December 17, 2008

NBA Notes...

I thought it might be fun to go back and check in on my 10 preseason storylines in the NBA as the season is just about a third of the way over and a clear pecking order has been established in both conferences. I've also got some thoughts on some other happenings around the league. But before I go any further, let me preface by saying that these notes are scratched together from little more than box scores, Sportscenter highlights and columns and chats. I'm embarrassed at how little of actual game action I've seen from the Association so far this year. Of the Big 3 teams, I've seen the Cavs a few times, the Celtics once or twice, and the Lakers once. I should be writing this column on supply chain management or vertical integration, given that's what my days are consumed with. Anyway, on we go...

1. Can LeBron make 'the Leap'?

Ummm....YES. Ok, so his per game averages are down, but have you looked at the Cavs record? Cleveland is 20-4 with an undefeated mark of 13-0 at home. They have been absolutely massacring teams, and James minutes are at a ridiculously low 35 per game. His points, rebounds and assists per 40 minutes are all actually up, a true indicator of how valuable he has been. With Mo Williams on the roster, they are a totally different team. As if things couldn't get any better for Cleveland, they have Wally Sczerbiak's Expiring Contract to play around with at the trade deadline if necessary.

2. Do the Celtics have the motivation?

Let's just say I missed the boat on this one. They are off to the best start in NBA history. Yeah, I think we can safely assume they are motivated. If David Stern just canceled the rest of the Eastern Conference season and declared a Cavs-Celtics conference finals right now, would anyone even complain. Even the folks in Atlanta, Orlando and Detroit have to recognize how vastly inferior their teams are to those two.

3. Are the Lakers the team to beat?

Yes. At least out West. They have separated themselves from the pack as of today. Kobe is scoring less, Odom accepted (for now) the demotion to 6th man, and their role players (Farmar, Ariza, Vujacic) have been playing well. I stand by my prediction that the Lakers will not make it to the Finals though.

4. Dwyane Wade is back!

Hey, for as wrong as I was about the Celtics, I was right about this one. Although anyone who watched the Olympics could see that Wade was about to have a monster season, as long as he stayed healthy. He's leading the league in scoring, 2nd in steals, and 9th in assists. I'd say that's pretty good. Which leads us to...

5. The Surprise teams of 2008?

I'm batting .666 for this one. Wade has the Heat at .500 and in the playoff chase at the moment with a sorry cast of characters around him. Meanwhile, Mike Dantoni has the Knicks at 11-14 and at least in the hunt for a playoff spot in the East. At the very least, they play a fun style of basketball that has rejuvenated the Knicks. Although the trade of Zach Randolph has also led to my least favorite development of the season - the Lebron '10 Watch. Can we just enjoy what he is doing right now instead of trying to read the tea leaves of what he will decide in two years. ANYTHING that is floated out there by ESPN reporters or whoever else is pure speculation and rumor. Enough already.

As for my last sleeper team, the T-Wolves, they've already fired the coach and currently are 4-20 ahead of only the woeful Thunder. And it appears they have totally botched their last however many drafts:
-Rashad McCants - 10 points a game on 35% shooting. Ugh.
- Randy Foye - 13 points a game on 38% shooting, 25% from 3. Ugh
- Corey Brewer - 6 points a game on 41% shooting. Ugh. You've got to be able to shoot in the NBA. And Corey Brewer never could shoot.
- Kevin Love - 8 points a game on 40% shooting. 40% for a big man is like 30% for a guard. Not good.

6. The Young Guns

Greg Oden is putting up Erick Dampier numbers. Actually more like Joel Pryzbilla numbers, but we'll give him a little while before we make any decisions. The one guy who I am starting to have my doubts about...Kevin Durant. What does that guy do to make his team any better? I picked a bad time to write negatively about him, since he has just gone off for 41 and 28 the past two nights. But he's 6'9 and pulling down 5 boards a game. That's hard to do. I'm just a little worried that he may be entering Shareef Abdur-Rahim territory soon. I know the Thunder are bad, but no NBA team should ever be 2-20.

As for other rookies, Derrick Rose is a star. OJ Mayo is really good, which I had a hunch about. He's already averaging 20 ppg, which is incredible for a rookie. Some guys just don't fit into the college mentality, and Mayo was one of them. Eric Gordon has been solid for the Clippers, and CDR hasn't really played because of injury for the Nets. But the one guy I did want to mention was Marreese Speights of the Sixers. I absolutely love the guy. I don't know why Mo Cheeks didn't play him more. In the two games before he was fired, Cheeks put him in for two minutes and 7 minutes. That's inexcuable. More to come about the Sixers...

7. The last stand for the West vets?

This one was for Tim Duncan, Steve Nash and Dirk. Duncan has done an incredible job of keeping the Spurs afloat while both Manu and Tony heal. The fact that they are 15-8 with Duncan and the likes of Matt Bonner, George Hill, Roger Mason and Ime Udoka starting games is the reason why Duncan will go down as one of the all-time greats. Let's put it this way, I would not want to face a healthy Spurs team in the playoffs.

Nash is averaging 15 and 8, down from his numbers last year of 17-11. And let's face it, this is not the Suns team that we knew from two years ago. Shaq is so old he can't even play on back to backs. Amare is back but apparently unhappy (not shocking to anyone who read 7 Seconds or Less). Raja Bell and Boris Diaw are gone, and Grant Hill is just not that good any more. Translation - I was wrong. The last stand for these guys has already happened. They are now just first round roadkill.

Finally - Dirk has upped his scoring and rebounding, but the Mavs are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. It should be an incredible battle for the last playoff spot - with 9 contenders for the 8 spots. Dallas, Phoenix and Portland look to battle it out all year. I see the Mavs losing out.

8. Chris Paul and Deron Williams?

If this was a fight, it would already have been declared a TKO. Although to be fair, Williams has been hurt. Chris Paul is averaging 20 ppg, 12 apg, 5 rpg and 3 spg. And his team is in first in the Southwest. Awesome.

9. The East?

A quick look at the Eastern Conference standings shows that only 6 teams are currently above .500. Besides the Cavs and Celtics, it is appropriate to again bring up the label of Leastern Conference. The Raptors are underachieving, the Pistons are playing the Lebron '10 game with their Iverson trade, Magic are frisky but let's be serious. When Atlanta has the 4th best record, you know it's weak.

Although that Cavs-Celts conference final is going to be epic.

10. Philly and Charlotte?

I've heard rumors that there is an NBA team in Charlotte, but so far haven't been able to confirm. I've taken the mindset that millions in the Carolinas have. If ever there was a franchise that needed a new city...

As for the Sixers: Here's what I wrote in the preseason:

"I'm a little nervous. EVERYBODY has identified them as the team ready to make the leap. I'm not so sure. First, Andre Miller had a rejuvenation last year at the age of 32. Is he really going to be able to repeat that performance again this year? Color me hopeful but skeptical. Second, everyone is just assuming that Elton Brand is going to be a star. But he's coming off basically a season of not playing. And, does he fit into how the Sixers play."

The Mo Cheeks firing was not really a shock. You don't spend over 100 million on Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala and then just watch as the season slowly slips away. Something had to change, and unfortunately, it's always the coach. But I place a ton of blame at the feet of Ed Stefanski, the GM. Elton Brand simply doesn't fit this Sixers roster. When they were winning last year, they were outrunning everyone in the league. Andre Iguodala thrives in that system - he can't shoot, which is what he's asked to do now in the half court sets. Meanwhile, you have Dalembert AND Brand just clogging the lane so that Andre Miller and Lou Williams have become much more ineffective. I really don't know what the solution is. Maybe Brand will keep improving and the Sixers can adjust. One thing that has to happen is Speights start getting more and more of Dalembert's minutes. Dalembert's points have been cut in half and he must have the worst hands in the league. In the East, a 10-14 record means you're right in the thick of things as far as the playoffs. But let's be serious - all of the preseason talk about the Sixers being a contender is out the window. They'll be lucky to make the playoffs, and if they do will get humiliated by either the Cavs or Celtics.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Troy Murphy is currently 4th in the league in rebounding, and Rob Kurz got called back up to the Warriors and dropped 20 the other night in his first career start. Unfortunately, Chris Quinn lost the starting battle to Mario Chalmers, but is still shooting 45% on 3's and 95% ft's. Go Irish!


Jimmy said...

You should add a new point of discussion - The Malcontents. Do we just happen to be witnessing a state of professional basketball where the business side of things trumps the actual play and civic pride that accompanies a winning team? What happened to playing for the love of the game and happy to be a part of a good team? I think that's a curse on the league and worried the Garden of Eden can never be reclaimed. Expansion diluted the talent and spread money out to guys that didn't deserve it in the first place, consequently, there's only a few good teams year in year out. It's good when those few teams happen to be marquee franchises like the Celtics and Lakers. But I'm sick and tired of seeing headlines about Stephon Marbury, Carlos Boozer, Ben Gordon, Eddy Curry (and the FA class of 2010 for that matter). It far overshadows the players that go about their business making positive contributions and happy to be paid to play the game they love.

I wish there were more young teams like the Blazers to follow. Yet they seem to be an aberration of a business model. The Spurs front office has had it right for more than a decade, yet people don't want to try and mimic that? The players need to be stripped of their ego trip me-first attitudes (which I imagine is primarily fueled by their agents) and step in line to help their teams win.

I'm taking a walk, even though my chestnuts will turn to icicles in a matter of minutes.

Doug said...

Wow, great stuff. If Bill Simmons isn't going to write about the NBA anymore, I need to get a fix from somewhere. Might as well get it from Matt on WEISND!

The only team I ever watch is the Cavs, and I think your points on Lebron and the Cavs are dead-on.

First, Lebron. I couldn't agree more. It is crazy how good he is. He's now 6'10" with an Amare Stoudemire body but has point guard skills and quickness. His numbers are down, but it's just because he's not forced to play as many minutes. In games that he was playing 42-45 minutes last year to eek out a 3 point win, he's now playing around 30-35 minutes in comfortable 10-15 point wins. He is saving himself probably 800 minutes of playing time. Considering that he's coming off the Olympic team and is going to be needed to carry the load in the playoffs, this is real good news for the Cavs. He should be ready to blow up in the playoffs. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Lebron AVERAGED like 35-40 points a game in the playoffs this year. He is that unstoppable now, and he has better teammates.

Couldn't agree more about Mo Williams and the difference he has made to this team. He's not a true point guard or anything, but the Cavs didn't really need a true point guard. Lebron is the de-facto point guard and the engine that makes the team go. But Mo Williams can handle the load to some degree and more importantly, he can make shots. And he's given them some leadership and defense. Mo Williams isn't an All-Star, but he's a playmaker. That's all the Cavs needed. Someone who can make teams pay for paying too much attention to Lebron. Now, the Cavs have guys like Williams, Delonte West, Gibson, and Szcerbiak to do that. A significant upgrade over the Eric Snows and Damon Jones type players that Lebron used to have around him.

The only thing the Cavs need now is a low post scorer (although Varejao has gotten much better). They might as well go all in and use that trade exception to get someone who can fill that role. They have two years to win a championship with Lebron, so they gotta make the push now.

The Cavs have a great shot to win it all this year. They are better positioned this year than they've been in any other year. The Cavs-Celtics conference final should be outstanding. It seems like people forget that the Cavs took the Celtics to game 7 last year and nearly won the game.

I think the "Lebron in 2010" thing is annoying too, but I'm not surprised to see it. Thoes East Coast media elites (you betcha)! Everyone assumes it is inevitable that he is leaving, but I'm not sure about that at all. If the Cavs can continue to build up the roster around him, maybe he'll just decide he has a better chance to win championships in Cleveland.

Then again, I get why he would leave. In the NBA, the only cities that really matter are New York and LA (and maybe the Bulls and Celtics). If you play in those cities, you are going to have a higher profile. Lebron gets that, and I can understand why there is appeal for him to go to New York, win a championship, and become a legend. One title in New York would be the equivalent of 5 titles in Cleveland. My only hope is that Lebron wins one for the city of Cleveland before he leaves.

Great to hear about Troy Murphy. I saw him at the ND-OSU game in Indy. I didn't even know he was on the Pacers now.

And Rob Kurz. WOW. Good for him. I didn't think he had an NBA type career in him, but it makes sense to some degree since he's a good teammate and does a lot of things well. I think the ND basketball team misses Rob Kurz a lot more than I thought we would.