general managers would not have been able to pull off, in fact he almost didn't pull it off when he sent Chandler to Oklahoma City for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox).  He worked with his limitations and brought in Darius Songaila and Ike Diogu to try and shore up a thin frontcourt, things just haven't materialized.  But they haven't been bad moves.  Had George Shinn not wanted to pony up 2 million dollars to the salary cap to keep Rasual Butler, the lack of a true shooting guard would not be a problem right now for the Hornets.  Bower has someone to answer to and he has a limit to what he can spend, and he's still put out a team that most people are upset hasn't won a championship yet.  He's still put out a team that expects to win.  That's big for a small market general manager.  He continued to build the franchise even when they were in Oklahoma City and throught drafts, trades and signings put together a great team for the 2008 season.  Did the spending go a little overboard with the James Posey acquisition?  Sure it did.  But the fact that the franchise attempted to go for it all when they were close to a championship shows that it's a team trying to win.  At the same time, there's a reason the same teams were able to go after big name players this offseason and the same teams had to cut costs and try and be competitive.  Because the NBA salary cap sucks.  It puts a lot of small market teams at a disadvantage.  Teams like the Lakers can get away with having huge contracts on their team because they'll make it all back with TV deals, ticket sales and overall revenue based off of Kobe Bryant's jersey sales alone.  So it's easy to say, as IP did, that "Kobe's not bigger than the Lakers."  The Lakers have always been good.  That's why Kobe's not bigger than the Lakers.  The Lakers are a gifted franchise who should always be competitive with any kind of competent management. 

Do I want to accept losing and do I want to make excuses for Jeff Bower?  No.  But I understand the situation and I know why the team made the moves they did.  So I can't, in the same breath, sit and blame Bower for the same team that he was praised for a few years ago.  He tried to shake things up and keep the team competitive even though the franchise was over the luxury tax this offseason.  He still may; you never know.  As the interim coach now, it's basically his chance to win with the players he put together or bring in a big time coach who can win (Tim Floyd is not the answer and if he hires him as Head Coach I demad that this post be stricken from the records and I will personally call for Bower's termintation).  I still have hope in the Hornets and if the franchise decides to strip it bare and build it back up again, I would like Bower to still be the general manager of the team.  Why?  Because he's oversaw a rebuilding process that resulted in a big turnaround before.  There's reason for me to believe he could do it again.
Posted on: April 3, 2009 12:09 am
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:42 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: San Antonio Spurs

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

Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

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 has won four championships in ten seasons: the San Antonio Spurs.

Strengths
You look at the Spurs and you look at a core group of players that have been there and done that and have no problem doing it again. Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich both have four rings, and Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen, and Manu Ginobili each sport three championship rings and that alone is worth giving your vote of confidence to the San Antonio Spurs.  The Spurs ability to play their style on the road and win on the road has spurred (no pun intended) a very successful stretch that has seen the Spurs win four championships in ten NBA seasons.  Their emphasis on defense, amazing ability to shoot the three point shot, letting that shot stretch the defense and allow Tim Duncan room to opperate and Pop's uncanny ability to find and manage players that can fill roles and provide key plays for the Spurs have allowed the franchise to be great for all of recent history.  They've won at least one playoff series every year since Tim Duncan came into the league in 1997, minus the 2000 playoffs which Tim Duncan missed due to injury. 

The Spurs defense is having an off year but you know that, even through Bruce Bowen and Jacque Vaughn have seen limited minutes all season, they and players like Kurt Thomas will will step in and provide tough, tenacious minutes on their opposing man and provide the frustration necessary for great team defenders in Manu and Tony to possibly create turnovers and lead to fast break opportunities for the Spurs.  And when the Spurs get on offense, they have a perfect inside-outside game that makes them dangerous from all angles.  They have two of the top ten players percentage wise from behind the three point line in Roger Mason Jr. and Matt Bonner.  Other players like Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley can and have hit big three point shots in the postseason when called upon.  And of course, Tim Duncan is possibly the best power forward of this generation.  He can step out and hit the 20 footer and his footwork makes him nearly unstoppable around the basket as well.  He's nearly unguardable.  Add to the fact that players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili also thrive driving to the basket, and the Spurs get to the free throw line a respectable amount of times as well.

Weaknesses
Age and athleticism have been brought up as problems since around the 2006 postseason loss to Dallas for the Spurs.  Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have actually thrived this season, but Manu's problems with injury and a reliance on older players like Bowen, Vaughn, Finley and Thomas may prove to be tough for the Spurs as minutes and games stretch out with time.  We've seen them play against younger, athletic teams this season and really struggle to stop them.  Since they've played Mason at the shooting guard position and Matt Bonner at center, the Spurs have given up a lot as far as defense is conerned.  Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto usually stood in at those positions for the Spurs and neither hardly gets into the game, although that seems like it will change for Bowen in the postseason.  The Spurs also seem to have an infatuation with the three point shot, and sometimes can get caught up taking too many of them, instead of driving to the hoop and creating offense in the paint.  Granted, Tim Duncan is the only person who you can give the ball to under the basket and watch him create, but you can't have too many games where you shoot 4 for 20 something from beyond the arc.

Also, depth may prove to be a problem for this Spurs team.  They've always brought Manu off of the bench as a coaching ploy, and Pop should look to do that this year as well, but Tony Parker has played a lot of minutes this season for this Spurs team and George Hill, as a rookie, doesn't figure to get many minutes in the postseason.  When Parker goes to the bench, Jacque Vaughn comes in and provides effecient basketball, but can't hit a jumper to save his life, and Roger Mason sometimes handles the ball but he can be turnover prone at the point guard position.  Fact of the matter is, although Tony Parker is one of the biggest workhorses in this league, you have to wonder if his body can hold up and if it can't then the Spurs are in big trouble.  Also, because of Manu's inability to stay healthy this season, a sense of chemistry and continuity seems to be lacking on this Spurs team that has been prominet on previous squads.  That all still has time to be worked out, but could be a problem in early rounds, and the Spurs aren't guaranteed a first round victory this season.

Why They Will Win It
The Spurs have been there, done that, and this is an odd year, which bodes will for San Antonio's pride and joy.  They shoot the three point ball well, they play solid defense and they have the best low post player in the game in Tim Duncan.  With all of those intangibles, it's hard to ever count the Spurs out of championship conversations.  They can beat you in so many ways and are actually a versatile squad that can outscore you if called upon (see the Phoenix series of the past few years).  But still, the Spurs bread and butter is slow, grind it out defensive basketball which usually is the poster of postseason basketball.  They're a team that's always confident and always seems to be built for the postseason.

Why They Won't Win It
Continuity is a problem with this team.  Ime Udoka, Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, Jacque Vaughn and George Hill have had inconsistent minute distributions all season and therefore you don't really know who's going to be where in what situation.  Drew Gooden was added to give another low post scoring threat, but he's been eased very slowly into the rotation and still doesn't look completely comfortable.  Add to the fact that the Spurs may have a tendency to rely on the three point shot too much this season, and they can catch themselves becoming jump shooters.  They've also had problems keeping Manu healthy all season, and even if he plays, if he's not 100% it's going to hurt the Spurs (see last season's Western Conference Finals).

Conclusion
History tells us the Spurs are on in these odd years.  Tim Duncan and company have been there, done that, and will always be among those mentioned as favorites for a championship.  This team and city embraces the work ethic and no nonsense approach that the Spurs bring, and they always play their best basketball in the postseason.  Pop always does a great job of managing his star player's minutes in the regular season, and this year will be as important as any to see if that really paid off.  However, something seems to be missing from this Spurs squad.  That spark, that "it" factor that's kept you always believing in them seems to be missing this year and an overreliance on the three point ball may cause them problems in tough games.  However, with Tim Duncan and company in the mold, you have to consider them a contender for a championship every season.  Even with all of their problems, you can't be surprised if the Spurs make a run at a title.  After all, they're the most effecient, consistant team in the league and they've done a great job of coming out of nowhere to win championships before.  So the Spurs will be right there in the end among those mentioned as possible championship contenders.  Even if by reputation.

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

Posted on: December 29, 2008 1:45 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through December 28, 2008

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) - The Cavaliers rallied for an impressive win against Miami today and remain the only team this season to be undefeated at home.  They hold home court admirably and they also are getting fantastic play out of Mo Williams lately.  This team is playing a consistent brand of basketball, and although the assortment of players and the list of victories doesn't blow you away, they are the hottest team so far this season and they play fantastic defense and win basketball games at home.  Those are three qualities of great teams.

2. Boston Celtics (1) - I know with two losses this week you could make arguments about them falling behind either Orlando or the Lakers, but they still have the best record in the league and last week people were questioning when exactly this team was going to lose.  They had a tough western swing but the Celtics are still the best team in the league.  I think it would be entirely irrational to drop them too far down the list.

3. Orlando Magic (3) - The Magic are the second hottest team in the league right now and are frequently blowing teams out of the arena.  That performance against New Orleans on Christmas day was impressive.  Getting Mickael Pietrus back from injury is going to help this team immensely in the near future.  They continue to perform at a high level regardless of doubts concerning their ability to consistently perform at this level.  Currently, they're at this level so I can't drop them.

4. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - The Lakers gained an emotional and emphatic triumph over Boston on Christmas day in one of the most anticipated regular season games in recent memory.  Kobe Bryant, as of late, has been playing near his MVP level from last season and the Lakers have to love what they're getting out of players like Sasha Vujacic as of late.  They've seemed to turn the corner on the difficult stretch that they seemingly were having and inner turmoil over their defense had to be addressed with that performance against Boston.  They clearly are the best current team in the Western Confrence.

5. Atlanta Hawks (6) - Joe Johnson is playing at an amazing level currently and this Hawks team is clicking on both sides of the basketball.  Their quick start has proved to not be a fluke as they continue to play great basketball even going into January.  The team may lack true depth at the point guard position, but Johnson runs the offense so much that it masks that problem.  Overall, Mike Woodson has this team playing at an unbelievable level.

6. San Antonio Spurs (10) - Tony Parker has elevated his game to an unbelievable level this season.  His offensive game is as polished as any point guards in the league.  That shot from Roger Mason was huge on Christmas day and Tim Duncan is quietly having an unbelievable season.  Matt Bonner has really slowed as of late, and as a result I look for the Spurs to look for some inside scoring around the trade deadline.  Knowing them, they'll find a team to give them an outcast and I look at Eddy Curry (don't laugh) as being someone who could fit in good with the Spurs.  But they need another force in the paint to take some pressure off of Tim Duncan.

7. Denver Nuggets (9) - The team played great basketball without Carmelo Anthony in the lineup and then carried it over with a big win at Madison Square Garden today when Carmelo returned.  This team continues to stay around the top and are getting fantastic production out of J.R. Smith as of late.  Kenyon Martin has shown flashes of the player we all loved in New Jersey as of late but it's a shame that a lot of his explosiveness has limited him.  He had the potential to be a really, really good player in his career.

8. Portland Trail Blazers (7) - They're getting production out of Brandon Roy, but they have to love the contributions they're getting night in and night out from players like Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla as those types of role players are what help a team become a consistent threat night in and night out. 

9. New Orleans Hornets (5) - Their performances against Los Angeles and Orlando revealed they still have not yet turned that corner and become a really good team.  They're still playing maddingly inconsistent basketball but Peja Stojakovic and Antonio Daniels returned this week and that is reason enough for optimism in New Orleans.

10. Houston Rockets (8) - Ron Artest has been great off of the bench since his return from injury and I look for the Rockets to continue to play him at that spot.  Tracy McGrady has been really inconsistent this season and continues to be in and out of lineups with nagging injuries.  It's a shame he could indirectly ruin the best chance the Rockets have had at a championship since Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen were wearing Rockets uniforms. 

11. Dallas Mavericks (12) - The Mavericks are playing tremendous basketball as of late and have gotten past that slow start to develop into a fun, cohesive unit.  That suspension for Dirk Nowitzki is laughable but it didn't stop them from being the lowly Clippers.  I know Jason Kidd's numbers are down, and he's not the player he once was, but I feel as if he's delivering so far this season for Dallas.  No he's not the player that Devin Harris is but he's done a fine job keeping this team together this season and they're slowly getting healthy as well.  The Mavericks have played above expectations so far this season and it'll be intersting to see them continue to try and do so. 

12. Utah Jazz (11) - Injuries to Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap have held this team back and they've still yet to field a consistent and healthy squad for an extended period of time so that we can fairly evaluate the legitimacy of this Utah squad this season.  Overall, I believe Jerry Sloan has done a fantastic job keeping this unit at where they're at even though they can't get continuity in the lineup.

13. Phoenix Suns (13) - The Suns had one game this week and lost it but they played strongly against the Spurs on Christmas day.  They're winning games and at this rate will put up a soild record for the season but they don't seem to have any sort of spark to them this season that makes them feel like a legitimate threat to a team in a seven game series.  Amare Stoudemire, for all the talent that he posseses, is becoming a quiet 20 point 8 rebound guy and you never want to fall into that category.

14. Miami Heat (14) - A tough loss at Cleveland is the only problem the Heat have experienced the past couple of weeks.  Their defense keeps them in every single game and they find ways to hang around and win ball games.  Jamaal Magloire would be a nice boost to this team if he could ever get consistently healthy but I don't know if that's in his capabilities any longer.

15. Detroit Pistons (15) - The Pistons found ways to beat bad teams this week and it's still a step in the right drection.  They've been around .500 since acquiring Allen Iverson but they've still got time to right the ship and become a threat come the postseason.  But looking at the energy of this squad, you have to wonder if they will. 

16. New Jersey Nets (18) - The Nets still refuse to go away.  Devin Harris and Vince Carter, night in and night out, carry this squad and keep them playing at a competitive level.  Brook Lopez has done a fine job and has settled in nicely at the starting center position but I think this team still lacks the overall talent to stay in the playoff race all season long.  But they've exceeded expecations so far this season so it's not outside of the realm of possibility for this team to stay at this level.

17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks continue to stick around regardless of a lack of fanfare or consistency.  Michael Redd has struggled a tad this season and Richard Jefferson's game has dropped a bit as of late but Andrew Bogut has done a great job keeping this team afloat.  I'd also like to give some kudos to Charlie Villanueva for being voted the world's sexiest bald man, giving the Bucks their first player to win an award in the past couple of decades.  Congratulations!

18. Chicago Bulls (16) - This squad, much like the team in Utah, continues to deal with inconvenient injuries and have not yet fielded a consistently healthy squad.  Everyone can't seem to get cohesive on this team because of the injury problems.  Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon have done a great job of keeping this team together but overall they are a perimeter based squad and unfortunately, when shots don't fall they have no shot of victory and that won't hold up all season long.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - I've been wanting to say it the past few weeks so I will give credit this week, Marreese Speights has done a great job this season, especially in the recent absence of Elton BrandAndre Iguodala has shown flashes of the player that he was last season but overall he and this squad have vastly underacheived this season. 

20. Memphis Grizzlies (23) - I wonder what happened to Marc Gasol to see his minutes being reduced as the season has progressed.  Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo are nightly constants for this young squad and they finally have a sense of direction in Memphis for the first time since the first season they made the playoffs in 2003-2004. 

21. Golden State Warriors (24) - The Warriors had a very impressive victory over Boston this week that was quickly forgotten after their performance against the Lakers tonight.  Stephen Jackson has been playing better as of late but this team still misses Monta EllisCorey Maggette was a questionable addition when he signed with Golden State and word is the Warriors are listening to offers for the swingman.  His contract may make it hard for him to be moved, but I don't believe it's going to work for him in Golden State.

22. Charlotte Bobcats (25) - Emeka Okafor has played great as of late, giving the Bobcats a consistent threat at the center position that they've lacked majorly this season.  Boris Diaw gives him a body to work with down in the paint and Raja Bell has finally picked up his play after being traded from Phoenix.  They're playing good, hard basketball at the moment and still have time to salvage the season by making a late season push for the playoffs.

23. Toronto Raptors (26) - The Raptors, mainly spearheaded by Jermaine O'Neal, responded in a big way this week after that dreadful previous couple of weeks that they played.  This team still is a question mark as to whether or not they're going to right things this year but there's no denying how tough it's been to get a grip on this team.

24. New York Knicks (20) - The Knicks were never known for their defense even before the arrival of Mike D'Antoni, but the laziness on the defensive side of the ball has quickly spread in that locker room and has since grown to become a laughable ailment for this team.  The team doesn't even try to guard you, which is what keeps them from pulling potential upsets over better squads.

25. Indiana Pacers (22) - The Pacers have yet to really get it together this season and after spending all season waiting for them to do so, I've finally come to the conclusion that it just may not happen.  Mike Dunleavy has started to become more active after missing all season due to injury but I believe it's outside of his capabilities to turn this season around in Indiana.  I said Brandon Rush would be a rookie to look out for this season and in turn he's played very underwhelming basketball this season. 

26. Los Angeles Clippers (21) - The Clippers are such a Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hide squad.  You have no idea if they're going to be competitive or susceptible to being blown out.  They've recently given minutes to raw project DeAndre Jordan as of late and you have to wonder what that spells for oft injured but extremely talented center Chris Kaman with the now recently crammed frontcourt in Clipper land.

27. Sacramento Kings (27) - Their offense is so anemic without Kevin Martin in the lineup and I'm tired of waiting for him to come back and make this team competitive again.  It has to be dissapointing that after such a strong season last year this team has played at the level it has this season, but injuries and inconsistency within the organization can derail a team on the rise and that's exactly what's happened to this identity-less team.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves finally got a victory for coach Kevin McHale this week but still lack any true power on their squad.  Rashad McCants and Ryan Gomes are two pieces of this team that would truly flourish on better squads but they basically serve no purpose for this horrible team.  If you look at the current roster, you can't even say that they're rebuilding.  They don't have any young projects in place aside from Al Jefferson.  They're just an assortment of bad players.

29. Washington Wizards (29) - Now that Caron Butler is injured (and we all saw that coming), Antawn Jamison is all alone now as far as options for the Wizards.  He was good enough for a victory over Oklahoma City but there's not much more he can do for this squad.  He's played unbelievable basketball but it will and should go largely unnoticed around the league because this franchise is so poorly operated.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - I looked at the Thunder playing Joe Smith at the center position with concern but after looking at the level of center play around the league, I guess it's a gamble for the worst roster in the league.  Nick Collison's injury obviously doesn't help matters but for the most part it really doesn't matter.  I don't see Joe Smith (who would be a nice fit in San Antonio) or Desmond Mason finishing February in Oklahoma City jerseys.

Posted on: December 22, 2008 1:00 am
 

New Orleans Hornets Week 8 Review

Right now it's good to be a Hornets fan. Chris Paul is setting all time records, the team has won 11 of its last 13 games, and they have a tough stretch coming up that us Hornets fans are as excited about as any games since the beginning of the season. The Hornets had two good games at Memphis and at home against Sacramento (avenging an earlier loss to the Kings this season in New Orleans) and the week was highlighted with a humongous 4th quarter against the, then, red hot San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. It was a week that left a lot to be excited about in the Big Easy and also reason for optimism after a frustratingly inconsistent start for the team.

The week began at Memphis with the Hornets overcoming a testy and confrontational Grizzlies squad to set up the big showdown Wednesday night at home against the Spurs. The sting of a seventh game loss still affects me to this day and in no way does this loss erase that unsettling conclusion that your team's run at a championship is officially on ice. But seeing Matt Bonner and Michael Finley miss all those open shots and watching David West nail two different three point daggers sure did make me happy for one night.

But even though West played the role of a hero of sorts in Wednesday's game, his play needs to come into question. Last season, West became so consistently deadly from mid range that he's relied too much on that shot this year. Some games I'll see him roaming around the top of the key instead of doing his job as the only inside scoring presence that the Hornets have. That mid range jump shot should be an asset not a reliance. He leads the team in scoring and his play is so critical to the organization that the Hornets simply can't rely on him shooting 40% for the week. He needs to be more effecient for this team to reach that ultimate goal of a championship.

Morris Peterson came back in a big way Saturday night against the Kings. His 10 points were all critical baskets and I still believe his play is going to be critical for this team down the stretch. I'd like to see him play his way back into the rotation. I love what Devin Brown brings to the team, but with Peja Stojakovic out I'd much rather have Rasual Butler and Peterson starting and have Devin Brown play off of the bench. Speaking of Peja's injury, how on Earth did that happen? He went from hitting a crucial three point dagger against Memphis to surprisingly missing the game against San Antonio and then missing the game against the Kings as well. His injury was extremely surprising and for a majority of that Spurs game his presence was definitely missed. Even if he struggles at the three point line, you know he's a threat and people were playing off of Devin Brown on the perimeter. The Hornets need Peja in order to succeed.

What's happened to Melvin Ely? Is Sean Marks really that better of an option than Ely is? Marks has never contributed consistently on a team and he looks lost out there at times. Ely is every bit as effecient offensively as Marks is and I don't see the point of having Marks getting the big minutes. He even logged more minutes than Hilton Armstrong the game against the Kings. I'm not one to question Byron Scott, but I just don't get it.

The Hornets have an extremely tough week on the brink, with games at home against the Lakers, at the Magic on Christmas Day and against the Rockets at home on Friday night. That three game in four day stretch will end on Sunday at Indiana against a Pacers team that has shown it can beat the top teams in the league. It's a challenging upcoming week for the Hornets, but it's a week that should be fun to watch. Until next week.

Posted on: December 8, 2008 1:30 am
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:15 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through December 7, 2008

1. Boston Celtics (2) - And with the Lake show's loss to Indiana this week, the Celtics now have the best record in the league and the top spot in the power rankings (couldn't have come sooner for you devout Boston fans).  Rajon Rondo has played like a beast this season and has an outside shot at making the all star team.

 

 

2. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - A loss at Indiana knocks them down but they're still rolling along at 17-2 (that record matches the Lakers' best 19 game start in team history).  Nobody on this team is really starring, similar to Boston, even though they have the best records in the league, but Pau Gasol's play deserves recognition.  He's a perfect match for that offense and even moreso now that he gets to play his more natural power forward position.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - The Cavaliers continue to win games and are currently undefeated at home.  They're getting good minutes out of J.J. Hickson lately which is encouraging for what is perceived as a weak frontline.  Daniel Gibson has been lights out this season, which is nice to see even though he received a new contract in the offseason.

4. Orlando Magic (5) - Even though they got blown out at Boston Friday night, this team has been steady all season long.  Jameer Nelson is back now and they're rolling as steadily and as quietly as they did last season. 

5. Denver Nuggets (4) - J.R. Smith and George Karl aren't even on speaking terms which is sad because this is now the second coach that has gotten fed up with Smith's antics.  You hate to see that kind of talent go to waste because of an attitude and he's crucial to the team's ultimate success.  It's something to keep an eye on.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (6) - Even though they're not getting the best minutes out of Greg Oden this team still continues to chug along.  Brandon Roy is currently playing like a top five or ten player in the league.  He's doing a little bit of everything and they're getting solid production out of a young bench as well.  This team's progression should be fun to watch and whether or not the maturation continues to a level that allows them to make the playoffs is something to keep track of. 

7. Houston Rockets (7) - Even without Tracy McGrady, the Rockets continue to chug along.  Rafer Alston has stepped up in McGrady's absence and Yao Ming has been dominant in the post this week.  They need McGrady ultimately (of course) but currently his injury won't rock this team too hard.

8. Atlanta Hawks (9) - Getting Josh Smith back was huge for this team but Al Horford's injury is something to keep an eye on.  This team continues to hover around the top ten regardless of everyone waiting for them to fall off the face of the Earth.  Mike Woodson has done a great job so far this season.

9. New Orleans Hornets (11) - The Hornets have quietly won six of their last seven and are starting to get production out of Peja Stojakovic.  They still lack that solid chemistry they had last season but they're starting to play the same, exciting, brand of basketball they displayed last season.

10. Utah Jazz (8) - Even though Paul Millsap is playing out of his mind, this team still misses Carlos BoozerMatt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko are coming back from injuries and this team still needs to get fully healthy before we can critique their wildly inconsistent start to the season.

11. San Antonio Spurs (13) - Don't look now, but the Spurs are relatively healthy and the offense looks fluent.  Tim Duncan is playing solid basketball but that should come as a surprise to no one.  Surprisingly, this team is getting great production out of Matt Bonner and Bruce Bowen is finding himself deeper on the bench as the games go on.  You have to wonder how much he may have left in the tank at his age.

12. Dallas Mavericks (16) - The Mavericks are surging and (as mentioned on last week's rankings) Jose Juan Barea is looking great with an increase in minutes.  I'm not positive that the team's season long search for a starting shooting guard ends with Barea, as a lineup starting he and Jason Kidd in the backcourt is extremely small, but it's working for the moment. 

13. New Jersey Nets (14) - This team is still playing a fun, inspiring brand of basketball and Devin Harris continues to play out of his mind, even with the increase in recognition lately.  They are missing Eduardo Najera and when he gets back he will bring even more grit and determination to the league's hardest working team.

14. Detroit Pistons (11) - This is going to sound harsh, but Rasheed Wallace is the biggest waste of talent in recent memory.  He is an incredibly gifted player but his lack of motivation and intensity holds him back and this season it's holding this Pistons squad back.  Allen Iverson is doing what he can (and he's not the problem) but this team lacks a serious frontcourt and as a result they're getting taken advantage of on the defensive side of the ball, which isn't normal for a Pistons squad.

15. Phoenix Suns (10) - For the first time this season, the Suns fall out of the top ten and they do it with a thud.  The team seems dysfunctional and so far, even though their record is better than it probably should be, the players have already turned on Terry Porter.  Steve Kerr has disrupted this organization.  They would never have won a championship with D'Antoni's gimmick offense but at least they were fun, productive and marketable.  They're tough to watch, follow and get a grip on this season.

16. Miami Heat (18) - They finally turn out a consistent week and they get a nice rise up in the rankings this week.  I like the move of Michael Beasley to the bench and I'm surprised Mario Chalmers is every bit as productive in his rookie season as Beasley has been this season.

17. New York Knicks (15) - Al Harrington has put up good numbers since coming over but this team still will take a couple of weeks before they hit the stride that's going to carry them the rest of this season.  Chris Duhon hasn't been all that bad of an acquisition, even though the signing was widely ridiculed (even by myself).

18. Chicago Bulls (19) - Larry Hughes has been amazing off of the bench this season since returning from his injury, but he's always been wildly inconsistent with his jump shot (that he loves more than he should) and I look for his production to dip slightly in the coming weeks.  As long as Ben Gordon is playing as well as he is, I look for him to stay in the starter's role but, ultimately, he should wind up back as the team's 6th man.

19. Toronto Raptors (17) - Teams are starting to swarm and hound Chris Bosh and as a result his numbers were down this week.  Jermaine O'Neal's return from injury may help but he's not the player he once was, and ultimately this team looks like a mismatch of players.  I don't think Sam Mitchell, as incompetent as he may have seemed, was the reason for this team's failures and I believe he was a scapegoat by the team and the fans who didn't want to blame Bryan Colangelo and the players for the team underacheiving.  We'll see if Triano does any better.

20. Philadelphia 76ers (20) - The team got a solid victory at Detroit without Elton Brand and have to be happy with the Lou Williams sightings we've had this week.  Andre Iguodala played more like Andre Iguodala without Elton Brand in the lineup and you have to wonder if the catering to Brand is keeping this team from running the offense they're better suited to.

21. Milwaukee Bucks (21) - Michael Redd returned today after missing the final 14 games against the Lakers and it will take some time for him to get reacclimated to the team's flow.  I'm not sure what his return brings as this team's chemsitry has been off this season.  Overall, they may be better without Redd in the lineup.

22. Indiana Pacers (22) - This Pacers team boasts victories now over both the Lakers and Celtics but still lack the consistency that should keep them in the playoff race.  The loss of Mike Dunleavy keeps this team from being fairly judged but I'm surprised they've waited around this long for his arrival this season.

23. Charlotte Bobcats (24) - The Bobcats were burried in these very rankings two weeks ago but they've played a very fun brand of basketball here lately.  This team should look for a center around the deadline which would allow Emeka Okafor to play at a more productive power forward position. 

24. Golden State Warriors (25) - The Warriors continue to find new ways to lose but they've been competitive in a majority of the games they've played this season.  Stephen Jackson has been tremendous this season but you have to wonder how long he's going to maintain his composure even as the losses pile up.  Brandan Wright has responded well with the increase in minutes here as of late.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (23) - Kevin Love has played encouraging ball this week and has shown some of the promise that prompted Kevin McHale to trade O.J. Mayo for him.  Overall, the trade probably won't work in their favor but that doesn't mean Love won't be a productive player.  I just don't see how he and Jefferson are going to work together.

26. Memphis Grizzlies (27) - O.J. Mayo has been tremendous this season and Rudy Gay hasn't lost a step from his breakout season last year, but this team still lacks a great player that could put them into contention for a low seed in the western confrence.  The money they've spent on players like Darko Milicic and that is being wasted on Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker could be put to better use and I think that's reason enough to have high hopes for the future in Memphis.

27. Los Angeles Clippers (28) - Don't look now but the Clippers got a victory with Zach Randolph in the lineup.  Baron Davis's return home has been extremely underwhelming and honestly this team lacks any sort of identity; other than that of a team that loses each and every year regardless of talent on the team, people running the show or whatever personnel changes that are being made.

28. Sacramento Kings (26) - This team has been dreadful to watch lately and rumor has it that Reggie Theus' job is on the line.  I don't see how he could be the one to blame because, after all, this team isn't very talented.  He got the most out of a bad squad this season and with the injuries and whatnot this season he's done what he can with a lackluster bunch.  I'd like to see him stay but coaches being made into scapegoats is a prominent theme in sports at the moment.

29. Washington Wizards (29) - The offense looks more fluent under Ed Tapscott and lately they've gotten good production out of the inconsistent Andray Blatche.  There's still not much worth getting excited in our nation's capital, despite the insane amount of money that's going to show up on that payroll.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - Russell Westbrook took the starting job and put in a very good week for the Thunder.  Players like Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox will most likely be moved but neither of those is worth a lot in return, so the Thunder may be looking at more mediocrity for the foreseeable future as well.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com