NBA Rookie Ratings: Rising Stars edition

February 25, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Straight to the League’s Week 6 and 7 NBA Rookie Ratings. All-Star Rising Star edition.

1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers. The Duke man is the best rookie in the NBA this year and he showed it in the RS game last night. He is perhaps the most complete young player in the league and can do a little bit of everything. Leading the charge for Team Chuck, Irving won the game MVP and stuck up 34 points, making all 8 of his three point attempts. He was, is and will continue to be superb.

2. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves. Irving may be best in class but Rubio is a close second and his performance in the RS game was an advert for the joy of basketball. More than one big man had his fingers/face slammed by an unexpected pass and Rubio was in his element all night, putting the ball through people’s legs, throwing oops and ball faking the pants off Team Chuck. Everyone of his teammates on Team Shaq would take a pay cut to play with him.

3. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons. Knight was quiet on Friday night playing on a team with too many guards, relegated to spot up shooter on the wing; hardly his forte. Even so, Knight did some nice things and continues to show why Detroit fans should take their head out of the oven. He is going to be really good. He had 24-5-3 against the Cavs last week and routinely plays more than 35 minutes a game in a backcourt with Rodney Stuckey which actually looks like it could work.

4. Norris Cole, Miami Heat. What a steal for the Heat. Cole has all the poise of a steely veteran and showed it during the RS game in his interview with Craig Sager in which he used the word ‘professionalism’ about 30 times. I’m sure Pat Riley can’t stop smiling. Cole had 18-8 in the game itself, playing 25 minutes and his demeanour was picture perfect.

5. MarShon Brooks, New Jersey Nets. Brooks may have forgotten where he was Friday night, playing like he does when he is at the Meadowlands which basically means shooting every time he gets the ball. It’s not too often you see a player take 20 dribbles in an all-star game (Kobe) but Brooks seemed happy to disregard his teammates last night. He shot 3-10. Even so, he has been the second option all year for the Nets with no one really to pass to other than Deron Williams so shooting must be a reflex by now. Everyone knows he can score. The question is if the man from Providence will be a two-way guard in the NBA or a rich man’s Nick Young.

Injuries: Iman Shumpert.

Last week:

  1. Ricky Rubio
  2. Iman Shumpert
  3. Brandon Knight
  4. Kemba Walker
  5. Derrick Williams

Starting Five: The week’s best NBA players

February 15, 2012

By Jack Maidment

The Week’s Best

@Jeremy Lin. Six straight wins, five straight starts, the most points scored in a player’s first four games as a starter in NBA history. Nothing was keeping Lin from making the Starting Five two weeks in a row. He has been surreally good (it’s a word). Like it’s been one long ever-extending dream. Will he be here next week? I hope so because he makes the world smile and if he’s not it means the dream has probably died. Bad times.

@Jose Calderon. Just when the Raptors thought they couldn’t survive without hideously overpaid and rebound-allergic 7ft tall Italians a small Spaniard decided he could in fact be The Man. Jose Calderon has had two out of body experiences/Space Jam talent snatch scenarios this week. Once, against the Lakers, when he put up a career high 30 points, and again against the New York Lins, when he had 25-7-9. Toronto lost both games, but every cloud and all that. He played great this week, but come on, he is no Jeremy Lin.

@Kobe Bryant. Deserves a spot in the Starting Five this week on the strength of the turnaround fadeaway jump shot he hit to effectively win the game for the Lakers against the Raptors on Sunday afternoon. It was vintage Kobe: Killer.

@LeBron James. Now that I am officially off The-Decision Haterade I would like to bring to your attention the most brutally efficient performance of this young season. LeBron James pounded the Milwaukee Bucks in a Heat win on Monday, returning to the paint again and again and again to assert himself. It was the ultimate bigger-better-stronger game. No one could stop him. He only played 33 minutes, but in that time he had 35 points, on 16-21 shooting. Phenomenal.

@Rajon Rondo. Best F-U game of the season by a distance. The Celtics beat the Bulls on Sunday and it was all because of Rondo, playing fresh off an All-Star snub. He stuck up 32-10-15 and shot 10-13 from the line. He did everything Boston fans wish he would do every night and showed why Danny Ainge should keep him. Or trade him, depending on your point of view. Rondo in full flight is something to behold, just a shame it doesn’t happen more regularly.

A turning point for the Toronto Raptors

February 13, 2012

By Jack Maidment

After playing with the kind of lethargy normally associated with a morgue employee, the Toronto Raptors found themselves in a familiar 21-6 hole early against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon.

They were doing everything they were supposed to: not playing defense, not making shots, not really doing much of anything.

Just as advertised.

The offensively challenged Lakers proceeded to pour in 34 points in the first quarter, a season high for an opponent of the Raptors. Oh, and Kobe was scoreless.

What happened next was deeply surprising and for those who doubt the veracity of the Mayan 2012 prophecy perhaps a little worrying.

The Raptors gave the Los Angeles Lakers a game. An actual game with lead changes and everything. Unbelievable.

Toronto have been in the NBA basement for so long that writers could feel confident copy and pasting season projections for years: Replace Bosh with Barnani, Carter with DeRozan, cap up the word ‘soft’.

But on Sunday lunchtime the Raptors did something new. They showed some heart. They fought.

The old Raptors would have thrown in the towel; hopelessly out matched and outclassed by NBA royalty.

But this time they dug in and found a way, clawing back an 18 point deficit over three quarters and actually going ahead with under a minute to play on a Jose Calderon jump shot from the free throw line.

Nobody thought the point guard’s shot was going in. He may have been in the midst of a career night, he scored 30 points, but nobody in the Air Canada Centre thought he was actually going to sink it; that’s what years of perpetual losing will do for a fan base.

But he did.

And if the Lakers didn’t have a player who can consistently make fadeaway 18ft baseline double-teamed jump shots the Raptors would have tasted an improbable victory.

Despite the loss, 94-92, the Raptors and their fans should be encouraged by the performance.

They have had close losses before, plenty in fact, but this one felt different. This one felt real, like they actually had a chance.

If you google news search Raptors+heart you get 90 results. And most of those also include the words ‘lack of’.

If there is any justice in the world that should change after their monumental come back on Sunday.

Their roster may be… interesting, and a little short on elite NBA talent, but team basketball and belief can be great equalisers.

Just ask the Knicks.

(On a similar, but unrelated note, I felt the need to share this quote. It’s great: “You got two minutes, you have Kobe Bryant on the floor, you have Pau and Drew on the floor. What is there to really worry about except play hard and win the game?” Ron Artest.)

NBA Rookie Ratings: Two Wolves and a Knight

February 11, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Straight to the League’s Week 5 NBA Rookie Ratings. Let’s get it.

1. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves. Rubio returns to the top spot this week in the Rookie Ratings but it was an awfully close call thanks to the strong play of Iman Shumpert. The main reason for Rubio’s rise was his ability to influence games in the past seven days when his shot wasn’t falling.

He only reached double figures scoring once in his last three but he has done other things to help his team. Against Dallas, a loss, he had 10 points but contributed 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 8 assists. Facing Memphis he scored just 4 points (1-6 from the floor) but grabbed 7 rebounds and snatched two steals. Finally, against the Kings in a win he may have only had 6 points but he also had 5 steals and 14 assists.

He brings so much to the table he can be forgiven for his temperamental jump shot.

2. Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks. It seems strange to say given Shump has only been in the league just less than two months, but he went back to basics this week as the Knicks surged under the guidance of Jeremy Lin.

Asking Shumpert to run the show was a big ask but thanks to Lin he is back as a defensive specialist/slasher which is absolutely his game.

He showed how valuable he can be coming off the bench against the Lakers, running the floor and playing stellar defense on Kobe Bryant.

He had 12-2-3-2 in 26 minutes and is playing excellent team basketball. He looks comfortable. Up two.

3. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons. The Dark Knight Returns. The Piston’s point guard slipped out of the top five last week but back to back strong performances and three wins brings him back in at number three in week 5.

His minutes are fluctuating greatly of late, but when he does play he does well: In his last two games, both against the Nets, he had 13-7-5-1 and 13-2-4-1. Just play him already.

4. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats. Kemba’s back and has my sympathy. No rookie is in a tougher situation than the Uconn point guard. The Bobcats are so bad it has got to be hard to learn a whole lot getting blown out by 30 most nights. Even so, if you are a Cats fan, the reason you still attend home games is strictly Kemba.

His high point this week was a 22-3-4-1 effort against the Suns. Get yours and wait for Anthony Davis to arrive.

5. Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves. Williams had the chance to start for the Wolves this week in the absence of Kevin Love and he took advantage of the opportunity. Sort of.

He had strong games against Memphis and Sacramento, almost putting up double doubles in each (13-9 and 14-8). Maybe it’s because he is so athletic you want more, but Williams is getting there, gradually figuring out how to get his shot off in the NBA and learning where he can be most effective. Hint: not from behind the arc.

Sneakers and Creepers: Kawhi Leonard

Dropouts: Isaiah Thomas, Jimmy Butler.

Injuries: Kyrie Irving (concussion)

Last week:

  1. Kyrie Irving
  2. Ricky Rubio
  3. Isaiah Thomas
  4. Iman Shumpert
  5. Jimmy Butler

Sneakers and Creepers: None. It was tough last week

Dropouts: Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Derrick Williams.

Injuries: MarShon Brooks.


NBA Superstar League: Dirk’s back

February 10, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Week 5. Here. We. Go.

1. Dirk Nowitzki: DEN, CLE, IND. It may have taken almost two months, but old Dirk’s back. The Mavericks did lose two of their last three (CLE, IND) but Dirk’s performances are cause for great optimism as he looks to regain the form which granted him the Finals MVP trophy and an NBA championship. He has had at least 24 points in each of the last three, shooting considerably better than 50% from the floor and only missing two at the charity stripe. The Mavs are starting to ramp it up. Plus 10.

2. Kobe Bryant: BOS, PHI, UTA. Going past Shag for 5th all-time in scoring and beating the old enemy this week is enough to vault Kobe from 6th to 2nd. The Lakers lost two of their last three but Bryant was good in all three games. He can only do so much with the current LA squad. They need a trade. Meanwhile Kobe will continue on, just like he’s done for the last 16 years.

3. Dwight Howard: MIA, LAC, IND. Howard was 9th last week, mainly because writing about the poisoned Magic season makes me feel ill. But credit where credit is due, Dwight has been excellent this week. The Magic had two wins (MIA, IND) and a tough loss (85-81 LAC) and Howard had games of 25-24 (MIA) 33-14 with 4 stocks (LAC) and 27-8 with 5 stocks (IND). There is a reason why teams want Howard.

4. Kevin Durant: SAC, GSW, POR. Durant’s Thunder lost to the Kings this week in the type of game they will have to get used to. As the model young franchise you better believe all the other young teams want to upstage Oklahoma on national television. The truth is good teams will lose 3-5 games like this a year – continually having to deal with team’s spiking their effort levels just for you is tiring. Slips one.

5. LeBron James: ORL, CLE, TOR. LeBron was top dog last week, but after two great performances against bad teams (CLE, TOR) he slipped a little against a slightly better Orlando team in a 89-102 loss. He was 5-15 from the floor against the Magic, scoring 17 points. He did everything else he normally does (10 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) but his points were down in a rivalry game which is hardly superstar behaviour. Just saying. In other LeBron news, this made me laugh.

6. LaMarcus Aldridge: HOU, OKC, DEN. Despite losing their last two and sliding to 9th in the Western Conference, LA makes it to 6th because of his performance against the Thunder. 39-6-3 and 11-11 from the stripe are superstar numbers and the loss was narrow – 107-111. Aldridge has been consistently very good this year with occasional explosions and as soon as the rest of his team put it together again the Blazers will be very good like they were at the start of January. Up one.

7. Chris Paul: CLE, ORL, WAS. Paul had an absolute shocker against the Wizards on February 4, scoring 2 points on 1-8 shooting. Urgh. Luckily Washington’s so bad it didn’t matter as the Clippers rolled to victory. He was infinitely better against the Magic with 29-7-8 and that’s the kind of production the Clips will need in the backcourt now that Chauncey Billups has been lost for the season.

8. Kevin Love: HOU. As a kid I remember a few things my mum used to say whenever I was acting up. One of her favourites was ‘only donkeys kick’. Guess Kevin Love didn’t learn that lesson. He kinda stood/stamped on Luis Scola on February 4 and was subsequently banned two games (one win, one loss). It happens in football. It’s cool in UFC. It shouldn’t happen in basketball. Falls four.

9. Derrick Rose: NOH, NJN, MIL. Rose has struggled this week with back spasms (insert ‘carrying city on his back’ joke here) but the calibre of the Bulls’ opponents has given him a chance for a little rest; he played just 22 minutes against the Hornets and 11 against the Nets. Bulls have won their last four and have the best record in the league. For the fist time in a long while their dominance is not strictly because of Rose. Down four.

10. Carmelo Anthony. Injured. Knicks win three straight. Riddles.

The NBA Superstar League is a weekly statistical snapshot, out every Friday, ranking ten of the best players in the league.

Our 10: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James/Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge.

The NBA’s third best shooting guard

February 9, 2012

By Jack Maidment

The two best shooting guards in the NBA are Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Kobe first. Dwyane second. That’s just me.

After that things get a little dicey ranking the off-guard position, because, you know, there aren’t any other elite off-guards. Apparently.

I would like to call shenanigans right now and say that particular piece of prevalent wisdom is absolute hokum.

And here’s why: I put before you three stat lines from three players, all shooting guards, this year.

I think you already know where I’m going with this, but humour me, please.

Number one: 22-4-5

Number two: 23-3-6

Number three: 29-6-5

No prizes for guessing who number three is (this guy, just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 17 years) but the other two are pretty close, almost identical in fact.

One of them is Dwyane Wade (number one). The other is Golden State’s finest, Monta Ellis, officially the NBA’s third best shooting guard. Officially. It is not even up for discussion.

Evidence? Aside from the stats, I would like to bring the following video clip to your attention:

That would be Monta torching the league’s second best defense. The case for the defense rests.

This means two things.

Firstly, Ellis should not be grouped with the rest of the pack, the likes of James Harden (coming up), Manu Ginobli (porcelain) and Joe Johnson (overpaid, Phoenix Victim). It’s not fair.

Secondly, neither should he be grouped with Kobe and Dwyane because despite the statistical similarities and Ellis’s ability to put on a show, winning means a lot and the Warriors are under .500 right now. Hmmm.

Here’s my suggestion: I am advocating the creation of Ellis Island (I know, like this one), a space he can occupy just below Kobe and Dwyane but separate from everyone else.

All those in favour? Excellent.

Monta can wait there for James Harden who’ll be arriving next year.

Starting Five: The week’s best NBA players

February 8, 2012

By Jack Maidment

The Week’s Best

@Jeremy Lin. How could he not make the Starting Five this week? In the space of just four days, Lin went from drawing splinters at the end of the bench to soaking up M-V-P chants at Madison Square Garden.

He powered the Knicks to an enthralling victory over the New Jersey Nets before playing the best game ever by a point guard starting his first NBA game (28-8) in a win over the Utah Jazz.

He has single-handedly reinvigorated New York and is experiencing the biggest spike in celebrity maybe ever.

Oh, and somebody wrote a song about him; it’s not half bad.

Like a few people said on Twitter, if Lin were stocks I’d be buying.

@Kobe Bryant. The simple fact is it’s not everyday you get to write about someone going fifth all time in scoring. I don’t care the Lakers lost their last two: Kobe was making the Five regardless of the beat down Los Angeles took this week.

He has 28,601 points and trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

That’s pretty good company. Even Shaq gave him props.

@Monta Ellis. Monta was so hot on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder I mistook him for this guy. He dropped 48 points on the Thunder in a narrow loss in what has to be one of the five best individual performances of the young season.

He took 29 shots, made 18 and went 3-6 from behind the arc. Human Torch.

@Tony Parker. The San Antonio Spurs have won five games in a row and are currently third in the West. Pretty unbelievable considering Manu Ginobli has been out injured, Tim Duncan plays 27 minutes a game and the rest of the roster is made up of bit part players and rookies.

The driving force behind their success is undeniably Parker who hung 42 on the Thunder this week in an eye-opening win.

Spurs done? Non Monsieur.

@Steve Nash. Nash celebrated his birthday last night with a win over the Bucks, the Suns’ third W in a row. Phoenix is out of the playoff spots at the moment, but what Captain Canada is doing in the desert is nothing short of spectacular. Literally everything they do that’s good is down to Nash, just watch the tape.

Without him they are probably the worst team in the NBA.

Have fun next year Phoenix.