NBA Season Preview: Where’s the love for Orlando?

September 29, 2009

carterby Jack Maidment

Vince Carter for Hedo Turkoglu? 6 years ago this would have been the ultimate no brainer, like asking a wrestling fan to play favourites with The Hurricane or The Rock.

In fact, despite Carter’s decline due to ageing knees and the inevitable rot that playing for the Nets induces, he remains one of the best scorers and offensive weapons in the League.

The Orlando Magic gave up a lot of pieces to acquire Half Man Half Amazing but when you consider how well he fits with their current roster, the cost of the move (both monetarily and in lost player personnel) seems to be worth their while.

The team may have lost a small point forward who posed their opponents countless match up problems last year, but in Carter they add a player capable of shooting from deep and taking it to the basket in a much more athletic and dynamic way. How many times did you see Hedo dunk it last year? You can argue that dunks aren’t too important and that 2 points is 2 points from anywhere. But. With Carter going to the hole a lot more than Turkoglu the floor instantly spreads that little bit extra giving the likes of Jameer Nelson, Rashard lewis and Mickael Pietrus that much more room to operate.

His shooting ability also ensures the defence has to play true to him allowing Orlando’s resident beast the space he needs to rip the boards down or go to work when he finally develops a go-to post move.

A different player who creates a different match up problem, but a problem all the same. There is little doubt that Anthony Parker, Paul Pierce, Delonte West and Ray Allen are much looking forward to their defensive assignments when the Magic come calling next year.

The big question is: why is everyone sleeping on Orlando?

The majority of the talk seems to be revolving around a Cleveland-Los Angeles Finals just like was predicted last year, and we all no what happened with that.

If it isn’t LeBron and Kobe it is Paul Pierce and co who are filling the column inches. The return of Garnett and the addition of Rasheed Wallace apparently makes them favourites if they stay healthy, or at least The Truth thinks so.

So, despite making the Finals last year for only the second time in franchise history, the Orlando Magic are apparently out of the picture. Even though by adding Carter they improve. Even though by adding Brandon Bass and resigning Marcin Gortat they significantly strengthened their front court. Even though Dwight Howard will have another year of improvement under his Superman cape. Even though they made the Finals without their starting point guard.

Are you serious?

The Cavs, Lakers and Celtics all deserve heat, no question, but to ignore the Magic as absolute contenders and maybe even the team to beat is to not only disregard last year’s achievements, but also their potential going into this year to improve.

Orlando Magic, next year’s team on Parade Street? You better believe it.


NBA Rookie Ratings: James Harden Is Just What The Oklahoma City Thunder Need.

September 29, 2009

hardenby Jack Maidment

Carmelo Anthony, Ben Gordon, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, OJ Mayo.

What do all of these players have in common? All were taken 3rd overall in their respective Draft classes.

Look at the list and think about the amount of talent that has been sniffed at until 1 and 2 are done. Since 1997, with Chauncey Billups heading to the Boston Celtics, the 3rd pick has more often than not been a major addition to the NBA.

Every player taken third in the recent past has not exploded like those above, indeed their have been players who have failed to deliver on the promise that accompanies such a high draft choice: Adam Morrison, Darius Miles and Raef LaFrentz are proof of that.

However, certainly more often than not the guy going third has been fairly studly.

Enter this year’s Mr Number 3, James Harden, taken by the Oklahoma City Thunder with their first draft pick since moving from Seattle.

Harden enjoyed two extremely solid seasons while playing for Arizona State averaging 20 in his second year. Combine that with 5.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists and you have the epitome of an extremely solid and effective college player.

His numbers don’t scream ‘SUPERSTAR’ like Kevin Durant’s did after his one season playing in Texas. Nevertheless his stats certainly seem to justify his 3rd selection status.

However, the run of great players going at 3 does not welcome the solid numbers of Harden. If you go 3 you need something more. Billups? Arguably the best leader in the League (although admittedly it took him a while to get there). Anthony? Best scorer in the NBA. Williams? Tied best point guard in the L. Gordon? Mr End of Game. Gasol? 3rd best power forward in the NBA with more trophies than he can carry.

You get the idea.

So perhaps Harden will break the run of great 3rd picks with his solid, but not otherworldly skillset. But on a team that boasts Kevin Durant, who will be in the Best Player in the Game discussions after this year, the Thunder don’t need a star. Harden’s ability to get points will help dilute the scoring load that currently rests with Durant, Westbrook and Green. That’s 4 players who can all get 20 a night without too much fuss.

If Harden can fulfil that task for the Thunder, Oklahoma’s third pick will entirely have vindicated his selection.


NBA Rookie Ratings: Hasheem Thabeet has the shoulders to carry the weightiest of expectations.

September 7, 2009

hasheem 1by Jack Maidment

It is up there with all of the other clichés, but it is oh so very true: you can’t teach tall.

Of all the world’s popular games, basketball more than any other (except perhaps sumo wrestling) is best suited to those people with a very specific body type.

That is not to say that a tall player is guaranteed to be a good basketball player and similarly a vertically challenged player is not guaranteed to be ineffective. You only have to look at the success that many players have had despite measuring up at less than 6 feet: Allen Iversen. No elaboration needed.

However, one thing that is assured is that an extremely tall person with very little skill or experience is more likely to be picked up than a shorter player with above average skills: they may not be able to make a jump shot, but their mere physical presence on the court is enough to warrant a roster spot.

This may be the case at pick up games, high school and even college, but height is not enough to assure success at the professional level.

The importance of a physically imposing post presence to success in the NBA has made the drafting of 7 footers a troublesome and unpredictable business. The search for the next Shaq or Duncan or Wilt and the Championships that would surely follow has caused the demise of many an aspiring GM, consumed by the possibility of unearthing that monster of a man who also possesses the craft to do more than just get in the way and occupy space.

The fact that very, very few players come out of college and into the Draft as the finished product leads those in charge to place huge amounts of emphasis on a player’s potential. ‘He is 7-3, imagine what he COULD be!’.

Indeed.

Alas, most don’t work out that way and that is by no means their fault. The pressure placed on a player drafted high to grow as the GM promised he would is simply a case of misguided expectations.

It is with this in mind that Hasheem Thabeet’s rookie campaign will garner much attention and criticism. You cannot go second overall and not expect media attention, but when you were taken ahead of a number of other exceptional players who apparently could contribute more immediately seemingly because you were simply much taller than them is a sure fire way to attract detractors.

Regardless of the alleged politics surrounding the Memphis Grizzlies #2 pick i.e. Ricky Rubio not wanting to play their, Thabeet has much to do to repay the faith placed in him by the franchise. They believe that he will grow and mature into a player capable of dominating the floor, the anchor to their team.

The major positive for the Tanzanian is that he has got to where he is now despite only taking up the game at the age of 15. That would certainly suggest that he has much to learn and that what he has learnt he has done so in a very short space of time. Given a few years to develop and who knows how good he can be.

The expectations of most people, outside of the Grizzlies hierarchy, are that #2 was just too high for a player who brings relatively little to the table at the moment. So few genuine Big Men have gone on to fulfil the promise that their height has the potential to allow that the bar will be low set for Thabeet: nobody expects him to really excel, nobody will have him pegged as a Rookie of the Year candidate despite having gone second overall.

Perhaps that is unfair, but historically the vast majority of NBA giants have failed to ignite the game as those that drafted them may have wished.

No player taken this year will have a harder task than Thabeet in trying to finish where they started. Ranked the #2 rookie at the end of the season?

A tall order indeed.


NBA Rookie Ratings: Can anyone stop Blake Griffin?

September 5, 2009

blakeby Jack Maidment

Consider this. If Blake Griffin does not win Rookie of the Year this season, the start to his NBA career will be deemed a disappointment. Such is the pressure that accompanies a player deemed measurably better than the rest of the Class of 2009.

Conceivably there are only three reasons that Griffin won’t become the latest recipient of the award currently held by Derrick Rose.

Injury.

Capitulation under the immense pressure placed on the #1 pick leading to a major loss in confidence. The least likely.

Eclipsed by the break out of another. Possible? Certainly.

The problem for Griffin is that he is the sole bearer of expectations for this draft.

We heard all year how weak this class was or rather how one player was on another level to his peers.

Entering the draft as the unanimous #1 effectively sets Griffin up for a fall. Anything other than stellar performances and ‘star’ numbers will see his reputation take a major hit.

The rookie deemed ‘most likely to be an All Star’ will be at the forefront of all critics and coverage, scrutinised every night.

It is for this reason that the race for ROY honours will be closer than predicted. All people are susceptible to feel pressure and any slip by the Clipper could be capitalised on by the player that adapts best to life in the NBA.

Make no mistake, the rest of the guys taken from #2 down are talented enough to represent and there will be many who slap the faces of all the General Managers who passed on them draft night.

Their status as underdogs and their desire to belong and hang with the elite will drive the young players play pushing them to new levels of performance.

Those players taken by teams where they will play immediately, for example Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans, will have ample opportunity to stake their claim to the top spot.

Those drafted to loaded teams will have to capitalise on their chances when they come along.

For the sake of comment and to banish the ‘Griffin plus everyone else’ status surrounding the 2009 class, let us hope that the ROY race is far from a one horse affair.


Ramon Sessions signs offer sheet with Minnesota Timberwolves: Where does this leave Johny Flynn?

September 4, 2009

flynnby Jack Maidment

With ‘point guard’ and ‘Minnesota Timberwolves’ in the same sentence you could be forgiven for jumping to conclusions. Ricky Rubio’s decision to remain in Spain for at least another two years barring something more than miraculous happening has entirely dominated not only news regarding the Wolves but also the NBA in general.

But apparently the world, or at least the NBA, has more stories to tell with the news coming out of Minny that Ramon Sessions of Milwaukee Bucks fame has agreed to an offer sheet.

It has been said that all publicity is good publicity but for David Kahn, Rubio’s snub can only be seen as a major problem for a GM who is not only trying to rebuild a team but also salvage and re-brand a franchise long deemed moribund.

The swift play for Sessions is clearly a bid to try and wash away the bitter taste of rejection left with Kahn since Rubio’s statement of intent. Swift the move may be, but the extent to which it will assuage the collective feeling of disappointment felt by all those associated with the Wolves will be minimal at absolute best.

The prospect of having arguably the most exciting young player in the world on your roster is a damn fine way to sell tickets and give your lowly franchise a boost. Bringing in a solid and improving player in Sessions? Just not the same.

And that is to say nothing negative about Sessions. Making it to the League from the D and proceeding to drop 20+ assist nights is something that deserves props: the fact that he has landed a 4 year $16 million contract is testament to the potential he has displayed in his relatively brief stint in the NBA.

This news cements a sense of finality regarding Rubio’s migration West: it’s not happening for a while.

As one case closes, albeit temporarily, another one opens: where does this leave Johny Flynn? The fact that the Wolves drafted two points back to back suggested that they had the faith in both of them to do things in their back court from the off, learning and growing on the job. Kahn said so.

Having Sessions join him in Minnesota must have Flynn a little perturbed to say the least. Bringing in another player at your position is hardly the best way of saying ‘we have confidence in you’ especially given the fact that Session is hardly a veteran himself. He may have played a lot more ball than Flynn but half a season in the NBA hardly puts him light years ahead of the Syracuse man in terms of leadership or savvy.

Training camp is going to be one hell of a ride.


Bruce Bowen Retires. Kobe Smiles.

September 4, 2009

Bruceby Jack Maidment

Bruce Bowen will hang up his sneaks as of today thus ending the Dynasty of Defence (trademarked…) which has haunted the League’s best scorers for countless years.

Twice runner up Defensive Player of the Year and consistently All NBA First and Second Defensive team member Bowen has called time on his lengthy career at the tender age of 38.

With 3 rings to go with his many personal accolades Mr Bowen will be greatly missed from the NBA and the San Antonio Spurs who lose a player who embodies the try-hard and can-do attitude that Greg Popovitch’s team has become famous for.

For reminding us of the importance and craft of defense, we salute you Bruce Bowen.


Ricky Rubio to remain in Spain, signs for Regal Barcelona

September 1, 2009

rixckyby Jack Maidment

Spain’s prodigal son, Ricky Rubio, will be remaining in his homeland for at least the next year, probably two, before heading to the NBA.

Despite the prolonged negotiations between DKV Joventut and the Minnesota Timberwolves an agreement could not be reached. Ultimately it came down to the fact that the Wolves were legally prohibited from contributing a substantial enough amount toward Rubio’s ridiculous buyout clause which hovers somewhere around $5 Million.

Considering that the point guard earned less than $100,000 last year, the amount written into his contract to release him would appear to be obscene enough to be overturned by some court in the land, but apparently enough.

With the Wolves bound tightly by the law, Rubio will instead be playing his basketball for Regal Barcelona who have agreed to Joventut’s buyout numbers making Rubio the most expensive transfer in European basketball history.

The fact that Barcelona have agreed to pay such a fee for his services suggests that they expect/demand Rubio to remain in Spain for the foreseeable future.

If that is the case, Minnesota must place their hope in Johnny Flynn, the second point guard that they elected to pick in the Draft Lottery. The clarification of Rubio’s status officially puts the pressure on the Syracuse man to perform: their will be no help from Europe just yet.