Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Week In Basketball

The Miami Heat signed point guard Mike Bibby this week after he was let go by the Washington Wizards.

It was a great signing by Miami, and they should definitely look to make it long term by keeping Bibby beyond this season.

Although he should have known way better than to go double-team and leave Gilbert Arenas open behind the three-point line, reports of Bibby's defensive demise have been greatly exaggerated.

And we all know what he brings on the offensive end with his execution and big-shot making.

Contrary to reported expectations, Bibby has been an upgrade on both ends of the court for Miami and significantly increases their chances of going all the way this season.

Last week I wrote that Boston was the "clear" favorite in the East.

Boston would still be considered the favorite, but the addition of Mike Bibby by the Miami Heat brings it a lot closer to 50/50 and makes it not nearly as clear as it was just seven days ago.

Before the season, I was one of the very few not on the Oklahoma City bandwagon. It was noted that while the bandwagon was huge and had many guests and visitors, I was not one of them.

Now that they have traded for Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed and are playing the right players at the right positions (you know, no more small forwards at power forward), Oklahoma City has moved itself into the conversation as a legitimate contender.

Russell Westbrook is the key to this whole thing.

He can't go charging into the crowded paint at 200 miles per hour or commit other costly turnovers in the closing minutes of close games. Westbrook has to learn to play the game at different speeds and not play with reckless abandon at all times, particularly when a good play call is what is needed.

Westbrook mastering the fast game (open court) and the slow game (half court) gives Oklahoma City its best chance of being a serious threat to the other top teams in the NBA.

I'm still not buying Thabo Sefolosha as a starter on a championship team, but Nate Robinson, James Harden or Daequan Cook may be able to provide them with what they need from the shooting guard position.


The story of Chauncey Billups is one of the most amazing stories ever.

Born out of the ashes of Boston's failed attempt to land Tim Duncan and fortified on one of the most unsung championship teams in recent memory, Chauncey Billups has probably seen it all in his career.

And over the course of his career, he has earned his respect as one of the best point guards in the NBA.

Even 10 years into his career, you would have found me among his harshest critics. Chauncey Billups just didn't play point guard the way I had come to expect it to be played.

I grew up on Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Rod Strickland, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Johnson.

And Billups just didn't fit the mold.

He didn't push the tempo. He didn't have eyes in the back of his head. He didn't make passes which made you wonder how he saw the guy open. He didn't cross people up and make them look silly with his dribbling skills. And he didn't drive into the paint and finish over bigger players with an infinite variety of highly-creative layups.

How is this guy even a point guard? And why is he in the NBA?

Rick Pitino must have wondered the same thing because 51 games into Billups' rookie season, Pitino shipped him off to Toronto in a trade.

That trade kicked off a sequence which would see Billups traded three times in two years and eventually end up in Minnesota, where he signed as a free agent in 2000.

While he started to put things together in Minnesota, it wasn't until his next stop in Detroit that Billups' career really took off.

Playing with an unheralded group that it seemed no one else wanted, Billups won a championship with Detroit in 2004.

He led Detroit to the conference finals every season, but after losing there three years in a row, he was traded once again and ended up in Denver, where it looked like he would finish his career playing for his hometown team, that is, until the Knicks called and wanted to include Billups in a deal to send Carmelo Anthony to New York.

Now a Knick, Billups continues his journey through the NBA and has taken on the role of mentor to some of the younger point guards in the league, as described by Mike Breen during Billups' debut with New York against Milwuakee.

He has much to share because over the years, Billups has picked up the attributes which make a great point guard and managed to add at least one of his own.

He had his ups and downs early, but numerous big shots and big wins later, Billups is still going strong.

He may not be Tim Duncan, but he is Chauncey Billups.

And he has shown repeatedly that is more than good enough.


Is it just me, or do big guys seem to play better after they have gotten a few touches?

Andrew Bynum is much better after he gets a few touches, and I swear it looks like there are two Andris Biedrinses out there after he gets the ball a few times.

The same could be said of defensive players.

Dennis Rodman retired years ago, and Joel Anthony is only allowed to play for the Miami Heat. They are two of the few players who don't mind playing without someone passing them the basketball.

Without one of them, a team is going to have to share the ball with its big man in order to get the most out of him.

In a way, you can understand where they are coming from.

Who wants to run around all day and never touch the basketball? And for a big man who works hard to establish good post position, only to be ignored again and again, this can be even more frustrating.

A point can be made that if big men want touches they should hustle for loose balls and offensive rebounds and get them that way, and that is a good point.

At the same time, what would it hurt passing the ball to the big guy every now and then, even if it's only once every five possessions or so, especially when you know it is going to energize him?

It may be inconvenient, and yes, most of them can't do anything with it once they get it; but every once in a while you have to throw these guys a bone just to keep them involved and let them know they are part of the team.

And to make sure they protect the paint when someone drives down the lane.

When teams look out for their big men, their big men look out for them.


I have to give credit here to someone I've been reading who has really helped me see the game better.

Jonathan Tjarks and his material have gone a long way in keeping me sharp and on top of things.

I may not agree with everything he writes, or even a majority of it; but it is interesting and often insightful.

Here is the breakdown of what I've been reading and thinking over:

(1.) Colin Cowherd was the first person I heard do this when he went over Kobe Bryant's career in between Shaquille O'Neal leaving and Pau Gasol arriving. It wasn't a pretty sight. So Tjarks' emphasis on outstanding big men and their importance to winning championships was more food for thought on the subject.

(2.) I always watch defense, but Tjarks using the phrase "defend his position" or "defend a position" made me look more closely at how someone specifically matches up at the position he plays and focus more on particular matchups.

(3.) While I don't agree with his overall argument about Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash and why their careers took off after they were separated, it does make me pay close attention when two or more poor defenders are on the floor at the same time and what impact it has on the game.

(4.) And his take on big men who can pass and little men who can rebound was something else to think about (see 4 and 5 in the five-tool player), just an interesting way to see things that I have never really thought about.

Note: I first discovered Tjarks on a link posted by Zach Lowe at SI.

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