Saturday, January 29, 2011

Contender

When Caron Butler went down with a knee injury it looked like any chance Dallas had of winning a championship this season went down with him.

But they went out and signed Peja Stojakovic this week.

Stojakovic is a better fit for Dallas than Butler and should keep Dallas right on track to contend for a title.

Having Dirk Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic on the same team is almost like cheating it is so unfair. And to think that a team with all that Dallas has isn't the favorite to win it all is mind blowing.

These are truly the glory days of the NBA.

Have you ever seen someone lose an entire game by himself?

Monta Ellis came about as close as you can come in a team sport last night against Charlotte.

With Golden State leading 98-90 with 1:30 to play Ellis failed to box out Gerald Henderson on three straight possessions.

Henderson's offensive rebounds resulted in a Gerald Wallace three-pointer, a Kwame Brown layup and a missed put-back by Henderson himself.

On the next possession, Ellis was called for a foul on a Stephen Jackson three-point attempt, costing his team three more points.

To top it off, Ellis missed a free throw with 15.9 seconds remaining which allowed Jackson to send the game into overtime when he banked in a three with .6 seconds left.

After the game, Golden State was wondering how they lost.

It's simple: They failed to execute the fundamentals.


THE BIG BAG OF CHIPS

Tim Duncan knows a thing or two about the fundamentals.

He'll be attempting to win his fifth championship this season, and you can put me squarely in the camp which says he's not going to be able to pull it off.

This isn't a knock on Duncan.

Tim Duncan is all of that and two bags of chips, but San Antonio is playing with fire by going into the playoffs with only one shot-blocker on the roster.

Duncan is blocking shots at a rate he hasn't achieved in years, 2 in 29.4 minutes. No other Spur averages more than .5.

Suppose Duncan gets two quick fouls in a Game 7 against Los Angeles or is in foul trouble the entire game.

It would completely destroy any hope San Antonio has of winning a title.

San Antonio should most definitely be in the market for another big man like Samuel Dalembert to help Tim Duncan make a run through the playoffs.

On the positive side for San Antonio, it is an odd-numbered year.


ROOKIES

Never count on a NBA coach to help you with your prediction.

Seeing how these guys operate, it's easy to understand how Phil Jackson has run circles around them for the past 20 years.

Most coaches in the NBA can't even identify the best players on their own team and put together a solid rotation, so how they think they are going to compete with a basketball genius is beyond me.

Some extremely talented rookies have barely gotten off the bench this year and have had their growth and development blockaded by coaches who for one reason or another refuse to play them.

Others cracked rotations weeks or months later than they should have.

Those who have played and gotten decent minutes are starting to show what they are made of, at least in some cases.

Evan Turner, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Paul George and Trevor Booker are all starting to show they belong.

Look out for the Rookie Challenge during All-Star Weekend. It may be the only chance you get to see some of these guys play.


THANKS FOR NOTHING

Jonny Flynn had his best game in his return from off-season hip surgery against the Clippers on January 19.

He had more assists and steals (and turnovers, but who's counting?) than he'd had all season and for the first time started to look like the player Minnesota drafted in 2009.

And what thanks did he get?

For the next two days he had to read how terrible he is. Michael Rand kicked off the bash-fest on Thursday, and Anthony Maggio and Patrick Donnelly put it into high gear on Friday.

Flynn played the first month of his comeback at about 80-85 percent and was not sharp from having missed all of training camp and the start of the season.

It's hard enough to compete in the NBA when you are 100 percent and on top of your game, so it's not very productive or useful to evaluate someone as he recovers from an injury.

Just ask Dirk Nowitzki.

He didn't have surgery or miss training camp or the start of the season, but look at how difficult it has been for him to regain his form after missing about three weeks with a knee injury.

And he's not the only one.

Kevin Garnett, David Lee and others have missed time this season and didn't exactly pick up where they left off when they returned.

Getting into the paint off the dribble is a major part of Flynn's game and is what will help turn Minnesota around when he finally gets healthy.

According to Hoopdata, Jonny Flynn attempted a shot at the rim every 7.8 minutes he played last season. Through the first 17 games of his comeback this season he averaged a shot at the rim every 41 minutes he played.

And 31.4 percent of Flynn's shot attempts came at the rim last season compared to 8 percent this season.

On the court, you can see that he's just not all the way back yet even though has gotten much better in recent games.

You'll know that Jonny Flynn is fully recovered when you see him driving into the paint to find open teammates and do things like this.

Note: Hoopdata keeps tracking all games, but the numbers used to calculate Flynn's shots at the rim this season are through his first 17 games only. The game against Los Angeles was his 18th.

Comment or e-mail: thenbaoutsider@yahoo.com

Saturday, January 22, 2011

MID-SEASON POWER POLL

I don't know how I came up with the idea to take only a few polls at key points during the season and use them as snapshots to see how the season developed, but it is turning out to be one of my best ever.

A lot has changed since the first power poll taken one month into the season, and a lot has stayed the same.

Miami was the biggest surprise of the first poll due to their poor play and weren't ranked in the top 10. Since then they have leaped all the way to the fourth-best record in the league and when healthy show no signs of slowing up.

The most impressive team at this point has to be the Chicago Bulls.

They have gone from number nine to number five and have done it while playing without Joakim Noah for the past month or so.

For the few games that Noah, Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer played together, they were as good and as entertaining as any team in the league.

And despite an East Coast trip where they were whipped a couple of times and should have lost to Indiana, San Antonio maintains its stranglehold on the best record in the NBA.

(1.) San Antonio (37-6)
(2.) Boston (33-9)
(3.) Los Angeles (32-13)
(4.) Miami (30-13)
(5.) Chicago (29-14)
(6.) Orlando (28-15)
(7.) Dallas (27-15)
(8.) Oklahoma City (27-15)
(9.) New Orleans (28-16)
(10.) Atlanta (28-16)


DRAFT LOTTERY POLL

The Los Angeles Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers are the two teams which have made the most improvement since early in the season.

Two months ago, they were one and two in the race for Harrison Barnes. Now they are eight and 10.

Houston has left the lottery poll entirely, and so has Charlotte, currently the seven seed in the East even at seven games below .500.

Cleveland appears to be the team taking this race to secure the No. 1 pick the most seriously.

They weren't ranked in the bottom 10 at all on the first power poll but have high-jumped all the way to the number one spot and secured the worst record in the NBA at this point by doing things like putting Jawad Williams into the rotation.

Winning the lottery may not bring them a LeBron James in return, but it doesn't look like that will stop them from trying anyway.

There is no longer agreement on who the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft will be. Harrison Barnes has fallen off the map and is no longer considered the favorite to be taken with the first pick.

Whoever the top pick might be, these are the teams with the best chance of nabbing him.

(1.) Cleveland (8-34)
(2.) Sacramento (9-32)
(3.) Minnesota (10-33)
(4.) New Jersey (12-31)
(5.) Washington (12-29)
(6.) Toronto (13-30)
(7.) Detroit (15-28)
(8.) Los Angeles (16-26)
(9.) Milwaukee (16-24)
(10.) Philadelphia (17-25)

Comment or e-mail: thenbaoutsider@yahoo.com

Monday, January 10, 2011

Follow-Up

This is sort of a follow-up to my "Inexact Science?" article.

There is so much to say on the matter that it couldn't all be covered in one sitting.

The draft is the where franchises are born, so the topic of why one player succeeds and another doesn't can never be talked about enough.


EVAN ALMIGHTY

Of all the rookies who I picked to do well this year, Evan Turner is the one who gave me the most concern thanks to his slow start to the season.

It wasn't a great deal of concern, but there was a slight amount of worry about how good Evan Turner would be and how long it might take him to get there.

But it looks like the kid is going to be alright.

He had his breakout performance in a win at Phoenix, scoring a career-high 23 points on 9-12 shooting.

I saw his next game at the Lakers, and he looked like a completely different player than he did early in the season.

He had learned more of the offense, so he was fully involved in plays instead of just camping out in a corner and watching things happen.

He was more comfortable making moves and more assertive taking shots, not to mention the high basketball IQ.

And he showed better passing skills, like he has adjusted to his teammates, the playbook and the speed of the game.

On the other end of the court, Turner is showing himself to be an outstanding defensive player.

From what I saw (might have missed a play or two channel surfing), Turner wasn't beaten off the dribble one time by anyone he defended in his 35 minutes on the court.

And he guarded players from Shannon Brown and Steve Blake to Kobe Bryant.

He did allow Bryant to hit about four clutch shots on him in the final minutes to close out the game with a win for Los Angeles, but all were mid-range jumpers where Turner could have done a much better job of jumping to contest Bryant's shot.

To go with his 12 points, Turner had six rebounds, four assists and three steals; and Philadelphia barely lost the game.

All things considered, it was a pretty good performance against Bryant and the Lakers.

Andre Iguodala didn't play in the game, continuing a worrisome trend where Turner plays best when Iguodala isn't on the court.


LATE BLOOMERS

In honor of Evan Turner and all of the other rookies who have started slowly this season, I decided to put together a short list of people who had or are having great careers which didn't exactly get off to sizzling starts.

More than anything, this is to provide some perspective and stop fans from freaking out fewer than 20 games into a rookie's career.

Although we all remember John Stockton as the man who led Utah to the Finals against Chicago in 1997 and 1998 and as the all-time assist leader, he didn't become a full-time starter until his fourth year in the league.

He did average 8.2 assists and 2.2 steals in 22.7 minutes in year three but only 7.9 points, a career high at that time.

Speaking of 7.9 points, that is exactly what Scottie Pippen averaged in his rookie season.

He didn't start a single game and shot .174 from three-point range. Pippen was the No. 5 pick in the 1987 draft.

Gary Payton was talked about in the "Inexact Science?" article. The fans were probably ready to run him out of town after his first two years.

I think he turned out alright.

Dirk Nowitzki started half of the time during his rookie season and averaged a measly 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game and shot .206 on three-pointers.

He played 20.4 minutes per game.

Nowitzki didn't crack the 20-point barrier until his third year and didn't average 25 points until his fifth season.

After his first year in the league, I'm sure someone who will never admit it was calling him a bust.

And Dwight Howard didn't light up the sky as a rookie either.

Fans in Orlando probably didn't set off any fireworks when he lost out to Emeka Okafor for Rookie of the Year.

Howard averaged 6.5 defensive rebounds per game as a rookie and .9 assists.

And it wasn't until his fourth season that he reached 20 points per game and became the player we know today.

While it is nice and comforting to have rookies who come in and dominate right away, it is not time to panic when they don't.

Everyone can't be like Mike.

And just because a player isn't Mike doesn't necessarily mean that he is Sam.

It could just be that he is Scottie.

Comment or e-mail: thenbaoutsider@yahoo.com

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Inexact Science?

Why The Draft Often Seems Like A Crapshoot

Whenever a basketball player turns out to be better or worse than expected, people immediately credit or blame the team's general manager.

It is rarely that simple.

The general manager, or other person with the same duties using a different title, of a basketball team isn't solely responsible for the decision to select a given player.

They receive input from their scouting departments and their coaching staffs to help make the best choice possible.

Without knowing the inner workings of each individual team, it is impossible to know exactly who had the most influence or who should receive the credit or blame for a particular draft pick.

So firing the general manager probably won't fix the drafting problem for a team whose scouts and coaches were the ones who gave him the bad advice which he followed.

And the decision to draft someone is only the first step of what will be a long process in determining the player's future.

While players like Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan come in and set the league on fire from day one, most draft picks take time.

They have to be developed and taught the skills they need to succeed in the NBA.

And not all picks will be great in every situation.

Even some great players need the right system, the right coaching staff and the right teammates to reach their ultimate potential.

In determining the who and what of a player's career, there are many things to consider other than the general manager and his ability to evaluate talent.


THE COACHING STAFF

NBA coaching staffs have directors of player development and other assistant coaches who work with players to develop their games.

Tracy McGrady credits Johnny Davis with helping him become one of the game's finest players when the two were together in Orlando, Davis as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers.

And it was Keith Askins who worked with Dorell Wright in Miami (3:27).

Assistant coaches work with players on a daily basis, practicing, sharing knowledge and giving insight into the game.

They are a huge part of draft-day success.

Getting the most out of a selection could be a matter of bringing in the right assistant coach to work with him and sharpen his skills and get him ready for battle in the NBA.


THE COACH

The coach gives a player confidence by showing he believes in him, puts in the right system for him based on what he does best and gives him the right role within that system to maximize his ability.

This is an extreme example, but what if Pat Riley had tried to use Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the point man on his fast break for the Showtime Lakers?

Needless to say, it wouldn't have worked. But you see teams do this all the time in much less-extreme cases.

Gary Payton is the best example of a great player who needed a coaching change to become the best he could be.

As the No. 2 pick in the 1990 draft, Payton struggled during his first two years in the league.

Then Seattle hired George Karl.

Under George Karl, Gary Payton became one of the greatest players in NBA history.

Payton describes what happened in his own words in this interview (:45).


THE VETERANS

The veterans on a team play a huge role in the success of a draft pick.

Charles Barkley often talks about how Moses Malone helped him early in his career in Philadelphia.

But not all veterans are as helpful as Malone was with Barkley.

Some may see the rookie as competition and not want to help at all, and others may try to help but may not have the insight to be very useful.

A team's veterans also show the draft pick what the league is all about.

And selfish teammates who don't work hard, party after losses and only talk about getting paid could definitely lead a young player in the wrong direction.

On top of that, for whatever reason some teammates just don't play well together, no matter how talented they are.

Trades may be required to bring in others who will play better with a young star to get him to reach his potential.


THE INNER DRIVE

The determination to be great is the one thing which will carry a draft pick further than anything else.

But whether or not he will sustain that drive over the course of a long career is anybody's guess.

You can interview his parents and his high school and college coaches and do any amount of research you desire, but this will never be more than an educated guess.

Players with skills who work hard would seem to be the ones most likely to succeed in the NBA, and this may be where teams make the biggest mistakes, picking players who either have skills or work hard but not both.

And never underestimate basketball IQ.

Gilbert Arenas is one of the greatest examples ever of someone whose drive to be great (:45 and 4:25) carried him further than his status as a second-round pick.

Whenever you see a player performing at a high level, you can almost guarantee that he got there with an unmatched desire and will to be the best.


THE WILD CARD

It has been mentioned many times before that the biggest wild card in all of this is what a person is going to do after he receives a check for $1 million.

Will he continue to be the first one to practice and the last one to leave? Or will he start making it rain on strippers at naked dance clubs?

It is a cliche in all of sports that players will play their best during the years that their contracts are set to expire and make them free agents.

This is yet another gigantic factor in a draft pick's success and another which is completely out of the hands of the general manager.

This too can only ever be an educated guess at best.

And all things considered, it makes you understand how difficult this entire drafting process can be.

Science can never be inexact. That is why it is called science.

In looking at the effort to have draft picks reach their maximum potential, it simply appears that not enough variables are being considered.

Comment or e-mail: thenbaoutsider@yahoo.com