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

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.


Building an NBA Frankenstein

February 2, 2012

By Jack Maidment

I am a big comic book fan. Marvel, DC; I don’t care. If there are super powers and freaky scientific experiments a-happening I am there with lycra-clad bells on.

Every night we see unbelievable athletes in the NBA doing things with their bodies which 99.9% of the rest of us can only experience in the third person.

The average NBA player is an otherworldy specimen of humanity, but some of them are positively mutant. Freakish even.

Blake Griffin’s latest dunk got me thinking: If I was an evil genius (think more Dr Doom/Magneto than Kim Kardashian) hell bent on stealing the attributes of others to create my very own Deadpool, who would I want to pickpocket?

We are basically walking the Space Jam path. Come with me, position by position.

PG.

Fast don’t lie and my mutant has got to be fast. This was a tough decision, but I’m taking Derrick Rose’s Power Speed over Ty Lawson’s Jet Speed (Russell Westbrook was also in the mix too). I want a guy who has gears and nobody can change up and down like Rose.

SG.

Call it quickness or elusiveness, whatever, I want my guy to be slippery, and for that I am abducting Dwyane Wade. Nobody does Now-You-See-Me-Now-You-Don’t like Wade. If he was unavailable I would have no qualms about picking up Steve Nash or Manu Ginobli here.

SF.

Like there was any doubt which small forward I would be stealing from. Whatever LeBron James has I want for my player, but since I’m taking one thing per player, I’m taking LeBron’s mental toughness…. Just checking you were paying attention. I want no part of LeBron’s mental faculties, but I will gladly take his juggernaut-ness. It’s a word. And it roughly translates as wanting people to get the hell out of the way of my evil-genius player because they are scared he will trample them to death. Like this guy.

PF.

I want Blake’s legs and his elevation. As seen here. Here. And here. Best leaper in the game, and I am only stealing from the best.

C.

If this was the 1960s I am calling Wilt, inviting him to a Hollywood starlet’s party, then chloroforming him and stealing his physique but since Chamberlain is off the table, I’m taking Dwight Howard and his strength.

My mutant’s name? LeLake Wightrose

Got better?


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?


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.