Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's Smith Time; If I ran the Denver Nuggets...

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past day, you'd know Melo finally got his wish and is with the Knicks. Gone are Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman, Billups, and of course, Melo. Newly arrived are Timofey Mozgov, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler. While the Nuggets might lack a proven superstar, they suddenly have two teams worth of starting quality players. Let's take a look at the depth chart here;

PG - Lawson/Felton
SG - Smith/Afflalo
SF - Chandler/Gallinari
PF - Nene/Martin
C - Mozgov/Birdman

Some will call it a logjam, and they are right to a degree, but barring Martin and to some extent Nene, most of their key rotation players are relatively young, i.e. 25 or younger. However, while most in the Nuggets organisation will lament that they have lost their franchise player, one man is going to be very happy; J.R. Smith. For years he's been stuck on the bench despite a wealth of offensive talent because with Melo around there wasn't a need for another volume scorer, and players like Dahntay Jones and Arron Afflalo who were defensively minded kept him restricted to the role of "spark off the bench". Yet, despite Afflalo's improved play this season, this might be the golden opportunity J.R. has dreamed of his whole career; a chance to break into the starting line-up and get all the shots at the end of shot-clocks he desires. While the Nuggets will likely run more plays through Nene, it isn't hard to see that J.R. Smith is going to have an increased role. Looking at the list above, Smith is far and away the best offensive wing on the list, especially when entrusted with finding his own shot.

Now, I'm not saying that with more minutes J.R. will definitely produce, but this is almost a lost season, as the Nuggets will struggle to figure out their identity in the wake of Melo's departure, so why not give him the green light, and see if this unique opportunity prompts him to finally deliver on his enormous talent. Worst case scenario, the Nuggets bomb out, and enter the lottery, which might not be a bad thing, considering they might be able to snag a Harrison Barnes late in the lottery if he declares. Best case scenario, Smith has a career year and the Nuggets have found their franchise talent.

However, it isn't all that simple, because even though I brushed over it earlier, it's hard to ignore the fact that Afflalo has been playing very well this season, and is only a third year pro, despite being the same age as Smith. He is also a defensive specialist, but that could be a problem when you need a guy to avoid foul trouble. I suggest Afflalo is given the bench treatment and Chandler is paired with Smith. Chandler is a few years younger, a consummate team player and can hit the big shots when needed. However, that poses the problem of what to do with Gallinari. Danilo is an excellent sharp-shooter, but I still see him as more of a small forward than a stretch-PF given his build. While Gallo is a gun from long range, without a player of Amare's calibre to force double teams down low - no disrespect to Nene, who I'm a big fan of - Gallo might struggle with Smith on the court, and Chandler just seems like a better fit. There is the option of playing Nene at the C, and Gallinari at the four as he has been for much of his career with the Knicks, but now that the Nuggets finally have that hard-running, rebounding seven-footer in Mozgov, it would be a little ridiculous not to give Nene the chance to play his natural PF position where he won't be undersized most nights. Certainly, playing the PF Nene can be even more productive, and a two man game with Smith and Nene getting most of the shots in offense is a way of enticing him to stay.

Felton poses another problem entirely, he plays a lot better in a team with a franchise player, as in New York as opposed to Charlotte, and now he once again lacks that proven leader. Lawson should be given the chance to start, because Felton isn't part of their long-term plans, he was most likely included to screw the Knicks.

So to sum up, give Smith a green light to shine, Chandler as starter, Nene to the PF and Mozgov to the C. It might not win a championship, but it'll be a bold move, which is patently required, and should be fun to watch J.R. be given a chance.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Seeing Redd

Awful puns aside, isn't it about time people started paying attention to Michael Redd again? Two years of injury can have a devastating effect on the player who was the face of a franchise until recently and a 2008 Olympian with the Redeem Team. Just ask Tracy McGrady, who has shown with the Pistons he can still produce, even if it's in a lesser role. Maybe the Bulls should have taken a bite when they had the chance. But they might just get a second attempt; no not with McGrady, he'll likely never suit up with the Bulls, but in the titular player; Michael Redd.

As poorly as the Bucks are playing, there doesn't seem to be a place for Redd in Milwaukee once his gargantuan contract expires. They like Salmons as their 2-guard; he's younger, relatively injury free and has just been granted a new contract. Somehow, I don't think Redd sticks around as a substitute on a team that is further from a title run than we all thought after a promising run last season.

Now, as I said earlier, the Bulls already drove away one veteran SG in McGrady, but despite their bringing in Korver, Brewer and Bogans, they would be so much better with the prototypical SG who can launch bombs from deep. Redd has more in common with the G.O.A.T. than just a first name; both are the ideal 6'6" for their SG position, have won Olympic gold, and with a bit of luck, will both have played for the Chicago Bulls.

While the Bulls have exceeded expectations due to the brilliance of Rose, he can't keep up this pace forever, and a legitimate scoring threat like Redd in the back-court would be ideal. Redd might be old by NBA standards, but the Bulls have shown they are ready to make a title run right now, so that veteran presence might be just the ticket. Let's take a closer look at Redd though; he's a career 20ppg scorer, a respectable 38.4% shooter from deep and close to 45% from the field as a whole. He wouldn't command a huge price, we've seen that the market for injury plagued veterans on the tail end of their career isn't particularly lucrative. Are you telling me that the Bulls shouldn't take a chance on Redd if he can stay healthy into the off-season?

If this all pans out, perhaps Mike and Redd will share another thing in common; they'll both raise a championship banner in Chicago, even if their roles are a little different.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's that time of year...

That's right, the trade deadline is fast bearing down upon us, and barring the obvious Melo-drama, there are a few lower-profile players needing a bit of a reshuffle for a better fit before the season runs out. So in no particular order, let's take a look at some tweaks which could benefit teams and players alike.

  • Terrence Williams to the Charlotte Bobcats;
    I didn't like the Houston trade for Williams when it happened, and I still don't see how either team benefited. Now, while the Bobcats are in contention for the playoffs, most of their players have peaked, with the possible exception of Augustin, and while the coaching change has resulted in a bit of a turnaround, this team isn't scaring anybody in a seven-game series. As they are likely lottery-bound, they should try and acquire some young talent. Terrence Williams is a perfect fit to go with Augustin as a SG who can bear some of the load as playmaker and get Augustin more looks to exploit his shooting abilities. Initially, he'll play behind Stephen Jackson, but he's on the way out it seems, and Williams has too much potential to be wasting away on the Houston bench. As for who the Bobcats could ship out, Diaw might attract some interest for a Rockets team trying to make a playoff push and his versatility could serve them well, while also opening up the starting PF spot for Ty Thomas to see if he's ready to contribute with more minutes.

  • Mo Williams to Sacramento;
    Mo is the sort of player who needs to be attached to a star, and would actually be perfect as a third option behind Evans and Cousins. He provides the Kings with a proven shooter to benefit from the double-teams Reke and Cousins draw. Cleveland make this move because Mo isn't a leader and the sooner they clean out that roster the better. Also, if they end up nabbing Kyrie Irving you don't have a disgruntled Mo Williams sitting on the bench. Now, while Gibson is younger and a similar type of player - shooting PG - Cleveland would be reluctant to trade away a young asset and he would have no qualms coming off the bench. The other benefit for Cleveland is that they get a chance to see what Gibson will do with the opportunity to start - for the record, I predict very little - but when you're tanking, you might as well do it right. Sac-town could keep Udrih as back-up PG behind Williams but would probably have to give up their second round draft pick and an inexpensive bench player too, to help the Cavs clean house even more.

  • J.R. Smith to Chicago;
    With Afflalo having a career year, the odds of Smith eventually claiming that starting spot from him are getting slimmer. He would normally be on the court to end games, but was sitting even when Melo fouled out. His time at Denver might be running out. If Chicago throws in a first-round draft pick and James Johnson then both teams benefit; Chicago get's that scoring spark at the 2-guard they desperately need to take some pressure of Rose, and Denver get a young SF who has yet to peak and a draft pick in case Melo leaves and they have to blow everything up. While some of you might say Chicago has never had any interest in Smith, I've never understood why exactly. Yes, he's a locker-room problem on occasion, but a demanding coach like Thibs will make him accountable defensively and he could be the piece that pushes Chicago over the edge into challenging Miami for the next few years, because there aren't many SGs available at the 25th spot in the draft which bring as much as Smith, and there aren't many worth pursuing in the trading block.
So there you have it, a few risky trades which could pay dividends for each of the teams involved, and would certainly benefit the players.

Cheers, Mark.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Answer is Barnes.

No, the question isn't who should the number one draft pick be in the 2011 draft. Despite all the hype, Barnes failed to live up to an outrageous pre-season All-American position, and in most cases is out of consideration for the number one pick, for a few, the lottery. However, he's been on the uptick lately, which I thought would happen, as he grew more comfortable in college ball and was teamed with a better playmaker in fellow freshman Kendall Marshall. While the numbers haven't been ridiculous, setting two new career highs in points scored in a span of three games show that UNC and Barnes are finally figuring things out. It boils down to this; there is more substance to Barnes' lofty pre-season expectations than people realise.

Of all the players eligible for the 2011 draft, Barnes remains the one with the most potential as a franchise player in my opinion. Now, some may say that in terms of sheer potential, Perry Jones III is oozing with it, but when I see an inconsistent player, I see potential just waiting to be wasted. That won't be a problem with Barnes; he's the hardest working player in this class, is mature for his age and has a very high basketball IQ. No Barnes won't be the number one pick, in fact, it's likely if he declares this year he'll struggle to make the lottery... which might just be the best thing to happen to him.

For you see, there's another team in North Carolina that started off slow and now seems to be figuring things out. That's right, the Charlotte Bobcats. I read an article a while back saying that Michael Jordan desperately needed to find a young star to be the face of the franchise, and while the team was struggling immensely to start the season, they might have bottomed out enough to do so. However, they righted the ship with a coaching change and they are making a strong push to avoid the lottery for a second year in the row, probably slipping in with the 15th or 16th pick in the draft. Usually, this is the worst position to be in; mediocrity. Not quite good enough to win it all, not quite bad enough to get that franchise changer.

However, in this case, that might be just the right position to snag that star player who can take over as face of the franchise from Jordan. The answer is Barnes. As I said earlier, he has all the raw skills and work ethic to be the best player in this draft class, but given his struggles this season at UNC his draft position likely won't reflect that if he declares. Finally, here is a player that if pushed by Jordan will simply push himself to get better rather than fading like a certain other player drafted by the G.O.A.T. This is the putty that Jordan and the team need to create an identity for a rather uninspiring franchise in the Bobcats.

It would be easy to pitch this to the fans; an intelligent, mature, clean kid from small-town Iowa who played for UNC's beloved Tar Heels to boot. He's got North Carolina and the Bobcats written all over him. Yet, there are some other factors to consider; their only All-Star in Gerald Wallace plays the same position, but he doesn't have that same star potential Barnes has, rather he could serve as a mentor for a few years while Barnes develops his game and is ready to explode, much like Wallace once did in Sacramento. That said, Wallace is the perfect mentor for Barnes in preparing him to be the face of the franchise, and instil in him the defensive principles which allowed Wallace's Bobcats to remain undefeated against Lebron's Cavaliers last season.

Yet, the biggest problem facing this scenario is that others are cottoning on to Barnes' recently improved play, they are figuring out he might not be as over-hyped as he was declared early, and with the way the Bobcats are playing at the moment, the odds of their getting an early enough pick are slim if Barnes and UNC keep winning at the rate they have been. Especially in such a weak draft class. But who knows, maybe this will be one of those magical Derrick Rose situations, where the right player for the right city lands in their laps, or even a less magical Lebron and Cleveland situation. One thing is certain though, if all this falls into place, Barnes won't end up stunting on a Jumbotron.

The best chance for Jordan to find some star-power to change the fate of the Bobcats in this draft? The answer is Barnes.