Posted on: May 27, 2009 9:03 pm
Edited on: May 27, 2009 9:13 pm
With the 2009 NBA draft looming and with it widely assumed that Blake Griffin will be the newest addition to the list of number one draft picks in NBA history, I figured I would rank the top number one draft picks of the lottery era. The lottery was put into place in 1985 to prevent teams from intentionally tanking a season just so that they could get the number one draft pick. Once put into place, the team with the worst record in the league has gotten the number one draft pick only four times. It's hard to rank these players as some are very young in their careers and others still have years to tack on the achievements. A lot of the last few draft picks will be ranked by potential and performance in their young careers so don't get upset if they're too far down or high on the list. So here it goes: ranking the top No. 1 Draft picks of the lotter era.
24) Kwame Brown, C, Washington Wizards out of Glynn Academy High School in 2001 NBA Draft (462 Games, 7.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.0 APG) - Kwame Brown receives the dubious honor of being ranked the worst No. 1 Draft pick of the Draft Lottery Era. Kwame Brown also holds the distinction of being the first high schooler to ever selected first overall in an NBA draft as well. Highlighted as the first of many bad executive moves made by basketball legend Michael Jordan, Brown struggled to display any production or maturity in his first few years as a Wizard. In his third season he showed real signs of a breakthrough, but injuries and problems with his teammates cost him his job in Washington. He had one good year with the Lakers before now looking at a future primarily as a backup center in the league.
23) Michael Olowokandi, C, Los Angeles Clippers out of University of the Pacific in 1998 NBA Draft (500 Games, 8.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG) - Viewed as one of many abysmal Clippers draft picks, Olowokandi was drafted first overall after a fantastic senior season at the University of the Pacific. Viewed as a fantastic 7-foot athlete, the Clippers drafted Olowokandi to be the anchor in the paint for the miserable franchise. Instead, Olowokandi mixed flashes of brilliance with long droughts and fought injuries in Los Angeles before eating up the Timberwolves salary cap. He wasted away his final years with the Celtics and is now no longer in the league.
22) Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers out of Ohio State University in 2007 NBA Draft (61 Games, 8.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.1 BPG) - A huge seven footer with a personality remniscent of Shaq, Oden had high expectations going as far back as high school. Because of the NBA's age limit, Oden played one season with Ohio State before declaring for the NBA Draft. He was met with high fanfare in Portland but has struggled to stay on court his first two seasons in the league (also in his only season in college). Oden still has the potential to be a fantastic pick, but his body may not cooperate. The jury is still out on him.
21) Andrea Bargnani, PF, Toronto Raptors out of Italy in 2006 NBA Draft (221 Games, 12.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 APG) - As a seven footer with fantastic range on his jumpshot, Bargnani drew many comparisons to Dallas Mavericks great Dirk Nowitzki and was drafted first overall by Toronto in 2006 to couple with fellow big man Chris Bosh. Bargnani, though, had seemed to be so infatuated with the three point shot that he didn't focus on any other aspect of his game. After suffering a severe sophomore slump, Bargnani bounced back to have a solid third season with Toronto. He looks like he will be a fine player for the next few years in the NBA.
20) Andrew Bogut, C, Milwaukee Bucks out of University of Utah in 2005 NBA Draft (262 Games, 11.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 BPG) - Bogut, being a seven footer with a fantastic skill set and equipped with a nice post game and a very adept passing big man was a lock as the number one draft pick in teh 2005 NBA Draft. After playing for Australia in the 2004 Olympics, he got lots of praise and the expectations were huge for him in his sophomore season with the Utah Utes. Bogut did not dissapoint and then declared for the NBA Draft. So far, Bogut has had difficulty staying on the court but his production has been solid when he is on the court. He's been the starting center for the Bucks all four years of his career and has shown flashes of being a very good pure center. Time will tell if he'll ever reach his full potential, though.
19) Pervis Ellison, PF, Sacramento Kings out of University of Louisville in 1989 NBA Draft (474 Games, 9.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.5 APG) - "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison was a fantastic colleigate player at the University of Louisville before entering the NBA with humongous expectations. However, after being named the number one draft pick, Ellison immediately underwent surgery to remove bone Spurs from his foot and ankle in a sign of things to follow. Ellison didn't last long with the Kings before being traded to the Washington Bullets, where he showed signs of his lofty selection by winning the 1992 NBA Most Improved Player of the Year award. However, knee problems resurfaced for Pervis and he spent the last years of his career as a reserve for the Boston Celtics.
18) Joe Smith, PF, Golden State Warriors out of University of Maryland in 1995 NBA Draft (950 Games, 11.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.0 APG) - Joe Smith turned two great seasons manning down the middle for the Maryland Terpains into the number one draft pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. After being selected by Golden State, he was solid for the Warriors for his first two seasons in the league but once it was evident he would never be great, he was shipped off in the middle of his third seasons. Even though he's been a solid contributor and role player to playoff teams for the duration of his career, Smith will most likely always be remembered for costing the Minnesota Timberwolves five first round draft picks after being promised a multi year deal in the future if he were to sign for market value at the time so that the team could add more players.
17) Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls out of University of Memphis in 2008 NBA Draft (81 Games, 16.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.9 RPG) - Drafted first overall by the Chicago Bulls in the most recent NBA Draft, Rose, born in Chicago, turned in a fantastic season, winning the 2009 NBA Rookie of the year Award and displaying signs of ultimate greatness in the 2009 Postseason against the defending champion Boston Celtics. The only pure point guard drafted first overall in the draft lottery era, Rose looks as if he will be a fantastic player for years to come for his hometown Bulls.
16) Kenyon Martin, PF, New Jersey Nets out of University of Cincinnati in 2000 NBA Draft (548 Games, 14.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG) - Figured to be the best prospect in a very weak 1999 NBA Draft, Martin was taken by the New Jersey Nets after a successful senior season for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Viewed as an injury risk when he was selected, Martin turned in four great seasons with the Nets, routinely picking up his performance in the postseason and being a part of two Nets teams that won Eastern Conference Championships. However, when Martin signed with the Nuggets, his injuries caught up to him and he was forced to undergo knee surgery. His explosiveness that was his trademark has been limited but he still remains a formidable starter in this league and a spectacular defensive power forward.
15) Glenn Robinson, SF, Milwaukee Bucks out of Purdue University in 1994 NBA Draft (688 Games, 20.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG) - Billed as a fantastic scorer, Robinson won two Big Ten scoring titles in his two years of elegibility for the Purdue Boilermakers before entering the 1994 NBA Draft. Although he put up fantastic numbers throughout his career, Robinson largely went unnoticed in Milwaukee. He achieved success during the early turn of the century when he, Sam Cassell and Ray Allen helped the Bucks make it to the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals. Robinson did win a championship as a reserve of the San Antonio Spurs in 2005.
14) Danny Manning, PF, Los Angeles Clippers out of University of Kansas in 1988 NBA Draft (883 Games, 14.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.1 SPG) - A legend for the Kansas Jayhawks, Manning seemed to be a slam dunk as the first overall draft pick in 1988 by the Los Angeles Clippers. Manning, though, suffered a knee injury in his rookie season that would haunt him for the remainder of his career. After a few dissapointing seasons. Manning emerged as an elite scorer for the Clippers, even making the 1993 All Star Game. However, injuries caught back up to Manning as he fininished his career at the end of benches for his last few years in the league. Manning also won the 1998 Sixth Man of the Year award with the Phoenix Suns.
13) Larry Johnson, PF, Charlotte Hornets out of University of Nevada in Las Vegas in 1991 NBA Draft (707 Games, 16.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.3 APG) - Johnson was a dynamic player at the colleigate level for the Runnin' Rebels before entering the 1991 NBA Draft. Selected by the upstart Charlotte Hornets, Johnson would team with Muggsy Bogues and Alonzo Mourning to bring the Hornets out of mediocrity at the beginning of his career. After signing an unprecedented ten year deal with the Hornets, frustrations grew between Johnson and Mourning and "Grandmama" and Big Zo were immediately shipped away from Charlotte. Johnson went on to start for a New York Knicks team that made the 1999 NBA Finals, but was a shell of his former self in New York due to severe back injuries. He's probably best known for an epic four point play during a crucial game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Knicks.
12) Brad Daugherty, C, Cleveland Cavaliers out of University of North Carolina in 1986 NBA Draft (548 Games, 19.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.7APG) - A colleigate great for the North Carolina Tar Heels, Daugherty was selected by the Cavaliers in the 1986 NBA Draft and turned out a fantastic career with Cleveland. As part of a draft class that also brought in Mark Price and Ron Harper, the Cavaliers experienced years of above average success, even making the 1992 Eastern Conference Finals. However, as is the case with a lot of players on this last, Daugherty suffered drastic injuries to his back at the end of his career and was forced to retire at the age of 28 in 1994.
11) Derrick Coleman, PF, New Jersey Nets out of Syracuse University in 1990 NBA Draft (781 Games, 16.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 BPG) - Coleman was a fantastic player for the Syracus Orange in college and was viewed, by many, as one of the best prospects in recent NBA History when selected in the 1990 NBA Draft. Coleman would win the 1991 NBA Rookie of the Year award and many expectations were given to the bulky power forward. Coleman was solid during his time in the league but never broke into that "great player" status that many envisioned he would. Coleman had many problems with his weight over the span of his career and left on bad terms with all of the teams he participated on. He's gone on to be a humanitarian of sorts since his retirement, but his career will be looked at with an asterisk as he never was as great as he should have been.
10) Elton Brand, PF, Chicago Bulls out of Duke University in 1999 NBA Draft (643 Games, 20.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, 2.0 BPG) - A quiet but very effective low post scorer for the Duke Blue Devils, Brand declared for the 1999 NBA Draft after his sophomore season and won the co-Rookie of the Year Award with Chicago, an award he shared with Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis. Brand was ineplicably traded after two seasons with the Bulls, and continued his stellar play with the Los Angeles Clippers. A very talented and loyal competitor, Brand's career has been void of much success. He made the conference semifinals in 2006 with the Clippers but aside from that has never competed in the postseason. The past two years have been difficult for Brand as he's played a total of only 37 games. Time will tell if Brand ever gets back on the court to maintain the level of play he once was known best for.
9) Yao Ming, C, Houston Rockets out of China in 2002 NBA Draft (481 Games, 19.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 1.6 APG) - Towering over competition at 7'6", Ming was a lock at the top of the 2002 NBA Draft when the Rockets won the draft lottery. Coming into the league with much fan fare and expectations, Ming has rarely dissapointed when he's been on the court. Skilled with fantastic shooting touch for a player of his size, Ming has been one of the best centers in the league when he's been on the court but has had many leg problems that have prohibited from achieving "great" status.
8) Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic out of SW Atlanta Christian Academy High School in 2004 NBA Draft (407 Games, 17.3 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.4 APG) - A fantastic athlete for a player of his size, Howard was a high school prodigy and was a surprise at the first overall selection in 2004. After the Magic passed on the proven Emeka Okafor to select Howard, he immediately rewarded the Magic with flashes of brilliance in his rookie season with Orlando. Howard has led the Magic to the playoffs his last three seasons in the league and was named the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, and at the young age of 23 already figures to be the most dominant big man in the league. The sky is the limit for this extremely talented big man.
7) Patrick Ewing, C, New York Knicks out of Georgetown University in 1985 NBA Draft (1,183 Games, 21.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 SPG) - Viewed as a can't miss player out of Georgetown, Ewing was the prize of the first ever draft lottery in 1985. The New York Knicks would win that draft lottery and would immediately announce their intentions to select Ewing. Ewing was a fantastic low post presence for the Knicks throughout his career. For all of his success, Ewing's reputation changes based on who you talk to. Being a tough interview his entire career in New York, he was often the subject of criticism at the hands of the New York Media for being unable to win a championship, although he made the 1994 NBA Finals. Currently becoming recognized as a top assistant coach in the league (currently with the Magic), Ewing never did win a championship but continued to produce after winning the 1986 Rookie of the Year award, even being named one the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in history in 1997.
6) Chris Webber, PF, Orlando Magic out of University of Michigan in 1993 NBA Draft (831 Games, 20.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.4 SPG) - A highly skilled member of the famed Fab Five Michigan Wolverines days, Webber seemed to be a lock for the number one overall selection after declaring for the 1993 NBA Draft following his sophomore season. Originally drafted by the Magic, Webber was immediately traded to the Golden State Warriors for Penny Hardaway and won the 1994 Rookie of the Year Award with the Warriors. However, Webber battled with Warriors coach Don Nelson during his rookie season and was inexplicably shipped to the Washington Bullets after his rookie season. Although he put up good numbers with the Bullets (then ultimately the Wizards), Webber's best years came when he was traded to the Sacramento Kings for Mitch Richmond. Webber led the Kings to the most successful stretch in franchise history, even reaching the 2002 Western Conference Finals as a member of the Kings. Webber never did win a championship, though, and spent his last years with the Kings and 76ers battling through knee injuries before finishing his career with a brief return to Golden State.
5) Allen Iverson, SG, Philadelphia 76ers out of Georgetown Univeristy in 1996 NBA Draft (886 Games, 27.1 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.7 RPG, 2.2 SPG) - An explosive career during his entire tenture in basketball, Iverson was the first overall selection in the famed 1996 NBA draft. Iverson went on to take the league by storm, winning the 1997 Rookie of the Year award and successfully pulling off a cross over on the league's best player: Michael Jordan. Iverson would take Philadelphia to unprecendented success, even making the 2001 NBA Finals with the 76ers. Iverson, though, had a reputation of being a selfish and immature player and clashed with many coaches and teammates in Philadelphia. After finally demanding a trade in 2006, Iverson was shipped to the Denver Nuggets where his reputation proceeded to take huge blows. While in Denver and Detroit, Iverson has shown a huge problem playing with teammates and his selfish reputation has resurfaced. The future of the 2001 NBA Most Valuable Player is now in doubt but his past success cannot be denied.
4) David Robinson, C, San Antonio Spurs out of US Naval Academy in 1987 NBA Draft (987 Games, 21.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 2.5 APG, 1.4 SPG) - A fantastic athlete that came to national prominence with the Midshipmen, former gymnast David Robinson was a risky selection by the Spurs in the 1987 NBA Draft by account of his having to serve two years with the United States Navy after his graduation. Because of this, there were rumors that he may sign with another team when eligible to play in the NBA. However, Robinson joined the Spurs in the 1989 NBA offseason. A fantastic athlete, Robinson racked up many awards during his tenture with San Antonio. The 1990 NBA Rookie of the Year winner, 1992 Defensive Player of the Year award, an NBA Sportmanship Award, Citizenship Award, 1995 Most Valuable Player of the Year and two time Olympic Gold Medalist with the United States of America, Robinson's career was overshadowed by a difficulty winning big games and a perceived lack of toughness. After the arrival of Tim Duncan, though, in 1997, Robinson would win two championships with the San Antonio Spurs and play his entire fourtneen year career with San Antonio, be named one of the NBA's 50 greatest players in league history in 1997 and also being elected to the basketball hall of fame.
3) LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers out of St. Vincent - St. Mary's High School in 2003 NBA Draft (472 Games, 27.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.8 SPG) - A local Akron, Ohio, prodigy, LeBron James was met with ridiculous expectations during his high school days at St. Vincent - St. Mary's and eventually surpassed all of those expectations after entering the NBA. As a raw eighteen year old prospect, LeBron won the 2004 NBA Rookie of the Yer award and in his third season in the league led the perennial doormat Cavaliers to the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Only 24 with a ridiculously bright future ahead of him, LeBron currently is the 2009 NBA Most Valuable Player of the Year and made it to the NBA Finals in 2007 with the Cavaliers. The sky is the limit in regards to what LeBron James can accomplish.
2) Shaquille O'Neal, C, Orlando Magic out of Louisiana State University in 1992 NBA Draft (1,117 Games, 24.7 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.6 APG, 2.3 BPG) - O'Neal was an athletic seven footer entering the league with an abundance of personality, a skillset unmatched by anyone in recent memory and with high expecations. O'Neal was a lock for the first overall selection in the 1992 NBA Draft and took the league by storm in his first season with Orlando, winning the 1993 NBA Rookie of the Year award. O'Neal led the Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals in only his third season in the league before signing with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1996 NBA Offseason. The rest, as they say, is history. O'Neal would team with coach Phil Jackson and a young Kobe Bryant to win three NBA Championships, three NBA Finals MVPs and the 2000 NBA Most Valuable Player award all with the Lakers. Following a very public dispute with Kobe Bryant, Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat where he teamed with a young Dwyane Wade to win the 2006 NBA Championship with Miami. Although he's achieved fantastic success in his career - winning on the court, selling platinum records and starring in major motion picture films - O'Neal's career is overshadowed by his squabbles with teammates and coaches and has left on bad terms with all of the teams with which he's played. But don't let it distort your view of O'Neal as a player. On the court, there's few who were as great as O'Neal.
1) Tim Duncan, PF, San Antonio Spurs out of Wake Forest University in 1997 NBA Draft (899 Games, 21.4 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 2.3 BPG) - A quiet, yet talented big man at Wake Forest, the former aspiring Olympic Swimmer from the Virgin Islands took the world by storm in college and was a lock as the number one draft pick once he graduated from Wake Forest in 1997. One of the four four year colleigans on this list, Duncan joined another number one draft pick in David Robinson and turned the Spurs into a championship team in only his second year. Long viewed as a small market team seemingly always incapable of winning big games, Duncan went to San Antonio and has won four championships, three NBA Finals MVPs, two regular season Most Valuable Player of the Year awards, the 1998 Rookie of the Year award and has been the staple in the middle for the Spurs for all of their championship teams in franchise history. Turning a historically underachieving team into a mini dynasty of sorts, The Big Fundamental, as he is called, is one of the most notorious players in the league due to his huge levels of success while being largely a quiet and private person. Routinely noted as a difficult interview, not much is known off the court about Tim Duncan but on the court Duncan is arguably the top draft pick of the draft lottery era.
Tags: 76ers, Allen Iverson, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chris Bosh, Clippers, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Elton Brand, Emeka Okafor, Greg Oden, Heat, Hornets, Joe Smith, Kenyon Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kwame Brown, LeBron James, Magic, Mavericks, Nets, Nuggets, Raptors, Ray Allen, Rockets, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Suns, Tim Duncan, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming
Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:42 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - The Cavaliers were the best team throughout the entire season, expressing dominance at home, boasting the greatest player in the game and a fantastic group of shooters that could really spread the floor. Their commitment to defense, though, is what's been the true reason for their elevation of play.
Tags: 76ers, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bynum, Andris Biedrins, Antawn Jamison, Bobcats, Brandon Roy, Brandon Rush, Brook Lopez, Bucks, Bulls, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Chris Andersen, Chris Bosh, Clippers, Corey Maggette, Danny Granger, David Lee, Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Elton Brand, Gilbert Arenas, Glen Davis, Grant Hill, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jameer Nelson, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Jazz, Jeff Green, Jermaine O'Neal, Jose Calderon, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Lakers, LaMarcus Aldridge, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol, Mario Chalmers, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mike Conley, Mike Dunleavy, Mike Miller, Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Nets, Nuggets, O.J. Mayo, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Paul Millsap, Paul Pierce, Pistons, Rafer Alston, Rajon Rondo, Ramon Sessions, Randy Foye, Raptors, Richard Jefferson, Rockets, Roy Hibbert, Rudy Gay, Shaquille O'Neal, Spencer Hawes, Spurs, Stephen Jackson, Suns, Thunder, Timberwolves, Tony Allen, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Vince Carter, Warriors, Wilson Chandler, Wizards
Posted on: January 23, 2009 4:18 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2009 6:20 pm
For four years, few teams matched the excitement and mystique that surrounded when the Phoenix Suns were set to appear in a basketball game. Led by the innovative Mike D'Antoni and highly successful Steve Nash, the Suns resurrected a moribound franchise and turned the NBA upside down in the process. With quick cuts, fantastic slams around the basket, a plethora of three point baskets and with absolutely no defense (which in turn allows the other team to follow through with all of those aforementioned offensive attractions) the Phoenix Suns became the team for the casual NBA fan, and the team that most of us wanted to watch when we felt like being assured entertaining basketball. But funny things happen when you tinker with the system and bring things that people are not used to to the forefront. When you introduce basketball's version of the spread offense, success can be attained but only when you bring championships are your efforts truly respected. Many people passed off D'Antoni's philosophy on basketball and said that it could not win championships. That same criticism turned the greatest period in Phoenix Suns basketball upside down, and seemingly prolonged the franchise's now 40 year history.
It all started with a trade back in 2001, when the Suns traded future hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd for the insanely talented Stephon Marbury. This trade was supposed to be a nice swap of talented guards which would result in hardly a change for either squad. Instead, the Suns went to the lottery and the Nets went to the NBA finals. Stephon Marbury's frustrating first season in Phoenix resulted in a trip to the lottery for the Suns, which resulted in Amar'e Stoudemire being added to the team. With Stoudemire garnering rookie of the year honors and the team's quiet acquisition of guard Joe Johnson from the Boston Celtics, the Suns sneaked into the playoffs with the 8th seed and surprised the top ranked San Antonio Spurs in game 1 of their first round matchup. Shortly thereafter, though, the Spurs would emerge victorious and things took a turn for the better; eventually.
The 2003-2004 season started off with mediocre expectations for a seemingly dirrectionless Phoenix franchise. Then in midseason, amidst the team's struggles and inability to show any immediate progress, owner Robert Sarver steamheaded a complete reconstruction of the Suns. Both Jerry and Brian Colangelo went to work on putting the pieces in place for this team to fully take off. Frank Johnson was removed from the head coaching position and assistant coach and longtime European league coach Mike D'Antoni would be given the reigns. Also, in what would headstart a completely opposite direction for the two franchises, the Suns sent Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the New York Knicks for five players who would not finish the season as Phoenix Suns players in addition to two first round draft selections. Although the Knicks made the playoffs that season, nobody could have predicted the decline that would soon follow Stephon Marbury's fourth franchise. Then again, nobody could have predicted the ascension that awaited in Arizona.
In the offseason, the Suns quickly gave Mike D'Antoni a vote of confidence despite his 21-40 record finishing the season as Phoenix's head coach. The team's late surge, which was spurred by guard Joe Johnson, rookie guard Leandro Barbosa and now second year forward Amar'e Stoudemire could have been a huge factor in why D'Antoni was given a second chance. Once free agency started, the Suns made a big splash by signing free agent point guard Steve Nash and free agent forward Quentin Richardson. D'Antoni would move Stoudemire to center and insert forward Shawn Marion at the power forward position (a move Marion continuously complained about despite putting up the best numbers of his career) giving the team a ridiculously small lineup. What ensured was pure, utter, fast break basketball.
Steve Nash spearheaded a revolutionary style of play as the Suns quickly brought offense back to the forefront in the NBA. Gone where the days of walking a ball upcourt while your seven foot center could set up under the basket. With quick, athletic big men like Stoudemire and Marion and with an intelligent and talented point guard like Steve Nash leading the way, the Suns went on to average 110.4 points per game (although giving up 103.3 PPG) and posted an NBA best 62-20 record. Steve Nash shocked all by winning the NBA MVP award while D'Antoni and Colangelo were given the coach and executive of the year awards respectively. In the playoffs, guard Joe Johnson would succumb to an eye injury and the Suns would sorely miss his leadership and skillset. A sound defeat of the Memphis Grizzlies and a trouncing of the Dallas Mavericks set the Suns up with who would become the main reason for the Suns eventual decline: the San Antonio Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs are basically the anti-Phoenix Sun. They don't dazzle you with fantastic athleticism or bombard you with a multitude of points, they systematically and soudnly defeat their opponents by way of Tim Duncan and a group of role players that are fine performing their tasks for the sake of the greater good: a Larry O'Brien Trophy. The Spurs two centers that year, Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic, would probably not even get a sniff from D'Antoni yet wound up becoming productive players on championship teams. Was D'Antoni's emphasis on speed and offense neglecting all that you were tought growing up? Is a great offense truly better than a great defense? Can you win scoring 110 points instead of focusing on holding your opponents below 90? These all came to a head in this true battle of wits.
Amar'e Stoudemire would experience a coming out party against the Spurs, as San Antonio had no answer for the young player on his way to averages totaling over 30 PPG in the series. But the Spurs, with two championship trophies already to their credit, would be able to answer every trick Phoenix tried. Bruce Bowen was there to contain Steve Nash's explosiveness, Tony Parker was there to expose Nash's glaring defensive deffeciences, Tim Duncan was there to take care of Stoudemire's similar weaknesses, and the Spurs took the Suns out in 5 games, bringing end to the fantastic first season in the D'Antoni era.
Many people did not know what to expect for an encore in Phoenix. The gimmick offense was sure to be stopped when teams were given ample time to prepare for it. Expectations can always ruin a team not used to winning, and Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire would be gone, Johnson in a trade to the Atlanta Hawks and Stoudemire due to knee surgery. The Joe Johnson trade brought Boris Diaw, an afterthought in many instances and then the Suns shipped Quentin Richardson and the draft rights to Nate Robinson to New York for a center in Kurt Thomas that they believed would be able to counter Tim Duncan's effectiveness in a seven game series. The team also obtained guard Raja Bell, a player praised for his on the ball defensive prowress and three point effeciency. But the sky was not the limit this season, as, without Stoudemire, many expected the Suns to fail.
Stoudemire's absence meant wonderful things for Shawn Marion who turned in the best year of his career. Boris Diaw proved out to be a fantastic find by the Colangelo's, winning the NBA most improved player of the year award, and Steve Nash went on to win his second consecutive NBA MVP award after helping lead the Suns to a 54-28 record in the regular season. But the signs of the eventual decline already started to take shape. Bryan Colangelo was said to have major conflicts with owner Robert Sarver and bolted to take the General Manager position with the Toronto Raptors. Stoudemire received heavy criticism from the organization when he spent a majority of the season away from the squad while tending to his knee. And although the team managed to avoid the Spurs in the postseason, draining seven game series with both the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers took alout of Phoenix, as they simply had nothing left by the time they met the Dirk Nowitzki led Mavericks in a second consecutive Western Conference Finals.
The 2006-2007 season brought about great expectations for the Phoenix squad. With Boris Diaw teaming with Leandro Barbosa on the bench, the Suns were supposed to finally have that deep squad that would allow for D'Antoni to stray from his favored 7-man rotations and still provide the same innovative offensive schemes that had been prominent the previous two seasons. Phoenix struggled with chemistry some, including Stoudemire back into the lineup and it showed. The team, though, rebounded quickly to the tune of 61 victories and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Elsewhere in the NBA, the 67 victory Dallas Mavericks had been upset by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs in what would be largely noted as the greatest upset in playoff history, and the Utah Jazz would celebrate their return to the playoffs after a three year absence with a victory over the Houston Rockets, giving the Suns home court advantage, now, throughout the playoffs and seemingly the drivers seat to an elusive championship. After the Suns quickly dispatched of the Lakers for a second consecutive season, they saw themselves standing opposite the 3rd seeded San Antonio Spurs, and a fantastic conference semifinals ensued.
Bruce Bowen and Tony Parker quickly asserted physiciality into the already deeply rooted rivalry with the Spurs, as Steve Nash left game 1 with a bloodied nose recieved from Parker and could not finish the game, as the Spurs pulled out a close victory. This brought about major criticism as some felt it was unfair for the Suns to lose without their best player due to excessive blood loss, but the rules would stay and the Spurs maintained a 1-0 series lead. After taking game 2, Phoenix would head to San Antonio for one of the most controversial games in recent memory. Game 3 between the Spurs and the Suns was known for its excessive fouls called, constant whistles and annoying lack of gamesmanship in the contest. The Spurs would ride a questionable free throw advantage to the victory and then all hell broke loose. With Phoenix rebounding to take game 4, Robert Horry stepped in front of Steve Nash on a harmless drive down the baseline, and changed the Phoenix Suns forever.
With the series tied at 2 games apiece and heading back to Phoenix, all cards seemed to be in place for Phoenix to finally nudge past their nemisis and gain ground towards becoming NBA Champions. But Horry's flagrant foul on Steve Nash sent the Suns into a frenzy, which resulted in both Stoudemire and Diaw leaving the Suns bench and therefore forcing the NBA's hand in having to suspend those two players for a critical game 5 in Phoenix. Mike D'Antoni criticized the decision but his efforts went unnoticed as the suspensions stood. A game Phoenix crowd and shorthanded squad gave the Spurs trouble but eventually succumbed in a game 5 loss. The team returned to San Antonio demoralized, and could not take advantage of Stoudemire and Diaw's reintroduction into the lineup and would lose game 6 in San Antonio.
In effect, the Robert Horry foul gave Phoenix their first leigitmate gripe of the D'Antoni era. Being too inexperienced in 2005 and too tired in 2006, 2007 seemed a prime opportunity for Phoenix to grab the franchise's first championship. The Horry foul took away their best shot at putting a foot down on the rival Spurs' throats, and assured us all that there's always that one squad that prevents you from winning. For Phoenix, it was San Antonio. The Spurs went on to win the championship that season, and in the process demoralized alot of the Phoenix fan base. The same team would essentially return for 2007-2008 but the excitement, hunger and mystique surrounding the franchise had gone away. After posting a mediocre start to the season, new general manager Steve Kerr would make the move that effectively ended the D'Antoni era in Phoenix.
Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire, Boris Diaw, Bruce Bowen, Celtics, Clippers, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jazz, Joe Johnson, Knicks, Kurt Thomas, Lakers, Leandro Barbosa, Mavericks, Nate Robinson, Nazr Mohammed, Nets, Quentin Richardson, Raja Bell, Raptors, Rasho Nesterovic, Rockets, Shawn Marion, Spurs, Stephon Marbury, Steve Nash, Suns, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Warriors
Posted on: January 5, 2009 1:07 am
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm
1. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - Rejoice, Los Angeles! The beloved Lakers have reclaimed their top position. The hottest team in the NBA is boasting one of its hottest players in Kobe Bryant. As of late, Kobe and Pau Gasol have elevated their play to around the level they were at around the postseason last year. The bench is getting good production even with Jordan Farmar missing time with his injury. I don't believe adding another point guard is critical for the moment but it wouldn't hurt if they could land one for cheap.
2. Atlanta Hawks (5) - The Hawks suffered a crushing loss with a near halfcourt heave at the buzzer from Vince Carter at New Jersey. That was only their second loss in twelve games. Victories over Cleveland, Denver, Houston and Detroit highlight that stretch and prove that this team is not a flash in the pan. I'm sure they won't maintain this level of competition all season long as the team is largely unproven, but don't try to dispute what they've accomplished so far this season. Not only is this team legitimate, they're talented.
3. Boston Celtics (2) - And just like that, with a loss to a depleted Portland team and to a bad New York team (coming off a week in which they lost their first game in forever in addition to a loss to a bad Golden State team) and the Celtics all of a sudden look vulnerable. I'm not going to jump off of the bandwagon and say that they're cooked, it's not a matter of if but when this team rights the ship and gets back to playing the defense that made them impossible to beat through November and December. Kevin Garnett has slowed a bit so far this season and Paul Pierce has had to carry this unit for basically the whole season. The role players have also slowed a tad, which is the main reason for the team's struggles but they'll get it back together and they'll still be there in the end.
4. Orlando Magic (3) - Something doesn't quite seem right with Hedo Turkoglu this season. All of his statistics have dropped from last season and his field goal percentage is at a laughable 38 percent. That's either meaning he's struggling to do too much in a contract year, or maybe last season was more of an aberration for the turkish born star. Overall, the Magic have been solid all season long and if he captures the form he showed last season then they'll be right up there at the top of the eastern confrence.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (1) - Rejoice, Cavs haters! Zydrunas Ilgauskas has gone down to injury and the Cavaliers dropped two games this week, including an embarassing defeat at the hands of Washington today. For at least a week anyways, the team looked like last season's team, which relied entirely too heavily on LeBron James. What's happened to Wally Szczerbiak this season? He's the definition of a non factor, and with his expiring contract, if he showed any bit of production they could get a really good player in return for Wally World. But so far his value is worth about the same as Eric Snow's.
6. San Antonio Spurs (6) - Manu Ginobili had a huge week for the Spurs. Greg Popovich has done a fine job with his roster and has seemingly settled on a nice rotation. Tim Duncan is having the best year he's had in the past two or three and Tony Parker is currently playing like their best player. They're a dangerous unit and they're going to be there in the end, regardless of their difficult start.
7. Denver Nuggets (7) - Carmelo Anthony played hero on two separate occasions for the Nuggets this season, even if they were underwhelming in barely defeated Oklahoma City and blowing a 26 point lead at home to New Orleans. An injury to Nene for the Oklahoma City game showed no immediate hamper on the Nuggets, but if he misses any prolonged period of time they're in bad shape. They lack serious depth in the frontcourt.
8. New Orleans Hornets (9) - They still lack the consistency that they showed for so much of last season but Chris Paul is playing the best ball of any player in the NBA. The fact that he's not up there with Kobe Bryant in all star voting is unbelievable and truly speaks to the knowledge of the average NBA fan. David West has really picked up his game as of late and don't look now, but the Hornets rank among the league's best at the defensive side of the ball.
9. Detroit Pistons (15) - I've ridden no team as hard this year as I have the Pistons, but Rodney Stuckey has resurrected what was a dead season for Detroit after the Allen Iverson trade. The readdition of Antonio McDyess is as much a factor as any in the team's current winning streak and even though they may not be blowing teams out, victories are victories and the Pistons are winning ball games.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (8) - Playing without Brandon Roy hurt this team this week as they looked bad against New Orleans and the Lakers. Overall, they managed to pull out a victory against Boston and they're still playing hard even without Roy in the lineup. McMillan will never let this team play a weak game but they can't win without their all star guard in the lineup.
11. Dallas Mavericks (11) - Today's loss at Memphis was embarassing but Dirk Nowitzki has carried the Mavericks to a very strong season thus far. They're a team of wing players and that will doom them in the playoffs, but they will exceed any expectations they were given this season. Rick Carlisle has done a really good job with the Mavericks this season.
12. Phoenix Suns (13) - Shaquille O'Neal is having his best year since his last year in Los Angeles for Phoenix and the team is maintaining a steady play so far this season. Jason Richardson hasn't added much since his addition, but the team continues to win so his presence alone must be enough for the Suns to get by.
13. Utah Jazz (12) - Word of Carlos Boozer now needing surgery has to demoralize this squad even with Paul Millsap playing as fantastic as he has this season (I forgot to mention him in my most improved players list last week). The C.J. Miles experiment has worked well with him playing so steady this season. He's never going to be more than an average starter in this league but he's solid enough to where the Jazz can continue to use Andrei Kirilenko on the bench, which has worked very well for them so far this season.
14. Miami Heat (14) - An injury to Shawn Marion has thrusted Daequan Cook into the starting lineup and I think with a shipping of Marion and his expiring contract at the deadline, that can be a nice spot for Cook. Michael Beasley has been underwhelming so far this season but has shown flashes of being a nice player in this league. It's safe to say that he was a tad overhyped coming into the draft, though.
15. Houston Rockets (10) - Tracy McGrady's play this season has been absolutely pathetic. He's beyond bad at this moment and Yao Ming is shooting a percentage in the low 40s the past few games as well. With Ron Artest in and out of the lineup as well, this team is currently in a great deal of turmoil and it's evident when you watch them out on the court. Aaron Brooks has tailed off considerably since his start this season but the talent is still there for this team to turn it around. You just have to wonder if their players are tough enough to do it.
16. New Jersey Nets (16) - They're incredibly inconsistent and continue to be without a victory when Devin Harris is out of the lineup, but the Nets still, week after week, find themselves in the picture in the NBA. Vince Carter has had his fair share of last second theatrics this season and that's been a major reason for the Nets' position at the moment. They have to wonder if a postseason appearance is worth a possible run at a championship in the next two or three seasons when it comes to Carter, but we'll see what it is they're offered for Vince.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks are a team that's so difficult to put a finger on, because they have no player who's consistently great every night and they don't really scare you in any facet of their play. Yet they've been near .500 all season long and they're still in the playoff race thus far. That speaks wonders for Scott Skiles, even though I'm confused at his reluctancy to give Ramon Sessions big minutes. I've seen an increase in Tyronn Lue as of late and I don't believe he's better than Sessions.
18. Toronto Raptors (23) - Two weeks ago the Raptors were left for dead, and since then they've had a very impressive past two weeks. Chris Bosh has found the form he displayed earlier this season and the team is winning ball games without Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon in the lineup. Anthony Parker has been a steady player at the shooting guard position and the Raptors have found themselves back in the discussion as far as the playoffs are concerned. It's a nice turnaround for a team that I wrote off just two weeks earlier.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - If you were to look up the word "bland" in the dictionary, you would see this team's photo right beside it. Their play hasn't inreased without Elton Brand (even though I thought it would) and maybe they are what they are, a below .500 team that can't score and that isn't even that special on the defensive side of the ball. It seems like the two years of momentum that was built up by this squad was ruined with possibly unfair expectations with the Elton Brand acquisition.
20. Chicago Bulls (18) - A loss at home to Minnesota highlights a woeful week for the Bulls which was heightened even further with a horrible showing by Derrick Rose. Ben Gordon deserves serious all star consideration this season beyond the three point shootout and he's been the team's steadiest, most consistent option thus far. That probably is why they're down here at 20, but he deserves a little bit of credit after the way he was blasted and treated this offseason. He may, yet, see his big payday this offseason.
21. Indiana Pacers (25) - Mike Dunleavy is set to debut this week for the Pacers and that should help a team that still is looking to make a run at sneaking into the last playoff spot. Danny Granger has been tremendous this season even in the dissapointing year for the Pacers and Jarrett Jack has been tremendous since being inserted into the starting lineup as of late. T.J. Ford has done fine off of the bench but you have to wonder if he's the type of player that would be content with coming off of the bench.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (22) - I still can't speak enough for Boris Diaw's play since coming over from Phoenix. This Bobcats team has raised its level of play since that trade and currently has shown that they can be a pesky bunch to put away. Adam Morrison, on the other hand, is now officially ready to be labeled as a bust. He was a horrible selection as a 3rd overall draft pick (don't even get me started on Sean May). Little known Matt Caroll is better at what Morrison does than Morrison is and that's why Morrison scored for the first time in six games Saturday night. I still remember when Dick Vitale said we were all stupid for saying J.J. Reddick and Morrison wouldn't be great in the NBA.
23. Memphis Grizzlies (20) - Darius Miles made his debut this week for the Grizzlies and Steve Francis may be set to dress up anytime soon. It's amazing that those two players found their way onto the Grizzlies roster, but it's safe to say both are in dire need to prove that their careers aren't over in the NBA.
24. New York Knicks (24) - The Knicks have lost all of the good will they built up with a strong opening to the season, but still continue to play hard for coach D'Antoni. Al Harrington off of the bench has payed huge dividends as of late, including a victory today over Boston. David Lee has been tremendous this season and if they package him with a contract of Jerome James or Eddy Curry they can get another building block for the rebuilding of this proud franchise.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves got back to back victories for the first time all season and got Mike Miller back from injury. Still, though, a lot is left to be done in Minnesota in order to get this team back to respectability. Kevin Love has been inconsistent in his performance this season and doesn't look like a great acquisition by Kevin McHale (and nobody honestly believed he would be) but I think, with the investment they made in him, that he needs to be shown more minutes as the season progresses.
26. Los Angeles Clippers (26) - Baron Davis, in addition to his pathetic displays on the court this season, caused controversy with a recent report of his wanting to return to the team he shafted just five months earlier. His homecoming has been nothing short of brutal but the team has got to be happy with the play of Marcus Camby and Eric Gordon as of late. They look like a team capable of hanging in tough games as long as Davis doesn't continue to shoot them out of ball games.
27. Washington Wizards (29) - The Wizards, with a run over Cleveland today, move out of the bottom two for the first time all season. Getting Caron Butler back this week has been good for the Wizards and the increase in minutes for Javaris Crittenton is a solid move by coach Tapscott. Andray Blatche has been a nice spot for what's been a dreadful season thus far and the Wizards are now starting to play harder each and every night. It's not going to amount to any kind of success this year, but it's a far cry from the team that regularly would get beat by 20 every night just a couple months prior.
28. Golden State Warriors (21) - With Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette now publicly speaking about trade requests the horrid season for the Warriors has now reached rock bottom. The dissapointing performance has taken a back seat to the fact that the group of players that they've assembled has now made the franchise one without any kind of positive direction. It's tough to be a loyal Warrior fan, and this season is a perfect explanation of why that's so.
29. Sacramento Kings (27) - Kevin Martin came back this season and looked fantastic in his return and Brad Miller has been a steady force all season for Sacramento, but they still continue to lose. This team looked like a team with a direction this season, but so far this season hasn't shown anything other than that they're a team without much talent or direction. It's tough to see what the future holds for this franchise.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The Thunder are really playing good basketball as of late and I wanted to move them out of the last spot for the first time all season, but can't justifiably do so. Jeff Green, this season, has looked like a player that was worthy of the draft slot they used on him and Kevin Durant have played at a very high level as of late. They're playing with more intensity than they did earlier in the season and have showed signs of a team that's on the right path as of late. That's good for that loyal fan base.
Tags: 76ers, Aaron Brooks, Adam Morrison, Al Harrington, Allen Iverson, Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko, Anthony Parker, Antonio McDyess, Baron Davis, Ben Gordon, Bobcats, Boris Diaw, Brad Miller, Brandon Roy, Bucks, Bulls, C.J. Miles, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Clippers, Corey Maggette, Daequan Cook, Danny Granger, Darius Miles, David West, Derrick Rose, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Eddy Curry, Elton Brand, Eric Gordon, Eric Snow, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jarrett Jack, Jason Richardson, Javaris Crittenton, Jazz, Jeff Green, Jermaine O'Neal, Jerome James, Jordan Farmar, Jose Calderon, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Lakers, LeBron James, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Marcus Camby, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mike Dunleavy, Mike Miller, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Paul Millsap, Paul Pierce, Pistons, Ramon Sessions, Raptors, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ron Artest, Sean May, Shaquille O'Neal, Shawn Marion, Spurs, Stephen Jackson, Steve Francis, Suns, T.J. Ford, Thunder, Tim Duncan, Timberwolves, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Tyronn Lue, Vince Carter, Wally Szczerbiak, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Posted on: January 5, 2009 12:59 am
"We get to the point where we're not playing real well, things aren't going our way and we just buckle down." Byron Scott always seems to know what I'm thinking when I watch the Hornets. It was a very successful, yet pretty quiet week this week in Hornets land. Save for a Tyson Chandler forearm to the face of Joel Przybilla, the week lacked a little but of punch. It was successful, though. The Hornets won two of the three games this week (and in the process had a four game winning streak snapped at Denver on Saturday night) and Chris Paul turned in, probably, his best week of basketball this season. That's saying something.
Even in the ridiculously awful two and a half quarter performance against the Nuggets, Hilton Armstrong looked fantastic and Peja Stojakovic, for the first time since his return from injury, seemed like the player he was last season. But going down 26 points in the 3rd quarter to a good team is unacceptable. They have to have better showings than those against great teams if you want to be taken with a bit of legitimacy. Even while the team came back to take the lead in that game with just over 2 minutes remaining, they exerted so much to gain that first lead that they had nothing to offer once it was obtained. All in all though, you can't be dissapointed.
The team toyed around too much with the Wizards but were able to eventually take advantage of a team that they robbed Antonio Daniels from. Seeing Mike James return was nice, especially when he received that technical for not being able to stay in front of Chris Paul. Losing Bobby Jackson for him wasn't all that bad, he did give us a viable backup point guard. Then, seeing the team recover and perform the way that they did once Tyson Chandler got ejected from the Portland game was awesome. With or without Brandon Roy, they played at Portland against a Trail Blazers team that had just upended the Celtics earlier in the week. It was no easy task. The defense as a collective unit has been tremendous this year and that, along with having Chris Paul and a steady David West as options in the clutch, will give the Hornets many opportunities in critical games.
Upcoming for the Hornets this week is another critical test against the Lakers (maybe they can try not to lose by double digits) and a visit to the hated Jazz in Salt Lake City. They finish up the week with a home game against the Clippers. All in all, this week is important for the Hornets. They've looked good against good teams and bad against good teams. It's important they build a sense of confidence before the postseason so that they can remain a legitimate threat for all teams. At the moment, you're going to get good wins and bad losses with this squad. They need confidence, they need an identity and they need legitimacy. This week is huge in building both. Until next week.
Posted on: December 29, 2008 1:45 am
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 Brand. Andre 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 Ellis. Corey 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.
Tags: 76ers, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Antawn Jamison, Antonio Daniels, Ben Gordon, Bobcats, Boris Diaw, Brandon Roy, Brandon Rush, Brook Lopez, Bucks, Bulls, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Kaman, Clippers, Corey Maggette, DeAndre Jordan, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Desmond Mason, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Eddy Curry, Elton Brand, Emeka Okafor, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, J.R. Smith, Jamaal Magloire, Jason Kidd, Jazz, Jermaine O'Neal, Joe Johnson, Joe Smith, Joel Przybilla, Kenyon Martin, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Lakers, Magic, Marc Gasol, Marreese Speights, Matt Bonner, Mavericks, Mehmet Okur, Michael Redd, Mickael Pietrus, Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, Monta Ellis, Nets, Nick Collison, Nuggets, O.J. Mayo, Pacers, Paul Millsap, Peja Stojakovic, Pistons, Raja Bell, Raptors, Rashad McCants, Richard Jefferson, Rockets, Ron Artest, Ronnie Price, Rudy Gay, Ryan Gomes, Sasha Vujacic, Spurs, Stephen Jackson, Steve Blake, Suns, Thunder, Tim Duncan, Timberwolves, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Travis Outlaw, Vince Carter, Warriors, Wizards
Posted on: December 22, 2008 1:06 am
1. Boston Celtics (1) - There's no better team in the league than Boston and they're head and shoulders above the rest of the league. They're going to approach the NBA's record 72 wins in a season though I can't see them overtaking that record. It's not outside of the realm of possibility, though and they're the class of the league.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - Delonte West has settled in extremely well at the shooting guard position for the Cavaliers. They're an unorthodox bunch, what with a 6'9" point guard, two big men (one who rebounds, one who scores) and two shooting guards but they find different ways to win. Mike Brown's insistence on defense has really done wonders for this team and everyone, including some Cavaliers players, are finally starting to see why this mentality is so critical to success. Just look at Boston. An aggressive, smart defense will always keep you in ball games. LeBron James will find ways to win many close ball games.
3. Orlando Magic (4) - They've really legitamized their placement atop the league this week with big victories over both San Antonio and the Lake show. This group is dangerous when everyone's connecting. They got Dwight Howard back from injury and had a tremendous week from Jameer Nelson and he was huge in both of the victories. They're a group of misfits but they find a way to work and they play hard. Stan Van Gundy has done a tremendous job with this organization.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (2) - Kobe Bryant has tried to do it all this week and for the first time all season, the Lakers look vulnerable. We know these tough patches come every year so I don't believe it's anything worth throwing up the white flag, but there is trouble with this team. Andrew Bynum isn't having the season he was supposed to have this year but they're getting really good production out of Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar off the bench. Lamar Odom doesn't seem as comfortable off of the bench as he did in the starting lineup. When he started against New York this week, he looked a lot like the player who was a huge contribution to last year's squad. I think Lakers fans really undervalued his importance but I doubt he'll start next season as a Laker.
5. New Orleans Hornets (8) - The Hornets are on a roll right now and are doing a tremendous job on the defensive side of the ball. Tyson Chandler has looked energized this week and James Posey continues to be a tremendous force off of the bench. Peja Stojakovic's injury is cause for concern and this week will be the true test as to if the Hornets run is legitimate, and they need a healthy Peja to really have a fair shake.
6. Atlanta Hawks (7) - Even though they loss to Boston this week (who hasn't) how strange was it to have people circling a game at Atlanta? This squad has the attention of the best team in the league and has had them on the verge of defeat two times this season. They ended the week with a strong defensive performance against Detroit and this team continues to overacheive. Al Horford has proved last season was no fluke.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (11) - I can't seem to get a firm enough understanding of this squad and I move them up between the top half of the league every week. Brandon Roy is right behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade this season as far as MVP candidates are concerned and his 52 point performance against Phoenix Thursday night was amazing. The players play well as a team and they all know who the go to guy is. Minnesota fans have to look at Randy Foye and shake their head.
8. Houston Rockets (9) - Ron Artest seems pretty comfortable off of the bench and, honestly, Shane Battier's game may be better suited starting off for the Rockets. Rafer Alston's injury doesn't help matters but Aaron Brooks has done a fine job in the starting role. The team finds ways to win basketball games and Yao Ming deserves acclaim for his job so far this season as the anchor for this team.
9. Denver Nuggets (5) - This is the lowest the Nuggets have been since Chauncey Billups' arrival but they've hit a wall this week. After Carmelo Anthony's tremendous week last week, he shot horrible from the field this week. Their lack of explosiveness in the front court is crippling and they still seem to lack something to be taken serious as a Western confrence contender.
10. San Antonio Spurs (6) - I may have gotten too crazy with their run last week but the Spurs had two tough losses to New Orleans and Orlando this week. I'm shocked at the lack of minutes being distributed to Ime Udoka and Bruce Bowen but Popovich knows best about this squad. Kurt Thomas has seen a huge increase in minutes lately and I'm wondering if the Ian Mahinmi experiement is ever going to come to fruition.
11. Utah Jazz (10) - The Jazz organization is so caught up in the Carlos Boozer situation (his injury, whether or not he'll return next season) that they're letting it overshadow a very dissapointing start to this season for Utah. They've been very inconsistent this year and they still struggle on the road (unless they're playing Detroit). Deron Williams has yet to regain that level of play he's displayed the last two seasons but I see it only as a matter of time before he gets his feet back. When he does this team will take off, but it needs to happen soon.
12. Dallas Mavericks (12) - Dallas has had a quiet season but with the return of Josh Howard I think this team is ready to start taking strides. Jason Kidd can't do much at this stage in his career, but he can run an offense and Dirk Nowitzki's production with Kidd on the court is a testament to that. They take advantage of lesser competition and that's a huge upgrade from the beginning of the season. They just need to find ways to beat the better teams.
13. Phoenix Suns (14) - The Phoenix Suns have quietly had a huge week and a monster performance from Brandon Roy is all that kept it from perfect. I know Shaquille O'Neal is a punchline on these forums but his play this year has been solid for this team. I don't believe all that much has been lost from last season, but this talented bunch isn't having fun and I guess that means you complain regardless of record. I'm getting tired of the whining in Phoenix but that's a tradition Mike D'Antoni instilled that can never be replaced amongst that bunch.
14. Miami Heat (15) - Dwyane Wade had a tremendous week and this team as a whole had a tremendous week. A big Friday night victory against the Lakers was followed with a solid performance against New Jersey and this team seems to have finally developed some kind of a groove. Shawn Marion may not be playing up to his potential and Michael Beasley may be a huge dissapointment (statistically speaking) in the rookie class, but they have to love what they found in Mario Chalmers and I think Daequan Cook is doing a tremendous job in his important role off of the bench. They got a solid little team if they can get physical inside.
15. Detroit Pistons (13) - Rodney Stuckey has performed very well since his insertion into the starting lineup. They have, legitimately, no front court, though, and that bench that was so widely praised at the beginning of the season looks incredibly weak without Stuckey on it. Players like Aaron Afflalo, Walter Herrmann and Amir Johnson have dissapeared and have not lived up to preseason expectations. Jason Maxiell plays like a guy who received a huge contract instead of the guy who for the past couple of seasons looked like he was playing for his career. It's amazing to see how lackadaisical this team is. I don't think Flip Saunders was the problem.
16. Chicago Bulls (17) - Drew Gooden's injury is an inconvenience but the Bulls continue to play solid basketball. They may lack consistency but they're a legitimate playoff threat with Derrick Rose surprisingly playing at the current level of play he's displayed. They'll be around all season.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (20) - The Bucks have had a really solid week and have played well since Michael Redd's return from injury. They've been under the radar all season long but have to be pleased with the production that Scott Skiles has gotten out of this bunch. They're weirdly assembled but they play hard every night and that's reason enough to believe in them. Scott Skilles proves once again that he's a tremendous coach.
18. New Jersey Nets (16) - Devin Harris' performance against the Mavericks was unbelievable and New Jersey has to feel it made out like bandits with that trade. Eduardo Najera also played in that game against the Mavericks but quickly collected another DNP. They've gotten good minutes out of Ryan Anderson lately and Rod Thorn's done a good job building this team from the ground up. I can't see Vince Carter staying past the deadline if the Nets have an opportunity to trade him, and he's played well enough this season to where I can see some team taking a chance on him. They need to continue and complete the rebuilding cycle.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (21) - Well the destruction I wished on that franchise didn't happen and they've played well under new coach Tony DiLeo. Elton Brand's injury will show if this team is really better suited to run a spread out, fast court game. I think that fits the styles of their players better and I think they'll play well without Brand for a month.
20. New York Knicks (19) - Seven man rotations and no defense, D'Antoni ball is in full effect over in New York. All cheap shots aside, he's done a good job with that bunch and even though Al Harrington has cooled down considerably, Nate Robinson has picked it up with a very good week for the Knicks. They probably won't make the playoffs but the fact that people are believing they have a shot speaks for the job D'Antoni has done with this overacheiving bunch.
21. Los Angeles Clippers (23) - Marcus Camby has awoken this week and played at level that he displayed while with Denver. The Zach Randolph trade has worked out well for the Clippers but Baron Davis' play is holding this team back. You have to wonder if his priorities are in order, but I guess if you willingly sign for big money to play for the Clippers your priorities are already put into question. They can't move him, he has to work out there, but he can't continue to shoot this team out of ball games.
22. Indiana Pacers (24) - The unfortunate flu epidemic nailed the Pacers locker room and they played inspiring ball near the end of the week even though they were without three of their top four scorers in Marquis Daniels, Danny Granger and Troy Murphy. Jarrett Jack gave them a tremendous week as did T.J. Ford and overall, I'd say both Ford and Rasho Nesterovic have been nice additions to the Pacers team. They lack any kind of consistency but have talent over in Indiana. I just don't know if it will ever be fully tapped.
23. Memphis Grizzlies (22) - The Grizzlies lost both of their games in a quiet week and O.J. Mayo finally scored in single digits in a game. Yes, I know it was a quiet week in Memphis. I'd like to see Hakim Warrick start to get more minutes over in Memphis, though. He does well given the lack of opportunities he truly has.
24. Golden State Warriors (25) - Jamal Crawford single handedly got the Warriors a victory, and they're getting good production out of Marco Belinelli. Monta Ellis is gearing up to return sometimes in the next month but this team still lacks a true point guard. Hopefully, though, Ellis can return to form and give this Warriors fan base reason for excitement this season.
25. Charlotte Bobcats (27) - Boris Diaw looks rejuvenated in Larry Brown's offense and has done a fantastic job in his new starting role. Raja Bell looks unhappy in Charlotte and who can honestly blame him? Aside from that, though, the Bobcats look to be open to the thought of trading Raymond Felton. To me, it's amazing that he hasn't succeeded there but D.J. Augustin's performance is quietly pushing him out of favor with the organization.
26. Toronto Raptors (18) - The drop may be a tad drastic but this team is in awful shape. Chris Bosh is getting booed, they're losing to Oklahoma City and they don't play as a team anymore. Bryan Colangelo has truly done a bad job with this bunch but they're just not that talented to begin with. Jermaine O'Neal has done fine this season but it was fair to see all season that he just couldn't be that inside guy that Toronto truly needed. This team needs to do a lot of restructuring within the organization.
27. Sacramento Kings (26) - Reggie Theus' firing infuriated me but I'm not surprised. A team full of outcats from other organizations probably should be in playoff contention. When Brad Miller is your most consistent start you're not going to be in great shape and new coach Natt's 1-3 record since taking over isn't surprising. Theus deserved better for what he did last season and I don't think stressing that this team play hard and try to win should be overlooked simply for playing younger players and accepting poor performances.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves are reeling big time and Kevin McHale is winless as Minnesota's coach. Al Jefferson is a fine player but he can't do it all by himself. This shouldn't come as a surprise as, even in his last seasons, Kevin Garnett couldn't do it by himself in Minnesota. This is a poorly run organization and the team is horribly assembled. They may never get better with McHale at the helm.
29. Washington Wizards (29) - Mike James has played well since arriving in Washington but it's made no change to their record. Who can be surprised? Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are playing really hard and it's difficult to watch those two players fail but the organization as a whole just has no real direction. They're in a hole, too, with the contract that was given to Gilbert Arenas.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - They finally got a win this week! They're playing hard every night now, which is an upgrade, they just don't have the talent on the team to win. Kevin Durant has played fine ball since Brooks was introduced as interim coach but after him, nobody is consistent enough to really give this team a chance to win on a nightly basis. They're still a few years away.
Tags: 76ers, Aaron Brooks, Al Harrington, Al Horford, Al Jefferson, Amir Johnson, Andrew Bynum, Antawn Jamison, Baron Davis, Bobcats, Boris Diaw, Brad Miller, Brandon Roy, Bruce Bowen, Bucks, Bulls, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Clippers, D.J. Augustin, Daequan Cook, Danny Granger, Delonte West, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Drew Gooden, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Eduardo Najera, Elton Brand, Gilbert Arenas, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Ian Mahinmi, Ime Udoka, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, James Posey, Jarrett Jack, Jason Kidd, Jason Maxiell, Jazz, Jermaine O'Neal, Jordan Farmar, Josh Howard, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kurt Thomas, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, Magic, Marco Belinelli, Marcus Camby, Mario Chalmers, Marquis Daniels, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Michael Redd, Mike James, Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Nets, Nuggets, O.J. Mayo, Pacers, Peja Stojakovic, Pistons, Rafer Alston, Raja Bell, Randy Foye, Raptors, Rasho Nesterovic, Raymond Felton, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ron Artest, Ryan Anderson, Shane Battier, Shaquille O'Neal, Shawn Marion, Spurs, Suns, T.J. Ford, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Trevor Ariza, Troy Murphy, Tyson Chandler, Vince Carter, Walter Herrmann, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph
Posted on: December 15, 2008 1:57 am
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:25 am
1. Boston Celtics (1) - This team is absolutely on a roll and every bit as dominant as last season's champions were. Kendrick Perkins is a force down there in the middle and the bench, despite Kevin Garnett's in game criticism, is fantastic. Players like Glen Davis, Eddie House and Leon Powe have spearheaded a very fun team over in Boston.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (2) - A quiet week for the Lakers, despite their loss to Sacramento. They seem to be in cruise control at the moment and aren't as smooth and dominant as they were at the beginning of the season, but they're still winning and are still 20-3. I was surprised by Luke Walton's promotion to the starting lineup, and even though coach Phil Jackson stresses Vladimir Radmanovic is not in the doghouse, the team's depth at the small forward position may leave him on the outside looking in. Something to keep an eye on.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - A loss at Atlanta keeps this team from jumping up in the rankings but they're still playing fantastic ball and are still looking every bit as talented as both Boston and the Lakers. I understand and agree with the high praise for Dwyane Wade but LeBron James is currently in another atmosphere. He's playing tremendous ball and they're getting great production out of everyone else on the team. Zydrunas Ilgauskas' injury is something to keep an eye on but the team is still playing good ball.
4. Orlando Magic (4) - They've solidified their spot with a fantastic road trip this week. Tough wins at Portland and Utah couldn't be overshadowed by a tough, last second loss without Dwight Howard to Phoenix. Rashard Lewis is carrying this team currently and even with Hedo Turkoglu playing inconsistent ball, they continue to quietly win and that seems to be enough for them.
5. Denver Nuggets (5) - Carmelo Anthony is currently on fire. His 33 points in one quarter against Minnesota on Wednesday was the highlight of a quiet two game week for the Nuggets. This team continues to roll along with Chauncey Billups and are even getting good minutes out of their big men. Their lack of depth and inconsistent production out of those 4 and 5 positions may do them in but currently it's not so you have to keep them up here.
6. San Antonio Spurs (11) - Yeah they've shot up here quickly and the San Antonio Spurs have arrived. This team's offense is clicking and just as quickly as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili returned this team has reeled off a string of successive victories. They're going to be in the race all season and their slow start seems like it was years ago.
7. Atlanta Hawks (8) - Mike Bibby has played like his former self here lately and has eased some of the pressure off of Joe Johnson. The team's getting healthy and a big, impressive win over Cleveland helped the Hawks get some of their much deserved recognition.
8. New Orleans Hornets (9) - Friday's dissapointing third quarter at Boston has taken some eyes off of the fact that the Hornets have been highly successful the past three weeks. Tyson Chandler's stiff neck is room for concern but if he can return at full force the Hornets can work at reclaiming the spot they held last season.
9. Houston Rockets (9) - That loss to the Clippers was embarassing but we'll give them a break since they were without Ron Artest. The fact that Yao Ming has been the most consistently healthy out of the big three this season is room for concern but the team has stayed up around the top ten all season long and continue to play solid, cohesive ball.
10. Utah Jazz (10) - They looked great against Portland but couldn't take care of business against the Dwight Howard-less Magic at home. They still look like the class of their division but seem to be lacking something so far. Even though Paul Millsap continues to prove his early season production is no fluke, they're better suited with Carlos Boozer and need him to return.
11. Portland Trail Blazers (6) - The Blazer's big drop was more one of those "everyone else around you" situations more than their actual play, though their play hasn't been very inspiring this week. Brandon Roy has been amazing this season but aside from him, nobody else can consistently keep up. This team is deep but they're unpredictable. All of this will change as the season goes on as this team just needs to grow.
12. Dallas Mavericks (12) - You inhale and take a step back, and the Mavericks are right there. Again. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are shouldering the load but they usually get somebody different to step up every single night. I'm pleased to see the increase in Brandon Bass' minutes and think he's more important to that team than his production shows. Carlisle needs to utilize him a little better.
13. Detroit Pistons (14) - Right now in Motown, there's no such thing as bad wins. This team is still trying (months later) to transition into the Allen Iverson era and even though their victory over the Charlotte lacked punch, this team has lost bad games and the fact that they won needs to be acknowledged moreso than how they won. Tayshaun Prince has fallen off big time since Iverson's arrival and I'm not sure if this small lineup that has him at the power forward position is going to help that, but Antonio McDyess' return gives this team some more front court depth. Rodney Stuckey has done great with the starting role, but you have to move either Iverson or Richard Hamilton to the bench. Their lineup stands no chance in the postseason.
14. Phoenix Suns (15) - I'm one of the few that doesn't like the arrival of Jason Richardson in Phoenix but I'm going to give it some time. The loss of two important role players in Raja Bell and Boris Diaw (regardless of fickle fans' loss of interest in the two) will hurt the team just as the loss of McDyess did to Detroit. Richardson is a scorer, but not much else, and I'm not too sure if he was any kind of missing piece to anything. Looks like a desperate move by Steve Kerr to me.
16. Miami Heat (16) - Dwyane Wade is trying to do it all by himself, but they can't get anyone else to step up and compliment the spectacular season the former Finals MVP is having. Coach Spoelstra and Wade actually have this team overacheiving but they should still stay above average all season long.
16. New Jersey Nets (13) - Welcome back to Earth, Nets. Vince Carter's 0 for 13 performance against Toronto highlighted a woeful week for the Nets. They've played over their heads this year but have been too good for me to drop them too far. I like what they're currently getting out of Brook Lopez.
17. Chicago Bulls (18) - I'm a little dissapointed in the season Joakim Noah is having for the Bulls as I felt with last season's late surge he would carry that over into this year but he seems to be lackadaisical at times out there. Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose are night in and night out doing it for Chicago and they have to be pleased with the recent production out of Drew Gooden. By the way, I like Luol Deng but they have to be displeased with his production given the contract that he received this offseason.
18. Toronto Raptors (19) - This team has responded well to coach Triano and played some inspired ball this week. Jose Calderon has been solid this season, but so much more was expected after last season. He has struggled as the team's second option although he's still putting up the same numbers as last year. I'm surprised with Andrea Bargnani's decrease in minutes lately and wonder if the Raptors will look to move him at the deadline.
19. New York Knicks (17) - A Jerome James sighting! D'Antoni has finally started to play more than 7 people (it's too early for his typical short rotation) and the team got Jared Jeffries back this week. He's not a great player in any category but is versatile enough to where I could see him succeeding in D'Antoni's system. It was sad to see Cuttino Mobely to retire. He was always a classy guy and a fantastic shooter. His lefty release always looked like it was going in. I give best wishes to him and hope the enlarged heart condition doesn't substantially shorten his life.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (21) - Andrew Bogut and Richard Jefferson have been solid in the starting lineup for the Bucks this season. Ramon Sessions has quieted a little bit recently but this team still has stayed around .500 all year. They're not great in any facet of the game, but they're well coached and are solid in all areas. They're a fun team to follow.
21. Philadelphia 76ers (20) - The firing of Maurice Cheeks was pathetic. It's a shame that a team that gave an injured, overweight Elton Brand that type of money can blame Cheeks for being unable to work Brand into an offense that's better suited in the open court. Ed Stefanski should be ashamed of himself and I hope to see bad karma visit this team the rest of the season.
22. Memphis Grizzlies (26) - Don't look now, but outside of Boston and San Antonio, the hottest team in the league is the Memphis Grizzlies! Benching Rudy Gay seemed to spark the team a bit and they're even getting solid minutes out of Darko Milicic this week. O.J. Mayo has been nothing short out of tremendous this year and lately has played like the best rookie in the league. And that's no shot on Derrick Rose, just high praise for Mayo.
23. Los Angeles Clippers (27) - For one week, the Clippers were the team I thought they would be this season. With great wins over Portland and Houston this week, the Clippers looked like a talented cohesive team and like a team that could hang with the league's best. It's probably fools gold as far as the record is concerned, but Zach Randolph continues to be the team's best player and Al Thornton looks like a great player to build around for the next couple of seasons. For one week at least, Clipper land!
24. Indiana Pacers (22) - Their inconsistency and inability to get over the hump is killing me. Danny Granger is seemingly doing it by himself but this team is just bland all around. I had picked them to make the poseason this year, and they still may make a run at it, but they're lacking some serious energy and excitement on this team. This organization still needs that shot in the arm.
25. Golden State Warriors (24) - The Warriors won a couple games this week and that's reason for excitement in the bay area. Corey Maggette may be ruled out indefinitely and his scoring may be missed, but he hasn't seemed like much of a fit out there on that team. Kelenna Azubuike deserves a little bit of praise for his performance this season. It further heightens why teams showed interest in him in the offseason.
26. Sacramento Kings (28) - A victory over the Lakers gives this team a nice little boost and shows that they can still play hard for Reggie Theus. Kevin Martin is back to missing games after his short return and you have to wonder how serious that injury is. Brad Miller will most likely be gone by midseason and this team is still two years (including this one) away from being taken serious as postseason contenders.
27. Charlotte Bobcats (23) - I know I bashed Phoenix for the Richardson trade, but it's not as if I like it any better for the Bobcats. They lack scoring and, again, Michael Jordan is running an organization where pieces just don't fit. You can't make things work. His lack of dedication kills this team and the front office is so infatuated with his name that they won't properly evaluate his job. After all, if they did he would not have gotten the job in the first place after that fiasco in Washington.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (25) - Memo to Kevin McHale, improve this team or be shown the exit. Randy Wittman was let go this week and McHale now steps up. He was solid in the 2005 season but he's not that much of a coach. Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and Kevin Love (three players McHale has traded for) have all played better under McHale but I don't know if they can be enough for McHale to keep his job. Or rightfully keep his job anyways.
29. Washington Wizards (29) - Caron Butler is wasting away over there in Washington and their team's response to their struggles was not addressing their extremely small and thin frontcourt, but was instead a decision to add Mike James and Javaris Crittenton to a team that boasts a bunch of run of the mill guards in the first place. I'd like to see Crittenton to get an opportunity to flourish but this situation is no different from his situation in Memphis.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - Finally Kevin Durant is grabbing some rebounds and playing some down in the post. He's too talented to let his game be jump shooting and taking possesions off on defense. Jeff Green has been tremendous this week and I was surprised at Russell Westbrook being benched today. They're playing more competitive lately and the talk of them being unable to win 9 games this season is ludicrous. They'll win at least 10 games this season and this team is talented, just extremely raw. They need more time.
Tags: 76ers, Al Jefferson, Al Thornton, Allen Iverson, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Antonio McDyess, Ben Gordon, Bobcats, Boris Diaw, Brad Miller, Brandon Bass, Brandon Roy, Brook Lopez, Bucks, Bulls, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Clippers, Corey Maggette, Danny Granger, Darko Milicic, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Eddie House, Elton Brand, Glen Davis, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jared Jeffries, Jason Richardson, Jason Terry, Javaris Crittenton, Jazz, Jeff Green, Jerome James, Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson, Jose Calderon, Kelenna Azubuike, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, LeBron James, Leon Powe, Luke Walton, Luol Deng, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Mavericks, Mike Bibby, Mike James, Nets, Nuggets, O.J. Mayo, Pacers, Paul Millsap, Pistons, Raja Bell, Ramon Sessions, Randy Foye, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Richard Hamilton, Richard Jefferson, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ron Artest, Rudy Gay, Russell Westbrook, Spurs, Suns, Tayshaun Prince, Thunder, Timberwolves, Tony Parker, Trail Blazers, Tyson Chandler, Vince Carter, Vladimir Radmanovic, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph, Zydrunas Ilgauskas