NBA Playoffs: Conference Semi Finals

May 6, 2010

By Jack Maidment

The Playoffs are firmly under way and have already thrown up more than enough surprises.

The Lakers are too big and too long to be troubled by the Jazz. Every shot that Carlos Boozer takes is a fade away jumpshot over the outstretched hand of either Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum. The Jazz is too small and have too many injuries, but the money they spent on Paul Milsap is starting to look like a pretty good investment. He has carried them for whole quarters at a time.

Deron Williams may well be the best point guard in the game today but he can onoly do so much.

The Lakers bench has been positively woeful so far this postseason and getting called out by Kobe Bryant seems to have had little effect.

Their sloppy play is only manageable as long as the Los Angeles starting 5 keep playing so well and Kobe keeps closing games.

Lakers in 5 after the Jazz sneak one in Utah.

The othermatch up out West is the best Conference semi. It has history, grudges and a little hint of politics. 

Could this finally be the year when the Phoenix Suns break the curse of San Antonio and advance to the promised land of a Conference final?

The way that Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire are playing the pick and roll suggests they will. Quite simply it is perfect. It is a work of art. The question for Gregg Popovich is how do you stop something as precise and as finely tuned as the Phoenix offense?

Keep the ball out of the hands of the best passer in basketball. Easier said than done.

The Spurs are savvy and far from down and of all the teams to go in a 2-0 hole they would be the one to back to come out fighting and get the wins they need.

Suns in 6.

In the East the Cleveland Cavaliers are proving once again that they are not built for the post season.

They have the League MVP but a sore elbow and a supporting cast who cannot make shots is not going to get it done. Anthony Parker, Mo Williams, Delonte West and Jamario Moon made 4 shots in Game 2. Between them.

The Celtics certainly smell blood and they are the only team that has been able to flip the switch from regular season mediocrity to post season intensity.

LeBron or no, the Cavaliers are on the ropes. If they support doesn’t show there is no way LeBron can beat a team as defensively imposing as the Celtics.

And they hate each other. Anderson Varejao versus Kendrick Perkins? Antone who saw that little pushing match knows that the Brazillian should walk away. Perkins is a scowl machine.

Celtics in 6.

The final Conference Semi threatens to be a lesson in playground etiquette with the bigger, stronger and generally more impressive Orlando Magic punishing the under whelming Atlanta Hawks.

They were disappointing against a Milwaukee Bucks team who simply shouldn’t have taken a team as good as the Hawks are supposed to be to 7 games. The Bucks essentially had two players, Brandon Jennings and John Salmons with snippets of contributions from their team mates and yet that was enough to push an Atlanta team vaunted as a contender.

By themselves anyway.

Orlando in 5.

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The Milwaukee Bucks have a Future

March 15, 2010

by Jack Maidment

Why are the Bucks sat in the 5th playoff spot in the East?

Brandon Jennings’ infectious confidence and the mid season trade for John Salmons are two reasons why Milwaukee is experiencing life in the sunshine outside of the NBA cellar in which they have dwelt for many years.

But it is the play of Andrew Bogut that has provided the perpetually rebuilding team with the solid foundations on which they can build and actually win basketball games.

The 2005 #1 pick has long been considered a bust yet his play this season has forced people to reconsider their stance on the man from Melbourne.

He has upped his scoring average to 16 points, an increase of 5 points a game, showing a belief in his post game that has been missing in the past.

In years gone by he has not shown the confidence to attack other premier big men down low despite possessing a truly gargantuan body and an extremely high skill level.

Not anymore. He is imposing himself on the offensive end utilising a veritable variety bucket of low post moves to give his team a real presence inside.

This season’s dramatic increase in assertiveness is not only confined to the offensive end.

Bogut has employed his monstrous wingspan to up his blocks per game to 2.5, good enough for second in the league.

He has given the Bucks a legitimate threat inside, providing opposition slashers with real food for thought before they foray into the giant Australian’s paint.

Where he has previously shied away from a challenge, this season he has been a constant; a rock solid foundation on which the Bucks have built to propel them toward the playoffs.

Think.

Only one franchise, the Magic, would not want to trade for Andrew Bogut in a league deprived of true centres.

That shows his true worth

Perpetual re-builders, the Bucks now have some direction.

A potential playoff series against the Boston Celtics (as things stand) could very well provide Bogut and company with the opportunity to throw off the shackles of the lottery and show that the future will come for long suffering Milwaukee fans.


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.


NBA Rookie Rankings: Brandon Jennings is Untouchable.

November 12, 2009

brandon-jennings-is-a-buckby Jack Maidment

The NBA season may have only been running a little over two weeks, but the League has provided enough drama in that relatively short space of time to satisfy even the most cynical of basketball fiends.

Phoenix, fuelled by the performances of their 35 year old point guard Steve Nash, have jumped out to a League best 7-1 start. No other team is more exciting than the Suns right now and a reversion to the 7 seconds or less model has Arizona’s finest with only the Boston Celtics for company a top the NBA pyramid.

In a similarly isolated position is the rookie Brandon Jennings whose performances for the Milwaukee Bucks has not only re-ignited a previously moribund franchise but also fired the #10 Draft pick above and beyond his 2009 class mates.

If the play of Jennings continues to anywhere near his current level, the race to become Rookie of the Year may as well be called off. Quite simply, no other rookie, barring the injured Blake Griffin, is even close to having the kind of impact that the Oak Hill Academy product is enjoying.

The fact that on Draft night Jennings’ status seemed so murky with rumours of a slip into the second round now appears positively ludicrous. Averages of 20.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists have the nine General Managers who passed on him cursing their judgement.

His 32 point, 9 assist outburst in the Bucks’ victory over the Denver Nuggets not only makes his stated target of 15 assists a game seem possible but it also categorically cements Jennings’ status as Rookie of the Year frontrunner.

No one else is even close.


NBA Draft 2009: Top 10 Largely Picks Itself

May 26, 2009
Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

by Jack Maidment

Why would you pick Blake Griffin with the #1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft?

The answers are two fold:

1. You get the only player ‘guaranteed’ to make an impact straight away a player destined for All-Star status sooner rather than later.

2. As a struggling franchise you draft the player that will sell the most season tickets through sheer weight of interest.

Now, both of these reasons are obvious and self explanatory. Yet it is with no surprise that we hear that the Clippers are listening to offers for their pick.

Such a rumour has started to grow pace as a result of one man’s actions: Ricky Rubio.

It could be argued that the DNA of this Draft class rests heavily on how the man from Spain decides to handle himself as the Big Night draws closer.

Rumours are rumours and their one constant is that they don’t have to hold an ounce of truth: they will still grow larger and gain more talk time. Whether Rubio will commit to the draft regardless of location could dictate the specifics for, at least, the other players in the top 10.

It is difficult to isolate Rubio because his decision will affect everyone making the first 10 picks largely difficult to predict. However, some should be sure things. Observe:

Barring trades and Clipper Madness, Blake Griffin will go first to Los Angeles. As Ron Burgundy would say, ‘that’s a given’.

If Rubio plays hard ball the Grizzlies will likely take Hasheem Thabeet for two reasons. Firstly, he should compliment Marc Gasol’s post game.

Secondly, Memphis couldn’t accommodate another perimeter player who needs the ball to be successful. They already have OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay to demand the rock and it can only be shared so much.

Ricky Rubio may well look attractive to the Thunder, but the bottom line is: could he play in the same backcourt as Russell Westbrook? No. Westbrook can play at the 2, but both want the ball in their hand. Conflict? Yep.

So who do Oklahoma take? James Harden, the best SG in this class would provide them with a perimeter threat who can go to the hoop and finish. A perfect compliment to Westbrook, Durant and Jeff Green.

The Sacramento Kings could be a viable alternative for Rubio who would get the reigns to the team and would sell tickets. But, whether he would mesh with Kevin Martin, the franchise’s main scorer and ball demander, is a tough question to resolve.

The Washington Wizards will likely take Jordan Hill who will bring toughness and heart to a front line which lacks fire. His offensive game may be far from polished, but the fact that the Wiz will have Arenas, Butler and Jamison, Hill wont be relied on for production anyway. Just clean the glass and hustle.

Hill seems like a lock for Wahington. He just makes sense. The same can not be said for the next two picks.

It would appear that the T-Wolves and the Warriors will take Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, but which way round does not scream out.

Nellie Ball would suit Jennings more but Monta Ellis might not be too keen. But, to be fair, he might not like the other option any better.

Tyreke is probably a better fit for the Wolves who can persist with Randy Foye at the 1.

It’s a tough call.

If he is still there, the New York Knicks will take the best shooter in the draft, Stephen Curry who should fit perfectly into Mike D’Antoni’s offense. That will be nice.

Toronto picks 9th and they will need to address their lack of backcourt power, probably by taking Demar DeRozan. A real slasher, he should fit nicely with Calderon and compliment the Raptors frontline perfectly.

Ramon Sessions’ contract demands will likely lead the Bucks to draft a PG in the shape of Jonny Flynn.

If Rubio pulls out then everything will change, with Jennings the one to benefit.

If he stays in the draft and Memphis or Oklahoma call his bluff, the landscape will change all over again.

It’s all on Rubio.


NBA Draft 2009: Ricky Rubio Wants LA Clippers Or Nothing?

May 22, 2009
Dollars or Euros next year?

Dollars or Euros next year?

by Jack Maidment

Making it to the League is the objective right? That’s pretty damn exciting. Getting paid to do something you love? Sign me up.

The opportunity to get drafted is such a huge opportunity that where you play is kind of a foot note. However, Ricky Rubio, having already played pro ball in Europe since he was 5, is apparently less than thrilled at the prospect of relocating to Memphis. Or Oklahoma.

So, while everyone else focuses on improving their draft stock, thus their wages, just being excited by the start of their NBA career, Rubio is busy scheming. Or at least his agent is.
“I’m drafted? Sick! Where to?”

“Oklahoma City”

“Oh. Ok. You know what, I’m good in Spain. I’ll check you next year.”

Apparently, Rubio wants LA. Or Sacramento at a push. Otherwise he is not interested.

The extent to which this is BS is clearly up for discussion, but it does ask a number of questions.

For 95% of the players in the Draft, this is the first chance they have to get paid to play. However, Brandon Jennings and Rubio are used to the sweet smell of Euros in their pockets.

This effectively means that the allure of the NBA is strictly based on playing experience rather than building an impressive bank balance.

They already got money AND a nice place to live.

Let’s be fair. If you had your choice of Rome and Barcelona or Oklahoma City which would you choose? Likely you would be booking your tickets to Europe straight away.

The fact is that truly elite athletes have a luxury that everyone else does not. The freedom to choose. They get their own way or, well, no, they just get their own way.

Kobe Bryant is rumoured to hold a no-trade clause in his contract. The only difference is that Rubio has not made it in America yet. It’s the same situation.

Now clearly Rubio is not Kobe, LeBron or Wade, but he has experienced enough success to stamp his feet a little if he feels it.

This throws in another variable in player’s decisions.

Do you want a good team to draft you so that you win straight away with sparce playing time?

Or a bad team with lots of time and lots of losing?

Or the team doesn’t matter at all, just location.

Luckily, the majority of Draftees do not have the sort of power that Rubio possesses, so they will go where they are told and be grateful for it.

The real difficulty for Rubio is that the likelihood of a ‘good’ location is fairly slim. And if he holds out and calls Memphis’s bluff, his reputation takes a huge hit.

If the Grizzlies or the Thunder stand firm and draft him but he returns to Spain, boy does the NBA look silly.

If it turns out to be lies, or not, Rubio can likely expect a loud welcome whatever.

Probably boos and jeers.


Good Times in Los Angeles: Lakers Survive Nuggets, Clippers Get Lucky

May 20, 2009
Jennings is Flashy

Jennings is Flashy

by Jack Maidment

One night. Two major stories.

Firstly, the LA Lakers recovered from an early hole to take game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against a Denver Nuggets team which threatened to steal home court all night long on the back of a lights out shooting performance from Carmelo Anthony.

Secondly, LA’s ‘Other Team’, the Clippers, lucked out and obtained the right to pick first in the eagerly anticipated NBA Draft.

Both events promised shocks and surprises and neither disappointed.

For the most part the Lakers were out played by a fired up Denver team who raced out to an early lead before the Lake Show’s bench dragged themselves back into it.

To be honest I’m not sure how Denver lost this game and George Karl’s face told the story at the final buzzer as his side ended the game 2 points down thanks to a Trevor Ariza steal, Kobe Bryant’s 4th quarter scoring outburst and Derek Fisher’s series of crucial big shots.

But lose they did and despite the hit that their playoff momentum took last night, at least the Nuggets know they can take this Laker team to the edge. A sweep this will not be.

The other half of LA joined the victory celebrations as the Clippers snatched the number 1 pick from the other hopefuls.

Hope for the re-birth of a long moribund franchise has been rekindled as the Clips won the Blake Griffin Sweepstakes.

The speculation now focuses on how the ‘Craziest Franchise in the League™’ can go about ruining the opportunity that chance has bestowed upon them.

It would not be a surprise to wake up and discover that the Clips had traded their first pick for a pack of magic beans. Or Tracy McGrady.

But, sanity prevailing, the Los Angeles Clippers will take Blake Griffin, adding character and ferocity in the paint.

The only other consensus top picks are center Hasheem Thabeet out of Connecticut and Ricky Rubio the Spanish wunderkind point guard.

Barring a spectacular workout by any other prospect, these two will go 2 and 3 with the Memphis Grizzlies likely to take Rubio second given his talent set and the apparent incompatibility of Thabeet with Marc Gasol.

Memphis promises to be a much improved team next year with a nice core of young, exciting players: Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, OJ Mayo. Now that is the definition of promise and potential.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will also rapidly improve after their 3rd pick likely takes the 7-3 Thabeet to bolster its front court with a shot blocking and athletic big man.

Based on starting point, the Thunder should become the new Portland, blessed with young players all of whom have tremendous upsides. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, the hugely underated Jeff Green and Hasheem Thabeet? Yes please.

Outside of Griffin, Rubio and Thabeet, the lottery gets vastly more difficult to call with teams reliant on workouts to determine their guy. However, the player snapping at the top 3 is surely Brandon Jennings, arguably the most exciting player in the draft.

An outstanding playmaker with a penchant for the flashy pass, the Compton native is the exact player that struggling teams need to fill arenas making it highly probable that he will be playing in Sacramento next year.

The League’s worst team slipped as low as they could in the Lottery, but the silver lining could be Jennings. A 6-1 point does not get the nickname ‘Young Money’ by chance. Dude is cash and promises much.

A year playing pro ball in Europe can only have given Jennings the experience that his draft colleagues lack. He is used to a demanding schedule, more practices, more travel.

Griffin may be solid and fierce. Rubio might possess great court vision. Thabeet might have a great upside. But, none of them can match the excitement that Jennings can, and will generate. My tip for fan favourite of the year.

Beyond that, the draft of 2009 is far from as deep as the past two years with GMs having to pray that they can uncover a diamond in the rough. Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans and James Harden will all look to impress and move up.

This class is open and the fact that nobody really knows who to take makes the build up to the big night itself almost as exciting as a Kobe/LeBron Finals. Ok, maybe not.

But it will be fun.

Do Be Do.