Starting Five: The week’s best NBA players

February 1, 2012

By Jack Maidment

The Week’s Best

@Derrick Rose. His Bulls may have lost, but my goodness did the MVP earn his pay cheque against the Miami Heat last Sunday. The numbers (34-6-6) don’t do him or his importance to Chicago justice. Nor do they tell you how hard he had to work to get them, hitting all manner of bankers and floaters and generally dominating the paint.

His performance against Miami was far from a one-off surge either as he has at least 34 points in each of his last three games (two wins and a loss). Rose is better than last year and last year he was the best in the league. Math.

@Deron Williams. I feel sorry for Deron. He has nobody to play with on the Nets and the likelihood of help this season is looking remote. That said, at least he is making the most of the situation by padding his stats and putting on one hell of an audition for all of next year’s free agents.

‘Come play with me! Look what I can do with these scrubs! Imagine what I can do with someone who has a pulse!’ Winning more than one game in a row may be starting to feel like a forgotten memory for the former Jazz point guard, but he is getting his. 34-7, 24-6 and 27-10 in his last three. And that’s with Johan Petro on the floor.

@Anderson Varejao. Yes, he is overpaid. And yes, his hair is ridiculous. But the Brazilian All-NBA energy guy is still going to be drawing furtive glances from contenders across the league. His game (90% energy, 10% grit and determination) is tailor made for a good team, wasted on a bad one.

And you better believe the Cavaliers are a bad team. They are no Charlotte Bobcats, but still. Varejao submitted two great ‘come get me!’ games against Boston this week, recording his first ever 20-20 in one of them. Only problem is his contract, otherwise he’d be else where by now.

@LeBron James. He was here last week and to be honest his play of late has made me convert fully and with total conviction to the Church of LeBron. I don’t care if The Decision was a terrible idea anymore. I don’t care that he doesn’t shoot so well in the fourth quarter. I care about how he makes his teammates better, how he runs the floor like a hot-pokered rhino and finishes at the rim like he’s half-man half-Mjolnir.

I care that he is submitting one of the greatest seasons by anyone ever (29-8-7). I care that LeBron makes basketball unbelievably fun to watch. Three wins in a row this week and James was imperious in all of them.

@Brandon Rush. Wildcard! Yes. Good times. Rush is leading the NBA in 3pt% coming off the bench for the Golden State Warriors (just in case you didn’t know where he was). He is chipping in almost 10 points a game, but more than that he makes the Warriors’ second unit go. You need to see the crowd reaction when he enters the game. It is unbelievable. Brandon Rush. Who knew?

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NBA Rookie Ratings: Williams joins Rubio

January 28, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Straight to the League’s Week 3 NBA Rookie Ratings. Let’s get it.

1. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves. As of next week these rankings will probably be renamed the Ricky Rubio Ratings. Or something similar but a bit snappier. Third week, third top spot, and the scary thing for all the other rookies in the league is that he is statistically better and visibly more comfortable than last week. The Wolves have won their last two since resigning Kevin Love and Rubio was instrumental in both.

Against the Dallas Mavericks Rubio played 46 minutes and poured in 17 points, 7 rebounds, 12 assists (!) and 4 steals. Two nights later against the San Antonio Spurs he had 18-10. He is really good. What more can you say.

2. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons. I have to confess I didn’t think I would be writing about Knight in this column. No knock on the Kentucky man, more about how I feel about the Pistons and their surplus of guards – hardly a great situation for a rookie point guard.

But Knight has pushed his way to the top of the rotation, playing at least 33 minutes in each of his last three and Knight has made the most of the court time with some excellent performances in three Piston losses this week. His best showing was a 42 minute effort against the Atlanta Hawks where he had 20-5-8 and zero turnovers.

He deserves the number two spot in the ratings. (MarShon Brooks who was second last week injured his Achilles’ this week, hence the no show).

3. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats. Charlotte are probably the least watchable team in the NBA right now but Kemba Walker is doing his best to make their play more palatable. His minutes are gradually going up and he is trying to make the best of the situation. The problem for Walker is the lack of talent that surrounds him.

That’s why his assist numbers are low and his field goal % isn’t exactly swell. But still. Considering where he is and who he is with and the fact he’s not going to be on the winning team too often this year, he is doing a sterling job. Up two.

4. Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves. To clarify: I am not a Timberwolves fan. I just think Rubio is great and Williams has had a good week. Ok? Good. Now stop rolling your eyes. Truth be told Williams doesn’t get too many minutes because of all the wings in Minnesota but when he has got in this week he has done well.

He has at least 10 points in his last three games with a handful of rebounds and he does a great job off the bench. What I will say is there is no way Williams is a small forward. No way. Which raises questions down the road what with Kevin Love now locked up. Even so, fourth in the ratings is a good start. Let’s Go Wolves. Wait. What?

5. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie dropped to fourth last week and he slips a little more after a tough stretch for his Cavaliers. He is in a similar situation to Kemba Walker in that if he doesn’t do it for his team it isn’t getting done. Irving had a typical atypical week. Typical in that he has been inconsistent, as many rookies are prone to be, but atypical in the huge difference between his best game and his worst.

The best: 32-6-2 with one turnover against New Jersey. The worst: a 1-7 shooting night against the Knicks. Boom and bust. I wrote last week I don’t see Kyrie dropping out of the top 5 and despite a tough week for him, I stand by that.

Sneakers and Creepers: Chandler Parsons.

Drop Outs: Iman Shumpert. New York’s poor play finally caught up with their versatile rookie.

Last week:

  1. Ricky Rubio
  2. MarShon Brooks
  3. Iman Shumpert
  4. Kyrie Irving
  5. Kemba Walker

Sneakers and Creepers: Kahwi Leonard.


The Art of the Miami Heat

January 28, 2012

By Jack Maidment

I cannot stand people who are addicted to their cameras. If I go the aquarium I don’t want you in my face taking pictures. If I’m drinking at the club I don’t want you bothering me for a snap.

Why can’t people just enjoy the now, the real thing, instead of interrupting the moment to create a pale imitation?

Why take a picture of a Lichtenstein original when you can take in its genius with your own eyes in the present?

The same can be applied to sports.

Basketball is such a unique blend of power and poetry that the game can explode into life at any moment. Why miss the explosion or interrupt the oh-shit-this-is-about-to-happen feeling trying to grab a photo?

I just don’t understand it. Watch the game.

The Miami Heat are the reason I bring this up.

They beat the New York Knicks last night 99-89 and they put on a show so exciting it was enough to shake me from my severe dislike of The Decision. No mean feat.

The first quarter was an absolute dunkfest and the entire game was one long highlight reel.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had five dunks each, running the floor and punishing the Knicks for every sloppy turnover.

Two especially stood out.

1.LeBron James dribbles his way down court off a Knick miss, backing into the paint with Bill Walker trying to guard him. LeBron feints slightly to his left shoulder as if looking for the turnaround jumper before powering to his right as the Knicks clear out. One dribble, two steps and LeBron elevates off his left foot before powering the ball through the hoop with his right hand, the wrong hand.

2. Wade receives the outlet pass off another New York miss just before half court on the near side. Two Knicks race back and Landry Fields meets Wade at the three point line. Wade takes one dribble before executing a perfect euro step, evading Fields, and elevates, jams. No other guard in the league is physically able do this. When you thought he would reach his ceiling and have to lay it up Wade carried on rising. Unbelievable.

Why the hell would you want to miss this?

(For the record I love photography, especially Ansell Adams and Weegee. Check them out.)


NBA Superstar League: Durant by a distance

January 27, 2012

By Jack Maidment

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.

Let’s get to it.

Week 3.

1. Kevin Durant: NOH, DET, NJN. It was only a matter of time before Durantula made it to the top of the NBA Superstar League (5th last week). His Oklahoma City Thunder have won their last three and have the NBA’s best record at 15-3. KD had games of 25-7-4, 20-5-2 and 20-15-3 this week and he is the main reason OKC is looking like the best bet to come out of the West.

2. Kevin Love: DAL, HOU, UTA. New contract, same player. Nobody in the league is doing more to help his team win than Love who is top five in both rebounding and scoring. The Wolves did lose twice this week (Houston, Utah) but that’s to be expected. They are young and going through the same learning-to-win process experienced by the Oklahoma City Thunder two years ago. More than that they downed the champs in Dallas behind 31-10 from Love who was 4-6 from three. Can he do anything more?

3. LeBron James: DET, CLE, MIL. He was number one last week and he has continued his strong play in the absence of Dwyane Wade. Two wins and a loss to Milwaukee (urgh), but good James games them all. In each he had at least 5 assists as he sought to set the table for the whole team. He is a joy to watch at the moment. The question is, will things change when Flash returns?

4. Derrick Rose: IND, NJN, TOR. Rose was effectively exempt from the Superstar League last week due to injury but he has come back strong after two wins and a loss, all without Luol Deng who has caught the prevalent Bulls injury bug. Yes the wins were against bad teams (Nets, Raptors) but you can only play who is in front of you. Rose has Chicago tops in the East with a 16-4 overall record, 8-2 in their last 10. For the Bulls to carry on with that pace without Deng it will mean Rose giving even more for the cause. And he will. Rise.

5. LaMarcus Aldridge: GSW, MEM, SAC. The Blazers are slumping a little of late, 4-6 last 10, and LA has struggled with consistency but two wins and a loss this week should help steady the ship.

6. Kobe Bryant: LAC, IND, ORL. KB24 fell from 1st to 7th last week as the Lakers struggled to score. They are the league’s third best defense according to the numbers but the other end of the floor has been a problem, especially for the bench where production has been virtually non-existent. However, the Lakers snapped their skid on Wednesday night with a marquee win in a chippy game against the Clippers. Kobe threw the ball away 7 times but was successful in sharing the ball, especially early on, dishing 6 assists to go with his 24 points. He stays put, give or take one or two.

7. Chris Paul: MEM, LAL. CP3 has only just returned from a hamstring injury and this week we learned he doesn’t like people touching his head. Aside from that Paul gave us a demonstration of how to control a game by passing with his 4 points 12 assists against the Lakers. He drops but fitness and lack of activity is mainly responsible.

8. Dwight Howard: BOS, IND, BOS. Dwight Howard had a bad week with two awful losses against the Celtics, begging the question: is the trade speculation (this week the Knicks) getting to Dwight? Probably not. It’s more about the team he’s on and the relative lack of help he receives. If he doesn’t do it, who else will? The Celtics embarrassed the Magic and Howard twice this week. Good enough for a four place drop.

9. Carmelo Anthony: CLE, CHA, DEN. Uh-oh. 17 games into the season and there are already calls for the Knicks to blow up the roster and trade one of their stars. Carmelo was bottom of the Superstar League last week and he deserves to be there this week too. In their last 8 games, the Knicks have won 1, lost 7, the lone victory coming against the Charlotte Bobcats. Melo scored 1 point. Man. If he could be lower than 9th he would be.

10. Dirk Nowitzki. Has not played in almost 10 days due to injury and a terrible haircut, hence the fall.


Starting Five: The week’s best NBA players

January 25, 2012

By Jack Maidment

The Week’s Best

@LeBron James. On January 19th the Miami Heat faced off on national television for a much-hyped match up with Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James used the sizeable spotlight to remind everyone just what it means to be the best basketball player in the world.

The Heat didn’t have Wade, but it’s not like anyone noticed as LeBron played the most complete game of the season. He had 31 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. He scored, he made his teammates better, he impacted the game defensively, he made Kobe look old. In short, he did everything. Follow that with 2 out of 3 wins this week and LeBron has served a reminder to the rest of the NBA: The king isn’t back, he never left.

@Chandler Parsons. Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets GM once said whoever invented the box score should be shot; there is more to basketball than points, rebounds and assists. Chandler Parsons, the 38th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, is doing a good job of making Morey’s point for him.

The forward out of Florida has stolen the starting small forward for the Rockets after one month in the league which is quite an achievement for a guy so under-the-radar he doesn’t even have a profile photo on the NBA website at the moment.

It is easy to see why he is enjoying early success because his energy level and I’m-going-to-make-a-play determination scream at you every time he plays. Need an offensive rebound? Parsons is crashing the boards like a mad man. Need a loose ball? Parsons doesn’t mind flinging his body around for the team. Need a steal down the stretch? Parsons. You get the idea.

If you want some help deciding who to watch on League Pass this week, I urge you to check out Minnesota-Houston. You will see what I mean.

@Rudy Gay. There is a phrase spoken often in the NFL: ‘Next Man Up’. It’s the title of a rather wonderful book and speaks to the need for other guys to fill in when their teammates go down. Rudy Gay has read this book.

After missing the playoffs last year due to injury and watching Zach Randolph power the Memphis Grizzlies to the brink in the second round, Gay is looking to return the favour as Z-Bo sits out after suffering a serious knee injury.

Gay has been the Next Man Up and the team has looked to him to be The Man. He has gladly accepted.

In the two games the Grizzlies won this week Gay was huge. His 23-9-4 and 5 stocks against the Warriors almost qualifies as art. In the game they lost against a good Portland team Gay was a little quieter and Memphis struggled. They go as Gay goes and because of that they should be just fine.

@Kyle Lowry. Kevin Martin. I know choosing two in the same slot is cheating, but given the Houston Rockets win by committee I figure their backcourt can count as one in the Starting Five. Before you say it (Three Rockets in one Starting Five?!), just hush.

This past week no team has been better than Houston and that’s official. The team with no star players is on a seven game winning streak and much of their success can be attributed to Lowry and Martin.

Lowry (hovering around triple double in his last three games) has been a revelation setting the table for everything the Rockets do, while Martin has accepted his role as the Rockets number one scorer. They both deserve to be here.

@Danilo Gallinari. The Denver Nuggets are 12-5, have won four in a row and are currently second in the Western Conference. They are another team winning by committee (like Houston and Indiana) but Gallinari is their best player. He had 37-11 against the Knicks in his last game and the night before put up 21-4-5 against the Wizards.


NBA Rookie Ratings: Rubio remains, Brooks rises

January 21, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Straight to the League’s Week 2 NBA Rookie Ratings. Enjoy.

1. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves. On Friday against the Clippers Rubio missed his first 10 shots before hitting a game tying three pointer to set up Kevin Love’s buzzer beater for a Wolves’ win.

He shot the corner three in front of the LA bench without any hesitation, despite his struggles from the floor. He still had 9-6-6 in 32 minutes as well as three steals and a block. The game proved that even when the Spaniard’s shot isn’t falling he can contribute and get it done in other ways.

As a result of his versatility Minnesota is enjoying a three game winning streak and escaping the NBA’s basement for the first time in what seems like an age. He was on top of the Rookie Ratings last week and he deserves to stay there.

2. MarShon Brooks. New Jersey Nets. Brooks continues to shoot the ball well for a truly awful Nets team. Last week he was 4th in the Ratings but his play has warranted a two spot jump.

He is averaging 15 points a game as well as four rebounds and a couple of assists but he has upped his performance on the glass this past week grabbing about 8 boards a game in his last three. In a win over the Golden State Warriors Brooks had 22-8-6, a glimpse of what he should become. He looks to be one of the steals of the draft.

3. Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks. It’s not Shumpert’s fault he plays for a schizophrenic Knicks team. One week they are ripping off a five game winning streak then they lose their next five. Iman is down one in the Ratings this week due to a little inconsistency; his play has mirrored that of his up and down team. It will be interesting to see how the rookie’s production changes when Baron Davis returns.

4. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers. Down one this week after a monumental beat down by the Chicago Bulls who played without Derrick Rose on Friday night. Even so, the #1 pick has continued to figure the NBA out and his leadership and on floor production this week are testament to that.

Aside from the débâcle in Chicago where things got ugly early (not Irving’s fault) he played two solid games against the Warriors (a loss, but 18-5-8) and the Bobcats (a win, 25-4-7). He is going to be in the mix in the NBA Rookie Ratings all year. I don’t see him dropping out.

5. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats. Man the Bobcats suck, but at least they have started giving Kemba some serious minutes. As a result the Uconn guard has cracked the top five of the Ratings for the first time, as well as injecting some life and excitement into a moribund franchise. He has scored at least 14 in his last three, including 23 in a win over the Warriors.

Sneakers and Creepers: Kahwi Leonard.

Last week:

  1. Ricky Rubio
  2. Iman Shumpert
  3. Kyrie Irving
  4. MarShon Brooks
  5. Norris Cole

Sneakers and Creepers: Markieff Morris, Jon Leuer.

 


NBA Superstar League: LeBron James surging

January 20, 2012

By Jack Maidment

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.

Let’s get to it.

Week 2.

1. LeBron James: LAL, SAS, DEN. No Wade, no worries for King James this week who has upped his production in just about every category in the absence of The Flash. Last week he was dead last in the Superstar League after suffering from the line and losing two games. But this week he has been back to his best, grabbing two wins out of three tough games, averaging more than 30 points each night as well as a handful of other statistical goodness. Anything and everything the Heat needed he has delivered. From last to first.

2. Kevin Love: DET, SAC, ATL. The double-double machine is on the rise (he was 9th last week) and so are the Wolves who are finally remembering/learning what winning in the NBA means. Two wins in the last three against admittedly not great teams, but a win is a win and all that. He has had 30-13, 33-11 and 20-17 in the last week and he is pretty much a lock for the All-Star game. Join the Love Train while there is room.

3. Chris Paul: LAL. Has only played once this week due to injury but the game he played against the Lakers was an absolute masterpiece. He controlled the game and scored almost at will powering the Clippers to a big time win. 33-4-6 with just one turnover in a rivalry game? Good for a rise I think. Up one.

4. Dwight Howard: SAS, CHA, NYK. He was third last week after racking up three wins. Not quite so good this week with two wins and a loss to the Spurs, but still, he is winning games for a bad Magic team. No fireworks this week, but solid.

5. Kevin Durant: WAS, BOS, NYK. Two wins against two teams struggling for an identity and a loss to a team just, well, struggling, is not good enough to keep Durant in second place this week. You can’t lose to Washington and stay that high, not matter how many points you score.

6. LaMarcus Aldridge: ATL, NOH, HOU. Last week LA was in at 7th and he is probably good for about the same this week. His play is solid without being stellar with his Blazers suffering two losses in the last three. He has put up about 22-10 the past week but if Portland is going to make the leap with Aldridge as the man they probably need a little bit more from him. Not masses, but at least a little.

7. Kobe Bryant: MIA, DAL, LAC. Kobe was number one last week after scoring more than 100 points in three games and powering the Lakers to three wins, but it looks like the schedule has caught up with the mamba who is still playing well, but not like the man possessed he was last week. The teams he faced this week were all tough but two losses is not going to sit well with Kobe, especially against the noisy neighbours and the Heat. Down.

8. Dirk Nowitzki: UTA, LAC, LAL. He was in sixth last week after winning three in a row but not playing particularly well, but the Mavericks lost twice in Los Angeles this week, once against the Lakers and once against the Clippers. His play has continued to be sporadic and he put up just 12 points against the Utah Jazz in a win. Drops.

9. Carmelo Anthony: PHX, ORL, MEM. Three losses and Melo has been bad in all of them, struggling from the floor in the wake of injury troubles. The Knicks just are not playing well right now. Down 1.

10. Derrick Rose: Day to day with a left toe sprain and has not taken the floor since a gritty win over the Raptors on January 14. He is down, but he will be back.