NBA Rookie Ratings: Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings are Untouchable.

December 18, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Barring a succession of spectaculars from Blake Griffin when he returns from injury in the new year, the Rookie of the Year award would appear to be a firm two horse race.

After a quarter of the season Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans sit comfortably atop the Rookie mountain, separated from their peers by their consistently superior performances.

No one else is even close to the level of these two first year point guards, both of whom have become the faces of their respective franchises.

1. Tyreke Evans

To install a sense of hope in the fans for the future of the Sacramento Kings is a very special achievement for the #4 pick. When he was chosen not even the most smiling of optimists could have predicted a 11-13 record.

Last year’s NBA worst are now sat just below .500 and they have Tyreke to thank for it. His stat line of 20, 5 and 5 with 1.6 steals has carried a Kings team that has little experience but much promise.

Gilbert Arenas said that as one of the League’s bigger guards he felt small going up against Evans and it is this size and physicality that make him such a tough opponent: if fellow rooks Stephon Curry and Brandon Jennings struggle with their shot they are usually in big trouble, but Evans’ body allows him to switch straight into attack mode.

It is his consistency that has him above Jennings and it will in all probability lead him to the ROY award.

2. Brandon Jennings

Missing out on the #1 spot by a whisker, there is no rookie more fun to watch than Jennings who has put the Bucks on his back, propelling them to a surprising 11-12 record.

When Jennings is hot he is simply un-guardable. His shot, which was scrutinised heavily leading up to the Draft, has proven more reliable than forecast and his quickness, if anything, was under rated, allowing him to attack the rim with ease and with little regard for his slight frame.

At this point, there is no better scorer than Jennings; he leads all rookies with an average of 21.1 ppg while also disproving the pre-Draft notion that he was a selfish player, with a rookie best 6 dimes a game.

When Jennings plays well the Bucks win and it is his occassional tendency to go missing in games that has him second.

Evans’ is consistently good while Brandon is inconsistently great.

3. Jonas Jerebko

The Detroit Piston’s #39 pick is this weeks best of the rest and the fluctuating performances of everyone outside the top 2 makes it entirely possible that he will not be here next time.

8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds hardly scream ‘deserved of recognition’ but Sweden’s first ever NBA player finds himself at #3 not for his stats but for what he has brought to his team.

In the absence of Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince, Jerebko has been the personification of hustle, making plays and helping the Pistons win games.

He works so damn hard on the floor that he is a guaranteed fan favourite at The Palace: what he lacks in skill he more than makes up for in determination.

4. Johnny Flynn

Flynn is gradually getting to grips with the triangle offense implemented by Kurt Rambis and as he does so his numbers are steadily increasing.

Playing in a new and utterly unfamiliar system left the Syracuse man looking a little lost and turnover prone but his game winning performance against the Utah Jazz has seen his stock rise.

His 14.2 ppg and 4.3 apg may not quite be enough to banish all thoughts of longing for Ricky Rubio from the Minnesota fans, but they are a good place to start.

Kevin Love’s recent return to the Wolves’ front court alongside Al Jefferson should allow Flynn to get even better, running with a big man tailor made for the triangle, passing skills and all.

5. Taj Gibson

In limited minutes Gibson is finding major ways to contribute to a Chicago Bulls team struggling for production from their starting 5.

He leads all rookies in rebounding with 6.1 a game in just over 20 minutes of playing time.

Throw in 8.3 points and just over a block a game and the 6’9 forward out of USC is doing everything he can to show he deserved to go higher than #26 overall.


LeBron James is not Chad Ochocinco. Nor is he Magic, Larry or Michael.

December 17, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Whenever Chad Ochocinco scores a touchdown for the Bengals you can be sure that the innovative and sometimes outrageous celebration will follow.

For the most part his antics are well received, annoying to some, but widely acknowledged as entertaining.

When he pulled a dollar bill out of his sock to hand to a official after his TD catch, tongue firmly in cheek, he was not seen as rude or controversial, but cheeky and funny.

So why are LeBron James’ actions different?

Why has his gesturing and posturing riled up so many people, coaches and Hall of Famers included?

The major difference between the two is that Ochocinco’s moments of celebratory creativity are diluted by the goings on in the NFL.

This is largely because American Football is not dominated by a handful of personalities the way that the NBA is.

The emphasis in basketball falls on the superstar; in football it is about the team.

The difference is huge.

Consider this.

If Ray Lewis criticizes the Baltimore Ravens he can expect his words to make the back pages in the Maryland area but the likelihood of his notoriety extending league wide are virtually non-existent.

Stories about individuals rarely displace the dominant discourse of the NFL’s media coverage: the headlines are reserved for team’s and their respective performances.

In contrast, an outburst by one of the NBA’s superstars warrants the dedicated attentions of every major news outlet and basketball columnist.

Just look at how the media reacted to Kobe Bryant’s impromptu video a few years ago when he attacked the Lakers’ front office for not providing him with, shall we say, more capable team mates.

Front pages and headlines countrywide.

The preeminence and elevated status of the few in the NBA ensures that when a Kobe, Dwyane or LeBron do anything of even mild interest the story is guaranteed to blow up.

Ochocinco is one of a whole host of high profile players in the NFL and in terms of annoying people it would seem that there is safety in numbers. Hell, even if he annoys you his limited exposure means he can be ignored.

This is why LeBron has got underneath people’s skin: his dancing and french fry eating do nothing but undermine his elevated status and you can’t get away from him.

His behavior comes across as arrogant and petulant because it is such a departure from the actions of his predecessors.

Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy, Michael Jordan, all were ultimatel characterized by class.

They were all aware of how good they were but their performances were enough.

Simply, the great players don’t act like that.

His game does enough talking, so why seek more attention?

To do so will win few friends.

It will be interesting to see if the gesticulating remains when the Celtics or Lakers appear on the same floor as the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For a player of LeBron’s ability the game should be about winning and winning only.

Needless antics on the court only damage his reputation and potentially his legacy.

Why do it?

The Oklahoma City Thunder are only headed one way.

December 14, 2009

by Jack Maidment

When assessing the deemed quality of a team’s draft selections over the past 3 years, what do you look for?

Games won or individual points per game? Best plus/minus rating or perhaps how quickly a player ‘fits in’?

All of the above can play a part in guiding an evaluation but ultimately the single most important question regarding new players has to be: where are they headed?

The players drafted by already successful teams must fill a niche in order to be rewarded with playing time and if they are perceived to be unable to contribute, or if they happen to face superior talent at their position, they will not play, in which case the answer is brutal in its simplicity. No place fast.

Players drafted to losers face different problems, but problems all the same.

Expectations are usually a volatile mix of despair and ‘new dawn’ at the basement dwellers. If you were chosen in the lottery it is very much deemed your responsibility to resurrect a previously moribund franchise.

There are minutes to be had but there is no learning curve steeper.

Losing will become all too familiar and only the truly persistent, not to mention talented, will prevail through the storm of progress which will inevitably involve at least one loss of faith by the fans.

Vehemently believing that progress is being made and that the sunlight of the playoffs is not too far away is key, especially when the boos are raining down.

Every team not talking championship will churn out the same rhetoric at the start of every season, that the franchise is going in the right direction and that young players are gradually utilising their potential, but the conviction they have in every cliché that they speak can mostly be described as wavering at best.

There are very few teams in recent years to have prophecised a bright future and then actually gone about delivering one.

Only two spring to mind: the Portland Trailblazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Teams that have been as low as you can go, categorical rebuilders, that have drafted well and grown as a team over a number of years in steps that can be easily identified.

No empty promises and General Manager speak. Just empirical results.

In Brandon Roy and LeMarcus Aldridge the Blazers drafted two players in whose hands the future of a franchise could be safely placed and through cunning in successive drafts they have been able to surround their leaders with the kind of complementary players that enable 50 win seasons and playoff runs.

Crucially, the Blazers stuck to their strategy, maintaining their youthful vision even when the losses were piling up.

They acknowledged the importance of learning together rather than seeking veterans who could taint the mix.

They were thrown in at the deep end. Eventually they swam.

The future has arrived for the team once known as the Jailblazers: 3 years ago making the playoffs was a pipe dream, this year just making it there isn’t enough.

If ever there was a case of duplicated blue prints the Thunder have traveled the same road as Portland in pursuit of wins and a team to be proud of.

In recent times, no team has been under heavier reconstruction than the Zombie Sonics.

Where many teams have readjusted or retooled, the Thunder have entirely re-modeled, building from scratch a team capable of making noise in the years to come.

In a coincidental twist of fate the promise of a better tomorrow for the Thunder was heavily influenced by the actions of the team most like themselves.

By passing on Kevin Durant for Greg Oden the Blazers ensured OKC would have the centrepiece on which they could build.

Injuries have restricted Oden’s progress and the fact that the Blazers are as good as they are without him suggests that if he can get healthy for any stretch of time Portland could be Finals material

The fortunes of the man picked directly behind him could not be any more contrasting.

Durant has gone from highly touted prospect to potential MVP and best player in the game discussions within the space of 3 seasons.

A meteoric rise indeed.

The Thunder were simply in the right place at the right time to grab Durant: the stars aligned as they occasionally do and they took advantage.

Few teams will ever experience that kind of luck.

That is without taking into account the calibre of Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook who make up Oklahoma’s Holy Trinity, three players drafted a year apart with the realistic ability to drive the Thunder toward title contention.

Currently sitting at two games above .500, the Thunder stand a very real chance of making the playoffs, the next step on their path to possible greatness, despite being just a year removed from a 23-59 record.

Durant may receive the majority of the plaudits but the respect and admiration for his running mates is coming: there is a reason why Charles Barkley calls Westbrook a ‘stud’.

Generously listed as 6’3, Westbrook is as springy as they come, the product of hours of sand work and plyometrics. Quick as a cat and strong to boot the UCLA product will challenge Mr Paul and Mr Nash for best point guard honors in the years to come.

As for Green, the man is versatile. Playing on the wing or in the post the Georgetown alumni presents opposing forwards with the kind of match up problems that coaches love to hate.

It will be apparent soon enough whether James Harden, OKC’s newest young gun, will force the Three Amigos into the Fantastic Four but it is already clear that the shooting guard will be at worst a solid and effective offensive weapon. He can score. Consistently.

If he can find the next level in the NBA the Thunder will possess not only the youngest core in the League but also the most fearsome in terms of where they are collectively, and individually, destined.

Add projects like BJ Mullens and the rehabilitated Shaun Livingstone to the Thunder mix and the roster is clearly on its way toward strength in depth, a prerequisite for competing at the highest level.

The Blazers and Thunder are moving forward rapidly and they have their unwavering vision, and luck, to thank for it.

So where are they headed? The Finals eventually.

The difficulty is that they will have to through each other to get there.

John Wall: Do Believe The Hype

December 5, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Hype: the one thing absolutely guaranteed in American sports today.

The media’s insatiable appetite for The Next Big Thing has created a society that awaits the coverage of any upcoming special athlete with bated breath.

However, the majority of those people who are thrust into the spotlight at an early age and are instantly labelled The Future, rarely attain the type of success predicted for them. In fact, most achieve relative sporting mediocrity at best.

It is rare indeed for an athlete to absolutely fulfil and then proceed to go way past the expectations bestowed upon them in their teenage years.

It is because of this that an air of cynicism now accompanies those who are tagged for greatness.

A frown and a ‘yeah right’.

John Wall, however, is as advertised. Absolutely.

The University of Kentucky freshman will play college ball this year safe in the knowledge that expectations could be no higher.

Final Four. #1 pick. NBA Franchise Saviour.

That is his future.

Or at least it should be. And now that he has such goals associated with him, anything less will be seen as a failure.

Luckily for Wall and basketball fans around the world, there can be little doubt that he is firmly on the path to greatness as prophesied by so many.

At 6’4, Wall is a big guard. He is tall for a 1 and solid for a 2, especially at the college level, and as such proposes opposing college back courts with real match up head aches.

Combine his size and strength with his blistering speed and there is simply no way to play him: he will go round you, through you or if he has to, or rather wants to, over you.

His ability to slash and finish at the rim are Wade-esque: normally the kind of comparison which would raise considerable eyebrows. In Wall’s case it is entirely appropriate. He is that good.

John Calipari has said that Wall is further along the development scale at this stage of his career than his ex students Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans. Considering the impact that both of those players are having in the NBA, there can be little doubt as to where Wall is headed and the kind of career that he could experience in professional basketball.

His performance against UNC officially announced his entry onto the national consciousness, a place where he is destined to stay and grow for a very long time.

Don’t believe the hype?

No really, do.

Allen Iverson: Philadelphia 76ers welcome home The Answer.

December 4, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Allen Iverson may well have hung up his sneakers last week, but news that the Philadelphia 76ers have approached and signed the supposedly retired guard seem to suggest that the Hall of Fame bound guard never truly intended to ride off into the sunset just yet.

Their can be little doubt that The Answer has at least something left in his diminutive frame to contribute to, if not necessarily lead, an NBA franchise, and perhaps there in lies the problem so evident in his stints in Detroit and Memphis: AI’s evaluation of his own abilities are clearly not on the same page as GMs around the League.

At 34, the Philly legend is certainly not done. If other players around the League can be relied on as any kind of indicators of age restrictions, Steve Nash, for example, who, regardless of his 36 years, has outplayed all before him to cement his position as one of the NBA’s elite point guards for at least another year, seems to suggest AI cab ball a while yet.

The problem, it would seem, is one of ego. Iverson still sees himself as franchise material and anything less than starting minutes and first option shots would appear to be so incomprehensible to the one time League MVP as to warrant him to walk away in mystified disgust a la Ron Burgundy:

“Do you know who i am? I’m kind of a big deal…”

And so the questions which awaited him in Detroit and Memphis will welcome him back to the city and the team that he could once call his own.

For the 76ers, the decision to bring back Iverson can easily be derided as financially motivated, designed to entice more people to go watch a team struggling on the court. Indeed, his arrival will probably be worth a few thousand ticket sales.

However, scepticism aside, the acquisition of Iverson in terms of aiding the team can only be viewed as low risk, high reward.

Recent problems assure that the Sixers will pay the equivalent of a bag of skittles for his services and there is of course the possibility that this situation might actually work out for all those involved. Hell, if it can’t work in Philadelphia, it’s not going to work anywhere.

Last chance saloon? Undoubtedly. But there is cause for optimism:

With no point guard, the minutes are available for AI and with Andre Igoudala and Elton Brand the only players even resembling offensive first options, AI should be able to hoist enough shots every game to get his, while not treading on anyone’s toes.

Eddie Jordan has said that Iverson starting is very much in his “thought process”. Unlike at the Pistons where there was an evident jam of personnel in the back court, and at the Grizzlies where youth development was always going to be a stumbling block for the veteran, the Sixers actually want him. More than that, they actually want him for who he is: a greedy scorer.

The Nuggets, Pistons and Grizzlies all traded for Iverson in the naïve belief that a player who had dominated his team since entering the League could suddenly become a selfless rotation player. That’s not hoping for a mild adaptation; that’s praying for the ultimate character switcheroo.

Philadelphia knows exactly what they are getting. They dealt with Mr Practice? For 10 years. Their knowledge of the man could well be the key to unlocking the player.

He could re-ignite a flailing team’s season or he might just score points for a team destined for mediocrity. Or he might last a week and leave, the Sixers having lost nothing.

Maybe, just maybe, this could work, giving one of the game’s best ever players the final curtain that his career deserves.