NBA 2010 Season Preview

October 27, 2009

dwayneby Jack Maidment

And so it was that months of speculation came to an end. With the simple blow of a whistle this evening the NBA season will begin, banishing, or at least relegating, any thoughts of free agency and draft pondering for, well, a few weeks at least.

Unless your are a Knicks fan I guess.

The over-saturation of the media has effectively made fiends of all basketball fans around the world. With news and hopeless rumours available at our fingertips, a day in which literally nothing happens is greeted with the shakes and level 3 cold turkey. I NEED A FIX. Something more nourishing than Glen Davis’s contract stipulations. Something more nutritious than The Dunk That Didn’t Happen.

Luckily for us the NBA is back and the players are geared up to go. Tip off beckons and and all of the speculation that accompanied the draft and summer league is replaced by actual basketball that means something, where putting the ball in the hoop means more than a new contract and a bigger house.

Ultimately its about wins. For the League’s best it is time to begin the arduous and troublesome ascent toward a Championship. For the basement dwellers the new season represents the opportunity to gain restore some respect to once great franchises and to set course for better days. Faith must be found and trust must be given.

The questions that have existed since June now become more important. With the first game about to be played our answers become something more than mere guesswork and preference. Evidence aids a constant re-evaluation.

With that in mind, now is the final time that wild predictions can be made with a relatively clear conscience: no evidence, just opinion. Whatever happens form here on in is based on results and stats and evaluation. If you want to be a mystic or a psychic or a preacher, now is the time.

East? The fact is that the three top teams in the East are so close to each other that betting on the victor is unbelievably difficult. The Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic will be 1,2,3 in the Eastern but in which order is anybodies guess.

Many people would point to a healthy Celtics team as the favourites and they would probably be right. But, how many times has a team that needs to be healthy to have a chance ever been healthy when the time comes? Once Injury rears its ugly head it is essentially impossible to banish. Without Garnett or Pierce, Boston will not be advancing past the Conference Semi Finals.

Cleveland? Imagine if LeBron goes down for any amount of time. Doesn’t bear thinking about. Even with the King firing on all cylinders the Cavs will have their work cut out beating a collectively more talented Orlando Magic team. Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard. 4 All-Stars. Can LeBron and his new running (!) mate take that down? I say not. Orlando Advances.

That is to say nothing about the teams occupying the middle echelon of the East. Toronto Raptors have enough talent and fire power to be a fantastic dark horse selection. Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani will hold the fort down low and Hedo Turkoglu coupled with DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon have a nice balance of scoring, clutch, decision making and athletic potential.

The same can be said of the Atlanta Hawks who, with the addition of Jamal Crawford, return one of the most potent teams in the League. The question is whether or not the ATL can up there defense against the NBA’s best.

The rest will be a toss up, entirely reliant on ifs and buts. Miami? Need heroics from Wade and sanity from Beasley. Philadelphia? A breakout from Andre Igoudala and return from Elton Brand will help, but with no recognisable point, who is steering the ship?

A new defensive identity could see the Memphis Grizzlies make a return to relevance, but the addition of Allen Iverson is unlikely to mark the dawn of a intensity on D. Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls? Mediocrity beckons with the Bulls the most likely to plunge or sky rocket.

West? The Los Angeles Lakers should be even better than they were last season with Artest bringing more to the team than Ariza, regardless of age. A healthy Lakers will make it back to the Conference Finals. Who will meet them is a little tricky.

The San Antonio Spurs will be in the mix as long as Mr Duncan is around and their supporting cast is second only to the Lakeshow. Dejuan Blair will prove to be the steal of the Draft and Manu, Parker and Jefferson will join Timmy D as part of one of the best starting line ups League wide.

The Denver Nuggets are no where near as deep as the Spurs or Lakers and will do well to scale the hieghts of last year. Portland still needs experience while the Jazz just look messy in the front court.

The conference is undoubtedly talented but other than the Lakers nobody sits above anybody else.

Too many questions. But there will be answers. Just enjoy the process. NBA 2010.


NBA Rookie Ratings: Tyreke Evans, The Next Derrick Rose?

October 11, 2009

rekeby Jack Maidment

Whose the best? This guy is.

Or at least that is what countless General Managers around the League would have you believe. As far as guards go, Tyreke Evans is the most highly regarded and highly rated in this years’ rookie class.

Sure Johnny Flynn is nice and what he did at Syracuse last year, especially in their major 6 overtime win over Connecticut, was as close to heroism as you are ever likely to see. And sure, Ricky Rubio may be The Next Big Thing out of Europe and the best young player not playing in the NBA. And nobody in this draft can score like Stephen Curry from the guard spots, who has many a coach purring over the abilities that made him the 7th overall pick coming out of Davidson College. James Harden may well be the player who can contribute to his team the most in the back court.

But. Before an NBA regular season game is played, with the exception of Sam Presti of the Thunder, 99% of the other teams would almost certainly elect to take Evans on board and into their back court given the chance.

So what makes the West Chester, Philadelphia native such an attractive proposition. It probably isn’t the fact that the man apparently running the point in Sacramento this coming season has never really played the position full time before or that his jump shot needs some work before it can be classed as at least passable.

Despite his perceived deficiencies, the upside of Tyreke Evans is enough to make those in charge of NBA franchises across the land sit up and listen.

A year in college at Memphis will have given Evans a taste for big time basketball but the leap to the pros should hurt nobody more than the next member of the ‘one and done’ club. Or at least you would have though that, especially for a point guard, if Derrick Rose hadn’t poured gasoline all over the League last season before igniting in the Playoffs.

Before Rose, the rule book was fairly sturdy and solid: playing point in the world’s best basketball league is not easy and learning it’s ins and outs takes dedication and patience. After Rose? Anything is possible. If you are an immensely talented guard who has the strength and drive to decimate any defense, preferably out of Memphis, the League beware.

Fortunately for Evans, Sacramento isn’t going anywhere fast with just about the worst roster in the NBA, at least in terms of competing this coming year. That should mean that the 20 year old has the opportunity to grow into the League and the position along with his other young ( and promising) team mates.

The lottery may be beckoning the Kings once again before even a whistle has been blown in anger but with Evans and his, whisper it, potential, they can at least ring their cow bells safe in the knowledge that their will be a future for their team.

That is unless the franchise decides to move.

I guess some things are never certain.

NBA Sophomores: Why Joe Alexander, Anthony Randolph and Danilo Gallinari Are All Poised To Succeed.

October 5, 2009

gallinariby Jack Maidment

Anthony Randolph, Joe Alexander and Danilo Gallinari were all top 15 picks in the 2008 NBA Draft and after a year in which a certain number of their peers have made an impact to be proud of these three have done everything but over achieve.

Each of these individuals’ situation is different; each one one with different reasons why they have not necessarily grabbed the headlines they may have envisioned on draft night.

For Randolph, taken 14th overall by the Golden State Warriors, his relative mediocrity can be assigned to age and lack of experience: heading into his sophomore NBA season he will be a sprightly 20 years old.

He played his first year as a Warrior while still a teenager. This may well account for his solid but not explosive numbers, but it also highlights the reason why he got drafted early in the first round despite only one year of college at LSU: potential.

6 ft 10 in. with all of the athleticism and quickness to play any of the front court positions. Raw was the word that described Randolph last year. He was unpolished. But hell he was a 19 year old kid.

Drafting on potential has long been viewed critically especially when players who could have contributed more immediately may have still been on the board. But Randolph’s performances in the Summer League just gone caused a collective light bulb moment for hoop heads and NBA personnel alike: this young man can play.

The much vaunted potential of a draft pick which so often comes to nothing appears to be more than hype, Randolph is becoming absolutely real.

Detractors will tell you that Summer League is Summer League and that performances in Las Vegas are impossible to translate or project onto the regular season. The past has provided enough evidence that this is a warranted theory yet disposing of pessismism for a second, couldn’t Randolph’s numbers this past off season be the signal that more is to come? The past cannot predict the future after all. Perhaps Randolph will be the exception that breaks the rule.

The situation in Golden State will certainly provide Randolph with the opportunity to make noise this coming season with little competition in the front court: most of the Warrior’s problems will be in trying to accommodate Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson in the same back court.

As for Alexander, the 8th overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, his quiet debut year is similar to so many rookies who are drafted to teams regardless of what they already have at each position.

Praised as the best overall athlete of his class (second most bench reps, second highest reach, second fastest ¾ sprint time) the West Virginia product arrived at the Bucks knowing full well that playing time would be scarce with Richard Jefferson at starting forward.

You only need look at the top performing rookies to know that there is an undeniable correlation between playing time and improvement: it is a rare rookie indeed who can warrant his draft pick status coming off the bench for a few minutes every game.

With that in mind Alexander should have every chance to build upon last year’s limited experience after the Bucks dumped Jefferson and his contract on a grateful San Antonio, thus freeing up valuable playing time and in all likelihood placing the starting small forward position in the hands of the second year man.

With more minutes comes more responsibility and Alexander will be relied upon to shoulder a large proportion of the offensive load. Playing with rookie point guard Brandon Jennings at a high tempo should guarantee many fast break points for a forward who few will beat down the floor.

Danilo Gallinari meanwhile will enter his second year in much the same was as Greg Oden did last year with injuries ensuring that the Italian will be the least experienced of any sophomore.

The back injury that kept Gallinari sidelined all last year has apparently been banished and the man drafted #6 overall by the New York Knicks last year will finally have the opportunity to warrant his lofty selection.

Getting drafted ahead of first year standouts Brook Lopez and Eric Gordon should be enough to make Gallinari feel a little pressure and comments from his coach have assured that scrutiny will be high on the man labelled ‘the best shooter’ that Mike D’Antoni has ever worked with.

Playing in a front court rotation that includes David Lee, Al Harrington, Darko Milicic and Jordan Hill, Gallinari should experience enough playing time at the small forward position to make an impact on a squad that will do well to do anything other than tread water the year before the 2010 sweepstakes.

3 forwards, 3 similarly underwhelming rookie campaigns. The cruel world of revisionist history will use the coming 2010 season as a barometer as to whether or not these players will be remembered as wise investments or busts. So let us for once give potential and positivity a chance and believe that Gallinari, Randolph and Alexander will all be sophomore successes.

After all, we can all just jump on the bust bandwagon next year instead.

NBA Season Preview: Dirk’s Dallas Mavericks Coming For That #1 Spot?

October 4, 2009

dirkby Jack Maidment

So apart from the fact that they have the most divisive owner in the entire NBA, what else do the Dallas Mavericks have to arrest your attention?

Sure everyone is talking about the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs are also receiving a large amount of heat. Even the Portland Trailblazers, Orlando Magic and the Denver Nuggets are at the very least on people’s Championship radar. Dallas Mavericks as actual viable contenders? Not for most people.

Since their capitulation in the Finals against Miami swiftly followed by their, uh, capitulation to the Golden State Warriors the Mavericks are very much the NBA’s forgotten team.

They make the Western Conference Semi Finals and yet are rewarded by just about no faith in their ability to go any further this coming season. Boston, LA and Cleveland closely followed by San Antonio, Portland, Orlando, maybe Denver. It will be one of those teams that gets their hands on Larry in June.

And yet.

The core that pushed Denver so close returns with the exception of their back up big man Brandon Bass who has signed with the Magic. That means that the best scoring power forward in the NBA today, Dirk Nowitzki, will try to lead a squad forward that has done just about nothing but improve since their exit in the 2009 playoffs.

The Spurs may have added Richard Jefferson. The Cavaliers may have added Shaquille O’Neal. But don’t sleep on the move that the Mavs made to bring Shawn Marion to Dallas this off season.

Regardless of his past two seasons in which his production has suffered as a result of changing locations and team members The Matrix remains one of the most versatile players in the League today. A combination of size, quickness and athleticism realistically allow Marion to cover any player on the floor and create a tricky match up problem on offense. Points, rebounds, assists, steals. You name it, Marion does it.

Imagine the unique skills of the former Phoenix Sun and imagine the possibilities of him playing with Jason Kidd on the fast break.

Now imagine the offensive capabilities of a squad made up of Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and JJ Barea.

The one piece that the Mavericks lack is a legitimate athletic big man to hold down the middle as was exposed by the ultra mobile front three of the Denver Nuggets in last years playoffs. Marion’s defensive prowess helps relieve this problem slightly, but the lack of absolutely quality big men in the West and the league in general should allow the Mavs to live with the best teams in the paint.

They will hope that their offense can counteract their defensive deficiencies.

Will the Mavericks win the title next year? The talent on their roster suggests that writing them off completely would be foolish and such a dismissal would only put you in the horrible position to receive an ‘I told you so’ from Sports Most Gracious Owner, Mark Cuban, if Dallas prove everybody wrong.

I’m playing it safe.