Sunday, November 28, 2010

What a difference a few inches make...

On the basketball court, of course. But allow me to explain; right now some of the most athletic players and gifted scorers are PGs ranging from 6'2" to 6'4" in some cases. Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, John Wall are all electric scorers at the PG position. I've mentioned this before, but the SG position is trending down with the number of young superstars at that position, and this is largley because of the dominance of this new breed of scoring PGs. It makes you wonder though, if Wall, Rose and Westbrook were the ideal 6'6" for SGs but retained their athleticism could they be in discussions as the best players in the game right now? Of all time?

Think about it, free from the need to create for others, Rose and Westbrook in particular could score in crazy amounts. All of these guys are capable of going for 30 on any given night already, and that is largely without a consistent jump shot at this stage. Just imagine if they were that little bit taller, able to defend opposing 2-guards, and finish easier over opposing front-courts. Picture Westbrook soaring over Joe Johnson to throw it down, Rose posting up Dwyane Wade, Wall blocking Kobe's fadeaway J.

It makes you wonder whether such a mix of size and athleticism would be possible for these players; perhaps it is their compact frames that grant them warp-speed and ridiculous hops. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my point guards to be purer playmakers. However, these three are simply that good at getting buckets it would be a crime to deny them shots. Alas, these three explosive athletes are going to cop some criticism as point guards simply because they are such great scorers they'll be taking shots instead of posting huge assist totals. Not saying this is wrong, just a shame that nature denied them that little bit extra height to really excel as scorers.

Just a short one today folks, hope it made you think a little about how much of a factor height is in determining position, scoring and others such things in the NBA.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My five favourite NBA clips

The right pairing of music and footage can create something greater than the some of its parts. So as the title suggests, I figured I'd mix things up (no pun intended) a bit by sharing some of my collection of downloaded NBA videos. I love watching these pre-game to get psyched and they can really make you appreciate a player you never had much love for before. So without further ado...

#5: The Best of Derrick Rose; this mix is all about strength through adversity and shows off Rose's cool demeanour, meteoric rise to the top, and most of all, his ridiculous hops!

#4: Rhythm of Victory - 2010 NBA Finals recap; while it's hard for me to watch my Celtics lose over and over, this video captures the sheer intensity of this seven game series. I've watched this countless times and I still get chills every time I hear Kobe say "Til you can't breathe, go

#3: Moment of Truth - Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan; this video is a bit different with the lack of hip-hop music, but it is very well executed, and shows some great Jordan vs Kobe highlights in addition to the usual Jordan/Kobe individual highlights. The Linkin Park song has the perfect line to highlight their respective off-court struggles too. Check it out.

#2: Kobe Bryant - All the Above; this song was made for a Kobe mix, it's all about saying fuck you to the haters and rising up. Great highlights and a great song = kick-ass mix. Well done SunToTheDeep.

#1: More Than A Game; this mix doesn't rely on flashy highlights - thought it has those - rather, it transcends individual players to get to the core of what makes this game so important. A must see for every NBA fan, if you like or play basketball, you can't not love it. I listen to it before every game, never fails to make me appreciate the best game in the world.

Hope you enjoyed my top five. I'm actually looking for a good Chris Paul mix, so if you know one or have any other cool NBA vids, link me at:


Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Curious Case of OJ Mayo

Huzzah for being done with university, I can starting posting again with some degree of regularity. In an effort to increase my knowledge of the less televised teams I splurged on NBA League Pass for the season. However, watching 12 games on some days quickly put me over my download limit so I had to be a bit more selective in what I viewed. I tuned into the second half of the Memphis-Miami game and I was glad for a few reasons; Miami lost, Rudy Gay had an incredible game-winner over Lebron, and most interestingly, I got to see why OJ Mayo's numbers are down.

For a kid whose game was compared to Kobe Bryant's growing up, he mirrored the Black Mamba again in being very passive, not taking many shots and just looking generally disinterested tonight. This sort of attitude is at odds with a kid who was described as incredibly hard-working prior to his joining the NBA ranks and there are a couple of possible reasons; it could be that Mayo expected Rudy to leave and be given the reins to the team and when this didn't happen it took him down a peg, it could be that Rudy is increasingly establishing himself as their go-to guy and tonight's performance in comparison to Mayo's was telling. This wasn't how it was supposed to be for a guy who dominated the ball his entire career and was a scoring machine at every stop before the NBA.

Like his draft-mate Michael Beasley - who is experiencing a rejuvenation of sorts in Minnesota - a change of scenery might cure what ails him. Wherever he goes, he needs to be the Man. With sharpshooter Xavier Henry waiting in the wings, Mayo doesn't appear to be a long-term part of the Memphis organisation. So let's take a look at where Mayo might be like Mike (Beasley that is) and get a second chance at superstardom.

The primary candidate has to be the Charlotte Bobcats; they are struggling this season, and need a young star to complement their other young pieces. While Captain Jack is manning the 2-guard at the moment, he'll run out of steam sooner or later and Mayo will be given the green light when that happens. Wallace is more of a defensive, energy guy, same can be said for Tyrus Thomas. DJ is a great shooter, but struggles to create for others, so having a player like Mayo who can create his own shot would be a bonus. Being in the East, Mayo's primary threat at the 2-guard spot would be Dwyane Wade, another undersized SG, so he wouldn't be giving up any size defensively - while Joe Johnson might be a struggle, Wallace could match up with him, and Mayo could guard the less offensively gifted Marvin Williams. Henderson is clearly not the solution long term as he has struggled to be productive outside of the Summer League.

Another possible team would be the San Antonio Spurs; they are extremely well coached, and Manu is going to have an increasingly decreased role in the next few years, just as Mayo enters his prime. However, Ginobili and Mayo could form a potent back-court, with Manu handling more of the playmaking while leaving Mayo to be a scorer. Tim Duncan is on the way out and they will need someone to pair with Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker and DeJuan Blair for the Spurs to stay relevant. Mayo could be that guy to bring them into their next phase of existence. Parker is already struggling with injury before hitting 30, and George Hill is perfectly capable of playing the point, so no problems there either, and Mayo will be 25 when Manu's extension runs out.

The last team I'll mention here, though there are a number of others, is the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have always managed to find ways to pick up star players, and of all of these scenarios, this strikes me as the most likely. Kobe has a LOT of mileage on him at the moment, and I can't see him lasting more than three years or so. Shannon Brown isn't a long-term answer, and should always be a bench guy for the Lakers. Mayo would provide a running mate to Pau Gasol until he's ready to take over the team himself, and who knows, maybe Phil Jackson will retire and come back in a few years to guide the next young SG star. Mayo could even play the point in Jackson's system, as the triangle needs great shooting more than anything from the point position. Whatever the coaching staff, it's hard not to think that Mayo would be a good fit in Hell-ay.

As I said, Mayo has been compared to Kobe before, and he might just break out after a few sub-par seasons. Whether it's in LA or elsewhere, it's too late to give up on OJ Mayo.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Great Oden's Raven!

Awesome line from Anchorman aside, Greg Oden is the focus of this one. It's been a horrible week for the Blazers with franchise player Brandon Roy found to have no meniscus left in either knee - meaning it's bone on bone - and no way to fix it, followed up more recently by Greg Oden's newfound need for microfracture surgery. Say goodbye to the 10-11 season, and suddenly the decision to allow Oden to be a RFA isn't such a bad one.

By all accounts, the fans in Portland have had enough of this immensely talented C teasing them with flashes of brilliance and with Roy never to be the same again, the best thing for the Blazers to do is to re-adjust from "win-now" mode and start again. Which means more than saying goodbye to the 10-11 season, but likely the Blazers as an organisation. While this sucks for Portland fans who were very much on the cusp of challenging for a title if they could just get healthy, what happens to Oden now? Given how few games he has played until this point he can likely be had for a bargain and he's just the sort of low-risk (money-wise), high-reward player who can alter the course of a franchise.

The first thing I'll say is that Oden could very well re-sign with the Blazers for a significantly lower price than they anticipated. However, there are enough teams desperate enough - particularly in the West - looking for that length to compete with the Lakers' size and exploit Miami's weakness inside that makes this scenario unlikely.

So let's take a look at the possible suitors...

Denver Nuggets;
Melo has made it clear that he wants to be closer to a championship than he is now or he's gone. With Lebron forming the Miami Thrice in South Beach Anthony had a knee jerk reaction, feeling he can no longer compete with the Nuggets. However, Melo doesn't want to face the same public backlash as Lebron for nothing, so if the Heat don't win this season it might be enough to convince Melo to stay. Assuming the Nuggets manage to keep Melo around they will have a go-to guy and All-World scorer, a veteran PG for at least another couple of seasons, an All-Star calibre PF/C in Nene Hilario, young defender in Arron Afflalo, and good depth off the bench with Smith, Birdman and Ty Lawson. While Nene has done a great job in Denver, he struggles to defend the bigger bodies found at C and would be better served at PF. Enter Greg Oden. He is a legitimate championship calibre C when on the court and with a number of expiring contracts coming off the books this season the Nuggets might be able to outbid other teams for his services. A starting five of Billups, Afflalo, Anthony, Nene and Oden is strong enough to contend with the Lakers, Celtics, Heat and Magic. If a lock-out eventuates, that means more rest time for Oden and hopefully a full rehabilitation once he's out of the hands of the seemingly inept Portland organisation. That team might just be worth Melo sticking around for.

Atlanta Hawks;
The Hawks are being continually abused by Dwight Howard and the Magic. They were still good for 4th in the East until Miami came along and upset their division standing, so they'll need to address their major area of weakness - size and PG play. Hopefully Jeff Teague can make some strides this season but there are enough very talented PGs available in this draft that the Hawks might be able to snag one from beyond the lottery. Cs who can go toe-to-toe with Dwight are a bit rarer, especially when you've just given Joe Johnson a max deal. Luckily, GO will likely be available for a relatively low price, and is only 22 years old, so will have a lot of playing time left in him if he can just get healthy. If it doesn't pan out, provided they don't overpay for him then no harm done. If it does, then Teague, Johnson, Smith, Horford and Oden would be a starting five capable of matching any in the L. Having Marvin Williams and Jordan Crawford (unlikely Jamal sticks around) coming off the bench means that they have the depth to compete too.

Boston Celtics;
Okay, being a Celtics fan, maybe I'm a little biased, but the Cs need to start looking past the Boston Three Party to what the team will look like in two years. Shaq and Ray Allen are almost definitely going to retire by then, Garnett might just follow, and Pierce isn't going to be capable of carrying the franchise on his back like he used to. Which leaves Rondo as their franchise player and Big Baby Davis as probably their third option. Huh. However, Avery Bradley is a lock-down defender, and he and Rondo could form the best defensive back-court in the NBA. Davis is capable of playing big minutes, and is a proven playoff performer too. Plus, Pierce will still be a competent closer and perimeter threat. The thing that doesn't add up is Kendrick Perkins. Don't get me wrong, Perk is a great fit for this current team, but he is too offensively limited to survive with the Celtics post-Big 3. Oden would provide a more offensively capable Centre who can bang inside with the opposing bigs in the East. Given that Oden won't be needed for another season or two, he won't be rushed back and should hopefully be able to fully recover. Oh, and don't worry about Perkins, he'll find a home somewhere, because defensive Cs as good as he is don't come along every day.

So there you have it, three (or four I guess) possible futures for Greg Oden. Whatever happens, let's just hope he spends a lot less time in a suit, and a lot more time in an NBA uniform.


Monday, November 8, 2010

If it ain't broke don't fix it - why Chris Paul's Hornets beat the Heat

Going to keep this one relatively short and to the point. But before I get into it, just a quick announcement; It's a Hardwood Life is now on Twitter at!/hardwoodlife and can be found on Facebook also, just search "It's a Hardwood Life" and become a fan!

Okay, so I won't waste any time with the obvious stuff about this being a huge upset and the Hornets being hot right now and all that jazz. In a nutshell, this was a clash of team-building philosophy. The Hornets' approach is the classic franchise player model, which I affectionately refer to as the Batman and Robin strategy. Essentially, you take one franchise player - Chris Paul in this case - give him a sidekick - David West - and fill the rest of the roster with role players that play to Batman's strengths. The benefits of this approach are that there is a clear leadership hierarchy, the star player can play to his full capacity and these are especially beneficial in the fourth quarters of close games where Batman traditionally takes over. While the Hornets haven't had huge success just yet, they won 56 games under this model recently and were good for number 2 seed in the West. Other teams using this model have been greatly successful in recent times though; Jordan's Bulls, Hakeem the Dream's Rockets, Shaq's Lakers, Duncan's Spurs and Kobe's Lakers. All of these teams won multiple championships. The Hornets-Heat game highlighted the strengths of the Batman and Robin strategy; they came out firing on all cylinders, knowing they couldn't rely on star-power, and Batman made the right decisions to secure the win when it got close.

Conversely, the Heat performance highlighted the problems with the fantasy team or as I call it, the Avengers approach, where a group of superheroes in their own right come together to fight evil (or win basketball games in this case); they can underestimate their opponents and expect star-power to see them through, the star players can get confused as to when to go full bore, and there was no clear green light given to any particular star which in this case lead to Eddie House taking a contested last shot. I think the best way for me to explain why the Heat approach of taking superstar players just as they are beginning to peak isn't ideal is by drawing comparisons to the Heat's immediate predecessors in Big Three land; the Boston Celtics. While the Heat will probably win a championship sooner or later, the Celtics have actually done it, so we know their way worked. What they did was assemble a trio of franchise players who were no longer capable of bearing the weight of an entire team on their backs. This might seem like a worse decision than what the Heat did, and heck, if Miami go on to win six straight titles then I'll eat these words, but I think the age of the Celtics stars played a big role in their success. There was no question of when to go 100% for these three because it took everything they had left in the tank to compete with younger, more capable franchise players they were up against. There was no question of underestimating opponents for the Boston Three Party because their careers were winding down and they couldn't take anything for granted, it was quite literally now or never. This is the problems facing the Miami Heat; how can two Batman's co-exist in Gotham City? Which one stops the Joker (or should that be Ironman after the Marvel ESPN covers)? While the Heat are going to be a smothering defensive team, the offensive end is going to remain a problem in crunch time unless Lebron takes a back-seat, because let's face it, Wade isn't going to give up his own turf to anybody, even if that anybody just so happens to be the defending two-time MVP.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Seeing Chris Paul take a team consisting of overachievers (West, Thornton, Belinelli), and underachievers (Ariza, Okafur) and elevating them beyond the sum of their parts was a special moment because it exceeded expectations. Watching a team with so much talent that the whole is actually less than the sum of its parts isn't going to be fun to watch, because they will either meet expectations or disappoint; when you have the most talented roster on paper in the Association, exceeding expectations isn't really an option.